The history behind the 5-year Nazi occupation of Guernsey, author Victor Hugo’s lengthy exile and a quirky chapel in Britain’s Channel Islands

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This memorial commemorating the occupation of Guernsey during World War II was dedicated in 1995, on the 50th anniversary of the liberation of the island. In a famous speech by Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered on May 8, 1945, he said: “… and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.” The return of British forces was actually a day later. His words are on the back-rest seating area of the memorial. The Weighbridge Clock Tower is in the background.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

When the novel “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” was published in 2008, its release brought a flurry of interest in the second most-populated of the British Channel Islands.

With last Friday’s opening in the United Kingdom of the film adaptation of the book, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows, the island is likely to be ready for its closeup again. (Netflix has distribution rights to the film in the United States.)

Funny thing though: Not one scene was filmed on the island. English locations in London, Devon and Cornwall stand in for Guernsey.

In pre-production, directors came and went — actor Kenneth Branagh among them — as did lead actresses. At one time, Kate Winslet was to star, then it was Rosamund Pike.

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Tom Courtenay (as Eben Ramsey) offers Lily James (playing Juliet Ashton) a taste of potato peel pie in “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.” From left: Katherine Parkinson, Kit Connor, Penelope Wilton and Michiel Huisman. Photo courtesy of Kerry Brown/Studio Canal

Lily James, of “Downton Abbey” and “Cinderella” fame, in the role of Juliet Ashton, plays a post-World War II London writer, who strikes up a pen-pal friendship with Guernsey residents who formed the book club of the novel’s title, and comes to learn of their experiences under five years of Nazi occupation.

The cast is, in fact, a mini reunion of “Downton Abbey” actors. In addition to James, you’ll recognize Penelope Wilton (Isobel Crawley on DA), Jessica Brown Findlay (Lady Sybil Crawley Branson) and Matthew Goode (Henry Talbot).

The director is Mike Newell, perhaps best-known for “Four Weddings and a Funeral” and “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.”

In May 2009, I visited three of the Channel Islands — Jersey, Guernsey and Sark.

The word “charming” is often overused in travel stories, but it perfectly fits these islands, especially Guernsey, with its stacked-stone walls lining narrow country lanes and sturdily built, lovingly named houses (Southernwood, La Manse, Rose Cottage, for example).

I had read the book by then, but my interest was piqued years earlier, when I wrote a travel article in 2005 for my then-employer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, about the islands’ commemorations of the 60th anniversary of their liberation in 1945.

During World War II, the islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied by German troops. Nightly curfews, daily restrictions and food shortages were commonplace as islanders, in the best British “stiff upper lip” tradition, did what was necessary to survive.

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Approaching the harbor in St. Peter Port, Guernsey. Behind the lighthouse is Castle Cornet, more than 800 years old. It has five museums and four period gardens.

Liberation Day is annually observed on May 9, and I planned my trip so as to witness the re-enactment of British troops (in period costume) arriving back on Jersey, and partake of the celebrations in general. I also visited several of the museums and WWII sights on Jersey.

The islands, including Alderney and Herm and several privately owned spits of land not open to the public, lie about 80 miles from the southern coast of England. They are far closer to the Normandy area of northwest France, about 14 miles, than the United Kingdom.

Though allied with France at the time of William the Conqueror, for centuries they’ve been self-governing British Crown dependencies. Their history and customs are a rich mix of both cultures.

About 60,000 people live on Guernsey today, making a living from banking and financial services, agriculture — think namesake fawn-and-white colored dairy cows — and tourism.

Guernsey landscape
Whether walking along the cliffs or treading the sandy beaches, the scenery is dramatic and gorgeous on Guernsey.

Guernsey is an excellent place to unwind. You can be as busy as you like, having a lengthy cliff-top ramble, investigating secluded sandy coves or going fishing. Or you can wander the shops in St. Peter Port — there is no Value Added Tax levied — and enjoy the freshly caught seafood at one of the cozy restaurants. There’s far more to experience than the sights I’ve mentioned here.

From Jersey, I took the ferry to Guernsey and caught just the tail end of its May 9 festivities, many of which were held harborside at St. Peter Port.

Guernsey, like Jersey, has an excellent bus system. A dark-haired Irish lad was often the driver on my route back to my small hotel, La Barbarie (labarbariehotel.com), and we had many brief, pleasant conversations.

Nearly 12,000 German troops occupied Guernsey during the war. Before the assault began in late June 1940, thousands of schoolchildren (most without their parents) were evacuated by boat to England.

So many others decided to flee that the island’s population was reduced almost by half, leaving about 17,000 to endure life under enemy control. Contact between friends and loved ones living islands apart was limited to 25-word messages, their delivery facilitated by the Red Cross.

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In late June 1940, St. Peter Port absorbed the opening salvos from invading German forces. Far more peaceful today, it’s a favorite place for pleasure boaters to drop anchor.

On June 28, German planes attacked St. Peter Port over two days, resulting in 33 civilians deaths. No military resistance was mounted because the British government didn’t think Guernsey was of strategic value, and was still reeling from the massive evacuation of more than 330,000 British, French, Belgian and Polish troops from Dunkirk, France.

By June 30, the first Nazis, arriving in aircraft, had begun the occupation.

“All clocks and watches are to be advanced one hour as from midnight of the 2nd 3rd July, 1940, to accord with German time,” said order number six (of 17) from the Commandant of German forces, as reported on the front page of The Star, Guernsey’s oldest newspaper, on July 3.

At the privately-owned German Occupation Museum, visitors can see a small collection of weaponry, memorabilia (medals, uniforms, band instruments) and a re-creation of a typical kitchen from a Guernsey household. The scene is set after dinner, with the father listening to a forbidden wireless that is cleverly concealed during the day.

A street scene, filled with storefronts and period-costumed mannequins, offers another look at what life was like in the 1940s.

The museum also has an Enigma machine, used by the Nazis to send encrypted messages that they thought were unbreakable. Little did they know that teams of linguists, scientists, mathematicians and others at Bletchley Park in England had deciphered the secrets of the Enigma, led in part by the groundbreaking work of Alan Turing, often credited as being the father of modern computing.

La Valette Underground Military Museum, housed in slave-labor-built tunnels that were planned as fuel-storage depots for refueling German U-boats, has a much wider array of weapons, uniforms and vehicles. Some of the items date to World War I.

The fuel tanks were of great interest after the war when getting oil was still difficult, but the tunnel was closed over the ensuing decades. It wasn’t until the late 1980s that the site was converted into a museum.

Military hospitalI also went to the German Military Underground Hospital and Ammunition Store, which has a collection of occupation newspapers, fascinating in and of themselves. (According to Visit Guernsey, this sight is closed until further notice.)

The tunnels of the hospital and ammunition store, in the south-central part of the island, cover about 75,000 square feet, the largest physical reminder of the Nazi occupation.

Slave laborers (many of them POWs) from countries occupied by the Germans, such as France, Belgium, Holland, and others from Spain, Morocco, Algeria, Poland and Russia, along with some Guernseymen, were forced to work long hours on starvation diets, removing 60,000 tons of granite over a 3.5-year period.

Much of the work was done by hand with picks, shovels and sledgehammers, and the occasional use of explosives and pneumatic drills.

The tunnels had a full heating and air-conditioning scheme, five ventilation shafts, three entrances, an electric generating plant and their own reservoir.

The hospital, with space to treat 800 patients, was used for only about three months. Hundreds of wounded Germans were transported from the Normandy beaches after the Allies’ invasion in June 1944.

The concrete-reinforced hospital layout mimics a ladder: Two long parallel corridors connect a series of “rungs,” that housed the wards, operation room, X-ray room, lab, dispensary and staff sleeping quarters. Also included were a kitchen, store rooms, a cinema and a mortuary.

Not much remains today other than some beds and kitchen equipment. When the Germans fled, a lot of the equipment went with them and the British took a much of what was left in 1945.

The Ammunition Store was just to the north (and a tiny bit west) of the hospital. Similar in layout to the hospital but even larger, it was occupied for about nine months. Thousands of tons of tarp-covered ammunition packed the rooms. From the spring onward — the walls were dripping when I visited — considerable condensation would have posed a threat to the ammunition.

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Broken china, pebbles and seashells cover the exterior and part of the interior of the Little Chapel, one religious man’s tribute to the more famous grotto and basilica at Lourdes, France.

Less than a 10-minute walk from the hospital is the distinctive Little Chapel, about 16.5 feet long and 10 feet wide (5-by-3 meters), and the dream creation of Brother Déodat of the De La Salle Brothers.

His goal was a chapel in the style of the famous grotto-and-basilica Catholic pilgrimage site in Lourdes, France. Brother Déodat came to Guernsey in 1904, fleeing France and its laws forbidding religious schools.

In 1914, he built the first small chapel before demolishing it almost immediately. A second stood at the same site until 1923, when, after a visiting bishop could not fit through the door, Brother Déodat decided to start again.

The third, under construction for a number of years, is the one that stands today, though Brother Déodat never saw its completion, having returned to France in 1939 because of ill health.

Brother Déodat spent a considerable amount of time collecting small pebbles and seashells to decorate the chapel’s exterior and interior. Adding to its uniqueness are the colorful mosaics, and many pieces of broken china, including discernible English Wedgwood, adorning the chapel and steps leading to the entrance.

Deep in the countryside, it’s among the most-photographed sights on Guernsey.

Also high on my list of must-sees was the former residence of French author Victor Hugo, who lived on Guernsey for 15 of the 19 years of his political exile, 1856-1870. Among the works he wrote while in residence with his family (and his mistress living down the street) was “Les Miserables” (1862).

Hauteville House, a white, five-story structure and adjoining garden, is up a steep hill from St. Peter Port. From the top-floor, glassed-in porch overlooking the harbor, Castle Cornet and Havelet Bay, visitors can picture Hugo letting his imagination wander as he plotted what was next for his complex, often-troubled characters.

