Halloween ’17

A chilly Halloween. That might account for the seemingly low numbers of kids coming by for candy. As of about 8 p.m., a total of 22. Or maybe that’s about the same as every recent year. I haven’t been counting. This year I decided to, just on a whim.

Ann did not go out. As far as I can tell, no high school kids came by — unless a couple of those tall(ish) skinny kids in one party were in high school, but I took them for junior high.

This is a good development. When we first moved here in the 2000s, high school kids used to show up. But if you’re in high school, you’re too old to trick-or-treat. If it were true 40 years ago, it should still be true.

This year I sprang for a box a full-sized candy bars to give away. A bulk box of Mars products, acquired at a warehouse store: Snickers, Milky Way, M&Ms (plain and peanut) and Twix. A little more expensive, but the leftovers are better. We got an audible reaction sometimes: as two girls walked away, I heard them both squeal, “Full sized!”

A moderately interesting selection of costumes was on display among the kids who came to the door. I didn’t recognize all of them.

“What was that movie, set in Hawaii, with an alien and a girl?” I asked Ann.

I think I took Lilly to see it when she was four. Or maybe we saw it on tape. Anyway, I couldn’t remember the title, but I remembered what the character looked like. I assumed Ann had seen it at some point. I was right.

Lilo and Stitch.”

“Right. That kid had a Stitch costume on, though the hood wasn’t up.”

The very first kid, a little boy of about three with his mother at the door, wore some kind of blue dinosaur outfit. At least the purple dinosaur seems to be dead and gone. (Or is he?) Years ago, 1998 or ’99 I think, a little kid in a strikingly full Teletubbies costume came to the door. I expect he’s a grown man now. I hope his parents took pictures of his foray into Teletubbie-ness to embarrass him occasionally.

Like I documented Lilly in her paper space armor, ca. 2001.

She didn’t actually wear that trick-or-treating, though she could have. If I remember right, it came folded up in a Japanese magazine. Unfold it and you have a cheap costume.

Later a somewhat older boy came by fully dressed as Flash. Other kids mostly wore head pieces for the desired effect: a pirate hat, mouse ears, a karate band, a flower crown and antlers — a nice array, but odd — and a girl in a zebra coat and… a pork pie hat?

I didn’t get a good look at it, but that was my impression. Maybe that’s just because I finished Breaking Bad not long ago. And I don’t remember any zebra coats in that show. Could be from a kid’s show I know nothing about. There’s an increasing number of those, and I don’t mind.

A Preview of Winter

Miserable windy and cold today. For October anyway. In January, this would be a break from the deep freeze. In any case, it’s been October cold since Friday, with temps just below freezing by night.

On Thursday, when it was merely cool, I mowed the grass, front and back. During late summer, the lush greens had given away to dry brown, which suited me. I thought mowing was over for the year. But then the rains came — one of the wettest Octobers on record, I read — and greened things up again.

I could have skipped it anyway. But I’m just a little too much of a grew-up-in-the-20th-century middle-class householder to let it pass. So I mowed the lawn on October 26, the latest in the year I can ever remember doing that.

Now I’ll have a dandy lawn underneath the snow. Except it will be covered with leaves, because I don’t discard lawn leaves any more. In that way, I’m going green: leaving your leaves to nurture next year’s grass will be the thing soon. It also helps that I don’t want to do it.

Hida-Takayama 1991

While my friend Steve stayed with me in Osaka in October 1991, we took a weekend trip to Takayama in Gifu Prefecture, in the Japanese Alps. (All the pictures below are dated October 26, 1991.) The small city is better known as Hida-Takayama (飛騨高山), since takayama simply means “tall mountain,” which describes a fair number of places in Japan. It used to be in Hida Province, in the pre-Meiji era way of dividing the country.

I’ve posted about the trip before. But nothing about the statues on the Kajibashi Bridge over the Miyagawa River in Takayama. Steve and I posed with different ones.

Statues on the Kajibashi Bridge over the Miyagawa River in Takayama. Statues on the Kajibashi Bridge over the Miyagawa River in Takayama. One source, clearly written in English by a Japanese writer — but not too bad a job, all sic — says: “Extremely long-arm goblin, Tenaga and long-leg goblin, Ashi-naga are displayed on the railing of Kaji-bashi bridge. Te-naga and Ashi-naga folklore is handed down in Japan, which represents the god of immortal.

“There is another folk tale about the creature. This creature was regarded as a hobgoblin, a ghostly apparition, Yokai in Japanese. The creatures with their weird long arms and long legs are said to do wrong to people.

“So, two different traditions about Te-naga and Ashi-naga. There is a shrine to dedicate the creatures in Nagano prefecture.”

