Mid-January Debris

Never mind what the Rossetti poem says, the bleak midwinter is about now, in mid-January, which is bleak, and which is smack in the middle of meteorological winter.

Dogs don’t mind, though. They’re already wearing coats.

One more pic from Mexico, a statue on Paseo de la Reforma.

“El Angel de la Seguridad Social,” a bronze by Jorge Marin, erected in 2013.

As gob.mx says, “Como parte de las actividades conmemorativas por el 70 Aniversario de la fundación del Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS),” the Mexican Social Security Institute. That’s the branch of the Mexican government in charge of public pensions and public health, established in 1943.

My brother Jay got me a Suprematist tea cup and saucer for Christmas.

On the bottom, something unusual: Imperial Porcelain – 1744 – St. Petersburg – Made in Russia. I’d probably have to look high and low around my house to find anything else made in Russia, and even then there might not be anything else.

Palacio de Belles Artes & “El hombre controlador del universo”

The 500-peso Mexican banknote now in circulation is the largest one I handled during my time in Mexico City, worth about US$26. On one side is Diego Rivera. On the other is Frida Kahlo. Husband and wife on paper money is unusual, but not absolutely unheard of: George and Martha Washington appeared on an 1896 U.S. $1 silver certificate.

I had Rivera in mind on our last full day in Mexico City, which also happened to be New Year’s Eve, and a Sunday. I wasn’t sure places like the Palacio de Belles Artes or the Palacio National, where Rivera murals are on display, would be open. Not only were they open, there was no charge to get in, though I believe that’s always true at the Palacio National.

We arrived at the Palacio de Belles Artes just before noon. It looks like an art palace built before WWI, and it is, partly. Porfirio Diaz commissioned it, and work started in 1904. Enough of the exterior was finished by 1913 to give it Neoclassicial and Art Nouveau aspects. Adamo Boari, an Italian architect active in Mexico, did the exterior.

Worked then stopped because of the Mexican Revolution and wasn’t picked up again until 1932. By that time, any art palace worth its salt was going to be art deco. Mexican architect Federico E. Mariscal designed the interior, and it’s an tremendous bit of art deco.

As fine as that was, though, I’d come to see the murals, and I wasn’t disappointed. To quote from Lonely Planet Mexico, which organized the information well:

“On the 2nd floor are two early 1950s works by Rufino Tamayo: ‘México de hoy (Mexico Today)’ and ‘Nacimiento de la nacionalidad (Birth of Nationality)’, a symbolic depiction of the creation of the mestizo (mixed ancestry) identity.

“On the north side of the 3rd floor are David Alfaro Siqueiros’ three-part ‘La nueva democracia (New Democracy)’ and Rivera’s four-part ‘Carnaval de la vida mexicana (Carnival of Mexican Life).’ To the east is José Clemente Orozco’s ‘La katharsis (Catharsis),’ depicting the conflict between humankind’s ‘social’ and ‘natural’ aspects.”

All interesting and sometimes unsettling works. But what I’d really come to see was Rivera’s re-creation of his Rockefeller Center mural. If it were anything like his murals in the Detroit Institute of Arts, I knew it would be astonishing.

“At the west end of the 3rd floor is Diego Rivera’s famous ‘El hombre en el cruce de caminos (Man at the Crossroads),’ originally commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center,” continues LP. “The Rockefellers had the original destroyed because of its anti-capitalist themes, but Rivera re-created it here in 1934.”

Indeed he did, though I’ve also heard it called “El hombre controlador del universo (Man, Controller of the Universe).”
Quite a work. We spent a while looking at it. The polemics aren’t subtle. Lenin is famously depicted, but so are organized workers, or maybe just determined masses.

Capitalism has brute force and decadence on its side.

Why, I wondered, were the capitalist allegories to the left and the socialist ones to the right? Then in occurred to me that they are on their own respective right and left.

In between is Man controlling Science — so presumably capitalism and socialism are at odds over capturing the power of Science toward their own ends.

