Saturday, March 29, 2014

Of Titanic Proportions

O city of sound and motion!

O city of endless stir!
From the dawn of the misty morning,
To the fall of the evening air;
From the night of the morning shadows
To the sound of the shipyard horn;
We hail thee Queen of the Northland,
We who are Belfast born.                                   

~Thomas Carnduff, Songs from the Shipyards, 1924

Belfast as a city has a fascinating history.  In addition to all of its political history from The Troubles, Belfast is also one of the capitals of shipbuilding around the globe because of its deep harbor and played an important role in industrialization at the turn of the century.  In fact, Belfast is where the Titanic was built and the port from which she sailed on her ill-fated voyage.  The harbor today is still an important feature in international shipping and shipbuilding.  When I visited in March, the harbor's activity centered around a large oil rig that had been hauled across the Atlantic Ocean from Brazil in order to be repaired in Belfast before being returned to Brazil.  One of the main reasons why the rigger traveled such a great distance for its repairs is due to its size and the fact that the Belfast shipyard is one of the few in the world that can accommodate such large jobs.  And in the middle of the vast shipyard, sits the Titanic Museum.

The museum is really interactive and takes you through the development and growth of the shipbuilding industry in Belfast's earlier days to the birth of the Titanic, what went wrong on her voyage, and the discovery of her remains on the ocean floor.  In this post, I am including my pictures and video from the museum, as well as some of the fascinating history from the museum's several exhibits as written by the museum.  Enjoy!

The Harbor and Early Shipbuilding in Belfast
From the early 1600s, Belfast had a port where the rivers Lagan and Farset meet.  The port became increasingly important for trade, and by the early 1700s was the leading port in the north of Ireland.

As trade expanded, the quays were enlarged to accommodate more ships.  However, shallow water, bends in the river channel, and inadequate quays were restricting growth.  By 1785, the Ballast Board was formed to manage and improve the port and harbor.  In the mid 1800s, the Lagan was straightened and the Victoria Channel was created to improve access.  Improving the flow of the Lagan and expanding the harbor and shipbuilding facilities allowed shipbuilding to flourish on a large scale in Belfast.

The earliest record of ships being built in Belfast is from 1663.  Shipbuilding as a major industry began in 1791 when William Ritchie established his works on the Lagan.  At this time, ships were built from wood.  In 1838, the first iron vessel was built in Belfast.  This was a Lough Neagh steamer – the Countess of Caledon.  In the second half of the 19th century, Belfast became renowned for constructing iron and later steel ships.

Samson and Goliath
Even today, Belfast is famous for its shipbuilding (as seen in the oil rigger described above).  One of the reasons why is that the Belfast shipyard is home to cranes of Biblical proportions, aptly named Samson and Goliath.  Goliath is the shorter at 96 meters high, Samson is 10 meters taller (106 meters).  The cranes can safely lift 840 tons each.  Samson and Goliath were designed by the German engineering company Krupp.  Goliath was completed in 1969, Samson in 1974.  The dock they stand over is a massive 556 meters by 93 meters and is the largest building dock in Europe.

Other Major Industries Contributing to Shipbuilding in Belfast

Several other factors contributed to Belfast becoming a global center for shipbuilding.  These include the large ropeworks, linen mills, and boombing tobacco industries also present in Belfast at the time.

As shipbuilding in Belfast grew, so did the need for a large and reliable supply of rope.  The Belfast Ropeworks was established to meet this demand, replacing a number of smaller companies.  The business quickly flourished.  The Board of Directors included Gustav Wolff as chairman along with other men ‘to whose influence, capital, and enterprise its success is due.’

Initially, the ropeworks was established at Connswater due to the proximitz of the Connswater River, the shipbuilding yard, and harbor.  In the middle of a working-class area, the ropeworks enjoyed a ready supply of labor.  By 1900, the ropeworks was the largest in the world, employing more than 2,000 people and eventually the factory buildings covered over 40 acres (16.2 hectares). 

The company made a huge variety of ropes, cords, lines, and twines from large cables to fine packing twine.  These were used in many ways, including shipbuilding, fishing, manufacturing, and for domestic purposes.  The ropeworks exported its goods worldwide and confidently claimed that there was probably no port in the world where its products were not well known.

Linen mills were also extremely important to Belfast shipbuilding, and multiple large companies vied for the top spot.  The success of Belfast’s linen industry was shared by the firms which made machinery for the preparation and spinning of flax.  The two biggest and rival firms were James Mackie & Sons and Combe Barbour.  Outside shipbuilding, they were the biggest engineering firms in Belfast and the main firms in Britain for manufacturing machinery for the preparation and spinning of flax.

Combe Barbour was founded in 1845 in the Falls Road area of West Belfast.  They also made machinery for use in other textile industries such as jute, hemp, rope, and cotton.  By the turn of the century, the premises covered 5 acres (2 hectares) and employed 1,500 highly skilled workmen and mechanics.  Combe Barbour enjoyed a worldwide reputation and exported their machinery globally.

Mackie’s textile machinery manufacturers had premises at the Springfield Road.  They also manufactured a variety of textile machinery and built up their export and home markets.  During the First and Second World Wars, they switched from manufacturing textile machinery to armaments.  At its peak, Mackie’s employed around 6,000 people and covered 133 acres (53.8 hectares).

At the same time as these ropeworks and linen mills were growing in the city, the tobacco industry was also booming and the city's ports were vital for trading these products on a global scale.  There were two large tobacco firms in Belfast – Murray’s and Gallaher’s.  By the early 20th century, Gallaher & Co. at York Street was the largest tobacco factory in Ireland and employed over 1,600 people.

Gallaher’s produced cigarettes, cigars, pipe tobacco, and rolling tobacco.  Their range consisted of over 150 brands including Harlequin Flake, Park Drive, and later Benson & Hedges, Silk Cut, and Hamlet.  Owner Thomas Gallaher visited America regularly to ensure that he acquired the best leaf.

By the end of 1891, Gallaher’s had 45 tobacco spinning machines at work in York Street.  This factory was one of the largest in the world with a floor space of 14 acres (5.6 hectares). The Belfast stores could house 20,000 hogshead (10,000 tons) of tobacco.  If the bricks used in construction of this building were placed end to end, they would have covered a distance of about 2,700  miles (4,345.2 km).

In 1889, the company paid almost half a million pounds duty on tobacco leaf imported through Belfast docks.  Tobacco manufactured in Belfast by Gallaher’s was exported worldwide.  Gallaher’s opened many branches in Ireland, England, Wales, and Scotland.

Olympic Class Ships
When the Olympic class ships were commissioned, Harland and Wolff was one of the largest and most successful shipyards in the world.  It employed thousands of Belfast men.  In 1911, Harland and Wolff launched 10 vessels including Titanic.

Although Harland and Wolff was a world-renowned firm, it was not the only successful shipbuilding firm in Belfast in its day.  Covering an area of 40 acres (16.2 hectares), Workman Clark was only the ‘wee yard’ in comparison to Harland and Wolff.

Building the Ships

The First Step
Laying the keel, the backbone of a ship.  Titanic’s keel was six feet high, ran the length of the ship, and carried the frames for the steel hull plates.  The frames were over 60 feet high (18.3 meters) and weighed one ton.

Framing was the erection of steel rib-like structures that formed the skeleton of the ship.  These gave the hull its shape. 

Plating and Riveting
Once framing was complete, the ship was fitted with steel plates that formed the watertight skin.  These were held in place with iron and steel rivets. 

The plates that made up Titanic’s hull were attached to her frame.  They were mostly 30 feet (9.1 meters) long, 6 feet (1.8 meters) wide, 1 inch (2.54 cm) thick, and weighed over 4 tons.  Plates on the bottom of the ship overlapped each other like roof tiles in the clinker fashion.  Plates at the side of the hull were alternatively sunken and raised, known as inner and outer strakes.

The plating and other structural parts of the ship were held together with rivets.  Altogether, over 3 million rivets were used on Titanic.  Good quality riveting was essential as it held the structure together.

The process of riveting was done both by hand and mechanically with hydraulic riveters.  Hand-riveters worked in squads of five.  One boy heated the rivets in a fire, while another boy passed the red-hot rivet to the ‘holder up.’  The ‘holder up’ held the rivet in place with a 13 lb (5.9 kg) hammer while two riveters struck the rivet in turn.  The best teams used one left-handed and one right-handed riveter. 

