Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Toward The Center Of The Maze

November 3, 2012


   The photo above shows a petroglyph that wife found in a remote quarter of the Petrified National Forest during a recent artist-in-residency.  The circular maze on the left is an early Native American representation of the nature of existence.  Enter, persist, and you will eventually make your way to the center.

  How do I know this?  Good question.  Several days previous to viewing the above, ‘friend’ of my long acquaintance and I visited San Xavier del Bac Mission Church near Tucson, Arizona.  It is one of the finest and oldest examples of Spanish Colonial architecture in North America.  Among much fascinating else, tour guide pointed out an image very similar to the one above and told of the Jesuit led blending of local and imported religious and architectural iconography.

  You’ll agree that any given existential maze is indeed far less than straightforward and that it is comprised of many many dimensions beyond the two in the icon.  And that there are infinite paths to the, uh, center and multiple dynamic forces with which one must deal along the way.  For example, in the photo below you see same friend hurling the F bomb at me for the very first time earlier this summer. 

  I’d taken her on a vertical journey and at the time of the picture we were about a thousand feet off the deck.  She was tired, thirsty, scared, and had just been informed that we had quite a ways to go and needed to hurry because an afternoon storm was fast approaching and lightning rods we did not hope to become.  Needless to say I was shocked and hurt by her fury.  Little did I know that the notion of retribution eclipsed all else in her mind.

  Naive, I thought nothing of it when recently she suggested a trip across the border to the south.  Sure, fine, let’s go.  She’s fluent and it sounded like fun.  Well, turned out to be the first time I’ve soiled myself in many years.  While eating god knows what (she wouldn’t tell me and it was $1.00 for six) I was informed that she was sideways with a gang of local vampires and that the real purpose of our trip was further investigation related thereto.

  I’m serious.

  Images of Darkness Till Dawn, long teeth, guns, knives, and blood filled my head.  I might never see my little black puppy again.  Knew that should violent vivisection not be the order of the day, roommate would be able to only scrounge ransom for one of us.  Woe was me.  Combination of food and fear made for accidental #s 1 and 2.

  Saw small silver angel candlestick holder in hand of back alley vendor and thought to summon divine intervention therewith.  You will see negotiation in progress below.  Also notice policias.  Well, you can really only make out the two at left.  Why?  Because the others wear black ski masks so as to render themselves anonymous to Santanico Pandemonium and all the rest.  Hooded one to their right is gripping a 50 caliber machine gun.

  Finally back at the border headed north ‘friend’ laughed when immigration official asked her for my papers thinking that I was not a US national (besides being visibly irresolute, I have Moor in my blood) and could tell by our demeanor who was leading the way.  ‘Friend’ was in fact carrying my passport and giggled as she fumbled for it.  “Shoot, it’s gotta be here somewhere….”    

  We obviously did make it back to our car.  Emotionally spent and dehydrated I was nearly catatonic for the whole ride home.  Couldn’t speak until cold beer(s) irrigated my parched throat and unlocked my mind to wonder what in the world the rest of my journey from here to the center of the maze might hold.






Surgeon General’s Warning

June 1, 2012


 Sorry about last week, I was in New Orleans and am still trying to recover.  Whew!  The city was founded in 1718 by the French Mississippi Company and was named for the Duke of Orleans whose title came from the city of Orleans in central France.  It became Spanish under terms of the Treaty of Paris in 1763.

  During the American Revolution, it was an important port through which flowed aid to the rebels enabling the successful southwestern campaign against the British.  New Orleans reverted to the French in 1801 and was sold by Napoleon to President Jefferson as part of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.  It’s been part of the states ever since.

  Probably the most, uh, colorful part.  Waves of immigration have included Acadians, Haitians, Germans, Irish, Africans, and more yielding an incredibly fertile and febrile mix.  Leavened by multiple sources of mayhem, religion, and natural disaster, Jazz, Who Dat, and Cajun cuisine grew therefrom.  And 24/7 party central.

