March 2016

Posted by Ellen

We have a new dog in the family, Hank's shaggy pup Mabel. She's a cross between an Australian Shepherd–which is actually an American breed with no connection to Australia–and an Australian Cattle Dog–which is actually an Australian cattle dog. The two breeds are often crossed to produce a kind of sturdy, active, people-oriented working dog that's sometimes called a Texas Heeler.

Hank tells us that Mabel, who's seven months old, is the world's smartest dog. She's smart enough, obviously, to know when she's got a good thing going.

Posted by Ellen

We noticed the other day that on 9th Street in the Italian Market, they sell pet turtles just like Rocky's turtles in the movies.

What we don't know is which came first, Rocky or the turtles. Did Sylvester Stallone put turtles in the movies because they were a South Philly thing? Or do they sell turtles in the market now because people want to buy Rocky things?

Or, as the cool kidz say nowadays, what people want to buy is Rocky jawn.

Posted by Ellen

As part of a recent downtown revitalization project, the city of Skopje, capital of the Balkan Republic of Macedonia sponsored an international design competition for a new multi-story parking garage. The call for submissions specified that the garage should hold 315 parking spaces and must be designed in a "baroque, classic, neo-classic, romantic, and neo-romantic style."

Clearly, the Skopje city fathers were looking for something fancy, but apparently there was also a political agenda. That long list of architectural styles they were interested in all point to a Western, Christian, bourgeois European history for Skopje–which never really existed. Also, the list is notable for its omissions: no hint of the oriental and Islamic traditions with which Macedonia was associated for many centuries, and of course also no hint of the country's recent Communist past. In other words, the government wanted a politically correct parking garage.

Winning architect Milan Mijalkovic, of the Viennese firm PPAG,  went neo-baroque in his design. He started with a snapshot taken by a young girl, Andrea Popelka, showing a bit of the baroque architecture typical of streetscapes in Vienna. The image was repeated, distorted, and abstracted to wrap around the garage in a multi-layered facade. Where there were windows in the streetscape, there are openings in the facade to allow light into the parking levels.

Parking garages have a history of their own in Skopje. After a devastating earthquake in 1965, Japanese architect s were invited in to help plan for recovery. They noticed that the city had few cars and little infrastructure for dealing with automotive traffic, and they suggested that this might be the city's opportunity to plan for the traffic that surely would someday fill the streets. They built numerous garages around Skopje's apartment towers. But it took several more decades for the cars to come to Skopje, and in the meantime, the garages were repurposed to store vegetables for the city's markets.

Posted by Ellen

Artist Julian Beeber drew this butterfly in chalk on a sidewalk in Mexico City. He uses a Renaissance-era style of perspective drawing, anamorphosis, which creates a hyper-realistic 3-D illusion when viewed from one particular angle but can look distorted and nonsensical from other angles. 

Posted by Ellen

This sketch from an 1878 Philadelphia city directory shows the factory and storage yard of Williams Marble & Slate Manufacturing Company. It's the building we live in these days; a long time ago, perhaps in the 1920s, the factory was converted to residential use and divided into twelve apartments. The stable and storage sheds were torn down and the land sold to a rowhouse developer. The industrial presence in our part of town near the Schuylkill River has slipped into an industrial past.

Williams was once a thriving stone works, specializing in slate mantelpieces and stovetops. In 1876, it exhibited its products at the Centennial Columbian Exhibition, America's first World Fair. The slate and marble were quarried in the mountains of northeast Pennsylvania and floated downs the Schuylkill on barges to Philly's emerging heavy-industry area along the river–basically, the young city's backyard. Wharves and workyards hereabouts handled coal, building stone, and brick-clay from off the barges, and Irish immigrants poured into the neighborhood to work on the docks and in the factories.

All the factories are gone now. The brickyard is a park and community garden.

We live on the second floor, in the corner with the big chimney.

Posted by Ellen

The tulips aren't here yet, but May is close now, just a wing and a prayer and a hop and a skip and a whiff and a shrug away.

Posted by Ellen

Under a bench at a gas station near Meridian, Mississippi, Al made a new friend.

Posted by Ellen

More than fifteen hundred years ago, the monks at the Shaolin monastery in central China's Henan province began incorporating martial arts into their Zen buddhist practice; today, they still train for Kung fu on the cliff face of Songshan Mountain.

Posted by Ellen

Before this building was a church, it apparently was a tavern, the oldest structure in the Germantown neighborhood of Philadelphia. After it was a church, it was converted into something else, some kind of housing.

At the building next door is a sign that reads: "We don't know anything about the church."