SSHP

28 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

Spruce Street Harbor Park, at the foot of Spruce Street on the Delaware River, is Philly's latest pop-up beer garden. A couple of months ago, this was an unused dock behind the highway; a couple of months from now, it will probably return to nothingness. But for the summer of 2014, thanks to landscaping and logistics from the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, it's drawing crowds.

It's also drawn a lawsuit, from folks who would rather the crowds spend their money in established bars and restaurants. Plaintiffs claim that the "special event" loophole in the city's liquor laws was never intended to legalize semi-long-term operations like the Horticultural Society's beer gardens.

The idea behind the pop-up gardens was booster-ish. By demonstrating the potential of vacant lots around town, it was hoped that developers might invest in permanent improvements. Meanwhile, people could enjoy themselves under the stars.

But with the lawsuit looming, somehow, it just seems like we can't have nice things any more.

Digging for Vapors

26 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

The neighbors who live along the west side of a block of 21st Street near Kater had noticed that their cold water wasn't cold any more. Right out of the tap, it was hot; one of them took its temperature and found it feverish, over a hundred degrees, which is hot enough for a nice hot shower.

They called the water department, which promised to look into it. But the guys we talked to Friday morning who'd been sent to look into it might be described as less than entirely sympathetic. "They're getting free hot water," is how one of them put it. "Free hot water, and they're not happy."

The water guys suspected a leak in the steam line that runs under the sidewalk along 21st Street, which sounds like a dangerous situation, though nobody was acting particularly worried.

The guys from the steam company, on the other hand, suspected erosion under the sidewalk in the aftermath of a water main break a couple of years ago; they believed there was no longer enough dirt down there to insulate the steam line.

For reasons we cannot fully fathom, both sets of guys were looking for evidence in the sewer lines. The crew pictured here took the low-tech approach, using shovels and eyeballs; another crew had fancier technology, basically a snake with a video camera at its head, transmitting images onto a screen set up in the back of a van.

We asked what they were seeing on the screen. "Nothing yet," they said. "Just sewer."

We asked what they were looking for. They kind of snorted. "Steam," they said.

By mid-afternoon, everybody had packed up and gone home. We're not sure if they saw any steam, but the neighbors are still getting free hot water.

The Prince

25 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

Not yet a king; he's still rocking that last little bump of a tadpole tail.

Napoli

24 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

Stacks

23 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

At this power plant at the edge of the neighborhood, the smokestacks that once belched day and night have been quiet now for a couple of years.

Power is still generated here at the Schuylkill complex on Grays Ferry Road, but at a newer facility immediately behind the one pictured above. Veolia Energy bought the newer part of the plant from Philadelphia's municipal electric company and converted its fuel source from oil to natural gas; that single modification reduced greenhouse gas emissions for the city as a whole, it is said, by almost 2 percent, equivalent to taking 60,000 cars off the road.

Veolia makes steam here for center city Philadelphia's centralized heating. And it does release a little smoke, not from these stacks but from a chimney behind them, not visible in the picture.

Chokes

22 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

In back of the parking garage at 1700 South Street is a block-long garden on Kater Street, where nobody picked the artichokes in the edible-bud stage. They're flowers now.

Castlepoint #2

21 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

At the north end of Castlepoint sheep station is Castle Rock itself, noted and named in the eighteenth century by Captain Cook. The rock anchors one end of a limestone reef; on the headland at the other end is Castlepoint Lighthouse, built in 1913, originally fueled by oil but now wired into the grid and controlled from a switchboard in Wellington, a couple of hours away. Its light is visible 22 miles out at sea.

The postage stamp above dates from 1947.  For almost a century beginning in the 1890s, the New Zealand government operated a life insurance company that had government franking privileges and printed its own stamps. Lighthouses were nineteenth-century symbols for insurance companies (as were big rocks, e.g., Mutual of Omaha). The government sold off its insurance operations in the 1980s, to a corporation doing business as Tower Life of Dunedin, New Zealand.

The reef at Castlepoint is not at all like the coral reefs growing placidly around tropical lagoons; geologically, it's a chunk of ancient seafloor millions of years old heaved up violently during seismic activity associated with the collision of the Pacific and Australian tectonic plates.

The limestone in the reef is richly fossiliferous, and directly underneath the lighthouse it's pocked with caves.

Inside the reef is a lagoon and a wide, hard-sand beach, crucial features in the development of a large sheep station here, back in the days before highways. Since the coast in this region has no natural harbors, sheepmen used to drive wagonloads of wool bales down the beach, to be loaded at water's edge into small boats that ventured out at high tide to meet up with cargo ships waiting offshore.

Today, shipping activity at Castlepoint is mostly recreational in nature, and the hard-packed beach now serves tractors and boat trailers. The blue tractor in the picture below is driverless and remote controlled from the boat, where the captain calls for it to push an empty trailer down into the surf and then pull the loaded trailer back up to high ground.

In the picture below, the tiny figure walking the beach near water's edge is my mother-in-law.

Castlepoint #1

19 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

In the bluffs above the Pacific Ocean on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island is Castlepoint sheep station, a stretch of pastureland as long as Manhattan and half as wide, home to tens of thousands of sheep, a dozen or so sheep dogs, a few thousand head of cattle, a handful of horses, four shepherds with their families, and an American family from Westchester County, New York.

Until about twenty years ago, the Americans had been dairy farmers in Westchester, out in the fringes of suburban sprawl. Their small farm attracted the attention of developers, who eventually made them an offer they couldn't refuse; they took the money and headed off to New Zealand, where they bought one of the largest grazing operations in the country, which included beaches, a lighthouse, a big rock so iconic it is featured on the country's postage stamps, and pastures that had been maintained  for over a century.

We visited on a difficult day, weaning day. All the little lambs had just been separated from their mothers and herded together into paddocks of their own. The babies were not happy about this, and some were so unhappy they disregarded the electric fences and wandered all alone around the station, looking for mama. The ewes weren't happy either.

Filadelfio's

18 Jul 2014
Posted by Ellen

A chain of gourmet pizza places in cities around New Zealand's South Island is called Filadelfio's, despite what its website claims as a "New York–inspired atmosphere."

Americans can't help but notice something a little different about the atmosphere, however. Our restaurants have a no-shoes-no-shirt rule, and Kiwi restaurants don't.