Thursday, June 30, 2011

Summertime Salmagundi

Back again on Tuesday. Time for meat, beer and colorful explosions.

Finally it feels like we're at the doorstep of high summer. Professional weather-watchers say it'll be pushing 100° F. here in northern Illinois tomorrow, and I say it's about time. Naturally, it won't last. This isn't South Texas.

What's the collective for dragonflies? Swarm, maybe, but that isn't very interesting. Other insects get collectives such as army, cloud, flutter, intrusion (cockroaches), plague and scourge, among others. One source suggests a "dazzle" or "levitation" of dragonflies. Not bad. The question comes to mind because dragonflies are in force now, seemingly more than in other years. Dragonflies arc and dive by day; fireflies make their traces in the twilight.

Saw an ad for the new Captain America movie recently, which was the first I'd heard of it. At least he seems to be fighting cartoon Nazis, his proper function, but it made me wonder: haven't there been enough movie adaptations of super-hero yarns already? Haven't they all been done? Guess not. This cartoon still offers the possibility of a gritty, live-action reboot. Or this one.

Received ten dollar coins from a bank teller not long ago. I was glad to see that the presidential series has gotten around to Andrew Johnson and U.S. Grant. I can't find a citation for it right now, but I seem to remember that, when asked why he'd run for president, he said, "I needed a job." Apocryphal, maybe, but a likable quote.

Somehow I'm in possession of a little pamphlet produced by a well-known sect -- known for their aversion to blood transfusions, for one thing -- entitled "All Suffering SOON TO END!" I can't say that I've actually read all of it, but I did note a money quote: "Soon God will intervene in human affairs by destroying this entire unsatisfactory system of things," meaning, it seems, all the works of man.

But that's not why I like it. The cover features a painting of a happy man and woman in the foreground, sitting next to a collection of pumpkins and big apples in a field of flowers. In background is a mountain, some pine trees, some fall-foliage trees, a house and a couple of horses, one with a rider. Right behind the man and woman is a moose. A huge bull moose with huge antlers.

Look at the painting long enough and it seems that the moose, not the happy couple, is the focus of the image. What's going on here? Does the moose have some significance in this religion that most of us don't know about? If so, I'd think more highly of them for it.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

John Anderson, Hoichi Kurisu, Justin Bieber & Elvis Presley

I'm used to reading that such-and-such Japanese garden was ordered built by so-and-so daimyo during this or that remote century. So even though I knew the Anderson Japanese Gardens pretty much had to be a 20th-century creation, it was still a mild surprise to learn that the gardens were created in my lifetime.

"John Anderson, a third generation Rockford industrialist, started the garden in the fall of 1978," an article posted by WIRF ("Rockford's #1 News Source) tells us. "He was motivated to build a Japanese garden by a visit to Japan after graduating from the University of Wisconsin. The Japanese people, their culture, their appreciation for nature and their landscape design philosophy -- left a lifelong impression on him."

Being from a family of industrialists -- I've also seen him described as a venture capitalist -- Anderson thus had the scratch to hire Hoichi Kurisu to design a garden in Rockford. Kurisu had come to the United States in 1968 to become director of landscaping at the Japanese garden complex in Washington Park Gardens, Portland, Oregon. "Mr. Kurisu continues to this day to ensure continuous improvement of the grounds and design of Anderson Japanese Gardens," the garden's web site says. "The placement of every rock, alignment of every tree, and layout of all paths has been made with careful consideration by Mr. Kurisu over the last 32 years."

So not only are the gardens recent, they're still being overseen by the first generation, though WIRF did say that John Anderson's son (another John Anderson) is now executive director of the property, but only since earlier this year. The designer still comes to do design work every year. So "work in progress" is no lazy description of the place, though maybe "work across the decades" might fit better.

Since we were there last in 2002, the gardens have opened a new visitor center, larger than the previous one and also including event space. Preparations were being made for a wedding in the garden and a reception in the visitor center as we started to leave, right before the gardens closed for the day. The bride and the bridesmaids were outside, posing for photos, while the groom and groomsmen were goofing around in the visitors center.

The DJ was getting ready too. Part of his gear included life-sized standup cutouts of certain singers, present and past. Ann asked for her pic with a certain heartthrob of the day.

