Sunday, February 28, 2010

Be A Billiken

Would you like to be a Billiken? I am, or was. (I'm not sure if it marks you for life.) The Billiken is the strange mascot of St. Louis University, where I attended college and law school. My abridged biography is that I was born in Manhattan, grew up in Queens, went to high school in the Bronx and then St. Louis U. was the college farthest away from home that let me in. Married this woman from Kansas a month before law school graduation and lived happily in St. Louis ever after.

The Billiken is just short of bizarre. It is based on a novelty doll from about 1910. You can see lots of pictures of it across time on Google Images
here. The University's official story about how it became the mascot is here on its web site. But there are much deeper origins involving Alaskan coastal indigenous peoples and the Shinto religion in Japan. There is a Billiken Gift Shop in Juneau, Alaska, selling the little figure in hundreds of variations. I once checked into a guest house in Kyoto, went to the sitting room and, boom, a Billiken was the most prominent thing in the household shrine. I had more detailed notes about this with photos of the Juneau and Kyoto Billikens in a post almost three years ago. You can check here if you'd like to. See also And just for the record, the Billiken is not the weirdest college mascot in the US. The title has to go to the University of California-Santa Cruz's Banana Slugs.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Archives Dumpster Diving

No time to hit the streets with my camera so far this week. Work work work... Looked around on the dumpster drive and came up with this summer picture of high voltage lines about to cross the Mississippi. Those big cumulus clouds tip off the season. Hope they don't mix with the wires and start a thunderstorm.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Macy's On Fire

Nah, that's bogus. I had absolutely nothing to post for today. Since I was speaking at a bar association legal education seminar (they had me do the ethics block - who's idea was that?) at their facility on the top floor of a downtown office building (the 30th! woo hoo!), I brought my point-n-shoot to see if I could get something from such a vertiginous height. Oops, forgot about the reflections in the window from inside. They had a fireplace going in the lounge where I was standing. Didn't notice it until I downloaded this but it is in a good location.

That's my old favorite, Eads Bridge, in the middle distance. The walkway I shoot from is on the near/south side. The Mississippi is very low. That will change with the coming of spring.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Thursday Arch Series

Well, I did find one in the nether archives, just a simple one. The flag reminds me of two quotes. Sir Walter Scott wrote: Breathes there the man with soul so dead, who never to himself hath said, ‘This is my own, my native land!’ On the other hand, Samuel Johnson observed that patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. (Sarah Palin, take note.) U Pick, as the signs say in the fruit orchards around Seattle.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Images And Memories

People who visit Buenos Aires may remember the sound as much as any other sensation. The traditional accordion-like instrument is the bandoneon, played here by an old master in the show at La Ventana. It has a character all its own that can sing with exquisite lyricism (it seems especially well-suited to sadness) or tap dance around your ears. The great modern virtuoso was Astor Piazzola, who died in 1992. I recommend that you run right out and buy his CD Tango: Zero Hour. You'll thank me. The first track, Tanguedia III, makes me shiver. Watch and listen to Piazzola perform it here.

I suppose if I go dumpster diving I can come up with an Arch picture for tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Images And Memories

On the street in Santiago, Chile. Our superb guide and now personal friend, Luis Gumucio, told us (if I got it right) that these people were waiting in line for a bank to open so they could get the equivalent of Social Security benefits. Apparently you can get the money by check or direct deposit, like here. Some people do not want to maintain a bank account but can get the funds in cash at a bank. These people are a little slice of Chilean society.

Seeing Luis again is reason enough for us to return to Chile. He is a Renaissance man. He plays several musical instruments, is knowledgeable in a wide range of Spanish and English literature, teaches language and violin, is an expert in life insurance management and decided to do a little tour guiding on the side to meet a few interesting people. I'm glad he did. We met one.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Images And Memories

I have no new local material and this week is horrible at work. For the next few days I will post a few images from Chile and Argentina that give me something to remember. Time to get back to leaving some notes on my friends' blogs, too. New St. Louis material around the weekend.

