engineer-paris.htm0000644006266300626630000005722011321370457013153 0ustar a398055a398055 Audio: Bill Hammack Public Radio Piece on the Engineering of Paris
Ice Hotel

An engineer in Paris!

Listen now or download (20:05)

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In 2004 Bill took in Paris. He skipped all the great paintings to look, instead, for the beauty of the city from an engineer's viewpoint. He tours Paris's engineering masterpieces started from the lowest and darkest point in Paris to its highest, most brilliant pinnacle. He walks through what Victor Hugo called the "magnificence" of Paris, looks at a cathedral inside out, and stand atop the greatest symbol of technological progress ever built.

Transcript

(printable transcript)

Bill I'm at the Louvre Musuem in Paris, home to the Mona Lisa. Yet, I'm going to skip all the great paintings here to look for the beauty and wonder of Paris from an engineer's viewpoint. The masterpieces here resulted from great creativity, from struggle, and from intense personal visions - is it possible to find the same in "technological Paris?" To see I'll take you on a tour from the lowest and darkest point in Paris to its highest, most brilliant pinnacles. I'll walk through what Victor Hugo called the "magnificence" of Paris, look at a cathedral inside out, and stand atop the greatest symbol of technological progress ever built. I start underground.

Bill I'm on the subway riding to what the novelist Victor Hugo called Paris's "outpouring of gold, her luxury, her magnificence" - all descriptions of the Paris Sewers.

Bill: I walk from the subway stop across a busy street near the Bridge called Pont de l'Alma. A sign reading "Viste des Egouts de Paris" - in English "visit the sewers of Paris" - marks the ticket booth for the tours. It helps to know a little French, which I don't.

Bill Hello.

Man Hello.

Bill Is this the tour of the sewer?

Man No guide.

Bill No guide? Will there be one? Will there be a tour of the sewers?

Man Sewers?

Bill Yes. When will that be? When? Time?

Man Forty-five minutes.

Bill And when will that start?

Man No guide, Map.

Bill No guide, just a map. Oh, that's fine. O.K. Yes that's fine.

Bill Indeed, no one guides you though the sewer - just a map and forty-five minutes of your own time.

Bill I walk twenty or so steps down to the sewer. I look forward to leaving behind the sounds of traffic, but other sounds soon fill the air because I'm entering something alive and vital.

Bill Workers in bright aqua-blue coveralls constantly repair this functioning storm sewer. I can see debris floating in the water, plus there's a slight odor in the air. But in addition, I'm also walking back into history.

Bill I first come across a large 19th century plaque celebrating Napoleon of France - not the famous Napoleon, known for being short and placing his hand inside his coat, but Napoleon the Third, his nephew.

Bill Louis Napoleon overthrew France's Second Republic in a coup in 1851, replacing it with the Second Empire. While his famous Uncle wanted to dominate the world, Napoleon the Third was excited about ... urban renewal. Yes, that's right, urban renewal. In the first days of his reign visitors often found him with pencil in hand drawing a street map of Paris.

Bill To institute this plan, Louis Napoleon hired Georges Haussmann. Using Napoleon's map Haussmann famously rebuilt the streets of Paris, but he prided himself on another work.

Bill "I especially like to dwell," he wrote, upon the sewer system "because it is mine." "I did not find it," he continued, "in the Emperor's program for the transformation of Paris, and no one in the world suggested it to me. It was the fruit of my observations, my assiduous research as a young civil servant, and my reflections in later life. It was my own conception."

Bill Stepping into the sewer from our technology-saturated age makes it difficult to see Haussman's great innovations in sewer design. Some seem too simple to be novel. For example, he built the sewers with a broad curve at their bottom - they are oval, rather than circular, nearly egg-shaped. This simple design let workers easily clean the sewers because debris settled only into a narrow strip on the bottom.

Bill You can really see the technological progress and ingenuity of the 19th century sewer when you reach an area covered with a grating about halfway through the tour. At this point the sewer waters roar.

Bill On this grating sewer workers have arranged placards and models of old equipment. Right now I'm in front of something very simple, yet effective for cleaning the sewer. I'm standing by a metal ball about ten feet in diameter.

Bill They use these hollow balls to clean the siphons that feed the sewer. That is, the long pipes that stretch from the Seine River up to the sewer. As water rushes through the sewer it creates suction that draws in river water -- just like a straw. They drop in these huge metal balls with diameters slightly smaller than the siphons. When the balls get sucked up into the sewers they push along the sand and stones that have settled in the pipes.

Bill Often in Paris dense crowds interfere with enjoying the tourist attractions. Not so in the Paris sewer, except for one particular demographic.

Bill As I wandered the sewers several groups of school children toured. When they heard me speak English I found myself instantly surrounded by fourth-grades trying out their English language skills.

Bill The tour concludes with, of all things, a gift shop where you can buy a key chain stamped with an image of the Paris Sewer.

Bill And a dandy video display explains everything possible about tossing huge metal balls into the sewer.

Bill Time now to leave the sewer {pause here} and continue exploring Paris by working my way up to its highest point. I now visit a place where the height is something of an illusion: The Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Bill I'm standing inside the nave of the Cathedral. It seems at first to be shaped like a horseshoe, yet it is, like all gothic cathedrals, built like a cross because there are hallways perpendicular to the main aisle of the nave. But you can't really see the cross unless you look where the Cathedral builders wanted you to focus: Up to heaven!

Bill As I cast my eye to the top of Notre Dame, the cross appears in all its glory. The cathedral seems dark to my eye, but if I place myself in the position of a 13th century peasant, Notre Dame's brightness would startle.

Bill You see, compared to older structures the arches of a cathedral are very open, very delicate -- they are as lightweight as you can get with stone. The builders made the piers and arches thin, to create the illusion of height - they look almost like fingers reaching to sky. What few people know is that the arches are so thin they cannot support themselves! In fact, to see the magic underlying a cathedral we must step outside.

Bill The arches are so thin that they need extra support. The builders could've reinforced the inside with iron bars stretching from one side of the cathedral to the other - to tug together, if you will the arches, kind of like joists in an attic. But this, of course, would ruin the builders aim - that magnificent structure where tier after tier of vaults raised your eyes to the heavens. To see their solution walk to a gated area on the south side of Notre Dame ...

Bill ... if you look up while walking along the Cathedral, you'll see hidden in the walls something called a flying buttress. Its a curved piece of stone, a half arch if you will, sitting on a pier, leaning up aganst the side of the building. At first they're hidden in the chapels nestled into the walls of the cathedral, but keep walking and you'll reach my favorite part of Notre Dame: The back. At the west end, no chapels hide anything - there tens of flying buttresses stick out in all their glory.

Bill Now that our eyes are pointed upward, let's travel to the highest point in all of Paris, and the greatest engineering marvel here, the Eiffel Tower.

Bill Standing here under the tower is really the way to appreciate it: The base is four large pylons making a square 420 feet on a side. These pylons are angled to the ground so that it looks as if they sweep up nearly 1000 feet to a small platform at the top of the tower. I find this majestic and magnificent, but not everyone agreed.

Bill When Eiffel proposed the tower, a group of artists and writers wrote to the Minister of Public works:

Bill "We ... devoted lovers of the beauty of Paris ... do protest with all our strength and with all our indignation, in the name of unappreciated French taste, in the name of French art ... the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower."

Bill The signees never changed their minds about the Tower. Guy de Maupassant, the great short story writer, for example, ate lunch at the Tower as often as possible - that way he didn't have to see the marred skyline of Paris.

Bill These artists also rejected what the tower stood for. Gustave Eiffel built the tower for the 1889 Exposition, exactly 100 years after the French revolution. The Exposition backers wanted the tower to be a Crown Jewel at the Fair. They wanted the exhibits at the Fair to showcase how far the French had come since the revolution - to show that France excelled in the craft of the industrial world of the 19th century.

Bill Today as you approach the Tower, you'll be accosted by men selling small models. Each has a big ring laden with clanging two inch replicas of the Eiffel Tower.

Seller Three for two Euro.

Bill No, no thank you.

Seller A very good price. Moseuier, three for two Euro.

Bill No, no thank you.

Seller Two euro, two euro!

Bill No. No.

Seller Two for one Euro. One Euro!

Bill No, no thank you.

Seller One Euro my friend!

Bill No.

Seller Only one Euro

Bill No.

Seller This is very good price.

Bill With the next seller, I try, on a whim, the German "nein." Only one "nein" and they left me alone completely. This exchange sums up neatly several centuries of French-German relations.

Bill Having successfully negotiated my way through the hoards of trinket sellers, I can now admire the tower. From the base I first examine a part of the tower which is a .... fraud

Bill From where I stand I can see arches just underneath the first level, some 278 feet above my head. Afraid the public wouldn't believe that his simple structure would hold up, Eiffel added these gratuitous arches. They have no role but to fool the eye and give a sense of security by tapping subliminally into our faith in the strength of an arch.

Bill I, of course, love the view from the ground. Yet, there is another reason that I like appreciating the tower from underneath. My wife, whom I am travelling with, points it out.

Amy Chicken!

Bill I actually don't think its a good day to go up the Eiffel Tower.

Amy I do.

Bill We had a brighter day yesterday.

Amy You're just chicken.

Bill Well, I am, but at least I'd like it to be a bright day.

Amy It'll rain tomorrow.

Bill Oh, no it's supposed to be bright.

Bill I don't like heights. I don't often look out of airplane windows, I cannot ride in Ferris wheels, ski lifts terrify me, and I find riding in a cable car shear torture. And something as open and tall as the Eiffel Tower ... well ... I agree to at least walk up to the first level. We approach the arch, preparing to ascend.

Bill Oh, it isn't that bad. My wife buys us tickets costing a few Euro coins .... we pass through security, and start the climb.

Bill You said it doesn't feel very high?

Any Yeah.

Bill No, it doesn't feel that bad. I'm a little nervous, but not bad. I've been in fire towers that were much worse.

Bill I enjoy walking up, it gives me a chance to really study the structure of the tower.

Bill The Tower is a filigree of steel, designed so that it can withstand a wind of 148 miles per hour at the very top of the tower. The tower represent the pinnacle of Gustav Eiffel's career, whose start gives me little comfort about the stability of the tower. Eiffel at first aimed only to work in his uncle's vineagar factory. He worked toward that modest goal by being unremarkable at school: He failed to get into the best engineering school in Paris, having to settle for the second best.

Bill His uncle's vinegar factory failed, forcing Eiffel to innovate. At the time railway construction lead the way into the century of "steel and iron." Eiffel jumped on the band wagon becoming the first of the new breed of engineers: Highly mathematical, not flamboyant in speech or behavior, and having the calm self-assurance we associate with engineers. He built train stations, department stores, churches and bridges. He worked around the world: Egypt, Indochina, Hungary, Rumania, Portugal, Russia and Peru. Only once did his work appear in the United States: He designed the steel interior that supports the Statue of Liberty. In building all these things Eiffel became the first to really understand the importance of wind, he learned how to lace his structures with trusses to minimize their movement.

Bill So, when Eiffel designed his tower he knew he had to battle wind because essentially you have a very long and narrow thing sticking out of the ground. Eiffel the engineer had two choices: One, make the tower so heavy that by brute force it always resists the wind -- this is what is done in building a skyscraper. Or, two, make the surface of the tower so minimal that the wind passes right by. And that is, of course, what Eiffel did. The open lattice, the grid-like structure, make it look so minimalist as to seem weak, yet in that openes lies the secret of the tower's strength. tx {Bring to conclusion w/ voice}

Bill I'm on the second deck, 454 feet above the ground -- the spire rises above me to 945 feet -- although fog surrounds it so my wife and I choose to go no further. This is a good place to end this engineer's tour of Paris because I'm standing atop a representation in steel and iron of all that has happened to us in the last century.

Bill Eiffel's Tower marked a change in our purpose as a society, in our focus. In the past we built towers for spiritual purposes: Think of Gothic cathedrals, whose bells called out prayer hours, or the Minarets that reminded Moslems of their religious duties. In contrast, Eiffel built his tower to astonish the World with the achievements of science and technology. To awe them with a filigree of metal, so open as to seem vulnerable, yet able to resists a gale force wind of almost 150 miles per hour.

Bill That accomplishment is, for me, a creative act on par with the things I skipped today in the Lourve Museum - equal in a way with the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The Italian poet Marinetti wrote in 1911: "A roaring motor car, which runs like a machine gun, is more beautiful than the [statue of the] Winged Victory" in the Lourve. That's too extreme, but as I showed today there is beauty to be found in any kind of human endeavor, in any creative act - from the Mona Lisa to the Eiffel Tower, and even, the sewers of Paris.

engineer-paris-printable-transcript.htm0000644006266300626630000005326111321370715017316 0ustar a398055a398055 Printable Transcript: Bill Hammack on the Engineering of Paris

An Engineerin Paris- a public radio piece by Bill Hammack

(Return to Engineer in Paris audio page)

Bill I'm at the Louvre Musuem in Paris, home to the Mona Lisa. Yet, I'm going to skip all the great paintings here to look for the beauty and wonder of Paris from an engineer's viewpoint. The masterpieces here resulted from great creativity, from struggle, and from intense personal visions - is it possible to find the same in "technological Paris?" To see I'll take you on a tour from the lowest and darkest point in Paris to its highest, most brilliant pinnacles. I'll walk through what Victor Hugo called the "magnificence" of Paris, look at a cathedral inside out, and stand atop the greatest symbol of technological progress ever built. I start underground.

Bill I'm on the subway riding to what the novelist Victor Hugo called Paris's "outpouring of gold, her luxury, her magnificence" - all descriptions of the Paris Sewers.

Bill: I walk from the subway stop across a busy street near the Bridge called Pont de l'Alma. A sign reading "Viste des Egouts de Paris" - in English "visit the sewers of Paris" - marks the ticket booth for the tours. It helps to know a little French, which I don't.

Bill Hello.

Man Hello.

Bill Is this the tour of the sewer?

Man No guide.

Bill No guide? Will there be one? Will there be a tour of the sewers?

Man Sewers?

Bill Yes. When will that be? When? Time?

Man Forty-five minutes.

Bill And when will that start?

Man No guide, Map.

Bill No guide, just a map. Oh, that's fine. O.K. Yes that's fine.

Bill Indeed, no one guides you though the sewer - just a map and forty-five minutes of your own time.

Bill I walk twenty or so steps down to the sewer. I look forward to leaving behind the sounds of traffic, but other sounds soon fill the air because I'm entering something alive and vital.

Bill Workers in bright aqua-blue coveralls constantly repair this functioning storm sewer. I can see debris floating in the water, plus there's a slight odor in the air. But in addition, I'm also walking back into history.

Bill I first come across a large 19th century plaque celebrating Napoleon of France - not the famous Napoleon, known for being short and placing his hand inside his coat, but Napoleon the Third, his nephew.

Bill Louis Napoleon overthrew France's Second Republic in a coup in 1851, replacing it with the Second Empire. While his famous Uncle wanted to dominate the world, Napoleon the Third was excited about ... urban renewal. Yes, that's right, urban renewal. In the first days of his reign visitors often found him with pencil in hand drawing a street map of Paris.

Bill To institute this plan, Louis Napoleon hired Georges Haussmann. Using Napoleon's map Haussmann famously rebuilt the streets of Paris, but he prided himself on another work.

Bill "I especially like to dwell," he wrote, upon the sewer system "because it is mine." "I did not find it," he continued, "in the Emperor's program for the transformation of Paris, and no one in the world suggested it to me. It was the fruit of my observations, my assiduous research as a young civil servant, and my reflections in later life. It was my own conception."

Bill Stepping into the sewer from our technology-saturated age makes it difficult to see Haussman's great innovations in sewer design. Some seem too simple to be novel. For example, he built the sewers with a broad curve at their bottom - they are oval, rather than circular, nearly egg-shaped. This simple design let workers easily clean the sewers because debris settled only into a narrow strip on the bottom.

Bill You can really see the technological progress and ingenuity of the 19th century sewer when you reach an area covered with a grating about halfway through the tour. At this point the sewer waters roar.

Bill On this grating sewer workers have arranged placards and models of old equipment. Right now I'm in front of something very simple, yet effective for cleaning the sewer. I'm standing by a metal ball about ten feet in diameter.

Bill They use these hollow balls to clean the siphons that feed the sewer. That is, the long pipes that stretch from the Seine River up to the sewer. As water rushes through the sewer it creates suction that draws in river water -- just like a straw. They drop in these huge metal balls with diameters slightly smaller than the siphons. When the balls get sucked up into the sewers they push along the sand and stones that have settled in the pipes.

Bill Often in Paris dense crowds interfere with enjoying the tourist attractions. Not so in the Paris sewer, except for one particular demographic.

Bill As I wandered the sewers several groups of school children toured. When they heard me speak English I found myself instantly surrounded by fourth-grades trying out their English language skills.

Bill The tour concludes with, of all things, a gift shop where you can buy a key chain stamped with an image of the Paris Sewer.

Bill And a dandy video display explains everything possible about tossing huge metal balls into the sewer.

Bill Time now to leave the sewer {pause here} and continue exploring Paris by working my way up to its highest point. I now visit a place where the height is something of an illusion: The Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Bill I'm standing inside the nave of the Cathedral. It seems at first to be shaped like a horseshoe, yet it is, like all gothic cathedrals, built like a cross because there are hallways perpendicular to the main aisle of the nave. But you can't really see the cross unless you look where the Cathedral builders wanted you to focus: Up to heaven!

Bill As I cast my eye to the top of Notre Dame, the cross appears in all its glory. The cathedral seems dark to my eye, but if I place myself in the position of a 13th century peasant, Notre Dame's brightness would startle.

Bill You see, compared to older structures the arches of a cathedral are very open, very delicate -- they are as lightweight as you can get with stone. The builders made the piers and arches thin, to create the illusion of height - they look almost like fingers reaching to sky. What few people know is that the arches are so thin they cannot support themselves! In fact, to see the magic underlying a cathedral we must step outside.

Bill The arches are so thin that they need extra support. The builders could've reinforced the inside with iron bars stretching from one side of the cathedral to the other - to tug together, if you will the arches, kind of like joists in an attic. But this, of course, would ruin the builders aim - that magnificent structure where tier after tier of vaults raised your eyes to the heavens. To see their solution walk to a gated area on the south side of Notre Dame ...

Bill ... if you look up while walking along the Cathedral, you'll see hidden in the walls something called a flying buttress. Its a curved piece of stone, a half arch if you will, sitting on a pier, leaning up aganst the side of the building. At first they're hidden in the chapels nestled into the walls of the cathedral, but keep walking and you'll reach my favorite part of Notre Dame: The back. At the west end, no chapels hide anything - there tens of flying buttresses stick out in all their glory.

Bill Now that our eyes are pointed upward, let's travel to the highest point in all of Paris, and the greatest engineering marvel here, the Eiffel Tower.

Bill Standing here under the tower is really the way to appreciate it: The base is four large pylons making a square 420 feet on a side. These pylons are angled to the ground so that it looks as if they sweep up nearly 1000 feet to a small platform at the top of the tower. I find this majestic and magnificent, but not everyone agreed.

Bill When Eiffel proposed the tower, a group of artists and writers wrote to the Minister of Public works:

Bill "We ... devoted lovers of the beauty of Paris ... do protest with all our strength and with all our indignation, in the name of unappreciated French taste, in the name of French art ... the useless and monstrous Eiffel Tower."

Bill The signees never changed their minds about the Tower. Guy de Maupassant, the great short story writer, for example, ate lunch at the Tower as often as possible - that way he didn't have to see the marred skyline of Paris.

Bill These artists also rejected what the tower stood for. Gustave Eiffel built the tower for the 1889 Exposition, exactly 100 years after the French revolution. The Exposition backers wanted the tower to be a Crown Jewel at the Fair. They wanted the exhibits at the Fair to showcase how far the French had come since the revolution - to show that France excelled in the craft of the industrial world of the 19th century.

Bill Today as you approach the Tower, you'll be accosted by men selling small models. Each has a big ring laden with clanging two inch replicas of the Eiffel Tower.

Seller Three for two Euro.

Bill No, no thank you.

Seller A very good price. Moseuier, three for two Euro.

Bill No, no thank you.

Seller Two euro, two euro!

Bill No. No.

Seller Two for one Euro. One Euro!

Bill No, no thank you.

Seller One Euro my friend!

Bill No.

Seller Only one Euro

Bill No.

Seller This is very good price.

Bill With the next seller, I try, on a whim, the German "nein." Only one "nein" and they left me alone completely. This exchange sums up neatly several centuries of French-German relations.

Bill Having successfully negotiated my way through the hoards of trinket sellers, I can now admire the tower. From the base I first examine a part of the tower which is a .... fraud

Bill From where I stand I can see arches just underneath the first level, some 278 feet above my head. Afraid the public wouldn't believe that his simple structure would hold up, Eiffel added these gratuitous arches. They have no role but to fool the eye and give a sense of security by tapping subliminally into our faith in the strength of an arch.

Bill I, of course, love the view from the ground. Yet, there is another reason that I like appreciating the tower from underneath. My wife, whom I am travelling with, points it out.

Amy Chicken!

Bill I actually don't think its a good day to go up the Eiffel Tower.

Amy I do.

Bill We had a brighter day yesterday.

Amy You're just chicken.

Bill Well, I am, but at least I'd like it to be a bright day.

Amy It'll rain tomorrow.

Bill Oh, no it's supposed to be bright.

Bill I don't like heights. I don't often look out of airplane windows, I cannot ride in Ferris wheels, ski lifts terrify me, and I find riding in a cable car shear torture. And something as open and tall as the Eiffel Tower ... well ... I agree to at least walk up to the first level. We approach the arch, preparing to ascend.

Bill Oh, it isn't that bad. My wife buys us tickets costing a few Euro coins .... we pass through security, and start the climb.

Bill You said it doesn't feel very high?

Any Yeah.

Bill No, it doesn't feel that bad. I'm a little nervous, but not bad. I've been in fire towers that were much worse.

Bill I enjoy walking up, it gives me a chance to really study the structure of the tower.

Bill The Tower is a filigree of steel, designed so that it can withstand a wind of 148 miles per hour at the very top of the tower. The tower represent the pinnacle of Gustav Eiffel's career, whose start gives me little comfort about the stability of the tower. Eiffel at first aimed only to work in his uncle's vineagar factory. He worked toward that modest goal by being unremarkable at school: He failed to get into the best engineering school in Paris, having to settle for the second best.

Bill His uncle's vinegar factory failed, forcing Eiffel to innovate. At the time railway construction lead the way into the century of "steel and iron." Eiffel jumped on the band wagon becoming the first of the new breed of engineers: Highly mathematical, not flamboyant in speech or behavior, and having the calm self-assurance we associate with engineers. He built train stations, department stores, churches and bridges. He worked around the world: Egypt, Indochina, Hungary, Rumania, Portugal, Russia and Peru. Only once did his work appear in the United States: He designed the steel interior that supports the Statue of Liberty. In building all these things Eiffel became the first to really understand the importance of wind, he learned how to lace his structures with trusses to minimize their movement.

Bill So, when Eiffel designed his tower he knew he had to battle wind because essentially you have a very long and narrow thing sticking out of the ground. Eiffel the engineer had two choices: One, make the tower so heavy that by brute force it always resists the wind -- this is what is done in building a skyscraper. Or, two, make the surface of the tower so minimal that the wind passes right by. And that is, of course, what Eiffel did. The open lattice, the grid-like structure, make it look so minimalist as to seem weak, yet in that openes lies the secret of the tower's strength. tx {Bring to conclusion w/ voice}

Bill I'm on the second deck, 454 feet above the ground -- the spire rises above me to 945 feet -- although fog surrounds it so my wife and I choose to go no further. This is a good place to end this engineer's tour of Paris because I'm standing atop a representation in steel and iron of all that has happened to us in the last century.

Bill Eiffel's Tower marked a change in our purpose as a society, in our focus. In the past we built towers for spiritual purposes: Think of Gothic cathedrals, whose bells called out prayer hours, or the Minarets that reminded Moslems of their religious duties. In contrast, Eiffel built his tower to astonish the World with the achievements of science and technology. To awe them with a filigree of metal, so open as to seem vulnerable, yet able to resists a gale force wind of almost 150 miles per hour.

Bill That accomplishment is, for me, a creative act on par with the things I skipped today in the Lourve Museum - equal in a way with the Mona Lisa and the Venus de Milo. The Italian poet Marinetti wrote in 1911: "A roaring motor car, which runs like a machine gun, is more beautiful than the [statue of the] Winged Victory" in the Lourve. That's too extreme, but as I showed today there is beauty to be found in any kind of human endeavor, in any creative act - from the Mona Lisa to the Eiffel Tower, and even, the sewers of Paris.

ice-hotel.htm0000644006266300626630000010177311321371174012114 0ustar a398055a398055 Audio: Bill Hammack visits the Ice Hotel in Arctic Sweden
Ice Hotel

The Ice Hotel

Listen now or download (26:17)

> soundFile=mp3-radio/ice-hotel.mp3">

In January 2002 Bill visited the Ice Hotel with his wife Amy Somrak and their friends Allan and Pat Tuchman. Located in the arctic circle of Sweden, the hotel's owners rebuild the hotel every year. Temperatures outside the hotel can be as low as 40 degrees below freezing; inside the hotel temperatures are a comparatively warm 9 degrees fahrenheit. In this public radio piece Bill examines the hotel rooms, interviews its designer, and probes the hotel's appeal.

Transcript

(printable transcript)

Introduction

Bill I began to worry as the plane landed. I became alarmed when the flight attendant prepared by putting on a coat, a large scarf and gloves. I'd hoped for a few more minutes of warmth.

Bill I was landing in the arctic circle in Northern Sweden. I was to stay in one of the most incredible structures in the world. A hotel made completely from ice. My wife had picked up the New York Times travel section a year ago and read about this ice hotel. She learned how every year, they build a sixty-room hotel from three thousand tons of snow and ice. She decided then and there that she had to visit it. Earlier that day at breakfast, in Stockholm, I asked her why, exactly, we were going to the Ice Hotel. She got as close as she ever does to philosophical, for she is first and foremost a woman of action.

Amy "I want to taste everything, I want to try it, I want to sample it, I wanna do this really neat thing. And I've never been to Sweden, and its a great excuse to come to Sweden. And hang out in the Arctic circle, and I've experienced the arctic circle in summer, but never in winter, I wanted to try out thirty below and see what that was like."

Bill What specifically, I asked, excited her about the experience of the Ice Hotel?

Amy "Because it's cool, because it's beautiful, because it's ephemeral, because they built it new every year and it melts back to the river. And that's just, God that's amazing. They build ice sculptures inside and every year it's unique."

Bill Her very physical way of experiencing the world is not mine. She travels around the world to climbs rocks, or backpack along a glacier, while I prefer words. Reading to me is the supreme experience. I agree completely with the Argentinean writer Borges: "I think of reading a book," he wrote, "as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love. I think that reading Berkeley or Shaw or Emerson, those are quite as real experiences to me as seeing London." So, that day as we flew from Stockholm to the Arctic I buried myself in a book about travelling through the Sahara Desert. I was in denial about going to the arctic.

I had only briefly formed an image of where we were going, and what it would be like. It occurred when my wife and I were packing for this trip. As we laid out our things she pointed to a set of warm clothes and said "we should carry them on, rather than check them. They're mission critical." I don't like vacations where anything in my luggage is described as mission critical.

Bill As we approached the airport the pilot told us it was minus twenty-nine degrees celsius outside. That's fifty two degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. As the plane neared the ground I began to think of those mission critical warm clothes in our carry on luggage.

Bill On landing I hope for a few more minutes of warmth, but there is no jet way, so we exit the plane by a set of stairs, and walk across the tarmac in the frigid weather. We'd scheduled transport from the airport to the Ice Hotel by dog sled, but instead got a rude awakening about exactly how cold it was. We met a representative of the Ice Hotel, who explains why our dog sled ride has been cancelled.

Hotel guide "Too cold for the dogs, not for you, but for the dog, because they get so much cold air inside, not good."

Bill Too cold for the dogs, but not for me. I don't like this at all. Instead of a dog sled we take a bus to the Ice Hotel. As we leave the airport my friend Allan - we are travelling with Allan and his wife Pat - points out how far north we've flown. He notes that it is high noon, but the sun sits only five degrees above the horizon. Next he draws my attention to the satellite dishes along the road: They point, he notes, toward the horizon so they can reach satellites that circle the equator half a globe away. After that we all sit quietly and study the snow-covered landscape. I find myself wondering what my stay in the Ice Hotel will be like. Will it be anything like the first Ice Palace? It was built by a Russian Princess and was a monstrous joke.

History of Ice Hotels

Bill The cruel Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna, niece of Peter the Great, had built the first Ice Palace in 1740 to punish a member of the Russian nobility.

Prince Mikhail angered her by converting to Catholicism, so she first punished him by forcing him to set on a basket of eggs and cackle until they hatched. Not satisfied with this, she made the Prince marry one of her servants. A women described as of "exceptional ugliness." She'd been nicknamed Buzhennia after the Empress's favorite dish of roast pork with spiced vinegar and onion sauce. Even this forced marriage wasn't enough punishment. Immediately after the ceremony she forced the bride and groom, festooned in furs, to sit in an iron cage on top of an elephant. They led a parade of hundreds of provincial couples - Lapps, Finns, and others - all dressed in their national costumes. They marched to an Ice Palace.

On the Neva River she'd commissioned her architect to build a Palace of ice for the couple's wedding night. In this Ice Palace she had armed guards force them to stay all night in an ice bed. In spite of its cruel purpose the Palace itself was a true work of art.

Built of exceptionally clear ice from the Neva River, the palace was fifty-six feet tall, seventeen feet wide, and over twenty-one feet long. To build it the architect had precisely measured with a compass and ruler each block, carefully cut them, then used a crane to set them exactly in place. Freezing water joined the blocks so smoothly that they appeared to be one single piece. A visitor said of that Ice Palace that it was "infinitely more beautiful than if it had been constructed of the finest marble. The transparency and bluish tone of the ice gave it the look of some precious stone."

Every detail in the Palace showed exquisite craftsmanship: Twenty-nine ice trees adorned the building. Flora and fauna were sculpted from ice and then painted natural colors. And while most of the palace was left transparent, the pillars, doors and window frames were painted green to simulate marble. The windows panes were made from the thinnest ice possible.

So, as our bus tooled along a snow-covered arctic highway, I prepared for an experience of beauty and discomfort.

Getting dressed (The technology of warm clothes)

Bill Our bus arrives at the Ice Hotel, but we cannot see it, we must wait for a tour, plus we need to get outfitted to battle the cold weather. As we leave the bus to dash into the warm reception hall, my friend Allan draws our attention.

Hotel guide "There's a thermometer hanging here in celsius, reading minus twenty-five and a half."

Bill Again, minus twenty-five and a half celsius is some forty-six degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. I'm not pleased to learn this, but I've brought with me high-tech clothes especially designed for cold weather. Most of them were an engagement gift years ago from my wife, which, I now realize, should have been my first clue that I'd end up in the Arctic. They're made from synthetic material that "wicks" water away from my body. In cold weather this is crucial because the problem isn't getting warm, its staying warm. As your body heats itself it sweats, and if you wear cotton or wool the water produced stays near your skin and pulls out the heat.

Bill So, at the Ice Hotel reception area I put on no less than six layers of clothing, then cover it with a huge insulated coverall suit supplied by the Ice Hotel. I put ear muffs on, then a hat, then I cover this with what I used to call a face mask, but my wife says I must now call a Balaclava. Apparently the first people to wear full face masks where the soldiers of the Crimean village of Balaclava. They popularized this head gear in ferocious battles of the Crimean War. Still in some subconscious denial about the arctic, I keep calling it a Baklava. A food I note from Greece, a very warm country. When we finish suiting up it's time for our Ice Hotel orientation tour. It begins with an ominous warning.

Hotel guide "We have this check in tour because this is not a normal hotel. And to be able to survive the night and enjoy your stay here we have to teach you how to live her. Tonight it's very cold, its minus thirty degrees and its actually a bit dangerously cold, so you have to be aware."

Into the Ice Hotel

Bill With that we are allowed to enter the Ice Hotel. In our seven layers of clothing and with the temperature dropping now to nearly seventy-two degrees below freezing, we thread our way along a path lined by giant ice obelisks, each eight feet tall and three feet square. As my wife notes, they are the same shape and size as a portapotty. We can see the Ice Hotel in front of us: It's a one story building, nearly 100 feet wide.

On this trail we pass a refrigerated "Thermo King" truck. It is unloading into the Ice Hotel skids of Abolut Vodka: citron, lemon, and currant flavored. I take this as a positive sign of civilization, until I realize that the Thermo King truck is needed to keep the vodka from freezing. Ever enthusiastic Allan is, of course, at the door first.

Allan The front entrance is built of clear blocks of ice with reindeer skin doors."

Bill Allan, Pat, my wife and I take a breath and then Allan pulls on the reindeer antler door handles and we enter the Ice Hotel.

The first thing we sense is warmth. The temperature inside the Ice Hotel is twenty degrees below freezing, but compared to the outside this feels toasty. Then we notice quiet: Inside the Ice Hotel all sound dies in the three feet thick snow and ice walls. The only sound is our own footsteps.

We enter the the Great Hallway. A mist rises from its floor; it's roof made of great arches thirty feet tall, held up by massive pillars carved from sparkling, clear ice. I feel a sense of contradiction: The walls are made of snow and ice so they seem fragile, yet at the same time massive; the supports are transparent, yet solid. There are no vertical walls, everything is part of an arch. This drives my eye to focus on the top where an arch culminates in a point. This point tells me these aren't the semi-circular arches of Roman or Byzantine architecture, but influenced by Gothic design. The arches look like they've been transplanted from a great Gothic cathedral, and then frosted with translucent snow and ice.

Next we set out to search for our rooms. From the Great Hallway we venture down a smaller corridor perhaps fifteen feet tall, made of arches shaped like those of the Great Hallway. The guest rooms line this corridor. The doors of the rooms are just holes cut into the ice walls, then covered with a flimsy curtain. Next to these "doors" the room number is carved in snow. We locate our rooms and enter them.

Amy "Oh, look at the chocolates frozen solid."

Allan "The carpet is made of snow."

Pat "I've never had a bed that lit from underneath before. This is going to be ..."

Amy "Are those candles under it."

Pat "I don't know let's see."

