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 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.
“It’s a city of ‘oddnicity,'” says author Andrei Codrescu in his collection of essays, NewOrleans 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.”
Fiction: 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
Non-Fiction 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. 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.
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 thousands 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:
Hot 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.
The United States entered World War I in 1917 and that 100-year anniversary makes this a perfect time to visit the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri. No one is left who lived through it to talk about the “War to End All Wars.” For many the war seems so remote, it’s hard to understand the magnitude of what happened, how it led to World War II and its importance today. That’s a job this museum does well with a gripping array of exhibits, artifacts and art that explains the complex occurrences that led to the war, the unbelievable carnage.
The memorial was built in 1926, but the museum opened in 2006. Visitors enter by walking on plexiglass floor over a field of poppies. You could spend hours here partly because exhibits cover not only the U.S. involvement but that of the many countries involved across the whole world. There’s something to interest everyone from weaponry, to the uniforms and equipment of soldiers and nurses, medical techniques developed during the war and more.
Not familiar with World War I history? Even if you’re not visiting this museum soon, there are several terrific books I recommend: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman is a non-fiction classic and you can’t beat the classic fiction books All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, Regeneration by Pat Barker and Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks (one of my all-time favorites.) Also suggested, a new book The Last of the Doughboys by Richard Rubin.
The KiMo Theater opened on what was then Route 66 (now Central Avenue) in Albuquerque in 1927. The big new theater was a source of civic pride and boosters held a contest to name the theater. The governor of Isleta Pueblo, Pablo Abeita, won a prize of $50, a huge sum for the time, for the KiMo name. According to theater history, “it is a combination of two Tiwa words meaning “mountain lion” but liberally interpreted as ‘king of its kind’.”
It certainly is king of its kind, built in the the “pueblo deco” architectural style. If you think the outside is interesting, you should see the decor on the inside. Understated it is not. Here are a few scenes from the interior.
Cartoons and funny articles in a style that is spare and gentle.
James Thurber was one of the most beloved humorists of the last century and his cartoons were regularly featured in The New Yorker for over 30 years. I recently visited his boyhood home in Columbus, Ohio, where the stories about Thurber’s childhood explained a lot about his gentle and quirky humor, particularly the tales about his delightfully cooky mother and his love of dogs.
Thurber’s drawings are spare, simple black lines and experts speculate that it may be due in part to an eye injury he received as a child. If your knowledge of Thurber’s work is limited to “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” and its recent movie incarnation, I suggest reading The Thurber Carnival, a collection of his short stories and drawings for a better look at the author/illustrator. For example, one of my favorite of Thurber’s canine characters is Muggs, in “The Dog That Bit People.” Muggs, a really crabby Airedale, was one of the family dogs (Thurber owned 53 during his life). Muggs bit everyone except Mrs. Thurber who always defended him. Thurber writes, “Mother used to send a box of candy every Christmas to the people the Airedale bit. The list finally contained forty or more names.” Like most authors’ homes, Thurber’s house offers a view of life in a slower, though with Muggs around, not necessarily a safer era.
Apart from the stories and drawings, one of Thurber’s most important legacies is the Thurber Prize for American Humor that is now awarded in his name from the non-profit that runs the house and the many Thurber House programs for writers. Winners have included Jon Stewart, David Sedaris,Calvin Trillin and most recently Minnesotan Julie Schumaker for her hilarious book Dear Committee Members. See my article in the Minnesota Women’s Press on Julie Schumacher.
The warm yeasty smell of Swedish rye bread fills the bakery where Tom Campbell and his crew are baking bread, Swedish Tea Rings and rhubarb pies. Down the street Lou Hanson is throwing clay to make colorful mugs and dishes at the Hantverk Galleri, and kids are playing ball in the town park. An energetic group of volunteers dressed as Pippi Longstocking, bright orange pigtails and all, greets visiting school children learning about the beloved Astrid Lindgren character and Swedish history. Entering Bishop Hill, Ill. seems like driving back to another, more idyllic, time.
“It’s like Brigadoon,” says Deni Menken, one of the Pippis who recently moved to Bishop Hill, “like the village in the musical that appears one day every 100 years.” Yet, charming Bishop Hill, a National Historic Landmark about 150 miles southwest of Chicago, has been solidly here since Swedish settlers founded this utopian community in 1846.
