Wednesday, September 28, 2016

On Photographing Crown Fountain

(This is an essay for a class I'm taking).

Sometimes when I first see an urban sculpture I wonder to myself, “But is it art?”  I believe this was my first reaction to Crown Fountain a relatively new installation in Millennium Park in Chicago.  If you haven’t seen it, imagine two giant towers of digital glass block with faces on them.  The faces are animated and real; they blink and smile and evoke a feeling of something out of Gulliver’s Travels.  Water cascades down their sides and, surprise, the faces start to spit a stream of water.  
One night I was wandering downtown with my newish digital camera.  I had recently taken up photography, a long dream of mine, and was practicing.  It was a hot summer night and the fountain was crowded with people.  I was certainly not the only photographer.  I took pictures of the fountain and the people:  other photographers, families, a group of men who asked my to take their photo and told me they were musicians and would, someday, be famous.  It was Chicago at its best, happy, friendly and non-threatening even at night to a woman alone.  

CF photo.jpg
On the first day of Autumn this year, I revisited the fountain.  It was a sunny day; the light sparkled and the sky had been washed clean by an earlier rain.  I sat on a wooden, graffiti-scratched bench and watched the people interact with the fountain.  It is such a public place that it seems reasonable to take photos of people.  The sound of water falling almost masks the traffic noises although a major downtown street is less than a block away.  
The area is relatively uncrowded so it is easy to observe individuals.  A woman in a red shirt and green baseball cap carrying a walking stick.  She has an official looking ID on a lanyard around her neck.  A shirtless man, tattooed over much of his torso, rests his backpack on a bench and wipes dry his armpits.  He sits cross legged by the pool of water beneath the fountain and removes his shoes but not his socks.  Wading into the water stream he proceeds to bathe himself.  I see an Asian man with a selfie-stick; a photographer with a School of the Art Institute backpack taking photos.  Three teen girls walk by and one plays in the water.  “You’re going to get wet,” her friend shrieks, giggling.  Another young woman prances through the water while her boyfriend takes pictures.  
Enjoying the Fountain--sm.jpg
I wait for the images to start spouting water.  I wonder if some of the tourists might be surprised.   A pair of preschool age children wait too.  I chat with a woman from Barcelona who asks me to take her picture on her cell phone.  I hope I give her a good impression of Chicago.  
    I think I just answered my question:  it is art.  In an isolated park, this might just be a strange fountain but in its use by people--women and children, tourists and locals, photography students and homeless men--it becomes art of the best sort.
    I stand up to walk back to my car, satisfied with my outing and discover the seat of my pants is sopping wet.  The wood bench must have absorbed the rainwater earlier and now has afflicted me.  I head home covering my backside with my backpack, perhaps a little less satisfied.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Edinburgh Day 2

Breakfast in Edinburgh Due to a combination of jet lag and the difficulty of getting two young adults up and moving in the morning we got a late start.  My husband and I walked to a local cheese store to pick up our morning breakfast and also stumbled onto a local open air market next door where we bought French cheese, British cheese, and a rather poor cup of coffee.  We had a pleasant chat with the Frenchman who owned the cheese truck.  These impromptu food shopping moments are one of my favorite parts of traveling in Europe.  Unfortunately traveling with three guys, I never feel like I have enough time to do the shops justice unless there is food involved.

Walking the Leith
We finally set out for a ramble and went back to the Leith walk to walk to Leith, of all places.  The day began rainy and we immediately took a detour to the Royal Botanic Garden. It is a lovely garden although we didn't spend enough time to do it full justice. We had to get back to our walk and the rain had started in earnest by the time we left. Sadly the lens I carry to travel does not work all that well with plant close ups. Sea Holly The Leith walk was quite green and peaceful with a surprising number of people on it despite the rain which occasionally reached downpour levels. As we neared the coast, the Leith broadened and we could see a number of water birds, mostly ducks, seagulls and a family of swans. The Walk to Leith
Leith itself is a quaint harbor town within the big city. Hunger and wet feet drove us to seek shelter and we wound up stopping at a large shopping mall for a quick meal and in my case, a purchase of dry socks. Fatigue took over and we gave up on the sightseeing and caught an early movie before dinner. The movie was the latest Star Trek. It definitely caught my sense of irony to be watching a movie with a character named Scotty in the capital of Scotland. I wonder what the locals thought of the accent and the stereotype of a Scotsman. Unfortunately, I didn't get to ask anyone. I did ask Google and the Straight Dope has an amusing series of comments on the Scotty character's accent. James Doohan the original Scotty was Canadian. Simon Pegg, the Scotty in the new movies, is English which to an American ear is more or less the same thing but likely not at all so to a Scotsman. Anyway, enough Star Trek trivia.

4PM in Leith Dinner was at a local restaurant. I was struck by the whisky menu (see photo) but I was certainly not up for any drinking. We ended the day late and made it home feeling well done. Whisky menu at The Shore

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Trip to Scotland



I'm going back in time here to my first day in Scotland two weeks ago.  Internet access is generally too cumbersome and I'd rather see than write so I'm working retrospectively.  As always with one of these trips, some details have already faded.
We were fortunate to be able to gather the whole family for a trip.  Since my oldest has moved out of state and my youngest started college last year, that has become difficult but so glad we managed it.  We met #1 son at the airport in Chicago and all flew together to Edinburgh.  This we barely managed as we left home late and encountered the predictable Chicago traffic arriving at bag check with quite literally two minutes to spare.  I managed to maintain composure throughout which is uncharacteristic but had planned that if we were not allowed to check our bags, three of us would fly on and one would try to take the next flight out, bags in tow.  I'm not sure how that would have worked out and very glad it didn't come to that.  Google Maps got quite a work out from the cab as we tried to estimate our arrival time at the airport.
The flight itself was uneventful with time to catch up.  It has been a while since the whole family was in one place.  We booked a flat in Edinburgh's New Town via Airbnb and check in was seamless.  We had a great apartment--three bedrooms in a fantastic location.  It was quite the luxury.


