Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thursday Arch Series

This was taken last fall, when the earth in this part of the world was still green. Look carefully at the itty bitty people on the ground to get a sense of scale. The view is from the north, through the park that surrounds the monument. You approach from the northwest along a curved path, surrounded by trees. Then you round a curve, placing yourself on the Arch's north-south axis, and this is in your path. Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale her infinite variety, as somebody once said.

TOMORROW: CDPD Monthly Theme Day - When people think of St. Louis, they think of...

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Riverside Scenery

When my wife and I went out eagle viewing last weekend, we were told that we should find a lot of the birds at a certain spot along the Mississippi at sunrise. We got up before dawn and reached the river as the sun rose. No luck, but this power plant had a dramatic look in silhouette.

TOMORROW: the Thursday Arch Series returns

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Piasa Bird

There are miles of bluffs over Great River Road along the Mississippi and Illinois Rivers, running north from Alton, Illinois. Round a bend just north of town and this smacks you in the face from one of the limestone walls. The Piasa (PIE-a-saw) Bird is the stuff of local legend. According to
Its foundings go back to 1673 when Father Jacques Marquette, in recording his famous journey down the Mississippi River with Louis Joliet, described the "Piasa" as a birdlike monster painted high on the bluffs along the Mississippi River, where the city of Alton, Illinois now stands.

According to the diary, the Piasa "was as large as a calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales and a tail so long it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs."

The creature was given its name by the Illini Indians, "The Piasa", meaning a bird that devours men.
Or, if you would prefer a competing version, check the Great River Road web site

On the other hand, a Southern Illinois history site says that the bird is complete bull. This commentator said it was dreamed up in 1836 by a writer of frontier romance and adventure stories. Still, it's pretty cool, makes for a great local yarn and could scare small children. That's good enough.

TOMORROW: Power sunrise

Monday, January 28, 2008

A bird in the can is worth two in the bush

We saw a few eagles during our expedition but not as many as we had hoped. The ones we found were too far away to photograph, even with my 400 mm telephoto lens. There were, however, lots of other birds, including this guy and his friends. I think of pelicans as being in the South, especially Louisiana, where it's the state bird. But this far north, fishing amid the river ice floes? I would never have guessed, city kid that I am.

TOMORROW: A bird, but not similar to this one. In fact, not a nice bird at all.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Confluence


A few miles upstream from the Arch, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers blend into one another at The Confluence, the main junction of one of the world's great river systems. Together, they and their tributaries drain about 40% of the lower 48 states into the Gulf of Mexico.

In the first picture, the Missouri, full of ice swirled into circles by the river's currents, washes into the nearly ice-free Mississippi at a point recently converted into a Missouri state park. We took a side trip there during our eagle watching day trip. The Mississippi has plenty of ice above the big lock and dam at Alton, Illinois, which blocks its flow southward.

TOMORROW: Eagles? No. Pelicans? Yes.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Decorative gesture

Back to the STL area. We spent the night in a luxurious B&B in Alton, Illinois, just north of St. Louis. It's called The Beale Mansion and it is overflowing with antiques and Victorian decoration. We had a huge, ornate room. The marble-floor bathroom was big enough to host a small party but contained a heart-shaped hot tub for two. Just the right size party.

The reason for the short trip was that there is a large bald eagle population that hangs out along the Mississippi there in mod-winter, so people go eagle watching. We'll see how the photos go. For now, this young lady graced the mantle in our room (oh, yeah, working fireplace, too!). Another obsessive Lensbaby shot.

TOMORROW: A trip along three rivers - the great confluence

Friday, January 25, 2008

Art Walks On Eight Legs

On the Jubilee Walk, between London's Tate Modern museum and the River Thames, crawls Louise Bourgeois' intimidating sculpture, Maman. St. Paul's Cathedral is in the right background.

This was shot at night handheld at ISO 3200 and then spiffed up in Photoshop.

TOMORROW: Victorian decor in the Midwest, with a twist

Thursday, January 24, 2008


One of the more out-of-the-way attractions in London is the Imperial war Museum, in the Lambeth area of the South Bank. It does not glorify either empire or warfare. I found it to be a moving lesson about Britain's conflicts in the Twentieth Century, particularly its fight for survival in World War II.

