Thompson Elk

one of the more interesting things in the Plaza Blocks is the statue and fountain that stand smack in the middle of Main Street. it was donated by David P. Thompson, who, among other notable positions, served as Mayor of Portland from 1879-82. he also served in the Oregon State Senate, in the First Oregon Cavalry during the Civil War, and as U.S. Minister to the Ottoman empire (for a year at the end of the 19th century. back in Oregon, he also served as regent of the University of Oregon, president of the Oregon Humane Society and first president of the Portland Public Library.

the Elk was commissioned of Roland Hinton Perry, who completed many notable works around the turn of the twentieth century. born in New York, Perry studied sculpture at several Parisian institutions in the 1890s. upon returning to the United States, his commissions included a series of bas-reliefs for the Library of Congress, a potential design for the statue atop the Pennsylvania Capitol building, a statue of Benjamin Rush in Washington and General George Greene at Gettysburg, and a pair of lions on the Connecticut Avenue Bridge in D.C.

Bienville and the founding of New Orleans

this year, our Homecoming tradition took us for the first time to a city where none of us have ever lived, and two-thirds of us had never been: the Crescent City, the Big Easy, home of the cocktail, voodoo, jazz, and beignets — New Orleans.

we were up early the first morning to explore the city, heading first to the French Quarter the oldest and possibly most atmospheric of the cities sections. initially, I was taken aback by how little of the city’s early history I knew — first settled by the French, then taken over by the Spanish and returned to the French only to be sold to the fledgling United States. up from the Louisiana Purchase I have a vague understanding of how things operated, but I was delighted to discover a much more layered and rich history than I’d ever anticipated.

one of the first plaza statues we encountered was of Bienville, one of the founders of New Orleans and early governor of the French colony. born in Montreal, he was appointed to the position for the first time in 1701 and established several settlements, including a deep water port at Dauphine Island, what is now Mobile, Alabama, and ultimately New Orleans. the slight elevation made it far more practical than other sites along the flood-prone river and delta and was convenient to important trading positions. with permission from the company directors, he established New Orleans in 1718 and the heart of it — what is now known as the the Vieux Carre or French Quarter — was drawn up between 1720-21. the proposed grid pattern was largely overlooked by settlers initially, but when a hurricane flattened most of the existing structures in 1722, the new pattern went into effect, as we see it today. it became capital of the new colony, named for the Duc d’Orleans, in 1723.

the land had been inhabited for thousands of years by native peoples and, generally, the original inhabitants welcomed and aided early settlers, such as French trappers and traders traversing the Mississippi River. Bienville was known for his cordial relations with Native Americans, one of few early governors who could communicate without the use of an interpreter and, moreover, willing to aid local tribes against opposition tribes. many of the settlers were unsavory types and the governor complained frequently in his letters back to the central government. his relationship with administrators of the Company of the Indies, which controlled the colony, was fractious and resulted in him being recalled to France in 1725. he returned some 8 years later and severed as governor officially and focused on fortifying the settlement. all told, he served 30 years as governor over a 42 year period and retired to live in Paris for more than twenty years.

down the hill into the rain shadow

the hike down from O’Cebreiro proved dramatically different than the ascent the previous day. it was overcast and windy in the passes and stayed much cooler well into the middle of the day. (once we got to Triacastela and the day washed off, I was a bit wishful for a warmer pair of clean pants.) the main roadway down from O’Cebreiro cuts over a 1,264 meter pass at Alto San Roque, where there’s a large statue of a peregrino gripping his hat and bracing against the wind. (of course we had to cross the road and pose with it.) the bronze Monumento do Peregrino stands atop the peak near an old hermitage of the same name. the first record of the hermitage dates from the early 17th century and is known for its unique architecture and wooden facade.

not long after posing with the statue, we stopped for a quick bite at a small cafe in Padornelo where a hopeful, speckled rooster hovered around our table, hoping for flakes to drop off our bocadillo. it wasn’t the last close-encounter we had with livestock or wildlife in Galicia which, similar to western portions of Ireland, has a disproportionate human-to-livestock ratio. because the Camino often follows farm tracks and narrow back-roads, we encountered lots of evidence of cows or sheep heading from their lodging in one of the tiny farming hamlets that led to Triacastela off to their pasture for the day. on one memorable occasion, we encountered a herd of lovely caramel-colored cattle heading uphill rather late in the morning. two younger Spanish women (maybe college-age) walking just ahead of us seemed fascinated by the cows … in a way that made it seem obvious they must live someplace where one doesn’t run into cows very often. or ever. one of them walked right up to one of the cows to pose for a picture; the cow, obviously freaked out by this strange person approaching her, stopped and halted the progress of the herd up the hill. the farmer, who was leading them to pasture, came storming up at the rear of the herd and ripped into both of them for stopping the cows. I couldn’t understand precisely what either side was saying (as it was in Spanish) but the sentiment needed no translation.

for much of the descent, as the guide book alerted us (correctly and reasonably for once), was through clouds — visibility wasn’t more than a few hundred meters at best for quite a ways. it was a nice change from the heat of the previous days, even if my hair did some wacky curling. the increased precipitation meant an array of new flora, including blue lilies, wild roses, blackberries, hawthorn, broom, gorse … as well as more fauna. likely because of the smaller human population, there’s a diverse wildlife population in Galicia, too. apparently, if we’d been observant, we might have seen evidence of wolves, harriers, short-toed eagles, martens, wild boar, sparrow hawks, and ermine. if I’d been Galician wildlife, though, I’d have gotten as far away from the tromping peregrinos as possible and leave no trace of myself behind!

busts galore

though the museum’s pride in occupying the same building as a McDonalds seems somewhat overdone, the Museum of Communism in Prague does a remarkable job of illustrating the hardships endured by the Czech people under communism, from the end of World War II until the success of the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

an array of busts took up a portion of the middle of the museum; ones completed in bronze, studies in plaster and clay, half-completed relics of Stalin and Lenin. a display explains the development, construction, and demolition of the world’s largest Stalin monument, which was located in Letná Park across the Vltava from the Jewish Quarter. construction began in the early days of the new communist regime, when adoration for Stalin remained high. the process took five and a half years, however, and the accelerating rate of anti-Stalin sentiment during the period mean that even upon its unveiling, the statue quickly became an embarrassment for the Czechoslovak Communist Party. all the same, the state unveiled the monument in 1955 under even greater stigma than produced by mere anti-Stalinism — unable to endure the pressure exerted by the party, the secret police, and hate mail from Czech citizens, sculptor Otakar Švec killed himself three weeks before the unveiling. in 1962, the monument was demolished. a new sculpture, the Metronome, now stands on top of the plinth.

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