Departures and Arrivals

Been reading Departures and Arrivals by Eric Newby (1999) lately. It was his last book, and gives the impression that Newby and his publisher had a conversation something like this:

Publisher: Newby, old man, have you got anything new for us?

Newby: I’m afraid not. As you know, Wanda and I are getting on.

Publisher: Nothing at all?

Newby: Well, there’s always something. I’ve a few files of unpublished pieces.

Publisher: Places you’ve written about before?

Newby: Some of them yes, some no.

Publisher: Let’s see what we can do with that.

So the book reads mostly like a series of diary entries. Mind you, these are Eric Newby’s, so they’re really good diary entries, including items about traveling to places that no sane person would now visit, such as Syria. Also, many of the items were about trips he took in the 1980s and ’90s — times and a few places (England, China) I have first-hand experience with, unlike the Hindu Kush in the 1950s. Somehow it feels different when you read about a more familiar time, even if the place is unfamiliar.

Speaking of reading material, I’ve been receiving AARP’s magazine lately. It’s well edited, of course, since the organization probably devotes more resources to its production than most magazines get. But it also has the same irritating tendency as many other mags to focus on celebrities. I can’t say that I care much what Cyndi Lauper (for example) thinks about life, now that she’s pushing 65 pretty hard.

Even so, AARP is a lobbying group I can get behind as I get older.

Buses on I-57

Cool over the weekend, at least for August, so actually fairly pleasant. Last week I started noticing peewee football players practicing in the park. Summer’s dwindling.

Last Thursday I needed to be back home by early evening after driving to Champaign, so I didn’t spend quite as much time looking around there as I wanted. For instance, very near campus is the Mount Hope Cemetery, which was a burying ground before Illinois established any kind of higher education in the area. I drove by it, but didn’t stop. This time.

On the way back, I noticed two buses of interest. Here’s the Mark Kirk campaign bus.

Mark Kirk bus 2016Kirk is in a tight race against Tammy Duckworth to retain his U.S. Senate seat. That’s the important race in Illinois this year, since the next race for governor won’t be for two years, and there’s no doubt that the state will vote for Clinton for president. I checked, and the Kirk campaign bus had been in Champaign that day.

At the rest stop north of Kankakee, I took note of a parked bus, the likes of which I’d seen only a few months ago.

Another Megabus. Been a long time since I’ve ridden an intercity bus, but maybe I will again sometime, just to see how Megabus compares with the Greyhounds I used to take sometimes.

Monterrey 1947

Sixty-nine years ago this month, seated in a beer garden in Monterrey, Mexico: my great-aunt Claudia, grandfather, aunt Sue, a friend of theirs, my mother and my grandmother. At that particular moment, my mother was newly graduated from college.

Aug1947I don’t know much about their visit to Monterrey. I don’t remember my mother ever mentioning the trip, or expressing any desire to visit Mexico again, though just to judge by this single picture, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. I can’t even remember when I first heard about the trip, but it wasn’t until well after I was grown. Just goes to show you that you can’t really know that much, except maybe in outline, about your parents’ lives before you were born.

Lilly Goes to College

Lilly’s now a student at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. From now on, August 18, 2016 will be the day she went to college. My own such day, August 25, 1979, is a little hazy, since it was long enough ago that I flew Braniff to Nashville get there.

A little more recently, on August 18, 2003, I wrote, “More importantly this morning, I dropped by Lilly’s soon-to-be elementary school to register her for kindergarten. A brick edifice probably built at about the same time as the neighborhood in mid- to late-1960s, the school had that elementary school feel to it, as if it were too small for you, an adult, even though you had no trouble walking in the door.”

UIUC isn’t that far away. I drove her down in the early morning and came back in the late afternoon, covering about 350 miles all together. It was a hot day in Champaign — her dorm is on the Champaign side of campus — for moving stuff into rooms.
UIUCSaw some odd things going in, such as four 36-bottle cases of drinking water, and some decadent items no dorm room should have, such as a large-screen TV. But on the whole, the process went smoothly.

