We might not have Canada without them. And despite our border experience, Canada is worth having. For one Niagara Falls look much better from the Canadian side. Oh wait, we would not have Niagara Falls without the Great Lakes either. As it stands the lakes became a natural border between Patriots and Loyalists sealing the fate of Canada as a separate country. Canadian side of Ontario Lake is home to royalists who fled the land of the free as soon as freedom was won. Did they know something we don’t?
There are people who believe taking photos steals small pieces of their souls. And there are museums that contend taking pictures devalues works of art that they own. There might be good reasons to restrict photo snapping. Sometimes you just want to look at something without the risk of tipping over a crouching photographer, or maybe you want to concentrate for a while without constant noise of cameras. By the way: many point-and-shoots nowadays do not really have to make all that noise but surprisingly few models let you configure a silent mode. And even if they do most people do not bother opting for annoying clicks, beeps and recorded shutter sounds.
I thought that after the initial shock related to gigantic portions and mysterious lists of salad dressing nothing related to American gastronomy will surprise us. But strange customs related to serving (or, more often than one would like, not serving) alcohol will get you every time. We have to remember this is the nation that experimented with prohibition. An idea that briefly became a common cause of Ku Klux Klan and women’s suffrage movement. And also one of the few cases where Constitution limited rights of the individual. In nearly all other cases American constitution is a wonderful document that limits the rights of the state and guarantees the freedom of the individual. But I digress.
You become what you live in. This simple fact means that architects actually have a power of transforming more than just physical structures.But you have to give them a chance. Like asking them to design something. When I was in high school nearly all my friends lived in blocks of flats. This was normal. Political system did not really care for diversity. Everyone living in virtually the same apartments was not only the result of shortages of everything. It also reinforced the notion that we are all the same and have the same needs. Which of course is never true. After 1989 there was an explosion of design. They may be good or bad but they do not try to squeeze people in the same boxes.
We went to Cathedral of Learning. Andrew Carnegie envisioned institution devoted to higher learning. The building is a pseudo Gothic cathedral, unfortunately lacking the charm of its sisters devoted to inspire religious rather than educational zeal. That said it’s hard not to feel at least a bit supportive. I’ll take humanity building universities over the humanity building churches any day. Among cathedral attractions is set of so called nationality classrooms designed to expose students to various countries by decoration and assorted artifacts. An attempt to capture a culture by collecting a set of objects meant to represent and symbolize it is both very 19th century and very American. A belief that people can be classified into distinct, understandable boxes is a concept from simpler, more naive times. They still have Chechoslovak room and even Yugoslavian room which unfortunately we could not see: I wonder if Serbian chairs get in a fight with Croatian tables under a watchfull eye of the Bosnian blackboard.
So Pittsburgh. Who would have thought. For some reason I was full of misconceptions about this place. First of all it’s not really cold here. Sorry. That’s actually from an entirely different bag of misconceptions. Well, let me just say after one full day it’s an incredibly cool place. It actually seems to be a real city which from several years of painful experiences with what passes in US for urban planning is a real compliment. Pittsburgh feels organic and human-scale. People seem to live here not just commute to the office. Maybe it’s because of the geography - it’s a bit inconvenient to revel in urban sprawl when you are limited by 3 rivers surrounded by hills. Maybe it’s because of the German roots. Or maybe it’s because of the cycle of the boom and bust that touches this place with more regularity than it deserves. Well - if there is a reason it should be studied: the recipe is certainly worth replicating.
After 2 days of traversing mountains and crossing forests we reached Lake Erie in a rush of excitement at such a great body of water. The feeling was short lived once we’ve realized it hasn’t escaped unscathed the greed that transformed the mountains and the forests we’ve left behind. Reminder of extinct species of fish made me guilty ordering local yellow perch. You cannot really see the destruction anymore as the intense conservation efforts of the last 40 years created illusion of pristine nature.
There are of course locomotives. And they are of course impressive. It never hurts to remind oneself how to build a steam engine. Might be invaluable when this civilization of ours starts crumbling. Then again, I suspect there are couple of other things that might be helpful before steam engines make a big comeback.Still - the ingenuity of the mechanism, the ability to push things that feel heavy just to look at - fills one with awe.