Monthly Archives: March 2013

Mission San Xavier, A Mixed Blessing


Pope Francis is said to be a conservative, humble man.   Reportedly, he spent years teaching math in the Argentinian backwater because he held traditional views not favored by many progressive, some would say liberal, Jesuits.  Beloved Pope John Paul 23rd, also a non-Italian priest who held traditional religious views, rescued Father Bergoglio from obscurity when he made him an archbishop.  Now Pope, Francis probably wouldn’t like Mission San Xavier del Bac.

Nicknamed The White Dove of the Desert, San Xavier is south of Tucson, Arizona, on the Tohono O’odham  Reservation.  Because of this, subdivisions, shopping centers, and Interstate exits have not grown around it.  It still sits out in the desert with blue mountains in the far distance as it did when Ruth & I first visited it many years ago.  Back then, we were the only non-residents there.

We revisited in February, 2013, and were surprised to learn that it has become a MAJOR tourist attraction.  The parking lot was huge and full. Tour groups moved about the church and crowded the small museum.  A 1997 PBS special about The Dove played continuously to people sitting on benches listening to what was more of an appeal for restoration funds than a documentary about the place.

And what a place!  A National Historic Landmark since 1963, San Xavier was founded by Jesuit Eusebio Kino in 1692.  The dark, ornate church (“ultra-baroque”) that visitors see today was completed in 1797.   According to, it’s now “the oldest intact European structure in Arizona”.  Despite changes over the years made necessary by Apache raids, earthquakes, etc., a San Xavier visit today is very close to a time-traveling 19th century experience.  It’s still an active church with people lighting candles and silently praying with tumult all around them.  Masses occur every day of the week.  Five greyrobed Franciscan Friars officiate.  Why not blackrobed Jesuits like Francis?

San Xavier has flown many flags, Spain’s when it was first founded.  In 1767, Jesuits were expelled from New Spain by the Spanish King, and the next year Franciscans took over.  A few years later they  began construction of the current church.  They left between 1828 & 1850 when San Xavier was under Mexican Rule and secularized like churches in Russia under Communism.  After the Gadsden Purchase and Arizona statehood, Franciscans returned in 1913.   They remain.

San Xavier’s exterior is a dazzling white & earth toned beauty.  The interior shows the work of many loving, talented folk artists, probably native Americans, who carved and painted statues, frescoes, etc. many of which are surprisingly well-preserved.  This would be a slam-dunk 5 compass attraction, but crowds & commercialism (natives selling fry bread on the parking lot, aisles full of gaping tourists clutching guidebooks, etc.) keep it 4 Compass.  Pope Francis will probably never show up in the Popemobile, wave to the gapers, and stay for a photo op.


Sparkling Yarra Valley Wines

IMG_5138Yarra Valley is the Australian Wine Region closest to a big town, Melbourne, a terrific city on many international travelers’ itineraries.  Yarra is only 24 miles from downtown, but its world-class transit system, those ubiquitous trams, doesn’t go there.  However, most hotels and tourist offices can arrange a variety of tours.  Ruth & I visited Yarra on an all-day, all-pleasing small group excursion.

First planted in 1838 and beautifully surrounded by the gentle Dandenong Ranges, The Yarra Valley is, in my opinion, the most scenically splendid of Australia’s great wine regions. When we saw it, however, Yarra had recently been scarred by disastrous fires.  Although the land had recovered, damage was still somewhat visible and most of the vintners talked about them.  Like most other Down Under wine areas–Margaret River, The Barossa, etc.–Yarra offers a heady choice of great restaurants, resorts, and appealing activities along with “a vibrant harlequin of more than 70 award-winning wineries with sensational cellar doors,” according to its Visitors Guide.   Harlequin?

How it differs is in the wine.  Yarra specializes in cool climate varietals and sparkling wines predominate, especially true since Chandon arrived on the scene.  Second in popularity would be Pinot Noir with Chardonnay third.   Yarra probably has the most diverse soil for grape growing and experiences consistently chilly winters.  To what extent terroir influences wine is hotly debated, but soil composition does affect vines and the Yarra Valley is generally a mix of loam with sand and clay, volcanic flow, and siltstone.  During its 7 month growing season, irrigation is essential.

