Spontaneous Combustion


August 16, 1965

I boarded a state-of-the-art 747 at T5, the futuristic TWA terminal at JFK airport. I was 20. I had long hair, a flowered shirt, bellbottom pants, and everyone treated me like an extraterrestrial. My seat was beside a middle-aged black man in a pinstriped suit, impeccable if slightly out of style. His hair and beard were grizzled gray, his eyes were dark and soulful.

“Good afternoon,” he said, waiting for me to return the greeting.

We both settled into our seats. The inflight movie didn’t start for an hour. My seatmate pulled out a compendious tome on WW2 by Basil Lydell Hart but before opening it he said, “My name is Chuck,” and offered his hand.  “Nice to meet you.” 

His hand was rough, the joints knobby with work and arthritis. It didn’t go with his suit.

 “You live in L.A.,” he asked, “or just visiting?”

“It’s home.”

He nodded. “I’m from Minnesota originally,” he said, “but I live in Watts now.”

He leaned in close to me.

“Some of these white folks look scared. I heard two of them talking in the airport. One said to the other ‘I hear they’re shooting at planes from Century Boulevard’ and the other one just nods. The dumb son-of-a-bitch believed him. No black man from Watts is gonna drive to the airport to shoot at an airplane full of white folks when the Police are whooping their asses on 103rd Street. You ever try getting to the airport from Watts? It’s next to impossible. And with all hell breaking loose? A brother wouldn’t make it past Avalon Boulevard. But you’re from L.A. I’m preaching to the choir.”

“How did it start?”

“A white cop pulls over a young black kid for drunk driving when he wasn’t. The neighborhood folks gather around to watch what happens. It’s 95° degrees and everybody is sweating. The kid’s mother comes to see what’s happening and the crowd gets rowdy so cops arrest the kid who did nothing, his friend who did nothing, and his mama for talking back to them. By that time a couple more trucks full of cops arrive and they all start swinging their batons. Boom. The whole place is burning down. That’s anger, man. Righteous anger. You keep turning up the heat and eventually it boils over. That’s what happened on 103rd street. Watts blew. That’s no riot. It’s an uprising.”

Los Angeles, Thursday, April 30, 1992, 2:42 pm

The boss called to tell me not to come in to work. Riots had broken out Wednesday night at Florence and Normandie. The four cops who beat Rodney King to a pulp had been tried in Simi Valley, home to many cops, where a largely white jury had just acquitted them.

Video shot by an amateur from the balcony of his Lake View Terrace apartment was suddenly all over the news. It showed the cops working King over with nightsticks and kicking him on the ground as other officers looked on, laughing and smoking cigarettes.

“They’re looting the Sav-on on Venice Boulevard,” the boss said. “We’re packing up the computers and getting them out of here. I’m closing up shop until after the weekend. We can assess the damage on Monday.”

Our office was in the Helms Building on Venice Boulevard, only two blocks from the looting. On the second night of rioting the flames had spread in wide arcs reaching across the Los Angeles basin. The Watts rebellion had been confined to Watts. The Rodney King riots were not, and white people were getting scared.

We lived in Park Labrea, an apartment community behind the LA County Museum, midway between downtown and the Pacific Ocean, near the center of the L.A. basin. Our building was a 13-story tower. Hearing that the fires were circling the West Side, we went up to the top of our building.

We weren’t alone. A lot of people were on the roof. We had a 360° view of the basin, from the Baldwin Hills to the Hollywood Hills and from downtown to Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, and, on a good day, the Pacific. People who had never talked to each other before were talking. Everyone speculated about the fires which appeared to be encircling us.

We tried buying food but everything was boarded up except for the 7-11 on Third Street which had a line around the block. We decided to drive to Oceanside and spend the weekend with the in-laws. There was only one topic of conversation through our endless card game played against the apocalyptic footage on TV, the beating, the looting, the palms lining the Santa Monica Freeway into downtown burning like torches setting fire to the city.