Amy "It's a fluorescent light."

Pat "So, instead of legs for the bed there are blocks of ice, then it looks like a wood frame."

Amy "What is that?"

Pat "It's a foam mattress, then reindeer skins."

Bill Allan sums it up the best.

Allan "I see a block of ice. I see reindeer skins on it. There are no reindeer pillows. And there is a night stand made of ice to put my glasses on so they stick to my face when I wake up."

Bill From there we explore the rest of the Ice Hotel. We find intricate sculptures carved out of ice. In one room a Viking Ship juts out of the wall, in another an Egyptian pyramid rules the floor, and oddly, in a corner there is a life-sized statue of Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet. Next we come across the room, which to me, is the crowing glory of the Ice Hotel: The Absolut Vodka Bar.

To enter the bar we pass through a thirty foot tall ice wall, where they've cut an opening the shape of a Vodka Bottle. The room is like a huge igloo, its dome reaching fifty feet in the air. The room is filled with tables and benches carved from four inch thick ice. The bar itself is one huge chunk of ice. I immediately order a drink called a Northern Light. Allan orders a "Fire & Ice", ironically his breath condenses as he says "Fire." Our drinks are served "On the rocks" in the most literal sense: Our glasses are a chunk of ice, with a hole in it. Our bartender explains.

Bartender "We have a special drill, a machine, that makes them. You drill a hole, you cut them in squares, you dip them quickly in hot water and let them freeze again. And while you drip them in hot water [is because] you just have to get the sawdust out of the barrel."

Bill We are comfortable at the bar, but are reminded our comfort is only relative to the outside when we notice that the stereo is in a refrigerator to keep it warm. We also see our bartender dipping her pen into the flame of a candle.

Bartender "I have to warm up the ink, otherwise I can't write anything with it. It looks very silly. And The worst thing is when you stand like this and you look around, and you look at the pen, and its on fire."

Bill Following our drinks in the Ice Bar, we tour the hotel studying the sculptures until its time to spend the night in the Ice Hotel. Staying in the hotel is much less exciting than you'd think. First, attached to the Ice Hotel was a real, heated building. It contained a changing room, and heated toilets. Non-ice toilet, I note. Second, they gave us special sleeping bag rated for twenty degrees cooler than the actual temperature of the Ice Hotel. Our guide told us that wearing anything more than the lightest of clothes would make use sweat. And that sweat would suck the warmth from our bodies, making us very cold at night. So, we change into light clothing in the heated changing room, then dash to our beds, to crawl into our sleeping bags. None of us emerge from our warm cocoons until morning, when an Ice Hotel hostess comes by to offer us warm lingonberry juice. We then gather in the changing room where I chat with other guests about how well they slept.

British woman "Very well, wake up once I think. I was out like a light."

British man "Terrible really. Main problem was the sleeping bag. I kept getting tied in knots. I was twisting and turning all night and had to untangled by myself. But other than than it wasn't cold. It was quite fine."

Bill Although he did have one problem.

British man "Dropped my pillow, and it went onto the floor, and I picked it up, and it was freezing [laughing] freezing."

Bill Next I check with Allan and Pat.

Allan Going to the bathroom scared me back to sleep. Just the idea of having to put on all those clothes."

Pat "My nose got cold at one point, and that woke me up. So, it took a little while to convince myself I really wanted to stay inside the sleeping bag and not go anywhere.

PatThere was the time that I was lying there and I gave a great big exhale, lying on my back, and it snowed back on top of me."

Bill And my wife rated the experience highly.

Amy "It was great. I got up once, braved the elements to go to the bathroom, came back. It's actually better than being camping, because you know when you get out of your nice, toasty warm sleeping back you don't have to go into the cold and dark and dig a hole. You can go to a nice, proper rest room with heating and lights and radio. It's much, much easier than being camping."

Bill You can see one of the problems my wife and I have in choosing where to travel: I never rate the comfort of a hotel by how far it was above digging a hole for going to the bathroom. I was eager, after my night in the hotel to find out why anyone would build such a beautiful, yet ephemeral thing. I mention to my wife and our friends that I'm going to find the architect of the Ice Hotel and talk to him or her, but they insist that I first have some arctic experiences.

Experience

Bill We took a dog sled ride along the iced over Torne River. We rode in that long twilight characteristic of the arctic. Even though fifty degrees below freezing quickly numbs fingers, toes and noses, the twilight made up for it by making the snow look luminous and blue.

We visited with some Sami, the indigenous people of northern Sweden. They couched us in driving a reindeer sled, and shared they're amazing knowledge of reindeer

.

Sami guide "It's hard to sound like a deer, but like this" [Deer impersonation follows]

BillThey shared with use a meal of reindeer wrapped in what looked like a tortilla shell.

And as I held on tightly, my wife drove a snowmobile into a dark forest and we sat in the freezing cold, until the Northern Lights appeared above us. We watched them flicker and twist, until they disappeared.

Of course the snowmobile was too tame for my experience loving, rock climbing, primitive camping wife. She just wanted to . . .

Amy "Just let it out, but we never really got any straightaways. I really wanted to see what that thing could do."

Bill And not all experiences were as sublime as visiting natives, or taking in the great cosmic display of light -- some were more mundane, yet, to my wife, equally important.

Amy "I found out that the giant monolithic piece of ice that look like porta-potties. They're outside so if you lick them your tongue will stick to them."

Bill After enough experience for me, I left Pat, Allan and my wife. They planned to take another snowmobile ride and "Let them out." I wanted to find out why anyone would build something as beautiful, yet temporal as the Ice Hotel. I'm used to buildings, art, or literature that's made to last the centuries. So the Ice Hotel puzzled me. In the morning I tracked down the Architect of the Ice Hotel, a man named Ake Larsson.

Architect of the Ice Hotel

Bill When we meet I first notice Larsson's hat: It's a knit skullcap that makes him looks like a medieval Deacon. I expect when I glance down to see him wearing vestments, but he wears only a thin cloth jacket. He chain smokes as we chat in his barely heated office, which is scattered with papers and drawings. How, I ask, did he get started working with ice?

Larsson "I've been working with wood for twenty years, before I turn over to ice. I started with furniture, when I needed furniture. I didn't want to buy what was out in the shops. So I started to make my own furniture. And then it turns over to be more and more artistic furniture. And suddenly I realized there were no furniture anymore, just art!"

Bill Once he realized he was making art Larsson sought out other media. He made sculptures of ice, and fall in love with the medium. Over time he refined his methods for building ice sculptures, and then moved onto bigger things. I asked him what exactly the magnificent translucent arches of the Ice Hotel were made from.

Larsson "I call this material snice -- the density is just between snow and ice."

Bill He explains that to make the arches they use snow cannons to blast this special "snice" mixture into a mold. This compacts the snow tightly, so that when the temperature reaches 50 degrees below freezing the snice becomes a mass so solid that Larsson tell me "you could drive a car on the roof." Yet these arches that make up the Ice Hotel aren't permanent like his wood furniture. In fact, they don't even keep their shape over the season.

Larsson "One of the things with snow construction is it compresses all the time. The whole building shrinks. The building is five and half meters high - the highest arch - at the end of the season its four and half. So it goes down one meter."

Bill What inspires him to create these transient arches made of snice instead of something permanent and enduring.

Larsson "Yes, I spend the summers around Europe to look at old Cathedrals."

Bill And which cathedrals inspire him the most?

Larsson "In Reims at France. Very beautiful arches. And also St. Peters in Rome. St. Peters for the size."

Bill Again, I ask him why ice, why not stone or wood?

Larsson "It's to realize a dream, a fairy tale in snow and ice, to build a castle in snow and ice -- that's the goal for me, to build up a dream."

Larsson "It's just for the moment, enjoy the moment, the day you are in - and don't think about the future or the last. Just here and now. And enjoy it."

Bill And what does he dream of building in ice, of building "for the moment?"

Larsson "St. Peters. It's possible to do. The sky is the limit here [laugher]."

Bill How does he feel about his Ice Cathedral disappearing at the end of every winter?

Larsson "Happy. Because then I start to draw a new one."

Conclusion

Bill Still I wondered why anyone would create something so intricate and beautiful, yet short lived. I returned to the Ice Hotel to search for the answer. I found an artist working on a huge ice statue of a women.

Artist "Lady of the river. Yeah! Ah, A very big lady, the mother of the river."

Bill The statue is very detailed, and has obviously taken days to carve. Yet, it will be gone in a few months. So I ask why does he like working in ice.

Artist "Yeah, its perfect. No body can buy it, the water takes the life back. Yeah, it's perfect for me."

Bill I realize now, that the Ice Hotel reminds us of how we should approach art, and even life. The novelist Walker Percy captured the essence of this approach with a single question about the Grand Canyon. He asked, is it really possible today to experience the Grand Canyon? It seems an odd, almost nonsensical question, but Percy was after something very deep when he talked of "experience."

Bill When the first Spanish Explorer stumbled unexpectedly on the Grand Canyon he experienced wonder and delight as he took in its depths, patterns, colors, and shadows. Today our experience starts with a travel brochure, and a distinct image of the Grand Canyon.

When we arrive we ask ourselves "does it look like a postcard", if so we go home and say "it's every bit as beautiful as a postcard." If it doesn't conform to our expectations, maybe the colors are somber, or the day is cloudy, any disparity between the experience and the postcard makes us return home saying "I was unlucky, I wasn't there at the right time." Percy argues that the only way today to truly experience the Grand Canyon is to stumble upon it.

That's what, in a sense, the Ice Hotel does. It makes us stumble on it, because very year it's new. It reminds us that when we approach any creative work - a piece of art, literature, a building, or even the most ordinary everyday object - to truly appreciate it we must remove our blinders, and see it fresh, unmediated by any preconceptions.

ice-hotel-printable-transcript.htm0000644006266300626630000007567411321371317016272 0ustar a398055a398055 Printable transcript: Bill Hammack Ice Hotel in Arctic Sweden

The Ice Hotel - a public radio piece by Bill Hammack

(Return to Ice Hotel audio page)

Introduction

Bill I began to worry as the plane landed. I became alarmed when the flight attendant prepared by putting on a coat, a large scarf and gloves. I'd hoped for a few more minutes of warmth.

Bill I was landing in the arctic circle in Northern Sweden. I was to stay in one of the most incredible structures in the world. A hotel made completely from ice. My wife had picked up the New York Times travel section a year ago and read about this ice hotel. She learned how every year, they build a sixty-room hotel from three thousand tons of snow and ice. She decided then and there that she had to visit it. Earlier that day at breakfast, in Stockholm, I asked her why, exactly, we were going to the Ice Hotel. She got as close as she ever does to philosophical, for she is first and foremost a woman of action.

Amy "I want to taste everything, I want to try it, I want to sample it, I wanna do this really neat thing. And I've never been to Sweden, and its a great excuse to come to Sweden. And hang out in the Arctic circle, and I've experienced the arctic circle in summer, but never in winter, I wanted to try out thirty below and see what that was like."

Bill What specifically, I asked, excited her about the experience of the Ice Hotel?

Amy "Because it's cool, because it's beautiful, because it's ephemeral, because they built it new every year and it melts back to the river. And that's just, God that's amazing. They build ice sculptures inside and every year it's unique."

Bill Her very physical way of experiencing the world is not mine. She travels around the world to climbs rocks, or backpack along a glacier, while I prefer words. Reading to me is the supreme experience. I agree completely with the Argentinean writer Borges: "I think of reading a book," he wrote, "as no less an experience than traveling or falling in love. I think that reading Berkeley or Shaw or Emerson, those are quite as real experiences to me as seeing London." So, that day as we flew from Stockholm to the Arctic I buried myself in a book about travelling through the Sahara Desert. I was in denial about going to the arctic.

