Empire Flight


Empire Flight

Empire Flight

Empire Flight, 2013 by Bernard Williams is a mixed media installation at Laumeier Sculpture Park. It is part of the exhibition, The River Between Us. According to the artist, “the work speaks to a multitude of adventures around the Mississippi River and the great risks undertaken by so many.” In Empire, Williams takes on the sweep of American history. The work symbolizes risk, adventure, technological development and the pursuit of power. With the addition of the corporate logo inspired graphic decals painted on the surface, the sculpture acts as a receptacle for complex visual references to history and culture around the Mississippi River, alluding to important dates, locations and people. Applied to this sculpture, the year 1927 is an important date, referring to Charles Lindbergh’s success in completing the first non-stop transatlantic flight in his plane the Spirit of St. Louis, arriving safely in Paris on May 21, 1927.

Get Your Kitsch on Route 66



We rode the middle route of Trailnet’s Route 66 bicycle ride today. This ride was a lot easier than the Great Pizza ride of two weeks ago. There were almost no hills and the wind was hardly noticeable. We drove to Edwardsville, IL, which was holding its annual Route 66 festival. From there we looped north, riding on parts of historic Route 66 and also some Madison County bike trails.

The Pink Elephant Antique Mall was certainly the highlight of this ride for us. This antique mall adjoins I-55 in Livingston, IL. I-55 has usurped the Mother Road’s preeminence is this part of Illinois. We’ve driven by the Pink Elephant countless times on runs to Chicago and beyond, but we’ve never bothered to stop at it, while we were whizzing down the interstate in our automobile. The slower mode of locomotion that bicycling affords lends itself to the kinds of attractions that were the regular fare, when Route 66 was in its prime.

The Pink Elephant may have been the highlight of this ride, but it certainly wasn’t its only attraction. The farmers are slowly, but steadily getting the corn crop in the ground this year. With all of the rain that we’ve received, it has been difficult for them to find enough dry time, to plow and plant. While most of the corn is only ankle high, a few fields are more than knee-high. I give those fields the best chance to be as high as a pink elephant’s eye, by the Fourth of July. But considering the wizardry that is occurring at Monsanto these days, I wouldn’t count out any of the planted fields that we saw today, in their race for the height of an elephant’s eye. While almost everything is quite green, there were some fields of weeds that were grey and desiccated. I figured that they had been sprayed with Round-Up and were now ready for tilling and planting.

We saw a lot of storm damage from last weekend’s storms. One farm had all of its trees ripped to shreds and a large multi-story corrugated storage bin lay crumpled and twisted on its side. The farmer was busy burning the downed limbs in a huge bonfire in the back, while his children ran about playing in the driveway. That must have been one scary night for them. When we got back to Edwardsville, we came in on a bicycle trail. It was completely cleared, but you could see all of the scuffing and scrapes that the workmen and their heavy equipment did to the trail’s asphalt pavement. Most of this work was needed on sections of trail that ran along the raised bed of the old railroad line. On either side of this earthen trestle countless trees lay fallen, either snapped like twigs or hacked into submission by chain saws. Last weekend we encountered some storm damage on the bicycle trails on Edwardsville’s southeast side. Today’s storm signs were on the northwest side and they were way worse.

To end on a happier note, we did see a couple of other oddities and they were almost adjoining each other. One was like a Noah’s Ark farm. It had miniature ponies, llamas, emus, donkeys, goats, sheep, ducks, geese and who knows what else. Just down the road a bit was a house, whose yard was filled with handmade lawn art, punctuated with political and religious signs. One sign said, “Make Chicago a State”. Downstate Illinoisans don’t appreciate the fact that greater Chicago’s much greater population rules politics in the state. The lawn art also had a Noah’s Ark feel. Most of the sculptures were of animals that might have been on the Ark. That is except for one pair, a pair of dinosaurs. One of this pair lay stricken on the ground, while the other hovered over it. I guess that is one explanation of how and when the dinosaurs went extinct.

Dive! Dive! Dive!



The jet stream has a giant bend in it reminiscent of the shape of a uvula. On the western side of this sharp loop the northern jet stream dives down towards the gulf, bringing with it cold Canadian air. Kansas City had snow yesterday. On the eastern side of this bent jet stream, warm moist air from the gulf is sucked northward; up the Mississippi Valley and so it is raining in Saint Louis. It began raining yesterday and is supposed to continue raining through this weekend. Last weekend was a rain-out and next weekend is forecasted to be rained out too. The plumber never made it this week to install our new basement sub-pump, so with all of this rain, a river runs through it. All of this rain means another weekend without bicycling. If the ten-day forecast holds that will make three weekends in a row that were too wet to ride.