Much of the heavy wooden, ornately carved furniture was of his own design, drawing from his extensive travels in Europe.

The decor is an eclectic mix of styles and furnishings, and much of the interior is very dark, which doesn’t make it photography-friendly.

One room is covered,  including the ceiling, with priceless Flemish- and French-made tapestries. Hidden behind a panel is a darkroom, where Hugo could indulge his keen interest in photography.

Blue-and-white tiles imported from Delft in the Netherlands surround the dining room fireplace, with the squares on the face arranged in two overlapping letters “H” for Hauteville House.

Hugo’s small bedroom and a book-lined corridor are also on the top floor.

The house, donated by descendants to the city of Paris in 1927, is administered by a French team.  A major renovation is under way, and the house is closed for the rest of 2018. It is scheduled to reopen in April 2019.

Visit Guernsey is publicizing walking tours and bus tours highlighting locations from the book, as well as a host of other tie-ins.

Search the website for a link to two You Tube videos to see Guernsey chef Tony Leck preparing the wartime version of savory potato peel pie and a modern one, which is inverted to serve, like an upside-down cake. The recipe for the latter is on the Guernsey website.

For tour details, much more about the WWII occupation and further information about how much Guernsey has to offer, see www.visitguernsey.com.

For a schedule of this year’s May 9 Liberation Day festivities on Guernsey, see www.guernseyliberationday.com

Quick reference: Hauteville House: 38 Hauteville, St. Peter Port, Guernsey. http://www.maisonsvictorhugo.paris.fr/en/museum-collections/house-visit-guernsey

German Occupation Museum: Adults, £6 (about $8.40), children £3 (about $4.20) 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily April to October. 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays in November to March. www.germanoccupationmuseum.co.uk

La Valette Underground Military Museum: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, March 1-November 15. Adults £6 (about $8.40), children £3.50 ($4.90). Opposite the bathing pools in St. Peter Port. lavalette.tk

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Hundreds of schoolchildren died in the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru by the USS Bowfin during World War II

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Portraits of some of the schoolchildren and others who died in the sinking of the Tsushima Maru in August 1944 are displayed on the lower level of the Tshushima-maru Memorial Museum in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the second in a series of posts about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan, and Guam. See my April 8 post about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery.

“This is our chance.” — message sent from the USS Bowfin, August 22, 1944

With those ominous words, the crew of the American submarine patrolling the waters of the Ryukyu islands prepared to launch its torpedoes, taking aim at a spread-out convoy of five Japanese vessels: Three passenger-cargo ships escorted by a destroyer and gunboat.

What the submariners did not know is that the Tsushima Maru — unmarked and unlighted — was carrying evacuees from eight schools in Naha, Okinawa, and elsewhere, heading to Kagoshima, a port city on the southern coast of Kyushu, the southernmost of Japan’s four main islands.

Of the 1,788 or so passengers, about 800 were children. About 740 teachers, parents and elderly were aboard to provide an orderly, reassuring presence. The crew numbered 86, with an additional 41 gunners.

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A scale model of the Tsushima Maru is on the second floor at the museum. The ship was built in Scotland for Japanese shipping company Nippon Yusen Kaisha, founded in 1885. The colorful strands of origami cranes in the background are symbols of hope and peace.

The 6,754-ton Tsushima Maru was not a swift ship. Neither was it new. It was built for Japan’s Nippon Yusen Kaisha by Russell and Company at a shipyard on the River Clyde near Glasgow, Scotland, in 1914. The almost 450-foot (136 meters) vessel presented a big lumbering target for the American sub.

Conversely, the steel-hulled Bowfin (SS 287) was less than three years old. A Balao-class diesel-electric powered sub that measured about 312 feet in length, it was launched at the Portsmouth (New Hampshire) Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, on December 7, 1942, a year to the day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. No wonder its nickname was “Pearl Harbor Avenger.”

The Bowfin was on the sixth of its nine World War II patrols, and under the authority of Commander John H. Corbus for the second time, having left Pearl Harbor in July. It had a crew of 80: 10 officers and 70 enlisted men.

The maximum speed for Balao-class subs was 20.25 knots surfaced, and 8.75 submerged. They generally carried 24 torpedoes.

About halfway to its destination and off the coast of Akusekijima, several torpedoes destroyed the Tsushima Maru between 10 and 10:30 p.m. Passengers who had left the stifling holds hoping for some fresher air on a humid summer night jumped from the listing ship’s upper decks into the sea. Many of the schoolchildren, crammed into berths on lower decks, died where they slept.

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An artist’s depiction of the sinking of the Tsushima Maru. (Please ignore the buildings in the right background. They’re a reflection off the glass covering the painting.)

The Bowfin reported seeing secondary explosions, which may have been the Tsushima Maru’s boilers in flames. It sank in less than 15 minutes.

“Teachers and soldiers were grabbing children and throwing them into the water,” said Keiko Taira, then a fourth grader, sharing her memories of the horrible night in a 35-minute film at the Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, which opened in 2004 in Naha. “We all tried our best to stay alive.”

Some children, wearing their hastily donned life vests, huddled on rafts or clung to flimsy pieces of bamboo, increasingly frightened when sharks were sighted nearby. These conditions are depicted in survivors’ sketches that are on display in the museum.

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Leather satchels for schoolbooks were among the few items recovered from the water.

Fishing boats and patrol boats eventually plucked 177 evacuees from the water — some had been drifting for several days. Fewer than 60 of the rescued were children, and about 82 of the crew and gunners survived, bringing the overall total to about 280 (some made it all the way to nearby islands).

The exact total of passengers who left port are unknown to this day because no investigation was undertaken in 1944. Some students didn’t turn up on departure morning, August 21, and others were unexpectedly shoved onto the ship by anxious parents. In the chaos, no one was recording an accurate list of names.

The Japanese destroyer Hasu and gunboat Uji in the convoy also suffered direct hits.

To compound the tragedy, Japanese authorities, fearing a plunge in morale, imposed a news blackout. “You mustn’t mention any single thing to anyone in the neighborhood. It’s strictly confidential,” says a letter at the museum. With the ban in place, families assumed their children had arrived safely at their destination and were informed only after the war of the devastating event and, ultimately, their heartbreaking loss.

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The entrance to the ship-like Tsushima-Maru Memorial Museum is on the second level.

This disaster is little known in the United States and the West in general, and no guidebook I consulted before my trip mentioned the museum. No tourist information booklets I got in Naha publicized it either. I found it listed on only one map. And that was just the name, no capsule description or details about the sinking or its aftermath.

Most of the displays are in Japanese, with very little English translation. A map shows the Tsushima Maru’s fateful route and there is some information on the Bowfin’s specifications and a lengthy excerpt from its patrol report.

Also upstairs is a scale model of the Japanese ship, and many long skeins of colored paper and copper origami cranes, a symbol of hope and peace.

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Part of the re-created schoolroom on the lower level, across from the victims’ portraits.

Downstairs is a reconstruction of a schoolroom, with desks, a blackboard and a textbook’s cover showing a smiling boy holding a rifle and dressed in a military-style uniform. A girl is seated to his right, in a nurse-like outfit with a Red Cross cuff on her left arm. Underlying message: Even as children, you can help in the war effort.

By far the saddest part of the exhibit is the photo wall, with black-and-white portraits of many of the children who lost their lives. With so few survivors, recovered personal effects, aside from some leather book satchels, were also scarce.

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A bronze dove of peace (center) was added to the Kozakura no To memorial in 1978. A plaster replica of the bird is at the Tsushima-maru museum.

Southwest of the museum, across Asahigaoka Park bordering Naminoue-dori Street, stands Kozakura no To, a mostly white memorial with a ship motif dedicated to the children who died. It was unveiled in May 1954.

The Tsushima Maru sinking was not an isolated incident. In the period of July 1944 to March 1945, more than 70,000 evacuees on 178 ships lost their lives.

While the Bowfin crew accomplished its mission, it wasn’t until many years later that the sailors learned that they had sunk a ship loaded with mostly civilians. They had no way of knowing that the Tsushima Maru’s latest passengers weren’t military, which they had been coming into port on August 19.

The Tsushima Maru had arrived in Naha with the cargo ships Gyoku Maru and Kazuura Maru. From China, they had transported a total of almost 9,000 soldiers of the 62nd Infantry Division and about 900 horses for the build-up to the confrontation that the Japanese suspected was inevitable on Okinawa, especially after American and allied forces had reclaimed Saipan, Tinian and Guam in the Mariana islands the previous month.

The military increase was the reason for the islanders’ evacuation in the first place.

With civilians on board, Tsushima Maru had not requested safe passage, an option that the Japanese knew was available. Instead, with a naval destroyer and gunboat escorting the three cargo ships, they were all fair game as targets.

The Bowfin was decommissioned in 1971. It was later restored and opened to visitors on April 1, 1981, as part of the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum & Park at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii. Its website mentions the sinking of the Tsushima Maru but not the more than 1,400 who died.

In December 1997, the remains of the Tsushima Maru were positively identified, near where it went down, at a depth of 2,871 feet (870 meters) by the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology Center using deep-sea detection equipment.

No attempt was made to salvage any artifacts or raise the ship, according to “In Titanic’s Shadow: The World’s Worst Merchant Ship Disasters” by David L. Williams.

Quick reference: Tsushima-maru Memorial Museum, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; closed Thursdays, and December 31-January 3. Adults 500 yen (about $4.65), ages 13-18, 300 yen (about $2.79). Entrance is on the second floor. 1-25-37 Wakasa, Naha, Okinawa. www.tsushimamaru.or.jp

Find out more about the USS Bowfin, and the route of its sixth patrol at http://www.bowfin.org

In Naha, Okinawa: Sea grapes and other local specialties, a hit-the-spot lunch, and a ramble through the pottery district

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A very satisfying lunch of three triangular rice cakes (known as onigiri), salad, mackerel teriyaki and vegetables from Kitchen 33 in Naha, Okinawa.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the first in a series of entries about my March 2018 trip to Okinawa, Japan, Tokyo and Guam.

