Monday, April 27, 2015

Short cuts to learning Italian - Our Legal Friends

I mentioned in a previous post that knowing a fair amount of "medical Latin" made learning Italian a little easier.  Latin and Italian are certainly not the same thing but the connections are close enough to be helpful.

My main professional experiences of course are in medicine, but as we go hither and thither in this world it would be surprising if we did not pick up a few bits and pieces of other "languages".  Legal Latin for instance.

I don't find the mental leaps to come quite as easily, but just for fun here are a few scraps of Legal Latin and ways one might craft them into modern Italian....

Fumis boni iuris.  Literally this means "smoke of a good right".  The legal meaning refers to having a sufficient basis to bring legal action.  It is used more in European courts and has the implication that your case is strong enough to prevail.  I rather like the notion of a puff of smoke as a benevolent signal.  It does not, alas, have anything to do with the election of a new Pope.  The smoke from the chimney at the Vatican happens when the Cardinals burn the secret ballots after each vote.  For failed votes they mix in smoke.  With success, just paper.  White smoke.

Ex turpi causa non oritur actio.  "From a dishonorable cause an action cannot arise".  It's good to know you can't be sued by people who break the law.  Also I like the word "turpi".  It reminds me of the quaint "moral turpitude" clauses you used to see in contracts.  What would pass for turpitude in the Year of Our Lord 2015 is difficult to imagine.  If you were wondering, turpentine comes from another source altogether.

In flagrante delicto.  I never consider it a good day unless I learn some small interesting fact.  This term literally means "in blazing offense".  It seems to be used in connection with various sexual hi-jinks but is not specific to that sub type of human misbehaviour.  I think the connection with same comes from the last word of the phrase.  Delicto sounds a lot like delicious.  But once again two words have nothing to do with each other.

Defalcation.  If most of us have a general familiarity with the sort of things described as being "in flagrante" few have heard of this one.  Defalcation is the misappropriation of funds by one entrusted with them.  It literally means "cutting off with a sickle".  Interestingly the Latin for sickle, "falx" turns up in medicalese as well.  The falx cerebri is a sickle shaped structure that separates the two sides of the brain.  There, you have probably learned something new and will now have a good day also.

Uno flatu.  "In the same breath".  A term used to criticize a statement in which conflicting things are said at the same time.  Flatu, it seems, is Latin for any movement of air....hence "deflation" and "flatulence"!

"Non compos mentis" This means "not of sound mind".  Compos is an interesting word.  It actually seems to mean a mind at peace.  Latin: Compos  Italian: Compostezza  English: Composure.  

I suppose there can be a few small useful bits here.  In Italian No Smoking is Vietato Fumare.  I am generally discouraged by my Fellow Traveler from going too far with my modest linguistic skills, so I doubt I will be accusing shifty street merchants of Turpitudine, much as they would deserve it. Flagrant/Flagrante is such a marvelous word in any variant that I won't be able to resist on that one.
We will be doing a bike tour of the Appian Way.  Not expecting a flat tire but if it happens I will be well equipped with the knowledge that while "flat" is a Germanic word, inflation - or better still - Inflazione, is a word that earlier travelers on the same road would have understood.

For now I wish you "Compostezza alla tutti!"

Friday, April 24, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - A Wisconsin Ghost Town

In states like Wisconsin, where the population tends to be fairly settled, there are few genuine ghost towns.  At least if you insist on it being a totally abandoned community.  But the brewery cave we feature today is certainly at least from a "near ghost".  There are still people living in this small community but it has lost its original name, its chief industry and its hopes for a bustling future.

Rockport Wisconsin was once called Clinton.  It got its start back in 1847 when Nathan and Thomas Van Horne dammed up Koshkonong Creek and built a water powered mill.  A town grew up around it and of course they had a brewery.

The brewery was built in 1865 by a fellow with the remarkably non-Teutonic name of Ole Jacobson. It is said that the cave associated with the brewery had three rooms, walls that were three feet thick and a roof that was four.  The cave was fashioned from stone cut in area quarries, the brewery building made from locally produced brick.

The brewery went under at an unspecified time and the building became a creamery.  Nothing now remains except the cave, which in the mid 20th century was used as a warming house for ice skaters on the mill pond. Most of the cave is now collapsed, apparently the result of a local farmer using dynamite to do soil testing nearby.

The cave is now preserved in CamRock County Park.  It is not difficult to find....

technically this is a sign indicating the difficulty level of the Beer Cave Trail!

There is a rather silly piece of plywood in front of the doorway, but that will not pose a challenge for any experienced cave spotter.  This is clearly on public land so I can for once say that a visit should not be a problem.  But do remember that part about how caves sometimes collapse...