We also spent some time at the Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村), which is an open-air museum with about 30 farmhouses from this part of Japan.

Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村)Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村)Complete with a bell to ring. Ring bells if you can.

Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村) bell“We saw a man and a woman fashioning hemp sandals from stacks of cord,” I wrote. Here’s the man.
Hida Folk Village (飛騨民俗村)I don’t believe this was in the Folk Village.
Cemetery, Hida-Takayama 1991Rather, it’s a good example of an urban Japanese cemetery. Since cremation is the norm in Japan, burial space isn’t necessary. Rather, the memorial stones can be fit into a tight space. In a city, even a small one like Takayama, that’s often an irregular or otherwise hard to develop plot of land.

What’s the Use of Worrying? It Never was Worthwhile.

Odd, not many Christmas catalogs yet. But I did get a Coleman’s Military Surplus catalog this week. Why I’m on that list, I can’t say.

Air Force Base Guards: You sure gotta hand it to those commies… Gee, those trucks sure look like the real thing, don’t they?… I wonder where they got ’em from?… Probably bought them from the Army as war surplus… OK. Open up at 200 yards. 

Name that movie.

Coleman’s offerings are international. Some random picks: a Bulgarian military officer’s sheepskin-lined wool coat, Czech border police parka, French military waterproof rain coat, British military thermal underwear, Swedish military universal bandana, Italian navy mechanics coverall, Turkish military combat backpack, Polish military attaché case, Russian sailor’s blanket, Greek military NATO sleeping bag, Swiss military ice pick, German military four-piece utensil and can opener set, and an East German military shovel.

Plenty from the USA as well: some GI cold weather gloves, GI wool boot liners, GI cold weather bibs, GI waist/butt pack, GI tactical shotgun shell/ammo pouch, GI mesh laundry bag, GI GP medic’s bag, GI improved combat shelter, and of course a GI duffel bag.

Everything for the GI. Am I wrong in thinking that term is pretty much historic, and not current? Everyone knows what it means — maybe I shouldn’t be too sure about the rising generation — but usually you only see it in a historic context.

Best of all in the catalog: a GI all-purpose rugged kit bag. A kit bag! Only $39.95 and you get something in which to pack up all your troubles.

Upon Saint Crispin’s Day

I’ve posted this before, but it was nine years ago, and besides, you can’t watch the St. Crispin’s Day speech often enough.

Laurence Olivier’s version is, of course, very accomplished, but somehow it doesn’t resonate with me like Kenneth Branagh’s.

As it happens, I’ve been reading about Agincourt in The Face of Battle by John Keegan (1976) these last few days. I’ve had the book a long time, though not 41 years, and only recently decided to get around to it. In Keegan’s capable hands, the historical Agincourt is every bit as interesting as Shakespeare’s.

St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral & The Holodomor Memorial

Last week I was near St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral (of the of the Kyiv Patriarchate in the USA and Canada) in Bloomingdale, Ill., so I stopped by for a look. It wasn’t part of Open House Chicago, but I’d read about the place a while back and realized it’s fairly close to where I live.

St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox Cathedral Being the middle of the week, the church itself was closed, as suburban churches often are. Still, a committee of holy men greets you above the door. At least, that’s what it looks like to me.
St. Andrew Ukrainian Orthodox CathedralIt reminded me a little of the artwork depicting Vladimir’s baptism of the Kievan Rus over the entrance of Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic Church in Chicago, which we saw a few years ago.

 Sts. Volodymyr and Olha Ukrainian Catholic ChurchBut only a little. It doesn’t much look like any baptism is going on at St. Andrew, so I assume it depicts something else.

More than the church, I came to see the memorial to the victims of the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine, which is on the church’s grounds, near its cemetery. The Holodomor, as it’s called, when Stalin starved untold millions of people to death.

Holodomor Memorial IllinoisHolodomor Memorial IllinoisThe plaque’s a little worn — it’s been out in the elements since the memorial was erected in 1993 — but it says, in English: In memory of over seven million victims of the great famine artificially created in Ukraine by the Moscow-Communist regime.

Holodomor Memorial Illinois

Much too somber a note on which to end, so I looked around for some comic relief about Stalin, and found this, attributed to Romanian writer Panait Istrati, who visited the Soviet Union in the late 1920s, just as Stalin had consolidated his dictatorship: “All right, I can see the broken eggs. Now where’s this omelette of yours?”