  The city tops many of the polls ranking tourist destinations by different criteria.  Many, but not all.  The place is the polar opposite of Disneyland.  Great fun and food is there to be had, but it is not way family friendly.  Makes Donkey Island look like recess.

  Life in the French Quarter maybe epitomizes the ambience by the way it juxtaposes normality with sinful ravage.  The swath Bourbon Street slices through that part of town opens all the way to the underworld.  You swear you’ve seen it all before in a Bosch picture. 

  On top of this post you’re looking inside a fine refined one hundred year old Bourbon Street restaurant.  Jackets are required for men.  No one is allowed to sport jeans or shorts.  Cuisine ranges from red fish to crawfish etouffe.  Bring plenty of dough.

  Wipe your mouth and step outside though and you realize that you’re living on borrowed time, break into a sweat, and hope to borrow more.  Below you see the occupants of the doors on either side of that sparkling establishment. 

  There are intermittent impromptu jazz parades, cops on horseback, and folks doin’ all sorts of different things for tips.  Very few of which would be tolerated, let alone legal, just about anywhere else on earth.  Ought to be a surgeon general’s warning on trip tickets with a NOLA destination.  I love it.





February 24, 2012


  Hear about that horrible fire in Comayagua Honduras this week?  Daughter called to express concern.  She taught third grade in that city 2003-2004.  We visited. Flew into Tegucigalpa where the landing strip is too short for a big jet and thus its nose protrudes over the edge of a cliff when it finally comes to rest.  Everybody claps.  Beat up truck tows it back to “terminal”. 

  Bus from the capital city to Comayagua was a used yellow school bus from the US still sporting the name of its alma mater.  Several hour trip not for faint of heart.  While passing another bus going uphill around a curve the driver’s accomplice leaned out the door to beat the hood of the sensible with a baseball bat while laughing uproariously.

  Going downhill was even more disconcerting because of the increased speed and noise from the chickens as we rocked and rolled.  I put my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me, but the copilot pointed at them with his slugger.  Don’t know if I’d committed some sort of cultural faux-pas (er, paso en falso) or if he was insulting my manhood.

  Relieved to arrive alive we made our way to the Hotel Casagrande.  Daughter had given us two choices – “a really nice, but sort of expensive place that would be convenient or one further away that would be less expensive”.  “How much for the expensive place?”  “$25.00/night with breakfast.”  No foolin’.

  Daughter speaks Spanish – obviously – but purpose of the Escuela was/is to make the students Spanish/English bilingual.  It is a private school for the children of the local elite and expensive by Isthmus standards.  It was clear that her students loved her and vice versa.  She worries after them these years hence because of the oozing of the drug trade down from Mexico.  Hope none of her former charges were in that hoosegow* conflagration… 

  We traveled around the country for a week ending back in Tegucigalpa.  Went up to visit the Galeria Nacional de Arte, but were initially disappointed to find it closed.  Shot the breeze with the guards a bit and ended up getting a private tour.  The space was a converted colonial building made all the more interesting by its lack of most modern museum accouterments.

  Daughter hailed a cab to see us back to the airport.  Driver was worse even than that of the aforementioned bus and used sidewalks and green space as passing lanes.  Hija spoke to him sternly and fury immediately blazed in his eyes.  The taking of instructions from a female was not part of his life experience.

  I couldn’t believe it, but curbside at the airport daughter told him to wait while we embraced and goodbyed.  He’d drive her to the bus station to start her way back to Comayagua.  Oh lord.  I told wife if she hadn’t made me have kids we’d have a whole lot more money and a whole lot less heartache.

*From the Spanish: juzgado – courtroom

**Piece above is “Pasion por Amapalo” (Passion for Poppy) acrylic on canvas by Jorge Restrepo.  cf Show was called “Urdimbres” (Waves) and was up in the Honduran National Gallery of Art 15 to 30 April, 2004

***Ironically, the Honduran island of Roatan is often mentioned as a beautiful and muy barato place to retire.  We visited and agree.

