Author Archive | Lucia Adams

Long Boat Long River

May 2018

Long long ago when you wore white gloves and nylons and your handbag matched your shoes, you walked up the long diagonal gangplank and boarded Cunard’s Elizabeth, Mary or Mauretania to cross the Atlantic in five vertiginous days. (I use the smokestack from my luggage tag as a logo.) In Cabin class, a deck up from Tourist, you dressed for dinner and if you caught the eye of the chief bursar you might be asked to join the captain’s table in First where I spotted a rueful Cary Grant just divorced from Betsy Drake. 

A thousand years later in another world I took my next watery vacation,  Viking’s Rhine Getaway cruise featured in Kodachrome- alluring ads on PBS before and after Downton Abbey

Heidelberg Baroque

. I was hooked and we arrived in Basel, stepped onto the longboat (not a ship, carrying boats) Kara with 170 other passengers and 48 staff eager to serve. To a man everyone was over 65, white, married, retired middle management, with enviable appetites for information and food.

Sailing north on the Rhine, which started its 776 mile journey to the North Sea in the Oberalps, the Kara cruised for the first three nights while we were asleep and I wondered if this was just a floating hotel docking at different ports. Every morning passengers were divided into three or four groups and off we went on a caravan of buses. First stop Breisach, the warmest place in Germany, in hilly wine country, up tp 6,100 feet,  with a Romanesque cathedral and Schongauer murals which survived the war. In Germany every monument is preceded by this lugubrious reminder, was it or was it not bombed by the Allies.

The Black Forest, impenetrable in thick fog, defied the bus driver  so we stopped at a cuckoo clock shop in Hofgut Sternen next to the very hotel where Marie Antoinette stayed in 1770 en route from Vienna to Paris to marry Louis. (This is why you go to Europe!).The next day, the mist folllowed us into the old town of Strasbourg, all cobblestones, canals, half timbered houses, a medieval guild city circling a suave Gothic catheral . The multicultural new city  with its unfortunate modern architecture is the seat of the 28 member  European Parliament, which Britain will leave in 2020 and perhaps Italy, the Council of Europe and the Council on Human Rights.

Viking packs a full basket of Optional Excursions, “Making the MOST of every stop” but after a morning of sightseeing we skipped the Alsatian feast (food on the Kara was, fresh, simple and healthy) , the wine and beer nights in monasteries and fortresses, the cheesemaking demos, stunning Colmar, the Bruhl princely palaces, E-biking here and there. Jack did take the tour of Mercedes Benz where robots assembled cars overseen by workers rotating jobs every hour and never working more than 30 hours a week.

Heidelberg was still Edmund Purdum (with Mario Lanza’s tenor) in The Student Prince, singing DrinkDrinkDrink to Eyes to that are Bright and…. in the oldest university in Europe (1386), summertime, linden trees,bells chiming, lover’s promenade. Ah! The pink sandstone castle 330 ft high above the lovely Neckar, home of the Palatinate princes was so beautiful the Allies spared it. It is sans doute the most Romantic place on the Continent, and you have to hand it to the Germans, no folderol, no commercialism, no glassed in forced fed education, no Frenchified son et lumiere as in Lex Baux, just the empty melancholy divinity of castle ruins, yes in a thunderstorm, that enchanted Turner, Goethe and Mark Twain.


Finally finally daylight cruising in the choppy Rhine Gorge between Rudesheim and Koblenz the 25 mile stretch a UNESCO World Heritage site with 20 hilltop castles where robber barons exacted tolls from river traffic and where at the treacherous bend in the river stands the Lorelei rock of the Niebelungen. I longed to hear Siegfried but the musak offered All You Need is Love, a nod to the “Royal” wedding that day. The Kara docked in Koblenz, home of the Teutonic knights, where the Rhine and Moselle meet at a massive equestrian statue of Prince Willliam I and off to Marksburg Castle, the only castle untouched by the war, high up on the gorge. At this age having explored a lifetime of ruins, castles, monasteries and cathedrals I didn’t need to see another medieval kitchen and great hall so stayed outside, had a grand local beer,  and admired the view. 

