Tuesday, June 24, 2003

Blog's summer vacation.

NO BLOGGING FOR A WHILE. Long enough for blogspot to drop my archives down the ol' memory hole, perhaps. But I'm off for business, and then pleasure, till about July 5, at which time I will pick up the thread. No blogging from the road for this traveller, though I know people who do that. They are lunatics. Besides, I don't have a laptop, and even if I did, gravity would take its toll on that kind of fragile machine -- that is, I would drop it, or Lilly would spill something on it.

Monday, June 23, 2003

Deconstructive aesthetic paradigm-bending blog.

Microblogging for a time -- got a vacation to get ready for, which of course means more work.

At last a string of unbroken warm days, up here in the North. Today was so fine I went out for a lunchtime stroll that took me as far as Daley Plaza, where the emblematic Chicago Picasso resides. From there I could glimpse the Chicago Gehry under construction at the as-yet unfinished Millennium Park (it will be finished sometime this millennium, unless we all die of some unknown tropical disease in the next five or so years). I got a better look at a few weeks ago, walking south on Stetson, which is directly north of the building -- sculpture -- deconstructive statement --

I'm a philistine when it comes to Frank Gehry. Or rather, I'm reflexively suspicious of his work. On the other hand, when it's completed, the Chicago Gehry will be the first one I've ever seen in person. I have not, alas, been to Spain to see his most famous work, the Guggenheim Bilbao, or for that matter been to the Hollywood Bowl in person. Of course, Hollywood Bowl sorts of structures aren't what he's known for now -- that dates back to when he was a more ordinary architect.

My introduction to Gehry was at the Guggenheim Museum. A few years ago I saw a model of a proposed new Guggenheim for New York at that museum, which was incorporated in a nice scale model of lower Manhattan. The new structure was to have been on the edge of the East River, somewhere near Brooklyn Bridge. I was astonished at how at odds it was with the rest of the waterfront. It was as if Gehry wanted a tangle of giant silvery videotape dumped on the site. It was as if he wanted to build something that would quickly become as dated as, well, the original Guggenheim.

Another thing that sets up red flags about his work is the way in which it's described. Academic cant like "deconstructive aesthetic" and "paradigm bending" clouds over Gehry like gnats. That can't be good. Maybe that's not fair, but, as I said, I'm reflexively suspicious, and make no claim to fairness.

But I will wait. The Chicago Gehry will be done by next summer, probably. Since it's in a park, it will have less surrounding context to disrupt, and it might even work well as a sculpture. We shall see.

Sunday, June 22, 2003

Weekend blog, item from the past, #6.

June 13, 1990.

Korea has come and gone. Like the rest of Korea -- the rest that I saw out of my train windows -- Seoul was ringed by low mountains green and brown, stubby and not-so-distant. Central Seoul reminded me more of a Western city than either Osaka or Tokyo: wide streets, large sidewalks, towering buildings and a crush of cars. Largest non-highway streets I've ever seen, some of them. Twelve lanes, sometimes, crossable by underpasses. This size has the effect of absorbing the constant flow of cars, segregating them from pedestrians. Even buses keep to their place.

Thursday, June 7, I did my main sightseeing, on a warm, clear day. In Pagoda Park, the first place I went, I was buttonholed by some friendly college students, eager for free English practice. They treated me to some Korean wine -- like weak sake -- bought from a gnarled old woman, a streetside vendor. Out from its white plastic bottle into plastic cups that the students had, and from there to our stomachs. Not bad.

Entered Changgyonggdong, the main palace of the Korean kings of old, in the 19th century at least. Took the tour in English -- a sort of English, with the petite, pretty guide putting her mouth directly into a small, colorful bullhorn. It came out like bad radio, but I hardly minded, since I could read the signs anyway, which were in Korean and English. The tour stopped while a TV production company filmed a scene or two from an historic epic, or historic drama, or something.

In it (I was told), the second-to-last king of Korea was taking his son away in a carriage. A very polished and European-looking carriage, and except for the multicolored and flowing robes of the distressed courtiers surrounding the carriage, you’d never know it was a Korean scene. The courtiers were sore upset about seeing the king and his son go, and moaned realistically on cue. The plot had something to do with the son going off to Japan to be a hostage. Pretty much any Korean epic set in the late 19th century is going to have the Japanese as villains, as well it should, I figure.

The human actors turned on and off, on cue. The horses weren't so disciplined. The director -- or at least the guy with a bigger bullhorn than my guide -- went over to whack the beasts a time or two.

I watched a fair amount of AFKN television in my YMCA hotel room, especially The Longest Day on June 6. No commercials on Armed Forces television; no standard commercials, anyway, but a fair number of "military commercials," such as the one that detailed allowable hairstyles for both male and female enlisted members of the armed forces. There was also a bulletin about prohibited places and times for those in service, places that sounded like bar-heavy districts with high potential for late-night fights among soldiers, or between soldiers and Koreans.

My last full day in town, June 8, it rained most of the time. Went out for lunch & tea and met some more students. Talked a while. But mostly I was in my room, reading and watching TV.

Saturday, June 21, 2003

Weekend blog, item from the past, #5.

June 6, 1990.

The train's a little bumpy. I'm in a half-empty, half-lit train car on my way to Seoul. Warm day, light clouds. It's a fine afternoon in Korea.

As the train slows to stop -- a number of times on this sub-express, a cheaper sort of train -- I've seen a variety of towns and villages and hamlets along the way. Almost each and every one has a church, often a tidy little brick structure. The plans for many of these probably came with New England missionaries by steamer 100 years ago. I've read that missionaries were remarkably successful in Korea; half the population is Christian now, and here's the visual confirmation.

There are also rice paddies everywhere possible, which isn't everywhere, since like Japan the backdrop is stubby green mountains. Lovely, but bad for farming.

I was only too glad to leave Pusan. It's a dirty, ugly, noisy, depressing place. Did have a few good meals there, however. Especially the nabe (Japanese word, in lieu of the Korean, which I don't remember) -- a stew cooked at the table over a gas flame, lots of fish, squid, vegetables, etc. The Korean version is a good deal spicier than the Japanese, usually done up with kimchee. It's common for inexpensive restaurants in Korea, at least in Pusan, to leave a roll of toilet paper on the tables, instead of square napkins.

The guesthouse (can't remember the Korean word, but it was for a subcategory of cheap guesthouse) -- was also entertaining. The very first night, I played mosquito kill, a summertime sport I've enjoyed for years. Till I found the holes in the window screen, and was able to improvise a way to block their entrance, I got to splat at least four with a rolled up magazine, leaving little pops of my blood on the walls. Damn mosquitoes.

Never been in a town whose residents leaned on their car horns more than this one, except maybe Rome. More little beeps than loud blasts, but constant. Well into the night, I heard beep, beep. Quiet. Beep, BAAAP, beep. Quiet. Beep. Quiet. Beep-beep-beep.

I did like the tea kettle outside my door in the guesthouse, filled at intervals I couldn't quite figure out. Must date from the time past when plain water would have truly been a foolish option. Nice custom, though. Something reassuring about it.

Friday, June 20, 2003

Retail trendspotting blog.

