It looks like a chicken, walks like a chicken, sounds like a chicken. But it’s not a chicken. It’s art. Or rather, it is a chicken and art and even a science experiment of sorts.
For the last 20 years, Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen has been selectively breeding chickens from around the world as part of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project. What started as a way to illustrate metaphorical ideas about diversity and multiculturalism has led to the creation of a bird that, according to the artist and backed by the scientists working on the project with him, tends to be healthier, live longer, and be more adaptable to a changing environment than purebred chickens.
Vanmechelen has always had an affinity for chickens and began raising them as a child. But more than that, he has been obsessed with the way in which this bird—descended from the Asian red junglefowl—is so intertwined with humanity, not just because of its value as a food source, but also culturally. He says there are certain chicken breeds that can be seen as a representation of a nation’s culture, and gives the Poulet de Bresse from France, as an example. “The bird has red in the head, white in the body, and blue in the legs. It’s the French flag!” he says.
Vanmechelen launched the Cosmopolitan Chicken Project in 1996 when he began breeding his first hybrid, the Mechelse Bresse, a cross between the Belgian species Mechelse Koekoek and the French Poulet de Bresse. The bird was presented at a gallery on the border between France and Belgium three years later. Vanmechelen realized he was on to something and formed a foundation made up of experts in various fields, such as biology and genetics, including the geneticist Jean-Jacques Cassiman to collaborate on the project and study the birds. He typically breeds about a hundred of each generation and keeps some of his more than 3,ooo birds on a 25-acre farm near Meeuwen, Belgium, and the rest are scattered on various farms across the globe.
“Start telling people a chicken is a piece of art and watch how many friends you’ll still have after that,” says Vanmechelen with a laugh, during a recent Skype interview with Modern Farmer. That’s not to say his various exhibits around the world are just a bunch of chickens hanging out in a gallery space. Nope; they also incorporate Vanmechelen’s painting, drawing, photography, video, installations, and sculptures that have been inspired by the breeding project and vice versa.
Each successive generation of the Cosmopolitan Chicken is crossbred with a chicken breed from another country, and so far has included 20 nations, including the United States, Senegal, China, and Slovenia. Vanmechelen’s latest endeavor, which he launched this year and calls the Planetary Community Chicken, is a sort of spinoff of the original project and has a more direct real-world impact. When Vanmechelen realized his chickens have many superior traits, he came up with the idea of crossbreeding his roosters with commercial hens from various communities around the world in an attempt to bring more genetic diversity—and hopefully some of the positive traits from his chickens—to birds that can suffer from various problems and diseases. The idea is to produce a chicken that could benefit local farmers. “I think of the Planetary Community Chicken as a gift to the different communities to make their own chicken that is suited to their particular environment,” says Vanmechelen.
On September 22, at Wasserman Projects in Detroit, the 20th iteration of the Cosmopolitan Chicken, the Mechelse Wyandotte, will be bred with a Hendrix Genetics’ ISA Brown, a commercial laying hen engineered for industrial-scale agricultural operations as part of an exhibit at the art space. Vanmechelen and Wasserman Projects are partnering with a local nonprofit, Oakland Avenue Urban Farm, to bring the hybrids into its breeding and sales operations. The exhibit, like Vanmechelen’s others, will include a variety of art related to the project.
And yes, collectors—besides buying Vanmechelen’s paintings, sculptures, and other artistic output—also collect his chickens. He says they have to agree to certain terms, such as how much space they must provide the chickens, before they are allowed to own one.
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This article originally appeared on Modern Farmer.
The ball is lighter, the players are faster, the tactics are more complex. And if you’re a referee working the 2010 World Cup and you can’t keep up and be in the right position, you may blow the call, outraging the hundreds of millions of fans watching worldwide.
So officials working the games have to be quicker and fitter. And it means they spend long days scouting the teams, just like opponents scout each other, so they can anticipate the action and make the right call.
“Teams have a reputation for a style of play. Players have certain tendencies,” says Paul Tamberino, U.S. Soccer’s director of referee development. “The referees need to know those going in, to know what to expect. African teams are extremely speedy. So you prepare your assistant referee (who calls offsides) to play the offside line. Germany is good on free kicks in the offensive third and very good on head balls. So you need to be ready for contact inside the penalty area.”
For officials, the road to the World Cup is as competitive and demanding as it is for players. Referee and assistant referee candidates have their fitness monitored monthly in the three years leading up to the Cup. They meet with a psychologist who analyzes their game demeanor. They attend seminars on the rules in an attempt to apply them equally across every continent where soccer is played. They go online to a virtual classroom to discuss their doubts and concerns with instructors and colleagues.
Those components are part of FIFA’s Refereeing Assistance Program, implemented in 2007 to improve officiating and respond to criticism. Fifty-four trios of officials went into the program and had their performances at FIFA tournaments evaluated. Thirty of them were chosen this February to work the World Cup. “Each referee has had to prove his ability out on the pitch,” said José María García-Aranda, head of FIFA’s Refereeing Department.
Referee controversy has long been a part of the World Cup. In 1986, a Tunisian refereeing his first Cup game—England against Argentina in the aftermath of the Falklands War—failed to notice the Argentine Diego Maradona punch a ball with his hand past a stunned English goalkeeper. While the early games of the 2010 World Cup were without problems and analysts praised the refereeing, that ended with the match pitting the United States against Slovenia, a 2-2 tie. Late in the game, a Mali referee, Kouman Coulibaly, working his first World Cup game disallowed a goal by U.S. player Maurice Edu. The U.S. team complained that he refused to cite a reason for the decision, although later he said it was for a foul by Edu. Replays showed no foul.
At the last World Cup, a Russian referee issued 16 yellow cards and 4 red cards, matching a record. FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter said the referee should have given himself a yellow card for his poor performance, then backed off his remarks and apologized.
In another game, a British referee cautioned the same player three times before sending him off the pitch (rules require a player to be ejected after two yellow cards). He later retired from international-tournament refereeing, citing the error.
For the World Cup, trios of match officials are chosen as a team. They are the referee on the field, who controls the game and calls fouls, and two assistant referees on the sidelines, who mainly call offsides and determine who gets possession after the ball goes out of bounds.
They have to prove their fitness on the pitch and in the lab. Among the fitness tests are two showing whether referees can run with players, some half their age. For the first test, a referee runs 40 meters six times. Each of the six sprints needs to be completed in 6.2 seconds. A second test requires a referee to run 150 meters in 30 seconds and then walk 50 meters in 35 seconds, then repeat the exercise 19 more times. Assistant referees have less strict standards. To track their fitness, referees constantly wear a watch that monitors their heart rates.
In the lab, a medical team in Zurich assessed each match official earlier this year. Among the tests were a blood test, an orthopedic examination, a resting EKG, an echocardiogram and a stress test.
In late May, FIFA announced that 2 of the chosen 30 teams would not be officiating at the World Cup because an assistant referee in each team had failed the final fitness test.
FIFA says that because of the huge pressure on match officials, sports psychologists help each of them develop a personalized strategy to cope with it and prevent it from affecting their work and personal lives.
Instructors maintain close contact with match officials throughout the World Cup games to discuss any concerns. Before games, match officials meet to discuss the problem players, the matchups, the coaching philosophies and the consequences of the game. If a player is sent off early for a red card, will their team play for the tie or continue to attack because they need the point to move on to the next round?
“Referees have to be prepared,” Tamberino says. “There’s so many styles, so many tactics.”
Tamberino, named the Major League Soccer referee of the year each year from 1998 to his retirement in 2001, worked nine World Cup qualifying matches. He says the two biggest changes in the game in the past decade are the increases in speed and technical ability. “Everything is geared to make the game faster and more exciting, not that it wasn’t exciting ten years ago,” he adds. “It puts more demands on referees.”
Teams are more likely to move the ball quickly from the defensive third into the offensive end on the foot of a speedy attacker, making fitness imperative for referees, who may run seven to nine miles during a game, as much as a midfielder.
Players are also more likely to take a dive, fake being tackled. “The referee needs to be so close to see if it’s a dive or it’s really contact,” Tamberino notes. “Everything rides on that one call.”
Ultimately, for referees, it’s a game of angles, just like so many other sports. If the referee is in the right position with the right angle, he has a much better chance to make the right call.
As a referee, Tamberino believed in the players. “You want to contribute to the entertainment,” he says. “You want to let the players exhibit their skills without over-calling the game for trifling offenses, as they say in the rule book. You want to make it as enjoyable as possible for the spectators, minimize the whistles and encourage fair play.”
For a long time, Tamberino’s motto has been “nothing dirty, nothing cheap.” “We let you play hard and physical, but nothing dirty, nothing cheap,” he adds. “That’s a successful game to me.”
A 75-year-old Frenchman has just been given the gift of life as a team of surgeons have successfully completed the transplant of a revolutionary artificial heart.
The patient, so far unnamed, is reportedly recovering at Georges Pompidou European Hospital in Paris, where the 10-hour long operation was performed last Wednesday. Unlike similar devices used to keep patients alive until a donor can be identified, the "Carmat" heart is expected to operate continuously for as long as five years while enabling the recipient to resume a normal lifestyle, perhaps even allowing the person to return to work.
“We’ve already seen devices of this type but they had a relatively low autonomy,” Alain Carpentier, inventor and surgeon, told reporters, according to The Telegraph. “This heart will allow for more movement and less clotting. The study that is starting is being very closely watched in the medical field.”
Thousands of heart implants have been carried out, but Carpentier says the version he developed was the first to fully replicate the self-regulated contractions of a real heart. Inside the two-pound mechanical organ is an intricate system of sensors and microprocessors that monitors the body’s internal changes and alters the flow of blood as needed. It quickens or slows the blood flow based on the person's activity. "Most other artificial hearts, by contrast, beat at a constant unchanging rate. This means that patients either have to avoid too much activity, or risk becoming breathless and exhausted quickly," writes Gizmag. On the outer surface, the synthetic organ is partially made of cow tissue to reduce the likelihood of complications such as blood clots, which are common when fabricated materials come in contact with the blood. Patients who receive artificial heart transplants usually take anti-coagulation medication to minimize such risks.
The technology, which took 25 years to develop, started taking shape after the surgeon initially tested the feasibility of developing artificial heart valves using chemically-treated animal tissues as an alternative to plastic. Since then, he has obtained approval from authorities in France, Belgium, Poland, Slovenia and Saudi Arabia to conduct human trials that are expected to run until the end of 2014. If all goes well, meaning if the patients survive at least a month with Carmat systems, Carpentier will then have the means to seek regulatory approval to make them available within the European Union sometime in early 2015.
Ultimately, the litmus test hinges on whether the artificial heart's pumps last more than a few years. Barney Clark, the world's first heart implant patient, survived only 112 days following a milestone procedure in 1982 that replaced his failing heart with the man-made Jarvik-7 heart. The SynCardia total artificial heart, which remains the only FDA-approved heart replacement option, has made it so that patients carry on much longer, though they'd have to adjust to the burden of "carrying around a compressor and having air hoses going in and out of your chest," says heart surgeon Billy Cohn in a CNN report.
Carpentier's half-cow, half-robotic technology takes a different approach, as compared to SynCardia's air compression method, in utilizing a hydraulic fluid to facilitate the movement of blood. A comprehensive report in MIT Tech Review explains how this mechanism works:
"In Carmat’s design, two chambers are each divided by a membrane that holds hydraulic fluid on one side. A motorized pump moves hydraulic fluid in and out of the chambers, and that fluid causes the membrane to move; blood flows through the other side of each membrane. The blood-facing side of the membrane is made of tissue obtained from a sac that surrounds a cow’s heart, to make the device more biocompatible. 'The idea was to develop an artificial heart in which the moving parts that are in contact with blood are made of tissue that is [better suited] for the biological environment,' says Piet Jansen, chief medical officer of Carmat."