Marie Antoinette’s Inn

During the night cruising and day cruising through lock after lock one noted that not a centimeter of space was left on the banks of the Rhine with heavy industry, factory after factory, plants after plant,many pharmas, smokestack after smokestack, shipping port after shipping port. In a country the size of Montana with 83 million souls( 10% have foreign passports), from cradle to grave everything is be organized in a quasi socialistic system where engineers earn more than lawyers and a super skilled workforce offers America, so profligate with our treasures, a valuable lesson.

Castle on the Rhine

Then Cologne, 90% flattened in the war, the old town rebuilt as a perfect copy of the original thanks to city planner Klement Eul the godfther of our guide Irwin. The biggest cathedral in Europe, built from the 14th through the 19th centuries, was as black as coal sadly unable to be cleaned so far has grime penetrated into the stone. The fourth country of the tour, the Netherlands and Kinderdjik another UNESCO site  with 19 eighteenth century windmills, the largest concentration in the country, still fully functional,  amidst the polders or grasslands five feet below sea level .Massive pumps from 1740 still keeping the sea at bay. Forgoing the tour of Amsterdam, which after all never changes, we were corraled onto a very old KLM 747 for the long painful flight home. The next time I cross the Atlantic I’ll try one of those new Cunards.

Strasbourg timber




Provence, Art and Memory


Fifty, yes that’s fifty, years ago in Provence I marveled at the clear air, soft light, pebbled beaches, northern Mistral, very violent with 65 mph gusts this October, open air markets with chickpea Socca, flowers, honeysuckle, poppies, hyacinth, lavender, Romanesque eglises, the ominpresent Roman remains and those lovely Beaux Arts buildings. Not much has changed today save the sheer numbers of Millennials in jeans and sweatshirts, no French stylishness here, meandering around the spacious plazas festooned with awkwardly unintelligible contemporary “art”.


Victoria’s palace

In the 1960s on the Cote d’Azur a vague anticipation of glamor was in the air, but, alas, the south of France had already lost its panache, its chic,  the Riviera set long gone, not a ghost of an impoverished aristocrat or Gerald and Sara Murphy but rather the playground of actress Brigitte Bardot. Since the 18th century the English had swarmed to Nice reaching an apex with Queen Victoria’s residence in an enormous summer palace, now the Regina hotel, and the descendants of aristocratic pre-revolutionary Russians who still live in the neighborhood of the ornate Orthodox cathedral built in 1865.   A soupcon of raffish louchness persists, Maugham’s “sunny place for shady people”, in the 1,600 slip Marina in Antibes festooned with gigantic brand new yachts.


Russian Cathedral

Antibes, dans ma memoire, the distant pink and blue Alps, the golden ramparts plunging directly into the cobalt Med, and half a century ago the rickety dark charm of the Old Town (built up today) . I vowed to live there someday, smoking Gauloises, drinking rouge, and writing on a balcony overlooking the sea, a la Lawrence Durrell whose Alexandria Quartet offered a fetching alternative, never taken, to Academia.








Joie de Vivre

Though the petit pension on the Cap where we spent our frugal vacs, Les Coquelicots, had vanished the Grimaldi Castle, now officially the Musee Picasso, still housed the jolly yellow La Joie de Vivre which I recalled as far larger. Today the collection has expanded with photographs and ancillary exhibits, high entry fees, head sets, gift shops and a quartet of gendarmes with AK 47s with fingers resting on the triggers. They are a force a presence all over the Cote presumably since the July 14, 2016 terrorist massacre in Nice.


Cezanne’s atelier

Provence had been part of a research journey for my thesis on the paintings of Roger Fry who loved its solid limestone rocks and farmhouses amidst the vertical cypress and horizontal plains.  Deeply inspired by Cezanne whose paintings he first brought to England in 1912 naming them Post-Impressionist, he copied the master’s techniques, rather ruefully.


