Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

The Peachoid

Li’l Gaffney, SC, my home town, has unexpectedly found itself in the thick of the Republican primaries. Opponents of Mitt Romney are focusing on the closure of a photo scrapbook factory in 1992. It closed with 150 jobs lost after being acquired by Bain Capital, the private equity firm headed by Romney. But according to the New York Times, most people in Gaffney hardly remember the plant and are rather embarrassed by all the attention it has drawn.

Here’s a link to the Times article, and here’s their slideshow of Gaffney. I haven’t lived in Gaffney for many years and since my parents are no longer alive, I only get back occasionally for Vassy family reunions and Gaffney High School reunions. But I certainly know Henry Jolly and Cody Sossamon, who are in the slideshow, and I keep up with some old Gaffney pals via Facebook.

The photo is of the Peachoid, the world’s largest water tower in the shape of a peach, and a landmark to anyone traveling along I-85 in South Carolina. I took it on a GHS class reunion trip.

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Update: more photos from this year’s trip; video on my Facebook page.

This is a hemlock in North Carolina’s Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, blasted to smithereens by the U.S. Forest Service. All along the 2-mile trail, which we hike each year on our trip to Snowbird, are these blasted stumps.

Apparently the Forest Service fears that they might fall on hikers, so they took ’em down. In places it looks like a devastated moonscape. It will likely be years before it recovers. The hemlocks have been blighted by the invasive insect called the woolly adelgid. The lower trail is startingly bare, but the upper loop with the giant hundreds-year-old poplars is in much better shape. Ironically, with so many hemlocks now down, you begin to realize how many of them are still standing – dead, of course.

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I realized that after an enjoyable weekend at the Spoleto Festival, I would normally post something on this blog. Instead I worked on material for the WHQR website and for use on air. So here’s a link to that material.

I mentioned in the piece we ran on air that one of the pleasures of a city like Charleston and a Festival like Spoleto is just walking around, absorbing the sights and sounds, and finding interesting places to eat. Here is a highly personal list of places that I enjoyed on this trip. Some of these were familiar to me, others not:

Gaulart & Maliclet, 98 Broad Street — One place I always try to visit in Charleston. I’ve always wondered why we have both fancy and plain-but-good Italian restaurants in this country, and we we have some very fancy French restaurants (many over-rated), but we don’t have many simple places serving bistro-type French food. This is one. At one time they had a sister restaurant in Cary, NC, but now this is the only one. Great for a lunch stop as well as a late-night restorative.

Hominy Grill, 207 Rutledge Avenue — My son Brooks’ favorite breakfast spot when he lived just around the corner. Traditional Southern breakfasts made with flair in a very attractive old building. It must serve the Medical University crowd primarily; unlike the others here, it’s not downtown, and it’s closed on weekends. Get there by 8 am for best results.

Fleet Landing, 186 Concord Street — A great location in a restored Navy building. Spectacular views of the Cooper River, especially from their outside tables, really good seafood, and easy-on-the-wallet happy hour specials at the bar.

Dixie Supply Bakery and Cafe, 62 State Street — Another good breakfast place. Not at all fancy (the tables you see here are in the parking lot of a Li’l Cricket convenience store next door), but very cheery and great food. It’s been written up in a lot of places, so it can be crowded, with few tables.

Toast, 155 Meeting Street — Another good place for breakfast (do you notice kind of a theme here?), though it’s more. It probably greatly benefits from its location on Meeting Street near the Market. Good food, but my sister and I found the service a bit spotty. They were very crowded, as would be expected in Charleston, on Meeting Street, during Spoleto. Best overheard conversation: at lunch on Sunday, the sidewalk was jam-packed with people waiting for a table. I heard a passerby say to his companion, “Man, they must have REALLY good toast.”

East Bay Meeting House, 160 East Bay Street — I didn’t know anything about this place except that it had a vacant table right next to an open window and I really needed to stop for lunch. Very nice ambience and bar, and I had a really fine panini. Unfortunately right after I got there they closed up the windows (to be fair, it was getting hot), but still a nice treat.