The device, powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries and worn on the outside, is about three times heavier than a human heart, which will limit its compatibility to 86 percent of men and 20 percent of women. However, Carpentier plans to develop smaller versions for women of smaller stature.
The Carmat artificial heart is expected to cost about 140,000 to 180,000 Euros (or $191,000 to $246,000).
In 2015, Gregor Aljančič almost died chasing cave dragons.
The head of the Tular Cave Laboratory, run by Slovenia's Society of Cave Biology, was diving in the underground passages of Planina Cave when he got trapped in a small air pocket. Nearly a mile underground, his oxygen dwindling, he made his best guess on the direction to safety. By a stroke of luck he ended up in another air pocket. Nearly four hours later, he found his colleagues—just before rescuers had arrived.
“The only reason he’s alive now is he found an air pocket in one of the crevasses and that kept him alive and he slowly worked his way back,” says Stanley Sessions, a biology professor at Hartwick College in New York state who has studied cave dragons with Aljančič in the Balkans. “It is just by the grace of proteus—the great olm in the sky—that he is alive today.”
The blind cave dragon, as it is called, has long endeared biologists with its unparalleled weirdness. These snake-like amphibians sport small limbs, antler-like gills set back from their long snouts and translucent, pinkish-white skin that resembles human flesh. At up to 12 inches long, they are thought to be the world's largest cave animal. They live up to 70 years, the entirety of which they spend deep underground in the Dinaric Alps, which includes parts of Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and Herzegovina.
“I’m fascinated about their exceptional adaptation to the extreme environment of the caves,” says Gergely Balázs, a cave biology PhD student at the Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest who explores the caves where these dragons live. “And they are baby dragons, for God’s sake.”
Well, not exactly. In the past, on the odd occasion that flooding would wash one up to the surface, locals believed the unusual amphibians to be baby dragons—hence the nickname. One of the creature’s other monikers, proteus, stems from an early Greek sea god who had the ability to change shape. And while the origins of the German name (olm) are uncertain, the Slovenian name (človeška ribica) translates roughly to "human-fish."
You might think the obscure habitats of these legendary creatures would put them safely out of reach of human destruction. But their watery ecosystems collect the runoff from whatever drains down from the surface, meaning they still face habitat destruction due to development and hydroelectric projects which drain and reroute underground water supplies. Today they face increasing threats of pollution from agricultural runoff, not to mention the legacy of chemical waste plants.
“Karst is one of the most vulnerable landscapes on the planet,” Aljančič says, referring to the sinkhole- and cave-riddled limestone landscapes beneath which cave dragons make their homes. Moreover, focusing more effort on proteus conservation can also conserve water for Slovenians and for those in neighboring countries, he adds. After all, the same water that trickles down to the olm world is the source of drinking water for 96 percent of Slovenians.
“If they pollute the water and kill these guys off, it will be the biggest catastrophe of all time,” says Sessions.
Moreover, proteus are just the top of a diverse underground food chain that could also be killed off by pollution. “The caves in Slovenia are like tropical forests. They are biodiversity hotspots in terms of the number of species,” says Sessions. “And the species are cave-adapted so they are very, very strange.”
To help save a dragon, you first have to find it. That's a tall order when your subject lives in a vast underground maze of limestone passages. In an effort to simplify the search for dragons and increase scientists’ abilities to detect them, Aljančič and his colleagues are now using new environmental DNA sampling techniques, which pinpoint tiny traces of genetic material in water to figure out where the creatures hide without the need for cave diving.
Olms’ underground isolation has protected them from some of the major threats to amphibians of the few decades, such as human-influenced climate change and invasive fungal diseases. But now, it seems that the problems of the world above have reached the world below. “We need to know more about proteus and its habitat if we want to keep them both intact in future,” Aljančič. “New approaches in monitoring techniques such as eDNA (will) not only reduce the need of risky caving or cave diving, but even increase the quality of data collected in nature.”
Aljančič and his colleagues recently published one of the most extensive surveys of cave dragons to date, for which they sampled water downstream from hidden cave systems to identify a number of new populations in Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the first ones known in Montenegro. To do so, they used a refined DNA technique that allows them to pinpoint proteus DNA strands mixed among a myriad of other genetic material in water. The technique also allowed them to detect proteus with a rarer black color in southern Slovenia, and to double the known range of this variety.
Despite the threats they face, proteus numbers can be vast. Sessions tells a story about biologists who were exploring some of the back recesses of the massive Postojna Cave—a famous Slovenian tourist attraction—when they came across an enormous underground cavern. “They found this big lake with echoing, dripping water; the only thing that was missing was Gollum,” he says. The lake’s bottom was entirely white, but as they approached, the color suddenly dispersed.
“It turned out that the bottom of the lake was completely carpeted with olms,” Sessions says. “This gives you an idea of how many of these things are out there.”
Cave dragons sit atop a complex cave food chain, which includes cave shrimp, spiders, arthropods, wood lice-type creatures and more. The predatory dragons will eat almost anything that fits in their mouth, but that doesn’t mean they always have an appetite, due in part to a very low metabolism; Sessions says that some researchers recently stumbled upon evidence that a captive individual had gone for a decade without eating.
Sessions, who was not involved in Aljančič’s recent study, says the new eDNA technique is a good way to detect proteus. “This study is taking a really non-invasive, non-destructive approach just sampling environmental water for fingerprint DNA,” he says. The technique is especially useful for finding proteus genetic traces in water, Balázs adds. It can help in situations where murky water makes it difficult for divers like him to see. “If you are just banging your head into rocks and you can’t find the way, it’s not fun,” he says. “And you don’t see the animals either.”
“Science is all about the how and why,” Balázs continued in a follow-up email. “We need to know how strong the population is. Are they healthy? Can we find juveniles? ... We have no information what they do in real life, in nature. It’s really hard to observe.”
So will Aljančič and team’s advances in using environmental DNA to detect detection soon make cave diving obsolete? Not likely, says Balázs, who was involved in a tagging study of the animals in 2015. After all, eDNA is a useful and affordable tool, but it only gives biologists a rough idea of where there be dragons. Divers still need to hunt them down.
To do so, Balázs has squeezed through nearly 50 cracks in the karst and underwater tunnels, chimneys and caves in what he calls “a labyrinth of restriction” of Bosnia and Herzegovina for the better part of 15 years. While cave diving purely for the sake of exploration can be difficult, he says, cave diving to search for proteus is even harder since the snake-like creatures can take refuge in tiny, cracks in the rock difficult to access by humans.
Yet matter how much we find out about them, it's likely that cave dragons will still fill us with mystery and wonder. “They do nothing,” says Balázs. “They live in strange places, not moving for years.”
A team of researchers investigating the land surrounding the Bay of Muggia, near Italy’s border with Slovenia, has found evidence of a large Roman fort believed to be the oldest ever discovered.
Strategically positioned on a hilltop overlooking a natural harbor on the Adriatic coast, the fortification was part of a large military camp stretching over 32 acres, LiveScience’s Charles Q. Choi reports. It had 80-foot-wide ramparts to keep potential enemies at bay and was flanked by two smaller forts on either side.
In a study published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the group of scientists responsible for the exciting discovery wrote that the complex was likely built in 178 B.C.—two decades earlier than the oldest confirmed Roman military camp, located in Spain. It’s the “first Roman military camp discovered in Italy,” writes Choi and was “probably created during Roman wars against people known as the Histri, who controlled the nearby Istrian Peninsula.”
"Their objective was also to protect the new neighboring city of Aquileia from the incursion of the Istrian peoples," study co-author Claudio Tuniz told LiveScience. "Its port was an important emporium for the trade of wine, olive oil and slaves. Aquileia would later become one of the capitals of the Roman Empire."
The find is in large part thanks to an advanced technology called LiDAR that allows archeologists to identify ancient sites that would have been difficult—if not impossible—it discover using the traditional tools of the trade. Already in use by scientists studying ancient, hidden settlements in Central America, the tool allows scientists to use lasers to scan the ground for features obscured by time, flora, and modern habitation.
"With LiDAR, we discovered in a few months more prehistoric archaeological structures than those discovered during one century of work with conventional archaeological methods," said Tuniz. Once the team saw evidence of the fort, he explained, archeologist and lead author Federico Bernardini went in search of tangible evidence at the site. He quickly came up a variety of artifacts including “the characteristic hobnails used to make the military shoes of Roman soldiers and fragments of Roman amphorae, widely used to store oil, wine and other food products."
The team believes the fort “may have provided the foundation for the colony of Tergeste, the ancestor of the modern city of Trieste,” writes Choi. They plan to investigate the site further in hopes of gaining new and deeper insight into the origin and architecture of early Roman military camps and forts, which were precursors to many European cities still thriving today.
This is bear country—but just barely. The brown bear lived in the Pyrenees until 1991, when the last of the region’s bears is believed to have been killed. But a reintroduction program, launched in 1995, seeded the wild and remote Midi-Pyrenees with a handful of brown bears selected from Slovenia. Today 20-something of the animals—Ursus arctos, the same species as the North American grizzly bear—roam the mountain range. I pedaled deep into the mountains, up the lush Garrone River valley, almost all the way to Spain, to meet Jean-Michel Parde, a local biologist who worked on the reintroduction program in its early years and now lives in the village of Fos, just three miles from the site of the 1995 bear release. Parde believes 600 brown bears could inhabit the Pyrenees—if people would only let them.
But the Pyrenees are densely populated by sheep and cows—and it was the keepers of these animals, largely, who eliminated the Pyrenean brown bear in the first place. After decades of so much hard work to eradicate the last of France’s large predators, shepherds are not thrilled to see the bears on the way back.
In his living room, Parde told me that the bears, since their first summer back in the Pyrenees, have regularly attacked the local flocks. By some estimates, about 200 to 300 sheep are killed each year by the resident bears. Meanwhile, roughly 15,000 Pyrenean sheep die each year of other causes, including falls from cliffs and violent mountain storms. Dogs, too, take a toll that may run as high as 1,000 sheep a year. The French government compensates shepherds for the livestock killed by bears—and generously. A dead sheep can bring reimbursement of anywhere between 100 and 500 Euros, with each payment offering about 50 Euros more than the price of buying a new animal. For cows killed by the bears, reimbursement fees may go as high as 2,000 Euros.
But Parde, who keeps a few sheep of his own in the hills and has lost several to the bears, says success of the reimbursement program has been limited by the difficulty in proving that a bear has killed one’s sheep: providing the evidence, bringing the carcass to experts to analyze and convincing them it wasn’t dogs or lightning. He referred to an incident in 2008 when 28 sheep were killed both directly and indirectly when a number of sheep apparently fell off a cliff during the attack. The shepherd received compensation only for the animals bearing claw and tooth damage. Keeping shepherds happy as bears multiply in the mountains is proving to be the most difficult part of the reintroduction.
Parde took me back to the 1990s and laid out the story for me. The first bears were reintroduced in 1995 and 1996—first a pair of females, which biologists named Ziva and Melba, and a year later a male—Pyros, a large bear weighing nearly 700 pounds fresh out of hibernation. By 1996, both female bears had cubs. However, Melba was already habitually attacking sheep. So was Pyros, who showed little fear of people and was regularly spotted near villages. He has even ventured to within 30 miles of downtown Toulouse.
Melba was shot and killed after she charged a pig hunter. The young man, a neighbor of Parde at the time, had accidentally come between the bear and her cubs. She raced at him, probably just bluffing, but he shot to protect his life. Melba dropped dead; her cubs vanished into the mountains.
Ziva, the other female, adapted well. She would produce multiple generations of cubs while inflicting very little damage on the local sheep population. She spends much of her time in Spain.
“She was a convenient female for the program,” Parde says.
After a decade, biologists decided some new genetic material was needed in the bear population. So the French government went again to Slovenia, thickly populated with brown bears, for a new crop. But by then, in 2006, Italy had reintroduced bears to the Trentino region in the Dolomites and had had first pick of the most desirable (middle-aged, reproductively promising, healthy) animals from the same region that the French were now plying. Parde says that in a population of 100 bears, just 30 will be of breeding age. Of these, 15 will be females, and of these just seven or eight will be without cubs—thereby meeting requirements for relocation. After Italy’s removal of several animals, the split came out poorly for the French. Parde says the Pyrenean project, which aimed its reintroduction efforts this time at the wild Ariege region, received one old female that ate garbage and killed sheep for sport, outraging farmers until she was hit by a car and killed several years ago near Lourdes (to the delight of local sheep herders). Of the three other females, one was healthy and young and caused no problems with shepherds—but she fell off a cliff and died. Another was reliably reproductive, but she killed many sheep—producing new bears but generating antipathy against the population as a whole. The fourth female has inflicted minor damage on sheep flocks. She is still alive, spends most of her time in Spain but has never produced a cub.
“Perhaps cubs will arrive,” Parde said, “but so far she has been unsuccessful for demography.”
There was a male bear in the second batch, too—and of eight bears released in total, between 1995 and 2006, just two have been productive female breeders. The population now numbers between 20 and 30, a number which French geographer and brown bear expert Farid Benhammou told me via email could be a sustainable one.
But Parde says he thinks most of the bears in the Pyrenees are a cousin and sibling group that will not be self-sustaining in the long run unless new genetic material is provided. The population, he thinks, will need more bears, but with 100,000 sheep in these mountains, opposition from shepherds is as strong as their cheese is profitable, and just whether more bears will be delivered is uncertain. Parde told me that there has been talk of cooperating with Spain, where an island population of about 100 bears in the northwest mountains is built of animals genetically and behaviorally similar to the extinct Pyrenean brown bears—but Spain has been uncooperative, Parde said, and at best might concede to letting France borrow some breeders for a while before giving them back.
While buying cheese one recent morning I asked the farmer how he felt about the bears. “We are very much opposed,” he said in English. Have the bears killed any of your sheep, I asked? “Not yet,” he said. Most farmers, I think I can guess, might share his sentiments—expressed largely through anti-bear slogans spray-painted on the highways.
When I left Parde’s home, I followed his directions and rode my bike high up a bumpy road into the forest above his village. There, in the damp broad-leaf woods, I found the monument honoring the bears of the first release. The site is not vandalized, without a dash of spray-paint, and near as I know, it was as close to a Pyrenean brown bear as I’ve been.
Just an hour later I encountered a sheep drive, with locals bringing their animals into the high country. It’s likely that these sheep, little may they know, will soon be attacked by a bear. I wished them a silent good luck, and the same to their shepherds—but better luck to the bears.
“The history of this food is that of the Middle East. Dishes carry the triumphs and glories, the defeats, the loves and sorrows of the past,” Claudia Roden writes in her classic, The New Book of Middle Eastern Food. As the author of ten books, with another on Mediterranean cuisine in the works, Roden approaches the subject of food with a scholarly discipline and the persistence of an anthropologist in search of the last member of a disappearing tribe.
Roden, who comes from an old Syrian-Jewish merchant family, grew up in Cairo until the Suez crisis prompted a flight to London in 1956. It would be 30 years before she would return to that city, and when she did, “all the foods on the table were exactly the same as they were before I left—dips, stuffed vegetables, filo pies, vegetable omelets.”
“For me,” she says, “researching food has been my way of discovering the Middle East and its people—a world that fascinated me because it was also my own.”
Tell me about the kitchen in the Cairo home where you grew up. What did it look and smell like?
The kitchen was the domain of the cook, who slept in the servants’ quarters on the roof terrace of our building. It was practical but primitive—we had an icebox, and an iceman came every day to replenish the big block of ice. Vendors came at the back door with crates of vegetables. Awad, the cook, came from a village in Upper Egypt and was taught to make our family dishes. When we entertained for large numbers, a relative would come to help with her servant. While the cooks worked in the kitchen, the women sat around the dining room table making little delicacies like almond fingers, filo triangles, stuffed vine leaves, kahk (biscuits), ma’amoul (date- and nut-filled cookies) and chatted; children were allowed to join in and do some of the rolling and wrapping. It was a time of gossip and fun. When we were small, our nanny cooked for us, and we ate with her in a little room that was between the kitchen and the dining room. Our nanny was from Slovenia, when her village was part of Italy. While we spoke French at home, we spoke to her in Italian. She cooked dishes from her home, including potizza (a type of stuffed pastry or bread), polenta, and pasta. Many different aromas came out of the kitchen, including onions, garlic, tehina, pomegranate, molasses, rose and orange blossom water, and a variety of spices that reflected the family origins in Aleppo and Istanbul.
The New Book of Middle Eastern Food: The Classic Cookbook, Expanded and Updated, with New Recipes and Contemporary Variations on Old Themes~ Claudia Roden (author) More about this product
Immigration is in the headlines. Explain the interplay between it and food, particularly as it relates to the Middle East.
Food is a way that an immigrant community insinuates its culture in a new homeland, especially as street food. I just read that couscous is currently the most popular food in France, partly because it is cheap, but people have come to love the filling dishes of grain, meat, and vegetables. In Britain, according to some surveys, hummus is found in 45 percent of the fridges of the land.
Speaking of hummus, let’s deconstruct the “hummus wars,” and the countries that claim the dish as theirs. “Even the best of friends may easily turn against each other if they find themselves in opposite hummus camps,” chef Yotam Ottolenghi writes.
Hummus has been eaten in several countries for generations, and no one ever complained until Lebanese manufacturers saw that Israeli companies were selling Israeli mezze and hummus in the United States. Palestinians also feel that Israelis have stolen their traditions and culinary culture, although a large part of the population of Israel comes from countries where hummus was traditional. But more usually food has the power to bring people together and bond.
The tradition of Middle Eastern hospitality seems to exemplify that power to promote bonding.
A host [in the Middle East] is honor bound to be generous and to give all he can to a guest. To entertain a guest is the greatest joy. It was an important part of our life in Egypt and was all about giving food. In our family, guests and men were always served first. Even in London, my mother always served men first. In Egypt, when a platter was passed around the table for people to serve themselves, they would always serve their neighbors first and give them the best morsels. Guests always left a little something on the plate when they couldn’t eat any more, because as soon as it was empty the hostess filled it up again. There had to be a lot left on serving platters or the hostess would feel that guests could have eaten more and they had not made enough.
Walk us through your favorite Middle Eastern market.
A favorite is the Istanbul Misir Çarşısı, which means “Egyptian bazaar,” because the spices once arrived via Egypt. It is a huge labyrinth of alleys under a vaulted roof. Food vendors display their wares amid carpet shops, jewelers, and leather goods sellers. Giant chunks of white cheese sit by piles of olives and cured fish. Lamb sausages hang over jumbled mountains of thinly sliced spiced beef. Syrupy pastries filled with nuts sit beside little pots of creamy white milk puddings.
Spice merchants, baharatçı, sell every kind of aromatic, as well as dried fruit and nuts, grains, and dried vegetables, such as baby okra, little red chilies, and hollowed eggplants that look like leather bells hanging on strings. Powerful aromas emanate from mounds of red, gold, and brown powders, curious looking roots, bits of bark, shriveled pods, berries, bulbs, and rosebuds. The vendors call you and offer you a taste.
Middle Eastern food evokes the idea of spirituality, in biblical references or as part of religious celebrations, like Eid al-Fitr at the end of Ramadan. One story in your book took my breath away. You were in Istanbul, and it involves a piece of bread...
I was with friends in a restaurant. The table was wobbly, and all I could find to put under the leg on my side to steady it was a leftover piece of hard bread. Everyone jumped to retrieve it, and the person who got it kissed it. Bread is believed to be a direct gift from God. I realized that what I had done was a sacrilege.
"Hardly any dishes were invented by restaurant chefs in Turkey, but this one was, by a man called Iskander; that is why it is also known as Iskander kebab. It made its appearance in the 1920s, after the Ottoman Empire had crumbled and Turkey became a republic. The cooks who had worked in the kitchens of the Sultan and in the homes of the aristocracy became unemployed and looked for ways to survive. Many opened restaurants, mostly kebab houses.
This dish has remained a mainstay of such restaurants, where it is sometimes served dramatically in a dome-shaped copper dish—the type used at the Sultan’s Palace. I serve it in deep, individual clay bowls, which can be kept hot in the oven. It is a multi-layered extravaganza. There is toasted pita bread at the bottom, covered by a light sauce made with fresh tomatoes, topped by a layer of yogurt. This is sprinkled with olive oil colored with paprika, and with pine nuts. Skewers of grilled minced meat kofta or small burgers are laid on top. The tomato sauce and meat must be very hot when you assemble the dish. The yogurt should be at room temperature." —Claudia Roden
1 pound tomatoes, peeled and chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil Salt and pepper
1 teaspoon sugar 1 thin pita bread
1 1⁄2 pounds ground lamb
1⁄2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 medium onions, grated
2 1⁄2 cups whole milk natural yogurt at room temperature
1 teaspoon paprika
2-3 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted or untoasted
To garnish, 2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Place the tomatoes in a pan with 1 tablespoon of oil, salt, pepper, and sugar, and cook over medium heat until they soften.
Toast the pita bread until it is crisp, then break it into small pieces.
Put the meat in a bowl and add salt and pepper, parsley and onion. Mix well and knead to a soft paste, then shape into 12 or 16 small burgers. Cook them under the broiler, turning them over once, until they are brown outside but still pink inside.
In each individual bowl put 1⁄4 of the toasted bread. Cover with 1⁄4 of the tomato sauce and top with a layer of yogurt. Mix the paprika with the remaining oil and dribble over the yogurt, then sprinkle with pine nuts. Arrange the burgers on top. If you like, garnish with chopped parsley.
Recipe adapted and photo excerpted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food by Claudia Roden. Copyright © 2000 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
It used to be difficult for Bobbi Thomason to explain where her grandmother comes from. Relatives used all sorts of names to describe it: Austria, Yugoslavia, Slovenia, the Hapsburg Empire. “It was really quite confusing to me,” says Bobbi, who stands a few inches taller than her grandmother and squints warmly when she smiles. All those place names were accurate at one time. But the name that lasted longest was Gottschee.
Her grandmother goes by a few names, too: Oma, Grandma, and her full name Helen Meisl. She left Gottschee in 1941, and didn't go back for 63 years.
When she finally did, it was 2004 and she was 74 years old. Her hair had turned white and her husband had died, but she laughed a lot and was close to the women in her family. Helen boarded a plane from New York to Vienna. Then she drove with two daughters and Bobbi to the village where she'd grown up. It was evening, and dark patches of forest flickered past the windows.
When the sun rose over the county of Kočevje, in southern Slovenia, Helen saw that her hometown looked only vaguely familiar. Most of the roads were still made of dirt, but electricity and television had been added since she'd left. The white stucco walls of squat houses had cracked and discolored. Old street signs, once written in German, had been discarded and replaced with Slovene signs.