The Pirates of Penzance

Not long ago Ann and I went to Evanston to see a production of The Pirates of Penzance by a troupe known as the Savoyaires, directed by Amy Uhl (choreography) and Timothy Semanik (music). I’d seen it advertised in the Iolanthe program last spring, and it occurred to me that I’d never seen it on stage. So I wanted to go.

img492I saw the Kevin Kline and Linda Ronstadt movie version sometime in the mid-80s at the Vanderbilt cinema. It was essentially a filming of the 1980 Broadway production. I’m not sure what it was, but I remember the movie being a little off. A little stiff.

Maybe it didn’t offer enough of that jolly good time that you should get from Gilbert & Sullivan. We got that from the Savoyaires, who didn’t need an elaborate venue to pull it off. The show was staged in a sizable but plain junior high school auditorium, complete with an orchestra.

Phillip Dothard played the Pirate King with gusto, and Sahara Glasener-Boles brought the right amount of sauciness to the part of Ruth. Of course what everyone was waiting for was the Major-General to show up and sing his signature song. An actor named Bill Chamberlain did that part.

“How did he learn to do that?” Ann asked later.

“Practice,” I said, though in fact, even if I had the voice, I doubt that I could ever do “I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General.”

And while Chamberlain was very good, he didn’t quite get all of the enunciation. Close enough, though. He was definitely part of the jolly good fun.

The program included “A Pirates of Penzance Glossary,” including the likes of Babylonic cuneiform, The Frogs of Aristophanes and Heliogabalus, whom it described as an “infamously depraved Roman emperor.”

“What was he depraved about?” Ann asked.

I couldn’t remember. It had been years since I’d read about him. A vague sense of perversion clings to him, but I wonder if there’s much to it. Ancient historians liked gossip and lurid invention as much as anyone else, and so did not-so-ancient historians.

“To confound the order of the season and climate, to sport with the passions and prejudices of his subjects, and to subvert every law of nature and decency, were in the number of his most delicious amusements,” Gibbon wrote of the boy-emperor.

He also wrote: “It may seem probable, the vices and follies of Elagabalus have been adorned by fancy, and blackened by prejudice.” In other words, dress as a woman a few times and people will make up all kinds of stories about you, especially if you’re emperor.

Ah, well. I will leave it to learned sages to argue over Heliogabalus. Next year’s production by the Savoyaires is Ruddigore, another G&S I’ve never seen staged. I’ll try to go.

St. Edmund Catholic Church & Grace Episcopal Church, Oak Park

Unusually warm this week from Tuesday to yesterday. Still a lot of green leaves. Autumn, but not quite autumn. It’s also the time of the year for Halloween decorations, and to avoid any store or event that uses the terms boo-nanza or spook-tacular.

Two more places from last week’s Open House Chicago, both in west suburban Oak Park. One was St. Edmund, which the sign outside says is Oak Park’s oldest Catholic parish. The church building dates from 1910.

St. Edmund, Oak ParkHenry Schlacks, whose work I’ve run across before, design the church. The interior is resplendent.

St. Edmund, Oak ParkMuch of its splendor is the stained glass, created by a studio in Munich (presumably pre-WWI).

St. Edmund, Oak ParkSt. Edmund, Oak ParkAnd an interesting baptismal font that, when I was there, reflected one of the windows.

St. Edmund, Oak Park

A few blocks away, among the numerous churches on Lake St., is Grace Episcopal Church.
Grace Episcopal, Oak ParkFirst occupied in 1905 — and the building took a lot longer to complete according to its plans, namely another 70 years — Grace Episcopal also has a resplendent interior, in its more muted way.
Grace Episcopal, Oak ParkGrace Episcopal, Oak ParkA sign near the entrance reminds visitors that the church, designed by John Sutcliffe, figured in a scene in Home Alone. I wouldn’t have remembered that, since the last and only time I saw that movie was during a bus ride from Perth to Adelaide, or maybe it was Adelaide to Sydney, in early 1992. But I did see “Everything Wrong With Home Alone” not long ago, which was funnier than the movie itself.

We listened to the organist practice for a while at Grace. Very nice. It’s also good to see a church equipped with a gong.
Grace Episcopal, Oak ParkI understand that the gong used during the Winter Solstice Celebration at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York is quite the thing to hear. And see.

Pleasant Home, Oak Park

During the last part of our Chicago Open House visit-as-much-as-you-can excursion on Sunday, in the near western suburb of Oak Park, I found myself face-to-face with a Mills dime slot machine.
Pleasant Home Oak Park Mills slot machineA nearby docent encouraged me to put in a dime. I did so and watched the wheel spin. It might be an antique machine, but it will still give you a fruit-based result. What it will not do is give any sort of payout. My dime was a donation, so I could see the machine move.

Next the docent made it spin without putting a dime in, so I could see the machinery inside in action. The back had been removed just for that purpose. It’s impressive — mainly because I can’t understand at all how such a machine works.

