Museo Nacional de Antropologia

Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology, the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, is also in Chapultepec Park, not too far from Castillo de Chapultepec. The park was fairly busy three days after Christmas.

Maybe the park is always busy on nice days. It’s a nice park, with a lot of recommend it, including water features.
On the other hand, the week between Christmas and New Year’s is reputedly a fairly busy one for travel within Mexico. Many residents of Mexico City leave for vacation spots on the coast, and people who live in other parts of Mexico come to the big city, so that might have added to crowds at Chapultepec Park and some of the other sites we went to.

Interestingly, the two main languages I heard in passing at the Museo Nacional de Antropologia were Spanish and American English. Not as much British English or French or German or Japanese as I’d expect in a museum of its high calibre. You can’t go into the Art Institute of Chicago on a busy day, for instance, and not overhear Frenchmen and -women or spot gaggles of Japanese in their tour groups.

Maybe August is when the Euro-tourists come in numbers to Mexico City, and the Japanese as well, during O-Bon. Or maybe Mexico City isn’t quite the draw that Mexican beaches are.

The National Museum of Anthropology is a creation of the 1960s, and looks every bit of it. The building was designed by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez — who also collaborated on the New Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, more about which later — Jorge Campuzano, and Rafael Mijares Alcérreca.

This is the view from the back of the sizable interior courtyard, looking at a mammoth example of modernist construction.
The hefty structure perched over the courtyard, which got me thinking about the potential for seismic activity, at least while I was standing under the thing, is known as el paraguas, the umbrella.

This is what the shaft looks like from closer up. A stone umbrella shaft.
The light was poor for photography as I stood under it; this is a better image of el paraguas, through which steady cascades of water rush to the ground. Maybe “umbrella” is a wry Mexican joke on the nation’s uneven infrastructure.

The museum’s exhibition halls surround the courtyard — 23 rooms in all, displaying a vast array of artifacts from all over the country and across millennia, including but hardly limited to such diverse peoples as Olmecs, Zapotecs, Toltecs, Mayans and of course Aztecs (please to call them the people of Mexia), whose hall has a place of prominence at the back.

The museum has possession of more than 7 million archaeological pieces and over 5 million ethnological pieces, so the best any single person, even a curious one, can hope for is an interesting sample. Such as at any mega-museum. I feel like we got a good sample, such as bones and artifacts from the Tlatilco culture, which flourished in the Valley of Mexico around 3,000 years ago.
A Cabeza Colosal of the Olmecs, 1200-600 BCE, found near Veracruz. Colossal head indeed.

Specifically, the San Lorenzo Colossal Head 2 (also known as San Lorenzo Monument 2). To quote Wiki, it “was reworked from a monumental throne. The head stands 2.69 metres (8.8 ft) high and measures 1.83 metres (6.0 ft) wide by 1.05 metres (3.4 ft) deep; it weighs 20 tons. Colossal Head 2 was discovered in 1945 when Matthew Stirling’s guide cleared away some of the vegetation and mud that covered it.

“The monument was found lying on its back, facing the sky, and was excavated in 1946 by Stirling and Philip Drucker. In 1962 the monument was removed from the San Lorenzo plateau in order to put it on display as part of “The Olmec tradition” exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston in 1963. San Lorenzo Colossal Head 2 is currently in the Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City.”

A sculpture from Teotihuacan featuring Mictlantecutli, god of the dead.
The people that built Teotihuacan — more about that place later, too — flourished in the early centuries of the common era, but the city was so completely abandoned 1,000 years later that even the Aztecs weren’t sure who had lived there.

Here’s clear proof that ancient Mexico was visited by space aliens, right there in the museum.
He’s wearing a space helmet, after all. What more evidence do you need, except maybe a bottle of Tang? I might be mistaken, but I think images of this very stela appeared in books and TV shows about ancient astronauts when I was a lad, a time when they were fashionable.

The idea lives on. Writes one Paul Seaburn just last year: “So many statues, carvings, paintings and artifacts from the Mayans depict what appear to be aliens or alien spaceships, it’s hard to argue that all of them either have logical non-ET explanations or are hoaxes.”

I dunno, Paul, I don’t find it at all hard to argue the “non-ET explanations.”