I had only briefly formed an image of where we were going, and what it would be like. It occurred when my wife and I were packing for this trip. As we laid out our things she pointed to a set of warm clothes and said "we should carry them on, rather than check them. They're mission critical." I don't like vacations where anything in my luggage is described as mission critical.

Bill As we approached the airport the pilot told us it was minus twenty-nine degrees celsius outside. That's fifty two degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. As the plane neared the ground I began to think of those mission critical warm clothes in our carry on luggage.

Bill On landing I hope for a few more minutes of warmth, but there is no jet way, so we exit the plane by a set of stairs, and walk across the tarmac in the frigid weather. We'd scheduled transport from the airport to the Ice Hotel by dog sled, but instead got a rude awakening about exactly how cold it was. We met a representative of the Ice Hotel, who explains why our dog sled ride has been cancelled.

Hotel guide "Too cold for the dogs, not for you, but for the dog, because they get so much cold air inside, not good."

Bill Too cold for the dogs, but not for me. I don't like this at all. Instead of a dog sled we take a bus to the Ice Hotel. As we leave the airport my friend Allan - we are travelling with Allan and his wife Pat - points out how far north we've flown. He notes that it is high noon, but the sun sits only five degrees above the horizon. Next he draws my attention to the satellite dishes along the road: They point, he notes, toward the horizon so they can reach satellites that circle the equator half a globe away. After that we all sit quietly and study the snow-covered landscape. I find myself wondering what my stay in the Ice Hotel will be like. Will it be anything like the first Ice Palace? It was built by a Russian Princess and was a monstrous joke.

History of Ice Hotels

Bill The cruel Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna, niece of Peter the Great, had built the first Ice Palace in 1740 to punish a member of the Russian nobility.

Prince Mikhail angered her by converting to Catholicism, so she first punished him by forcing him to set on a basket of eggs and cackle until they hatched. Not satisfied with this, she made the Prince marry one of her servants. A women described as of "exceptional ugliness." She'd been nicknamed Buzhennia after the Empress's favorite dish of roast pork with spiced vinegar and onion sauce. Even this forced marriage wasn't enough punishment. Immediately after the ceremony she forced the bride and groom, festooned in furs, to sit in an iron cage on top of an elephant. They led a parade of hundreds of provincial couples - Lapps, Finns, and others - all dressed in their national costumes. They marched to an Ice Palace.

On the Neva River she'd commissioned her architect to build a Palace of ice for the couple's wedding night. In this Ice Palace she had armed guards force them to stay all night in an ice bed. In spite of its cruel purpose the Palace itself was a true work of art.

Built of exceptionally clear ice from the Neva River, the palace was fifty-six feet tall, seventeen feet wide, and over twenty-one feet long. To build it the architect had precisely measured with a compass and ruler each block, carefully cut them, then used a crane to set them exactly in place. Freezing water joined the blocks so smoothly that they appeared to be one single piece. A visitor said of that Ice Palace that it was "infinitely more beautiful than if it had been constructed of the finest marble. The transparency and bluish tone of the ice gave it the look of some precious stone."

Every detail in the Palace showed exquisite craftsmanship: Twenty-nine ice trees adorned the building. Flora and fauna were sculpted from ice and then painted natural colors. And while most of the palace was left transparent, the pillars, doors and window frames were painted green to simulate marble. The windows panes were made from the thinnest ice possible.

So, as our bus tooled along a snow-covered arctic highway, I prepared for an experience of beauty and discomfort.

Getting dressed (The technology of warm clothes)

Bill Our bus arrives at the Ice Hotel, but we cannot see it, we must wait for a tour, plus we need to get outfitted to battle the cold weather. As we leave the bus to dash into the warm reception hall, my friend Allan draws our attention.

Hotel guide "There's a thermometer hanging here in celsius, reading minus twenty-five and a half."

Bill Again, minus twenty-five and a half celsius is some forty-six degrees Fahrenheit below freezing. I'm not pleased to learn this, but I've brought with me high-tech clothes especially designed for cold weather. Most of them were an engagement gift years ago from my wife, which, I now realize, should have been my first clue that I'd end up in the Arctic. They're made from synthetic material that "wicks" water away from my body. In cold weather this is crucial because the problem isn't getting warm, its staying warm. As your body heats itself it sweats, and if you wear cotton or wool the water produced stays near your skin and pulls out the heat.

Bill So, at the Ice Hotel reception area I put on no less than six layers of clothing, then cover it with a huge insulated coverall suit supplied by the Ice Hotel. I put ear muffs on, then a hat, then I cover this with what I used to call a face mask, but my wife says I must now call a Balaclava. Apparently the first people to wear full face masks where the soldiers of the Crimean village of Balaclava. They popularized this head gear in ferocious battles of the Crimean War. Still in some subconscious denial about the arctic, I keep calling it a Baklava. A food I note from Greece, a very warm country. When we finish suiting up it's time for our Ice Hotel orientation tour. It begins with an ominous warning.

Hotel guide "We have this check in tour because this is not a normal hotel. And to be able to survive the night and enjoy your stay here we have to teach you how to live her. Tonight it's very cold, its minus thirty degrees and its actually a bit dangerously cold, so you have to be aware."

Into the Ice Hotel

Bill With that we are allowed to enter the Ice Hotel. In our seven layers of clothing and with the temperature dropping now to nearly seventy-two degrees below freezing, we thread our way along a path lined by giant ice obelisks, each eight feet tall and three feet square. As my wife notes, they are the same shape and size as a portapotty. We can see the Ice Hotel in front of us: It's a one story building, nearly 100 feet wide.

On this trail we pass a refrigerated "Thermo King" truck. It is unloading into the Ice Hotel skids of Abolut Vodka: citron, lemon, and currant flavored. I take this as a positive sign of civilization, until I realize that the Thermo King truck is needed to keep the vodka from freezing. Ever enthusiastic Allan is, of course, at the door first.

Allan The front entrance is built of clear blocks of ice with reindeer skin doors."

Bill Allan, Pat, my wife and I take a breath and then Allan pulls on the reindeer antler door handles and we enter the Ice Hotel.

The first thing we sense is warmth. The temperature inside the Ice Hotel is twenty degrees below freezing, but compared to the outside this feels toasty. Then we notice quiet: Inside the Ice Hotel all sound dies in the three feet thick snow and ice walls. The only sound is our own footsteps.

We enter the the Great Hallway. A mist rises from its floor; it's roof made of great arches thirty feet tall, held up by massive pillars carved from sparkling, clear ice. I feel a sense of contradiction: The walls are made of snow and ice so they seem fragile, yet at the same time massive; the supports are transparent, yet solid. There are no vertical walls, everything is part of an arch. This drives my eye to focus on the top where an arch culminates in a point. This point tells me these aren't the semi-circular arches of Roman or Byzantine architecture, but influenced by Gothic design. The arches look like they've been transplanted from a great Gothic cathedral, and then frosted with translucent snow and ice.

Next we set out to search for our rooms. From the Great Hallway we venture down a smaller corridor perhaps fifteen feet tall, made of arches shaped like those of the Great Hallway. The guest rooms line this corridor. The doors of the rooms are just holes cut into the ice walls, then covered with a flimsy curtain. Next to these "doors" the room number is carved in snow. We locate our rooms and enter them.

Amy "Oh, look at the chocolates frozen solid."

Allan "The carpet is made of snow."

Pat "I've never had a bed that lit from underneath before. This is going to be ..."

Amy "Are those candles under it."

Pat "I don't know let's see."

Amy "It's a fluorescent light."

Pat "So, instead of legs for the bed there are blocks of ice, then it looks like a wood frame."

Amy "What is that?"

Pat "It's a foam mattress, then reindeer skins."

Bill Allan sums it up the best.

Allan "I see a block of ice. I see reindeer skins on it. There are no reindeer pillows. And there is a night stand made of ice to put my glasses on so they stick to my face when I wake up."

Bill From there we explore the rest of the Ice Hotel. We find intricate sculptures carved out of ice. In one room a Viking Ship juts out of the wall, in another an Egyptian pyramid rules the floor, and oddly, in a corner there is a life-sized statue of Frank Zappa sitting on a toilet. Next we come across the room, which to me, is the crowing glory of the Ice Hotel: The Absolut Vodka Bar.

To enter the bar we pass through a thirty foot tall ice wall, where they've cut an opening the shape of a Vodka Bottle. The room is like a huge igloo, its dome reaching fifty feet in the air. The room is filled with tables and benches carved from four inch thick ice. The bar itself is one huge chunk of ice. I immediately order a drink called a Northern Light. Allan orders a "Fire & Ice", ironically his breath condenses as he says "Fire." Our drinks are served "On the rocks" in the most literal sense: Our glasses are a chunk of ice, with a hole in it. Our bartender explains.

Bartender "We have a special drill, a machine, that makes them. You drill a hole, you cut them in squares, you dip them quickly in hot water and let them freeze again. And while you drip them in hot water [is because] you just have to get the sawdust out of the barrel."

Bill We are comfortable at the bar, but are reminded our comfort is only relative to the outside when we notice that the stereo is in a refrigerator to keep it warm. We also see our bartender dipping her pen into the flame of a candle.

Bartender "I have to warm up the ink, otherwise I can't write anything with it. It looks very silly. And The worst thing is when you stand like this and you look around, and you look at the pen, and its on fire."

Bill Following our drinks in the Ice Bar, we tour the hotel studying the sculptures until its time to spend the night in the Ice Hotel. Staying in the hotel is much less exciting than you'd think. First, attached to the Ice Hotel was a real, heated building. It contained a changing room, and heated toilets. Non-ice toilet, I note. Second, they gave us special sleeping bag rated for twenty degrees cooler than the actual temperature of the Ice Hotel. Our guide told us that wearing anything more than the lightest of clothes would make use sweat. And that sweat would suck the warmth from our bodies, making us very cold at night. So, we change into light clothing in the heated changing room, then dash to our beds, to crawl into our sleeping bags. None of us emerge from our warm cocoons until morning, when an Ice Hotel hostess comes by to offer us warm lingonberry juice. We then gather in the changing room where I chat with other guests about how well they slept.

British woman "Very well, wake up once I think. I was out like a light."

British man "Terrible really. Main problem was the sleeping bag. I kept getting tied in knots. I was twisting and turning all night and had to untangled by myself. But other than than it wasn't cold. It was quite fine."

Bill Although he did have one problem.

British man "Dropped my pillow, and it went onto the floor, and I picked it up, and it was freezing [laughing] freezing."

Bill Next I check with Allan and Pat.

Allan Going to the bathroom scared me back to sleep. Just the idea of having to put on all those clothes."

Pat "My nose got cold at one point, and that woke me up. So, it took a little while to convince myself I really wanted to stay inside the sleeping bag and not go anywhere.

PatThere was the time that I was lying there and I gave a great big exhale, lying on my back, and it snowed back on top of me."

Bill And my wife rated the experience highly.

Amy "It was great. I got up once, braved the elements to go to the bathroom, came back. It's actually better than being camping, because you know when you get out of your nice, toasty warm sleeping back you don't have to go into the cold and dark and dig a hole. You can go to a nice, proper rest room with heating and lights and radio. It's much, much easier than being camping."

Bill You can see one of the problems my wife and I have in choosing where to travel: I never rate the comfort of a hotel by how far it was above digging a hole for going to the bathroom. I was eager, after my night in the hotel to find out why anyone would build such a beautiful, yet ephemeral thing. I mention to my wife and our friends that I'm going to find the architect of the Ice Hotel and talk to him or her, but they insist that I first have some arctic experiences.

