Monthly Archives: September 2016

Cyril & His Brother Methodius


Catholic prayers listing saints often mention Cyril and Methodius.   I paid no attention to this until I visited the Balkans.  There are statues honoring these 2 early saints in many public places and there are images of them everywhere, especially in Bulgaria.  I began to pay attention to this phenomenon and ultimately realized that they are iconic in every possible way in this part of the world.


Cyril and Methodius were brothers.  Their mother was Bulgarian and their father was Greek.  They were born in Thessaloniki and, as adults, they are usually shown together.  In the year 867, they were invited to Rome by Pope Nicholas because they were successful missionaries good at spreading  Christianity. Cyril is often shown as a monk and Methodius as a bishop. This is because Cyril entered a monastery while in Rome and died there 50 days later. The pope made Methodius, who continued their work, a bishop.   They are honored today like media stars because they created the Galolitic alphabet and began translating Greek books into Old Bulgarian.  Their alphabet evolved into the Cyrillic one that is used by more than 250,000,000 people in Europe and Asia today, including Russia.

Ruth and I saw a depiction of their alphabet in the Bulgarian National History Museum in Sofia.  Teacher Ruth grabbed my notebook and wrote, “St Cyril & Methodius mural from the Church of the Virgin Mary Kamenski in Ohrid 1863 with inscription, ‘Bulgarian educators, they wrote the characters of the Bulgarians.’  They are Cyril and his brother.

Cyril and Methodius are a big deal in Bulgaria.  May 24 is a national holiday there.  It’s actually Saints Cyril and Methodius Day but it’s called Bulgarian Eduction Day and Culture Day or Slavonic Literature Day or Culture and Literacy Day or Alphabet Day.  It’s also high school graduation day and kids dress in their best and party. Ruth & I were in Sofia at Alexander Nevsky Cathedral in May 2015 and saw honking cars full of them outside this massive church that had depictions of Cyril and Methodius inside.

Skopje is the capital of Macedonia.  the largest university in this republic is Skopje’s Saints Cyril and Methodius University.  May 24 is also a public holiday in Macedonia.



The Scientifically Based Bradbury


The Bradbury Science Museum in Los Alamos is a 5 Compass attraction.  It is, however, not easy to write about for 2 reasons.  The exhibits require patience and extreme mental work to maximize their effectiveness, and the museum might be changing more than most in the future.

The Bradbury Science Museum has been around since 1963.  There is no admission fee.  Its mission is to explain the history of the Los Alamos National Laboratory and make its ongoing science and research understandable.  I was told that today Los Alamos is the largest plutonium facility around and that it maintains our nuclear stockpile.   The museum’s display areas are basically divided into 3 categories:  Defense, Research, and History. There are reportedly 40 interactive exhibits and 2 films in them, but I didn’t see all of them.  I’m certain my brain would have exploded if I had gone from one to the next without pause.


I began in Defense and really appreciated its explanations of Fat Man, Little Boy, plutonium, etc., but when I got to supercomputing there was a lot sailing right over my head.  Research was even more of a mental challenge.  I did, however, spend a lot of time learning from an exhibit called Understanding Radiation.  I saw grandparents in the tech lab attempting to help the youngest generation relate to the information being provided. History was the most accessible and, therefore, busiest of the 3 because it put a human face on “The Town That Never Was”.


Los Alamos earned that nickname because anyone there between 1943 and 1945 was on a secret mission. Nuclear fission was known by 1939.  The Fermi Laboratory near Chicago conducted research that showed a fission bomb was possible.  Los Alamos, chosen site of the Manhattan Project, was charged with making a usable nuclear device.  Before a community of scientists gathered to make this possible, there was only a boys’ school, some farms, and cattle where the town of Los Alamos is now.  Scientists and their wives came to this totally new and secret locality to develop what would become the world’s first nuclear bomb.  Very few of the scientists were women.  Wives worked in the tech areas while their husbands’ efforts finally yielded a device that needed testing.   A site was created 200 miles south at Alamogordo.   In July, 1945, a plutonium implosion device known as “The Gadget” was assembled at Los Alamos and detonated successfully at Alamogordo.  The next month a B-29 bomber dropped Little Boy on Hiroshima.  Three days later Fat Man exploded over Nagasaki.  Five days later Japan surrendered.