If you asked me, the man has vacant eyes, as if he’s a scientist pretty much ready to serve whomever prevails, capitalism or socialism.

Teotihuacan

During our six days in Mexico City, we ventured out of the city only once, traveling 25 miles or so northeast on December 30, into the State of Mexico, to see Teotihuacan. To see las pirámides there: the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent; the Pyramid of the Moon; and the Pyramid of the Sun, hard to beat for sheer rise-to-the-sky bulk.

The rest of the time in Mexico, we walked or took the subway to our destinations. For Teotihuacan, we hired a car and a driver, who doubled as a guide: a bilingual gentleman name Leonardo, a lifelong resident of Mexico City in his 60s (probably) and exceptionally knowledegable about las pirámides de Teotihuacan, and a good many other things. He had, I believe, escorted many a gringo to see Teotihuacan over the years.

The ride out of Mexico City had its own interests: the miles and miles of city visible from the highway, seemingly endless painted cinder block and colored stucco filling every spot until the terrain is too steep; the graffiti on the highway walls or, as it seemed sometimes, the painted words that represented a cheap way to announce or advertise something; the many Pemex stations; the brown brush and tired-looking trees; and distant mountain peaks always in the background.

Leonardo’s lived long enough to see the Valley of Mexico fill with greater Ciudad de Mexico. Fewer than 3 million people lived there in 1950; now more than 20 million do. As in many parts of the world, the inhabitants of the furthest reaches of the country came looking for work, waves and waves of them, and built their own improvised neighborhoods. Leonardo also said that he remembered the ’68 Olympics as an exciting time to be a young man in Mexico City.

It occurred to me only afterward — only after I’d returned from Mexico, really — that I’d never seen a pyramid with my own eyes before, unless you count the likes of the Luxor Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Actual ancient structures, no. An odd thing to realize.

Or maybe not. We’ve all seen so many images of them, whether in Egypt or Mexico or elsewhere, in movies and TV and magazines and books and artwork and travel literature and posters and so on. Second-hand experience, that simulation of the real thing, is not always a bad thing, but is infectious and can blur first-hand experience.

Now I do my little bit to spread second-hand experience. No matter.

The first place we visited at the site was the smallest of the major structures, the Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent, a Mesoamerican name if there ever was one. It was a short climb up uneven stone steps, a preparation for that much larger pyramids to scale later.

In archaeological terms, the Feathered Serpent is where a lot of the recent action has been. According to the Guardian, “in 2003, a tunnel was discovered beneath the Feathered Serpent pyramid in the ruins of Teotihuacan, the ancient city in Mexico. Undisturbed for 1,800 years, the sealed-off passage was found to contain thousands of extraordinary treasures lying exactly where they had first been placed as ritual offerings to the gods.

“Items unearthed included greenstone crocodile teeth, crystals shaped into eyes, and sculptures of jaguars ready to pounce. Even more remarkable was a miniature mountainous landscape, 17 metres underground, with tiny pools of liquid mercury representing lakes. The walls of the tunnel were found to have been carefully impregnated with powdered pyrite, or fool’s gold, to give the effect in firelight of standing under a galaxy of stars.”

We didn’t see any of that, of course. But even if it was standalone ruin, Feathered Serpent would be a fairly impressive pile of stones. Many of the artifacts discussed above, incidentally, are now on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Soon we took a look at some of the excavations near the larger Pyramid of the Moon.
Then on to the Pyramid of the Moon itself. Here it is, seen from near its base.

I stood and stared a while. If I hadn’t, I’d have had no business being there. Pretty soon, though, you feel like climbing the thing. You’re only allowed to climb about three-quarters of the way up, however. The upper level beyond that looks a little dicey.

The structure is unexpectedly complex. Science Daily reported in 1999 that “the inhabitants of Teotihuacan built successively larger pyramids on top of the previous monuments, often partially deconstructing the previous pyramid in the process.

“From past research, there were thought to have been five phases to the Pyramid of the Moon, with phase one (dated in the 1st Century A.D.) being Teotihuacan’s oldest major monument. Excavations show a major jump in size and complexity occurring with the construction of pyramid four and a change in orientation that puts it in line with the unique and precise city grid structure that we see today in the city’s eight square miles of ruins.”

From the perch on the Pyramid of the Moon, you look down on the broad path known as the Avenue of the Dead.
Beyond that, the mountains nearby are clear — or rather, they’re in the haze. But more striking is the mammoth Pyramid of the Sun, to the left of the Avenue of the Dead as seen from the Pyramid of the Moon. Remarkably, the outline of the Pyramid of the Sun looks a lot like the even more massive mountain Cerro Gordo behind it. No coincidence, I figure.
Afterward we walked back down to the Avenue of the Dead, because who wouldn’t want to miss a chance to walk on such a thoroughfare?
Pretty lively with living tourists. It’s pleasing to imagine that the shades of the unknowable people who built these impressive structures sometimes take strolls on the avenue, too.

The Pyramid of the Sun looms over the landscape like no other part of Teotihuacan. To save a trip to Wikipedia, the structure is 216 feet high and is considered the third largest ancient pyramid in the world (the likes of the Vegas Luxor are thus out). The Great Pyramid of Cholula, only down in Puebla, is considered the largest, though it looks like a hill in our time; and the Pyrimid of Giza is second.

The Pyramid of the Sun also seems to attract climbers more than anywhere else. Note the orange line part way up. That’s crowd control, in the form of orange netting that marks a queue to get to the next level of the pyramid.

Tom and Lilly went on the to top. Considering my weight and age, and the fairly hot sun, I decided to wait for them at the level of the orange netting, so that’s as high as I got. Just another thing I should have done 20 — or 30 — years ago.

Even so, the view back at the Pyramid of the Moon from that level was one of my favorites at Teotihuacan and, in fact, of the entire trip.
A postscript to our visit: A few days after we returned home, I happened across an episode of Ancient Aliens on the History Channel. Or rather, the “History” Channel. It isn’t a channel I watch much. But I was passing by and I noticed a familiar image. An aerial layout that looked like — Teotihuacan.

I stayed with it to confirm that the fellow was blathering about Teotihuacan. He was. The IMDb entry about the show (which is in its 12th season) pretty much sums it up: “The many structures that still stand in Teotihuacan appear to be encoded with advanced mathematical and cosmic principles, and the layout precisely mirrors the positions of the planets in our solar system.”

Does it, now? Clearly, I’ve been wrong about certain things for many years. Especially that interest in ancient aliens somehow faded away with the 1970s. Maybe that was merely the golden age of such notions, and they aren’t gone at all.

No one knows which people built Teotihuacan in the early centuries of the first millennium or what their motives were or why they left. Why is that hard to accept? The idea that ancient aliens had a hand in its construction is an insult to whomever the real builders were. Or to any ancient human beings who built extraordinary structures.

Castillo de Chapultepec

Grim cold January days here in the North and, I’ve heard, it’s fairly cold in the South too. Why this is a big news story is another matter. It’s winter. You know, the season when it gets cold. Sometimes very cold.

Also, weather ≠ climate, as far as I understand these things. A cold winter no more disproves climate change than a hot summer proves it.

Way down in Mexico City, the weather was completely consistent during the days we were there. Cool in the early mornings, warm by noon, very warm in the afternoons, cool again in the evenings. Not a bit of rain, since the rainy season isn’t now. We were reluctant to leave that pattern and come back to the cold.

Were Mexico City tropical, the walk up to the Castillo de Chapultepec would have been a lot less pleasant. In modern times, the castle is on a high hill in Mexico’s vast Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park, measuring 1,695 acres, or 686 hectares) and is open to the public. Chapultepec, I’ve read, means grasshopper hill in Nahuatl.