My Cezanne painting











On this excursion I stepped through the very doorway of Cezanne’s atelier outside of Aix which I painted five years ago. Inside the high ceilinged room with walls painted neutral gray by Cezanne himself, foliage now obscuring the view of Mount St.Victoire, but the very wine bottles and statuettes he painted were miraculously intact.
#6 Cezanne’s atelier

Back then we zoomed through the Dordogne, far too drizzly like our home in England, to visit Marie Mauron in nearby St. Remy. The widow of Charles Mauron, Fry’s best friend, an eccentric literary critic now with a grand boulevard named for him, she was too busy to reminisce about all the Bloomsbury visitors, the industry in full swing and the BBC filming a documentary at the mas.  This October the town square was in the throes of a wedding celebration with four tubas with the gaiety and sprezzatura of nearby Italy.


Van Gogh’s bedroom

Van Gogh paints the room

Van Gogh paints the room

In Arles, after pizza au feu de bois (no longer allowed) and sleeping in the VW beetle on the Roman forum, we had a Perrier menthe at the Van Gogh cafe still there today unchanged and where I repeated the order. Van Gogh has become a potent marketing tool in the tourist industry and seemingly every sight he ever saw for a painting is noted. Jack and I stood on the exact spot on the Rhone where he painted Starry Night then visited the mental home where he exiled himself for a year, St.Paul de Mausole. His miniscule stone bedroom looked out on a gorgeous lavendar and almond orchard and down the road were two magnificent ornate columns of 5th century BC city of Glanum which he curiously never painted.


St. Paul de Mausole


Carrieres de lumiaire

In 1967 we raced up the rocky bauxite mountain in the heart of the Alpilles to the fortified 12th century castle at Les Baux, sitting on the stones all day in the hot sun looking south over the plain where even the Romans dare not traverse it was so remotely forbidding. #11 Les BauxThe tiny village is still preserved intact by the vigilant French which added to the mix the Carrieres de Lumiere galleries dug into the limestone rock for immersive exhibits which this October was projecting the images of Bosch’s hell and Breughel’s sinners on the walls to the music of Carmina Burana and Led Zeppelin.


Pont du Gard

Though the Greeks were in Les Baux earlier in recorded history, the Romans are the overwhelming presence here and all over Provence which has to have a psychic impact on the Provencals, the weight of the past, the looming thereness especially of the first century AD, a tangible memento mori. The most overwhelming monument is the gigantic three tier Pont du Gard the highest Roman aqueduct in the world which carried water to Nimes from Uzes, now a UNESCO site.


Matisse chapel

And the artists the artists all the artists knew what they were doing when they chose St.Paul de Vence the intoxicating mountain town where midwestern-born F.Scott and Hemingway drank pastis and Simone and Yves lived and where Matisse recovered from cancer surgery. He gave the Dominican nuns who succored him and who still live here a thank you gift, the Chapelle du Rosaire’s stained glass windows and priest’s chasubles, which the Vatican tried unsuccessfully to buy.  A Matisse museum in nearby Cimiez the hilly region north of Nice is adjacent to Roman baths and arena, housing the works of his cut out years, which hover somewhere between graphic design and art. The Chagall Museum in Cimiez down the hill contains his large iconographically rich biblical paintings but I found them muddy and formless, however precious in the details.


Chagall detail


A Tour of Ancient Apuglia


img_0647We were tourists not travellers in Apuglia (I prefer the older word) setting out to see as much as possible with a guided tour. It was a trade off to be sure, more a quantitative than qualitative experience, but that was fine, the purpose was served. For fifty years I longed to see Bari which my grandmother left forever in 1911, the land of poverty, the Land of Remorse, the land of chronic massacres. It was far more beautiful and haunting than I’d ever imagined and understood why Laura Terrone missed it every day of her life in the New World.

My DNA is half Apuglian; I had expected to see half Italian when I sent the sample to Ancestry which determined the other 50% originated in the British Isles. Instead it revealed 29% Greco Italian, with 21% an assortment of Balkan, European Jewish, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern with a touch of the Iberian peninsula, like a history of the eastern-most region of Italy. At one point in time it was the colony of Magna Graecia where
Pythagoras, Archimedes and Aeschylus lived and where Western Civilization started to flourish.

