Monday, September 20, 2010

High-powered mythological guardians

Theories abound as to why Western architecture has been ornamented with figures — whether they be gods or mortals, celestial beings or rude humans, the devil himself or souls trapped in stone on their way to hell, recognizable animals or bizarre hybrids. One school of thought is that traditionally they were used by the Church to instruct the illiterate masses or terrify them into compliance with the Ten Commandments. Another suggests that the figures were believed to keep away evil spirits and protect a building’s occupants.

The building at 45 Milk Street in Boston is richly endowed, but the figures don’t seem to have any work to do.

It started life in 1893 as the International Trust Company Building, by the architect William Gibbons Preston (1844-1910), who enlarged it in 1906. Sculptor Max Bachman
(1862-1921) provided the ornament which includes Hercules over the front door. (You can tell it’s Herc because he’s wearing the skin of the Nemean lion he killed, with its head as a helmet.)

Hercules is flanked by the most fearsome griffins (also spelled “griffons” and “gryphons”) I’ve ever seen.

But the building seems empty—the main floor looked especially empty although there were lots of lights on, including some very impressive chandeliers. All that high-powered mythological help going to waste…

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Ben Franklin and Philly cheesesteak in... Boston?

Yes, I'm using a different background, mere weeks after resuming this blog. My sister Roxe, master genealogist, found this template and used it for her new blog, Genealogy PMP*, and I thought it was so cool that I decided to switch. I don't know how it looks to you out there, but it's pretty unimpressive on the screen of my ancient laptop.

Today's picture is... you guessed it! Benjamin Franklin! (You knew that because of your familiarity with American hundred dollar bills, right?) This piece is on the front of a building on Milk Street in Boston that proclaims itself as Franklin's birthplace. It was around the corner from my hotel in Boston, where I travelled last weekend for the Day Job — another infectious disease meeting, and another infectious disease meeting where I developed a respiratory infection that had me holed up in my hotel room for two days.

It was probably a combination of being sick, the vague similarity between two revolutionary war-era towns and... well, mostly being sick that made me very confused about where I was when I saw this building. Franklin's image is all over Philadelphia. I never associated him with Boston. The room service menu in my hotel didn't have chicken soup, which I craved (of course not! they had only chowdah!) but it did list Philly cheesesteak! (What kind of Boston hotel offers Philly cheesesteak? And no baked beans? Which I didn't really want - I'm just saying.)

So, I was very confused about where I was - the virus, Franklin, Philly cheesesteaks. And staying in a hotel room for 48 hours straight can really mess with your head.

I was scheduled to come last night, which I did, but I was probably too congested to fly. I think I blew out my right ear. I'll post again as soon as I can hear again.

*I know that "Genealogy PMP" looks like it needs an "i," which would turn my sister into a genealogy p*mp. But PMP is the designation of someone who has been accredited by the Project Management Institute, and Roxe's idea with the blog was to describe how she's applying her well-honed project management skills to exploring our ancestry. She's been working on this, on and off, for decades. It's been a mostly discouraging effort, until just recently when she made all kinds of progress on virtually all fronts of our mongrel background - the Irish, Greeks and Germans. So, no p*mp jokes, okay? We're the only ones who can do that.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Time and place

Having spent 10 days in Chicago and with two weeks more off from the day job, I decided to play tourist in Toronto. So I took a double-decker bus tour.

I am as interested in music as the next person — possibly more so, since I used to be a semi-professional musician in another life — but I've never felt the need to be, literally, constantly plugged into the soundtrack of my life. (Neither have I felt the need to be constantly on the phone, but that's a post for another day.)

Anyway, as I was saying before I interrupted myself, I believe in having a life to which the music that I hear forms the soundtrack instead of all-soundtrack-all-the-time.

When I took the coach tour, this girl who sat ahead of me clearly favoured the latter. She generously plugged one ear bud into her own ear, and the second into her mother's ear — rendering them unable to hear the surprisingly informed and witty commentary of the tour guide.

That was their loss, and didn't interfere with my enjoyment of the trip... although I did wonder what the point was of paying nearly $40 and then shutting out the tour guide. (I recognize that language may have been a factor in this case.)

But then the child apparently tired of her iPod — and began serenading us a series of random notes on a blue plastic harmonica, and my mood returned to that one of my stone friends in Chicago: