Lilly in Panama

What was that? The flicker of fireflies. I saw the first of them around here late last week. Harbingers of high summer, they are.

After a week in Ecuador, Lilly and her school group went to Panama for a few days. One thing you do there, I hear, is go see the big dig. In their case, at the Milaflores Lock, which apparently has a newish visitor center — dated 2000, right after the canal was finally Panamanian.

Panama, June 2015The cost to get in (Lilly has the ticket): $10. Once in, you get a view of the lock, and perhaps a ship passing through TR’s handiwork.

Panama, June 22, 2015As it happened, the United Banner was passing through. It’s easy to look up in our time: the vessel is a Greek tanker, built in 2007, at 42,010 gross tonnage, and more than 228 meters long. According to, it’s currently at anchor just off Colon. Maybe the ship’s waiting for the situation in Greece to sort itself out.

That wasn’t all she got to do in Panama — I’ve heard bits about a boat ride, time at a monkey reserve, a visit to a rain forest, more open air markets, and so on — but the pictures peter out in Panama. I understand completely. I let her take my camera, which isn’t a pocket-sized smartphone gizmo, so there are times when you don’t want to carry the damn thing around.

Lilly in Ecuador

I don’t have any comments to offer here on the jurisprudence of Justice Scalia, but I do crack a smile at his florid prose, as pointed out again recently by endless commentators (and wags who have fun with him). Such writing comes from having no editor to answer to, and a taste for it. I’ve run across most of his terms before — everyone ought to know “argle-bargle” and “applesauce” (in the way he meant it) for instance — but “jiggery-pokery” was a new one on me.

Or rather, an old-sounding new one. It’s a term of abuse that sounds like it might have come up in a London coffee shop argument about the Bangorian Controversy. I was glad to learn it.

Earlier this month, Lilly went to Ecuador and Panama on a Spanish Club trip. It was a big wheel, little wheel trip — one major destination (Ecuador for a week), one lesser one (Panama for three days).

That’s further than I ever got to go on any school trips, though taking a bus to Stevens Point, Wis., from San Antonio for the Mu Alpha Theta National Convention was its own kind of epic, and Amarillo seemed almost as far (Latin Club trip). It was the luck of the draw for her; some years the club goes to Spain, others Costa Rica. All those sound good to me, but Ecuador especially. South America. I’ve never even been close.

Most of her pictures weren’t selfies. She’s outgrowing a need for excessive self-images, I think. Here’s a view overlooking Quito.

Quito, June 2015The next pics illustrate her taking after her father, unconsciously I bet, in taking pictures of statues and public art. This particular figure is Francisco de Orellana, explorer of the Amazon. As Wiki puts it, “in one of the most improbably successful voyages in known history, Orellana managed to sail the length of the Amazon, arriving at the river’s mouth on 24 August 1542.”
Quito June 2015Some roadside art.
Quito June 2015Plaza de la Independencia.

Quito 2015She was also impressed by the fact that she could see a volcano from Quito, which I believe is Pichincha. Alexander von Humboldt was the first European to climb it. I hear tell it’s still active.
Quito 2015Of course there were many more places. She visited the tourist Equator — how could you not? — Plaza Santa Domingo, a couple of art museums, open markets, grocery stores, churches, a school (technically they took a few Spanish lessons), the neighborhood in which she stayed with an Ecuadorean family, even the outside of the Ecuadorean presidential palace. All in all, it sounded like a fine trip. I’d need no persuasion to go myself.

Sprite & Jackfruit in Thailand

The rooms were small at our guesthouse near Kanchanaburi, Thailand, in June 1994, but the price was good: 100 baht, or about $4 a night for the two of us. The rooms were for sleeping. Otherwise, when you were at the guesthouse, you hung out at the patio overlooking the river. Here I am there, staying hydrated.

ThailandJune94.1I don’t remember exactly, but I think I was reading a loose Australian magazine someone had left behind on the patio.

Later in the month, we made our way to Chang Mai, in the north of the country. One of the things to do there is visit Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, which involves climbing 309 steps to the temple grounds. Somewhere along the way, we spotted jackfruit.

ThailandJune94.2Over the years, I’ve found that almost no one in North America’s ever heard of it. (But it’s not as if I ask someone every day.) I’d never heard of it before visiting Southeast Asia either. It’s a tasty fruit, one of the tropical fruits you grow fond of in the tropics. It also disproves the notion that you shouldn’t eat anything bigger than your head. More about it here.

Too bad my face is overexposed. Even so, Lilly saw the picture after I’d scanned it and remarked on my youthful visage, though that wasn’t the word she used. As in, I can’t believe you were ever that young. It’s a hard thing to imagine one’s parents, even if I wasn’t that young at 33.

Thursday Scraps

Last year my part of the suburbs was lousy with skunks. For whatever ecological reasons, the population was up — so much so that both Lilly and I saw them prowling the streets at night.

This year, not so much. This year, it’s rabbits. Yesterday I looked out my office window, which faces my front yard, and saw two, each helping to trim the lawn. I’ve seen single rabbits frequently in both yards, and in parks, but never two at the same time.

rabbits June 2015The dog would have had a barking fit if she’d seen them. But she didn’t.

Not long ago I woke up thinking, why are sidekicks just for superheroes and singing cowboys? Why not for other, less fictional occupations? Some examples:

Ben Smith, CPA, and his sidekick Tuck.
Deepak Patal, Ph.D., and his sidekick Hadji
President Clinton and her sidekick Slick (still hypothetical)

Earlier this month I was driving west on North Ave. in Glendale Heights, Ill., which is a western suburb, and decided I needed to go east, so I turned north on Glen Ellyn Rd. to find a convenient place to turn around. And then I discovered Easy Street. So I drove down Easy Street, just to get a look at the houses of the people who Live on Easy Street. More carports than usual in the Chicago suburbs, but other than that it looked fairly ordinary.

Occasionally, as in once every few years, the urge to listen to early ’80s German-language rock ‘n’ roll is just too strong to resist. We all feel that way. No? Well, I feel that way now and then, and the Spider Murphy Gang is just the thing for it. There’s always “Schickeria.” or “Skandal im Sperrbezirk.”

The Palatine Prairie Nature Preserve

I’ve driven by the edge of the Palatine Prairie Nature Preserve and the adjoining Riemer Reservoir Park many times, traveling on N. Quentin Rd. in Palatine, Ill. Last Thursday, I decided it was time to stop and take a look at the place on foot. It happened not be raining, but the evidence of frequent rain was all around in the lush greens of this particular patch of Illinois greenspace.
Palatine Prairie, June 2015That makes it look like the middle of nowhere. It’s no such thing. At the northern edge of the Palatine Prairie is the Union Pacific Northwest line of the Metra commuter rail system (not the line I usually take). Here’s a train bound for Crystal Lake at least, and maybe further northwest, and making the prairie a little less quiet.

Palatine Prairie, June 2015Not that the place is quiet. The roads aren’t far away. Palatine Prairie is the northern section of the greenspace; the somewhat larger Riemer Reservoir is to the south, and they’re separated by the small W. Wood St. A trail winds through both, and it’s a pleasant walk when it isn’t raining or too hot. The weather was just right for us last week.

The greenspace that isn’t completely given over to prairie also includes a disc golf course. Guys were out playing disc golf. They seemed pretty serious about it, too.
Palatine Prairie, June 2015I’ve never played the game myself, though in the connected basements of Branscomb Quad at VU, we tossed frisbees at some kind of goals. Maybe the corridor doors, but I don’t think the rules were very well refined.

The 300 S. Wacker Map

Last week in downtown Chicago, I also got a look at the 300 S. Wacker map, which was unveiled late last year and is easily visible from the west side of the Chicago River near Union Station. That’s because it’s a map as tall as a skyscraper, and who couldn’t like that?
300 S. Wacker 2015A close up.
300 S. Wacker 2015The giant map depicts the Chicago River and nearby streets, from Cermak to Chicago and LaSalle to Jefferson. The 300 S. Wacker building itself appears on the map as a three-dimensional red block.

Previously, 300 S. Wacker had little to distinguish it as a building, and little to catch the eye. Beacon Capital bought it last year and commissioned Elmhurst, Ill.-based South Water Signs to do the work. I’ve read that there are more art maps in the building’s lobby, backlit by LED lights; I’ll have to take a look sometime.

Two Chicago River Bridgehouses

More rain over the weekend and again today. Are we turning into Seattle? Except that Seattle really isn’t the rainiest place in the nation, according to various sources. It turns out most cities in the Southeast U.S. get more rain every year.

But who would understand you if you said, it sure has been rainy lately. Are we turning into Mobile? Information age, my foot. Even easily available data has a hard time killing received notions.

That reminds me of something else I encountered in the Pacific Northwest all those years ago: Slug Death. Or, to be more exactly, Corry’s Slug & Snail Death in the bright yellow box. (It seems to be Corry’s Slug & Snail Killer these days, as if that matters to dying gastropods.) I think we were visiting people on Bainbridge Is., and that’s what they had in their garden. I’d never heard of such a thing. It was one of those ordinary details of a new place that stick with you.

En route to Union Station to catch my train to the suburbs last week, I spent a few minutes looking at some of the bridgehouses on the South Branch of the Chicago River. There’s a museum in one of the bridgehouses of the Michigan Ave. bridge that opened only last month — the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum — but I didn’t have time for that.

Here’s the Monroe St. bridgehouse on the east side of the structure. The bridge dates from 1919 and was built by the Ketler Elliott Co., a name I’ve encountered before.
Monroe St. bridge 2015Looks like it’s been cleaned lately, maybe even since the bridge’s 2000s rehabilitation. The site tells me that “the bridge’s operating and control panels inside the bridgetender buildings were reportedly the first in the United States to have completely enclosed circuitry so that no exposed copper connections were available for bridgetenders to mistakenly electrocute themselves on.”

This is the bridgehouse on the west side of the Adams St. bridge, which was built a little later, 1927, but still during a time when aesthetics was a consideration in a public building project (it might be again, but for quite a spell in the last century, the idea seems to have been on hold).
Adams St. bridge house, 2015The bridge was rehabbed in the mid-1990s. The bridgehouse is dingy, so I guess that’s 20 years of urban air at work. More about the Adams St. bridge is here.

Arnn Pictures, 1973

In June 1973, we had an unusually large number of relatives visit for an afternoon — 13 are in a picture I took, but I know that’s missing a few. I’m not sure how it was all arranged, only that hadn’t happened before, and it never did again. Mostly people came over in small groups.

One of the visitors was my uncle Kenneth Arnn, down from Oklahoma with my aunt Sue and cousin Ralph. I knew them better than any of the others, since we’d see them every year or every other year, and of course I still visit Sue and Ralph.

I took a picture of Ken standing near one of the kitchen doorways at my mother’s house.

KenJune1973He was impressed enough with the quality of the shot to ask for a copy sometime later. I look at it now and think, even my cheap Coolpix could take a better picture than that. But all I had then was a Kodak Instamatic 104, and I was 12, so I suppose that’s a pretty good image for all that. Also, if you took a shot from the same position now, most of the background would be the same, except for the arrangement of hats and the Magic 8 Ball.

Here’s the startling thing: in 1973, he was the same age as I am now. Chronologically, I understand. He was born in 1919. But it’s still hard to wrap my mind around that.

A few basic facts about Uncle Ken (unless I’m misremembering, which is entirely possible): he hailed from Childress, Texas; was a U.S. Army staff sergeant in the European theater in WWII — a cook in Patton’s army; did a stint as a teacher in Barrow, Alaska, in the 1950s with my aunt, whose older sister is my mother; and for most of his career he worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in South Dakota and later Oklahoma.