My dime is going to the further upkeep of the building in which I found the slot machine: Pleasant Home, also known as the Farson House, built in 1897.

Farson House Oak ParkAs much as I understand these things, the house is important in the development of the Prairie School. The AIA Guide to Chicago not only has an entry about the house, it devotes more than a page to it, which is major attention from that publication. Prairie School and in Oak Park, but not by Frank Lloyd Wright. Rather George Washington Maher, a contemporary of his who didn’t live nearly as long (dying in 1926), designed the house.

The Maher web site says: “In describing the Farson house, architectural historian Paul Sprague wrote ‘…it was extraordinary… compared to typical residences of the late 1890s. Its clean lines, flat surfaces of Roman brick, stone and wood, and simple rectangular window frames, chimneys and porch openings would have been hard to parallel anywhere at the time except in building by Sullivan and Wright.’ ”

Got an expansive porch, all right.
Farson House porch Oak ParkWhat do slot machines have to do with all this? That’s a tangent worth pursuing — another benefit of looking at things and then thinking, What was it I saw?

The first owner of the house was, according to the Pleasant Home web site: “Famous for his immaculate white flannel suits, red cravats and ties and top hats or straw boaters. [John] Farson gathered around him a vast circle of friends who shared his interests in everything up-to-date. As his passions shifted from horses to automobiles to roller skating, Farson amazed Oak Parkers with his public-spirited nature and high energy.”

He was a Gilded Age millionaire banker (d. 1910), so he could indulge his interests. Slot machines were not one of them, however. That was the business of the second owner of the house, Herbert S. Mills.

“Shortly after the Worlds’ Columbian Exposition of 1893, the young Mills built the first coin-operated automatic slot machine and later manufactured Mills machines of all kinds for his penny arcades and fortune-telling machines. Mill’s penny arcades became institutions on American’s main streets and amusement parks at the turn of the century.”

I’ve read elsewhere — a tangent from a tangent — that it was actually Charles Fey who invented the modern slot machine, out in California. But he did partner with Mills to produce them on a mass scale, and no doubt become very rich as a result.

“Raising eight children during the years they spent in the home, the Mills lived more quietly than the Farsons… In 1939, when the Mills family sold the house to the Park District of Oak Park, the grounds were designated as Mills Park in their honor.”

One more detail: while it was probably a pleasant place to live, certainly by early 20th century standards, Pleasant Home takes its name from its location, at the corner of Pleasant St. and Home Ave. in Oak Park.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica

The only place we visited during Open House Chicago on Sunday that wasn’t in the northwest part of the city or in near suburban Oak Park was Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica on the West Side. Or more formally, the Basilica of Our Lady of Sorrows.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoIn our time, the neighborhood is blighted. Across the street from the basilica are more modest structures.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, Chicago neighborhoodBut as mendicants, I expect the Servite Order that runs the basilica wouldn’t want to be in a posh neighborhood. The basilica itself, however, is jewel-box ornate.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoDesign credit is given to three gentlemen: Henry Englebert, John F. Pope, and William J. Brinkmann, with the structure going up from 1890 to 1902. I encountered a Brinkmann work earlier this year, out at Mount Carmel Cemetery.

No citation for it, but I have to mention his demise, as described by Wiki: “Brinkmann’s death was unexpected, gruesome and mysterious: his mangled, decapitated body was found on train tracks near 73rd street in February 1911… yet contradictory evidence prevented an inquest from finding a clear reason for his death or a finding of murder.
His funeral was held at St. Leo’s Church on 78th Street, a church he had himself designed in 1905. His death remains unsolved to this day.”

The AIA Guide to Chicago is succinct on the basilica: “It’s Bramante on the Boulevard — with a coffered, barrel-vaulted ceiling rising above the long nave. The stolid Classical facade is enlivened by an English Baroque steeple (its mate was destroyed by lightning).”

Looking straight up at that barrel-vaulted ceiling.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoIt’s familiar from a short scene in the 1987 movie version of The Untouchables. In our time, that’s easy to confirm. Sean Connery and Kevin Costner are toward the back of the very long nave. I didn’t remember that scene, since I haven’t seen the movie since it was new, but I read about it. The Chicago way, eh? The Federal way — busting Capone for tax evasion — proved more effective.

The sanctuary.
Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoAnd more.

Our Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoOur Lady of Sorrows Basilica, ChicagoOur Lady of the Sorrows Basilica Our Lady of the Sorrows BasilicaIt occurs to me that it’s been a good year for visiting basilicas. Our Lady of Sorrows makes the fifth so far. Hasn’t been a matter of planning, it’s just worked out that way.