Thursday, June 30, 2011

Between the jigs and the reels

Image from dancenet

At a dance with her partner on Cape Breton, Maureen was embracing her Scottish heritage. When they got tired, they went outside to have a short rest and a breath of air.

But someone followed, demanding they return. "It's your jig," they were told. "Come on. The others are waiting for you."

Now part of Canada's heritage, these dances and the music to accompany them were brought originally by the Scots to Cape Breton, and by the Irish to Newfoundland.

After my mother, a Newfoundlander, "came west" with my father in her mid-thirties, she lost neither her accent nor her Newfy sayings.

If she planned to get something done, or failed to, on a busy day, it was "between the jigs and the reels" that she managed it, or didn't.

After Mom passed away, I didn't think about this expression for a long time. When I went to see Riverdance for the first time (I was in my forties then), I thought about the names of the dances and the music of the old Celtic nations. That was when I finally clued in.

Jigs and reels were musical and dance numbers. What Mom had to fit in to her busy days had to be done in the space of time allowed between two dances.

But how long was the pause between the jigs and the reels? Not very long, if Maureen's story is anything to go by.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Brief Hiatus

Apologies to readers for not posting today.
I've had some computer challenges.
I'll be back tomorrow or Friday.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Educational readiness and sitting in the dumb row

As a child I lived on a farm. I had to go to Grade 1 on the school bus with strange girls and big tough kicking boys.

I liked my first teacher and Mrs. Brown liked me. I skipped Grade 2 for a strange reason. The school buildings in our tiny town were of different sizes, because they had been pulled in from smaller towns. The Grade 2 building was too small.

Seven of us had to go straight to Grade 3, and I was one of them. I was happy because that meant I was in Mrs. Brown's class again. It was also suitable age-wise, because due to my December birthday, I'd been nearly seven when I started Grade 1.

My mother did send me to school the September before my sixth birthday, but I developed a strange neck pain. As soon as Mom and the teacher deemed it too late to start school that year, I recovered.

Between Grades 3 and 4, we moved from Alberta to BC. Once again I was young for grades. Whereas Mrs. Brown had treated us kids with love and encouragement, my Grade 4 teacher was different.

She seated us according to achievement. When I failed to memorize my times tables on schedule, I had to move to the dumb row.

I'd expected arithmetic facts to stick in my head automatically, like reading and spelling. When they didn't, there were consequences.

That mortifying experience was useful. It caused me to decide then that if I ever became a teacher, I would be encouraging and kind.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Learning art lore at the GLS Symposium

Image from the Woodhorn Museum

At the opening reception of the Graduate Liberal Studies Symposium, held this weekend at Harbour Centre, the first people I met were speaker Oscar Firschein and his wife Theda, just arrived from Stanford.

After spending much of his career doing research on Artificial Intelligence, Oscar chose to present a very different topic at the symposium. He gave a fascinating talk with slides on "The Pitmen Painters, England's Coal Miner Artists."

These workers from the coal-mining village of Ashington continued to mine while they learned to paint. As their artistic skills improved and they became known, they did not give up their work at the mine. Instead, they spent their leisure time painting their working lives.

To cap my new knowledge, I learned that the Ashington Group, known as the Pitmen painters, have recently been featured in a play by Lee Hall, the creator of the delightful Billy Elliott. After its original launch in Newcastle, and with runs on Broadway and at London's National Theatre and tours already under its belt, The Pitmen Painters will open at the Duchess in London's West End this October.

The miners painted through the thirties, but got less attention after the war. The mines are closed now. None of the men lived to see their hometown acquire a gallery to display their work.

In 1988, art critic William Feaver published a book about these remarkable men. He comments here on the recent play and the history behind it.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The yellow dog

 Image from Belfast Daily

In elementary school, we read a story called Old Yeller. That was before they made the film. He was a good dog. We had our own dog; Sam was good and friendly too.

But there was another yellow dog in my life. Except for his odd colour, he looked like a German Shepherd. I had to pass him every day as I walked to school, and he was mean.

Every day I tried to sneak past the house where he lived. Most days, he strutted out to the road to raise his hackles and growl.

If I rode my bike, he ran after me, barking and snapping at my pant legs. Desperately afraid I'd fall off my bike and be viciously attacked, I tried to pedal fast enough but not too fast.