When we returned to L.A. on Sunday evening the National Guard was camped like an invading army at La Cienega and Jefferson, two miles from work, four miles from home, spitting distance in L.A.

There were no apparent leaders. No group or individual claimed credit. The explosion was spontaneous. Like Watts, without warning, a critical threshold was crossed and desperate people revolted against a life no longer livable. Unlike Watts, the looting and fires were not confined to South Central. The outrage turned against the surrounding white communities, raising a tocsin that was soon smothered and suppressed because it was too frightening to keep top of mind, a warning unheeded.

Skamania County, Washington, May 18, 1980, 12:36 pm.

On May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens, in Washington State, erupted, ripping off the entire mountaintop and covering eleven states with ash.

The pressures that caused the eruption built up slowly, incrementally, over a long time, unseen, until they reached critical mass and exploded with energy equal to 26 megatons of TNT, 500 times the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Ash rose fifteen miles into the atmosphere. The mountain fractured and a subsequent earthquake collapsed the entire north face causing the largest landslide ever recorded

It just happened, although in the aftermath its history could be read and analyzed.

American society is like that mountain. At its deepest and poorest levels, among the most exploited and oppressed, outrages mount daily. Young black men continue to be killed by police for no reason and with no consequence: Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Laquan McDonald, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Antwon Rose II, O’Shae Terry, George Floyd, to name just a few. Most whites become inured to them, immune to the outrage, blinding by their own racism. Then another a critical point is reached, a straw breaks another camel’s back, another death ignites another conflagration.

The murder of black men by the police is the most flagrant outrage but the conditions of life have become increasingly untenable for 90% of the people. It is only a matter of time until they, too, refuse to take it any longer, and vent their rage and frustration. The inevitable explosion happens spontaneously, without conscious direction, no steering committee, no politburo, no talking heads. The end result of more riots and uprisings depends upon whether they are violently suppressed by the government or steered by visionary leaders to historical ends and lasting outcomes.

Independent of our wills, these social forces have reached the breaking point, despite the pundits and politicians and populist blowhards. When the uprisings occur, as they inevitably must, the only important question is who can lead them and see them through to a just conclusion? Will winning strategy and tactics yield lasting change built on the only true and stable foundation, equality? The tragedy is not that riots and uprisings occur, that neighborhoods burn, that stores are looted, that people are injured; the tragedy is that they happen for nothing. Only clear-sighted and united leadership can ensure that they lead to a brighter future free from the crippling shackles of racism, greed, and corruption.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized



Pronoun; plural of I.

We is our most important word because, let’s face it, I has brought us to the brink of extinction.

From the pharaohs to Aristotle, from cogito, ergo sum to superego, throughout the rise of Christianity and the modern world, it’s all about I. I am what matters. It’s every man for himself. If I steal or sin, I can repent and God will forgive me. Am I my brother’s keeper? What about what I want?

We says we’re in this together.

We is when the choir assembles. The barista, the ad rep, the Uber driver, the personal trainer, the teacher, the statistician, all coming together, taking off their hats and scarves and gloves, offloading their emotional baggage, breathing deeply, and preparing to make music. The paradigm shifts. There is no I in together. It’s all of us, and this is what most terrifies the terrified. Going from I to I to I leads to “others” being invariably called out as somehow less deserving, less righteous, not I.

Of course We is also what happens in armies, when I is expunged and us becomes the operating principle, always defined in opposition to them. Our team versus their team. But where teams are formed to win something—a game, a war, a cause—the choir’s only purpose is to sing.

In all creation, only homo sapiens operates on the principle of I. Observe the birds and the beavers. There is not an I among them. They function in tandem. The survival and wellbeing of the community prevails. Together they thrive. Ditto wolves and elephants, ants and dolphins, and, we are learning, even trees.

We don’t often think of flora as sentient but advancing science informs us differently. Trees are social beings, with individual brains linked through the fungi on their roots to a worldwide neural network. They thrive in communities. They exchange information. They have been observed healing their sick and aiding the animals and insects cohabiting the world with them. Linked by common cause, they function for the common good.