Many more pictures have been added to the trip set on Flickr here.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

STL DPB Going Home: The Spirit Of Argentina

When this post goes up we'll probably be over Brazil somewhere in the middle of the night.

We had an exciting trip. It was our third visit to this country. We found a nation full of ambition and pride with an infrastructure often crumbling under its feet. I always got email and Internet on my iPhone. After a heavy thunderstorm Friday afternoon the aging storm sewers were overwhelmed and torrents ran down the streets of Recoleta, a nice part of town, starting to flood homes and businesses. The children - lots more than in white America and Europe - were ever cheerful. Yet the national poverty rate is about 25% (by someone's definition) and we saw abject shantytowns. Nearby the dangerous slums of La Boca, the steel and glass towers of Puerto Madero gleam over the Rio de la Plata - the Silver River. The people are stylish. You can dine fabulously well for a moderate price. The government plays to the crowd. Lots of people evade taxes. The sidewalks crumble. They have national health care, unlike someone else we could mention.

here if you get a chance.

This time next year we hope to come back to South America and focus our attention of Chile. Our little taste last week was enticing. Home by this afternoon. More new pix in the set on Flickr here.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

STL DPB Far From Home: Life, Death And Transitions In Buenos Aires

My co-workers have an unfortunate habit of throwing black balloon birthday parties at the 10 year marks. I'm having none of it. I turned 40 and 50 far from St. Louis. Today I turn 60 in Buenos Aires.

This city has an intense sense of life and death. I shot some more in Recoleta Cemetery yesterday and was again struck by the monuments of mourning. Over the top by today's standards, sure, but so robust, so brazenly displayed by those who survive. In the evening, we went to the obligatory tango dinner show at La Ventana. Fabulous. Well-performed tango is electric, a swirl of motion and full of grim sexual energy.

A couple of museums today, then an overnight flight back to the US. Home tomorrow afternoon.

Friday, February 19, 2010

STL DPB In Buenos Aires: Evita

We spent yesterday on the streets of Buenos Aires. It seemed strange to be touring on on a warm summer day, knowing how cold it is at home. We ended up at the Museo Eva Peron, an interesting and well-designed place. It was not a house of Evita worship. The contradictions of her life were presented in a balanced way. Visitors were left to answer the big questions about her for themselves: angel or devil? Tireless champion of the poor and workers, or power and luxury-mad woman, clawing her way to the top? In the end, her personal tragedy is depicted simply. It was very moving.

The quotation below is from Evita's book The Reason For My Life. It translates as something like, "when my life crossed paths with the life of Peron."

More new photos in the trip's Flickr set here.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: What's New, Buenos Aires?

Apparently not much. Got into town late this afternoon and went out to run a couple of errands. Looks like the same old issues around here. The grafitti on the top photo roughly translates as "gorillas tremble when Kirchner [the current president, Cristina, or her predecessor and husband, Nestor, who was term-limited out] is around." It is signed by JP, a descamisado, or shirtless one, the workers and populists who put Juan Peron into power. The Kirchners are nominally Peronistas. Looks like some of the public isn't buying it any more.

The bottom ad says something like, "Enjoy yourself without hiding. Pay your taxes." The billboard portrays a couple lounging on a beach wearing clownish disguises. Argentines aren't coughing it up any more freely then they ever did. It doesn't surprise me. All the Argentines I've talked to don't trust the government.

TOMORROW: on the streets of Buenos Aires.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

STL DPB On The Water: Lago Argentino And The Glaciers

It was a long day yesterday on Lago Argentino, out on an excursion to see the glaciers. The weather was perfect. We're on vacation but we've been running our butts off and I'm getting pooped. (No sitting on the beach for this couple. Never.) Finally, nothing to get up early for today. Back to Buenos Aires this afternoon with no set schedule there. Well, the obligatory tango dinner-dance show.

I got lots more good ice today. More on Flickr when I have time to edit them but there are several new ones here.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

STL DPB On Ice: La Presidenta Al Glaciar

We went to the Perito Moreno glacier yesterday outside El Calafate and who showed up but Cristina Kirchner, president of Argentina! There is a new walkway and overlook system and she came to dedicate it on the anniversary of Lake Argentina's discovery. I've never heard the president of any country speak but now there are two photos of national leaders on STL DPB (this being the other one). It was quite a thrill. Oh, and the glacier was pretty nice, too.

TOMORROW: mucho mas hielo.

Monday, February 15, 2010

STL DPB In The Middle Of Nowhere: Patagonia

In the middle of nowhere but with all the comforts of home. The town of El Calafate, three hours flight southwest from Buenos Aires, lies on the south shore of Lake Argentina. There is some rugged back country behind it, like this. The town itself has swelled from 6,000 to 22,000 in the 10 years since a jet airport was built. The local sheep industry collapsed with the use of synthetic fabrics. It lives on tourism now. And what sights to see! I haven't had much time to edit pictures but there are more sure to come.

TOMORROW: the glacier.

BELOW: your intrepid adventurers next to yesterday's vehicle.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: Buenos Aires

It's 4:55 AM Sunday morning and we just got up to go to the airport for out flight to El Calafate. We had a little time for a walk when we got to Buenos Aires yesterday afternoon so we went to famous Recoleta Cemetery. Eva Peron is the best known resident but her tomb, shared with many family members, is not so impressive. There is still lots of weepy funerary sculpture to photograph. More later if possible.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

STL DPB At The Beach: Vina del Mar, Chile

Welcome to the Chilean Riviera. Well, perhaps more like the Costa del Sol - it's all so new. Vina del Mar, just north of the old port of Valparaiso and 90 minutes drive from Santiago, has beautiful beaches, great restaurants, luxury condos and a summer to dream of. One of the reasons I posted this is to annoy my friends back in North America, who are having a miserable winter.

Buenos Aires tonight, briefly, and then on to El Calafate early tomorrow morning.

Friday, February 12, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: In The Cathedral of Santiago

A lot of people take their Catholicism seriously in Chile (although a lot of others don't these days). We visited the dark and cavernous Cathedral de Santiago on Plaza des Armas, the main town square. We like this city. It has energy and beautiful people, a successful blend of European and indigenous ancestors.

A pleasant day trip is planned for today, down to the Pacific coast to visit Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

There are more pictures on Flickr here.

Bonus photo: political discourse in Chile.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

STL DPB On The Road: Santiago de Chile

Okay, so here's the previously undisclosed location. Three nights here then over to Argentina with stops in El Calafate and, of course, Buenos Aires.

We got to the hotel early afternoon and then went out for a wander. Our first impression is that this a modern, mostly prosperous city. The metro area has more than 5 million people, a third of the whole country (well, it is the most strangely shaped country on earth). Prices aren't bad by American standards. It has a great (and very cheap) Metro, which took us near to a funicular up San Cristobal hill. On top there's a sweeping view of the city and a very large statue of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. There''s a picture of it on Flickr here.

Even though we just got here, we've seen some of the best graffiti anywhere. And these beer delivery guys work hard on a hot day (about 90 F. or 32 C.).

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Thursday Arch Series - On Wednesday

Why this disruption of the delicate balance of natural cycles? By Wednesday, we'll be settling down in the antipodes, sort of, and I want to hold open Thursday's post for our STL DPB On The Road location. Come back tomorrow and find out where. Anyway, this pictures gives some idea of the Arch's distance from the rest of downtown. The tall building on the left is barely shorter than the monument, which illustrated the scale.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Just Another Pretty Face

Just a quick note as I am frantically packing on Monday night. Some people say there is a resemblance between dogs and their owners or that people have pets that are a reflection of them. There are exceptions.

The picture below is my favorite from the Barkus Parade.

I have not forgotten my CDP friends. Like they sing in Rocky Horror, I'm doing the time warp again. I have some sit-arounds in airports today. I hope I can catch up.

Monday, February 8, 2010


There is a moderately sized but very enthusiastic Mardi Gras celebration here. Two Saturdays before the great drinkathon we have the Barkus dog parade, a canine extravaganza. There were hundreds and hundreds of people of people and pooches there yesterday. Some web site claimed that this is the biggest dog parade in the country. I don't know if that's right but somebody has to have it.

SO WHAT'S GOING ON HERE? Saturday's schedule was get up, go to the office, go home, eat dinner, go to the symphony (SLSO music director David Robertson conducted a kick-ass Eroica), go home, go to bed. No pictures. Yesterday's was get up, skim the Sunday papers, go to the office, run down to Soulard and shoot the dog parade, go back to the office, go home, download the photos and edit a couple, go out to dinner with my wife for our annual Stupid Bowl party, go home, write this, go to bed. HOW MUCH OF THE STUPID BOWL I WATCHED: none. We think football is appalling, a sport that wrecks the joints and brains of the players, who are thrown in the dumpster after providing mass spectacle. We've had our own private Stupid Bowl party for maybe 25 years, dining out during the game. This year we tried the delicious Persian cuisine of Cafe Natasha on South Grand. WHAT'S THE PLAN FOR THE WEEK? More dogs tomorrow, the Thursday Arch Series on Wednesday just to disrupt the rhythm of the universe, then a special post Thursday from an as-yet undisclosed location. We're off on another junket. You'll never guess where.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Old Cathedral

That's what we call it. Officially, it's the Basilca of St. Louis, King of France. It sits at the western edge of the Arch's park, a bit overwhelmed by the downtown buildings on one side. The first church on this site was a log cabin built in 1770. The current building was completed in 1834. You can read about its history here and here.

The Arch is not far off to the right of this picture. There are some interesting views of the monument from inside the basilica, like this one from a post two and a half years ago.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Lines And Cylinders

Here I go, trying to be artsy again. This scene was adjacent to that of yesterday's photo. I just liked the geometry of it and the sense of inside-outside.

Once more, sorry for slacking off on comments. Too much work, too much work. But relief is in sight.

Oh, and one of our fellow CDP bloggers in Syracuse, New York, paid me a nice compliment yesterday. Click here.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Building America

This appears to be the slogan of the Union Pacific Railroad these days. It's got all the sledgehammer irony you could want. Just don't try to get too close to the action.

This was shot in a modest rail yard not far south of the Arch. I think we'll have a little more of it tomorrow.

What was going on last night: my daughter and I went to a reading by renowned novelist T. C. Boyle at the main branch of the St. Louis County Library. He did a little stand-up comedy, read one of his short stories and took questions from the overflow crowd. Boyle is erudite and witty, and wears eye-popping red suits (an homage to Tom Wolfe and Mark Twain in their white suits, he told us.) The picture below is a crummy iPhone shot of the author signing his books. My daughter bought one but the line looked like it would be maybe 45 minutes when we got in it so we bailed.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Thursday Arch Series

Good p
rice, bad description.

Sorry no comments yesterday. I got home in time to post this and go to bed. If I can get to it, I may post an iPhone picture tomorrow of what I did last night.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Sculptors

A little bit about the process of making the ice sculptures. Look at the concentration of the man above. He was using an electric drill with a conical abrasive bit .Shards of frozen debris were flying everywhere. Below, someone uses a rotary sander on a block that glows with light, much like Monday's angel.

I was surprised to see only one of the artists wearing eye protection. It seemed foolhardy.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What's That?

At first glance it's a little hard to catch the figure-ground difference in the top image. Once you've got that, the question of interpreting what you see remains. It's a very close up shot of the face (for want of a better word) of a semi-abstract ancient Greek warrior. The bottom picture give you the bigger view. Pretty clever design and, once again, an awful lot of work.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Ice Angel

A cold heart, perhaps, but throbbing with light. Wow, this must have taken a lot of work. The sculpture, not the picture.

This was taken on my iPhone. Thanks again to
Kim for motivating the iShots. This was edited on the phone with the Photogene app, also suggested by her.