Archive for the ‘architecture’ Category

The Four Horses

November 20, 2019

This morning I heard Meghna Chakrabarti interviewing Sylvia Poggioli about the flood in Venice, Italy.

Hearing the WBUR On Point hostess ask NPR’s Italian correspondent about that watery excess, my imagination flowed back to my visit to Venice in 2003.

On that day, sixteen years ago, I stood in a long tourist line to visit the Basilica of San Marco.

On that day, flood waters from the Adriatic Sea were lapping up the stepped entryway into the nave of the cathedral.

My daughter Kim, studying in Italy at that time, snapped some photographs. I assembled three of them here:

SanMarco3

It is plain to see that, yes, there is an ongoing, and worsening problem of flooding in the ancient city of Venice.

Moreover, the evidence is mounting that, yes Virginia, there is in fact a worldwide problem of more frequent coastal flooding, and it is reasonably related to climate change.

My position about climate change is that we should collectively educate ourselves about the impact of human activity on our planetary ecosystem. But human rights—rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness— should not be violated for the sake of imposing restrictive laws to reduce and control carbon emissions.

However all of our overflowing angst about climate change gets spread around, I would like to hone in on a certain detail in the frontal edifice of San Marco church building.

Look closely at this picture of the front of San Marco. You will notice, above the middle arch, four horse statues. 

When I noticed them up there in 2003, I was fascinated with those horses.

SanMarcoHrs

Five years later, as I was writing a novel later entitled Glass Chimera, I included those horses—actually, miniature glass reproductions of them— in part of the story I was cloning together at that time

In chapter 13 of Glass Chimera, we find this scene:

Sunday afternoon, Mick Basker slept until 1:30, then got out of bed, made some coffee, and sat down at his computer to take a look at the chip that he had retrieved from the glass horse’s gonads four nights ago.  He   reached down to open the bottom drawer of his desk.  Then  he noticed a scrap of printed paper, about the size of a small  index card, on the floor nearby. Recognizing it as a slip that  he had found within the figurines’ crate, Mick picked it up to get a closer look. This is what was printed on the little paper:

Congratulazioni! Lei ha comprato uno degli articoli di vetro più belli nel mondo. Quest’edizione a bassa tiratura della “Quadriga Marciana”  ha soffiato degli artigiani specializzati della Società del Vetro Leoni di Venezia, Italia. Gli articoli di vetro sono i riproduzioni squisite delle sculture di bronzo che fa la guardia di sopra del vestibolo occidentale della Basilica di San Marco in Venezia. I cavalli originali sono giungi a Venezia con il ricco bottino di guerra dai Veneziani dopo la conquista di Constantinopoli al termine della IV Crociata nel 1204 A.D. Dopo cinque secoli, nel 1797, Napoleone li fa trasferire a Parigi, ma i cavalli erano ritornati alla Basilica di San Marco nel 1815.

But Mick knew no Italiano, so he set the little paper aside, and   reached down again to the bottom drawer, from which he produced a yellow pharmaceutical container, a pill box.  Inside it was a was a patch of plastic foam  which  concealed a little green circuit board  about the size of thumb.   Carefully, he inserted his chip, looking like a little black crab with metallic legs, into the device, then pushed the assemblage into a USB port on the computer. He typed and moused his way to the chip’s data, and when he found it this is what he saw: 

OAT,  GHN-1:17q22-q24,  DTNBP-1:6p22.3,  IGF-2:3q28.

But he didn’t know what it was.

If you ramble around this world, you will notice that life on our planet is full of mysteries. You just never know when another strange happening might come flooding into your mind, your mailbox, or your city square, or even your own sacred space.

But no matter what strange occurrence crosses your path or your mind, try to make the best of it.

Glass Chimera

The Tower of Signals

August 17, 2019

Thousands of years ago, we built a legendary tower, the shadow of which has seemed to darken our human history even unto today.

According to a certain well-known historical source, the Bible . . . the tower of Babel was erected in some location east of the Euphrates River. The region therein has been known since that ancient time by various names:  Chaldea, Shinar, Babylon, and a few other identities, such as the current one, Iraq.