A Swedish Promised Land
Those intrepid Swedes, like so many immigrants who settled this country, came for religious freedom. After being jailed for his beliefs, the group’s charismatic leader, Eric Janson, predicted a fiery doom for Sweden and fled to America with 1000 of his followers. After sailing the Atlantic, they made their way west through the Erie Canal, crossed the Great Lakes, and walked the final 150 miles from Chicago.
Eventually, Janson and his followers erected twenty communal buildings, amassed 15,000 acres of farmland, and made Bishop Hill an important industrial and farming center for the entire area. Founded on the principles of shared property, hard work, and simple living, the colony thrived and traded heavily with the surrounding communities. Despite Janson’s murder in 1850, they prospered until the Civil War drained away both men and commerce. The community was eventually dissolved, the land divided among its inhabitants and, like Brigadoon, Bishop Hill essentially went to sleep for a hundred years. Its buildings and population gradually declined until the 1960’s when, with help from the State of Illinois, the Swedish royal family and many others, preservationists formed the Bishop Hill Heritage Association to restore and preserve the colony.
Bishop Hill architecture is a study in Scandinavian simplicity—solid and serious like its builders—and a refreshing change from the elaborate Victorian construction so prominent in communities of the era. Start your tour with the Steeple Building which houses the Bishop Hill Heritage museum featuring exhibits, archives, furniture and tools from the colony. Visit the Colony Church, the village’s first building, lovingly restored with its original walnut pews and a divider down the middle to separate the sexes.
Stop for treats at the Colony Store, a general store in operation since the colony’s inception, and at Annie’s Primitives which offers a bit of heaven for lovers of primitive antiques and folk art. For an amazing trove of folk art, don’t miss the Bishop Hill Museum, home to the world’s largest collection of paintings by the famed folk artist Olaf Krans that document life in the colony as he saw it growing up there. Even if you’re only a bit Swedish, stop by the VASA National Archives Museum for immigration and genealogy research to discover your own heritage.
Let Your Swede Flag Fly
Whether or not you’re Swedish, Bishop Hill’s appeal lies not as much with the historic buildings as with the people who live there today. Unlike most historic villages where the “residents” are employees who dress in period costume and leave town at day’s end, Bishop Hill folk really live here and many are descendants of the original colonists. They stroll to the geranium-filled post office to collect their mail, work in the shops and on local farms, and gather for rug-hooking workshops. They enthusiastically volunteer for the many projects that keep Bishop Hill’s buildings maintained, its history vital and alive and that foster their own sense of community. For visitors, that translates to a surprisingly light-hearted “valkommen” given the stern faces of their relatives in the museum photos.
They’re an artsy bunch, too, who turn out an amazing array of art, handcrafts, music and musical instruments. Be sure to stop in at Prairie Arts Center where weavers, potters and broom makers demonstrate their crafts.
Bishop Hill especially comes alive from the early spring Valborg Bonfire to “burn away the old and welcome the new” to the sparkling Lucia Nights at Christmas. In between, the colony hosts antiques and quilt shows, a dulcimer and roots music fest, and Agriculture Days in September.
Bishop Hill is about 400 miles from the Twin Cities via I-35 and I-80, about an hour southeast of the Quad Cities, and makes a great stop on your way to Chicago.
Nearby Kewanee also offers a range of modern motels; or, a little further away, book a room and a gourmet meal at the fantastic Chestnut Street Inn, 301 East Chestnut Street, Sheffield, 800-537-1304, http://www.chestnut-inn.com
Hours vary at Bishop Hill restaurants, but the food is delicious and homemade, no lutefisk
The Bishop Hill Bakery & Eatery is open Wednesday through Sunday with a full array of baked goods and treats, soups, sandwiches and daily specials.
The Filling Station Restaurant serves breakfast Saturdays & Sundays, including their special Swedish Pancakes with lingonberries, lunch daily and dinner only on Friday nights with a different special each week.
P.L. Johnson’s Dining Room serves lunch every day and dinner on Saturdays from May to August.
Join Off the Beaten Path in welcoming Terri Peterson Smith, author of Off the Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs, and Girls on Getaways. Smith will take us on a tour of America’s most fascinating literary destinations and will provide inspiration and suggestions to plan your own literary getaway.
Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.