2018 Brief Summer Trip – the Northern Tier: Friends, Alma Mater, and a Toddler!

2018 has been an exceptional year for travel. Time and energy has usually resulted in no more than two journeys away from home in any 12-month span. However, we remained in State College throughout 2017, to care for the gentlemanly KC, our elderly rescue poodle. This third trip, sandwiched between our long vacation in Europe and a short southern tour, allowed us to reconnect with seldom-seen friends and a 50-years-since-graduation visit to my alma mater.

Our first stop was the lovely Maumee riverbank home of a friend from my/our graduate school years at Kansas State. Some good things never change.

Betty and her apartment mate Elaine came to our rescue in August 1970. We had arrived in Manhattan – a name that defines irony – a week before classes. Our car had blown up on an earlier attempt to visit Manhattan, to obtain housing. Thus, we arrived homeless, only to confront religion-based housing discrimination. During the days it took us to secure a rental, in the only neighborhood that admitted any minorities, Betty-and-Elaine welcomed us into their basement apartment. Forty-eight years later, Betty made us feel at home, again. Friends may age; friendships never get old.

Then it was on to Ann Arbor. We were following up on an invitation to spend a day on campus, courtesy of the University of Michigan Library. I chose two places to visit.

We started with Hill Auditorium. More accurately, we started by parking, in the center of campus, legally and at no charge, during Arts Festival. For any Michigan graduate, this comes as close to a miracle as human forces can grant.

Hill is one of my favorite places in the world. In four too-short years, I saw and heard numerous great performances, from Marian Anderson’s penultimate recital to a Motown Review (Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Martha and the Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye). When we arrived, the house manager greeted us, took us to center stage, and spent most of an hour reviewing the changes from the recent renovation.

Next, we received a personal tour of the University of Michigan Library preservation and conservation services. The preservation facilities are off campus, a short block from my senior-year apartment. The visit was fascinating. However, because Theresa knows Penn State library staff, who know the Michigan staff well, I – the visiting alumnus – became an interested bystander.

Toronto was the third and final stop. We became friends with a family from South African in the early 1990s. The youngest of the three children is now married and recently emigrated, with her spouse Shaun and son Joshua, to Canada. We last saw Eve, at her brother’s wedding, in Paarl, South Africa, in 2016, before she relocated.

We had plans for a day+ of tours. Joshua-the-toddler had his own, probably better, plans.

Photographs follow. I cannot take credit for the Hill Auditorium exterior or the view of the house, from above. Both are from the University archives.

 

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A Short Southern Tour – September 2018, Part 2, Hilton Head, SC

An afternoon’s drive took us from the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina to the South Carolina Low Country, arriving on Hilton Head Island in time to settle in and find a good seafood restaurant for dinner. Our short stay was pleasant. However, how we spent our limited time here confirmed the bemusing observation that, sometime in the last 50 years, we became swamp people.

Most vacationers to this corner of coastal South Carolina come for one of four reasons: golf, beaches, annual events, or great Low Country dining. We arrived, aware of the dining. We do not golf. I must avoid the beaches, at least from sunrise to sunset. We normally travel in the off-season to avoid the crowds that events attract. Nevertheless, the island was on our places to visit list, a bit down from our previous stop, Biltmore.

Why travel without a plan? Why not, when this approach to touring has led us to experiences that we would otherwise have missed.

For a decade, we did at least one road trip a year, to visit my father on the eastern Florida retirement coast. We soon discovered and fell in love with the Everglades, usually in August, from Lake Okeechobee to the Big Cypress Swamp and the Homestead entrances.

We explored the Okefenokee Swamp in record-breaking August heat. We slogged through The Bog Trail on a still-snowy May afternoon, on Cape Breton Island. Birding almost everywhere else we have visited has taken us to wetlands that tourist guides rarely mention.

Consequently, we were pleased, not amazed, to discover that the island and its immediate surrounding area were home to six state and federal preserves, refuges, and parks. We had two full days reserved. Therefore, we spent one day introducing ourselves to the Sea Pines Forest Preserve and the next at Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge.

Sea Pines Forest has several areas and trails. We walked the Rice Field and Bogey Gut sections, areas with a range of plants, insects, and aquatic life. The next morning it was off to the very different topography of Pinckney Island: large open areas of woods and water, with many waterfowl.

Even commercial properties offer access to beautiful vistas. We have seen few sunsets as lovely as this, from the parking lot of the Old Oyster Factory.

Now that we are back home for a while, we would normally look forward to an afternoon or two visiting local wetlands. Ironically, the very wet late summer and fall have reduced access to several of these areas. So, here is to spring 2019.

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Guitar Maker, Sevilla – A Personal Remembrance

Sevilla and guitar makers…When I was an undergraduate, I had the privilege of spending an hour chatting with the legendary classical guitarist, Andres Segovia. I fed him ice cream and Coca Cola – a bribe his young wife suggested would bring forth a yes to my interview request, for a segment of my radio show.