Messages are also reaching us from the farthest reaches of spacetime that all of the infinite galaxies are interconnected by mysterious, mutually influencing strands of commonality. Everything is connected, from the miniest micro to the mightiest macro, composed of the same stuff, unspooling like DNA or dervishes in a cosmic dance, numberless, moving to the music of the spheres.

We is inclusive and fundamental.

Admittedly, we has gotten us into a lot of trouble. It has been distorted by megalomaniacs to direct the collective we against an other, an outsider, an enemy, a roadblock to the absolute power of the supreme I. This is not an inherent flaw in we. It is an appropriation of its power, a usurpation, a perversion. As a result, many object to the subordination of I to we and it is easy to understand why. The lessons of slavery, genocide, and war, whether powered by religion, greed, or fear, have made collectivized society look pretty bad. But it is shortsighted to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Everything happens at a particular time in a particular place and bears the imprint of complex forces, some readily identified, some veiled and distant. Their convergence creates a unique moment. What happens then is a product of that moment. It is definitely not what necessarily happens in other circumstances at other times. Like fingerprints and sunsets, each moment is different.

Think back to the choir.

The individual voices, each with a unique range and timbre, no two alike, thirty, sixty, eighty of them, blend into a unified sound. I becomes we. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. They become music. They become that universal language requiring no specific words in common to enjoy it, no analogous customs, or particular diplomas, or religious affiliations. People across the globe all groove to the same beat even though the rest of the time they may think they hate each other. In the choir each member suspends I to become augmented, enhanced, richer, more brilliant and more beautiful.

I represents an isolated and fragmented universe of individuals. (I am nothing.) We represents the world of the community. (We are the world.)

We is all who trust that the common good, in human life as in the natural world, is more important than the wishes and wants of individuals.

Imagine a moment—now, or not far from now—when I is subsumed in a powerful WE to sing a new song vibrating sympathetically with the butterflies and the bears and the lullabies of the whales, the music of people everywhere actively healing our world instead of trashing it, sucking it dry, and throwing away the husk.

I can’t do it. Even you can’t do it.

We can. That’s what we does.

It binds you and you and you together.

We can do anything.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Venice in winter

Recent photos of a deserted Venice in the time of the Corona Virus reminded me of December 19, 2009, when these photos were taken. The city experienced a confluence of snow and a flood tide. Most streets and squares were deserted. Curtailed by circumstances, life continued. I decided to take a walkabout and see what was going on.

The was the view from my apartment when I woke up.

My street outside the garden gate.

Campo Santo Stefano

Setting up the market at Campo San Maurizio

View from a bridge

Piazza San Marco

The porphyry Four Tetrarchs (ca. 400ad) huddle against the Basilica under mantles of snow.

The passarelle across the Piazzetta.

The water rising by the Piazzetta dei leoncini

The porticos of San Marco underwater.

Heading toward Rialto Bridge

The Grand Canal at Rialto Bridge

I took the vaporetto home.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Venice at the brink

None of them is rich, none poor; they are all the same. They eat the same abundant fish. Their houses are all alike, boats tethered like horses beside them, and no man envies another’s mansion. In fact envy, which rules the rest of the world, is unknown among them. They spend their days raking the shores for salt.
Cassiodorus, Senator and Praetorian Prefect, describing the people of the Venetian lagoon in a letter dated September 3, 547 AD.

Venice was always improbable, a city where no city should rightly be, built on sandy islets in a shallow lagoon altered by every storm and swamped by unpredictable tides. Venice would never have existed at all if, in 452, Attila had not invaded northern Italy, sacking and razing cities on his march to Ravenna, the capital of the Western Roman Empire. The natives of Aquilea, Padua, Concordia, Altinum, and other Roman cities, fled to the islands of the lagoon for safety. Patricians brought their bricks and marble with them, the rest carried what they could on their backs into poverty and exile.

