blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Yarmouth, Monday

Under today's blue sky, in a gentle breeze off the sea, we discovered Yarmouth Bar and Pubnico. In our rented Hyundai Accent, we drove along the narrow road to the Cape Forchu lighthouse, passing an interesting looking harbour on the way (John's Cove Wharf). I stopped to take photos of the boats and lobster pots there on our way back along Caie Lane; some of this road is a causeway. The lighthouse is not the original, built in 1839, but a taller 20th century one. A lighthouse keeper's family had lived on the headland for years, keeping farm animals and bees, growing their own vegetables and enduring terrifying storms in the winters. It is dramatically rocky and the views of the inlet and the open sea are wonderful. We watched fishing boats arriving and departing and waves breaking on the rocks, and talked to one of the volunteers presently re-shingling and redecorating the lightkeeper's house.

We came back to Yarmouth for lunch at a seafood restaurant; I had far too large a bowl of chowder with haddock and crabmeat floating amongst the copious potatoes, very tasty. Chris had haddock and chips ("Do you want fries with that?").

In the afternoon we took Highway 103 past Tusket Falls, Belleville and Argyle to West, Middle West and Lower West Pubnico. That strange name is a corruption of the Mi'kmaq name Pogomkook, meaning something like the-place-where-we-fish-for-eels-through-holes-in-the-ice. The first European settlers in Nova Scotia, the Acadians, led in this instance by the Sieur d'Entremont in the 1650s, called the place Pombcoup. Whatever it ought to be called, it is a pretty spot. We found something that wasn't advertised on the tourist map, a new feature right at the end of the Pubnico peninsula: a wind farm managed by NextEra Energy, with 17 enormous wind turbines, some male, some female, according to the engineers who erected them there. Between them, they generate enough electricity for 12,000 homes! It's almost as if the locals are coming full circle. From being an entirely self-sufficient community, raising their own livestock on farmland reclaimed from the salt marshes, fishing, and using their cottage gardens for their needs, they are now self-sufficient in energy.

We lingered for a long while at the point beyond the turbines (whooshing quietly in the background), sitting on the brand new benches and walking along the new trails along the rocky, marshy shore as well as through the woodland full of wild flowers --- a botanist's paradise --- and butterflies. We saw a large wild rabbit, a hawk and a whole flock of cormorants perching on rock-islands near the shore. The forest consisited of stubby conifers, deformed by the prevailing winds and hung with lichen, and shrubby bushes that I couldn't identify. Some of the flowers were cloudberries.

I insisted we stop at the Dennis Point wharf on the way back through Lower West Pubnico, which was worth it to see the large fleet of colourful working boats moored there, all named after their owners, some in French (e.g. Capitaine Simon), some in English. The Acadian flag was flying everywhere, alongside Canadian flags. We visited a little museum about the Acadian settlers, staffed by two local girls in long Acadian skirts and aprons, one of whom (who told us she had mixed French, English and Mi'kmaq blood) gave us a guided tour of the house, describing the Acadians' turbulent history, despite the fact that they were a peaceable people who wanted to fight neither for the English nor for the French. They were cruelly treated by the British, who banished them and went to the extent of burning their settlements. Some settled in Louisiana where they began to be called Cajuns; they were needed there for their land-reclaiming skills in the marshes. We learned how the aboiteau drainage equipment worked, a salvaged example of this being on show at the museum, quite recently found and recovered from a nearby marsh. They also had a kitchen garden at the back of the museum, planted with exactly the kind of plants that would have been grown here in the 1650s (cabbages, radishes, lovage, Jerusalem artichokes, spinach, carrots, chives, etc. etc.)

Returning to Yarmouth, we took the slower, quieter, less well maintained Route 3 through Lower Argyle, Glenwood and Tusket, round many curves and corners and across wooden bridges over the lakes and rivers, with deep green grass around them and on their islands. It was a lovely ride.

We walked into town in the evening and found a Chinese supper. The tide was right out, leaving parts of the muddy harbour floor exposed and damp seaweed on the harbour walls. We walked along the Maude Lewis trail again, a part of town that the songbirds seem to like as much as we do, where the wild lupins are in full bloom.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

To the end of the world!

Chris said that the tip of Nova Scotia, seen from the air as we approached Yarmouth today, looked like the end of the world.  We are south of the New Brunswick - Maine border here, on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, and Yarmouth harbour smells of the seaside.

