Monsoon rains here, heat wave in the US East Coast

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While the monsoon rains were beating down here last week, I was in the US East Coast experiencing a heat wave at my annual visit with my two sisters in the Boston area. Temperatures were in the mid-90s, with a heat index that was much higher. One sister fretted about her lawn, a disaster area due to water restrictions. Meanwhile, the weatherman kept referring to chances of rain that did not materialize. That was until the day before I left when a morning drenching occurred to cool off everyone.

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In New York City, the heat emanated from the asphalt streets, the concrete buildings and the subway (hot air rises up). It was a survival trick to duck into museums and other cooled buildings. We first went to The Cloisters at the northern tip of Manhattan overlooking the Hudson River, a scenic view indeed, but only for a fleeting glimpse as the temperature was uncomfortably high and the humidity too. Indoors was best.

The Cloisters is the only American Museum dedicated to Medieval Art. It is housed in a castle, rather a reproduction of a castle built in the 1930s, to house a magnificent collection of medieval art from Europe. Everything from paintings, sculpture, tapestries, whole courtyards rebuilt stone by stone, column by column, apses, doors, illuminated handwritten and hand-drawn manuscripts, jewelry. We roamed around in its vast cool space seeing the glory of man’s achievements in Art just before the Renaissance.

The next museum we saw was the Hispanic Society of America Museum, also at the northern tip of Manhattan on 157th Street. I had always had the ambition to see it but never actually journeyed to do so. It is a long uptown subway ride and an even longer bus ride. The Museum and Library as it is called is housed in a beautiful Beaux Arts with an outside terrace dominated by an impressive El Cid equestrian statue with decorative sculpture around it.

Founded by an American hispanophile and philanthropist, Archer Huntington, at the turn of the 20th century (1904) it is both a museum and library for research. Mr. Huntington first collected historical manuscripts from Spain and the Americas and the institution’s purpose is to promote the study of the art and tradition of Spain and Portugal, and the areas that were their colonies in bygone times, which were Latin America and the Philippines. It has since accumulated a stunning painting collection featuring Velasquez, El Greco, Zurbaran, Murillo, as well as Spanish American works.

Decorative Arts are one of its areas of interest and they have furniture from Spain, Portugal, Latin America and the Philippines. We saw inlaid ivory furniture from Peru, which looked quite like our inlaid bone antique furniture.

Unfortunately, we missed any Philippine decorative work because the museum is on abbreviated hours this summer, as it has no airconditioning. When we got there a little after 10 am the staff was already prostrate from the heat and said they would close early because it would become unbearable. The building had no windows by museum tradition of the times. After a while we felt a bit dehydrated too and one of the staff members was kind enough to offer us a glass of water.

What we saw at the museum, we liked. The paintings were incredible, including a room with vast Joaquin Sorolla murals in his style of beach scenes and lambent light.

The other cool building we popped into was the New York Public Library. At the time, it had an exhibit on James Hamilton, an orphan from the Caribbean who immigrated to America and became a founding father of the United States of America.

Indeed, like it or not by current candidates, the US is a nation of immigrants. Hamilton was much of a Constitutionalist (he participated in the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia) and participated in constitutional debates throughout his political career. He was also familiar with trade and banking from his Caribbean past, which made him convince the government to have a national bank, the Federal Bank of the United States.

The New York Public Library has a Map Division (The Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division), which has one of the world’s premier map collections. Testing such a statement, I checked on Philippine Maps in the catalogue. There were a multiple number, though their Murillo Velarde Map is a reproduction.

I chose to see a 1898 map of the Philippines drawn by the New York Times, possibly to illustrate the news of the American conquest of the Philippines. It has Scarborough Shoal sitting on the vast emptiness of the West Philippine Sea. The Librarian then showed me Goff’s Historical Map of the Philippine Islands also from 1898. It was on canvas by the Fort Dearborn Publishing Company of Chicago, Illinois and very detailed with inset images of Admiral George Dewey and General Emilio Aguinaldo. It also showed shipping directions as in Manila to Honolulu and Manila to Yokohama. This map confined itself virtually to the archipelago landmass, with no Scarborough Shoal in place west of Zambales.

What interested me was that while it said Philippine Islands, it also said Spanish-American War and Philippine-American War (not Insurrection, as was the US convention in referring to that conflict).

Before leaving the Map Division Room (lavishly decorated with an embossed ceiling and wall paintings), I spotted what I thought was an interesting book, Lines in the Sea, Dordrecht/Boston/London, 1984, edited by G. Francalanci and T. Scovazzi, cartography by D. Romano, Italians, I think. Its subject was the waters enclosed by archipelagic baselines, which it termed “the archipelagic waters.” Due to current events in our own waters, I took a quick look. It defined an archipelago as “a state constituted wholly by one or more archipelagos and may include other islands”, which comes from Article 46 of the UN Convention of the Seas. It then defines how the “lines” may be drawn. I will not go into details here as I could not read much more, it was the day I was leaving New York.

But somewhere in the book was a page on the Philippines with a drawing of our archipelago, saying that “The Philippines was the first State to put forward the concept of archipelagic waters in international practice. By a note of 12 December, l955.”

According to the book, the above was eventually defined by the Philippines in Act No. 3046 of June 1961 with a map to illustrate it. Interestingly, the US protested Act 3046, that same year.

Indonesia followed suit in 1960 in defining its archipelagic waters.

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