Sea grapes, seaweed soup, a tulip-shaped deep-fried minicake, dark brown sugar cubes and mango gelato: This may be the oddest combination of food that I’ve ever eaten for breakfast while traveling in Asia — and that covers some ground.

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Live sea grapes sway in a tank at Heiwa-dori arcade. They’re sold in small clear-topped plastic containers and have a short shelf-life once they’re out of the water.

I didn’t eat them all together but rather while grazing as I explored the Heiwa-dori arcade, which intersects with the even-larger Makishi Public Market, on a March morning in Naha, the largest city in Japan’s Okinawa prefecture.

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The habu snake, related to the rattlesnake, is native to the Ryukyu islands, of which Okinawa is the largest. Here it’s immersed in awamori, high-alcohol-content sake. Smaller bottles are sold in liquor stores. Yes, people really drink this.

Heiwa-dori is several blocks long, with meandering offshoots, where side-by-side vendors display their wares (often offering samples), ranging from the above items to still-squirming seafood (or fish on ice), all of the pig except the oink, vegetables well-known and other-worldly, rice, clothing, souvenirs, and on and on … and the famous (and deadly) habu snakes, coiled, open-mouthed and seemingly ready to strike save for the fact they’re encased in wide glass jars.

Umibudo — sea grapes — are an Okinawan delicacy, sold in small quantities and sometimes referred to as “green caviar,” quite an upscale nickname for algae. Pop a skinny chlorophyll-heavy strand into your mouth, and squash them: The salty liquid explodes from the tiny bubble-like grapes, indeed, quite like the more familiar fish roe. Umibudo is often an accompaniment or garnish for sushi and sashimi.

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This cool cat is a puffer fish, which can be deadly to diners if it is prepared incorrectly.

At the same stall where I tasted sea grapes, the woman gave me a little portion of inky-green seaweed in broth in a rectangular foil dish. This is another favorite on Okinawa, where inhabitants boast an inordinate rate of longevity. Rich in vitamins and minerals, the seaweed evoked the ocean, as did the broth. Not as salty, but with that definite day-at-the-beach aftertaste. (I think this might have been mozuku seaweed, which is harvested only in Okinawa.)

The fried cakes, “sata andagi” locally, were much less healthy. Think not-too-sweet, hush-puppy-heavy dough, eaten alone or with a cup of coffee or tea. For about the equivalent of 60 cents, I nibbled on the mango-flavored “doughnut” as I continued my wandering.

Eventually, I went upstairs, where fuzzy, black-and-white historical photos of post-World War II Okinawa rimmed the top of the steps. Information was sorely lacking, only occasionally pinpointing the year. There was, however, no mistaking the uniformed American military men in the right side of one photo, ambling past shaky-looking wooden buildings. One picture was dated 1950, and I wondered if the series was showing the area where the market is now, as it grew in size and energy over the years.

Several denominations of blue military currency, referred to locally as “B scrip,” were also on display. It was issued by American military occupiers after the war, and was in use until 1958.

Several open-seating restaurants ringed the second floor, but because this was still midmorning, most were not yet set up for lunch.

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Dark brown sugar is being chipped from a solid rectangular bar with an ax. Immediately to the right of the sugar are the Okinawan doughnuts known as “sata andagi.”

At the opposite end was a young woman in a black apron and white short-sleeved shirt, standing at a table wielding a formidable ax, chopping off chunks from a solid rectangular bar of dark brown sugar. The sweetener is another product in which Okinawan pride is evident.

Okinawan brown sugar is said to be higher in calcium, potassium and iron than its relatives produced elsewhere, crediting the coral found in fields where sugar cane is grown, ample sunlight and sea spray for its nutritional assets.

I sampled a few small pieces, and found the molasses flavor quite strong, but in a pleasing way. Many of the market’s vendors sold brown sugar in chunks or granulated, and while on a side aisle, I found sealed 300-gram (about 10.5 ounces) packages for 350 yen (about $3.26).

Nearby the brown-sugar-chipping woman was a small gelato stand, where it also looked like the vendors were just opening. They let me sample a few of the flavors before I settled on mango, again. The Okinawan version of gelato is not to be confused with what you get in Italy.

The man mushed cubes of fresh, bright orange mango, then hand-mixed the pulp into what reminded me more of vanilla ice milk than ice cream. It was refreshing, but not what I was expecting. It was also inexpensive, only about 300 yen (about $2.79).

I knew that if I walked the length of Hewai-dori, at the far end I would be near the Tsuboya pottery area, dating to the 17th century, and location of a museum, ancient outdoor kiln and a street with shops devoted to hand-made ceramic goods. This was to be my post-lunch destination.

After meandering in the market for about two hours, I could have picked up several freshly made items and had a picnic, but I had in mind finding a small restaurant. I saw a sign pointing toward Tsuboya, and as I turned the corner on a side street, came to a halt in front of the plant-laden exterior of Kitchen 33. In white chalk, a blackboard announced “lunch ¥780,” which is all I could understand. The rest was in Japanese. This looked promising, so I went in.

More plants, festooning everything from the light fixtures to the wooden tables. The cozy space had a bar with four stools, two tables pushed together with two orange and two yellow chairs, and a table for two with pale blue chairs, and could accommodate a third patron seated at the end. Above the cooking area was another blackboard; the only words I could understand were “Kitchen 33 set,” and “season menu.”

Behind the light-wood bar was a dark-haired man, maybe in his 30s, in a denim apron and yellow tie, who was busy prepping lunch. He spoke no English. I speak no Japanese, other than a few words of greeting and thanks. (Inadequate, I know.)

This was not an obstacle, in this age of easy translation via smartphone. For the equivalent of about $7.26, I would be served miso soup, salmon teriyaki, salad, rice, vegetables and iced coffee.

Within minutes of nodding my head yes, I’d like to have lunch in this patronless, green-ceilinged restaurant, a couple and a teenage boy sat down at the bar, and then two women settled in to my left.

The background music was a mix of current pop tunes and oldies, all in English, with a British-accented DJ. I couldn’t tell if it was a local radio station, but I did hear the news that Professor Stephen Hawking had died.

In Japan, presentation is as important as the actual food. The square white plate that proprietor Masashi Shio set before me was perfectly balanced. Three thick rice triangles, each with a different coating on the outside edges,were back-to-back-to back on the upper left, across from a tangle of salad greens topped with a dollop of light orange dressing. Below the salad were two V-crossed, skin-on fish fillets in teriyaki sauce, to the left of which was a piece of roasted green bell pepper, a short cylinder of cucumber, and two T-crossed beige “logs” of an unknown vegetable.

I never pinned down what was atop the greens, but smartphone translation came to the rescue again when I was trying to figure out the third rice coating. One was the obvious nori (seaweed) and the second was sesame seeds. The third was slightly sweet and deep purple. My guess was dried purple sweet potato flakes (the purple sweet potato is another Okinawan specialty).

Wrong. One of the women told me it was plum shiso. Mmmm. The logs were “gobo,” or burdock root, a member of the thistle family. Very crunchy but not terribly flavorful. And the fish was not salmon but “saba,” which is mackerel. I rarely (as in almost never) order anything from the ocean when eating out, but even with the tiny bones I had to pick out of the fillets, I enjoyed the fish at this memorable meal.

Thus fortified, I spent the next several hours checking out nearly every pottery-selling shop in Tsuboya. All of them are quite small, selling a less refined version of pottery than some of the delicate porcelain you find in other places in Japan.

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This kiln in the Tsuboya section of Naha dates to the 17th century. The stone pillars holding up the red-tiled roof do so without benefit of cement.

I knew of the ancient kiln from my pre-trip research but I found it quite by accident. I climbed the exterior stairs of what I thought was another shop, aiming to get an overview photo of the stone-paved street. It was really a cafe, and through its back window I could see the huge kiln.

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One of the pottery shops selling a variety of handmade plates, bowls, cups and vases.

At one time there were at least 10 outdoor kilns of this size, used to fire unglazed water jars, containers for awamori (high-alcohol-content sake) and burial urns. Only this kiln survived the war.

Also distinct are the stone pillars that help to support the red-tiled roof. The columns are comprised of hewn natural stones and fitted together without benefit of cement.

My first day in Okinawa, I intended to get my bearings, sampling local delicacies and take advantage of pleasant March weather. A stop at the tourist information center on the way back to my hotel helped me set up logistics for the rest of my stay.

Quick reference: Makishi Public Market, 2-10-1 Matsuo, Naha, Okinawa. 8 a.m.-8 p.m. daily, closed fourth Sunday of the month. Heiwa-dori arcade can be accessed off Kokusai-dori, the main shopping street in Naha, both about an 8-minute walk from Miebashi monorail station. Kitchen 33, Open 6 p.m. Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays (no closing time given), noon to 10 p.m. Wednesdays-Thursdays, closed Tuesdays; 1-1-15 Tsuboya, Naha, Okinawa. kitchen33.crayonsite.net (Japanese only). Naha Municipal Tsuboya Pottery Museum, 1-9-32 Tsuboya, 10 am.-6 p.m. daily, closed Mondays. Admission 350 yen (about $3.26).

31 months in hiding on Guam: With invaluable help from islanders, U.S. Navy radioman George Tweed eluded Japanese military during World War II

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In September 1944, George Tweed returned to Guam and, with a Navy photographer and several of the people who helped hide him in tow, posed at the cave in the northwestern part of the island where he hid for 21 months. He found everything just as he left it in July. This photo of a photo is part of the exhibition at the War in the Pacific Museum on Guam. By his count, Tweed was in hiding for a total of 31 months.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos except where noted. All rights reserved.

“Robinson Crusoe, USN: The Adventures of George R. Tweed Rm1c on Japanese-held Guam” by George R. Tweed, as told to Blake Clark (Whittlesey House, 1945; reissued Westholme Publishing, March 2010, $14.95, paperback)

Within hours of the sneak attack on the American Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and Hickam and Wheeler airfields on December 7, 1945, the Japanese military had other targets in its sights.

In quick succession, Wake Island, Guam and airfields in the Philippines, territories all under the jurisdiction of the United States, were bombed.

The Japanese invaded Malaya, occupied Thailand and took control of the international settlement in Shanghai, China.

Two days later, Japanese forces began landing on Luzon, the Philippines’ largest and most northern island.

Also on December 10, Guam, with only about 750 military in residence (including the Insular Force Guard comprised of Chamorros, the indigenous people), fell to the Japanese. Badly outmanned and for all intents and purposes unfortified, a prolonged fight against the Imperial Army would have been impossible and U.S. Marines put up only “token resistance.”

Two options remained for the 270 or so Navy personnel and 153 Marines: Surrender or head for the bush. (Dependents had been evacuated in October.)

George R. Tweed, a Navy radioman whose job it was to keep all equipment in tip-top working order, chose the latter. An avid hiker, he was familiar with the terrain on this, the southern end of the Mariana Islands. (The other most notable in the chain in World War II history are Saipan, and Tinian, from where the B-29 Superfortresses Enola Gay and Bocks Car would depart to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, respectively, in August 1945.)

Growing up in Oregon, he learned to hunt, be self-sufficient and enjoy the solitude of the outdoors. And, stationed on Guam since August 1939, he’d made friends with some of the Chamorros, who he was certain he could count on to provide shelter should he need it.

There was no question in Tweed’s mind which option he’d pursue. He and a Navy buddy grabbed canned food and other supplies, and with a member of the Insular Force along, jumped in Tweed’s six-cylinder 1926 Reo and drove inland.

Thus began a remarkable, 31-month odyssey of criss-crossing Guam, a Western Pacific island 30 miles long and four to 12 miles wide. An increasingly anxious yet ingenious Tweed lived by his wits and a particular set of skills in evading the Japanese while he awaited the return of the U.S. Navy.

He was confident this would happen. As it turned out, not nearly as quickly as he had hoped, and not before some of the Chamorros, who brought him food, water and tools and reading material, and provided intermittent companionship, would pay a very high price for knowing a most-wanted American — the Japanese put a price on his head — was hiding somewhere on Guam.

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The machete that Tweed relied upon while in hiding, and reproductions of other materials he kept with him. The letter at left is illegible in the exhibition.

Tweed, 39 years old and a Navy man for 16 years, moved often in the early months of lying low, living sometimes in a cave, a swamp or a Chamorro ranch or farm. For part of the time, he was with Al Tyson, also a radioman, with whom he had first fled. They were always ready to bolt at a moment’s notice.

In some locations, the dense scrub and indigenous trees and plants provided heavy cover. Having recently visited Guam myself and hiked Mount Lamlam on the southwestern part of the island, I can attest to the tropical landscape’s ability to disguise the presence of any humans.

The lack of real news from the outside world led to Tweed asking one of the Chamorro men to steal a radio, which he connected to an old car battery, and from which he also generated electric lights. In perhaps a foolhardy move, Tweed typed up the latest war developments for his Guam Eagle, and copies were distributed among trusted communities with the caveats not to disclose the source and to destroy the evidence.

In Tweed’s mind, his actions were a morale-boosting necessity, not a frivolous risk to himself and the Chamorro helpers. This four-month journalistic endeavor morphed into self-made calendars and furtive notes that later aided in providing a fairly detailed recap of his life on the run.

In October 1942, Tweed settled into an “eagle’s nest”-like crevasse, only four miles from the northwestern tip of the island. When he scrambled onto a camouflaged cliffside perch several times a day, he had an unobstructed view of 20 miles of southwestern coastline.

This was to be his home for the next 21 months, fairly well-stocked with provisions his friend Antonio Artero brought in wide, woven baskets, and supplemented with plenty of papaya, bananas and coconuts Tweed could collect on his own.

With his trusty machete and pocketknife, Tweed made a real table and flat-backed chair (from a hardwood), patched leaks in his “roof” and eventually taught himself how to make shoes from deerskin that Antonio provided.

9781594161117_p0_v1_s260x420He was ever-vigilant, sleeping lightly, with his gun near his head should he need to make a quick escape. Tweed even devised a crude yet effective alarm, connecting 300 feet of shredded and twisted bark and the workings of a deconstructed clock. One of the daylight false alarms was caused by a crow sitting atop a limb near where the cord connected with a small tree.

Among the low points was learning on separate occasions that five of the other Americans who were hiding in less well-concealed locations were eventually captured and executed. While the Japanese were torturing some of the Chamorros, trying to extract information about Tweed, he believed his freedom gave the Chamorros hope that U.S. forces were coming. Conversely, some Chamorros thought Tweed selfish and reckless, encouraging him to surrendered and put an end to their misery.

The longed-for day finally arrived on June 11, 1944, as Tweed — by now 30 pounds lighter — recognized the distinctive hum of American bombers and began seeing a buildup of U.S. Navy ships offshore.

From white medical gauze, he fashioned semaphore flags, and used a three-inch pocket mirror to signal American ships. This went on for about three weeks, with Antonio reminding Tweed that if the U.S. Navy could see him, so could the Japanese.

Throwing caution to the wind, Tweed’s efforts finally paid off on July 10, when one of the destroyers saw the mirror flash, and the flags, and understood this message: “I have information for you.” He warned the ship that it was in range of Japanese coastal guns, attempting to indicate that his contact was not a trap.

Thus began Tweed’s rescue by the U.S.S. McCall and the whirlwind that followed, included his pocketing more than $6,000 in back pay and a promotion. He missed U.S. forces retaking Guam (the island was secured by August 11), but he was back in September, meeting again with the brave and resourceful Chamorros who had hidden him and finding out about those who paid the ultimate price.

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Within minutes of the beginning of the assault to retake Guam in July 1944, two officers planted the Stars and Stripes. National Archives

On the initial route home from Guam, he was interviewed by Robert Sherrod, and the article ran in the August 21, 1944 edition of Life magazine.

Tweed’s wife and two young sons were in California during his ordeal, but curiously he never refers to them other than their departure from Guam. He does mention his mother, to whom he wrote regular letters, which he concealed in a coconut shell in case he was captured, and told one of his helpers where it was.

He confided to Sherrod that he wouldn’t be surprised if his wife had remarried after his lengthy absence, but that was not the whole story. By the time the magazine was on newsstands, he had already been granted an interlocutory divorce from Mary Frances Tweed, 27, in San Diego, The New York Times reported. A bit of Internet digging revealed that he and his wife had separated much earlier in 1941.

Tweed remarried in 1945, and was on active duty until 1950 when spinal arthritis forced his retirement. He eventually returned to Grants Pass, Oregon, and ran a TV and radio repair business for 40 years.

He returned to Guam in 1946, and shipped a four-door Chevrolet sedan to Antonio, who had refused any sort of remuneration in the many long months he cared for Tweed.

Hollywood told his story in the 1962 film “No Man Is an Island,” starring Jeffrey Hunter as Tweed, and filmed in the Philippines. The old Navy man also was a guest on the popular game show “To Tell the Truth” that same year. (A panel of four questions three people, trying to figure out the real McCoy from the impostors. Two panelists got Tweed right.)

Tweed (July 2, 1902-January 16,1989) died in a car accident in northern California in 1989. He was 86.

Decades after the end of WWII, former Japanese soldiers were still in hiding on several islands. With Guam liberated in 1944, a former sergeant named Shoichi Yokoi and some comrades took to the jungle. When he was discovered by villagers in January 1972, he’d spent the better part of 28 years in a 10-foot-long tunnel about eight feet below ground, and outlived all the other soldiers. He died at 82 in 1997.

Unwrinkle your nose and stop saying ‘gross’: It’s time to reconsider the many assets of brussels sprouts

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Fresh brussels sprouts should be bright green, with leaves firmly attached, had have no blemishes or blackness around the edges of the leaves.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos, except where noted. All rights reserved.

Oh, little layered veg of green,

On you I’ve lately been so keen,

I wasn’t always this excited,

But now my attitude’s been righted.

You’re sweet and nutty when gently cooked,

And I admit to being hooked

On your perfect tiny cabbage looks,

That send me to my recipe books.

That’s the way I started my ode to brussels sprouts for an article in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Food section in September 2009.

As a child, I didn’t like brussels sprouts, a not-uncommon reaction to this vegetable often improperly prepared.

In my house, they were overcooked until they reached an unattractive brown sogginess or were burned, devoid of their proper taste  — quite an achievement for such a hearty vegetable — and gave off an equally unappealing smell.

(This is where the logical reaction is to wrinkle your nose and say “yuck.”)

I avoided them rigorously, until someone, many, many years later, roasted them in the oven with just salt, pepper and a bit of oil.

Once I decided to give them a second chance and try some interesting recipes, I found I quite liked them.

Brussels sprouts, rich in vitamins A and C, have a host of health benefits, not the least of which is being high in fiber and antioxidants. They also aid in digestion and may help lower cholesterol.

With Easter falling on April 1, and overlapping with Passover, consider putting brussels sprouts on your holiday table. You just might convert nonbelievers on to the brussels sprouts bandwagon.

Brussels sprouts are available year-round, but the price fluctuates. The ones I purchased last week were $2.99 a pound.

As always, the recipe is to my taste. Feel free to adapt it to your palate.

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I added several of the ingredients I like most to take a simple recipe to the next level. The red of the diced tomatoes and bell peppers contrasts nicely with the green of the brussels sprouts. I serve this version over pasta.

Sautéed Brussels Sprouts with Onions, Red Bell Peppers and Diced Tomatoes

This is really a stir-fry, cooked to the level of crunchiness you prefer. The brussels sprouts should be a vital bright green, which indicates they are retaining their nutrients.

