Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Tree Shaped Tombstones - Belgian versions, late and tragic.

The Western Front was a fairly narrow band of territory.  If you were a few miles either side of the largely static lines life went on albeit with some disruption.  But within the range of the guns the damage was significant and in the area of Flanders where I was excavating Hill 80, the destruction was near complete.  In many villages nothing survived, they became dust and rubble.

Even the cemeteries, so when I wandered through a few post war grave yards I was surprised to see that "Tree shaped Tombstones" are common.  In fact, I think they are still being made and placed.



Kemmel Belgium.  Note the death date in the mid 1970s.  The church behind it, along with everything else above ground, was destroyed by artillery fire during the war.



Another example from Wychaete, just a short stroll from the Hill 80 excavation.  

As I went about in Flanders I actually saw quite a few of these, all in the "Rustic Cross" configuration seen above.  It seems to back up my theory that these are more of a Catholic thing, as Belgium is almost entirely of that faith.  They all have at least a stylized version of the stone base which I assume represents Mount Calvary where Christ was crucified.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Belgium in Review

A wrap up of my Belgian adventures.....how well did my pre-trip preparations work out?  And what kind of place is it anyway?

In general my preparations worked well.  Lots of walks and garden work in the weeks prior made the physical labor manageable.  I take curious pride in being an efficient mover of dirt.  The first week home I actually had more aches and pains than during my two weeks of digging.

Belgian beer?  As it turns out this was not much of a pub crowd.  And the two local establishments were not always open anyway.  But there were several evening get togethers for curry, barbecue or whatever.  The Uni students brought some watery low cost beer.  Those of us with foresight and funds brought better stuff.  As usual the company and the beer act in concert and the evenings were delightful.  Odd...what with John Denver sing alongs by our guitar playing Austrian explosives expert....but delightful.



The default language on site was as I suspected English.  Belgium can't agree on much of anything and with Dutch, French and German all being official English has become the default.  In second place was Dutch, or rather the Flemish variant of it.  I was able to pick up a bit while digging.  The security guy at Brussels airport was impressed.  He had also heard of the dig on the news and we had a nice chat.

I must with reluctance dispense some negative points to Brussels airport.  The train going to and from the place has a regular team of annoying beggars.  They come around and listlessly hand out grubby pieces of paper saying that they are poor, work with children and would like some money.  They come back later to collect the scraps and put out a hand.  They seem used to being ignored and just move on to their next location, leaving the lingering smell of a three pack a day smoker in their wake.  The airport also has some very suspicious "helpful" individuals who will for instance be right there if the ATM is being difficult, offering to direct you to one that they know works........

But in general the inhabitants of the rural area I stayed in were much the same as country folks the world over.  Polite if primarily absorbed in their own lives.  One of the Belgian archaeologists I worked with told me that Belgians are Europe's most passionate home bodies.  They are said to be "born with a brick in their stomachs".  The contrast of immaculate homes and gardens and very sleepy public spaces would seem to back this up.

Having spent a decade excavating a bit earlier in May and a ways further north - up at Hadrian's Wall - I packed more warm clothes and fewer T shirts than needed.  We had blazing hot weather and I usually slugged down an entire 2 liter bottle of water.  

After the first week I did have my logistics worked out.  There were nice showers on site so I got cleaned up prior to returning to the diggers hovel.  There was also a comical little washing machine so the bag of laundry detergent I carried along was a good call.  The convenience store down the block was pricey but they were open early and made a good lunch time sandwich.  I never found coffee beyond the highly potent stuff available in small quantities on site, but it was just sufficient to avoid withdrawal symptoms.

I was able to manage Belgian trains and buses, and timed things such that I left the excavation having consumed the last of my provisions and wearing my last items of clean clothes.  About half the garments I brought with went into the trash or into a clothing for charity collection bin that I found.

I had numerous conversations with the eclectic bunch of excavators on site, often on the subject of where they should go to visit the "real" America.  So many Europeans confine themselves to New York, LA, Florida and even, God help 'em, Vegas.  I suggested they rent a car and hit the small roads in summer time.