Castel del Monte

Castel del Monte

I could scarcely believe how congested, chaotic and graffiti -strewn Naples was on the drive from the airport to the Renaissance Mediterraneo hotel, a few minutes from the Bay and overlooking Vesuvio. After a sleepless night with singing giovanetti outside our window we spent the next day at the National Archaeological Museum one of the true wonders of the western cultural world housing the Farnese collection and artifacts and mosaics from Pompeii and Herculaneum. At the Herculaneum excavation site later that day a few miles south we walked down into the ruins of luxury villas in what had been a seaside resort for the wealthy, Ercolani, before Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD. It rained lava here not volcanic ash as in Pompeii which preserved the organic life in the bustling commercial center. Here only a few skeletons remained, in basements near the river bank and scholars are still debating what happened to the people.



The next day we were off to the northeast of Campania, stopping for lunch in the stunning mountain town lying on a ridge between two rivers, Benevento, on the Via Appia between Rome and Brindisi. Founded by Diomedes after the Trojan War it became a Roman colony then a Lombard city and has numerous Longobardian churches where a young Padre Pio worshipped. Trajan’s Arch still stands and from a later moment in time Santa Sofia where the locals congregated after mass then strolled in a colorful passeggiata on the Corso Garibaldi.

Later in the day we arrived at Apuglia’s most prominent landmark, the 13th century Castel del Monte, one of the 92 castles built in the region by Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, Hohenstaufen. The dark moody day was perfect for visiting this massive Gothic castle sitting atop a 4,000 foot mountain overlooking the coast from the Gargano to Monopoli and the foothills of the Murge plateau. Equidistant between Chartres and Cheops it has an obsession with the number eight (as in the emperor’s crown!) , with eight rooms, all perfect octagons, on both floors, and eight octagonal towers, one of which we ascended on impossibly tiny steps. There was a lot of climbing up and down streets and staircases on this tour and you really had to have stamina. Most of us were past 60 some past 70 and 80 and the level of activity was considerable though we had not been forewarned.




Passing Cerignola, the storm center of revolt in the early 20th century when peasant farm workers struck against the brutal conditions imposed on them by the owners of the vast latifundi. The green and golden fields of wheat, the endless olive orchards and vineyards of the Tavoliere here in Foggia rolled by the window, once the land of extreme poverty and inhumanity imposed on Apuglians by men from the north who came south after the Risorgimento like carpetbaggers. Latifundism was another reason why millions emigrated from Apuglia.


Then Bari, Bari, Italy. Finally. We stayed in the new town on the Corso Cavour with its grid plan spaghetti-thin streets a few minutes walk from Bari Vecchia which reminded me of a medina in Tangiers with narrow streets winding around and around the port within the fortified castle walls. It is authentico, with a vigorous street, life old men sitting and smoking on plastic chairs, laundry hanging from each balcony, nonnas their daughters and grandaughters making the daily orrechiette and taralli drying them on screens in the sun.


San Nicola

San Nicola

The 11th century Basilica Pontificia San Nicola the vast Romanesque cathedral was my true destination, the church which my grandmother sent money to from America, $2 at a time, for stained glass windows. It was startlingly half Roman Catholic, half Orthodox, housing the bones of Saint Nicholas ( Santa Claus of legend) a Turkish bishop adopted by the Barese when 62 local sailors stole his relics from Myra in 1087. in the lower crypt babushked Russian women and Orthodox priests prayed before his bones at the silver alter behind a silver screen. Every May the 17th century statue, right there still in the basilica, is carried through the streets of Bari down to the sea by sailors. That St.Francis of Assisi prayed here and that my grandmother sometimes wore the Capuchin robes and scapulas of the Order of St. Francis was emotionally powerful.