This is her dorm.

UIUCIt has that 1960s vibe, not in any countercultural sense, but in that it looks like it was built then. So it was, in about 1960.

Here’s a detail I like, on top of the roof.

UICUI told Lilly the speaker was to wake up the dorm at 5 a.m. for morning exercises on the parade ground and a few minutes of revering Fearless Leader. She’s heard ideas like that all her life.

It occurred to me that going away to school isn’t quite what it used to be, besides big TVs. There seem to be fewer surprises now, for one thing. Lilly had already met her roommate, another girl from the Chicago suburbs. When I got to my room, I opened the door and there was another lad in the room — I didn’t even know his name before I met him. Maybe I could have asked beforehand by mail, but it never would have occurred to me to do that.

There’s also more connectivity these days. It’s easy for these students to connect to their past, either family or friends. Less so in 1979. I can’t remember how often I called home. Once a month? I wrote a letter or two a month as well, and I’m certain some (most) kids didn’t even do that. But I told Lilly there was no need for constant updates. This is no time to start helicoptering.

Lilly in her room. Note the walls of the room are cinderblock.

Lilly I was glad to see that. A mark of austerity. That’s the way a dorm should be.

The Abbott Oceanarium

Years ago I attended the “groundbreaking” for the Shedd Aquarium’s Oceanarium, officially the Abbott Oceanarium these days, as an editor of a real estate magazine. Usually groundbreaking ceremonies involve guys in suits and hardhats moving a little dirt with gold-colored shovels. It’s an established ritual in the development business.

Occasionally developers take a different approach. One time in Nashville, a developer planned to raze an older building on West End Ave. — a fairly large commercial street — and so painted one of the large wooden doors on the old structure bright red, and then knocked it in with a wrecking ball. The really odd thing about that was that actual demolition didn’t start for a few more days, and in the interim the red door was put back together haphazardly. Maybe the owners didn’t want bums looking for shelter there.

At the Shedd, we stood outside — it was cold, so it must have been late 1989 or early 1990 — as a crane hoisted a square-cut boulder into the air at the edge of Lake Michigan. It was a big thing, the sort of rock used to build breakwaters. The ceremony consisted of dropping the rock into the lake, right where the Shedd planned its expansion.

This is what that the exterior of the Oceanarium looks like now, jutting into Lake Michigan.
The facility’s upper level includes a sizable amphitheater that looks over a large pond and then through the windows out into the lake (with the Adler Planetarium visible not far away). During a show, the window are shuttered.

Abbott OceanariumAbbott OceanariumWe saw a show. The Shedd staff didn’t say so openly, of course, but the subtext of the event was, “We’re not like Seaworld. Not at all. Don’t even think it.” The dolphins and beluga whales thus interacted with their trainers, and the animals seemed glad to be there. It wasn’t a particularly exciting show, though.

There’s also a tank for otters and another one for penguins.
Abbott Oceanarium PenguinsWe also spent a while watch the belugas in their tank, who were joined by Shedd staff. A lot of other people watched, too.
Abbott Oceanarium belugasAbbott Oceanarium belugasAbbott Oceanarium beluga tank diversAbbott Oceanarium belugasMore fun to watch that the organized show, I think.

The Shedd Aquarium

The Shedd Aquarium, I’ve read, houses 32,000 animals — 1500 species including fish, marine mammals, birds, snakes, amphibians, and insects — and contains 5 million gallons of water. A “water zoo,” as Ann put it as we waited to get in last Friday. A lot of people were waiting to get in. A lot of people were already in.
The Shedd Aquarium 2016That made the exhibits a little difficult to see sometimes. On the other hand, sometimes spectators added charm to the scene.
The Shedd Aquarium 2016If you were patient enough, you could eventually see the tanks and tanks full of fish and other sea- and riverlife, small —
The Shedd Aquarium Chicago 2016— and larger —
The Shedd Aquarium Chicago 2016And some colorful static sealife scenes.
The Shedd Aquarium Chicago 2016The Shedd Aquarium Chicago 2016On the whole, the glass tanks and lighting and crowds made it hard to take pictures, but that’s just as well. The first thing to do somewhere interesting is to see it with your own eyes.

Saw lots of interesting creatures. That accounts for the Shedd’s popularity. It’s a water zoo of strange and sometimes bizarre things, even in our jaded age.

Sometimes the creatures were easy to identify, such as the octopi and the piranhas and the blue lobster — intense Prussian blue, as the Shedd notes. “The brilliant blue color is the result of a genetic mutation that causes the lobster to produce an overabundance of a large, complex protein called crustacyanin (‘cyan’ derives from the Greek word for dark blue) that binds the protein for the normal brownish coloration, canceling it out. Even the lobster’s antennae are blue.”

Another star attraction is Granddad, an Australian lungfish that’s been living at the Shedd since 1933. “Weighing in at 20 pounds and measuring four feet long, Granddad is believed to be the oldest fish in captivity at any public aquarium or zoo in the world,” asserts Chicago Tonight. He’s not much to look at, though (and I think his previous name, Methuselah, was better).

Speaking of the piranhas, we got a good look at them. According to a sign next to their tank, “their teeth are razor-sharp. Even so, piranhas usually just nip the tail and scales of other fishes to fill up on protein. Piranhas don’t hunt for people, cattle or other mammals. Many don’t even eat whole fish.”

What? I refuse to believe it. I saw the Saturday afternoon movies. I know that when luckless explorers in the Amazon basin put as much as a toe in the water, piranhas attack instantly and en masse.

Sometimes the creatures weren’t so easy to identify. The Shedd helpfully includes a digital kiosk next to most of the tanks, and you can scroll through pictures with common and scientific names to ID them. Trouble was, I’d look at some odd thing in the tank, and then scroll through looking for some picture like it, and find nothing. That happened more than once. Ah, well.

The crowds were a little tiring, but we enjoyed the place enough to stay most of the afternoon, to near closing. Part of the time we were in the Shedd’s new — new to us, since we hadn’t seen it, but it was completed in 1991 — Oceanarium. More about which tomorrow.

Olmec Head & Man-Sized Fish in Chicago

Where in the Chicago area is this fellow?

Olmec Head 8, Chicago 2016Between the Field Museum and the Shedd Aquarium in downtown Chicago, that’s where, with the Field Museum in the background of the picture. It’s a replica by Ignacio Perez Solano of Olmec Head 8, and a gift of the state of Veracruz to Chicago, dedicated in 2003. So while near the Field Museum, it’s actually part of the city’s collection of outdoor art. It might not be as imposing as the original, but it’s no small thing at seven feet high and a weight of seven tons.

Later it occurred to me that I didn’t know much about the original Olmec heads, beyond their great antiquity in pre-Columbian Mexico, so I read a bit. “Seventeen heads have been discovered to date, 10 of which are from San Lorenzo and 4 from La Venta, two of the most important Olmec centres,” the Ancient History Encyclopedia tells me. “The heads were each carved from a single basalt boulder which in some cases were transported 100 km or more to their final destination, presumably using huge balsa river rafts wherever possible and log rollers on land….

“The heads were sculpted using hard hand-held stones and it is likely that they were originally painted using bright colours. The fact that these giant sculptures depict only the head may be explained by the widely held belief in Mesoamerican culture that it was the head alone which contained the emotions, experience, and soul of an individual.”

Apparently the state of Veracruz, especially when Miguel Alemán Velasco was governor (1998-2004), decided that norteamericanos would benefit from replica Olmec heads, so there are now eight such heads in the U.S., according to Wiki: Austin, Chicago, Covina, Calif., McAllen, Tex., New York, San Francisco, Washington, DC, and West Valley City, Utah.

Closer to the Shedd is a very different sort of sculpture, the aptly named “Man With Fish.”

