In the Heart of the Sea

Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) Man vs. Nature

NATHANIEL PHILBRICK  specializes in U.S. maritime history and combines his engrossing story-telling sensibilities with fine research. In 2000, his nonfiction National Book Award Winner, In the Heart of the Sea, inspired the 2010 PBS documentary Into the Deep directed by Ric Burns and narrated by Willem Dafoe. Next came the recent 2015 Ron Howard film, In the Heart of the Sea, starring Chris Hemsworth, Brendan Gleeson, Tom Holland, and Cillian Murphy. Of course, Herman Melville wrote the classic Man vs. Nature classic, Moby Dick, in 1851 about Captain Ahab’s obsession for revenge against the mighty Sperm whale. All four versions of the sinking of the whaleship Essex combine the history of Nantucket and the Romanticism between the sailor and the sea and his ship. All versions are worthy ways of spending your time and will enhance your knowledge of Colonial America.

The History 

The 50 by 30 mile stretch of land off Cape Cod became the heart of the whaling industry from approximately 1620-1865. Until the advent of kerosene, the highest quality oil used to make wax candles and light lanterns were from the rendered oil of whales. Dug out from the bulbous head of the Sperm whale, the Spermaceti oil could fill 34 barrels and was most valuable. At first, the Wampanoag and Nantucketers stripped and boiled the blubber from the drift whales which had been stranded on shore. Over the years, sailors ventured further off the coast to deeper waters and discovered pools of Sperm whales. It evolved into a two hundred year industry and sailors became more than hunters. The ships became floating factories for processing and storing the oil. They became merchants and explorers, too. For one to five years, sailors set off on voyages in search of whales to fill the empty barrels lying on the belly of their ships. From Nantucket, the Westerlies pushed them toward South America. They rounded Cape Horn and floated up the coast of Chile to the Galapagos Islands and kicked out into the expansive Pacific Ocean in search of the migratory pools of Sperm whales. According to scholars on the PBS documentary, Into the Sea, “By 1775, 360 whaling boats went out to hunt the whale; 15 came from Nantucket. Fifty percent of the profit of exports in New England came from the whaling industry.” I don’t think it can be stressed enough how important the whaling industry solidified the economic success of the burgeoning northern colonies. Consider that the South had cash crops (tobacco, rice, indigo, cotton) while the North had whales. It is interesting to consider that both regional ends vanquished mammals for their economic success – whales in the north and slave labor in the south. 

New Bedford Whaling Museum, Harpooning the Whale

The Romance

The culture of a sailor and his life onboard a ship was a mixture of extremes. Boredom, while waiting to spot the whale. Then,  “Thar she blows!” followed by the rambunctious attack with harpoons aimed for the lungs, the pull and the stabbing, the gross “flurry” as the whale drowns in her own blood, the shout from the crew, “Chimney’s afire!” and then the three-day processing of peeling off the blubber, melting of blubber, the furnaces stoked and the smells and the slime of oil glistening the faces of the sailors as if they labored in the pits of Hell. Ghastly.

Remember to factor in the religious temperament of the 17th and 18th-century colonist whose explanation of the workings of the world were inextricable with the Bible and Divine Providence. That is, the sailor, the captain, and her ship were “vessels of exoticism, traveling around the globe in the pursuit of conquering the Leviathan, a sea monster from the Old Testament.” The whale was considered evil; man’s conquering was a noble feat. Surviving a voyage was an adventure for the crew and the officers; it defined manhood. The beauty and wildness of nature attracted the sailor. The horizon blended water and sky into a location of unearthliness. There was no time or place. Out in the Pacific Ocean–it must feel to what astronauts feel out in space–one is a speck, surrounded by infinity, overwhelmed with fear and awesomeness.

The Film 

After watching the film five times, I am in admiration of Ron Howard. He followed Nathanial Philbrick’s book with the attention to detail that mirrored the historical climate from the book. The true voyage of 1820 combined an unnatural pairing of the first mate, Owen Chase, (Chris Hemsworth) the “fishy” second-in-command whose natural instincts and assertiveness commanded the respect of the crew, while Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) was more a “social” leader, seeking suggestions, and thereby perceived too passive.

Where Ron Howard might have lost a few critics and fans for lulls in the action was the overarching narration of the telling of the story from the perspective of an older Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson) who was a cabin boy during the sinking of the Essex and the 90 days lost out at sea. Fighting the shame and guilt of sins committed staying alive, Nickerson is paid by a young Herman Melville (Ben Whishaw) to share the survival story and strange actions of the angry 85-foot Sperm whale, Moby Dick, who “stove” the Essex.

By including this line of narration, Howard blends the history of the story with the American Romantic classic, Moby Dick. Philbrick’s book centers on the recently discovered diary from the 1990s of the cabin-boy, Nickerson, to add a fresh twist to the long staple, Owen Chase’s account of the disaster, written months after the 1820 disaster. Howard respects this and gives life to the orphan boy who found himself at 13 on the voyage of a lifetime.

Ron Howard is criticized for his sappy interjections in an otherwise interesting plot. It’s his Achilles Heel. In this case, while devoting his film to a logical, realistic account, he incorporates the Man vs. Nature elements of the novel Moby Dick by bestowing anthropomorphic qualities to the whale. It’s the climax of the film, so I can’t specifically say, but it is the flaw of the film for me that brings my rating down a notch. I will hint at it: when man and beast come eye to eye, they come to an understanding.

In Nathaniel Philbrick‘s account, the whale struck the ship and was never seen again. The film version embellishes the history by embracing Melville’s book. Those that love Herman Melville and the personifications found in the literature would not have issues with the personification of the whale in the film. If you want a realistic account of events, the climax might feel far-fetched. Does it work? You tell me.  4/5.

American Experience: Into the Deep: America, Whaling & the World DVD 

Parker, Hershel, and Harrison Hayford (eds). (2001). Herman Melville, Moby-Dick. A Norton

     Critical Edition. Second Edition, New York and London: W.W. Norton & Company.

     ISBN 9780393972832

Philbrick, Nathaniel. In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex., 2001. Print. 

ISBN-10: 0141001828  ISBN-13: 9780141001821

Five Shots: OBX

Kill Devil Hills Beach

North Carolina’s Outer Banks (OBX) has a history of pirates and lighthouses, THE LOST COLONY OF ROANOKE, and the location of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s famous first flight in 1903. Check out this CBS Sunday Morning video about historian David McCullough’s book, The Wright Brothers. (A great read).

On the OBX you will discover sand dunes and wild horses and your eyes will fill with brown sugar beaches and water–the Pamlico Sound on the west side and the Atlantic Ocean on the east side. In addition to the history, add Southern hospitality and all the seafood you can eat. The warm breezes and the chilly Atlantic relaxed us beyond measure. Jim and I attended a special wedding at sunset on the beach when the waves turned into silver and the tall grass on the dunes waved under the pink sunset. Living in the desert, the water was therapeutic for us. We were only there for a few days, but in my mind, I’m already planning to rent a house and have a full family vacation at the OBX in the future. But for now, it was a welcome retreat and an opportunity to rejoice in an intimate family celebration.  Which shot do you like best?

Fish Enchiladas at Bernie’s
Kill Devil Hills looking North
Pamlico Sound Tiki Bar at Duck

Pamlico Sound house pier
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Bodie Lighthouse
View at the top
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Looking down nine floors

Oregon Inlet fishing station. Today’s catch.
Mahi
Waves at Rodanthe
Sunset over Pamlico Sound
Supper’s Ready
The bride and groom and the proud witnesses

 

 

IMO: Welcome to My World

There’s a part of me that feels like I’ve cast myself into the tundra, face first into the arctic blast, alone, as I now live inside my head, writing and editing this second novel. On one hand, that’s how much I miss blogging. Denying myself the fun of sharing thoughts about films, culture, books, and camera angles from my side of the world. Who knew your cheery comments and fun conversations would come to mean so much?

The maudlin side of me put aside, like a stashed cigarette secretly smoked, I have secretly read your posts but haven’t commented, but you all seem fine and well.

Das Buch:   Weimar Germany and the depravity of Berlin. The cabarets, the darkness of sin, drugs, and Bessie Smith. Poor George Hero, my anti-hero bordering on an unreliable narrator, has had a rough time of it since WWI.  I’ve been listening to Philip Glass while I write, and I am glad to report this first part of the novel is completed because Philip Glass wears on my nerves and depresses me, but he seems perfect for putting me in the right mood to represent the dark. In contrast, as if emerging from a cave at noon, the next part of the novel takes place in good ‘ole sunny Arizona. Sally is the feisty young copper cutie, a dancer, who dreams of becoming a Ziegfield girl and star on the Hollywood stage.  She will need her chutzpah to survive the invasive force of her mother. She is cast as an extra in a western. She is determined to become indispensable and befriends Zane Grey and Gary Cooper.  She has a needy friendship with Kay the Hopi Indian, who is a chameleon, sometimes seen as female, sometimes as male, sometimes as Apache, and sometimes she hears the whispers of her mother and sisters wanting her to remember the Hopi way. Meanwhile, she is the recipient of the elaborate gold-plated pistol, hollowed and filled, with the means by which she can free herself from her past, present and have a say about any sort of future. To what extreme will George reclaim the pistol from Kay?