Yuriko preferred a heartthrob of an earlier era.

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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Shishi Odoshi for All to See

This is a shishi odoshi (鹿威し). I'd seen one before, but did not know the name until we encountered this one at the Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford recently.

It's a hollow bamboo tube balanced on a small upright, with one end sealed. Water from another bamboo pipe fills the tube, and when it's close to full, it pivots on the upright and dumps its collection of water. The tube then drops back down, sealed end first, to make a pop against a rock below. Its traditional function was to scare off animals (deer, mainly) who might want to feast on the garden's plants. These days it serves the visual and aural aesthetic of the garden.

I'm not an authority on Japanese gardens, or even an enthusiast, but I know I like that feature. The big-picture bridges and ponds and trees and water features at Anderson please the senses as they should, but I also made an effort to see some of the details too -- the smaller bits of Japanese garden artistry, such as the shishi odoshi but also another fountain:

A stone pagoda nestled in the trees and undergrowth.

And a spheroid stone cat. With emblems of primate fertility?

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Monday, June 27, 2011

Anderson Japanese Gardens

This June has offered northern Illinois an unusually large number of cool, cloudy days, some rainy. In between are more standard summer-like days. Mr. Blue Sky never does tell us why he has to be away for so long, but then again rain has its underrated charms. Despite cool conditions, crickets have started singing by night, and I've even spotted a firefly or two.

During one of those summer-like days recently we went to Rockford to visit the Anderson Japanese Gardens. We'd been there before, but it was like going somewhere new because the last time was nearly nine years ago, and that was during the fall. It was time to experience the gardens in the summer. In both seasons, Anderson remains one of my favorite Japanese gardens, and I've seen a few.

The one that impressed me most is still Ritsurin Koen in Takamatsu on the island of Shikoku. But part of that was circumstance. The morning I visited Ritsurin Koen, a heavy summer rain had just fallen, adding luster to the already artfully lush setting. Even better, I had the place to myself, a rarity in Japan.

Anderson has artful lushness too, and is only a little more than an hour away. It has bridges.

And waterfalls.

And expansive ponds.

And much more. Yuriko feels that Anderson is very much like a garden in Japan, and I thought the only thing missing was an on-site temple, complete with monks periodically ringing temple bells.

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Sunday, June 26, 2011

Item From the Past: Cu Chi Tunnels

Once the bane of American forces in Vietnam, the Cu Chi Tunnels, or at least a carefully restored and de-booby-trapped section of the tunnels not far from Saigon, are now a tourist attraction, and have been for years. We visited on June 26, 1994, entering with a guide and a small number of other visitors. We didn't go very far underground or stay long, but it was still a claustrophobic experience, even in some rooms -- a command post, a "hospital," and so on -- in which you could stand up.

The tunnels we saw were enlarged for tourists. The Viet Cong hid in, or mounted surprise attacks from, much narrower ones. Just large enough for men to shimmy through, and fairly small men at that. Our guide illustrated this by entering one of the small entrances feet first with a hatch on his head, and then disappearing into it by closing the hatch.

This is an astonishing account of the men of the 3 Field Troop, Royal Australian Engineers, who entered the tunnels -- which were numerous enough practically to be an underground city -- to take on "the Viet Cong (VC) at his most dangerous -- in tunnels and with booby traps."

Not far from the re-created tunnels was a surface exhibit: a wrecked ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) tank.

An M48 Patton, if I remember correctly. I'm amazed that it didn't get picked apart for scrap at some point, though maybe that's fairly hard to do.

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Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Return of Jake and Elwood

Not long ago we all sat down and watched The Blues Brothers -- the 1980 movie -- on DVD, which I hadn't seen since it was new. Thirty-one years is a fair chunk of time, so it's no wonder I'd forgotten how strange it was. Then again, maybe Princess Leia blowing up an entire hotel, after which Jake and Elwood emerge from under a pile of rubble and nonchalantly wander off; or speeding cops chasing a speeding car through a crowded mall, but missing everyone; or Illinois Nazis driving off a bridge and falling 100 stories or so into Wacker Drive didn't seem so strange to moviegoers of the time, including a 19-year-old version of me.

Of course it's a musical, and musicals only have to have a nodding acquaintance with reality. But in this case the musical format wasn't just a license for characters to break into song and passing strangers to dance tightly choreographed routines, though those things do happen in The Blues Brothers. It's also a license to defy the laws of physics, blow things up, and wreck a lot of cars. Man, it's fun. Even if you're not 19 any more.

Still, it wouldn't be worth a damn without the music, and there's no quibbling about the soundtrack. I liked it when it was new, but not as much as now. Especially Cab Calloway singing "Minnie the Moocher." That alone was worth the price of admission in 1980 and the price of rental in 2011, though I didn't appreciate that in 1980.

According to director John Landis, Cab Calloway wanted to do a disco version of the song for the movie, and was upset when Landis insisted on '30s style. That's probably not as strange as it sounds, since Cab the au courant showman had recorded a number of versions across the decades in various popular-at-the-time styles, but I'm glad Landis had his way.

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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Summer Storms & Space Alien Pollen

A terrific storm blew through our corner of the world between 7 and 8 o'clock yesterday evening, featuring high winds and the unnerving waaaaaa of the municipal tornado siren. I was sure we were going to lose power but we didn't. Yet reportedly some 239,000 households not too far away did.

The Herald News reported this weather-related oddity today: "The storms even damaged a pollen-catching machine atop Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Melrose Park that provides the Midwest’s official daily allergy count, according to the hospital. A doctor had to manually reshape the blades of the pollen-catching machine to put it back in working order, just in time to measure Wednesday’s high mold count."

How Gottlieb Memorial received the honor of being the allergy-measuring nexus for the entire Midwest, and why a doctor on staff would know enough about the machine to "manually reshape" the blades, I couldn't say. Doesn't mean I can't speculate, though. Maybe he's an allergist and the machine's his pet project. Anyway, picture the scene: his lab coat whipping to and fro in the high winds, the doc climbs to the perch on the roof where the machine, blades banging uselessly, needs his attention. With minutes to spare, he wrestles with the blades and puts them in working order, just in time for the computers at the NWS to read the data.

Yes, that's very cinematic. Could be a subplot of some movie: a doc devoted to his allergy-counting duties, so much that it causes domestic friction with a wife or lover who's feeling neglected. As second-fiddle to a pollen-catching machine, who wouldn't feel that way? But the doc's dedication helps the hero save a busload of school children -- or the entire tri-state area -- or the USA -- or all of mankind, why not -- when he detects invading space alien pollen.


Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mary, Juan & Quisp

While passing through the cereal aisle at a discount grocery store today, I saw boxes of Quisp. How long has it been since I've seen Quisp? I couldn't say. Certainly not during any year than began with a 2. Why now? Why here? As an illustration, Quisp seemed exactly the same as 40+ years ago -- another Jay Ward cartoon legacy.

At more than $5 for a 9-oz. box, it wasn't priced to sell, despite being in a discount grocery. I might feel a twinge of nostalgia for the sugar-coated saucers, but not that much. Also, Quake was nowhere to be seen. I believe that character ultimately died in a mining accident.

This is a view of the outdoor part of the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Des Plaines, late Saturday morning.

The figures on the mound are the Virgin Mary and St. Juan Diego, canonized only in 2002; 471 years from apparition to sainthood.

I'd never seen a cross quite like this.

I've found various sites describing it, such as this and this, but I'm still not quite certain of its significance in relation to the shrine, though at the base of the cross is a reference to the Venerable Concepción Cabrera de Armida, the Mexican mystic.

In a reliquary in a glass case cemented into the base of the cross is a bit of wood, and three metal signs mounted next to it say (in English, Spanish and Polish): "Original Relic of the Cross of the Apostolate. This cross will chase away the devil, spread warmth and life, cure souls and bodies, and make many miracles. The promise of Jesus to Concepción Cabrera de Armida."

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Monday, June 20, 2011

The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Des Plaines

Woke early today to the rumble of thunder. A strange thunder, a little like the kind I heard vividly while in the Upper Peninsula once, like a bowling ball dropped on an aluminum sheet and then rolling. This morning's din wasn't quite as loud as the UP incident, but it got my attention. Until I went back to sleep.

On Saturday I had a few hours to myself and also happened to be near the Des Plaines River, so I decided to find the Des Plaines River Trail and do some walking, inspired by its description in an excellent guide I found in the library last week: Take a Hike Chicago, published by Moon, subtitled "Hikes Within Two Hours of the City." A first edition, published May 2011, and sporting a fine set of maps.

It's hard to consult maps while driving, however, and I missed the entrance to the parking lot near the trail, and eventually abandoned the idea (for now). Instead, I doubled back on Des Plaines River Road to take a look at the enormous All Saints Cemetery. I hadn't been to a new cemetery in a while, after all. But before I got there -- such are the twisty paths of travel serendipity -- I saw a sign for the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

That I had to see. It was a lot closer than the other Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is in La Crosse, Wisconsin, or the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe near Mexico City, though of course that didn't occur to me until later. Turns out that the Des Plaines shrine isn't that old, dating only from the late 1980s. It was built on the grounds of Maryville Academy, a Catholic social service organization that focuses on children that began in the 1880s as St. Mary’s Training School for Boys, an orphanage on a 880-acre working farm.

"Although it's a focal point of the Catholic Church in the [Chicago] area for many Spanish speakers... the shrine is not greatly known to others," wrote Robert Herguth in 2010 in Chicago Catholic News. "The shrine includes a flower-adorned mound with statues of the Virgin Mary and the peasant Juan Diego, an enclosed image of the Virgin Mary and a cave where the faithful light prayer candles. There's a gift shop and a chapel, and services are held indoors as well as sometimes outside."

Indeed, on Saturday morning, there was a wedding in the chapel, so I didn't venture inside. Along with a steady trickle of other people, I spent some time taking in the outdoor part of the shrine, including the mound, the big cross, the relic at the base of the cross, and the cave. The cave exuded a powerful smell of wax. Hundreds of candles were alight -- it must be quite a glow by night -- and the cave's walls were covered with photos of children and others, sonograms, handwritten messages, devotional cards, prayer beads, items in plastic bags, and small toys, including a Minnie Mouse plush toy.

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Sunday, June 19, 2011


An old college associate of mine, Pete Wilson, writes in The Nashville Scene about the June 7 demise of WRVU (91.1 FM), Vanderbilt's student radio, as a broadcast station. "What's lost?" he asks. "The real-world immediacy that made broadcast radio a better learning experience than online simulation. The respect of students, alumni and Nashvillians who were patronized, told half-truths and kept in the dark until June 7. And one of the best ways of sharing culture that Vanderbilt ever had.

"WRVU gave people all over Middle Tennessee music of all kinds to enjoy for free. It was a site of cultural production at an exceedingly democratic level. Not only could it be received by anyone with a few dollars for a radio, but that same person could find him or herself on the transmitting end as well. In addition to dedicated students, WRVU drew smart, imaginative outsiders into its arms and gave them an opportunity to entertain, educate and inspire as part of a Vanderbilt enterprise."

Once upon a time, I listened fairly often to the WRVU "terrestrial" signal (the only kind of signal at the time), both in my student years and in fact more when I lived in Nashville after finishing school. I knew a number of people who did shifts there, and now and then would visit the broadcast booth. Two other students and I mixed the sound for a movie we made in film class at WRVU, using some of the sound effects records the station had in its vast collection. WRVU in the early '80s was refreshingly informal.

Sure, the station will survive in some form online. Maybe in 30 years few will remember that it was ever on the air -- and they might be increasingly vague on the whole concept of terrestrial radio anyway, considering it something that their grandparents listened to. But I'm with Pete. It's a distinct loss, and the "Vanderbilt enterprise" and Middle Tennessee are poorer for it.

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Thursday, June 16, 2011

CCC Shelter, Lockport

How good of Google to remind us yesterday of a lunar eclipse than could not be seen from North America. But Google is an international company, so it makes sense, and it was a fine doodle. At about 9:30 last night, a full Illinois moon emerged from cloud cover, and it was a fine moon. But ordinary bright white. I'll try to catch the December 2011 lunar eclipse, but something tells me that will mean getting out of bed during the wee hours of a winter night, rather than standing in the warm air and green grass of a June evening.

A web site called Civilian Conservation Corps Legacy tells us that "today citizens still drive on roadways built by the men of the CCC. Vast expanses of public land are connected through scenic byways and fire trails. Lodges, cabins, picnic pavilions, and many other recreational structures still stand as a testament to the craftsmanship and design of the CCC program. One of the most recognizable examples of a scenic road in the central eastern United States is the Blue Ridge Parkway and Shenandoah National Park."

That, and that the men of the CCC planted nearly 3 billion trees, built the infrastructure of 800 or so state parks, fought fires, operated fish hatcheries and did other things. Besides remitting $25 in fat 1930s dollars every month to their families, who presumably needed it. Looking around more, and I found this newsreel clip.

The CCC comes to mind because as we strolled along the I&M Canal in Lockport, I saw this structure across the canal and across the street paralleling the canal (fittingly, Canal Street).

Though on the other side of the canal, it was easily accessible by footbridge. Ann and I went over for a closer look. It's in reasonably good shape, though some of the stonework is worn, and clearly people have been ignoring a NO FIRES sign on the building, since the fireplace inside had been used not too long ago.

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Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The I&M Canal, Lockport

Last Saturday was a good day to take a walk along the Illinois & Michigan Canal in Lockport, so we proceeded from Lincoln's Landing (see Monday) toward Lock No. 1. But we didn't make it that far, despite overcast skies and no rain, and temps in the 60s F., which is ideal walking weather if you're dressed for it. Lilly and her friend parked themselves on a bench only a few hundred feet along the walking path, which parallels the canal a long way, and waited for Ann and I to return, so I thought better of making them wait 45 minutes or an hour on the bench.

No matter. Even a short stretch of the canal has its verdant charms in June, as seen on one bank:

And then the other:

The water itself had no hint of green, but a lot of mud color instead. Though come to think of it, the Earth isn't going to be very green without mud browns. Anyway, it's been rainy in these parts lately, and despite being manmade, the canal is doing its job of taking silt to the Mississippi just as any nature-born stream would.

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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Santa in June

"Daddy, is Santa Claus real? Or do parents give presents and say it was Santa Claus?"

That came out of the blue today, at least as far as I was concerned, but maybe Ann had heard something about the subject on TV.

"What do you think?" I asked, switching to Jesuit mode.

"I think it's the parents."

"You're right. You're old enough to know that now."

That was pretty much it. No fuss about the movement of Santa Claus from literal to figurative. Lilly had been much the same way, except she waited until right after Christmas one year to ask, probably in case the jolly old elf turned out to be real after all.

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Monday, June 13, 2011

The Incredible Three-Headed Lincoln

In the mid-1800s, Lockport, Illinois, was an important town on the Illinois & Michigan Canal, which was nearly 100 miles of 19th-century engineering prowess that connected Lake Michigan with the Illinois River and thus the Mississippi. Aside from a spontaneous visit to a Lockport Sonic a few years ago, we hadn't been to the town or its historic district in a long time -- since Lilly was very small, maybe the late '90s. We went again on Saturday. Since our last visit, a plaza called "Lincoln's Landing" has been created. It was dedicated on Lincoln's bicentennial birthday in 2009, in fact.

Lincoln's Landing is next to the canal and also near the handsome limestone Gaylord Building, which used to house the headquarters of the canal. Renovated in the late 20th century, the Gaylord Building now is owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and houses a restaurant and a museum about the canal. We took a look around the museum, which isn't that large and charges no admission (so I was happy to put a little in the donation box). Of particular interest to me was a room devoted to Lincoln and the I&M Canal. As a Whig believer in internal improvements, he was a supporter of the canal throughout his political career, though I imagine that once he became a railroad lawyer, his attachment wasn't quite as strong.

The room displayed a map of Lincoln's circuitous route back home to Springfield after his single term in Congress. If I'd read about the trip before, I must have forgotten it, but the way home in 1848 for the future president took him on a speaking tour of New England on behalf of presidential candidate Zachary Taylor and the Whig platform; then along the Erie Canal to Buffalo, where he met VP candidate Millard Fillmore; then by steamer to Detroit and afterwards to Chicago, which took him through the Straits of Mackinac; and from Chicago to Springfield. The trip can be reviewed in the September and October 1848 pages of this astonishingly detailed web site, the Lincoln Log.