Here is the view from the inside of the cave looking back towards the entrance.  The entry passage here is rather nicely built.  Next view is the inside of the remaining "room".

The odd wooden structures serve no obvious use.  They look as if someone had the idea of shoring up the roof, but that kind of construction is not going to do much.  The back of the cave, presumably the second and third rooms, has in fact caved in.  Dynamite will do that sometimes.  In the center of the above picture you can vaguely make out an object...

It is some kind of stove.  I am not quite sure what to make of this. My first impression was that it dated back to when the place was used to warm up ice skaters.  But the shape of it is rather modern, of the sort that people now call a "chiminea".  I should have taken a few more pictures to establish whether this was sitting atop the filled in dirt or was just the top part of an older, substantial stove partially buried in it.  It should not be necessary to state the obvious but that won't stop me....never build fires in caves.  You are asking for carbon monoxide poisoning. I did not see an obvious vent option in the roof above this old/?/new artifact.

Standing on the hill above you can clearly see a depression that was caused by one or more chambers of the cave collapsing.  It was a bright, sunny day, one that gives you pause to reflect.  Looking out across the Rockdale mill pond in 2015 you see this:

A few houses remain.  Rockdale's population on the most recent census was just over 200.  But the dam, the mill, even the pond....all gone.

If you visit be safe and respectful.  The area is very popular with mountain bikers so keep a sharp eye out as you walk these paths.  The cave site can be reached either by going down the hill from Shelter Area Three of the park, or by simply walking upstream from the little bridge in Rockport using the trail shown above.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Forgotten Brewery Caves - Beer and Circuses in Ann Arbor Michigan

A longish post today, and one probably of interest only to serious brewery cave buffs.  But it was an interesting visit, and one that gave me a lot to puzzle over.

First things first.  I love it when old brewery caves get put to modern uses, and it is especially fun when they are used for something a bit similar to their original mission.

Nick Easton acquired the site that would become The Cavern Club when he ran an antique store.  His sales area was up above, the caves underneath were just used for storage.  As Ann Arbor is a college town the idea of using the venue as a night spot was soon suggested to him, and it has been a success. In fact, after opening the Cavern Club in the former beer ageing caves he went on to open several other venues in the structure above and in the building next door.  I would prefer to sip my beer down in the arched stone vaults, but if your tastes run towards dancing and quaffing in other themes you can do so in spots with a circus theme, a New York City theme or a "Millenium" vibe.  To each their own.

Nick was kind enough to give me a personal tour one afternoon.  For a night club impresario this is the equivalent of getting up at the crack of dawn, so thanks again, Nick!

I must say the building was not what I expected, and my puzzlement began on first sight.

I will admit that Michigan is not my usual area of exploration, but there is a lot wrong with the concept of this being a brewery building from the 1850s.  It was not near a visible water source.  It was not built into a cliff or hillside.  It was made of  light red brick, of the sort usually seen with structures from 1890 to 1910.  The windows looked wrong.  Notice how they are set at varying positions within the squared off brick faces?  Behind the brewery were railroad tracks.  They were actually built up higher than the level of the brewery.  No doubt the railroad got to Ann Arbor fairly early, but not as early as this brewery was established.  All very odd, and I will explain after we have a look around the inside.

You have to like a bar that has a stuffed lion jumping through neon flames!  But that is upstairs in the Circus section.  Our interest lies underground, down in the Cavern Club.

There are a series of intersecting tunnels.  Their alignment to the building above was peculiar.  Brick and stone foundations appeared to alternate.  I think the upper photo is the "main line" and the bricked arch - which has a twin just to the right of this image - a subsidiary passage.  Lets look at some construction details:

Here we have the classic short stone wall with brick arch above.  As we have seen in earlier explorations this is what you had to do when you did not have a nice cliff face of workable stone. The technique involved extensive excavation, constructing the side walls first, then fitting the brickwork over an earthen, or in theory, wooden, form.  In general this is something you would do adjacent to your brewery building, not right underneath.  These vaults are strong, but why take that kind of chance?

I hunted up and down the tunnels and found evidence of only one vent shaft.  Again, peculiar.  And the shape is not the classic "port hole".  As this appears to be near the sidewalk in front of the club Nick was of the opinion that it was a coal chute.  Maybe, but the construction looks original so my vote is for an atypical vent system. to piece this together?  I retired to the Ann Arbor public library where I was able to quickly consult some historic photos and the excellent book Ann Arbor Beer by Dave Bardallis.  Lets revisit the location of The Cavern Club.  First in 2015:

This is as nearly as I could - safely - duplicate the angle of an 1882 photo:

You should notice several things in the black and white image.  The building is wooden.  There is a decided downward slope as you go from front to back, now reversed as you go uphill to a railroad grade.  And it has a sign that reads Central Roller Mills.  The story appears to be roughly this:

A brewery has been on this site since at least 1853.  This makes sense as the street in front of the brewery was the early city limits of Ann Arbor.  You avoided a lot of trouble with ordinances by setting up shop just over the line. What you can't see here, but the trees suggest, is that behind this structure ran Allen Creek.

The earliest Ann Arbor city directory lists Gottlieb and Christian Hauser as the proprietors of "The City Brewery" at this address, although as mentioned there are clues to the presence of brewing on the site some years earlier.  Early accounts give us a few useful details, it is mentioned that the lagering caves had a ground level entrance, this certainly being from the much lower rear of the complex.  And it is noted that cooling was in part by water "from the creek" running through the caves.  I did not get a very good image of it, but under much later cement there was some sort of deeper channel with running water under the cave floor.  As it was running towards Allen Creek this would have been from a spring somewhere uphill.  This answers the issue of water supply nicely, and would explain why they could get by with less than usual venting mechanisms.

My sense of direction is fairly good, so with respect to the 1882 photo I would say that the caves were mostly near the right of the main brewery building with a passage running across the front.  There are wagons loaded with kegs near the dock in the foreground.  Beer must have been taken out of those fairly narrow looking doors for distribution. There was a structure inside the Cavern Club that was felt to be an early elevator, presumably the beer was hauled up this way rather than being taken out of some lower, back entrance to the caves.

The City Brewery went bankrupt in the Panic of 1873.  The property was taken over by the Ann Arbor Central Mills around 1882.  Presumably they had the grain storage space already and adding the machinery to grind feed and flour would not have been difficult.  Some portion of the property, the caves one presumes, continued on as a beer distributorship for Milwaukee and Detroit products at least into the later 1880s.

As time went by Progress, or at least Change had its way with things.  Allen Creek was diverted and covered over.  The railroad built a line directly behind the structure no doubt adding many feet of fill and covering the original entrances to the caves.  The wooden structure went away, either from dilapidation or as a result of the more kinetic demise so common to the combination of  boilers and grain dust.*  A red brick building was erected circa 1900 apparently using some of the original 1850s foundations. Later still it was a farm implement dealership in the 1930s at which time the floors were reinforced with cement to hold up under the extra weight.

All in all an enjoyable visit and a nice little detective story.  If you are in Ann Arbor and in need of a beer in congenial surroundings you might want to stop by.  I know I will next time through, having put most of the pieces together - I think - I now want to scrutinize the stonework more closely.  I bet I could find traces of the earlier "outside" entryways.  And that drain under the floor?  It would be interesting to check and see if cool water is still flowing down there.  It would please me to see that unchanged when so much all around has been altered.

The Cave Club and its allied venues can be found at 210 S. First Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
*addendum. There is an alternate theory, one that has the wooden building still in situ but with a veneer of newer brick over it.  There are points both ways.  For instance the window placement is quite similar.  But this would at a minimum require the upper peaked part of the wooden building and the portions to the right side to have been removed.  I will say that on the second floor there appeared to be no wood remaining but it is a very complex structure and I might at the point I made a close inspection, have stepped through into what certainly appears to be a modern building next door.

Personally I would be delighted to find all or part of the original building still intact.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Lots of Candles in Ann Arbor Michigan

We both have older parents to visit, and recently it was our chance to head over to Michigan to see my father in law.  He was turning 92.  We don't get to see the old gent as often as we would like and a large-numeral birthday seemed an excellent opportunity.

Life as a nonegenerian has some limitations so we went out for meals, sat around and chatted, and helped out where we could.  His apartment needed a bit of cleaning up.  The natural tendency of guys to be casual in their housekeeping having been paired with poor eyesight.

I got a few stories of the old days from him.  I asked him why so many of their family photos feature floods, fires, car crashes and other sorts of mishaps.  He said life in small town Indiana was pretty boring and what else was there to take pictures of.  He declined to tell me stories of my wife as a kid.  I am not sure if it was chivalry or memory that factored in there.

I got him out for a beer.

We had a birthday cake, candles unlit.  His apartment has a mirrored wall that makes for a rather unusual photo.

His days contain many naps.  Lots of old cowboy movies on a really big TV screen.  Meals on wheels shows up daily.  He peers as a big computer screen with font set at the maximum size.  And there are his pals the squirrels.

He feeds a small community of squirrels.  Every day at appointed times he tosses out cracked corn and peanuts.  If he is off schedule a bit the chubby tree rats come right up to his glass sliding door and press their little rodent noses up to it, admonishing his lateness.  Would you like to know how close you can put your smart phone to the fuzzy mug of an insolent begger-pest?