Because of yesterday's transponder problem, we had no confidence that we'd get here, but the day began well. The weather was perfect for flying, fine, calm and clear. We ate breakfast in a room overlooking the Petitcodiac River, checked out of the Chateau Moncton and a taxi brought us to the Flight College where, to our amazement, we heard that there'd be no charge for Ken the mechanic's inspection of our transponder! Full marks and great praise for the service and courtesy at this place! Ken had cleaned the antenna when he took it apart and perhaps that's the reason why it gave us no trouble today. We did a single circuit to have our "1234" squawk checked from the control tower and the transponder transponded successfully all the way round. It also behaved itself all the way to Yarmouth, whither we flew after we'd loaded our luggage into the plane and donned our yellow life jackets. I sent a message from the air to tell our Yarmouth acquaintance George K that we'd be arriving at 2pm; he got my message and came to welcome us to his home town, which was really nice of him. We shall be seeing him again tomorrow, and his wife Heather.

Chris is dictating the following paragraph:
As we departed from Moncton, the Tower controller reported that he couldn't find our flight plan. But before we left, Chris had definitely filed a flightplan, online. After we'd been flying for a little while, we were asked to contact the Flight Information Centre in Halifax, to talk about our flightplan! We did, and they reported that they, too, had no record of the flightplan. After some discussion, Chris air-filed a flightplan to Yarmouth and all was well, and we tuned back to Moncton Centre. About 10 minutes later, Moncton Centre told us that the FIC was hoping to talk to us again, so we switched frequencies and the almost hysterical FIC man explained that he had found PTN's original flightplan that Chris had filed. By inaccurate copy-and-paste of a previous flightplan, Chris had actually filed a flightplan from Ottawa-Rockcliffe, rather than Moncton, to Yarmouth at 100 knots, total duration, 2 hours. The FIC felt this was too optimistic. A good laugh was had by all ... at Chris' expense.
The flight rewarded us with spectacular views of both coastlines --- the cliffs and hills of New Brunswick and the gentler, but still wild, Nova Scotian side. We saw a few islands too during our sea crossing, which took about 20 minutes, and from Nova Scotia we could still see the vague blue outline of New Brunswick. Muddy swirls indicated the underwater currents. Talking to Moncton Centre, we flew through the military airspace near the Greenwood airbase, and beside the Annapolis Valley and its meandering river. We were surprised by the extent of the uninhabited, unfarmed country to our left, i.e. inland, this region mostly just used for logging operations, it seems. The lakes we overflew were unlike the lakes of Ontario, being outlined by pale shores (sandstone?) and full of rocks, presumably quite shallow waters, because dead trees stuck out of some. The fair weather haze prevented us from seeing a very long way ahead, but I think we could still see for a good forty miles. The views were best during the last few miles as we curved our way down towards Yarmouth airport over the inlets, swampy waterways and green islands hereabouts. I noticed several access roads to these beautiful places, so that's our plan for tomorrow: exploring by car (I have booked a rental car).

We are staying at the Comfort Inn between the airport and town on ye olde strippe malle (as I think of such lookalike places) along Starrs Road. Typical of North America, all the commerce that ought to be downtown is located along this road, which leaves the older part of Yarmouth bereft, stores going out of business there, with their windows boarded up, such a pity. The town proper is an interesting place to walk into, as we did this afternoon; it lies beside the harbour, which, at the start of the 20th century, constituted the busiest port in the world. These days there's still a fishing industry (we saw a small ship called Obsession 1 moored in the harbour, opposite a few other such vessels) and regular ferry services to and from Portland and Boston in the USA leave from the central Ferry Terminal or terminate there, but it is relatively quiet. Water Street has a parallel walkway, with flowerbeds, by the water's edge, a series of informative plaques telling us about the history of the place and giving us a chance to gaze over the sparkling inlet to the narrow peninsula called Yarmouth Bar, with its muddy, reedy banks and fir trees, seagulls squawking overhead. One of Yarmouth's small parks has a stage with a painted backdrop of a sailing ship in trouble, so I assume there are times when people re-enact the drama of a storm at sea in 1866, and the ship called the Research floundering in it.
Sails were ripped from the  yards. A tremendous sea smashed the rudder. Without topsails and rudderless, the Research wallowed helplessly in the tearing winter gales. But Captain George Churchill was resourceful, inventive and determined. That all-important rudder had to be repaired or replaced. A man must go over the side into the icy water under the overhanging stern, and if possible, rig tackle, so that the damaged rudder could be steered from the deck. The job fell to the mate, the young, husky Aaron Churchill. Over the side he went, the control rope gripped firmly by fellow crewmen and Aaron, sitting perilously in a bowline loop. With one hand he struggled to rig the tackle; with the other hand he fought desperately to save himself from being smashed against the hull in the turbulent seas, dragged on board nearly insensible, he was given brandy to revive him, then over the side he went to complete the job. 
The Yarmouth crew had to do this eight times by which time they had reached the Azores and they eventually arrived in Glasgow, safe. What a story! I don't know who wrote the above narrative, but he (or more likely she) does seem to have enjoyed writing about that heroic, husky mate, who was 16 years old, by the way.

