June 2010

Posted by Ellen


Two subtle murals on rowhouse endwalls at 22nd and Walnut streets in Philadelphia recover in shadow and reflection a long-gone church that once occupied the site that is now is a gas station.

Artist Michael Webb painted every brick on the two murals, which adorn plain stucco walls that had long been covered with graffiti. St. James Church dated back to 1870, which is the era rendered in the murals' architectural details.

Sunoco commissioned the murals in 1999, hoping to put an end to the gas station's graffiti problems. The plan worked.

Posted by Ellen


What used to be the USS Barney, a guided-missile destroyer, is dismantled in drydock in what used to be the Philadelphia Navy Yard.

The Barney was commissioned in 1962 at what was then a big, bustling naval shipyard on the Delaware River in Philadelphia. For the next thirty years or so, both the ship and the shipyard were busy protecting democracy from communism and stuff. By 1995, however, the ship was decommissioned and the navy yard was partly closed, partly turned over to a private shipbuilding company, and mostly set aside as a Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility, a boneyard for old boats. 

The Barney was sold for scrap in 1995 and then again in 1999; the first contract had to be cancelled after some kind of scrapyard shenanigans. After the ship was torn to pieces in the NISMF drydock, the pieces were floated across the river on a barge, for crushing and recycling at a scrapyard in Camden, New Jersey. 

There's actually a backlog of tired, old ships in Philadelphia waiting for that final berth in drydock. Next in line for deconstruction at the moment is the USS Shreveport, which ran aground in the Suez Canal on its way home from Mogadishu, following service in the Somali conflict. The Shreveport's captain was removed from command, but a million dollars' worth of duct tape and other repairs patched up the ship well enough so it could limp through another couple of tours of duty. Nowadays, it is resting in the river at the edge of a parking lot, waiting for its turn in the drydock of doom.

Posted by Ellen


The village of Stein-am-Rhein in Switzerland, as seen from its castle.

So far as I know, the Steins associated with this place have no connection whatsoever to the Steins in the family I married into. I like the looks of their town, though.

Posted by Ellen


Last week, a NASA satellite flew over South Africa so its sensors could snap this picture of the soccer stadium, known as Soccer City, where World Cup action begins today.

The stadium itself is the white rounded rectangle in the upper right corner of the image. The three big grayish things in the middle are slag heaps, the rocky refuse of more than a century of gold-mining activity in the Johannesburg district. 

At the bottom edge of the picture is part of Diepkloof, one of the neighborhoods of Soweto. When Nelson Mandela was let out of prison in 1990, he made his first public appearance in the Soccer City stadium. In this same stadium today, the South African national team challenges Mexico in the opening game of the FIFA World Cup; sadly, Mandela, once a soccer player himself and a lifelong sportsman, is said to be too frail to attend. He is 91 years old.

As this posting goes to, um, press, Mexico has just tied South Africa, 1-1, in the opening game.

Posted by Ellen


In this picture from a couple of years ago, my cousin David Peltz (actually my mother's first cousin) snuggled down into an armchair with Toby, his wife of almost sixty years. He died last week, at the age of 83.

It may have been on the same day as this photo that David looked around at the family gathering, the good food, the comfortable surroundings, and leaned over to tell me something. "Look at all this," is what he said. "You know what? I did all right, didn't I?"

I'm guessing that the tone for this observation may have been set by David's beloved New York Yankees--they too must have done all right that evening.

But even when the Red Sox were making trouble for his boys, David did all right. He worked hard and made a good life for his family. Best of all, perhaps, he had the rare gift of seeing with his own eyes what so many people miss: he understood that he'd done all right. He could see it, and he knew to appreciate it and enjoy it. That's going to be the challenge for the rest of us now without him.


Posted by Ellen


As the latest entry in an irregular series on places I've never been and know next to nothing about, consider this image of Moroni, capital of Comoros, an island nation in the Indian Ocean between Madagascar and Mozambique.

About 60,000 people live on the volcanic islands of the Comoro archipelago. Although the country is among the poorest on earth, armies have fought ferociously to control it, leading to twenty coups or attempted coups since the end of French colonial rule in the 1970s. Beginning in 2002, however, elections have produced governments that are said to be "more or less" stable.
Comoros is characterized by stunning volcanic scenery and spectacular, uncrowded beaches. But outside of Moroni there are no roads or tourist facilities. Government promotional literature recommends a visit only for visitors with "independent means."


Posted by Ellen


Words on the wall at Fort Williams park, Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Posted by Ellen


The evening before graduation, seniors from Deering High School are skipping rocks on the cobble beach at Fort Williams Park in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.