Experience

Bill We took a dog sled ride along the iced over Torne River. We rode in that long twilight characteristic of the arctic. Even though fifty degrees below freezing quickly numbs fingers, toes and noses, the twilight made up for it by making the snow look luminous and blue.

We visited with some Sami, the indigenous people of northern Sweden. They couched us in driving a reindeer sled, and shared they're amazing knowledge of reindeer

.

Sami guide "It's hard to sound like a deer, but like this" [Deer impersonation follows]

BillThey shared with use a meal of reindeer wrapped in what looked like a tortilla shell.

And as I held on tightly, my wife drove a snowmobile into a dark forest and we sat in the freezing cold, until the Northern Lights appeared above us. We watched them flicker and twist, until they disappeared.

Of course the snowmobile was too tame for my experience loving, rock climbing, primitive camping wife. She just wanted to . . .

Amy "Just let it out, but we never really got any straightaways. I really wanted to see what that thing could do."

Bill And not all experiences were as sublime as visiting natives, or taking in the great cosmic display of light -- some were more mundane, yet, to my wife, equally important.

Amy "I found out that the giant monolithic piece of ice that look like porta-potties. They're outside so if you lick them your tongue will stick to them."

Bill After enough experience for me, I left Pat, Allan and my wife. They planned to take another snowmobile ride and "Let them out." I wanted to find out why anyone would build something as beautiful, yet temporal as the Ice Hotel. I'm used to buildings, art, or literature that's made to last the centuries. So the Ice Hotel puzzled me. In the morning I tracked down the Architect of the Ice Hotel, a man named Ake Larsson.

Architect of the Ice Hotel

Bill When we meet I first notice Larsson's hat: It's a knit skullcap that makes him looks like a medieval Deacon. I expect when I glance down to see him wearing vestments, but he wears only a thin cloth jacket. He chain smokes as we chat in his barely heated office, which is scattered with papers and drawings. How, I ask, did he get started working with ice?

Larsson "I've been working with wood for twenty years, before I turn over to ice. I started with furniture, when I needed furniture. I didn't want to buy what was out in the shops. So I started to make my own furniture. And then it turns over to be more and more artistic furniture. And suddenly I realized there were no furniture anymore, just art!"

Bill Once he realized he was making art Larsson sought out other media. He made sculptures of ice, and fall in love with the medium. Over time he refined his methods for building ice sculptures, and then moved onto bigger things. I asked him what exactly the magnificent translucent arches of the Ice Hotel were made from.

Larsson "I call this material snice -- the density is just between snow and ice."

Bill He explains that to make the arches they use snow cannons to blast this special "snice" mixture into a mold. This compacts the snow tightly, so that when the temperature reaches 50 degrees below freezing the snice becomes a mass so solid that Larsson tell me "you could drive a car on the roof." Yet these arches that make up the Ice Hotel aren't permanent like his wood furniture. In fact, they don't even keep their shape over the season.

Larsson "One of the things with snow construction is it compresses all the time. The whole building shrinks. The building is five and half meters high - the highest arch - at the end of the season its four and half. So it goes down one meter."

Bill What inspires him to create these transient arches made of snice instead of something permanent and enduring.

Larsson "Yes, I spend the summers around Europe to look at old Cathedrals."

Bill And which cathedrals inspire him the most?

Larsson "In Reims at France. Very beautiful arches. And also St. Peters in Rome. St. Peters for the size."

Bill Again, I ask him why ice, why not stone or wood?

Larsson "It's to realize a dream, a fairy tale in snow and ice, to build a castle in snow and ice -- that's the goal for me, to build up a dream."

Larsson "It's just for the moment, enjoy the moment, the day you are in - and don't think about the future or the last. Just here and now. And enjoy it."

Bill And what does he dream of building in ice, of building "for the moment?"

Larsson "St. Peters. It's possible to do. The sky is the limit here [laugher]."

Bill How does he feel about his Ice Cathedral disappearing at the end of every winter?

Larsson "Happy. Because then I start to draw a new one."

Conclusion

Bill Still I wondered why anyone would create something so intricate and beautiful, yet short lived. I returned to the Ice Hotel to search for the answer. I found an artist working on a huge ice statue of a women.

Artist "Lady of the river. Yeah! Ah, A very big lady, the mother of the river."

Bill The statue is very detailed, and has obviously taken days to carve. Yet, it will be gone in a few months. So I ask why does he like working in ice.

Artist "Yeah, its perfect. No body can buy it, the water takes the life back. Yeah, it's perfect for me."

Bill I realize now, that the Ice Hotel reminds us of how we should approach art, and even life. The novelist Walker Percy captured the essence of this approach with a single question about the Grand Canyon. He asked, is it really possible today to experience the Grand Canyon? It seems an odd, almost nonsensical question, but Percy was after something very deep when he talked of "experience."

Bill When the first Spanish Explorer stumbled unexpectedly on the Grand Canyon he experienced wonder and delight as he took in its depths, patterns, colors, and shadows. Today our experience starts with a travel brochure, and a distinct image of the Grand Canyon.

When we arrive we ask ourselves "does it look like a postcard", if so we go home and say "it's every bit as beautiful as a postcard." If it doesn't conform to our expectations, maybe the colors are somber, or the day is cloudy, any disparity between the experience and the postcard makes us return home saying "I was unlucky, I wasn't there at the right time." Percy argues that the only way today to truly experience the Grand Canyon is to stumble upon it.

That's what, in a sense, the Ice Hotel does. It makes us stumble on it, because very year it's new. It reminds us that when we approach any creative work - a piece of art, literature, a building, or even the most ordinary everyday object - to truly appreciate it we must remove our blinders, and see it fresh, unmediated by any preconceptions.

water-01.htm0000644006266300626630000002345411343213713011600 0ustar a398055a398055 Audio: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #1)

Our Water Supply

In this four-part public radio special report Bill investigates the origins of the Champaign-Urbana Water supply. He looks at where our water comes from, how much water we have in the ground, how we should best manage that water supply, and how much water we use every day - including water we import from China!

Episode #1

Episode #2

Episode #3

Episode #4

water drop

Episode #1: "Where does our water come from?"

In this first episode Bill introduces the listener to the Mahomet Aquifer by explaining how it was formed. It includes audio clips from David Larson, geologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey and Derek Winstanely of the Illinois State Water Survey. It opens with Bill in his front yard looking for the water cutoff value to his house, then quickly moves to the best geographical point to detect the existance of the undeground Mahmet Aquifer valley. David Larson explains what an aquifer does. Bill closes with a teaser from Winstanley that the water supply isn't infinite.

Listen now or download (03:51)

> soundFile=mp3-radio/water-ep1-final.mp3">

Transcript

(printable transcript)

Bill I suppose like most of us I take for granted the water that comes to my house, until of course something dire happens. [small pause] That metal detector searches for the water cutoff in my front yard as water fills my basement.

Eddie The whole top of the value snapped out; we're lucky the whole value didn't come off the top.

Bill That's Eddie, my plumber, describing the state of the aging water main inside my house. Shaken by the image of water pouring into my basement, I'm no longer complacent about the source of water in Champaign-Urbana [small pause] I start about 30 miles west of my home in Urbana in the small town of Le Roy where I hope to see something invisible to the untrained eye, yet critically important to everyone in this community.

Bill I arrive at the crossroads of Leroy-Lexington Road and McLean County Road 900 North. [pause] Because of my GPS I know I'm exactly 3669.81 miles from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. That's the source of the Nile that created the fertile crescent that gave rise to the Egyptian Empire. Now I'm viewing my own community's Nile if you will. I'm surrounded by miles of flat farm land except If I look due south down Lexington Road the road dips deeply - an unusual feature in the flat heartland of Illinois. To explain what I see here's geologist David Larson from the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Larson "Well, I think the most characteristic thing to observe would be a very broad, long depression in the ground surface, but its miles wide. Its to the point where to the untrained observed they would say 'oh That's nice.' What they are not looking for is the innate third dimension and the time dimension what happened here.

Bill So what happened here? [pause] Buried hundreds feet of beneath me lies the ancient Mahomet Bedrock Valley. Over one million years ago a mighty river cut through the shale bedrock below. With chiseled banks as high as 150 feet it rivaled today's Mississippi River. Starting near the Indiana-Illinois border this majestic river made a graceful u-shape across the region sweeping southwest toward Champaign-Urbana, then turning northwest to Bloomington. The river slowly died when a melting glacier filled it with sand and gravel -- debris that now makes the land where we now work, and play and live. Paradoxically the sand and gravel that killed the river created an aquifer that supplies the water that sustains our lives. Geologist David Larson explains how the Mahomet Aquifer works.

Larson "Actually An aquifer just sits there because the aquifer is the material. So if you think of the sponge analogy - the aquifer is the plastic or that plasticized rubber that makes up the sponge. In the pore spaces between the sand and the gravel, those pore spaces are where the ground water resides. So,he groundwater is the important thing, an aquifer is kinda like the bowl the container."

Bill Trapped in those spaces is the water we use every day to make coffee, wash our laundry, take a bath, and flush our toilets. But how much water can we squeeze from the Mahomet Aquifer? Here's Derek Winstanley, Head of the Illinois State Water Survey.

Winstanley "Its not infinite you can't just withdraw infinities amount of water, otherwise you would suck the whole system dry."

Bill So, tomorrow I look into this question: How much water is there for us to use? And when, if ever, will it run out?

water-01-printable-transcript.htm0000644006266300626630000001501111321371603015732 0ustar a398055a398055 Printable Transcript: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #1)

"Where does our water come from? - Episode #1 of 4 in a public radio series by Bill Hammack

(Return to Water Supply Series)

Bill I suppose like most of us I take for granted the water that comes to my house, until of course something dire happens. [small pause] That metal detector searches for the water cutoff in my front yard as water fills my basement.

Eddie The whole top of the value snapped out; we're lucky the whole value didn't come off the top.

Bill That's Eddie, my plumber, describing the state of the aging water main inside my house. Shaken by the image of water pouring into my basement, I'm no longer complacent about the source of water in Champaign-Urbana [small pause] I start about 30 miles west of my home in Urbana in the small town of Le Roy where I hope to see something invisible to the untrained eye, yet critically important to everyone in this community.

Bill I arrive at the crossroads of Leroy-Lexington Road and McLean County Road 900 North. [pause] Because of my GPS I know I'm exactly 3669.81 miles from Lake Tana in Ethiopia. That's the source of the Nile that created the fertile crescent that gave rise to the Egyptian Empire. Now I'm viewing my own community's Nile if you will. I'm surrounded by miles of flat farm land except If I look due south down Lexington Road the road dips deeply - an unusual feature in the flat heartland of Illinois. To explain what I see here's geologist David Larson from the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Larson "Well, I think the most characteristic thing to observe would be a very broad, long depression in the ground surface, but its miles wide. Its to the point where to the untrained observed they would say 'oh That's nice.' What they are not looking for is the innate third dimension and the time dimension what happened here.

Bill So what happened here? [pause] Buried hundreds feet of beneath me lies the ancient Mahomet Bedrock Valley. Over one million years ago a mighty river cut through the shale bedrock below. With chiseled banks as high as 150 feet it rivaled today's Mississippi River. Starting near the Indiana-Illinois border this majestic river made a graceful u-shape across the region sweeping southwest toward Champaign-Urbana, then turning northwest to Bloomington. The river slowly died when a melting glacier filled it with sand and gravel -- debris that now makes the land where we now work, and play and live. Paradoxically the sand and gravel that killed the river created an aquifer that supplies the water that sustains our lives. Geologist David Larson explains how the Mahomet Aquifer works.

