Archive for the ‘Architecture’ Category

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What-are-you-reading-Wednesday: The Lost Symbol

December 10, 2009

I just read Dan Brown’s newest book, The Lost Symbol — even though it was published in September. Here’s why: I like to buy the editions of Brown’s books that come out after they make the movie, with all the gorgeous illustrations and photographs of locations like Rome and Paris. Knowing that I will eventually purchase such a volume for The Lost Symbol, I decided to get the first edition out of the library. I put my name on the reservation list, where I was number 749 in line, and I just got a copy. Loved it, love all his books, usually read them in a day or two (509 pages), and evidently so do a lot of other people.

Maureen Dowd wrote in the New York Times: “Brown has always written screenplays masquerading as novels.” Clearly, that’s the first type of appeal in Brown’s fast-paced, suspenseful stories. He has a knack of ending a chapter with one of his characters in such a predicament that you have to skip ahead and find out how they got out of it. The second attraction in Brown’s novels is provided by Robert Langdon, his Harvard professor hero (played by Tom Hanks), in the form of arcane but fascinating historical, cultural, and artistic trivia. This erudition did not impress Time Magazine’s Lou Grossman, who commented: “Brown’s scholarship reads like the work of a man who believes what he reads in Wikipedia.”

I, however, enjoy the places Brown takes you in his whirlwind tours of famous cities. In the case of The Lost Symbol, the story is set in Washington, D.C., a place whose treasures are far more valuable than whatever the villain and hero are chasing after in the novel. Behind the scenes at the Library of Congress, the Smithsonian Institution, and the United States Capitol, there is a world of documents, artworks, and artifacts, amazing in its scope and depth. To meet the people who care for and know about them is a true pleasure. The book’s website includes a Reader’s Guide to Washington, D.C., with more about these national landmarks.

I also like Brown’s puzzles, codes, and encryptions, which are always entertaining. The key puzzle in The Lost Symbol is “a perfectly square grid of symbols from every tradition imaginable — alchemical, astrological, heraldic, angelic, magical, numeric, sigilic, Greek, Latin.” The 64 symbols in the 8 by 8 grid are somewhat familiar: a row of symbols for the planets, symbols of the great religions, astrological signs. (Mine is Gemini, which looks like the Roman numeral II.) You probably have access to many of these symbols — just open up Word and change your font to Symbols or Wingdings, and you may be able to recreate Brown’s code!

Anyway, I should stop here and return my copy to the library. There’s still a waiting list with 372 eager readers on it.

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Share your inspiring place

July 9, 2009

Many of us have a place–or maybe more than one–that brings us peace, joy, solace and calm. Many of us have a place that excites, inspires, challenges or restores us. Many of us have places we find spectacular, beautiful, energetic, fun.

For me, it’s typically wide, open spaces. A view that includes mountains, wildflowers and evergreens, instead of skyscrapers, traffic lights and city buses. But I don’t myself in that situation very often, living in Indiana. Here, some of my best ideas come while walking on an Indy Parks Trail, or riding my bike. But for you, maybe it’s a special place in your home, or your favorite coffee shop.

As part of the 2009 Spirit & Place Festival, WFYI invites you to share them with everyone! Go here to upload your photo. WFYI will select six submissions and turn those into a “Spirited Chase” on Saturday, Nov. 7, as part of the opening weekend of the Spirit & Place Festival.

And, if you’ve got the words, but not the picture, feel free to share it with us, here.

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Meandering Indiana 14 – Henry County

June 8, 2009

Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame

Chaucer wrote in The Canterbury Tales that when spring arrives “than longen folk to go on pilgrimages.” So it was that while on vacation I decided to visit a shrine or two. Of course, this led me to Henry County.

I’d been in New Castle before, attending a meeting at the community foundation. But this time I was able to enter the sacred space of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. On that particular day, the long walk from the parking lot to the front door was lined with clothes and shoes, set out on tables. Under a sunny sky, The Hall was having a yard sale.

Inside I watched the brief film that tried to explain why basketball is special in the state of Indiana. It was preaching to the choir but nicely done. Wandering up and down among the glass cases, I saw photos, trophies, newspaper clippings, jerseys and letter sweaters — all the material embodiment of legends and heroes.

The most special of all, always paired in my mind, are the 1954 and 1955 state championship teams. You know the stories, too. The first is the Miracle of Milan with Bobby Plump’s last shot. The second, as wonderful, is the first school ever to win a state championship for Indianapolis — Crispus Attucks with its star, Oscar Robertson. I was once privileged to attend a 50th anniversary reunion of that team and the team it beat in the finals, Gary Roosevelt. The Indiana Humanities Council was part of the celebration at Hinkle Fieldhouse via a grant for the project, which was directed by Dr. Bill Wiggins.

Afterwards I went through the enshrinement gallery, with its exhibit of black-and-white portraits drawn by the artist Keith Butz. Each player or coach is depicted in two images, one at the time of induction into the Hall of Fame and one as he or she looked back in the day. (Girls and their coaches were included although they did not get a state tournament until 1976.)

I could have spent more time there, but I wanted to move on to my next stop in Henry County, the Hoosier Gym. Taking Route 3 south from New Castle, past I-70, to U.S. 40, then turning west brought me quickly to Knightstown. It took a bit of searching to find the Gym because it’s attached to the Knightstown Academy, which looks more like a courthouse. It was, however, once a school, and when the county built a new consolidated high school, a developer bought the Academy, now on the National Register, and turned it into condominiums.

A weekend festival was about to start, with a commemorative game to be played between “Hickory High” and “Terhune.” Again I found piles of T-shirts and souvenirs for sale outside and a volunteer docent inside to explain about how “Hoosiers” came to be filmed in this gym. I asked him whether the film crew had to do much to prepare the site for movie-making. No, he said, it only needed a coat of paint and a bit of gloss added to the floor. Otherwise, it was already perfect.

Still owned by the town, the Hoosier Gym is administered separately from the condos, so it is watched over by its community group, just as the Hall of Fame is. Therein lies the true soul of Indiana basketball, for legendary games are not only about those who are heroes but also about those are witnesses.

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Meandering Indiana 13 – Wayne County

May 22, 2009

Summer is almost here, and Americans are ready to hit the road. Likewise, a citizen setting out from Maryland in the late 1830s could get on the newly built federal highway and drive a wagon straight through to St. Louis. The National Road, as it was called, entered Indiana on the eastern edge around Richmond, passed through many small towns before arriving in Indianapolis, and wound up in Terre Haute where it exited the state.

I’ve driven stretches of this same road (U.S. 40) on days when I-70 just seemed unnecessary. The pavement’s been upgraded a bit, but it’s still a fine way to travel. The National Road also still divides northern Indiana from southern Indiana, according to some historians. Since it runs down Washington Street in Indy, one might also say it divides the northern from the southern half of the city.

Back in Wayne County, the area’s Quaker heritage with its commitment to peace and justice is revealed in traces of the Underground Railroad, such as the Levi Coffin House (Fountain City), and in Earlham College (801 National Road West, Richmond).

I meandered to Wayne County quite deliberately one sunny day–for no other reason than to go sightseeing in Metamora. This tourist-friendly town is known for its historic canal and gristmill, and I also enjoyed the shops and the Side Track Cafe.

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum (photo: William Eccles)

Another day I was at the Huddleston Farmhouse Inn Museum to meet with the Historic Landmarks Foundation staff about an exhibit project sponsored by the Indiana Humanities Council. This historic site–with its house, barn, smokehouse, and springhouse–is sometimes listed as in Cambridge City and sometimes as in Mt. Auburn, but it’s not hard to find. For, as our nineteenth-century travelers discovered when looking for a place to stay, you can’t miss it. It’s at 838 National Road.

Read more of Nancy’s travels across the state, here.