Category Archives: Literary Destinations

Breathless in Boulder, Colorado

Boulder rocks, as they say, especially if you’re outdoorsy, a foodie, or a ghost aficionado. Within easy reach of downtown Boulder there’s a great variety of outdoor activity, though at 5430 feet, a brisk walk taxes the lungs of flatlanders like me. Slow and steady, plus a lot of water, does the trick. You also have to pace yourself with eating to stretch out the enjoyment.

Hit the Trail
Try the hikes that start at Chautauqua Park, at the base of the Flatirons, the symbol of Boulder. This is also rock climbers’ heaven.

While you’re there, visit the Colorado Chautauqua House, a historic landmark that began with the turn-of-the-century movement educate and enlighten working-class citizens by creating gathering places dedicated to learning. Known as Chautauquas, the public spaces offered a place for traveling lecturers, politicians, writers and entertainers to deliver their message to large crowds. In continuous operation since July 4, 1898, the Colorado Chautauqua is one of only three remaining Chautauquas in the country. Today, it is home to concerts, cultural events, educational programs, recreation and historic preservation. The cabins here look like a cozy place to stay and the dining hall comes highly recommended.

You can hit the trail on wheels, too. Rent bikes and hit the Boulder Creek Trail, which for me was slow ride up and a very fast ride down. It’s also fun to cruise the beautiful campus of University of Colorado, and then stop for a beer outside at a huge array of downtown bars and eateries. For further relief from all this exertion—and to sooth knotty muscles–an afternoon at the spa at the luxurious St. Julien Hotel is just the tonic. The hotel offers Sunday morning yoga, too.

Foodie Fare
Bon Appetit named Boulder the “foodiest town in American” in its October, 2010 issue.
To sample some of the reasons why Boulder topped the list, stroll the Farmers Market then grab coffee, tea, breakfast or lunch at the fabulously detailed Boulder Dushanbe Tea House, a gift of Boulder’s sister city Dushanbe in the Republic of Tajikistan.
From 1987 -1990, more than 40 artisans created the decorative elements of the Teahouse, including its hand-carved and hand-painted ceiling, tables, stools, columns, and exterior ceramic panels. My other favorite dining experiences: Salt and The Kitchen, both located on Pearl Street.

Bookish in Boulder
Pearl Street is also home to a number of independent bookstores, with both new and used books. I like the Boulder Book Store with its café next door. While you’re there, check out Boulder: A Sense of Time & Place Revisited by Silvia Pettem.

Finally, if all this doesn’t make you breathless, perhaps a good fright will to the trick. Fans of Stephen King’s book, The Shining, will want to make a trip to Estes Park (a drive of about 45 minutes) for a look at the Stanley Hotel, King’s inspiration for the book. They offer The Stanley Hotel Historic Ghost Tour. For anyone planning to stay in this lovely hotel, they assure visitors that the spirits there aren’t as malevolent as those in the novel.

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Franzen and Fitzgerald in St. Paul

I just finished Jonathan Franzen’s book, “Freedom,” much of which is based in Minnesota, particularly, St. Paul. Anyone visiting St. Paul can walk through many of the areas that set the stage for the opening chapters of the book. That includes the restaurant W.A. Frost, which offers world-class outdoor dining, and it’s a place where my book club meets annually for dinner, conversation, and to soak up the ambiance in a neighborhood rich in literary tradition.

This is the neighborhood where Franzen’s characters, Walter and Patty, get their start, renovating a house on the fictional Barrier Street which is, in reality, St.Paul’s Ramsey Hill neighborhood. It’s also the place where F.Scott Fitzgerald grew up (Frost’s was a drug store then) and where he worked on his first novel, “This Side of Paradise,” along with classic short stories. Check out the St. Paul Public Library’s Fitzgerald “Homes and Haunts” itinerary http://www.stpaul..ib.mn.us/pdf/fitzgeraldbrochure.pdf

Fitzgerald is known as the chronicler of the Jazz Age. One wonders if Franzen, who, in “Freedom” chronicles the cultural flashpoints of the last three decades, will have the staying power of Fitzgerald.

A Literary Taste of Chicago

 

Chicago History Museum

 

I was in Chicago last weekend for a writers conference and ventured out into the sweltering heat for a trip to the Chicago History Museum www.chicagohistory.org/

For anyone who has read just about any story that takes place there (Erik Larson’s Devil in the White City, Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and on and on), this museum reinforces that reading experience with relics, tours, special exhibits and more—everything from the Great Fire to meatpacking, the World’s Fair to a great collection of historic wedding dresses. My favorite quote on the wall there is from Mayor Richard Daly in 1968:  “This is Chicago, this is America.”

Also, this is the city of the first skyscraper, and buildings so high that, in the words of Carl Sandburg, “They had to put hinges on the top two stories to let the moon go by.” The history museum and the Chicago Architecture Foundation offer boats tours on the Chicago River that blend architecture, history and a chance to be out on the water. http://caf.architecture.org/

Reading for Those Traveling to Haiti–or Not

 

Mountains Upon Mountains Near Leogane, Haiti

 

Haiti isn’t exactly the place I’d recommend for a book club trip, but it’s certainly a place about which book clubs are interested in reading.  My friend Patty, a fellow book clubber, is off to Haiti on a service trip to assist in a Haitian orphanage next month.  She’s among hundreds of Americans who travel to Haiti to work in a multitude of ways to improve conditions there.  Of course, literature is one way to understand the complex history, politics and culture of Haiti for those who go there and for those who simply wish to understand more about the seemingly unending problems of this country that is only 600 miles from the coast of Florida.

I, too, was in Haiti (thankfully before the earthquake) and found Edwidge Danticat’s After the Dance: A Walk Through Carnival in Jacmel, Haiti books fascinating to read while I was visiting there, particularly around Jacmel. Also check out Danticat’s beautiful writing about the Haitian experience in Breath, Eyes, Memory and Krik? Krak!

In addition, our book club read All Souls Rising by Madison Smartt Bell, which is a somewhat horrific, but excellent novel of the Haitian slave rebellion and was a National Book Award finalist. It’s part of Bell’s trilogy of novels about the Haitian revolution of 1791–1803, that includes All Soul’s Rising, Master of the Crossroads and The Stone That the Builder Refused.  Bell also wrote a biography of the central figure of the rebellion, François Dominique Toussaint Louverture.

Our book club also read Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World about less than redressing the inequalities of medical service to the desperately poor.  Also recommended: Paul Farmer’s book, The Uses of Haiti.