Hyde Park ’14

On the northeast corner of S. Woodlawn Ave. and E. 58th St. in Hyde Park, on the South Side of Chicago, is the Frederick C. Robie House, on that site for more than 100 years and best known as an exemplar of the Prairie School of Design. Next door to its north, at 5751 S. Woodlawn, is the Seminary Co-op Bookstore, one of my favorite bookstores anywhere, though new to the site. One block west of the intersection is the Oriental Institute Museum, repository of Near Eastern treasures, most of which they’ve dug up themselves. The Rockefeller Memorial Chapel rises to the southwest of the intersection, an ornate, soaring structure. That’s a lot within a short walk.

Last week was spring break for Lilly and Ann. Last year I took them to Texas for the occasion, but for various reasons this year, the idea of going anywhere never really took root. Still, I wanted to go somewhere – even if only a few miles away and for a few hours – and see something new if possible. In the summer of 2003, I wrote, “I walked by the Robie House, a creation of Frank Lloyd Wright. Him again. One of these days, I will take the tour, but not today.”

I didn’t know at the time that renovation of the Robie House had barely started, and hasn’t been completed even now, though mostly it has. The main goal last Friday was to tour the Robie House, which we did. Afterward we walked over to Rockefeller Chapel, and then spent an hour or so in the Oriental Institute Museum.

It was still fairly cold, but at least the sidewalks were clear of ice, and we didn’t have far to walk. Street parking always seems to be available next to the Midway Plaisance, just south of our destinations. In 1893, the Midway was briefly the focus of the world’s attention as part of the world’s fair, but now it’s a little-known urban green space, at least outside Chicago. That’s too bad, because it’s certainly interesting, if you know what was there.

We didn’t go into the Seminary Co-op Bookstore. I was astonished to see its new location, which I hadn’t heard about. Until a year and a half ago, the store was snugly located in the basement of the Chicago Theological Seminary, at 5757 S. University Ave. Turns out the seminary has moved, too, and now the building is home to the U of C’s Dept. of Economics, so famed in free market song and story.

Wiki, for what it’s worth, says: “The seminary move was controversial: it involved the disinterring of multiple graves.” I didn’t know anyone was buried there. Who was buried there? I’ll have to look into that sometime. Once upon a time, I did enjoy the Thorndike Hilton Memorial Chapel and the collection of rocks embedded in the seminary wall. I assume those are part of the Chicago School of Economics now.

Currently the streetscape between the Robie House and where the Seminary Co-op Bookstore used to be – which is across the street from the Oriental Institute Museum — is under construction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was surprised to see the bookstore’s new location, which even seems to include a café, like you might see in a Barnes & Noble. It didn’t seem right. At the basement location, there was no room for anything but books and more books. This video, at least, assures us that the new location still has a “maze aspect” and that Stanley Tigerman did the design (himself or Tigerman McCurry Architects staff?), which I guess counts for something.

But how could the new site have the book-cave charm of the old? Next time I’m in Hyde Park, I’ll take a look, to see if the new can hold a candle to the old.

Subtropical March ’13

Slowly warming over the weekend, but not enough to call spring. It’s this time of year especially when I miss the springs of South Texas and Middle Tennessee, or even the Kansai, which are already under way. This time last year, San Antonio was greening up nicely.

Such as at the Sunken Gardens, officially the Japanese Tea Gardens, when we visited last year. I expect it looks this way again about now, complete with greenery along with edge of expansive koi ponds.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe discovered that the garden also sports some plant graffiti. Floroffiti, maybe?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther places were greening, too. But not that green. At Mission San Juan, the grass was still its usual winter brown.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGrass also gets brown under the heat of summer, which can last a long time. So it’s better to say that the predominant color of South Texas grass is brown, with interludes of green at certain times of the year.

This was the San Jose Burial Park, which isn’t far from Mission San Juan.

San Jose Burial ParkWe didn’t spend much time there, but it looked like a peaceful burial ground, not much known expect by people who live nearby.

The Mean Streets

Besides being a transitional month between winter and spring – more winter than spring this year – March is also pothole season. Here’s one of the larger ones I’ve seen lately in metro Chicago, looking a couple of feet in diameter and holding plenty of snowmelt.

Pothole, March 2014In some parts of greater Chicago, it’s pothole season all the time. Years ago I used to drive down Ashland Ave., a major north-south street in the city, on a regular basis. I nicknamed one of the persistent potholes “Henry VIII.” Because it was so large.

I never went any further with the idea. Unlike the Mypotholes artists.

Pics for the Day

Today I happened across something fitting for the centennial year of the beginning of the Great War: a collection of images from that war. But not just any old group of pictures. As the Telegraph puts it, “a former dustman has amassed one of the Britain’s best collections of First World War photographs after spending decades rescuing them from rubbish tips and bins.”

Saved by a garbageman, in more American words. Some of the collection is posted at the Telegraph web site. What I want to know is who – who – who would throw away pictures like these?