For all I know, this has been going on for months, or for years, without me noticing. On the other hand, I suspect what I've noticed lately is just the visible side of a technical and managerial evolution that's now coming to fruition -- that is, a lot of engineers poring over the most arcane of details of arcane information systems, eking out improvements over time; and a lot of middle managers memo'ing and meeting and prioritizing and strategizing and diagramming and finalizing and putting their careers into --

Automatic check-out stations. To this, I say No. No. No. It awakens the Luddite lurking somewhere this side of the reptilian part of my brain. To enter my Clockwork Orange mode, my droogs, I sees it, and I wants t' smash it.

The Sunday before Memorial Day, I dropped by a Wal-Mart in Brookfield, Wis., for a few sundries, and two lines were open that evening. One was a standard checkout line. The other had employees were milling around it, but not a checkout clerk. The employees were encouraging us to try something new -- something easy -- a real timesaver, by golly -- an unmanned checkout line. Scan your stuff, insert money or a card, and you're off!

I wasn't in the mood to learn any new tricks, so I stayed in the line with an actual human being at the end. This gave me time to think it through. Why would Wal-Mart do this? To lower overhead, of course. Fewer workers, less overhead. That's not what really bothered me, though. Wal-Mart wants me to do their work for them, for free. I noted that no discount was involved for using the auto station.

In fact, and I can see this coming as clearly as buffalo stampede: if people take a cotton to this procedure, retailers will either (1) start charging for the automatic service, in the same Milton Drysdale sort of way that banks charge for the ATMs that have replaced more expensive human tellers; or (2), if that model doesn't work, it will cost extra to use a human clerk, the way banks would do if customer outrage hadn't generally 86'd that idea (generally, but not completely).

I went to Home Depot last weekend, and what do you think I saw -- a brand-new automatic checkout system. No! If only this were just the latest step in The Rise of the Machines, that would at least have some dramatic value. This is more pedestrian. The latest in the swarm of wallet termites, is more like it.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Juneteenth blog.

Been a spell of depressing subjects for blogging -- totalitarianism, the World Trade Center, homelessness in Japan. So today I'll take up something more optimistic. Holidays. Specifically, Juneteenth, since that's today, though I understand that most of the festivities occur on the Saturday nearest.

I think that Juneteenth ought to be a more cerebrated occasion, for three reasons. One would be the standard reason, namely that it's good to recognize the end of slavery in the United States. Secondly, I'm in favor of more holidays on general principles -- we don't have enough of them in North America, and we could always use more. More in the warm months especially. Even if it's not a legal holiday in any of the several states, but only an occasion for weekend festivals, outings, barbecues and the like, I'm for it. I'm glad that the Battle of Puebla happened on May 5 instead of December 5, and Stonewall Riot happened in June instead of February.

One more reason: Juneteenth is from Texas, where it became a state holiday in recent years, after the time that I lived there. On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger, in command of the Union forces coming to occupy Texas after the collapse of the Confederacy, issued his General Order Number 3 in Galveston, which begins:

"The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and free laborer."

A worthy occasion in the calendar. And I'm always glad when Texans can export something of value to the rest of the country.

Wednesday, June 18, 2003

Osaka blog.

Now this is summer. Above 80° F downtown today, till it rained hard. (Nearly 30° C for those of you under the spell of metrics.)

We get the Wall Street Journal at the office every workday, as many offices do. On the whole, full of interesting items, even the stories outside the business world. But the paper will never be able to persuade me that people with incomes so small that they don't pay federal incomes taxes are "lucky duckies," at least in any economic sense -- to use the paper's own asinine editorial-page term.

Anyway, on page 1, column 1 today there was an article called "Japan's Homeless Find Their Place in Public Parks." A fairly grim subject, but the article still made my day, because it was Dateline: Osaka. Finally. An article about Japan that isn't about Tokyo. Endless coverage of Japan, and it seems that most of it comes from Tokyo, and is about Tokyo. It's well and good that the city should get a large share of media coverage, since it's the largest city on the archipelago, but I've always felt it got too large a share, as if there were a country called Tokyo, with a few suburbs collectively called "the rest of Japan."

Interestingly, a Japanese student of mine -- an intelligent fellow and a good source, I think -- once told me that Tokyo was never actually designated as the national capital, not at least by the Diet. The government merely assembled itself there at the time of the Meiji Restoration. Old Edo had been the seat of real power under the Tokugawa for some centuries, and when the Emperor Meiji moved there, that put the icing on the cake. Edo then became Tokyo. The etymology is instructive. Tokyo = to, eastern + kyo, capital.

I read the article with special interest, since it turned out that I knew exactly the places the writer describes (it was by Phred Dvorak; interesting name). "Long Economic Slump, Tolerant Attitudes Let Shantytowns Take Root," is one of the subheads, and Dvorak talks about the growth of shanties in such places as Osaka Castle Park and Nishinara Park. A quick look around the Web also tells me that Nagai Park also has a population of the homeless now.

This is sobering. In the early 1990s, there was no homeless population at Osaka Castle Park that I can remember. Osaka Castle, a '30s reconstruction of an ancient castle, is associated with Osaka in the same way that the Arch is with St. Louis, or the Golden Gate Bridge is with San Francisco. The park itself isn't especially large, and I didn't go there too often, though I did attend a memorably drunken picnic in the shadow of Osaka Castle with a Californian and two Kiwis soon after arriving in Japan. Later, after I knew Yuriko, we would occasionally go there.

A decade ago, Nagai Park didn’t sport any Hoovervilles either. I'm certain of that, since I lived a five-minute walk from it. Nagai is really a sports park -- it had a stadium, a long running trail, soccer fields, and numerous other sports facilities. About the only thing it didn't have was a lot of undedicated open space, so I have to wonder exactly where the homeless have pitched their lean-tos.

Nishinara Park was another story. It's in a south Osaka neighborhood heavily populated by Koreans, bunrakunin and day laborers, so it did have a significant homeless population, even in those more prosperous times.

There were also clusters of the homeless in Nakanoshima Park, a long strip of an island in the Yodogawa river, which at that point runs through some of the (theoretically) most expensive land in Japan, since the area was home to many of the Sumitomo keiritsu companies, the Osaka Prefectural headquarters, and the Osaka branch of the Bank of Japan. There were always a few men camped out under some of the pedestrian bridges in Nakanoshima in the early '90s, but I was astonished to see how much the shanty colonies had grown the last time I was there, in early 2000. The tents and the lend-tos even clung to the less-public sides of the local government buildings, like dewy cobwebs on the side of a large tree.

The homeless were also conspicuous along a street near Tennoji Station, which isn't far from Nishinara Park. It was there that I really got a sense of the power of custom. For a few years, I would often meet some friends on Wednesday evenings at an izukaya on a main street radiating from Tennoji Station, a major rain hub in south Osaka.

The pedestrian arcade there was fairly wide, and as soon as the shops began closing for the day, men would set up large cardboard boxes in the arcade and crawl inside to sleep. Usually they would leave their shoes outside the box, as they would at a more conventional home.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

Orwellian blog.

Shortly after I'd finished with A Little Yellow Dog, I was packing some books in the basement, and I picked up my yellowing, beat-up copy of Nineteen Eighty-Four, a Signet Classic paperback edition published in 1961. Inside the front cover, an earlier owner of the book had written his name, address and phone number in a boyish hand -- a boy from Grosse Pointe Woods, Michigan. I don't remember buying this edition, but underneath the boy’s inscription I wrote "Dees Stribling --1983."

I decided last month that the time had come again to re-read Nineteen Eighty-Four. I don't remember how many times I've read it. Maybe this was the fifth time. It's one of those books; one that needs to be read many times across the decades, if you're fortunate enough to live so long. Everyone who reads books has a small coterie of titles like this, and I'm sure the selection is completely idiosyncratic. My mother once told me that my great-uncle Ralph Henderson, her mother's bachelor brother who died at 80+ years in 1971, read The Virginian once a year. Among many other things, Uncle Ralph was an oil-field worker and a cowboy, so I suppose that book spoke to him. (I thought it was good enough, but I don't itch to read it again.)

I first read Nineteen Eighty-Four when I was 14. I picked it up thinking it was science fiction -- it was set in the future, after all -- and got considerably more than I’d bargained for, though I didn’t understand that at the time. That was also the year I read Brave New World, which seems to be paired with Orwell’s work in that compare-and-contrast mode peculiar to high school English teachers. Unlike the Orwell book, I haven’t ever felt the urge to revisit Huxley’s book any more than I have The Virginian.

I can’t say much about Nineteen Eighty-Four that hasn’t already been said. One small measure of its greatness is the fact that several terms coined for the book have seeped into common usage — “Big Brother” in particular, though sometimes you read of “doublethink,” thought crime” or the “Thought Police.” My own favorite, which I very occasionally see elsewhere, is the “memory hole” — a hole in the wall to dispose of things permanently, down to a real or imagined furnace, so that they are forgotten.

You can hardly read an essay or letter to the editor, or even hear a radio or TV report about the expansion of state power (or even some other group’s power) without stumbling across a reference to Big Brother. So much so that I suspect Orwell himself would have discouraged its use. “If you’re used to seeing it in print, cut it out,” is my paraphrase of one bit of his advice for writing good English prose, which appears in his signal essay, “Politics and the English Language” (1946).

This time through Nineteen Eighty-Four, I thought less about it as a masterful polemic against totalitarianism than in previous readings, though it’s clearly that. (It’s a love story, too, for that matter, and a poignant one.) This time what impressed me most was the absolutely plausible detail that Orwell uses to describe his dystopia. You know that a totalitarian superstate would be a drab, grimy place to live, besides being an almost intolerably fearful one.

Monday, June 16, 2003

Writerly blog.

Busy day at work this Monday; things to write, things to read. Lilly: “What do you do at the office, Daddy?” Me: “Read and write. That’s my job.” It could be worse. Much, much worse, even though I’m not reading and writing precisely what I would, left to my own devices.

Been remiss lately in reporting on my train reading — which is the kind of reading I do when left to my own devices. As a daily rail commuter, my transit time is largely spent reading (when I’m not too tired), sometimes newspapers or magazines, often books. It’s the largest block of free reading time I have these days, and one reason (among several) I wouldn’t want to drive to work.

A lot of train reading has come and gone since I last mentioned the subject back in March, when I was reading Back to the Front, a fine travel book with large spools of historical narrative woven in. After that, and perhaps in the spirit of the times, I picked up The Class of 1846, an unusual and very satisfying ensemble biography by John C. Waugh. The ensemble in this case is the class of West Point in that year, which included most famously Stonewall Jackson and George McClellan.

The narrative follows the class from its arrival at West Point, through the Mexican War — in which virtually all of them fought — and on to the Civil War, in which most of them fought. The two stars are Jackson and McClellan, of course, but Waugh doesn’t devote the entire book to them. Much of it describes episodes in the lives of some of the lesser-known and even obscure members of that class, both in war and peace. Even in the chapters on Jackson and McClellan, he talks at length about some of the lesser-known aspects of their lives, or their war service. My favorite was a chapter devoted to Jackson’s daring raids on Union rolling stock, and their capture and removal to Richmond, in the very early months of the war.

Besides being solid history, the author tells some ripping good stories, too. One chapter, the evocatively titled “The Bloody Saddle,” is the end story of one of the class — the book isn’t handy for me look up his name — in the Washington Territory in 1858. Ultimately he dies in battle with Indians, though some of his men barely escape in the most harrowing way imaginable; a fascinating bit of Indian war history that has been completely forgotten.

And then for something completely different. Some time ago, I picked up a copy of A Little Yellow Dog, by Walter Mosley, because I’d heard that he and his character, Easy Rawlins, compared to Chandler and his character, Philip Marlowe. With some difference. Most critically in that Easy Rawlins is black, and only informally a private eye. On the whole, it was a good story, and well written, but no one can really compare with Chandler.

For anyone unacquainted with them, I recommend the Philip Marlowe books without hesitation or reservation, even for people who don’t care for detective or mystery fiction (and I don’t especially, myself). I saw the Bogart film version of The Big Sleep before I’d read any of the books, and that might have inspired me to pick up a used copy of that book in the summer of 1990 in Osaka, when I had a lot time to read. Before long, I’d read almost all of the novels, even buying one or two new, which in Japan meant an outlay of a large piece of change, even for a paperback.

From thillingdetective.com: “…it was Raymond Chandler's Marlowe that would define … [the] who, what, where and why [of a] private eye. Traces of Marlowe run from Paul Pine to Jim Rockford to Ms. Tree to Lew Archer to Spenser. It's all here, from the loneliness, the quick, sarcastic cynical jibes masking a battered romantic, the love/hate relationship with the cops, the corruption that exists in all levels of society. Philip Marlowe, for better or worse, is the archetypical private eye. By the time he wrote his famous essay, ‘The Simple Art of Murder,’ even Chandler realized it.”

Sunday, June 15, 2003

Weekend blog: Items from the past, #4.

June 10, 2002.

Early in the afternoon, members of the National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) went by subway to the closest remaining station to the WTC site. It was like a school outing, with group leaders in red caps leading the way. We emerged in the bright sun at Church Street, which runs on the east side of the site. The wooden fencing at street level makes it look like nothing more than an enormous construction site.

Turning west, we followed a long, enclosed construction-area scaffolding tunnel along the former Liberty Street, which at one point passed by a closed fire station, the one closest to the site, its entrance plastered with photos and memorials of all descriptions. The tunnel led to 2 World Financial Center, part of a complex close to the Hudson River that had survived and is partly open, but largely devoid of people even now. Our group was scheduled to meet on the 12th floor of the building, in former Merrill Lynch offices. From that vantage, I saw the entire sweep of the 16 acres or so of the WTC site.

(Notes written on the 12th floor of 2 World Financial Center:

(From here you can see the world’s most famous vacant lot. It’s quite large, and deep, looking something like an active quarry, but you don’t realize its scale until you focus on the earth-moving equipment and the workers, who are almost specks off in the pit. Faced with this hole, I’m having trouble visualizing what used to be here. Maybe that’s because the last — and only — time I saw the Twin Towers close up was on a visit to the top in 1983, but another man standing at the windows remarked that he felt the same way, though he used to see them often.

(It is a haunting place to see, and I’m reminded of other sites of great violence that I’ve seen in person — even greater violence, in terms of the number of people killed, since I’m thinking of Hiroshima and Auschwitz. All very different in character and historic circumstance, but with the common thread of mass death.)

The conference involved a handful of speakers discussing the debris removal at the WTC site, an amazingly complicated effort, and the hurly-burly involved in redeveloping it. Then, to add to the surrealness of the day, NAREE held a cocktail reception afterward on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, which isn't far away. It's a primary rain forest of electronic equipment — the guts of the capitalist beast — no, the sinews of the Invisible Hand. At the conclusion of the function, I left the Exchange and lingered for a while on the steps of Federal Hall. That sort of thing appeals to someone historically minded like me, since Washington was inaugurated on those steps on April 30, 1789.

You’d think that would be enough for one day, but no. I walked south to the tip of Manhattan and caught the Statton Island Ferry. The purpose of the trip was simply to ride the Statton Island Ferry, since I rode it back as soon as I got there. And I was rewarded with a sunset view of Manhattan. Even that was strange. The skyline looked like it had lost its two front teeth.

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Weekend blog: Items from the past, #3.

June 9, 2002.

Woke early yesterday [June 8, 2002] and drove to O'Hare, where I faced a long line to check in at American Air. Smooth on-time flight to NYC, but some wait for a shuttle bus to Manhattan ($12), to the Hotel New Yorker. Ate a decent hamburger at the Tick-Tock, a "diner" attached to the hotel, though curiously without a clock to be seen anywhere, not even a neon-based novelty clock.

Striking out on the streets of Manhattan, I made my way circuitously to Times Square, which as ever fills the eye with its stories-tall lights. I had a lot of time to examine these commercial tawds, since I waited on line for discounted theater tickets. The line snaked around for an hour, and in the end I decided to buy tickets for Cabaret at Studio 54.

Afterward, killed some time walking around, ducking into a couple of interesting churches -- first St. Mary's, which is very near Times Square. [The church of St. Mary the Virgin, an Episcopal church built in the late 19th century by heirs to Tractarianism; the building is in French gothic style.] Then I wandered over to St. Patrick's, the Catholic cathedral on Fifth Ave., where a crowd was gathered outside to see the conclusion of a wedding. Someone near me asked: "Is someone famous getting married?" "No, people just like to stand outside after a wedding," was the answer.

Studio 54 is now a theater, and was very likely a theater before its time as a disco, considering its theater-like configuration. The only nod to its disco fame was a pair of dim mirror balls hanging close to the ceiling, far off and forlorn-looking. My seat was far to the right, in the balcony, but it was a good view. The show was excellent, and included a couple of recognizable faces (for those of us not steeped in Broadway, but television) -- Jane Leeves, who was as vigorous as the part of Sally Bowles demands, and Hal Linden, who played the part of the Jewish merchant who falls in love with Bowles' landlady, a part not in the movie version. Kevin D. told me that, during a production of Cabaret at the Chicago Theatre in the late '80s, Werner Klemperer played that part, and got the biggest applause of the night. "Everyone knew it was because he played Col. Klink," Kevin said.

Up this morning [June 9, 2002], ate doughnuts and walked generally eastward to Grand Central Station, past the Chrysler Building -- got a glimpse of its restored art deco lobby for the first time -- and arrived at the UN at about 11. Along the way, I saw the preparation for the Puerto Rico Day parade on Fifth Ave., crowding the streets. Upside to this: a lot of fetching women out and about, dressed for summer. Not quite like walking into an episode of Caliente, but not bad.

At the UN, an Iraqi woman gave the tour. Speaking of fetching -- she strongly resembled Maria Bartiromo, but with darker hair. Our tour group was too polite to question her about her connection to the Iraqi regime, though surely there must be one. Saw the Security Council and some other rooms famous in the realm of internationalism, but not the General Assembly chamber. Closed for renovation.

Down in the basement of the UN is the gift store and post office. I wanted to send a handful of post cards from the UN, with UN stamps on them, for the novelty of it. The mail boxes there are the only places in the Western Hemisphere that recognize UN stamps, so I had to buy UN stamps at the UN post office, write the cards there, and mail them there. Naturally, I was stuck in the stamp-buying queue for a while behind a stamp enthusiast who was buying and buying and buying. The UN issues stamps honoring every conceivable international good cause, it seems.

Overall impression of the aesthetics of the UN, especially the artwork: mediocre, for all their lofty aspirations, and dated -- '50s internationalism just doesn't age well. But what do you expect from a place designed by committee, with a good many members of the committee wanting to kill each other?

After the UN, I took the subway to Brooklyn to see a real international community, namely the borough itself, and spent the bulk of the afternoon in Prospect Park -- designed by Fredrick Law Omstead [he did Central Park, too]. It's a lush park in June, excellent for a walkabout, and very popular on a Sunday. People playing games, picnicking, sunbathing, walking, running and bicycling. At one point I parked myself under a large shade tree and witnessed a nearby outdoor wedding in which all of the participants and most of the guests were black.

In the early evening, I made it to the beginning of the National Association of Real Estate Editors convention. I mentioned to some associates of mine, who happened to be Manhattanites, that I'd spent part of the afternoon in Prospect Park -- you know, in Brooklyn. Judging by their reaction, I might as well have said that I'd popped over to Outer Mongolia for a quick visit.

Friday, June 13, 2003


My brother Jay's e-mail regarding Huntley-Brinkley:

"We watched Huntley-Brinkley rather than Cronkite because I liked their programme better. Why, exactly, after 35 years, I don't recall. While we were living in Denton [1965-68], I also frequently watched the morning news report (7 am) with Mike Wallace. (And sometimes Sunrise Semester, too, which came on at 6:30. I remember learning the term 'Oblomovism' from a Sunrise Semester presentation on Russian literature.)"

I have no memory of Sunrise Semester. My early morning TV in those early days was only on Saturdays, and consisted of the moving-mouth Clutch Cargo,Warner cartoons, and other entertainments.

I learned the term Oblomovism in college, which is the place to learn that sort of thing, I suppose. In the spring of '83, Sir Victor Pritchett (1900-97) was a visiting professor of creative writing at Vanderbilt, and I took his class. Truth be told, I've never been more than mildly impressed with his writings, then or later, though perhaps I ought to revisit them sometime. But it was interesting to hear the old man talk, and I was truly amazed to be in the presence of someone who knew George Orwell personally.

He told a few stories about Orwell, but not nearly enough. One was about Orwell's willingness to rent an upper-level flat in London at the height of the German bombing campaign of the fall of 1940. "The flat, as you might imagine, was very cheap," Sir Victor said, "and that appealed to Orwell."

At the end of the class, he gave away a pile of mostly Penguin paperbacks to the students in the class. I picked Oblomov, and he explained that it had spawned the term Oblomovism, to which I aspire on certain Saturday mornings, but modern American life invariably thwarts it. True to the spirit of Oblomovism, however, I've never actually gotten around to reading the book.

For those who have the benefit of not being overeducated:

"Oblomov is a nineteenth-century Russian landowner brought up to do nothing for himself. He, like his parents, only eats and sleeps. He barely graduates from college and cannot force himself to do any kind of work, feeling that work is too much trouble for a gentleman. His indolence results finally in his living in filth and being cheated consistently. Even love cannot stir him. Though he realizes his trouble and dubs it 'Oblomovism,' he can do nothing about it. Eventually his indolence kills him, as his doctors tell him it will."

-- Frank Magill, Cyclopedia of Literary Characters.

Thursday, June 12, 2003

Newsreader blog.