So did Lincoln come to Lockport in 1848 or any other time? Make at speech at the site of the Lincoln Landing in Lockport? Do anything in Lockport? Well, maybe. He got around a lot, especially in Illinois. Search the Lincoln Log and "Lockport" comes up twice, neither mention in the context of the man visiting the town, but surely not every place he went was recorded. No matter; every town in Illinois needs a Lincoln site, so Lockport now has one.

Complete with its own odd Lincoln statue as a centerpiece. I've seen a few Lincolns in my time, but none quite like this. I took to calling it the Incredible Three-Headed Lincoln.

Three-Bodied would be more like it, since the bronze Lincoln bodies are joined. It's the creation of by a Brooklyn-based artist, David Ostro, for his first major commission. "Unlike the 200 or more existing statues in the U.S. which showcase the former president in formal propriety, the life-size bronze at Lincoln Landing offers a surprising change from the usual expectations," says the press release issued on behalf of the artist. (One quibble: former presidents are those men who have held the job in the past but who are still alive. Two Bushes, a Clinton and a Carter at the moment.)

"The artwork depicts Lincoln as a young Illinois legislator on his visit through Lockport in not one, but three interlocking poses," the release continues, without being specific about that visit. "The work is installed on a reconstitution of the old I&M Canal wall. The base of the statue captures a seated Lincoln dangling his legs off the edge of the wall, reaching a hand into the depths of what was once canal water, though now only earth remains. A second figure draws out of this seated form, pushing upwards, contemplating a discovered object closed in hand. With the third figure, Lincoln finally stands. Determined to gain his balance on the landing, he tears upwards and outwards from his former selves and pockets the mysterious object."

Pocketing a "mysterious object"? Is that really part of Lincoln lore? What did he find, one ring to rule them all?

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Sunday, June 12, 2011

Item From the Past: Some Admirable Lateral Thinking

I've posted before about Kanchanaburi, Thailand, but not the view from the Bridge on the River Kwai.

Fiction has a way, of course, of fictionalizing things. According to the remarkable web site the Man in Seat Sixty-One, "there is a small technical problem with the Bridge on the River Kwai: It crosses a river all right, but not the River Kwai! Pierre Boulle, who wrote the original book, had never been there. He knew that the 'death railway' ran parallel to the River Kwae for many miles, and assumed that it was the Kwae which it crossed just north of Kanchanaburi. He was wrong -- it actually crosses the Mae Khlung.

"When David Lean's blockbuster came out, the Thais faced something of a problem. Thousands of tourists flocked to see the bridge over the River Kwae, and they hadn't got one; all they had was a bridge over the Mae Khlung. So, with admirable lateral thinking, they renamed the river. The Mae Khlung is now the Kwae Yai ('Big Kwae') for several miles north of the confluence with the Kwae Noi ('Little Kwae'), including the bit under the bridge."

Finally, any time is a good time to watch this clip.

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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Ceci n'est pas une pipe

Last night saw the beginning of an all-night downpour, which was the vanguard of cool air. Today would have been a fine day in April.

In my five decades, I've been able to collect minor bits of wisdom to pass along to later generations. Such as today, when I was making something for Ann to eat. She looked at the box and said, "It looks better on the box."

"Yes, that's just advertising," I answered. "It always looks better on the box. But the food itself always tastes better than the box."

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Wednesday, June 08, 2011

More Works of Metal

School's out and Lilly reported attending a water-balloon fight at a friend's house today, followed by swimming at a nearby outdoor pool. Ann took up the task, after the heat of the day was wearing off, of learning to ride a bike without training wheels. It can hardly be much more summer than all that, especially considering that today was the third day in a row over 90° F. But tomorrow will be 20° cooler. Such are Northern summers.

More from the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. This is the painted steel "Revival," backed in this shot by one of the tall willows near the banks of the North Shore Channel. Sculptor: Joseph Eisenhauer of North Carolina.

"Baile de Alacrán," a work of galvanized steel by Ted Garner, who is this fellow, also known as Ted Sitting Crow Garner, of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

"Inside Plant," a welded steel work by Andy Zimmermann, originally from West Virginia.

This is what the work looks like, looking up from where Lilly was standing.

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Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

Between the North Shore Channel (pictured yesterday) and the busy McCormick Blvd., there's a long strip of parkland, and by long, I mean two miles or so. It's the home of the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park.