Helen reached the house that her husband had grown up in. She and Bobbi stood at the threshold but didn't enter, because the floorboards looked too flimsy to support their weight. Holes in the roof let the rain in; holes in the floor showed through to the earth basement. It was comforting to know the building still existed, but sad to see just how modest its existence was.
* * *
Gottschee was once a settlement of Austrians in what's now Slovenia, which was itself once Yugoslavia. It was called a Deutsche Sprachinsel—a linguistic island of German speakers, surrounded by a sea of Slavic speakers. The Gottscheers arrived in the 1300s, when much of the area was untamed forest. Over the course of 600 years, they developed their own customs and a dialect of Old German called Gottscheerish. The dialect is as old as Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tales. Germans only vaguely understand it, the way an American would only vaguely understand Middle English.
For centuries, European empires came and went like the tides. But when World War II came, Gottschee abruptly vanished from the map. Today, there are hardly any traces of a German community there. In what remains of Helen's childhood home today, saplings are pushing their way through the floorboards.
“Gottschee will always be my home,” says Helen, who's now 85 and lives in the Berkshires. She and her husband moved later in life, because the green fields and leafy forests of Massachusetts reminded them of their birthplace. “I was born in Gottschee, I will always speak my mother language.”
Only a few hundred people speak the Gottscheerish dialect today, and almost all of them left Gottschee long ago. Yet a proud and thriving community of Gottscheers still exists—in Queens, New York.
In fact, Helen first met her husband in Queens—at Gottscheer Hall, which hosts traditional Austrian meals and choir performances in the Gottscheerish dialect. The hall is an anchor for the community. It's decorated with dozens of portraits of young women who served as “Miss Gottschee,” chosen each year to represent the Gottscheers at events. So complete was the Gottscheer transplantation that by the 1950s, it was possible to meet someone from your birthplace, even at a New York polka dance thousands of miles from home.
The journey back to Kočevje helped Helen accept how much had changed. But for Bobbi, it was more transformative: It helped her understand just how much she didn't know about her roots. During the trip, she heard stories her grandmother had never told before. She started to wonder about her late grandfather, who had been conscripted into the German army at 13 years old, and who had to wander through Austria in search of his family when the war ended in 1945.
Bobbi started to understand just how unlikely her grandparents' migration had been. Family traditions took on new meaning. As a child, she sometimes baked apple strudel with her grandmother. “It requires her pulling out the whole dining room table, to roll the dough,” Bobbi remembers. “The saying is that you should be able to read a newspaper through it.” Her grandfather—a thin, stoic man who liked to read the New York Daily News in a lawn chair—would critique their work when the layers were too thick.
When Bobbi stood in the doorway of her grandfather's childhood home in Kočevje, she wished she could step inside and look around. Peering into the house was a way of peering into the past. A looking glass. Bobbi wanted to know what might be waiting inside, just out of view.
* * *
In 2005, after returning from the trip, Bobbi started contacting Gottscheer organizations in New York. She was considering graduate school in European history and wanted to interview a few older Gottscheers.
To Bobbi, research seemed like a solemn intellectual undertaking. It was too late to interview her grandfather, but in Queens, there were hundreds of men and women who had made the same journey that he had. And she knew that soon enough, no one living would remember Gottschee. Her task was to capture the stories of a community that was quickly dying out.
Her research couldn't have come soon enough. Every year, the group of Gottscheers who remember their birthplace shrinks. In 2005, she attended a meeting of the Gottscheer Relief Association that around 60 people attended. Four years later, when her research was complete, she attended another meeting and only 25 people showed up. Many Gottscheers had died in the interim.
But there are still a few old-timers left to ask about Gottschee. “My youth was beautiful,” says Albert Belay, a 90-year-old who left Gottschee as a teenager. He grew up in one of the dozens of small towns that surrounded the city of Gottschee. Most towns had a vivid German name, like Kaltenbrunn (“cold spring”), Deutschdorf (“German village”), and Hohenberg (“high mountain”).
“We were neighbors of the school building, and across the street was the church,” Belay remembers, with a warmth in his voice. Belay's childhood world was small and familiar. “8 o'clock in the morning, five minutes before, I left the kitchen table and ran over to school.”
In school, Belay had to learn three alphabets: Cyrillic, Roman, and Old German—a sign of the many cultures that shared the lands around Gottschee. In high school, he had to learn Slovenian in just one year, because it became the language of instruction.
Edward Eppich lived on his father's farm in Gottschee until he was 11. His memories of his birthplace aren't particularly warm. “You had only maybe one or two horses and a pig, and that's what you live on,” Eppich recalls. When Austrians first settled Gottschee in the 1300s, they found the land rocky and difficult to sow. “It was not that easy,” he says.
These stories, and many more like them, helped add color to Bobbi's sketchy knowledge of her grandfather's generation. Her curiosity deepened. She learned German and decided to continue her interviews in Austria.
Image by A camp for displaced Gottcheers in Austria after World War II (original image)
Image by The teaching staff of the Gottschee region photographed in 1905. (original image)
Image by (original image)
Image by Compass Cultura/Wikicommons. Current-day Gottschee lies in southern Slovenia (original image)
Bobbi's research told her that for hundreds of years, despite loose ties to central European empires, Gottschee was largely independent. For most of its history, it was officially a settlement of the Hapsburg Empire. But because it was on the frontier of central Europe, locals lived in relative poverty as farmers and carpenters.
In the 20th century, European borders were drawn and redrawn like letters on a chalkboard. In 1918, after World War I, Gottschee was incorporated into Yugoslavia. Locals complained, even proposing an American protectorate because many Gottscheer immigrants already lived in the US. But the area was insulated enough by geography and culture that none of these changes significantly affected Gottschee—until Hitler came to power in 1933.
At the time, pockets of German speakers were scattered across Europe, in countries like Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Yugoslavia. Some of those people wanted nothing to do with the Reich. Yet Hitler sought a homeland unified by the German language, and he expected far-flung communities like the Gottscheers to help build it.
There were undoubtedly supporters of Hitler in Gottschee. In the local newspaper, one local leader insisted that the rise of Germany would be good for Gottschee. “Wir wollen ein Heim ins Reich!” read a headline. We want a home in the Reich!
Still, many Gottscheers were illiterate—and thanks to a long history of isolation, they didn't easily identify with a nation that was hundreds of miles away. It's likely that, as in so much of Europe, many Gottscheers passively accepted Hitler's rule out of fear or indifference.
It's difficult to know what ordinary Gottscheers believed. Hindsight deforms the telling of history. Countless German historians have struggled to explain how World War II and the Holocaust happened at all. Lasting answers have been hard to come by—in part because In the wake of such vast atrocity, participants fall silent and bystanders belatedly take sides.
What Bobbi knew was that the horrors of World War II hung like a shadow in the minds of older Gottscheers. In Austria, a man invited Bobbi for an interview over lunch. The conversation was friendly until she asked, in imperfect German, about Hitler. His eyes grew dark and he started shouting. “To experience this, to live through this, you can never understand!” he said. “It's so easy to say 'Nazi' when you weren't there!”
As an American and a descendant of Gottscheers, Bobbi remains troubled by the connections between Gottschee and Nazi Germany. Even after years of research, she isn't sure what they deserve blame for. “There are pieces that they don't know, and also pieces that look different with the knowledge of hindsight,” Bobbi says. “And it's scary to wonder what they were a part of, without knowing it, or knowing incompletely.”
* * *
For the Gottscheers, life was better during the war than in the years that followed.
Gottschee was located in Yugoslavia when war broke out, but in 1941 the country was invaded by Italy and Germany. Gottschee ended up in Italian territory—and as such, residents were expected simply to give up the keys to their homes and resettle. They weren't told where they were going, or whether they would one day come back.
“You can't talk about Gottschee without the Resettlement,” one Austrian woman told Bobbi. “It is just like with the birth of Jesus Christ—there are years B.C. and A.D. You simply can't talk about before and after without it.”
“Everything came to an end in 1941,” says Albert Belay. “There was no way out. Europe was fenced in. Where to go? There was no place to go.”
Helen adds: “When Hitler lost the war, we also lost our home. We were homeless, we were refugees.”
Most Gottscheers were sent to farms in what was then Untersteirmark, Austria. Only upon arrival did they discover rooms full of personal belongings and meals left haphazardly on the table—signs that whole towns had been forcibly emptied by the German army. They had no choice but to live in those homes for the rest of the war.
When Germany surrendered in 1945, the Gottscheers lost their old home and their new one. Yugoslavia was seized by Josip Broz Tito and the Partisans, a resistance group had doggedly fought the Germans during the war. Both Gottschee and Untersteirmark were within the country's new borders, and the Gottscheers weren't welcome there.
Herb Morscher was just a toddler when he left Gottschee, but he remembers the years after resettlement. “We were 'displaced persons,'” Morscher says bitterly. His family lived in a camp in Austria that had been designed to house soldiers. “We had to go and eat in a kitchen. We had no plates, no knives. We had nothing. They gave us soup, and you had to look for a couple of beans in there.”
By moving to Austrian territory, Gottscheers had technically rejoined the culture they had originally stemmed from. But Belay and Morscher say that Gottschee was the only homeland they really had. When Morscher attended school in Austria, he was labeled an Ausländer, or “foreigner.” By joining the Reich, says Belay, “we left the homeland.”
Perhaps it makes sense, then, that so many Gottscheers decided to leave Europe entirely. Family connections in the United States made emigration possible for a few thousand. Others gained refugee status or applied for residency.
Morscher moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where a cousin helped him integrate into Grover Cleveland High School. It was a painful transition. He had to wake up at 5 a.m. to practice the English alphabet. While Austrians had called him a foreigner, American schoolchildren heard his accent and called him 'Nazi.'
John Gellan, who grew up in Gottschee and recently turned 80, remembers the day he arrived in New York by ship. (His family was allowed to immigrate on the condition that Gellan join the U.S. military, which posted him on bases in Germany.) “We were parked outside the harbor of New York,” he says. “Our big impression was the higher buildings, and the many cars.”
He still remembers the exact stretch of New York's Belt Parkway that he could see from the ship. “All the traffic. It was like another world,” he says, and pauses. “Another world opened up, yes.”
* * *
Bobbi, for her part, discovered another world as she investigated her family's story. As she contacted Gottscheer organizations in New York in 2005, she thought of herself as a scholar helping preserve a disappearing culture. But her involvement soon became deeply personal. Just after Bobbi started her research in 2005, Helen got a phone call with good news.
Helen passed it down through the women of her family, first calling her daughter, Bobbi's mother. Bobbi's mother called Bobbi and explained, “The Miss Gottschee Committee wanted to ask if you would be Miss Gottschee,” she said.
It wasn't quite what Bobbi had bargained for. She was hoping to become a serious young researcher. Miss Gottschee, by contrast, is expected to deliver speeches at polka dances and march in parades wearing a banner and tiara. The two identities didn't seem particularly compatible.
But she had to admit that she was a descendant of Gottscheers, baking strudel with her grandmother, long before she was an aspiring graduate student. “They were both so excited that I would have this honor and this special role in the community,” Bobbi says. “At that moment, as a daughter and a granddaughter, there was no question that I was going to do this.”
More importantly, the yearly tradition of Miss Gottschee—along with the dances and parades and choir performances—were themselves proof that the Gottscheers were not a dying community at all. Every year, in a tradition that dates to 1947, over a thousand Gottscheers gather at a festival on Long Island. A Gottscheer cookbook frequently sells out at events, and orders have come in from Japan and Bermuda. And a second Gottscheer community in Klagenfurt, Austria passes down a different flavor of the group's heritage.