Man With FishAccording to the Chicago Park District, the work is “a gift to the Shedd Aquarium from William N. Sick in honor of his wife, Stephanie… The painted bronze sculpture portrays a man with his arms wrapped around an enormous fish. Water sprays from the fish’s mouth, dripping into a reflecting pool below.”

William Sick is a prominent local businessman, and also happens to be a trustee and former chairman of the Shedd Aquarium, and a director of Millennium Park. He must have decided at some point that a sculpture by Stephan Balkenhol was just the thing for the Shedd. It was the artist’s first work in the U.S., installed in 2001.

“Stephan Balkenhol (b. 1957), a German sculptor who studied at the Hamburg School of Fine Arts, created “Man with Fish,” the park district continues. “Several of Balkenhol’s works feature human figures relating to an animal or several animals in an unexpected way. ‘Man with Fish’ conveys this playful approach as does ‘Small Man with Giraffe’ which stands in front of the Hamburg Zoo.”

We didn’t go all the way downtown just to look at statues, as interesting as they were. Lilly goes to university this week, so we all wanted to do something together before that. Ultimately we picked the Shedd Aquarium. We figured it wouldn’t be quite so crowded on Friday as it would be on Saturday, so we went on Friday.
Shedd Aquarium August 12, 2016Wrong.


Yogyakarta is a city on Java than few North Americans ever seem to have heard of. But I won’t use that as evidence of any egregious geographic ignorance on the part of Americans, though in fact we aren’t known for that kind of knowledge. After all, how many Javanese, do you suppose, have heard of Memphis, Indianapolis or Kansas City?

We went there in August 1994. One important reason for going to Yogyakarta was that Borobudur and Prambanan were located nearby; in fact, they were reason enough to go. But the town itself also featured some other sites of interest, such as the Kraton of Yogyakarta, a palace complex that also featured a museum, as well as some interesting ruins whose name escapes me, and a few other places in town.

One day we witnessed a large parade through the heart of town, or would have, had the authorities had any notion of keeping the street clear. As it was, the street filled completely with people, and the parade — a lot of men on horseback, as I recall — had to push its way through the throng. This got tiresome pretty fast, so we didn’t stay long.

Then there was the time we were walking down the curiously named Malioboro Street (Jalan Malioboro), which is a major shopping street, past a lot of shop stalls and booths. As I walked past one vendor, a man perhaps about my age at the time, he said, “Keep smiling, friend. I kill you.” Maybe he was just tired of tourists, who so obviously could afford his wares, wandering by without buying anything. Or maybe his psychosis was deeper. We didn’t go that way again.

He was the only bit of hostility that we encountered, however fleeting. On the other end of the spectrum, a couple of teenaged Javanese girls buttonholed me on the street one afternoon, and wanted me to pose with them for a picture. Maybe I had novelty value. So I posed.

Another fragment of memory from Yogyakarta: sometime before dawn one morning, a rooster woke me up, because, cartoons notwithstanding, roosters crow whenever they feel like it. I lay awake for a while, and then off in the distance, I heard what must have been the pre-dawn call to prayers. Unfamiliar, mesmerizing, reminding me that I was somewhere else.

One evening, we had got a wonderful chance to enjoy Ramayana ballet at the Ramayana Open Theatre Prambanan.

IndoDanceIt’s something tourists do. Some people might sneer at that reflexively, but they’d be thoughtless. I’m glad that Ramayana ballet has some audience. I don’t, however, remember much about it now, except for a notion of colorful costumes and stylized movement.

A Fashion Wagon Party Card

One more recently acquired postcard for the week. This one’s in James Lileks territory, I think, not only because of the mid-century commercial artwork, but also because the entity behind it was from Minnesota.
FashionWagonIf that card doesn’t scream late ’60s, I don’t know what does. Indeed, it’s postmarked February 16, 1968. It’s an invitation for a neighbor to a “Fashion Wagon Style Show” at a house in Hoffman Estates, Ill., scheduled for February 23.
FashionWagonRevAn event to brighten up what must have been a dreary February in metro Chicago (they’re all dreary). And to sell a few dresses. Interesting detail: the RSVP phone number uses two letters to begin with. That pretty much disappeared in the ’70s, but I remember learning the telephone exchange letters for our home phone number as a child.  It began with TA (Taylor).