After resting a bit, food was in order.  Obtaining food seems to be a central theme of our joint travels. At times it interferes with seeing the sites but we all love to eat and traveling with two young adult guys has its requirements.  After a pub dinner that was actually quite good, fish and chips and soup among other things, one of my sons and I took a stroll while the other two went back "home" to rest.  The very long summer days are a delight while traveling.  We were out until after 10 and it was still light.  We walked along the Water of Leith, a creek that runs through town until we could walk no more.  Here are a few shots:




I was excited to see a grey heron and a fox during our ramble.  It was a pleasant ending to a long day.


Citizen M Hotel in Glasgow

I now am trying blogging from my cell phone.  It is of course even smaller than my tablet.  This will limit my literary endeavors.   My photos may possibly be artful but will in the end be taken from  a  cell phone which is limiting.  
I love the common rooms of this hotel.  They are literally stacked with books:  books with the covers removed, French pocket books arranged spines in, art books, old leather bound books.  There is also a miscellany of old electronics: typewriters, telephones, clocks, etc. 
I ran into trouble posting from my phone so I think I'll have to go back to the old fashioned way and use a computer.  

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Blogging in Glasgow

I am doing the experiment of using my new little tablet to blog by.  I can tell this will not be a favorite due to very slow typing!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Busy!

Clouds and half a moon

I got bogged down in the usual things--work, television, too many Solitaire games on-line and haven't finished up my backpacking tale.  What is new is that I am taking an on-line creative writing class which is giving me a fair bit of homework.  I haven't had to do homework in quite a few years although I do have to do continuing education, take occasional exams for licensure and bring work home.  Somehow homework feels different.  I may get around to sharing some of the assignments here, or maybe not.

Crescent Moon

This week's highlight had to have been the eclipse of the moon on Sunday night so I am digressing from backpacking to post a few pictures.  I didn't expect it to me much of an event and thought I'd be one of the eccentric few going to the lake to view it, and was surprised by the feel of community out there.  The numbers were nearly comparable to the local crowd out viewing the (fairly distant) Fourth of July fireworks.

Bloody Moon

We were fortunate to catch a break in the clouds for the first half of the show and the clouds closed on us around the time the moon should have been peeking out again which made a good excuse to go home and not stay out too late.  It was a wonderful experience, sadly not soon to be experienced.   As far as celestial events go, next August 9-13 should be the peak of the Perseid meteor shower.  I should make a plan to find a dark mountain somewhere to watch that one.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Rainier Hike, Day 3

Backpacking is hard work but life on the trail is, in some other ways, so simple.  You get up at dawn, go to sleep at dark.  You walk all day, then do a few chores, set up camp, filter water, cook dinner (which basically involves boiling water and stirring) and go to sleep.  Some nights sleep feels optional.  No matter how good the mat, the ground is always hard and the tent is always small.  Every time you turn, your mat crinkles, like sleeping on the waterproof mattress and pillow in a hospital. Each night spent in bear territory seems to involve some listening to the nightly noises outside.  Yes, the food might be hanging on a pole a few yards from the tent but who knows what a curious or hungry bear might decide to investigate?  The chapstick I forgot to hang?  Bits of dinner I spilled on my jacket?  My first night I found a cough drop in a pocket after I had crawled into my sleeping bag. Lazy me, I unzipped my tent and threw it as far as I could away from the me hoping a cute squirrel would dine on it.  Are there backpackers who don't develop a bit of a bear phobia?
Yellowstone Cliffs
Day three dawned chilly but sunny with a beautiful view of the Yellowstone Cliffs.  The night before I hadn't noticed the cave on the cliff side.  Maybe that was where the bears sleep when they aren't raiding camp sites.  Breakfast includes coffee thanks to Starbucks which makes a pretty good instant coffee and also an instant mocha that means I don't have to carry powdered milk.  After some oatmeal, we packed up and hit the trail, going in opposite directions. My son takes the high road, hiking further up the trail to see a few sights;  I head back down the hill again toward our next campground.  I don't move nearly as fast as he does and I was worried about my knees.
Some 30 years ago I backpacked on Isle Royale, my last major hike until a few years ago, and developed some significant knee pain.  I wound up using a stick to lean on for the duration of that hike.  Unfortunately the same phenomenon reappeared a few years ago while day hiking.  The trigger seems to be downhill stretches and with some internet research I concluded that I have iliotibial band syndrome which is merely an inflamed tendon.  I had worried that I was looking at knee surgery but fortunately this seems less serious.  Less happily, it hurts a lot.  After two episodes of the problem in the past 5 years I decided that I will try to train a bit harder and see if that does the trick.  So I've been working on it with Pilates, stretching, walking up and down stairs with my backpack on, using hiking poles and wearing a funny looking knee stabilizer, and this past trip it seems to have worked.  Over 2000 feet of downhill walking with backpack and my knee was fine!
Trees and more trees
For quite a while it was trees and more trees.  The forest passed by with no view of a beginning or end.  To mark time there were those 21 or so switchbacks and not much else.  At least I knew the hill had a bottom as I had been there the day before.  They were only slightly less tedious on the way down than on the way up.  It was hard not to feel a slight sens of mourning losing all the elevation I had gained with so much effort just the day before.
A Zee in the Trail
Well, this post is getting long and I need to get moving.  Stay tuned for day 3-1/2.