Larson "Actually An aquifer just sits there because the aquifer is the material. So if you think of the sponge analogy - the aquifer is the plastic or that plasticized rubber that makes up the sponge. In the pore spaces between the sand and the gravel, those pore spaces are where the ground water resides. So,he groundwater is the important thing, an aquifer is kinda like the bowl the container."

Bill Trapped in those spaces is the water we use every day to make coffee, wash our laundry, take a bath, and flush our toilets. But how much water can we squeeze from the Mahomet Aquifer? Here's Derek Winstanley, Head of the Illinois State Water Survey.

Winstanley "Its not infinite you can't just withdraw infinities amount of water, otherwise you would suck the whole system dry."

Bill So, tomorrow I look into this question: How much water is there for us to use? And when, if ever, will it run out?

water-02.htm0000644006266300626630000002620611321372642011602 0ustar a398055a398055 Audio: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #2)

Our Water Supply

In this four-part public radio special report Bill investigates the origins of the Champaign-Urbana Water supply. He looks at where our water comes from, how much water we have in the ground, how we should best manage that water supply, and how much water we use every day - including water we import from China!

Episode #1

Episode #2

Episode #3

Episode #4

geology map

Episode #2: "How much water do we have?"

Bill Hammack visits with Norm Stenzel who lives in rural Champaign County near Bondville. The new well field being built by Illinois-American Water surrounds - and threaten - his well. Clips from Derek Winstanley and Al Wehrmann at the Illinois Water Survey and David Larson at the Illinois Geological Survey highlight the key issue with the water supply: It isn't a fear of running out of water, but concern about how concentrated pumping can affect locally the cost of water by changing the characteristics of the wells. The pieces closes asking what we mean by "managing correctly" our water supply -- the subject of the next episode.

Listen now or download (04:00)

> soundFile=mp3-radio/water-ep2-final.mp3">

Transcript

(printable transcript)

Anchro Intro This morning we continue our series on Champaign-Urbana's water supply. In the second of four parts Bill Hammack treks through the new Illinois-American well field near Bondville to see whether these wells will suck dry the Mahoment Aquifer. He begins with a resident of rural Champaign County who sits at the epi-center off all the action.

Norm There's Bill."

Bill "How are you."

Norm "Wanna sit on the porch here"

Bill Norm Stenzel and his family live in an earth-covered house on the edge of a corn field, next to a pond stocked with blue gills. Like everyone who lives in the country this seemingly idyllic life depends on a well.

Norm "Our lifeline as far as survival out in the country. We use that for all of our home needs. We use it for the cattle and for the chicken."

Bill That well, which draws from the Mahomet Aquifer, might be under threat ...

Norm "Straight south there's a well for Illinois American Water on the road a mile south of us. A mile south of that is the Illinois American Water treatment plant. A mile south and a mile west is another well in the well field .... "A mile east of us, actually two miles east of us is The Andersons -- and if Anderson's put up their ethanol plant they'll have a well of their own."

Bill Stenzel's property sits smack dab in the middle of the Illinois-American Water Company's new well-field near Bondville - wells that will supply Champaign-Urbana with millions of gallons a day. Only a stone's throw away sits The Andersons grain elevator, which some day might house a water-hungry ethanol plant.

Norm "If both Illinois-American and Anderson's are pumping out of that I may be affected by both those cones of depression."

Bill While Stenzel should worry about his well, it isn't because the aquifer will run out of water. David Larson tells me that the its "huge", and he ought to know - he's head of the hydrology section of the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Larson "... I think that's the thing that most people don't understand: That this thing is huge .... but the thickness varies from something like 70 to 150 feet thick and the width varies from less than mile to several miles and it goes from the Indian state line all the way over the the Illinois River ... its a huge amount of water."

Bill The aquifer holds trillions of gallons. Yet if it won't run dry why should Norm Stenzel be concerned about his well?

Larson "... if there is uncontrolled development that goes in with a lot of wells being concentrated in a small area that certainly would have a very different impact than if that were spread out over a larger part of the aquifer."

Bill In Larson's word "concentrated" lies the key to evaluating the demands placed on our water supply. The Mahomet Aquifer isn't an underground river that flows freely, but slowly moving water nested in pores. This in turns affects the functioning of a well field. Think of it this way: You're at a beach and you step back a few feet from the surf. In the dry sand you dig a hole; eventually, of course, you'll strike water. If someone were to build a similar "well" too close to yours it would lower the water level in your "well." Yet if someone a mile down the beach dug a hole it wouldn't affect you at all. So the closer the wells the more interference. Al Wehrmann of the water survey says that human actions can often change the flow of water in an aquifer.

Wehermann "Water that used to just flow down the valley, we're also now pulling water back from Piatt county. So we've actually reversed the flow in a portion of the aquifer."

Bill While this might sound ominous, all wells modify the flow underneath to a degree. Geologist Larson says we need to keep the following in mind:

Larson "It's a very good water supply and that if its managed correctly it will sustain us for many years to come."

Bill But what does David Larson mean by "manging correctly"? Tomorrow I look at how we should responsibly use the water in the Mahomet Aquifer, including the impact of high-water-use ethanol plants. For AM-580 news I'm Bill Hammack.

water-02-printable-transcript.htm0000644006266300626630000001772111321372751015752 0ustar a398055a398055 Printable transcript: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #2)

"How much water do we have? - Episode #2 of 4 in a public radio series by Bill Hammack

(Return to Water Supply Series)

Anchro Intro This morning we continue our series on Champaign-Urbana's water supply. In the second of four parts Bill Hammack treks through the new Illinois-American well field near Bondville to see whether these wells will suck dry the Mahoment Aquifer. He begins with a resident of rural Champaign County who sits at the epi-center off all the action.

Norm There's Bill."

Bill "How are you."

Norm "Wanna sit on the porch here"

Bill Norm Stenzel and his family live in an earth-covered house on the edge of a corn field, next to a pond stocked with blue gills. Like everyone who lives in the country this seemingly idyllic life depends on a well.

Norm "Our lifeline as far as survival out in the country. We use that for all of our home needs. We use it for the cattle and for the chicken."

Bill That well, which draws from the Mahomet Aquifer, might be under threat ...

Norm "Straight south there's a well for Illinois American Water on the road a mile south of us. A mile south of that is the Illinois American Water treatment plant. A mile south and a mile west is another well in the well field .... "A mile east of us, actually two miles east of us is The Andersons -- and if Anderson's put up their ethanol plant they'll have a well of their own."

Bill Stenzel's property sits smack dab in the middle of the Illinois-American Water Company's new well-field near Bondville - wells that will supply Champaign-Urbana with millions of gallons a day. Only a stone's throw away sits The Andersons grain elevator, which some day might house a water-hungry ethanol plant.

Norm "If both Illinois-American and Anderson's are pumping out of that I may be affected by both those cones of depression."

Bill While Stenzel should worry about his well, it isn't because the aquifer will run out of water. David Larson tells me that the its "huge", and he ought to know - he's head of the hydrology section of the Illinois State Geological Survey.

Larson "... I think that's the thing that most people don't understand: That this thing is huge .... but the thickness varies from something like 70 to 150 feet thick and the width varies from less than mile to several miles and it goes from the Indian state line all the way over the the Illinois River ... its a huge amount of water."

Bill The aquifer holds trillions of gallons. Yet if it won't run dry why should Norm Stenzel be concerned about his well?

Larson "... if there is uncontrolled development that goes in with a lot of wells being concentrated in a small area that certainly would have a very different impact than if that were spread out over a larger part of the aquifer."

Bill In Larson's word "concentrated" lies the key to evaluating the demands placed on our water supply. The Mahomet Aquifer isn't an underground river that flows freely, but slowly moving water nested in pores. This in turns affects the functioning of a well field. Think of it this way: You're at a beach and you step back a few feet from the surf. In the dry sand you dig a hole; eventually, of course, you'll strike water. If someone were to build a similar "well" too close to yours it would lower the water level in your "well." Yet if someone a mile down the beach dug a hole it wouldn't affect you at all. So the closer the wells the more interference. Al Wehrmann of the water survey says that human actions can often change the flow of water in an aquifer.

Wehermann "Water that used to just flow down the valley, we're also now pulling water back from Piatt county. So we've actually reversed the flow in a portion of the aquifer."

Bill While this might sound ominous, all wells modify the flow underneath to a degree. Geologist Larson says we need to keep the following in mind:

Larson "It's a very good water supply and that if its managed correctly it will sustain us for many years to come."

Bill But what does David Larson mean by "manging correctly"? Tomorrow I look at how we should responsibly use the water in the Mahomet Aquifer, including the impact of high-water-use ethanol plants. For AM-580 news I'm Bill Hammack.

water-03.htm0000644006266300626630000002422411321372345011601 0ustar a398055a398055 Audio: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #3)

Our Water Supply

In this four-part public radio special report Bill investigates the origins of the Champaign-Urbana Water supply. He looks at where our water comes from, how much water we have in the ground, how we should best manage that water supply, and how much water we use every day - including water we import from China!

Episode #1

Episode #2

Episode #3

Episode #4

water pipe

Episode #3: "How should we manage our water supply?"

Bill Hammack visits with an Illinois State Geological Survey team as they drop a microphone down a borehole in order to understand the composition of the aquifer hundreds of feet underground. Clips from David Larson, geologist at the Illinois State Geological Survey and Derek Winstanley of the Illinois State Water Survey address how to manage our water supply from the Mahomet Aquifer. Winstantely highlights the key challanges, including the effects of global warming. The piece closes with a teaser that we import much of our water from ... China.

Listen now or download (03:51)

> soundFile=mp3-radio/water-ep3-final.mp3">

Transcript

(printable transcript)

Bill I'm with an Illinois State Geological Survey Team standing on the edge of a road just south of Champaign's Willard Airport. I'm watching a key, but difficult step in taking care of our water supply: Knowing what's underground. We can only "see" the aquifer indirectly. In this case the team slowly lowers a special microphone into a borehole . . . taps a metal plate on the surface . . . and then measures how quickly the sound travels. They can interpret this time to reveal the make up of the Mahomet Aquifer so we can then carefully plan how to use it.

Winstanley "Its not infinite.....you can't just withdraw infinities amount of water, otherwise you would suck the whole system dry ....

Bill But Derek Winstanley of the Water Survey assures us that the aquifer is not drying up under our feet.

Winstanley "It's renewable from that fact that the water in the aquifer is slowly replaced by water from new precipitation as it infiltrates through the ground in the process of recharge."

Bill About ten percent of rainfall makes a 3,000 year journey through the ground to the aquifer 200 or so feet below. The nests nests in between the sand and gravel of the aquifer. This rain refills it by one-half inch a year, but because it covers so large an area this is a vast amount of water. Winstantley told me that the "... key challenge is not just how much is down there" but instead this.

Winstanley "... [H]ow much can you safely withdraw - and what you mean by safely. As I said before every time you withdraw water from the aquifer there are some impacts. Its really a matter of public policy decision on how much impact the people, the public are willing to accept."

Bill Will we accept, for example, the seven proposed corn to ethanol plants, which would all draw heavily on the Mahomet Aquifer? A single gallon of ethanol takes three gallons of water, that's about 300 million gallons a year or about 1 million a day. Al Wehrmann of the Water Survey evaluated for me the plants' possible impacts.

Wehremann "Frankly I think the liberal sprinkling of six or seven ethanol plants across the aquifer is not a problem. The aquifer can handle that. The concern is what are the local impacts, because of interference effects of a large withdrawer on, say, other existing uses, say, within a mile or two of those wells."