A quick read of one of David Brinkley's obits today revealed that he spent some time as a student at Vanderbilt, though I wasn't able to determine if he took his degree there. I hadn't known that. We're out there, we old Vandy grads and undergrads, burrowed into society: Roy Blount Jr., Amy Grant, Ross Perot Jr., Lamar Alexander, Al Gore... and me.

I'm just old enough to remember Huntley-Brinkley. I was a funny kid who watched the evening news sometimes, back in the late '60s, and it was usually those two. Jay, who was in high school at the time, might be able to say why we weren't a Cronkite-watching household. I can't say whether watching television news at age 8 or 9 has had any lasting effects on me, except perhaps to help inoculate me against devoting too much energy to certain perennial stories, most especially the Arab-Israeli fighting -- the newsreaders were yakking about that 35 years ago, and will be long enough so that Lilly and Ann will grow tired of it.

Some years ago, I read an article about television coverage of the war in Vietnam, and the author made a point of describing how the nightly body counts on the news upset him. Not only that, he posited that that was a common reaction; and I suppose it was. But I don't remember taking it that way -- if I'd been asked (and I never was), I would have described it as normal, in the indifferent way children can have: Yeah, so what? People get killed in wars. Not only that, television coverage of the war itself was not novel, since you don't have too many other points of reference at that age.

So I suppose there's a glimmer of truth to that idiotic cliche about the "loss of American innocence," which is dragged out when something terrible happens, most recently after the attacks on New York and Washington. By the time I was old enough to make any kind of judgments about events in the wider world (the mid-70s), I expected the government and corporations to lie sometimes, soldiers to die in battle, and a lot people to live in awful poverty, among many other problems. The marvel is that anyone ever believed differently, and I can only attribute it to the comfortable childhoods of the middle class after World War II -- some people slightly older than me forgot that the United States participates in the human condition too.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003

Randgold blog.

Got another African scam e-mail this morning, the second one in as many weeks. This one's not badly done, claiming to be from South Africa, with some nice touches like the "Randgold Exploration Co.," which is real enough, though it's styled Randgold & Exploration Co. Ltd. The United Bank of Africa is real too, and apparently they've gotten tired of con men claiming to be their bank officers, since they say as much on a Web site (members.tripod.com/aspaaus/maxwellibe.htm, but it creates too damn many popup windows).

Anyway, on to the entertainment:

"First, let me introduce myself, then the essence of this contact.

"I am William Mccall, Bank Manager of United Bank For Africa, capetown [sic] Branch. I have urgent and very confidential business proposition for you. On June 6 1998, a gold merchant/contractor with the Randgold Exploration Company, Mr. Jim Smith made a numbered time (Fixed) deposited for twelve calendar months, valued at US$25,000,000.00 (Twenty-five Million Dollars) in my branch.

"Upon maturity, I sent a routine notification to his forwarding address but got no reply. After a month, we sent a reminder and finally we discovered from his contract employers, Randgold Exploration company [sic] Ltd that Mr. Jim Smith died from an automobile accident.

"On further investigation, I found out that he did not leave a WILL and all attempts to trace his next of kin were fruitless. I therefore made further investigation and discovered that Mr. Jim Smith did not declare any next of kin in all his official documents, including his Bank Deposit paperwork.

"This sum of US$25,000,000.00 is still sitting in the Bank and the interest is being rolled over with the principal sum at the end of each year. No one will come forward to claim it. According to the South African Law, at the expiration of 5 (five) years, the money will revert to the ownership of the South African Government if nobody applies to claim the funds. Consequently, my proposal is that I will like you as a foreigner to stand in as the next of kin to Mr. Jim Smith so that the fruits of this old man's labour will not get into the hands of some corrupt officials. This is simple, I will [sic] like you to provide me immediately with your full names and address so that the attorney will prepare the necessary documents and affidavits, which will put you in place as the next of kin. I would also like you to scan you [sic] drivers [sic] license for me.

"We shall employ the services of two attorneys for drafting and notarization of the WILL and obtain the necessary documents and letter of probate/administration in your favour for the transfer. A bank account in any part of the world, which you provide, will then facilitate the transfer of this money to you as the beneficiary/next of kin. The money will be paid into your account for us to share in the ratio of 60% for me and 40% for you. There is no risk at all as all the paperwork for this transaction will be done by the attorney and my position as the Branch Manager guarantees the successful execution of this transaction.

"Awaiting your urgent reply via email.

"Thanks and regards,

William Mccall."

What a thoughtful chap, that Mccall. Only wants to keep 60%. Heh-heh. The delete button was made with the likes of you in mind, pal.

Tuesday, June 10, 2003

Groundbreaking blog.

Had another real estate event today, out in Rosemont, Illinois, a lilliputian suburb that thrives like truffles do, spouting in the muck at the foot of the mighty growth known as O'Hare International Airport. Hotels, restaurants, and other meeting facilities form the backbone of its tax base. Very few people (about 4,200) actually live there, or probably would want to.

This time, instead of moderating a panel, I was on a panel, consisting of me and two other members of the local real estate press -- one from another monthly, one from a weekly business tabloid. The luncheon was held by the Association of Industrial Real Estate Brokers. That group's acronym, AIREB, (pronounced "Arab") persistently inspires jokes and puzzled responses, so much so that the leadership is floating the idea of changing the group's name, though it's been called that for a number of decades.

The topic for discussion was Meet the Media, or Dealing with the Media, or something along those lines, and we got to talk about our magazines, the process of putting them together each month, what kind of information we like in press releases, and so forth. It went reasonably well. No one lobbed any spotty tomatoes or sulfurous eggs at us.

One subject that didn’t come up -- because I forgot to raise it -- was how we deal with groundbreaking photos. We get a lot of those, with a surprising number of pesky follow-up calls like this: "Excuse me, will you be using the groundbreaking picture we sent you of the new Three Initial Corp. headquarters building?"

Groundbreaking is a ritual in the real estate development business. At a certain point soon after that actual construction of a building begins (if it's a significant enough project), many of the people involved gather on site for a little ceremony that involves turning ceremonial earth with a ceremonial shovel; or turning several shovels at the same time, while everyone is wearing ceremonial hardhats.

Occasionally, such an event is on the evening news, if it's a widows 'n' orphans AIDS hospice or something else that major politicos want to be associated with. Usually, though, only members of the local real estate community know or care, or show up for the event.

Inevitably, someone takes pictures. And groundbreaking pictures photos look pretty much all the same, in an uninteresting way. Row of people, row of hardhats, row of shiny shovels. Sometimes so many people are jammed into the frame that each human head is about a big as a pinhead, and has about as much to distinguish it from the others.

There's another publication in the market that does run these pics, and in fact runs dozens of them in each issue, but not my magazine. My answer to "Will you be using the groundbreaking picture?" is no.

Cerulean blog.

Blogger.com was down last night, so this is actually the JUNE 9 posting.

I took the day off today (June 9), which has an unsurprisingly positive effect on the quality of any given Monday. Besides, today was the first bone fide summer day, a real cerulean day, both literally and figuratively. Temps mid-70s, and a lot of friendly puffy white clouds.

First thing was a bit of child maintenance, however. Early in the morning both Lilly and Ann were examined by Dr. M., their pediatrician, Lilly for her pre-kindergarten check, Ann for a four month’s check. According to medical opinion, both are in good health. So far, Lilly is on her way to becoming a large human being, for better or worse; she’s taller and heavier than most in her age cohort. Ann isn’t, but it’s early yet.

Had a late breakfast (early lunch) at the Moondance Café. The leisurely pace of your typical cerulean day is usually set by a breakfast without borders — that is, no obligation to finish up and move on. The breakfast itself doesn’t have to be fancy. In my case today, jus’ eggs, potatoes, biscuits and gravy, and I would have substituted grits for the potatoes, but we’re too far north. Yuriko had some kind of breakfast burrito, defined by a marvel of a sauce. Lilly knew what she wanted, and got it: eggs, bacon, toast.

Early in the afternoon, we went to the zoo. Technically, it’s called the Chicago Zoological Park, but everyone, including the zoo staff, calls it the Brookfield Zoo, after the suburb it’s located. It doesn’t quite have the charm of the Lincoln Park Zoo in the city, which is characterized by some excellent old zoo buildings. But Brookfield has space, a nice layout and landscape, and a superb collection of animals.

Lilly led the way. First to the butterfly exhibit, which has some 600 kinds under a green house sort of structure. Hard to believe they were all once vile larvae. Then we passed by other animals, including marsupials, bears, and hippos, and eventually Lilly and I attended the Brookfield’s dolphin show, which was entertaining enough for something that tries too hard to be educational. My experience with dolphin shows is fairly limited, but I seem to recall more motion and daring-do (or at least more hoops) at Sea World. But Sea World’s educational pretense, perhaps, is wafer thin in comparison.

Sunday, June 08, 2003

More of the weekend blog.

June 6, 1983.

...We met two fellows at the hostel [in Hannover, West Germany]. One, a German who travels from hostel to hostel in the summer, or on his vacation, or something, to talk about Jesus to foreigners; and the other, a New Zealander who bums around the world -- "professional traveler" he calls himself.

Willi, the German, has a big forehead and thinning blond hair, though I don't think he's much older than I am. [I was 22 then.] His English is pretty good. His conversations start off on some point of language -- "I have a question about a word, please," -- and always turn to Jesus before long. Willi is not much of a listener, except when he wants to learn a new word.

Then there's Paul, from New Zealand, who's considerably older than me. No religion about him, that I can see. He talks all the time about the many places he's been, and he sings and even dances a little, and otherwise generally calls attention to himself. He travels as cheaply as possible, has friends everywhere, and so forth -- he's not much of a listener, either.

Later in the day, we [I think that means Rich, Steve, Paul, Willi and I, but I've forgotten for sure] took a walk around suburban Hannover, had a beer, and wandered into an undeveloped area, coming across a Nazi-era manmade lake (1936 according to a sign; must have been a public work). Speaking of such things, the running joke at the hostel about the men's showers there -- which are in a large square room, and have only one entrance -- well, never mind. It's in bad taste.

June 7, 1983.

Willi and Paul got into an argument over religion at breakfast. Paul baited Willi, actually -- beginning by remarking to Willi, "Look at all that temptation walking around," referring to some of the girls at breakfast. "I am beyond that," said Willi, and Paul mocked him roundly for that.

Willi: You must have Jesus.

Paul: Why would God allow World War One, Two, etc.?

Willi: Men did those things.

Paul: Religion is a manmade thing.

The statements flew fast and thick, very standard religion vs. irreligion. At least it didn't come to blows.

Postscript, 2003: Unlike some other things I've written down, I remember those two characters well. Especially the way Willi said "Bible," which he said often: bib-el, short i, so the first syllable sounded like what you wear when you eat lobster.

Saturday, June 07, 2003

A blog 20 years in the making.

I had an idea the other day, the solution to weekend blogging. Generally I can't be bothered on the weekends to produce anything new, and why should I, since it's purely for my own purposes and not for pay? In any case, I have hundreds of pages of already written material, mainly old letters and diaries. So I will select and post them slightly edited, as befitting my profession.

In June 1983, my friends Steve and Rich and I crossed the English Channel. Fl. = Florin, the money the Dutch used to use.

June 3, 1983.

Woke and had a good breakfast at our Harvich [England] B&B, and after some confusion caught a bus to the Parkeston Quay, where we had no trouble boarding a huge ferry, the Prinz Oberton. It had five decks, with shops and restaurants for the elite, a cafeteria for the masses. We ate in the cafeteria -- I had some industrial white fish -- and then watched a sweet and sour Bert Reynolds movie, Best Friends, in the ship's tiny moviehouse. As usual, Bert Reynolds can't act.

Afterward Rich and I had a talk with a 10-year-old English boy named John, who knew all sorts of dirty jokes, and told us them. He had his Dutch mother with him, who habitually closed one eye when she talked, which was mostly about the perils of Amsterdam. Things aren't what they used to be, everybody's nasty now, etc.

We disembarked and went through customs without a hitch and caught a train to Amsterdam. As soon as we stepped off the train, touts selling hotel rooms encircled us like mosquitoes. The two most persistent ones gave us flyers for the Hotel California and the Orca. Without any better information, and believing the hostel would be full already (it was getting late), we headed for the Hotel California -- a sinister hotel name if I've ever heard one, but easy to remember.

En route to the hotel, Rich stepped on a plate of glass covering a cheap etching, one of many a cheap-etching salesman had put on display on the sidewalk, and broke the glass. Rich owns this etching now, cost fl. 10. We found the Hotel California without too much trouble. Fl. 35 per person, for three bunks in a four-bunk room. We thought we had bought the room, but in fact we'd bought only our spots on the bunk beds. Very late in the night a fellow came in to claim the fourth spot. For a moment, we were sure he had come to rob us.

But that was later. Our fl. 35 also bought a "free drink" at the hotel bar. There we met the hotel concierge, a brown-haired British girl, and the bartender, another British girl, dark-complexioned, who reminded me of [a girl I knew in high school]. The "free drink" reminded me of water.

Out to seek dinner at 11 p.m. We found a small kebob place not far away. "What you like?" said the manager, a dark fellow with an enormous mustache.

"Three falafel specials," Steve said. Rich and I agreed. We'd seen it on the menu, for fl. 7.

"OK," said the manager. "You want mixed meat? Mixed meat?"

Huh? This didn't precisely register. But we said, "Sure!" vaguely thinking it a variety of falafel or something.

Shortly he brought us each a large plate of meat and rice, and we were so hungry that we started eating right away, and didn't say much till we were practically done. At that point, the proprietor brought us a slip of paper, our check, which totaled fl. 17.50 for each of us. We protested; the proprietor angrily said, "You eat mixed meat"; and then Steve said, "We didn’t eat falafels, did we?" We had to admit that we hadn't, and that mixed meat -- which we now noticed on the menu high on the wall -- was indeed fl. 17.50, the most expensive thing.

Postscript, 2003: For the rest of the time we were in Europe, among the three of us the inquiry, "Is this a mixed-meat place?" would usually get a laugh.

Friday, June 06, 2003


RealShare Chicago (see yesterday's blog) wasn't the only commercial real estate to-do I attended this week. On Wednesday, I did a tour of booth duty at a convention called Realcomm, whose one saving grace was that it was held on Navy Pier, more about which later. In previous years, Realcomm has been held in Dallas in June (I never got to attend one before, however). The wisdom of that site might seem questionable, considering the likelihood of extreme temperatures in June, but the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. After all, the goal is to have people attend your show. Your nice, air-conditioned show. 100°+ F. (35+ C.) has a way of keeping you conventioneers off the golf courses.

Unless it doesn't. Las Vegas has plenty of golf courses, and they don't shut down from April to October. Golfers are a special breed of mad dogs in the midday (or is it noonday?) sun, as I think they would confess.

I digress. For whatever the reason, Realcomm was in Chicago this year. To put it briefly, it's a show for property managers, especially office building managers, with an emphasis on the technical aspects of it. During such a trade show, booth duty involves standing behind your company's booth, talking to whomever comes by and takes an interest in your product -- in my case, our magazines, and the company Web site.

Booth duty can have its charms. It really isn't that difficult, and occasionally someone interesting wanders by. The two or so hours I was at Realcomm, only a handful of people stopped at our booth, mainly because attendance at the show seemed fairly low. No one else from my company was around either, so I was pretty much left to my own devices.

I was able to take a close look at the convention program. The attending companies tended to be technically oriented, so I noticed certain patterns in their names. For instance, there were clearly a number of survivors from the late 1990s -- the age of pretentious let's-think-outside-the-capitalization-box names, e.g., iThinKthereForeiAM.com. (Not real, as far as I know, but if I'd had that idea in 1997, I could have gotten venture capital for it.)

Anyway, there were a fair sampling of bollixed capital-letter patterns on the program (these are real examples, at this show): a la mode inc. (ice cream for office workers?) and manageStar. I won't complain too loudly about these, since my own organization uses GlobeSt.com, but I'm glad that particular fad has run its course. At least I hope it has -- NB the example of the ridiculously named marchFIRST, which went bust in a big way here in Chicago a couple of years ago.

Also, there were cutesy-pie misspellings, such as Convergint Technologies; familiar-sounding word distortions, such as Xceligent; and the mandatory lower case i- prefix, in this case an outfit called iTendant Inc. And to think, these companies probably paid real money to consultants for these confections, which will be as dated as Liberty Cabbage in a very short time.

On the whole, the show was a bore, and that's saying something, since I'm difficult to bore. But when it was over, about 4:45, the saving grace kicked in. I got to walk the length of Navy Pier. For those unfamiliar with the pier, it juts into Lake Michigan from downtown Chicago a good quarter-mile or so. In the mid-90s, the City of Chicago fostered a redevelopment of the pier that transformed it from a seldom-visited, decaying relic, to the top tourist draw in the entire state of Illinois, featuring a large array of mostly family-friendly diversions, part outdoors, a good many indoors. Also, it has a relatively small amount of convention space (a gnat's worth, compared to the elephantine McCormick Place).

Occasionally, I miss the decaying relic, since it had some charm. I recall going there only twice in the late '80s, once to see a live broadcast of a live radio show WBEZ no longer produces, at the ballroom at the tip of the pier; and another time to see parts of the AIDS Quilt on display under the pier's enormous empty shed.

But on the whole, the redevelopment works well as a destination, and has interesting spots for most any temperament. This time I wandered through the Smith Stained Glass Museum, which is free, and seems to have been expanded considerably since the last time I visited last year. It has a remarkable collection of stained glass, all of it made in Chicago -- a major center of stained glass production from the mid-19th century to the mid-20th, it turns out.

It was a good way to take the edge off a dull show. Too many people would have jumped in a cab and been done with it.

Thursday, June 05, 2003

Billionaire blog.

Came within an ace of shaking hands with several billion dollars this morning, but he wandered off to give his presentation. The billionaire in question is Sam Zell. Outside the commercial real estate world, few know him. Inside the industry, everyone does, since he's chairman of the separate companies that are the world's largest office and apartment landlords. In fact, he's my landlord, or rather Real Estate Media's landlord in Chicago, since we office in one of Equity Office Property’s buildings, the Civic Opera Building.

Zell was the star attraction, the big name on the marquee, for the three-quarter-day commercial real estate conference my company held today, which was called RealShare Chicago. He's a diminutive fellow, almost leprechaunish, nearly bald and with a distinctive set of wrinkles (he's in his early 60s). My boss interviewed him one-on-one on the dais for about 45 minutes, and I'm happy to report that it's clear that, whatever else he is, Zell's an interesting human being, and a highly articulate one too. This is good. I hate it when vast wealth is wasted on stupid people.

Which raises the seldom-examined subject of stereotypes of the rich. Stereotypes of the poor and other despised peoples are well examined and, in the 20th century at least, each generation exploded its parents' stereotypes to replace them with their own. The same process occurs in thinking about powerful and privileged groups, but it generates little attention or denunciation, since, after all, the rich seldom suffer because of a bad stereotype. But as a way of understanding human beings, stereotyping the rich is just as misleading as stereotyping the poor.

That said, there are plenty of wealthy stupid people. The ancient Greeks hit it on the head when they thought of the god of wealth, Plutus, as blind or blindfolded, distributing his bounty regardless of personal merit.

My own speaking gig, which was before Zell's appearance, went reasonably well. I don't do public speaking all that often, but as an adult I've never been afraid of it. Must be all that time I spent as a member of the National Forensic League in high school. Still, that doesn't mean I'll ever be anything more than a merely competent public speaker. I don't think ever pack 'em in with a neo-Cross of Gold speech.

The panel did their part. Had a banker, an office developer, a condo developer, an industrial landlord, and investment specialist, and an office space broker. I also had a hefty cordless mike. Almost felt like a billy club there in my hand. Probably it's technically possible to make them smaller, but I don't think they should be. It made a fine prop, giving me something to do with my hands.

I did a short intro, and asked a few questions. The panel talked, and I politely cut one or another of them off if they showed any signs of incipient logorrhea. Then I went into the audience, Donahue-style, and directed the audience’s questions to the panelists.

We got one laugh. A woman asked, "Do you think the city was wrong to close Meigs Field?"

Answer from one of the panelists: "I have to apply for permits. I'm not going to touch that question." Ha-ha-ha.

Well, you had to be there. And you have to know about Meigs Field. Some other time, perhaps.

Wednesday, June 04, 2003

Brainpower blog.

A microblog for today, since I need to be in bed shortly. It's been a week of nighttime irritable baby syndrome, really two nights of it that seems like a week. That, and tomorrow I am speaking to about five hundred people at a meeting room at the Chicago Hyatt fairly early in the morning. Some of these people might be under the impression that I really know something about commercial real estate. Fortunately, my main job isn't to speak, but to facilitate questions from the audience to a panel of six real estate luminaries -- a group that actually does know something about commercial real estate.

"What you have hear is brainpower. Commercial real estate brainpower. More than that, what you the audience have is access to that brainpower, and my job is mere to facilitate things." That, more or less, will be part of my opening.

There will be no faith healing of deals gone sour.

And speaking of real estate -- the residential kind, with is the Sun to commercial real estate's Moon -- contracts have been signed and bankers are at work, and come August we will move. Life will still be suburban, though if you imagine a clock imposed on a map of Chicago, we will be moving from an 8 o'clock suburb to a 10 o'clock suburb, somewhat further out. It's a larger house, but not too large. It's a larger mortgage -- a deeper hole -- but payments will be tolerable, since interest rates are the lowest since... maybe since Arabic numerals were introduced to Christian Europe. Astute timing? A canny sense of the market? Naah. Nothing but luck.

