Tuesday, August 31, 2004

OS X blog, the upgrade.

August is going out with neither a bang nor a whimper. Warm and sunny today, very nice, but hardly the kind of thing I associate with declining summer, which is still supposed to be hot, so hot that you’re looking forward to fall.

The iMac man showed up at the office yesterday, bearing my upgraded machine. It’s the friendly old shell my company bought for me in 2000, nice and turquoise, but it now has more memory (256 MB), and more importantly, OS 10.3.4 humming along in its silicon heart. As usual, I’m far from the ranks of early adopters, but my take on that is, who cares?

Naturally, since I’ve been using OS 9 for so long, there have been some transitional difficulties, mostly psychological. Mostly they boiling down to: it’s not like it used to be. Still, it isn’t vastly different, so only after a day of using the new system, I’m getting acclimated. Some of the features even make me smile, such as the way the documents and whatnot shrink and expand, reminding me briefly of a cartoon tornado.

There was a moment when Internet Explorer refused to open up GlobeSt.com for me, a very important web site in my work. It had been opening it all morning effortlessly, without murmur or qualm. Then, suddenly, I called the site up and got this message:

None of the range-specifier values in the Range request-heade field overlap the current extent of the selected resource.

As fine an example of opaque computerese as you could hope for. Read it a few times, roll it around your head, and laugh. After a few uncertain minutes, I finally figured out that the machine wanted me to drop the www from the GlobeSt.com address, after which it worked fine. Would it be so hard to dream up an error message that says: “Something’s wrong with your address line, fool” ?

Guess so. Now that I have OS X, I’ll have to look into Mozilla.

Monday, August 30, 2004

Tallgrass blog.

The catfish are jumping, and the milkweed is high. Doesn’t have quite the same ring, but this is Illinois, after all. Recently we went to the Midewin National Tallgrass Prairie, about 15 miles south of Joliet, Illinois. It’s a brand-new public facility. A set of “interim trails” opened up this summer, and we walked one of them -– a mile and a half long, and so little known to the population at large that during the course of a walk on a sunny, moderately warm Saturday afternoon in mid-August, at the edge of a metro area with 9.1 million people or so, we were the only ones there.

Formerly, most of the Tallgrass Prairie was occupied by the Joliet Arsenal, an Army facility opened in time to make weapons to give the bum’s rush from the world stage to Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo. Now, it’s the site of prairie restoration. Illinois once was almost all prairie; now there’s very little. In as much as I understand these things, there’s quite a ways to go before Midewin will be anything like a conjectured pre-Columbian or even pre-1800 prairie. My untrained eye noticed a lot of milkweed, thistles and especially queen anne’s lace.

Queen anne’s lace: “A widely naturalized Eurasian herb (Daucus carota var. carota) having white, nonfleshy, fusiform compound umbels of small white or yellowish flowers.” (Dictionary.com.) Meaning it’s an immigrant. Doing very well in North America, as many immigrants do. But the government effort here is of the Know-Nothing variety, with the goal of restoring a kingdom of native plants, the kind that the bold pioneers of old would have encountered in the early 19th century. Their first thought was probably, “Burn it. We can put good farms here.”

Sunday, August 29, 2004

Linking blog.

Usually I don’t bother with adding links to this site. Others, such as Instapundit, do it so much better. Also, I want this site to be mine, without extraneous material. But the real reason is that I chafe at even the simplest HTML task. No excuse for it, but there it is.

Tonight, however, in lieu of an actual entry, which there was no time for today, I will add a link. My friend Ed, whom I’ve known for about 14 years now, recently wrote a flattering column about me in a small travel magazine called Motionsickness. See motionsickness magazine "Travels With Dees."

Also, take a look at some of his other columns in the archive, such as “How to Go to Hell.” Ed does some nice work.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Games of yore blog.

Been watching more television, and much more sports, than usual because of the Olympics, which I have a fondness for. NBC’s lousy coverage is a good case for upgrading from broadcast TV to something with more channels, but I will resist. It’s only a good case, not a compelling one.

Something I wrote during the Seoul Games; Sunday, September 18, 1988:

“Yesterday I took a long walk, drank a fair potage of beer, read some Further Tales of the City and watched the Olympics with Barb and Steve and their dog. [I did not own a TV in 1988, and was a better man for it.] The athletes were accomplished, of course, even flawless to an untrained eye like mine. The coverage, on the other hand, was commercials every time you paused to take a breath; commentator blah-blah-blah; and the sense watching the coverage that mostly Americans were competing in the Games, along with a few a other people from other places.”

I could have written that yesterday. I noticed in a bar in Minneapolis last week that the Games were better with the sound down. But at home, Lilly turned it back up when I tried that.

“Actually the most articulate of the commentators was a former gymnast who now models women’s underwear. Good career move, probably.

“I saw some really striking high-dive girls. One in particular: a Soviet girl in a red bathing suit who did well but didn’t win a medal. Wow, I don’t remember such stylish bathing suits in ’72 or ’76. Maybe it started in Los Angeles, but I didn’t watch any of those Games. Anyway, I have to wonder if the stylish Soviet will be allowed the opportunity to pursue a career in, say, underwear modeling. I doubt it. That would be stretching glasnost too far.”

Not something I could have written yesterday.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Book giveaway blog.

Finally, it feels something like summer here: warm and humid. But this mostly cool summer seems to have had an effect on the trees, who are now ahead of the game. Today I noticed tinges of yellow and red on a few trees along my route to the train station, including at least one sizable oak.

Not only was it warm, but I also encountered some enormous clouds of gnats on my way home this afternoon, mostly rising out of the wildflower restoration slopes near the Springinsguth Road/Elgin-O’Hare Expressway junction. On the other hand, maybe I just imagined a sign that said that it was a wildflower restoration area, since it’s gone now. Back in July, when the flowers on the slope were really going gangbusters, large machines came one day and decimated them. A change in policy? A municipal lawn crew that misunderstood its instructions? Oops! Might as well take down the sign, too.

Got an unusual freebie at the train station today. A book. “Read it and talk about it,” said one of the college kids, or college-aged kids, who were passing it out. They were giving away advance copies of a thing called Wild Animus, which, according to the blurbs, is a “provocative debut novel [in which] a young man rejects a normal life to follow a wild, inner calling. That isn’t quite what he imagined, so then he goes back to school for a master’s in creative writing.”