The first few times I made the recipe, I followed it exactly — just brussels sprouts, olive oil, onion and salt and pepper.

Then I thought why not add a can of diced tomatoes, garlic, red bell pepper and dried red pepper flakes and make it more like a substantial sauce to serve atop pasta. That’s the recipe below.

If you’re feeding a crowd, double the recipe.

Hands on: 15 minutes

Total time: 25-30 minutes

Serves: 4

18 to 24 fresh brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Vidalia or large yellow onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 red bell pepper, diced

1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, with their juice

1 teaspoon granulated sugar

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Pinch of dried red pepper flakes, optional

Rinse the brussels sprouts and trim off the bottoms. Cut the brussels sprouts through the core in half. If they are large, quarter them. Heat the olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Add the sprouts, onion, garlic, red bell pepper and sugar and stir-fry about 3 minutes. (Or, you can cover the pan and steam them for about 3 minutes. If you use this method, stir several times.)

Add the diced tomatoes and juice and continue stir-frying for 4-5 minutes or until they soften to your liking. Taste one to check for doneness. If still too crunchy, continue stir-frying 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir again. If you’d like a bit of kick, stir in a pinch or more of dried red pepper flakes.

Place any leftovers in a tightly covered glass or plastic dish. They will keep 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.

Adapted from “Hip Kosher: 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks” by Ronnie Fein (Da Capo Press, 2008, $16.95, paperback)

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Roasting brings out the sweetness and nuttiness of brussels sprouts. Tauton Press photo

Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dijon, Walnuts and Crisp Crumbs

Hands on: 20-25 minutes

Total time: About 1 hour

Serves: 6-8

The roasted brussels sprouts pack plenty of texture and flavor without the topping. So if you want to save the fat and calories, just make the sprouts. This recipe can be easily halved.

Make-ahead tip: You can fry the crumb topping 2 hours beforehand.

For Passover, obviously the bread crumbs can’t be used (substitute matzo meal?), and you’ll have to find kosher-for-Passover mustard. There is such a product as “imitation Worcestershire sauce,” but I’ve never tried it. Maybe just wait and make this recipe after Passover?

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, divided

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

1/2 teaspoon caraway seeds, toasted lightly and crushed

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt, divided; more to taste

Freshly ground black pepper

2 pounds brussels sprouts, ends trimmed, cut through the core into quarters

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Position racks in top and bottom thirds of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk 1/4 cup olive oil with mustard, Worcestershire sauce, caraway seeds, 1/2 teaspoon salt and about 10 grinds of pepper. Add brussels sprouts and toss to thoroughly distribute the mustard mixture. Spread the sprouts in an even layer on the 2 baking sheets.

Roast until the cores of the sprouts are just barely tender and the leaves are browning and crisping a bit, 20 to 25 minutes (if your oven heat is uneven, rotate the pans midway through cooking).

While the sprouts are roasting, make the topping: Line a plate with two layers of paper towels. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil with butter (or margarine) in a medium (10-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. When butter has stopped foaming, add bread crumbs all at once. Toss to distribute fat. Reduce heat to medium, add walnuts and remaining 1/4 teaspoon salt. Cook, stirring constantly until the crumbs are browned and slightly crisp and the nuts are golden, 4 to 6 minutes. (The crumbs will start to sound “scratchy” when they get crisp.) Dump bread crumb mixture onto paper towels to absorb excess fat.

Transfer brussels sprouts to a serving bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle crumbs over sprouts just before serving.

Adapted from Martha Holmberg’s recipe in “Fine Cooking Annual, Volume 3: A Year of Great Recipes, Tips & Techniques” (Taunton, 2008, $34.95)

In Belém, Portugal: A massive monument dedicated to Prince Henry the Navigator and Portuguese overseas expansion

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Prince Henry the Navigator holds a multi-masted caravel, a ship that helped explorers increase Portugal’s territory, at the front of the Monument to the Discoveries in Belém, Portugal. Kneeling behind him is his brother Prince Fernando (Ferdinand) and behind him navigator Joáo Gonçalves Zarco.

 

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the seventh post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See January 16, 2018 for a post about a visit to Taylor’s port wine lodge in Porto; February 18 about the National Tile Museum and making a ceramic tile; June 2, 2017 about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon; July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto; August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal; and September 3 on custard tarts, a Portuguese specialty.

If the Monument to the Discoveries had been commissioned by Portugal’s Prince Henry the Navigator during his lifetime (1394-1460), the towering structure might have been labeled by some as a vanity project.

Whatever the size of Henry’s ego, hundreds of years later, he’s the dominant figure at the head of the Padrão dos Descobrimentos that tops out at almost 185 feet tall (56 meters) and dwarfs everything else along the picturesque waterfront in the Belém section of western Lisbon.

His right hand cradles a multi-masted caravel, the maneuverable, swift ship favored by Portuguese and Spanish explorers of the 15th to 17th centuries. In his left is an unfurled map. His right leg juts forward, as if he’s about to step off the prow and onto the latest piece of land that Portuguese explorers have claimed for their royal house.

The limestone and cement monument, based on an earlier, temporary model, was established in 1960 to mark the 500th anniversary of Henry’s death. It was conceived years earlier by architect Cottinelli Telmo (1897-1948) and sculptor Leopoldo de Almeida (1898-1975), who designed the likenesses of Prince Henry and 32 historical men and women who line both sides of the ramps of a structure that depicts a ship’s prow.

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The monument stands nearly 185 feet tall and was established in 1960 to coincide with the 500th anniversary of Prince Henry’s death. This view is from the west side.

Henry, son of King João I of Portugal (1357-1433) and English princess Philippa of Lancaster (1359-1415), was a man of many interests, spanning the fields of politics, religion, economics and science. His foresight was to pay unimaginable dividends for centuries to come. Less charitable descriptions of him might mention greed and religious persecution (the Christian was strongly anti-Muslim).

Bordered by Spain on the east and the Atlantic Ocean on the west, any ambitions to expand Portugal’s holdings were bound to involve going to sea and claiming far-off territory.

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Second from last on the west side is Queen Philippa of Lancaster, mother of Prince Henry. As an English princess, she represented an important alliance when she married into Portuguese royalty. Behind her is her son Prince Pedro (Peter). The figure on the right holding the written document is Luis de Camões, who immortalized Vasco da Gama’s exploits in an epic poem. In front of Camões is painter Nuno Gonçalves.

The monument covers the years from 1418 to 1525, when the voyagers and their ships were pioneering new routes to the known world and beyond. Also immortalized in stone are navigators, artists, writers, religious figures and other royalty.

Navigator Vasco da Gama (circa 1469-1524) is featured in a prominent position — gripping the handle of his sword in his left hand and the second figure behind Henry — on the east ramp (facing the Tagus river [Tejo in Portuguese]). At almost 30 feet tall (9 meters), Henry is the largest of the figures. The others are in the 23-foot (7 meters) range.

By the time de Gama left what is now Belém in 1497, with three caravels and a supply ship, King Manuel I (1469-1521) was on the throne. November found da Gama rounding the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa, then heading up the east coast of that continent. By May 1498, he had crossed the Indian Ocean and put in at Calicut in southwestern India, thus opening up a trade route for fragrant spices such as curry and cinnamon, and the gold and slaves from Africa.

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Directly behind Prince Henry on the east side of the monument is King Afonso V, followed by explorer Vasco da Gama (left hand on sword), explorer Pedro Alvares Cabral, who claimed Brazil for Portugal, and Portuguese-born Ferdinand Magellan, who was in service to the Spanish crown.

Also among the explorers on the east ramp is Pedro Álvares Cabral, with his hand over his heart. Cabral, of nobel birth, followed a route to India similar to da Gama’s with a few major differences: His expedition sailed with 13 ships, and it called in first on the east coast of Brazil, where he took possession of the country for his king in April 1500. (He originally named it Island of the True Cross.)

Portugal not only colonized the largest country in South America (it declared its independence in 1822), but gained access to, in addition to other riches, gold mines and sugar cane plantations, and transported slaves from Africa to work them.

In service to the rival Spanish crown after a disagreement with Manuel I, Portuguese-born explorer Ferdinand Magellan (circa 1480-1521) led the expedition that was first to circumnavigate the globe. Fernão de Magalhães (in Portuguese) is also on the east ramp of the monument, right behind Cabral. His route, with five ships and 270 men, went west from Spain in September 1519, down the east coast of South America and in October 1520 into the eponymous Strait of Magellan, the passage between Tierra del Fuego (and its islands) and the mainland.

Less than five months later — March 1521 — they had reached the Philippines. In late April, Magellan and some of the sailors were killed in an island tribal skirmish. Only one ship made it back to Spain, in September 1522, under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano.

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Part of the Compass Rose, showing caravels and some 16th century “discoveries.”

On the spacious square leading to the monument is an attractive red-and-black Compass Rose, a gift from South Africa, measuring about 165 feet (50 meters) in diameter. Some sources say the design is composed from inlaid limestone; others say it’s marble.

At the center is a maplike element illustrating the continents, with dates and named caravels showing the explorers’ main 15th- and 16th-century routes. Cobblestones in alternating waves of tan and black surround the Compass Rose.

Past the Compass Rose, heading toward the river, several steps lead to the interior entrance of the monument, where visitors can climb 267 stairs or take an elevator to the viewing platform (included in the entry fee) and a panorama of the Belém area. Exhibits and a film are on a lower level.

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Part of the square and the entrance side to the monument, including the sword of Avis on a stylized cross. Technically, this is the back of the monument.

Also from the entrance side, an enormous, multistory sword of Avis centered on a stylized cross. The website says these symbols indicated “the growth of the empire and faith.”