The human face of Los Alamos is found in the people profiles in History.  But there’s science too.  One of this museum’s newer displays, an exhibit about trinitite, is here.   My favorite profile was Angelita Martinez’s.  The niece of famed Native American potter Maria Martinez, Angelita was charged with teaching domestic skills to young wives.  She was in charge of laundry too.  At age 97 she still had vivid memories of seeing Edward Teller and Norris Bradbury square dancing, teaching her and other native women the two-step, and eating homemade pie.  Edward Teller was a theoretical physicist who was dubbed the father of the hydrogen bomb.  Norris Bradbury became the 2nd director of the Los Alamos labs when Robert Oppenheimer returned to civilian life.

The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is coming soon.  Using 3 facilities–Oak Ridge, Hanford, and Los Alamos–the National Park Service will focus attention on “American science, technology, and industry during World War II,” according to the Los Alamos Visitor Guide.  Bradbury will surely get involved in this.



PS.  The 2nd picture shows a detonator’s interior and the 3rd is a model of The Gadget.

Revamping Sun Valley


The state with the most wilderness acreage is Alaska.  52% of Alaska is still wilderness.  #2 is California with 14%.  #3 surprised me.  It’s Idaho.  Most of its true wilderness is in the center of the state with the Bitterroot Mountains my favorite part.  Idaho’s wilds contain 1,800 miles of trails, jagged peaks, incredible valleys. etc. Two still partially wild rivers run through it, the Main Salmon and its Middle Fork.   Southeast of the Sawtooth Wilderness is the area’s only population center–Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey, etc.

Ruth & I spent some time revisiting Sun Valley in summer, 2016.  It’s changing but still values it’s small town resort feel.  It’s visitor center, for example, is in the local Starbucks. However, Aspen Ski Company is increasing its presence in town with Limelight,a $35 million hotel with 108 guest rooms and 14 residences. It’s scheduled to open in December, 2016.  The venerable Sun Valley Lodge has just finished remodeling and is now offering 108 new, larger guest rooms to celebrate its 80th birthday.  The Auberge Resort Sun Valley Hotel will open in 2018 across the street from Limelight.  When we were there, The town was still buzzing from a recent Bill Gates gathering that rented almost every upscale accommodation in town.  Seventeen leaders of Fortune 500 companies, for now, have residences here.

Also across the street from Limelight is Sun Valley’s very modest Heritage and Ski Museum.  dsc05201It’s in an old forest service building, for now, and is strong on the history of Sun Valley’s resort, mines, railroads, sheep.   A current special exhibit is about Ernest Hemingway, one of Sun Valley’s most famous residents. He completed his novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in Suite 206 of the Sun Valley Lodge 77 years ago.  Yes, Sun Valley is that venerable.  Its resort history began in 1936.  Vail didn’t happen until 1962. Sun Valley skiing was and still is dominated by Bald and Dollar Mountains. Baldy has no flats.  It’s all downhill. Dollar had the world’s 1st chairlift.

Sun Valley was the United States’ first destination winter resort.  dsc05222 It was a major Hollywood playground in the 1930s.  Eight movies have been made, at least in part, in the area.  However, 7 of them were made before 1984.  Pale Rider was perhaps the most memorable.   I learned in the museum that the resort’s initial staff wore Austrian outfits because it was considered an Austrian-style destination ski resort.  The rich and beautiful loved its heated pool.

Sun Valley’s 81st ski season begins November 24th.



Dracula and The Walking Dead


The man who inspired the Dracula character in Bram Stoker’s novel was Vlad Tepes, also known as Vlad the Impaler.  Vlad was born in Sighisoara, Romania, in 1431.  If he died and you’d like to visit the grave where his headless torso supposedly lies, and this is a very popular day trip, you go to an island in a lake near Snagov, Romania, about 25 miles north of Bucharest.


Bram Stoker didn’t write Dracula until 1897.  In 1816, the year without a summer, John Polidori wrote a ghost story called “The Vampyre”.  He was in something of a competition with Lord Byron and Mary Shelley.  They were driven inside by bad weather and, being writers, they composed stories.  Mary’s was the most enduring. Her Frankenstein became a classic.  Lord Byron, far more known for his poetry, wrote “Darkness”.

