Robert L. Peters

23 March 2010

Musing about… the Ibex.


Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba

Here’s one for all my climbing buddies (some of whom have made themselves damn scarce of late, if I may say so). Ev’s daughter Jennifer just forwarded the following ditty to me, from one of her 5-year-old son Sam’s favorite* books… eloquently expressing a truism we know all too well.

The daring ibex risk their necks
On scary airy mountain treks.

Each one must climb with skill complex
Or else become an ex-ibex.

*Mammalabilia: poems and paintings by Douglas Florian.


22 March 2010

In the crosshairs… Bottled Water.





Berkeley, California

The talented folks at Free Range Studios (who previously produced highly effective viral narratives that I’ve blogged about such as The Meatrix and The Story of Stuff) have just released their latest—The Story of Bottled Water. Once again, Annie Leonard delivers an important message with remarkable clarity and focus. View it here.

It’s high time that this story of the evils of bottled water be elevated and shared more broadly. I never have, nor ever will, buy bottled water. Local well or tap water suits me just fine—bottle your own (in a perpetually reusable container). I carry a Sigg bottle with me in my car, and there’s always one on my desk. When traveling in regions of the world where drinking free local water might present a health hazard, I carry an effective, compact, light-weight water filter with me as well—one minute of light pumping provides a liter of clean, refreshing, potable goodness.

Oh, today also happens to be World Water Day.

21 March 2010

International Day of Nowruz


(now everywhere on planet earth)

Best wishes on this astronomical vernal equinox, recognized for the first time this year by the United Nations General Assembly (as decided during the meeting of The Inter-governmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Heritage of the United Nations held last September in Abu Dhabi) as the “International Day of Nowruz.” Nowruz (literally “new day”) marks the first day of spring and the beginning of the new year in the Iranian calendar. As well as being a Zoroastrian holiday and having significance amongst those of Persian descent, this day is celebrated throughout the Indian sub-continent as the new year.

Today, the sun can be observed to be directly over the equator, and the north and south poles of earth lie along the solar terminator—as a result, sunlight is divided exactly between the north and south hemispheres (with daylight and nighttime of equal length everywhere). Some great diagrams showing equinox day arcs at various latitudes are shown here.

I’ve posted about Nowruz in previous years here and here.

A spoon perhaps?


A vacuum salesman appeared at the door of an old lady’s cottage and, without allowing the woman to speak, rushed into the living room and threw a large bag of dirt all over her clean carpet. He said, “If this new vacuum doesn’t pick up every bit of dirt then I’ll eat all the dirt.”

The woman, who by this time was losing her patience, said, “Sir, if I had enough money to buy that thing, I would have paid my electricity bill before they cut it off. Now, what would you prefer, a spoon or a knife and fork?”

Moral o’ the day: Hubris ends in failure; pride precedes a fall.


20 March 2010

Back to the future…




Västerskog, Finland

Finnish type designer Ossi Gustafsson of Hiekka Graphics has released Sketchetica, a rendered font that reminds me of my early days as a graphic designer (back in the 1970s when we would laboriously copy-fit typography by hand and sketch out our layouts on vellum for reference by the typesetters). Though slow in comparison to the instantaneous iteration of today’s communications, an advantage was that a person actually had to take the time to think about the message being typeset (you know, think before you speak). Another benefit of hand-rendering type was the inevitable finesse and sensitivity one developed regarding letter-spacing.

The light weight of Sketchetica is available for free here. Thanks Ossi!

18 March 2010

Welcome back… Branta canadensis



Winnipeg, Canada

Warming weather and melting ice (several weeks earlier than usual) has been accompanied by the first flights of Canada Geese returning from southern wintering grounds… I was delighted to see and hear flights of hundreds of the big birds squawking overhead as I drove in to the city this morning—positive confirmation that we have all survived another winter (and two days before the equinox to boot). Welcome back…

Illustration: from a series of wildlife drawings I did back in the mid-1970s… remember Rapidographs?)

17 March 2010

Russian lovelies…


Somewheregrad… in Russia

Hello, lovely ladies… interesting, I must say, to receive (completely unsolicited) the almost daily communiques from you by e-mail. Please let me be very upfront and straightforward with all you would-be Russian brides though (Anastasia, Ekatarinna, Irina, Izabella, Katerinka, Katushka, Luliya [and your remarkably attractive gymnast cousin], Oksana, Svetlana, Vikulya, and Yana… forgive me if I’ve missed a few)—while I am predictably flattered at your charming overtures and bold offers of intimate relationships and marriage, I’m honestly “not looking” (if you know what I mean), and I think it’s only right to suggest that you expend your energies more productively elsewhere.*

It’s nice to know that you think I am an interesting person (your stated reason for deciding to get to know me better—though how you know this is still a mystery to me) and it is very thoughtful of you to wish that I could be truly happy (I actually thought I was until you pointed out that perhaps I wasn’t). It’s quite generous for you to share all that personal information about yourself (with interests including ballet, fencing, music, reading, books, equestrian sports, theater, computers, old movies, gourmet cooking, good conversations,“and the many other things that make life beautiful”—you sound like the real Renaissance woman) and the fact that you have never been married (I have—did you know that?), that you “do not have a boy friend at this stage of your life,” that you work for a living (a real asset, I’ll admit), and that “all you miss is a beloved person” with whom to “have a family in the future.” I agree that “we should use every chance we have to find happiness…” (hard to argue with that logic), but back to the point I was trying to make earlier, “I’m really not looking”… and I suspect that if you really did your homework well, you’d find that I’m likely considerably too old for you anyway. |-:

Oгорченный. (that’s Russian for “sorry,” right?)

