Saturday, December 29, 2007
Here's another photo from our splendid little calendar. This was taken in 1998, on the island of Curacao--- which, you will be surprised to know, is a part of Amsterdam, the city in Holland.
Even today Curacao remains a part of the Dutch Empire, and administratively the island is a part of Amsterdam. This relationship isn't unique--- I believe Okinawa is administratively a part of Tokyo.
We were in Curacao for the total eclipse. But a lot more was going on--- that was the same week as Carnival. And on any day when there wasn't Carnival or major astronomical events, I was off diving the reefs. It was a sort of all-in-one trip.
The diving was slightly disappointing. The reefs were in excellent shape, but large fish were absent. The Venezuelans had come across the channel and taken them all. (I'm told there are still big fish on Aruba.) I had a lovely night dive--- I showed up at the edge of the pier, and there in the pier spotlight were dozens of large squid, floating in the water and staring at me with their huge platter eyes. They vanished when I actually got in the water, but there were plenty of octopus and crab to look at, and one teeny-tiny incredibly cute moray eel, smaller than my little finger. (I realize "cute" and "moray eel" are contradictory concepts, so you'll have to trust me on this one.)
We had seats in the grandstand for the Carnival parade. Big floats with astronomical themes, and scantily-clad, incredibly buff dancers dressed as planets and comets. Lots of bands, all playing that year's carnival song out of ten-foot-tall speakers. (The local music form is Tambu, pronounced "Tumba," and is party-hearty music.) Following each unit of the parade came a refreshment cart, dispensing drinks to the dancers out of three-foot-tall bottles of Johnny Walker. You really didn't have a choice but to have a good time.
At one point a nearly naked babe walked up to our post and asked if anyone wanted to dance with her. The lack of general response reminded me that I was with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada--- not just diffident astronomy geeks, but diffident Canadian astronomy geeks. Someone clearly had to stand up for the team, so down I bounded, and the dancer and I engaged for several minutes in the sort of public exhibitionism that would have got us arrested on any day other than Mardi Gras.
Two days later was the eclipse. The local government had done us proud--- graded flat about twenty acres on the north end of the island, and built a huge barrier wall of cargo containers to keep the northeast trades from blasting all our equipment. Elsewhere on the island, the locals were covering their windows with aluminum foil to keep out "eclipse rays."
This was my first eclipse--- a huge silver wheel in the sky, with the corona dragging out into long wings on either side. I was agog, though I managed somehow to keep snapping pictures.
This picture was taken later that day, at sunset. I was looking at the full moon, which was rising, and just happened to have the camera with me, and took the snap at exactly the right second. The real-life colors were just as lurid as the photograph. Over the horizon, you can just see the tiny silver moon.
And the whole time I kept thinking, "You know, for Amsterdam this isn't so bad."