Writer Téa Obreht, who has roots in Serbia, wrote an essay that was published in Harper’s Magazine.  “Twilight of the Vampires” tells about her journey to a Serbian village named Zarozje to learn what she could about a Balkan vampire.  She says in her essay, “Vampir is probably the only Serbian word used the whole world over…..”  She talks about Balkan superstitions.  I wondered about these when I was there last year.  The Balkans is home to many monasteries with devils depicted on their walls. Dracula was a Balkan native.

dsc00538Obreht mentions common repellants–garlic, holy water, crucifixes–and adds one I was not familiar with–scissors under the bed. Austria is not a Balkan country, but, according to Obreht, Petar Blagojevic is the first vampire this country has officially certified.

In preparation for her journey, Obreht tracked down a Serbian film called Leptirica.   Made in 1973, it’s said to be about a young shepherd from Zarozje and bizarre.  I have not been able to find it.

Obreht headed for Zarozje to find the water mill where a weird incident occurred.  She met a man on the way who said, “That’s my water mill!”  He told her that nobody died or was killed there, but his grandmother would tell him stories and his father would make him spend the night in the mill to make him brave.  He said that a clever man would go into the mill at night and throttle the millers a little and steal their flour because there was a famine occurring. This got the legend started.  He said that the mill was actually no longer there and he assured her, “There is…no vampire in Zarozje.”

While there, she discovered that the widespread legend had no basis in fact. She cites scholarly theories about causes involving disease, bodily decay, medieval myths about contagion, etc.  She concludes, “Balkan religion rests on tradition rather than belief, superstition rather than faith…..”  Obreht segues into a story of a village being bothered by a sinister vukodlak.  It would knock on people’s doors at night and strangle anyone who answered.   “It is unclear,” she concludes, “why the villagers did not think to stop answering their doors after dark.”


The above is for those who are inclined to think that the top rated series on TV, The Walking Dead, is a documentary.


The Joslyn Gets Better


When the Joslyn Memorial opened in 1931, Omaha greeted it with astonishment.  I did to, in 2016.  I simply didn’t expect to find a museum of this scope in Omaha.  I had been there before.  Ruth hadn’t.  My second visit was far better than my first.  The first time I judged it fine but typical.

Sarah Joslyn was an unassuming woman.  Even though she provided funds for it, she attended the Joslyn’s opening by blending into the crowd.  “I am just one of the public,” she said to those who recognized her.  She judged this new art deco museum her gift to the people of Omaha.

George, Sarah’s husband, learned bookkeeping and printing skills in Montreal. Later, his Iowa based company sent him to Omaha to open a new branch office.   Ten years later he was president of and stockholder in the Western Newspaper Union.  Back then, print journalism created millionaires.  When he died in 1916, George was the richest man in Nebraska.   Sarah pursued her interests in music, dogs, and flowers in their 34 room mansion and fifteen years later attended the Joslyn’s opening.

If the Joslyn has a specialty, it’s Western Art.  One of Charles Bird King’s more famous paintings, “Oto Half Chief Shaumonekusse”, is in its collection. When he was 4, King’s father was scalped and killed by Native Americans in Ohio. He gained a reputation in Washington, DC, for painting skilled portraits of famous Americans like James Monroe and Daniel Webster.   After that, he traveled west and became one of the great Native American portrait painters. The Joslyn has a large collection of Karl Bodmer’s works.  Swiss and French Bodmer made his mark in Germany as a landscape painter before going to the American West like King and becoming one of its best illustrators.  But the Joslyn also has the works of fine regional American painters like N C Wyeth, European masters like Renoir, Asian Art, Greek antiquities, etc. That’s Grant Wood’s “Stone City Iowa” below this paragraph.


Teacher Ruth especially liked Art Works, a big room for budding artists with youthful curiosity.  School groups are not permitted to use its 9 interactive activity stations designed to stimulate creativity.  I literally had to pull her out of Art Works.

dsc06040  Three years ago the Joslyn stopped charging admission to see its permanent collection.  This 5 Compass museum  is full of pleasant surprises.  Go.