This weekend Yuriko was looking at a web site of some Japanese photographer who'd spent time taking pictures of World Heritage Sites, so I looked back at something I'd written on the subject in October 2002 in a letter. A couple of graphs from that letter follow:
Perhaps you've seen the latest issue of National Geographic. In it is a complete list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 730 in all -- all sorts of things, all over the place. Such lists are necessarily arbitrary, and even I can take issue with some of the places not on the list,but which ought to be.
Still, it's an engaging list, especially for those places I've never heard of. Naturally, I had to tally up all of the places I've been to on the list, and I did -- 52 out of 730, not even one in ten. But in some cases I very nearly went. For instance, if my air tickets back to Japan from Australia hadn't been so inflexible, I would have been able to take up a friend's invitation to go camping in the Blue Mountains outside of Sydney, back in the summer (that is, January) of '92. Those mountains made the list later, in 2000 it seems.
I also remember that this list is part of the grist for trog-rightist fears about the UN. I once met a man, an elderly gent from Indiana, who told me that the UN was "taking over" the Grand Canyon -- a World Heritage site, of course. His son, who didn't share the old man's opinion, pressed him on what "taking over" might mean, but naturally nothing coherent emerged. This was a few months after we'd visited the canyon (some months before Lilly was born), and it left me with an amusing mental image of blue-helmeted soldiers accosting tourists on the South Rim. "No littering! This is UN property, Yankee scum!"
We did not see any World Heritage sites over the weekend, but at my insistence we did see a few more obscure sites. If you can't marvel at far-away wonders, you have to seek out things closer to home. On Saturday we made it as far as Beloit, Wisconsin, a modest-sized town just north of the state line, and also north of that modest-sized city, Rockford, Illinois (which, incidentally, has a fine Japanese garden, called Anderson Gardens; I don't know if I've ever mentioned it, but it's something unexpected in Rockford).
But back to Beloit. In recent years the town's riverfront has been landscaped, and parts of it are quite nice. There is also a remarkable playground along the river, sporting a variety of wooden structures that kids can crawl around. In recent years, I've taken an interest in finding playgrounds wherever we go, and this ranked as one of the better ones.
Later, we walked around the leafy campus of Beloit College, another example of a seminary planted in 19th-century sod that has become a small, but locally important, institution. I see from looking in my almanac that tuition there runs in excess of $21,000 per annum. My tour was free, and informal. While Yuriko took a nap in the car, Lilly and I took a walkabout.
At my age, and the way I was dressed, I would be a suspicious character on campus, but if you take a small, happy child with you, nobody has any suspicions. Beloit features a number of interesting old buildings, invariably built in the late 1800s. It also is supposed to have a first-rate anthropological museum, free for visitors, but I didn't think we had the time to see it.
Toward the end of the day, we drove a few miles northeast of Beloit, on the advice of the Moon Guide to Wisconsin -- a paragraph about a bridge between Shopiere and Tiffany, Wis., two hamlets near Beloit. It sounded interesting, and so I sought it out. After a short drive on a local road, we came to a one-lane car bridge, and from could see a five-arch limestone railroad bridge crossing Turtle Creek, which is almost river-sized. The bridge, built in 1869, was modeled after a Roman aqueduct in France.
We were able to park the car beside the road and cross a field to get a closer look (the land seemed to belong to the Rock County Boys and Girls Club, and a house at the foot of the bridge, maybe a clubhouse, looked empty). Dandelions were blooming all across the field -- very unusual for October, as was the green grass. Lilly had good sport with the dandelions while her parents admired the bridge. As we were leaving, we wondered if it is still in active use as a RR bridge. Sure enough, a westbound train whistled and blew across the bridge as we watched.