L’Ile d’Orleans, Quebec, Canada

Food, drink and a little literature, just outside Quebec City.

I’m settled in at Casa Mona & Filles, a restaurant on L’Ile d’Orleans, just down the St. Lawrence River from Quebec City, Canada.  The salad before me is almost too pretty to eat.  Bright red, juicy strawberries, baked brie, homemade dressing with cassis and crisp fresh greens and  crusty French bread on the side.  I admire it for a minute, sip my kir—white wine with cassis—and realize, no, it’s not too pretty to eat and I dig in.  

The salad is especially tasty because most of the ingredients come from the island, famous for its bounty, its French culinary tradition and a bit of heaven for a foodie— or a history buff, or a lover of beautiful scenery.  

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In the middle of the St. Lawrence River, the beautiful views of the Ile d’Orleans and the Quebec countryside haven’t changed much since the French established settlements in the 1500s.
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Jacques Cartier named the island after the Duke of Orleans, son of the king of France, in 1536.  Of course I can always find a literary connection to a destination and this trip was no exception.  In a lesser known novel, Shadows on the Rock, Willa Cather depicts life in early Quebec.  she perfectly describes the island and it’s role as the farmland that supported Quebec City in the 1600s.  She says,  “It was only about four miles down the river, and from the slopes of Cap Diamant she could watch its fields and pastures come alive in the spring, and the bare trees change from purple-grey to green.  Down the middle of the island ran a wooded ridge, like, a backbone, and here and there along its flanks were cleared spaces, cultivated ground where the islanders raised wheat and rye. …..” All the best vegetables and garden fruits in the market came from the Ile and the wild strawberries of which Cecile’s father was so fond.” 

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Strawberries have a very long growing season on Ile de Orleans.  You can find them at the island’s many farm stands and markets.

Now, it’s a quick trip over a bridge to get there, but the produce, especially those strawberries remain the same. L’Ile d’Orleans makes a great and relaxing day tour from Quebec City or stay overnight at one the the islands many B&Bs.

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Overlooking the St. Lawrence River, the B&B called Dans Les Bras de Morphee offers a multi-course gourmet breakfast.
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Driving around the island visitors can stop and enjoy great food and wine at vineyards such as Vinoble de Ste-Petronille
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Or, taste cider at places like Domaine Steinbach where they make cider from the island’s many apple orchards.
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Either coming or going, a trip to the island must also include a visit to the nearby Chute Montmorencie (Montmorency Falls), just across the St. Lawrence River.

One of the myths of the area, is the tragic story of The Lady in White Lady, whose fiancé, a soldier, died in battle.  She then put on her wedding dress and threw herself over the Montmorency Falls. Her body was never recovered but to this day there are some people who claim they have seen the Lady in White through the mists of the Montmorency Falls.

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This statue of the White Lady of Montmorency Falls was part of an art installation in the park adjacent to the falls.

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.

 

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.

Fiction:
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

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 of a Ghost Town—Grafton, Utah

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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.

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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.

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Horses and cattle are the only inhabitants.

 

Ernest Hemingway in Michigan

You’ll enjoy these northern Michigan spots as much as the Hemingway family did.

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Ernest Hemingway spent 22 summers living the outdoor life in northern Michigan.

Each summer, around the turn of the last century, Ernest Hemingway’s family left their home in Oak Park, Illinois, near Chicago and headed for the beautiful woods, lakes and rivers of Michigan.

Clarence and Grace Hemingway purchased their cabin on Walloon Lake in 1898, before their son Ernest was born. Here, he grew up immersed in the manly world of hunting, fishing, and boxing. He met lumberjacks, bootleggers and hobos–and quite a few lovely young women, too.  These experiences became fodder for his Nick Adams short stories.

He said of the area, “It’s a great place to laze around and swim and fish when you want to. And the best place in the world to do nothing. It is beautiful country. And nobody knows about it but us.”

Torrents and Tours

Many readers associate Hemingway more readily with Cuba, Key West, Pamplona and Paris than Petoskey, Michigan. Yet, he spent 22 summers in the resort area of Petosky/Walloon Lake and he was married (for the first time) in nearby Horton Bay. You can read about this early life and marriage in Paula McLain’s best seller, The Paris Wife. It’s also where he began to hone his minimalist, staccato style and storytelling that later earned him the Nobel Prize.

If you’ve read The Torrents of Spring, you’ve read about Petoskey; the story and locales the-torrents-of-spring-9780684839073_lgare based on the town.  Petosky is understandably proud of its Hemingway connection and as you stroll the town, perched above Little Traverse Bay on Lake Michigan, you’ll see historical markers outside locations where he spent time. Hemingway fans can download a list of some of the places young Hemingway frequented: Horton Bay General Store, Stafford’s Perry Hotel, and City Park Grill, to name a few.  At City Park Grill, you may want to sit at the lovely Victorian bar where Hemingway raised a few glasses.

The Michigan Hemingway Society annually hosts a Hemingway Weekend in the Petoskey area, usually in October.  The weekend brings visitors from across the country together for readings, tours and exhibits. The national Hemingway Society also provides a great way to meet other Hemingway fans. The group meets every two years and in 2018, in contrast to the wild country of Michigan, the organization will meet in Paris.  It’s a chance to experience Hemingway’s “moveable feast” in person.

Read On

While you’re in Petosky, be sure to stop in at McLean & Eakin Booksellers where you’ll find plenty of works by and about about Ernest Hemingway, books by local authors and booksellers who are happy to suggest great reads.   I mentioned the shop in a previous post about how much author Ann Patchett loves reading and travel.

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McLean & Eakin, a great bookstore in Petoskey, Michigan.

Reading for Current Events–Human and Stellar

Books are so important to understand our world.  I occasionally like to share with readers books that aren’t related to a Warmth_Of_Other_Suns_Coverparticular trip or region. Here are two books I want to pass on in light of current events in the U.S.

The first is The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration, by Isabell Wilkerson.  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, it’s a masterpiece of narrative journalism and reveals a piece of American history few Americans know or understand unless they know someone who experienced it first hand. Wilkerson traces the lives of three African Americans who lived in the south, the unbelievable treatment they received at the hands of whites (not very long ago), and how they made new lives in the north and in California.  It’s a hefty volume, but very readable and gripping–a real eye-opener.  My book club read it and I’ve been passing it out and telling friends it’s a must-read ever since.

On a lighter note on the subject of racism, if you haven’t seen it you must see Tina Fey’s commentary on SNL.

And finally, speaking of light, the solar eclipse takes place on Monday, August 21.  Even if mediumyou’re not setting out to follow the path of totality across the U.S., you may be curious about what this whole event is about.  I came across “Your Literary Guide to the Solar Eclipse” on Goodreads and I’m picking up, American Eclipse:  A Nation’s Epic Reach to Catch the Shadow of the Moon and Win the Glory of the World by David Baron. A non-fiction book, it chronicles how three scientists raced to study the rare solar eclipse of 1878 as it darkened America’s wild west.

Says Baron, “On August 21 millions of Americans will witness this same ineffable sight. They will find themselves with a new understanding of the immensity of the universe—and the inadequacy of language.”  Here in Minnesota we won’t get the full impact of this event, but I can’t wait to read about it.

 

 

 

Travel to the places you read about. Read about the places you travel.