Category Archives: United States

The Honolulu Fish Auction

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.


New Orleans at 300

 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 th-2Confederacy 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)th-1
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
Zeitoun—Dave Eggers
Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans— James Gill

Silence of a Ghost Town—Grafton, Utah

Farm buildings, Grafton, Utah

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.

Grafton’s silent graveyard tells its story.

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.

Horses and cattle are the only inhabitants.


Arches National Park, Utah

Delicate Arch in Arches National Park, Utah

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.

Park ranger Victoria Coraci was our guide on Arches’s aptly named hike, The Fiery Furnace.

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. Desert-SolitaireIn 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:

FinsMilkyWay1_fb 2
A photo of rock “fins’ and the Milky Way in Arches National Park.  See more of Dan Norris’s photography and his photo tours see his web site.


Naniboujou Lodge- An Amazing Detour or Destination

The dining room at Naniboujou Lodge on Minnesota’s north shore of Lake Superior.

I’ve been waiting for a chance to post something about Naniboujou Lodge, just north of Grand Marais on Minnesota’s North Shore.  This photo challenge, Ooh, Shiny!Diversions, distractions, and delightful detours offers the perfect opportunity.

Naniboujou is the Cree god for the outdoors.  In 1929, this lodge was planned to be an exclusive getaway for Chicago celebs and outdoorsmen.  It was a great idea, but the Great Depression brought that to an end.  In smaller form than originally planned, this historic lodge on Lake Superior continues on– and the best part is this stunningly-painted dining room.  The food is great, but the ceiling (this is the original paint) is mind-blowing.   It’s a delightful distraction and worth a detour if you’re on your way along the north shore between Grand Marais and Canada or ready to set out on the Gunflint Trail.


Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities–a New Book

Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities coverfrontHot off the press!  My new book Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities is arriving in bookstores and online.  Yay!  It took a lot of really fun dining in Minneapolis and St. Paul to research that book and its finally here.

The Twin Cities boast one of the country’s most vibrant culinary scenes. Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities offers a tasty tour, from downtown fine dining destinations to dive bars, food trucks and the beloved Minnesota State Fair.

Order it online or in Twin Cities book stores and gift shops.  And, to stay in touch with the ever-changing Twin Cities restaurant scene, follow uniqueeatstwincities on Instagram.

Guillermo del Toro: At Home with Monsters–Not Your Average Home Decor

And now for something completely different…  a few pics from the Guillermo del Toro exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, called “At Home with Monsters.” It’s a show of art and other “collectibles” from the home of the director of movies such as Hellboy and Pan’s Labyrinth–not your average home decor.  The show tells about his childhood and career and his fascinations with the comics and the macabre “from the his creative process through a collection of paintings, drawings, maquettes, artifacts, and concept film art, all culled from Bleak House, his creative haven and cherished home base located in Los Angeles.”   The tall man with a book is a wax rendition of H.P. Lovecraft, the classic horror writer.

Just imagine what it would be like to be an overnight guest in his home–don’t wander around  in the middle of the night.