Day Three in St Louis was raining, after a violent electrical storm that seemed to go on all night. You forget, when you plan trips, that your plans for short stopovers may be sabotaged by the weather. We spent the morning sleeping in, breakfasting, and wondering what to do. We finally settled on the zoo at about 2.00pm, and the weather cleared for us.
It’s a great zoo – gorgeous garden surroundings & some rare animals I’d never even heard of, such as Somali Asses (like donkeys but with stripy shins), and Takins, a peculiar looking beast apparently related to the musk ox. We also got to see camels with two humps. They were not at their best because they were moulting. You wouldn’t believe, looking at the shaggy lumps of hair drooping off them, what a lovely fibre camel hair is when spun and woven (and clean!).
My highlights were the birds in the cypress swamp, the hippos – three full size ones in a big tank, so you could see them underwater – and the baby elephant, too cute for words. It was very funny watching baby & mum. Baby was playing in the water & didn’t want to get out, & it really did look like Mum was giving him (her?) the ‘five minute warning’. Then after about five minutes she made him get out, apparently for the sole purpose of promenading him up closer to the gawping crowd so we’d get a good photo. Then baby was allowed back in the water to continue playing.
ActionMan was very busy with the camera for the first hour or so – bears, takins, sea lion show – and then got very tired & missed both the hippos and the elephant baby. Not that he seems to care …
Our last day we visited the Cahokia mounds just across the border in Illinois. The mounds represent the remains of a large city, which at its peak around the 12th century had a population of about 20,000, & was apparently bigger than any other city that we know of for that period. The actual mounds are both raised platforms for the homes of prominent people or religious buildings, and burial mounds. It’s all grassed over now, and you can walk around the mounds. There’s also an “interpretation centre” that’s pretty ugly from the outside but has interesting and detailed displays on the inside. Whoever’s responsible has done a great job in conserving, excavating and explaining the site, but I do have a couple of gripes.
The first is that I think the history has been rather sanitised. However I understand the delicacy of interpreting indigenous culture and history, especially when that culture had some practices we now find confronting, such as human sacrifice. I guess it’s better to err on the “noble savage” side rather than the “savage barbarian” side, when representing these cultures, and maybe, given the history of racism, we’re not at yet at a point where we can do it any differently, so I can forgive that.
However I’m pretty upset about something else, which I don’t think is excusable. *Tirade alert*
At Cahokia I saw what would have to be one of the most blatant rewritings of history through the lens of current political bias, that I think I have ever seen. There is a section in the display that summarises what was going on in the rest of the world at the time that Cahokia was at its peak. In “the near East”, you may be interested to learn, “Moslems intent on spreading their faith waged holy wars of conquest”, whereas in Europe “the Roman empire, once a symbol of organisation and purpose, collapsed under the pressure of invasions. But gradually, order returned”.
Excuse me! When I can I will spend a little more time researching this to back it up with some useful links, but my understanding is that at that time Moslem societies were also at a peak – of learning, culture, advances in science and mathematics, the arts. You could easily argue that early Islamic societies, within their own sphere of influence, were also a “symbol of organisation and purpose”.
Yes indeed they may have been waging holy wars, but not necessarily without provocation. (And what societies were not at war in those days, anyway?) In fact freedom of religion was a hallmark of Islamic societies in the middle east at the time, and my understanding is that the crusades, which started in the 11th C, were begun by Christians. Moslems were slaughtered in mosques during this period by European Christians who could equally be said to be “intent on spreading their faith” and thus “waging holy wars of conquest”.
And Rome is held up as a model of all that is good and rational, sadly destroyed by “external” forces? Rome, one of the earliest and greatest colonising forces? Yes it may have represented organisation and purpose, and I certainly appreciate the cultural and intellectual legacy of Rome, but it was also, let us not forget, an expansionist empire. Its downfall was brought about more by the internal pressures of sustaining such an empire, than by any external force.
Well, I was gobsmacked. And angry. No wonder Americans continue to mistrust Moslems when such misrepresentations of history are being casually propagated. I can only hope not many people bother to read it.
So that’s about it for the US. After a truly massive dinner – beef ribs, cajun pasta, shrimps, cheesecake, we said our goodbyes & the next day hopped on a plane. There are just a few more highlights from visiting Ting that I have to mention:
Ricotta pancakes on our 2nd morning – Ting and I used to make these together when she lived with us in Oz last year, & she made some for me on Saturday. It was a weekend tradition we couldn’t forgo.
Eating Taiwanese preserved eggs (they were black – aren’t I brave?)
Watching Taiwan Idol on YouTube (You can tell the contestants all say all the same stuff, no matter where they’re from .. it’s been a great journey, thank you so much, I’ll never forget this, it means so much …., sniffle, gulp…)
Feeling very proud that our PM speaks Mandarin – it was fun to see Ting & co’s faces when I told them.