So some of my critique of Belgium is unfair by my own standards.  Brussels for instance is an unlovely place as seen by the train, and no city is fairly judged by its airport.  That being said among my last images of Belgium were this series of ads, all of them showing emaciated, unhappy young people.  



Not the real Belgium, just as LA, NYC and Vegas are not the real America.


Friday, June 15, 2018

Bull Durham - Mechanical Bulls

(Wrapping up my tribute to Bull Durham on its 30th anniversary)

In the movie Bull Durham there is a sign in the outfield.  It is in the shape of a large bull and says "Hit Bull Win Steak".  



It features prominently in this clip from the movie....where "Nuke" learns a valuable lesson:



Of course something similar has to appear in the new Bulls ball park.  Several similar things in fact.  This is out by the left field foul pole.  And indeed, players who hit the bull do get a steak from an adjacent eatery.  It is unclear if the salad offer is valid.  Like the movie prop it has eyes that light up red and steam the shoots out of the nostrils.  



But where is the original movie prop?  I understand that it was a decoration somewhere along the first base line for years but has been taken down.  The closest I could find was this guy up on the concourse overlooking the entry gate.  It is a bull on wheels so probably is taken to events and such.  Lets take a robot builder's look at this one.


The eyes light up with standard truck tail lights.  I could not work out the mechanism for steam production in detail, some elements were enclosed, but it is probably some kind of fog machine, a reservoir tank, and a fan.  That's how I would build it anyway.


Here's what makes the tail go up and down.  It features a mechanism called an "eccentric rod" that allows the toothed gear to create smooth up and down motion of the tail which is mounted to the left gear and bearing.  Think of how old time locomotives work.


I couldn't quite get a look at the drive motor but suspect it is a 24 volt DC industrial motor.  The whole shebang is supposed to be portable, and battery power would be handier than a generator or a need to plug things in.

Below is another Bull.  More art than mechanics here but some very nice welding of an enormous number of fender washers....




Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Bull Durham - Crash and Nuke Step Into the 21st Century. Part Two.

Part Two that is, of my tip of the hat on the 30th anniversary of the movie Bull Durham.

Ah, the new Durham Bulls stadium.  What would "Crash" Davis and "Nuke" LaLoosh make of it?

It's a lot fancier than the old stadium.



You get a real sense of the vibrant Durham economy sitting here.  Instead of tired old tobacco warehouses you have construction cranes.



The concessions area features an on site brewery.  Both Crash and Nuke would have approved.  Nuke, who has no class, would have liked the beer I got there.  Crash...I'm not so sure.  In the movie he was seen to be drinking Budweiser but maybe that's all he could get.  The old guys manning the taps here were pleasantly garrulous but the beer was uninspired.


Could our two blue collar heroes even get their minds around the concept of a ball park concession called "The Kupkake Fairy"?  You may recall that Nuke in a desperate attempt to break a losing streak wore women's underwear while pitching.  He thought they were pretty comfortable but reassured himself that "...doesn't make me queer or anything...".  He'd sneak over and get one of these excellent cupcakes when nobody was looking.  Crash would be a friend of the owner who would give him three every time he showed up for a game.


Welcome to baseball in the progressive 21st century.  A little enclosed area for nursing moms.  Neither Crash nor Luke could resist a guffaw over this.  Annie would fix them with an evil, disapproving glare.


Oh yes, the ball game.  I had actually never been to a AAA level game.  These are the guys one step from "The Show".  The quality of play was much better than in the low minors.  Complicated things like sacrifice bunts and pickoff plays were attempted regularly and often with success.  The game was shortened a bit by the storms that had marched about on all sides for the entire evening.  As Nuke Laloosh famously said: "Sometimes you win.  Sometimes you lose.  And sometimes it rains.  Think about that for a while."


Monday, June 11, 2018

Bull Durham - Crash and Nuke Step Into the 21st Century. Part One

Back before my Belgium foray we made a brief trip to Durham North Carolina.  Mostly to visit old friends who had moved there.  Partly just to see a part of the country new to me.  But I admit to just a sliver of Movie Fandom here, as I wanted to see the location for what has perhaps become my favorite movie of all time: Bull Durham.

If you have not seen it, do so.  On the surface it is a movie about life on a minor league baseball team.  But it is actually about life, love, growing old, and about the decisions we make.

It is set in a beautiful, vintage ball park near down town Durham.  Since the movie came out 30 years ago this week there have been many changes.  The Durham Bulls have gone from being a struggling low level "A" ball team to a high level AAA team that wins national championships.  They have also moved from the old ball park into a new one, one whose size and elegance more befits a team that has "made it".

Join me for a brief wander through the two ball parks, the old and the new.  I won't intrude on your journey too much but will share my observations....which mostly deal with how the two main characters of Bull Durham would have appreciated the changes.  How would the mature, analytical but sensitive "Crash" Davis see things?  How would the brash, impetuous young "Nuke" Laloosh see them?

Today the old ball park.  It is still in use.  A local college plays their games there and I believe the Bulls still have one "throwback" game a year in the old place.  It is also a training facility for ball park grounds keepers.

The ball park entrance is seen in the beginning of the movie as a bustling, active place.  If Crash saw it this way he'd be saddened.  Nuke wouldn't go to the park on off days.



The field still looks good but you can tell that the movie makers and time both have changed things.  Down town Durham is a busy place these days, those are upscale condos off the the right.  The outfield in the movie has a series of brick tobacco warehouses.  Here we see most prominently a blue cinder block building.  We'll get back to that in a moment.


Across the street from the ball park is this tall, skinny building.  I assumed - correctly - that it had something to do with fire fighting.  It was used to train firefighters.  It also looks like a "hose tower" which fire stations used to unroll hoses after use, hanging them up until they were dry and could be recoiled.  Both Nuke and Crash being rather obsessed with sex they would have looked at this and made jokes about their towering hoses.

Ah yes, that building out beyond the right field fence.  It was being renovated.  Having heard about it I had to go over and snap a shot of the interior.  


Truth is way stranger than fiction sometimes.  This building is being renovated into a bar where you can throw hatchets.  Just for fun or in competitive leagues.  Really.  After a few drinks Nuke would for sure want to try this.  Hopefully Crash would talk him out of it but if not Nuke's notoriously troublesome control would mean it was time to duck under a table as the hatchet went who knows where.....

Friday, June 8, 2018

At a Loss for an Answer.....


The 57th Wilde's Rifles at Wytschaete

The British Army of the late 19th century was not an impressive force by Continental standards.  Otto von Bismarck famously said that if the British ever landed in Europe he would simply ask the Belgian police to arrest them.  

The shortcomings of the Army were made more evident in the Boer War which lead to significant reforms.  By 1914 the British had a professional, all volunteer force....but half of it was on duty in various colonial postings.

The outbreak of war in August 1914 called home all available troops including some colonial regiments with fabled histories.

Here is a photo of Indian troops from the 57th "Wilde's Rifles" in Wytschaete, October 1914.  

And the same spot in 2018.


Wilde's Rifles were originally called the 4th Punjab Infantry Regiment, part of the Punjab Irregular Force.  They got their new name in recognition of valiant service during the Indian Mutiny, honoring their commander at that time Sir Alfred Thomas Wilde.

Their experiences in Wytschaete were not happy ones.  Their casualties were a staggering 50%.  They were eventually driven out of the village by repeated German assaults.  After further costly engagements they were subsequently taken out of the line and sent to East Africa to help round up German colonial troops fighting a prolonged guerrilla campaign.

The odd thing about archaeology of relatively recent events is that you get information sources such as the first photo.  I think it is fair to say it was taken when the Wilde Rifles first went into the line at Wytschaete...neither the buildings nor the expressions of the men appear to have been subjected to serious combat at this point. 

The spot where these photos were taken is perhaps a quarter mile from the Hill 80 dig site.  So it is possible that artifacts of Indian origin could turn up, although given the short time the Indians were there, and the constant pounding of four long years of combat, it would have to be regarded as a low probability.