While the Yarra Valley Wine and Touring Guide listed 82 wineries, the big gun was clearly Domaine Chandon, a must-stop.  Moet et Chandon came to Yarra in 1986 after seriously searching the world for the best place outside of France to create sparkling wines.  They bought the Yeringberg property, a grape producer since 1850.  As is typical of most Australian wineries, Chandon buys additional fruit from other cold-climate regions to make its award-worthy still and sparkling wines and to produce Chandon Vintage Brut, its classic flagship Pinot Noir/Chardonnay sparkling blend.

The Yarra Valley Visitor Information Centre is in The Old Courthouse, Harker Street, Healesville, Victoria 3777.  In addition to it & Chandon, we visited uniformly excellent Graeme Miller Wines, Immerse, and Coldstream Hills.  The locals on the tour, even the New Zealanders, bought case after case.  Being from the distant U.S., Ruth & I limited ourselves to delicious, tiny samples of wines that we’d probably never have the chance to sip them again.

So much great wine, so many excellent wine regions, so many world-class wineries, not nearly enough time!  Sigh.


A Good Move–The Textile Museum


On a plane to Washington last October, I talked to a woman heading to DC for a yearly convention.  I asked what she planned to do other than attend the convention and she said, “I always go to The Textile Museum.”  I’ve been to DC many times but never heard of this museum, so I pressed for details.  When Ruth & I tried to go there a few days later, I understood why it’s not better known.  It was difficult to find & a bit hard to get to.  But that’s about to change.

The closest Metro stop to The Textile Museum is Dupont Circle.  From there it’s a multi-block walk with steps and a hill to climb along the way.  TTM’s in a residential neighborhood down the street from some obscure embassies. Actually it’s in a residence–George Hewitt Myers’.  By the time he died in 1957, Mr. Myers had amassed 3,1000 textiles from Asia & Africa and 1,500 from The Americas.  He had started this museum, however, in 1925 to share his treasures and educate visitors about textiles.  The Museum’s collection’s up to 18,000 pieces and has outgrown its current venue where visitors wander up and down stairs and from room to room.

Because fragile, collector-quality textiles can’t be left out for very long, displays in this museum change often.  The show we saw last fall, The Sultan’s Garden (Ottoman Art), is no longer there.  Currently TTM is celebrating the famous DC Cherry Blossom Festival with workshops, etc. On October 14, 2013, all exhibitions will temporarily cease.  The final show in the old house at 2320 S Street, Out of Southeast Asia, closes the day before.

In fall, 2014, the 35,000 square feet Textile Museum and the George Washington Museum will open its new doors in DC’s Foggy Bottom area at G & 21st Streets NW.  See the plan above.

Joining with GWU lets The Textile Museum collaborate with the academic community and enhance learning and research.  As part of the deal, the University is building a conservation research center on its Virginia Science and Technology Campus, adding graduate art history classes, etc.

After visiting The Textile Museum, I probably won’t be going to the bazaar to buy Turkish rugs or seeking out elaborate, colorful silks in India like Mr. Myers did, but I certainly admire his collecting skills and am glad I sought out the museum that will become a really major DC attraction towards the end of this year.  I will report on and rate it later but suspect it’ll be a 5 Compass kind of place.

If you’re heading to DC any time soon and looking for something to take the place of that long-anticipated White House tour, put on your walking shoes instead, consult a map, and head to The Textile Museum–


The Brain-Challenging Computer History Museum, Part 2


After the Babbage demonstration, Ruth & I opted for a 2 pm docent tour of the Computer History Museum’s main display area.  Called “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing”, it was made possible by Bill Gates. Know him?   This was the way for us to go for 2 reasons.  Our guide was eloquent, knowledgable, entertaining Allen Rosenzweig, the man who had explained the Babbage Difference Engine #2.  In 19 stuffed galleries, Revolution relates the entire history of computing via 1,100+ objects, 100+ videos, touch-screen stations, etc.

If your 24-7 passion has been computers for as long as you can remember, you’re probably ready to go it alone.  But for a relative novice like me, being led like a child in a lunch line to the more important objects, like an actual Apple 1 (see above), reduced frustration and let me know what I wanted to go back to.  Tours last about an hour and aren’t necessarily at 2 pm, so, if you want one, call ahead (650 810 1010) to find out when that day’s guided tour begins.

Each of the 19 display areas has a theme–Supercomputers, Digital Logic, Early Computer Companies, etc.  This is very helpful to visitors with particular interests.  Way in the minority, I’m less enchanted by, say, Computer Games than Birth of the Computer.   Room 20 is, appropriately, “What’s Next?”

A bit of what blew out my personal circuits:

We’ve come a mind-challenging way at warp speed.  In 1935, a heavy paper dictionary (remember those?) defined “computer” as one who computes.

If I had to pick an event that began it all, I’d have to say the 1880 U.S. census.  Due to European immigration, that paper & pencil people-count took 7 years to achieve relative completeness.  The next census took only 18 months because Herman Hollerith invented & built 50 electronic tabulators that used punch cards.   Thomas Watson bought the company that resulted and renamed it….get ready….IBM.

The very first real computers were built to solve military problems, and the Cold War with Russia upped the game as terms like “launch & response” scared the population.  The 1950s SAGE computer system, an air-defense network, became, reportedly, the biggest defense project in the history of the world up to that time.

Every wonder how Silicon Valley happened?  The disk drive was invented in San Jose.  Intel developed the integrated circuit.  ETC

IBM risked its future with the $5 billion System 360 and then couldn’t make them fast enough.

Xerox started a laboratory on the West Cost in Palo Alto.  Screen+mouse+ typing+ graphical user interface+ ethernet+ laser printers=the future.

A man named Jobs+8-bit 6502+Applesoft BASIC=revolution.

In the 21st century the greatest electronic romance of all occurred when the phone married the computer and that’s where we are.  For now.


Computer History Museum, Part 1 (of 2)

DSC01507Just off Highway 101 at 1401 North Shoreline Boulevard in Mountain View, California, the Computer History Museum has 3 objectives;  to be a cool, people-pleasing museum, to appeal to tech professionals who love their work, and to help people comprehend the technological world we live in.  It succeeds at all 3.  I especially liked how in a couple of hours it helped me understand what actually happened during my rotary to iPhone lifetime. CHM is a genuine 5 Compass mind expander.

Luckily, Ruth & I arrived at exactly 1 pm.  CHM isn’t usually opened on Monday or Tuesday, but it was Presidents’ Day.  Every afternoon at 1 pm and twice on Saturdays, volunteers like Allen Rosenzweig & David Stein talk about and demonstrate the Babbage Difference Engine #2.

Computer History Museum carefully promotes this exhibit as “The Story of the First Computer Pioneer”.  Note that it doesn’t say the story of the first computer.  The Babbage isn’t that.  It’s a 19th century sequential adding machine that looks like a mechanical contraption developed in a mad scientist’s lab.  Babbage claimed his machine would eliminate human computational error.   Rosenzweig explained that the Babbage was the 1st calculator to do tables and make printing plates to correct errors in math.  So Charles Babbage advanced science and earned a place in computer history with a machine he never saw in operation.

Described as a critical, argumentative geek/engineer by Rosenzweig, Englishman Babbage received considerable funding from The Crown and drew up plans between 1847 & 1849.  The BDE he designed was to have 25,000 moving parts, but more than likely due to his personality & its complexity, it wasn’t built and became largely forgotten.

Segue to 1985 when a British museum made the first real attempt to build a Babbage.  The one you see in the Computer History Museum, #2, was completed in 2008 at the Science Museum, London.  Of the world’s 2 BDEs, only the one in California is used for demonstrations.  A special crew cleans and lubricates it once a month so that it can do exactly what Charles Babbage, a genius ahead of his time who “died embittered”, said it would do.  Weighing 5 tons, the machine that took about 150 years to build has 8,000 parts and is only one of a thousand+ reasons to travel to the Computer History Museum.

It’s a total thrill to see Babbage’s baby in full operation, something he never experienced.  Expect to be part of an awed crowd.