Well, I added that second sentence myself. More interesting than the blurbs are the economic facts of the book, which are right on the back, under the breathless description of the plot. Fifty-thousand copies on its first printing. A seven-city national tour, including Fairbanks and Anchorage, since the book seems to be set mostly in Alaska. A $450,000 marketing budget, including giving copies away, no doubt. Maybe that’s chump change in book publishing, but I’m impressed. Someone –- the imprint says Too Far –- thinks this book is going to sell some copies, at $19.95 U.S. and $24.95 Canadian. ($20 for a paperback!)

Will I get around reading it, or at least starting it? Maybe. It doesn’t really look like my kind of story. My train book at the moment, on the other hand, is. Gates of Fire is an historical novel about the battle of Thermopylae. Compare and contrast. Novel A: Disillusioned with American civilization at the zenith of its wealth and power, a young whiner goes to the wilderness to be authentic. Novel B: A detailed and gripping account of an astonishingly brutal war in Antiquity whose outcome reverberates even now.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Twin Cities blog-wrap.

Yesterday was Lilly’s first day of first grade. It was also 25 years to the day after I flew from San Antonio to Nashville to begin college at Vanderbilt, so long ago that I flew on Braniff. Synchronicity or mere coincidence? (Coincidence, I think.)

Time to wrap up Minneapolis with some unconnected notes about my recent visit.

I did a fair amount of walking around downtown on this trip, unlike the previous one, when my biggest expedition was to a steak joint called Murray’s around the block from my hotel (see November 9, 2003). Minneapolis has a decent skyline, an impressive stock of buildings older and newer, and a lively enough fussganger – pedestrian street – in the form of the Nicollet Mall.

I wandered into a couple of unusual shops. One, you might expect: Al’s Farm Toys, in the Mall of America. Floor to ceiling, almost, with replica farm equipment. A lot of model tractors, more than a suburbanite (me) would ever imagine existed, at prices he (I) would not want to pay. By contrast, we chanced across another store on the Nicollet Mall, one you might not expect in Minneapolis: Bob Marley Footwear. From the back wall of that store, Bob’s enormous face looks out at the selection of shoes, all of which bear a small likeness of the Rasta-man. This is apparently one part of the Marley family’s cottage industry, based on Bob. Praise Jah!

Despite the gorgeous weather, we also ventured into the city’s Skyway system, a series of overhead tunnels that connects almost every major office and retail building in the Minneapolis CBD, a story or so above street level (St. Paul has an even more extensive system, I’ve read). You can, in fact, traverse most of the downtown in these tunnels, the advantages of which are clear enough considering the long Minnesota winters. But even in August, a lot of people were using the tunnels, which have an infrastructure all their own – retail shops and signage as good or better than on the ordinary streets.

One of my meetings took me into the Pillsbury Center. Sitting on the plaza in front of this building is its name in large metal letters (three or four feet tall), fashioned in the same typeface that the company uses for its products. There should have been, I thought almost immediately, a statue of the Pillsbury Doughboy nearby. But no.

However, a little later I did stand in front of the statue of Mary Richards at the corner of 7th and the Nicollet Mall. It’s a life-sized bronze on a short pedestal, invoking the moment at the end of the introduction to The Mary Tyler Moore Show when that character tosses her tam in the air. A little odd, a statue to a television character, but it makes more sense if you know that it was paid for by TV Land, the Viacom cable channel that shows old shows such as MTM. That channel has been busy in recent years seeding the nation with TV-inspired bronzes, such as Andy and Opie Taylor in Raleigh; Ralph Kramden at the Port Authority bus terminal in Manhattan; and Dr. Bob Hartley here in Chicago.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Front-row blog.

“Watch out for the left-handed hitters,” the old man sitting next to the left of me said. “Their foul balls can shoot over this way like bullets.”

It was something I kept in mind while occupying Row 4, Seat 9, Section 131 at the HHH Metrodome last week, to see the Twins trounce the Yankees. Row 4, as I mentioned yesterday, was the front row of that section, much closer to the third-base line than the exit. The man who gave me this advice had probably seen many foul balls into those seats in his day, since he also said that he’d had season tickets for the two seats he and his wife now occupied since 1961 (presumably he meant a similar position at wherever the Twins played before the Metrodome, but I didn’t press the point).

He had survived all those errant balls all those years to be a hale-looking fellow in his 70s, so I took that as a measure of the low probability that a speeding baseball would connect with my head. The closest a ball came to us during the game wasn’t very close at all, but it did fly into a stand of TV cameras just off third base and, I think, cause one of the cameramen to duck.

The following is extracted from an AP reporter’s – Andres Ybarra – write-up of the game. It might be a dream job for some, and probably isn’t that hard, but I’m glad I’m not a sports reporter. It would mean that I’d have to pay attention to games all the time, rather than when I felt like it.

“The last time he faced the Yankees, Johan Santana and the Minnesota Twins were knocked out of the American League playoffs. This time, Santana knocked down Derek Jeter and silenced New York's powerful lineup…

“The left-hander took a shutout into the eighth inning Wednesday night and won his fifth straight start, spoiling Mike Mussina's return from the disabled list by pitching Minnesota to a 7-2 victory.

“Santana gave up two runs and five hits in seven-plus innings with six strikeouts and one walk. He retired 11 in a row during one stretch and helped put an end to Jeter's 17-game hitting streak, which tied a career high for the Yankees' shortstop.

“He brought a loud roar from the crowd when he barely missed hitting Jeter in the head with a high-and-tight pitch in the third, sending the Yankees' star sprawling to the ground… The crowd of 41,125 gave Santana a standing ovation as he walked to the dugout.”

Santana had some fans, all right. Some of them were sitting near me. On the right side of the seats that my companions and I sat in, there were a couple of svelte young women – a set, one blonde, one brunette – who cheered Santana loudly every time he walked into the dugout, bending so far over to get a look at him that I was occasionally afraid one of them would fall onto the field. “We love you! Yeah! Go Santana! Yeah! WOOOOO! We love you!” They also had a homemade sign proclaiming their love for the pitcher.

Directly behind me were some young men, Venezuelans. I know that because a woman sitting next to them asked them where they were from, and one of them had a Venezuelan flag that he held up from time to time. Every now and then, the flag brushed the top of my head. But at least these gentlemen from South America didn’t yell in my ear. Unlike the front-row women, the Venezuelans were quieter, but obviously excited to be there to see their countryman, Johan Santana, pitch against the Yankees. (Striking a blow against Yankee imperialism?)

The crowd didn’t like Derek Jeter. Every time he came up to bat, they booed, and, as Ybarra wrote, the crowd cheered Santana for nearly beaning Jeter. None of the other Yankees was singled out like that. I guess it was because everyone had heard of Jeter. Fame has its drawbacks.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Metrodome blog.

A scary few minutes with the iMac at the office recently -- or rather, with the substitute iMac, since the one I usually use is being upgraded off site. I set Disk Doctor in motion to check the substitute’s hard drive, and blam! it caused a problem with the hard drive. Disk Doctor caused the problem – that is, was Disk Quack in this case. For a while, I couldn’t start the machine using the hard drive. Before long, however, I started it with a CD I have, which also contains Disk First Aid, and that fixed up the damaged hard drive.

Last Wednesday I saw the Twins clobber the Yankees 7-2 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in downtown Minneapolis. It was good to visit a new (for me) ballpark, and see a couple of teams I’d never seen before, though it would never occur me to travel around the country visiting all the stadiums, as I’ve heard some fanatics do.

The Metrodome ain’t no Wrigley Field. It’s not even Comiskey, old or new (which I refuse to call by its new name). Which isn’t to say that it doesn’t have some character as a stadium. Unfortunately, it’s utilitarian character, as you'd expect from something called a "metrodome." Ballparks.com has this to say about the structure, a Skidmore Owings & Merrill design of the early 1980s: “The Metrodome is covered by more than 10 acres of Teflon-coated fiberglass. It is the only air-supported dome in the major leagues, and fans enter the park through revolving doors that prevent release of the air that keeps the dome upright. The roof requires 250,000 cubic feet of air pressure per minute to remain inflated, and on at least three occasions slight tears caused by heavy snows have caused the roof to deflate. The right-field wall is 23 feet tall and covered with plastic. Called ‘the Big Blue Baggy’ and ‘Hefty Bag’ by players, the plastic-coated fence hides 7,600 retractable seats that are used when the stadium is in its football configuration.”

There are other such arenas, such as the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis (I refuse to use its current name, too). I visited that one for a fire chiefs’ convention once, and remember its enormous revolving doors. The HHH revolving doors were smaller, and there was no sense of changing air pressure as we entered. The game began at 6:05, and we were in my seat in time for the first pitch. The tickets had been provided by a company that does business with my company, but not business involving the editors, so I was merely on the right business trip at the right time. It was no half-hearted gift, either: we were on the front row, about three-fifths of the way down the third-base line, immediately over the Twins’ dugout.

That’s the closest I’ve ever sat to a major-league game, and probably the closest I ever will. It was close enough to imagine that you were in a much smaller stadium; close enough to see the players sweat. You couldn’t quite look into the dugout without curving your neck like a giraffe, but I could see the players’ tub of iced Gatorade. Still, at the risk of sounding like an ingrate, the seats were also built for discomfort. Besides being hard, the first-row seats had about the same legroom as an airliner in coach.

No matter. I enjoyed the game, and got up when I needed to. During the fifth inning, I circumambulated the entire stadium. It was remarkable how much one part of it looked like any other, especially the arrays of food vendors. At one point I stopped and got a hot dog – a Dome Dog, in fact. It was different from a regular hot in one way. It was bigger.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Elevator digression blog.

My brother Jay, who also has a gift for digression, writes regarding yesterday's post: “A manually-operated passenger elevator! In this country at least, that's right up there for rarity with the ivory-billed woodpecker & the pink-headed duck. OK, maybe not the pink-headed duck, which was never found in this country. It was last seen in the wild in what's now Bangladesh in about 1935, in the mouth of a hunter's dog. See The Search for the Pink-Headed Duck: A Journey into the Himilayas and Down the Bramaputra, by Rory Nugent, for more information.

“As to elevator operators, I think I rode with one in the Nix Professional Building in San Antonio, circa 1980. I have seen elevator operators since then, but only in specialized venues, like the observation deck on the Sears Tower or the Hemisfair Tower in San Antonio. Both of those featured elevator operators if I'm not mistaken. For what it's worth, I believe that Shirley McClain's character in The Apartment was an elevator operator.”

Indeed, manual elevators are very rare here in the United States, except maybe in the highrises of Manhattan. Some years ago I read that there were only three manual elevators in downtown Chicago, only one of which I know I’ve ridden -- it’s in a small-beer office building in River North, in the mean shadow of the Cabrini-Green public housing project (not now quite as mean as it was in the 1980s, however).

A quick search turned up an undated Seattle Times article by a reporter named Pamela Sitt that relates the following: “Elevator operators are a dying breed, so much so that the occupation isn't recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“There was no information available about elevator operators in the Bureau's 2000 figures, and an Internet search turned up zilch as well. Other than Smith Tower, the only other building in Seattle that employs elevator operators is the Space Needle.”

I’ve written about the dangerous lift I experienced in the Czech Republic (March 24, 2004), but despite possibly dating from the waning days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, it wasn’t a manual, only a primitive automatic. But I don’t think I’ve mentioned Japanese department store elevators, which are a class unto themselves.

Not because the equipment is old. In fact, all of the department-store elevators I ever rode in Japan were fully automatic, late 20th-century conveyances. And yet many of them had elevator operators, who were universally known to gaijin as elevator girls. I’m sure they had different uniforms according to which store they worked for, but after 10 years, they’ve all conflated in my memory into young women wearing white, slightly frilly blouses, pink skirts and round pink-and-white hats, almost hyperfeminine bowlers.

They had no special equipment to learn. They would stand next to the elevator buttons and take requests for floors. Upon arriving on a particular floor, they announce it, along with some of the merchandise available, and thank the customers. All in a voice an octave higher than normal. Which, I’ve read, is supposedly more pleasing the ear. (But not for me.)

But that was back in the early 1990s. I will have to e-mail my remaining friends in Japan to see if the custom continues. Customs die hard in Japan, but given enough economic pressure, they do die.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Manually operated blog.

Last week we had an appointment in the charming Young-Quinlan Building at the corner of 9th St. and the Nicollett Mall, which is a quasi-pedestrian street running most of the length of downtown Minneapolis (quasi because pedestrians have to share it with buses). Young-Quinlan is relatively small as an office building -- five stories -- but it does sport an elegant brick and glass façade, and first-floor retail boutiques pleasant to the eye and injurious to the wallet. At one time, I understand, the building housed a department store co-founded by one Elizabeth Quinlan, a pioneer in purveying ladies' ready-to-wear clothing.

