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Archive for January 2016

The Hungarian Mummers

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Some masked Busós in Mohács town square, February 2006 (Source: Wikipedia)

Some masked Busós in Mohács town square, February 2006 (Source: Wikipedia)

The Mummers Parade came and went in Philadelphia, and I got a glimpse of some extraordinary costumes and a listen to jaunty folk music which all ended in a drunken, litter-strewn after-hours brouhaha in front of my apartment complex down South 2nd street, the original route of the parade.de

Soon, it’ll be time for Busójárás, a Hungarian celebration that has its roots in the time of the country under Ottoman rule. In a small town overtaken by the invading Ottamans, a contingent of Hungarians living in a nearby copse of woods schemed to scare away the invaders with widdled wood masks with mop-top hair and terrify them with the racket of wooden ratchets.

Pasqueflower, one of the few plants that pop up at the tail end of winter

Pasqueflower, one of the few plants that pop up at the tail end of winter

Though a legend that may actually be a mere allegory for scaring away winter than anything, the tradition lives on today in that very town, Mohács (“Mo-haatch”). Following a bus ride south from Budapest with my then-roommate/traveling buddy, we drank copious amounts of mulled wine, got molested by masked Busós (not me, actually, but all the women in my group), and watched as the townsfolk burned an effigy representing either a Turk or “Winter”, depending on your interpretation.

The initial stages of my papier-mâché Busójárás mask -- the completed mask, along with a Japanese and Venetian mask, was left at my downtown Budapest apartment

The initial stages of my papier-mâché Busójárás mask — the completed mask, along with a Japanese and Venetian mask, was left at my downtown Budapest apartment

This year’s festivities have been heralded by an usually dramatic and slow, sentimental YouTube video. Regardless, to this day, I still regard Busójárás as the best festival I’ve ever attended, and, should you be in Central Europe between February 4th and 9th, I highly recommend grabbing the earliest bus to Mohács and revel with the horned beasts of Hungarian yore.

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Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

January 31, 2016 at 9:55 pm

Chit’n’Chat: Schuykill Oil Spill

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A yellow boom surrounds the immediate spill area

A yellow boom surrounds the immediate spill area

A yellow boom corralled ice floats on Schuylkill River just below the Market Street bridge, some rust-tinged and most looking as though it had been sprinkled with a bit of turmeric.

A group of men looked down at ice floating farther down along the Schuylkill River Trail, one of whom, an official from the Philadelphia Water Department, wagged his head solemnly as he spoke of the 4,200 gallons of heating oil that spilled into the river Monday.

Either restricted from saying too much to the public or as in the dark as most news sites reporting on the situation, he said the oil leaked out from a nearby, unknown or -specified facility. Downriver, as I noticed biking up the trail, was a noticeable oil sheen, and the air smelled quite heavily of oil. He motioned toward the ice enclosed in an oval by the boom and said that, rather than improving the effort by trapping the oil, the ice was just making progress slower.

The only thing to do at this point, he said, was monitor the water downstream while skimming the oil from the surface of the water and sucking the rest into a large hose leading into giant storage tanks on the Schuylkill embankment.

Interestingly enough — or not, depending on your definition of “interesting” — I recently happened on a book, Mycophilia by Eugenia Bone, in the Philadelphia public library that I’ve been meaning to read since it came out in 2011, months after the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster.

Schuylkill River Oil Spill 2

Closer view of the yellow/rust-tinged oil among ice floats

While parts of the book make me salivate what with the author’s descriptions of cheeses (fungus — or mold, rather — being responsible for the production of some of my favorites including Gorgonzola and Blue cheese) and wine pairings with mushrooms, it’s loaded with fascinating information on the brilliant ways funguses – or fungi, if you’d rather – can break down even the most chemically complex of structures. Oil being one of them.

In the 2007 San Francisco Bay oil spill, cleanup organizers used a combination of hair and oyster mushrooms (Pleurotus ostreatus) to absorb and break down oil from a cargo ship that rammed the base of a Bay Bridge tower, spilling 58,000 gallons of fuel. And other such “mycoremediation” efforts have taken place with varying levels of success.

It’s perhaps hard to believe fully that this promising method of bioremediation could work, but, then again, as Bone points out in her book, radioactive-tolerant and “-eating” fungus (radiotrophic; using melanin, which is present in varying levels in human skin, to convert the radioactive particles) has been found growing in the very confines of the present-day Chernobyl and Fukushima nuclear plants.

Schuylkill River Oil Spill 3

Facing south along the Schuylkill River Trail boardwalk

This subject, of course, also seems unusually far-flung from my usual posts on all-things botanical, but I’ve since learned that fungus is present in nearly all plants, within their cells and the surrounding soil, working in a long-held symbiotic relationship with their hosts, breaking down materials and forming mutualistic networks in forests to swap nutrients (as they do not photosynthesize) and also receiving and offering protection.

Although it’s said fungus is more related to humans than plants, it’s apparent that the latter cannot be studied neglecting mycology. Judging by the studies I’ve read, however, there appears to be a lot more work needing to be done before officials readily look to bioremediation for something like a 4,200-gallon oil spill in the Schuylkill.*

 

*The event was not considered a serious enough spill in coastal waters by one report. Also, on another note, according to a study, water temperature is very much a factor in the efficacy of mycoremediation, favoring warmer waters in cleanup efforts.

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

January 29, 2016 at 9:08 pm

Storm Jonas in Philly

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Top: Cars blanketed with snow on South 2nd and Catharine streets, Queen Village

Left to right: Intersection of 2nd and Catharine streets, cross-city skiier, houses along Queen Street, garden in Old City, Carpenter’s Hall in Old City, National Park Service vehicles in Old City, Second National Bank courtyard, rear of Second National Bank in Old City, Independence Hall, Independence Visitor Center, front of Second National Bank, alleyway in Old City

Written by Robin Lee Dunlap

January 23, 2016 at 12:55 pm