Best of all, Lilly can walk to school, when the time comes, and it will be soon (she's moving up to K from pre-K come September). Ann will too, when that time comes. I will have a longer walk to a commuter rail station, but except in the worst weather, it will be walkable, though probably not as pleasant as my current walk, since it looks like I will have to walk along a couple of large streets most of the way. But there are sidewalks. Building a suburb without sidewalks ought to count as a minor crime against humanity.

Tuesday, June 03, 2003

Feng Blog.

Mid-50s F (12° C or so) today. The Tribune had an article on Sunday about La Nina, which took the blame for why it's unnaturally cold in June here around the Great Lakes. So they say. Something to do with low pressure, or low water temps, or low something-or-other in a vast region of the Pacific seldom visited by human beings. But not to worry. As soon as this cold spring is over, we have a hot and dry summer to look forward to.

Waiting for me on my desk this morning was "May is National Moving Month," a press release from Allied Van Lines. Actually, it was dated February 5, 2002, but Bonnie G., whose office is a storehouse of real estate industry ephemera, thoughtfully left it for me, since it's all but certain now that we will move in August. It's a strange document.

In the very first paragraph, it lets us know that Allied has declared May as "National Moving Month," which raises some interesting questions by itself, but it gets better on the next page: "In addition... to moving [services], Allied Van Lines also provides homeowners with decorating tips designed to ease the transition into a new home. --

"I think the lamp would look good over there, lady."

-- A signature component of contemporary interior design, the ancient design art of Feng Shui is helping homeowners design a harmonious transition..."

It is? Have interior designers lost their minds? As a Chinese cultural practice, I have no particular quarrel with Feng Shui. It seems innocuous enough in its native setting. As an import to North America, except perhaps for Chinatowns, I have the strongest urge to mock its practitioners. Why Feng Shui? Why don't we advocate living in yurts (as in Mongolia), or what about building spirit houses next to our dwellings (as in Thailand)? Practicing Feng Shui in (say) Schaumburg, Illinois, is as silly as cultivating cocoanut trees there, and as thoughtlessly fashionable as getting a tattoo on your backside.

And what is Feng Shui doing in this press release, anyway? It seems that Allied "has worked with Julie L. [a Feng Shui consultant] to develop the 'Moving with Harmony -- The Feng Shui Way' brochure, providing decorating and design tips for the home." Attagirl, Julie. Hope you can keep a straight face.

Monday, June 02, 2003

Joan d'Blog.

Got a Nigerian scam e-mail at the office this morning. Well, I would hardly feel connected with the Global Village if I didn't get one every now and then. But maybe I'm blaming Nigeria thoughtlessly. The message purported to be from someone with an African-sounding name -- Ndaba something, I think -- and the subject line read "Eagarly [sic] Seeking Your Most Urgent Assistance." So perhaps it was from some entrepreneurs in Tanzania, Ghana or Liberia. No, that last one's still a smoking ruin.

Not to pick on any particular nation, but those are examples of places were English has enough currency to inspire e-mail messages with spelling mistakes a native speaker might make (and does often, if American teenage bloggers are any indication). Probably con men from Cote d'Ivoire or Gabon are busy trying to relieve the French of their euros electronically.

A few more postings about Milwaukee to go. It seems that no matter where I go, it creates about a week's worth of material. On Memorial Day, we woke early for no good reason, and I fetched Krispy Kreme for breakfast, and we were soon on our way. We took pleasantly empty surface streets back from the suburban Brookfield toward Marquette University, which is near downtown. The university sports a place called the Joan of Arc Chapel on its campus.

The Catholic Information Network has this to say about this Milwaukee curiosity: "This 15th century Gothic oratory, the Chapelle de St. Martin de Sayssuel, was built in the French village of Chasse, near Lyon. When the architect Jacques Couelle discovered it after the First World War and helped arrange its relocation to Long Island, New York, in 1926. In 1964 the chapel was given to Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and was reconstructed on the campus and dedicated to St. Joan of Arc."

Further investigation suggests that the story of this building isn't quite as simple as that, meaning that only some of it came from Chasse, with other bits from other places added at various times, along with a modern infrastructure. So perhaps it's more of a reconstituted chapel, rather than a reconstructed one, but it's remarkable that any part of any 15th-century French church building made it to the Western Hemisphere in the 20th century. However, if I were St. Martin of Saysseul, I would be annoyed that Joan of Arc's name was pasted on my chapel. I suppose the elders of Marquette thought that Joan had more name recognition, as indeed she does. Probably they didn't take the English version of her career into account, either.

Otherwise Marquette's campus is a mix of older buildings, middle-aged buildings from the age of academic ugly (ca. 1950-80), and more recent structures, some good looking. Few other people were around, except campus cops who had clearly decided we were no threat, and so ignored us. The chapel is tucked away among larger things, and it took us a while to find it. It was closed. The outside was nice, but we had also wanted to see the stained glass on the inside, too.

Ah, well. Joan d'Arc Chapel joins the list of places I went to see, but couldn't -- not fully, anyway -- a diverse group that includes several sites in Rome, such as the Pantheon (closed, because part of it had collapsed and killed a tourist the year before, in 1982), the view from atop the Los Angeles City Hall (closed for renovations in the summer of 2001), and the giant Torii (Gate) of Itsukushima on Miyajima near Hiroshima, which was enveloped by scaffolding that fine spring day in 1993.

Sunday, June 01, 2003

The Winged Blog.

The Milwaukee Art Museum elders commissioned Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava to design a new building for them that would, among other things, attract people to come look at it. It worked exactly that way in my case. When I set out for Milwaukee last weekend, I had it in mind -- the museum with wings. "I want to see the new museum with wings," I said to Yuriko. "Don't worry, I don't plan to drag two kids around inside. I just want to see the outside."

(Probably the museum elders were thinking I'd buy a ticket and come on in, but if they want me to do that, they might consider setting up a spiffy monitored play area for Lilly, along the lines of the one Ikea has.)

Officially, the stories-tall wings are called "Brise Soleil" (Sunscreen), and they adorn the south addition to the museum, which is along the lakefront. Must sound more elegant in French than "Sunscreen," which most English-speakers are going to associate with SPF numbers.

It was worth driving 90 miles to see. When we went downtown to take a look at it, last Sunday afternoon, the area was lightly populated but not eerily vacant as some downtowns become on Sunday. There are a couple of good perches from which to contemplate the Brise Soleil: from a raised plaza (parking underneath) directly across Lincoln Memorial Drive, which is connected to the museum by a stylish pedestrian bridge, for one; or from the War Memorial building to the north, a view that has the advantage of excluding that '50s vintage memorial building, which may be noble in sentiment but is ugly. Either way, the new museum is framed by the blues of Lake Michigan, and the full expanse of the ornamental wings is clearly visible.

When the museum closed at 5 p.m., so did the wings. Yuriko saw it. I was en route to our car and back to fetch the forgotten camera. When I got back, I looked at the structure and thought, something's different. The wings had closed up something like the way butterflies' wings do, with both of them pointing more or less straight back. I wish I had seen them move, but seeing them in a changed position so suddenly was almost as remarkable. Yuriko said they made a gradual, but perceptible, motion.