The lagoon has always been dangerous and elusive. A flat-bottomed boat could navigate the shoals and shallows one day only to run aground the next, after the tides scrambled the sandbars and erased familiar channels. That same treacherous mutability also protected the refugees from invasion. The islands could be reached from the mainland or the open sea only by those familiar with the lagoon’s mysterious, ever-changing byways. Invaders from the mainland or the Adriatic ran aground, their ships wrecked before gaining the prize hovering mirage-like and unreachable. Instead they ignored the refugees moated in impoverished isolation. The boggy islands held nothing anyone wanted except salt and fish.

The miracle began slowly, first at Malamocco, on Lido, a barrier island keeping the Adriatic Sea at bay, then on Torcello, in the marshy north lagoon, and then on Rialto – the high bank – the center of the tightly knit archipelago where the current city sits. Over centuries, pounding tightly packed trees into the mud, the Venetians created a substrate upon which they could build wooden or brick houses and, later, marble palaces. (Over one million trees, turned into stone by an anaerobic sheath of mud and salt, support the marble weight of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute alone.)

Walking through present-day Venice one can still see flat Roman bricks carried from the mainland during the exodus, repurposed in buildings of Byzantine origin next to Byzanto-Venetian and Gothic masterpieces between which are wedged still other masterpieces of the renaissance and baroque periods.

Early on every square inch of the Venetian archipelago was filled in with buildings, one against the other, separated only by time – centuries – not distance. That so many of these buildings, some dating back almost two millenia, remain where they have always stood distinguishes Venice from almost anywhere else. A walk through Venice is a walk through time. The Gothic exists cheek by jowl with the Renaissance, the Byzantine with the Neoclassic, pressed so tightly together a knife blade couldn’t be slipped between them.

Palimpsest of Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance, and Neoclassic.

Each narrow and twisted calle is a treasure trove. Each canal, from Grand to small, is upholstered with the Venetian narrative: the desperate beginnings, the creation of the twelve-hundred-year Republic (the longest standing Republic in history), the rise of vast commericial wealth and maritime dominance, and then the years of loss, ending with the precipitous collapse of the Republic under Napoleon, and the dire aftermath of the modern era.

The wealth — artistic, historic, and human — of the islands of the Venetian lagoon beggars the imagination. All is now at risk by the ravages of modern civilization, beginning when Napoleon filled in canals to accommodate his horses, thus blocking the smooth circulation of the tides that cleansed the city, continuing through the pumping of groundwater for industry that threatened to sink the city, through the incursion of diesel and modern boat engines whose vibrations shake the foundations of the buildings, the massive hordes of tourists stressing an infrastructure never built to accommodate their staggering numbers, the invasion of monstrous cruise ships into the lagoon adding insult to injury, and the inexorable sea level rise and related impacts of climate change threatening to bury Venice beneath sea water.

Rapacious greed and stubborn denial of real dangers have poised the city at the brink of extinction. One of the greatest treasuries of human social and intellectual achievement has been scheduled for demolition by our refusal to take these threats seriously. The mega-billion dollar MOSE, touted as the city’s last best chance to protect itself from further ravages of the increasing high tides that regularly inundate it, is mired in corruption, incomplete, with no proof it would work even if completed. The awareness that climate change threatens the world as we know it has yet to spawn massive and concerted resistance to the climate deniers, to demand the changes that may, possibly, prevent further damage, still leaving open the question of whether what has been done can be reversed.

Magical Venice, the city as living museum, is a perfect symbol of the impasse we face. Venice, la Serenissima, is both priceless repository of human achievement and victim of a perfect storm of insatiable greed, callous indifference, and political folly. She can either disappear like the countless vanished species extinct in our time, or become a red hot center of resistance, a battle ground to save the past from the future.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Zelda has left the building

Zelda was the first dog I fully embraced, for better or worse. I was living in Italy when Phyllis and Steve adopted her. She had been rescued from an infernal puppy mill where she had been forced to have litters and was subjected to an amateur caesarian from which she still bore the physical and psychic scars.