Round Trip Two Bucks

October 21, 2011


  Story goes that sometime in the late 1800’s a Mr. JK Graves, banker, formerDubuque,IAmayor, and former state senator, reached the point in his life at which he looked forward to a nap after lunch.  Problem was that his office was at the bottom of a cliff and house atop.  Buggy ride took half hour one way.

  Mr. Graves had been to Europewhere he’d seen inclined railways and decided thus to address the sleep deficit issue.  What you see here is not original equipment, but is a bit worse for wear.  Not scary though.

  Rises from a neat little neighborhood nook for a whimsical short journey up to summit pay station where a nice lady asks “one way or round trip?”.  I could always use a nap, but my bed was more than a funicular away.  “Round trip”.

  View, as you can see, was spectacular.  Those who traverse our fine state via I-80 might marvel at our agricultural prowess – or maybe just yawn – but either way get nary a notion of myriad unique opportunities for non-farm scintillation.  Arcane though some may be.

… the ongoing danger of collectively creating scapegoats

August 6, 2011


  Last week one lone deranged man killed seventy-three young people on an island near Oslo, Norway.  That terrible event was sort of an inverted reflection of another horror that took place in the far north of that country many years before.  During the course of the seventeen century,  the 3,000 citizens of county Finnmark convicted ninety-one men, women, and young girls of witchcraft and burned them at the stake.

  If you’re with me so far, you’ll find it quite the coincidence that a memorial for the earlier event opened just this past June.  It is the Steilneset Memorial To The Victims Of The Witch Trials and was a collaboration between Swiss architect  Peter Zumthor* and the late great nonagenarian Louise Bourgeois.  During the ceremony, presided over by Queen Sonja, general secretary of the Vardo Church City Mission Sturla Stalsett that “the memorial is meant to remind us of the ongoing danger of collectively creating scapegoats”.**

   Zumthor designed two structures for the barren rocky site.  Of the first, pictured above he said: “I didn’t want an aggressive massive monument.  Creating a light delicate structure was best for this rough space”.  It is 410 feet long, narrow, and has ninety-one randomly placed windows.  Behind each is suspended a single light bulb.  “The feeling is like being in the stomach of some prehistoric creature…except there is a glimmer of light”.

  At the south end a gangplank leads into the other glass and Cor-Ten cubiform volume housing Bourgeois’ work pictured below.  It is comprised of an aluminum chair with flames emanating from the seat and is encircled by seven oval mirrors.  “…like judges circling the condemned”.

  The location is remote, but not off of the beaten path.  The Varanger National Tourist Route program consists of eighteen major routes to facilitate interesting travel while punctuating the country’s magnificent geography with integrated points of interest.  It is overseen by the Norwegian Public Road Authorities and is scheduled to be complete in 2020.  Phew.  Guess don’t need to hurry

 *For more about Zumthor read post of 4/24/09 “Reading about Reincarnation is not the same thing as being reborn”

**Much of the information above was drawn from an article by Suzanne Stephens in the August 2011 edition of Architectural Record.

Blow Me Away

April 11, 2011

  Kids all live in California.  For now anyway.  Closest pattern in years by far so we decided to visit.  Spent two days with each, drove up coast for two, and rode train home for two.  It was fun.

  Beautiful thing above is the work of youngest daughter.  It’s a bit of found art in a way.  She’s an assistant winemaker in Sonoma and that image is – believe it or not – the result of a test (chromatograph) assessing the degree to which a certain type (malolactic) of fermentation has progressed in this year’s chardonnay. 

  The winemaker drops a few drops onto the paper and then holds it upright to allow for capillary action.  The resulting patterns and distribution of color convey the necessary information.  At the appropriate point a sample is taken to  their lab and analyzed for enzymatic malic acid.  It is this aspect of the chardonnay’s chemistry that can create a ‘buttery’ sensation.    Daughter is responsible for this and the rest of Petroni oenological midwifery while boss is in New Zealand for a month.

