Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 30, 2017

Watch the Water. This Isn’t “Baywatch.”

This weekend, the Memorial Day weekend in the U.S., was our ad hoc official start of summer, at least insofar as the consensus for the date on which swimming pools and beaches are open.

Wherever you are, and whatever season it is in your part of the world, take a moment to consider water safety with me, please. Consider this a message from my mother, avid swimmer and Registered Nurse, who is no longer here to deliver the message in person.

Learn to swim, teach your children to swim and watch the water.

“Watch the water” is the guiding principal of lifeguards everywhere. In a moment of inattention, a person can lose their life by drowning, whether they’re a practiced swimmer or not.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that an average of 3,536 people drowned in the U.S. each year between 2005 and 2014: about 10 each day, not including another 332 people per year in boating accidents.

Here in southern California, the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division lifeguards watch 72 miles of coastline. With about 50 million people visiting the beaches during a year, they perform an average of about 10,000 rescues per year. That is serious business.

There’s a dramatized version of lifeguards on the big screen right now: “Baywatch.” Without having seen the movie, I can speculate that onscreen, lifeguards are more glamorous and their work more dramatic than is apparent in the real-life work they do day in and day out. There is, though, nothing much more dramatic than saving a life, and with being prepared to act on a moment’s notice every minute a lifeguard’s on duty.

Here’s a photo I shot two weeks ago on Redondo Beach near the Pier:

LAFD lifeguards Brad Nixon 7042 (640x427)

What I like about that photo of actual lifeguards (red jackets) at work is the fact that the lifeguard on duty in the tower has come out to talk to the supervisor who’s just driven up in the vehicle. Notice that whatever they’re discussing, they’re sitting side-by-side, both WATCHING THE WATER. It never stops.

They’re not watching for what you might expect. It’s important for you to know what it is, because sometimes you are the lifeguard, not a trained professional.

You may be at a backyard pool, a lake in a nearby park or at a cookout by a river.

If there are people in the water, young or old, non-swimmers splashing by the edge or excellent swimmers out in the water, someone should be watching from shore. Here’s why.

A drowning person doesn’t call for help, doesn’t wave their arms to indicate distress. They’re drowning, and their only concern is with saving themselves through something called Instinctive Drowning Response. They have no air with which to call for help, because they’re trying to breathe. Their arms are engaged in pressing against the water to keep their heads above water and they can’t signal for assistance. They’re fighting for their lives and have no energy or mental attention for anything but survival.

I know, the pool’s only 15 feet from the back door, and you and all the adults are sitting right there, just inside when the kids run out to the pool. If something happens, you won’t hear it. There won’t be any noise. You have to watch. The pool, the lake, the river, whatever, are off-limits unless someone’s watching. Period.

I’m not a trained lifeguard, either, so I’ll direct your attention to an article and an instructive video that explain what to watch for. Keys you’ll learn are that drowning people don’t LOOK like drowning people do in movies, because they’re not thrashing about: They’re entirely focused on trying to stay above water. If they’re drowning, you have less than 30 seconds to get to them.

Please CLICK HERE to read the details.

Teach your kids to swim. It could save their lives, but it could also give them something they’ll enjoy for a lifetime. That’s straight from Nurse Nixon. She and I wish you a safe, happy summer in the water.

The link to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention above has additional information about preparedness and prevention.

Read about the Los Angeles County Fire Department Lifeguard Division here.

© Brad Nixon 2017

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 28, 2017

Morning Paper: Where Worlds Collide

There are two types of readers: those who prefer to read a printed page and those who would rather read information on an electronic display.

I never tire of this subject, especially regarding newspapers.

I’m a lifelong newspaper fan, and I still relish picking up the local newspaper in airports, bookstores, gas stations and restaurants. There’s nothing more appealing than a well-stocked news stand.

newsstand Marcy Vincent 3516 (480x640)

I’m fascinated, even in a country where I can’t actually read any of them.

China Shanghai newsstand Brad Nixon 25 (640x480)

That was in Shanghai, China. The next time I pass through Socorro, New Mexico, I’ll see what’s in the pages of the local publication, which has one of the best names of any American paper: The El Defensor Chieftain. If I go through Concrete, Washington again, I hope I’ll still find printed copies of the Concrete Herald around town. I wrote briefly about the Herald in a piece about Concrete, click here.

When I’m lucky enough to travel abroad, I make a stab at reading the foreign languages in which Le Monde, Corriere della Sera and the Times of London are written.

I grew up reading syndicated columnists who appeared in the Cincinnati Enquirer, although they wrote for newspapers in Chicago (Mike Royko), Washington (Art Buchwald) or Los Angeles (Jim Murray), not to mention Cincinnati’s own Bob Brumfield.

I no longer subscribe to a printed newspaper of any description: world, local or neighborhood coverage. The days of sitting at breakfast and leafing through one, checking the sports scores, reading the comics or doing the crossword are things of the past here at Rancho Retro.

Nothing more clearly demonstrates the impact of technology on the flow of information than the topic of print versus online news.