In addition to the monument, there is much to see in Belém, including the Torre de Belém (tower built 1514-20); the very grand and imposing white limestone Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (monastery), home to the tombs of Camões and da Gama, an archaeological museum and a maritime museum; a war memorial; the 16th century Palácio de Belém, the working residence of Portugal’s president; Antiga Confeitaria, famous for its custard tarts (see September 3, 2017 post); and other sights.

Quick reference: Monument to the Discoveries, Avenida Brasilia 1400-038. Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays October to February, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. every day March to September; closed January 1, May 1 and December 25. Admission: 5 euros (about $6.15); check website for discounts. No cost if just looking at the exterior Compass Rose and figures on the monument. http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt

In New York City: How one man’s obsession for Native American art led to the creation of two museums

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Nearly 160,000 beads went into the creation of this Inuit “amauti” or “tuilli,” a woman’s inner parka from Nunavut, Canada, circa 1890-1925. It’s made from caribou skin, stroud cloth, metal pendants and caribou teeth. Read below for further details.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

It all began with a Navajo deerskin shirt, which George Gustav Heye (1874-1957) acquired in 1897 in Kingston, Arizona, where he was the superintendent on a railroad project.

By the time he died, Heye, who held a degree in electrical engineering, had amassed more than 800,000 indigenous peoples’ objects — perhaps the single largest collection held by a private individual — and co-founded the Museum of the American Indian in New York, which was opened to the public in a new building at 155th Street and Broadway in 1922. The native New Yorker was its director from inception until a year before his death.

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Sunka Luta (Red Dog) of the Lakota Oglala tribe, living on the Pine Ridge Reservation in what is now South Dakota, drew 52 images in a leather-bound ledger around 1884. Red Dog was a brother-in-law to Chief Red Cloud and often acted as his spokesman. Eagle feathers were awarded to warriors for courageous deeds such as liberating a horse from an enemy camp.  

Today, about 700 items ranging from basketry, to beaded moccasins and clothing, to carved masks, pottery and more are on display at the National Museum of the American Indian-New York, George Gustav Heye Center, which I toured on a recent Sunday.

These exquisite artifacts, showcasing Native Americans’ masterful command of many disciplines, convey the tribes’ inextricable connection to nature and the land.

Since October 1994, this part of the collection has been located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House, completed in lower Manhattan in 1907. The Beaux Arts building, covering three city blocks, is a destination in itself, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

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This padded saddle (not to be confused with a frame saddle) was probably made in Canada around 1880 and belonged to a Tsuu T’ina (Sarcee) rider. The soft leather form is stuffed with grass, buffalo or horse hair. Glass-beaded floral and geometric motifs decorate the top. Wool, brass bells and yarn hang from the edges. Tribes such as the Cree, Blackfoot, Metis, Assiniboine and Dakota also used padded saddles.

Because the museum is a branch of the Smithsonian, admission is free, especially welcome in an extremely pricy city. Its location adjacent to Battery Park is also convenient for those interested in an American history day out: The ferry to the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, where millions of immigrants came into the New World from 1892 to 1954, leaves from the park at the southern tip of Manhattan. (The ferry ticket includes both island stops.)

Heye was also an investment banker for eight years in the early 1900s. When the ups and downs of the financial world no longer held much interest — but had imparted a liberating fortune — he gained further funding from his well-off family and friends and turned his full attention to his voracious, consuming passion.

He enlisted anthropologists on his quest, and sent them on buying trips to far-flung parts of North America, South America and Central America. An enthusiastic amateur — he had no academic training in archaeology, anthropology or curatorial rigor — Heye also took an active role himself, purchasing goods from tribes, dealers and museums.

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Beaded floral motifs also adorn both sets of deerskin and cotton thread moccasins. They were worn by members of the Nimi ‘ipuu (Nez Perce) tribe, probably made around 1880 in Idaho, 10 years before it became a state.

After Heye’s death, his museum fell on hard times, including a dubious episode of a former director being charged with giving away or selling artifacts for his own benefit. Among the failed schemes to revive it was an offer of $70 million from billionaire businessman H. Ross Perot to move the priceless collection to Dallas in the mid-1980s.

Finally in 1989, an agreement was reached to transfer stewardship of the artifacts to the Smithsonian Institution and legislation was passed to establish the National Museum of the American Indian, with a purpose-built building to follow on the National Mall adjacent to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

That building opened in 2004, and Heye’s collection forms the foundation for more than 85 percent of its holdings. I visited in 2008 and was wowed by the architecture inside and out, to say nothing of the abundance of engrossing artifacts. (Photographs, paintings and treaty documents are in the collection at the Washington location.)

The permanent exhibit in New York, grouped geographically, is titled “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian.”

Much of the explanatory signage is brief, confined to a description of the materials used, the name of the tribe and its region, and the date the object was likely made.

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This headdress of blue and red macaw feathers and white heron feathers comes from Brazil.

An eye-catching, diverse array of headdresses opens the exhibit. Among the largest is a horseshoe-shaped frame covered with tightly overlapping blue and red macaw feathers, accented around the perimeter with smaller white heron feathers. From Brazil, circa 1990, it was used during naming and boys’ initiation ceremonies. In an accompanying photograph, it looks cumbersome, the top arching above the back of the wearer’s head, and the bottom edges brushing the upper thighs.

In-depth information accompanies the 10 “focal-point” pieces, enclosed in stand-alone display cases. Accompanying media feature touch-screen images, text and a scholar talking about the details and background of the object.

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Eleven stripe-like rifles span the shoulder area of the top half of the Apsáalooke (Crow) warrior’s exploit robe, acquired from Fort Benton, Montana in 1861. The buffalo hide retells six incidents in a warrior’s life. (Please ignore the reflection on the glass from the overhead lights.)

One of the star items tells its own story. The Apsáalooke (Crow) warrior’s exploit robe, one of two known to be in any collection, dates to around 1850 and was secured from Fort Benton, Montana, in 1861. Its elongated figures and weapons illustrate six episodes attesting to the warrior’s bravery in battle, essential for any male aspiring to a tribal leadership role. It measures about 7.4 feet long and about 6.4 feet wide (224 by 193 centimeters).

Made from buffalo hide, pigment, red wool trade cloth, beads, porcupine quills and horsehair, the robe is read from top to bottom and from right to left. Though a Crow garment, it was in possession of a Blackfoot, who may have come by it through the spoils of war, trade or as a gift. The enemy tribes would have visited Fort Benton, a major trading post, to acquire beads, steel knives, copper pots, guns, powder and lead.

Spanning the shoulders on either side of the beadwork are 11 parallel long-barreled guns (they look like stripes), which the warrior took from the enemy. The red triangle on the left side signifies a horse’s head.

Another magnificent garment, noted for its vibrant colors, beadwork and functionality, is an Inuit “amauti” or “tuilli,” a woman’s inner parka from Nunavut, Canada, circa 1890-1925. More specifically, it was acquired near Cape Fullerton, a former whaling station on the west coast of Hudson Bay.

Inuit men were hired as hunting guides and to crew the whaleboats, while the women sewed mitts, parkas, boots and sleeping bags.

Crafted from caribou skin, nearly 160,000 glass beads, stroud cloth, caribou teeth and metal pendants, the wide-shouldered parka would have allowed a mother to carry her baby in a neck-level pouch on the back, and swing the infant around to the front when it was time to nurse, minimizing its exposure to the elements.

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Design elements such as the antique metal dividers from the original Cashier’s Office at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House are preserved in the museum store. The newly expanded shop has a wide range of expertly crafted Native American jewelry, rugs, carvings and more. 

These beautiful objects might inspire visitors to start their own collection, beginning with a stop at the museum store. High-quality jewelry, rugs, wood and stone carvings, apparel, pottery and basketry crafted by Native American artists are among the extensive inventory, complemented by a range of books and DVDs.

The shop has just undergone a $2 million renovation, increasing the display space to 3,000 feet. This area was the Cashier’s Office of the U.S. Custom House, back when it was a major revenue collection location. The expansion retained the gate-like antique metal dividers that date to the early 1900s, and the chandeliers and crown molding were also preserved.

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The National Museum of the American Indian’s New York branch is located in the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in lower Manhattan.

Quick reference: National Museum of the American Indian-New York, George Gustav Heye Center, 1 Bowling Green, adjacent to northeast corner of Battery Park. Hours: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily, until 8 p.m. Thursdays. Closed December 25. Admission: Free. nmai.si.edu Visitors must pass through security screening and metal detector. No storage lockers, no cafe.

Other exhibits: “Manifestipi,” through March 25, 2018; “Cerámica de los Ancestros: Central America’s Past Revealed,” through May 20, 2018; “Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound,” through January 6, 2019; “Circle of Dance,” though April 2019.

The third floor is home to the New York branch of the National Archives. It’s open to the public 10 a.m.-5 p.m. For those with genealogical ties to New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, this is a good place to start tracing your family history. Access to some records requires an appointment. Check the website for details. http://www.archives.gov/nyc

The art of Portuguese tiles: Where skill and imagination intersect with history and culture

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Portuguese creativity has come a long way from blue-and-white tiles painted in the Delft style. This three-dimensional celebration of nature was on a side wall near a business in Lisbon.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

This is the sixth post on my spring 2017 trip to Portugal. See January 16, 2018 for a post about a visit to Taylor’s port wine lodge in Porto; June 2, 2017 about unexpectedly meeting author/TV travel host Rick Steves in Lisbon; July 30 for a post about the Casa da Musica in Porto; August 20 on cork and its importance to Portugal; and September 3 on custard tarts, a Portuguese specialty.

Even if you are in a hurry to make a train connection, or upon arrival just eager to get to your hotel, do not pass up the opportunity to spend a few minutes craning your neck upward to study the illustrations, composed of more than 20,000 tiles, that decorate the mansard-roofed São Bento station in Porto.

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At the São Bento train station in Porto, Portugal, more than 20,000 hand-painted tiles make up the scenes depicted all over the walls.