Here’s El Creador, found in Morelos State and dating from the late first millennium of the common era.
Here’s a figure found at the Templo Mayor, a site that’s been excavated in recent decades at the historic center of Mexico City.
Speaking of which, I liked this model of Tenochtitlan.
Finally — among the many, many things in the Mexia (Aztec) hall, is the Mona Lisa of the museum, so to speak: The Sun Stone, famed icon of Mexico.
The Sun Stone certainly had a lot of admirers. I admired it myself. Maybe the Conquistadors did as well, since for some reason they didn’t destroy it, though the stone was eventually buried, only to be rediscovered near the end of Spanish rule, in 1790.

Much more about the Sun Stone is available online, including this article by an academic, Khristaan Villela, based in New Mexico. An artist’s interpretation of the central part of the stone is here.

“Since its rediscovery, the Calendar Stone has been displayed vertically, as if it really were a clock,” writes Villela, who refers to it as the Calendar Stone. “But the form and imagery of the sculpture closely link it to sacrificial altars, upon which the Aztec emperor, probably Moctezuma himself, ascended to sacrifice noble captives to feed the sun and earth.

“The most closely related monuments to the Calendar Stone are the Stone of Tizoc and the Stone of Moctezuma I.” Which happens to be only a few feet from the Sun Stone.

“Both are large basalt disks, with solar imagery on their upper faces,” Villela continues. “But whereas these other monuments display the conquests of Aztec rulers on the sides of their cylindrical forms, the Calendar Stone shows images related to the sky on its shallow carved side.”

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.

Millennium Carillon, Naperville

Near Riverwalk Park in Naperville is the Millennium Carillon, which is in a 160-foot structure called Moser Tower. Though the tower wasn’t completed until 2007, work began in 1999 and it must have been partially finished soon after, because I’m pretty sure we listened to its bells as part of the city’s Independence Day celebration in 2001, or maybe 2002.
Millennium Carillon, NapervilleIt’s possible to pay $3 and take a tour of the tower, but I didn’t have time for it on Friday. It’s 253 steps up to its observation deck, so we better visit before we get much older. Also, before the tower gets much older. It’s possible the tower will be gone in a few years.

“Cracks and deterioration of its concrete walls could cause pieces to fall ‘without notice,’ and corrosion of structural steel connections could decrease the building’s stability, a consultant found in a two-year, $50,000 study of the tower’s condition,” Marie Wilson writes in the Daily Herald.

“Options include fixing the structure and maintaining it as-is, fixing it and improving the base to help prevent future corrosion, or maintaining it for a while and then tearing it down.”

Such problems after only 10 years. Luckily, nothing fell without notice when I visited (though shouldn’t that be “without warning”?). I’m not a structural engineer, but it sounds like corners were cut during the original building. Of course, it was a money problem.

“The most expensive options would involve upgrading the bottom of the tower to match original designs by Charles Vincent George Architects, which called for the lower 72 feet and 9 inches to be enclosed in glass and temperature-controlled, Novack said.

“Enclosure plans were scrapped when the Millennium Carillon Foundation, which conducted the first phase of work in 1999 to 2001, ran of out of money.”

According to the Naperville Park District, the Millennium Carillon is the fourth largest in North America and one of the “grand” carillons of the world, featuring 72 bells spanning six octaves. Didn’t hear the bells during this visit. Concerts are inconveniently on weekday evenings. Inconvenient for non-residents, that is.

Near the tower is a bronze of Harold and Margaret Moser, who ponied up $1 million for the tower’s construction.
Harold & Margaret Moser statueBeginning after WWII — and that was the time to subdivide in earnest out in the suburbs — Harold Moser was a major residential developer in Naperville, credited with building at least 10,000 houses in the area. His nickname was Mr. Naperville, and a plaque on the back of the statue calls them Mr. and Mrs. Naperville.

They both died in 2001. The statue, by Barton Gunderson, dates from 2009.

Mr. & Mrs. Naperville

It’s fitting to honor the Mosers in bronze, but their smiles are a little unnerving.

Friday Afternoon in Naperville

Yuriko and Lilly wanted to go to the Aurora Outlet Mall last Friday, and they asked me to drive. It’s a fair number of miles via expressway, but rather than see that as a chore, I think of it as an opportunity to visit somewhere in the far western suburbs, where I don’t go all that often, after I drop them off at the mall (such as the Fox River as it passes through Aurora, or the Fermilab grounds).

My destination of choice this time was Grand Army of the Republic Hall in Aurora, but I found that the building is only open on Saturday afternoons, and the first Friday of the month in the summer. So an alternate was Naperville. A little far to the east of Aurora, but always a worthwhile place to visit.

First stop: the 40-acre Naperville Cemetery, a burial ground since 1842, and still active. It’s between Naperville Central High School (you can see the stadium) and the main campus of Edward Hospital, and also not far from the open air Naper Settlement museum.

According to the cemetery web site, Joe Napier himself, founder of Naperville — and a good friend of Jebediah Springfield, maybe — is buried there. I couldn’t find him among the 19th-century stones, but I didn’t try very hard.

Naperville CemeteryOn the whole, it’s a pleasant cemetery with some history, upright stones, a bit of funerary art, a fair number of trees, and a veterans memorial plaza.

Naperville CemeteryNaperville CemeteryNaperville CemeteryA few blocks away is the Riverwalk Park, part of downtown Naperville. The park is a series of trails and green spaces along the West Branch of the DuPage River, plus some public facilities such as a swimming pool with an artificial beach, all developed in the 1980s. Been a number of years since I’d been there.

Riverwalk Park, NapervilleRiverwalk ParkRiverwalk Park, NapervilleRiverwalk Park, NapervilleThe Aurora Outlet Mall’s a nice outdoor shopping center, but for me a walk along a river on a Friday in June beats it hands down.

Wicker Park, The Neighborhood & Wicker Park, The Park

Juneteenth has come around again. We need more holidays in the summer, and that would be a good one, celebrating human freedom.

We went to the city on Sunday, giving me an opportunity to wander around Wicker Park on a warm but not too hot day. I visited both places of that name. Wicker Park’s both a fashionable area — which it was not 30 years ago, when I first lived in Chicago — and the name of a smallish triangular park within the neighborhood.

The intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee is part of the neighborhood, but I didn’t hang around there much this time. Instead, I walked along some of the side streets. Much of the residential North Side of Chicago looks like this in June.
Wicker Park June 2017The handsome Wicker Park Lutheran Church is at 1502 N. Hoyne Ave.
Wicker Park Lutheran ChurchIt was already closed by the time I got there, but the interior looks like this.

The building dates from 1906, though the congregation goes back to 1879. “It boasts a basilica design, with double colonnades and an apse, a style used in ancient Rome for courts of law or places of public assembly,” notes the church web site. “The two towers are based on those of Abbey of Sainte-Trinité (the Holy Trinity), also known as Abbaye aux Dames, in Caen, France, which was built in the 11th century.”

A few blocks to the east is Wicker Park, the park. It isn’t one of Chicago’s great parks, but it is pleasant on a warm summer Sunday, well stocked with people and their dogs enjoying the warm summer Sunday. The park has some trees, a lush garden sporting flowers and bushes, a field house, a modest water fountain, and some open lawn.

There’s also a statue of Charles Gustavus Wicker (1820-1889), complete with stovepipe hat, heavy coat and broom. It’s been in the park since 2006.
Charles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoCharles G. Wicker Statue, ChicagoThere’s a plaque at the feet of Wicker that asserts that he was an important figure in the development of this part of Chicago. In fact, it’s a lot like a press release in bronze, this plaque. A sample: “The broom symbolizes his initiative and readiness to take personal responsibility. He, and people like him, established Chicago, where all who truly do their best will continue to make this unique community a place of opportunity with justice, freedom, and equality for everyone.”

About Charles and his brother Joel Wicker, the Chicago Park District says: “In 1870, when businessmen and developers Charles G. and Joel H. Wicker began constructing drainage ditches and laying out streets in their subdivision, they donated a four-acre parcel of land to the city to be used as a public park.

“Fencing the triangular site to keep cows out, the city created an artificial lake in the center of the park, surrounding it with lawn and trees. As the Wickers had hoped, the area developed into a fashionable middle- and upper-class neighborhood.”

Further discussion of Wicker and his brother is at the Chicagoist. A few years ago, the statue fell down — was knocked down — tumbled down somehow, and there’s a story about that as well. The statue was restored, of course. Oddly enough, the sculptor who created the statue of Wicker, and pushed for it to be in the park, was a great-granddaughter of his, one Nancy Wicker, who died just last year at over 90.

In one corner of the park, a troupe called Theatre-Hikes was doing a low-budget version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. No sets, just costumes. I sat down for a few minutes to watch. I’m no expert on the play — in fact, this is the only live performance I’ve seen of any of it — put I was able (later) to pin down that I’d arrived during Act 3, Scene 1.

Here’s Bottom.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park

Titania and Bottom. Both actors were good, and able to ham it up when the play called for it, to the amusement of all.

Theatre-Hikes, Wicker Park 2017

Be kind and courteous to this gentleman.
Hop in his walks and gambol in his eyes.
Feed him with apricoks and dewberries,
With purple grapes, green figs, and mulberries.
The honey bags steal from the humble-bees,
And for night tapers crop their waxen thighs
And light them at the fiery glowworms’ eyes
To have my love to bed and to arise.

The Illinois Heritage Grove

At Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary is the Illinois Heritage Grove. A sign there says that the grove “represents a sampling of native Illinois trees and shrubs specifically adapted to our climate and soils.” It’s a modest enclosure, with an oval footpath making its way around the grove.
Illinois Heritage GroveSpring or summer might have been the time to take pictures at the Illinois Heritage Grove, but there’s also something intriguing about bare trees. This is a cockspur hawthorn, Crataegus crusgalli.
Illinois Heritage GroveA surviving American elm tree, Ulmus americana.
Illinois Heritage Grove-elmThe USDA explained that “shipments of elm tree logs from France to Cleveland, Ohio, accidentally introduced the fungus into the United States in 1931. Within 4 to 5 years, scientists could trace the logs’ trip inland by looking at elm trees along the railroad route. The death trail ran all the way to furniture manufacturers in Cleveland and Columbus, where the imported elms were used for making veneer.

“By 1980, Ophiostoma ulmi — the fungus that causes Dutch elm disease — had virtually wiped out 77 million American elms. The loss of those prized shade trees denuded hundreds of tree-lined streets in towns and cities across the country.”

White ash, Fraxinus americana.
Illinois Heritage Grove - ash treeThe species in North America is under siege by the dread emerald ash borer. We’ve had personal experience with the loss of ash trees, ones we used to see every day near our front yard.

A black maple, Acer nigrum.
Illinois Heritage GroupNote the brass plaque hanging from the tree. It says:

6/6/76      5/19/95

I don’t know why his family, or friends, decided to memorialize him that way, but there it is. A modest search reveals that Christopher died in a car accident in Oklahoma, and is buried at Saint Michael The Archangel Catholic Cemetery in Palatine, across the road from the smaller St. John UCC Cemetery.

That’s entirely too melancholy a note on which to end. Here’s a little whimsy, then. I’d never heard of Bird & McDonald until today, but that’s what YouTube is for. Not sure when the clip was made, but with Redd Foxx in it, and from the looks of things, ca. 1980.

Spring Valley Fall

I find myself at the Spring Valley Nature Sanctuary in Schaumburg fairly often, because it’s close by and pleasant. I’ve heard a bird soap opera there, seen statues draped in winter clothes, and noted the aftermath of a controlled burn. I saw a frog looking like a bit of driftwood and encountered the glorious peonies during the warmer months, but also experienced the place in the bleak mid-winter.

Sunday was clear and not exactly warm, but it wasn’t cold either, so we thought Spring Valley would be just the place. Fall is well advanced, even though it hasn’t been so cold this month, not even quite freezing.

Spring Valley Nature Center Schaumburg

Spring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgBut not quite all the leaves have taken leave.
Spring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgAt the Volkening Heritage Farm, which is part of the preserve, the animals were enjoying the mild day.
Spring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgSpring Valley Nature Center SchaumburgThe pigs might not have been so placid if they’d realized that next weekend is the “From Hog House to Smokehouse” event at the farm. According to the Schuamburg Park District, “Visit the Heritage Farm to find out where bacon comes from and help preserve food and meat for winter as they did in the 1880s. Visitors will make sausage, smoke hams and learn other pork-related activities.”

I don’t think they’ll baconize all of the pigs. Just a number of them, as farmers would have in the 1880s. No preternaturally intelligent spider is going to come along to save any of them, either.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park

The museum building of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock cantilevers over the south bank of the Arkansas River. Hope the structural engineer planned for events like the next major movement of the New Madrid Fault.The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and ParkOn June 27, after seeing the Mount Holly Cemetery, I drove over to the presidential library by myself, not wanting to subject Ann to another museum just then. All I had to do was make it back to the hotel room in time to pack before checkout time. The facility is one of 13 presidential libraries/museums run by the National Archives and Records Administration; now I’ve been to eight of them, nine if you count the Eisenhower Library, which I’ve been told we visited when I was small.

So I know what to expect: a museum that puts the best face on whichever administration it’s about, regardless of party or historic circumstance. Keep that in mind, and no presidential library will drive you to distraction because of your opinion about this or that president. You can have fun with it, though, imagining exhibits that will never happen, such as I AM NOT A CROOK carved over the entrance of the Nixon Library or an animatronic Monica Lewinsky at the Clinton Library.

Polshek Partnership designed the property (these days, Ennead Architects), with the exhibition design by Ralph Appelbaum Associates. According to sources inside and outside the exhibit hall, the space was inspired by the Long Room in the Old Library at Trinity College, Dublin. I haven’t seen the Long Room, but the exhibit hall of the Clinton Library certainly is long, as you’d expect looking at it from the outside.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and ParkThe exhibits are a mix of photos, reading and artifacts, mostly in chronological order down the length of the second floor, and on the third floor as well, as well as in 14 alcoves detailing various events during Clinton’s terms of office. As I’ve mentioned before, it’s a little hard to view a period as history when you remember it as an adult. Then again, he’s been out of office 15 years, and the early years of the Clinton administration especially are a little fuzzy, since I was still out of the country.

The blue boxes — 4,536 in all, according to the museum — contain records from the White House Office of Agency Liaison, which deals with requests to the president or first lady from the public. “The records in these blue boxes represent approximately 2-3% of the entire Clinton Library archival collection, which we estimate at approximately 80 million pages.”

Among the artifacts on display: saxophones. Jefferson had his violin, Truman had his piano, and Clinton had his sax (and I’ve read that Chet Arthur played banjo; just picturing that makes me smile).

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and ParkSomething unexpected on display was a Chihuly, “Crystal Tree of Light,” one of two works the artist did for White House celebrations on December 31, 1999. Always good to happen across a Chihuly.

The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park - ChihulyThe museum also sports a replica Oval Office, designed to look like it did in the ’90s. Every presidential museum worth its salt has an oval office. This one has the distinction of being full-sized.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park - Oval OfficeThe full name of the facility refers to a park as well, and indeed it includes land along the Arkansas River. Best of all: there’s a nearby former railroad bridge, fully renovated and open for pedestrian and bicycle traffic since 2011.
The William J. Clinton Presidential Center and Park - railroad bridgeThe Choctaw, Oklahoma & Gulf RR built the bridge in 1899. That’s a railroad I’d never heard of, and for good reason, since it was swallowed by the Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific RR by 1904. After all, the Rock Island Line is a mighty good road, the Rock Island Line is the road to ride.

It’s a fine 19th-century work of iron, but even so illuminated by large 21st-century LED lights.
The Rock Island Line is a mighty good road The Rock Island Line is the road to rideBy the 1990s, the 1,600-foot structure had long since passed out of service as a railroad bridge, and was going to be dismantled. Instead, the City of Little Rock took possession, to make it part of a system of trails along the Arkansas River.

The bridge offers a nice view of downtown Little Rock.
Little Rock SkylineAnd the river.
Arkansas River - Little RockAll in all, it’s a good location for a presidential library. It isn’t crowded in by urban or suburban surroundings, like most I’ve seen, though Hoover’s is in a distinctly rural setting.

The Nashville Parthenon

Here’s my thought about Prime Day, which I’d never heard of before: I have enough stuff. I don’t need more stuff, certainly not from Amazon, unless the nonstore retail behemoth is willing to sell me (say) $20 gold pieces at face value.

On the other hand, I haven’t seen enough things, so Lincoln’s birthplace wasn’t enough in the way of monumental structures on the our trip, GTT 2016. Not at all. The very next day, we went to see the Parthenon in Nashville’s Centennial Park, after I queried Ann to make sure that she didn’t remember our visit eight years ago. This time, she will.

Nashville Parthenon Centennial Park 2016The Parthenon was as crowded on a Saturday morning in the summer, as you’d expect. It’s also the sort of place that inspires picture-taking.

