Sunday, December 10, 2017

Ancient Civilizations

The southwest of the United States is dotted with many remnants of ancient civilizations.  I've shown you Montezuma's Castle and Tuzigoot before.  Today I'm showing you another National Monument called Casa Grande.  You can probably figure out that the name translates to "great house".

The site has preserved what is left of what is called an irrigation community, a place where ancient peoples lived and worked along a network of canals that diverted water from streams to fields where crops could be grown.  The great house was completed around the year 1150 and was at one time four stories tall.

In addition to what remains of the great house, there are also the remains of walls of other structures situated around a central plaza area.

There is even evidence of a large ball court where games were played..  The walls above appear to be small living spaces.

The museum at the site has many artifacts that have been recovered around this settlement.  This large "olla" or pottery vessel was used for water and food storage.  It is amazing that it was unearthed completely in tact.

The museum also had a small display of what the inside of one of the smaller dwellings might have looked like.

The structure over the top of the "great house" was built to protect what remains of this ancient building from the relentless desert sun and wind and rain.

There is a large mound within the heart of the city of Mesa that is thought to be another large multi-storied structure like this one.   That mound just looks like a hill of dirt but, it is being preserved by archeologists for future excavation.  It is thought that as archeological techniques improve, scientists will be able to learn more from these sites than they have in the past.  So that site is awaiting future exploration.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

London, the Chocolate Mecca

I never thought of London as a place to source good chocolate but, while I was planning my last trip there I watched a television show highlighting all the exquisite chocolate shops that are available in London.  I took full notice.  In fact, I got a pencil and paper and started taking notes.

 One of the chocolatiers featured on the show was William Curley, a young Scottish fellow who has made quite a name for himself in the world of pastry and chocolate.  Unfortunately, the chocolate shop featured on the show had closed before my trip there but his chocolates were available from Harrods so I made a point of stopping there to pick up a box.  They were just as advertised, silky and delicious.

 Next on the list of purveyors of chocolate was a place called Rococo Chocolates.  This was another store that was prominently featured on the show I watched with the host raving about the creations of the owner, Chantal Coady.  Her shop in Belgravia was  pure delight to shop in.

I selected the colorful pieces above from the dazzling variety available and I'll be happy to report that they were as tasty as they look.

On past trips to London, I always picked up a special treat at the chocolate counter of Fortnum and Masons, one of my favorite places to shop in London.  This last trip was no exception.

I selected a box of beautifully decorated chocolates that were as yummy as they were pleasing to look at.

Another shop that was featured on the show was called SAID, a branch of a long established chocolate shop from Rome.

I stopped in to this shop and found myself surrounded by chocolate molds and mounds of chocolate truffles and buttons.  I walked out with a pistachio covered chocolate bar that was a sheer delight.

On the day of my departure from London, I packed all my wonderful chocolate treats in my suitcase and headed to Heathrow to catch my flight.  You might think my chocolate shopping spree had come to an end but there I was faced with row after row of airport "duty free" shops and with some room still left in my carry-on bag, I bought an elegantly packaged box of dark chocolate mint thins by the distinguished chocolate maker Charbonnel et Walker.

Who knew that London was such a mecca for the "food of the gods"?  I'm glad I learned that lesson.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Ozark Country Roads

When I visit my sister in Missouri, my favorite thing to do is to drive around the country roads to see what I might find.  It's usually beautiful views or picturesque barns and even an old fashioned mill on one drive.  But, on this particular day, I found a little known Pioneer Village called Bakersville.

We were driving on a rutted, dirt road so coming across this little community was quite a surprise.  Our curiosity got the best of us so we stopped to have a look around.

We examined the old buildings which all had an authentic look to them.  We even got a close-up look at this old covered wagon.  What we didn't see were any people.  There was no one else around.  We had the place all to ourselves.  It was as though the place was an old deserted ghost town.

At one of the buildings we found was a Seed Store that was open so we went inside but mysteriously, there was no one attending the store.  Since no one was available to ask questions, I had to do a little research about this place.  Apparently the seed store actually does sell packets of seeds, mostly heirloom varieties but, usually during festival periods.  In fact, it looked like the place has at least two big weekend festivals every year when the little town is humming with visitors and that flour mill is selling fresh bread.  

The property sits on the site of an old homestead that was once owned by a family named Rippee.  The family farmed the property for many, many years trading with the Osage Indians and caring for Civil War soldiers all while growing a large variety of crops. 

So now this area stands as a legacy to a passing time.  It's amazing the things you can find if you just take the time to travel a few back roads.  

Sunday, November 19, 2017

The Nation's Library

With so many historical buildings and grand museums to visit in Washington D.C., it's easy to miss the Library of Congress.  It is one place that I'm glad I got to see.

