Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Death Comes for the ArchbishopDeath Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The only plot here is that which you might find in anyone’s life. The book flows through Bishop Latour’s years without relying on external forces of any kind. A quote toward the end of the book expresses the way the work itself moves:

“He realized also that there was no longer any perspective in his memories…. He was soon to have done with calendared time, and it had already ceased to count for him. He sat in the middle of his own consciousness; none of his former states of mind were lost or outgrown. They were all within reach of his hand, and all comprehensible.”

Click on the link above to read the rest of my review of Death Comes for the Archbishop.

View all my reviews

A recent writer’s conference in Little Rock allowed me to check out a couple of local restaurants.  My friend and I arrived in town Thursday evening and wanted something quick and tasty and our Urbanspoon led us to

Layla’s Gyros and Pizzeria

Layla's Gyros & Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
Located in a strip mall, this small greek “diner” has exactly what I look for in an ethnic eatery: great food, great people, and great prices.  In fact, this was the best Greek food I’ve ever had.  My friend, Tamara, had the Goat Plate.  Her first time eating goat was a triumph.  Not only did she enjoy the food, she ate it efficiently.  According to our server (who I think was also the owner), you’ve got to use your fingers.  There’s just no way to get the meat off those goat bones with a knife and fork.  He congratulated Tamara for doing it the right way and we giggled over folks who work too hard at being polite.  [Yes, I was laughing at myself.  I will admit to attempting the knife and fork approach.  It was too much trouble, though, and I resorted to the more appropriate finger method.]

My choice was the Mubarak Plate.  Delish!  And there was so much, the doggie bag I took back to the hotel provided lunch for the next 2 days (with the addition of a salad)!  Gyros and Shawarma are old favorites, but I had never had Kifta Kabab or Kibbeh before.  I was very pleased with my introduction to these dishes.

We had to order Baklava for dessert and I’ve never had better.  It was a bite of pistachio-laden, honey-coated heaven.

Layla’s also has a small selection of grocery items available.

 

Brave New Restaraunt

Brave New Restaurant on Urbanspoon

I have to say that this is probably the strangest location for a restaurant I’ve seen.  I can understand a unique, whimsical setting–an old warehouse, a boat, the top of a UFO-like building–but this one was downright confusing.  If we had not read in Urbanspoon that it was hard to find, we certainly would have thought we had the wrong address.  Don’t be deceived by it’s location on the second floor of a nondescript building in the middle of a nondescript business park.  This place is fabulous.  After riding the elevator up and following signs posted down a dull, industrial hallway, we were met with a cool, inviting dining room boasting a beautiful, riverfront view.  If the restaurant owners’ intent was to surprise, they succeeded, and their success didn’t end with the atmosphere.

Goat Cheese Mousse

Goat Cheese Mousse

We started our meal sharing an appetizer of Goat Cheese Mousse.  My husband called in the middle of this course and I had to rush him off the phone.  I wanted to make sure I got my fair share!  As you can see, the mousse was so tempting we forgot to take pictures before diving it.  Delightfully light and tangy, the perfect way to wake up the taste buds for our entrees.

Mixed Grill

Mixed Grill

Scallop

Scallop

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The entrees were preceded by 5-Onion Soup for Tamara and a dinner salad for me.  Tamara ordered the Pinenut-Encrusted Salmon.  I chose the Mixed Grill.  We each also had a Scallop.  My favorite elements of this meal were the scallop and the quail.  This was the second best scallop I’ve consumed.  No criticism intended here.  I have eaten many scallops in my life; I’ve only afforded two the honor of “consummation.”  (The other was presented by Sepia.)  BNR’s scallop had a lovely buttery texture, sustained by a perfectly weighted sauce.  It was one of those dishes that require you to save a bit with which to end the meal.  The Mixed Grill was very good.  It was ample enough that I had to take some home with me.  It was at home the following day (after a reheat) that I found the delight in that adorable little quail, and learned a life lesson about eating really good food.  I was lunching on my leftovers with, I suppose, the attitude of “I’ve lost the opportunity to relish the fresh-made essence of this food” when I took a bite of the quail.  It was not my first bite; in fact, it was the last.  And it nearly made me cry.  It was that moment when all the elements of a dish come together to create a near-spiritual experience.  I know that’s a little over-the-top.  But seriously, I was left wondering what this little fella would have tasted like in the restaurant, freshly prepared, in a setting that allowed my attention to be on the food rather than on whatever stupid TV show I happened to be sitting in front of.  Ah, the marriage of the musky warmth of the stuffing with the wild, gamey richness of the bird!  I cursed myself for not paying attention earlier, but that didn’t stop me from savoring that one final morsel.  When I return to Little Rock and BNR, I believe the choice will be between Stuffed Quail and Trout with Spinach & Crab.

