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Idealog - May 2007

Image: Idealog header - May 07

Image: I Married Adventure

Martin and Osa Johnson


It might be nice to go to see the world for ourselves, but we can only manage at best a fraction (unless you're David Attenborough). So we rely on TV, movies, books and newspapers. What we discover about the world is therefore heavily mediated by someone else's adventures and opinions. But they are also shaped in turn by the people and pressures exerted on them. It's always fascinating to see how changing cultures and societies have altered the way the world is judged - and used - in the past.

During the 1920s and 30s here was no television and the cinema was the venue for travel films, backed up by shows to societies and schools. The format was developing into a distinctive genre in those years. The work of Burton Holmes was the subject of an earlier posting - he in fact began just before World War I along with people like John L Stoddard from the USA and Cherry Kearton from Britain. Foreign travel was always an adventure, the destinations were exotic and film audiences thrilled to spectacle and the unusual.

Martin Johnson was an American adventurer who had travelled the Pacific with Jack London between 1907 and 1909 and made a film of the trip called "Cannibals of the South Seas". In 1910 he met Osa Leighty in Chanute, Kansas: the married, and became partners in traveling and moviemaking, an enterprise that lasted until 1937 when Martin Johnson was killed in a plane crash that Osa only just survived.

Osa Johnson wrote a lively, readable account of their lives together in 1940. Like the films it is bright and breezy, in a style of storytelling that went down well with the public. The couple were attractive as star characters in their own films. As with Armand and Michaela Denis and Jacques Cousteau in later years they inspired many people to go see for themselves what the world was like - and gave a picture of the world to millions more who never strayed quite so far from their local cinema or TV set. The style of the films was of their time, reflecting social mores as well as shaping them further. One of them, "Congorilla" of an African trek in 1932 is available on videotape, although only in NTSC format. Much of it is still attractive, and sympathetic to Africa and its peoples. Some of it is not. A shot of a hippopotamus, mouth yawning wide open, is accompanied by a comment that it is a great place to dispose of used razor blades. Another shows natives listening to a wind-up gramophone playing a jazz record. Mrs Johnson is enjoying her status as some kind of superior being and is delighted when the Africans show what she sees as their simple delight in the rhythm: the tourist is presented as the teacher, not a student, of the people she had met. David Attenborough she was not.

Johnson, O (1940/1997) "I Married Adventure", New York, Kodansha International
ISBN 1 56836 128 9

In Chanute, Kansas, there is also the Martin and Osa Johnson Safari Museum opened in 1960 by Osa.

Image: Wensleydale Creamery

Wensleydale Creamery


The Yorkshire Dales town of Hawes contains two small industrial units which have used tourism to improve their earnings. One is Ropemakers which expanded from a previous one-man workshop up to a small factory unit. The other is the Wensleydale Creamery.

This dairy is in a line of production going back to the middle ages, making a distinctive cheese relying on the character of the milk produced by farms within the dale. In 1992 it was owned by Dairycrest who decided they could do better to close the unit, make 59 people redundant and move production to another creamery. Local people had other ideas, and November '92 they bought the business from Dairycrest. At first production was hampered by slow sales, until the Wallace and Gromit short "A Grand Day Out" (which, it must be pointed out, was about space tourism) mentioned the cheese as a favourite. A deal was struck with Aardman Animations in which a specially-branded Wensleydale cheese and allied publicity proved a great success. The Creamery, which attracted visitors on factory tours, built a restaurant and had opened a shop, expanded to a point where it employs almost two hundred people and takes milk from some three dozen Wensleydale farms. New products include Wensleydale with cranberries, Wensleydale with apricot, smoked Wensleydale, and, of course, Wensleydale with tourists.

Image: Malham Tarn and House

Malham Tarn


A beautiful day in the Yorkshire Dales at the start of the Spring Bank Holiday weekend was well timed. Rail would spread the next night to dampen down the spirit of exploration. At Malham Tarn there were relatively few cars parked and most of the occupants appeared to have headed towards the top of Malham Cove (photo below). Going in the opposite direction a short walk leads to the Tarn, a natural lake which looks as though it flows out into a stream disappearing underground and resurfacing at the Cove. It doesn't, and a different subterranean channel supplies the water there. After the last ice age a melting glacier formed the Tarn and the flow probably did thunder over the cliff of the Cove, a sight now lost for ever.

The house at the head of the Tarn is one of the original centres of the UK Field Studies Council, formed in 1946. There are now 17 centres in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The group of people in front of the house were presumably those on a bird-watching course over this weekend being run at Malham Tarn. The FCS operates an extensive programme now, of schools, university and family courses on all kinds of environmental subjects. The Council and Thomas Cook (see the previous posting) had much in common!

