Monday, March 27, 2017

That's so Pittsburgh: Banks

You might think of Pittsburgh as nothing but a (recovering) steel town, but it fact it has a strong finance culture. PNC (Pittsburgh National Corporation) leads the way, but it is not alone. There are banks all over town, some of which are still operating as financial institutions. (Others are now a hotel, a call center, an office building and university library.) This is the pompous facade of the Dollar Savings Bank, founded in 1856 and built in 1870. The edifice is in such contrast to the idea of a "dollar savings bank" for the common man. I can just imagine the self-satisfied speeches given on the grand opening way back then.


Other Pittsburgh institutions include hills, hospitals, churches, and cemeteries.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Fallingwater has not yet fallen in the water

Because Dear Husband and I have each broken a Frank Lloyd Wright juice glass recently, we are down to five juice glasses. That’s only enough to get us through 2.5 breakfasts before somebody has to wash some dishes. Less than three days’ worth of juice glasses is really not enough on which to run a household, but it costs $40 to buy a pair with the pattern I like and have them shipped. So when planning our trip to Baltimore while on Spring Break, I scheduled a detour to Fallingwater. I was just going to stop off at the gift shop, but the lady on the phone didn’t know the hours, so I bought us tickets for an in-depth tour of FLW’s most famous piece of architecture with the intention of hitting up the gift shop afterward. 


We got up at 6am in order to check in at the visitor center half an hour before our 8:45am tour. I packed us second breakfast to eat in the car while we waited, since the lady on the phone hadn’t mentioned that the cafĂ© would be open for business (of course). It was a frigid 20 degrees but clear when we gathered with our tour guide Jutta under the wooden awning of the Fallingwater visitor center. I am sure it is a very nice place to sit and wait when the weather is warmer. Off we traipsed down the path, while she recited to us about the Kaufmann family, their employee retreat in the 1920s, and Edward, jr. [sic] introducing his parents to the out-of-work Wright. 

We could hear the water falling long before we could see it. The estate’s landscape is “gorge-ous,” as Bear Run Stream cascades 4 miles long and 1,400 feet down. Wright’s concept for the Kaufmann's vacation house was that it would be integrated with the cliff and waterfall, with cascading concrete, local sandstone, Cherokee-red-painted steel, and mitered glass. 


Here is the house as tours approach it over the stream. I am a fan of the steps down to the water, where the family liked to swim, although Jutta told us these Appalachian streams remain a steady 50-55 degrees Fahrenheit year round, so they would open the hatch and let that cool air waft up into the house as a form of early air conditioning. I don’t know if March is the best time to schedule a tour of Fallingwater, as almost nothing is green, and it was too late for most of the snow and icicles. Jutta said that yesterday they had a great rainstorm that demonstrated how the rounded eaves allow the runoff to fall in sheets off the buildings and along the walkway to the guest house. Unfortunately, most of the outdoor art is still crated to protect the sandstone from the winter elements. 


The in-depth tour includes a stop in the kitchen, whose space was due to Wright and whose trappings were due to Mrs. Kaufmann, including the automatic dishwasher and staff intercom system (we saw one of those in Duncan House). Apparently Wright needed the commission bad enough that he compromised on many of the interior design elements, such as free-standing chairs, but not others, such as the price—the Kaufmanns’ $30,000 summer “cottage” quickly cost $155,000 (about $2 billion in today’s currency). 


The irony of Wright’s confident genius and bold aesthetic is, of course, that if he had had his way, the house would have fallen into the water by now, as he was more artist than engineer, and  in its original design the building was not well anchored. Thank goodness the Kaufmanns engaged an outside engineer, who convinced the team to add some steel to the ground-floor cantilever. That lasted until 1999, when the whole floor was emptied of its contents, stripped to the joists, and re-engineered with extra cables.



The main room has an open floor plan with suggestions of a dining room or living room created by pillars and area rugs. The fireplace has a great kettle on a hinge that can be swung over the flames to heat rum punch or the like. The table also has hinges, so it can be expanded from 4 to seat 19. I was particularly intrigued by the low ottoman/seating pillows with wooden frames; they reminded me of pogo balls from my childhood. The china Bacchus below was perched on the end of a sofa. 



Upstairs were a guest room, Mrs. Kaufmann’s room with a wide terrace, and Mr. Kaufmann’s room with corner windows. Anytime Jutta opened a window, we could hear the beguiling sound of the water rushing underneath us. Mr. Kaufmann’s desk (and jr.’s [sic] desk upstairs) have cutouts in them so the tall window can be opened (see above right). I am a particular fan of the landing where the stairs come up and hallways connect with the bridge over the driveway to the guest and staff house. It created all sorts of interesting negative space.

At the end of the bridge the construction crew ran into a boulder trickling water. Wright knew that trying to seal this spot against moisture was a futile task, so he incorporated it into his design as a water/moss garden (left). 

The guest/staff house up the hill looks like a fairly typical mid-career prairie dwelling, with long horizontal lines. There’s even a pool with its own circulating water source that takes 2.5 days to fill (just long enough to run out of juice glasses!). We ended the tour with a short video about the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which not only cares for Fallingwater and Polymath Park but also more than 5,000 acres of natural land. 


Then we took the tour guide's advice to walk a ways down the river to a little overlook that offers the quintessential view of Fallingwater and its double waterfalls (pic up top). After taking a very cold selfie, Dear Husband and I sat on a cold-@$$ stone bench to admire the scene and delay having to leave. That's when he confessed that I had foiled his plans to have our first kiss in this very spot way back when we were dating more than 15 years ago. We were visiting his family outside Cleveland one August and thought to stop by Fallingwater on our way back to Baltimore, but when I found out my beloved Orioles were playing the Indians at Jacob's Field that day, I convinced DH to take me to the baseball game instead. Not only were the Orioles creamed (14-0), he then made me wait four months for our first kiss. Quelle romantique, eh? If only I had a time machine...



Alas, the Fallingwater gift shop did not carry the style of juice glass we wanted, so we settled for purchasing some books as Christmas gifts and set off for lunch in Cumberland, Maryland. It was a beautiful, sunny day for driving and had warmed up 30 degrees by the time we arrived “home.” 


If this blog has a motto, it is probably "Those who eat well, live well"!



Editor’s note: If you enjoyed this post about Fallingwater, you will want to read the related entries about Taliesin, Polymath Park, and Oak Park.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

That's So Pittsburgh: the Duquesne Incline

Editor's Note: If you would like to have a sound track while you read this post, click below.


Dear Husband's parents came to visit, so we decided to ride the Duquesne Incline 400 feet up to Mount Washington and eat dinner at one of the restaurants there. DH says Mr. Rogers originally wanted to have a funicular in his set, but purportedly for reasons of design the little red car was put on a horizontal track rather than an inclined one. Being a city of hills as well as of rivers, Pittsburgh once had 22 different inclines for coal, freight, and passengers. (Click here to see an interactive map.) (Click here for a before/after picture of the now-defunct Penn Hill Incline.)


This was our cloudy view of the Point and Downtown. Coming form the right is the Monongahela River; above is the Allegheny River; they come together to make the Ohio River, which flows off to the left. We observed the EMS lights of a traffic accident on the Fort Duquesne Bridge (nearest bridge on the left) and, after the sun set, the "Energy Flow" LED light display on the Rachel Carson Bridge (way in the background). Just down and to the left, we could watch the bright red funicular cars riding up and down the 794-foot tracks. The Duquesne Incline opened for business on May 20, 1877. Its two cars are pulled on parallel tracks at 6 mph at a grade of 30.5 degrees. The cabins are enclosed but not insulated, so it was a chilly ride. Dinner took just long enough that we could see the sun go down and all city lights come on. Touristy but worth it.

If you are interested in other Pittsburgh landmarks, check out my posts on the Cathedral of Learning or the Motor Square Garden.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

That's So Pittsburgh: Alphabetasaurus


Seen around town: Alphabetasaurus. Baltimore had fish (2001) and crabs (2005), Berlin had Buddy Bears (2001-2003), and Pittsburgh--the city of three rivers and home of numerous fossils at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History--had Triceratops, Stegasauri, and Tyrannosaurus Rexes. Phillips Elementary School art teacher Carl Goldman helped students and staff design letters for this sculpture for the 2003 Carnegie Museum of Natural History Dinomite exhibit. Sponsored by the Grable Foundation, because education is a key to unlocking children's futures. I like the multi-colored, patchwork quilt effect.


For other That's So Pittsburgh posts about art in the city, see these posts about the Carnegie Museum of Artthe Phipps Botanical Garden, and the Cathedral of Learning Nationality Rooms.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

What Internship Looks Like XXXIV: A Sponge in the Ocean


You’ve probably heard the “joke” that learning in medical school (or nursing school, or physician assistant school) is like trying to drink from a fire hose (or a fire hydrant). It recently occurred to me as an intern that the practice of medicine is like being a sponge trying to soak up the whole ocean. That could lead to a depressing, fatalistic worldview, in which you throw up your hands because “it can’t be done.” Or, it could lead to a kind of awe and reverence for the vastness of medical knowledge, humility from the understanding that no one can master it all (no, not even the gunner going into Neurosurgery), and patience with the learners of all levels around you. From one sponge to another, we’re in this together.

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Friday, March 3, 2017

What Internship Looks Like XXXIII: Check out my bump!


No, that's not a baby bump; it's my pager and short-range "pickle" phone distorting my waistline. What could be sexier? Look for this charming silhouette on the runways in Paris and Milan next year.

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Friday, February 24, 2017

What Internship Looks Like XXXII: Iron Guts

Sometimes internship looks like dressing up for team-theme days. Around Fourth of July many of us defaulted to red-white-and-blue. It's common for the color teams to dress in their name sake (check out silver bow ties on the Platinum team!). One week the medical students and interns dressed in the skinny jeans and cardigan of the senior resident, who donned the blue button-up shirt and long white coat of the attending physician. This week the Neurology team paid homage to the current attending's predilection for ordering iron studies on all his patients by dressing up like "iron." I wore grey slacks, a brown shirt, and this red-orange-yellow tie-die scarf to represent the gastritis that can be caused by taking iron supplements on an empty stomach. This is me being inordinately pleased at our cleverness.

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