I did not take a picture of our dessert.  It was gone before I realized I had neglected it.  Tamara and I shared a Chocolate Crème Brûlée.  It deserves a comment as well.  When I think of crème brûlée, I imagine a light custard, the perfect end to a somewhat heavy meal particularly on a warm evening.  This dish was not that dish.  The carmellized sugar crust was slightly thicker than expected.  The quality of the chocolate used in its preparation was evident; this wasn’t a melted Hershey bar.  Rich and strong, not too sweet and only slightly bitter.  The texture was much heavier than I am accustomed to in crème brûlée , like a dense yet not heavy cross between a flan (the kind my friend makes, not the milky pudding thing you buy in plastic containers in the refrigerator section of the grocery store) and ganache–velvety, but without the near-liquid aura or somewhat gelatinous texture of your average flan or crème brûlée.  (Or maybe I just have never had a really good CB before?)

 

I look forward to another trip to Little Rock.  The problem I foresee is wanting to try something new when I have already discovered places I want to return to.  I suppose there are worse dilemmas.

Entry

Entry

A recent trip to St. Louis, MO, provided me with the opportunity to visit the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis.  Not being Catholic, my first question was “what differentiates a Cathedral from a Basilica?”  According to catholiceducation.org, a Cathedral is “the chief church of the diocese, the bishop’s church.”  It does not have to be magnificent or highly decorated; the key component is the Bishop.  A basilica, on the other hand, refers fundamentally to a form of Roman architecture.

“When the ancient Romans spoke of a basilica they were referring to a large, high-ceilinged hall with three long aisles. The Romans used basilicas as courts, public meeting areas, and even as indoor markets — an early form of our shopping malls. In the fourth century, after Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity, many bishops modeled their churches and cathedrals on the Roman basilica, setting up the altar at the far end of the hall.”  (catholiceducation.org)

 

 

A Catholic basilica moves beyond architecture by virtue of papal identification of the site/building as having “unusual historical significance,” or as being “especially sacred because of the presence of a relic or relics.”  On April 4, 1997, the Saint Louis Cathedral was made a Basilica by Pope John Paul II.  The Cathedral’s huge mosaic installation (one of the 3 largest in the western hemisphere, if I understand correctly) is one of the things that makes this building so treasured.

I was somewhat uncomfortable entering this sacred space with a camera and wearing street clothes.  However, as neither was prohibited in the Basilica’s Code of Conduct, I quieted my qualms and crossed the threshold with appreciation for the willingness of the Church to share this astoundingly beautiful building with the public.  Truthfully, the only camera I had was on my phone.  These photos are by my husband (Cleeo W. Wright) who, although his non-phone camera is not set up for architectural photography, is much more capable than I am.  If you enjoy this peek and would like to see more but can’t make it to St. Louis, the Cathedral website has a virtual tour.

Narthex

Narthex

Narthex detail

I have fought a good fight. I have kept the faith.

 

Nave

Nave with domes

Central Dome

Central Dome and West Transept

Symbolic of  the Power of God's Love

Symbolic of the Power of God’s Love

 

 

East Transept and Pulpit

East Transept and Pulpit

West Transept

West Transept

Blue Rose Window

Blue Rose Window

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here are a couple of pictures of the Baldacchino, a domed structure that covers the main altar.  (The Cathedral website has some good shots from angles we couldn’t achieve)

Baldachino

Baldachino

Baldacchino, west side

Baldacchino, west side

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A few examples of the mosaics:

Mosaic Arches

Mosaic Arches

Mosaic Ceiling

Mosaic Ceiling

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Madonna and Child

Madonna and Child

Mosaic Detail: Stars

Mosaic Detail: Stars

Mosaic Detail: Sun

Mosaic Detail: Sun

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Altars, Aisles, Pillars, Statues

Hall with Statue

Aisle with Statue

Arch with Altar

Arch with Altar

Mosaic hall

Mosaic Aisle

Mosaic Pillar

Mosaic Pillar

Altar

Altar

 

So I’m on the road again, this time with my husband on a photo trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  If you are here and you see some guy with lots of camera equipment, and a girl with a pen and notebook sitting off to the side somewhere, say hi!  It might be us.