As teacher:  After 18 years, I am counting down the final eight so I can retire. I know it’s a sin to wish your life away–just the working part of it. It’s hard not to this time of year. Spring is the time the drama begins. The school year is drawing to a close. State testing has students restless and apathetic.  Juniors are applying to colleges and seniors have emotionally left high school and await graduation. Teachers are tired and resigned what they are trying to sell in the classroom no one is buying. Teachers compete with students’ cell phones, the prom, sport team demands, and being a cast member in the musical. Is it any wonder they don’t care about John F. Kennedy’s involvement in the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Civil Rights? Gee, if I can’t get them interested in the volatile sixties, this last month of school could be tortuous.

Meanwhile, teachers are grumbling because the new superintendent has shaken things up. The master schedule’s modifications include removing classes with lower sizes to make it equitable across the board. (If one teacher has class sizes of 30 and another only 12, is that fair?)  That means cutting out the advanced and elective classes. Personally, this means all the classes I love teaching have been taken away from me. The gems like AP US History, AP World History, and a big sting, my Holocaust Studies/Recent World History class. Gems because teaching college level courses are the perfect fit for me. I have been struggling with my pride over it. Be a team player. You are a cog in the wheel. Get over yourself. Readjust your attitude. It still hurts, though.

The Vikings and Nationals Baseball: Strangely, I’ve taken a break from watching movies. I’m binging on the television series by the History Channel via Amazon called The Vikings. Man, I love it. When I come home from work, after watering the flowers, one or two episodes with a beer or glass of wine is a great way to relax before starting supper. I’m on series three. I like the monk Athelstan (George Blagden) the best because rarely in films or television do you see the importance of the role of the monk in history, in this case, by preserving the scrolls of Roman England. I’ve been to Ireland and have seen The Book of Kells and love the artistry of the monks’ calligraphy. The character Athelstan straddles the conflict between pagan/Christian religion. Michael Hirst who wrote the series includes Old English and Scandinavian languages when the two worlds collide; it’s delicious to hear the languages spoken.

The culture of the Vikings is complicated. The legends and mythologies have fascinated many for years.

http://www.history.com/shows/vikings/pages/vikings-historians-view

When I’m not watching The Vikings, I am watching the Nationals play baseball. We are off to a great start this year by leading the NL East with 10 wins and 5 losses (.667). My favorite players are Bryce Harper and Daniel Murphy. They bat 3, 4 respectively, and the two are hitting powerhouses. Like Lennon and McCartney, their competitiveness inspires the other to do better. Go Nats!

Books: I’m reading Paula McClain’The Paris Wife. It’s about Hadley, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife and their time in Paris during the 1920s. Ernest is trying to become an author and I can’t help but pretend we two are trying to accomplish the same goal. Except he doesn’t have to go and teach teenagers every day. He gets to sit in a Paris cafe and drink all day long while he writes. It didn’t go so well for him in the end, did it? Who knew my students would save me in the end? Ha!

Okay, bye again. Back to the novel.

Love & Friendship,

Cindy

The Swastika

Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a
Heraklion Archaeological Museum, Swastika on a ceramic bowl

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It is a great irony in World History. That a symbol of peace and well-wishes should signify hate and encapsulate the pain of WWII. The Swastika has an ancient history as a symbol of peace used around the world. To my students, this is new news. They’ve only known the slanted, perverted Swastika. They did not know its Sanskrit origins dated 5,000 years before Christ, was founded in Hinduism, and sprouted from India and Iran. Indo-Aryans migrated taking their chariots with them (1800 BCE) and spread language, artifacts, and the symbol of peace, the Swastika. Read more about it at the Holocaust Museum.

I’ve never felt its presence more than last summer when in Crete, I visited the Heraklion Museum and found the Swastika on the side of Minoan pottery (picture above). It coincided with research I’d been doing on Hopi and Navajo Indians, specifically how they crafted their beautiful rugs. I stumbled upon Gary David’s article “The Four Arms of Destiny: Swastikas in the Hopi World” and enjoyed how he explained the ubiquitous presence of the Swastika. It is fascinating and found here:  swastikas_hopi_gary_david.

