The fountain at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas is a majestic combination of water, music and movement. It’s my contribution to the Weekly Photo Challenge, “Liquid.” Just like the scene at the end of Ocean’s Eleven, if only George Clooney were there.
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.
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
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
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
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.
A Visual Fish Tale
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.
There’s nowhere like NOLA.
“New Orleans isn’t like other cities.” That’s what Stella Kowalski said in Tennessee Williams’ most well-known play, A Streetcar Named Desire. So true, Stella, so true.
New Orleans Tricentennial
This crazy and fabulous city celebrates its 300th anniversary this year, which makes it a great time to visit, though I must say, just about any time is fine to visit New Orleans. They’re planning all sorts of events for the celebration including a visit from some Tall Ships.
Over 300 years, New Orleans has evolved, as Stella says, to become very different from other U.S cities. Tricentennial events aside, the city constantly features such a variety of unusual experiences–parades of second line marchers, drinking everywhere, cemeteries above ground, and the phrase “who dat?,” to name a few–that it’s sometimes difficult to understand how it came to be that way.
New Orleans Literature
Naturally, I look to writers for explanation. One of the great places to do that is the annual Tennesee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival held every March, with authors, playwrights musicians and more. It ends with the Stanley and Stella Shouting Contest, which simply furthers the city’s fun and zany reputation.
“It’s a city of ‘oddnicity,'” says author Andrei Codrescu in his collection of essays, New Orleans Mon Amour. John Kennedy Toole’s captures much of the oddnicity of New Orleans in his quirky classic Confederacy of Dunces. Yet, the city is so unusual and has such a reputation for its party atmosphere that it’s easy to pass New Orleans off too simply, as just one big raunchy party on Bourbon Street.
“That’s not the whole picture,” New Orleans author Chris Wiltz told me. “It’s a city of amazing contradictions. People in New Orleans will party until down on Fat Tuesday, but it’s a city of extremely devout Catholics who show up with ashes on their foreheads the next day. This is a city where Desire Street runs parallel to Piety Street.”
So, head for New Orleans and figure it out for yourself. But read up before you go to best appreciate the city’s many layers and historic complexity. Here’s a brief reading list. Booklovers, while you’re in New Orleans, check out the Garden District Book
Shop and Faulkner House Books. For more, see my book Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways.
French Quarter Fiction: The Newest Stories of America’s Oldest Bohemia—Joshua Clark ed.
City of Refuge, Tom Piazza (about Hurricane Katrina)
The Feast of All Saints–Anne Rice, about New Orleans free people of color. And, sample one of her vampire novels before visiting a New Orleans cemetery.
Confederacy of Dunces–John Kennedy Toole
A Streetcar Named Desire—Tennessee Williams
All the King’s Men—Robert Penn Warren
Feet on the Street: Rambles Around New Orleans—Roy Blount
The Last Madam: A LIfe in the New Orleans Underworld—Christine Wiltz
Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans— James Gill
Silence. No people, just empty buildings and cobwebs gathering in the windows.
Aside from the occasional door creaking in the breeze, there’s no place more silent than a ghost town. Travel down a rough dirt road from Utah Highway 9 to find one such place, the desolate Grafton, Utah.
Beautiful But Brutal
This ghost town was a Mormon settlement located near what is now Zion National Park. Grafton was established in 1859 on beautiful and fertile land in the Virgin River floodplain. (The Virgin River is the one that carved out the spectacular canyon that contains what is now Zion National Park and its the location of one of the world’s most famous hikes, The Narrows.)
Grafton was pretty yes, but not a top-notch place to live. These farmers experienced floods (no surprise in a floodplain) and Indian attacks as well as brutal weather in both summer and winter. Before long, most residents packed up their wagons and headed to nearby Rockville, though the last of them didn’t leave until 1944.
Serene Yet Haunting
Now, visitors may stroll around the five buildings that remain from the town’s 30-some structures. Peak into the schoolhouse/church, walk inside a home, wander around farm buildings and the old cemetery. The Grafton Heritage Partnership has restored them. The surrounding farmland and orchards are still used, but you’ll probably be the only person there.
Enjoy the silence.
The WordPress photo challenge this week is “rounded” which immediately brought to mind my recent trip to Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. Sculpted by wind, water and time southern Utah is like a geological Disneyland. It’s no wonder there are five national parks in the region (and some stunning state parks), each quite different but equally amazing.
In Arches, giant rounded rock forms have emerged over thousand of years as potholes near cliff edges grow deeper and deeper until they wear through the cliff wall below them.
We arrived in Moab during the heat of August, with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees. “Dry” heat or not, that hot! Consequently, we ducked into a few shops in the afternoon to get out of the heat. One was a terrific bookstore on Main Street in Moab, Back of Beyond Books. There I discovered the work of the revered environmental writer Edward Abbey. In Desert Solitaire, which I highly recommend for anyone planning a visit to Arches.
Regarded as one of the finest in American literature, the book recounts his time as a park ranger in Arches and his opinions of the crowds that flock to national parks. He’d be apoplectic is he could see the throngs now in many parks. Still, if you go at the right time of year and early or late in the day, you too can experience “desert solitaire.”
We trekked out into Arches at night with Moab photographer Dan Norris for a little starlight photography. Here’s Dan’s amazing photo of the the Milky Way: