Category Archives: Literary Destinations

Find the Texas of Your Imagination in Amarillo

If you’re a fan of western literature and movies, put Amarillo, Texas, and the surrounding Panhandle of northwest Texas on your travel “to do” list.  The longhorn cattle you may see trotting down Polk Street, the rickety old windmills pumping water for cattle and the dry, rugged terrain makes you think Clint Eastwood will ride up on his horse any time and squint into the sunset.

But this is no movie, nor it this a place of where folks don western wear but have never seen a ranch. Instead, it’s easy to find a true taste of the American west here among real life cowboys and cowgirls whose roots and ranches go back to the mid-1800s and the first cattle drives.   

Palo Duro Canyon

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Palo Duro Canyon, the second largest canyon in the U.S.

Head first to Palo Duro Canyon, this country’s second largest canyon, gouged into the flat, dry terrain not far from Amarillo.  In Palo Duro Canyon State Park you’ll find great hiking and plenty of animals including bobcats, roadrunners and Texas horned lizards.  Hikers may also come across the park’s resident longhorn cattle T-Bone, Brisket and Omelette (members of the state’s longhorn herd).  Or, they might find a dugout shelter that early ranchers used despite the fact that this was the winter home of the Comanche.  In 1874, the ultimate struggle between white settlers and the native Comanche played out in the brutal Battle of Palo Duro Canyon.  The army destroyed the Comanches’ supplies, slaughtered their horses and eventually sent them to reservations in Oklahoma, 51M2Q6nfcjL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_a story told in S.C. Gwynne’s bestseller, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches, the Most Powerful Indian Tribe in American History.

Then in 1876, Charles Goodnight (the inspiration for the Woodrow Call character in Larry McMurtry’s classic novel, Lonesome Dove) opened the famous JA Ranch in the canyon.  At its peak, the ranch supported more than 100,000 head of cattle on 1.5 million acres and remains a working ranch today.  The park, originally part of that ranch, opened in 1934. 

 

History Behind the Texas Tales

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A statue of Molly Goodnight and buffalo at the Goodnight Historical Center

You’ll find more about Charles Goodnight and his wife Molly, one of history’s unsung 51648G4EeqL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_western women, at the Charles Goodnight Historical Center on their ranch in what is now Goodnight, Texas. The buffalo still roam this ranch, saved from extinction by Molly Goodnight’s efforts. In addition to Lonesome Dove, history buffs will want to pick up a copy of J. Evetts Haley’s Goodnight biography Charles Goodnight: Cowman and Plainsman.

To gain a better understanding of the sweep of Panhandle history, point your wagon toward the fabulous Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in the town of Canyon.  It’s Texas’s oldest and largest history museum and lies on the campus of West Texas A&M University.  Its vast collection includes dinosaur skeletons, pioneer life exhibits, memorabilia of the great Comanche Chief Quanah Parker, oil derricks, antique cars and western art including works by O’Keefe, who lived in the area for a time.  Like guns?  They have an immense collection.

Saddle Up

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Phyllis Nickum of Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West

Still, Panhandle life must be experienced from the saddle.  There’s no better way to do that than to ride with Cowgirls and Cowboys in the West at Los Cedros Ranch.  Owner Phyllis Nickum and her crew welcome visitors from around the world to this working ranch on the edge of the canyon.

From atop her in her golden palomino, Jake, she explains the story of the vanquished.  “This is the sacred home of the most powerful Indian tribe and greatest horsemen in American history, the Comanche.  History books are written by the victors so I do my part to infuse the majesty of the tribe in the story.”  She also calls attention to the strength and endurance of the women of western history—women like Molly Goodnight and Stagecoach Mary who are often overlooked in story of the west. 

Back in Amarillo, you can see Nickum cheering on her ranch hands when they participate in a series of lively ranch rodeos that culminates with the World Championships in November.  You’ll see bronc riding, wild cow milking, stray gathering, team penning and the mutton busting competition in which tiny kids cling on for a sheep ride. “Toughens ’em up,” says Nickum.  

Amarillans take pride in another era of Panhandle history, the glory days of Route 66. 

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Serving up a 72 oz. steak at the Big Texan

Amarillo, the largest Texas city on the route, commemorates its place on the “Mother Road” and maintains the Route 66 Historic District on Sixth Avenue.  It features a mile of art galleries, shops, restaurants, and bars in historic buildings.The giant-bull-topped Big Texan Steak Ranch relocated from its original Route 66 home to its current sprawling spot on I-40 but retains every bit of its outsized personality.  Keep an eye out for carnivores attempting to consume the 72 oz. steak.  Eat it in one hour and your meal is free.  Wash it down with a Whoop Your Donkey Double IPA and a side of mountain oysters.  

There’s much that’s new in Amarillo, too, including breweries, a jazz club, cool coffee shops, and some trendy restaurants and hotels.  A minor league baseball park with a Double-A Texas League team will open in time for the 2019 season.  Finally, the new Dove’s Rest Resort offers cushy cabins on the edge of Palo Duro Canyon that make a great place to stay, relax and keep an eye out for Clint Eastwood.

