Jan 15, 2018

Taliesin West, Heard Museum and Phoenix Art Museum

I have to admit I have never been a fan of Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture. I guess it is too organic and modern; however I do like how Taliesin West blends in with the environment.  Personally, I prefer more traditional, classic architecture but our guide at Taliesin West, Lola, did a better
job of explaining the concept of Wright’s architecture than any of the guides we had at other Wright’s houses we have toured.  We
have visited the Darwin D. Martin House in Buffalo, Graycliff south of Buffalo (with a beautiful location on the lake), and Falling Water in Pennsylvania.  I love waterfalls and couldn’t understand why one would want their house built over the waterfalls.  I would enjoy looking at the falls.  Also, the rooms w
ere small, with low ceilings and, if there were closets they were well hidden.  Wright was living at his home, Taliesin East, in Wisconsin and it seems he had some health issues so the doctor suggested he move to Arizona. He did and created Taliesin West.  Taliesin means the “brow” of the mountain and the Arizona house has a great view. “Taliesin West is a look over the rim of the world,” wrote Wright.  

Taliesin West is more than Wright’s home is it also a museum and a
school of architecture.  According to Wright, who wasn’t very tall, anything over six feet was unnecessary so all the ceilings are low.  The highlight of the visit was when our group visited the living room with a piano. An attractive young lady in our group sat at the piano and played a Mozart composition – awesome.  When Wright visited the Chicago World’s Fair he became enamored with Asia art so there are many Asian art objects throughout the house. The house had an amazing auditorium with outstanding acoustics.  

Our next stop was the Phoenix Art Museum. The entrance was interesting. The walls and ceilings were covered with what looked like bats but were in reality an art work called “Black Cloud,” a “plaque of 25,000 black paper moths and butterflies” meant to represent the annual migration of the monarch butterfly. I can always identify a Calder mobile but this is
the first time I have seen his paintings. The burst of color in his artwork resembled his mobiles. There was a fascinating art display of “paintings” that had moving characters obviously based on video games. The “Border Crossing” exhibit had a painting that showed the changes when cultures meet – a lot to look at. The creative mind knows no limits.  The “Past/Future/Present” exhibit included an artwork made out of nylon stockings. 

Entering the “Native People of the Southwest” At the Heard museum there is a 30-foot glass and clay art fence that needed close examination as there were many hidden images in the sculptures. I am intrigued by Kachina dolls. I thought Barry Goldwater’s collection was the largest but that is not true… the Heard Museum not only has his collection but many more. A Kachina doll is a
representation of a Pueblo ancestral spirit. Probably the only way I will ever see the Havasupai and their place in the Grand Canyon with the beautiful Havasu Falls is in the Heard’s Museum. I would like to visit but the 8-mile hike down to the village is more than I can handle.  I would have to take a helicopter for $85 per person one way and then it is still a hike of a mile or more to the falls and accommodations. 

Jan 7, 2018

Visiting Scottsdale

 When I realized that Scottsdale and Phoenix were about equal distance from the Phoenix airport John and I decided to stay in Scottsdale.  It was a good choice.  The Hotel Valley Ho is one of the Historic Hotels of America but vintage 1950s. It was a bit depressing learning that a hotel built in the 1950s
met the qualifications as an historic hotel.  The Hotel Valley Ho is considered by architects to be “one of the best examples of a mid-century hotel.”  It was a getaway for the Hollywood elite and is where Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner were married.  The hotel has beautiful gardens and two swimming pools. Sadly a cold front came through and it was too cold to go swimming but there is a lot to do in the area. The hotel has an excellent location on the edge of Old Town Scottsdale. In fact it is on the edge of the Art District.  

Old Town, as one would expect, has maintained its Main Street
look. Not far from the hotel we visited the Western Spirit: Scottsdale Museum of the West which is a Smithsonian affiliate. One of their current exhibits is The Rennard Strickland Collection of Western Film History, a collection of old west movie posters.  I was able to recall many of the old time movies.  It wasn’t surprising since, as a youngster, I was only allowed to go the movies on Saturday nights and it was when the cowboy movies were featured. Beside a great collection of artwork they had a wonderful collection of Hopi pottery that spans six centuries.