Here’s another collection of images, not quite as arresting, but interesting despite the annoying SEO headline, “These 22 Far Away Perspectives Of Famous Places Will Change The Way You See Them Forever.” No, they won’t.

The Stonehenge image well illustrates one of the stranger things about that site. Not that an ancient stone circle survives in Wiltshire, though it’s been reconstructed more than most people probably realize. What boggled my mind when visiting in 1983 was that a road goes right next to it. We drove there, and I expected to park beside the road and walk some distance. Nope – it’s right there. Convenient, but it doesn’t quite sit right.

The second picture of the Pantheon isn’t from far away, but never mind. I also visited that site in 1983, before the first McDonald’s opened in Italy, so this perspective didn’t exist for me to experience. I had to check: the first McDonald’s in that country opened near the Spanish Steps in 1986. More followed. The question that comes to mind, even now, is why do McDonald’s survive in Italy?

Then there’s the Mona Lisa. That’s not a new perspective for anyone who’s been to the Louvre. Even in November, the famed painting packed ’em in.

As for the Alamo, I’ve met people who expected it to be in the middle of nowhere. Or who felt that it should be “bigger.” Maybe because it looked that way when John Wayne died there.

A Loose Exonumic Item

I looked out this morning to – a yard of white. Sure enough, snow overnight. Just a dusting that didn’t last through the sunny daylight hours. Temps stayed a little below freezing all day and the wind was brisk. All in all, a raw day, even for March. Winter doesn’t want to give up.

It’s a modern illusion that the world is small. But it’s big enough to swallow entire jet airliners occasionally. My house is small in the grand scheme of things, but even so I don’t know everything within. Lately Lilly has taken to clearing debris out of her room – it’s going to take her a while – and I was doing some consulting about the best ways to arrange her closet.

On her cluttered desk I saw a small coin, a bronze color as some coins have, but no U.S. currency. Sometimes coins get loose from my accumulation of cheap foreign specie and wind up at random locations in the house, so I thought that had happened.

But no. It’s a shower token from the Platte River Campground at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. We visited in 2007, and even camped there, but I don’t remember buying, using or leaving with any tokens. But it seems that I did. Which somehow got up into Lilly’s room – which wasn’t Lilly’s room back in 2007. Go figure.

I’ll put it with my other tokens. I don’t have many. Fun word for the day: exonumia, which Merriam-Webster defines as “numismatic items (as tokens, medals, or scrip) other than coins and paper money.” First known use, 1962, so I’m older than the word. Barely.

Just using my memory, I believe I have a subway token from Moscow and one from St. Petersburg; one of the discontinued CTA tokens (maybe); a token of some kind from New York; a car wash token from somewhere; and a Chuck E. Cheese token, though I might be wrong about that. Unlike Russia or New York, I do my best to forget my two or three visits to that place.

Improve Your Manroot

This morning I started getting a large volume of unwanted, unsolicited email in the account I use most. I’ve always gotten some, but for some reason the count swelled suddenly – and all of it promised to help me swell myself. Why now? Can’t say. And who is it that answers email like that, much less spends money because it? I especially can’t fathom that mystery.

I would use the conventional term for this kind of mail, which is the same as a famed canned meat product well-loved in Polynesia. But immediately after I used that word in a posting in 2012, the previous BTST started to go haywire. Probably a coincidence, but I’m not going to press my luck.

So I set the s-filter for the first time, though I’ve had the address for years. I’ve been reluctant to do that because I don’t want useful correspondence caught in the filter. But the latest deluge is ridiculous. The settings didn’t give me the option of blocking anything with certain words in the subject line, such as “penis.” No useful email is going to have that in the subject line, I think.

Flashback Within a Flashback

In March 1987, I’d just moved to Chicago; a year earlier, I still lived in Nashville, but made a number of forays north for recreation.

March 17, 1987

Today I saw the green, green Chicago River and watched the downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade on Dearborn St., which was crowded and mildly boisterous. I’m glad I’m fairly tall. Visibility must be poor along crowded parade routes for shorter people – at least those interested in who’s parading by.

It was a lively parade. Not so many Shriners in little cars, as I saw in Nashville. But a lot of high school marching bands and politicos. Pretty sure I saw Fast Eddie Vrdolyak go by. [Best known as the anti-Harold Washington faction leader in the Chicago City Council, but by 1987 near the end of his political career; just a few years ago, he went to prison for a short spell.]

About a year ago, Nancy & Wendy & Kim & Susie & I all went to Chicago on $25 Southwest Air tickets – an introductory price the airline was offering on its brand-new Nashville to Chicago route. It was as spontaneous a trip as these long weekends get. Stayed with Rich while the others stayed elsewhere, but we’d meet periodically to do things.

Saw Rap Master Ronnie at the Theatre Building, ate Romanian food at Little Bucharest, where the portions are enormous. Rich introduced us to Erin W. over a Swedish breakfast that was actually dinner at Ann Sather, and we got into a long discussion over whether the equinox was the first day of spring or not. I took the opposing view, pointing out that it was nearly freezing outside.

The larger group gathered Saturday night and we went to Neo and danced [remarkably, still there]. Later, we tried to get into Medusa, but couldn’t [it seems to survive as a nightclub in Elgin, but at this time it was in the city]. Nate nearly got into a fight with the bouncer, but fortunately didn’t. Good thing we didn’t get in, anyway, because it was nearly 3 a.m. and for my own part I wanted to sleep. As we drove away from Medusa, Kim claimed that she was still up for something else, going somewhere else, but in mid-sentence fell asleep. Luckily as a back-seat passenger, not the driver.

There’s Snow on Them Thar Suburban Lawns

The only reason I’m using a “them thar” headline today is because one of my editors – again – removed one of my headlines with a “There’s X in Them Thar Y.”  Sure, it’s a hoary old cliché, but it’s got an honorable pedigree, at least if its association with the antebellum gold rush in Dahlonega, Georgia, is true. It’s been removed from my articles more than once. Here, no one can remove it but me, no matter how silly it is.

Anyway, we woke up to snow this morning, the day of the equinox. (“First day of spring,” they say on TV and the radio. Oh, really?) It was a light coating, and by 10 a.m. had already started to melt, except in the shadows, and by afternoon most of it was long gone. So it wasn’t the serious snow of the days of the polar vortexes. Still, the weekend is forecast to be plenty winter-like.

I got a scanner in 2000 when I bought my first iMac, since it was thrown in with that machine for only $10. I scanned a lot of things for a number of years. Including items I have no idea why I thought they were worth scanning. Such as:

LaMasRicaI have an interest in package art — my roommate and I maintained a “Package Art Gallery” in a closet in our dorm during my junior year in college — but I don’t know that this one is all that interesting. (My favorite from the Package Art Gallery was a muffin mix that promised the muffins would be “the most very blueberry anythings you ever ate.” We hung items, with thumbtacks, for verbiage as much as design.)

A few child-produced items are in the scan collection.

LillyPaintFeb02One of Lilly’s, according to the label, dating from 2002. And of course there are scans of the kids themselves, such as this one from some years ago, which may be among the last pictures I took with a film camera.

Lilly-AnnFinally, a few scanned items from nature. The Acorn, for instance.

AcornWhich somehow reminds me of this 7-baht Thai postage stamp.

AcorncapI assume that’s the king of Thailand. I’m not sure that I got the stamp in Thailand — 7 baht seems like a small denomination  — so maybe it came with a grab-bag of cheap stamps I bought once.

Worth Only the Paper They’re Printed On

Missed the green dye in the Chicago River on Monday, though of course plenty of pictures have been posted elsewhere. It’s a curious custom. Mostly the river looks like this in the colder months.

Downtown Chicago 2013

I’ve been transferring images from one place to another — from a very old computer to a somewhat old computer — and looked at some of the files for the first time in a while. I didn’t remember, for instance, that I’d scanned my Biafran one-pound note.

BiafraquidI bought it sometime in the late 1970s, and I know I didn’t pay very much for it. Biafra might have failed as a secessionist movement, but apparently they produced a lot of worthless banknotes during their try.

Then there’s this:

HypermarkWeimar Republic hyperinflation currency, to the tune of 10,000 marks, dated January 19, 1922. Scanned slightly askew, but never mind. I bought four or five of these notes, in crisp condition, for $1 in 2001.

One more. The theme tonight, it turns out, is nearly worthless banknotes — not only as collectibles, but pretty much from day one.

rubleThis is a 1,000 rubles. Or was. Dated 1993, plucked out of circulation by me in 1994. During the two weeks we were in the Russian Federation, the value of the ruble against the dollar varied a lot. I seem to remember it being about 2,000 rubles to the dollar — or was it 3,000? I think it was both, at one time or another. This was small change in any case.

The currency has been redenominated since then. Wiki, for what it’s worth, says “the ruble was redenominated on 1 January 1998, with one new ruble equaling 1000 old rubles. The redenomination was a purely psychological step that did not solve the fundamental economic problems faced by the Russian economy…  and the currency was devalued in August 1998 following the 1998 Russian financial crisis. The ruble lost 70% of its value against the U.S. dollar in the six months following this financial crisis.

“By calculating the product of all six redenominations, it is seen that a pre-1921 ruble is equal to 2×1016 current rubles.” About 20 quadrillion to one, that is. Good thing they’ve been redenominating. Even Zimbabwe doesn’t have a currency that small, I think.


Acme Klein Bottles

How can the rising generation possibly appreciate the marvel of the Internet as much as those of us who remember when there was no such thing? Probably they can’t, but then again it doesn’t remotely matter.

That occurs to me because I found a site the other day that promises to satisfy one’s Klein bottle needs. Acme Klein Bottle, which says:

Need a zero-volume bottle?

Searching for a one-sided surface?

Want the ultimate in non-orientability?


I might misunderstand these things, but I think they’re actually selling models of Klein bottles, since an actual one isn’t doable in only three dimensions. No matter. A Klein bottle for the mantle would be cool indeed, though I’m not in the market for fragile household oddities right now. I prefer more durable items.