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Phoenix Arizona

 

Arizona is remarkable for its spectacular landscapes.   Driving around Phoenix it's easy to be distracted by the views from the elevated expressways, not wonderful given the traffic that can go from 80 mph to nothing in seconds.  We were staying out of the main city in the middle class suburb of Scottsdale that features an old town and new shopping mall and museums to satisfy us both.  We were to be here for several days so we decided to go out to Sedona that was said to be even more spectacular.   We weren't disappointed and decided that almost an entire day of driving was worth the effort.

 


Arizona Landscapes - Click on this picture to see more

 

But one of the best things about Scottsdale is that it's close to Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West.   I mentioned Frank Lloyd Wright in the chapter on Chicago.  He's perhaps the most famous of all 20th century American architects.

He got his start when Chicago was being rebuilt after its 'great fire' had destroyed most of what was becoming one of the country's richest cities.  Soon the Chicago exhibition would shout it's modern achievements like skyscrapers and Ferris wheels (invented for the exhibition) to the world.  Wright was always a force unto himself disregarding his client's wishes and grossly overshooting his budgets but he managed to reinvent commercial architecture and particularly domestic architecture.  His influence in America spread to the world.  One of Frank Lloyd Wright's associates in his Oak Park, Illinois, studios was Walter Burley Griffin who with his wife Marion would become the designers of Canberra and of Castlecrag in Sydney as well as the architects of many other iconic buildings, for some reason particularly incinerators, in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.   Thus many of Australia's and increasingly Europe's modern 'Grand Design' domestic dwellings owe their heritage to Wright.

Taliesin West is the last of several Taliesins.  Wright applied the name (Welch for 'brow') to a number of his homes.  By the time this one was built as a summer retreat by his apprentices, effectively acolytes, he was 70 years old and the 'grand old man' of American architecture.  Yet iconic buildings like the Guggenheim Museum in New York were still ahead of him.  He was either loved or hated but never ignored, Marilyn Monroe (her again - see Dallas above) was among the celebrities who travelled here to sit at the great man's feet.  And a trip it was.  At that time Taliesin West was way out in the desert, 70 miles from civilisation and 'off grid'.  To achieve this oasis he first required water.  To achieve that a contractor was hired but not paid until he struck water.  It was said to be the deepest private water bore in the US, perhaps the world.  Water features in many Wright designs.  One of Wright's most famous and influential private residences, Fallingwater at Mill Run in Pennsylvania is built over a waterfall.  In 1937 Fallingwater led to even greater fame. Indeed it was that fame that led to commencing Taliesin West that same year. 

In the past 80 years Scottsdale has closed in on Taliesin West. As a result of Wright's ongoing fame it's now a National Historic Landmark. And it still functions as the Taliesin School of Architecture

The great man's ashes together with those of his last wife are built into a garden wall here.  Interestingly he was originally buried with his beloved murdered mistress, according to his wishes, in a small graveyard near Taliesin North out of Spring Green, Wisconsin.  But his last wife, Olgivanna, controlled the Taliesin Fellowship with an iron will and she left instructions for her death.  So it was hers that prevailed.  Frank was to be surreptitiously dug up by members of the Fellowship and cremated so his ashes could mixed with hers and built into the wall here.  

 


Taliesin West - Click on this picture to see more

 

Of course Frank, who was not religious, was dead, so it was of little moment.  Like everyone who is dead he had no knowledge of any of this.  But he lives on in spirit in buildings around the globe.

Phoenix, risen from the ashes or not, also boasts a fine art museum well worth the, otherwise dubious, effort of a dedicated drive into town.

 


Phoenix Art Museum - Click on this picture to see more

 

On the night of Oct 1st we were in Scottsdale in our hotel when the TV news reported a shooting in Las Vegas, our next destination.  Friends we were to meet there messaged us to check that we weren't in Vegas already.  Over the following days the mass shooting dominated the news: 58 people dead and 546 injured.  Most were attending a country music festival, so we would have been pretty safe, keeping well away. 

Nevertheless we seemed to be following close behind one disaster after another, first it was hurricanes and now this.

 


PS

Since we've returned to Australia there's been another mass shooting, in Texas this time, with 27 killed and 20 injured.

It seemed to me that there'd been quite a few this year so I looked it up.   Read more...

I was amazed. Could this be true?  This year there have been a staggering 308 mass shootings in America.  And there are still two months to go. 

You are more than twenty times more likely to be shot in America than in Australia.  Even Canada, that has more in common than we do, has less than a tenth of the gun violence of their southern neighbour.

It seems quite a high price to pay for the Second Amendment right to bear arms.  Even if, as in 1861, it does allow citizens to put up quite a good fight if invaded by Northerners or when the Government gets too big for its boots. 

And as Bob Dylan sang there's always those Russians to worry about: "If another war starts; It’s them we must fight; To hate them and fear them; To run and to hide; And accept it all bravely; With God on my side..."


 

 

 

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Travel

Denmark

 

 

  

 

 

In the seventies I spent some time travelling around Denmark visiting geographically diverse relatives but in a couple of days there was no time to repeat that, so this was to be a quick trip to two places that I remembered as standing out in 1970's: Copenhagen and Roskilde.

An increasing number of Danes are my progressively distant cousins by virtue of my great aunt marrying a Dane, thus contributing my mother's grandparent's DNA to the extended family in Denmark.  As a result, these Danes are my children's cousins too.

Denmark is a relatively small but wealthy country in which people share a common language and thus similar values, like an enthusiasm for subsidising wind power and shunning nuclear energy, except as an import from Germany, Sweden and France. 

They also like all things cultural and historical and to judge by the museums and cultural activities many take pride in the Danish Vikings who were amongst those who contributed to my aforementioned DNA, way back.  My Danish great uncle liked to listen to Geordies on the buses in Newcastle speaking Tyneside, as he discovered many words in common with Danish thanks to those Danes who had settled in the Tyne valley.

Nevertheless, compared to Australia or the US or even many other European countries, Denmark is remarkably monocultural. A social scientist I listened to last year made the point that the sense of community, that a single language and culture confers, creates a sense of extended family.  This allows the Scandinavian countries to maintain very generous social welfare, supported by some of the highest tax rates in the world, yet to be sufficiently productive and hence consumptive per capita, to maintain among the highest material standards of living in the world. 

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Fiction, Recollections & News

Australia in the 1930s

 

 

These recollections are by Ross Smith, written when he was only 86 years old; the same young man who subsequently went to war in New Britain; as related elsewhere on this website [read more...].  We learn about the development of the skills that later saved his life and those of others in his platoon.  We also get a sense of what it was to be poor in pre-war Australia; and the continuity of that experience from the earlier convict and pioneering days from which our Australia grew.                   *

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Opinions and Philosophy

Science, Magic and Religion

 

(UCLA History 2D Lectures 1 & 2)

 

Professor Courtenay Raia lectures on science and religion as historical phenomena that have evolved over time; starting in pre-history. She goes on to examine the pre-1700 mind-set when science encompassed elements of magic; how Western cosmologies became 'disenchanted'; and how magical traditions have been transformed into modern mysticisms.

The lectures raise a lot of interesting issues.  For example in Lecture 1, dealing with pre-history, it is convincingly argued that 'The Secret', promoted by Oprah, is not a secret at all, but is the natural primitive human belief position: that it is fundamentally an appeal to magic; the primitive 'default' position. 

But magic is suppressed by both religion and science.  So in our modern secular culture traditional magic has itself been transmogrified, magically transformed, into mysticism.

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