Out front are two of the biggest guns Britain ever built - or perhaps the biggest; I get a little fuzzy on the details.

Back to St. Louis pix by the weekend, I hope.

TOMORROW: A monster along the Thames

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Flora and Fauna

Shopping and showing off in London's Portobello Road market.

I'm sitting in a lounge at O'Hare Airport in Chicago and everything is running way late. It's 2:40 AM body time and sinking. May take while to get the blog back up to speed.

TOMORROW: Firepower

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

London Calling

Hello from Heathrow Airport. I'll be boarding my plane to Chicago in an hour. My son and I had a great time in London, running ourselves into the ground with activity. There is a huge amount of work waiting for me at the office so posting may be sporadic for a bit. I'll post some photos from London until I get new St. Louis material.

This is the London Eye, the giant ferris wheel on the banks of the Thames, while waiting in line to board on a drizzly morning.

TOMORROW: Flora and fauna

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Billiken, revisited

I posted this message painted on the side of a building in my neighborhood when I was last guest-posting in September. The billiken and the flags remain, but the message has been changed. I don't know how often the owner repaints, or what the motivation behind it is, but since I moved to the neighborhood, I keep my eye out for updates.

Friday, January 18, 2008

My "Gayborhood"

Hi, it's ShadowyOne guest posting for StrangeTastes while he's out of town again. Recently, I took my best friend out to dinner for her birthday, and afterwards we decided to go to a bar in our neighborhood. Our neighborhood (called Forest Park Southeast or the Grove), is very gay friendly, especially the bars along Manchester Avenue. There happened to be a drag show going on when we got there, and since I'd had my camera with me for some birthday pics, I was able to get some OK snaps of the show.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Eat It

Well, I haven't been able to track down ShadowyOne (maybe that's why she uses the nickname), so here's a quick post before U "R" Us and I head for O'Hare. Eat Right Diner is a St. Louis institution. The food they serve might make you hallucinate.

Heathrow tonight. Pix to come.

Well, check that. Our morning flight from Chicago was canceled because of the British Airways accident. So, Heathrow tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Fly Away

Postings may be sporadic for the next several days, unless I can get ShadowyOne to cover for me (she works worse hours than I do). U "R" Us and I are off Thursday for a boys-only brief junket to London, featuring pubs, history, spectacle, pomp & circumstance, pubs, mind-numbing and wallet bleeding prices, theater, street life, pubs, high and low art, culture, pubs, eggs, bacon, cheese, spam, spam and spam. We don't have Internet service in the apartment we are renting but we'll probably find a connection somewhere, with results ending up here.

I leave you with a St. Louis Cardinal flapping off somewhere. This is part of a long section of the Mississippi River floodwall downtown where graffiti is permitted. Shot with a Lensbaby, of course.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

He leaps for the ball...he's got it!

Now I told you on Sunday that I'm taking a Lensbaby class and a bunch of these pix were probably on the way. If you don't like the whole Lensbaby idea, you might prefer to visit this blog instead.

There was an assignment to do for the class so I was wandering around downtown looking for material. At one of the corners of Busch Stadium, where the Cardinals play, are half-life size statues of local baseball greats. I've only done a post on them once, back in April. They are pretty cool, showing the athletes' bodied at full effort. This one is George Sisler, star first baseman of the St. Louis Browns (which left here in 1954 and became the Baltimore Orioles). I like how the sculpture expresses the effort of the leap, stretch and catch.

TOMORROW: Fly away.

Monday, January 14, 2008

I think the pipes are connected to a burning substance

And lo! Supreme Plumbling was created, and it was established on Fourth Street, in Saint Louis, Missouri, nigh unto the White Castle, somewhat close to the shadow of the Arch, and all the other plumbers gave way, yielding to its supremacy. The Supreme Plumber, wizened wise man of the faucets and drains, giving and taking away the waters of life, flashed the peace sign and grew his beard yet further unto the sidewalk. He gathered up his pipes and attached them to a single Great Bowl. He filled it with a magical substance that the Powers of Darkness strove to suppress. He put fire to the bowl and drew upon it, blowing its smoke upon his companion in wisdom, Elbow Joint the Owl, who thereupon straightaway entered oblivion.

TOMORROW: What a catch!