As we were driving East on I-40, I realized Interstate starts with an “I,” and there was some pretty interesting stuff flying by.  We couldn’t stop because we wanted to get as much shooting time as possible in the Park this week, so I thought I’d catalog some of the things I saw driving the entire width of Tennessee.

The first thing I noticed when crossing the mighty Mississippi into Tennessee was a huge pyramid.  The Memphis Pyramid has been used as a sports arena and entertainment venue, and is currently being remodeled as a Bass Pro Shop megastore.

By Jeremy Atherton (Jeremy Atherton) [CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Memphis Pyramid, Jeremy Atherton

I-40 between Memphis and Nashville is known as the Music Highway.  I didn’t realize until I looked it up how much music history, Country and Rock and Roll, occurred along this 200 mile stretch of road.

We left the Interstate briefly in Nashville to buy some hiking boots for my husband at REI.  For once, I wasn’t the one who left the essential item sitting on the living room floor when we left on a trip.  One needs hiking boots if one is going to hike.  We also picked up a lightweight campstool for the trailside shooting stops.

Driving by Nashville, I saw signs for some interesting historical/architectural sites: Belle Meade Plantation and The Hermitage (Andrew Jackson’s home).  A sign for the Joe L. Evins Appalachian Center for Craft also piqued my interest.

By Collage by Kaldari [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It may be obvious, considering our destination, that we enjoy the outdoors.  There were some very enticing State and National Parks signs along this stretch of the Interstate, including the following:

Between Nashville and Knoxville, more Parks.  A couple that sounded interesting were:

I have to mention just a couple of the great town names I saw on the Interstate: Bucksnort, Crab Orchard, Rugby.  I’m dying to make up an extended list for this, but when you have to be in the park before sunrise to take pictures, well, let’s just say that pillow is calling my name.

We arrived at Great Smoky Mountain National Park early enough to get some shooting done before sunset, thanks to that great Interstate!  I’ve driven on enough back roads and state highways that the ease, speed, and comfort with which we traversed the entire state of Tennessee made me very grateful for the vast road system that connects these United States.

I wanted to share some of the good stuff rendered by my maiden journey to “the hog butcher for the world” (thanks, Mr. Sandburg).  I found that even when I boiled down my experience to my favorites, there was too much for one post.  Add in the peripherals, and I decided I’d have to do a series.  Welcome to An Outsider’s View of Chicago.

We should begin, I suppose, with Chicago en masse.  My first reaction to the city was something like shock and awe.  The skyscrapers were amazing.  The variety of activities was overwhelming.  The human element is still a matter of cogitation for me–such variety of individuals and groups, and such a vast spectrum of interplay amongst them.  I was surrounded by a feeling of density, solidity, weight, and at the same time a breathlessness and motion.  The spirit of the city was the expiration of its substance: the constant flow of traffic, the El, the river, and the people around and between immovable stone and steel.  Often there was darkness even at noon, a sense of always being in shadow, again an effect of the surrounding tall buildings.  It raised feelings of uncertainty, of aloneness amid the crowds.  It made me wonder about what I could not see, what waited in the alleys and in the hearts of the people I passed.  It bred distrust and caution.  The atmosphere was tense, even dangerous.   And the people.  The masses dissolved into individuals and each individual became a mystery, a blend of experience, of action and reaction, of pain and joy, of past, present, future, only a moment of which I had any relation to.  It was like watching fractals develop all around me, and there was no escape.  It was overwhelming.  I had to exercise emotional self-containment just to venture out into the street.  I can understand so much better now some of the description I’ve read of the city over the years.  And yet, it is a place too complex for a casual visitor to fully comprehend.  It is disconcerting, challenging, fascinating, powerful, ugly, beautiful.  During the planning stages of the trip, I told my husband there was too much to see and do.  We needed to move there for at least a year, I said, to fit it all in.  Now that I’ve been, I don’t think I could live there.  But I definitely want to visit again.

[For a general overview of the Windy City check out Wikipedia, or go to the city’s website for a version straight from the hog butcher’s mouth.]

