On the Feast Day

On January 29, 2017 · 2 Comments

Recently I highlighted a couple of places named for holy figures because they were discovered on those particular saints’ feast days. Those included Saint Martin in Southernmost Bangladesh and various Christmas designations discovered on December 25. Many of the European nations with strong seafaring traditions participated. The Spanish, Portuguese, French and English all "discovered" distant lands and used saints as inspiration for place names. Only locations found and named on actual feast days interested me for this exercise. I wondered how many I could find. Well, I found a lot. I don’t pretend to include an exhaustive list although I think I recorded several of the most popular ones.

Here are a few presented in chronological order by feast day.

Saint Helena of Constantinople; May 21


St. Helena Island (NASA, International Space Station Science, 5/7/09)
St. Helena Island. Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center on Flickr (cc)

Saint Helena of Constantinople earned reverence primarily because she gave birth to Constantine the Great, the first Christian emperor of the Roman empire. She influenced the son who in turn allowed Christianity to flourish without persecution across a massive geographic area. That right there probably should have been enough. However, legends needed to be created and stories needed to be told to further accentuate her sainthood. As the tale went, she traveled to Jerusalem where she supposedly discovered the true cross. Actually the stories said she found all three crosses used in the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves executed with him. A miracle revealed Jesus’ specific cross, so they said.

A remote island in the South Atlantic, way out in the ocean all by itself between Brazil and Africa, took her name. This place was so far in the middle of nowhere that the British exiled Napoleon Bonaparte there in 1815 for the remainder of his life so he couldn’t cause any more trouble. Today St. Helena (map) forms part of a British Overseas Territory, Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha.

Conventional wisdom noted for the longest time that João da Nova — sailing on behalf of the Portuguese — discovered and named St. Helena on her feast day, May 21, 1502. Recent research seemed to cast doubt on that claim, however. It may have been mathematically impossible. Still, many sources continued to make the argument so I kept it on the list.


Saint John the Baptist; June 24


St John's, Newfoundland
St John's, Newfoundland. Photo by Robert Ciavarro on Flickr (cc)

I felt I probably didn’t need to provide an in-depth introduction to John the Baptist. He baptized Jesus and served as an immediate forerunner and influence. Naturally several faiths including Christianity and Islam considered him a prophet. His feast day became June 24 based on passages from the Gospel of Luke (specifically Luke 1:36 and 1:561:57). This established John’s birthday as six months before Jesus, so a simple subtraction from Christmas led to the selection of June 24.

John Cabot, an Italian explorer sailing under the English flag, arrived at Newfoundland during his 1497 voyage. He sailed into a harbor on June 24 and named it for John the Baptist. The city of St. John’s later formed there (map). Twelve Mile Circle "explored" St. Johns back in 2010 in St. John’s at Long Last. Today the province of Newfoundland and Labrador celebrates Discovery Day on the Monday closest to June 24.

Portuguese explorers first recorded the St. John River in Liberia on June 24 sometime in the 15th Century. Also the Spanish explorer Lucas Vázquez de Ayllón did the same thing at a river in South Carolina on June 24, 1520. He named the river Jordan to honor the spot where St. John baptized Jesus. Later, English settlers changed the name to the Santee River to recognize a local tribe of native inhabitants.


Saint Augustine of Hippo; August 28


St. Augustine
St. Augustine. My own photo.

Saint Augustine, one of the early Church Fathers greatly influenced Christianity through his theology and philosophy. The Hippo part came from an area he served as bishop, now in modern Algeria. He became the posthumous namesake and primary influence of the Augustinians, and his teachings greatly influenced Martin Luther and the Lutheran Church. St. Augustine died on August 28, 430, so August 28 became his annual feast day.

Spain grew concerned about French incursions on Florida and sent conquistador Pedro Menéndez de Avilés to the New World to protect its colonial claims. He spotted land on August 28, 1565, a date that coincided with St. Augustine’s feast day. In recognition, he named his settlement St. Augustine (map). I decided to feature this location because I went there a couple of years ago. Also the name of a local shop amused me: The Hyppo Gormet Ice Pops, in playful honor of St. Augustine of Hippo.


Saint Ursula; October 21


Virgin Islands 2009
Virgin Islands 2009. Photo by Mike Buedel on Flickr (cc)

Saint Ursula might have been my favorite. Well, maybe it could have been the 11,000 virgins. A couple of legends existed. In the more common one, the princess Ursula along with ten ladies in waiting — each attended by a thousand maidens — went on a pilgrimage to Rome sometime around the year 451. They arrived successfully and did whatever pious things 11,011 virtuous women would do when visiting the Pope. On the way back, however, vicious pagan Huns captured them near Cologne. Ursula refused to marry the Hun leader so he ordered all of them slaughtered. Scant evidence of such a massive carnage ever existed so modern church historians took it all with a grain of salt. October 21 became her feast day although the Roman Catholic Church removed the event from its General Roman Calendar in 1970.

Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage, encountered and named a Caribbean archipelago on October 21, 1493: Santa Úrsula y las Once Mil Vírgenes. Later cartographers shortened it down to the Virgin Islands (map). Something similar happened on October 21, 1520. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan discovered a straight at the tip of South America that he named for himself. The cape at the end of continental South America, however, became Cabo Virgenes (Cape Virgins).

There were plenty of other places discovered on feast days. Those involved more obscure places so I’ll stop writing now.

Time Zones in Greenland

On January 26, 2017 · 8 Comments

It’s been awhile since I thought about Time Zones. However recently I happened to be looking at a map and I remembered the peculiarities of Greenland. I did scratch the surface of this a long time ago in Islands Split by Time Zones. Now I wanted to revisit Greenland in more detail because it offered such a strange situation. Four distinct Time Zones crossed its boundaries. Segments fell within Coordinated Universal Time (UTC)±0, UTC-1, UTC-3 and UTC-4. Strangely enough, no portion fell within UTC-2 (except during Daylight Saving Time). I found logical reasons for each one of the zones, though.




The Vast Preponderance of Greenland


A view of Nuuk from the final approach.
A view of Nuuk from the final approach. Photo by Hakim A on Flickr (cc)

Both by land and by population, the vast preponderance of Greenland observed UTC-3 (UTC-2 during Daylight Saving Time). It aligned quite nicely with another place along a similar line of longitude, eastern Brazil, which also followed UTC-3. That put Greenland three four Time Zones behind Denmark (Greenland being an autonomous entity within the Danish Realm) although the time it followed made perfect geographic sense.

Nearly everyone in Greenland lived in this Time Zone. It wasn’t all that many people however because fewer than sixty thousand people in total inhabited that entire massive island. After all, one percent of Greenland’s population once lived in a single building (since torn down) in the capital city, Nuuk. One can make all kinds of weird statistical comparison using Greenland’s tiny population.


Ittoqqortoormiit


Day 6 - Ittoqqortoormiit 70°29?N 021°5
Ittoqqortoormiit. Photo by ser_is_snarkish on Flickr (cc)

Ittoqqortoormiit (map) used to be called Scoresbysund. I’m not sure I could pronounce either name although I agreed with its redesignation. An Inuit name probably applied better than a Danish one. No wonder they changed it. However, anyone wanting to visit will need to plan well. Some call this place "the most isolated town in Greenland"
ame

… just getting to Ittoqqortoormiit is in itself an adventure, as the town is almost as far as one can get from any other inhabited area in Greenland. The closest neighbour is the world’s largest national park with the Danish Sirius Patrol as the only human presence in a vast landscape dominated by small game, birds, polar bears, musk oxen, reindeer, walrus and 18.000 kilometers of rugged, pathless coastline.

A scant 450 people live within this isolated village, cut off from shipping channels for nine months out of the year. A couple of airline flights per week make it there, weather permitting. To top it all off, very few inhabited places on the planet experience colder temperatures. It averaged -8.6° C (16.5° F) annually.

Ittoqqortoormiit observed UTC-1 (and UTC±0 Daylight Saving Time). I figured with their remote location and frigid conditions they could observe any darn time they liked.


Danmarkshavn


Danmarkshavn
Danmarkshavn on Wikimedia Commons (cc)

The name Danmarkshavn meant "Denmark Harbor" in Danish. Danmarkshavn (map) offered another interesting case. It served as a weather station. Ships couldn’t sail any farther north during normal circumstances so it seemed a fine spot to place a small settlement. The station observed UTC±0 year round with no Daylight Saving Time. That didn’t impact too many people directly. Only eight researchers usually lived at Danmarkshavn at a single time.

The Danish Meteorological Institute operated the station year-round. The staff followed a regular protocol, taking surface observations every three hours and releasing a weather balloon twice a day. Some might wonder why anyone would care about weather in a remote corner of Greenland. However, it actually mattered immensely. Its importance led several European countries to band together to provide funding to keep it running, including a complete update and modernization in 2001. Weather observations made at this point accurately predicted weather that would hit northern Europe in the following days. Danmarkshavn provided vital advance notice and warning.

The Time Zone made perfect sense, even its complete lack of Daylight Saving Time, by aligning with UTC±0. It had everything to do with Europe and nothing to do with the rest of Greenland.


