Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Over the Vacation: Venison & Zampone, Onrust, an Enviro Blog Goes Dark

Back to normal … One of our cats woke me at 4:20 wanting to go out, or in – I forget which. I lay awake listening in my head to the Beatles’ Long Tall Sally, which is not goodnight music. When I finally started to doze at 5:20, my daughter’s alarm clock went off. It’s a new clock and we had mistakenly set it for 5:20 instead of 6:20. After I told her she had another hour, I decided to use the laptop to check if the ice or snow or whatever it was that was falling outside would delay the opening of school. Even worse: no school at all. I went back in to tell her. Faced with a 6:20 wake-up, and after about 10 days of gradually growing accustomed to waking up later and later, she was not unhappy: “That’s the best news I ever heard,” she said. It’s 9:15 and she still hasn’t stirred. I went back and slept til 8:15.

Feasts … We did our part for the local ecosystem on Christmas, eating two roast backstraps of venison taken by hunters in our part of town. They were good and, eaten side-by-side with a small piece of beef we bought in case the venison wasn’t enough to satisfy the 11 people around our table, proved deliciously game-y in comparison with the tamer beef.

More interesting was the New Year’s night meal – zampone with lentils. Both are New Year’s traditions (not necessarily in our house, but somewhere), the zampone because it’s a fatty dish, the fat symbolizing prosperity, and the lentil because they look roughly like coins and also symbolize prosperity. The zampone is a pig’s trotter stuffed like a sausage, and then simmered for 45 minutes or so (you buy it already stuffed). It’s sliced like a loaf of bread. On the plate, the outer layer of skin/fat falls away easily, leaving the sausage part, which is soft and savory, like a pate. One of our guests was completely grossed out and ate just one slice, as a courtesy. I loved it.

Long Tall Sally was in my head because I learned, from reading the first 200 pages of the new 1,000-page Beatles biography, that they’d been singing it since they were the Quarrymen in the late 1950s and in fact did such a rousing version that they usually opened with it, which prompted me to find my old copy of the Beatles Second Album and play the first song on side two – that is, Long Tall Sally, with Paul screaming “…have some fun tonight.” It’s not a lullaby.

Some people in the Schenectady area have decided to build a “replica” of the Onrust, the jacht that Adriaen Block built in early 1614 after his ship, the Tyger, caught fire and burned. The Onrust was the first Dutch vessel built in North America. For years it was thought to have been the boat on which Block became the first European to sail the length of Long Island Sound, and in fact many books repeat that story, which is almost certainly false. It’s far more likely that Block first sailed the Sound in a ship called the Fortuyn, in 1612 or 1613. The evidence can be found in two books – A.N. Phelps Stokes’ The Iconography of Manhattan Island and Peter Hart’s Pre-History of the New Netherland Company – and I put the pieces together into a narrative in one of the early chapters of my book. But historical myths die hard and I have little doubt that if the replica of the Onrust becomes a popular tourist attraction, the myth will resurface.

The project is being undertaken by a new non-profit called New Netherland Routes, one of whose founders is the Schenectady County historian, Don Rittner. Mr. Rittner says on his website:

“The Hudson River has the Half Moon replica, and the Mohawk will have the Onrust replica. The Onrust will bring attention to the Schenectady area and its importance during the early founding of America, but also as a major ship-building community during the 19th century. This floating museum will provide students and the public with a perspective on 17th-century life and the early explorations of the country.”

This is fine and I’m sure the new Onrust will be fascinating, but it’s an odd choice because without a doubt the Onrust never sailed on the Mohawk. Just as the rapids on the Connecticut River prevented Block from sailing deep into the interior of what is now New England, the falls at Cohoes, where the Mohawk flows into the Hudson, would have stopped the Onrust from sailing west into central New York.

I put “replica” in quotation marks above, by the way, because it’s the word Mr. Rittner uses, although “replica” means an exact copy and, while I have no doubt that he and his colleagues know roughly what early 17th-century Dutch jachts looked like, I can’t imagine they think they’re building an actual replica, since the boat was lost not long after it was built and no drawings of it were ever made.

I’ve read once or twice that some historians (although not Rittner, based on what he says on his website)) think the Tyger burned, and the Onrust was built, near Albany. Others think Manhattan is a more likely location, and in fact about a century ago, when workers were excavating for a subway in lower Manhattan, they unearthed the charred timbers of a Dutch ship that might be those of the Tyger. The timbers are in the Museum of the City of New York.

I wonder about the names of boats. Are they registered somewhere, and can two boats have the same name? I mention it because I recall going out (very briefly on a very rough day in September of 1988) on a research vessel owned by SUNY Stony Brook called the Onrust. Would that preclude the Schenectady people from naming their boat the Onrust?

Farewell to The Uneasy Chair
... Jon Christensen has shut down his blog, The Uneasy Chair. I checked in usually every day to see what was on his mind, and he linked to Sphere often, which I was grateful for. I’ll miss reading him.


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