Dad told us dogs could smell fear. If that was true, that dog probably smelled me twice a day every day. Sometimes my brother and I walked home the long way round, down another street. It was so relaxing to know we didn't have to pass the yellow dog.

We knew the names of most neighbourhood dogs, but I never found out that dog's name. I never got to know his human owners either. Those kids went to the Catholic school. Besides, the yellow dog was always there.

When I was in high school, our relationship changed. Either his temper had improved or he was too lazy to bark or chase any more. Maybe he was finding me harder to intimidate. Even so, I still instinctively dislike yellow dogs.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Wrecking my stockings at the school dance

"I wanna wreck my stockings in some juke box dive."

When Joni Mitchell sang about the impulse to dance, I understood completely. I wrecked many pairs of stockings too. This hosiery destruction started at our high school dances and went on to the all-night dances at UBC.

Nylons were expensive and they didn't last. I bought my first ones in the shop where I had a part time job. They seemed to develop runs as soon as I put them on, long before I made it onto a dance floor.

Sometimes we wore them runs and all. Nail polish served as a run stopper -- any colour we had on hand.

Paint a blob of that on the run and away you went. Later it stuck to your leg, and you had a blob of colour on leg as well as pantyhose.

Pantyhose had just come out; that's why we still sometimes called them stockings. We danced in stocking feet, and soon wore holes in our nylons.

When I worked in Woolworth's and they told me I had to wear them, I made up an elaborate lie about being allergic to nylon. On what they were paying me, I was not going to invest in their overpriced hosiery.

Amazingly, I got away with it. While the other girls spent their earnings on Woolworth's nylons, all summer I worked the till in bare legs, saving my money for university.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Ventures made great sound without lyrics


Recently I got thinking about a band called the Ventures. They formed in 1958 and were big during the sixties. This high-energy rock group played strictly instrumental tunes. And were they ever good at it.

It seems they haven't been forgotten. This You-Tube video of Wipe Out, one of their big hits, was recorded in Japan in 1966.

In May 2011, the Ventures played the Crystal Ballroom in Portland, Oregon. The concert was preceded by a Meet and Greet, and the sale merchandise included a CD with their version of the theme for Hawaii Five-O.

That series ran from 1968 to 1980. Hawaii-Five-O was an elite branch of police in Hawaii. The show made a come-back last year and has just acquired a new cast member.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The appeal of a Jug of Punch

Photo: 123rf
When I grew up in the sixties, folksinging was everywhere. I walked around town with my hand-made Mallorcan guitar slung across my back by an embroidered shoulder strap. Like other folkies, I was ready to sit down anywhere to sing and play.

The Clancy Brothers and Tommy Makem were very popular and I learned their songs from a little green book I still have somewhere downstairs.

One favourite was A Jug of Punch.

It was on the twenty-third of June
as I was sitting with my glass and spoon.
A small bird sat on an ivy bunch
and the song he sang was a jug of punch...
In my imaginings, there was no whiskey involved. The jug of punch was made with ginger ale and fruit juice, with maybe some pineapple and orange slices, and a few strawberries for garnish.

It made a lovely picture. Ice cubes clinked in the tasty liquid, and the outside of the chubby glass pitcher was damp with condensation.

Why did the singer want a spoon?

To eat the fruit from the bottom of the glass, of course.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Lucille Starr then and now

I woke up remembering Lucille Starr. Perhaps she returned to visit my dreams after many years of absence.

When I was a teen, I loved her poignant lyrics and her voice. I was fourteen when she sang her hit. Oddly called The French Song in both languages, it raked my guts with claws of longing.

The ending -- a tour de force of lovesick loneliness -- chimed perfectly with my fourteen-year-old sensibilities.

Je suis seul, je ne peux penser qu'a toi.

One of the great things about the internet is that all I had to do was Google her name and I found the song I remembered.

This song made a big impression and in certain circles, its popularity has lasted. This version, available on YouTube, was recorded in 2008.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Swaying woman receives Bio-Energy Healing

Her eyes are closed and her breathing is deep and calm. As the Bio-energy practitioner works on her, the woman feels her body begin to sway.

It's a strange sensation. She's learning to trust her developing ability to let go and allow the energy to move her forward and back in a rhythm not of her making.

Her feet sense and absorb the changing energy and keep her stable. Her breathing remains even and slow.