So an ancient tale about the tower of Babel, especially its fall, has been passed down to us through the ages.   The biblical account says that The Tower of Babel’s undoing happened because the people were unable to communicate. So they were not able to get the thing built.

In our modern reflection upon that archaic project, I think what Will Rogers or Mark Twain or Yogi Berra, or some such sage  said, applies:

“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”

It’s an old story, but true.

Nevertheless, I’m here to tell ya that in spite of ourselves we people of the earth have managed to erect some pretty impressive towers here and there throughout the ages.

For instance, notice this  classic religious tower in San Francisco, which happens to be a double.

Spires2Chrch

This structure represents that spirit of religion that dominated our Western culture for a couple of thousand years.

Here’s a Spanish project representing a more contemporary creative impulse toward the divine.

Sagrada

Very impressive. But the era of God-inspired basilica-building has been overtaken by more humanistic projects. Since the so-called Enlightenment in the 18th-century, people have aspired to ideals even loftier than mere religion. This modern emphasis has wrought even higher and higher feats of skyscraping.

BuildSkysc

The long epoch of God-inspired tower-building has been overtaken by a New Age of Man.

CityPhild

And yet, our rising human spirit has morphed itself beyond mere commercial, citified projections. Check out an Olympic objet d’art that the Barcelonans fashioned for the 1992 Olympics:

BarcOlymp

This fluidic rising structure embodies a humanic zeitgeist; it aspires to inspire ascension to world peace—a peace wrought through zealous sports competition instead of bloody wars fought with destructive weapons on muddy battlefields.

Pretty damned impresseve, huh?!

Higher and higher we strive; higher and higher we arrive.

Now in 21st-century AI, We find ourselves in the upper regions of human accomplishment.

Physical upbuilding has now taken a back seat to the loftiness of our ideals.

So we’ve built a stupendous net of ideas, an electronic network that ceaselessly transmits gigabytes of presciently important data around the world. It is a web as ethereal as the sun itself . . . as surreal as a Dali . . .  as real as a Warhol.

And towards this end, we’ve built towers of a different—a new and different—kind:

The Tower

Towers such as this one–structures of ascending human perfectibility– are slavishly repeating signals all day and all night for the benefit of all mankind!

For the benefit of Mr. Kite, ever and ever onward to greater heights!

We hold these spires to be self-evident—that our updated tower-driven secretions will project a worldwide web of human achievement to rise higher than  the Tower of Babel ever did!

Good luck with that.

Glass Chimera

Bridge across Time

July 9, 2019

Setting old stones with new methods lays a solid foundation for future pathways of our life together.

Here’s a Blue Ridge Parkway bridge, near my home, built when I was a kid long ago, in the 1960’s.

BRPHollowa

It’s a well-built public-works project.

Incredible strength was laid into the bridge’s inner structure when concrete was poured around a steel rebar framework. Unseen in the finished structure, the silent steel still contributes to ongoing structural integrity and function. Internal strength assured the bridge’s longevity, allowing the structure to bear up under the heavy demands of continuous motored traffic for many and many a year.

This solid piece of work has been sustaining motored traffic for most of my 68 years.

Use of reinforcing steel roads, tied together with wire like cages, then buried forever with gravel aggregate in solid ‘crete mud, is a relatively new architectural practice in construction history. The internal rebar method was devised by constructors over time, to assure deep integrity and resilience in vast concrete structures.

Such built-in reinforcement has enabled folks to progressively build bigger buildings, longer roads and bridges, as civilization marches on.

BluRiOvPas

This strong, continuous, time-tested concrete underbelly enables motorists to drive without stopping, on a road that crosses o’er a  road that passes beneath it. In this photo, you can see the structure’s rock-hard underbelly, which bears the surface imprints of wooden planks that were used in forming the main arch  when the concrete was cast, back in the mid-1960’s.

Certainly our attention is drawn to the large veneer stones on the outside face of the construction. These chiseled rocks, having been skillfully cut with calculated angles, lend a classic appearance to the roadway, which would have otherwise been a dull utilitarian construct.

Thus did the bridge become something far more than an elevated roadway; it stands as an artistic statement of architectural continuity, in agreement with its older, 1930’s-era bridge “ancestors.”

The stone masons who erected similar Blue Ridge bridges back in the earlier days were ancestors–whether by profession or by blood– of the rock masons who set these stones three decades later.

Such chisel-sculpted work  becomes a masonary tip-of-the-trowel to time-honored traditions of stone masons who lived and worked on this same 469-mile parkway back in the day, and then eventually crossed that great celestial bridge to eternity.

Having stood the tests of time and traffic, this good work stands as a long-lasting homage to both structural integrity and graceful design.

About six miles up the road from the bridge pictured above, there’s an S-curved structure that I tied steel on, back in the early 1980’s– the Linn Cove Viaduct on Grandfather Mountain. It’s a very special construct, being the final missing-link in the middle of a 469-mile, 50-year Blue Ridge Parkway project. But this one was special–not for the classic stonework–but for the cutting-edge technology of building the thing from the top down, instead of the bottom up!

BRPLinConst2

Here’s solid evidence that in this life it’s a good idea to do things right. Build it to last, whatever it is you’re working on in your time here.  Our children’s children will notice the quality and be inspired to do great works in their own time.

Search for Blue

Two Towers

September 14, 2018

Two Spanish towers stand as symbolic descriptors of that country’s  monarchy.

It only takes a glance to catch a glimpse of the difference between the two historical ages in which these two were constructed.

One ancient tower, pictured below, was built  on the Mediterranean coast, at Valencia, between 1441-1460 AD.

The new one, to be seen further below, was constructed in Madrid in 1992.

They are very different. A comparison between the two indicates, I think, a major difference between Spain’s early monarchy five centuries ago, and the constitutional monarchy that functions today.

When I look at the older tower, which I snapped on photo this morning,  the picture summons in my mind mythical images of a medieval kingdom ruled by kings and protected by an order of loyal knights. In this case, the kingdom was Aragon, in was in eastern Spain, 15th century. The nominal ruler at the time was King Alfonso V.

Because medieval royals moved around Europe like  corporate CEO’s who jet around the world today, Alfonso wasn’t very involved in the Spanish parts of his domains; he was  preoccupied with Italia and papist politics.

So Alfonso’s brother, prince John, held down the fort (literally) over in the outback Spanish hinterlands.

The task  then fell to John, or some of his people, to govern and protect the good people of Aragon. In the main cuidad, the port of Valencia, they built walls around the city, and towers for monitoring the distant horizons.  Here’s the tower, obviously still standing, that I snapped this morning.

ValnciaTowr

Doesn’t it absolutely look like the elevated station of a classic medieval fortification wall? Could it be jutting up into the blue sky of at Aragorn instead of Aragon?  We see here that Prince John literally “held down the fort” while his big brother was schmoozing with the Italian movers and shakers of their day and their papist pals.

Prince John did  acquire, however, a significant role in history. He was the the father of a Ferdinand. That’s the Ferdinand of Ferdinand and Isabella, who commissioned Christopher Columbus to sail for India. Chris never did make it India; but he did bump into  another place. . . America.

And the rest is history.

When King Ferdinand of Aragon married Queen Isabella of Castile–that was the beginning of the nation we know to be Spain.

Fast-forward 532 years from  Prince John’s constructed wall/Tower to defend Valencia in 1460 AD. By 1992, when my second example of a tower is built, the people of Spain have done significant rearrangement of this governmental arrangement  called monarchy. They have democratically kicked out one 20th-century king, Alphonso XIII, in 1931. They replaced his monarchy with a leftist Republic that lasted only until 1939. Then the military Generalissimo Franco summoned a bunch of old-fashioned Catolico, conservative, reactionary and fascist soldiers; he drove them up from Morocco, took hold of Espanya by winning the civil war of 1936-39; he chased away most of the republicans, socialists, communists and any other liberal-minded upstarts who thought they could rearrange Spain according to egalitarian ideals and modern ideas.

