It doesn’t look dead…

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Dead Sea, Israel, January 2016. Camera pointer: Galen Dalrymple.

I wasn’t prepared for what I saw. I’m not really sure what I expected the Dead Sea to look like, but I didn’t expect it to be a spectacular blue color. It looks so inviting and alive, yet you don’t see boats on the water, nor do you see fish jump.

The Dead Sea is also called the Salt Sea. The surface and shore of the sea is 1407 feet below sea level, making it the lowest place on land on the face of the planet. The sea is 997 feet deep, making it the deepest hypersaline body of water on the planet.  The water is 34.2% saline, 9.6 times more salty than the ocean, but it isn’t the saltiest body of water on earth. It is 31 miles long and 9 miles wide at its widest point, but no animals live in it due to the salt and minerals. In has only been recently that I’m told they did discover some bacteria that live in the sea, but that’s it. Nada. Zero. Zilch.

The sea attracts visitors from around the world and around the Mediterranean basin for thousands of years. In the Bible, it is a place of refuge for King David as he flees from King Saul and his envious rage. Herod the Great used it as one of the world’s first health resorts. It has produced as wide variety of products, from asphalt for Egyptian mummification to minerals for fertilizers. The salt and minerals are also used to create cosmetics and herbal products. Because the Dead Sea water has a density of 1.24 kg/liter, it truly takes no effort to float…just squat down into the water, lean back, and stick your hands and feet up in the air and voila…you’re floating effortlessly! (It was fun!)

But, you can’t stay in the water too long or you’ll start to have a burning sensation. If you swallow the water, they warn you to tell someone so you can be treated, or, as one of the signs I saw stated, you could die. It’s not to be messed with, but it was far more beautiful than I ever imagined. I pictured something of a dingy green/brown color, but not this!

ON THIS DAY IN HISTORY: in 1942, the largest and most luxurious ocean liner on the seas at that time, France’s Normandie, caught fire while in the process of being converted for military use by the United States.

The Normandie, built in 1931, was the first ship to be constructed in accordance with the guidelines laid down in the 1929 Convention for Safety of Life at Sea. It was also enormous, measuring 1,029 feet long and 119 feet wide and displacing 85,000 tons of water. It offered passengers seven accommodation classes (including the new “tourist” class, as opposed to the old “third” class, commonly known as “steerage”) and 1,975 berths. It took a crew of more than 1,300 to work her. Despite its size, it was also fast: capable of 32.1 knots. The liner was launched in 1932 and made its first transatlantic crossing in 1935. In 1937, it was reconfigured with four-bladed propellers, which meant it could cross the Atlantic in less than four days.

When France surrendered to the Germans in June 1940, and the puppet Vichy regime was installed, the Normandie was in dock at New York City. The Navy immediately placed it in “protective custody,” since the U.S. government did not want a ship of such size and speed to fall into the hands of the Germans, which it certainly would if it returned to France. In November 1941, Time magazine ran an article stating that in the event of the United States’ involvement in the war, the Navy would seize the liner altogether and turn it into an aircraft carrier. It also elaborated on how the design of the ship made such a conversion relatively simple. When the Navy did take control of the ship, shortly after Pearl Harbor, it began the conversion of the liner–but to a troop ship, renamed the USS Lafayette in honor of the French general who aided the American colonies in their original quest for independence.

The Lafayette never served its new purpose, as it caught fire and capsized. Sabotage was originally suspected, but the likely cause was sparks from a welder’s torch. Although the ship was finally righted, the massive salvage operation cost $3,750,000 and the fire damage made any hope of employing the vessel impossible. It was scrapped–literally chopped up for scrap metal–in 1946.

TRIVIA FOR TODAY: In the mountain communities of Appalachia, whole families were reduced to dandelions and blackberries for their basic diet during the Depression. Some children were so hungry, they chewed on their own hands.

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