Sunday, January 21, 2007

New Philatelic Wing Opens

The Zymoglyphic Museum is now in the process of putting its philatelic collection online. The first installment can be seen here.

"What attraction, dear reader, has a postage stamp for you?...Is it a symbol of ordinariness, or is it the ultimate within the bounds of possibility, the guarantee of unpasssable frontiers within which the world is enclosed once and for all?...A stamp album is a universal book, a compendium of knowledge about everything human. Naturally, only by allusion, implication, and hint. You need some perspicacity, some courage of the heart, some imagination in order to find the fiery thread that runs though the pages of the book."

From the story "Spring", in The Sanatorium under the Sign of the Hourglass by Bruno Schulz

My original museum, from when I was about 10 or 11, primarily included natural history objects, such as shells, rocks, and the occasional animal skin. However, like any decent curiosity cabinet, it also included cultural artifacts: arrowheads, kachina dolls, some square nails, and a worldwide stamp album. The stamps gave me a sense of connection to faraway, exotic places and collecting them created a sort of microcosm of the world. I was especially fascinated by the tiny, independent republics and principalities of Europe and idyllic scenes from isolated topical islands. The stamps of Africa and Oceania introduced me to romantic images of tribal art and lifestyles. My goal was to collect a stamp from every country in the world. I eventually lost interest in collecting stamps when exotic-sounding places like Bhutan, Tonga, and various Arabian sheikdoms started issuing gimmicky stamps which were clearly aimed at collectors and had no connection to their own cultures.

Later, in my forties, we inherited my wife's grandfather's collection of worldwide stamps. Judy had also been a collector as a girl, and it was something she and her grandfather would do together. While poring through this old album, I was inspired to start collecting again, taking up the task of collecting at least one stamp from every stamp-issuing entity. I spent a lot of pleasant weekend days hunting at local stamp shows and finding a stamp or two from some ever more obscure place. The total currently stands at more than 600 countries, territories, and other postal administrative units of the past and present.

Because of my interest in (and sympathy with) things that don't fall into standard categories, I became attracted to stamps known as "cinderellas" that were spurned by the mainstream collectors. These included stamps issued by independence movements in places such as Biafra and Chechnya, local postage from various British islands, and stamps produced by micronations. These have become the "exotic locales" of the modern world. Finally, I added the infinite and entirely imaginary geography of artist's stamps to my collecting. These can be any image in postage stamp size and style, but I have limited myself to ones purport to be from somewhere.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Stalking the Wild Tafoni

The museum has recently mounted expeditions to find and document a rare natural art form known as "tafoni". Tafoni is a type of rock on which weathering has produced a zymoglyphic result. The rock results from a combination of tectonic activity and our Mediterranean climate. San Mateo is very close to the San Andreas Fault, where two of the earth's major tectonic plates grind together. Crossing the Crystal Springs Reservoir into the hills to the west takes you across the fault, from the North American Plate to the Pacific Plate. Over the millenia, the seismic ferment has caused ancient sea beds to be pushed upwards and become land. In some places, fossilized remnants of these sea beds are exposed as isolated knobs of sandstone.
Once exposed, the weathering begins. The rock absorbs water during our wet season, dissolving calcium from ancient bits of sea shells. During the dry season, the evaporation of the water draws the calcium to the surface, resulting in an uneven erosion of the remaining rock. The result is an evocative combination of sinewy fretwork and miniature troglodyte landscapes.

These rocks can be seen at the "Sandstone Formation" on the Tafoni Trail in El Corte de Madera Creek Open Space Preserve and a number of locations in Castle Rock State Park. More expedition photos, and a graphic showing how tafoni forms, can be seen here. Tafoni also forms in rocks along the local beaches and some excellent photos of it by tafoni aficionado Dawn Endico can be seen here.

Further details on rock formations in the Bay Area