Bulkheads and Decking
There were 15 watertight bulkheads that ran across Titanic in the lower decks.  These divided the ship’s hull into 16 watertight compartments. 

The bulkheads were connected to the shell plating.  The collision bulkhead was located at the bow of the ship and fitted to be an inner watertight skin should the bow be damaged in an end on collision.

Titanic was designed to stay afloat if up to three of her four forward compartments were flooded.  The bulkheads were only watertight up to E and D decks, depending on their location.  This was because crew and passengers needed doors to access parts of the ship.  Ordinary doors, such as those in most passenger areas, were a point of weakness.

The bulkheads which were part of the boiler and engine rooms, within the hull of the ship, all had vertically sliding cast iron watertight doors, built to Harland and Wolff’s design.  Bells would be sounded before the watertight doors closed to warn the crew.  They could then escape to the decks above using ladders.

Titanic had eight passenger decks and ten decks in total.  Steel decks were laid on the deck beams, riveted in place, then covered with either wooden decking or other materials such as tiles.

Fitting the Rudder
The rudder was made in six pieces and then bolted together.  The bolts were covered in cement to protect them from the corroding effects of sea water.  The rudder was over 78 feet (23.7 meters) high with a maximum width of 15 feet (4.6 meters) and it weighed over 100 tons.

The rudder controlled the direction of the ship.  It was a wide flat blade fitted on the stern post.  Titanic’s rudder was designed at Harland and Wolff and constructed by Darlington Forge Company in Durham, England.

The rudder was supported by the stern frame and hung on the sternpost.  The sternpost was the hinge which allowed the rudder to pivot, thereby controlling the direction of the ship.

The position of the rudder was immediately behind the central propeller.  This made the steering effective as the rudder immediately gave direction to the thrust created by the propeller.  The rudder was moved by a steering gear which was powered by two engines.  The rudder was fitted shortly before Titanic’s launch.

The Fit-Out
“The vessels mark a new epoch in naval architecture.  In size, construction, and equipment, they represent the last word in this science…” The Belfast Newsletter, June 1, 1911

Titanic’s Communication Equipment
Titanic carried various types of communication equipment.  This allowed passengers and crew to communicate on the ship with the outside world.

Titanic’s powerful Marconi wireless equipment allowed her to communicate with stations more than a thousand miles away.  The wireless was manned around the clock and was operated using Morse code.  This equipment allowed the ship to both send and receive messages.  The Marconi operators communicated shipping messages and personal messages for passengers.  News received via the wireless was printed in an on-board newspaper.

As a Royal Mail Steamer, Titanic had the capacity to carry 3,635 mailbags with 2,000 letters per bag.  She also had a Sea Post Office for passenger use.  Telephones were in plentiful supply for the crew to communicate on board the ship.

Titanic carried electric lamps which flashed lights in Morse code to signal to other ships at night.  A whole range of rockets and flares were also fitted to communicate messages to other ships.

Titanic's Navigating Equipment
Titanic carried a huge range of navigating equipment to help steer the ship in the right direction.  Four main compasses were located at various positions on the ship.  A variety of other nautical equipment calculated the position of the ship, distance travelled, speed, and depth of water.

Titanic had three wheels for steering.  The main wheel was located in the wheelhouse.  Besides the main wheel, the helm indicator showed the position of the rudder.  Telegraphs conveyed messages from the navigation bridge.

Titanic carried barometers and thermometers for predicting the weather.  These were important as outside temperature affected ventilation requirements and indicated ice.  Clinometers were used to indicate the angle of roll or pitch.  Titanic’s equipment could pick up underwater bell signals sent from lighthouses, buoys, and other ships, which warned of dangers such as fog.  The ship also used a range of sextants, telescopes, megaphones, foghorns, fog books, diaries, navigational charts, and binoculars.

Lighting included masthead lamps, sidelights, and anchor lights.  For communicating with other ships, Titanic used the Marconi wireless, flags, signal lamps, and rockets.

Titanic's Ropes
Ropes were used for many purposes on Titanic, including supporting masts and funnels and transporting cargo and other loads.

By the time Titanic was built, rope made from natural fibers had been largely replaced by galvanized steel wire rope.  Wire rope looked the same as that made from manila or hemp, but was thinner and more durable.

