Nature Calls

Trip Start Mar 10, 2011
Trip End May 05, 2011

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Where I stayed
Vivian and David's house

Flag of United States  , Pennsylvania
Saturday, March 19, 2011

I arrived in Pittsburgh after some interesting conversation on the train with a wayward photography student. Not particularly glamorous, the city does exude some kin of gritty warmth that is definitely welcoming.  Pittsburgh sits at the nexus of three rivers, challenging city planners and resulting in a convoluted network of streets and laneways - bearing little resemblance to the grand boulevards seen so far.  Formerly of steelwork fame, it now houses an impressive cohort of transplants at the two prestigious universities. Vivian and David received me at Fat Heads.  Aptly named for its Headwiches - sandwiches the size of your head.  Needless to say my pulled pork and bacon creation felled me for the night and I retired comfortably into bed.
So we began our first day making for Bear Run and its most famous resident - Fallingwater. This house was the magnum opus for Frank Lloyd Wright.  Its design almost singlehandedly catapulted him into international recognition and ressurected his career at 68.  Conceived as a replacement for a log cabin to allow local businessman Edgar Kaufman Snr to get away from the bustle of the city, Wright took the contract and blatantly disregarded all precedents and regultations.  He was to design a house looking onto the falls; he designed it ON the falls.  He was given a budget of $30,000 (already a generous post depression sum); he spent over $150,000 (something in the order of 6-10 million today if you are interested).  Finally Kaufman's engineers said the rock provided unpredictable foundations, he ignored them. I had always considered Wright a genius to have masterminded the engineering of his cantilevers, but I found that his engineering was far from adequate and required some major renovations in 2002 to prevent a catastrophic collapse.  Instead, his glorious vision lay in his painful attention to detail and absolute conviction towards his goal of creating integration with the landscape.  Fallingwater does not so much lie within the mountains, it IS the mountains.  From the first moment I stepped into view of this majestic feature, I was taken by the way it sweeps through the woods into view - colours selected so that it seemed distinctively human but at the same time in harmony with the forest. Step inside and you are greeted with a cosseting yet airy interior, with low ceilings drawing view towards the outside landscape.  I felt a sense that within the walls this was a very luxurious cavern rather than a house, however not once did I feel this was anything but a home. The Kaufmans agreed, and they made this their weekend escape for almost 30 years before generously donating it for public showing.
Kentuck Knob is another Wright house in Bear Run designed for the Hagan family at the twilight of his career, Wright never did see the finished product, yet his stamp can be seen despite the raft of un-Wright posthumous modifications to the design.  It continues Wright's philosophy of organic architecture overlaid onto a hexagonal grid - as such the many curious angle give the house an almost other-worldly perspective to the outside forest. The view at the Knob was breathtaking. Wandering hillsides dotted with cattle and horses from the nearby farmhouse could make the most hardened nomad long for the comfort of home.
Whilst travelling through the area we chanced across the Youghiogheny River and Ohiopyle Falls surrounded by picturesque parklands. These unexpected sights, can provide the most profound moments in ones travels.  The falls were not grand in stature, yet their force of rushing and the powder mist could only be contrasted in the calm of little eddies a their foot.  Surely it is this kind of scenery that captivated the minds of men such as Samuel Clemens.
We finished this day at the contemporary cuisine of Eleven.  Wholesome fresh mains were complemented and at times overshadowed by the perfectly executed desserts of cannoli, pudding and brulee.
It is a pity that many visitors may not come to see the natural beauty of Pittsburgh, for the ancient natural wonder provides as much an insight as the steel of the city ever could. 
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