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.

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.

A Few Views From the Wells Fargo Center, Denver

During my stay in Denver, I had an event to attend in the Wells Fargo Center, the third tallest building in Denver, big enough (about 1.2 million square feet) for its own zip code: 80274.
Wells Fargo Center, DenverThe 1983-vintage building’s distinctive curving roof, a Philip Johnson touch, was barely visible from where I stood, near 17th Ave. and Sherman St. The neighboring streets there are Lincoln, Sherman, Grant and Logan. I sense a postbellum naming scheme.

The event was about mid-way up the tall tower, high enough for views of the city and surrounding territory, though glare from the window glass and haze in the sky obscured things a bit. Still, here’s another view of the capitol.
Colorado capitolSome neighboring tall buildings.
Downtown DenverThis caught my eye.
Sherman Street Event Center, DenverIt’s the prosaically named Sherman Street Event Center, 1770 Sherman St., catching the late summer morning sun. It used to have better names: in order, the Mosque of the El Jebel Shrine, the Rocky Mountain Consistory, and the Scottish Rite Temple. The Shriners had it built in 1907, onion domes and all.

Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park (The Vistas)

What is it about vistas that people like? Assuming we can agree that vista refers to an aesthetically pleasing view from a high position. People drive distances, climb stairs, take elevators, pay money and sometimes even take risks for a good vista. I do those things, though the risks are never that great. I like a good vista, but I can’t quite say why.

That question triggers others. Did Petrarch really climb Ventoux for the view? Or is vista-awe actually a more recent invention, maybe a sprig of the Romantic movement or a Victorian fixation? These questions aren’t so burning that I’m going to do much research, but I do wonder. I suspect the feeling is fairly modern, and probably not universally shared even now, any more than a taste for coffee or soccer or rock and roll.

And it doesn’t just apply to views from mountains. Now that manmade towers are so plentiful, so are those vistas. At Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park in the UP on July 1, we enjoyed one vista of each kind: a tower top, though that was atop a high hill reached mostly by walking, and a view from a the bluff of a high hill, though we reached that mostly by driving.

The park has a lot of hiking trails through a lot of wilderness, about 59,000 acres with a Lake Superior coastline. The mountains of the name aren’t really much in the way of mountains, but it is rugged terrain: dense old-growth forests, never logged because of its inaccessible ruggedness. I read some years ago that the area was to have been a national park, but the federal government was too distracted in the early 1940s to get around to it, so the state of Michigan went ahead and created a state park in 1945.

I can’t pretend we did any serious hiking in the Porkies. The time and energy weren’t there. But we did some excellent short hikes. Off the South Boundary Road, a side road plunges into the park and ends at a parking lot for the Summit Peak Tower Trail. It’s only half a mile to a lookout tower atop a high hill.

Summit Peak Tower TrailThe trail rose gradually for a time. Except for muddy spots, no difficulties.
Summit Peak Tower TrailEventually, the grade increased and sometimes there were boardwalks and steps.
Summit Peak Tower TrailI had to rest for a minute or two a number of times — and my family kept getting further ahead of me — but before long even I’d made it to the tower. A sign at the base warns: Keep Off During Thunderstorms. Well, yes.
Summit Peak Tower TrailMore steps to the vista we’d come to see. It was worth the effort, even if it’s romantic moonshine invented by the Romantic poets. I’m all in.
Summit Peak TowerSummit Peak Tower TrailThe other vista we decided to see is in the north end of the park, easily accessible by road: the Lake of the Clouds. A sign outside the park along M-107 pointed the way.
M-107 SignAs for the End of the Earth, it didn’t look like anything special. Talk about anticlimactic.

From the the Lake of the Clouds parking lot, a trail only a fifth of a mile leads to the first of two grand vistas.
Lake of the Clouds, MichiganNote the people somewhat higher. The trail continues to that level, which is a rocky surface behind a short wall, overlooking for one of the fine vistas of the UP.
Lake of the Clouds, MichiganLake of the Clouds, MichiganIt’s a wow. The Lake of the Clouds view reminded me of some of the exceptional Canadian vistas we saw in ’06, though those were among mighty mountains, rather than picturesque hills.
Lake of the Clouds, MichiganAnn pointed out that in the fall, the view would be entirely different, and I think entirely worth the risk of running into early-season UP snow to see its multicolors.

The London House Hotel & The Tower on Top

When I took pictures from high up in the Aon Center, I didn’t know that a few weeks later, I’d be on top of another nearby building. Not as tall, but with also with a terrific view of Chicago. And one (formerly) associated with an insurance company: The London Guarantee & Accident Building, 360 N. Michigan Ave., vintage 1923.

Chicago architect Alfred S. Alschuler designed the Beaux Arts tower for the U.S. branch of a British insuror, and since last year it has been occupied by the London House Hotel. I didn’t know that, probably because I don’t keep track of the Chicago real estate market in detail right now. I still think of it as an office building that was home to Crain’s Chicago Business for a time, and which also used to count the Turkish Consulate as a tenant. Once upon a time, Armenian sympathizers would periodically protest on the sidewalk outside.

There’s a tower on the top of London House, marked with a circle.

Chicago from Aon Center 2017Up close, it looks like this.
London House Chicago cupola 2017The tower is supposedly modeled after the Choragic Monument in Athens. I’m not expert enough to know, but there are visual similarities at least.

The London Guarantee & Accident Building was on the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s Hotel Boom tour, and it was the only property we explored beyond the exterior and the lobby, though those parts are interesting too.
London House Hotel Chicago 2017This is the ceiling inside the Michigan Ave. entrance.
London House Hotel Chicago 2017The docent said that it was original to the building, but had been uncoveraged fairly recently. At some point probably in the 1950s or ’60s, it had been Eisenhowered by a lower ceiling.

From there we looked around the lobby, and then took an elevator to the 21st floor, which is occupied by a bar. On a spring Saturday afternoon, the place was packed. Then, another elevator takes you up to two levels of outdoor terraces. One of which has tables and chains and (on a warm day) people with their drinks.

London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017

The views are exceptional. Looking west down the Chicago River.
London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017North up Rush St. The building with the clock tower is, of course, the Wrigley Building.
London House Hotel Chicago rooftop 2017Stairs from this level lead up to the Choragic Monument-ish tower, which offers some views of its own. Looking to the east, you get a good view of the upper reaches of 333 N. Michigan Ave., another building of the 1920s.
333 N. Michigan Ave ChicagoI was intrigued by the busts way up.

333 N. Michigan Ave ChicagoWho is supposed to see them? Angels? Even from inside the building, it looks like they would be hard to see. A modern example of painting the back of the statues in a cathedral niche.

About 333 N. Michgan and environs, Blair Kaimen wrote: “Its designers, Chicago architects Holabird & Root, drew heavily from Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen’s influential second-prize entry in the 1922 Tribune Tower design competition. Continuous vertical lines and gentle setbacks mount to a top without a cornice or cupola. The building superbly takes advantage of a bend in North Michigan Avenue to dominate the view as you look southward.

“Together, 333 and 360 join with the neo-Gothic Tribune Tower and the eclectic Wrigley Building to form an extraordinary quartet of 1920s skyscrapers that frame a great urban space around the Michigan Avenue Bridge.”

Views from Aon

Recently I attended an event at the Mid-America Club, which happens to be on the 80th floor of the Aon Center, formerly known as the Amoco Building, and if you go back far enough, the Standard Oil Building (for some time after ’73, when it was completed). At 83 floors and 1,136 ft., it’s the third tallest building in Chicago, but that makes it only the 52nd tallest in the world in our time, when China and the UAE have decided that really tall buildings are just fab.

Aon Center 2017

Getting to the 80th floor, I encountered an elevator system I’d never experienced before. There are touchpads at each elevator bank, and you press the number of the floor you want to go to. Then the machine tells you which of the elevator cabs to board to go express to that floor. There are standard elevator buttons inside the cab, but they’ve been covered over by a hard plastic case and are inaccessible. Guess this makes inter-floor transit more efficient. For all I know, this kind of system could be common and not exactly new; I don’t go into that many very tall buildings any more.

I’d been up to the Mid-America Club before, though I couldn’t remember exactly when. Probably as long ago as the early 2000s. It offers a mighty 360-degree view, though this time around it was obscured some by overcast skies.

This is looking west, down at the top of the Prudential Center. Pru II, vintage 1990, has the pointy spire, maybe for zeppelin mooring. Pru I, vintage 1955, is the shorter structure immediately to Pru II’s left, though it was the tallest building in Chicago when new.
Prudential Center II Chicago spireUp and to the right, and on the river, with the cupola on top, is 35 E. Wacker, a handsome ’20s building in which I had an office for a few years.

Also seen from this vantage is 150 N. Michigan. Years ago, I ventured onto the exterior of that building, at a place marked by the red oval. It’s a lot safer than it looks like here.

150 N. Michigan Ave.

To the northeast, the entirety of Navy Pier, with part of Chicago’s massive Jardine Water Purification Plant behind it. Largest in the world by volume, I’ve read: nearly one billion gallons of water goes through per day.
Navy Pier from aboveOne of the pictures posted here is shot from Navy Pier, looking back in the direction of the Aon Center (and a lot of other buildings).

To the north, a large chunk of downtown off in the distance: North Michigan Ave. and Streeterville.
North Michigan Ave and StreetervilleTo the south, and looking nearly straight down, is Pritzker Pavilion. As seen from ground level in this posting.
Pritzker PavillionThe ribbon snaking off to the left is a pedestrian bridge. Officially, the BP Bridge, one of the projects funded by the oil company before its really big sponsorship of a hole in the Gulf of Mexico. Frank Gehry, who did the Gehry-like bandshell, did the bridge too.

Finally, the Bean, or “Cloud Gate.”
The Bean from the airFrom this vantage, looking like a bead of quicksilver surrounded by ants.

Ah, Haleakalā

In his TEDx Talk (see yesterday), Ed also mentioned a transformative experience – maybe transcendent experience — he had at Haleakalā, the enormous volcano on Maui. Brave fellow that Ed, walking into a volcano against medical advice.

Even against the advice of the National Park Service, which says re Haleakalā National Park: “The Summit and Kīpahulu Districts are remote. An ambulance can take up to 45 minutes to arrive at either district from the nearest town. People with respiratory or other medical conditions should also be aware that the summit of Haleakalā is at 10,000 ft.”

Can’t say that my experience at Haleakalā was transformative, except that incremental transformation one gets living day to day, with a handful of those days including things marvelous to behold. The vista down into the cone was certainly that, like no place I’d seen before.

Haleakala79-1Mars. I thought of Mars, with its rocks and rusty terrain. When I gazed down into Haleakalā in 1979, and took a few of my own pictures, the pictures taken by Viking were still pretty fresh. But I knew it was Earth; a rare part of Earth, accessible to the likes of me only because of the twists and turns of history and personal circumstance.

That day I made the acquaintance of the silversword, Argyroxiphium sandwicense macrocephalum, which grows nowhere else, though another subspecies grows on Mouna Kea.

Haleakala79-2Say that to yourself: The Silverswords of Haleakalā. Fun just to say. Sounds like one of Edgar Rice Burroughs lesser-known works.

Silversword79Plenty of fully grown men and women who didn’t exist when I took in the vista of Haleakalā and its silverswords are now loose in the world, so long ago was it. But I get some satisfaction from the almost certain knowledge that the vista hasn’t changed at all since then.

The UT Tower

Damned if it isn’t January out there now, but at least it’s expected to return to a more normal November – a little above freezing – by the end of the week.

My recent visit to Texas started out warm, but cooled down with most of the rest of the country. It was still warm when we went to the UT Tower on November 8. Good thing, since the outdoor vista is the thing to do. In full, it’s the University of Texas Tower, a part of the school’s Main Building, built in 1937 and towering 307 feet over campus. One Charles Whitman used his marksman skills to murder people at random from atop the observation deck in 1966, so nearly 50 years later visitors need to go through a metal detector manned by a cop to get in. But at least you can get in. For a good long time, the tower was closed.

Officially, you take a “tour” of the observation deck, and there’s some commentary by guides – in our case, three perky UT students – but mostly you have access to the view in all directions. Because of a sad history of suicides, you have to look through bars.

UT Tower Nov 8, 2014South: Downtown Austin, including the Capitol of Texas. At the time the tower was built, it couldn’t be taller than the capitol, which is 308 feet. Now structures can be taller, but not positioned in way to block the view of the capitol from 30 specific locations (one of which must certainly be the UT Tower).

Austin, Nov 8, 2014East: UT Stadium. Officially, Darrell K Royal–Texas Memorial Stadium, with a seating capacity of 100,119, making it the 13th largest stadium in the world, according to Wiki. Note that it wasn’t at capacity that day. UT was playing West Virginia, and they weren’t expected to win. But they did.

UT Stadium during UT-WVa game Nov 8, 2014From our vantage, we heard the crowd roar from time to time.

“That sounds like a first down,” Tom said about one roar. “What does it say about me, that I know that?”

“That you’ve been to too many UT games?” I suggested.

Northwest. The large house is Littlefield House.

Littlefield House, Nov 8, 2014West: The Drag and the Balcones Escarpment.

Austin, Nov 8, 2014 Guadalupe St., better known as the Drag, is in the mid-ground. Spent a fair amount of time there in ’81. The sign of the University Co-op, a major UT retailer, is just visible (CO-OP). Off in the background rises the Balcones Escarpment, a geological feature I’ve heard about for a long time, but never had seen so clearly displayed.

Item From the Past: Lombok

Not long ago I saw the first 15 minutes or so of Hercules in New York, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s first movie. I soon decided that I didn’t need to see any more, for the usual reasons (life’s too short, who’s going to give me those 91 minutes back?, etc.) In the age of YouTube, watching all of a bad movie isn’t necessary anyway, because you can watch the likes of this.

If you’re interested in a fittingly puerile review of the movie, there’s always this.

According to the imdb, the movie was made in 1969, released in early 1970. I wonder if anyone watching the movie in the theater had any inkling that the muscleman on the screen would ever be, say, the governor of a major U.S. state. Of course they didn’t.

Lombok was an interesting place. Drier than Bali, but still fairly green. This view near the town of Kuta, on the south coast of the island, shows the greenery.

We arrived on July 31, 1994, and stayed a few days. One of the persistent clichés about the island was that it’s “not as spoiled” as Bali, which wasn’t remotely spoiled, as in ruined by its popularity. Bali shrugs its lovely shoulders and the visitors pass through.

Still, that sentiment was in guidebook print, and I heard people talk that way, including one woman who was persuaded that the further east you traveled in the Lesser Sunda – Lombok, Sumbawa, Flores, and so on. — the better. I couldn’t say for sure, since we didn’t make it any further east than Lombok. But maybe she was just romanticizing poverty.