  The above is a digital representation of the design for the 2K Sports Corporate Offices in San Francisco courtesy of son/Section V Media.  He and partner/friend from grad school set up shop in Hollywood and dang if they aren’t making a go of it in these incredibly difficult economic conditions.   Speaking as an SOB (son of the boss),  I’m impressed.

  Firm offers a range of design services and has left tracks from coast to coast.  Spaces from Madison Square Garden to UCLA stadium have been graced with the fruits of their labors.  Nike, Simon Malls, Williams Sonoma, Diet Pepsi, and more have had their missions furthered therewith.  You see him above atop Runyon Canyon, the trail for which begins paces from their office.

  Photo above is of the grave of Cesar Chavez  on the grounds of the Foundation commemorating his life and work.  Chavez launched the United Farm Workers for which oldest daughter is a lawyer.  (She can’t call herself a lawyer there because she’s not yet taken the California bar.  But she’s admitted in Maine and Massachusetts and I’m her dad and can call her anything I want).

   She speaks fluent Spanish and enjoys the opportunity to use it in that demanding environment in which accuracy is crucial and picking up on inflection can make a difference. The skill is but one of a considerable set held together by an incredible sense of compassion.  She and her neat (space industry start-up) husband live on a farm off the grid.  Long way from Middlesex St in London or Manhattan’s lower east side.  Below you see her working on their windmill.

  As I’ve said before*, trains are a great way to travel.  The intimacy thus engendered is of a sort all its own and as you can see below, I thus again found myself the subject of my artist wife.  Paraphrasing Giacometti’s last surviving model’s description of the sitting experience: “I think her gaze travelled elsewhere, beyond the person in front of her.  So much so that when she was working on a sketch of me, I had the impression that she was in fact searching for my skeleton”.**  Or even deeper…

  Giacometti’s wife also sat for him and was his most ardent supporter.  “They had a highly poetic outlook on life.  I can’t explain it, [their marriage] was something that broke all the conventional rules.  Sculpture was a mediator between husband and wife, it both united them and highlighted their differences.”

  Yup.  Blow me away.

*cf post 1/31/09

**The Art Newspaper April 2011 p48

Hot Springs

July 19, 2010


  Native Americans must have been amazed when they first came across the 143 degree hot springs in what is now south central Arkansas.  Should be no surprise that they imputed therapeutic properties thereto.  Choctaw introduced French trappers to the area in the 1700s and word spread.  After the Louisiana Purchase, Jefferson sent the (subsequently unheralded and overshadowed) Dunbar and Hunter expedition to investigate.

  Their reports were widely circulated and the purported healing properties catalyzed great interest.  The Hot Springs’ reputation grew so that in 1832 the federal government set aside four sections of land as its first act in protection of a natural resource.  Luxurious bathhouses arose to rival Europe’s finest.  In 1921 the Hot Springs National Park was established.

  Popularity peaked during the war years when 1 million baths were given annually.  It was ironic therefore that advancements in medicine born of wartime necessity led to a rapid decline visits during the fifties.  The rise of the motor vacation and its attendant flexibility also carried away many erstwhile bathers.

  Today two bathhouses remain in operation and others have been similarly carefully refurbished and are in the process of being repurposed.  Bathhouse Row now imbues one with a magical sense of place and time.  My first view down its length immediately brought to mind the first panning shot of the Grand Ballroom of the Titanic in the eponymous film*.

  The Fordyce Bathhouse has become Park Headquarters and museum.  The Quapaw and Buckstaff remain in operation.  The Ozark reopened as the Hot Springs Museum of Contemporary Art.  Nearby burgeoning retirement communities and proximity of potential weekend vacationers from Houston, Dallas, and other major metro areas virtually guarantee that it is only a matter of time till Bathhouse Row assumes even greater new splendor.


  Hot Springs National Park is one of about half of America’s best ideas to host artist-in-residency programs, hence our visit.  My artist took up hers several weeks ago a Gulpha Gorge stone bungalow.  As expected, by the time I arrived, she had befriended nearly everyone, had explored nearly every corner, created a prodigious amount of work – pottery and watercolors, and provided children with the benefits of her talent and warm enthusiasm***.