Nashville Parthenon Centennial Park 2016Nashville Parthenon Centennial Park 2016Since it’s well known, there’s little point in detailing the history of Nashville Parthenon — its origin as a temporary plaster building at the Tennessee Centennial Expo in 1897; the permanent sandstone replacement in the 1920s; and the addition of the monumental statue of Athena inside in 1990. But I will add something the late Dr. Ned Nabors told me — told the class I was in — about the columns.

Each of the columns in the original Parthenon leans slightly inward, to give the appearance of being straight. That too is a well-known feature. If the columns were magically extended upward, they would converge about a mile and a half in the sky. Thus each column in the original was slightly different; each was carved to be unique.

In modern times, such uniqueness would be painfully expensive, so the columns of the Nashville Parthenon are exactly alike. To achieve the lean, the floor under part of each column is raised slightly. But enough to be apparent if you look down at the bases of the columns. Besides the building material, that’s one of the main differences between the original and the one in Nashville. (And that no one’s used Nashville’s to store gunpowder yet.)

Alan LeQuire’s Athena Parthenos, 42 feet tall and brightly painted, as the Greeks no doubt did saw her, commands the temple’s naos.

Athena Parthenos Nashville 2016She inspires poses.

Parthenon Nashville 2016Parthenon Nashville 2016Parthenon Nashville 2016We also spent some time in the Parthenon’s lower level, looking at its collection of paintings, and the exhibit about the Tennessee Centennial Exposition. The expo celebrated the centenary of Tennessee’s 1796 statehood, though held in 1897 (like the Columbian Exposition of 1893, a year after the anniversary). Fittingly, the site of the expo later became Centennial Park.

Ilene Jones Cornwell writes: “The Centennial Exposition, held May 1 through October 30, 1897, was ‘essentially a fair on a grand scale,’ wrote A. W. Crouch and H. D. Claybrook in Our Ancestors Were Engineers. Attractions included 12 large buildings featuring exhibits on the commercial, industrial, agricultural, and educational interests of the state; a ‘midway’ including Egyptian, Cuban, and Chinese villages; a ‘Giant See-saw’ designed by local engineer and steel fabricator Arthur J. Dyer; Venetian gondoliers on newly created Lake Watauga; a Venetian Rialto bridge designed by local architect C. A. Asmus; parades and ‘sham battles’ by the Tennessee Militia; fireworks and other entertainment; and a 250-foot flag staff designed by E. C. Lewis. Major Lewis also had conceived the idea to create a replica of the 5th century B. C. Athenian Parthenon to house the art exhibit, then commissioned local architect W. C. Smith to make the needed drawings….

“After the Exposition closed, all buildings except the Parthenon were torn down and removed. The success of the Exposition, as well as the progressive movement of the late 19th century to establish public parks, planted the seed for Nashville’s park system. In 1901 Mayor James Head appointed five men, one of whom was Major E. C. Lewis, to the new Board of Park Commissioners. Negotiations were begun by the city in early 1902 with the owners of the 72-acre Centennial Park to purchase the land for a permanent city park. After months of complicated offers and counter-offers, described in The Parks of Nashville, Nashville Railway and Light Company purchased Centennial Park and its title was presented to the city park board on December 22, 1902.”

Even by about 11 that morning, it was too hot to spend much time wandering around Centennial Park, which was too bad, since there are a variety of other things there besides the Parthenon.

Such as a large locomotive that the park has — and how many locomotives are there in public parks? Must be a web site or guide book about that, but I’m too lazy to find it. But not too lazy to look up the Centennial Park locomotive: a Nashville, Chattanooga & St. Louis 4-8-4.

Also, I either never noticed, or had forgotten, the Robertson monument, which is a freestanding column. It isn’t far from the Parthenon, so we walked by it.
Robertson Monument, Centennial Park, NashvilleCornwell again: “When negotiations had begun to purchase the Centennial land, [Major Lewis] purchased the 50-foot granite shaft for $200, then his fellow-commissioner Samuel A. Champion ‘resolved that it be erected in the park as a monument to the memory of James Robertson.’ Lewis also purchased the flat-stone base for $10 in 1903 to remain beside Lake Watauga as a memorial to the Centennial Exposition. A new granite base was needed to support the heavy shaft after its relocation, but no record has yet been found of the base’s creator or its procurement. Wherever the massive base originated, Johnson described the monument’s creation in The Parks of Nashville: ‘With a tripod made of three large oak logs and block and tackle, Major Lewis raised the shaft into position and then constructed the foundation beneath it.’ The granite shaft and its base weigh a total of 52.5 tons.”

