Friday, October 15, 2010

The Anthro Reader, Vol. 11: The History Edition

The past is present.
There is indeed truth to that quotation from The National Archives. So, let's go back in time with this edition and take a look at who we were and how we've come to be.

First, some local stops. Traffic has always been a problem in NYC. The Tenement Museum blogs about this awesome traffic sign they unearthed:

Credit: Tenement Museum
Isn't the mascot awesome? Joe Klarl posts that The Tenement Museum believes the sign dates to the 1970s/1980s when New York City first launched its "Don't Block the Box" campaign to help with traffic flow. I think the toothed car is awesome, and quite typifies the vehicular denizens of the streets. 

Next, Ephemeral New York has a post up about long forgotten New York airports, including the four runway Flushing Airport:
“Flushing Airport was opened in 1927 as Speed’s Airport (named for former owner Anthony “Speed” Hanzlick),” states “It became the busiest airport in New York City for a time."
Flushing Airport took a hard hit when nearby LaGuardia opened—and quite frankly, it's a surprise to me that LaGuardia could put anyone out of business because I view it as a tiny, local air strip. Yes, it's actually more than an air strip. Yes, I am biased in favor of JFK. I grew up 15 minutes from JFK, and convenience has definitely won my heart over.

In the northeastern United States as we head into fall and winter, there are bound to be quite a few rainy days ahead. I admit that I've never given my umbrella much thought—I mean, it's a good, sturdy umbrella, but I haven't invested much thought into the history. Angus Trumble has a post up at the Paris Review about his chance discovery of an umbrella museum in the town of Gignese in northern Italy—turns out this region gets a third more rain than London. Readers are treated to a delightful account of the history of the language of umbrella makers:
As with so many other northern Italian industries (most famously the glass factories of Venice) the relevant production techniques, recipes, and other trade secrets were jealously guarded and protected with much paranoia, even ruthlessness. To that end the ombrellai used an in-house language known as Tarùsc, which seems to have existed in one form or another among the hill-dwelling people of Piedmont and the southern cantons of Switzerland since at least pre-Roman times. And while it came to be associated almost exclusively with the ombrellai, it was also used for related purposes by smugglers, thieves, spies—indeed a comparatively large proportion of the population whose occupations were covert.

According to local folklore, il Tarùsc was a very shy, small bad-tempered gnome who lived on the slopes of Mottarone and Motta Rossa. He was surly, difficult, and misanthropic. Nevertheless from him the ombrellai learned the art of making the shapeliest, lightest, most lissome and elegant umbrellas in all the world. And in the process Tarùsc taught the ombrellai how to speak his own strange tongue. He had a long red beard; wore green clothes, red shoes, and a tricorn hat that doubled as a knapsack. His extreme shyness did not prevent Tarùsc from engaging in spiteful little pranks, such as tripping people on mountain paths, wolf-whistling, and other impertinent behavior. If you found yourself targeted in this way, the only solution was to scatter a sack of rice as near as possible to the site of the affront, so that gathering it all up again, grain by meticulous grain, he was distracted all through the night, long enough to forget all about you and move on to his next hapless victim. 
It's a fantastic read and highly recommended—and a good reminder of how we've come to be globally connected by small, everyday items.

In that same vein, you may also want to check out the history of denim jeans at Socyberty, which traces the pants from their origins as work clothes to casual wear:
The actual jeans cloth originated in Chieri, a town close to Turin, Italy, in 1600s. It was traded through the harbour in Genoa, a naval power and the capital of an independent republic. The were first made for the Genoese Navy because  the sailors needed all-purpose pants that can be worn both wet or dry, with legs that could  be easily rolled up to be worn while mopping the deck. These jeans were washed by hauling them in big nets behind the ship.  The sea water would naturally fade them. History has it that the name “jeans” was derived  from blue de Genes, or blue of Genoa. The raw fabric material came from of Nîmes (France) de Nîmes , which eventually evolved into the word “denim.”
Just something to think about the next time you get dressed for a casual Friday.

And that's it for this week. For even more history, you can also visit the October History Carnival hosted by Katrina Gulliver at Notes from the Field.

As always, you're invited to send me stuff for the Reader! Really. I want to know what you're reading. When you see something neat, either shoot me the link on Twitter @anthinpractice or drop me an email. I'll save it, take a look, and possibly add it here.

(PS - As you may have noticed, I decided not to put the Reader under the fold. Do you have an opinion one way or another? I'd like to know.)

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