Titanic carried some ropes made from natural fibers which were used for small loads.  These were almost certainly supplied by the Belfast Ropework Company, of which Gustav Wolff was a partner.  Hemp rope was suitable for use as it was very strong and flexible, as was Manila which had the added advantage of not being affected by sea water.

When Titanic was in dock, she was tied to the pier using 18 large steel ropes known as warps and hawsers.  It was important that the massive ship was held stationary to avoid damage to herself and other ships around her.

Changes in Third Class Cabins on the Titanic
Third Class cabins on Titanic were basic compared to first and second class accomodations, but were a massive improvement from the large dormitories on other ships.

The cabin contained a double bunk made from mahogany with pillows and sheets provided.  The room had a washbasin with a mirror above and a wall seat.  Red litosilo covered the floor, and the walls were covered in white paneling.  Passengers would have had to go up two decks to reach the public toilets.

Other third class accommodations on board included two, three, four, five, six, eight, and ten-berth cabins.  Cheaper, more basic accommodation, without washbasins, with lower quality mattresses and no pillows were available for single men.  Other cabins were designed for families or single women in mind.  No single berth accommodation was available for third class passengers.

The majority of third class passengers were emigrants heading to America for a better life.  Therefore, they would generally have been going on a one-way ticket.  Third class passenger occupations would have included laborers, servants, unskilled and semi-skilled workers.  The cost of a third class ticket started at £6.15 from Queenstown to New York.  This was equivalent to almost a month’s wages for skilled Harland and Wolff workers.

Belfast's Political Past (and Present): Ulster Museum's Historical Overview

Belfast City Hall
As a sophomore in undergraduate university, we read a book for class about the public displays of national identity in Northern Ireland.  Everyone in our class enjoyed the book and the perspective it brought to interpreting how nationalism can be displayed and the effects this has within communities.  The book was Signs of War and Peace by Jack Santino.  Since reading about this in undergrad, I decided that if I ever had the chance to go to Belfast, I wanted to see some of the sights Santino describes.  
Beginning of the tour, in the Shankhill
Well, I finally made it to Belfast, some six years after reading the book in class.  Since the end of the Troubles, Belfast's tourism industry has been growing.  Downtown near City Hall, it seems as though you'd never know the Troubles took place if you were previously unaware of the history.  However, the wounds are slower to heal and still raw in west Belfast (and other parts of the city).  Because of the unique political history, there are actually various "black taxi" tours where a driver will take you in the taxi around west Belfast to see the famous murals on each side of the Peace Wall.  There are actually several companies that drive, and you can check out some options here, here, and here.  There is also a fantastic map of the locations of the murals around the city here, in case you'd rather walk all over.
King William of Orange mural in Protestant/Loyalist area of West Belfast
Since the taxi tour I reserved along with a friend I met at the hostel would not start until 11:30am on Saturday morning, I decided to see if there was an easy way to get some more context for what we were about to see.  Just around the corner from our hostel are the beautiful botanical gardens and the Ulster Museum (the botanical gardens are beautiful in their own right, in a glass and a white wrought iron building with a gorgeous room filled with flowers, built by designer of the nearby Queen's University Sir Charles Lanyon and completed in 1852 - definitely worth a visit).
Section of Peace Wall that divides the Falls and Shankhill;
view from Shankhill (Protestant side)

The Ulster Museum was free and it is a fantastic museum.  Kind of like a mini-Smithsonian for the city of Belfast.  There are actually several great exhibits in the museum on a variety of topics and aspects of history related to Northern Ireland, but the big money exhibit that we came to see was the exhibition on the Troubles.  Although I'm obviously not from Northern Ireland and do not know a whole lot about the conflict, especially not from the deeply personal perspective by which it was and still is felt by people living in Northern Ireland, I thought that the exhibit did a good job of presenting the history and informing the visitor about what it was like in Belfast over that 30 year period.
"International Wall" on Falls Road with
Republican Murals
Because I thought that the exhibit was so helpful in learning more about the conflict, I decided to create this visual layout based on the content from the museum, accompanied with some of my photographs, to better provide foundation for the post I will write about the murals and taxi tour itself.  As noted in the presentation, the majority of the textual content comes from the museum itself with a few external sources and links included.  I tried to keep the information as close to the museum's as possible in order to maintain a neutral and accurate presentation of a complex time period.  Hopefully, you will find the full timeline (truncated timeline available in the presentation) and the presentation itself below helpful in better understanding all the elements at work in the rawer parts of Belfast's lived past and present.
Famous Republican Mural along the Falls of hunger
striker and MP Bobby Sands
The Troubles: Introduction

The period of Northern Ireland’s history from 1968 is usually referred to as “The Troubles.”  Much of this period, because it is so recent and because it was so traumatic, is still painfully – often bitterly – remembered by those who were injured, their families, and the families of those who died.  In all, there were some 3,700 deaths, around 50,000 explosions, and innumerable sectarian incidents.