I’m beginning to feel a little bit trapped and cornered now, which by way of a segue brings us to the photos with this post. They show portions of the exterior and interior of U-505, a WW II German U-boat that was captured intact and eventually found its way to the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. How it got there is a story in of itself and a likely future blog post. Originally, it was an outside display; now it is encased in its own dry-dock like building, a much better venue.

Submarine movies are a genre of their own. Even with classics like, Das Boot, Run Silent, Run Deep and the Enemy Below, leading the pack, there are some stereotypical themes. At the beginning, there is always a newbie that has to be shown the ropes by a senior hand, sort of a father and son relationship. If eventually, the newbie dies, after an act of valor, so much the better. First the hunter, then the hunted, submarine movies always go from the haunting echoes of a sonar ping to punishing depth charge explosion scene. Somehow though, the protagonist’s sub always manages to survive. It is in the endings of this genre that the truly great distinguish themselves from the also ran’s. A great submarine movie requires a sacrifice and a newbie will not suffice. Captains die in Das Boot and Run Silent, Run Deep, while ships are lost in Enemy Below.

If not under the crushing depths of the ocean, I might as well live in Seattle, what with all of the rain that we are getting. It is just not fair. The weather is nice enough while I’m at work. I see how nice it is when I can eventually find a window. Why can’t it be nice on the weekend? I would cry, except that would just add more falling water.

Bicycling as Performance Art



Today Anne and I participated in our first organized bicycle ride of the season. This was one of Trailnet’s community rides, the Art and Tweed Ride. Trailnet sponsors two types of rides, their Fun Club rides, which are all about the miles and going fast and lots of spandex. Their first Fun Club ride is tomorrow and we’ll try to make that one too. Their community rides are different. First, they are free. They are also smaller and more off beat and they usually also include a theme. Today’s ride had two themes, both of them art related. We toured five art museums, the list is below. We also performed art, by donning costumes made of wool and tweed, and dressed in the finest of knickers and caps we rode about town, inspired by English society. We wore spandex, but kept it under wraps.

  • Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum
  • Saint Louis Art Museum
  • Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis
  • The Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts
  • World Chess Hall of Fame

The ride began and ended at the Kemper, where we were treated to a tour of the Georges Braque exhibit, which ends this month. Braque was a contemporary and friend of Picasso and a fellow Cubist painter. He has never been as famous as Picasso. Picasso is on exhibit at the Chicago Art Institute, while the Kemper is Washington University’s art museum. Braque was never as flamboyant as Picasso and he stayed married. He also died much earlier, during World War II.

Our next stop was the slammer, the Saint Louis Art Museum. We climbed art hill and were met at the bicycle racks by our guide. We never actually made it into this art museum. Maybe they were worried about sweaty bicyclist stinking up their museum. Don’t they know that wool absorbs sweat? The real reason was that we did not have time to go in. Instead we were led outside to its new wing, which is scheduled to open in June. The new wing will be dedicated to contemporary art and of course, free to all.

The Pulitzer and the Contemporary Art Museum adjoin each other, so I’ll count these two as one long stop. The main exhibit at the Pulitzer was the PROGRESS of LOVE, by Tamara H. Schenkenberg. This extensive exhibit revolves around a single letter, a breakup letter. It looked interesting, but we only had twenty minutes there, so it was hard to take it all in. The exhibit at the Contemporary was Jeremy Deller’s Joy in People. This show was a collected works piece, very British and very political, pro-Labor, anti-Tory. As an aside, we all know that Margaret Thatcher died this week. She was instrumental in the closing of many British mines. This was a big theme in Deller’s show. Every Saturday night BBC plays the highest selling song that week in Britain. This week’s winning song is Ding Dong the Witch is Dead, from the Wizard of Oz.

Our final stop was the Chess Hall of Fame. Here the main exhibit was Bill Smith’s Beyond the Humanities. His works are delicate sculptures that involve lots of thin wire and faint colored lights. They are best viewed in the dark. Most of the tour was watching the show’s signature piece in pitch black darkness, when a crash and the breaking of glass was heard. The museum’s guide quickly switched on the lights and there in the corner, on the floor was one of his other pieces. Whoops! We departed the tour here and went to a new Lebanese restaurant in the CWE for lunch. I declined the hookah and had a beer instead.

A Pair of Red Bugs


His Own Car

Fathers know how a boy sits behind the wheel of the big car, holding back the longing that besieges his heart every time the motor starts. He wants to drive – he wouldn’t be a real boy if he didn’t. The Briggs & Stratton Flyer is the boy’s car, created for red-blooded youngster’s whose greatest hope is to sit behind the wheel and GO. – Briggs & Stratton advertisement

A Pair of Red Bugs

A Pair of Red Bugs

Originally called the Smith Flyer and manufactured by the A.O. Smith Company in Milwaukee, in 1919 rights were sold to Briggs & Stratton and it was renamed the Briggs & Stratton Flyer. The near Flyer is a 1920 model. The Flyer is a small, simple, lightweight, two-seat vehicle with a wooden frame that doubles as the body and suspension. A small gasoline engine is mounted on a fifth wheel, or motor wheel, to drive the Flyer. Since the 5th wheel was direct drive, the engine had to be started with this wheel lifted into the air. The driver then lowered the 5th wheel by lever, to start moving. In 1925 they sold the rights to the Flyer to Automotive Electric Services, who continued producing the Flyer until the supply of engines ran out, and then they substituted an electric motor driven by a battery. The far Flyer is a 1928 electric model.

Briggs & Stratton kept the motor that had been the heart of the Motor Wheel and adapted it to other applications such as lawn mowers and running small equipment. The Motor Wheel motor was the progenitor of all Briggs & Stratton motors to follow. I ran many a lawn mower with a Briggs & Stratton in it. Flyers were painted red and were known widely as the “Red Bug”. The Flyer is listed by Guinness as the most inexpensive ‘car’ of all time. List price for the 1922 Briggs & Stratton Flyer was $150.

Zero Dark Thirty


Zero Dark Thirty

Zero Dark Thirty

I saw “Zero Dark Thirty” on Saturday and it has taken me this long to write about it. It’s not that I was upset about the film. Maybe I should have been, with all of the controversy that this film has stirred up about torture. No, it was more that I was perplexed. I didn’t know what to think about the movie. It is in a genre that I like, the espionage thriller and it is a well crafted product, but I was left unsatisfied.

“Zero Dark Thirty” is the story of the manhunt for Osama bin Laden. It centers on Maya(Jessica Chastain), a CIA agent. She is recruited out of high school, just before 9/11 and we watch her over a ten-year period never wavering in her quest to find bin Laden. She has the monomaniacal resolve of Captain Ahab, searching for her white whale. She has no social life. Living and working in Pakistan tends to preclude that. She alienates her coworkers and intimidates her bosses. At one point she asks for a ‘drop line’ operation. The new boss assents, but he doesn’t believe in it. He has learned that life is better when he doesn’t disagree with her.

One reviewer characterized the CIA as middle school with clearances. This analogy shows our spy agency’s Wild West approach to the Middle East post 9/11, as portrayed. The movie captures this shoot first, ask questions later and blame the other kid, when the principal asks approach. Maya is able to be the school yard bully, because she has nothing to lose and there really isn’t any adult supervision.

She is introduced to ‘enhanced interrogation’ techniques by Dan (Jason Clarke), another agent. Before she goes in the first time, he suggests watching on TV instead, “There is no shame in that.” She eschews both that suggestion and her facemask. She soon transitions from passive observer, to the person in charge. The only concession to her fairer sex that she allows is the burly man beside her at the interrogation table. He throws the punches at the chained man across the table, on her command.

I don’t feel bad about the torture depicted in the film, because I have been doubly inoculated. I’ve previously commented about the dozen violent trailers that were preamble to this movie. That doesn’t begin to count the hundreds of similar films that I have watched in whole. I could try to argue that their ceaseless violence has desensitized me, but that would not be correct. A lifetime of movies and one video have taught me the difference between Hollywood and reality.

Last fall, I was a juror. As evidence, I watched a four and a half hour interrogation for a statutory rape trial. There were no ‘enhancements’ to this interrogation, still it was way harder to watch than any scene in “Zero Dark Thirty”. It was excruciating. I’m still thankful for its fuzzy video and poor sound quality and that I didn’t have to choose the shame of watching TV. The torture scenes in the film are of such short duration that they become surreal compared to what I had to watch of reality.

I do feel that torture is wrong. I just feel that the movie ineptly portrays it. I also think that the director substituted scenes of torture for scenes of painstaking investigation, because of their relative cinematic value.

The torture issue aside, this movie is really the tale of two women. The first is director, Kathryn Bigelow. She won the Academy’s best director award for her last film, “The Hurt Locker”. She was shutout at the Golden Globes on Sunday and had previously been denied a second shot at Best Director by the Academy, even though the film is up for Best Picture. Did this movie direct itself?

The other woman is the real life CIA agent on whose life this movie is based. Subsequent to the events in the movie she was passed over for a promotion that many in the Agency thought that she deserved. This prompted one wag to ask, “Who do you have to kill around here to get a raise?”