Monthly Archives: August 2010

Americana: Gateway Arch

The Gateway Arch in St. Louis, designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen, was named America's 14th most favorite architecture in an AIA survey. Uploaded by

No trip to St. Louis would be complete without a visit to the Gateway Arch along the Mississippi River. Although it seems as if it’s always been there, the Arch was completed in 1965.

The distance between the two “legs” of the Arch? 630 feet. The height of the Arch? 630 feet. And it weighs 17,426 tons. The bases are 54 feet wide; it’s 17 feet wide at the top.

View of downtown St. Louis from the observation room. Uploaded by

You can take a small, slow-moving guided tram to the observation room. Slow-moving is right – 4 mph to be exact. Even so, just a couple of minutes and you’re able to see beautiful vistas of downtown St. Louis, the Mississippi, and into Illinois.

Each of the two legs has a different exhibit for visitors. The north leg display includes fascinating photographs and information about the construction of the Arch. The south leg display shows life along the St. Louis riverfront in the 1800s.

The Arch was designed by Finnish-American architect Eero Saarinen. In the AIA’s selection of America’s Favorite Architecture, the Gateway Arch was voted number 14.


Americana: YMCA

Until the last 20 years or so, most YMCAs had inexpensive rooms to rent for men needing a basic place to live. Uploaded by

No, this recognition is not for the song, though it’s a true crowd pleaser. This YMCA refers to the organization that was once the “Young Men’s Christian Association” and is now simply the “Y.”

The organization traces its history back to London in 1844, when young men moving to the city to benefit from the Industrial Revolution needed healthy alternatives to brothels and bars. America had its first YMCA in 1851, when Captain Thomas Sullivan wanted to provide a “home away from home” for young sailors on shore leave in Boston.

The old logo. Uploaded by

For many years, the YMCA provided a safe and inexpensive place for young men to stay when in a new city. Today, however, the Y isn’t a Christian organization or a men’s organization. It’s primarily a family place, usually with a pool, exercise facilities, and camps and sports activities. If you read the principles for which the Y stands today, you’ll see such important concepts as building a healthy spirit, body, and mind.

The new logo. Uploaded by

Unfortunately, the American Y gives us psychobabble like this, from Neil Nicoll, its American CEO: “People are concerned about the problems facing their communities. Like the Y, they understand that lasting change will only come about if we work together to improve our health, strengthen our families and support our neighbors. Our hope is that more people will choose to engage with the Y.”

Years ago, the organization’s founders understood that such outcomes could only come through Christ. Too bad they now think it can be achieved through physical fitness.

The Arts: Juilliard School

Think you've got what it takes in music, drama, or dance to get into Juilliard? Good luck -- the school enrolls about eight percent of its applicants. Uploaded by

If you aspire to a professional career in drama, dance, or music, you can hardly have a better school on your resume than Juilliard.

About 800 students are enrolled at Juilliard’s Lincoln Center “campus,” and that sounds like a good number. But consider that a couple of years ago, the school received 2,138 applications for admission and enrolled 162 people. Only the most promising talents get to train at Juilliard.

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Even though there are three disciplines training at Juilliard, the school still tilts strongly toward music education. Of the 800 students noted above, only about 90 are in dance, and 90 in drama. The rest of the students are studying under the distinguished music faculty the school always attracts.

One way to look at any school is to look at its graduates. I admit up front that I’m more familiar with the drama and music graduates than dance. With that caveat, here are some of Juilliard’s distinguished alumni:

Christine Baranski • Andre Braugher • Marcia Cross • Kelsey Grammer • William Hurt • Val Kilmer • Kevin Kline • Laura Linney • Patti LuPone • Kelly McGillis • Elizabeth McGovern • Bebe Neuwirth • Mandy Patinkin • Kevin Spacey • David Ogden Stiers • Bradley Whitford • Robin Williams

Van Cliburn • Bill Conti • Chick Corea • Miles Davis • Renee Fleming • Philip Glass • Marvin Hamlisch • Bernard Herrmann • Yo Yo Ma • Henry Mancini • Barry Manilow • Wyton Marsalis • Itzhak Perlman • Leontyne Price • Tito Puente • John Williams • Meredith Willson

Food: Buffalo Wings

You can get them mild, medium, hot, suicidal, Asian, sweet, garlic, bbq - wait, this sounds like Bubba Gump. Uploaded by

This is probably the most recently developed food to make it to the Great American Things list. Buffalo wings weren’t created in the 19th century, or in the early part of the last century, but in the mid-1960s. And sure enough, they were created in Buffalo, New York, probably at the Anchor Bar on Main Street.

We’re not precisely sure which of the several stories about the dish’s creation to believe. But we know that the Anchor Bar’s Teressa Bellisimo is probably the first person to take deep fried chicken wings, slather them with a sauce made from butter and a vinegar-based cayenne pepper hot sauce, and serve them with blue cheese dressing.

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For a while, buffalo wings remained a regional specialty. Folks who visited Buffalo usually made a visit to the Anchor Bar to try the originals, and other folks in town started making their own versions. Oddly, it took a major embarrassment for Buffalo – the Bills four consecutive Super Bowl appearances – to focus attention on the city and what makes it unique. Lots of publicity was given to the wings craze, and (as announcer John Madden might say) Boom! you had a national phenomenon.

Now it’s hard to find a restaurant anywhere in the country that doesn’t have some version of the buffalo wing on its menu. They’re now coated in Asian spices, barbecue sauce, Caribbean jerk, honey barbecue, spicy garlic, and who knows what else.

If you really like your wings, you’ll want to consider a trip to Buffalo its ownself for the Buffalo Chicken Wing Festival over Labor Day weekend. You can see the Running of the Chickens (don’t ask), a wing-eating contest, and of course, the Miss Buffalo Wing Pageant…

Song: “Embraceable You”

Ira wrote the words, George wrote the music, and music buyers everywhere wrote the checks. Uploaded by

This may be the ultimate example of a Gershwin song. With music by George (Great American Things, Feb. 24, 2010) and lyrics by Ira, “Embraceable You” is sophisticated, complex, and yet eminently singable.

The brothers wrote the song in 1928 for an operetta that never got published, so they pulled it out and used it in the musical Girl Crazy in 1930. Ginger Rogers sang it in the play, and it helped make her a star. Girl Crazy went on to be filmed three times, most notably in 1943 with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney.

(By the way, how’s this for some unheralded star power – in the original orchestra for the Broadway show were unknown musicians Glenn Miller, Gene Krupa, Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, and Jack Teagarden. Wow.)

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“Embraceable You” is one of the most frequently recorded Gershwin songs. The website ranks “Embraceable You” as the number 24 jazz standard of all time. Their highest recommendation goes to the Sarah Vaughn version, but I couldn’t find that in full on YouTube, so here’s Ella Fitzgerald with the Nelson Riddle orchestra. Hard to beat this combination…

Travel: Sedona, Arizona

A unique sandstone native to the Sedona area lights up at sunrise and sunset to demonstrate why the area is known as Red Rock Country. Uploaded to Flickr by Tex Texin. See the original here:

When the sun rises and sets, the rock formations around Sedona seem to glow in the most beautifully vivid shades of red and orange. Caused by a variety of sandstone found only in that region, the formations have drawn people to Red Rock Country for generations.

Sedona is a small city of some 11,000 people in the upper Sonoran Desert in northern Arizona. It’s grown from a few ranches in the 1950s to a trendy town now that welcomes the second homes of many Hollywood and political elites.

For those who enjoy outdoor activities, Sedona is a haven. The region boasts spectacular locations for hiking, climbing, rafting, horseback riding, and fishing. You can tour the area by jeep, airplane, hot air balloon, or ATV.

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The rock formations themselves have been given names to identify them. Around Sedona are Thunder Mountain, Coffeepot, the Sphinx, Wilson Mountain, the Sail, and Submarine Rock.

The nearest major airport is in Phoenix, about two hours from Sedona. There’s a smaller airport in Flagstaff, about a half hour from town. If you choose to drive from Phoenix, some of the trip is along State Route 179, designated an All American Road by the Federal Highway Administration based on its natural, scenic, and recreational qualities…

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Cathedral Rock. Uploaded by

Chapel of the Holy Cross in Sedona. Uploaded by

Coffeepot. Uploaded by

Red Rock Spires. Uploaded by

Film: Rocky

The training sequence, concluding on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art and backed by Bill Conti's Gonna Fly Now, is one of the most memorable in movie history. Uploaded by

As the fight ends, an exhausted Apollo Creed says, “Ain’t gonna be no rematch.” An equally weary Rocky Balboa answers, “Don’t want one.”

But of course, there was Rocky II, III, and then I lost track. Regardless of the way the series devolved, the original Rocky is a terrific movie, though the Best Picture it won over All the President’s Men, Network, and Taxi Driver is quite a stretch.

Sylvester Stallone wrote the screenplay, and desperately wanted to play the lead. The studios liked the story, but doubted Stallone’s ability to draw crowds. United Artists took the chance, and they were rewarded with one of the most profitable movies in film history. The picture cost $1.1 million to make; combining domestic and overseas revenue, it brought in over $342 million.

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The training sequence, performed to Bill Conti’s memorable “Gonna Fly Now” instrumental, is one of the movies’ all-time most inspirational moments. A statue of Rocky Balboa now adorns the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, site of the scene’s triumphant conclusion.

Rocky has been recognized on eight of the American Film Institute’s “100 Years” lists including: …100 Movies (#57), …Movie Quotes – “Yo, Adrian!” (#80), …Heroes and Villains (#7), …Sports (#2), and …Songs – “Gonna Fly Now” (#58).

Sports: Willie Mays

He put up unbelievable numbers in his career - yet he missed almost all of two seasons after being drafted during the Korean War. Uploaded by

Is he the greatest all-around player in baseball history? I think you can make the case. He had 660 home runs in the non-steroid era, 3,283 hits, a career batting average of .302, and he made the All-Star team a remarkable 24 times. This, despite missing most of two seasons during his prime after being drafted into the Army.

And all that doesn’t even take into account his amazing fielding prowess in center field. He won the Gold Glove twelve times, and anyone who follows baseball knows about “The Catch.” In the eighth inning of Game One of the 1954 World Series, Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians hit a drive to deep center field. Mays made a running catch over his shoulder without really looking back, preventing two runs from scoring, and keeping the New York Giants in a game they would eventually win in the 10th inning. The Giants went on to win the Series, the only title Mays won.

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He was named Rookie of the Year in 1951, and won the MVP honor twice (1954, 1965). He spent most of his career with the New York and San Francisco Giants, finishing with a brief stint as a New York Met. Interestingly, the Braves scouted Mays before he signed a Major League contract, but declined to sign him. Can you imagine – we could have seen an outfield with Mays in center field and Hank Aaron (Great American Things, October 29, 2009) in right field!

No one knows how Mays got his nickname, the “Say Hey Kid.” We do know that his accomplishments got him named as the “Player of the Decade” for the 1960s by the Sporting News, and that he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame (Great American Things, March 26, 2010) on the first ballot…