Pretty damn close.

Happy birthday Old Timer!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Best Brewery Cave Ever? Part Two

Welcome back.  Having had a tantalizing look at the outside of my favorite (to date) brewery cave it is time to head on in.  The nautical part of our journey was fairly short.  About 20 feet into the cave the floor was higher, presumably by design. This allowed seepage and ice melt to drain off.

The floor was damp but a nice solid base layer of rock made footing easy.  This was a well constructed cave, one that did not have the common problem of debris from the walls and ceiling piling up on the floors.

I was here at the invitation of a local history buff who got in touch after reading some of my Detritus of Empire postings on this topic.  I promised him a heroic "intrepid explorer" picture.  Heroic enough, Rich?  The cave is T-shaped and goes back about 100 feet from front door to the furthest corner.

Most brewery caves had one or more vent holes.  I have seen a few with metal or ceramic pipes fitted in them.  This vent was remarkable in that it was larger than usual, and because somebody went to the significant effort to line the entire shaft with well cut and placed stone blocks.

Here is an odd feature.  There were a couple of places where random holes were drilled into the side walls.  They go in for 18 inches or so.  I wonder if they were considering where to start side passages?

As I mentioned this cave has a nice slope to the floor which makes for clean drainage.  And it lacks the common drainage gutters than can be either in the middle of the floor or along the walls.  There was this odd curved trough, but I don't know if it was man made or natural.  Because in the back of the cave there was something wonderful...

Water was seeping from a wall and making "Flowstone".  These deposits of calcite come from dissolved minerals and are pretty much formed by the same mechanism as stalactites.

Here's a closer look...

And on the way out we noticed a couple of bats.  Per my previous posts I try to avoid visiting caves with bats during their hibernation season.  These guys were a surprise.  So we gently tiptoed out and left them to slumber.  Near as I can tell though, they have been spared the dreaded White Nose Disease that is tragically hitting bat populations so hard.

Sorry to keep this cave location a secret.  It is on private property and I was there as a guest. This is a totally unspoiled cave.  Not a speck of trash, no graffiti.  I think we were the first to set foot in it in many years.  It would be a shame to see it damaged.

Also our bat pals need more "space" these days.

And although this cave holds no danger to the Prudent I hate to image what trouble kids with beer could get into.  There is water, a vent shaft that looks fun to climb in, steep cliff faces above.....yikes.

Just be happy that a few places like this still exist far off the beaten track.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Best Brewery Cave Ever? Part One

Today's historic brewery is "somewhere in the Midwest".  Sorry about a no-locations post but the reasons will become clear in a bit.

Although there is some reason to suspect an earlier date, local histories say this brewery was started in 1871.  Initially a two story 40 x 24 structure it had several subsequent additions in the early 1870s. A photo of about that vintage looks like this:

Before I give the later history of the brewery, a picture of the same site, and from about the same angle today:

Clearly the site has changed a little!

The brewery enjoyed a fair amount of local success and seems to have been in the 500 barrel per year class.  (Breweries with a capacity larger than that payed taxes at a higher rate....was a bit of fudging in capacity estimates common?).  It went through a series of owners in its later years and was destroyed by a fire in 1908.

In the first picture you can see a bridge in the foreground.  It crosses a picturesque little creek.  A later owner diverted the creek and excavated the front half of the brewery ruins.  This created a charming trout pond...and makes the cave accessible only by canoe!  Note the water pipe on the right.

A few more exterior views:

Probably the cave entrance corresponds to the wider open door in the historic photo. You wanted to be able to trundle kegs of beer in and out without too much bother.

Note the pinkish tinge to the stone foundation walls.  This is not the natural rock color.  It is a tint that limestone acquires when it gets heated up, and likely an effect of the 1908 fire.  We could tell that we were near the boiler section of the brewery because as our canoe nosed into the partially flooded cave I picked up this:

Laclede was a St. Louis company that specialized in fire bricks, a type used in boilers, kilns etc. They got started in 1844 and were consolidated into a larger firm in 1907.

As we nose our way into the cave, the passing trout waving us in with their tails, I can tell you are eager to see what lies within.  Come back next posting, I promise it will be worth the wait....

Monday, April 13, 2015


My dad and I recently.

He's 35 years older than I am but appears to have fewer wrinkles and about as much grey as I do.

I had just told him some very good news.  He was quite happy.  It was in fact the fourth or fifth time I had told it to him but with his short term memory issues he was equally surprised and happy every time.  And the news was such that I was equally happy to tell it that often.