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Navajo blanket

The Hopi and the Navajo American Indians are celebrated for their craftsmanship of making rugs and blankets. Throughout Arizona there are trading posts and gallery showrooms where their art is auctioned. Want to learn more about the weaving history or the Hopi and Navajo? I enjoyed this 2012 article by Ojibwa from Native American Netroots. When I explore antique shops, it is not surprising to find Hopi and Navajo rugs for sale, ranging from $100-2,000 dollars. I have seen rugs with the swastika woven in them. While theorists and historians speculate the global presence of the swastika, I am saving up to purchase a Hopi rug that has the peace symbol woven in it. I’d like to reclaim the swastika, set it up straight, and share well wishes to those who enter my door.

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IMO: Stuck in the Van with Zealots

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In my opinion, I would rather clean my oven and scrub the toilets than travel ninety minutes each way in a van with outspoken colleagues to attend a professional conference. My nickname is Switzerland because I abhor confrontation and prefer to remain neutral over most topics. I am surrounded by two loud alpha females: one who is passionately a feminist (Sally), while the other is a supercilious Democrat (June). The stoic, older intellectual (Martha) is a Buddhist and a socialist who esteems animals higher than humans; she has a general disregard for Americans. So much so that when she travels, she speaks other languages to avoid being labeled American. Finally, there in the back of the van, the gentle, calculus teacher and coach (Phil), pretends to take a nap. He’s not married.

At least I got to drive which kept me busy. Tired of listening to an hour of extreme opinions, negative attitudes, and the general flush from the two super-fans of Hillary Clinton, I attempted to steer the conversation away from the upcoming election. Let’s talk shop. June prides herself as a senior faculty leader who name-drops her school board friends and is privy to inside information behind administrator’s doors.  I threw out a conversation starter. “How does everyone like our interim superintendent? Do you think he will become our new principal? Who knows of his plans?” There began an eruption of groans and a clamor of disapproval. June assured me there was no way the board would let him stay after his temporary contract was over.

Sally gasped, “Can you believe he initiated the pledge of allegiance back into the classroom?”

I raised my fist with approval.  “I think it’s great. I was surprised when I first moved to Arizona that we didn’t lead the school day with the Pledge. It’s about time!”

Sally and June looked at me with raised eyebrows. June knows I am a Navy veteran. She said casually, “Oh, that’s just the military side of you talking.”

“I don’t do it in my classroom,” said Sally. June agreed. “It’s propaganda. It’s brainwashing.”

I steamed. “I make my kids stand up and say it.”

“You shouldn’t make them.”

I tried to remain calm. “So many have sacrificed their lives for us to enjoy our freedoms listed in the Bill of Rights.”

Sally smacked her thigh. “Precisely why I don’t say it. Free speech. I don’t have to say the pledge just because I’m told to. It’s my right. I don’t pledge my loyalty to the United States of America.”

“But why wouldn’t you want to?”

“This country is fucked up.”

 It was the first time I had a conversation with this new teacher. She talked about leaving AZ and going back to Washington at the end of her annual contract. She aroused in me dark thoughts and mean wishes. I looked at Sally with one eye. My hands were shaking.  “I teach Holocaust Studies and U.S. History. I’m well aware that nationalism is the downfall of the twentieth century. Propaganda, taken too far is dangerous. But how we see ourselves is connected to the values our society believes in. In America, that means rugged determinism. Hard work. Serving others. Going after dreams. Reinventing ourselves when we fail. Perseverance. My national identity is wrapped around a creed that aims to create solidarity. Another creed I identify with is the Apostles Creed.”  It comforts me to identify myself with my country and my God. These creeds are guidelines, reminders of my history, and they define me.

Feel free to be disgruntled with your government, but love your country. I see high school students who don’t know what to believe. All they hear is noise and they stumble around looking like zombies trying to figure out their identities. Understanding why the United States is a great country with an awesome history is a start, and why I love my job. A national identity is a great start. Without loyalty, integrity slips away. Without loyalty to your country, we are loyal to ourselves and such self-absorption halts the growth of communities. That’s where individuals make the biggest impact in their country.

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Why should we pledge ourselves to the flag?

I’ve known women who have lost husbands, sons, and daughters to wars. That folded flag at a funeral is a thank you. A thank you for serving and protecting my freedoms. When I pledge the allegiance to the flag, I see the Revolutionary War. Those were true patriots who died for the principals of freedom. They died for an idea.

I see in the stars and stripes the battle of the Civil War. Northern and Southern soldiers chose to protect the union or were willing to die to protect their land and an ideology. They believed in their principles, and that made them patriots.