Apparently TW was “Twinbrook.” That took a little digging to find, but strangely enough I found it referenced in Jack Hoffman’s obit in the Chicago Tribune in 2008. Hoffman was the homebuilder who developed Hoffman Estates.

“Eventually, Mr. Hoffman’s company would build some 5,000 homes in the town incorporated in 1959 as Hoffman Estates. Residents that year voted to name the new city Twinbrook, after the local telephone exchange,” the paper noted. “But Mr. Hoffman’s influence led the homeowners association’s board of directors to dismiss the popular vote.”

So much for the vox populi, but there’s still a Twinbrook Elementary School in the village. Note that the editor didn’t see fit to explain the term “telephone exchange” in 2008. Few readers younger than me would understand the reference, but then again, how many people younger than me read newspapers?

Back to the card: it was produced by the Minnesota Woolen Co. to promote its fashion parties. A little digging and you find information from the University of Minnesota Duluth that tells you that “the Minnesota Woolen Company was founded in Duluth in 1916 by Nat G. and Abraham B. Polinsky. The company sold clothing throughout the United States through door-to-door sales. The company was the largest in the nation in sales of clothing on a direct to consumer basis…

“The Mendenhall, Graham Company was purchased in 1946 by Minnesota Woolen Company, which operated it as Minnesota Manufacturing Company with a plant at 514 West 1st Street. The company distributed clothing designed and manufactured in part at 131 West 1st Street through the national Fashion Wagon Party Plan introduced in 1962….

The last major expansion occurred in 1972 when the company moved the Fashion Wagon sample warehouse and shipping facility into a new building at 42nd Avenue West and Superior Street. The retail store closed in 1976, the manufacturing outlet in 1977.”

By the time alphanumeric telephone exchanges were gone, so were Fashion Wagon Parties.

(Speaking of telephones, out of idle curiosity I looked up those two dates in 1968, and found, according to Wiki anyway, that “…on February 16, 1968, the first-ever 9-1-1 call was placed by Alabama Speaker of the House Rankin Fite, from Haleyville City Hall, to U.S. Rep. Tom Bevill, at the city’s police station.”)

A McGovern Postcard

Here’s another recently acquired postcard, one from a very specific moment in U.S. history, a good many elections ago.

McGovernObvMcGovernRevIt was never used for its intended purpose, namely being put in the mail in the service of the McGovern campaign. Not that it would have made any difference to the outcome; not that a million such cards, all mailed, would have made any difference.

I don’t think I’ve seen any presidential campaign cards in recent years, or ever, come to think of it, but more local races still use them. I’m already getting postcard-based claims and counterclaims from candidates for the Illinois State House. I expect more in the coming months.

A particularly memorable example of postcard campaigning was in 2004. As I wrote then, “[Phil Crane] was also the subject of one of the most brilliant direct-mail campaigns I’ve ever seen in politics. Almost every day for about 10 days before the election, we received a large postcard, paid for by the state Democratic Party, all featuring the same picture of Rep. Crane photoshopped onto a variety of backgrounds.

“Each card had a different headline, and backgrounds to match, along with Phil in the foreground in a different outfit: GREETINGS FROM COSTA RICA (tropics, him in a floral t-shirt)… SCOTLAND (golf course, him with clubs)… ROME (Coliseum, him with a camera around his neck)… etc. The point being that Rep. Crane was fond of junkets at lobbyists’ expense. ‘Junket King’ was on several of the cards, too.”

Former Rep. Crane died in 2014. One thing I didn’t know about him was his role in Singapore easing its ban on chewing gum, which was in effect when we were there.