Bobbi had gone searching for a cultural graveyard, and found it overflowing with life.
* * *
The festival on Long Island—the Volksfest—is an odd and heartening sight. Just blocks away from suburban homes with broad driveways and carefully trimmed hedges, a huge crowd gathers around a long line of picnic tables. Boys and girls in traditional overalls and dresses run through crowds of Gottscheer descendants, while elderly men start sipping beer before noon.
At this year's Volksfest, women sold strudel and cake at an outdoor booth. At another, children and their grandparents paid a quarter to play a game that looked a little like roulette. The prize was sausage.
There was even a woman from Kočevje, Slovenia, in attendance. Anja Moric unearthed the Gottscheer story when, as a kid, she discovered an old Gottscheer business card in her parents' home. Eventually she discovered that Gottscheer communities still exist, and she connected with researchers like Bobbi to share what she'd found. It was as if, while digging a tunnel from one community to another, she had run headlong into someone digging a tunnel from the other end.
In the afternoon, Bobbi marched in a long procession of women who had once served as Miss Gottschee. She's becoming a regular at the festival—though it will take a few more years to rival the older Gottscheers who have attended more than 50 times.
Image by Daniel A. Gross. Gottscheers gather at Volksfest on Long Island. (original image)
Image by Daniel A. Gross. Previous Miss Gottschees gather at Volksfest. (original image)
Bobbi admits that there's a vast difference between being a Gottscheer and being a Gottscheer-American. When a few women gave speeches at the Volksfest, they stumbled over snippets of German. And it's easy to mistake the whole thing for a German-American gathering. Many Americans see sausage and beer and don't know the difference. Only small signs suggest otherwise, and they are easy to miss: the choir performances, the older couples speaking Gottscheerish, the reproduced maps of Gottschee and its villages.
Gottscheers could see Americanization as a small tragedy. But Bobbi thinks it's a triumph, too. “After centuries of struggling to have a space that was their space, they have it,” says Bobbi. “In this form that probably they could never have guessed would happen, centuries ago.”
There are echoes of the broader immigrant experience in the Gottscheer story. Egyptian restaurants opening in Queens sometimes remind Bobbi, unexpectedly, of the Gottscheers. But the Gottscheers also stand out in a few ways. There's an irony to their journey during World War II. During the war, they briefly became German—yet thousands of them ended up becoming American.
“What's really unique about the Gottscheers is the fact that the homeland that they had doesn't exist anymore,” Bobbi says. Their immigration story, which may seem familiar to many Americans, is more extreme than most because going home was never an option.
At times, Gottscheers wished it was. Bobbi's grandfather was told in Europe that the streets of America were paved with gold. The streets of New York were dirty and crowded. “He arrived in Brooklyn and said: If I had anything I could have sold for a ticket back, I would have,” Bobbi says.
On the whole, though, descendants of the Gottscheers looked forward. They took factory jobs or started pork stores or left home for college. Many encouraged their children to speak English.
In short, they integrated successfully—and that's exactly why Gottschee culture can't last. The blessing of the American mixing pot is that it can accommodate a staggering variety of cultural groups. The curse is that, in a mixing pot, cultures eventually dissolve. Integrating into a new place also means disintegrating as a culture.
Gottsheerish is going the way of the hundreds of regional dialects that fall into disuse each year. And Albert Belay says that's only one measure of what's lost. “It is not only the language,” he says. “It's a way of life in the language! That makes the bond between the people so strong. The language, and the habits—the past.”
Still, accidents can preserve culture for a time. Remnants persist in the fine print of a business card, the tiara on a teenager's head, the layers of an apple strudel.
Or in the sound of a violin. More than 70 years ago, Albert Belay brought one with him from Gottschee. His uncles played the instrument in Austria, and it's the only keepsake he has left. “They wanted me to learn,” he says. “The violin I kept, and I still have it here.”
Belay is 90, but the instrument brings back memories of childhood. “I'm back home, like. Every time I pick up the violin, I have a good feeling,” he says. “I'm well protected, like I was as a kid.”
This story was published in partnership with Compass Cultura.
From 1914 to 1918, the wealthy and powerful Western nations and empires that had come to dominate the globe wrecked themselves in a paroxysm of destruction unmatched in any previous era. Empires toppled, millions died and the world changed forever. In the wake of the First World War, nations sought appropriate forms of public mourning and commemoration to grieve and honor their dead. Among allies and foes, there was an overwhelming desire that such a war never be repeated. “Anything rather than war! Anything! … No trial, no servitude can be compared to war,” wrote French novelist and pacifist Roger Martin du Gard in 1936.
Today, memorials, monuments and museums dedicated to WWI can be found in all of the combatant countries. From a rose garden in Ireland to vast war cemeteries built on or near the major battlefields, these sites ensure that the memory of the war and the sacrifices of those who lost their lives will never fade.
Set in Sydney’s Hyde Park, this is New South Wales’s principal war monument. Designed in an art deco style by C. Bruce Dellit, it is made of granite, with statuary and bas-reliefs created by the artist Raynor Hoff. The buttresses on the outside of the building are each topped by a mournful figure, while the bas-reliefs depict scenes from Australian campaigns at Gallipoli and the Western Front. Ceremonies are held at the memorial on Remembrance Sunday (11 November) and Anzac Day (25 April).
Hyde Park, Sydney
The national monument to Australia’s war dead was built in the aftermath of World War I, though it serves to commemorate Australian service personnel killed in all conflicts. The main parts of the memorial are the Commemorative area (which includes the Hall of Memory), Anzac Parade, and the Sculpture Garden. In the museum on the ground floor of the main building, the Anzac Hall, a recently added high-tech exhibition space, includes “Over the front, the Great War in the air”, a permanent display telling the story of aerial combat in World War I. It includes five original aircraft from the war, memorabilia, personal testaments, and a sound and light show.
Remembrance Park, Canberra
Built to remember Victoria’s war dead of 1914–18, this is one of Australia’s great memorials. Inspired by the mausoleum to Mausolus, King of Caria, at Halicarnassus in Turkey, the shrine was inaugurated in November 1934. The sanctuary contains the Stone of Remembrance inscribed with the words “Greater Love Hath No Man”, designed so that a shaft of sunlight (or artificial light) falls on the word “Love” held at 11am on 11 November each year. More than 120 ceremonies are held at the shrine each year.
St Kilda Road, Melbourne
The only American Battle Monuments Commission cemetery in Belgium, this commemorates the American contribution to the war on the Western Front. Smaller and more intimate than most of the war cemeteries in Belgium, it consists of 368 burials, with the headstones arranged around a central chapel. Many of the casualties interred here came from the US 91st Division, killed in fighting in this area in October and November 1918. The chapel itself includes 43 names on the Walls of the Missing – rosettes mark the names of soldiers whose remains have been subsequently recovered and identified.
Southeast of Waregem, along the Lille-Gent autoroute E-17
The Cloth Hall on the Market Square in the center of Ieper (Ypres), site of three of the war’s most significant battles, has been turned into a museum housing major collections of World War I artifacts and documents. The exhibitions and interactive audio-visual displays cover the invasion of Belgium in 1914 and the first few months of the war, with particular emphasis on the war around Ypres and how war affected the town. A documentation center includes extensive original trench maps, a photographic library and postcard collection, and contemporary newspaper reports.
Visitors can also climb up to the belfry for views over the town and the sites of the surrounding battlefields. Access to the center is free, although some collections can be viewed only by appointment.
Lakenhallen Grote Markt 34, Ieper
An official German War Graves Commission site, the Langemark Cemetery contains more than 40,000 burials of soldiers recovered between 1915 and the 1930s. The cemetery was officially designated German Military Cemetery 123 in 1930, and was inaugurated two years later. Of the soldiers buried in the cemetery 24,917 lie in mass graves. The German Students’ Memorial annex lists the names of 3,000 students killed in the Battle of Langemarck (part of the First Battle of Ypres) in 1914. Known as the Kindermord (Massacre of the Children), in Germany, First Ypres included many young German volunteers, most of whom had only received two months’ military training. In the cemetery stands a sculpture of mourning soldiers by Emil Krieger. Also of note is a basalt-lava cross on a small mound, marking one of the three original battlefield bunkers.
North of Langemark village, 6km (4 miles) northeast of Ieper
One of the most visited sights on the Western Front, the Menin Gate Memorial in Ypres was designed by Reginald Blomfield and unveiled in 1927. It marks the point where most British soldiers marched out of the town to the battlefields of the Ypres salient. The walls of the Hall of Memory are inscribed with the names of 54,896 British and Commonwealth soldiers killed in the Ypres salient before 16 August 1917. Each night at 8pm, the traffic is stopped and the Last Post is played under the arches of the memorial.
Around the village of Wystchaete, the St Eloi, Peckham Farm, St Yvon, Kruisstraat, and Spanbroekmolen craters bear testimony to the 19 enormous mines detonated beneath the German trenches at Messines. An information board in the village gives directions to the craters, and there are more than 1,000 burials in the Wytschaete Military Cemetery, a short walk from the main square. A smaller cemetery, the Lone Tree Cemetery, near Spanbroekmolen contains 88 burials, mainly of soldiers from the Royal Irish Rifles.
Memorials of the battle include one to the London Scottish regiment on the N365 between Wytschaete and Messines, marking the spot where they first went into action. In Mesen (Messines) itself, which was completely destroyed in the battle, there are the New Zealand Memorial Park and the Messines Ridge Military cemetery. It was in Mesen’s church (rebuilt) that Adolf Hitler reputedly received treatment for combat injuries in 1914. To the south of Mesen is the modern Island of Ireland Peace Park, opened in 1998, to commemorate Irish soldiers killed during World War 1
Around Mesen (Messines)
Few battlefield areas evoke the tragedy of the Ypres salient more than Passchendaele, around the modern village of Passendale. The area is littered with memorials to individual battles and regiments, including the Canadian Memorial at Crest Farm, the 85th (Nova Scotia Highlanders) Battalion Memorial, and memorials to French soldiers and the British Seventh Division, both at Broodseinde.
Cemeteries in the area include the Passchendaele New British Cemetery, containing 2,101 British and Commonwealth burials, and the vast Tyne Cot cemetery to the southwest of Passendale. In Zonnebeke, the Passchendaele Memorial 1917 Museum contains a large display of military artifacts.
Various Locations in and around Zonnebeke and Passendale
This museum houses collections relating to the whole of Belgian military history, not just World War I, but it includes a large collection of World War I artifacts, documents and memorabilia in a permanent 1914–18 exhibition. Exhibits include fi rearms, artillery pieces, uniforms, armored vehicles, and even a Fokker triplane.
Jubelpark 3, 1000 Brussels
This granite memorial, designed by the Anglo-Canadian architect Frederick Chapman Clemesha, stands 11 m (36 ft) tall. Known as the Brooding Soldier, it features at its summit the head and shoulders of a Canadian infantryman, his head bowed in mourning. The memorial remembers the Canadian troops killed around St Julien during the Second Battle of Ypres. Many of the dead were killed by the first use of poison gas (chlorine) on the Western Front, as the memorial inscription attests: “This column marks the battlefield where 18,000 Canadians on the British left withstood the first German gas attacks on the 22–24 April 1915. 2,000 fell and here lie buried.”
7 km (4.3 miles) northeast of Ieper, off the N313 towards Roulers
In 1914, Sanctuary Wood acted as a protective barrier between British and Commonwealth troops and the front line. During 1915–16, however, it was also swamped with heavy fighting, principally between Canadian and German forces.
