Sunday, August 30, 2020

Travel Notes, II: Tashme

 Here I am, back at my comfortable computer station in Vancouver, as from 9:40 last night. With the ergonomic issues --and the fatigue that comes from riding six hour+ stages-- I could write something more substantial, but I'm not going to, because I have a very small but personal matter in my teeth, and I am going to get it out!

A large part of high school Canadian history, at least in my day, was dedicated to the building of the Canadian Pacific Railway.  I am not even sure that it is possible to argue that this is wrong, and offer a revisionist "People's History of Canada." It's not that there's not counter-narratives --that is, in fact, what I'll be writing about today-- but there is a very strong case that there would not be a Canada without the "iron road from the sea to the sea." I'm going to waffle all over that claim (I think it's wrong but am utterly unprepared to do the work needed to sustain a counterargument), but it's hard to argue against the economic and geographical logic. 

Hardrock miners on the porch of the Deadwood Store,
Greenwood, BC, c. 1900. It's hard to understate how strong
the completely unexamined notion that white Britons were 
the first "outsiders" in this province

The old-time historians and commentators were not modest about our ancestral achievement.  Firm that the "natural" lines of North American communication ran north-south, so that the railway realigned the geopolitics of a continent in line with the sociopolitical preferences of the infant nation. It was even, at least by the 1970s, the fashion to acknowledge some non-White participation, with dutiful Chinese labourers and misunderstood Metis, as well as the usual lot of "Indian guides."

Leaving everything else aside, there was a strong British Columbia connection to the generation that gave us this history, starting with Pierre Berton himself. For them, much of this argument was intuitive. It is hard to get from Vancouver to the interior of the province of British Columbia, and, more specifically, to travel between the Okanagan Valley and the Coast. For my grandfather's generation, you could take either I-95 or I-97 south until they joined away down south, at which point San Francisco --heck, Tijuana-- were as close as the other part of your native province, or the arduous but patriotic alternative of wagon road down the Fraser Canyon. 

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Travel Notes: Thoughts on Sugarloaf Summit

 The Crow's Nest Highway, Number 3, along which I stumbled and bumbled on my vacation last summer presents the Hope-Princeton as the first challenge for the avid bicyclist out of Vancouver, and it is a pretty meaty one. 

The way mountain roads are supposed to be, the road ascends a watercourse on one side, reaches the water parting at a "pass," and descends the other side. You might not know that the St. Bernard Pass is reached from a tributary of the Rhone that runs into Lake Geneva, on the one side, and a tributary of the Po on the other, but you know that's how it works.

The Hope-Princeton, on the other hand, ascends a left bank tributary of the Fraser, then switches to climb a significant hill to Sunshine Valley, of which I would have a vacation picture if my motel wireless were up to it. 

Stealing from Wikipedia is faster, and hardly a crime at all.

The Valley in the Sunshine is carved by the Sumallo River, a tributary of the Skagit and of little consequence unless you live in Bellingham, Washington, where the Skagit enters Puget Sound.

From the end of the Sumallo/Skagit uplands, the highway ascends rapidly to the valley of the Similkameen, a tributary of the Okanagan, which falls into the Columbia far to the south in Washington State. Mount Allison summit, the highest on the route, marks the entry in the Columbia's enormous watershed, and since Princeton is on the Vermilion forks of the Similkameen, it's all downhill from there. 

Or would be if the highway didn't depart the Similkameen and climb its merry way up Sugarloaf Sumnit in order to avoid some unspecified hold up in the valley of the river. 

While I was not intellectually unaware of the existence of Sugarloaf Sunmit, I encountered it at 7:30 on Friday night, after departing Hope at 7:30 that morning. I summited, and made the hair raising glide down into Princeton in the dark (barring a few mild climbs that had me cursing the perversities of our sublunary world, but I only arrived at the Sandman Motel in Princeton at 9:45, after more than fourteen hours on the road. 

Which is why this week's blog post is just me checking in to say that Keremeos is a very night place to catch 11 hours of sleep.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Postblogging Technology, May 1950, I: Counting Down

R_., C.,
Shaughnessy, Vancouver,

Dear Father:

Well, it's definite. No Reds. Just like Uncle George said at Thanksgiving, the  typhoons arrived before the Communists were ready for anything like an invasion across the Straits. We've had the first of the season and the Reds have gone for Hainan. We cacn count on no more South Seas invasions till at least, the Fall. At which point, if Hainan is any guide, it'll be curtains for Peanuts and the Koumintang. It's just too much to expect the northerners to cross the mountains in the summer and span the waters in one winter, and this island will be brought beneath communist Heaven under the eyes of the Goddess of Mercy. 