The building dates back to 1897 and it is simply magnificent inside.  Unfortunately, photography was not allowed looking into the grand reading room that is surrounded by huge stacks of books.  However, the foyer of the building was so palatial, I didn't miss getting that other view.  Off to one side of this lofty area is the Jefferson library containing some of the books that Thomas Jefferson sold to congress after the original collection went up in flames in 1814.  The library is working with a generous grant to try to reassemble all of Jefferson's books here.

On the lower level of the building is a wonderful museum full of all kinds of interesting things to see.  Above you see Gershwin's piano.  From time to time, famous pianists are allowed to play it.  Wouldn't that be fun to see?  The museum also contains things like the maps of Lewis and Clark, Jefferson's draft of the Declaration of Independence, a Gutenberg Bible and Bob Hope's 80,000 page joke file.  It's an eclectic mix of documents and items.

You can even get a close up view of the Presidential Medal of Freedom!

It's another historical Washington building that is well worth a visit.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

A Distinctive Group

Almost everyone who travels to London puts a visit to Westminster Abbey on their must see list.  I can still remember my very first glimpse of this imposing church back in 1985.  On a visit there it would be hard to miss Parliament Square situated directly across from the Palace of Westminster (better known as Parliament) and right in front of the Abbey.

So, if you've been there you have no doubt seen the array of distinguished gentlemen  who have permanent residence in the square.

There is of course England's most famous Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill in his bulky overcoat and leaning on his cane.

Mahatma Gandhi is there and he's bearing up quite well to the slight chill in the air.

Nelson Mandela now has a place of honor on the square.  He appears to be in perpetual discussion with those that pass by.

You might be surprised to find Abraham Lincoln standing with this group in his famous Lincolnesque pose.

So, if you are visiting that famous Abbey, be sure you pause and say hello to these fine humanitarians.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

El Presidio

In the heart of downtown Tucson is a historic gem, El Presidio de San Augustin del Tucson the original Spanish settlement built in 1775.  It was a fort that was roughly built in the beginning but, grew to 11 acres over the next few years and was surrounded by a tall adobe wall.

The adobe wall surrounding the fort is gone now but this wall on the historic property has been painted with a mural that depicts the colonial life inside the fort back in the 18th century.

El Presidio is open to the public with historic reenactments happening periodically and a museum with artifacts from those early years.  I happened to visit when this group of volunteers were practicing for an event so I got to watch them go through their maneuvers without any crowds around.

The Tucson fort was among the largest of the frontier forts of that era but very little of the old buildings remain.  You can see a few adobe structures on the site.

El Presidio remained in use until the Americans arrived in March of 1856.  The fort was soon dismantled and over time the wall was taken down.  Now it's just a tiny bit of history in the shadow of the downtown Tucson high-rises.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Magic of Travel

When traveling to foreign shores, magical things can happen and a little bit of magic is exactly what happened a few years ago when I traveled to Italy.  My friends and I traveled to Cortona one day to explore the town made famous by Frances Mayes' book (and movie), "Under the Tuscan Sun".

We were headed down the main street toward the Piazza della Repubblica, when I began to notice people dressed in Medieval costumes.  I just thought that some of the local merchants dressed that way to attract the tourist trade.

However, when we arrived at the piazza, it was clear that things were being set up for something special to occur.  My friends and I found an ideal spot high up on a balcony where we could watch what was about to happen.

Soon we saw some elite clergy making their way to the steps of the city hall.

They seated themselves at a red clothed table at the top of the stairs.

Soon they were joined by a group of horn players heralding the beginning of a ceremony.

The horns were followed by some drummers and then there was a long procession of beautifully dressed people making their way toward the steps.  It appeared that the people were broken into five distinct groups and each group had one member carrying a very long white candle.  The candle holders and other ceremonial members took positions on the steps while other members of the groups circled the piazza to watch.  We later learned that the five groups represented the nobility of each Cortona neighborhood during Medieval times.

Next came a group of young people carrying various patterned flags and they began performing a routine of flag throwing and formations.  They had the crowd enthralled by their precision and skill.

While all of the entertainment was going on, the groups of finely dressed citizens were gathered around the piazza watching the demonstrations while behind them were groups of tourists like us who were enjoying something special and unexpected.  

After the performance were complete, each person holding one of those long candles went to the top of the stairs and presented the candle to the bishop to be blessed.

After each of the candles had been blessed, the groups gathered together again and started a beautiful procession back down the street where they had come from.

After doing some research, I learned that this ceremony is part of a larger three day event celebrated around the feast of Saint Margherita.  It begins with the casting of the candles on Friday evening, the blessing of the candles on Saturday and ends with several masses on Sunday that are held in the nearby Basilica of Santa Margherita.  The event takes place once a year and dates back to 1325.

This is one of those things that I wouldn't even have known how to plan for.  We just happened to be in the right place at the right time.  I feel lucky that we were there to witness such a colorful and symbolic event.  It amazes me that the people of Cortona replicate this event year after year.  Now that is tradition.