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The 200th Birthday of Mary Shelley’s Monster, Frankenstein

477px-Frankenstein's_monster_(Boris_Karloff)2018 is a big year for Mary Shelley as we celebrate the 200th anniversary of her masterpiece, Frankenstein; or the Modern Prometheus.  Frankenstein’s birthday has spawned a new movie about her life, a reissue of the original book,  a host of special events, new analysis of her work and new respect as well.  

It’s hard to grasp the impact the story that Mary Shelley wrote at 18 has had and
continues to have.  Frankenstein is part of our culture and consciousness.  Whether or not you’ve read the book you know Frankenstein (the name of his creator, Victor Frankenstein, not the monster who is nameless) from the old Boris Karloff movie, TV’s Herman Munster or my favorite, Mel Brooks’s “Young Frankenstein.”  He’s in our cereal (Frankenberry), our vocabulary (Frankenfoods) and in our metaphors—”He’s created a monster!”

“I busied myself to think of a story…one which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature.. and quicken the beatings of the heart.”

New Editions, New Analysis

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It’s time to put Frankenstein on your reading list whether its Shelley’s novel or the many new books about Mary Shelley and the cultural impact of her creation. One mark of an enduring classic is that so many people find meaning in it and from so many angles.   Scholars consider it the first work of horror writing, the first work of science fiction and first modern myth.   Fiona Sampson’s new biography In Search of Mary Shelley looks at Shelly’s younger years and how such a young person could create one of the most enduring horror stories in history.

Shelley wrote the book in a time of fascination with electricity and the notion of re-animating the dead.  The 41-oD5gb+iL._SX359_BO1,204,203,200_issues surrounding ethics and the dangers of science and technology–gene editing, designer offspring, even social media–are more relevant than ever.  Frankenstein: Annotated for Scientists, Engineers and Creators of All Kinds examines the moral issues, pitfalls and hubris that may arise in science.  For more reading on the big guy, be sure to take a look at Frankenreads, an international celebration of the Frankenstein’s anniversary for Halloween, organized by the Keats-Shelly Association of America.

Finding Mary Shelley

This year, literary travelers will find events celebrating Mary Shelly and her homely offspring all over the world from the Keats Shelley Museum in Rome to universities, libraries and museums across the U.S.

If you’re in Minneapolis, be sure to visit one of my favorite hidden gems, the Bakken Museum on lovely Lake Harriet.  The museum focuses on the history and nature of electricity and magnetism.  It’s founder, Earl Bakken, created one of the world’s first battery-powered cardiac pacemakers and was also one of the founders of Medtronic which is now the world’s largest medical technology company.  He was fascinated with electricity and its many medical uses. And, with this museum, he sought to inspire others to enjoy and pursue the science surrounding electricity.

The Bakken Museum has a terrific section devoted to Mary Shelley and her story. It includes examples of phantasmagoria (scary slide shows of the time), and many explanations of how the science of the era inspired Shelly’s fiction.  A theater in the exhibit offers a spooky 12-minute show that brings to life the tale the over-reaching scientist, Victor Frankenstein.

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Frankenstein’s laboratory at the Bakken Museum in Minneapolis.

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Reading for Rome

What to Read Before You Travel to the Eternal City

There’s such a massive amount of history to take in when you visit Rome, Italy, its helpful to do a little reading—fiction and non-fiction before your trip to get a sense of the place.  

One of my favorite non-fiction books about life in modern Rome is Anthony Doerr’s Four137852._UY500_SS500_ Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World. Doerr wrote the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel All the Light We Cannot See.  But, before that he enjoyed a a year-long fellowship at the American Academy in Rome which he chronicles in this book and his descriptions of life there are wonderful.  You’ll wish he  (and you) could stay longer.

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The Colosseum in Rome

Quite different from Doerr’s book, Rome inspired several  authors to write  about women who go astray in the city.  They offer a sense of history along with little tours of Rome’s sites and winding streets.  For example, Daisy Miller by Henry James follows Daisy’s exploits as she scandalizes American society living in Rome in the late 1800s.  You may visit the real-world places she goes with a “dangerous” Italian gentleman ending, fatefully, with their trip to the Colosseum. 

In Tennessee Williams’s novella The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone, the story centers on an thaging actress who is struggling to come to terms with the death of her husband, the loss of her good looks and a life that is rudderless.  Perhaps a gigolo will make her feel better. Williams spend a great deal of time in Rome and his descriptions of the city shine. 

The Woman of RomeAlberto Moravia’s 1949 novel, is a classic tale of a young woman who becomes a prostitute in the time of Mussolini’s fascist regime. Further back in time, Colleen McCullough, author of the Thorn Birds offers a seven-volume fictional account of early Rome called the Masters of Rome series. It starts with The First Man in Rome.

Irving Stone’s The Agony and the Ecstasy isn’t necessarily historically accurate but it offers a view of  Michelangelo’s struggle to paint the Sistine Chapel.  Also popular, Dan 64aa55532c468d5597a56545651444341587343Brown’s Angels & Demons,  is a wildly fictional page-turner about a secret society and a time bomb in the Vatican. You can even take an Angels & Demons tour to see the sites mentioned in the book.