Three Allied cemeteries were established in the area at the time. The remains of one of them formed the foundations for the present cemetery, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens just after the war. During the 1920s and 1930s, the cemetery expanded with additions from the wider Western Front. Today, it contains 1,989 burials (spread over five plots), of which only 637 are identified.
Within a short distance of the cemetery is the Sanctuary Wood Museum Hill 62, a privately run institution. An extensive series of preserved trench lines, all open to walk through, can be seen outside the museum. Another feature of the Sanctuary Wood area is the Canadian Memorial at Hill 62, remembering the thousands of Canadians killed in futile battles to retake Hill 62 in June 1916.
5km (3 miles) east of Ieper town, off the N8
Field Marshal Lord Plumer, commander of the British Second Army in Flanders during the war, laid the foundation stone of St George’s Church in Ieper in 1927. The building opened for services two years later and is still an active place of worship today. Though the church was built primarily to remember the British and Commonwealth dead of Ypres – its stained glass, wall plaques, banners, and kneelers reflect individual British regiments – it is now the memorial church for all those who died in battle in Flanders during both world wars.
Elverdingsestraat 1, 8900 Ieper
The largest British war cemetery in the world, Tyne Cot contains a total of 11,953 burials, mostly of British and Commonwealth troops but also including four German soldiers. The majority of the men buried here were killed during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. The name Tyne Cot is thought to have British origins. According to a local story, the Northumberland Fusiliers thought a barn on the ridgeline here looked like their cottages on the River Tyne, back home in Britain. Landmarks of the cemetery include the Cross of Sacrifice Monument and the curved Memorial to the Missing, listing the names of 35,000 soldiers with no known grave.
Southwest of Passendale, signposted off the N332 after passing east through Zonnebeke
This German cemetery is the burial place for 25,644 soldiers, most of whom were moved here from other locations in the 1950s (the site was used as a combat cemetery from 1914). Although some headstones date from the time of the war, most were inscribed afterwards. Each of the flat granite slabs bears 20 names, with name, rank, and date of death. The Grieving Parents, a pair of statues made by the German sculptor Käthe Kollwitz stand in the cemetery. Kollwitz’s son died at First Ypres in October 1914.
3km (1.8 miles) northeast of Vladslo, signposted from N363 from Beerst
After the Somme, the area around the Ypres salient, centering on the modern town of Ieper, is the most frequented destination for battlefield visitors. Within the town itself are the Menin Gate and St George’s Memorial Church, both moving memorials to those lost around Ypres, and the In Flanders Field Museum. Outside the town are many other sites of interest, including more than 140 military cemeteries and military burial grounds. British cemeteries alone contain 40,000 unidentified graves. The cemeteries are tended by the British, Belgian, French, and Italian war graves commissions.
Among a number of interesting museums around Ieper are the Sanctuary Wood Museum Hill 62, the Hooge Crater Museum, the Memorial Museum Passchendaele (at Zonnebeke), and the Messines Historical Museum (Mesen). Poperinge, 13 km (8 miles) to the west of Ieper was a center for British troops heading to the front. The town’s Talbot House Museum served as a club house for British Army troops. Opened by army Chaplain Philip Clayton as an alternative place of relaxation to the more debauched places in town, it was open to all ranks. Officers going on leave could also spend the night here before catching their train back to Britain.
Neuville-St-Vaast exit from A26 autoroute, follow D49
This is arguably one of the most powerful memorials on the Western Front. Work on a provisional ossuary – a building where bones of the dead are kept – began in 1920 to provide a sanctuary for the hundreds of thousands of bones that were scattered throughout the Verdun battlefield site. Work on a permanent ossuary began in 1920, and bones were transferred here from the battlefield from 1927. The ossuary cloister contains the bones of 130,000 unidentified soldiers, arranged according to the area of the Verdun battlefield in which they were found.
The many British military camps and hospitals around Étaples meant that the area required a large British and Commonwealth cemetery. In use from May 1915, it contains 10,733 burials from World War I, including those of 35 unknown soldiers, as well as burials from World War II.
Between Boulogne and Etaples
Although not the largest German war cemetery in the Somme area – Vermandovillers has 26,000 burials – Fricourt contains 17,027 German soldiers, about 10,000 of whom were killed during the Somme battles of 1916 (the burials date from 1914 to 1918). Only 5,057 of the burials have individual graves; the other 11,970 are contained in four mass graves.
Near Fricourt, the Somme
This is the largest US military cemetery in Europe, with a total of 14,246 servicemen buried over 52 hectares (130 acres) of grounds. In the memorial chapel, panels are inscribed with the names of 954 soldiers missing in action (the bodies of those with rosettes against their names were eventually discovered and identified). Staff members at the visitor center provide guidance on navigating the cemetery and locating particular graves.
One of the world’s largest military museums, the Musée de l’Armée in Paris contains more than 500,000 artifacts from every period of French military history. Its World War I section contains large collections of uniforms and weaponry.
Les Invalides, Paris
Established by the French in 1919 to hold German war dead, this German War Graves Commission cemetery, also known as La Maison Blanche, is the largest in France. A sea of metal crosses, laid out during the 1970s to replace earlier wooden versions, it contains 44,533 burials, with four soldiers in each grave. There is also a mass grave containing the remains of more than 8,000 soldiers.
Religious buildings have occupied this ridge to the northwest of Arras since the 18th century, but the basilica and ossuary currently on the site were built in 1921 as memorials to the French soldiers who died in the Artois area
during the battles of 1914, 1915, and 1917. The cemetery later became a national necropolis, and the ossuary contains the remains of some 23,000 unidentified soldiers from both world wars as well as French conflicts in Algeria and Indochina. The basilica, designed by Louis-Marie Cordonnier, is adorned with colorful mosaics. Surrounding the basilica and ossuary, the cemetery covers 13 hectares (32 acres) and contains 45,000 burials, the bulk of them from World War I. Behind the cemetery is a military museum, with dioramas, uniforms, artillery pieces, photographs, and a reconstructed trench and bunker system. Outside the museum, original trenches have been redug.
Ablain-Saint-Nazaire, near Arras
The site of one of the greatest and most costly battles in human history, the Somme region is one of the main centres of military tourism. To get the most out of a visit, it is advisable to buy a guidebook to the battlefield sites or join a tour run by one of the specialist companies operating in the area. The officially recommended “Tour of Remembrance” takes in the town of Albert (including the Somme 1916 Trench Museum and the CWGC-maintained Albert Communal Cemetery), Beaumont-Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers-la-Boiselle (site of the Lochnagar crater), Longueval (including the New Zealand Memorial and Pipers Memorial), and Peronne. All these places are packed with places of interest, including cemeteries, military relics, museums, and memorials. Munitions and artifacts are regularly dug up in the Somme countryside (remember not to touch any munitions you might find). The best way to get around the battlefield privately is by car, as many of the sites are easily accessible from the A29 or A1 motorways.
This huge memorial in Thiepval was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and opened by Edward, Prince of Wales in 1932. Inscribed on its surfaces are the names of 73,357 Allied soldiers who died in the Somme area between 1916 and 1918 but have no grave. A commemorative ceremony is held here on 1 July every year. Thiepval, the Somme
Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens and built between 1921 and 1931, the India Gate in Delhi commemorates all Indian soldiers who died in World War I and the Third Afghan War of 1919. Originally called the All India War Memorial, the arch is 42 m (137 ft) tall and inscribed with the names of more than 70,000 men. Beneath the arch is the Amar Jawan Jyoti (The Flame of the Immortal Warrior) and also the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The cenotaph is surrounded by four flaming torches that are kept constantly lit.
Located on Rajpath, Delhi
Built to remember the 49,400 Irish soldiers who died in World War I, these gardens were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens in the 1930s. The park covers 8 hectares (20 acres) and includes a sunken rose garden and two book rooms, containing the Rolls of Honour listing the names of the dead. The site also features the Ginchy Cross, a wooden monument built by soldiers of the Irish 16th Division and originally erected on the Somme battlefield. Inscribed on the floor of the domed temple on the bank of the River Liffey, at the northern end of the garden, is an extract of “War Sonnet II: Safety” by Rupert Brooke.
Established in December 1917 to serve the field hospitals set up in the area, the cemetery in Ramleh (now Ramla) was later augmented by graves moved here from other cemeteries in Palestine and Israel. Ramleh was occupied by the First Australian Light Horse Brigade from November 1917. The cemetery contains 3,300 Commonwealth burials from World War I, plus nearly 1,200 burials from World War II and a number of other burials of non-Commonwealth and non-combat personnel. There is also a memorial to Commonwealth, German, and Turkish servicemen buried elsewhere in Palestine and Israel, in cemeteries that are no longer maintained. The memorial was built in 1961.
Built under Mussolini and opened in 1938, the Sacrario Militare Di Redipuglia is a military shrine in the north of Italy, on the slopes of Monte sei Busi, at the eastern end of the Isonzo front. It holds the remains of more than 100,000 Italian soldiers killed during World War I – the 22 steps to the top of the shrine alone contain the remains of 40,000 soldiers. The shrine also contains the tombs of five generals and the Duke of Aosta, the commander of the Third Army. The site includes a chapel and a museum containing a poignant collection of artifacts from the Italian front and some original trench fortifications.
Monte Sei Busi
In terms of battlefield tourism, the Isonzo front is often overlooked in preference for battlefields in France and Belgium, but it is just as rich in heritage and places of interest. The challenges for touring the Isonzo front are the distances involved and the arduous terrain. A typical route might run from Kranjska Gora in northwest Slovenia down to Duino on the Adriatic coast in northeastern Italy, although there are many other options. Highlights include the Soca Valley, containing numerous positions and gun emplacements in the rockface; the Vrsic pass, built by Russian prisoners in 1916; and Kluze fortress with its military tunnels. At Kobarid (Caporetto during World War I) in Slovenia, it is possible to walk along former trench lines. The town also has an excellent museum devoted to the ferocious battles along the Isonzo front, with large-scale maps, models of the terrain, artifacts, and photographs. A
long the Slovenian/Italian border
Built in the 1850s, and more generally known as the Auckland Museum, this houses extensive general collections on the whole of New Zealand’s history, not just military history. The modern annexe, which opened in 1929, was built in memory of Auckland province’s many war dead from World War I. The walls of the World War I Sanctuary are inscribed with the names of fallen soldiers with no known grave. Under the central stained-glass skylight are the badges of their units and regiments.
The War Memorial Galleries and Armoury information Centre present extensive collections and research facilities relating to the war, and frequent events, lectures, and exhibitions are held in the museum, particularly around commemorative days. The database contains bibliographic records of the 35,000 New Zealanders killed in wars since the late 19th century.
Built between 1923 and 1938, the Mausoleum for the Heroes from the National Unity War, to give it its full title, is an imposing monument to the Romanians killed in World War I. The Battle of Marasesti in 1917 was the last major battle on the Romanian front before the country was occupied. The mausoleum stands some 30 m (100 ft) tall and the remains of 6,000 Romanian soldiers are contained within the crypts. The mausoleum also includes the sarcophagus of General Eremia Grigorescu, who died in 1919, and a rotunda containing the flags of the Romanian units who fought at Marasesti. The main edifice is topped by the “Dome of Glory”. A great bas-relief on the dome depicts scenes from the battle at Marasesti.
Between Focsani and Adjud, Vrancea County.
The Gallipoli Peninsula Historical National Park is one of the most rewarding sites for military history tourists and researchers. Covering around 33,000 hectares (81,500 acres), it includes 31 CWGC cemeteries, containing 22,000 graves, most of them easily accessible, and numerous memorials.