Thule Air Base



While Danmarkshavn aligned its observation of time to Europe, Thule (pronounced TOO-lee) Air Base focused in the other direction (map). This northernmost base of the United States Air Force observed UTC-4 (and UTC-3 during Daylight Saving Time), just one hour removed from the eastern U.S.

The base traced back to World War II. Germany occupied Denmark and the U.S. pledged to protect Denmark’s Greenland colony and prevent its capture. After WW2, another threat emerged as the world entered the Cold War. Thule offered a place to watch for Soviet missile strikes against North America. The U.S. Air Force even added a long runway for B-52 bombers that could strike deep into Soviet territory if necessary. Those bombers no longer use Thule although missile warnings, space surveillance and satellite controls remain among its active missions. Several hundred American and Danish soldiers along with their contractors still occupy the base.

Stars and Stripes recently described living conditions there. As one inhabitant said, "You either become a chunk, a drunk or a hunk." That’s because there wasn’t much to do other than eat, drink or exercise at the gym. The article also explained that,

Thule.. is a Greek word that first appears in the writings of the explorer Pytheas, from roughly 330 B.C., and the term "ultima Thule" in medieval maps denotes any distant place beyond the "borders of the known world."

That pretty well summed it up.

Mr. Walker’s Island Adventure

On January 22, 2017 · 3 Comments

It didn’t take much to get me started on another obsessive-compulsive exercise. Longtime reader Rhodent commented on my observations about a stalker on St. Martin’s Island (map) in Bangladesh. That made me even more curious about the underlying situation. I knew I needed to check every image in painstaking detail to see if I could untangle the story. Fortunately the island didn’t cover a lot of ground so this actually seemed like a reasonable task, if a bit ill-advised.

Google Street View Comes to St. Martin’s Island


Antarctica: New Years Day Castle Rock Hike
Trekker: Google Street View Backpack Camera
Photo by Eli Duke on Flickr (cc)

Google Street View arrived on St. Martin’s Island in October 2015 in an unusual way. The government of Bangladesh didn’t allow motorized vehicles there. It’s too small and it doesn’t have much in the way of infrastructure anyway. People followed footpaths. Therefore Google brought its Trekker, a backpack device used more commonly to photograph mountain trails or glaciers in Antarctica or inaccessible places like that. The Trekker weighed 42 Pounds (19kg) including a vertical staff topped by 15 cameras. Google loans the Trekker to qualified individuals and organizations for those who want to add a favorite out-of-the way place to the Street View portfolio. Apparently someone wished to do that for southernmost Bangladesh.


The Main Characters

Two men dominated the narrative. One man carried the Trekker. I called him Street View Guy (or SVG). The other man accompanied him every step of the way.


Street View Shadow
Street View Guy

Evidence of SVG rarely appeared because he carried the backpack and stood beneath the photo sphere. At certain times, however, his shadowy image emerged from beneath the camera. This happened primarily as the sun began to set on a long day, when shadows extended far enough that they fell into camera range. Those were exceptions. Most of the time SVG stayed behind the scenes as he should, recording the story instead of contributing to it.


Street View Follower
Mr. Walker Reveals Himself

In the earlier article I named the other guy The Stalker. That didn’t seem appropriate anymore so I renamed him Mr. Walker because, well, he walked every corner of St. Martin’s Island. I viewed literally hundreds of distinct frames, tracking his every move. Only one showed his unobstructed face, the one that I found previously that Google forgot to blur. Who was he? I knew he wore a uniform although I didn’t know what it represented.


G4S Security
Mr. Walker’s Epaulet

Every once in awhile Mr. Walker moved next to SVG. One of those close-up images let me see his epaulet and the matching logo on his shirt in detail. It said G4S. That offered the clue I needed. G4S is a company that provides security services worldwide including Bangladesh. That solved the mystery. Mr. Walker wasn’t a policeman or a tour guide. He belonged to a private international security firm. He was hired to keep SVG safe, or maybe just Google’s expensive hardware.


Maps That Guide the Story



I needed to create a couple of maps to help me make sense of the island trek. The first one showed various points of interest that I noticed as I sorted through the multitude of images available. More than fifty shots made the cut, which I think clearly demonstrated the daunting size of the larger set. Fifty images barely made a dent. However that tiny sample provided a number of useful vignettes, little points in time. The did not provide, either singly or collectively, any fluidity of motion. I needed to create something else.


Island Path
Direction of Routes Walked

Presumably SVG and Mr. Walker moved forward, not backward. That let me determine the direction of all paths they took that day. I marked them with arrows. It revealed the two-phase strategy followed by the mapping team. They focused on the interior of the island in the morning and early afternoon, which I determined by examining the angle of the sun. Then they shifted course in the late afternoon. They walked the circumference of the island beach in a counterclockwise direction, starting at the ferry pier and continuing all the way around.