At the top of my to do list was the Art Institute of Chicago, chiefly because of its Impressionist collection.  Needless to say, the originals hanging in the museum made those posters on my wall at home seem like faded copies.  Which, um, they are.  And they look even worse now.  Two things I discovered at the museum were the Asian Collection and the Thorne Miniature Rooms.  I have a thing for India, and the centuries-old artifacts spoke to me of a culture I will never completely understand but still find intriguing, much like the city I was visiting.  I also have a long-held fascination with miniatures, especially dollhouses.  The Thorne collection did not disappoint.  Each little scene allowed a glimpse into someone’s life.  People had actually lived in homes like these, on a slightly larger in scale.  I like to project myself into the spaces, sit at the tables, play the pianos, wander through the gardens.  I wonder who I would have been had I lived then and there.  My one piece of advice about the Art Institute is to check the website ahead of time.  I am only now realizing that I missed several exhibits I know I would have enjoyed because I was not aware of them.  Planning ahead will allow you to see the collections that most interest you because there is simply not enough time to see everything in one visit, much like Chicago itself.

On a more dramatic note, we were able to see a matinée of Crowns at the Goodman.  Just as I had noticed elsewhere in Chi-town, the people who surrounded me were tightly woven with the occasion.  It was a moving and enthusiastic play, visually and musically stimulating, and the audience response illuminated and elevated the experience.  I thought it was ironic that I travelled from the South to Chicago to watch a play about a girl who travels from Chicago to the South.  Her journey led her to closure and to revelation, from emptiness and fear and anger to peace and hope and love.  I don’t know that mine was as productive a journey, but it did challenge my openness and expand my vision in unexpected ways.  The play itself?  It did what I seek to do in my writing—challenge perception and increase love, understanding, and appreciation.  At the center of it beat the heart of my own philosophy: the sanctity of the individual and the power of the collective.  I left feeling indebted to the artists, to the writers, to the characters and their stories, even to the audience, many of whose personal stories seemed to connect them intimately to what was happening onstage.

The Architecture River Tour was another highlight of the trip.  The architecture, in general, was fabulous.  We spent most of our time in The Loop, as I imagine most tourists do on their first visit.  Even within this circumscribed area we were unable to give more than cursory attention to the storied offerings of the skyscraper’s birthplace.  Studying these astounding constructions merits a trip of its own.  Along with limiting our Loop explorations, the time demon also prevented us from venturing outside the area to see the work of another architectural giant.  One of the catch-you-next-timers is definitely Frank Lloyd Wright’s Chicago.

The spirit of the Windy City is whispering to me that I should wrap it up.  This return to the insistent theme of architecture seems a good place to end, for now

If you’ve been to Chicago, what were your first impressions?  If you haven’t visited yet, what are your expectations?  If you are a resident, what would you most like us to know about your city?

And does anyone have a good synonym for “experience”?

Part of the skyline of Chicago on the eve of a...

Part of the skyline of Chicago on the eve of a Chicago White Sox baseball game. Taken from the Adler Planetarium. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There are times when inspiration comes very much as its name indicates. Mere breathing initiates creativity. It is like walking through a garden: on every side sights, sounds, scents, the touch of the elements on the skin, and with every inhalation the gift of connection, of enlightenment.

This is what I expected on my recent first trip to Chicago. What I got instead was more like the process of making Green Juice. When you first prepare that big bowlful of veggies, you expect a lot of juice. Cucumbers do produce a bountiful light, watery yield. Kale, on the other hand, reduces to a few tablespoons of dense, dark liquid. We had a great time in Chicago. We saw shows, cruised, visited museums, checked out Chinatown, caught a White Sox game, and ate amazing food. That part of the trip was like cucumbers, easy and refreshing. But the inspiration I expected? More like kale. It came in moments, intensely, unpleasantly. It was not the falling of soft, summer rain or the perfume of fat, summer roses. It was tough and prickly, and had to be wrenched from experience before it could be used.

That’s the way of writing and of life. Sometimes it comes easily. We just have to breathe in the essence around us and embrace the free occurrences in our daily lives. We put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and the story tells itself. At other times, nothing seems right. We wrestle ourselves out of bed in the morning and force ourselves to keep taking steps until we collapse into sleep at night. We stare at blank screens or pages of print that need reworking or bits of dialogue and description that go nowhere and wonder if we will be able to squeeze just a little spark out of the morass. It is in those distressing times that real brilliance is born. The wrestling makes us stronger. The pinpoint of light is all the brighter for the darkness that surrounds it.

Ultimately, Chicago yielded a nourishing mixture of effervescence and intensity. Perhaps I will share my experiences precisely as they happened. Perhaps they will appear piecemeal, in characterization or action within various stories or poems or essays. Certainly they will come out between the lines, in tone and motivation and perspective because I, as a person and as a writer, was changed by them.

How do you experience inspiration most often—as a gift or as a prize you fight for? Which type affects you most deeply and enduringly?