Its web site discusses its origin: "The land [owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago] had been sorely neglected for a number of years and was by the mid-1980s a community eyesore. The district developed guidelines and wanted suggestions for its improvement. The Village of Skokie came forward with plans to turn the area into a recreational park with biking and jogging paths, seating areas, etc. At the same time, a group of private citizens proposed using the park to display large-scale contemporary sculptures.

"What evolved by 1988, was... a collaboration between these two entities. The village cleaned and landscaped the area and created parking lots, pathways, benches and other amenities. The citizens incorporated as a private not-for-profit organization with a mission to select, install and maintain a world-class sculpture exhibition..."

I never met a sculpture park I didn't like, so we spent some time looking around. But it is a two-mile park, so we didn't see all of it, only the section just south of Dempster. We took in plenty of intriguing works all the same. My own favorite was "La Souterraine," a collection of iron beams fixed to the ground and topped by portraits of faces, also in iron and roughly at eye level, that look all the world like death masks.

Though (seemingly) reposed in death, almost all of the faces are streaked or spotted with bird droppings.

The artist is Robert Smart of Minneapolis, about whom a simple Google search turns up only a little, and I'm not willing to dig deeper for non-paying writing. But I'd say the man has some talent.

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Monday, June 06, 2011

The North Shore Channel

On Sunday I spent some time in the northern suburbs, and caught sight of one of the lesser-known parts of the Chicago River system, the North Shore Channel. Dug more than 100 years ago now, it connects Lake Michigan at Wilmette with the North Branch of the Chicago River. I stood on footpath of the Dempster Street bridge, near the Evanston-Skokie border just east of McCormick Blvd., and saw this view looking south. Frame it right and there isn't a hint of anything manmade except the channel itself.

It's hard to tell in the photo, but the channel doesn't look particularly clean. Indeed, a sign under the bridge -- pretty much where anyone climbing down the banks from the footpath would see it -- warns:


This waterway is not suitable for
• wading
• swimming
• jet skiing
• water skiing
• tubing
• any human body contact

The channel is subject to a "combined sewer overflow" during especially rainy periods, and we've had a lot of those lately. That doesn't sound very clean, and it isn't.


Sunday, June 05, 2011

Item From the Past: Admiral Jung Bal and I

This is the only image I have of myself, and in fact the only image I have at all, from the week I spent in South Korea in early June 1990.

That I have it at all is peculiar. I was once the kind of tourist who didn't carry a camera, and so I was then. But I met a fellow on the boat from Osaka to Pusan who had a camera, and after we arrived in Pusan we spent part of the first day walking around together. He took this picture of me at the base of a distinctly martial statue somewhere in Pusan. Before we parted we exchanged addresses, and a month or two later the print arrived in the mail.

The more I think about that, the more I'm glad I didn't grow up in a world in which such an image could have been, and probably would have been, instantly uploaded to the cloud for all the world to see, or maybe e-mailed to me a few hours later. Something about the lag, and the complications of sending a physical object rather than bytes through space, adds to my experience of looking at the image, even 20-odd years later.

When I got it, I thumbtacked it to my wall in my apartment in Osaka, and left it hanging for a few years -- thus the circle with the pinpoint mark through it in the upper left corner. Until recently, I never bothered to find out just whose statue I'd stood under. On those rare occasions (maybe twice) when someone would ask, I would say it's the "gentleman who invented kimchi."

After scanning the image, however, I got a little curious, and figured that the world of 2011 might be able to provide me information that the world of 1990 could not. Sure enough, there are a few other images of the statue on line, so I've been able to identify it as Admiral Jong Bal (also spelled Jung Bal), whose exploits are scantily attested in English on the Web. But I like the text that goes with this photo. It's not technically correct English, but it's sure got heart.

"Admiral Jung Bal of Busan lived in 1553-1592, the Busaness braveman who lead volunteers to fight Jappaness aggressor until end of last blood droop. Their sacrifice is unforgetable of Busan people."