Still an avid news reader, I rarely fail to spend a measurable amount of time on the websites of the LA Times, New York Times, BBC and a few others, including the newspaper that covers my portion of Los Angeles, The Daily Breeze.

I’m not entirely satisfied with that situation. There are aspects of turning the pages of a well laid-out newspaper that can’t be replicated by even the best websites. Granted, there are no hyperlinks to related material, no streaming video and just as many advertisements in print as online, but there’s nothing like a newspaper for those serendipitous discoveries, those full-page spreads of news or features from every part of the world. Also missing from newspapers are the irritating full page pop-up ads that block the screen (I’m looking at YOU, latimes.com).

We’re currently retrieving the neighbors’ newspaper while they’re out of town, and this was the first morning in many years we’d sat down to breakfast with the newspaper spread out on the table.

newspaper Brad Nixon 7044 (640x480)

I won’t belabor the point, but it was a pleasure, and one worth repeating.

I feel divided, because I know that, ultimately, only a fraction of the existing printed newspapers (already a paltry set of survivors from a few decades ago) will endure as more readers (including me), cancel their print subscriptions and read online. Rather, I suppose, many papers will persist, but only online, and there’ll be no more morning coffee with that page of box scores from yesterday’s baseball games open in front of me (or I could turn the page, study the entries for the day’s racing at Santa Anita Racetrack, and mark my choices with a pencil).

I particularly mourn the loss of those local newspapers — many of them weeklies — that have disappeared or certainly will, including the paper that served my Midwestern hometown for more than 150 years before it closed up shop. Journalism and journalists continue, but their old order is rapidly fading.

What’s your preference: print or online? Or both? What’s better about one or the other? Please add a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Photo of me reading a now-ancient headline © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 26, 2017

Tractatus Logico-Ductus: a Logical Leadership Treatise

Dear Mr. President,

It’s always struck me how demanding it must be to read all the hundreds of pages of material that stream across your desk every day: the briefings, legislation being considered by Congress (which you must absorb, then sign or veto), reports from multiple federal agencies, more reports from the White House staff … it’s an immense job in itself, aside from all your other responsibilities.

I can only imagine that you and your predecessors have found the time to read for pleasure or personal fulfillment dwindling to almost nothing. I picture the books on your bedside table or in some quiet portion of the White House sitting unopened: Tolstoy and Dostoevsky (I know how you like the Russians), not to mention more contemporary titans like O’Reilly and Hefner.

I also suspect you’ve also had little opportunity lately to crack open your copy of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

It’s obvious that you care deeply about facts and the truth. The subject figures largely in nearly every public address you make, not to mention all those tweets on the topic of eschewing inaccurate information. You’re all about facts!

However busy you are, Herr Wittgenstein might be a resource when more volatile people around you resort to terms like “fake news” or “alternative facts” when confronted with demonstrable truth. Having on your side one of the 20th Century’s preeminent philosophers and his methodology for determining the scope (and limits) of the relationship between language and reality is a powerful tool to employ in stemming any drift away from FACTS in your leadership of the nation.

I thought of you immediately as I was rereading the Tractatus recently.  It occurs to me that you might find Wittgenstein’s continuation of the tradition of Aristotle, Spinoza, Kant and Russell useful in combating the less disciplined speakers on your staff who sometimes appear before the cameras making rather wayward comments that reflect careless attitudes toward the relationship of language and reality.

Just review with me, if you will, Wittgenstein’s Proposition 1, in which he begins his elucidation of what we can know about the world and (important for you) what we can say about it:

1 The world is all that is the case.
1.1 The world is the totality of facts, not of things.
1.11 The world is determined by the facts, and by their being all the facts.
1.12 For the totality of facts determines what is the case, and also whatever is not the case.
1.13 The facts in logical space are the world.
1.2 The world divides into facts.

Reassuring, isn’t it? To propose the existence of something called an “alternative fact” would necessitate there being an “alternative world” comprised of such. I’m sure, like me, you find it difficult to imagine an epistemological method for determining truth that would allow a leader could govern in an alternative world.

Wittgenstein bolsters us with the certainty that the FACTS remain all that the case is, and therefore the world. Perhaps you’ll remind your staff that although, as Kant said, the mind is “a unity which unifies,” it can only do so when premises and conclusions are based on facts.

The final proposition of the Tractatus is also worth bearing in mind:

7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

Viewed this way, Wittgenstein was, in a sense, writing not only a seminal work on the metaphysics of language and knowledge, but a guide for leaders in an era when so many demonstrable facts are called into question, despite their clear representation of “all that is the case.” His work is, we might say, a “Logical Leadership Treatise,” (Tractatus Logico-Ductus) as well as one about logical philosophy and epistemology.

(By the way, Wittgenstein was a huge fan of both Tolstoy and Dostoevsky!)

The world is determined by the facts, indeed. I find that a comforting thought, and trust you do, as well. I fully understand how difficult it must be for you — or any world leader — to find those precious minutes away from the crush of work facing you. I hope this note has been of some value. Happy reading.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein, 1921. English translation © Dover Books, Frank Ramsey and Charles Kay Ogden, reprint 1999.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 24, 2017

North Cascades National Park, Washington

Mountain residents, travelers and trekkers wait each year for the roads to open. In the mountains of the American west, particularly following a winter of heavy snowfall like the past one, it can be a long wait.

If you’ve been planning to drive into or through North Cascades National Park in northern Washington, Route 20, the North Cascades Highway, opened about a week ago, the 3rd-latest opening in its history. Crews removed as much as 25 feet of snow from the only paved road that crosses the park, which is primarily wilderness.

Cascade Loop Brad Nixon 7394-2 (640x480)

That’s the “Cascade Loop” at the eastern edge of the park as it appeared late one October several years ago, before snow had begun falling in earnest. The park itself doesn’t close during the winter, but access is limited to hardy backcountry travelers equipped to deal with extreme conditions.

Immediately above the Loop, viewed from Washington Pass Overlook (blue square in map below), these peaks give you an idea of the rugged wilderness found in North Cascades National Park.

Early Winters Spires Liberty Bell Brad Nixon 7396-2 (640x480)

The pinnacles on the left are the Early Winter Spires, and on the right is Liberty Bell, 7,720′.

Liberty Bell Brad Nixon 7403-2 (480x640)

This detail from the NPS Visitor Guide provides an overview of Route 20 through the park.

Route 20 map NPS marked

If you enter from the west, you’ll find the Visitors’ Center a good place for a first stop for updates on conditions, camping and trail information, as well as access to a number of trails that wind through the dense, mossy forest.

From there, you’ll get a look at the imposing Picket Range, 10 miles to the north.

Picket Range Brad Nixon 7338-2 (640x468)

On the left is Pinnacle Peak, 6,805 feet, also known as the “Chopping Block.”

Pinnacle Peak Brad Nixon 7332-2 (640x445)

To the right are the Pyramid (7,920′) and Inspiration Peak (7,840′)

Pyramid Inspiration Peak Brad Nixon 7339-2 (640x480)

Those views are an excellent introduction to the reality of the park, because there are no roads and no maintained trails in the Picket Range area. Like much of the park, it is absolute wilderness.

Route 20 follows the course of the Skagit River (SKAA-jit) upstream, where it’s been dammed to form a series of lakes you’ll see below you as you drive: Gorge, Diablo and Ross.

You’ll want to take advantage of the scenic overlooks along the road, like the Diablo Lake Overlook:

Diablo Lake Brad Nixon 7353-2 (480x640)

A road leads down to the lakes where there is hiking, boating and some accommodations.

All along the route there are trailheads for hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. One doesn’t truly see a place without getting out on foot, and you’ll be rewarded with the experience of the alpine forest, snow and glaciers on the mountains and waterfalls.

Waterfall Brad Nixon 7345-2 (640x480)

Every turn of the highway brings another vista into view.

North Cascades Brad Nixon 7361-2 (640x480)

Once out of the eastern side of the park, you’re in the watershed of the Columbia River, and the drier landscape is an important area for agriculture, especially the many varieties of Washington’s famous apples. A good stopping place is the small town of Winthrop, founded in 1891. There are shops, dining and fuel, not to mention plenty of local character.

A Big Volcano Nearby

One worthwhile point of interest not within North Cascades NP, but on the very northwestern edge is the spectacular stratovolcano, Mt. Baker, 10,781 feet (3,286 m).

Mount Baker Brad Nixon 7279-PS1 (640x468)

Draped in glaciers, it has the most active crater in the Cascades other than Mount Saint Helens, and there were eruptions in the 19th Century.

Getting There

The map below shows the park’s position relative to Seattle, about 2 hours away by car, as well as Washington’s other 2 National Parks: Olympic, to the west and Rainier, at the bottom. North Cascades National Park’s northern border is the U.S.-Canadian border.

North Cascades NP road map

There are some services within the park, but no fuel stops in the 60 miles, and few accommodations other than camping and a lakeside resort at Ross Lake. We stayed in Concrete (blue circle, top map) and I wrote about the small town in an article here, many years ago. The access to the Mt. Baker area (blue star) is just west of Concrete.

A good source for basic information about the park, including trails, hiking, camping and much more is the NPS Visitor Information Guide. Click on the link to view it and download.

This is the barest sketch of an extensive, fascinating place. Have you been to North Cascades? What tips do you have for readers?

© Brad Nixon 2017. Top map © U.S. National Park Service. Bottom map © Google.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 22, 2017

An Elephant with an Obelisk(?) Bernini in Rome

Whether in a small town or the most sprawling metropolis, simply walking around leads to unexpected discoveries.

Rome is an excellent example. Replete with buildings, monuments, art and even plumbing that originated over a span of thousands of years, the city delivers a ceaseless barrage of sights that bear investigating. With your attention bouncing between the pages of your tour book and your camera viewfinder, you’re likely to literally bump into some presence from the past that makes you stop, gawk and ask, “Whaah …?”