Robertson, the “Father of Tennessee,” co-founded Nashville with John Donelson in 1779. For a moment I thought he and his wife might be buried there in the park, but then I remembered seeing his grave some years ago at the Nashville City Cemetery, where many early Tennesseans not named Andrew Jackson repose (he’s at the Hermitage).

The 606 in ’16

On Saturday we went to the city for a few hours. Yuriko went to a cake-making class offered by a woman she knows who lives near Humboldt Park. I was the driver, since it’s complicated to get there by train and bus, and driving in the city unnerves her.

As it should, with cars everywhere, parked and in motion, operated by sometimes careless or aggressive drivers and often closer than you think; delivery trucks blocking the way; road construction crews doing likewise — though the rough surfaces and potholes never seem to go away; buses acting as if they own the road; bicyclists passing between you and parked cars suddenly and with inches to spare; random pedestrians all over the place, a few with no sense; people opening their car doors in front of you without warning, emerging onto the street (some with children in tow); large intersections without the benefit of turning signals; and stretches of street being resurfaced, but not completed just yet, which on a dry June day raises clouds of dust through which you must pass.

Then there’s the matter of parallel parking. Yuriko doesn’t care for it. A lot of people would say the same. I never knew how to do it until I moved to Chicago in the late ’80s. Then I learned it well. It’s an essential skill for owning a car in the city. I also learned what to expect driving in a place like Chicago. Or New York or Boston or Washington DC or Atlanta or Miami or Dallas or Los Angeles or Seattle — all harrowing in their own sweet ways.

I’ll say one good thing about driving in Chicago, though: it’s easy to know roughly where you are all the time. The streets mostly form a grid, with major streets at regular intervals, and just about every street, even the most minor, marked with an easy-to-see, well-placed and legible street sign. Not every city has such luxuries, and I mean you, Boston.

With Yuriko at her cake class, I had a couple of hours to kick around in the late morning. The Puerto Rican Festival in Humboldt Park, Fiestas Puertorriqueñas, was slated to start at noon, as evidenced by people carrying the commonwealth’s well designed flag into the park and the flag being flown by a lot of passing cars. Here’s a vendor selling some.

Puerto Rican Day Chicago 2016Since the event wasn’t actually under way, I went elsewhere. I visited St. Mary of the Angels church about 20 blocks to the east, taking a North Avenue bus, and then walking back, partly on the 606, the same linear park we visited on its opening day a little more than a year ago.

This time I saw a bit more of the trail’s eastern end, though not quite to the east terminus. At around 11 am in mid-June, the sun is high and the trail very warm. Temps were in the upper 80s F. That didn’t keep people away.
The 606 ChicagoI was glad to see that the landscaping on the edges is now more lush than a year ago. Also, development of the land nearby continues apace.

606 Winchester AveI also noticed that the trail is short on shade. Most of the year, that wouldn’t matter, but in summer it’s important. Even the trailside parks weren’t particularly shady. At Park 567, where the trail crosses over Milwaukee Ave., there were only three or four spots under trees offering any significant shade. I was lucky enough to be able to sit by myself in one sizable pool of shade, though I would have shared the space if any had asked.

I got a look at the trail’s first art installation, the serpentine “Brick House,” by a sculptor named Chakaia Booker.

606 - Brick House scultpureI’ll consider the title whimsical, since no bricks are involved, or any obvious connection to the song celebrating feminine pulchritude. It’s made of stainless steel and recycled tire rubber. Put in last fall, the piece attracts children, who instantly want to climb it.

I would have spent more time on the trail, but I’d forgotten a hat (though not water). The shade, provided by mature trees, is better on many of Chicago’s neighborhood streets, so after about a half mile, I walked the rest of the way on small streets, as well as along North Ave., whose buildings also provided shade at that time of the day, at least on the south side of the street. I’m not the devil-may-care teen I used to be, who sometimes walked miles in clear 90-plus degree weather in San Antonio or Austin.