She took a long time to recognize and accept our love, to stop cowering, and to trust us without fear. Phyllis was always and forever Zelda’s number one, Mama, her safe place in a cruel world. Steven was number two, Papa, who instantly fell in love with her and took such delight in her wiggles and wags and kisses. Their relationships with her were formed while I was still living in Italy, so when I returned two years later I was number three, Papa due. It took time but soon she accepted me into the pack, the three humans devoted to her happiness and well-being, and she loved me lavishly, her kisses – those little licks on my nose –my reward for welcoming her into my heart.

During the first years, when Phyllis left for work in the morning, Zelda would skitter down the stairs (tikka, tikka, tikka – the noise of her nails on the wooden floors and hence, her nickname), jump onto our bed, wedge herself between Steven and me, stretch to her full length like a boa constrictor, impossibly soft, and sleep with her nose to the wall, buried in our pillows (I often wondered how she was able to breath like that) until we awoke.

I was the one who always slipped her treats and bits from our plates, and although I still remained number three (she was fiercely loyal) that won me special winks and licks of appreciation. She knew exactly how to perk her ears and stare at me to convince me that even though she had just eaten her own dinner she was starving to death for those few morsels left on my plate. She adored risotto (licking out the pan especially), cucumbers, tofu, and reggio parmigiano.

While I recuperated from my hip surgeries she lay beside me to comfort me and brighten my days. I did my best to make her final days as easy as possible, so that our constant and unfailing love would continue to light her way free from fear and pain.

She was a ferocious guardian who saved us from countless ax-murderers lurking behind every noise on the porch and every car driving down the alley. Her bark, so outsized for her 20lb body, warned the world at large that we were under her protection and any threats had best stay clear of our home.

Her ears were the softest things in all creation, spidery brown-and-white velvet. They were especially beautiful when she perked them up at the prospect of treats or a belly rub. I could stroke them forever. She was my flubsie, my flub-a-dub, so close to the ground (legs barely three inches) for so towering a presence. She had a thousand names, Zelda, Tikka, Fofana – our wifi is still named Bobika Fofana, another of her pet names (from the “Name Game” song, which provided so many of her soubriquets: “Tikka Tikka Bo-bika, bonana fana fo-fika…”)

Her huge round eyes, so full of tender expression, were sublime. They earned her the nickname Ernestina because they were so earnest and unguarded. Steven named her that. “Look,” he would say, “she’s Ernestina now,” when she raised her imploring eyes.

Steven had special little noises he would vocalize into her ears when he rubbed them with his beard, throwing her into a special ecstasy all their own. It was Steven who taught me to recognize her smile and who articulated the subtle language of winks and head bobbles they exchanged. Sometimes he called her Frau Wigglebottom because when she wagged and walked her gait was exactly a jaunty wiggle. If we had sex when she slept with us she would go berserk, licking us in inappropriate places and wanting to be part of the game.

Steven rubs Zelda’s ears with his beard.

She conditioned our lives in every way as much as we conditioned hers. We always considered her when we made plans to go out or to travel. She hated being alone when mama, papa, and papa due went out together. We arranged our affairs as much as possible so that someone was always home with her. When we brought Mona into the pack some of those anxieties were, if not alleviated, at least ameliorated, shared with her little buddy. What a god-awful racket the two of them made barking together!

Zelda’s love for us was unquestioning and absolute. No love is as unconditional as a dog’s. Human love is rarely without questions, doubts, accusations, petty dissatisfactions, recriminations, disagreements, or discontinuities. Zelda never wavered, even when we had to take her to the vet (she hated strangers with needles and car rides), give her a bath (which she also hated), or give her a haircut, or pare her nails. She always rebounded with a few licks to the nose. Whenever she licked Steven’s nose he would say “thank you, Tikka.” Therein lay a complex emotional conversation and I soon learned to do the same. She understood. She knew more than we imagined, and nothing marred her perfect love.