We entered from 9th, and went looking for the elevator bank. “Are you gentlemen looking for something?” said a woman standing in the hall. She was a well-dressed and -coiffured lady of perhaps 70. We told her the business we were looking for. “I’ll take you there,” she said, leading us into one of the elevators.

She entered the elevator ahead of us, and took a position on the front right-hand side, next to a small stool and some iron, old-timey-looking apparatus -- levers of various sorts. (Which said OTIS in raised iron letters.) Immediately I knew that this was a manually operated elevator.

“Excuse me,” I said, “are you an elevator operator?”

“Yes, I am,” she said, closing the outer door, then the accordion-like brass inner door.

“Really? You must be the only one in Minneapolis.” We started to go up, her at the controls. The elevator made whirring sounds.

“This is the only manually operated elevator in an office building in Minneapolis,” she said cheerfully, but also careful to use the qualifier “office.”

“How long have you done this?” I asked. As we were arriving on the fourth floor, she was listing her various elevator operator jobs going back 30+ years, at least one of which was at a defunct department store. The car stopped at the fourth floor with a slight lurch and more creaky machine noises oozing from the walls.

“I enjoy it,” she said as we were leaving the elevator. “I like to keep busy.”

Unfortunately, I didn’t catch her name, nor whether she was the only person to do this job. I thought we might see her on the way out, but the elevator that came that time was an automated one, though I did note that it had been a manual at one time. Why the building decided to keep a manual at all, I couldn’t say. But I’m glad it’s there.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Advance Thresher Newton-Emerson Implement Blog.

One of our meetings on Wednesday in Minneapolis was at the corner of 3rd Street and Park Ave., very close to the hulking outline of the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, which rises like a albino cupcake a couple of blocks away. Though not as big, the 3rd Street/Park Ave. building -- Thresher Square, it’s now called -- hulks in its own way, as one of those huge brick edifices that occupies every square foot up to the lot line, or seems to. While my associate was in the car attending to his Blackberry for a few minutes, I got out and took a look at this building, both from across the street, and from right next to its skin.

Interestingly, the fullest description of the structure that I can find on line is at Star-Tribune columnist James Lilek’s site, for he is fond of Minneapolis architecture (and I’m beginning to understand why). He writes: “The name is as long as the century it's survived: The Advance Thresher Newton-Emerson Implement Building. Another product of prolific and brilliant architect Frederick Kees. It looks like one building, but it's actually two -- the Advance building was constructed in 1900, its mate in 1904. The right half of the building has one more floor than the left -- something people rarely note until you point it out. It's a tribute to the building's exceptional sense of proportion -- it manages to be lopsided without looking like it.”

I’ll confess that I eyed the building without noticing the difference in floor counts. But I did see right away that the current structures is really two buildings fused into one by the process of adaptive reuse. I also noticed the marvelously ornate terra-cotta work, and remained impressed by the sturdiness of the brickwork, which I guessed was load-bearing. I was right about that.

The manufacture of farm implements at this site is long over, but a 1980s rehab turned this twin structure into handsome office space. Even better, the interior atrium sweeps up through the building, and reveals a small forest of wooden beams sprouting from the brick walls, an array so geometrically intriguing that I was reminded of an Escher print.

Friday, August 20, 2004

Minneapolis III blog.

August is a good time to visit Minneapolis. Just this week I had the opportunity to do a fair amount of walking around its downtown -– had to walk around, especially on Wednesday, since I was going from meeting to meeting in pursuit of that thing that we call a business trip. It was mostly sunny and in the low 70s F., which I understand is cool even for Minneapolis in August, but no one seemed to mind. Minneapolitans take to the streets of their downtown on an August weekday, out and about, greedy for the warmth of the air before the door slams shut on summer (even a cool summer), giving the place a lively air that some other Midwestern downtowns don’t have –- St. Louis or Indianapolis or Detroit especially, just to name some others I’ve been to recently.

All together, I had about 48 hours from the time ATA brought me to the Twin Cities until that airline took me home again. Divide that time-pie into three parts: work-related; sleep; and other. Never mind the first two. It’s the “other” that concerns me here.

Besides spending a lot of time downtown on foot, I also got a chance to see a couple of wonderful buildings -- along with the usual architectural dreck besides -- have lunch al fresco in one of the wealthiest parts of the metro area, have dinner at the nation’s number-one tourist attraction (go figure), visit Al’s Farm Toys, sit as close as possible to the Minnesota Twins dugout without actually being a ballplayer for that team, and talk to an elevator operator -- a member of a storied profession that barely exists any more.

But last things first. On the flight back home yesterday, there were a mother and two children in the row behind me. Though I’d didn’t get a good look at them, I think the kids, a boy and a girl, were between about 6 and 8. The mother mentioned to the flight attendant that this was their first airplane ride. The kids were audibly excited about this in a way that’s hard to imagine for someone (like me) who isn’t even able to remember all the flights he’s taken.

We were delayed in taking off, and this caused a little consternation for the kids, but when the time came at last, they shared a running commentary with nearby passengers. “Wow, we’re moving!” “It’s getting faster and faster,” “Here we go,” “Wow,” “Cool!” “Look at that,” “Oh my gosh!” I suppose their mother had told them not to behave like idiots, so they weren’t screaming, fortunately, and the running comments didn’t bother me at all (I can’t speak for the jaded-looking soul next to me, however). As we went along, they pointed out other things -- "We're over the clouds." “Is that Chicago yet?” “I see Chicago.” “That’s the big lake.” “We’re going down!”

At this point I could over-sentimentalize by gushing about the virtues of childlike wonder, but I think I’ll pass. A childlike sense of wonder is very nice, but it’s for children. In most cases I want a more experienced sense of wonder, something fitting for an adult. And sometimes I can muster it, even on something as ordinary as an hour-long flight between Midwestern cities. I seldom mind having the window seat (as I did on this trip), and if I’m not too tired or distracted, I’ll appreciate in my own quiet way the wonders of the rushing ascent, or the snake-like rivers, distant ponds, indistinct farms and other land features from miles up, or descent to the ever-closer ground.

Monday, August 16, 2004

Mojo blogging.

NO BLOGGING for a few days. Expect to read about it for a few days after that.

The last time I heard “Elvis is Everywhere” by Mojo Nixon was seven years ago today. I remember this so precisely because it was 20 years to the day after Elvis’ death, August 16, 1997. Yuriko and I were driving to Evanston to visit an acquaintance of mine, and that soon-to-be first grader we now call Lilly was about three months ahead of her trip down the birth canal. The song came on the radio, and it was the first time I’d heard it in years (it’s an ’80s confection).

And what fun. Makes me grin even now. Some advice to the youth among my readership (if any): find some way to steal it and store it in your iPods. It’s a gas.

The song isn’t available to me right now, but thanks to Mr. Google, the lyrics are, which is all I really need at the moment. There’s much, much more to it, but here’s a representative sample:

Yeah man, you know people from outer space,
people from outer space they come up to me.
They don't look like like Doctor Spock.
They don't look like Klingons,
all that Star Trek jive.
They look like Elvis.
Everybody in outer space looks like Elvis.
Cause Elvis is a perfect being.
We are all moving in perfect peace and harmony towards Elvisness
Soon all will become Elvis.
Everything everywhere will be Elvis.
Why do you think they call it evolution anyway?
It's really Elvislution!
Elvis is everywhere
Elvis is everything
Elvis is everybody
Elvis is still the king

P.S. It’s been exactly a year now since that other legend, Idi “VD” Amin “Dada,” “Conqueror of the British Empire,” passed away among his friends the Saudis.

Sunday, August 15, 2004


Chronicles of late August 2002, continued.

We spent the balance of Saturday afternoon at the St. Louis Zoo, which is part of the enormous Fair Park. It’s a lush zoo, but the humidity had driven a lot of the animals out of sight, so at times it seemed to be the kind of zoo PETA might run, one with no animals. The St. Louis Zoo also has a free admission -- few zoos do that -- but contains very many special exhibits that cost extra. Still, we had a good time gadding about the zoo, and later we went to dinner at a spot called Blueberry Hill, a busy St. Louis institution of a restaurant, liberally adorned with rock ’n’ roll and other mid-century pop-culture gewgaws.

The food is an interpretation of diner food, and pretty good. We sat near an impressive collection of lunch boxes. That occasioned Jay to tell me about the lunch box he carried in elementary school ca. 1960, one designed to look like a pioneer wagon under attack by Indians, with an rounded top and pioneers painted on the sides, using their firearms. He said he carried it because he didn’t like the cafeteria food. I never carried a lunchbox myself, since I didn’t mind the food at Woodridge Elementary School, ca. 1970. This tolerance for mediocre food has proven very useful in many of my travels (and, for that matter, in other periods of my life as well).

I paid for dinner, and [my brother] Jay paid for the room at the Hilton Frontenac, which is in west suburban St. Louis. It had a pleasant outdoor pool, where Lilly, [my nephew] Robert and I did some swimming late in the evening. The name Frontenac interested me: another small example of the vestiges of French influence in the Midwest, mostly in place names. But not always place-names. I’ve heard that the municipal symbol of the city used to be King Louis IX, or at least a caricature of him, plus fleurs-de-lis. An equestrian statute of Louis still stands in Fair Park, but a good many decades ago the Arch took his place in the iconography of the city. Fittingly, I guess -- the French dropped their North American ball a long time ago, to be picked up by Anglo-Americans. The Arch, in case you didn’t know, is officially the Gateway Arch, and it stands in the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial National Historic Site. Whew.

We went home on Sunday, which meant doing the drive back across Illinois. Before leaving the St. Louis area, but after saying goodbye to Jay and Robert, who headed back to Dallas at about the same time, Lilly and I went to the Shrine of Our Lady of the Snows, which has long been (for me) an intriguing spot on the map. I was expecting a small hillside shrine or some such. It is nothing of the kind. Besides the “main shrine” -- which looked more like an outdoor theater to me, though it was so hot that I didn’t walk around for a close look -- there’s a church, hotel, apartment complex, radio station, visitors center, parking lots, walking trails, several huge pieces of sculpture, and a lot of hilly, wooded land. Plus a playground with a Biblical theme: pics of various Bible stories here and there, and a walking course around the playground illustrated to represent the seven days of creation. Lilly played there without regard to the unusual theme.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Decadence and distractions blog.

Items from the past. In this case, not too long past -- only two years -- but still pre-Blogger.

Late August 2002.

We are now at the gates of the second trimester, as I am fairly certain this child will be our long-lasting souvenir of the trip we took to Montreal May 25-June 1. Yuriko says she can feel some movement. Lilly knows that a baby is in there, but is unclear on the details; in late June we all went to Y’s obstetrician for the first ultrasound, and Lilly’s comments lead me to believe she was expecting us to take a baby home with us that day. A later ultrasound, in early August, was part of some testing to assess the risk of genetic defects. According to medical opinion, the probability of this is very small, so we will not proceed to other, more invasive tests, such as amniocentesis.

The weekend before Labor Day weekend, Lilly and I drove to St. Louis. Actually, I did all the driving, and it is something of a haul for one day, about five hours. [My brother] Jay had decided again to accompany [his son] Sam to Washington University, where he's now a sophomore. Sam could probably find his own way, but I believe Jay likes to get out of town too. [Jay's youngest son] Robert came along too (in the 8th grade, he is). Last year, in fact 52 weeks before exactly, they made the same trip, and Lilly and I went down to meet them. We had such a fine time that we wanted to do the same this year. And it worked out that way.

We met them at the WU student union early that afternoon. They had just returned from buying Sam a new television. Such decadence -- TVs in dorm rooms. That, and girls on the same floor as boys. Decadence and distractions. “The girls look like they’re wearing only shorts and body paint,” Jay said later. Such is the view of middle age, and so it seemed to me too. But I suppose Sam and his peers think nothing of it.

My first year at VU, my roommate had a TV. He used it mainly to watch sports, and, unaccountably, All My Children. I refused to have one in my room in the years that followed. But in the house I lived shared in ’82-83, one of our housemates, a divinity school student -- and notorious misanthrope -- insisted on having cable TV, which he watched incessantly. I considered it evil, but of course I did watch it on occasion, enough for example to become acquainted with MTV in the days when it actually offered some music content.

Friday, August 13, 2004

Greek blog.

It only seemed fitting today, at lunchtime, to go to Greektown, which is about a 15-minute walk from my office. My lunch companion, Kevin D., was game for the walk and we headed west, crossing over the Kennedy Expressway on the Madison Street sidewalk, and then turning south on Halsted a few more blocks. Greektown isn’t a very large ethnic enclave, but it is distinct. A few years ago, Walgreen’s opened a new drug store in the neighborhood, and though it’s just like any other Walgreen’s in most ways, it does have some Greek signs on the walls outside.