This gallery is arranged around particular events and themes.  Some of them may be upsetting – most of them remain contentious.  We acknowledge the sensitivity and the deeply-held views about the issued reflected here.  The exhibition is not intended as a comprehensive account of all that happened, but rather as a broad platform of information about complex issues which have shaped our recent history.  We welcome feedback on the approach and on the potential to develop the gallery.
Click on Image to Expand Timeline
My Prezi Presentation of the history of The Troubles.  Use the Arrow Keys to navigate forward and backward through the content.  You can also enlarge the presentation to enable full-screen viewing.

Friday, March 28, 2014

United Nations in Geneva

All the way back on January 16th, 2014, in the first week of our program, we were able to visit the United Nations.  The current Palais des Nations was built between 1929 and 1936 for the League of Nations.  After World War II, the complex became the headquarters for the European office of the United Nations in 1946, quickly evolving into the largest center for multilateral diplomacy in the world.  Today, Geneva's Palais des Nations hosts about 9,000 conferences and over 25,000 delegates each year.  It is second largest nexus for United Nations operational activities after New York.
Grand Chamber, largest conference room
On our tour, we were able to learn more about this fascinating history and see the works of art that each country donated to the United Nations upon gaining membership to the organization.  We also were able to see and sit in the delegates' seats in both the Grand Chamber and the Human Rights Council Chamber.  The Human Rights Council chamber is beautiful with the new ceiling, a gift from Spain and finished in 2008.  It is called, "The Ocean" and made by Spanish abstract artist Miquel Barcelo.  The ceiling first had to be reinforced so that it could handle the weight of the art to be installed.  For the ceiling, Barcelo used 35 tons of paint!  The whole project cost $23 million to boot.  The concept for The Ocean and the multicolored stalactite forms are meant to represent a sea and a cave, in absolute and opposing union, where the each nation is unique, just like each individual stalactite, but together with the ebbs and flows of the water, they can move together in harmony.  Barcelo has said that he found his inspiration "on a day of immense heat in the middle of the Sahel desert [where he saw] the mirage of an image of the world dripping toward the sky...flowing drop by drop."  The ceiling is impressive from all angles, and I loved looking at its colors and forms.
So cool to be on the floor of the HRC!
I could stare at this ceiling art all day, and this only one small section!
It is even stunning in black and white.
Out front, the United Nations also has another important large work of art.  It is the Broken Chair by Swiss artist Daniel Berset.  It is made of 5.5 tons of wood and stands 39 feet (12 meters) tall.  The statue was made in 1997 for the NGO Handicap International.  The broken leg on the chair is meant to symbolize the harm caused by land mines and cluster bombs and acts as a reminder in front of the Palais des Nations to governments to ban the use of these weapons.
Broken Chair in the rain
Broken Chair at dusk
Since our United Nations visit, I have returned to the Human Rights Council chamber several times to watch various sessions.  One of the largest events in Geneva at the Human Rights Council are the Universal Periodic Reviews (UPRs).  These are reviews conducted on each individual country by the Human Rights Council where the country must give a statement about the status of human rights in its country and then answer questions posed by the Council about its human rights record.  

Sometimes, these kinds of events are frustrating to me because it is hard for me to see how this kind of dialogue of reading two minute, pre-drafted statements (that are already made available on record to the public) is at all interactive or likely to lead to improving the status of human rights on the ground in individual countries.  However, unlike UN activities in New York, NGOs can participate in the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  NGOs are able to ask questions and be present to record the responses given by national delegations to questions posed by the Council.  Sometimes, the NGOs can then use these statements made in international forums such as the UPRs to gain political capital at home and hold the government accountable.  In other examples, where progress on specific indicators can be tracked annually, this can also lead to improvements, albeit gradual, in human rights on the ground.  