Now that she lies in our garden under three feet of earth, that is my takeaway: Love like Zelda. Fiercely hold the pack (broadly defined) in my heart, love them unquestioningly, and be grateful that they buttress me, defend me, nourish me, sustain me, and hold me as dear as I hold them.

Darling Tikka, if the essence, what we casually refer to as the soul, has an eternal presence in spacetime, I hope you still feel my unfailing love as much as I hold on to yours. Thank you, Tikka, for making our world a better place.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

An Orthodox Ethiopian encounter

First I heard drums. Then the chanting. I followed lines of people in ethnic clothing streaming through the park toward the island where the chanting and drumming came from.

I assumed they were Somali but I was wrong. They were Ethiopian, attending an Ethiopian Eastern Orthodox liturgical rite celebrating the finding of part of the true cross by St. Helena (the wife of Roman emperor Constantine who moved the capital of the empire from Rome to Byzantium in 324 AD). She was apparently informed of its whereabouts by a bonfire.

The chants are Byzantine in origin. A knowledgeable gentleman from one of the churches assured me the chants were “very, very old.” Six local Ethiopian Orthodox parishes provided the chorus. “The man with the round hat,” my informant said, “is the Pope of the diocese,” and that reminded me that one of the reasons for the schism between the Church of Rome and the Eastern Church was submission to the Pope of Rome, as well as doctrinal disagreements such as the meaning of filiusque in reference to the Holy Trinity. The Eastern Church held that it was heresy to proclaim the Pope of Rome the singular Vicar of God on Earth and believed the heads of other branches of the church had equal standing.

The Eastern Church extended into Ethiopia at a very early date, the tradition is a long one, and the chants, Byzantine in origin, are also distinctly Ethiopian. The chanting lasted for at least an hour after I arrived. The crowd was festive and respectful of the liturgy.

I didn’t stay for the lighting of the bonfire. The speeches after the liturgy went on far too long, I was hungry, and dinner was ready at home.

Liturgical robes.
The bonfire waiting in the wings.
Young and old.
Strolling the island.
Heading home.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Apologia pro vita sua

or, Why I take the same pictures every day

On my first visit to the physical therapist after my second hip replacement in six months, she asked me what my goal was? Going up and down the stairs was still a problem. She wanted me to think out in time to the thing that would let me know I was where I wanted to be.

“Walking around Lake Phalen,” I said.

I hadn’t been able to do that since we first moved in three blocks from the lake. One of the major reasons we bought this house was its location in one of only two significant green zones in the city. We loved the house itself but also especially because of its proximity to the lake. Steve was already dreaming about canoes and kayaks and sailboats.

 During 2018 I could walk some of the lake, half at most, and not without significant pain. This year I made it all the way around without significant pain. It was truly a milestone. Now that I can, I walk around the lake almost every day. I do it with joy and pride and ambition. What’s the next goal?

In addition to being my exercise it is my meditation. My mind lets go of its petty preoccupations, spins out, and then opens up to the language of the trees, the birds, the wind, and the water. I have two or three basic variations of the lake walk, but it is substantially the same landscape and waterscape no matter which one I take. Yet it is anything but the same walk every day. Each day is full of delightful surprises.

The difference comes in various scales. The largest scale is the change of seasons, which is dramatic and all-encompassing. Walking in summer means shorts and tee shirts. Walking in winter means layers of down and ski poles. As much as I hate the worst of winter, beauty can still be found in unlikely places. Spring, summer, and fall are so abundantly beautiful, each in its own way, not as a state but as a process, that I am content to be where I am, doing what I am doing. The feeling of contentment in life is rare and evanescent. The broad natural and psychic space the lake creates in the immediate environment is a zone of quiet, of the wind through the leaves, the ripple of the water, the songs of the redwing blackbirds, and the fragrance of wildflowers and flowering trees. The impact of the natural surroundings is enveloping, visceral, and gives rise to a spontaneous feeling of well-being.

Downscale from the changing seasons are the daily changes within a given season. In spring and summer native wildflowers bloom in successive waves. Fragrance also comes in waves, first the lilacs, then the catalpas, then the lindens, then the sagey sweetness of the fields of wildflowers, each with a unique scent that sometimes saturates the air and sometimes teases from the distance.

The light changes hourly, and is different on each side of the lake, as different as light and shadow. The butterflies and transparent dragonflies and bees are creatures of an instant, there and gone among the wildflowers before you notice them.

Nothing is the same and nothing changes. Through the year’s round the banks of trees and flowers reproduce themselves before my eyes, burst like Fourth of July fireworks, flame red and pink before shedding their foliage to reveal their stark skeletons etched in ice and snow. It all comes. It all goes. It never dies. It returns each spring and explodes each summer and is consumed in flame each autumn like the phoenix that will rise again when the Earth tilts at the proper angle to the sun.

I take pictures every day because, although I walk the same paths I see different things and my eye glimpses different instants of sublime beauty. Sometimes I can catch that unique beauty in a photo. Sometimes not. Sometimes your eyes don’t see the thing I took the picture of, and it looks like a hundred other pictures I’ve taken in the same place. But it’s not the same picture and it’s not the same place, at least not to me. In each instance I am striving to capture something unique in its own singular instant, a particular confluence of space, color, sky, water, trees, shadows, and clouds with something at its center I haven’t seen before.

If nothing else, my walks around the lake make me happy and keep me sane. The photos are souvenirs, physical memories, artifacts of the revealed sublime, at least to me.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Chicago: Millenium Park

Millenium Park is the northwest corner of Chicago’s vast Grant Park between Lake Michigan and Michigan Avenue. Its crown jewel, Frank Gehry’s Pritzger Pavilion, replaced the old band shell. I lived in Chicago in 1979 when Pope John Paul II, the Polish Pope, visited the city. Chicago has the largest Polish population outside of Warsaw and many feared the park would collapse into the subterranean parking structures when two million people came for Pontiff’s public Mass in Grant Park.

Millenium Park officially opened in 2004 and has been continuously tweaked into one of the finest public spaces in the world. The park includes not only the Pritzger Pavilion (bandshell) but also the perennial crowd favorites, the “bean” — artist Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate — and Catalan conceptual artist Jaime Plensa’s Crown Fountain, an interactive work of public art integrating fountains and video sculpture, a wondrous, watery playground for children of all ages. The park also features an ice-skating rink in winter and sprawling gardens. The silver bridge was Frank Gehry’s first bridge and provides an entry to a bandshell like no other.

A 2007 photo shows the general layout of Gehry’s pavilion and bridge.

I was in Chicago June 20-22 for the Chicago Symphony’s concert version of Verdi’s Aida under the baton of Music Director Ricardo Muti, and for the Manet exhibition at the Art Institute, across the street (or the bridge) from Millenium Park. I lived in Chicago, my father’s home town, for a total of fifteen discontinuous years, and I was blown away by how it reinvented its historic center as a fantastic, user-friendly, and fascinating public space.

Crown Fountain, detail, with Michigan Avenue as backdrop.
Opposite view. Playful is the operative word. The faces change to represent every race and nationality. Vertical fountains and sprinklers across the entire field between the screen go off at intervals as do the spouts from the large video faces.
Lurie Garden, looking north toward Pritzger Pavilion.
Pritzger Pavilion with picnic lawn for free summer concerts.
I stumbled into the orchestra rehearsing Shostakovich’s First Symphony for that night’s free concert. The acoustic is astonishing. The Pavilion has 4,000 fixed seats and a lawn that accommodates 7,000. Note the orchestra plays in a resonant wooden soundbox, while the brushed stainless superstructure unfurls around it projecting waves of warm, natural sound. An innovative sound system is embedded in the metal framework over the picnic field to reproduce concert hall acoustics.
The Nichols Bridgeway connects Millenium Park to the Art Institute of Chicago.
Michigan Avenue from the bridgeway.
The pavilion seen from the Art Institute.
Garden Cafe, Art Institute
Balcony Cafe, Art Institute, where I charged my phone.
The bean, Anish Kapoor’s “Cloud Gate”, looking west toward Michigan Avenue.
Looking south.
Looking north.