In earlier centuries, the hill might not have been so public. I’ve seen it described as sacred to the Aztecs, but it wasn’t until late in the colonial period that the viceroy of New Spain — Bernardo Vicente de Gálvez y Madrid, the very same fellow that lent his name to Galveston — ordered construction started on a stately manor on the site. He died without realizing its completion, and the site wasn’t really used until the independent government of Mexico decided to put its military college there in 1833.

That’s what the Niños Héroes were defending to the death against U.S. forces under Gen. Winfield Scott on September 13, 1847. At the eastern entrance to the park, below Castillo de Chapultepec, is the famed memorial to the six cadets.

The memorial dates from 1952 and was designed by architect Enrique Aragón and sculpted by Ernesto Tamariz.

Once you get atop the hill and in the castle, you can look back toward the memorial.
Beyond that, looking eastward — Castillo de Chapultepec would have been west of the city in the 19th century, later witnessing it grow toward the hill — is the modern Paseo de la Reforma, flanked by large buildings.

The castle started taking its current shape under the ill-starred Emperor Maximilian, who used it as a residence. Some of his portraits still hang in the museum, including one that was suitably regal, and another one from which I got the impression that the artist had given the emperor a hint of a “what have I gotten myself into” look on his face (I think it was this one).

The museum’s entrance leads visitors to a handsome plaza.
Note the stage under the tarp. That’s where the Ballet Folklórico de México gave the lively performance we attended two nights later, with a palatial backdrop bathed in alternating colored lights.

Enter the castle itself behind the temporary stage, look up, and you’ll see this 1967 mural by Gabriel Flores on the ceiling.

Later I learned that it depicts Juan Escutia, one of the Niños Héroes, leaping to his death from the castle walls, wrapped in the Mexican flag.

After Maximilian wound up on the business end of a firing squad, the castle was neglected for a while again until Porfirio Díaz decided he wanted to live there and spiffed up the place. Post-Díaz Mexican presidents lived there as well, until 1944, when the building became a museum.

As a museum, Castillo de Chapultepec’s collection is extensive, including paintings and sculpture, clothing, coins, musical instruments, silver items, period furniture, ceramics, flags, a room of 19th-century carriages, books, documents and more. I was especially taken by the murals. You want to see some fine murals, go to Mexico.

Here’s a detail of Francisco I. Madero leading the 1911 revolution, part of a larger mural in the museum’s Independence Room. Juan O’Gorman, who did a mural on the front of the Lila Cockrell Theatre in San Antonio for the world’s fair in 1968, did this mural.
Off to the left in the Madero mural, not pictured above, is the top-hatted U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Henry Lane Wilson, handing the presidential sash to Victoriano Huerta, who murdered Madero in 1913 to take the presidency for himself.

On the other side of room are Porfirio Díaz and his ugly minions, such as this fellow and his whip.

Murals aren’t everything, however. Elsewhere in the museum is a hall with a row of fine stained glass depicting various goddesses of Classical Antiquity, such as Ceres.

And Diana.
The castle’s roof gardens are exceptionally pleasant, especially under a warm afternoon sun.
A tower that caps the castle rises over the rooftop garden.
Castillo de Chapultepec was a fine way to kick off four straight days of tourism.

CDMX

Something I didn’t know until recently: Mexico City, which has more autonomy than it used to, is no longer in the Distrito Federal, which it had been since 1824. Two years ago, the federal government of Mexico signed off on a name change, which the city’s government had wanted, to simply Ciudad de México, abbreviated CDMX.

On Wednesday, December 27, Lilly and I flew to Mexico City, returning on New Year’s Day 2018 — or actually early January 2, since the return flight was late. We stayed at a hotel in the Zona Rosa, just south of Paseo de la Reforma, a major thoroughfare, but also within walking distance of the Roma neighborhood.

We spent our time as dyed-in-the-wool, first-time tourists, seeing impressive places and structures, visiting grand museums, walking along interesting streets, eating a variety of food, taking in as much detail as possible.

Considering that Mexico City is a vast megalopolis — all too apparent from the air as we arrived in the daylight and left at night — we experienced only the slimmest sliver. But an endlessly fascinating sliver.

Adding immeasurably to the trip was the fact that my old friend Tom Jones — known him nearly 45 years — was in Mexico City at the same time. In fact, I’d suggested the trip to him on the phone last summer, when I called him to hear about his experience in seeing the eclipse. He’d been a fair number of other places in Mexico over the years, more than I have, but not Mexico City, so he was open to the suggestion.

So the three of us went a lot of places together in the city. Tom has an impulse for photobombing.
The first place Lilly and I went, not long after we had arrived, was the enormous Zocalo (formally the Plaza de la Constitution), which was packed with holiday revelers enjoying a temporary ice-skating rink and amusement-park slides. We circumambulated the square, said to be the second largest in the world after Red Square, and spent some time inside the vaulting Catedral Metropolitana, which opens onto one side of the Zocalo.

The second day, with Tom joining us, was for large museums in the even larger Bosque de Chapultepec, the city’s equivalent of Central Park: the Castillo de Chapultepec, a grand palace along European lines and now a history museum; and the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, an epic museum devoted to the many and varied cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico (or more precisely, pre-Cortez).

All that makes for tired feet, so the third day was less intense. Even so, we got a good look at a small part of the charming Coyoacan neighborhood, which includes the Museo Frida Kahlo. The lines were too long to visit Frida, but not to get into the Museo Casa Leon Trotsky a few blocks away.

The next day, December 30, was exhausting, but completely worth all the energy and money we spent, because we got to visit the renowned Teotihuacan, which is to the northeast of the city, in the State of Mexico, and climb its pyramids. From there, we went back into the city to see the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe — the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe — a pilgrimage site I’ve been curious about since I encountered The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Des Plaines.

And as if that wasn’t enough for a day, we returned to Castillo de Chapultepec on the evening of the 30th, along with four of Tom’s friends from Austin who were also visiting Mexico City, for an outdoor performance by the astonishingly talented dancers, singers and musicians of the Ballet Folklórico de México.

On the last day of 2017, we slept fairly late, but were out and about after noon, for a visit to the Palacio de Belles Artes, a striking building with art exhibits and some astonishing murals, especially the Diego Riveras. More Rivera murals were in the offing at the Palacio National, the last large site we visited.

We were tired on the evening of the 31st, but not too tired to walk a few blocks from our hotel to the Paseo de la Reforma. One of the city’s two main New Year’s celebrations was being held around the Angel de la Independencia, a famed gold-colored statue atop a tall column in the center of a Paseo de la Reforma traffic circle. The event featured live music by well-known (I was told) Mexican bands, a countdown just like at Times Square, except in Spanish, and then fireworks: a bang-up way, literally and figuratively, to start 2018.

Twelve Pictures ’17

Back to posting on January 2, 2018, or so. Like last year, I’m going to wind up the year with a leftover picture from each month. This time, for no special reason, no people, just places and things.

Champaign, Ill., January 2017Charlotte, NC, February 2017

Kankakee, Ill., March 2017

Rockford, Ill., April 2017

Muskogee, Okla., May 2017

Naperville, Ill., June 2017

Barrington Hills, Ill., July 2017

Vincennes, Ind., August 2017

Denver, September 2017Evanston, Ill., October 2017Chicago, November 2017

Birmingham, Ala., December 2017

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all.

Vulcan

While I was in Birmingham earlier this month, I noticed a lot of yard and roadside signs for the upcoming Senatorial election. Every single one was for Doug Jones or, more likely, against Roy Moore. Birmingham tends to be Democratic, and Jones is from Birmingham, but I think there was more to it than that. What I didn’t think was that Jones would win.

The simplest of the signs said: No Moore.

I’m only half-joking when I say that the modern world was invented either by Victorians, or for the 1893 World’s Fair, or for the 1904 World’s Fair, or by ad men in the 1920s. In the case of the massive cast-iron Vulcan overlooking Birmingham, Alabama, the statue was created for the World’s Fair in St. Louis, to tell the world about the city’s core competence in metal.That’s Vulcan atop the stone tower that the WPA built for him in the 1930s. Next, a view from a little further back.

Note the observation deck. You can reach that via stairs inside the tower, or by an elevator in the other tower. We took the elevator. From the deck, which goes all the way around the tower, Vulcan’s backside is close by.Besides Vulcan’s buttocks, we could see Birmingham stretching out in the distance.

There were also views of the surrounding hilly terrain.

For Vulcan, created by immigrant Giuseppe Moretti, the road from the 1904 World’s Fair to the top of Red Mountain in Birmingham wasn’t direct. After the fair, he was painted and displayed at the Alabama State Fairgrounds until the 1930s, when he was moved to Red Mountain and put on the 124-foot pedestal fashioned by the WPA.

Instead of a spear point, which was lost en route home from the fair, he had a lantern in his outstretched hand. It glowed red after a traffic fatality in Birmingham; green when there had been none for a while.

In the early ’70s, the tower was “modernized,” that is, made ugly. By the end of the 1990s, however, the statue was threatening to fall apart — no small matter for something that’s 56 feet high and weighs 100,000 pounds (the head alone weighs 11,000 pounds).

It took a while to raise the funds needed for repairs, but civic pride eventually came through. The statue was revamped by 2004, including restoring the structure and Vulcan’s original coloration, giving the tower back its WPA appearance, and putting a spear point back in the god’s hand.

Adios, November

Three yawning months of meteorological winter ahead. That’s what counts for winter: December, January and February. Never mind what anyone says about the solstice. But at least no heavy snow or ice is forecast for now.

Back again to posting around December 10.

What did we do to deserve this sunset? A late November event, as seen from our deck.
On Thanksgiving, the girls and I watched Airplane! on demand. What is it about that movie and its rapid-fire, throw the jokes against the wall to see if they’re funny structure? I’ve watched it a number of times since I saw it when it was new, and it’s funny every time.

Unlike another movie I paid good money to see in 1980: The Hollywood Knights. That was a mistake. So much so that sometime afterward I invented my own personal scale of movie quality: The Hollywood Knights Scale, from zero to some unspecified large number, zero being the worst.

The Hollywood Knights comes in at exactly 0 on my idiosyncratic scale. I’ve seen some bad movies in my time, but that ranking is still valid as far as I’m concerned (though I’d have to put, say, Patch Adams at 0.1).

Not familiar with The Hollywood Knights? Wiki gives a pretty good summation: “The ensuing antics include, among other things, a sexual encounter involving premature ejaculation, a punch bowl being spiked with urine, an initiation ceremony involving four pledges who are left in Watts wearing nothing but the car tires they are left to carry, a cheerleader who forgets to put on her underwear before performing at a pep rally, several impromptu drag races, and the lead character of Newbaum Turk (Robert Wuhl) wearing a majordomo outfit and singing a version of ‘Volare’ accompanied by the sounds of flatulence. Mooning also plays a prominent role in the film…”

None of those things necessarily make the movie unfunny. After all, Airplane! includes jokes about drug abuse, pederasty, oral sex, a sick child, and African-American dialect. There are ridiculous visual gags, such as Ted Striker’s drinking problem or pouring lights on the runway. Punning is rampant (don’t call me Shirley). Yet it all works as a comedy. The writing, directing, acting, timing and entire conceit as a spoof of more serious movies are vastly better than anything The Hollywood Knights did.

Speaking of odd things in movies, this is a still from Animal Crackers.

That’s supposed to be part of an outdoor patio of a lavish home on Long Island. The characters, who are not really that important in the scheme of the comedy, are the wealthy homeowner’s daughter and her honest but poor boyfriend. What caught my eye was that structure behind them.

According to the imdb, the uncredited art director for the firm was the German-born Ernst Fegté, who was working in Hollywood by 1925, and who had a busy career. Now what, I can imagine him thinking, would a wealthy Long Island socialite want for her patio? Something — modern.

The movie was made in 1930. Here’s something else from exactly then, a cover of Radio Listener magazine that I saw at the early Soviet art exhibit at the Art Institute last weekend.

It’s a Peakaboo Stalin. Lenin figured in a fair number of the works, but Stalin was only an up-and-coming character during most of the period. A little like Fonzie, though — pretty soon he’s going to take over the show.

One more thing, and naught to do with movies or the Soviet Union. I took Lilly back to UIUC on Sunday, and en route arranged to take a picture of this roadside attraction in Kankakee. Almost literally roadside, since it’s best seen from I-57.
“28 feet tall, Abe stands in front of a heavy equipment rental lot, and holds signs that promote whatever its owner feels strongly about at the moment,” says Roadside America.

I’ve seen him with a sign, but for the moment he holds none. Just as well, I figure. A sign in Honest Abe’s hands is gilding the lily.

Logan Square Walkabout

We’re no strangers to Logan Square, but there’s always more to a neighborhood. Aloft Circus Arts isn’t far from the square, but even closer is the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken). In fact, the church faces the square.

Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken) ChicagoThe church dates from 1912, when I suspect there were a lot more first-generation Norwegians in the area, and was designed by an architect by the fitting name of Charles F. Sorensen. As we entered, I wondered just how Norwegian the congregation is a century later.

Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken) Chicago

Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church (Minnekirken) ChicagoMore than I’d have thought. According to the church’s web site, my emphasis: “Minnekirken serves as a reminder of a neighborhood heritage long past in which Scandinavians played a significant part. The church is a place where one can experience Norwegian culture in a very real way — whether it be the Christmas celebrations, the after-service coffee hour with traditional Norwegian delicacies, a codfish dinner, or when Minnekirken hosts performers either from Norway or with Norwegian ties. Minnekirken is the only remaining Norwegian language church in Chicago.

By golly, that’s interesting. Like finding out in Charleston that there’s still a French Huguenot church.

Also interesting, and something I didn’t realize at first: the above stained glass window looks like it depicts the Veil of Veronica. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a window with that as the subject.

On the southern end of Logan Square is Logan Square Auditorium, dating from 1915, in the Gilbert Building.

Logan Square AuditoriumThe first floor has retail and the second floor small offices, for doctors and the like. The upper floor has a large ballroom, though with enough chairs I suppose it could be an auditorium. Not especially picturesque, but it would be a good place for an event with a lot of people.

The volunteer in the ballroom showed us a print of a photo of just such a large event, taken in September 1927. A luncheon from the looks of it, with the crowd looking very much like you’d expect, down to the round eyeglasses and Bendel bonnets. Most of the men had taken off their suit coats, so I’d guess the room was warm in those pre-air conditioned days.

According to the caption, the guest of honor that day was Illinois Gov. Len Small, then in his second of two terms. Generally forgotten now, but true to the tradition of Illinois electing crooks to that office.

Not far to the south of Logan Square Auditorium is Armitage Baptist Church. The leaves in this picture cover its ugly, and unfortunately placed marquee.

Armitage Baptist Church, ChicagoDeveloped in 1921 as the Logan Square Masonic Temple, in later years the Masons bugged out and the building was by turns an event venue and a school. Now Baptists meet an auditorium-style sanctuary that’s very spare, except for mostly Latin American flags. And conga drums.
Armitage Baptist ChurchOn one of the upper floors is a gym in need of some restoration, though it looks like you could still shoot some hoops. The church is working on the building, when funds are available.
Armitage Baptist Church basketball courtFew gyms in my experience have Bible verses on the walls, but I don’t visit many parochial schools.

Before leaving Logan Square, we got a quick look at the Illinois Centennial Monument rising over the square.
Illinois Centennial MonumentI took a closer look at its base some years ago. Next year is Illinois’ bicentennial. I still don’t think we’re going to get another memorial.

Denver Debris

No matter how much you prepare to visit a city you don’t know well — and I try not to overdo it — surprises will turn up. Details you’ll only encounter in person. Such as Denver’s Rainbow Row.

Bail Bond Row Denver

That’s just my name for it, borrowed from the genteel Rainbow Row of Charleston. Denver’s version is not genteel. For one thing, it’s across the street from the 488,000-square-foot Denver Justice Center. That is, the city/county jail.

The colorful buildings all house bail bondsmen. It’s only speculation, but I’d guess that one of them painted its building a bright color to stand out, then the others did.

Speaking of colorful structures, not far away is the Denver Central Library.
Denver Public LibraryMore of a pastel effect. Though maybe “pastel” is too banal a term when you’re aiming to challenge assumptions about public spaces and discourse, or fracture public library paradigms, or something.

Anyway, Michael Grave Architecture & Design, which designed a major expansion of the library in the 1990s, notes: “This project, won through a design competition, included the preservation and renovation of the 1956 147,000 SF modernist library by Burnham Hoyt, and a 390,000 SF expansion. The expansion is composed as a series of elements to allow the existing building to read as one part of a larger composition.”

The library is across the street from the Denver Art Museum. Outside the museum is this sculpture.
The Big SweepLooks familar. Yes indeed, it’s a Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen work, “Big Sweep” (2006). (What, that wasn’t the name of one of Raymond Chandler’s best books?)

Art etiquette is right there in bronze, next to the work.
The Big SweepAfter visiting the museum, I spent a while at the Friendship Powwow and American Indian Cultural Celebration just outside on the plaza. Featuring dancers.
Denver PowwowAnd drummers. Cool.
Denver PowwowOutside of Union Station, I saw a Tesla Model X. Haven’t seen those very often. Ever, actually.
Tesla X, Denver Union StationClose inspection shows that it belongs to the Crawford Hotel, which is part of Union Station. An upper-crust guest shuttle, no doubt.

On my last day in town, I worked in some shared office space — all the rage right now. I prefer my own office most of the time, but it was pleasant space. I didn’t mind working there for a few hours. Had a nice outdoor component, for one thing, with the Front Range off in the distance.
Shared office space, DenverI worked at this counter. People came and went, preparing light eats for themselves.
Shared office space, DenverAbove the counter was this. A hell of a light fixture, I’d say. Machine Age chic for Millennials.
Shared office space, DenverIn the same room were old machines made into illuminated works of art. Such as this typewriter + light bulbs, the likes of which I’d never seen before.
Shared office space, DenverA semi-circular, very old (late 19th century) Hammond machine. Looks like a 1b. Non-qwerty. Light bulbs added for effect, presumably.

Then there’s this curiousity. Again, light bulbs added.
The Davis & Kidder Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous DiseasesQuestionable Medical DevicesA 19th-century medical device. Reminds me of the Museum of Questionable Medical Devices in Minneapolis, now unfortunately closed.

I had the good fortune to visit that museum in 1998, and retain a pamphlet from it to this day.

The machine I saw in Denver is a specific device. The Wood Library Museum says: “In 1854, manufacturer W.H. Burnap produced a well-known electrotherapy device that was purchased by the general consumer as well as some physicians and hospitals: The Davis & Kidder Patent Magneto-Electric Machine for Nervous Diseases.

“The operator of this electromagnetic generator would place handles in the patient’s hands or elsewhere on the patient’s body and then turn a crank to deliver a ‘mild’ alternating current to the patient. The force of the current depended upon the speed with which the crank was turned.

“The makers claimed that it could relieve pain, as well as cure numerous diseases, including cancer, consumption (tuberculosis), diabetes, gangrene, heart disease, lockjaw (tetanus), and spinal deformities.”

One more thing. No Double Turn? What’s that supposed to mean? I saw several of these signs downtown.

NO DOUBLE TURN! What?

I think I figured it out. No left turns except from the left lane. Denver is the only place I’ve ever seen such a sign.