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Thursday, June 02, 2011

The One & Only Shabbona's Rock

On the way to Starved Rock State Park, we made an impulsive stop at the LaSalle County Historical Society & Museum in Utica, Illinois. That's the kind of impulse I get, anyway. It's a fine little museum, replete with artifacts of local interest, such as items from the clock manufacturer that used to be in Utica, and 19th-century buttons made from shells found in the nearby Illinois River. The museum also sported the kinds of items people, or their heirs, give to such museums, such as a genuine Japanese rifle and bayonet picked up at some point during the Pacific War and brought back to the heart of the Midwest.

The museum building is a handsomely restored sandstone structure that was once a granary and warehouse along the Illinois & Michigan Canal. The building is still on the canal, of course, and as inviting as a stroll along the banks of the canal looked, we didn't do that. I didn't take a picture of the building, either. Instead, I pointed my camera at a large rock in the museum garden.

It's none other than Shabbona's Rock. Only so many rocks have proper names, and this is one. Profoundly obscure, but that's all the more reason to like it. Everybody's heard of Plymouth Rock, the Blarney Stone, the Stone of Scone and so on, but only a select few know Shabbona's Rock.

A plaque near the rock says, in full: This large stone was a favorite resting place of the Indian chief Shabbona, who was renowned as the white man's friend. It was originally located in Ophir Township on the property of Abner Westgate. Chief Shabbona would visit the Westgate homestead for two or three days at a time, but he always stayed out-of-doors. He preferred to eat the food which was offered to him while seated on this rock. After being moved from the Westgate property, this rock was relocated twice more before being donated to the LaSalle County Historical Society in 1969 by Westgate family heirs.

Returning from Starved Rock, I couldn't resist a brief stop at the "Agricultural Crash Monument," which is a few miles outside the town of Norway, Illinois.

It's a vintage '40s passenger plane, from the looks of it, beaten up, positioned nose down, and missing its tail. A helpful sign in front of the pseudo-wreck says, in full: Dedicated to all farmers and ag-related business folks that have lived thru the "Agricultural Crash" of the 1980's. Mervin & Phyllis Eastwold, Norwegian Impl. Co. Nearby there's also a more standard sign, quite weatherworn, advertising the Norwegian Implement Co., which appears to be a going concern in Marseilles, Illinois.

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Wednesday, June 01, 2011

The Mudflats & Waterfalls of Wildcat Canyon

We've pretty much skipped spring and gone on to summer. I know that because after dark yesterday I could open my car windows while driving and enjoy the wind. Also, a little later, while taking out the trash, I saw the Summer Triangle. Not riding as high as it will be later, but still there in the eastern sky. Closer to home, junebugs are clinging to our window- and door screens. A lot of them, more than during any recent year. Maybe the cold spring energized them somehow.

Illinois is notoriously flat, so anyplace that's not-flat is going to get some attention. So it is with Starved Rock State Park, which despite flooding last weekend, had a lot of visitors, us included. In its pamphlet describing the park, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources says: "[There are] 18 canyons formed by glacial meltwater and stream erosion. They slice dramatically through tree-covered, sandstone bluffs for four miles... The park is best known for its rock formations, primarily St. Peter sandstone, laid down in a huge shallow inland sea more than 425 million years ago and later brought to the surface."

Ancient sea beds, in other words, acted upon by forces recent in geological terms -- glacial meltwater busting through moraines toward the end of the last Ice Age. Once the glaciers were gone, streams that still flow, fed by snowmelt and rainwater, took over the task of erosion. Did they ever flow while we were there, coursing through solid-looking canyons. But if I understand the lessons of Deep Time, the canyon walls are in motion too. The present shapes will not be there for distant posterity, if any; other, unpredictable shapes will be.

For the geological moment, anyway, what you get at Starved Rock are some fine waterfalls. Such as this one, which was actually one of two crashing down into Wildcat Canyon. The other fall was to the left of the one I photographed, exactly the same height but a little less volume.

The trail led from a boardwalk along the river back to an intensely muddy patch within view of the falls, but not close enough to satisfy the urge to stand (almost) under the falls. So we crossed the mud and came to the edge of the stream created by the falls. Surprisingly, the current wasn't so rapid that we couldn't wade across it to a pebbly flat much closer to the falls, as the knot of people in the photo had done just ahead of us.

The water was cold, but not icy. The mud was soft, but not gooey. The roar of the falls was distinct, but not deafening. Yep, summer's here, complete with mud on my toes and waterfall spray in my face.

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