There are three main areas of interest: Cape Helles (V-Beach Cemetery, Helles Memorial, and Redoubt Cemetery); Pine Ridge (the Beach Cemetery, No. 2 Outpost Cemetery, Courtney’s and Steel’s Post Cemetery, Chunuk Bair Cemetery and Memorial, Fourth Battalion Parade Ground Cemetery, and Lone Pine Cemetery and Memorial); and Suvla (Green Hill Cemetery and Anzac Cemetery). The main sites can be covered in a day, but two to three days are recommended for a more thorough exploration. Also worth seeing on Cape Helles is the Canakale Martyrs Memorial, the principal memorial to the Turkish dead of Gallipoli.
Special services are held at Gallipoli on Anzac Day on 25 April, commemorating the first day of the Gallipoli Campaign in 1915 when Australian and New Zealand troops landed at Anzac Cove.
This cemetery predates World War I, but land for war burials was granted in 1917, mainly to accommodate the graves of service personnel who had died of battle wounds in the London district. It is now the largest Commonwealth military cemetery in Britain. Although most of the burials are from 1939–1945, there are 1,601 graves dating from World War I. The Brookwood 1914–18 Memorial commemorates more than 200 Commonwealth casualties who died during World War I but for whom no graves could be found. In the grounds of Brookwood, the World War One American Military Cemetery has 468 graves and commemorates 563 US servicemen with no known grave.
Of the exhibits in Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla Museum, perhaps the most telling contains Mr. Tesla’s brown suit, which hangs in a glass case in the front room. With its natty, old-fashioned styling punctuated by the dapper brown trilby hovering over the space where his head ought to be, the disembodied ensemble recalls an illustration for Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. It’s a slightly unsettling but apt metaphor for the brilliant Serbian inventor and futurist who arguably did more to shape and foretell the 20th century than anyone, yet who remains a largely forgotten historical footnote.
Nikola Tesla did not always labor in obscurity. For a fleeting decade or so around the turn of the century, he was the toast of America, the country to which he’d emigrated in 1884. Feted by the press and showered with gold medals and awards from learned institutions and universities, he threw dinner parties at Delmonico’s in New York, entertained crowds with showy electricity demonstrations, and counted J.P. Morgan, John Jacob Astor, and Mark Twain among his many famous acquaintances.
For it was Tesla’s genius that solved the problem of how to distribute electricity safely and efficiently to homes, shops, and factories—something that had defeated Thomas Edison. With that innovation, he helped usher in a whole new industrial age. He additionally gave the world its first, functional electric motor: Whenever a vacuum cleaner clatters to life, a laptop powers up, or an overhead light is turned on, the technology used can be traced back to Tesla.
In one golden decade beginning in 1893, he pioneered radio technology some two years ahead of Guglielmo Marconi, created the world’s first x-ray images, and conceived the idea of radar. While the late 19th-century world became enthralled with the wondrous new age of hydroelectric dams, power lines, and electric lighting available at the flick of a switch, Tesla continued to leapfrog ahead. He invented the bladeless turbines used in modern jet engines and imagined a wireless future in which information, music, pictures, and limitless renewable energy could be beamed around the globe instantly, free, and available for all.
Tesla was already powering fluorescent lamps—another of his inventions—using wireless technology by the early 1890s. In his laboratory, he also designed the antennae that would be used in mobile phones a century later. His showy demonstration of a radio-controlled boat at New York’s Madison Square Garden wowed the crowd with a taste of what the wireless future would hold.
So how did such a brilliant, successful inventor end up, many years later, an obscure figure feeding pigeons in a park, dying destitute and alone in a New York City hotel room in 1943? “Tesla was simply too far ahead of his time,” says Branimir Jovanovic, the director of the Nikola Tesla Museum. “And although he was a brilliant inventor, a genius, he was a naive businessman who was hopelessly out of step with commerce and 19th-century American capitalism.”
Tesla never married nor had children. His nephew, the only relation with whom he maintained any form of contact, shipped his late uncle’s immense collection of papers, drawings, letters, and photographs to Belgrade in 1952. Only too happy to celebrate a home-grown hero, Yugoslavia’s communist authorities opened the Tesla museum inside a handsome villa soon after. There the collection and museum remain, easily the largest repository of Tesla memorabilia in the world. “For decades his legacy was sealed away behind the Iron Curtain,” says Jovanovic. “Western historians had virtually no opportunity to research Tesla or gain any deeper understanding of his work. As the years passed he became almost forgotten.” But now, as the Cold War recedes into distant memory, that is changing.
If Tesla was largely forgotten by his adopted country, Serbia remembers him as one of their own. His name adorns Belgrade’s airport, while Nikola Tesla Boulevard hugs the Danube in the new part of the city. His portrait graces postage stamps and the Serbian 100-dinar note. His likeness in bronze stands outside the University of Belgrade’s School of Electrical Engineering. Tesla-themed T-shirts, postcards, fridge magnets, lapel pins, and coffee mugs crowd the souvenir kiosks along the Knez Mihailova, the shopping precinct in the old quarter of the city.
The rather idiosyncratic Nikola Tesla Museum at Krunska 51, an address on a quiet side street in the heart of Belgrade, has become a popular draw for science history buffs, geeks, and electrical
engineers. Increasingly it also attracts the broad spectrum of tourists for whom the Tesla name rings a bell, more often than not in association with PayPal billionaire Elon Musk’s electric smart car, just the sort of invention that Tesla himself would have loved. The museum contains more than 160,000 original documents, ranging from detailed plans Tesla made of various electrical apparatus and instruments to Christmas cards he received from his many fans and admirers. Even the man himself is present—or rather his ashes are, sealed in a gold-plated orb and displayed, rather eerily, in a small chapel-like side room, draped in black, just off the main gallery.
For non-technical visitors and those unfamiliar with the Tesla story, the museum offers a short film in English as well as guides that explain the concepts behind various models of Tesla’s inventions, including the 500,000-volt Tesla coil with which he created lightning bolts in his Colorado laboratory. (Plans are afoot to build a much larger 12-million-volt Tesla coil, which he used to generate the largest human-made electrical charge ever seen on the planet until modern times.) Both of these instruments were part of Tesla’s research into the possibility of using the Earth itself as a giant conductor to produce unlimited amounts of renewable energy—a concept theoreticians still debate today.
Image by Timothy Fadek. Controversy surrounds Tesla in death as in life: When the Serbian Orthodox Church demanded in 2014 that the inventor’s ashes, long displayed at the Tesla Museum in a gold orb, be removed and interred in a church, protestors picketed in the streets. His ashes remain in the museum. (original image)
Image by Timothy Fadek. Belgrade's Tesla Museum (original image)
Image by Timothy Fadek. Visitors to the museum experience Tesla's most revolutionary invention, the Tesla coil, an apparatus that wirelessly transmits electricity, sending electric current through their hands to light up fluorescent tubes. (original image)
Image by Timothy Fadek. A Tesla coil creates electromagnetic force. (original image)
Born during a fierce electrical storm in what is now Croatia, in June 1856, Tesla had his interest in electricity sparked (so to speak) as a child by the little shocks of static he experienced while stroking his pet cat, Macak. Comparing in his mind the prickly little sparks that sprang from Macak’s fur, and the great bolts of summer lightning that criss-crossed the sky, he wondered, as he put it in his autobiography many years later, “if nature was like a giant cat.”
Curiosity and a boyhood love of invention led him to engineering schools in Austria and Czechoslovakia. His peripatetic professional career began in Budapest, where he worked as chief electrician for a fledgling telephone company. He then moved to Paris to take a job with Edison’s European operations. In June 1884, he arrived in New York City, clutching a letter of introduction to Edison himself. “I know two great men,” wrote Edison’s long-time associate and talent spotter, Charles Batchelor. “You are one. This young man is the other.”
The two men proved polar opposites. Their relationship soon soured, with Edison allegedly reneging on a promise to pay Tesla $50,000 for some dramatic, hard-won technical improvements that the young engineer had made to the designs for Edison’s dynamos. It would not be the last time that Tesla came off second best in a business deal. “Being an honest man himself, Tesla trusted nearly everyone he met,” says his biographer Robert Lomas. “And almost all of them ripped him off.”
“How quickly will I get my investment back was a question Tesla was not even prepared to consider,” Lomas explains. “He was working for the betterment of mankind—who could put a price on that?” Many others had no problem contemplating rich rewards for their work, among them Edison and the entrepreneurial inventor George Westinghouse, as well as the billionaire financier J.P. Morgan, all of whom figure prominently in the Tesla story.
In the 1890s Edison’s and Westinghouse’s companies became bitter rivals in the “War of the Currents,” a multi-million-dollar race to electrify America. Edison backed the use of direct current, or DC, in which electricity flows only in one direction within a circuit. Direct current could power lights and run machines, but could not be easily converted to higher or lower voltages, necessitating low-voltage transmissions that didn’t reach more than a mile. This meant power stations would need to exist every few blocks throughout a city. Westinghouse supported alternating current, or AC, in which electrical current periodically changes direction in a circuit. High-voltage AC could travel long distances, but difficulties remained about how to step high voltages down to levels useable in homes and businesses once it arrived. Into this bitter contest strolled Tesla, who had spent years trying to interest investors in his ingenious designs for AC transformers, electrical devices that could increase or decrease voltages.
Westinghouse embraced the Serb’s ideas, eventually parlaying Tesla’s expertise into a contract to electrify the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Two years later, Westinghouse built a hydroelectric plant of gargantuan proportions, harnessing the power of the Niagara River to light up Buffalo, New York. “Of the thirteen patents involved in the design, nine were Tesla’s,” says Jovanovic.
Such innovations might have made Tesla rich, but they merely made him comfortable, able to host his dinner parties at Delmonico’s, dress stylishly, and invest in new research. Needing cash to develop the next big thing—wireless technology and renewable energy from the Earth itself—he sold for a modest sum the patents, rights, and royalties for his AC motor to the Westinghouse Electric Corporation. “He lived in a world of ideas,” says Lomas. “He loved to build mental models of his inventions and imagine them working. If you asked him how much it cost to make, he’d point to the elegance of its rotating magnetic field; if you asked how many people would want to buy it, he would demonstrate how efficient it was.”
At a secluded site in Colorado, he launched a series of experiments, then announced plans to build a huge transmitting tower at a site called Wardenclyffe on Long Island. Rather naively, he approached J.P. Morgan for additional investment capital, excitedly painting a picture of a nation powered by free, abundant, and wireless electricity. One can only wonder what Morgan must have been thinking as he listened to Tesla’s pitch. The hard-nosed businessman had already sunk millions into networks of expensive copper wires to carry electricity. Nonetheless, Morgan gave Tesla $150,000.
“It sounds like a lot of money, and indeed it was—to Tesla,” says Jovanovic, “but not to Morgan. He spent that much the following week on a painting. He was just protecting his investments by making sure he was in control of whatever Tesla came up with.” In return for the cash, Tesla signed over rights to any patents that resulted from his new wireless research.
Believing he was on the threshold of great things, Tesla began building his Long Island tower. But he soon burned through the money, returning to Morgan for more. This time the financier refused him outright. And no, Morgan would not relinquish rights to Tesla’s future wireless patents. In addition, Morgan told others in merchant banking circles that he considered Tesla a bad investment. Tesla’s prospects for raising capital dried up virtually overnight. “It took a while to sink in, but Tesla eventually realised he had made a big mistake,” says Jovanovic.