At first we thought that there might be extra crowding today with the beginning of the Olympics, but we rethought and realized that if that happened at all, it might not be until the opening ceremonies are televised here on tape delay tonight. More likely, there would be drunken revelry at a place like the Billy Goat, under Michigan Avenue, whose owner is Greek. Besides, we reasoned, there are plenty of choices among the Greek restaurants, so we could pick one that wasn’t so crowded.

Not to worry. We picked Greek Islands, a restaurant to the corner of Halsted and Adams, and it was busy enough at about 1 p.m., but not packed. I had vague memories of going there in the late ’80s. It’s an enormous spot, complete with the look of whitewashed Greek island ports. This from CenterstageChicago.com: “This Herculean restaurant, capable of seating nearly 400 people, has keep diners satisfied with mousaka, shishkabobs and baklava since 1971. One of the most popular Greek restaurants in the city, Greek Islands imports its quality extra-virgin olive oil, wines, cheeses, herbs and seafood directly from Greece… Wise appetizer choices include the taramosalata (considered Greek caviar), grilled pita bread or the famous flaming saganaki cheese…”

Opa! We had saganaki and calamari as appetizers, and I had a fine stuffed lamb shank. Kevin had the baklava, which he expressed admiration for. The lemonade was a right mix of sweet and tart, and the service was flawless. Desserts aren’t commonly enjoyed during business lunches (this did count as a business lunch), but at the end of the meal, the waiter informed us that the restaurant was serving a brand-new dessert, in honor of the Olympics, starting today. It was so new that it didn’t have a name. Would you gentlemen care to try it?

Yes, of course. But just one. There was a card on the table that described this new confection: “Try our newest dessert. Sweet shredded filo and chopped walnuts topped with a scoop of Homers Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, drizzled with Greek honey and caramel. $3.95.”

Mmmm. It was a dainty dish fit for a king, maybe Zeus himself. The waiter also informed us that we could make suggestions on the name by filling out a small slip of paper with our name and a phone number. If you’re name is picked, you get something free from the restaurant. Well, OK. Kevin’s name was Honeyed Hellenic Heaven, I think, and mine was Agamemnon’s Delight, “The dessert that launched 1000 ships.”

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Northward ho! Blog.

To continue with the theme of the Far North, Ed H. recently returned from destinations that perk the imagination just at the sound of their names: the Yukon, the Northwest Territories. He writes electronically: “I do want you to know that finding NWT post cards was not at all easy. There were a grand total of five to choose from, and I had to go four or five different places to find them. There ain't a whole lot in Inuvik -- it's exactly what you'd expect of a government town dropped in a gorgeous location.”

While away, he sent me about a half-dozen postcards, some from those Canadian locales, others from Alaska. The two mailed from Dawson City have the best postmarks. One of them almost screams in blue ink next to the 80¢ Canadian stamp: HEART OF THE KLONDIKE. Jul 20 2004 720062 Dawson City, YT Y0B 1G0. Off to the side of the postmark there’s a little picture of a dancehall girl, circa 1898, leg way up. The other Yukon-mailed card has a more sober image of a dogsled, with the words “Percy DeWolf Memorial Mail Race.”

I wrote back electronically that I did indeed appreciate his cards. I like receiving post cards from just about anywhere, from anyone I know, but especially from such interesting places. I also send them. I couldn’t say how many in any given year, maybe about 100-150. Broadly, they far into two classes: cards I send from home, and those I send from the road. The cards I send from home can be any old thing, really. Recent examples include images of the Titanic, Mexican movie posters, Van Gogh reproductions. I also send leftover cards from places I’ve been. At the moment I have in stock cards from New York, Holland (Michigan), St. Louis, and so on.

But when I’m on the road, I send – with very few exceptions – only cards of places I’ve been. Either towns that I set foot in, or sites that I actually visited. I can’t say how long I’ve been doing this, but for years I’ve felt that sending a card of a place you haven’t been – again, with a few exceptions -- is cheating.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Cloudberry blog.

A chunk of mid-October has broken loose and landed here, in mid-August, which is a little strange. Chicago über-weatherman Tom Skilling said in his Tribune column today (using Fahrenheit, since Celsius is for Euro-weenies): “An unprecedented chill gripped four Midwestern states, including Illinois, Tuesday. The day's 67(degrees) maximum here was the coolest daytime reading for an Aug. 10 since 1882…. The October-like reading missed that all-time record for the date by only one degree! [This sort of thing obviously excites Mr. Skilling.]

“This area hasn't experienced a chillier August daytime reading anytime in the past 10 years -- since a 66 (degrees) high on Aug. 9, 1994. And the chill's not over. Before Wednesday and Thursday pass, Chicago's predicted mid-60 (degrees) highs place records for chilliest daytime temps (each recorded in 1903) within reach.”

Then he trots out the dancing bear of weather comparisons, Alaska. By gar, it’s warmer in Alaska that than in Chicago! The sky is green and the grass blue! Wow! Usually, such comparisons are made sometime in January or February, when it’s around zero in Chicago but five above in Anchorage, but Skilling gives the Alaskan summer – enlivened by bad wildfires this year – its due.

“The weather couldn't be more different in south and central Alaska [he continues], where record warmth occurred Tuesday. The records included 77 (degrees) at King Salmon, normally swept by cool winds off the Bering Sea, 84 (degrees) at Juneau and 78 (degrees) in Anchorage.”

These cool days naturally turn my mind to arctic cloudberries. The pathways of my mind are twisty and eccentric, of course, but there’s a connection here. When my mother was visiting recently, one of the places we took her was Ikea, since there are none in San Antonio. She wasn’t overly impressed, but I was, since we went on a Thursday, and it wasn’t insanely crowded (only mildly crowded). Anyway, near the exit is a stock of Swedish foods, and on the shelves I saw something I’d never seen anywhere else: Cloudberry jam! Honest-to-God, made-in-Sweden cloudberry jam.

Back in 1994, Yuriko and I arrived in Helsinki in early October. It was already pretty cold, but we enjoyed the city and its delights, such as curious architecture, excellent saunas, and unfathomable varieties of pickled and cured fish. I had a guidebook that suggested that a good thing to do in Finland would be to rent an RV of some sort, drive north beyond Rovaniemi and the Arctic Circle, and look for wild arctic cloudberries. Maybe it’s that impossibly exotic-sounding name, or just the allure of the Arctic Circle. In any case it stuck me as an inordinately fine idea, but we weren’t inclined to do so in October. It still strikes me as an inordinately fine idea, and if I ever make it back to Helsinki in summer – or Oslo or Stockholm, for that matter – I couldn’t sit still till I’d done it.

So seeing cloudberries at Ikea touched a chord. My mother offered to buy me some, and I accepted, though I would have bought a jar myself, despite its relatively high price ($4 for 41.1 oz, or 400 g). Some label verbage: Hafi brand, manufactured by HAFI Hallands Fruktindustri AB, S-310 44 Getinge, Sweden. “The golden berry from northern Sweden. An arctic exclusive delicacy. A treat served with all desserts having whipped cream or as a warm topping on ice cream.”

Later, I looked for more information on these remote berries. From a web site called Innvista, which seems to be a resource for home schoolers. It took a little editing on my part to smooth it out, but I suppose it’s reasonably accurate: “Cloudberries are closely related to the raspberry and look like small golden blackberries, [but] their segments are much larger [and there are] fewer of them. They are often called salmonberries, but those are of a slightly different species.

“Cloudberries grow on boggy land in the cold northern climates of Scandinavia, Siberia, and Canada… and are one of the most delicious and costly of all berries because of their limited growing area. Because they lack warmth, the berries ripen slowly, allowing the flavour to develop to an extraordinary intensity and sweetness tasting almost like honeyed apples. Indeed, in Canada, cloudberries are often called "baked apple berries." The berries are golden when ripe and soft and juicy, making them difficult to transport, even if there were enough to do so. Although they are eaten raw, or frozen for later use, the favourite [use] is to make them into jam.

“They are highly prized in Scandinavian countries, where they are made into jams, fruit soups, and desserts. In fact, they are so valued in northern Scandinavia where Finland, Sweden, and Norway meet, the cloudberry has long been the cause of "cloudberry wars." These otherwise peace-loving countries have been known to become quite territorial when it comes time to harvest this berry, causing the Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs to develop a special section just for cloudberry diplomacy.”

Cloudberry wars? The Scandinavian equivalent of soccer wars? Maybe not so bloody –- more like US v. Canada fishing wars, I figure. The jam, about half gone now, is in our refrigerator. It is indeed delicious.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

LAMT bog.

There’s got to be some sociological jargon for this: borrowing a popular term from some mass media source, and pasting it on some exceedingly ordinary activity, in hopes of imparting some of the glamour of the source. Maybe that’s lateral associative mass-recognition tagging, or LAMT, as they might write in the learned sociological journals. Assuming that there’s any glamour in exhibitionist plastic surgery, a perfect example came by e-mail as a press release today:

“Cedar Rapids, IA -- Extreme Makeover! Kinseth Hospitality Companies announces the renovation and opening of a Country Inn & Suites at the Cedar Rapids, Eastern Iowa Airport.

“Look for some major changes coming soon to the former Howard Johnson Airport Express Inn & Suites in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Now known as the Cedar Rapids Airport Inn & Suites, the extreme makeover has begun and the transition to be unveiled as the new Country Inn & Suites Airport will be completed by November. The extreme makeover will include changes to the exterior of the building, complete overhaul of the lobby, addition of a full-service business center, expansion of the breakfast area and new décor in the guest rooms.”

Extreme Makeover! Watch an ugly old limited-service hospitality property be transformed! Utterly made over! That is, Extremely Madeover! Into a… Country Inn & Suites. Golly, that’s major shift. I’ve stayed at Country Inn & Suites and they’re, uh, about as ordinary as limited-service hospitality properties can be. In fact, I stayed in one of that chain’s “suites” once, and it was only a suite by virtue of a waist-high built-in partition that divided a single room in two.

The release did bring Kinseth Hospitality Cos. to my attention, a fact that I might take advantage of professionally some day, so it was successful in the sense. Kinseth owns or manages about two-dozen properties, all in the Midwest, most in Iowa, and seems to be a family business, the Kenseth family. In this case, they seem to be picking up a property that the behemoth Cendant Corp. (6400 hotels, plus a lot of other businesses) unloaded at some point. I wish the Kinseths well with their new Cedar Rapids property, but they need a new publicist.

Monday, August 09, 2004

iMac blog.

Had a scary interlude on my computer at the office, an iMac of early 2000 vintage, when a pdf refused to print, and thus froze all of the machine; upon restarting, it thought that the evil pdf was still in the printing queue, and froze up again. Eventually, I unplugged the printer, and shut the power off for the computer. That cleared up the printer queue, but then every Word document and pdf stored in every file seemed to be rendered useless -- “X document cannot be opened, since the program that created it cannot be found." All of them. Too bad, sucker.

Fortunately, restarting cleared that up. I have some backups, but I’d be reluctant to use any computer that bollixed my documents so badly, even one that’s been giving tolerable service for four years (except for that regrettable hard drive failure in mid-2002).

One of the places we visited last week was the Apple store on Michigan Avenue, a busy little shrine to Mac Operating System and its paraphernalia. I wasn’t much in the mood to marvel at the technology, since I was minding Ann, and my feet hurt. But it is full of marvels of various sorts. It’s also a marvel of a different sort that pretty much everything in that store will be -- to use an ill-fitting bookstore term -- remaindered by the time Ann is able to notice or care or be interested. Or maybe even less than remaindered: as completely junked as the Apple Lisa.

To me, that only raises the question -- why be on the cutting edge of consumer technology, especially computers? I remember well a moment in 1987 when I was gung-ho to buy a computer. The enthusiasm faded, fortunately, and I got by using the system at my office, and a typewriter at home (a nice one, too, with some editing functions; it still works). I think I saved myself a few thousand useful dollars, money that helped fund my expedition to Japan in 1990. So Apple will have to wait before I replace my iMacs.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

East of the Wallace Line blog.

More items from a decade ago.

August 2 [1994]. Didn’t do nuthin’ much today except hang out at the bungalow, eat regularly, drink a lot of bottled water, and read. I’m nearly done with the copy of Tom Jones I picked up in Singapore. Some days in the tropics need to be like this, if possible, so that you can be more energetic on days when you want to see something. We’ve had several decent meals on Lombok, nothing outstanding -- Bali’s a tough act to follow in culinary terms (and other ways too). At a place in Kuta called The Florida, our waiter was a deaf-mute, which made ordering something of a challenge, but we were able to mostly by pointing and gesturing.

August 3. Did some touring. Took a walk up the road westward before it got too hot, winding through areas so rural no one tried to sell us anything. As expected, Lombok is noticeably drier and the undergrowth is much thinner than on Bali. Crossing the Wallace Line really is something you can appreciate even as a casual visitor. (I can’t claim any expertise on the subject, but I did read about it in our guidebook.)

Later we caught a bemo to the town of Sade, sharing the space with a large load of cocoanuts. Sade is a “traditional” Sasak village, rising near the road, composed mostly of one- and two-story building of unknown age and, in earthquake country, uncertain build. We got the whirlwind tour from a couple of boys, 10 or 12, who clearly had a lot of experience walking foreigners through the town’s narrow paths, some of them stone staircases up mild slopes. The tour lasted about five minutes. “Here’s a house.” “Here’s a rice-barn.” “Yeah, about 500 people live here.” A lot of old women and little girls wanted to sell us strips of hand-made cloth reading LOMBOK. Didn’t buy any of those. Did buy Sprite, and tipped our boy-guide 1000 Rp. each. Ah, tradition.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Lombok blog. To resume items from the past:

August 7, 1994.

Spent four nights and three days on Lombok, arriving July 31 in the late afternoon. Had some trouble finding a place to stay. Eventually, we cam across the Hello Homestay, a set of cinderblock rooms with no amenities of any kind, except a bed and a small toilet alcove. But there were no bedbugs, and the proprietor was friendly. Early the next morning, I got up and found a more pleasant and somewhat more expensive place (20,000 rupiah/night), reserved a room –- a cottage with a little porch, including large bed with colorful mosquito nets –- and returned to collect Yuriko and the bags. The proprietor of Hello Homestay had a kind of resigned look as we paid him his 10,000 Rp. Probably everybody leaves his airless, depressing rooms after exactly one night. Hope he can raise the scratch to improve the place someday.

The new place, just down the main (only) road in the town of Kuta, was across this road from an odd, pebbly beach, covered with little round stones about the size of pinheads. On August 1 we took a bemo about three miles east to an extraordinary fine-white sand beach curving around a shallow, clear-water inlet. Closer to a population center, as say the Bahamas are close to North America, the beach would be infested with hotels and condos, some quite expensive. Here on Lombok, no. The only other people besides us were two British girls and a sarong salesman on a bicycle. We bought a fine green-blue sarong from him for small money.

Returning from this beach on another bemo, I sat next to a little old brown woman who took an unexpected interest in my arm muscles and leg hair, inspecting them with her fingers. She snorted at the flabbiness of my arm, unimpressed.

Friday, August 06, 2004

Dees blog.

How to appreciate this thing called the Internet, only about a decade old as a mass phenomenon? Yesterday I was poking around when I came to the web pages of the U.S. Geological Survey, National Mapping Information. Within the site is a search function, and in a moment of self-absorption, I set it to search for “Dees.”

My odd first name is my father’s mother’s father’s surname, as well as my father’s brother’s middle name, and the one he went by. A resident in Mississippi in the 19th century, my great-grandfather is variously known as A. Dees or Alexander Dees. Some of his ancestors probably lived near the River Dee in Scotland, so I can claim ancestors from both sides of Hadrian’s Wall. Other people have this as a last name, most famously Morris Dees of the Southern Poverty Law Center and (ugh) Rick Dees, host of a moronic radio (and TV?) show, and the artist that gave the world “Disco Duck” in 1976.

My search uncovered 39 hits for “Dees” as a place name. Well, over 30, since a handful were the variant “Deese” and one or two were “Deeson,” which I can hardly count. Still that’s a respectable total. It included two towns, or “populated places,” to use USGS parlance: Dees, Alabama; and Dees, Illinois, (!) which is a hamlet in Cumberland County, near the burg of Effingham, which puts it in the south-central part of the state, a little far for a casual drive. There’s also Dees Landing, Mississippi, and Dees Town, Missouri, listed as populated places.

There are also a number of Dees Cemeteries, as well Dees Peak in California, some kind of mountain. Also: Dees Flat, Dees Spring and Dees Well, all in New Mexico (some distant cousin may be responsible for naming them). Dees Island in Maine sounds quite remote, as does the Dees Brothers Dam in Montana, but for a name with faraway appeal, my favorite on the list is the Dees Antimony Mine at 39°57’44’’N, 115°33’23’’W in White Pine County, Nevada.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Un-August blog.

Here it is August, and the right thing to be doing is wilting under a hot and copper sky. The spring green needs to be off the trees, replaced with a more tired green, and the carpet of grass should be brown. August should make you eager for the first hint of a cooling wind, maybe over Labor Day, to remind you that Arctic blasts lie ahead.

Not this year. Epic rains characterized a cool May. June never really got hot, though we had all the accoutrements of summer. July was dry, and had its moments in the sun (literally), but only a few. We had heat for a few days as this month began, but by yesterday morning, it was cool again -- 60s F in the afternoon today.

No accounting for it. It’s been a cool summer in North America. My relatives told me that even in Texas, 100 F (35+ C) has been rare this year, and that’s a place where such temps can start in May and run through to September. (The record-breaking summer of 1980 in Texas was like that: grindingly, endlessly hot.)

Best not to complain, though. A cool Summer makes for pleasant walking and good sleep. Complain about it now, and -- pagan as it is to feel this way -- Winter will take note and come for a long, long visit, starting soon.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

The gingko blog.

Vacation: Done. Family members visiting, within the last week and a half: Five. Places visited: Several, all in metro Chicago. Including: Millennium Park, the Chicago Botanic Gardens, Spring Valley Nature Reserve, my office (but not for work), the Archicenter, North Michigan Avenue (esp. the Apple Store), Navy Pier, Oak Park and Frank Lloyd Wright’s studio.

I’ll say this about the Frank Lloyd Wright site: there’s a fine brick patio next to his home and studio, a very civilized place with chairs and tables under the shade of a ginkgo tree that The Architect planted himself, according to the tour guides. I didn’t actually take the tour yesterday, but when the tours passed the tree, I heard about the tree’s planting. It’s enormous in the way that 100-year old trees should be, full in its August greenery, providing very necessary share on a clear summer day when the temps nearly -- or did -- touch 90 F.

My brother Jay, sister-in-law Deb, nephews Sam and Robert, wife Yuriko and daughter Lilly were on the tour. I was watching daughter No. 2 Ann, now 18 months old and unappreciative of FLW. Also, no strollers allowed in the buildings. So I volunteered to stay under the sheltering ginkgo tree with her, since I'd been on the tour before. Ann and I both drank a lot of water, and at least once she poured some on me. Not a toddler accident, but with whimsy aforethought. The girl is developing normally, I think.