*I was thus induced to attempt to pick out the theme of the movie on the guitar I’d brought along.  Thought I’d figured it out and asked family members to guess (wife in person and others via Skype).  Closest anyone guessed was son: “Mission Impossible?”  Me very talented.

**Photo at bottom is of the A-I-R with HSNP Superintendant Josie Fernandez.   

***She sent home an in situ self portrait which developed an ever greater Klimptian aura as my bachelorhood bore on.

Old Friends

November 13, 2009

  Last weekend wife and I traveled north to visit a friend with whom I had crossed paths but once in the thirty-five years since college.  Make that twice – as I told his wife, last time I’d seen her she was all wrapped in white.

  Our college years were quite the mix of intellectual rigor and ribaldry.  Malheureusement, I’ve forgotten everything I learned, but can still be gross and disgusting with little trouble.  For example (and the only one I’ll provide) I’m still a urinary artiste.

  He met his wife when she was three days old.  I had to wait till kindergarten to find mine.  We exchanged that info after regaling each other with memories and new developments.  We agreed that it was an incredible stroke of something that we ever got a second date with any female, let alone a life long commitment from a girl with the advantage of a long view.

  Anyway, my friend and I both sought thrills and latterly careers and deep meaning.  He’s now a farmer quite close to the earth.  He raises grass fed cattle, humanely, gently even.  And is justly proud of his family’s stewardship of their rolling bit of Wisconsin.

  Before lunch we helped separate out a few head and then move the rest to a new pasture.  The process was beautiful.  There was rhythm.  No prodding or loud noise.  Like a shaman, farmer friend moved the cattle with softly shaken long handled rattles.  That’s all it took.

Cates 1a 

  “Cattle here have a great life up until that last day” he said.  For what more could one hope?  Herd eagerly entered the new pasture and its  fresh grass.  They change every other day or so.  I look out the same window every flippin’ day…

  Lunch was a fine repast of lean grass fed Angus hamburgers, pesto, and applesauce.  All procured by them, from their land, with care.  I had seconds.

  After lunch we hiked across fields and through timber for several hours.  I was amazed at his concern for the state of even remote bits of his land.  He’d bend, scoop, and toss sticks and small branches over the fence so as not to impede the verdancy. 

  Then, in the forest, he explained about the driftless area and how the nature of the landscape had evolved over the eons.  How the flora and fauna changed through the stewardship of the Native Americans and  now his. At dusk, we entered a clearing atop the last tallest hill open to the sky and through the leafless trees, beyond.  It had an aura, an incredibly palpable sense of place.

  Throughout our perambulation we talked about our lives through the years since graduation.  A lot of shit has happened.  Paul Simon’s song Old Friends came to mind. 

Old Friends,
Old Friends,
Sat on the park bench
Like bookends. 

  But, though creaky we’re neither ready for a park bench.  What struck me was a metaphorical take on that verse.  By graduation there were a few text books between us. Now pushing sixty however the volumes are many and the shelf bends under their weight.  Some were light and quick reads, some tumescent, several revelatory and wonderful, and, well, a few drew toward denouement with relentless and terrible power.

  Late in the lyrics Paul Simon wrote, “how terribly strange to be seventy…” But he was only twenty-seven then and might as well have written about what he knew about life on Mars.  Me?  Now forty plus years closer to that mark I’d say why look up from the book I’m reading now – might lose my place.

Amazing Grace

August 28, 2009

Ti and Nathan 

  In the middle of one night a little more than twenty-nine years ago, I was minding my own business drinking a weak cup of coffee in the delivery room of a local hospital.  Wife was hyperventilating on a gurney across from me. 

  The space was quite different from that of the two other such facilities in which I’ve found myself and in fact it no longer exists.  The walls were unusually tall and there was a light catching clerestory window near the ceiling.  The approach of a thunderstorm was thus made quite apparent by unnerving pulses of light and shadow well in advance of any associated sound effects. 