Another waterside park had a memorial covered with names: those "lost at sea" from these parts.

We climbed the hill up to Main Street and walked along there too, where most places were shut on this Sunday late afternoon, but we found some refreshments at a place called Sips, then also found a newly constructed multipurpose (bike) trail from Parade Street to Starrs Road that avoided our having to walk back to our hotel by the strip malls.

Photos to be added later.


Flying east

This post was written on June 24th, 2017.

Tonight we are on rue Main Street in bi-lingual New Brunswick, staying at the Chateau Moncton, in Moncton. We flew through a cold front to get here, having to penetrate some large clouds after passing Fredericton.

Wheels up from CYRO at 10:35, PTN's first leg today was an easy ride to Sherbrooke, although in that area too there was a fair amount of cloud and signs of wind sheer on the descent, not far from Mt. Megantic. We saw striped farmland south of Montreal, routed away from the city, although an incoming jet bound for YUL was not far above us. The view down to Lake Champlain was attractive, and then we came through L'Estrie over the northern tips of the long lakes in that region, over Magog and North Hatley. Lunch was a leisurely affair at the Bistro L'Escale, the Sherbrook airport restaurant, with a walk down the airport road afterwards, lined with marguerite daisies and wild flowers of many other colours, because Chris wanted to kill time to allow the weather ahead to move along before we reached it. 

Shall we be able to get through the cold front without any trouble? I wondered.

We'll see, said my pilot.

I was a little nervous as we climbed up to an altitude of 9000ft asl, but it felt less turbulent in the local sky than before lunch, so that reassured me. By the time we had levelled out over the mountains of northern Maine I was really happy; it was smooth and clear, up there. The oxymeter read 91(% oxygenation in the blood) for Chris and 88% for me; my pulse rate was faster than his, but then, it always is. We had a marvellous view of the slopes and ridges of Mt. Katadin and the wild lakes on the Maine-New Brunswick border, talking to Boston Centre on the radio (who handed us off to Moncton Centre) and hearing the radio calls from a Mooney pilot ahead of us who had taken off from Sherbrooke just before we did. Chris had had the foresight to get his IFR clearance on the ground at Sherbrooke, which meant that the other pilot had to wait a while to get his while airborne, not that it seemed to bother him much, obviously an experienced pilot. As he approached the Fredericton area we heard him request a "deviation around some weather" which indicated the same challenge ahead for us. Both a commercial flight pilot and Chris asked for a deviation to the left of a large mass of cloud beyond Fredericton; the system had changed position by the time we reached it. The clouds were fascinating, multi-layered and most beautiful (from the outside, that is! inside they are just whiteness or greyness, rain and turbulence) --- we saw a rainbow from above at one point.

Chris put his "solid IFR" skills into practice for the approach to Moncton as we had to descend through fairly thick cloud down from 9000ft to about 2500ft without really breaking out of it while holding an RNAV Zulu to rwy 24, via a waypoint called DUTIK to the east of the airport (near Shediac), then right to IMERO and right again to NABIN. I caught some nice glimpses of the coastline during these turns, with fishing harbours visible through increasingly large gaps in the lowest layer of clouds.

Once we reached the ground and had crossed Rwy 29  at Moncton, ahead of a jet whose pilot courteously waited to let us go by, the ground controller directed us to the Flight College facility where polite young people greeted us and told us where to fuel and park the plane. One of them, Ben, even offered to drive us to our hotel in the town, an offer we gratefully accepted because he saved us both the expense of a taxi and the wait for it to arrive. At the Flight College, by the way, copies of the aviation books that Chris has written --- Flying Beyond, etc. --- were on sale at the dispatch desk, and the training room was full of young men from China. They come to Canada (those who can afford it) to learn things they cannot learn at home.

Chris has had his transponder checked this evening, because it was intermittently failing on our way here. I hope this isn't going to cause a big problem. The mechanic came to look at the transponder but is having his equipment calibrated, so we may need to wait a few days. He did take it apart and put it back together, and give the antenna a clean, couldn't see anything obviously wrong, so Chris will do a test flight tomorrow after which we may be able to continue our journey. Otherwise we'll rent a car and explore at ground level.

We are staying at a hotel which obviously models itself on the Chateau Laurier or the Chateau Frontenac, although (having opened in 1999) not so venerable. It lies on the Petitcodiac River, which has a twice-a-day tidal bore, and which the locals call The Chocolate River, it being so brown. The river's tidal and the banks are a glistening, rusty-coloured brown too. Our ground floor room overlooks it, but it's dark now. Earlier this evening we walked back from the town under a superb swirl of cloud lit golden and then pink by the setting sun. There's a festival for bikers going on in the river park --- the ATLANTICADE --- with the "Old School" band making an enthusiastic noise on the stage, the amplifiers thumping out the beat. By spending too much time over our supper (a shared portion of fajitas at Mexicali Rosa's) we missed the Beard Contest at 19:00, weren't so interested in taking part in the Tattoo Contest at 21:00. We sat on benches along the river bank instead, listening to the finches and being bitten through our clothes by mosquitoes.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

What is civilisation (or civilization)?

We had a philosophical discussion at our house yesterday evening. One of the eight people here said that for him, civilisation (civilization, if you prefer) simply meant the exploration of science and the deployment of technology --- our "ability to use machines" --- to control our environment and enable us to survive. He is a physicist. Somebody else said that the dinosaurs survived for longer than humans have, so far, but the rebuttal to that was that the dinosaurs had no way of predicting the meteor that wiped them out, nor the technology to do anything about it. I said nothing at this point because I was still reeling, with my mouth open, from the definition of "civilisation" I had just heard. To me, civilisation has to include Bach's 'St. Matthew Passion' and Rembrandt's self portraits. And someone else said, what about the ethical aspects of "civilisation"?

The following day, I asked my Facebook friends, "What do you think? How would you define civilisation?"

My sister: By definition, i.e. etymology, living in cities.

Gianluca: I would define real civilization the ability of a community to strike a balance, using whatever tools are available and developed, that gives people good quality of life, a safe environment, freedom and respect, and the ability to express themselves artistically and through innovation. It's not just science, or arts. The caring from a social point of view is necessary, and that (to me) is the ethical part that you mentioned. Based on this, I think history shows different attempts to achieve true civilization. We are not in very bad shape, but not quite there yet.

 Mel: That's socialism.

Gianluca: Nope. It's not socialism to me. I don't know what i am talking about. I just make stuff up. So, just to clarify. I don't think that socialism is equal to civilization, in my attempted definition. However, I do believe that a certain degree of socialism is a necessary component to achieve civilization.

Mel: Civilisation: an unstable by-product of Triticum dicoccum.

Civilisation is the process by which a society stratifies, following the onset of an agricultural economy. The accumulation of a plentiful, reliable and tradeable, food source generates a growing requirement for land cultivation; in its turn, this gives rise to violent competition for land ownership, initially within a society and, subsequently, between societies. These factors, acting together, are the engines of stratification, that usually leads to three or four distinct social classes of citizens within a civilisation. These are: the warrior class; the priests; craftspeople and traders; and peasants. A common feature of a civilisation is a settlement pattern based on a fortified town surrounded by cultivated land. Significant ownership of land is usually initially restricted to the ruling class and to the priestly class. As a civilisation matures, additional classes may emerge (often from the priestly class) of artists, poets and musicians, scholars. These are frequently maintained by the warrior class, at least at first. The peasant class, meanwhile, remains the most populous and least prosperous stratum of society. As a rule, civilisations tend towards decay, either through becoming moribund within, for example, as a result of over-exploitation of one stratum by another, or through destruction from without, when one civilisation is over-run by another.

Me: So you think it all began with the cultivation of wheat? Which class do the scientists and engineers belong to?

Mel: Scholars. My daughter: I'm a physicist and an artist and a musician and I live in a city. But sometimes I rebel against being civilised for a little while. ... But given I'm having Earl Grey Tea in Richmond Upon Thames's Marks and Spencer's at the moment, this isn't one of my rebellious moments.

Jannette: Civilisation versus Culture.... In my opinion Civilisation is more about socail caring for eachother whereas culture is more about Bach's Matheus Passion and Rembrandt's selfportraits.

Susan R.: Given that we speak approvingly of someone or something as being very civilized, and disapprovingly of the opposite, I would say that the word also connotes a striving for decency and beauty, harmony and growth, order and compassion - I see no separation between civilization and culture, but a huge gulf between civilization and Trump. Oh sorry, stupid autocorrect, the word I meant to type was ignorance.

Martin: Interesting thoughts... I've always considered group of people as citizens in some defined order; that being their ability to be civil. Being civil means they cooperate, they negotiate, they create, they share and they act for the general good of the group. This is what I think civilization is about. Dinosaurs were not civil or civilized.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The significant language of colour (Georgia O'Keeffe)

Georgia O'Keeffe, born at Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887, lived for 98 years and died in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Today I went to see the Toronto exhibition about her life and work at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Her first artworks of note were created around 1915-1919 as she was beginning to find her own style. She had almost given up on art at college because they were forcing her to learn to paint like other people. There was a small bronze scupture that she'd made after the death of her mother, lacquered white, depicting a standing mourner without features, enrobed in a shroud, the shape of the head bird-like; other pieces were experimental, abstract paintings. Some were in the shapes of mountains (Blue Mountains); some were an attempt to describe music in terms of shape and colour. The vortex of Music -- Pink and Blue No. 1 (1918) presumably stood for sound waves or a vibrating larynx. It looked organic, anyhow. "Color," she wrote once, "is a significant language to me."

Her pictures are certainly sensual, and her husband's (Alfred Stieglitz') photos of her naked torso, her arms and hands in particular, make her appear to have been a sensual person, although the photos of her face look stern and severe. She was irritated by her contemporaries' interpretation of her work at this point in her life: "When people read erotic symbols into my paintings, they're really talking about their own affairs!" she said. It upset her to the extent that she stopped painting abstracts and began to paint her famous flower heads instead, but then people saw those as sexual as well.

Her work reminds me of the Canadian artists Lawren Harris and Emily Carr.

O'Keeffe and the photographer Alfred Stieglitz first lived on the 30th floor of an hotel in New York from which vantage point they photographed and painted or sketched (in charcoal) the city skyscrapers, industrial landscape and waterways. For respite in the 1920s, they would go to Lake George which Georgia quite liked, having first seen it in 1908, but she felt "smothered in green" there and concentrated on other things than the wooded hills: farmhouse doors, individual trees (showing the influence of Cézanne, to which she admitted) and an extraordinarily 3-dimensional close-up of dying leaves in oils, entitled Oak Leaves, Pink and Grey (1929). The previous year she had also painted an intensely observed sea shell, Shell No. 2, that too very 3-dimensional. In 1932 she was thrilled by a trip to the Gaspé peninsula, admiring the swirling thunderclouds over the sea and "lush" potato flowers in the fields. She might have stayed there and become Canadian if it hadn't had such a chilly climate.

Back in the States, her husband took black and white photos of her face, body and expressive hands, which gave her a "feeling of wonder and excitement", especially the one of her hands caressing the skull of a horse!

In the next gallery I found those flower heads in oils for which she's popularly known: oriental poppies, an amarylis, calla lilies, an iris, a petunia and the trumpet like white flower of a jimson weed. According to the notes on the wall, they are all about "...looking intensely [...] a response to the speed of the modern world." She focussed on fruit and vegetables too, including a more-than-real aubergine (eggplant).

http://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/80035/0_full.jpghttp://collection.imamuseum.org/artwork/80035/0_full.jpgWhen she travelled to New Mexico, she knew that she had found her spiritual home. Here were bones lying in the desert, and striking rust red hills. There was a profile photo of her staring at such scenery with great intensity, wearing a black sunhat. She also liked her discovery of the adobe huts in 1000-year-old settlements. New Mexico, at the Ghost Ranch, was where she met DH Lawrence, Ansel Adams and Jung. In 1949 she moved there permanently, choosing a ranch with a magnificent view of a mountain from the windows. Her paintings are of the hills, red and black, and of bare bones juxtaposed with flowers. To her, pelvis bones were "most beautiful against the blue [sky] -- that Blue that will always be there, as it is now, after all man's destruction is finished." Perhaps it is significant that she painted these during the second World War and that her husband died around this time. Perhaps she saw the sandstone rocks with their holes and strange formations as bonelike too. She kept coming back to a "Black Place" (a view of black rocks on a mountainside) where she painted views of the dark clefts and valleys between them. The curving cottonwood trees delighted her too.

Towards the end of her life, suffering from macular degeneration, she painted the flow of river valleys seen from above, and layers of sky. Her painting White Cloud graduates downwards in layers from blue to mauve to turquoise to green, then (two-thirds of the canvas) white, representing an undercast of cloud. She had a large personal abstract in oils that hung by her bed which she called "My Last Door": it was a black square in the middle of a wall of white, with some touches of grey. A momento mori, presumably. Although the exhibition notes didn't state this, she must have inclined towards mysticism.

She wrote, "Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant. Making your unknown known is the important thing --- and keeping the unknown always beyond you."

Monday, April 24, 2017

A long drive northeast

We left the RIDC Park hotel at 7:50am this morning; at about 5:15pm we reached Pulaski, the same stopping point as on our way down, so we have been on the go for about nine-and-a-half hours. When I stepped out of the car for supper at the Ponderosa steakhouse, I felt dizzy from the constant motion. I think my body is still vibrating, although our car is at rest near our motel room (at the Super 8 once more), plugged into an outside socket.

It has been another pleasant drive. We only got lost twice on the backroads, first on the back roads between Clarion and Kane in the Allegheny National Forest area (because there turned out to be an old Route 36 and a new Route 36), and this afternoon on the stretch between Prattsburg and Geneva in upper state New York. It didn't matter. All the way along were dark Dutch barns with white picket fences round the farms, and amalanchia trees bursting into flower. The fields were full of flooded hollows from the recent downpours. The up and down route took us to an altitude 2010ft at one point. In these higher, more northern regions the daffodils in people's gardens still look fresh, whereas in Pittsburgh they had already wilted from the heat.

For lunch we stopped at Allegany on the Allegheny river -- don't get confused by the different spelling! -- at La Roca, an excellent, inexpensive, authentic Mexican restaurant staffed by a family of Mexicans.

Over the New York State border in Cattaraugus County we saw horse drawn buggies steered by bearded young Amish gentlemen in straw hats, some of them with children along, the little girls wearing long skirts and caps. Here in Pulaski, even, I have just bought a handwoven basket from such a family standing beside a horse at the crossroads near our motel, the little girls in black capes and caps. They looked very solemn until I showed them the picture I had taken of the horse (the father allowed me to do this, "so long as you don't take a picture of us!") on my cellphone, whereat they smiled. Maybe no one had showed them a picture on a cellphone before. If not, they must have thought it was magic.

This evening we walked by the Salmon River again, very full, seeing several fishermen but no catches. I like the quiet side streets of Pulaski.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Discovering Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh lies in the hilly woodland at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monogahela Rivers, the starting point of the great Ohio River. The Ohio, in turn, becomes the Mississipi as it continues beyond Cairo, Illinois, so in principle you could sail from Pittsburgh to Mexico.

In the 1750s the Marquis du Quesne / Duquesne, Governor General of New France, sent an expeditionary troop from the north to establish a military base on the spit of land where the rivers meet, claiming the surrounding territory for France. A world war between the French, the British and other nations was taking place in those days, a quest for Empire and supremacy; three years later, Fort Duquesne was destroyed by a British troop arriving from the east, who built Fort Pitt in its place. George Washington, at that time a Major in the British army, was involved in the skirmishes.

On Wednesday morning I stood above the fountain in the Point State Park where these forts used to be.

The native tribes also played a major role in the fighting, on both sides, for although their traditional culture was the antithesis of land ownership, they needed to make alliances with the Europeans for practical purposes. In the 1760s the natives tried to drive out the incomers and laid siege to the fort, but failed to capture it. Captain Ecuyer, the commander of Fort Pitt, gave two Lenape (Delaware) envoys blankets that had been exposed to smallpox, with famously devastating consequences. Then later, in the 1770s, the "colonists", British settlers from Virginia, took over Fort Pitt in their turn.

In the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, peopled by English, Scottish, Welsh, Irish and German settlers and their descendants, Pittsburgh became industrial, building boats and manufacturing iron and then steel, brass, tin and glass products. Coal was mined nearby. Important railroads ran through it and still do. We saw an extremely long train of coal trucks pass us by, rattling up the Allegheny valley, on Wednesday evening. The passenger trains are all but gone, though.

On Wednesday morning, I caught the 91 bus from our Comfort Inn and Suites all the way to its furthest stop downtown, getting out on Liberty Avenue. It only cost $2.75. A bus ride is a good way to learn about a city and its outskirts. Leaving the RIDC park behind (along Alpha Drive, Beta Drive, Gamma Drive, etc.), the bus rattled me down Freeport Road past the Waterworks Plaza and the old Pinwall Pumping Station itself, built in the days when water treatment plants were palaces. Opposite is a hospital and then you're in pretty and prosperous Aspinwall. Still only three passengers on the bus. Beyond the Highland Park Bridge the smaller houses have clapboard sides and here more people got on. Unlike Aspinwall, which has little shops like the Nota Bene Fine Paper Boutique, Sharpsville (built around James Sharp Landing on the Allgheny River) is the sort of district where people use rolls of dollar store wrapping paper in place of window curtains. Thence across the river on the R D Fleming Bridge, the one I'd crossed by mistake on my way back from the zoo the day before. From the bridge I got a view of the distant skyscrapers. Onto Butler Street for a long ride through Lawrenceville and other suburbs, past an extensive park-like cemetery. Again, the area became more gentrified, with cherry trees along the sidewalks and artistic graffiti. Dark brown cliffs loomed above us. Butler Street turned into Penn Street, lined with red brick buildings and a long series of warehouses, one large building labelled Ironworkers Union. The road surface was terrible. We passed a Mother's Milk Bank, a Blumengarten (sic) and a sign that said German Motorwerks. Now we were on Liberty Avenue, "Entering Strip District" where a former PRR (Pennsylvania Railroad) station stood. Finally the bus announced that we were "Entering Downtown" at which point I had to pay attention and request my stop.

Then I walked and walked, first up and down the streets, finding at 9th Street the series of bridges over the Allegheny and seeing Pittsburgh Pirates' stadium on the "North Shore" across the river, then further, under flyovers busy with traffic and through a tunnel to the Point State Park and its fountain, marvelling at the trees in blossom there. This must be the very best time of year to visit this city. Having admired the meeting of the waters, I returned to the city streets for a bite of lunch with office workers then crossed the grid of streets to the footpath over the Smithfield Street Bridge, my plan being to ride the Monongahela Incline, the funicular cog rails, up the cliff to "Mount Washington" at the top, 400ft above the city. I got into the cable car with a Chilean family, also tourists. Seniors ride for free and are supposed to show their Medicare cards for ID, but the kind man at the top let that go. I then walked another mile along the cliff top, along Grandview Avenue, although the buildings on my right rather obscured the Grand View, except at the lookout points. All the same I got some good photos. The view from the Duquesne (pronounced Doo-Kane) Incline coming down, was even more splendid, the Ohio flowing away to the southwest, although the ticket lady at the bottom was not lenient enough to grant me a senior's free ride because I failed to show her a Medicare card. My Canadian ID was not valid as a substitute. Anyhow, from there I could see that there was a footpath (part of the Three Rivers Heritage Trail) across Fort Pitt Bridge, that also carries the very busy Lincoln Highway to and from a tunnel in the cliffs; this is the main access road between the city and its international airport and it vibrated with heavy traffic. I descended from the bridge at the Point Park again, to spend at least an hour in the excellent Fort Pitt Museum where, earlier in the day, I'd seen a woman in 18th century dress load and noisily fire a rifle for the entertainment of a party of schoolkids. I think I was the only visitor at the museum, that afternoon.