Wandering the Interior

Theoretically, I supposed, one could figure out the exact sequence of steps taken by SVG and Mr. Walker as they covered the island interior. However, even though my efforts demonstrated irrational signs of compulsion, I didn’t go far enough overboard to calculate the angle of the sun in minute detail. Nor did I attempt to calculate exact timing based upon the images that the Trekker captured once every 2.5 seconds. I’ll leave that for someone even more obsessed if so inclined. Nonetheless, I observed all sorts of interesting encounters as the team followed its journey.


Boy in Green
The Boy in Green

Many of the locals seemed amazed or amused by the site of a man hauling Trekker machinery through jungle, fields and down the narrow corridors of the marketplace. Children especially enjoyed the spectacle and expressed the most interest. Some kids, like the Boy in Green, showed even more curiousity than others. He joined Mr. Walker has he escorted SVG from the eastern beach into the deep island interior.

Mr. Walker didn’t provide much actual "security" during his walk. He seemed to get distracted regularly and fell back. Other times it looked like he needed the kindness of strangers to help him get back on the right track. Once he fell so far behind that he had to hitch a ride on a pedal-powered rickshaw. He carried a white plastic bag stuffed with goodies that whole time; I even caught him eating a snack. Mr. Walker amused me. SVG walked the whole island with a 42 pound backpack, and yet, Mr. Walker couldn’t keep up, got sidetracked by locals, glanced at his mobile phone, and seemed generally disinterested much of the time. He probably wondered what he did wrong to get stuck with this assignment.


Mysterious Mr. Bald

Say hello to Mr. Bald, first noticed by reader Rhodent in the previous comments.


Mr. Bald
Mr. Bald

Mr. Walker met-up with Mr. Bald late in the afternoon on a walk from the marketplace to the ferry pier. Mr. Bald also wore a uniform, although a different one than Mr. Walker. I drilled down on an image where he moved near the camera to see if I could find some clues about his identity.


Mr. Bald's Epaulet
Mr. Bald’s Epaulet

His epaulet seemed to have an anchor on it. I think he might have been part of the ferry crew. The image didn’t quite have enough resolution for me to read his name tag although I think it may have been in Bangali anyway. The ferryboat had a name, Keari Sindbad, that I traced to a tour company based on the mainland in Cox’s Bazar. The route took about two hours. It was quite a bargain at 800 Bangladeshi Taka (about $10 U.S.) for the best seats on the boat, on the bridge deck.

Although I found many photographs of the ship, I couldn’t find any images of the actual crew. Nonetheless, I still thought Mr. Bald probably belonged with the ship. Also I thought his appearance was coincidental. He seemed too surprised by the spectacle, taking photos with his mobile phone along the way. Several other people followed the exact same track back to the ferry. Mr. Bald stood out from the rest of them because he wore a uniform.

Then, as Mr. Walker approached the ferry, he put his tie back on. I guess he wanted to look more official.


Circling the Island

SVG and Mr. Walker began their counterclockwise loop of the island once they returned to the ferry dock. Mr. Walker forged way ahead as they walked the beach on the northwestern side of the island. Maybe he got tired of SVG’s company or maybe he wanted to get away from the ever-prying Street View camera. Mr. Walker returned soon enough when a bunch of kids surrounded SVG. Mr. Walker had to shoo them away. Finally he was able to provide some actual "security."


Mr. Local
Mr. Local

Mr. Local then approached. Like the earlier Boy in Green, Mr. Local seemed rather curious and he followed along for quite awhile on the western side of the island. Mr. Walker got sidetracked a couple more times by people selling stuff, and by a woman who caught his eye. Then he fell back once again trying to walk across the mostly barren rocky western side of the island. After proceeding a bit further, the heat of the day began to wear on Mr. Walker. He removed his tie, and reached not once but twice into his red translucent bag for a swig of water. He got really sweaty too. The heat must have been brutal. It was a long day.


An Arm in the Sand
Arm Reaches out of Sand for Water

Even SVG needed a drink. This created one of the more memorable Street View glitches I’ve seen in awhile. It looked like a zombie arm reaching out from the sand trying grab a plastic bottle instead of brains.

Mr. Walker continued to chat with the locals as they rounded the southern edge of the island and walked towards the eastern side. I’m not certain although he may have relieved himself in some bushes by the side of the beach. Eventually the duo made it back to the ferry pier safely just as the sun began to set on a long day of Google Street view trekking.

I guess the hours I spent on this exercise showed that I need to get a life. Maybe I should take a trip to St. Martin’s Island and relax for awhile.

Purpose
12 Mile Circle:
An Appreciation of Unusual Places
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