The Abe Hays Family Spirit of the West Collection of saddles, spurs, badges, and clothing was extensive. Plus there were mockups of a saloon, store and sheriff’s office.  I liked the factoid part. One said that the U.S. Calvary pursuing Apaches could travel 25 miles a day but the Apache, on foot, could run 75!  And, one time Geronimo wanted to see the “big water” so he ran all the way from San Madres to the Gulf of California. What a man! 

We visited the nearby Desert Botanical Garden. I wish there had
been tickets for their Luminarias which is featured every Christmas. In the evening 8000 luminaries are lit (most have candles) by 200 volunteers. At the entrance there was a Chihuly glass sculpture.  His work is easy to recognize. There are also unique sculptures scattered throughout the gardens. Docents were available to answer questions and give demonstrations. 

There is no doubt about it my favorite museum was the Musical Instrument Museum. We had to drive to it but most things we visited were easy to get to off the I-10. Near the entrance there were two impressive Vanuatu slit drums. There is a piano in the grand lobby where a young lady was playing – nice introduction to the museum. Qualified guests are invited to play. I could have spent hours in the Geographic gallery
– it’s a trip around the world through music with tableaus that not only featured the musical instruments of an area but also the clothing and other artifacts. Most vignettes had a video of the actual ethnic groups playing some of the instrumentation in native apparel. It seems humans must have music in their life and can make it out of anything in their environment from bones to fruit to oil drums.  “Music is the language of the soul” and something everyone can enjoy regardless of their culture. 

Caribbean Getaways

The recent hurricane season has been extremely disastrous on the islands of the Caribbean but there were some that did not suffer any damage. Undamaged Islands still suffer from association with potential travelers thinking the entire Caribbean was destroyed. Keep in mind that the best deals are in the off season or at the beginning and end of high season.  Often the best deal is a package that includes airfare. 

1. Roatan: The largest and most popular of the Honduran Bay Islands has long been popular with divers but there are a variety of accommodations from live-aboard dive boats to all-inclusive resorts.  Roatan along with its two sister island – Utila and Guanaja – are located on the second largest barrier reef.   
2. Caymans:  The Caymans are a British Overseas Territory made up of three islands in the western Caribbean Sea. Grand Cayman, the largest island, is known for its beach resorts and varied scuba diving and snorkeling sites.  A great place to pet a ray.
3. Bonaire: The Island is part of the Netherlands and out of the hurricane zone so any time of year to visit is great. It is known for great diving with some sites that can be accessed by just walking into the water. The pink salt flats are unique as is the donkey rescue center.
4. Haiti: Haiti could benefit
from tourism money at it is still trying to recover from the 2010 earthquake but most of Haiti’s resorts and landmarks such as the Citadel and ruins of Sans-Souci, once the royal  palace of Haiti’s 19th century King Henry I. There are great beaches. 
5. St. Lucia: The name may conjure up romance but there is also adventure. Not to miss is the Diamond Botanical Gardens to learn about how cocoa is grown and processed into chocolate. Plan to visit the waterfalls that has been featured in several movies. The island is a favorite stop for yacht owners.
6. Jamaica:  The Island is a favorite destination for those
looking for reasonable places to stay especially at one of the many all-inclusive resorts. Montego Bay has British-colonial architecture and the capital of Kingston is home to the Bob Marley Museum.  Dunn’s River Falls is a must-do.
7. Curacao: The Dutch island is out of the hurricane belt and known for its beaches tucked into coves and is large coral reefs. The capital, Willemstad is picture perfect with pastel-colored colonial architecture. Onshore access to the reefs makes it popular with snorkelers and divers. 
Barbados: The eastern Caribbean island is part of the British Commonwealth where afternoon tea and cricket are still local traditions. Don’t miss the Jacobean-style St. Nicholas Abbey.  The mansion is one of the oldest plantation houses in the Caribbean. A do-not miss is Animal Flower Cave with pools deep enough to swim in. 
9. Grenada: The smell will tell you why Grenada is called the “Spice Isle.” There are several nutmeg plantations to visit. The capital of St. George has Georgian buildings and an 18th century fort, and, of course, resorts and beaches.  Check out the world’s first underwater sculpture park. 