  It must have been a fast moving cold front because it came on with disturbing speed and menace.  The pounding of the rain on the window made the panes bow and weep. The lighting became nearly continuous and the thunder grew to a deafening crescendo.  Loose vials and small instruments rattled on the stainless steel countertops.

  Boom boom BOOM.  A bolt apparently hit a nearby transformer which exploded and lit the sky up with an incredible flash of blue.  Lights went out.  Just as the generator kicked in and they flickered back on there was a wail.  Holy dogs.  I stood and pressed my back against the wall and wondered what in the world I’d gotten myself in for.

  “It’s a girl” Doc said.  New force of nature would have been closer to the truth.  She = MC2        

  With that for a start, I shouldn’t have been surprised when a little more than a year ago she emailed us from Melbourne that she was going to Tasmania with some boy. Tasmania!  Who goes to Tasmania?  Isn’t the place full of devils?  Who’s this dude?

  I soon calmed down and realized that she was taking him to see our good friends Dirk and Loretta.  Aha!  During the visit I called and Dirk said “No worries man, he’s a really fine bloke.  You’ll like him.”

  Other daughter visited and sent rave reviews and photos.  Wife and I hip checked each other in front of the computer screen to get a glimpse.  He looked pretty good.  Daughter smiled broadly.

  In the flesh even better.  Man. Firm handshake and confident countenance. Didn’t take long to find that they’d been cut from the same cloth.  Both drawn to land’s end.

  Me very lucky boy.

Ti Nathan Wedding walk on drive


Thanks Bro!

August 7, 2009

  Few years ago I joined my wife at her artist-in-residency at the Buffalo National River near Jasper, Arkansas.  It is a spectacularly beautiful place.  And much wilder than I’d imagined.

Arkansas B

  Her lodging was an apartment above a remote stable used by the NPS to effect backcountry patrols.  One evening she heard a dog barking outside.  She loves dogs and having finished dinner went onto the balcony*  and threw out a few scraps for her visitor.  The moment she did so a bear rushed from the woods in contest.  It won.  Tough neighborhood.

  Our anniversary fell during our stay and so late that day we had a glass of wine and headed in town for dinner.  On the way I spotted a snake along the road and of course had to stop to investigate.  Didn’t take long to see that it was a rattler.  Timber Rattler.

  I quickly grabbed one of the ski poles we had in the back of the car and ran up to the snake before it could slither off the road into the bushes and away.  It wasn’t big on the idea, but couldn’t mount much of an offense because I kept it from coiling.

  After a short pas de deux, I had it draped over the pole and held it in the air to show off (umpteenth time – one day I’ll impress her…) for my bride.  “Get a little closer, stupid, so I can get a good picture” she said.

Arkansas snake

  While maneuvering about, I thought to myself that it seemed sort of sluggish, that I could probably safely grab it just behind its head and make it bare its fangs for the camera.  Dad taught us the procedure on a bull snake forty years ago and I’ve had lots of practice since, though never with a viper.  Indeed  pet bull snake Beulah was about the size of my new friend.

  Just as I began to choke up on the pole, a conversation I’d had with my MD brother came to mind.  While talking about Dad and snakes, he asked me to guess what the description of a typical snake bite victim might be.  I can’t remember if I guessed it or he told me, but the answer is “drunk white guy”.

  Had that memory not come up I’m sure I would have gone for it.  But not wanting to embarrass myself (also for the umpteenth time) I put it off to the side of the road and soon it disappeared.  We went on to have a fine evening.

  Upon return home I did a little research and found that Timber Rattlesnakes aren’t really all that venomous.  Given another chance I might give it a try.  I am 100% certain that my brother would agree that our father would not have hesitated.   He’d have been 82 today.

*From which was taken the photo above.

**Recent research (WSJ 5/12/09) indicates that those scary snakebite kits – complete with razor blade and suction device – might not be the way to go.  The trauma wrought by the incision does more harm than good and an application of suction by itself is ineffective.  Get bit by a snake just head to the ER ASAP.