Franco ruled, king-like, as a Falangist dictator, from 1939 onward, and managed to hang onto power in spite of all his nazi and Italiano fascisti allies going down in death and disgrace in 1945 after the Big War.

He ruled until he croaked in 1975. But before he died, Franco twisted arms in the corridors of Spanish power to prevent his people from voting in another experiment with democracy.

They must restore the monarchy, insisted the Generalissimo.  But  they should not crown the royal son who would have been  presumptive heir—no, not Don Juan, 3rd son of the late and last King  Alphonso who they turned away in ’31  Rather, Franco insisted Spain should crown Don Juan’s son, Juan Carlos, whose inclinations appeared to be more authoritarian than Don Juan’s.

Nevertheless, after Franco had passed into the great beyond in ’75, the new king Juan Carlos responded with approval for the democratic reforms necessary to bring Spain into modern governance. He instituted reforms that would relegate the monarchy toward  more ceremonial duties, a la Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden and several other nations. Today Alfonso’s great-grandson, Juan Carlos’ son Felipe VI, is the king of Spain.

In Madrid, 1992, Spain built a museum to display the modern art of their country. King Felipe’s mother, Sofia—herself of royal Spanish blood as well as being Juan Carlos’ wife and queen—gave her name to the completed project of the new art museum.

A sleek, transparent glass elevator shaft on the Museum’s exterior stands out as a bold work of architectural art, in and of itself. It’s name is prominently etched along the entire vertical length of the structure.

GlassTowr

This shiny Tower, which conducts elevators, expresses the innovative thrust by which Spain has ascended into the modern world.

So we notice two incredibly different towers in Spain: one made of stone, appearing very heavy, very old, and fortress-like  impenetrable. The other is constructed of glass, gleaming brightly in 2018 sunshine, appearing light and fragile.  This second one also has a name–Reina Sofia, which was not only the Spanish queen’s means; it also means Queen Wisdom.

What remains to be seen is the future of Spain’s monarchy-retaining democracy. Is it fortified and impenetrable, or light and fragile, like a smart phone you don’t want to drop.

That question is really a manner of consideration for all democratic governments. We shall see what the world does to all our democracies during the next half-millenium. Let’s hope they are still functional 500 years from now, whether kings and queens are still part of the structure, or not.

My thought is it would be wise to keep democracy intact and functional, whether or not  kings and queens are still part of the arrangements.

Smoke

Spain

September 13, 2018

Espana.

es Passionata.

For five hundred Moor years

than the Iberian Catolica peninsula

could ever have estanded

to be Islamically commanded,

they endured Ummayed demands

until Aragon King Ferdinand

came conquestering and demanding

with Castile Queen Isabella, remanding,

to fortify their  Catolica position

with a a goddam Inquisition,

stringing up dissidents in their Inquisition power

thereby crushing the bloom of heretical flower.

But with Isabella’s demise mad king Ferd devised

that child Queen Juana should be misused:

She therefore became abused and confused,

being married off to a Hapsburg prince

so that Empire hegemony could commence,

thrusting power over in-between freakin’ France

so Spain would achieve victory in their great Power prance.

Thereby Poor Juana had not a chance

her youthful passion to enhance,

being named an infernal loco heretic.

Therefore history defined her role as lunatic.

While Jews were being unlisted,

dissidents still resisted

although many heretics persisted

while being so unjustly inquisited.

 

That was then but this is now.

Spain still bleeds; that was how

it happened long ago  

when Ferd took on the  holy Roman Catolico

Hapsburg Empire show.

Down through history from page to page

As monarchs wage their contests age to age

Spanish blood flows through impetuous action;

it then bleeds out as Spanish soul passion,

moving los manos y voces to music and song

to celebrate what’s right and lament what is wrong.

Flamenc2

Through the ages, ask the sages

what is right, what is wrong?

Who knows? The priest, the pope?

The poet? the socialist?—who offers hope?

Remember only: life is grand

despite our ruins beneath the sand.

So offer up a sacrifice of song

in notes so potent and passion strong,

while over in the sacrificial ring

a different living sacrifice they bring.

Matador leads. Bull bleeds.

Bullfight

Newfound blood in ongoing sacrifice

echoes ancient cross of crucified Christ.

Priest leads. Jesus bleeds.

The Faithful chant Apostles’ creed..

Sister Maria prays with beads.

But Falanga franco used catolico creeds

while dispatching policia on steeds.

Still saints were interceding

Flamenco singers pleading

Spain is forever bleeding

suffering behavor

even as the Savior.

SagradaGosp

In ’36 Las Artistas pled while Spain bled red.

Still the flamencos emoted, saints devoted,

peasants toted. poets wroted.

democrats noted. republicans voted.

Socialistas revolutionary

v. Royalistas  reactionary.

What else is new, not from the past?

So you might have asked .

Here’s what: Thermite bombs in 1937:

Hitler’s luftwaffe over Spanish village  heaven.

Spain bleeds through Guernica saints.

Pablo reads; Picasso paints.

Dali droops. El toro drips

The crowd whoops; the leather rips.

El  Guitarist heals. Flamenco dancer reels.

Flamenc1

As the eternal note of sadness peals,

La musica heals when dancer reels.

Spain handles the pain.

It falls mainly on the plain

people in Spain.

Smoke

Stickin’ to it.

February 18, 2018

In the late ’70’s many of us wandered up to a cool mountain town; we were trying to figure out what the hell had happened. Some had survived the excesses of countercultural lifestyle; others were just there to do the college thing.

  By that time, the ’60’s flower-power revolution that had failed to actuate had been appropriated into the Establishment. Now you could buy faux hippie threads from the JCPenney catalog; that reality was really a bummer, but people were buying the stuff anyway.. The free love thing had been commandeered by Hollywood. It seemed like everybody was “doing it.”

Our little group of wanderers and students found ourselves congregated in the mother-earth lap of an Appalachian river valley. We had gravitated here to, as John Denver had phrased it, “find Jesus on our own.”

“On our own” turned out to mean: apart from the institutional Church, because it was out of touch with what was happening in the real world and everybody knew it was full of foolishness and hypocrites. Haha.

As the gathering developed, however, our little charismatic experiment turned out to be a little more infected with the ways of the world than we had anticipated. Even though we were a bunch of young bucks and does banded together, raising our kids as a sheltered new testament tribe, showing all the local old-school religious folks what the kingdom of God was all about, eventually after about 20 years it flew apart and we all went our separate ways.

But the failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

By the late ’90’s when our little congregation fell apart, our three offspring had gone off to University, where they got a different view of things, different from the churchified bubble they had been raised in. Long story short: it was good for them to be educated, and all three retained their faith.

Meanwhile back at the ranch, some of us maturing saints—shell-shocked survivors of the great postmodern charismatic reactionary push—began gathering in our homes to “on our own” collectively continue our covenantal search to discern the Lord’s will for us. So we were then, and still now, gathering in our living rooms to read the Bible, pray, and seek God.

As for me and my wife, we have walked a middle road between that house-church body of Christ and another church, which is  a more conventional arrangement for presenting and living out the gospel in society.

This has worked well for us.

By ’n by, all three of our offspring became world travelers for one reason or another. Over the years we have done a lot of globetrotting, following them to various fascinating destinations around the world.

Like for instance, Europe. When we went to that Old World, I began to understand that America is the new kid on the block. Over there, they’ve been doing this Christianity thing for a very long time, about 2000 years.

While it is plain to see that there is a huge institutional legacy of the “Church” in the Americas, the cathedrals of Europe can be seen as indicators of a very different religious experience in days gone by.  Every major city presents evidence of some stupendous religious megalith that dominated European society in a big way for a very long time, until the purveyors of human rationalism came along to challenge their authority.

This Church as a human institution, whatever it shoulda woulda coulda been spiritually, was for a very long time the big kid on the block, the elephant in the room, the megalith institution that dominated  Old World society and cultural In a BIG way.

Those 1st-millennium continental Catholics erected a bunch of huge, monumental edifices. You can find them in every major city and small town.  Europe displays an infrastructure of past religious hegemony on a massive scale. The Reformers later did more of the same.

Case in point. Last year, when we were in Prague, Czech Republic, I snapped this pic inside a cathedral:

PChrch

So I’m thinking. It’s plain to see, this Christianity thing is much, much larger than what is represented by, say, the quaint quasi-classical structure down on our Main Street USA. Beholding this magnificent structure presents a challenge in many ways: it’s a theological, cultural, architectural wonder!

Who built this thing? Was it erected through the blood and toil and sweat of impoverished medieval slave-serfs? Was it founded upon the heretical  manipulations of indulgence-selling ecclesiastical con-men? What kind of empire were they building here? A corrupted hierarchy of covetous clergy? Does it give glory to God, or to the works of Man?

Now I could speculate vainly about the motivations and corrupt practices of those who went before me as  constructors of what is purported to be the Kingdom of God. I could judge them as users and abusers who took advantage of clueless poor people who probably could barely afford to pay the light bill and keep gas in the cart and the kids in shoes while they were fretting about their deceased relatives in purgatory or limbo. I could conclude presumptuously that this humongous structure is nothing more than a work of vanity and hubris and systemic abuse that was erected by men who were surely just as guilty, just as culpable, just as sinful and suspect as myself. I could condemn them as robber-baron ecclesiastic manipulators who were no doubt serving  Babylon or Rome or the  Pride of Man.

But, sinner that I know myself to be, I shall not so judge them. Rather, I shall admire the building for being, in an imperfect world, what  it should have been, and is generally in retrospect considered to be: overpowering evidence of the human impulse that strives to glorify God.

Furthermore, I understand that my assessment is considered to be an obsolete way of thinking. I realize, from both my common observations and study of history, that the religious  hegemony of this huge institutionalized Church has been supplanted, governmentally and socially, by the humanistic, democratic and socialistic movements of  the 19th and 20th centuries.

And that’s okay. Shit happens and nobody’s perfect, not even the humanists, who havre proven through their own systemic abuses that human government and politics falls far short of true justice.

We Christians do need reminders that there are other people in this world who have different fixes than we do for rectifying human injustice and misery. We don’t have to agree with everybody, but we do have to, as Christ and his apostles commanded, live peacefully with everybody insofar as it its possible.

What I am seeing now, in the present predicament of our world is this:

That big guilty-as-charged Churchified juggernaut that sought to order human activity and governance in the last sixteen hundred years—it is being challenged and threatened by a newer Religious juggernaut from the east.

And if I must choose between the two, I’ll go with the one that I know to be true, even though it has not always been righteous. In the end, I think it is better to build upon the testimony of the one who died on a cross and was, three days later, resurrected. It is better to stand with Him than with another religious empire whose plan would be to get us kaffirs all on our knees five times a day.

In his final revelation to those he loves, Jesus counseled his friend John to “strengthen the things that remain.”

So therefore and henceforth, I say unto thee: I’m with Jesus.

The failure of men to do God’s will is not the conclusive evidence about the credibility of Him whose crucifixion was inflicted by that same failure, our human failure. Ultimately his resurrection overcomes the crucifixion. The message of Jesus is not about what men do or fail to do; It’s about what he did for us.

That’s my faith and I’m sticking to it.

King of Soul

What’s a building

July 10, 2017

What’s a building to do?

Is it for some function or use,

or should it just stand there and look back at you?

Must the building pose, so proud and grand,

being stately, stable and strong,

or should it fulfill some meaningful plan?

Hofburg

Some say a building should blend with the earth;

thus it oughta be curvy and quirky,

Hundert

allowing nature to re-green its girth.

Hunder2

Others state that a building should be modern and sleek;

it oughta be angular, straight and clean

Wirtschafts

Then it can be filled with both workers and geeks.

Wirtschaf2

It seems to me a building should be all of these things,

fulfilling all the purposes that human life brings,

allowing all shades of the gray, the browns and the greens,

UVienna

thus fulfilling everyone’s dreams.

Glass half-Full