Portland’s Chinese Garden

Recently I was in Oregon visiting my sister-in-law.  We took a day trip to Portland, where we visited Powell’s Bookstore, which claims to be the largest bookstore in the world.  Covering an entire city block and having several stories, the claim may just be accurate!  One thing is for sure, I spent entirely too much money there and had to ship my books back rather than carry them on the plane.

Following the bookstore, we went to the nearby Lan Su Chinese Garden, also covering an entire city block.  What a lovely and inspiring place!  The garden was built by craftsmen from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou in China’s Jiangsu province, famous for its gardens.  Sixty-five artisans from Suzhou completed the garden in 2000, assembling materials brought from and partially constructed in China.  Doorways and windows create an illusion of infinite space.  Each doorway is headed by inscriptions on each side.

Knowing the Fish Pavilion

Knowing the Fish Pavilion

Everything here has a story here.  One of the first stops as one tours the garden is the Knowing the Fish Pavilion.  It is said that two philosophers were talking as they watched the fish in the pool.  The first one noted how happy the fish are.  The second one said: “You are not a fish.  How can you know that the fish are happy?”  The first answers: “You are not me.  How do you know what I know?”

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PC’s Labyrinth & Sundial

Shepherd’s Corner doesn’t have the corner on labyrinths.  Providence College newly converted a roadway into a walkway in front of Hunt-Cavanagh Hall.  Two delightful surprises were built into the walkway–a labyrinth and a sundial.

PC Labyrinth

PC Labyrinth

On the College’s website the labyrinth is described as follows:

“The labyrinth at the entry of the Department of Art and Art History represents a miniature replica of the 13th-century artistic motif featured on the floor of the great Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France.

Walking the Chartres labyrinth (Image source unknown)

Walking the Chartres labyrinth
(Image source unknown)

The medieval fascination with labyrinths was inspired by ancient prototypes, the most famous coming from Greek mythology where Daedalus builds a labyrinth for King Minos at Knossos to house the Minotaur.  The labyrinth also shares qualities with eastern mandalas as a symbol of sacred geometry.  Gothic builders incorporated the labyrinth into many Catholic churches of Europe (i.e., Amiens), recasting it as an instrument of pilgrimage and prayer.  The pilgrim followed 11 winding circuits set inside four quadrants culminating in a rosette center.  In this manner, the pilgrim was able to embark upon a spiritual journey to Jerusalem right in the local church structure itself.

The incorporation of this art historical motif in the visual arts district of campus not only connects Providence College to a long and rich tradition of sacred spaces and iconography, but provides a beautiful stopping point for admissions tours, gallery visitors, alumni, and current faculty, staff, and students.”

The sundial, of analemmatic design, is interactive.  Stand on the date and your shadow tells the time.

PC Sundial

PC Sundial

Sundial In Use (PC photo)

Sundial In Use
(PC photo)

North American Power

Caveat emptor–BUYER BEWARE!!  North American Power (NAP) is an electricity supply company headquartered in Connecticut.  The company is making an unprecedented, aggressive marketing push in Rhode Island, seeking customers to switch from National Grid to NAP.  NAP offers lower electricity rates than National Grid, so what’s not to like?  I received a marketing call from NAP yesterday and asked a lot of questions, some of which were not answered honestly.  The more I resisted signing up on the spot, the more aggressively they pushed.  Here are some details.

National Grid is a regulated utility, meaning its rates must be approved by the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) and stand for about six months.  National Grid was approved for a large rate increase for January through June, 2014.  National Grid must justify rate increases, this one due to the increased cost of fuel, primarily natural gas.  They may apply in May for rates from July through December.  The rate is high (8.884 cents/kWh).  So, what does NAP offer?  They say 7.490 cents/kWh, but only for the first month.  Then the rate may change.  The most they promised is to be less than National Grid through June.  After that, no guarantees.  I explicitly asked if NAP is regulated by the PUC and was told “yes,” which is not true.  NAP has been characterized as a bait-and-switch operation.  Here’s a sample of customer reviews:  2 good reviews followed by 8 very poor ones.  Further, NAP is not accredited by the Better Business Bureau (BBB).  Here’s the BBB’s rating of NAP, which indicates 172 customer complaints in RI for the past 12 months.  That’s a lot for a little state like RI!

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