work

Posted by Ellen

Back in June, the women working behind the counter at this ice cream place in Germany took a break to watch the German national team win the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Next June, there will be another soccer World Cup competition, this time hosted by Canada and featuring women's national teams. Last month in Philadelphia, the U.S. women officially qualified for the 2015 tournament by beating Mexico 3-0 and then Costa Rica 6-0 to claim the regional CONCACAF Cup. A clear majority of the 12,000-plus spectators cheering them on were women and girls.

Posted by Ellen

Blacksmith Michael Hart of Horsmonden, Kent, U.K., beats an old chainsaw chain into a new knife.

Hart tries to keep the fire in his forge at about 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Each time he pulls his work out of the fire, it glows white-hot and his first hammer blow releases a shower of sparks. Succeeding blows do less glitzy work. 

Posted by Ellen

This is the story we heard Saturday on the street. Of course, none of it is confirmed.

So. There's this guy who bought a penthouse atop a nice new condo tower on 18th Street, half a block north of Rittenhouse Square. His unit includes a nice big terrace that wraps around at least two sides of the building; his views must include virtually all of downtown Philadelphia and beyond. Expansive, and no doubt expensive.

But not good enough. He didn't like his windows, we're told. He wanted to replace them with better windows and, apparently, more windows. He wanted lots and lots of really, really big windows. Three long trailer trucks full of windows.

Problem was, the new windows wouldn't fit in the elevator to get them up to his penthouse.

He needed a crane, and not just any crane. To operate in the cramped confines of a narrow city street laid out in the days of William Penn, the crane had to lift glass straight up for hundreds of feet and then rotate without bumping into any of the buildings thereabouts and deposit the glass gently on the penthouse terrace. Vehicular traffic could be blocked during this process, but not pedestrian traffic; nearby businesses wanted to keep their doors open the entire time.

There were only three cranes on the east coast, we were told, that could handle this sort of job. One of them was hauled to Rittenhouse Square on Saturday morning. In pieces.

Another crane was needed to help put the big crane together. In case you were wondering, the pieces are held together with big cotter pins.

Police officers were needed to direct traffic around the closed-off block. City buses were rerouted and sometimes delayed, forced into attempting painstaking tight turns onto streets not really suitable for them.

Two large crews of workmen were on duty all day, a crew of heavy equipment guys and a crew of glaziers from Local 262.

So there's the cost of the new windows, and of a rare, expensive crane that had to be assembled by a second crane, plus three tractor trailers to haul in the windows, various vehicles to haul the parts of the cranes, two crews at union wages, lots of expensive permits to block a street and redirect traffic and park all the trucks all day . . . 

And then later, after all the new windows are up on the penthouse terrace, there will be the expense of removing the old windows, redoing the walls to accommodate the new windows, installing them . . . 

We were told $250,000. Does that sound right to you?

Posted by Ellen

Above, in Seattle, getting rid of yellow jackets who've nested in the wall of the house beneath the shingles; below, in Philly, not yet getting rid of a wasp nest high in a tree on Kater Street.

Posted by Ellen

Photographer Artie Leonard snags a shot for the National Photo Company in 1923.

Posted by Ellen

Saucing up the satay, at LauPaSat market in Singapore.

Posted by Ellen

It's an important project, replacing century-old water mains underneath this stretch of Kater Street near us. It's also been a crazy dragged-out project, beginning last fall and not quite finished yet.

In the wintertime, the digging had exposed the water main and also the connecting water lines that served houses all up and down the street. Of course the pipes froze. Repeatedly. Ice and snow interrupted the work, repeatedly, often leaving our neighbors with no water.

In the springtime, the neighbors enjoyed the noise of heavy equipment at their doorsteps, all day, every day.  All but one of the trees on the block were cut down. There was mud when it rained and dust when it didn't rain, and of course no parking. 

Now it's July, and the workmen have closed their hole back up and are finally preparing the block for new asphalt and curbs and sidewalks. They promise new trees next fall.

All along, the work has been hard: cold, hot, and dangerous, with people living right there in the construction site. The street is so narrow and the houses so close to the hole that the excavator has to back up all the way to the end of the block to turn around between scoops of dirt. 

As hard as it is, it's critical work for our children's future.  We need a whole lot more investment like this, or our problems will no longer be the first world sort of problems.

Happy birthday, America.

Posted by Ellen

Ted lines up the decking for the new deck he's building behind his house high on the mountain near Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. "There is a big hickory and a skinny maple growing through the deck," he notes. "I still haven't done the railing. Sigh."

Posted by Ellen

"Guest at Sarasota, Florida, trailer park washing his car," according to the notes of photographer Marion Post Wolcott. The picture was taken in 1941; the car is a 1940 Chevy Town Sedan with West Virginia license plates.

Posted by Ellen

Back in March 1866, Greymouth was a rough little gold rush town on New Zealand's wild west coast, crowded with young men scheming to get rich quick, many of them immigrants from Ireland. While most of the town celebrated St. Patrick's Day that year, a man named Synder Browne huddled in a tent near the muddy outskirts of town, setting type by hand for the first edition of Greymouth's second newspaper, the Evening Star.

Greymouth's first paper, already a year old by then, was the Grey River Argus, which would become a Socialist tabloid. For the next century, the left-wing Argus and the right-wing Star would duke it out in the local marketplace of public opinion; their editors, it was said, took opposing positions on absolutely every public issue. Only once a year, on Christmas Eve, would the two editors get together for a holiday drink and some collegial conversation. Every other day of the year they spat and fussed in the competition for readers and for influence over Greymouth's affairs.

The town survived the gold rush, thanks to another mineral that had actually been discovered earlier but was initially ignored because it didn't glitter like you-know-what: coal. There was plenty of coal in the hillsides around Greymouth, though all the customers for coal, and all the ports suitable for coal shipping, were hundreds or thousands of kilometers away on the other side of the Southern Alps. Greymouth was a seaside town but without a decent harbor; it sat rough and damp in the nearly uninhabited rainforest along the west coast of New Zealand's South Island. To make a go of coal mining thereabouts, somebody was going to have to build a railroad over the mountains.

The Argus and the Star had different ideas about Greymouth's economic development. They argued for different people to pay for, and benefit from, the railroad project. When coal mining became established, the two papers argued even more fiercely over mine safety and environmental issues. The mines there have been productive but quite dangerous, with high concentrations of coalbed methane. Many miners have died over the years in mine fires and explosions, and several mine projects have been abandoned after methane levels proved uncontrollable. The Argus and the Star told different stories about the tragedies.

Most mines are closed now, and the town survives on forestry work and tourism; it is a portal to the glacier and fjord country further south. The population has leveled off at about 5,000, and there's only one newspaper left, the Greymouth Star. The Argus folded in the 1960s.

Today, the Star is owned by a publishing conglomerate based in Dunedin. And even though print media is in big trouble all over the world, the Star is hanging on, with subscribers all along the west coast and a workforce of more than 60 fulltime employees.

The Star is available online as well as on paper. In the latest edition, you can read about Charles Edward Miller Pearce, a New Zealand–born mathematician who taught at Adelaide University in Australia. He came home for a visit, rented a car at the Hokitika airport, just south of Greymouth, then drove south on the coastal highway until he apparently lost consciousness. His car landed upside down in shallow water, with only his head submerged.

"If he had been conscious, all he would have had to do was turn his head towards the middle of the car," a witness told the coroner, according to the Star's report, "and his face would have been out of the water."

"I observed that he had a peaceful expression on his face," noted a second witness. "My guess was that he fell asleep at the wheel and never woke up."