10. Trinidad & Tobago: The two-island nation is off the coast of Venezuela and is known for its distinctive Creole traditions and cuisines. The smaller island of Tobago is known for its beaches and the Tobago Main Ridge Forest Reserve which shelters hummingbirds. There are daily flights and ferries connection the two islands.

Dec 18, 2017

Traditional Japanese New Year meal - Ozoni

The last days of 2016 John and I had a 24-hour stopover in Narita, Japan so I booked a stay at the Crowne Plaza Narita, which offers free airport transfers. A flyer in our room stated that the hotel offered several New Year’s events, one of which was an “osechi” breakfast. When I asked what it was Ayaka Ohara, the public relations director, explained that according to tradition nothing should be cooked on New Year’s Day. 

Osechi is a variety of colorful dishes in a bento box that is part of a traditional New Year’s morning meal that also includes ozoni.  The bento box (a box with single serving compartments) includes a variety of artistically prepared pieces of fish and vegetables. Ms. Ohara said that the next morning, New Year’s Eve morning, the chef would be making ozoni and he would be happy to show us how it is made. Ozoni is a soup containing a rice cake and vegetables – a traditional New
Year’s dish that is said to provide strength and prosperity in the coming year. On the first day of the New Year a dream that includes either Mt Fuji, a hawk, an eggplant, or all three portends a prosperous and happy New Year. 

The Japanese Chef Shimada Ikuhou said that in order to make osoni it was necessary to make dashi, a Japanese soup stock used in many recipes.


Dashi: Japanese soup stock
5 ½ quarts water
1 piece Konbu (dried seasoned kelp)
2 oz dried bonito shavings

Ozoni Ingredients (for two servings)
2 prawns or large shrimp
Dash of salt
1 tsp soy sauce
1 tbsp mirin (rice wine)
½ oz thinly cut white meat chicken
2 Kamaboko (1 pink and 1 white) slice each color in 1/8 in strips and tie in a knot 
6 slices of carrot (rosette cut)
2 snow peas (cooked)
2 thin slices yuzu (citrus rind)
1 Mochi (rice cake) baked

To make Dashi place water in a stock pot, add konbu, bring to a boil and cook for five minutes. Remove konbu and discard. Add bonito bring it to boil. Boil for five minutes. Drain, return to pot and allow to simmer.

In dashi broth cook prawns three to five minutes until pink. Remove. In a new pot add one cup of dashi for each serving. Add salt, soy sauce and simmer for five minutes (season to taste). Add mirin, bring to boil. Add chicken, snow peas, kamaboko, and carrots cook over medium heat until chicken is cooked and vegetables are tender. 

To make mochi: Preheat oven. Bake at 345 degrees for five minutes. Put mochi under the broiler for 30 seconds. Mochi should be soft with light brown top. 

Presentation: Put one mochi in a serving bowl, arrange prawn, carrots, snow peas, chicken, and kamaboko artfully around mochi. Cover with Dashi. Garnish with yuzu.

Around the world there are different ways to wish people good luck.  In Japan making origami cranes and string them together is a way to wish people good luck. John and I were in Japan few weeks after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Our hotel, the Peninsula, had many origami cranes adorning the artwork in the lobby in the hope of wishing the people good luck in the future. A thousand cranes are said to bring good luck to newlyweds. On the first day of the new year a dream that includes Mt Fuji, a hawk, an eggplant, or all three means that one will be happy. 