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Eades Bridge

Eads Bridge has appeared in several earlier posts. It is the oldest span across the middle and lower Mississippi River. Here, it looks like in might be a Roman aqueduct on a foggy Tuscan morning. Shot with the Lensbaby, of course.

There is a very good online school called the Perfect Picture School of Photography, founded by the well-known photographer Bryan Peterson (check out his book Understanding Exposure). I took an eight week course based on that book in 2006 and was very pleased. I've just started a four week Lensbaby class, so it's likely that many more of these images will be inflicted on you.

TOMORROW: Does the plumber have more than water in his pipe?

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Alma Mater

As devoted readers of this blog may recall, I am an alumnus of St. Louis University, receiving both my bachelor's and law degrees there. If, as the billboard says, they have 150,000 graduates, do they count me once or twice?

It's not that the university just has a unique mascot. It has the weirdest mascot of any American institution of higher education, the Billiken. I showed several avatars of the Billiken and discussed its mysterious history in a post last April. Frankly, it was a little embarrassing. What kind of sports teams are represented by a novelty doll from a century ago, made in Independence, Missouri, which may have has its origin as a minor Shinto deity?

Did any of you go to schools with strange mascots? Let us know.

TOMORROW: Would have been appropriate on December 1.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Thursday, uh, Friday Arch Series

Um, sort of lost track this week. Buried in work; there, that's a good excuse. So the weekly Arch photo is a day late.

This picture looks at a small part of the Arch, but also some of its surroundings. It was shot from the street below, next to the Mississippi. The stairway in the foreground is the equivalent of about four stories tall. Obviously, this was shot with my Lensbaby.

TOMORROW: Alma Mater

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Out of Character

As a rule, I don't do pictures of birds, puppies, kitties, flowers, sunrises and sunsets. I am not a sentimental guy. However, this was what was outside our office windows at 5:15 PM yesterday. The picture does not do it justice (my good camera was at home - sorry for the graininess) but we all liked it so I thought I'd toss it onto the blog. It makes me think of a space probe approaching Jupiter (can you hear fanfare from Also Sprach Zarathustra?).

There is a funny little story to this. I was plugging away at work, staring at a computer screen which is against a wall. My wife called me on my cell phone and said, "Have you looked outside?" "No," I said, "is there a storm coming in?" She told me to get up and look out the window. O - M - G.

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch Series on Friday. I got mixed up. What can I say?

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

The Quality of the Food Is Slipping

Across the street from yesterday's frogs-o-mystery stands a neighborhood grocery store, long out of business. The sign remains in remarkably good condition but something is, well, slipping. The lovely building cries out for rehabilitation. The style is classic old St. Louis: brick and Germanic, with the addition of a cool turret. Wouldn't you like to have your office or studio in a space like that?

What's the situation on preservation of old buildings in your town?

TOMORROW: I never post pictures like this, but . . .

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Should We Call the Vice Squad?

Amphibians do the strangest things. While driving around an old part of town looking for things to shoot, this small statue, about a meter high, caught my eye. I pulled over to the curb and shot from the car with a telephoto. I did not walk over to inspect it more closely. So, uh, well, just what is going on here?

I'm got going to venture a guess until I can get back to the site. There are at least three and possibly four frogs here. Perhaps, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, it is the love that dare not croak its name.

What's your interpretation?

TOMORROW: Seen better days.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Who's Warming?

It's freakishly warm here. This picture was taken yesterday, January 6. If this is the official National Weather Service reading, it ties the record high temperature for the entire month of January. 74 F is 23 C. The average daily high temperature this month in St. Louis is 38 F or 3 C.

Interpret this any way you please. Our friends from the far southern US into the southern hemisphere may chuckle at out bewilderment, but this is seriously weird in terms of the local climate. Some people from our area go to Florida or the Caribbean at this time of year. No need! U "R" Us and I are going to London next week to cool off.

TOMORROW: Froggie went a-courtin'

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Tower Grove Park In Winter 2

Tower Grove is full of local people in the summer. It is the venue of a large International Festival in June. It the winter, however, it is often quiet and nearly empty. It is a peaceful place to walk and, if you like, take pictures.

TOMORROW: It's not the photograph, it's the message.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Tower Grove Park In Winter

Tower Grove Park is a lovely, large green space in the city's south side, although not as vast as Forest Park. It's usually quiet, since it lacks the popular institutions of its big brother. In this picture, a group of evergreens stands in symmetry, carpeting the ground with needles.

TOMORROW: More in Tower Grove

Friday, January 4, 2008

Winter Water Skiing, Part 2: Why They Do It

When I was watching the New Year's day water skiing in the Mississippi, I met Doug, pictured below. He gave me the story about the event. It raises money for the Missouri Disabled Water Ski Association. The dollars from these events has purchased specialized water ski equipment for the disabled. They provide training and opportunities for disabled people to enjoy the sport. Doug wasn't out on the river last Tuesday (the newspaper said the water temperature was 33 F or 0 to +1 C) but he loves to crank it up in warmer weather. Water sports are clearly a great pleasure for him.

Since Wednesday's post, I've had some email from Brown Sugar, the dog in those photos, and his owner, Kevin Day. Brown Sugar says dogs like to get email, too. Kevin is a former state and national water skiing champion. He owns a large water sports equipment and training center in our area, Lakeshore Ski Company. In the last few years, he has raised more than $56,000 to help disabled aqua athletes.

By the way, there is a video of Kevin and Brown Sugar out on the river on Tuesday here, from a Chicago TV station for some reason. Also, note the background of the picture above. Unbeknownst to most of the world, St. Louis has become Little Las Vegas on Mississippi. Our Midwestern town has three casinos in the downtown area, two with upscale hotels. The one in the photo is moored on the Illinois side of the river opposite the Arch. There are four more in the suburbs. Whooda thunk?

TOMORROW: more pine needles than you can count. Not even if all your friends helped.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Thursday Arch Series

Back in action with the Lensbaby. I am still enjoying the dreamlike, there-but-not there images produced by this lens. This one is particularly pleasing (IMHO) because of the ideal light and intense silvers and blues. The Arch is almost a mirage but not quite. It still seems to have a physical presence; whether you can touch that presence is uncertain.

TOMORROW: Winter water skiing in the Mississippi, Part 2 - the reason they do it

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

New Year's Day: Water Skiing In The Mississippi River

For 28 years now, crazy people gather on the levee under the Arch on New Year's Day for the Polar Bear Water Ski in the frigid Mississippi. It's a fundraiser for an organization that teaches handicapped people to water ski and provides opportunities to do so (more about which Friday).

The temperature hovered at about -4 C. There were quite a lot of people and cameramen from the local TV stations. Dozens of masochistic aqua athletes followed one another in the icy water. The first one out brought his dog, a tradition, I was told. They wore wet suits but many had bare hands and feet. No sign of any treatment facilities for hypothermia. I was happy to stand on the dry levee stones and record their folly.

There is a Polar Bear Club that goes swimming on Coney Island beach in NYC every January 1. Would you do something like this for a big enough payoff?

TOMORROW: Thursday Arch series

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

January Theme Day: Picture Of the Year

My brother, sisters and I got together after Christmas in New Jersey. One of my sisters had a big box of old family photos going back at least 67 years, many of which I had never seen. She made a CD for each of us of all the best ones and gave each of us a small box of images from our own childhoods.

The treasure was pictures of our parents from their early years together. They were married in 1940. Jack and Ann look happy in these pictures, very much in love. We think the one on the right is from their honeymoon. Three of their four parents were immigrants, hers from Poland, his father from Ireland and his mother first generation Irish-American. Her parents both died within days of her birth in the 1918 flu pandemic. He left the premier Catholic boys high school in New York City in the 20s to go to work on Wall Street, where there was money to be made, even for the most junior clerks.

My mother had chronic medical problems that were eventually resolved. I didn't arrive until 1950 and then, bum bum bum, four of us in eight years. There were more difficult times later. He outlived her by 21 years. But together they must have done many good things for their children. We are all still in our first marriages, all of us are college graduates and three have graduate degrees, all are prosperous. We are grateful to them.

These pictures and others like them, just presented to me, were my pictures of the year so I thought I would share them with you. If you'd like to know what I think was my best blog picture this year, click here - maybe the best portrait I've ever made - followed by this one, a musician of exceptional clarity, one who has vision of his sound.

TOMORROW: Water skiing in the Mississippi River in January. Strange but true.