Like this:

Elephant and Obelisk Brad Nixon 023 (480x640)

Okay, a statue of an elephant with an obelisk on its back. Of course, makes perfect sense. The Romans carted back a mess of obelisks from Egypt. Maybe one of them was on an elephant. Yeah, maybe that’s an Egyptian elephant. Or maybe it has something to do with beating Hannibal after he crossed the Alps using elephants (although of 38 he started with, only a handful survived the ordeal).

You know you’re in the Piazza della Minerva (map below, red circle at bottom), but you weren’t planning to stop to see the church (Basilica di Santa Maria Sopra Minerva), visible behind the statue. You’re on your way to see the Pantheon, only steps away, then find La Casa Del Caffè Tazza D’oro (gold star) to sample their world-famous coffee, and then the equally renowned Gelateria Della Palma (150 flavors!) (blue circle).

Rome Elephant Obelisk map Google

You weren’t expecting an obelisk-bearing pachyderm.

While you’re leafing through the guidebook for information, your travel partner sits on the pediment to wait.

Elephant and Obelisk Brad Nixon 038 (475x640)

The problem with Rome, as with other ancient towns, is that it’s not one thing. It consists of layer upon layer of history piled upon prehistory, on top of all of which resides the present, all jumbled together. You can stand on paving stones laid down by Roman workmen while you look in the windows of a modern store in a Renaissance-era building occupying the site of an Etruscan tomb. The city is a welter of cultures, welded together in an overwhelming fashion.

Your guidebook informs you that the statue is Elephant and Obelisk (Italian: Obelisco della Minerva), and isn’t from ancient Rome, at least not all of it. It was designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in 1660, incorporating a bona fide Egyptian obelisk that had been recovered from the excavation of a nearby Roman site.

Elephant and Obelisk sculpture Rome Bernini Brad Nixon (480x640)

The work of Bernini, called “the Shakespeare of sculpture,” is everywhere in Rome. Not far from Elephant and Obelisk is the Piazza Navona (map, red star on left), where you’ll see his Four Rivers Fountain (Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi, 1651, sporting another Egyptian obelisk). I don’t have a photo that does it justice.

Bernini left an indelible mark on St. Peter’s Basilica, designing the arcing colonnades of the exterior piazza, the massive pillars at the junction of the four arms of the interior, the massive Baldacchino that stands in the center and a number of other works.

The place of pilgrimage to which every visitor to Rome should progress without fail is the Galleria Borghese in the Borghese Gardens. Go there to marvel at four of Bernini’s masterpieces, including Apollo and Daphne. It’s truly not to be missed. I know your itinerary is crowded, but don’t fail to make time for it. Before your visit, click on the Galleria website link to reserve tickets. Don’t plan to show up without a reservation.

I’m sorry to report that Elephant and Obelisk suffered an accident in November 2016. Vandals broke off the end of the elephant’s left tusk. To my knowledge, the statue is still open to view while authorities study restoration. If you visit and have an update, please provide it at scaffoldingwatch.com/contact, which is keeping tabs on the statue’s condition. and will provide updates.

Do you have a favorite Bernini work in Rome (or elsewhere)? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017

The bottom photo in this post and select images from Under Western Skies are available on Shutterstock.com. CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 19, 2017

A Pile of Rocks #2: The City of Rocks, New Mexico

The first post in this 2-part series was about Joshua Tree National Park in California.

One of the largest U.S. National Parks, Joshua Tree is easily reached from interstate highway 10 and the nearby metropolitan area of Palm Springs. As a result, it receives about 2.5 million visitors each year.

For Part 2, I’ll go to a less-visited, more remote pile of rocks in New Mexico.

Our destination is the City of Rocks (flag on map below), between Silver City (red circle) and Deming (blue circle).

City of Rocks NM map Google

The New Mexico-Arizona border is at the left. The border with Texas is in the lower right (the border with Mexico is 33 miles south of Deming). The City of Rocks is about a 4 hour drive from Albuquerque,  3-1/2 hours from Tucson, 2 hours from El Paso. I’ve starred two other natural attractions in the region: White Sands National Monument to the east and the Gila Wilderness to the north.

The Google map has an inaccuracy. It’s “City of Rocks,” plural. There’s more than one rock.

city of rocks NM Marcy Vincent 034 - PS1 (640x480)

Volcanic Origin

Those formations are granite, the result of a volcanic eruption, shaped by 35 million years of subsequent erosion. Occupying approximately a one mile square area, City of Rocks is a sudden and striking anomaly in the wide-open plains.

city of rocks NM Brad Nixon 030 (640x480)

Some of the granite formations are as tall as 40 feet.

city of rocks NM Brad Nixon 038 (640x480)

The numerous trails that wind through the City of Rocks are relatively easy because the formation rests on more or less level ground in the midst of the high plains of the Chihuahuan Desert (5,200 feet elevation).

city of rocks NM Brad Nixon 049 (480x640)

Yes, when you go, you can truthfully say you’re out in the wide open spaces.

You’ll find ample opportunities to scramble off-trail through the labyrinth of monoliths.

Close-up, you see how solid blocks of granite are eaten away by millions of years of wind, rain, snow and even lichen.

city of rocks NM Brad Nixon 048 (480x640)

One encounters impressive results from the accidents of erosion in any big pile of rocks, like this boulder perched on a tiny pedestal.

city of rocks NM Brad Nixon 031 (640x480)

I couldn’t resist doing the math. At an average for granite of 150 pounds per cubic foot, that boulder weighs 7 or 8 tons. There’s a story there. How did it end up poised on that small base? Did it fall or roll onto it, or did water and wind erode the ground beneath it?

Wildlife?

As always, wildlife sightings depend on the season, time of day and our old friend, blind luck. Numerous species of birds, reptiles and mammals inhabit the area, but visiting in the middle of the day, we saw the usual suspects: lizards, a jackrabbit and this sentinel ground squirrel on his solitary outpost.

City of Rocks NM Brad Nixon 046 (640x480)

When You’re There

As a New Mexico State Park, City of Rocks provides a reasonable number of services, including direction signs from the main road (always welcome), a visitors’ center, water, parking area, restrooms and camping. When skies are clear, there’s world-class stargazing, a long way from any light pollution. Click here for the park website.

Daylight viewing, though, provides plenty of memorable vistas and opportunities to contemplate nature’s ability both to create and destroy.

city of rocks NM Marcy Vincent 041 (640x480)

It can be blistering hot in summer, which is also the season for thunderstorms, including lightning, so go prepared.

Nearby Deming has a few attractions, but I don’t know it well other than its funky local museum. It’s a major stop along interstate highway 10, with plenty of shops and services. Silver City is well worth a visit, with an interesting historic downtown. It’s a college town (Western New Mexico University, where the museum has an excellent collection of Mogollon culture artifacts) and is the gateway to the Gila Wilderness. I’ll write about both the city and the wilderness in future blog posts.

I repeat my invitation to post a comment with your own favorite big pile of rocks, from whatever part of the world.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Some photos © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission. Map © Google.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 17, 2017

A Pile of Rocks: Joshua Tree National Park

One feature landscape gardeners use to add interest to their designs is the concept of well-placed rocks, as in the Zen garden of Portland, Oregon’s Japanese Garden:

Portland Zen garden Brad Nixon 0129 (581x640)

That’s working on a relatively large scale, and your home landscaping  may not provide the space for a treatment that extensive.

To see rocky landscapes of an even grander sort, many of us travel to hike among natural rock formations like Colorado’s Garden of the Gods or Nevada’s Red Rock Canyon.

I’ll devote this post and a subsequent one to 2 impressive piles of rocks in the American southwest, beginning with Joshua Tree National Park (JTNP) in southern California. There, although the Joshua Trees get top billing, best supporting role belongs to the granite mountains, cliffs and monoliths that define the landscape in the upper elevations of the park.

Joshua Tree landscape Brad Nixon 6220 (640x474)

Every continent has notable piles of rocks, although wetter climates mask them with forests or grasslands. Here in the American southwest, the drier environment leaves them exposed, as they are in Joshua Tree, especially in the area of the park called Jumbo Rocks.

Joshua Tree landscape Brad Nixon 6226 (640x441)

As I’ve written in previous articles, JTNP is so vast that you’ll never see more than a portion of it in a single day, even if you limit yourself to what you can see from your car and parking areas near the road. That’s not an approach I recommend, as regular readers know. Jumbo Rocks offers an easy, 1.7-mile trail named Skull Rock Trail requiring only moderate effort. Click through the images below for a walk through a few highlights from the trail.

Skull Rock? Whether you take the hike or not, you’ll certainly pull over long enough to photograph that iconic feature on the south side of the park road, also reachable along Skull Rock Trail.

Joshua Tree Skull Rock Brad Nixon 6258 (640x480)

Be in the park early in the morning or late in the afternoon for the most advantageous light to photograph the hills and boulders, but even at midday, you’ll find endlessly fascinating formations, like this one near the start of Ryan Mountain Trail.

Joshua Tree landscape Brad Nixon 6212 (640x480)

I know you have a favorite pile of rocks to visit, whether in the desert or tucked away in some mountain enclave. Where? Leave a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2017. One photo © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.

Some images available on Shutterstock.com. CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky image portfolio.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 15, 2017

A Snapshot of Pisa

One of an occasional series of posts with brief glimpses of Italian cities.

As the summer travel season approaches, many travelers will have Italy as their destination. First-time travelers might be headed for Rome, Florence, Venice or the Cinqueterra. Tuscany is always popular. Without question, many travelers will at least squeeze Pisa into the itinerary. Who, after all, doesn’t want to see that famous tower?

Pisa tower Brad Nixon 145 (480x640)

Here’s something every visitor to Pisa should know: There’s more to see in Pisa than the leaning tower.

Pisa isn’t a village. It’s a large city with more than 200,000 people in its metropolitan area and replete with history and commerce. It was a center of trade with the Greeks and Gauls 2,500 years ago. The Etruscans occupied Pisa, leaving remains of a significant necropolis. Centuries later the Romans held the city, which thrived after the fall of the Empire as a maritime power and political center, reflected in the city’s Medieval walls, bridges and buildings.

The University of Pisa has its roots in the 12th Century, placing Pisa alongside Bologna, Paris and Urbino as one of the world’s oldest educational institutions. (If you want to start a challenging conversation, engage some Italians in debating who was first!)

But, let’s be honest. You (or some friend of yours) is going there to see the Leaning Tower. That’s the subject I want to address.

Visitors to Pisa find a great deal more than a tower that tilts sharply to one side, and it’s best to be prepared.  Prepared for what? They’re on their way to an sizeablecomplex: the Piazza del Duomo or Piazza dei Miracoli:

Pisa campo santo Brad Nixon 130 (640x479)

There, from left to right, are the Baptistery, the Duomo (cathedral) and its famous bell tower, the campanile. A first-time visitor may dashed over to Pisa by train, motor coach or car, to “do” the Leaning Tower, only to discover that in one location is just as much to see as the Baptistery, Duomo and campanile they spent half a day exploring in Florence.

The Baptistery

Pisa baptistry Brad Nixon 129 (640x477)

Officially the Battistero di San Giovanni, it’s the second-largest baptistery in Italy. The people near it in the photo indicate the scale. Built from 1152-1363, it started out (lower levels) in the Romanesque style, but once Nicola Pisano succeeded the original architect, he shifted to the current Gothic style, and added the domed cupola atop the original pyramidal roof. The interior is one massive space, and if you can schedule your visit to coincide with a musical performance, you’ll hear some impressive acoustics.

It’s built on the same unstable ground as the campanile and leans slightly toward the cathedral, but its mass makes the inclination difficult to discern.

The Cathedral (Cattedrale Metropolitana Primaziale di Santa Maria Assunta; Duomo di Pisa)

Pisa duomo Brad Nixon 140 (640x480)

In 1063, Pisa was vying with Venice for pride of place as the foremost maritime power of the era. Venice started building a massive church (St. Mark’s). Not to be outdone, so did Pisa. The structure you see today has been through several transformations, but still has an essentially Romanesque quality, but ornately decorated inside and out.

Pisa duomo Brad Nixon 141 (640x480)

If you reach Pisa at the end of a long traunch of travel through Italy, this may be the moment that your spirits sag, afflicted by church fatigue: Not another one … so much to absorb.

Pisa duomo Brad Nixon 146 (566x640)

The exterior alone, to quote from Wikipedia, “Contains multicolored marble, mosaic, and numerous bronze objects….”

Pisa duomo Brad Nixon 138 (640x480)

The interior is vast and also richly decorated, including the last work done by Cimabue. Because this is a snapshot, not a tour, I’ll only point out the famous pulpit by Giovanni Pisano from the first years of the 14th Century as one feature to  examine.

Pisa duomo Brad Nixon 132 (480x640)

The canny traveler will do some advance study to determine where to focus, because a thorough examination of the church would require a number of hours.

The Tower

Did I mention that the church has a bell tower?

The last of the 3 major structures, work on the campanile started in 1173. By the time work began on the second level, the tower had begun to sink to one side: inadequate foundation. Once the 3rd level was complete, work stopped for about 100 years. There were 2 subsequent phases of work, including an attempt to compensate for the tilt by building floors 4 through 7 with taller sides on lower side, with the result that the tower has not only a tilt, but a curve, too. Construction concluded in 1372, 199 years after it began.

I’m confident that every visitor is stunned by how far the tower departs from perpendicular.

Pisa tower Brad Nixon 144 (523x640)

The official measurement is about 3.99 degrees from vertical, representing 12′-10″ of variance from center at the top, 183 feet from the ground. That’s an improvement from its most radical degree of departure prior to restoration work: 5.5 degrees.

And More …

There is an excellent museum adjacent to the complex near the bell tower, Museo dell’Opera del Duomo. I advise allowing an hour to see it. On display are some of the original works by the master artists  — including Nicola and Giovanni Pisano — that were originally located in the cathedral.

Unfortunately, the museum is currently closed for repairs, and no source I’ve found indicates a scheduled reopening, so it may be off your itinerary, at least for this summer.

Bordering the north side of the complex, the Camposanto Monumental is a massive Gothic cloister begun in 1278. It’s a cemetery. You can see a portion of the wall just to the left of the Baptistery in the first photo. rather than subject you to my inadequate photos, see the Wikpedia article, here.

If you know someone who’s looking forward to the visit, mention that they should consult the guidebook. There’s an enormous amount to see.

I welcome comments about highlights of Pisa that will help us be better-informed visitors.

© Brad Nixon 2017

P.S. If you visit Pisa (or anywhere) this summer and encounter a significant closure like the one for the Duomo Museum, or some monument or building obscured by scaffolding, consider contributing a notice and a photo to www.Scaffoldingwatch.com.

Some images available on Shutterstock.com. CLICK HERE to view Brad’s image portfolio.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 12, 2017

Overlooked Scenes from Oregon: From the Archives

Most links in this article point to previous posts about the portions of Oregon referenced here.

It’s time for some Spring cleaning. I’ve been engaged in a large-scale reorganization of the several thousand photo and text files in the Under Western Skies archive.

As part of my housecleaning, I found a folder labeled “Oregon Odds and Ends” that didn’t make the cut for articles I posted here about a couple of trips to the Beaver State.

I wrote about the small city of Roseburg, where we stopped for one night before the trip east to Crater Lake. Like many American towns, Roseburg’s downtown is still graced with innumerable late 19th- and early 20th-Century buildings of some distinctive character, but not all occupied by thriving businesses. Much of the town’s commerce has moved into shopping malls and big-box stores on the city’s periphery.

Downtown bears investigation, and we found a couple of good places to eat, too. I enjoyed seeing The Majestic, almost certainly once a movie theater, now home to the International Order of Odd Fellows and their auxiliary, the Rebekahs.

Roseburg Majestic Brad Nixon 1614 (640x480)

There was a bookstore, its sign hailing from another era:

sign Roseburg Brad Nixon 1630 (640x480)

And the display in the window was … daring!

Banned books Brad Nixon 2420 (480x640)

The next day we drove through rain to Crater Lake, one of the world’s most remarkable sites. Intent on seeing as much of it as possible, we didn’t stop to eat until well into the afternoon, on our drive southwest toward Ashland. Fortunately, we found one of those places: Beckie’s, tucked into the woods along Union Creek on the Crater Lake Highway:

Beckies Union Creek Brad Nixon 1721 (640x404)

interior Beckies Brad Nixon 1723 (640x460)

Try the pie! Even if that’s all you have (but get there early, or your favorite will be gone).

We visited lifelong friends in Ashland, Oregon, a college town deservedly famous for its Ashland Shakespeare Festival. The entire core of the town is a historic district full of Victorian houses.

Just north of Ashland is little Jacksonville, a picturesque old western town. In a residential section of town is this attractive mansion.

Nunan House Brad Nixon 1764 (640x471)

That’s the Nunan house, 1892, known locally as the “catalog house.” Some locals may tell you the name stems from the fact that it was assembled entirely from components ordered from the Sears & Roebuck Catalog. The flaw in that story is that the Sears Catalog wasn’t published until 1908. The house was built from plans ordered from an architect’s catalog, not that unusual an occurrence throughout much of the 19th and 20th Centuries, at least in the U.S. Read about the Nunan House here. If someone tells you differently, just smile, nod, take a photo, and go have lunch at the Back Porch Bar & Grill.

Up the Coast

The Oregon coast merits books’ worth of coverage. There are stunning beaches, sand dunes, forests, bustling port towns and more than a few places packed with tourist attractions from carnival rides to antique shops. Highway 101 crosses numerous historical bridges built by the WPA in the 1930s, like this one across the Rogue River at Gold Beach:

Rogue R bridge Gold Beach Brad Nixon 1798 (640x351)

Port Without a Harbor

Port Orford has only about 1,100 residents, but is the nearest town to wild and picturesque Cape Blanco with its windswept beaches, lighthouse and spectacular views from the bluffs.

Cape Blanco Brad Nixon IMG_1853 (640x480)

The “port” itself is of interest because the town lacks a sheltered harbor. It’s one of the few places in the world in which the boats of the fishing fleet are lowered into the ocean each day and lifted back out again by crane, because of the lack of secure moorings.

Port Orford Brad Nixon 1842 (640x430)

Roadside America

You travel along the Oregon coast on U.S. Route 101, which in places sports remnants of a bygone era of motor courts, wacky shop architecture to attract tourists and, in Florence, a surviving, honest-to-goodness A&W Root Beer stand, once a fixture on American byways.

Brad Nixon 1945 A&W Florence (640x429)

What’s best is that they still offer curb service (that means you order from your car, and carhops bring your food out to you and set it on a tray that hooks over the car window).

A&W Brad Nixon 1943 (640x480)

Portlandia

I’ll finish this lightning north-to-south-and-back tour in Oregon’s largest city, Portland. Like most cities of any significant size, Portland doesn’t have a uniform character. There are quiet residential zones, large expanses of commerce and malls, funky neighborhoods, an interesting riverfront, and there’s plenty of evidence to support the thesis that Portlandians are doing all they can to “Keep Portland Weird.”

This restaurant sign, on 82nd Avenue, is always eye-catching:

Hung Far Low Marcy Vincent 0002 (640x498)

Portland has what’s pretty much North America’s best-known bookstore, Powell’s City of Books, a thriving downtown, wonderful parks and great food, some of it served from Portland’s well-known food trucks that are scattered throughout the city:

Portland food trucks Brad Nixon 1599 (640x444)

In the midst of downtown, above the entrance to the Portland Building on 5th Street, crouches an impressive bronze statue of a woman in classical Greek garb, holding a trident.

Brad Nixon 2203 (640x480)

That’s Portlandia, a bronze sculpture created by artist Raymond Kaskey to suggest the classical female figure depicted on the official seal of the City of Portland. The statue is almost 35 feet tall, but if she were standing, she’d be about 50 feet tall.

What interests me is that Mr. Kaskey secured an agreement with the city to restrict the use of the image for any commercial purpose. If you want to label something with that image of Portlandia, you’ll have to reach an agreement with Mr. Kaskey. I say more power to him. I’m not selling anything here, Mr. K., just passing through.

Ah, I’ve seen so little of Oregon. I think I’ll go back.

What’s your must-see in Oregon, whether you’ve been there to tell us about it, or simply have it on your wish list? I welcome your comments.

© Brad Nixon 2017. “Portlandia” is the property of Raymond Kaskey and may not be applied for any commercial purpose. Hung Far Low photograph © Marcy Vincent 2017, used by kind permission.

Posted by: Brad Nixon | May 10, 2017

Welcome. Xie Xie!

I value all my readers. You come from innumerable countries around the world. You represent a rich array of cultures, points of view and expertise in a vast range of subjects. I’ll never see all the places you live, and certainly not the endless variety of interesting locations you write about. Thank you for visiting.

It’s interesting to see visitors from a previously unrepresented country appear in my blog statistics. While the largest percentages of visitors come from countries with large populations of native English speakers — the U.S., U.K., Canada, Australia and India — you’re from everywhere around the globe. The counter looked like this on a recent day:

UWS blog stats page

One of the pleasures of writing this blog is to have visitors from countries with which the United States has not always had open communications. I also note that many of you are citizens of nations that didn’t exist until quite recently, and I have a lot to learn about your countries.

This has been a particularly gratifying week for me on the blog.

It’s due to a small matter: one single hit to a blog post. It’s from a country I visited on a video assignment some years ago. While I spent the bulk of my time in offices and conference rooms, or in transit between shoots, I had a small amount of free time, and tried to make the most of it. (To see the photos below full size and read captions, click on them.)

There were everyday street scenes that resembled nowhere I’d ever been:

There were some memorable meals with my crew, eating food I’m not accustomed to …

… and familiar fast food outlets with a distinctively local character.

KFC Beijing Brad Nixon 0691 (640x480)

No, I did not eat there.

I toured a vast, ancient palace in the midst of one of the world’s largest cities.

Summer Palace Brad Nixon 71 (640x471)

In the world’s largest city (24 million people), I watched practitioners of an ancient art as the sun rose.

And I had a brief visit to the most recognizable monument of that country, and perhaps in all the world:

Until last week, not one of the 60,000 visits to Under Western Skies had come from the People’s Republic of China, despite the fact that nearly 1.4 billion people live there.

There are some obstacles. Language is one. I write only in English, and not everyone in China reads it. Culture may be another hindering factor; my subjects may not interest the citizens of an astoundingly rich and varied country with thousands of years of history and vast regions of endlessly interesting places of their own to explore.

There are some infrastructure limitations, too, instituted by governments that limit access to the world wide web. I’ll let that issue go without commenting other than to say that I had concluded it was simply impossible to access Under Western Skies from China.

Then, last week: one click. An icon of a red flag, a large gold star and an arc of 4 smaller stars appeared in the list indicating the origin of visits for that day. A visitor from China.

UWS blog stats with China 2

It won’t alter the course of history or make life on our planet significantly different, but it does matter that people connect with one another.

Just as I’m pleased to have visitors from Albania, Belarus, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Libya, Russia, Slovenia, and dozens of other nations with which it hasn’t always been easy to correspond, or which are relatively new, I welcome the China contingent.

The best moment of that trip I made to China — one of the greatest travel experiences of my life — was one of making connections. On the day off that had started with the trip to the Great Wall, my producer and I were at the Summer Palace in Beijing, which was thronged with visitors enjoying one of the Golden Holidays. It’s a remarkable place, and has a building with what remains my favorite name of all the world’s structures. The Hall of Listening to Orioles’ Song, below:

Hall of Listening to Orioles Song Brad Nixon 77 (640x583)

At the time, China — especially Beijing — was preparing to host the Summer Olympics. Everyone was eager to practice their English, and innumerable people would walk up to me and say something like, “Hello. Are you an American?” and happily extend the conversation as long as vocabulary and time permitted. Smiles all around.

A crowd of schoolchildren were entering the Summer Palace at the same time I was.

Nix and kids Shannon Wickliffe 48 (640x473)

Somehow, they identified me as an American (!) One after another, they tried out their English:

“Hello!” “How are you? “Where are you from? “Are you American?”

I got into a rhythm of answering and asking them questions in return: “How are YOU?” “Yes, I’m from America.” “Where are you from?”

Each time one would answer, “I am from China,” I’d slap my head in amazement, “You’re from CHINA! Wow!”

That got a good laugh. Wonderful laughter from children as we shared a moment of pure, human communication — and a silly joke.

I can read only a limited amount of a few of the languages you readers speak. I regret I don’t know more. I know only one phrase in Mandarin, so let it stand for all:

Xie xie. Thank you.

Many things divide us. Talking to one another can bridge some of the distance.

© Brad Nixon 2017. Photos of me in China by Shannon Wickliffe, used by kind permission.

 

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