July 25, 2011

Diaristic Wanderings

Jazz fest Friday: first, a four-piece band at the outer limits of a new Arena District waterfront park. Then I found another act right on the Scioto and I listened to the long-form tunes while watching a train crawl across the tracks over the river. The old stone pillars holding up the bridge were black on the north side, which puzzled me. Was there a fire? I figured it was maybe just years of soot and coal dust falling from the tracks. I could also see the lower bricks were lighter in color, which likely showed the high water level.

The day was overcast, for which I was grateful given serious heat wave. An old black man sits at the bench nearby, taking in the music and the scene. He reminds me of Morgan Freeman, thin, dressed nicely, and has a handsome cane to help him get around. He seems the very personification of a jazz listener; I wonder if he was around in the '40s for height of that era. There are some impressive devotees here; many put up tents and chairs and seem to plan on staying for hours in the grueling heat.


Home: The sky is a rhyming blue, a backdrop for the auburn-bricked chimney, which stands squat and square in the suburban heat. A constellation of sickly pine tree branches hang nearby, the sickness a result of old age or a drought a few years back.

Later: So now the dramatic rains fall, a thunderstorm which has the decency - as summer storms usually do - of being brief. My kind of rain although I'm not sure the tomatoes got enough to be happy. I'm glad it held off long enough to enjoy those brief, shining moments in the jazz fields of downtown Columbus where I gathered the musical pollen of talented musicians.

I love the smell of rain in the air, and it's warm enough that I could go out and exhilarate in it, run in it, like a child. Who doesn't love that famous scene in "Singin' in the Rain"?

According to the radar, the jazz fest is missing this storm. Now, jazz fest is MY kind of camping. Easy access to beer and food, great musical entertainment, and in this case a beautiful vast lawn accentuated with black wrought-iron benches. Trees line the perimeter of the park and people cling to the sides leaving the vast lawn wide open. The music was loud enough that I, sitting way back, could still enjoy it. Presumably can't stay overnight, but still.


Saturday: alma mater. The soul of Miami is, of course, the main library, aptly named "King" in this case. I set up camp not far from it, in the ancient quad beside Bishop Hall which was named for Miami's first president and which often fills me with a sense of promise squandered.

But more important than career achievement is to lay up treasure where neither moth nor fire can destroy. Which is problematic as well... I tire far too easily, for example, of appeals sent through snail-mail or email asking for funds for Sudan or promoting a pro-life cause or for food for the poor. I could wish that when I saw some appeal in the mail I would welcome it as I would welcome someone attempting to bring Christ to me.

It's funny but during my four years of college and all the trips since I've never seen the square stone stub, sticking up like a tombstone in the middle of the central quad. It's hard to read the script but says something like "DESIGNED BY T. KELLY 1806... NO ERECTED 1808". I wish I'd had a Miami historian handy to ask the purpose of the monument. It reminds me of Ireland's serendipitous findings of old ruins.

The beauty of a google search gives this entertaining 1903 account:

Leveraging that find, more can be found:
Three years later, in 1838, a small science laboratory, no larger than a classroom, was built for $1,250. It stood southwest of the Center Building, near the present Bishop Hall, being kept at that distance for fear of fire. This building "Old Egypt" as generations of students called it , finally burned in 1898. By 1838 there were the Center Building, with its west wing, two residence halls, and the science laboratory; these comprised the campus buildings throughout the five decades of Old Miami, until the college closed in 1873.

There was, however, one other structure, the remains of which persist on the campus now and occasion surprisingly little wonder. A hundred feet from the front door of Bishop Hall is a sandstone pier, three feet high and two feet square. A close look, which few have taken in the past half century, shows it scored with initials of students long gone from Miami and fading inscription:

Designed in 1834
and erected in 1838
by John Locke, M.D.

This is the remnant of the second astronomical observatory in the United States.

American astronomy began in 1830 when a scientist at Yale carried a five inch telescope to a college steeple and observed Halley's Comet before word of it came from observatories in Europe. The first observatory in the United States was built at Williams College in 1836, and the next effort came in Ohio. In 1836 John Locke, an ingenious professor in the Cincinnati College of Medicine, designed a stone pier for the mounting of a small transit telescope. This primitive observatory he sold to Miami before the year was over, and Professor Scott set it up on the treeless south campus. The old stone pier still shows on of the iron fastenings which supported the transit.

In the spring of 1838 a small frame house was built of the stone pier, but it didn't last. On winter nights when a student's fire was sinking that shed began to go. It was all gone by 1840, and the transit was moves into Old Egypt nearby. However, in Loomis' Practical Astronomy, published in 1855, the Miami Observatory is listed at Lat. 39 ¡30'N., Long. 84¡ 46' W.--along with the other observatories of the world.

The Case of the Enigmatic Erratic (lower right corner)

Black dot = approximate area of find

I arrive just in time for the rain so have to move to the sheltered porch of Bishop, overlooking Alumni hall and the quad. I read of a more famous Oxford: "Crossing it on a moonlit winter’s night lifted the heart, though that was often the trouble with Oxford – the architecture out-soared one’s feelings, the sublime not always easy to match."

And later: "it was possible if one was so inclined to get to study in the much more exclusive and architecturally splendid surroundings of the Codrington, and a few undergraduates did so. They tended, though, to set less store on what they were writing than on where they were writing it and I, with my narrow sympathies but who was just as foolish, despised them for it."


Now the sun shines but I cling to shade given the severe heat. Alumni Hall stands with its pleasing architecture. It once was the main library on campus and still has that lingering spirit about it. It's red brick with additional touches, like the copper top on the rotunda and the black iron decorative on the side:


Read a bit of yet another interview with Heather King and she said that L.A. is sort of a natural city for her because of how it is so isolating...She said she's always been something of a loner so it fits. Plus it has the heat which she obviously likes (she said she loves being born in her favorite month, a warm one for chilly New Hampshire). Someday I want to fly to Phoenix and drive out west and see Taos, NM. What an exotic name -"Taos, New Mexico" compared to "Columbus, Ohio"! Viva le difference. One has to go a long way to experience something different, and we have so much variation (in landscape at minimum) within the continental U.S.


Still thinking about a Jen Pierce post about art's purpose being to heal and how in order to heal we have to address the wound. For me, art seems less about healing than about simply appreciating words. Perhaps that's too superficial, the mere enjoyment of beauty rather than Aristotle's definition of art as cathartic. I do suspect I need less surface beauty, less delight in words, and more catharsis. I wonder sometimes if I've merely covered my wounds in pretty crepe. But then it seems much easier to find lyricism than a healing cathartic work, unless I'm missing something obvious. Surely the classics are classic because they address our common wounds, so perhaps I've no farther to look than my own shelves.


Relish I, relish I this time of year when I hurry home so I can full-bake in the sun's distillery, when 6pm, 7pm is as midday! It's midsummer eve madness, this acreage of backyard sun still extant during the late afternoon hours of a workweek.

And all too rare it's been this year. I can't recall a colder June, one more lacking in consecutive days of heat. June, my favorite month, was a let-down. June's main virtue seems to be that it's still the earliest summer, but when it doesn't act like summer that virtue seems mostly theoretical. July is far more dependable than June, but the days are shortening so tack on a couple demerits.

So much of a officeworker's summer is simply that little stretch of time between 6pm and 9pm, a stretch that is darkness for most of the year but right now is alight and aright. Warmth continues unabated unto dusk in a way that feels foreign to fair-air'd June. There is sun, and long days, in June but she lacks that fervid intensity of heat that July brought palpably and almost immediately. June lacks the killer instinct, the slam-dunk of July.

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