The last time I saw him was in Ardmore, Okla., in late 2001. He’d suffered a stroke by then, and so was frail, but still mentally lively, as always. We were on our way back home from Thanksgiving in Dallas, and I’m glad we stopped in (he got to meet Lilly, among other things). He died a few days before Christmas in 2002.

Here’s another picture I took during that visit in 1973: cousin Ralph, age 10, jumping off the swing set we had in the back yard at the time.

RalphJune1973Ralph’s a sales executive these days, a resident of San Antonio with a wife, grown stepdaughter and two teenaged daughters. I’ve always liked this kinetic picture of him.

Waterloo and All That

Been quite a week for multi-centenary anniversaries. After Magna Carta earlier this week came Waterloo today, so famous you don’t even need to call it the Battle of Waterloo. It was the occasion for a lot of showy commemorations in the UK and Belgium (and what are they doing in France? Calling it jeudi, probably).

I guess everyone was busy with other things during the centennial, so the bicentennial got star treatment. The Daily Mail has a fine collection of photos for the commemorations. The pics made me wonder: will the fellow who’s playing Napoleon, according to the caption a French lawyer named Franck Samson, be sent to St. Helena for a while now? You know, to buttress the re-enactment’s authenticity.

The Daily Mail again (man, they know how to use the Internet): pictures of St. Helena. Apparently the island’s going to get a real airport soon, so that the not-so-frequent royal mail ship from Cape Town will be a thing of the past.

One more thing about Waterloo re-enactments: I wonder who played Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher? That’s a pretty important part, after all. An elderly German with a taste for re-enactment, no doubt, made up to look like his horse had fallen on him.

As I look around, I find more things inspired by Waterloo. That’s one of the time-eating dangers of the Internet, but also its prime joy. The song that helped propel Abba to a higher income than the GDP of Sweden (or something like that) was named “Waterloo,” of course, but there’s also a song lost to time of the same title, recorded by Stonewall Jackson in 1959, which hit the country charts just after Johnny Horton’s “The Battle of New Orleans.” It was the golden age of battle-themed honky-tonk music, clearly.

Stonewall Jackson’s song includes the following deathless lyrics. Punctuated as I hear it.

Little general, Napoleon of France
Tried to conquer, the world but lost his pants.
Met defeat, known as Bonaparte’s retreat.
And that’s when Napoleon met his Waterloo.

Incidentally, at 82, Stonewall Jackson — reportedly not a stage name, and I believe it — is still with us. That’s good to know.

Pre-Victory Parade Chicago

Business took me downtown today. The Blackhawks victory parade is tomorrow, I hear, and I’m glad I’m going to miss that mess. Braving a crowd like that might be worth it to see the first astronauts to return from Mars, but other than that, no.

According to a parking lot sign on W. Madison St., today was very hot.

Chicago, June 17, 2015Or maybe that’s reporting a cold snap on Venus, as long as we’re talking about other planets.

No parade today, but Metra — the commuter rail I took into town — is getting ready.

Chicago, June 17, 2015A wise precaution, even if it’s going to be ignored by some riders. Or technically honored by riders who’re loaded when they get on board. I always disliked riding trains the night of a Cubs or Sox game; the later the train, the louder the drunks.

Also, just outside Union Station, I spied one of those post-championship souvenir vendors that pop up like toadstools after a rain. They were doing a brisk business in t-shirts, hats and maybe other gewgaws and gimcracks. It was too crowded to get a close look.

Chicago, June 17, 2015I didn’t see any Hawks banners hanging from lampposts — maybe I wasn’t looking on the right streets — but I did see other team totems. It seemed like more people than usual were wearing team shirts, for one thing, and then there was this:

Chicago, June 17, 2015The good tourist ship Lila plying the Chicago River, flying a Hawks flag.