In case you are interested, you can watch one of the UPRs here:

When I first visited the United Nations in January, the flags had been taken down for maintenance on the grounds.  Now the flags are finally up.  After work one day, I was able to stop by with my camera and take some pictures of the flags at dusk as night fell.  
Flags at Dusk
Being able to actually experience some of the different types of events that take place at the United Nations has been a great experience in my internship here in Geneva.  It is so cool to see things I read about first-hand and learn how the international system works.  What a wonderful way to finish my last semester of law school.
Flags at Night

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Norouz at the United Nations

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 was the first day of Spring.  The following Tuesday, the Iranian mission to the UN and eight other central Asian countries (Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) hosted a Norouz lunch and cultural event at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.  It was great to see so many countries putting on a great event together to share this beautiful piece of shared culture with the United Nations community.  Each country had a table with information about its particular celebrations for the holiday as well as food and sweets from that country.  There were also musicians that played from a classical Iranian musical group after the delegates made speeches and wished the attendees a happy new year.
Classical Iranian Music
For thousands of years, Iranians, and those in Central Asia influenced by Persian culture from the empire's spread thousands of years ago, celebrate spring's arrival in a holiday called Norouz.  Norouz literally translates as "new day" and has its roots from thousands of years ago in ancient Zoroastrianism.  It marks the beginning of the year on the Iranian (solar) calendar, so while it's 2014 in the USA, it's 1393 in Iran (Iran's calendar begins its years counting in 621 AD when Mohammad PBUH made the pilgrimage to Medina).  Every year except this year (on account of me being in Geneva), our family has been together to celebrate, even when I was in DC.  As we do not have as many relatives nearby, we take the opportunity each year to invite over different friends to join us in celebrating.  There are also shows each year put on by student organizations at the universities, like last year's 1392 celebration at Michigan.
Norouz is celebrated by over 300 million people around the globe and dates back more than 3,000 years.  Norouz is even recognized by the UN General Assembly in Resolution 253 (A/Res/64/253) and included on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.  It's a great holiday and something my family celebrates every year (alongside our American traditional holidays), so I'll provide more of a description below.

The holiday celebrations last for thirteen days, although preparations begin before, including khaneh tekani - "shaking the house," otherwise known as "spring cleaning" - and chaharshanbeh soori.  Chaharshanbeh Soori takes place on the eve of the last Wednesday of the year (Tuesday night) and involves jumping over a fire while shouting, "sorkhie to az man va zardie man az to!" This chant asks the fire to give the jumper its healthy red color and take away the jumper's sickly yellow pallor.  The idea is to have the fire cleanse the jumper, removing all sickness and bad luck from the past year so that he or she can start fresh for the new year to come.  Unfortunately, I grew up in a city with too small an Iranian population, so we only ever celebrated this part of Norouz once - in a family friend's driveway at night jumping over a hay bale set ablaze.  Welcome to Michigan.

For the holiday itself, there are some traditional foods associated with the celebrations.  This typically means a bean and noodle soup (ash-e reshteh), fish with herbs and rice (mahie sabzeh), and desserts (think baklava and cardamom rice cookies).  However, the Iranian table switched it up and did chicken kubideh (ground meat kabobs) with rice and fessenjan (a chicken pomegranate dish).  The food was all still amazing.
Unconventional Haft Sin - everything was purple-themed
The biggest aspect of preparing for Norouz on the day itself though is setting up the special table - sofreh-e haft sin (pronounced "seen"), the "table of the seven s's."  "Haft sin" refers to placing seven items on the table that start with the letter "س" in Farsi and each have a special significance, many having to do with rebirth, health, and prosperity.  Setting the table as a family is very similar to placing ornaments on a Christmas tree together.  The "seven s's" and their significance are as follows:
  1. Sabzeh (سبزه) - green sprouts from lentils or wheat, with a red ribbon tied around, symbolizing life.  On the 13th day of celebrations, Sizdah bedar, families go on picnics and people tie the sprouts together and throw them into moving water so that the current will carry their wishes onward to be fulfilled in the New Year;
  2. Samanou (سمنو) - dish made of wheat germ or lentils (we don't usually, or ever, have this on our table), symbolizing affluence;
  3. Sib (سیب) - apples, symbolizing beauty and health;
  4. Sonbol (سنبل) - hyacinth flowers, one of my favorite flowers for its fragrance;
  5. Senjed (سنجد) - dried fruit from a lotus tree, symbolizing love;
  6. Seer (سیر) - garlic, symbolizing good health;
  7. Somagh (سماق) - sumac, a deep fiery red color representing beauty and the color of the sunrise. 
Haft Sin Norouz table - 1391
There are also other "non-س" items that are placed on the table that carry their own significance.  These include:
  1. A Qur'an;
  2. A book of poetry (Divan-e Hafez shown in picture above);
  3. Vinegar (serkeh سرکه), symbolizing old age and patience;
  4. Gold coins (sekkeh سکه), symbolizing wealth and prosperity;
  5. Goldfish, symbolizing life;
  6. Rosewater for its fragrance;
  7. Colorfully dyed eggs, symbolizing fertility;
  8. An orange floating in a bowl of water, representing the earth in the universe (it is believed that the orange will rotate ever so slightly at the exact moment of the vernal equinox);
  9. Candles lit for each child in the family; and
  10. A mirror, placed behind the lit candles so that it reflects the light back to the viewers.
Even though I am in Geneva, it was great to be able to see a bit of Norouz at the UN, and to run into coworkers at the event as well.  Wishing everyone an amazing 1393!

!!! نوزوز تان پیروز

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Geneva Auto Show

March 6 through 16, 2014 - the dates for the Salon de Auto, the 84th International Motor Show in Geneva.  Traffic has been crazy the whole week with added buses and tourists coming across the city to see the show.  I went on the last day of the auto show out to Palexpo to see what the big deal was.
Lamborghini Mercy
The auto show itself took up 6 halls of Palexpo - a huge arena complex out by the Geneva Airport.  It was filled with huge displays of beautiful cars and even had a small electric car test driving track indoors.  I test drove a Smart Car, just to see what it would be like (it's like driving a golf cart).
Maserati Concept Car Wheel
I found another blog with a list of the Top Five Cars at the auto show.  I don't agree with all of them, but I am glad that the Maserati Alfieri Concept Car and the Lamborghini Hurcan made the list, since those were definitely some of my favorites.  I was also a fan of the McLarens and Ferraris at the show.  
In more economic cars, Subaru had a really cool concept car.  If I was to buy a new car to use on an everyday basis, that would have been a great choice.  It's a truly beautiful concept car.  More information and photos available here.
Subaru Concept Car (I even like the color)
Here is a slideshow of my pictures from the auto show.  Great cars.  Too bad no indoor Lambo test track.  Maybe next year, Geneva....

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Losing Time in Geneva

Only in Geneva would there be a Rolex store next to a McDonald's
Geneva is a city of timepieces. Around every shopping area, you are bound to find at least one (but likely several) watch stores for high-end Swiss brands.  Outside many of the stores, there are also clocks that feature the iconic faces of that brand.
With a random weekend in Geneva, I wanted to get lost in time.  The one main thing that is left on my list to explore is the famous Patek Philippe Museum.  Just as the Swiss are famous for their precision (in all aspects of life), Geneva is world renowned for its watches.  Advertisements with famous celebrities line the hallways and terminals of the Geneva airport, and more watch advertisements hang from lampposts in the city.  Swiss watch-making is so well-known that references fill rap songs on American radio channels (although for whatever reason, the brand of choice circa 2013/2014 seems to be Audemars Pigeut).
Despite Patek Philippe being founded as a company in the mid-1800s, I had previously not heard of it.  Of course, with the myriad of watchmaking advertisements around Geneva, it was not long until I came upon advertisements as finely crafted as their watches.  With the museum merely a few short blocks away from where I was staying in Plainpalais, I needed to check out this museum.
The private collection at the Patek Philippe Museum is absolutely incredible.  The watches date all the way back to the 1500s, and the collection spans famous pieces of the highest craftsmanship of not only Patek Philippe, but many other famous Geneva watchmakers spanning the centuries.  Because the museum is a private collection, no photographs are allowed, so all of the pictures I am posting here are found from other online sources.
One thing that was especially unique about the Museum is that for some of the more intricate pieces, video monitors were set up nearby that showed you how all of the inner mechanisms fit together.  The level of precision necessary to create such pieces is astounding, especially when you consider that today, to make something this precise, we use computers and laser-guided cutting, not the human hand.
There were several pieces that featured false birds singing.  The mechanical birds would move their tails, wings, and beaks and a music box would play a tune synced to their movements.  Some of the birds could even move back and forth on their perches.  There was even an ornamental mechanical pistol that, when the trigger was pulled, would shoot out a mechanical singing bird from the gun's barrel.

