August 2009

Posted by Ellen

Breitner-like.

It means weather like what we see in this early twentieth-century photo of Amsterdam by George Hendrik Breitner. Somehow, the laundry and the grainy gray make the Netherlands look less tidy and perfect than we've come to expect.

Breitner's name entered the Dutch vocabulary in reference to a kind of weather--dark, damp, chilly, misty, gloomy--based on his well-known late-ninteenth-century paintings of the Dutch landscape. But in 1996, a drawerful of photos by Breitner (including this one) was discovered in somebody's attic in Amsterdam, and it turns out that the atmosphere in Breitner's photographic landscapes is just as in his paintings. Breitner-like.
 

Posted by Ellen

The supply closet at the back of Tommy Flowers's math classroom at University Place Middle School in Tuscaloosa has won official recognition as the world's smallest museum.

Mr. Flowers, who has been teaching for 25 years, has assembled a collection of Edgar Allan Poe artifacts, including plastic hearts, dozens of photos, a skull, and of course, a skeleton. He says he became fascinated with Poe when he was himself in junior high school, and he tries to weave Poe's stories and poems into his students' daily lessons.

The fact that he teaches math, not literature, has not been an obstacle: he wants his students to take inspiration from Poe as they cultivate their imaginations to get the most out of life. Also, he wants them to calculate the square footage of his museum--the answer to that is 22, which is the magic number that got Edgar's Closet desgnated as smallest museum in the world.

"I d like a few visitors," said Mr. Flowers. "But more than anything, I'd like to see a few teachers have museums in their closets."

All five Stein boys went to University Place when it was an elementary school. It has recently added middle school grades as part of the Tuscaloosa City Board of Education's scheme to re-segregate the public schools. So far, there have been numerous complaints and petitions, but no lawsuits, so it's working.

"Dobby--crouch!"

29 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

On a couch or a soft carpet, Dobby the dog is pretty good about sitting on command. But on a hard floor? He'll make a show of pretending, as shown here with Emily and Joshua Wiggin, who are very good at kneeling.

Bigger than your head

28 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

The town of Clearfield in the hills of west-central Pennsylvania grew little or not at all between 1910--when a photo was taken from a nearby slope, painted by hand, and reproduced lithographically--and the 1960s--when a color photo taken from nearly the same spot was published as a picture postcard. Town population still stands at about 6,000 today. The dark church steeple in the upper right of the older picture is the white steeple in the center of the more recent view.

Apparently, the years have not been kind to Clearfield as far as the artistic level of its town boosters' bird's-eye views is concerned--but that's typical; a lively American artistic genre has been poorly replaced, first by Kodachrome and more recently by Google Earth.

Time marches on, however, in Clearfield. In 1977, the town became the home of Denny's Beer Barrel Pub, where the cook "enjoys making  burgers bigger than your head, all the way up to the insane 123-pounder."

Who's in there?

27 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

This 1954 photo was part of a magazine advertisement. Makes me want to buy a Buick, sort of--must be the pearls and the black glove, and that little tiny trunk key.

Posted by Ellen

 

The 2009 Mongol Rally is history; the adventurers have arrived in Ulaan Bataar (or not), and most have now scattered to the winds. The intensity of the experience may have changed some lives, but not so much Steve and Tom, of Team Mad Lady. Here is their final blog post:

"So we only went and bloody did it didn't we!!

"Arrival party was brilliant fun - our pink blazers re-emerged, a bit more dusty, yet still with that touch of class! The beards we have been cultivating were a welcome addition!

  "Was a great night, and a nice chilled day today is the perfect remedy for the nagging hangover! Looking forward to finding a pub to watch the Mighty Spurs this evening.

"So that is that. Final counts:

"-- Police stops - 7 (6 for driving offences - ST 3 TH 3 and one just for a police check)

"-- Bribes paid - not much. Couple of border controls we paid over the odds un-knowingly. Apart from that nothing. Great success!

"- -Tyre punctures/blow outs - 3 (ST 1 TH 2)

"-- Guages broken- 2 (Speedo for last 6/7,000 KM and fuel for last 1,000 KM)

"-- Cable ties used to hold Micra together! - about 15 as they ahd to be replaced a few times!

"-- Rivers crossed - 4 (and only got stuck in 1 - get ready for the video footage!)

"-- Keys locked in car - 1 (Well done Todster!). therefore break ins also 1!

"-- Wrong turns... Too many to count but reckon in the whole we were pretty well. Got a lot better when we realised the alternator interferred with the compass though!

"-- Packs of super noodles eaten - at least 8/10 each!

"-- Sweets distributed - 5kg!!! Toddy loved playing sugar daddy!

"Happy days!!, S&T"

The moment before

25 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

Hank jumps off the bannister into space. He is falling faster than a cellphone camera shutter can click.

I wasn't around when this picture was taken, and I know absolutely nothing about the landing. But the date on the digital photo file is 2007, so it must have all worked out.

 

Watching

24 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

During World War II, the shores of Casco Bay were heavily fortified, and the entrance to Portland harbor was mined. In 1942, a German U-boat was identified in the bay by a Civil Air Patrol pilot, but it got away before military aircraft arrived on the scene.

That's Portland Head Light in the distance, as viewed from the rusting remnants of the fortification on what is now the campus of Southern Maine Community College in South Portland.


 

Follow the money

23 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

Hank shot this unusual view of Washington, DC, last spring from the top of the U.S. Capitol dome. Almost all the buildings you see here represent the political sector known as K Street--corporate offices devoted to lobbying politicians and/or "complying" with government regulations. Corporations and professional associations built all these nice new buildings in the hope that proximity to government officials would help them make lots and lots of money.

What do they do in these buildings? They dole out money to congressmen and various campaign committees, to improve access and influence. They work with legislators and regulators to shape the scope and wording of laws and regulations. They coordinate publicity campaigns to influence public opinion in their favor. But mostly, they push papers around to keep business-government interactions running more or less smoothly.

Calvin Coolidge said it: The business of government is business. In this picture, you can see it for yourself.

At the top of the picture is the National Cathedral, which is arguably outside the K Street axis of operations.

Camel story

22 Aug 2009
Posted by Ellen

Time to catch up with the Mongol Rally folks. After about six weeks on the road now, many of the 200 or so teams have recently reached Ulaan Bataar, where they signed the rally book, did their laundry, and partied. There is no prize for arriving first. Rallyers donate their vehicles to Mongolian NGO's and eventually make their way home somehow.

A team called Rolling Cones, from Richmond, Virginia, spent three days wandering in the Gobi Desert in their pink ice cream truck. They say the rocks in the Gobi are so iron-rich that compasses don't work there. Mongol Rally rules discourage GPS navigation, but the Rolling Cones had secretly stashed a little GPS unit deep in their luggage for just such a contingency--not that they anticipated exactly such a contingency, but contingencies happen. They noticed that a roadwork crew was speaking Mandarin Chinese instead of Mongolian, and it had been three days since they'd last known where they were, so . . . turned out they were in the extreme southeast corner of Mongolia, a few kilometers from the Chinese border, in a spot on the map that was completely empty of roads. But there was a coal mine nearby, which is why the Chinese were building a new road, and at the mine there were two geologists from Virginia Tech. So it goes.

All the blog posts are full of promises to post their Mongolia photos soon. I trust them, of course, so I'll make the same promise. In the meantime, here's a nice one from back in Kazakhstan, near the shriveled shore of the Aral Sea. Photo by Team Mongoliza, who list their hometown as "southeast Asia."