*On the off chance that a third party with more nefarious motives is using your likeness and good name in a solicitous manner, I thought you’d want to know…


16 March 2010

My Lai… not forgotten.


My Lai, Vietnam

Forty-two years ago today, U.S. Army forces massacred hundreds of women and children in the Vietnamese hamlet of My Lai (the My Lai Massacre). No justice was ever done and only one man, William Calley, was convicted of murder—in the end he only spent 3½ years under house arrest.

The world has not forgotten…

15 March 2010

[SOLD] Bettie (my 1981 VW Westfalia)



Winnipeg Beach, Manitoba

Several people have asked whether I would be putting Bettie up for sale this spring—this after I purchased a newer (waterboxer) VW Westfalia last autumn. I hate to see this air-cooled butter-colored beauty go (after only three years), but I really don’t need two… so please consider this an official offer to sell. There, I said it.

Some stats: 1981 VW Vanagon L Westfalia Camper, 2.0 L four-cylinder engine, rear-wheel drive, manual four-speed, seating for five occupants including driver, sleeps 4 (two double beds)—German-engineered efficiency at its best. Fully camperized means a super-convenient pop-up top (takes less than 10 seconds), sink with onboard water tank and city water hookup, two-burner propane stove, three-way refrigerator (propane/110v AC/12v DC), loads of built-in storage, swing-out tables, swivel front seats, sliding windows with insect screens, full curtains, and a rooftop luggage rack. Extra niceties included: a trailer hitch, fire extinguisher, lockable strong-box (great for storing laptop and valuables while on a multi-day climb), an AC power inverter (for charging a computer, etc.), a decent sound system (radio, cassette and plug-in CD player), and comprehensive owner and service manuals.

Admittedly not a speed demon, Bettie cruises comfortably at 110 km/h on the open road (though she slows down on sustained uphill inclines). I’ve driven her out to the Rockies in each of the last three years (have I mentioned that a Westy makes for the world’s best climbing base-camp?), and with all gear and food staples neatly stored (literally, she’s a home on wheels), it’s simply a matter of adding some fresh food, a cooler of recreational beverages, and some casual clothes on a Friday after work—within half an hour you’re off for a weekend sortie. Though Bettie is pushing 30, she’s in great running condition, has low mileage (about 150,000 original kms), consumes in the area of 12 L/100 km of fuel, and is pure joy to own and drive.

If you’re interested, call me days at 1 204 943 3693 or evenings at 1 204 781 8132, or send me an e-mail through this site’s Contact form. Asking price: $7500 Canadian… I’m going to miss you, girl.

Status update as of 29 March 2010:

Bettie has been sold (to an old climbing friend, I’m happy to say)…


(previous posts about Bettie here and here)


14 March 2010

Bomarzo… a poetic labyrinth

Viterbo, Italy

Only an hour or so north of Rome, Parco dei Mostri (Park of the Monsters), built in the mid-16th century, was hidden by overgrown grass until it was rediscovered by chance in the midst of WWII and revealed to the eyes of the world. My Argentinian designer friend Ronald Shakespear, a columnist for America Late, shares in words and his pictures his thoughts and feelings when visiting what he refers to as “a poetic labyrinth.”


“A one-of-a-kind construction, Parco dei Mostri is located in Viterbo, Lazio, Italy, just 112 kilometers away from Rome. Also referred to as the Sacro Bosco (Sacred Grove), it was built by Renaissance architect Pirro Ligorio and commissioned by prince Pier Francesco Orsini (circa 1552) in memory of his beloved wife Giulia Farnese. The place is spellbinding and dramatic, and inspired Mujica Lainez to write his novel Bomarzo, which later gave rise to an opera set to music by Alberto Ginastera, which was banned in 1967 by Dictator Juan Carlos Ongania. Restored in 1954 by current owner Bettini Giovanni, the Parco has recovered its splendor and appears magically before our eyes as homage to the artistic nature of its creator.

I have gone back to the Parco several times to take pictures of the stone monsters, which appealed to the likes of Salvador Dali, Luchino Visconti and Federico Fellini, among other illustrious visitors. Filled with fantastic images and ideas about life and death, the park relives Dante, Petrarch and Ariosto. A plaque warns visitors:


(He who does not visit this place with a frown and tight lips will not be able to admire the seven wonders of the world).



Asking about the way to Rome.

Elena, my wife, is Italian. She was the first to tell me about Bomarzo, forty years ago. I will never thank her enough for taking me there, some 112 kilometers from Rome. Bomarzo is a modest town that used to be the hunting grounds of Renaissance cardinals.