He spent the time re-telling the story of his first guitar, a gift from a Sevilla craftsman to a young, penniless musician. How it served him well for many years, and how one day the neck broke – the day its maker died.

Sevilla and guitar makers – the stuff of legends

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A Short Southern Tour – September 2018, Part 1, Biltmore

We had originally scheduled a trip to Biltmore, outside of Asheville, NC, and then on to Hilton Head, SC, for the spring of 2017. However, we had to cancel to care for our rapidly aging rescue poodle, the gentlemanly KC.

We had discussed visiting Biltmore, the vast Vanderbilt mansion and estate, for years. Thus, we set off with a great sense of anticipation. Too often, the reality does not live up to the expectation. This time, it far exceeded it.

We took a rooftop tour, climbing the vast staircase to the 4th floor, out a window on one side, back in, and out another on the other side. The views, including close ups of many gargoyles and other grotesqueries, were magnificent. The opportunity to gain an understanding of the infrastructure of what is essentially a modern brick and steel building was an unexpected bonus.

A quick break, with a stop at the on-site ice cream parlor, and then we took the self-guided tour, from basement to the 3rd floor bedrooms. A ride on the original elevator. A view down to the subbasement, which is only on the premier tour – for the next visit, and there will be a next visit.

Another break, and some slow exploration of the nearest of the many formal gardens, and it was time for the bus tour, with several stops, of the larger estate. First, we climbed to see the evidence of a railway, built to haul in construction materials, and then dismantled.

A walk around the relocated churchyard and cemetery of the freed slave village of Shiloh. Which included the chance to see the intertwined oaks that grew out of the joint graves of a loving couple.

A stop at the water projects that assured a surplus of pure water for all estate purposes, from filling the swimming pool, to the laundry, personal consumption, and even the operation of the now gone dairy.

Good food. Comfortable accommodations. An easy destination to recommend.

Of course, I took many photos. I have grouped them into four sets. The art glass displayed throughout the estate is a large installation by the sculptor Chihuly.

1. The building, starting with one view of a scale model.

2. The original estate grounds covered over 195 square miles, bigger than the nation of Andorra. Today it covers just under 11 square miles, slightly smaller than Lichtenstein, but larger than Monaco. The grounds extended, just in one direction, from the house beyond the first mountain range, 13 miles distant.

The first shots of bare ground show the bed of the railway, with Shiloh and the water control project after.

3. The house tour starts with the atrium and moves to the enormous formal dining room, complete with working pipe organ. Then the family quarters, including a small dining room, complete with a Renoir.

Art is not limited to a single area. From an enormous Durer woodcut print to the crafting of the large main entry chandelier, ceilings, and the glass elevator door, the Renoir and a copy of the Rembrandt “Night Watch.”

Even the infrastructure shows attention to detail, with a view to the artistic, that dominates the living quarters.

4. Finally, Vanderbilt wanted Biltmore to emulate a renaissance French chateau, complete with gargoyles – many gargoyles, grotesqueries, friezes, and statuary.

Next, on to Hilton Head!

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FDR Contra Trump: Two Eras, Two Presidents, One General Conclusion

Several years ago, I wrote an extended response to a blog post by a good and valued friend. Separate from his reaction to my content, he suggested that I take up the virtual pen and blog under my own brand.

This is my extended response to his recent post on FDR and Trump.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was an early political hero of mine. I grew up in a society that reflected the best parts of the New Deal and in a home headed by a true liberal, who was also a political, union, and veterans organizer.

My primary takeaway was that FDR was born with a platinum spoon in his mouth and high social status. However, unlike his Republican predecessors’ near obsession with enriching the wealthy – Coolidge and Hoover, he made raising up those with far less – resources, power, and prospects – his mission. That contrast holds up equally well versus President Trump.

FDR succeeded at pulling the nation back from the pit of economic chaos and leading it to its position of prominence among nations. However, this should not lead us to justify or to ignore certain negative actions of his administration. Some uncomfortably presaged those of the Trump White House that dismay those to the left of the reactionary right today.

FDR lived in an era that accepted Jim Crow. (I remember seeing segregated water fountains at bus depots in Delaware in the late 1950s.) Compared to today, xenophobia affected larger segments of both the working poor and non-working wealthy. Almost all Americans were cognizant of an ingrained belief that the United States was a Christian nation, with a biblically revealed manifest destiny. Discrimination on the bases of religion, gender, and national origin were socially acceptable.

At the same time, he was highly educated and a world traveler. Therefore, we should not excuse that:

  • He authorized the internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent, during World War II, even though German- and Italian-Americans continued in their normal lives for the duration. A long-time friend, neighbor, Nisei, and liberal registered Democrat never forgave his government for the treatment of his entire family as suspect of disloyalty.
  • His administration did not increase the immigration quotas for European Jews and Romani people seeking asylum from the threat of Nazi persecution and execution during the 1930s and early 1940s.
  • He refused to make interrupting the operations of the Nazi death camps – known by the administration to exist at least as early as America’s entry into the war – an objective, even after the combined U.S. Army Air Corp and RAF achieved air superiority over Europe. Similarly, he denied permission for U.S. fighter pilots – my father among them – to fly these missions as volunteers.
  • He played the imperial presidency card after the U.S. Supreme Court declared some New Deal programs to be unconstitutional. He responded by promoting the Judicial Procedures Reform Bill of 1937. This would allow the President to add up to six new Supreme Court justices, which would have created a new majority supporting all the President’s programs.

As with the Trump White House, FDR’s administration demonized minorities. It exhibited xenophobia in immigration policies – even in cases that qualified refugees for asylum. It ignored the suffering of marginalized citizens in war zones. It placed its domestic policy aims above the Constitution. Individuals suffered and died. Of course,  unlike FDR, the Trump administration has produced no measurable improvements in the lives of Americans and those in need elsewhere, beyond increasing the share of wealth among the one percent.

Choosing Roosevelt over Trump would be a supremely easy decision.

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Travelogue – Iceland to England May 7-28, 2018, Stage 3

Amsterdam

The plan was to have two full days in the city. The first evening was to be a visit to the Dam, the historic town square. The next full day would be for museums and a canal tour.

However, no long journey would be complete without, at least once – while leaving Scotland, having one’s plans gang aft agley. KLM bumped us from our evening flight from Aberdeen to Amsterdam. We lost the first night in the city and our tour the next morning. However, we still had a most satisfactory visit and a reason to return next year.

Amsterdam was also our first adventure with European public transportation, outside of London. Which started with a tiny bump: we boarded the correct bus, to go from the airport to our hotel, but one going in the other direction. Some mistakes work out well, and this was one. By the time we learned of our miscue and reached a station to reverse course, we had passed through an industrial center, the university district, and some open area that is the real Netherlands.

Theresa had exceeded my expectations for her accommodation selection: modern, comfortable, and less than two blocks from the museums that were our primary goal for the stopover. With only half a full day, we focused on the Rijksmuseum and its concentration of Rembrandts.

The museum itself is a work of art: vaulted ceilings, murals, decorated columns, mosaic tile floors, and stained glass windows. The principal holding is Rembrandt’s “The Night Watch.”

Its full name is the “Militia Company of District II under the Command of Captain Frans Banninck Cocq.” As such, it is just one of many similar commissioned works. Apparently, the 17th Century leadership of the city’s municipal districts preferred immortality in oil and canvas than brick and mortar.

The intent of the design of the main exhibit space serves to draw the viewer to the Rembrandt. However, the hall contains several other, similarly grand works. The Frans Hals provides competition. However, others do better to show the superior skill of the masters.

We also saw the small Vermeer collection, including these two. The arm is a detail of a Rubens portrait in the collection. I felt very pleased with myself for recognizing the work by the lace: I had seen the same detail in a different portrait at the Frick Pittsburgh.

I wanted the teapots for my collection. However, both Theresa and the museum staff vetoed the idea. We might have taken the cabinet, if we had a means to take it with us on the rest of our journey.

The Museum Quarter is a mix of hotels, restaurants, and the structures of the everyday of every healthy city: commercial streets, schoolyards and buildings, troops of student visitors, and residences.

Amsterdam is also a very clean city. The main rail depot was no exception, where we spent our last hours before the trip to Munich.

A note on European train stations: the ones in major cities are vast, with multiple platforms that can extend a quarter mile. Despite the easy to find signage, we learned that wherever you choose to wait for your connection, your car will stop as far from you as possible. Track shoes should be part of all packing list recommendations.

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Travelogue – Iceland to England May 7-28, 2018, Stage 2

Scotland

We spent most of our first visit to Scotland, in 2016, exploring the northwestern highlands, including a visit to Islay, in the Inner Hebrides. This year, we limited our too brief time to two eastern counties, Angus and Aberdeenshire.

As we did last time, we stayed at Glenisla House, a friend’s wonderful holiday rental, in Forfar, the Angus county seat. The building sits among restored row houses, on one side of the one block long Sparrowcroft Lane. Glenisla’s blue front door makes it easy to spot. Our host’s assistants, Phin and Daisy, clearly worked their tails off to make sure that our stay exceeded expectations.

Mid-May is a wonderful time to enjoy nature in this part of Scotland. On a long afternoon’s drive, we started by passing golden fields of rapeseed, grown primarily for canola oil.

First stop: the Montrose Basin Wildlife Reserve. The basin is an estuary of the River Esk. Where there is water, there are waterfowl and other birds. The visitors’ center was an excellent vantage point for birding and photography. Apparently, one wood pigeon thought she was on a modeling assignment.

After a diversion through a small fishing village, at low tide, it was off to the Balgavies Loch Wildlife Reserve. Beautiful flora – including the omnipresent gorse, the peaceful loch, and more birds.

Of course, no visit to Scotland is complete without a visit to a castle, either operational or a ruin. This year, it was Dunnottar, in Aberdeenshire, which the builders assumed, obviously incorrectly, was impregnable.

 

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