The museum chronicles Tesla’s flirtation with wireless technology at the pinnacle of his career. Displays explain how the enormous coils he built generated huge quantities of electricity, along with images of the enormous mushroom-shaped telecommunications tower he was building on Long Island. But by 1905, Tesla was a changed man. “It is as though there were two Tesla’s—the eager young emigrant who, for a while at least, lived the American dream, and the embittered older Tesla who had learned life’s lessons the hard way,” says Jovanovic, himself an aeronautical engineer, who has spent years studying the inventor and recently wrote a book about him in Serbian.
The museum’s gallery of photos shows both of Tesla’s personas, the mesmerizing young man with a touch of mischief in his eye and the humorless 61 year-old. By the time he received the Edison Medal in 1916 for his electrical engineering achievements, his fame rested as much on his sensationalist claims and predictions in the tabloid press as it did on his legitimate engineering feats.
In a desperate bid to remain relevant, he wrote increasingly bizarre articles on almost any subject. He still turned out clever inventions, shifting to the field of mechanical engineering, and giving the world the speedometer and tachometer, but his glory days were over.
Today, there are signs of growing interest in Tesla. More and more academics have been tapping into the museum’s rich trove of material. For its part, the museum has plans to launch a new website later this year, detailing its holdings so that researchers can apply for access. Museum curators mounted an exhibition that traveled to Spain and Mexico over the past year; another exhibition will soon open in Ljubljana, Slovenia, and yet another will debut in Belgrade in July to mark the 160th anniversary of Tesla’s birth. The latter will feature 50 new interactive exhibits based on Tesla’s original patents and designs. There is talk about building a much larger Tesla museum complex along the Danube, which would not only house the museum’s entire archive, but also interactive exhibits and 300 models of his inventions.
But his life and work are still swept up in a sci-fi fantasy that was present even during his lifetime, thanks to his showmanship and willingness to play the mad scientist to gain attention and column inches in the press. Legends of the immigrant abound—from the KGB’s supposed interest in spiriting away Tesla’s top secret research regarding a “death ray” after his death, to the FBI’s suppression of his papers to prevent his “secret” inventions from being blurted out to the world. In a 2006 fantasy thriller, The Prestige, David Bowie plays the role of Tesla depicted as a genius Victorian inventor who creates a Star Trek-style teleporter for a sinister magician. “It is important to remember the real Tesla,” says Jovanovic, “and to celebrate what he accomplished.” The museum at Krunska 51, in Belgrade, with its old Christmas cards and family photos goes a long way towards fleshing out the figure in the empty brown suit.
In an electoral season where the presumptive Republican nominee has proposed erecting a wall on the border of the United States and Mexico, not to mention banning those of Muslim faith from immigrating to the United States, it can be easy to forget that Donald Trump is married to an immigrant.
But while those running for the highest political office in the United States must be able to meet just three simple requirements—one of which is being a natural born citizen—there is no such burden imposed on a prospective first spouse.
Melania Trump was born Melanija Knavs in a village in Yugoslavia, now part of modern-day Slovenia, in 1970. A former model, Melania left Slovenia by choice for a bigger European market, living in places like Milan and Paris before a talent agent arranged to get her a visa and an American modeling contract, allowing the 26-year-old to move to New York in 1996.
Melania is not the first candidate's spouse to be from a foreign country; even in recent history, Teresa Heinz Kerry, wife of the 2004 failed candidate and current Secretary of State John Kerry, boasted of her immigrant heritage. Almost 200 years ago, Louisa Catherine Adams became the first and only foreign-born first lady to claim the title when her husband John Quincy Adams took office in 1825.
In a strange historic parallel, Louisa also first came to live in the United States when she was 26, only she did so in 1801. She was a new mother and anxious about her place in the Adams’ family, considering the influence that her mother-in-law, Abigail Adams—who already made it clear that she disproved of Louisa and Quincy’s marriage—wielded. Unlike Melania, who has so far been notably quiet in her husband’s campaign for the nomination, Louisa very much wanted to play a role in John Quincy’s election, and indeed, her weekly tea parties helped swing the election in his favor.
Louisa was born in London, England, in 1775. Her mother was, like her, British-born but her father was born in the colonies, and the family was staunchly supportive of the young republic, staying in France for the duration of the Revolutionary War, which officially began only weeks after Louisa's birth.
While her parents were sympathetic to the fledgling nation’s cause, Louisa was raised the way that “young, pretty, wealthy English girls were raised,” as Louisa Thomas writes in her lushly detailed, authoritative book on the former first lady, Louisa: The Extraordinary Life of Mrs. Adams, which came out this spring.
Her upbringing would initially provoke the ire of the Adams clan, direct descendants of the settlers who founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and looked down on those who valued worldly possessions. Indeed, just that Louisa was born in London bothered Abigail, who early on referred to her as a “half-blood.” But her almost aristocratic air—honed by following John Quincy on his diplomatic tours in Europe after their marriage—was key for his presidential campaign. While many in the United States also considered her to be a foreigner, they saw her experience as a diplomat’s wife as a novelty, and Louisa used her accomplishments to her advantage.
“She wasn’t an intellectual but she was very intelligent,” Thomas tells Smithsonian.com. Though Louisa was taken out of school at the age of 14 to prepare for the marriage “circuit”, she showed a natural interest in learning.
Like Abigail and John Adams, Louisa and John Quincy engaged in an extensive correspondence throughout their relationship. At first, Louisa was unsure what to write, and self-conscious about her words, but she grew into her voice. Throughout her life, she wrote memoirs and autobiographies, in addition to her many letters, leaving behind a vibrant portrait of her opinions.
Louisa lived during a time when women were not supposed to express an interest in politics, but the scene fascinated her. “She writes these lengthy letters about political gossip, where she spends three pages gossiping about the treasury, way beyond mainstream news of the day, and then denies her interest,” Thomas says.
After the Adamses had an early social faux pas in Washington, though, Louisa began to understand how women could sway politics. Following John Quincy’s appointment as James Monroe’s Secretary of State, both John Quincy and Louisa ignored a custom that demanded that newcomers in Washington make the first social call to all notable persons in Congress. Louisa then experienced a social freeze-out by the women of Washington, and both Louisa and John Quincy initially suffered for the slight. At the time, Louisa wrote, “Indeed I could hardly have imagined that a man’s interests could be so dependent on his wife’s manners,” as Thomas records.
Louisa went about working her way into the Washington social scene, and through the parties she hosted, she became the capital’s “primary hostess,” as Thomas puts it. Her presence seemingly helped compensate for John Quincy’s belief, passed down from his father, that candidates shouldn't actively campaign or in any way express their ambitions publicly.
“He believed that merit alone, not party or political campaign rhetoric, should determine the choice of the American people,” as Harlow G. Unger wrote in John Quincy Adams: A Life. It was a view that made more sense at the time, considering that until 1824, the year of John Quincy’s presidential campaign, the popular vote wasn't even recorded.
That election showed how the balance of power in Washington had started to shift. When the United States of America was first founded, the Constitution and Bill of Rights dictated that citizens should have the right to vote and that the country would have a free press. Except at the time, that meant almost universally that only white men could vote, and, among them, only those that held land. And though newspapers were free to print uncensored content, they were limited in reach and readership.
Come 1824, however, the United States’ franchise had expanded into Native American territory, creating new states and opening up the opportunity for more to vote. Meanwhile, media production boomed, and by 1823, there were 598 newspapers in the nation, allowing citizens to be better informed and more engaged with the politics of the day.
Though John Quincy Adams, the son of a president with a long history of public service, might have once seemed to be the heir apparent to the executive office, the growing populist movement—fed by a growing frustration with banks and business, which was accelerated by the Panic of 1819—made for close competition in the multi-candidate field for the election.
Adams was up against Andrew Jackson, William H. Crawford and Henry Clay. Though those in Washington did not initially take Jackson seriously as a politician, his charisma and victory at the Battle of New Orleans caused the public to rally for the war hero.
Meanwhile, Adams, who cared little for putting on a show, preferring to focus on the politics at hand, did little to curry favor with the greater population. Considering that Democratic-Republicans distrusted him for his ties to Federalism, and most Southerners refused to vote for him because he morally opposed to slavery, his chances for election were looking increasingly bleak.
Louisa became the face of his election. Starting in 1819, she held her “tea parties” every Tuesday night, in addition to hosting balls and other social events. The women in Washington who had once refused to visit her because off her early misstep now became regulars at her raved-about parties. When her brother’s chronic health problems (and her own) forced her to withdraw to Philadelphia, she set up a salon in her hotel parlor there, where important figures in the area would visit to exchange news and discuss the election.
In her letters to John Quincy, she continued to urge him to engage with the public more; she saw the path to victory relied in having Jackson-like charisma, and tried to push her husband toward presenting himself in such a way. “She probably wouldn’t admit it, but she was electioneering,” Thomas notes.
When the votes were tallied, Jackson won the popular vote and a plurality of electoral votes, but as a majority of electoral votes are needed to take the presidency, the House of Representatives was tasked to pick the next chief executive.
Louisa held her last tea party on the evening of Tuesday, February 8, 1825, the night before the House voted. As Thomas writes, based off of John Quincy’s diary, 67 members of the House came to her party, as well as “400 citizens and strangers.”
The next day, the House—led by Clay, the failed candidate and Speaker of the House—voted John Quincy Adams as the next president.
Much has been made over the “corrupt bargain” that Jackson accused Adams and Clay of, for when Adams became president, he made Clay the new Secretary of State. But Louisa’s role has been obscured by history. Without Louisa’s support and social influence, who knows how many electoral votes her husband would have initially curried, causing Clay to rally the vote around him.
The senior Adams famously relied on Abigail’s perspective on issues of the day, but Louisa arguably was more integral to her husband’s election, as she helmed the unofficial campaign. As Thomas puts it in Louisa, “She was not content to be an adviser. She sought a public presence that Abigail avoided, and she chafed when she ran up against its limits."
But whereas his father trusted his wife almost implicitly and Abigail often referred to their property as “ours,” Louisa and John Quincy did not share the same respect. Louisa always felt beholden to John Quincy for lifting her out of the poverty her family had come into before she married him. While she tried to reconcile her own desire for equality with her institutionalized sense of a woman’s place, she struggled.
“She was of two minds about what a women’s role was,” Thomas says. “On one hand, she’s retiring demure, innocent and on the other hand, she’s self taught and has this vibrant intellectual life.”
Louisa grew up in a world where she was groomed to marry and told that women were supposed to stay in their realm. Even with her tea parties, she would not and could not admit what she was actually doing.
Louisa’s time in the White House would be marked by misery. Jackson’s victorious campaign for president in 1828 would begin barely after John Quincy stepped into the White House. The “corrupt bargain” lost him public support, and he had no reliable allies in Congress. Meanwhile, Louisa felt abandoned and neglected in the White House.
The years following for Louisa were colored by personal tragedy, including her son’s suicide in 1829. While her husband found a second political career as a member of the House of Representatives, and led a crusade for the right to petition against slavery, she did not play a role, rather though she considered slavery a moral sin, she had to contend with her own deep-seated racism.
When she turned 65, Louisa began what Thomas calls her “most ambitious project,” a 70-page memoir titled, The Adventures of a Nobody, which chronicled her history since she first wed John Quincy, preserving her life and efforts for historians to come.
Today, in a time where everything seems to be written down, little is known about the newest foreign-born contender for the First Lady of the United States. As the election heats up though, history will record the role that Melania chooses to play in her husband’s campaign, and what, if any, historic parallels she shares with the woman in her position 200 years earlier.