These elaborate hand-painted interior pictures, depicting folk scenes and important events in Portuguese history, are among the most well-known in a country with no shortage of decorative tile work.

One panel tells the story of the Battle of Aljubarrota, a 14th-century face-off between Portugal and Spain, which ended with a victory for John I and the English-backed Portuguese.

Another portrays Henry the Navigator’s (1394-1460) conquest of Ceuta (in Morocco) in 1415, which ushered in the era of Portuguese colonial expansion.

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Attention to detail breathes life into this scene in the São Bento train station.

The pastoral ones are more compact and easier to see because they are lower on the walls, some of which have three tiers or more of tile work.

Polished ceramic tiles — and pottery for that matter — are a long-ingrained part of Portugal’s culture. Brightly colored squares can be found adorning the exterior of many buildings, sometimes snaking around balconies and windows while climbing from street level to the roof.

On some churches, every exterior inch is covered in tiles. At random locations around Lisbon, contemporary three-dimensional techniques show the range of this eye-catching craft.

The Moors first brought the process to Portugal, as early as the eighth century. Interlocking patterns were generally geometrical, or representations drawn from nature because it was against Islamist tradition to depict the human figure.

New approaches and mass production were introduced in the ensuing centuries, and by the 1700s, the Portuguese had melded these outside influences into a style all their own.

That a museum in Lisbon is dedicated to tiles and their history only underscores the ongoing association with this accessible art.

The Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum), housed in a former convent on Lisbon’s eastern side, takes up the story of tiles in Portugal from the 15th century on.

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One section of the 75-foot-long panorama of Lisbon’s waterfront, as it looked around 1740. The panorama was transferred from one of the city’s palaces to the Museu Nacional do Azulejo (National Tile Museum).

Its can’t-miss attraction in a second-floor gallery is a 75-foot-long (23 meters) panorama of Lisbon’s waterfront as it appeared around 1740. Executed in the blue-and-white Delft style, it’s also a historical document because the look of central Lisbon was much changed following the devastating earthquake of November 1, 1755, which killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 of the 270,000 population.

A red information panel runs along the bottom of the panorama, identifying, where possible, the buildings and includes some historical details.

Elements from the Madre de Deus convent, such as a small cloister, were incorporated into the museum. The tiles featured on its walls date to the 19th century.

Also surviving is the barrel-vaulted church, constructed over three centuries, and featuring not only tile panels but heavily gilted woodwork.

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Animals are the theme on the tiles around the museum’s cafeteria.

Tiles of a more whimsical variety can be found in the ground level cafeteria and winter garden area. In that this is a place of food consumption, animals in various stages of curing are on the wall tiles and wrapping the counter fronts, not jumping bunnies, wiggly pigs and flitting birds.

Depending on your level of interest, budget at least an hour to 90 minutes to wander among the exhibits.

With the heavy tile presence, I thought Lisbon might afford another opportunity to make one myself, much as I had done when I visited the Royal Delft porcelain factory in Delft, in the Netherlands (see April 24, 2017 post).

So I started my search on the Museu Nacional do Azulejo website. It appeared that a workshop was offered, but no specifics were given. So I fired off an email … and waited. No response came, so I emailed the staff at my hotel, the Inspira Santa Marta, and asked if it would call and follow up my inquiry. The request was honored but the news wasn’t encouraging: workshops were held for groups of 10 only. (At the Tile Museum, I did see a table laid with blank tiles, brushes and glass bowls of paint, seemingly waiting for artists to descend.)

Then I started to really dig on the Internet. One place, in business since 1741, wanted an outrageous amount of money, charging at the same rate for two people as for a group of 10. The fee was 300 euros per person (about $376), plus VAT (value added tax). But if I was one of 10, the cost dropped to 30 euros (about $37). It also charged an additional fee to ship the tile home. I immediately eliminated that company as a possibility.

More digging, more inquires sent. Finally, I found Loja dos Descobrimentos, a small shop near Praça do Comércio (riverfront square), specializing in hand-painted tiles and workshops. It checked the right boxes: All materials were included as was the firing, we could pick up our tiles 48 hours later and no prepayment was required, just a reservation. Visa and MasterCard (and, of course, cash) accepted.

And it only cost 15 curos (about $19), VAT included.

I booked this for a morning early in our trip,  knowing that when my friend Sylvia and I finished our workshop, we would not be too far from the Tile Museum and would go there afterward.

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Endless souvenir possibilities of many shapes and sizes at Loja dos Descobrimentos in Lisbon.

The shop itself was a delight. For the 300 euros the other business wanted, I could have bought a whole lot of tiles, bowls, dishes, vases and other souvenirs.

Josefa, the woman who answered my email, was our instructor, and we two her only pupils that day, sitting at a small rectangular white-topped table.

The basic steps that I had followed in Delft were in play in Lisbon. We selected from a series of stencil patterns and used little charcoal-filled cloth pouches to puff/ transfer the design outline to our tiles.

Josefa showed us how to use the color at full strength or to dilute it for contrast. We also practiced painting on shards before we set to work on our tiles. She was very specific about making long, continuous strokes emphasizing the positive aesthetics of such, rather than a series of short, spiky-looking lines. Some correction of wayward painting is possible, but it’s better to get it right the first time.

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Using a charcoal-filled pouch and stencil, I transferred a floral design onto the tile on the left. The one on the right was an example of how to apply the paint and make the brushstrokes. The charcoal outline disappears in the firing process.

We worked deliberately, and spent a bit more than an hour trying to perfect our floral designs. One of the shop’s staff was painting on a vertical easel to our right, with much more speed, precision and skill.

When we finished, we browsed the shop briefly, checked what time we should return on Saturday to pick up our fired tiles, and paid for our workshop and souvenirs. Then we headed for the Tile Museum.

On Saturday morning, there was some question as to where our tiles were. Brief consultation among staff finally located them in a back room, where they were still cooling from the firing process.

Brought to us at the front counter, still warm to the touch, they were encased in bubble wrap, secure for the trip home.

Quick reference: Loja dos Descobrimentos, 9 a.m.-7 p.m. daily. Rua dos Bacalhoeiros 12A-14A (next door to Hotel Riverside Alfama). Phone: (+351) 281 865 563. http://www.loja-descobrimentos.com

Museu Nacional do Azulejo, Hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m Tuesdays-Sundays. Admission: 5 euros (about $6.27, discounts available for 65 and older and students), audio guide included. Rua da Madre de Deus 4. http://www.museudoazulejo.pt

On a winter’s day, a double helping of English cheddar cheese (Yes, please)

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Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones pair nicely with a bowl of soup, or as an afternoon snack with a cup of tea.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

On a rare snowy day in January here in the deep South, when going outside for any length of time was further discouraged by temperatures barely in the 20s and a gusty wind, I headed to the kitchen. I weighed making some of my favorite recipes, but this seemed like an opportunity to try some new ones.

(I’m not a cold-weather wimp — I’ve lived in North Dakota, Connecticut, Michigan, upstate New York and Missouri. Residents of those states know a thing or two about cold and snowy weather.)

I love cheese, particularly extra-sharp cheddar. I build sandwiches around it, eat it out of hand with apple slices, snack on it with crackers, layer it in casseroles, and fold it into savory baked goods. All in moderation, of course, because cheddar has a hefty fat content.

With a 20-ounce block of Coastal rugged mature cheddar, made by Ford Farms in Dorchester, England, in the refrigerator, I decided to build around that ingredient.

And what better food on a blustery day than soup? On an earlier spin through one of my cookbooks, I had marked Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup, and settled on making that.

The roux made from flour and butter (or margarine) helps thicken the soup, as does the addition of heated milk and melting cheddar. When all that is whisked together, then stirred into the vegetable base, the yield is a stick-to-the spoon thick, mildly flavored bowl of comfort.

Because cheese can present one of the hardest cleanup tasks, use an enameled Dutch oven, such as Le Creuset, for making the soup. If you don’t own one, then keep a close eye on the soup and the heat level on the stove once you’ve added the milk-cheese mixture. You don’t want it to burn and make a crusty mess.

To accompany the velvety soup, and to have a “utensil” to mop up every little bit of it from the bowl, I made Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones. Hot out of the oven, they reminded me of bumpy, flaky biscuits. The cheddar oozes as the scones bake, giving them that little extra oomph. When cooled, the texture was denser, more like traditional scones.

Light cream-colored Coastal cheddar is aged for up to 15 months. Flakier than some cheddars, it has thin veins of calcium lactate crystals that impart a subtle crunch. The hit of salt is also a nice contrast to the mellow, nutty flavor of the cheese.

The soup can be a main course, balanced with a mixed green salad with red bell peppers, grape tomatoes, celery, onions, carrots and olives. Or any combination of your own liking, of course.

If you’ve had a an outdoorsy day, burning a lot of calories and energy, then there’s no need to feel guilty about this splurge on the cheddar side.

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Creamy Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup is stick-to-your ribs comfort food.

Potato, Parsnip and Cheddar Cheese Soup

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Serves: 6 to 8

1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about two large), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1/2 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped

4 cups water, vegetarian stock or chicken stock

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margarine

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 1/2 cups milk

6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, cut in small dice or shredded

Carrot curls for garnish (optional)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven, combine potatoes, parsnips, carrots, onion and water or stock. Bring to a boil over high heat. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover partway, and reduce heat to medium. Stir every 10 minutes or so. Simmer until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes.

After the soup has been cooking about 20 minutes, begin the milk-cheese part. In a heavy saucepan, melt the butter or margarine over medium-low heat. Whisk in the flour and and cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in the milk. Lower heat as necessary and do not let the mixture reach a boil. The mixture will thicken as you continue whisking, for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the cheddar cheese and continue whisking as it melts. Keep the mixture warm until the soup is ready.

Pour the milk-cheese mix into the vegetables. Stir thoroughly. Add salt and pepper to taste. Ladle into individual dishes and garnish with carrot curls on top. As it cools, the soup will form a skin on top, so stir before serving.

Refrigerated leftovers will keep 3 to 4 days in a tightly covered container.

Adapted from “One Potato, Two Potato: 300 Recipes from Simple to Elegant — Appetizers, Main Dishes, Side Dishes, and More” by Roy Finamore with Molly Stevens (Houghton Mifflin Co., 2001, $35)

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Lining the baking tray with parchment paper can make cleanup easier because any cheese that melts won’t stick to the paper.

Cheddar and Black Pepper Scones

Hands on: 30 minutes

Total time: 1 hour, 30 minutes to 1 hour 40 minutes

Makes: About 40 (1 1/2-inch) scones

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon granulated sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter or margarine

1 cup (4 ounces) cheddar cheese, shredded or cut in small dice

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper (decrease the amount if you want less heat)

3/4 cup (6 ounces) buttermilk, plain yogurt or sour cream

Milk for glaze (optional)

In a large bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and sugar. With a pastry cutter or two forks, cut in butter and cheese. Stir in black pepper. Cover and refrigerate dough for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stir in the buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream. The mixture will be very crumbly. It should hold together, but if not, add buttermilk, yogurt or sour cream by the tablespoon as needed.

Gather dough into a ball and turn out onto a well-floured surface or piece of parchment paper.

Pat the mixture into a 12-by-8-inch rectangle about 3/4-inch thick. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares. Transfer the squares to parchment paper-lined baking sheets, leaving about 1 inch between squares. They will rise and expand as they bake. Brush top of each square lightly with milk, if desired.

Alternatively, use a 2- or 2 21/2-inch floured biscuit cutter to stamp out scones, or cut dough into larger squares or triangles.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning the sheets about halfway through and swapping positions on oven racks, until lightly golden on top. The melting cheese may dribble a bit, and baking on parchment paper will speed the cleanup.

Store for up to a week in an air-tight container.

Nutrition information, per 2-scone serving: 132 calories, 6.4 grams fat, 4 grams protein, 1 gram sugar, 1 gram dietary fiber, 19 milligrams cholesterol, 302 milligrams sodium, 14 grams complex carbohydrates. (These figures apply to the 1 1/2-inch scones.)

Adapted from a King Arthur Flour recipe, http://www.kingarthurflour.com

At the National Piping Centre in Glasgow, Scotland: Eat, drink, pipe, sleep

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Framed by the window behind the silhouette of a bagpipe is the Theatre Royal, directly across the street from the National Piping Centre in Glasgow. The theater is home to the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

By Betty Gordon

© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.

In October 2017, I visited Scotland for 10 days. This is the third in a series about my wanderings. For a post about Sir Walter Scott’s Abbotsford, see December 15, 2017; for one about the retired Royal Yacht Britannia, see post of January 9, 2018.

“Would you like a wee dram?” the young, dark-haired, blue-eyed woman asked me from behind the bar/check-in area as I arrived at my hotel in Glasgow.

It wasn’t even noon yet. I eyed the small clear plastic glass, not much larger than a thimble, about three-quarters full of a beckoning golden liquid. Behind it on a rectangular silver tray sat a bottle of Glenfiddich whisky. Small bites of crumbly shortbread were scattered on a plate.

A bit startled by the offer, it didn’t take me long to reply: “Yes, thank you.” Down it went, smoothly, with just the right amount of warmth trickling in my throat to stave off a chilly Scottish morning.

The Pipers’ Tryst is not only a very friendly place to stay, it’s a celebration of many things Scottish. Besides the whisky, locally sourced menus offer traditional Scottish favorites, and right next door to the eight-room hotel is the National Piping Centre. The buildings occupy the converted, Italianate-style Old Cowcaddens Church, built in 1872.

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The National Piping Centre (left) adjoins the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel. Both occupy a former Italianate-style house of worship, the Old Cowcaddens Church, constructed from cream sandstone and completed in 1872. 

It’s also well-located, about a 10-minute walk to the city center and main train station, and close to the Cowcaddens metro stop. Directly across the street is the Theatre Royal, the oldest theater in Glasgow, and home of the Scottish Opera and Scottish Ballet.

I stopped in one day to check the schedule but unfortunately no performance coincided with my stay. Several other music venues are also nearby.

In my modestly furnished room, red-and-tan plaid blankets and matching throw pillows were on the ample bed (some rooms have a green-and-blue color scheme), which was also equipped with a coffee/tea-making station (two two-cookie shortbread packages provided daily). Scottish spring water was in a tall, capped clear glass bottle on a small dressing table. The room was pretty Spartan, but it was enough for my purposes.

The spotless bathroom was larger than I was expecting, and looked like it had been more recently updated than the sleeping area.

Perched on the corner of the tub was a 3 1/2-inch tall rubber duck, jauntily dressed in in his own red-and-black plaid, black tam-o’-shanter, red-and-white epaulets, and with a blowpipe pressed to his beak. Angus made me laugh out loud.

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Say hello to Angus, posing here on the bed, but who was more at home on the rim of the bathtub.

Management discouraged “adopting” Angus (i.e. sneaking him home in a suitcase), but for those honest and quickly enamored folks, this little fowl’s “siblings” were available for purchase. (Yes, I bought one.)

Breakfast was included in my booking, and included anything I wanted from the continental buffet and a cooked-to-order entree. The buffet featured freshly baked croissants and pastries, Scottish yogurt, fresh fruit, an assortment of cereals (bran, muesli, cornflakes), butter and jams, juice, coffee, tea and milk.

Several mornings I ordered smoked salmon and scrambled eggs (from free-range Scottish chickens). I was delighted with such a generous portion of slightly salty salmon — three wide, thick slabs of glistening, pink-orange flesh. The salmon was crying out for a jump onto a bagel slathered with cream cheese. I made a mini open sandwich with salmon on toast instead.

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Part of the dining area and bar at the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel.

One morning I tried the vegetarian version of the Pipe Major’s breakfast. My plate was loaded with creamy scrambled eggs, sautéed mushroom cap, a round tattie (potato) scone, sautéed potato cubes, grilled tomato half and veggie haggis. Toast was served separately.

Haggis is a well-known Scottish dish, but many people scrunch up their faces when they hear it described: oatmeal, seasonings and sheep or calf’s offal (internal organs) mixed with suet and boiled in an animal’s stomach.

The veggie version was more appetizing. Without the animal component, it resembled a side dish of oats and lentils, had a hint of cinnamon, and salt (they use Hebridean Sea salt or Maldon) and pepper. I liked it.

The Pipe Major’s breakfast includes what I had, but comes with a slice of real haggis, Ayrshire bacon, Stornoway black pudding (pork sausage with dried pig’s blood and suet) and sausage.

The Pipers’ Tryst Restaurant also does a brisk lunch and dinner trade. The menus change with the season, again concentrating on locally sourced vegetables, meat and seafood (see website for details).

In addition to a wine list, Scottish gin and Scottish craft beer and cider, there’s a wide selection of Scottish whiskies.

To tour the Museum of Piping in the National Piping Centre (technically a charity), I waited for a less-than-ideal weather day. In that I didn’t leave the building, that meant I didn’t have to wear a coat or lug an umbrella. Just walk through the small corridor from the Pipers’ Tryst dining area to the marble-floored lobby of the center, which opened in 1996, with its patron, Prince Charles, in attendance.

The bagpipe is quintessential Scotland. Or as the Reverend Patrick MacDonald said in “A Collection of Highland Vocal Airs” (1784): “The great Highland bagpipe is the instrument for war, for marriage, in funeral processions, and for other great occasions, the smaller being that whereon dancing tunes were played.”

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In Scotland, many occasions call for a bagpiper, especially when you feel like celebrating.

The museum is home to a small but prestigious collection of piping artifacts, compiled from Scotland’s national museums. Bagpipe tunes played in the background as I spent about an hour reading about bagpipes, looking at old instruments and sheet music, and watching a short film.

Among the most treasured items is the chanter belonging to Iain Dall (Blind John) MacKay (circa 1656-1740), a renowned piper, poet and composer. (The chanter is a long cylinder with finger holes on which the melody is played.) MacKay’s chanter is believed to be the oldest in existence and was handed down through eight generations of MacKays. After a stay in Canada, it joined the museum’s collection in 2010.

The exhibit traces about 300 years of the history of the Highland instrument, mainly in Scotland and Europe, though the idea of drones, an air-filled animal-skin bag and a chanter teaming to make music can be traced to ancient Egypt.

It’s also unclear whether Roman legions brought the instrument to Scotland or if it arrived via occupying tribes from Ireland.

By the 14th century, bagpipes were widely played in Scotland, gradually gaining in prestige and replacing the harp in popularity. Highland bagpipe players’ reputations grew in status and they secured patronage, especially from clan chieftains.

It took until the early 18th century for bagpipe music to be notated, an invention that first appeared in “Collection of Ancient Martial Music of Caledonia” by Donald MacDonald.

And who can forget the rousing role bagpipes have played over the centuries, accompanying warriors into battle?

If center visitors are so inclined, they can have a go at playing a bagpipe, an option on the “meet the piper” tour. (I visited too late in the season to be able to take advantage of this. The schedule for 2018 isn’t on the website as of this posting.)

Individual lessons are offered, either in person or via Skype, and last 50 minutes. There’s also an e-learning portal featuring lectures and tutoring.

So if you have even a wee interest in bagpipes or a hankering for well-prepared Scottish specialties, get thee to the National Piping Centre and its adjoining restaurant.

Quick reference: The National Piping Centre and the Pipers’ Tryst Hotel, 30-34 McPhater Street, Glasgow, Scotland. www.thepipingcentre.co.uk Museum of Piping hours: 9 a.m.-7 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays, 9 a.m.-noon Saturdays. Closed Sundays. Admission: Adults, £4.50 (about $6.36 ); senior citizens, students and younger than 16, £2.50 (about $3.53).