My favorite collection of watches were the musical and automata watches from the period ranging from 1770 to 1850.  Of these watches, there was a pocket watch from 1815/1820 featuring an automaton of Moses in the desert striking his staff against the rock.  Inside the watch, the "rock" is a two-sided tile where one side features material made to match the plain rock, and the other side is a tiny spiral of blue glass.  On the hour, or when triggered, Moses strikes the rock and the water flows.  I thought the way the watch was crafted was so clever and effective - truly striking.
Moses Automaton Watch, 1815
The collection truly spanned the ages, beginning with watches from the 1500s and ending with recently made Patek Philippe watches.  It was fascinating to see the development from the old pocket watches that the company made 150 years ago, to the art deco-inspired watches of the 1920s, the mid-century styled 1950s watches, and the current styles crafted and available for sale in stores around Geneva.
Astronomical Tidal Indication Watch, showing date, month, duration, phases/ages of the moon, and given hour of high tide.
London, 1665
Some of my favorite watches were the enameled watches, from 1630 to 1730.  The miniature painting on enamel emerged first in France around 1630.  The new process quickly rose to such a level of perfection that, according to the Patek Philippe Museum's website, the artform reached its peak in less than 20 years.  Enameled watches, like other things in Geneva around this time period were also linked to the Protestant Reformation, as the Museum explains:
The technique begins with coating a metal surface, usually gold, with a base of white enamel. The paints, composed of finely ground enamel pigments of various colours, blended with a few drops of oil of lavender, are then applied to the enamelled surface and subjected to successive firings, which crystallise the colours and make them permanent. The brilliance and variety of the tints that glowed from the miniature portraits soon made every crowned head in Europe want these alchemists in his or her entourage. As this was a time of large Fairs and cultural exchange, there were many craftsmen roaming Europe, seeking new ideas and foreign clients. These unusual nomads rapidly became spokesmen for the principles of the Reformation. When people travel, so do ideas, and the guilds played a major role in the growth and spread of the Protestant faith. Indeed, craftsmen were amongst the first to become High Protestant. In 1685, with the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV, the enameller’s trade, by now exclusively Protestant, was literally banished from France. Many Huguenot craftsmen thus fled to Geneva, the ideal haven for enamelling, which is so closely linked to watchmaking. From that moment on, Geneva became the cradle of painting on enamel in Europe. 
Some of my favorite enameled watches feature the bright pigments famous to the craft.  The museum has several other amazing pieces, and is absolutely worth the visit.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Garde de Vénus

What a cutie!
For four days this past week, I was entrusted by one of my coworkers to dogsit her 9 year old Cane Corso (a type of Italian mastiff) named Venus.  She had to go on a detail assignment and needed someone to watch the dog.  Unfortunately, the breed is on a list of banned breeds in Geneva.  If the police see a person with this kind of dog, they will take the dog on site and have it killed.  Which is terrible.  And, the list of banned breeds vary across cantons and cities.  So, my coworker needed someone willing to come to France for a few days (where the breed is allowed) to care for the dog.  Since I miss my own Great Dane, I happily volunteered for the job.
Of course I converted her to a Spartan.
The dog was the sweetest thing ever.  When I first showed up and entered the door, she looked at me and then started wagging her stub tail.  But of course, because she has a stub tail, her whole body was moving back and forth.  Then, she brought me her toys.
"Please play with me!"
She has this little Pumba squeeky toy that she will carry around in her mouth, toss into the air, snatch it up off the ground, and shake it.  She then brings you the Pumba to show you her accomplishment and get you to join in the fun.  I did not know how a large breed, 9 year old dog would handle long walks, so I took it slow, but she surprised me by keeping up most of the way.  It was a lot of fun to be around a big, lovable dog again, and only in Geneva do you get the chance to say that you moved to France for four days.
She's gonna eat me!  Nope, just a kiss.

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