Image: Malham Cove


Image: Thomas Cook grave and Loughborough park

Thomas Cook


Looking forward in the anniversaries business to next year, 2008 will be the bicentenary of Thomas Cook's birth. The founder of the most famour and influential travel firm of all is buried in Leicester where Cook lived from his retirement until his death in 1892.

Cook's story is well known but worth recapping.
A Baptist minister and publisher of religious pamphlets in the East Midlands, Cook was firmly in the education business without being in education. He famously devised an excursion from Leicester to Loughborough on 5 July 1841 in which 570 temperance supporters paid a shilling (5 new pence but a fair amount in those days) to travel by the new steam railway. In fields in the town there were speeches and entertainment for the excursionists. A park now occupies the site (middle photo).

Cook went into business organising travel around the world, but for him it was always a means of bringing people together and closer to an understanding of God's works on Earth. The pulpit, the printed word and the activity of travel were to help people discover the significance of their very existence. Perhaps he thought that the final resting place of his body would only be a stop on the journey of his soul.

Image: Belfast tourism images

Northern Ireland's Tourism Rebuild


Who would have thought it? Northern Ireland as one of the high-prosperity areas of Britain with one of the fastest-growing tourism industries? Decades of bombs, bullets and belligerance seem to be coming to a real end as Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness become peaceful leaders of the province, sharing each others' jokes as power-sharing returns.

So the images above - none of them traditional sun-and-sand tourism photos - show some elements of the tourism which is beginning to showcase Belfast. The new Hilton hotel on Donegal quay does a roaring trade. Japanese tourists see for themselves the reality of a sectarian divide. A Belfast tour guide shows a plastic baton-round used by the British Army to force rioters to disperse at the height of the 'troubles'. A dry dock where the Titanic was fitted out for before that infamous voyage. All of them are part of 'brand Belfast' which is now undergoing a considerable re-assessment by both its people and its visitors. What will "Belfast" mean to us in the future?

Image: Jamestown Festival Site

The Jamestown Festival Park


Close to the site of the original Jamestown is the Festival Park, named for the 350th anniversary celebrations of the settlement in 1957. The festival held then established reconstructions of the colonists' ships in a harbour close to a reconstruction of their stockade.

Inevitably this kind of replication can only be partly successful. It is not possible to 'step back in time', merely to dip a toe into the running waters of history. Compromises have to be made while many aspects and artefacts have to be omitted. The reconstructors and the visitors are not people of centuries ago. There is no potentially hostile environment to be feared and health and safety regulations must be observed.

The replication has been carried out within a mile or two of the original site, however, so the landscape and climate are fairly close in general terms to that of 1607. The stockade fence, the houses within and the patches of growing food can be seen, touched and smelled. Some of the sounds - an axe chopping wood, birds calling - are to be heard, all in glorious surround-sound, for this is a three dimensional world in which the visitor is moving with all the fresh perspectives that are brought to every sense. There are people looking and sounding much as they might in the early years of the seventeenth century: the clothing might be the product of modern production and the language spoken that of the twenty-first century, but neither cinema nor TV, book or classroom lesson can get near to this immersion in a sense of place and a sense of time. On a scale of 1 to 10, this approach to understanding history must be around 7 or 8.

Image: Cite des Sciences, Paris

Cite des Sciences at de l'Industrie, Paris


Between 1867 and 1974 the slaughterhouses of Paris stood here in La Villette, near the Peripherique or motorway circling central Paris. Canals bisect the site. During the 1980s the 55-hectare site (135 acres) was transformed into a huge cultural complex, one of many stemming from the era of left-wing President Francois Mitterand's 'Grand Travaux'. Bernard Tschumi was the architect who designed what became the Parc de la Villette.

One of the abbatoir halls was refurbished into the Grand Halle, a concert and trade show venue. A vast new construction by Adrien Fainsilber took the place of another hall. Built of glass, steel and concrete and surrounded by a wide moat full of water, it is the Cite des Sciences et l'Industrie. Numerous exhibitions, a planetarium and an aquarium, along with public services and souvenir shops occupy the building and educate and entertain visitors of all ages. Just outside stands the Geode, a shining globe of a structure housing a huge cinema. Near to the Science and Industry hall can be found a 1950s submarine, a ride-simulation cinema (Cineaxe) and the Cite de la Musique, a museum of almost a thousand different instruments, the music of which is heard playing as visitors walk past them.

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