Friday Unwind #16: Chopine; Erie Canal; Liberation Day: Stories
Plus D-Backs and Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case
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👠 SHOE FETTISH: Chopine
I’ve always wanted to be a bit taller. And now I know that if I could just take a time machine back to Italy in the late 1500’s, I could have been 7’8” instead of 5’8”. If the NBA had been around then, I would have been looking down on Shaq, who is a mere 7’1”.
I might have needed an attendant on either side to keep me from falling on my face. But no one (except those attendants) would have known the trickery because those chopine would have been cleverly hidden under my extra long, flowing skirts, signaling that I was not only tall, I was wealthy. There was definitely a snoot factor to wearing chopine.
A bit of a downside (other than killing myself by falling)…. I would have had to go to ballet class with a master ‘chopine’ instructor to learn how to walk on these early version of stilts. Ah, the lengths we women go to to be above it all.
I’m thinking that these chopine added a few pounds (in addition to all those skirt textiles). They were made of wood and covered in leather. Picture a whole gaggle (or giggle) of these chopine shod ladies and their attendants floating along…. clippity clop, clippity clop. Would I wear these? I say ‘Neigh’! Or maybe I should say, ‘Long may they rein’… ok, I’m done horsing around.
For those of you in the Boston area, there’s a smaller version of the one pictured (topping out at 11 7/8”) on display at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston from September 9th through January 7th.
And you thought those 3” spike heels were dangerous….
🚢🐎 The Nation’s First Superhighway
On October 26, 1825 (198 years ago) the Erie Canal officially opened with a booming canon celebration that echoed along the entire length of the canal. At 363 miles, it was the second longest canal in the world behind the Grand Canal of China. Actually second by a long shot. The Grand Canal of China is more than 1,100 miles long.
Initially the canal was 40 feet wide and 4 feet deep. Line up 8 queen beds end to end and you’ve got the canal width. Now you’ve got the idea, right? It stretched from Albany, NY on the Hudson River to Buffalo on Lake Erie and it provided a much needed route through the Appalachian Mountains.
At the time, the Appalachian Mountains, stretching from Maine to Alabama had only 5 routes that were barely passable by mule trains. It took 2 1/2 weeks to travel from New York to Cleveland and 4 weeks to go to Detroit.
The main product in the Midwest was grain, but since it wasn’t cost effective to transport it, a lot of the farmers turned their grain into whiskey, which was more profitable and easier to transport. And probably a lot more fun…
Now Lake Erie in the Midwest is 565 feet higher in elevation than the Hudson River in New York. That was a bit of a problem. To give you an idea of what that means, the tallest building in Fort Lauderdale, Florida is 563 feet or about 47 stories high. Try dropping a barge from the top of that building…ker plop.
But the design engineers had a solution. 83 locks. Oh and about those engineers. They actually weren’t engineers at all. They were judges. James Geddes and Benjamin Wright. The closest they had ever come to surveying was settling property disputes. There were no civil engineers in America at the time the Erie Canal was built. None.
Back in the early 1800’s there wasn’t any machinery either. No bulldozers. No cranes. All 363 miles were dug out by people, horses and dynamite.
Once completed, mules pulled the barges and packets by rope, steadily plodding at a dizzying speed of about 4-5 miles per hour. A mule could only carry 250 pounds on its back, but it could tow a 60,000 pound boat. And that dramatically reduced the cost (by 95%) of commercial transportation from the Midwest to the East coast. By 1855 33,000 shipments crossed through the Appalachian mountains on the canal.
In addition to the economic impact the Erie Canal had a cultural effect. An increase in exported wheat to Britain helped solidify that relationship. Many well known authors wrote about the canal including Herman Melville, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain. In 1905 Thomas Allen wrote “Low Bridge Everybody Down”.
The canal also became a popular tourist attraction as people wanted to experience the beauty of nature.
Over time the canal was rerouted and widened and eventually hardly used as railroads and over the road trucking took its place. Today the canal is mostly used for recreation.
Thanks for taking this little barge trip with me. I hope you liked it.
📚 BOOK NOOK: Liberation Day: Stories by George Saunders
This week Jane Ratcliffe published an interview with author George Saunders. Normally, Jane’s interviews are for her paid subscribers, but this one will be available for everyone for about a week. I’ve been partial to Saunders’ work since reading about his speech to a graduating class at Syracuse University in 2013.
Rather than extol the virtues of corporate success and opportunity he spoke instead about regrets.
“What I regret most, are failures of kindness. Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.”
Saunders, also a professor at Syracuse University, has won so many literary awards that it would take up this entire post to list them.
So when Jane mentioned his recent work, Liberation Day: Stories, a collection of short stories…. I was compelled to buy it. It’s a New York Times Bestseller and acclaimed as one of the best books of the year by The New York Times Book Review, The New Yorker, Oprah Daily, NPR, Time, USA Today, The Guardian, Esquire, Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Library Journal. Phew!
I’ve had it for only a few hours and am excited to dive in. If there are any other George Saunders fans out there, let me know in the comments.
I’ll report back in a couple of weeks!
⚾ Diamondbacks Update
For those of you who have been following along, you know that last week I wrote about the Arizona Diamondbacks baseball team. At that point the D-Backs had just squeaked their way into the National League Championship playoffs against the heavily favored Philadelphia Phillies.
Just a few nights ago they pulled off a miracle. They are now heading into the World Series against the Texas Rangers, who are also heavily favored. Can there be a repeat of the 2001 World Series Championship Diamondbacks?
Keeping this short because… well how many of you could actually be D-Backs fans lol! But if you have a little extra energy (and you aren’t from Texas), could you give a little whoop whoop for Arizona? ⚾
🎬 MOVIE REVIEW: Missing: The Lucie Blackman Case
Bill and I are fans of documentaries. This was the first time that we watched a documentary about a potential murder victim.
Two 21 year old women decided to spend a year in Tokyo. But in just a few weeks, Lucie Blackman went missing. When her friend received a text saying that Lucie had joined a cult and would never return, she contacted Lucie’s parents. Lucie’s Dad, Tim, and her sister, Sophie, traveled from England and spent the next year trying to find her.
The film focuses on interviews with Japanese detectives who worked on the case, the obstacles they faced trying to find Lucie, and ultimately the exposing of a brutal criminal world in Tokyo.
Although the story is devastating, as it would be to any parents, the documentary provides an excellent backstory of crime solving in Japan and an undercurrent of criminal behavior that had long been hidden.
It’s available on Netflix, receiving 86% from Rotten Tomatoes.
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Who has their own version of a chopine? Anyone able to walk on stilts?👠
Been to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts?
Who knows the meaning and origin of the word Erie? (Go ahead and cheat… I did 🤣)
Do you like history? Jumping down rabbit holes of curiosity?
George Saunders fans?📚 Other short story writers you like?
D-Backs fans? (This didn’t get much going last week, except Mitch who is from Philly but graciously sent congratulatory wishes! Thank you Mitch)⚾
Do you like documentaries? Any favs to share?
And, of course as always…..Hi!
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Wherever you are, I hope life is sunny. 🌞❤Heather
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