Monday, July 21, 2014

How to lift 10 tons of rock

When you're building a wall, you can't just pick up the rock with a fork lift and set it on top of the other rock, because you can't slide the fork lift out from under it.  So you use a lifting device called a pin Lewis. (I found out from Wikipedia that no one knows exactly why it's called this: maybe somebody named Lewis invented it, or maybe it comes from the Latin levo, meaning to lift. In any event, it has been used since Roman times in one version or another.)

Two holes are drilled in the top of the rock, angled toward each other.  The exact placement of the holes and their angles is determined by the mason based on his years of experience judging where the mass of the rock is. Two pins at either end of a chain or sling are inserted into the holes, and when the sling is lifted, the weight of the stone itself holds the pins in place. This seems so simple, yet the physics of it are amazing.

On the day that Terry and Kyle set the first stone of the wall in place, I had a chance to see this in action.

These are the pins.

Kyle shows what part of the fork lift to
hang them from. If you twist the chain, the rock
turns itself around as it is lifted.
Two sizes of pins: the larger ones can
lift 10 tons.

Terry drills the holes...

and inserts the pins.

When my rocks were quarried out the the ground, they left in place a ridge of ledge that will become one wall of sort of a courtyard.  The part of the wall that Terry and Kyle are building needs to butt up against that ledge.  Getting the first base rock into just the right place took many hours. First they lifted the rock into position.

They measured and eyeballed how the rock was going to fit against the ledge, lifted the rock back out of the way, and measured some more.

They chipped away bits of the rock to make it fit just right, then put it back to make sure.

They weren't satisfied, so they took it off again and flipped it over to take some off the bottom so it would lie level.

Back into place, more measuring and eyeballing.

Still not right, so they decided they needed to bring out the saw.  Kyle sawed into the rock, then Terry went at it with a sledge hammer until pieces came off at a natural seam.

Then back in place to check if it's level.

Finally, they were happy with the placement of the first rock and began to place the second rock.

But they didn't like how fit against the first rock, so they needed to make some adjustments in the first rock. Kyle sawed parallel lines into the rock, and Terry whacked them with a hammer and chisel to knock the pieces off.

The second rock went back and they checked the fit.

It needed a few nudges from the forklift to get it in just the right spot.

Finally they were satisfied and called it a day (and it had been a long day).  In the week since, they've added more layers to this section of the wall. Here's how it looked this morning before they came and started back to work.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Meanwhile, back at the ranch

There's been significant progress on many fronts since I last wrote about the construction project.  My kitchen is now complete. First, on June 18 the countertop was installed. I'm glad I was here to see four guys wrestle with thousands of pounds of granite. It was impressive.

I wasn't sure the big piece for the island would
fit through the door

Making the seam between the two long pieces

Cutting out holes for the electrical outlets in the backsplash

Once the countertop was in, I could get my sink, oven, dishwasher, and cooktop.

The painters finished up, and the tiling in the bathrooms is almost done, having taken quite a bit longer than I had hoped.

Painting in the stairwell
Laika supervising the tile man

The upstairs bathroom vanities have been installed, the toilets are in place, but not hooked up yet, and Kurt will come soon to template for the countertops.
Toilets in the hallway awaiting installation

In the other apartment, the floors have been sanded and have had one coat of polyurethane.

Outside, Terry and Kyle have gotten a good start on the retaining wall, but there's too much information to share in this post.  I have over 100 photos of them practicing their craft that I need to edit first!

Here's the dining room, Laika feels right at home.

String Quartet Heaven, or the "culture" part of "nature and culture"

I love string quartets; to play in them and to listen to them. I think they are just about the perfect combination of instruments (2 violins, 1 viola, and 1 cello), and there is lots and lots of music written for them. I started playing the violin when I was eight years old, but it is only in the past five years that I have been playing a lot of string quartets (as well as other combinations, viola quintets (2 violins, 2 violas, 1 cello), cello quintets (2 violins, 1 viola, 2 cellos), sextets (2 violins, 2 violas and 2 cellos), and even octets (4 violins, 2 violas, and 2 cellos).

It's also been about five years that my mother and I have been making an annual pilgrimage to Tanglewood for their String Quartet Marathon at the end of June, before "the season" begins. In addition to being the summer home of the Boston Symphony, Tanglewood hosts the Tanglewood Music Center, attended by roughly 150 talented young professional or pre-professional musicians from all over the world. In addition to performers on all orchestral instruments, Tanglewood Fellows include singers, composers, music librarians, piano technicians, audio engineers, and publications (writers of program notes).

The string players who attend spend a week working with professional quartet players on the string quartet repertoire.   There are enough of them to form 14 quartets, each named after a tree (Sequoia, Chestnut, Maple, Spruce, Hickory, Beech, Sycamore, Cedar, Pine, Elm, Cottonwood, Ash, and Birch).

Each quartet prepares one Haydn quartet and one by another composer, and then on marathon day they perform in three concerts, at 10am, 1pm, and 4pm. (In previous years the marathon took place over two days.) The ticket to all three concerts is $11 and the musicianship is superb.

The essay in this year's program booklet was especially well written by Matthew Mendez, the Publications Fellow. I especially liked the following: "For performers, the string quartet is democracy in action, the propensities and metiers of four unique personalities merging in service of a common goal....Goethe considered it the perfect analogue to the democratic public sphere, in which individual citizens were free to engage in open, civil debate."

Haydn wrote 68 quartets and is often called the "father" of the string quartet. When he started writing them, quartets tended to feature the first violin and the other players were mere accompaniment, but by the time he got to his 36th he had transformed the genre.  To quote Mendez again, "his mature quartets feature all manner of instrumental interplay, imagine novel forms of accompaniment and expand the medium's emotional range by leaps and bounds. In Haydn's hands, the string quartet finally approaches Goethe's interactive ideal."

(It is one of my personal goals to play all 68 of Haydn's quartets and I have been fortunate to have friends who are willing to indulge me in that quest. I keep a spreadsheet to help me keep track: to date I've played 38 of them.)
Ozawa Hall at Tanglewood, where chamber music
concerts are held. The acoustics are magnificent.

Looking out at the audience on the lawn from my
seat in the hall (first balcony, behind the performers!)

Last night I returned to Tanglewood to hear the Emerson Quartet perform Shostakovich's last five quartets (he wrote 15 of them). I take the back way and it only takes me 15 minutes to get there.

A bit farther away (about a 45 minute drive through lovely country) is another venerable string quartet institution, Music Mountain in Falls Village, Connecticut. Founded in 1930 by violinist Jacques Gordon of the eponymous Gordon String Quartet, Music Mountain has been hosting string quartet concerts on Sunday afternoons every summer since. I went to hear the Juilliard Quartet play on June 22nd and the Arianna Quartet play on June 29th (my mother came to the latter concert as well, as part of our own extended quartet marathon).
The concert barn at Music Mountain, can you see my mother waving?