Looking west into the Loop’s Madison Avenue
The Chicago Athletic Association, 1893 (Venetian gothic) on Michigan Avenue
Nothing about the Loop is complete without a picture of the el (elevated) train from which it derives its name. The track runs in a square more than a loop enclosing the original business and entertainment center.
(A fragment of ) the Art Institute and Lake Michigan beyond, viewed from Orchestra Hall across Michigan Avenue. You can’t see them in this size photo but the names chiseled into the stone entablature are “Correggio Holbein Veronese Tintoretto Rubens Velazquez.”

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Chicago: Riverwalk, dusk

Thursday, June 20, 2019. Riverwalk is a water level promenade on both sides of the Chicago River begun in 2001. This was the first time I had experienced its full extent. The Chicago River here runs through a chasm of skyscrapers — developed in Chicago, the first “skyscraper” is generally identified as Chicago’s Home Insurance Building (1883). It is one of the most dazzling displays of architecture to be seen anywhere. (Worth noting, the bridges are all draw bridges that interrupt traffic in and out of the Loop (the downtown business center) when they are raised for boats.

Looking east toward Lake Michigan.
RiverWalk at the Clark Street bridge.
From the La Salle Street Bridge, looking toward the art deco Board of Trade Building topped with a statue of Ceres, the Roman goddess of agriculture, at the end of an avenue of skyscrapers old and new.
Looking east toward the round Marina Towers (1960).
The golden spire of the art deco black and gold Carbide and Carbon Building (1929) pokes up in the center.
A dinner boat cruises under the Dearborn Street bridge beneath the Marina Towers.
Riverwalk at the Wabash Street bridge. Center, the Trump hotel and tower looms over the white glazed terra cotta Wrigley Building, and to the left in the background, the Hancock Tower, at one point the second-tallest building in the world. Sic transit gloria mundi.
The Carbine and Carbon Building, center.
Looking west toward the Wabash Avenue Bridge.
The Wrigley Building (left) design was based on the Giralda Tower of the Seville Cathedral. It stands across Michigan Avenue from the Gothic buttresses of the Tribune Tower, built of Indiana limestone, in 1925. (Rocks and stone fragments — 149 of them — of everything from the Taj Mahal and the Winter Palace at Beijing to the Chicago Stockyards, the Parthenon, and the Hagia Sofia, stud the building, supposedly gathered at the owner’s request by the Tribune’s foreign correspondents. Between the Wrigley Building and Tribune Tower, an Arabian fantasy, originally the Shriner’s Medinah Athletic Club (1929), now an Intercontinental Hotel with the original tile swimming pool high in the tower.
Looking west toward the Wrigley Building.
Architectural tours on boats are sensational.
The Wrigley Building, from north bank of RiverWalk.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Mount Zion Cemetery, St. Paul

Mount Zion was established in 1856, two years before Minnesota became a state, and was the first Jewish congregation in St. Paul. Among their first acts was to pay $150 for a half acre of land for a cemetery just beyond the city limits. By 1889 the original half-acre was full and an additional five acres were acquired.

Jewish tradition discouraged figurative art. No statues of angels or humans will be found in the old Jewish cemeteries. Natural forms, trees and flowers, are found however, as well as geometric patterns, as in Islamic religious art.

The following are photographs I took on a walk through the cemetery on a cloudy spring day.

Severely eroded, I believe the date is 1860.
Strategically-placed urns contain stones to leave as personal memorials on the graves.
“We are only dead when forgotten.” 1893
Non-figurative funerary art.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized