Sunday, January 19, 2014

Traveling on paper

I'm a dinosaur when it comes to travel. I admit I like to use a GPS to get me from here to there without a lot of swearing and backtracking, but I love using an atlas or map to get an overview, to see the lay of the land.

As I was making my way south through Florida after leaving Andersonville I saw the tiny red letters on my atlas that tell me there's something of interest nearby. Let me say that sometimes they might be of interest to someone, not necessarily me. As much as I love museums, something along the line of the national tractor museum is not exactly what I have in mind. But when I was in the neighborhood of Bradenton I saw, off to the east, Bok Tower and Sanctuary. Hooray for Google because I learned it's a National Historic Landmark, and that was good enough for me, but I'd have to catch it on my way back north due to a nonrefundable reservation in Key West.

Yesterday I stopped to see what this place was. A selling point was that the grounds were designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Jr. It turns out I confused him with his father, the original Frederick Law Olmsted, the man who designed Central Park and the Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1890. (By the way, a very good biography of Olmsted is Justin Martin's Genius of Place: the life of Frederick Law Olmsted.)

The introductory film at the gardens showed an overhead view of the grounds, a view I would like to have seen in person, but from the ground it was still lovely. Stately old trees dripping with Spanish moss were everywhere and camellias were in bloom. And of course, palm trees.

The highlight of the place was, naturally, the tower. It was built from 1927-1929 by Edward Bok. It's 205 feet high and is faced with pink and gray Georgia marble and Florida coquina, a limestone of shell and coral fragments.

Ceramic grilles near the top surround a 60-bell carillon. When I was there the carillonneur must have been practicing for a live concert because there was a lot of music being broadcast, but not one tune from start to finish. It was pretty nonetheless. The bells range in size from 16 pounds to more than 11 tons. The introductory video showed them being played via the use of levers that are pulled and released by the carillonneur as well as a complicated arrangement of foot pedals. The bells are cast on the sharp side of their notes and are fine tuned by lathes that shave off metal from the inside of each bell. I had no idea.

There are carvings and sculptures all over the tower. Herons are at the top, eagles are at the base of the bellchamber. The literature says they were all carved in place

The brass doors depict the Biblical story of Creation. There's a wrought iron fence around the tower, and Edward Bok's grave is inside the fence, just outside the doors, so it's impossible to get a close or straight-on view of them.

It's a beautiful place that gives the impression of being much larger than its 50 acres. Maybe it's because of the miles of orange orchards that surround it, or because of the skillful landscaping, but it's worth the trip of a few miles on country roads to hear the bells.


Quote of the day:
The whole problem can be stated quite simply by asking, 'Is there a meaning to music?' My answer would be, 'Yes.' And 'Can you state in so many words what the meaning is?' My answer to that would be, 'No.'  (Aaron Copland)