Friday, April 30, 2010

Back to the USSR

(URSS is the French abbreviation for the English USSR--I wouldn't want you to think I couldn't spell! This is a page from a small scrapbook/journal I kept of my senior year abroad in Europe)

Linked to my interest in nuclear disasters, was my childhood fascination with the USSR. I wasn't a communist. It was more a "know thy enemy" kind of thing but I was always able to distinguish between political antagonism and fear and hatred of individual members of a country. I read the Russians by Hedrick Smith which come out in 1976 when I was a teen. I read One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and as much as I could of the Gulag Archipelago by Alexandr Solzhenitsyn. I made it through a smattering of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky as well.
I was so impressed with the graphic arts coming out of the Soviet regime that I had a poster of a steely-eyed Lenin hanging in my bedroom for several years. The poster was done in simple brown and white but was so forceful that I feared it would give me nightmares.
My father as a scientist was able to travel to the USSR and was treated like a foreign dignitary, complete, no doubt, with KGB escort. I begged to go on that trip but instead got a decidedly second rate subscription to Soviet Life, a propaganda magazine. That must have been one of my life's biggest disappointments.
I didn't make it to the USSR until 1982 when I managed a 48 hour whirlwind visit to Leningrad. I had been studying abroad for half the year in Paris and decided to spend my winter vacation with some old family friends who were based with the US embassy in Helsinki. By some miracle they managed to get my friend and I last minute visas to Russia and off we went.
It was as strange, trip in the dead of winter. On the train to Russia we chatted for a time with a Finnish worker who was also heading to Leningrad. He drank steadily through a bottle of Vodka telling us that the USSR was so depressing he had to drink to tolerate it.
There was no tourist industry to speak of but I managed to walk the snowy streets of the city by myself (wondering all the while where the spies were), get a brief run through the Hermitage and struggle not to get thoroughly lost on the Leningrad subway system. It was a great adventure although I admit to a certain relief upon returning to Finland that nothing had gone wrong. The postcard and a few enamel buttons were the only souvenirs I have of that trip aside from the memories. It turns out the stories were correct. There really was nothing to buy there. Probably just as well since I could barely afford the train ticket and Intourist Hotel.

For Postcard Friday.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Back to the Museum

Looking Out
Do windows create art out of ordinary scenes?

Here are some more photos of the museum outing. Although I'm not a huge fan of modern art, the new modern gallery at the Art Institute does a lovely job of presenting the art.

Picasso and Millenium Park
Picasso and Millennium Park


I couldn't take pictures of the photography exhibit because photography (ironically) wasn't allowed but I also saw an exhibit of photos by William Eggleston. Although I didn't like all of his work, seeing original photos on display truly proved to me how much a person can miss viewing a reproduction in a book. Some of his photos, especially his portraits, had such amazing depth and texture. If you like photography, check him out.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How I Spent My Spring Break

In the Institute

I have lived in Chicago for 27 years now and have only visited the Art Institute a handful of times. What a waste. When I was younger I was too busy; later I had kids who had no interest in spending a few hours in a museum. Now, guess what, I still have a kid who has no interest in spending a few hours looking at art.

Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles
Ganesha, Remover of Obstacles (a useful god in my opinion)

He kindly allowed me to take him to the museum recently and then complained and spent an hour playing Game-Boy in the cafeteria. So I managed to race through the exhibits but it was still a pleasant way to spend a vacation afternoon.
I'm sharing a few pictures so you can see what my son missed.

O'Keefe at the Institute

I could see decorating a room in these O'Keefe colors. I wish I could have avoided the lens distortion in the picture. It looks as if these paintings weren't framed right!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Remember Me

Then You'll Remember Me

A page from a 1919 music book and forget-me-nots from my garden--the moment is made more poignant since the flower seeds were handed out at my nephew's funeral.

For Moody Monday, "Nostalgic."

Friday, April 23, 2010

The Trouble is Just Begun

Crown Fountain

I just began reading The Devil in the White City, a book I picked up via Bookmooch. I don't know why I never started reading it before. Given the focus on Chicago history you'd have thought I would but I've never really taken to true crime stories. The first thirty pages or so cover more about Chicago architecture than anything else and that I did enjoy. Here is what Chauncey Depew says of Chicago, as quoted in the book:
Chicago is like the man who marries a woman with a ready-made family of twelve. The trouble is just begun."
The book itself relates to the 1893 World's Fair which took place just walking distance from my house. Unfortunately there is little left of the site but a museum, a park and a lagoon or two but reading about Chicago over a century ago is a lot of fun. We'll have to see how I feel about the murderous bits. Here is a 1919 postcard to put us in the mood for Chicago architecture.

Monroe Street, Looking West

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


On the Beach

Post-apocalyptic novels were quite popular when I was a kid and I read many of them. I guess it is a product of growing up during the Cold War. It is hard to say how much a person is affected by knowing there are nuclear weapons pointed at you at all times, but I think like most kids I was generally more preoccupied with the normal day-to-day, fighting with my younger brother, worrying about grades at school and so on. The books themselves generally made for a good yarn and probably were fascinating in the way that a good thriller or horror novel is fascinating.
Apocalyptic books come and go, besides. I recently picked up Children of God by PD James and The Road by Cormac McCarthy. I guess the end of the world never goes out of style.
This week I was trolling the give-away pile outside my local used bookstore and found a copy of On the Beach, by Nevil Shute. It was published in 1957 and there was also a movie made starring Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire and Anthony Perkins. I wonder if Astaire managed to dance in it. I decided to revisit the book to see if more than 30 years later, I still liked it.

Drift Log

The writing is a bit stiff at times but the more I read the more gripping I'm finding the story. It isn't the usual, disaster survivors struggling to live against the odds, story. It is a quiet book about a group of Australians and Americans waiting for the end as radiation clouds drift toward the south from a northern hemisphere that has already been obliterated. It is the quietness that makes for the creepy shivers up the spine, not the horrors which are largely not portrayed. The characters throw parties, garden and picnic while they anticipate an unpleasant death from radiation sickness.
The other book I remember from this period in my reading life is Fail-safe (the basis for the movie Dr. Strangelove, but without the humor). Maybe I'll have to pick that up next. I'd be curious if any one else has read these books. I doubt so if you are under 35 or so. It's a good read if you don't mind a tear jerker and can find a copy. I might try to locate the movie too.

Friday, April 16, 2010

History on a Postcard

National Highway

Inquiring minds do a Google search when they come across new information. This old postcard refers to the "National Highway." I'm more familiar with the interstate system--from the west I-5 and so on and the Midwest--I90, I94, etc. Hence the Google search and a little bit of American history acquired. The National Road, also called the Cumberland Road (now this sounds a little more familiar) was started in 1811 at Cumberland Maryland. The road reached Wheeling, W. VA, in 1818. (Thanks be to Wikipedia for this information)
And to think that what caught my eye was simply the old cars! Imagine what this stretch of road looks like now? Strip malls, Walmart, and Burger King franchises? I'm almost glad I don't know.
Enjoy your Friday everyone.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Two in one day?


Irene had one of those book memes. Here are the instructions:
1. Grab the book nearest you right now.
2. Turn to page 56.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like).
5. Post a link with your post to Storytime with Tonya and Friends.

Since I was using a book as a mouse pad I decided to look at page 56.

" 'Keep that 'don't know' mind!' screams the Zen master."

Pardon me, but are Zen masters allowed to scream? The quote is from the book Thoughts without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective, by Mark Epstein M.D. I'm still on page 7 so I must not be very Zen yet.

Fish Tales or "Eat Me"

Eat Me

Translates roughly as: You caught it, eh. Well, you'll be eating it alone."
I love the fifties graphic on this and since I missed the Poisson d'avril date (April fools in France), I thought I'd share this card I bought in Paris last summer.
The card is dated, Nemours July 1, 1958. The inscription says (my rough translation):
Dear B- Fet B-S- (not sure if these are nicknames or not)
Two words to tell you that we arrived safely, and the weather is beautiful. We have asked Pampin for a room. And voila, there will be a room from Saturday July 12 to the end of the month. You have only to let Pampin know as soon as possible the date of your arrival and for how long.

The handwriting is charming and I imagine Mr. or Ms. Germaine welcoming friends to visit him/her near their summer home in Nemours.

Mille Baisers,

For Postcard Friday.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Manhole Cover

Manhole Cover

I like the graphic look.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?


This little fellow was in my backyard this morning. For those who aren't in the know I live a few miles from downtown Chicago. We are not rural or even suburban. City life it is.
Although it kind of hissed at me, it was so cooperative with my picture taking that I fear it was ill. I've never seen an opossum before outside a zoo setting. It allowed me to get within two feet of it. There was a fence between us or I'd have feared getting bitten. No need for rabies now, is there?

Backyard visitor

Friday, April 02, 2010

Easter Greetings

Easter Greetings

I don't observe Easter but I wish those of you who do a happy holiday. Those of us in Passover-land are getting a bit bored of Matzoh. Sushi and Pizza are sounding more and more good.

This card is part of a correspondence of which I have a few cards (see a post of two weeks ago). It is postmarked June 10, 1913. I'm pretty sure Easter wasn't in June back then. The card is addressed to a gentleman in Danville, Alabama. The young lady writes:
Hello how are you this morning all OK I hope I am all right this moring (sic) hope you got home all right from your best girl
My best regards
Think of me when you get this card

And under the Easter Greetings is hand written (all the writing is in pencil):
to you.

For Postcard Friday, with love.