The hairs on her arms move with the electric yet soothing sensation of energy being moved around her.

That woman is me. I'm taking Michael D'Alton's Bio-Energy Healing class, Level II. We've just completed our second weekend of training.

We practise our new skills on each other, and every time I give or receive a session I sense the subtle movement of energy more.

The potential of this work to heal the body and emotions is simply amazing. I look forward to our next training session in mid-July.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Amazing Lava

Photo: This folding lava is part of a series Justin Reznik took at the lava fields of Kilauea, Hawaii.

In the process of researching and writing this series about volcanoes, I've learned a lot about earth processes I'd thought little about before.

I've come to sense both the danger and the beauty of the lava that lives deep inside our planet.

In fact, magma is Earth's hot living centre, and it constantly boils out along seams and up vents to re-form and enrich our planetary home.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Volcanic eruptions beneath Antarctic ice

Photo: Mt. Hampton, by British Antarctic Survey

According to the British Antarctic Survey, Antarctica contains many and varied volcanoes, some extinct and some still active.

The volcanic peak of Mount Erebus was scaled by explorer Ernest Shakleton in 1908. In one of his several books, Shakleton reports that on top of this mountain he and his men found large feldspar crystals and pumice, some coated with sulfur.

Ross Island is entirely formed by volcanic action and is comprised of Erebus and three other volcanoes, as well as additional lava flows.

Mount Erebus, the worlds' southernmost active volcano is now the site of MEVO, Mount Erebus Volcano Observatory.

the word Erebus has so often been used in crossword puzzles that it has found its way into a number of crossword clue sites.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Volcan Ecuador and Puyehue in Chile

Photo courtesy of Global Volcanism Volcan Ecuador straddles the equator on Isabella Island in the Galapagos.

Ecuador has been the site of recent volcanic activity. In April 2011, when Tungurahua ejected pyroclastic boulders the size of trucks, and sent people scurrying for their lives, the nation declared an amber alert, reports the BBC.

Near Santiago in neighbouring Chile, Puyehue erupted in May. The ash plume travelled across Argentina and over the Atlantic. Pyroclastic flows down the Nilahue River raised the temperature of the water to 45 degrees, reports John Seach.

In the past couple of years, a lot of volcanic ash has entered the atmosphere. Could that be why we've had such a cold spring here? I wonder.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Nabro and Dubbi ash disperses far and wide

Photo of the Dubbi volcano: Tesfa News

In northeastern Africa, the stratovolcano Nabro lies in Eritrea and Ethiopia.

On June 12, a swarm of quakes in the region caused the volcano to expel an ash plume that spread across northern Africa and drifted out to a thousand miles in length.

The nearby Dubbi volcano has also erupted. When this volcano last blew in 1861, it threw pumice into the air over the Red Sea and plunged the area into darkness.

Flights in the region have been disrupted by the large quantity of ash over Egypt and Sudan, and in the Middle East as well.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Carbon dioxide eruption in the Oku volcanic field

Photo: PBS

Lake Nyos is in western Cameroon, near the Nigerian border. It is one of several crater lakes within the Oku volcanic field.

On August 12, 1986, a cloud rose rapidly from the floor of Lake Nyos. The expulsion was neither lava nor volcanic ash, but carbon dioxide. It rose as a jet, then, heavier than air, the 50-meter-thick cloud of CO2 began to sink and spread out along the ground.

The sudden heavy concentration of carbon dioxide killed about 1700 people. Thousands of cattle in the region died of asphyxiation. Birds and other animals suffocated as well.

As Maureen K. Fleury explains, fifty miles below Lake Nyos lies a pool of magma. It is constantly bubbling, releasing CO2 and other gases that escape upward until they find their way into the bottom of the deep cold lake.

In 1986, the water in the bottom of the lake reached saturation point; the explosion was a massive CO2 release.

Since 1986, the lake has been monitored and scientists have devised gas release mechanisms they hope will prevent such a disaster from occurring again.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Volcanoes of Africa

Photo: Mt. Kilimanjaro courtesy of hoteldelphil

Although Kilimanjaro, located on the border between Kenya and Tanzania, is likely the most famous volcano on the African continent, there are others.

In the 5th century BC, a Carthaginian navigator observed and recorded the eruption of Mt. Cameroon. And beneath the Afar region of Ethiopia, three tectonic plates are being wrenched apart, causing lava to flow upward.

According to Physorg (2009), a geological crack has opened recently beneath Ethiopia, and some scientists predict that this may split the continent in two.

The US geological survey website makes a similar prediction, with the East African rift being the site of the next rending, a similar process to the one that has already pulled Saudi Arabia off Africa.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The volcanic cauldron beneath Indonesia

Photo: Anak Krakatau erupts: Infowars Ireland

According to volcano watcher John Seach, Indonesia has 76 erupting volcanoes.

What lies beneath the world's largest archipelago is a four-way intersection of tectonic plates: the Eurasia, Australian, Phillipine and Pacific.

Merapi and Tambora are among the best known Indonesian volcanoes, after Krakatoa, of course.

The conical volcanic island of Krakatoa blew itself out of the water in a massive eruption in 1883, leaving only small isles. The resulting tidal wave travelled seven times around the world. Ash darkened the sky and shortened the growing season, reducing crop yields the following year.

In the nineteen twenties, Anak Krakatau, the "son of Krakatoa," appeared above the water. It continues to grow at a visible rate.

Gamkanora erupted in May, 2011. In March of this year, Manado in the Sulawesi chain blew off steam just a few hours after the Japanese earthquake. When Tengger Caldera on East Java erupted in January, the ash cloud resulted in Australian flight cancellations.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Alaskan volcanic eruption boosts salmon runs

Photo of Kasatochi courtesy of the Daily Galaxy

According to an article in The Daily Galaxy on October 13, 2010, the eruption of Alaska's Kasatochi volcano in the Aleutian Islands in 2008 put out a swath of iron rich ash that fell on the ocean and floated.

This ash led to a huge bloom of ocean plankton, which fed on it. Plankton is a food eaten by salmon when at sea.

In November 2010, Randy Shore wrote in the Vancouver Sun that huge salmon returns up the Fraser River in British Columbia may be related to the unusual quantities of ocean plankton available as food. He cites scientists from UBC, the University of Victoria and Simon Fraser University who support this view.

Volcanic soil has long been known to be fertile; evidently it provides fish food too. Volcanic activity, the visible process of earth-making, is a mixed blessing. Along with trouble, it brings fertile soil and rich plant food to the surface of our planetary home.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Santorini: Plato's Atlantis or destroyer of Minoa?

Image of the Santorini crater courtesy of Thira Hotels.

Like Krakatoa, Santorini in Greece was blasted out of the water by a volcanic cataclysm, leaving only the crescent-shaped edge and some small islands.

Many scholars agree that Plato's Atlantis legend contained some historical truth. Was Santorini perhaps the fabled continent of Atlantis? Tom Pfeiffer suggests that it could have been.

Santorini's shape fits the description of Atlantis made by the ancient Greek writers Solon and Plato. It is known to have erupted violently around 1500 BC. Archeological evidence confirms the existence of past civilizations in the island group that includes Santorini.

The Minoan civilization declined after an earthquake on Crete and a volcanic explosion and tidal wave on a nearby island. Scholars have no definitive understanding of the Minoans' demise.

Perhaps Santorini, along with nearby Crete, was also part of Minoa. If this is the case, the massive eruption that devastated the island could have been a major factor in the decline of Minoan civilization.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Eruptions of Vesuvius

Photo of Pompeii victims courtesy of Travel Adventures.

Tragically unable to escape the sudden volcanic eruption nearly 2000 years ago, these victims have remained frozen in time.

Mt. Vesuvius overlooks the Bay of Naples on the west coast of Italy. The only active volcano located on the European mainland, it has not erupted since 1944. Yet it remains dangerous.

In 79 CE, in a spectacular cataclysm, this volcano ejected enough lava, ash and gas to destroy and half-bury the nearby cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Today this type of eruption is called plinian, after Pliny, the historian who survived and described the event for posterity.

According to Jessica Ball, this mountain has experienced eight major eruptions in the past 17,000 years. The volcano is located only nine kilometers from Naples, a city of three million.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mount Etna on Sicily

This photo, taken by Roberto Zingales in 2007, shows a fountain of lava flowing from Mt. Etna

The tallest volcano in Europe at over 10,000 feet, Etna is in an a near-constant state of eruption. Geologists believe it has been active for half a million years. The ancient Romans considered it the home of the blacksmith god Vulcan. Volcanic activity meant he was busy forging weapons for the god of war.

Mt. Etna is a stratovolcano located on top of an older shield volcano. The mountain has three craters and several flank vents. The lava flows out slowly and steadily on several sides. The volcanic soil around the mountain is very fertile.

In January 2011 Mt. Etna sent plumes of lava, smoke and ash into the sky. Last month another eruption ejected enough ash to cause a closure at Sicily's Catania-Fontanarosa International Airport.

According to Lewis Bazley in the Mail Online (Jan 13, 2011), though a violent eruption in 1669 caused 15,000 deaths, since then the volcano's activities have caused relatively little disturbance. Amazingly, this pyrotechnical marvel lies only 12 kilometres from the Sicilian town of Milo, and just a slightly longer distance from Catania.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Japan's Fujisan

Photo by jpellgen

Located on the circum-Pacific ring of volcanic fire, Japan has a great deal of volcanic and seismic activity. The most famous Japanese volcano is of course Mount Fujiyama. The Japanese soubriquet Fujisan may be roughly translated as the honourable Mt. Fuji. Since 1609, part of the mountain has been owned by a Shinto shrine. The peak has two volcanoes, Older and Younger. The most recent and violent eruption, in 1707, involved Younger Fuji.

According to John Seach, this stratovolcano could erupt with sudden violence any time. Beneath the tallest mountain of Japan lies the intersection of three tectonic plates: the Phillipine, the Eurasian and the North American.

In March 2011, days after the devastating 8.9 Sendai quake, a 6.2 quake shook Fuji's flank. Lying only 70 miles from Tokyo, with its 30 million people, Mt. Fuji is constantly monitored.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Ring of Fire

Photo courtesy of Greg Kruk

In Johnny Cash's hit song, love is the burning Ring of Fire. Ring of fire is also a bizarre drinking game, in which the cards that turn up determine who imbibes what and how much.

In The Jewel in the Crown, a TV series based on Paul Scott's Raj Quartet, a woman places her baby within a ring of fire in a demented attempt to protect him from some unnamed evil.

A recent set of mining claims in Northern Ontario has also been dubbed the ring of fire, along with a U.S. online radio station.

The term also refers to the ring of volcanic fire that circles the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand to Java, up through Japan and Kamchatka, and down again along the west coast of the Americas.

I'd like to know how the varied uses of the term are connected to the geological horseshoe around the Pacific that contains three-quarters of the world's active volcanoes.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Volcanoes of Hawaii

Photo: Hawaii Center for Volcanology

Hawaii is a chain of shield volcanoes. Each island has been built up by a series of eruptions. Hawaii, the largest, is made up of five volcanoes. Kilauea, Mauna Loa, and Haualalei, as well as Haleakala on Maui have all erupted since the late 1700s. "Hawaiian" eruptions are low on the Volcanic Explosivity Index.

Beneath the sea floor, the hot spot that gave birth to the island chain continues to move a few centimeters per year. As this process continues, the older volcanic islands are separated and moved away from the hot spot below. They become inactive, and the magma finds its way out in new volcanoes. Lo'ihi is just such a young volcano.

Hawaii's geological history has found expression in mythological stories. The volcano goddess Pele is said to have lived previously on Kaui, Oahu and Maui before taking up residence in Kilauea on Hawaii.

Monday, June 6, 2011

The Mexican cornfield volcano

Photo: Useful facts

In February 1943, Dionisio Polido noticed a smoking hole in the cornfield he was plowing. He reported the incident, and returning with local officials, found a great hole belching black smoke. Explosions began that night.

According to the Robinson Library, the rising cone grew to a thousand feet high within weeks. A vent opened and the cone spewed out smoke and ash, which piled up thick around it.

The new crater then began to throw up lava that flowed rapidly toward the town. By July of 1944, Paricutin had been engulfed and nearby towns were threatened. For several years, the volcano continued to toss up random bombs of lava, ash, smoke and showers of sparks.

Although nobody died from the eruption itself, three lives were lost to associated lightning strikes. The volcano quieted in 1952.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Icelandic volcanoes and plate tectonics

Iceland covers only about 103,000 kilometers and has about twenty-seven active volcanoes. Directly beneath, the American and Eurasian tectonic plates are measurably spreading apart.

The violent eruption that obliterated Krakatoa in 1883 was caused by different plate movements. Types of volcanic eruptions are determined by plate tectonics, a science established in the 1960s.

In his fascinating book Krakatoa (New York, Harper Perennial, 2003), Simon Winchester explains what led to that cataclysmic explosion. Krakatoa, a stratovolcano, was of a tall conical type prone by its nature to erupt suddenly and violently.

In the same dangerously volcanic region, Mount Toba in northern Sumatra blew about 74,000 years ago. This would have measured 8 on the Volcanic Explosivity Index now used to classify eruptions. (307)

Nearby Tambora, in Indonesia, exploded in 1815 with an explosivity index of 7 and Mount Taupo, in New Zealand, which has not erupted since 180 CE, is considered the third most violent. (308)

Clearly, not all volcanoes are created equal. Their ash can be different too. Lighter ash floats much further. Carried by the prevailing winds, it creates a miasma that lasts for days and weeks.

This happened when Eyjafjallajokull erupted in Iceland last May, causing a wave of airport closures across Europe. The recent crop of ash from Iceland's Grimsvotn was heavier and sank more quickly, so air traffic was not disrupted.

Friday, June 3, 2011

The day Mount St. Helens erupted

Photo: Michael Heilemann

In 1980, in my little house on East Third in Vancouver, on Sunday mornings I read the Manchester Guardian overseas edition, air mailed on white tissue.

The house had a little garden in back and a wide verandah on the front. From my post in the front-porch rocker, I could see the Second Narrows Bridge. From the back lane I could see the impressively symmetrical volcanic shape of Mount Baker.

I was up early that Sunday. By 8:30 I was ensconced in my chair on the verandah, coffee and paper to hand. When I heard the boom, I only wondered idly what was making a noise on a quiet Sunday morning.

It was late in the day when I heard about the eruption of Mount St. Helens and connected the dots. The distant boom I had heard was the volcano blowing its top.

On Monday morning my car, parked on the street, was covered in a light grey film. Looking more closely, I realized that like a fine dusting of flour, volcanic ash covered everything.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

The volcanic crater in the Nass Valley

The way the cloud seems to rise from the mountain top evokes a sense of what the volcano may have looked like when it began to erupt a couple of hundred years ago.

I took the photo on a trip to the Nass Valley with my brother in 2007. We had a wonderful day together; I have seldom felt such a sense of unhurried calm, peace and connection to our amazing earth.

When I was about twenty, I joined a group and we hiked up through the loose lumps of lava and looked down into the hollow and symmetrical volcanic cone.

Today the area is Nisga'a Memorial Lava Bed Park. Signs posted there say the volcanic cataclysm that emptied that mountain filled the Nass Valley with a layer of lava up to 12 metres thick. The eruption also changed the course of the Nass River, moving it over by a mile.

Since I climbed it, the image of that hollow cone has stayed with me. Its allure was powerful. I was deeply impressed to see how the earth's crust had exploded and created a reverse image of the mountains that flanked the Skeena valley where I grew up.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Krakatoa coffee

Coffee filter image from fantes

A couple of weeks ago my daughter brought home a ceramic Japanese coffee filter cone and trained me to use it properly.

"Don't rush, Mom," she cautioned. "Just pour the water slowly, like this, so you keep the bloom." She indicated the sea of shiny whitish bubbles that rose when she poured the water slowly into the middle.

"That releases the oils and gives a good flavour," she told me.

Recently, I've been listening to Simon Winchester in the car. His luminous prose has carried me around our volcanic earth, beginning with his days as a student geologist in northern Greenland.

Now we're back in Java and Sumatra, near the Wallace Line that divides the flora and fauna of the archipelago. We've been spending time in Batava, now known as Jakarta.

The story is building to the explosion of Krakatoa in 1883, when the volcanic island blew itself out of the water. The cataclysm spewed a mighty volume of ash that blurred earth's atmosphere, changed weather worldwide and made sunsets glow red for a year.

I gazed down into the coffee filter and time slowed down. The bubbles began to rise, and I witnessed something astonishing. The inside of the cone seemed to come alive as the rising foam boiled and swirled.

For a moment, I felt I was gazing down into an erupting Krakatoa.