vendredi 30 mars 2012

Chicago is my kind of town

Give me liberty or give me death!

Had we gone to Chicago the weekend before, we would have had sunny 80° weather. As it was, we got temps in the upper 50's and 60's and lots of sun, except for Sunday, which started out gloriously; then the John Hancock Tower suddenly disappeared as a thick, wet fog rolled in while we were lunching/brunching at Gibson's, where actual Blackhawks players come for pre-game dining. No kidding! We saw the stars Walt had just skated with (that's another story). Anyway, the fog rolled in on little cat feet, to quote a renowned poet who was talking about another foggy city, and that was okay because Chicago looks lovely wrapped in fog. And let me tell you, there is something eerie about going up to the top of the John Hancock building and looking out at thick fog. We did that too. Then Walt and his cousins went off to see the Blackhawks play and meet THE Bobby Hull and THE Tony Esposito (that's part of the other story), and my friend Linda from Toronto and I walked the Magnificent Mile, snapping photos and ducking into shops and generally just looking at people and buildings. This is not an original observation, but let me just say that Chicago is a paradise for those who like urban architecture and outdoor art. Everyone has heard of the great Chicago fire of 1871, after which the city basically arose from the ashes. This seems to have led to an outburst of creativity and innovation that makes Chicago one of the most visually stunning American cities I have ever seen. The great thing is seeing so many different architectural styles cohabiting without competing for attention. They seem to blend into a seemless and somehow harmonious whole.

I just had to photograph this Nathan Hale statue, which is a replica of Bela Lyon Pratt's 1912 statue on the campus of Yale University. It was erected by the Chicago Tribune and stands in a small courtyard in front of the low-rise addition to the north of the Tribune Tower. In this bronze sculpture, Hale is about to be executed. The addition, incidentally, is modeled after the Rouen Cathédrale's Tour de Beurre, which was built starting in 1488. Why is it called the Tour de Beurre (Butter Tower), I wondered. Well, here's the answer: It is named for the tax levied on people for the right to eat butter during Lent. Let them eat butter! So French, n'est-ce pas?

The Tribune Tower, at 435 North Michigan Avenue, was built in the early 1920's. It is a fantastic example of neo-Gothic design, with flying buttresses and everything. The arched entrance is carved with figures from Aesop's fables, and gargoyles grace the facade. But what most intrigued me were the rocks and bricks embedded here and there in the facade, all of them marked to indicate where they were carried to the US from by Tribune correspondents stationed abroad. For some reason, they reminded me of the cobblestone streets of La Rochelle, which are partially fabricated from the ballast of ships coming back from across the Atlantic. In fact, the early French settlers in Canada set sail from La Rochelle (including the founders of Montreal). I learned these things quite by accident one day when I lived in La Rochelle, as I was scurrying to the outdoor market and fell into conversation with a little old man who ended up taking me on an impromptu tour of the secret treasures of La Rochelle. By the way, the photo on my masthead, of the tree and the sea and the distant sailboats, was taken in La Rochelle.

Speaking of treasures, just next to the Chicago Tribune building is a giant statue of Marilyn Monroe. It almost looks like something you would find in Madame Toussaud's Wax Museum or Andy Warhol's factory. Look at all these people! Are they trying to get a look at Marilyn's crotch or get away from it? Hard to tell.

Marilyn, stuck forever in that dress

Remnants of the fog that came in on little cat feet

jeudi 22 mars 2012

Things fast and loose

For those of you who followed the Meredith Kercher murder trial, I just have one question. Does this b*llshit below sound at all familiar? I'm not just talking about the murder and the trial and the defense, I am also talking about some of the loopier peripheral events involving outsiders who became actively involved, some of them from Seattle (material below quoted from the New York Times article that appeared after Robert Bales was formally charged)*:

There’s definitely brain injury, no question about it,” Mr. Browne said.

Mr. Browne said Thursday that he expected the charges.

“I’m not persuaded by many facts,” he said. “There’s no crime scene. There’s no DNA. There’s no confession, although they’re leaking something, which I don’t believe until I see it. This is going to be a hard case for the government to prove. And my client can’t help me a lot with some of the things because he has mental problems and I believe they’re totally legitimate.”

So if Browne believes that these mental problems drove Bales to kill 17 innocent people and that they are legitimate, I'd like to know what his plan is for keeping this guy from "snapping" again and killing more innocent people? What is his plan for this in the US, where gun control is, well, pretty loose?

And, while we are on the subject of shooting people, is anyone besides me shocked to learn that 21 US states now have laws that allow anyone to shoot to kill if they feel threatened? It turns out that Florida is not the only state that has made it super easy to carry a gun and super easy to use it. All you have to say is that you were standing your ground! Just remember to shoot to kill, so that there is only one side to the story. And if there are witnesses, kill them too.

*For those who did not follow the Meredith Kercher murder case, I should explain: One of the local luminaries who participated in the shameful US media manipulation campaign, driven by the Seattle PR firm (Marriott Gogerty Stark) hired by the parents of Amanda Knox (the American initially convicted and then acquitted, whose acquittal is pending final court review), was picked up for drunk driving when the car she was driving hit a median. A local lawyer, she initially claimed that her car had been hit and that she had suffered a head injury that caused her speech to become slurred and her behavior to mimic that of an inebriated person. She did not explain how this same injury caused a strong smell of alcohol to emanate from her car... She then tried to use her media connections (and a PR advisor) to get the brain injury story out, and got a psychiatrist friend involved as well. No one bought the story. I spoke to many lawyers who generally rolled their eyes and said gimme a break. She eventually pleaded guilty to the DUI. A few months ago, I was alerted to the fact that she was able to wipe it off her record. It is apparently possible to do so if you are willing to pay thousands of dollars or if you have the legal connections and knowledge needed to do the footwork.

samedi 17 mars 2012

Neko, Munchkin, the Catio

Neko, pictured here on the cat perch, was named after Neko Case, who should feel honored by this. Neko Case lived in and has written proudly about the city of Tacoma, which is where we got our Neko. Neko is also named after the Velvet Underground Nico, but we had to choose a spelling and we went with Neko. Sometime later, we learned that in Japanese, Neko means "cat", though it is pronounced Neh-ko or Nay-ko. Our Nee-ko has been raised with cats and has learned many behaviors typically associated with cats, like climbing into very tight spots and then peering out at the world and eating cat food every time my back is turned. She also eats cat poop, which no cat in its right mind would ever do. Neko loves the kitty roca despite becoming a social outcast when other four-legged critters notice the litter rocks stuck in her chin hairs. And her breath could knock a buzzard off a shit wagon! One of Neko's favorite catty things to do is to climb up on the cat perch when the sun comes out. And believe it or not, the sun came out yesterday for what in Seattle passes for an extended period. We only caught a few drops on our walk.

For some reason, I put my coat on the floor when we came in yesterday from our walk. In fact, it was because the coat rack was full and I really, really had to pee. Munchy the wonder cat generally makes things up as she goes along, and I like that about her. Yesterday, she saw my coat on the floor and decided to occupy that space for awhile.

In other feline news, we have decided to build a "catio" for Munchy and her sister Pushkin (aka Pushy) so that they can enjoy the great outdoors without getting killed by their main urban predators: cars, coyotes and raccoons. There is a small deck off our bedroom that we don't use. It would make a perfect catio for the girls. We'll have to custom build it, but that should not be too difficult. Please note that when I use the word "we" in connection with anything that involves construction or furniture assembly, I mean Walt. I'm more of an interior design expert. I'm visualizing some dirt, some rocks, some non-poisonous plants, maybe some pieces of driftwood to serve as perches, some shelves to crawl along. Something like this:

They are going to love it. And you're going to love My Tacoma by Neko Case. This is a terrific video:

vendredi 9 mars 2012

Deep in the Heart of Austin

Sunday, March 4, 2012
Downtown Austin
Taken from the 27th floor condo of friends who live within walking distance to the ACL.