Dec 11, 2017

The Freedom Center in Cincinnati

The Underground Railroad Freedom Center is the place to open up your mind. The Center celebrates the heroes who created the Underground Railroad; a secret network slaves used to escape to freedom, but the center also makes people aware of the 27 million people worldwide who are still trying to get their freedom.

The Freedom Center has been on my bucket list from the day it opened in 2004 and finally, John and I got to visit during our recent visit to Cincinnati.  It was just down the street from the Hyatt where we were staying and nearby there is a Bell Connector bus that stops at major sites in the city – very convenient. 

The Center was much more than I had expected.  I figured it would
be about American slavery; and, it was; but it is more than that. There were displays that explored the history of slavery plus present day heroes working to eliminate slavery.  

The videos and displays were informative.  I am familiar with Harriet Tubman and I am always fascinated by Levi Coffin who managed to get slaves to freedom by pretending they were part of a funeral parade. It is worth noting that the Freedom Center is located just steps from the Ohio River, the dividing line between freedom and slavery. There is more to slavery than that which most of us know about.

Many people think that when slavery was outlawed in America that
was the end of slavery. Not so. The Center has a great section dealing with Nelson Mandela and his struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the practice of segregating non-whites to specific locations and not allowing non-whites, who were the majority of the population, to participate in politics while the economics and educational restrictions of apartheid keep the non-whites poor. There is a replica of the prison cell where Mandela was held for many years. 

Actually, slavery has existed for centuries but only America made it hereditary. Slavery, in several forms, still exists.  Slavery is defined as the total physical and/or mental control of a person for the purpose of exploiting their labor or body for commercial of personal gain. The center defines five types of slavery: forced labor, debt labor to repay a debt, sex slavery, child slavery, and domestic servitude.

I think most of us are familiar with the sex trade because it is one of
the few kinds of slavery that makes the news. In the Unites States child labor was common until the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Children were employed in the textile industry because they were small and could maneuver in the tight conditions of the looms and other equipment. Today it is not uncommon to see children working in foreign counties making carpets. Years ago John and I visited one such shop in Egypt.  The owner said he was teaching them a lifelong trade and cared for them because otherwise they would be living on the street. Interesting rationalization. 

There are things we can do to help eliminate slavery in other countries.  One of the easiest ways is to buy Fair Trade Certified products which ensure that farmers, workers, and fishermen are fairly treated, work in safe conditions, and are paid a sustainable salary. 

The Freedom Center wants visitors to know about slavery today and to understand how modern slavery relates to the “American experience” and to “empower each of us with the knowledge that we can end slavery.”

Dec 4, 2017

Saguenay Fjord

John and I were fortunate to visit Saguenay Fjord National Park as part of our cruise with Blount Small Adventures. A fjord is a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs and I always thought they were exclusive to Norway. We joined the cruise in Oswego and left at 4 a.m. We were out on the lake to see a glorious sunrise.  I would have liked to have sailed closer to the shore so I could make out more places I know such as Mexico Point Park.  The cruise continued through the St. Lawrence Seaway to Montreal and Quebec then up the Saguenay Fjord. 

Sailing between the high hills was beautiful.  I realized that it was part of the deep sea water when I saw ocean-going cruise ships at the cruise dock in Chicoutimi.   Luckily the cruise ship and its 1000s of passengers was just leaving. We were greeted on the dock by costumed ladies, jugglers, and, inside the terminal, a duo provided music for the shoppers – yes, there were plenty of kiosks offering souvenirs and locally made products.    

John and I enjoyed a hop-on bus tour of Chicoutimi that stopped at La Petite Maison Blanche (The Little White House). The small square house was constructed in 1900. When the nearby dam overflowed due to an employee mistake (there goes his bonus) the house remained but the big flood came in 1996.
The dam overflowed causing widespread destruction to the town of Chicoutimi and wiped away every building surrounding the Little White House.   The flood waters raged all around the base of the house for four days and when it was over, the Little White House remained for all to see. It is a symbol of perseverance. The house is now a museum and a small park has been built around it. 

In 1893 several citizens of Chicoutimi visited the World’s
Colombian Exposition in Chicago. They were mesmerized by the “electricity faery.” They wanted Chicoutimi to be the “Chicago of the North.” One far-thinking citizen was able to convince the local government to modernize the city with electricity and public water. That in turn led to the creation of the Compagnie de pulpe de Chicoutimi, the paper company that brought prosperity to the region. There are sign boards telling about the rise and fall of the industry. 

There were other things to see but I was most enthralled as we
sailed back down the fjord and saw beluga whales. Beluga whales are my favorite whale because their bright white color made them easy to spot. There were other whale watching boats which were very crowded; our ship was not plus we had an on-board authority
who showed a video the night before about the belugas.  The belugas are called the “sea canary” because they make a variety of sounds from whistling to barking. They have a well-developed hearing because they cannot see well in the darkness of the deep water. 

Lighthouse lovers will enjoy seeing the unique Prince Shoal Lighthouse which serves as both a lighthouse and buoy. Also unique is the statue of the Virgin Mary high on a cliff that was erected by a merchant as a thank you for having his prayers answered.  He fell through the ice on the frozen Saguenay River and implored the Virgin Mary to save him only to become very sick as a result, and he again turned to the Virgin Mary for help. Prayers answered. 

Nov 27, 2017

Historic Hotel Syracuse

I was so happy when I read that someone had purchased the Hotel Syracuse (our daughter had her wedding reception there years ago) and planned to restore it.  And restore it they did.  It is a member of Historic Hotels of America. If you haven’t been there you need to stop for a look-see. Like many of the luxury historic hotels the entrance is designed so that from
the street level it is necessary to walk up a short flight of stairs to get to the lobby. That way the grandeur of the lobby’s ceiling becomes the first sight.  The ornate coffered ceiling rivals many of those in European palaces. The ceiling alone is worth the visit but so is the mural behind the registration desk. The 40-foot mural includes vignettes that depict the scenes from the beginnings of Syracuse including the discovery
of salt springs near Onondaga Lake and the Jerry Rescue.  It had been covered for 30 years by mirrors. Several other murals have been discovered and restored including the one in the Persian Terrace that was covered by wallpaper and two coats of paint. I think I have a new travel goal – to stay in as many Historic Hotels as possible. 

As I was walking down the wide corridor lined with interesting photos to our room I noticed all the room doors were bowed.  There is a reason.  In the room there was a coffee-table book about the hotel explaining that doors are servadors. There are locks on both sides so that the occupant can hang clothing that needs attention in the door and the staff can pick it up and return it without bothering the guest.  Cool! The book was full of interesting tidbits of the hotel’s history.  In order to build the Hotel Syracuse the Hotel Truax was rolled across Harrison Street to a new location. Interestingly, it was moved while its guests continued to enjoy all the hotel services including hot and cold
running water, telephone, lights and room service. Not only was the hotel, weighting more than 6000 tons, moved across the street it was also completely turned around. Work began in April and wasn’t completed until July. In 1960 the building was demolished to make a parking lot.  In order to get approval to build the Hotel Syracuse it was decided that they would built it around the 4th Presbyterian Church which refused to move.  It too was later demolished. The Hotel Syracuse is the only four AAA Diamond hotel in Syracuse.  In fact, there are only a couple dozen in Upstate NY.  We had a bite to eat at the bar/lounge area of Eleven Waters.  It was once the barber shop and the faucets have been left in place.  

We were actually in Syracuse to see Cirque Du Soleil which gave us an excuse to stay at the Hotel Syracuse which is only a couple blocks from the Oncenter. It has been years since I had been there and don’t remember the excellent veterans’ display.  There are life-sized soldiers representing each war but the fascinating part is that most of the soldiers on display were from the Syracuse area.  

I am not a fan of circuses but Cirque Du Soliel is an amazing display of costuming and acrobatics.  John and I were duly impressed and awed by the performers’  agility and flexibility. Some of the feats didn’t seem humanly possible. .