Bill One million gallons a day for ethanol pales when compared to the twenty-four million gallons a day used by Champaign and Urbana alone. Yet, if not carefully managed we can end up with more expensive water. A severe drought might make us alter the aquifer by pumping too much, thus requiring costly movement of wells and pipelines. In planning for the future we also need to know one more thing: How much rain will replenish the Mahomet Aquifer. We must consider how climate changes affect Illinois weather. Derek Winstanley explained to me that the state, so far, is no warmer now than it was in the 1920s.

Winstanley "Whereas globally on the average over the whole globe there has been, of course, significant warming, but on a regional basis we haven't seen that. When we look at the climate models their ability to predict and simulate regional climate over Illinois, for example, are much more limited then their ability to predict global average conditions. So we have to look at the complexities of regional climate. [And] don't get caught up in this simple argument of talking about 'global warming' as if global average conditions also applied to Illinois -- they don't."

Bill This means we need to develop Illinois-specific models to predict the effect of global climate change locally. This last item raises the specter of what it means to be a global user of water, which includes all of us. Tomorrow I look at how we use water ... including how much we import from China. For AM-580 news I'm Bill Hammack.

water-03-printable-transcript.htm0000644006266300626630000001612711321372433015747 0ustar a398055a398055 Printable transcript: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #3)

"How should we manage our water supply? - Episode #3 of 4 in a public radio series by Bill Hammack

(Return to Water Supply Series)

Bill I'm with an Illinois State Geological Survey Team standing on the edge of a road just south of Champaign's Willard Airport. I'm watching a key, but difficult step in taking care of our water supply: Knowing what's underground. We can only "see" the aquifer indirectly. In this case the team slowly lowers a special microphone into a borehole . . . taps a metal plate on the surface . . . and then measures how quickly the sound travels. They can interpret this time to reveal the make up of the Mahomet Aquifer so we can then carefully plan how to use it.

Winstanley "Its not infinite.....you can't just withdraw infinities amount of water, otherwise you would suck the whole system dry ....

Bill But Derek Winstanley of the Water Survey assures us that the aquifer is not drying up under our feet.

Winstanley "It's renewable from that fact that the water in the aquifer is slowly replaced by water from new precipitation as it infiltrates through the ground in the process of recharge."

Bill About ten percent of rainfall makes a 3,000 year journey through the ground to the aquifer 200 or so feet below. The nests nests in between the sand and gravel of the aquifer. This rain refills it by one-half inch a year, but because it covers so large an area this is a vast amount of water. Winstantley told me that the "... key challenge is not just how much is down there" but instead this.

Winstanley "... [H]ow much can you safely withdraw - and what you mean by safely. As I said before every time you withdraw water from the aquifer there are some impacts. Its really a matter of public policy decision on how much impact the people, the public are willing to accept."

Bill Will we accept, for example, the seven proposed corn to ethanol plants, which would all draw heavily on the Mahomet Aquifer? A single gallon of ethanol takes three gallons of water, that's about 300 million gallons a year or about 1 million a day. Al Wehrmann of the Water Survey evaluated for me the plants' possible impacts.

Wehremann "Frankly I think the liberal sprinkling of six or seven ethanol plants across the aquifer is not a problem. The aquifer can handle that. The concern is what are the local impacts, because of interference effects of a large withdrawer on, say, other existing uses, say, within a mile or two of those wells."

Bill One million gallons a day for ethanol pales when compared to the twenty-four million gallons a day used by Champaign and Urbana alone. Yet, if not carefully managed we can end up with more expensive water. A severe drought might make us alter the aquifer by pumping too much, thus requiring costly movement of wells and pipelines. In planning for the future we also need to know one more thing: How much rain will replenish the Mahomet Aquifer. We must consider how climate changes affect Illinois weather. Derek Winstanley explained to me that the state, so far, is no warmer now than it was in the 1920s.

Winstanley "Whereas globally on the average over the whole globe there has been, of course, significant warming, but on a regional basis we haven't seen that. When we look at the climate models their ability to predict and simulate regional climate over Illinois, for example, are much more limited then their ability to predict global average conditions. So we have to look at the complexities of regional climate. [And] don't get caught up in this simple argument of talking about 'global warming' as if global average conditions also applied to Illinois -- they don't."

Bill This means we need to develop Illinois-specific models to predict the effect of global climate change locally. This last item raises the specter of what it means to be a global user of water, which includes all of us. Tomorrow I look at how we use water ... including how much we import from China. For AM-580 news I'm Bill Hammack.

water-04.htm0000644006266300626630000002422011321371767011605 0ustar a398055a398055 Audio: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #4)

Our Water Supply

In this four-part public radio special report Bill investigates the origins of the Champaign-Urbana Water supply. He looks at where our water comes from, how much water we have in the ground, how we should best manage that water supply, and how much water we use every day - including water we import from China!

Episode #1

Episode #2

Episode #3

Episode #4

water pipe

Episode #4: "How much water do we use?"

Bill Hammack follows his wife, Amy, through her morning routine to show how an average American uses 1800 gallons of water a day. This includes not only water used for domestic uses (toliets, cooking, hygine), but also water used in manfacturing. Since most of the items in our houses are imported from around the globe, this means that we tap into water supplies around the world, especially China.

Listen now or download (03:46)

> soundFile=mp3-radio/water-ep4-final.mp3">

Transcript

(printable transcript)

Bill This final episode on my four-part series on water asks the question how do we REALLY use water. To do this I take a novel and somewhat dangerous approach.

Bill It's six-thirty in the morning on a beautiful spring day. I'm going to wake my wife Amy.

Amy "I'm sleeping ... stop it!"

Bill She's not a morning person at all, yet I'm going to risk following her today to solve a mystery: Where does 1800 gallons of water a day go? Listen carefully because its hidden through her morning routine - it even includes water from China!

Bill Of course there's the evident/standard uses of water for personal hygiene, but pay attention to the next non-obvious water-consuming steps.

Bill "What are you wearing today?"

Amy "Clothes?"

Bill Again, not a morning person. She puts on a cotton shirt, pants, and leather shoes. Then down to the kitchen to have breakfast and a cup of of coffee, which helps socialize her in the morning. Next she packs a lunch.

Amy "Sandwich .. roast beast ... and an apple."$

Bill Then off to class. This mundane routine used nearly 2000 gallons of water. Let's go over it looking for explicit and hidden uses of water.

Bill There's the obvious uses of water ... An American uses each day 120 gallons for hygiene, drinking, and cooking. To conserve this water requires changes in personal behavior and improvements in technology. Derek Winstanley, head of the Illinois State Water Survey, explains the first.

Winstanley "Every time you turn on the facet you can make sure you turn it off when you're not actually taking water, you know, if you turn your back to the facet in the kitchen,

turn if off rather than leaving it running. You can take somewhat shorter showers. You can use less water irrigating your lawn. You can use less water cleaning your car. So every time you use water you can be conscientious and use some what less water."

Bill In addition a home owner should fix running toilets, dripping facets, and use low-flow toilets and shower heads. Still, that 120 gallons day represents only about seven percent of our water consumption of eighteen hundred gallons. Let's continue looking for that missing 1600 gallons.

Bill To produce that small amount of milk used on my wife's cereal took an astonishing fifty-seven gallons of water. To reach the point where a cow makes six ounces of milk requires water for crops, for sustaining the animal, and for cleaning her stall.... The same for Amy's cup of coffee. It uses, of course, water from tap, but making the coffee BEANS required forty gallons of water. And the lunch she packed used hundreds of gallons too.

Amy "Sandwich .. roast beast ... and an apple."

Bill The bread in her sandwich took about eleven gallons per slice, the apple about nineteen gallons. And if you drink apple juice it takes fifty gallons to make six ounces of juice. Now just a bit under half - 45% - of the apple juice in the U.S. comes from ... China. Yet not only food, but every manufactured article in our homes uses water in its production. This means that, in a sense, much of our water comes from China! Recall the cotton shirt my wife put on: 528 gallons of water to produce; the leather shoes, an astonishing 2,112 gallons. Now, of course, one wears a shirt or shoes many, many times. So, we need to average over time. For a U.S. citizen that amounts to 1800 gallons a day, of which they consume 120 gallons domestically, and the rest for producing the food and products we use. So, while we must keep an eye on managing domestic supplies like the Mahomet Aquifer, we must also think globally to understand the true economic, social and environmental costs of water.

water-04-printable-transcript.htm0000644006266300626630000001625211321372061015744 0ustar a398055a398055 Transcript: Champaign-Urbana Water Supply (Episode #4)

"How much water do we use? - Episode #4 of 4 in a public radio series by Bill Hammack

(Return to Water Supply Series)

Bill This final episode on my four-part series on water asks the question how do we REALLY use water. To do this I take a novel and somewhat dangerous approach.

Bill It's six-thirty in the morning on a beautiful spring day. I'm going to wake my wife Amy.

Amy "I'm sleeping ... stop it!"

Bill She's not a morning person at all, yet I'm going to risk following her today to solve a mystery: Where does 1800 gallons of water a day go? Listen carefully because its hidden through her morning routine - it even includes water from China!

Bill Of course there's the evident/standard uses of water for personal hygiene, but pay attention to the next non-obvious water-consuming steps.

Bill "What are you wearing today?"

Amy "Clothes?"

Bill Again, not a morning person. She puts on a cotton shirt, pants, and leather shoes. Then down to the kitchen to have breakfast and a cup of of coffee, which helps socialize her in the morning. Next she packs a lunch.

Amy "Sandwich .. roast beast ... and an apple."$

Bill Then off to class. This mundane routine used nearly 2000 gallons of water. Let's go over it looking for explicit and hidden uses of water.

Bill There's the obvious uses of water ... An American uses each day 120 gallons for hygiene, drinking, and cooking. To conserve this water requires changes in personal behavior and improvements in technology. Derek Winstanley, head of the Illinois State Water Survey, explains the first.

Winstanley "Every time you turn on the facet you can make sure you turn it off when you're not actually taking water, you know, if you turn your back to the facet in the kitchen, turn if off rather than leaving it running. You can take somewhat shorter showers. You can use less water irrigating your lawn. You can use less water cleaning your car. So every time you use water you can be conscientious and use some what less water."

Bill In addition a home owner should fix running toilets, dripping facets, and use low-flow toilets and shower heads. Still, that 120 gallons day represents only about seven percent of our water consumption of eighteen hundred gallons. Let's continue looking for that missing 1600 gallons.

Bill To produce that small amount of milk used on my wife's cereal took an astonishing fifty-seven gallons of water. To reach the point where a cow makes six ounces of milk requires water for crops, for sustaining the animal, and for cleaning her stall.... The same for Amy's cup of coffee. It uses, of course, water from tap, but making the coffee BEANS required forty gallons of water. And the lunch she packed used hundreds of gallons too.

Amy "Sandwich .. roast beast ... and an apple."

Bill The bread in her sandwich took about eleven gallons per slice, the apple about nineteen gallons. And if you drink apple juice it takes fifty gallons to make six ounces of juice. Now just a bit under half - 45% - of the apple juice in the U.S. comes from ... China. Yet not only food, but every manufactured article in our homes uses water in its production. This means that, in a sense, much of our water comes from China! Recall the cotton shirt my wife put on: 528 gallons of water to produce; the leather shoes, an astonishing 2,112 gallons. Now, of course, one wears a shirt or shoes many, many times. So, we need to average over time. For a U.S. citizen that amounts to 1800 gallons a day, of which they consume 120 gallons domestically, and the rest for producing the food and products we use. So, while we must keep an eye on managing domestic supplies like the Mahomet Aquifer, we must also think globally to understand the true economic, social and environmental costs of water.