Jun 22

The wizard as a crazy, younger, man

Just some quick Twitter stuff to fill your time today. We wrapped up the new Obi-Wan series tonight. The quick review: worth watching. I say that as a person who wants Disney to explore any other part of this universe beyond the Skywalker saga. But it is good and this is might be the one legacy deserving an exception. Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness always needed a fifth act and here we are.

One nice thing about this being on the app is that the whole catalog is right there. Watching the big dramatic confrontation in the last episode of the miniseries brought me here.

It was the walking Jabba version. And I think that, now, Greedo and Han fired simultaneously. I don’t care about that, not really, but purists do. I only have one strictly held Star Wars belief: the whole series is really only good when Han is on camera. (Much as it pains me to say.)

This could mean he’s forgotten, or he’s sand crazy or he’s lying. The latter doesn’t make a lot of sense based on the rest of Guinness’ arc. He doesn’t seem like he’s less lucid after all of those years in the desert. Similarly, forgetfulness doesn’t make a lot of sense. So I’ll blame the modern writing, here, for not being able to overcome the old Lucas writing.

You could make the same argument as I tried above about the way we’ve seen and thought about Guinness’ Kenobi. But we should also give Lucas’ writing a nod. It’s important to remember how cinematic storytelling can change over 40 years. We didn’t see the whole Kenobi-19-year-old-Skywalker dynamic. Maybe some off-camera things shaped Kenobi’s choices. Maybe I’m giving too much credit to Lucas, but as we know he’s doing a lot of homages here, so why couldn’t that be one?

Hayden caught a lot of grief for his Anakin Skywalker, but if you’re going to create the galaxy’s scariest monster there has to be some rage in there somewhere …

I suppose it is owing to the 1970s vision of the science fiction future in a time long, long ago. But doesn’t it seem odd that Kenobi spent all that time wandering about the Death Star without anyone seeing him? I hate myself for looking this up, but Wikipedia says that

According to Star Wars reference books, the population of the Death Star was 1.7 million military personnel, 400,000 maintenance droids, and 250,000 civilians/ associated contractors and catering staff. The Death Star was defended by thousands of turbolasers, ion cannons and laser cannons, plus a complement of seven to nine thousand TIE fighters, along with tens of thousands of support craft.

… and there’s not a bank of security cameras looking for old guys strolling around in robes?

Which leads us to the big confrontation, and where we stopped the movie, because … the outcome of the Vader-Kenobi confrontation on the Death Star.

Look, it has been 45 years. No one has been working on the Kenobi miniseries that long, but when they wrote the six-episode plot for the series they refreshed their memories of what happened here, and in that last prequel. Between all of that, and this new series, there is room for them to continue working.

So, again, worth watching.

Jun 22

The world’s steepest cogwheel

For this extra Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. Enjoy the photos (and the two videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

In the last post we went to the top of Mt. Pilatus, a journey which took a bus, and two separate ski lift cars to get to the long, winding stairs that wound around the top and, finally, showed us the summit at 6,949 feet.

When you’re that high up, how do you get down? Well, this is the Golden Round Trip, so you do something a little bit scary and superlative.

You ride in the world’s steepest cogwheel railway. The gradient is, at one point, 48 percent! The steepness was a cost-saving measure from when the railway was built in 1889. The system was a special design because engineers worried the steepness would make the gear teeth jump. Most of the railway, in fact, is that original hardware.

The cars were steam until the 1930s, and these went in over the course of the ’70s. The spare controls are a giveaway. This is all that keeps this descent under control.

New cars are going in right now, and the upgrades will be completed in 2023. As for this day, I like to think that the engineer was a bit nervous about all of this.

This is the track he was peering down. His car travels from 5-7 miles per hour.

The descent takes about half an hour, and I’ve got three minutes of highlights for you here.

And here are two shots of the rock faces from the cogwheel car’s descent.

I must say, I enjoyed that an awful lot more than I thought I would. It was a unique sort of experience, to be sure.

I wonder who’s been up and down the mountain on the cogwheel car the most.

Near the end of that video, you caught a glimpse of a boat coming ashore. That was our next stop, and how we wrapped up the Golden Round Trip — aerial cableways and gondola to summit Mount Pilatus, world’s steepest cogwheel railway and, finally — a beautiful ride on Lake Lucerne, one of Switzerland’s largest lakes.

And here are two views from on the lake.

It’s difficult to believe, and more than a little sad, that our vacation was coming quickly to it’s end. After the boat ride it was back on the bus, and back to Zurich. There was dinner (we had barbecue, hipster-almost-Texas barbecue) and got ready for one last day of fun.

But you’ll have to come back tomorrow to find out what we did. (It’ll be worth seeing.)

Jun 22

Luzern, Mt. Pilatus

For this Thursday post we’re looking back at our trip two weeks ago today. We’re catching up, you see, so sit back, enjoy the many photos (and the two charming videos!) that tell the tale of this recent, amazing, adventure …

We took what they call the Golden Round Trip, in this part of the world. This part being central Switzerland. We caught a bus tour out of Zurich to Luzern. It’s the most populous city in this part of the country, there are 82,000 people in the city, and 220,000 in the metro. We had a great lunch sandwich there, but it was just a quick stop in the round trip. The first feature being the Kapellbrücke, or Chapel Bridge, which is a covered wooden footbridge spanning the Reuss River. The bridge is named for the nearby St. Peter’s Chapel.

The tower is a few decades older than the bridge, and has been used as a prison, torture chamber, and later a municipal archive as well as a local treasury. Today, it’s a gift shop. The bridge was a city fortification. But, hey, you say, what’s that white building in the background?

That’s the Château Gütsch, built in 1879 and turned into a hotel, before being destroyed by fire in 1888. Rebuilt in 1901, the current version is inspired by a Bavarian castle. Today, it is owned by a Russian oligarch.

Back to the bridge, which contains a number of paintings that reach back to the 17th century. It felt odd that they were just … there … semi-exposed to the elements. The paintings depicted the local history. Many of the surviving 147 existed were lost in a fire in the 1990s, but 30 were restored and displayed once again for foot traffic. The Kapellbrücke is the oldest wooden covered bridge in Europe, and the world’s oldest surviving truss bridge.

Like I said, we just stopped here briefly. We got a sandwich at a deli, where I had the world’s best panini, and where we saw these incredible treats.

It’s called erdbeertörtli here.

We took the first of two lifts. This first one was a 20-minute ride in a private car up and away from Luzern.

We met this guy at the stop waiting for the second lift.

The second lift took everyone in our little tour group, a thoroughly crowded affair, but everyone had an opportunity for a great view.

Then we moved through the lower level of clouds. That’s how high we were going. We were looking down on clouds.

And as we climbed higher the views got more impressive.

At the top we had a few choices. There are three peaks here, and two of them were open. We opted for the slightly more challenging, slightly higher one. Which meant that, despite taking two lifts, we still had to do a bit of walking.

The stairs wrapped all the way around the back of that little outcropping and beyond the photo’s margin. But at least they were sturdy and sensibly safe.

Up there, on Esel, we were rewarded for the effort. And, for a few brief moments, we had the whole thing to ourselves. Because people decided they’d seen enough and went elsewhere. I do not understand that decision. Anyway, here’s a bit of video giving you a quick tour.

These are the Swiss Alps.

It’s a splendid, glorious place.

This is another day trip that The Yankee found. Give her all the credit for bringing us to places like that.

If dragons live up here, like one of the legends says, I think they’re right down there.

Maybe the switchbacks on that path over there were carved into place by the dragon’s wings!

Anyway, get to the top of a mountain when you can, however you can. The time you have at the top is worth the planning and the burning leg muscles.

And here’s a time lapse video showing the clouds moving across the top of Mt. Pilatus.

Finally, this is the Golden Round Trip. There are two more parts of that experience, but I’m breaking this into two posts. The mountaintop experience deserved it’s own treatment, but so does what comes next!

Jun 22

A place about love, and light

This was written for a Thursday, but it is about the Thursday from two weeks ago. That’s the way of it around here for a bit as we go over our amazing travels. So cast your mind back two weeks …

Here’s one more hint about where we were. If you’re still trying to work it out, stay on this picture while your mind wanders over the globe. Soon below this photo it will be pretty apparent where we were.

So you’re ready, then?


Got your answer?

We’re here.

Paris, that is. France, not the one in Tennessee or Texas. (Though Paris, Tennessee is lovely this time of year…)

This is objectively better, however. And, no, I was in no danger on Pl. Charles de Gaulle taking the emptiest photograph possible.

The Avenue de la Grand Armee is in the background, and the Avenue des Champs-Elysees is behind me, and that’s probably as empty as I’ll ever see the road surrounding the Arc. More than our last visit, in 2015, when we spent a day in Paris. I wrote about that in three parts, and you can see those photos here. ( Part One, Part Two and Part Three.)

We’d taken students on an international trip to London and points beyond that year, and one of the points was Paris for the better part of a day. In doing that we walked 10 miles that day. We only covered 6.6 miles by foot on the day we’re talking about here, and that’s because we did more of the subway and the hop-on/hop-off tour bus, which is a grand way to get a basic understanding of any big city. And since it was a shorter walk this time, this day will just get one post instead of three. But there’s still a lot more here, so allez, allez, allez.

Let’s look at the primary sculptures on the Arc. It’s just a beautiful monument all the way around, and I feel like you could stare at it for days and constantly learn new things from it.

This is Le Triomphe de 1810, by the neoclassical sculptor Jean-Pierre Cortot. This sculpture features Napoleon Bonaparte, crowned by the goddess of Victory and celebrates the Treaty of Schönbrunn.

The Arc de Triomphe was intended to honor the victory of Bonaparte’s army at Austerlitz, before becoming a monument to all of his achievements and, today, I can show you a nice shot of two more of the main hauts-reliefs from the four pillars. One was obscured by some construction and rehab work. (All of Paris is perpetually being worked on, you see.)

Above these hauts-reliefs are six bas-reliefs recalling the battle of Austerlitz, the funeral of Marceau, the taking of Alexandria, the battle of Jemmapes, the passage of the pont d’Arcole and the battle of Aboukir.

This next one is Le Départ de 1792 (or La Marseillaise) by François Rude, and this is his most notable work, but if you hunt around Paris, you’ll find many of his other efforts. This famous work, though, celebrates the cause of the French First Republic during the uprising. Above the volunteers is the winged personification of Liberty. This imagery is a big rallying cry for the proud French. It has been a recruitment tool and a part of their military fund raising during World War I.

And this is La Paix de 1815, commemorating the Treaty of Paris of 1815, or the Second Treaty of Paris. See, once he escaped exile and returned to power, Bonaparte did his thing for a while again, until he had to abdicate again, and that ultimately brought about this treaty. And … well, look at some maps, and it is clear that Bonaparte is at the heart of things we see before us even now.

France lost the territorial gains of the Revolutionary armies in 1790–92, and was essentially reduced to little more than its 1790 boundaries, ordered to pay 700 million francs, and pay for an occupation army of 150,000 for five years. This got knocked down to three years. Also, it solidified Switzerland’s neutrality and excellent cough drop industry. So, while not exactly one of Bonaparte’s triumphs, he’s at the center of that, and so many other things. Antoine Étex created the peace sculpture. Opposite is another Étex piece, La Résistance de 1814, but we can’t see it here.

Also on the Arc you’ll find the names of the old French victories and generals. Beneath it is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier from World War I.

Napoleon died in the South Atlantic, on British soil, having never seen this amazing monument. But when the French finally got his remains back almost 20 years later, and part of the state funeral he received on that cold December Tuesday in 1841 involved a horse-drawn hearse moving the body from the Arc de Triomphe to Les Invalides.

See? You learn all sorts of things on those hop-on/hop-off buses. The English narration was recorded by a young guy using the name Jean Claude. His English was very good. He taught us a lot.

From Jean Claude I learned that this is The Petit Palais, an art museum. It was built for the 1900 Exposition Universelle, and today it is home to the City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts.

A few paragraphs ago I mentioned Les Invalides. Here it is, ordered up by Louis XIV in 1670 as a hospital and home for old and disabled soldiers. It was completed in 1676.

I mentioned Bonaparte being laid to rest there, dozens of other prominent historical figures are there, as well. And The Invalides has seen a lot of other French history, including, in 1879, when Parisian rioters went inside and took control of cannons and muskets stored in the cellars. They turned them on the Bastille during the revolution.

It continued on as a retirement home and hospital for military veterans (invalides) until the early 20th century.

Today the sprawling complex is home to the Musée de l’Armée, the military museum of the Army of France, the Musée des Plans-Reliefs, a museum of military models, and the Musée d’Histoire Contemporaine, a 20th century research museum. The former hospital chapel is now national cathedral of the French military. The Royal Chapel is now known as the Dôme des Invalides. This is the tallest church building in Paris at 351 feet.

All that gold on the dome and on the sculptures leading up to it? That’s just under 30 pounds, Jean Claude told us. It was applied in 1989 or so and was worth something like $3.5 million dollars when the narration was recorded, which took place some time before Notre Dame burned.

I know that, because nothing of the April 2019 fire was on the recording, even though the bus goes right by it.

We’ll get a bit closer to Notre Dame this weekend, but first, enjoy the Académie Royale de Musique. The Paris Opera.

Prior to Covid, The Paris Opera was presenting about 380 performances of opera, ballet and other concerts, to a total audience of about 800,000 people a year. Given the foot traffic we saw, those numbers have surely bounced right back. Paris is once again a bustling city. Il n’y a pas de pandémie ici!

Which brings us back to that big stick pointing to the sky.

Did you know that it was an expo piece? Perhaps you’ve learned that it was supposed to have a limited lifespan? The locals weren’t especially fond of it in the early days, did you know that? Costly, ugly, potentially dangerous. (But what did they know?) The explosion of popularity around radio saved the Eiffel Tower. Score one for mass media.

I’m more and more Parisian by the day, I guess. Aside from when we were deliberately around the Eiffel Tower I didn’t even notice the Eiffel Tower.

Sorta like a good photobomb.

We went inside and up onto the Eiffel Tower. This is a steel mill.

Right now, the Eiffel Tower is undergoing a huge renovation. (All of Paris is perpetually being worked on, you see.) This, the signage says, is their most significant renovation in 40 years. The biggest part of the process includes repainting the tower. This is the 20th paint job in the tower’s history.

They scrape away the old paint, and literally slap on the new, same as any other project. (It isn’t as neat as paint jobs you’ve done around your house though. They’re painting by hand, but not for those staring from up close. They’re painting for speed. It’ll take six months.) We saw signs of all of this on our walk. We went up to the second level. These are the first steps.

That’s 704 steps, which didn’t seem like a lot before, or a lot after, but it was a fair amount during the actual walk.

It affords you lovely views, though. The photos I just showed you of the Eiffel Tower were from right over hhere.

We did not get to go to the top. It was closed. There were too many people.

It would have been fun to go up there.

The following photo is from the second floor. You can see the paint of 1961 coming through.

How do I know the year of that color? There’s a nice little graphic on the ground that shares the history of Eiffel Tower paints.

Turns out that, before they started painting it this time they asked the people of Paris what color they’d like to see on the Eiffel Tower. The answer was overwhelmingly “Pink.”

The people that do the actual deciding said “How about yellow brown, instead?”

And that’s what you’ll see, if you visit Paris, at least for the next seven years. And, then, the painters will be back to do it all again.

Tomorrow, I’ll be back, but from a different part of France. It’ll be amazing, so do stop by.

May 22

To make up for previous long posts, this one is just 200 words

I’ve been trying for three days to get the next bike ride in. So, needing the content and having been cheated out of bike photographs, I stood on the porch, and in the rain and in the driveway, and did …

… that.

Not as good as a bike ride. But the grass is nice and green!

I also updated the images on the front page. You’ll want to check those out; there are a dozen amazing new shots to enjoy. (See all 12! Then let them recycle and count each one, to make sure you’ve seen all 12!)

Otherwise, I’m just explaining things to the cats.

I should have shared the weather radio one, too. But that would have just read like crazy talk.

More tomorrow. Until then, did you know that Phoebe and Poseidon have an Instagram account? Phoebe and Poe have an Instagram account. And don’t forget my Instagram. Leep up with me on Twitter, too.