Yellowstone National Park, One of My Favorite Places

 

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Ever since I worked as a waitress in Yellowstone National Park in college it’s been one of my favorite places in the world. A couple of years ago I went there with my family in winter which made it even more special. Very few people, just animals, geysers and solitude.

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Milwaukee Travel — Beyond the Beer

Milwaukee, Wisconsin is best known for its German beer culture, its waterfront festivals, and for those of a certain age, TV’s Laverne and Shirley.  Yet, scratch the surface and you’ll find a host of interesting and personal ways to interact with MKE.  Here are a few of my Milwaukee travel favorites.

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Browsing at Bozwell Books

Bozwell Books, of Course

Book lovers in particular should put Bozwell Books, Milwaukee’s famous independent bookseller, at the top of their list. Bozwell, named after James Boswell, the eighteenth-century British biographer, offers friendly and extremely knowledgeable staff and sponsors scads of author readings, signings and events.  It’s the kind of bookstore where you want to wander, browse and then settle in for a while.  You can’t leave without chatting about books and buying several.

Pfister Hotel Literature and Art

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Join the Pfister Hotel’s literary activities.

Speaking of literature, I discovered that the gorgeous Pfister Hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, offers art experiences that showcase Milwaukee’s own talent. The Pfister Narrator, a literary artist in residence, hosts seasonal mini-events with book themes, a modern take on a book club, and story prompts for guests and the entire community.   There’s a new narrator every year.  The current narrator, Nicole Mattke, shares her experiences on the narrator blog.

The Pfister exhibits its extensive Victorian art collection – the largest of its kind of any

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Fashion designer Stephanie Schultz is the Pfister’s current artist in residence.

hotel in the world – throughout the hotel.  And, they host a popular Artist-in-Residence program currently featuring fashion designer Stephanie Schultz.  She specializes in historically-inspired couture, a natural fit amidst the hotel’s Victorian art.  Watch and interact with her in a working studio and gallery that is open to hotel guests and the public.  

 

Radio Milwaukee 88.9

Radio Milwaukee, an on-air, online, onsite public radio station, uses music as a bridge to bring together the city’s diverse citizens.  Jordan Lee, describes the station as “a town square.”  For visitors to Milwaukee, Thursday is the big day at Radio Milwaukee because they offer building tours at 4:30 and live concerts from local and visiting musicians. The tour starts in the performance space and include the building’s Green Roof which offers views of the Hoan Bridge, Marcus Amphitheater, Walker’s Point and downtown Milwaukee.  After the tour you’ll enjoy live performances at 6:00 and hit the Stone Creek Coffee’s Radio Milwaukee Cafe for coffee, wine and beer and food.

Museums and Motorcycles

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Art in Bloom at the Milwaukee Art Museum

Two more well-known Milwaukee destinations are must-dos. Located on the shore of Lake Michigan, the fabulous Milwaukee Art Museum is my favorite place in the city.  Burke Brise Soleil (the “wings”) opens at 10 a.m., flap at noon, and close when the Museum closes, as weather permits.  The museum is known for modern art, and outstanding collections of folk  and Haitian art.  I was recently there for that museum’s Art in Bloom, which made the snow- in spring weather bearable.  

Finally, tour the Harley-Davidson Museum, with its rows of historic motorcycles for a full throttle experience.  Even if you’re not a “hog” afficianado, it’s a fascinating view of Harley history and motorcycle culture in the U.S.   Look for special events and activities this year as Harley-Davidson celebrates its 115th anniversary Labor Day weekend.

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The Harley-Davidson Museum is paradise of motorcycle fan and history buffs alike.  Above, an early Harley and a red one that Elvis owned.

The Honolulu Fish Auction

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Wholesalers bid on tuna, opah, snapper and more, fresh off the boat, at the Honolulu Fish Auction.

A Visual Fish Tale

All that goes on behind the scenes at the Honolulu Fish Auction in Honolulu, Hawaii, makes a fairly complex story .  Yet, this photo delivers the gist of it.

It’s around 4:30 a.m.  Fishing boats have arrived in port through the night and unloaded their ocean catch at Pier 38 on Honolulu Harbor.  Auction workers have set out the ice-covered pallets of fish in the damp and extra-cold air of the market building.

Wholesale buyers arrive around 5:00 or earlier to examine the fish–thousands of pounds of tuna, marlin swordfish, snapper, opah and many others–and carefully evaluate it for freshness, fat content and other qualities. At about 5:30, a bell rings and they gather in a competitive scrum around the auctioneer who quickly takes their bids.

These are valuable fish and it’s serious business. A single fish may go for upwards of $1000.  Each fish is tagged with the name of the winning bidder and sent off to the buyer’s wholesale or retail operations, in Hawaii and on the mainland.

Visitors may tour the market.  Afterward, head over to Nico’s restaurant on Pier 38 for breakfast or shop at their market. You can’t get any fresher tuna for sushi or poke than right here.