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Davidson College “Chambermaids” Welcome Venus to the Brick Plaza on the Lawn

Posted: Thursday, Jun. 07, 2012

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John Syme

John Syme graduated from Davidson College with a bachelor of arts degree in French in 1985. He worked as a general-assignment reporter at The Winston-Salem Journal, where he later wrote freelance travel stories during his first solo cross-country road trip in the summer of 1989. He worked as a copywriter at a Charlotte advertising agency, as a research translator at a French nutrition center outside Paris, and as a politics and education newspaper reporter in Charlotte. He returned in 2001 to Davidson, where he is senior writer, alumni editor and instigator of the "Road Trip 2009" blog, which evolved into his current blog, "Daybook Davidson."

The front-campus stage that is the Chambers Lawn plaza lit up with bright sunshine right on cue (whew!) last evening during Aphrodite’s mighty progress across the face of Helios. High above, the stone-carved “Chamber maid” sculptures Lenda and Luci atop the college’s signature building, took it all in from their perch by Chambers’ neoclassical dome.

Dodger and I had heard through the campus grapevine that Associate Professor of Physics Mario Belloni was setting up viewing scopes for the astronomically historic (thus liberal-artistically interdisciplinary!) transit o’ Venus. We quick hopped on our bike to go investigate. Hmm. Partly cloudy. Mario and Herman Brown Professor and Chair of Physics Wolfgang Christian were busy twiddling knobs on various apparati.

Several telesopes were rigged with shadow screens. One was rigged to an iPhone. Some of the scopes were motorized, and others required manual adjustment to keep the setting sun in their sights. One scope sported a high-tech filter that allowed direct viewing of not only ol’ Sol’s temporary beauty mark but also his hot red bed-head of solar flares.

But right now, it was cloudy, and in any case not yet time for this global event’s optimal viewing at N 35° 29′ 58.9268″/W 80° 50′ 53.6395″, Davidson, NC, 28036, USA, the World, the Solar System, the Galaxy, the Universe, et cetera ad infinitum. So Dodger and I toodled off.

When we got back, the plaza was poppin’ with sunshine and happy Davidson Research Initiative students, professors and progeny and all manner of moms and dads, Davidson Outdoors students freshly finished with training for Summer Odyssey, at least one college fundraising type with family in tow, and sundry passersby. A festive mood permeated this pavillion of possibilities in perspective, permutations of which Mario explained patiently and passionately to us all as we visited each viewing station. The one with the red solar flares, predictably, was most popular, though I found myself drawn to the cardboard glasses with the black film lenses, of which there were several pair handy, reminiscent for me of a trip to Nags Head for a solar eclipse many moons ago.

An elucidatory time was had by all. Thanks, Mario!

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