Yes, I'm wasting a lot time around here shooting the breeze with practically everybody but Koumintang officers, including an old folk musician who is tickled that I want to hear the old Hakka songs that Uncle George butchers. I was going to share my version with Ronnie, but got the best glare you can give by trans-Pacific phone call, and fair enough when we're spending our retirement money on the calls.

So, around here, we haven't had a coup, we haven't had (much of a) purge, and we haven't had an invasion. We're all watching the invasion of Hainan, and everyone's calculation is about just when and how to jump. I've been firmly instructed to shut up and soldier (by Uncle George, not my CO, since I know you're worried). So all I can do is look forward to furlough in Hong Kong. I'm trying to wrangle a flight down to Singapore to see the other side. Ronnie's coming out in July, probably just before you, and there's rumblings that our subscriptions might be freed from the Post Office purgatory as soon as next month. 

I know Mother will complain that she's not hearing from me when I have so much time, etc. So I've sent her a big long letter, regular post, with snapshots of picturesque Formosa. And then another one, and . . At that point, I decided to stifle myself, as I've been warned (by Uncle George), that loneliness and inactivity can loosen the tongue and make you say things you regret. 

Your Loving Son,

Thursday, August 6, 2020

The Bishops' Sea: Getting Diplomatic

Arnarstarpi on Snaefellsnes By The original uploader was Reykholt at English Wikipedia. - Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons., CC BY-SA 3.0,

I assume that the village of Arnarstapi has the best view of the spectacular cone of Snaefellsjokul, at the tip of the Snaeffellsnes peninsula,. At least. this photograph is far more impressive than the one that illustrates the article for Helgafell,the place where Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir is said to have been buried, and, where, more importantly, the medieval monastery of Helgafell was located. It seems at least likely that both the Flateyjarbok and the Skaholtsbok were produced at Helgafell; although even if not they were both produced in the diocese of Skalholt a generation before. This makes the Helgafell scriptorium the only source for one of the two Vinland Sagas (The Greenlanders' Saga), and probably one of only two sources for the Saga of Erik the Red along with the Hauksbok of approximately a century before.

The issue here is that the Vinland Sagas are often treated as transparent historical sources, even when the skeptical conclusion is that they are useless sources. Yet we owe the foundations of the modern historical method to these same scriptoria and in this same era, as they checked and tested the production of rival scriptoria for the key ecclesiastical purpose of settling real estate disputes. This study of diplomatics seems to have skipped right over the Vinland Sagas, which seems a little odd, all things considered. Fortunately it turns out that "seems" is doing a great deal of work, and in a light blogging week before I get on with postblogging technology for May of 1950 it is worth exploring these studies. 

This is very much a problem-oriented inquiry. The heroine Gudrid Thorbjarnardóttir appears in a prominent role in both sagas, albeit more so in the Greenlanders' Saga. She is the mother of Snorri Thorfinnson, and ended her life as the wife of a very prominent chieftain, giving her the means to make a pilgrimage to Rome and to endow, it seems, a convent. While the Greenlandic characters in the two sagas are somewhat obscure, Gudrid is a well known figure who appears in the genealogy of the editor/patron of the Hauksbok, Hauk Elendsson.* She is the grandmother and great-grandmother of a number of early Icelandic bishops, not surprisingly considering her son's leading role in the Christianisation of the island. Given all of this, it seems reasonable that the convent that claimed Gudrid as a patroness would promote her history and seek her beatification by producing a hagiography; and, given that, one's attention is drawn to the Vinland Sagas, and especially the Geenlanders' Saga, as a possible outcome of that effort. 

Moreover, the genealogical descent of the legendary founder of Greenland, Erik the Red, is for the most part extremely obscure. This is all the odder considering that Gudrid has a tangential connection with the family, having been briefly married to Erik's second on. Surely over four centuries some other descendants followed the path back to Iceland, and are worthy of mention somewhere in the Saga of Erik the Red? And yet the closest we come to it is Freydis Eriksdottir, who appears in the Greenlanders' Saga as a foil to Gudrid, making her own voyages to Vinland, where she is involved in dark and bloody work. The saga predicts through the mouth of Leif Erikson, that "her descendants will not get on in the world." In the post-predictive world of the literary prophecy, that has to mean that there are traditions about Freydis' descendants. Making an enormous leap, I've sometimes wondered if those descendants are figurative, and that we might be seeing hints of a rivalry between religious institutions. There were, after all, several convents and monasteries in Greenland, of which we know precisely nothing. 

So that's the problem: Whether the production of the sagas might tell us something about long-dissolved religious communities that might have claimed ownership of the Vinland story in the late 1300s. I'm not sure how far current saga diplomatics gets me down this quixotic path, but it is certainly time to explore the state of the art!