For years I thought that the hordes of tourists gathered around those sacred stones, here and there, were a banal, prosaic horror. Later—belatedly—simple people made me discover the value of those stones and fundamentally the empathic perception that the public has of them.

Human pilgrimages are endless and often touching. Mecca, the Wailing Wall, Maracana, Morumbi, the Trevi Fountain, the Roman Coliseum, Disneyland, Rodrigo’s sanctuary, Lujan, the Chinese Wall, Boca Juniors’ soccer stadium, and so on… The Roman Coliseum is fantastic; mock sea battles used to take place there after the arena was flooded. An exemplary cistern constructed in the first century a.C. One prophetic step forward for imagineering (simulation engineering), a precursor of Rem Koolhass and Ray Bradbury.

In the end, people go where people go.

The second Renaissance.

Apparently—no evidence exists of this—the modern world knew nothing about Parco dei Mostri until WWII. It was at that time, legend has it, that an American regiment camped at Viterbo… and one soldier with diarrhea had to go “do his business” in the early hours of the morning. He suddenly found himself surrounded by stone monuments, and ran away in terror. The rest is history.

Something similar happened 100 years ago, when Machu Picchu was discovered by Hiram Bingham. Or more recently with the Terracotta Army discovered in 1974 in China, close to Xi’an and built as homage to Emperor Qin Shi Huang. The Terracotta Army is formed by more than 7,000 life-size sculptures of soldiers, horses and chariots made of clay and earth. As we can see, chance usually has a role to play in major discoveries.



Pictures, pictures, pictures.

Back in the 1960s I made a few dozen portraits for my book Caras y Caritas, published by Jorge Alvarez. In addition to Borges, Orson Welles, and “Mono” Villegas, among others, I spent a long afternoon with Mujica Lainez and Jorge Romero Brest at Instituto Di Tella. I made portraits of them both, and we talked about Bomarzo, naturally; that conversation ignited the fire of curiosity.

I personally paid three visits to Bomarzo, which provided me with long hours of pleasure. Every picture takes its time; some of the sculptures are surrounded by fences and are located in a semi-wild terrain, as is the case of the Turtle, which can be found at the bottom of a ravine. Photographers are sometimes weird people: I tend to take the same pictures over and over again.



A poetic labyrinth.

Bomarzo is a poetic labyrinth. I have devoted my life to urban itineraries; making them legible involves deciphering their codes. This has led me to my worldly trade of wayfinding in big spaces such as the Subway, Temaiken Zoo, the streets of Buenos Aires, etc. (see

It takes a God-given talent to be able to “read” space as Leonardo, Michelangelo or Brunelleschi did. For the rest of us, it takes Cyclopean efforts. Nothing at the Parco is rational; amidst this array of surprises, visitors need to discover every artistic event by themselves. Capturing the entirety, the full dimension of it all, is almost impossible. I simply cannot describe the beauty of the Giant Turtle, the Mouth of Hell, Hercules, and Hannibal’s Elephant Devouring a Roman Legionary. They are my favorites.

Mujica Lainez wrote: “The famous white elephant—a gift from Manuel of Portugal to Pope Leon X—which, after his death and following orders of the Pope himself, was painted by Raphael. Elephants were no strangers to the symbology of the 16th and 17th century: there is the black obsidian elephant found by Poliphilo (the hero in Francesco Colonna’s work), which has a female and a male statue, where antagonistic principles are represented. This elephant was probably inspired by a coin of the time, and is also present in Bernini’s work at the church of Santa Maria Minerva in Rome.” Bomarzo’s influence on the art world can be seen in Manfredo Manfredi’s oil painting Alla maniera di Bomarzo, Norberto Villarreal’s surreal drawings, the portraits of Pier Luigi Farnese and Maerbale Orsini, and the wonderful pictures taken by Enzo Regazzini for Olivetti’s famous almanac.

The luxury publication FMR No. 12, published by Franco Maria Ricci in 1983, includes an extraordinary fifteen-page piece on Bomarzo with articles by Elemire Zolla, Manfredi Nicoletti and Manuel Mujica Lainez, and photographs by Massimo Listri: a veritable jewel.



All the roads will take you there.

In spite of popular belief, the park is relatively small; walking it all will take as much time as a visitor’s curiosity demands. The place has astonished me every time. Bomarzo captures one’s fancy like few places do. An absolutely appropriate inscription can be seen on an obelisk: Sol per sfogare il Core (Just to set the heart free). Freedom is beautiful, but it is also dangerous. The winding paths of Bomarzo multiply themselves and sometimes you have to start over. On the other hand, who wants the extreme order of rationalists? As Oscar Wilde said, “ordering a library is impossible for someone who can read.” Getting lost is usually delightful. Or it can be tragic. Just like Alice in Wonderland. Lewis Carroll suggests: “If you do not know where you are going, all the roads will take you there.”

Thanks Ronald. (The above text is lightly edited and drawn from the original post [in Spanish] at America Late and a re-post on the SEGD website. (Sorry, links are broken).

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