In the 20th Century, while late in entering both World Wars, the U.S. aided and served with the Allies to stop dictatorships and uphold democratic ideals. Soldiers died so that their children and grandchildren (us) would enjoy free speech and the right to pursue their dreams. The American flag took a beating after that. Citizens grew angry and unhappy with their country. The Vietnam War was a mess with soldiers who didn’t want to fight in an unwinnable war. But they did go and serve. Civilians started burning the flag. Reagan came along, and as a Teflon President, his strong appearance helped convince Gorbechov they could end the Cold War.

Now all seems like chaos. Special interest groups covet. Desert Storm. Afghanistan. Iraq. Taliban. Isis. It’s a muddled mess with drones and ultra-technology. Now others hate America.  It’s a colossal mess, and I certainly don’t have answers. I can’t imagine any President would want to inherit it all. It’s understandable that people are angry and lost and care little for the U.S. flag. The rise of ex-pats leaving the USA is growing. Okay, go then, if you are consumed with hatred and feel hopeless.

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What I do believe, when I say the Pledge of the Allegiance, is I’m thankful for the original soldiers who fought for an idea. Their strength of character inspires me. I strive for my accomplishments. I earn them. The flag symbolizes the American Spirit which I stress in class. Through hard work and determinism, anyone can strive for a better life. I pledge my allegiance to the flag because chaos from the past offers us a balancing stick to cross the tightrope of chaos today. To me, it is an insult, a dishonor not to say The Pledge of Allegiance.

I still don’t know who I’m voting for on Tuesday.

Beryl Markham (1902-1986)

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Getting to know British pioneer aviator, Beryl Markham, came about in a roundabout way. The first instance came this summer when I was attracted to the cover and bought a copy of Paula McLain’s 2016 best seller, Circling the Sun. Blending fact with fiction, her prose aroused the stunning setting of 1920s Kenya with authenticity.

Do you recommend 'The Paris Wife'?
Do you recommend ‘The Paris Wife’?

As I read the novel, I vaguely remembered it was based on a true person. About half way through the story, the life of Beryl Markham began to feel like an epic romance novel, something from Margaret Mitchell’s imagination, the heroine’s life too outlandish to believe. The ingredients included the British Royalty, Kenyan tribes, eccentric personalities and their parties, horse breeders, big game hunting, love triangles, Beryl’s swinging passions between horses, men, and aviation. Include other associations such as coffee-plantation owner Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke whose memoir Out of Africa(1937) inspired me long ago. It followed with the film adaptation in 1985 starring Meryl Streep and Robert Redford–still one of the best films of that decade. After reading Circling the Sun, I itched to read Beryl Markham’s memoir; a colleague passed along her copy to me three years ago. West with the Night was one of those books I knew I needed to read, but it collected dust on my bookshelf instead.

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West with the Night, published in 1942 did not do well at first publication. Thanks in part to Ernest Hemingway, his praise for her writing precipitated the second publication forty years later with success. She was four when her family moved to Kenya from Britain. Raised by her father, she learned to ride and train horses and became the first licensed female to train horses in Kenya. In the 1920s, her relationship with the dashing Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford’s character in Out of the Africa) inspired her into aviation. In 1936, she became the first person to fly solo across the Atlantic from east (Abingdon, England) to west (Nova Scotia).

Over the years, critics have raised doubts whether her beautiful prose was an original effort or perhaps shaped in part with her third husband, Raoul Schumacher. Regardless of the controversy, I’d like to think the descriptions and tales of Africa–the animals, the horses, and the people, like her wise childhood friend, Kibbi were expressed by her. Here is a hefty sentence, a sampling of her writing from West with the Night (160):

The shores of its lake are rich in silence, lonely with it, but the monotonous flats of sand and mud that circle the shallow water are relieved of dullness, not by only an occasional bird or flock of birds or by a hundred birds; as long as the day lasts Nakuru is no lake at all, but a crucible of pink and crimson fire–each of its flames, its million flames, struck from the wings of a flamingo. 

I remember in the film Out of Africa, the birds played a symbolic role romanticizing the beauty of Kenya. In Paula McClain’s novel, she includes this scene of flamingos, and the imagery stands out. I recommend all of it: Paula McClain’s Circling the Sun; Beryl Merkham’s West with the Night; Karen Blixen’s Out of Africa, and if you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend you watch the film version. These leading women were fierce individualists and trailblazers.

Here’s an interesting article with Paula McClain about Circling the Sun. You can read it  HERE.

One of my favorite scenes from the film Out of Africa. It’s no wonder Beryl loved to fly. Ahh, that score by John Barry!

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