OTIS Miscellany II

November 17, 2012 — Everything in life is a race with death. Travel just seems more so sometimes. Like you're trying to see as much of this planet as you can before you die. Of course, then, if you’re the unfortunate type who wants to write about things after you visit them, it’s like overtime with death. I mean, you pushed your luck to even have visited the place within your earthly allotment and now you want to tell everybody about it with prose and pics?

Well, I've dealt with that before by just stuffing a bunch of random sites into a single quick post. And I'm doing it again. Because I don’t want to die before I tell you about giant baby heads and monster whales made out of felt.

Ponte Vecchio, Florence, Italy: The Ponte Vecchio, or "Old Bridge," spans the Arno River in Florence, Italy. It's ancient, dating back to medieval times, and is literally a bridge lined with shops. It's just something they used to do back then. On the bridge, it feels like a regular street, but head down a perpendicular road, and you'll immediately see just how strange it looks to treat a bridge as zoneable property.

Auction Block, Fredericksburg, Virginia: This is an 160-year-old auction block actually used for slaves. It stands on the corner of William and Charles Streets in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and is a simple, stark reminder of really bad days. Much more effective than many of the sculptures I've seen dedicated to the purpose, I think.

Tristin Lowe's Mocha Dick, Traveling Exhibit: This picture is a bad one because the museum that was displaying this artwork didn't allow pictures and had pretty vigilant guards. Still, a bad picture is no bar for a work as impressive as Tristin Lowe's Mocha Dick. The 52-foot-long felt-covered inflatable is a tribute to the real-life albino sperm whale upon which Moby Dick was based. I love this thing, and calling it an inflatable doesn't do it justice. It has the heavy presence of an actual whale tossed into a gallery. I saw it at the Williams College Museum of Art in Williamstown, Massachusetts, a couple years back, but it's a traveling exhibit. I couldn't find where it is now, but here are some high-quality pics of it on the artist's site.

Jefferson Rock, Harper's Ferry, West Virginia: This buttressed stone pedestal just off the Appalachian Trail and stands above the point where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet. Thomas Jefferson stood there in 1783 and later wrote that the view was "worth a voyage across the Atlantic." It's a pretty nice view. But I only saw it because I was in the neighborhood.

Mary Dyer Statue, Boston, Massachusetts: Rhode Island native Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston for being a Quaker in a Massachusetts colony run by Puritans. Today, she's one of the Boston Martyrs, four people hanged for their religious beliefs during the mid-1600s. Her death prompted an end to this kind of persecution, though, and she's remembered with a slightly oversized statue in front of the Massachusetts State House. 

In addition to that historical anecdote, she also has a supernatural one. That story goes that on a previous sojourn in Boston, she birthed a extremely deformed but stillborn baby. After hearing about it, Governor John Winthrop had the child exhumed, and describing the deformities as horns, claws, and multiple mouths, made the expert diagnosis of  Satan spawn. By the time she was dubbed a witch, though, she was back in Rhode Island. Of course, as previously mentioned, it was only a temporary stay of execution. 

She's not the only accused witch named Dyer that I've come across. Here's my visit to the Moll Dyer stone in Leonardtown, Maryland.

Big Filming Site, Rye, New York: Yup. That's me at the spot where Tom Hanks decided being big wasn't all it was cracked up to be, despite having the freedom to wear ivory polyester tuxes and have hot women sleep in your bunk bed. The site where they set old Zoltar is on the boardwalk at Playland in Rye, New York. Today, a quarter century after Big was filmed, a Pepsi machine stands in its place. The only wishes it grants are for cans of soda, and only if your dollar bills are relatively uncreased.

Runaway Pond, Grover, Vermont: I happened to pull over to the side of the road to take some foliage shots during a road trip this Fall in Vermont, and saw this: a memorial to a lost pond, just outside of the town of Glover. In 1810, residents of the village tried to create an outlet for a 2 million-gallon pond to help production at a local mill. However, their efforts caused the banks to collapse, and the pond drained and more or less disappeared. They call it Runaway Pond, now. So it's a mildly interesting story made absolutely bizarre by the memorializing of it. People are cool.

Book of Kells, Dublin, Ireland: The Book of Kells deserves its own entry, but they didn't allow photography of it at all. So they get a picture of me with their sign and a paragraph of explanation almost five years after I visited it. Located at Trinity College Library in Dublin, Ireland, this amazing illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels was painstakingly created by Celtic monks some 1,200 year ago. Its pages are large, intricate works of art and seeing them is as akin to a religious experience as you can have without yourself being a 1,200-year-old monk.

Louise Bourgeois' Eyes, Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, and Seattle, Washington: French artist Louise Bourgeois died two years ago just shy of becoming a centenarian, but she's still watching us. Her signature eye sculptures and benches are all across the world. I first came across them in Massachusetts, where she installed glowing lights in their pupils. Since then, I've seen them as part of a fountain sculpture in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (top two photos) and on the waterfront of Seattle, Washington (bottom photo).

USS Requin, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Submarines are awesome and you should drop through their hatches any time you have the chance. However, I already wrote about visiting the drydocked USS Albacore in Portsmouth, NH, and my experience at the USS Requin at the Carnegie Science Center in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was pretty much the same: claustrophobic and mildly panicking. Entry is included as part of the admission ticket to the center (which is home to the Robot Hall of Fame), so it's certainly worth checking out.

Day and Night, Boston, MA: This is one of two eight-foot-tall baby head sculptures at the back entrance of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. They're called Day and Night, I guess since one has its eyes closed and the other doesn't. The sculptures were created by Antonio Lopez Garcia, who hates the world and wants us all to die drenched in nightmare.