Noisy Oyster, East Bay and North Market — Ya know, sometimes you just gotta visit a tacky Tiki bar that plays a lot of Jimmy Buffet and has gallons of fried seafood and cheap happy hour drinks. You could do a lot worse than this one, which to this weary and thirsty traveler was touristy but not tourist-trappy. On a hot day with a lot of walking behind you, this begins to look like an oasis.

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I’m at the Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC. Today I’ll be attending the pretty-much all-day Sacred Harp singing at Piccolo Spoleto. SCETV Radio interviewed me for their opening show of “Spoleto Today” for the 2011 season. Here’s the podcast.

I’m in the second half of the show, which is about 52 minutes long. If you happen to get this on Saturday May 28 2011, the singing is from 10am to noon and 2-4pm at Gage Hall, 4 Archdale Street in Charleston.

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We’re in Columbia, SC, and staying at our usual place, the Riverside Inn. Talk about a throwback. Stay here and you’re instantly transported back to the motels you used to go to with your parents in the 50’s and 60’s. Straight shower rods — can you believe it?

Still, we like it. It’s modest (of course), clean, cheap, peaceful, AAA-approved and friendly. One of the clerks went to high school with some of my Callison cousins. You can walk to campus over the Broad River bridge or hike a trail along the river. I couldn’t find a vintage postcard of the Riverside and they don’t even appear to have a website, but here’s a nice one from Guy Clinch’s photostream of old motel cards on Flickr. It’s the Bon-Air motel in Allendale, SC, from about 1970, so same vintage.

We’re here to see our son John in the University of South Carolina opera’s production of Mr. Scrooge. It’s a small piece, about 35 minutes long. Composer Samuel O. Douglas is on the faculty at the USC School of Music. It was composed in the 1970’s and was featured on a national PBS broadcast at the time.

Opera at USC is presenting it with another 1-act of very different tone, Miss Havisham’s Wedding Day by Dominick Argento, as a Dickens double bill. John was great as Marley, who is of course a ghost. An interesting challenge to sing with linen winding sheets wrapped around your head. I had never thought of this before, but apparently the purpose of such things was to keep the jaw attached to the skull after burial. Have a nice day.

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This is what happens when you scan a half-tone, alas

An old high school friend of mine died last week after a battle with lung cancer. We had drifted apart after our college years and I hadn’t seen him in a long time, but prior to that Bill Wheeler was the unquestioned center of a group of friends that meant a great deal to me.

We started out a couple of years apart, but I skipped my 10th grade and he took 5 years to graduate from Duke, so we ended up as classmates after all.

Bill . . .

  • taught me about classical music (Pictures at an Exhibition, Appalachian Spring, Petroushka)
  • along with Norman Littlejohn, built a kick-butt set of “Sweet Sixteen” speakers (16 cones per unit)
  • taught me how to drive a Pontiac Bonneville using only your knees to steer (kids, do not try this at home)
  • inspired me to go to Duke
  • chided me (correctly) for being sarcastic to my sisters
  • showed me how to change gears on a stick shift without using the clutch (this is actually a very useful skill)
  • originated our Bastille Day parties, featuring cherry bombs inside scale model fortresses made of juice cans (they blowed up real good; Mrs. Wheeler was a saint)
  • talked their high school-teacher boarder into a midnight swim with us in their pond; totally innocuous, but she nearly had a heart attack when she realized we were high school students
  • probably thought up the phrase “crotch your can” (to hide beer if the cops were to stop us)
  • showed me it was OK to use your brains
  • could actually talk to girls

The first of the Sabachis to go. We’ll really miss you, Bill.

Update: there will be a memorial service for Bill Wheeler Saturday June 12th, 2010, at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, 2233 Woodbourne Ave, Louisville, KY 40205.

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From January 5th-10th we made a trip across a good bit of the country so we could take our daughter to El Paso for grad school (UTEP). EP is about 1,500 miles from Cincinnati, just about half of which is in Texas. Dang, Texas is big. The Google Maps image shows the route we took. Two days to get there, two days to recover, and two days to get back.

Here, in no particular order, are some impressions from the trip:

1. Wind farms near Sweetwater, TX. I wrote about this in a separate post, which I filed from my Blackberry on the road after taking a photo from the moving van.

2. Almost all the Arkansas towns you’ve ever heard of are on the same stretch of road. That would be Interstate 30. There’s Little Rock, Benton, Hope, Hot Springs, and of course Texarkana.

3. Best meal: gorditas from The Little Diner in El Paso (actually in Canutillo, just northwest of the city). An undistinguished building in an undistinguished block, but it’s been written up in Gourmet magazine and others. And well worth a detour. Runner-up: cowboy-cut pork ends at 11 pm from Randy’s Smokehouse in New Boston, TX.

4. Radio stations: Ugh. I plan to do a separate post about this. Not much of interest anywhere, unless you like smarmy preachers and country music. Because of my professional background in radio, I was looking for public stations. I heard Morning Edition in a few places, and Diane Rehm (mercifully), but very little classical. The iPod got a workout. However . . .

5. Best country lyric: “Been workin’ hard all week to put beer on the table.” Runner-up (from the same song): “This job’s killin’ me, but at least it’s keepin’ me alive.”

6. Worst roads, overall: I-30 from Texarkana to Dallas. Fast traffic, very short entrance and exit ramps, with strip malls and tiny little businesses right up to the roadway. Southwest from Dallas the road is better, but not the ramps. None of the roads we saw had fences running alongside. Judging from tire tracks, people don’t use ramps to get on and off the highway anyway – they just drive across the berms, it seems. Runner-up: short stretch of I-40 in Arkansas just across the Mississippi from Memphis. However, most of I-40 runs past extensive wetlands, which is pretty cool. Lots of waterfowl everywhere. I-40 east of Memphis is pleasant, also.

7. Most directionally-challenged employee encountered: the otherwise very friendly young lady who tried to direct us to the Days Inn in Texarkana. Bless her heart, she didn’t know the number of the exit where it was located, and she couldn’t say for sure whether they were north or south of I-30. The highway travel circular where we found their $49 coupon also got it wrong, compounding our confusion.

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#1 in a projected series. We’re taking our daughter from Cincinnati to El Paso for grad school (UTEP). Sweetwater says it is the “wind farm capital of the world.” Sounds right to me.

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Our daily bread


Imagine these piping hot

One thing I’m finally getting pretty good at is baking bread — specifically, baguettes. Good friends of ours gave me a baguette pan a few years ago after we returned from my first trip to France and began raving about the baguettes.

If you have been to France you know what I mean; if not, you don’t. There is something mystical about a daily trip to the boulangerie for fresh baguettes. Once we were picked up at a Parisian train station by our hostess, who made a mad dash through Parisian traffic to get to her favorite shop before dinner. They were out of baguettes and she had to settle for Italian bread. What to do for dinner? What kind of leftovers would there be at breakfast? Quel horreur!

On that same trip we stayed in a gite (rural guest house) in a tiny village in the Loire valley. Probably fewer than 200 people lived there, but their bakery opened early each morning with fresh-baked loaves. The aroma was intoxicating, and the daily trip quickly became part of my routine.

There’s something about these loaves that speaks to the sense of community French people feel. You can buy cheap baguettes at a French super market, but for heaven’s sake why would you? Supporting neighborhood bakeries (and subsidizing wheat) is intimately tied up with the French identity in ways we just don’t understand here. After all a companion is literally “someone you share bread with.”

The best baguette I have ever made is inferior to the simple ones churned out by thousands of little shops across France. (Those buttery crusts! Those gossamer insides!) Maybe I just don’t have the right flour. Or the humidity isn’t right, or I’m not wearing a beret. Or something. But I like to do it. It connects me, if only briefly, to the shops and smells of France.

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IMG_4304Man, I can’t wait for our annual trip to (name withheld for security reasons, except to say that this photo’s location is in North Carolina, looking into Tennessee). I will not think about this blog the entire weekend, and here’s why.

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