At dinner In a trattoria on the Piazza Ferrarese, overflowing with Barese on a warm Sunday night, we had the best meal of the trip, with the main ingredients the mellow, fruity Apuglian olive oil and dark red wine from the Primitivo grape. It was virtually vegetarian, true cucina povera, rapini with orrechiette, fava bean puree, wild mushroom ragu, stacked eggplant sliced paper thin, ceci. Mussels and some veal made an appearance as almost always in Apuglia where I never saw chicken or beef because it is too expensive to raise cattle to maturity. The brown grainydurum wheat bread was a revelation.

Lecce's papier macht

Lecce’s papier macht

Bari has a long gracefully curved harbour and busy port, which was in October with the blinding sun still too hot to tarry on for long. One can only imagine the 100 to 120 degree temperatures in the summer which justifies these long siesta hours when everything is chiusa from 1.30 to 5. Everything still was this October, much to the tourist’s annoyance The port was a point of departure for the Crusades and the entry point for a dizzying array of conquerors including the Lombardian Dukes of Benevento and Muslim Saracens and the Byzantine emperors of the Levant . From the Neolithic, to the Peutians, the Messapians, the Greeks, the Romans, Swabians, Normans, expecially the Normans, the Longobards, the Angevins and Aragons and the Turks. It seems everyone who had a fleet raided this part of the Adriatic coast.

Olive Tree

Olive Tree

We checked out of the Hotel Oriente and boarded the bus to Lecce at the beginning of the humble Salentine peninsula, the southermost part of the heel. Deemed the Florence of the South, the Athens of Apuglia, the Florence of Baroque, all meaningless terms because it is perfect as it is, remote Lecce has now been discovered by Helen Mirren, Gerard Depardieu and countless Englishmen. After the great commercial successes of the 17th and 18th centuries the city’s architects embraced Baroque and Rococo decoration carving on to classical facades golden bouquets of stone putti, angels, saints, fruits and flowers as in the gay and exuberant Cathedral of Santa Croce. Though loved by most over the centuries, 18th century Marchese Grimaldi said the facade made him think of a lunatic who was having a nightmare.

Old Matera

Old Matera

There are numerous ornate palazzi where the elegant Salentino citizens lived (who called the Barese decadent Levantines), with Spanish style wrought iron balconies. The Piazza Oronzo is named for the the sainted bishop whose statue looms over countless African immigrants trying to supplement their stipends from Italy by selling trinkets. Though there were 62,000 migrants in 2015 and 200,000 since 2014 in a poor crowded country the Italians are tolerant and kind though the commercial harrassment of tourists continuous. The piazza is constructed atop a wonderful Roman ampitheater that once seated 25,000.

Our hotel was the remote Best Western’s Leone di Messapia (evocatively named for the Balkan Messapians, those Indo European Illlyrians who settled in Apuglia seven centuries before Christ). The restaurant Mbriana Bella was sparsely populated like the hotel and the veal dry and pasta pomodoro, always with ricotta mixed in, bland. Maybe the hotel and restaurant were like many of those optimistically built in the oughts when everyone predicted a tourist stampede to Lecce and the Salentine, which one suspects has not really materialized. Even the luxe high priced masseria like Borgo Ignazio may not have found it easy to attract tourists and one wonders how Francis Ford Coppola’s Palazzo Margherita is faring in Bernalda, Basilicata. This has been called the Great Tourism Fail in the Mezzogiorno with the Italian government using 98% of the tourism budget for salaries and where only 13% of all tourists to Italy venture.

Nonna in Bari

Nonna in Bari

The next night a wine tasting at the Masseria d’Astore in
Cutrofiano a few miles south of Lecce took place in a fortified farmhouse on a grand Salentine estate carefully restored by orthodontist Paolo Benegiamo who lives there with his family. It produces evoo and small batch wines mainly from the Primitivo and Negroamaro grapes grown in their vineyard. We started dinner of with a Malvasia Bianca, then a Negroamaro Rose and on to two Filimei Reds one a year old the other five years made from the Aliarico grape. They were clean and crisp though lacking

Matera Today

Matera Today

L’Astore studiously makes biodynamic wines, subsidized by the government, using purely organic grapes, with no synthetic chemicals or mechanical irrigation and no added ingredients. That the harvesting and planting respect obscure astrological rituals detracts a bit from the credibility of this monoculture. The masseria was once a 16th century frantoio ipogeo and still retains the underground olive mill, in the original cave where olives were crushed and made into golden liquid for consumption for London street lamps. The workers were too poor to use the oil themselves and the subterranean conditions under which they labored to produce the oil was visibly worse than Dickensian, dark, underground, damp, with low ceilings which forced the men to remain bent over. Mamma mia!

Capri ride

Capri ride

Apuglia has olive trees some which still bear fruit though they predate the birth of Christ. Before the xyella fastidiosa outbreak there were about 60 million trees and some estimates claim over a million trees or more have been lost since 2013. The olive trees here are much larger, gargantuan even, than in Tuscany and like the people of Apuglia because they have had to struggle for survival in a harsh land they have grown tough, reaching deep down to reserves of strength.

The next day we drove through the Val d’Istria the lovely undulating Trulli Valley, stopping by Ostuni ,the White City, dazzling on a high hill about five miles inland to evade pirates. As usual in Apuglian towns it was repeatedly sacked, has a colorful but treacherous history, a riot of Norman churches, palazzi for the aristocratic familes past and present, winding streets and alleys with shops and family restaurants. English and German tourists flock here.

At the source

At the source

Tourism in Apuglia is usually promoted with endless photos of
Alberobello which until a hundred years ago was the lair of brigands hiding in thick woods and preying on travelers. Today the hundreds of picturesque trulli, the bee hived shaped conical houses that resemble farm tool sheds in the olive fields, are one or two room dwellings. Built of local limestone slabs their triangular roofs have Messapian roots with enigmatic icons and varied rooftop spindles. They tell the tale of the woodland town Sylva Arboris Belli and powerful Count Giangirolamo in the 16th century who told his feudal serfs to build houses without mortar to be easily dismantled to evade tax collectors.They are gleamingly whitewashed, with walls of several feet,perhaps one window and are charming en masse.


Facade San Nicola

Facade San Nicola

The restaurants were closed even before the magical siesta hour because of nearby construction so we spent our time walking up and down the hilly town about to close for the season. Sometimes called Trulliville with its endless tiny, poor tourist shops, it has chic weekend second homes for rich Milanese or Barese. Our hotel for the next two nights, the Grand Hotel Chiusa de Chietri, again far out in the suburbs, was built as a luxurious spa paradise with magnificent landscaping and spacious public spaces but alas had fallen on hard times perhaps because the working class English trippers tolerate substandard everything. Our feisty American tour group complained that the carpets were wet and the mold everywhere including the questionable bathrooms.
Otranto Otranto — where had I heard that? Was it Byron? No it was the Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole (he had never been there but liked the sound of the name) the very first Gothick novel kicking off centuries of vampires and monsters and other nonsense. Bari and Otranto were ruled by the catapan of Byzantium before the explosion of Christianity in the middle ages, the 11th -13th centuries, when ruthless conquering Muslims were replaced by equally ruthless and even more cruel Catholic Normans, those footloose mercenaries who passed through Southern Italy in 1015 on their way back from the Crusades and by 1050 were powerful enough to defeat the papal army .

Leccese Baroque

Leccese Baroque

The capital of the Terra d’Otranto and the easternmost point in western Europe, Otranto seems like a Greek town. The Norman cathedral’s floor is the most important mosaic in Apuglia depicting the struggle of good and evil perhaps predicting the Turkish invasion of 1480, still called the sacco, which wiped out the town of 12,000 leaving only 800 who were canonized as saints.

We were however getting a tad churched-out so hurried up the steep hill to the cathedral then descended to the seaport to look at the meeting point of the Adriatic and Ionian seas. We bought a gelato at one of the few places still open at the end of the season and I thought of our trip to the seaside towns of northern England a few years ago when shuttered shops greeted autumn’s visitors. But there was one more important place to see.

Matera was once in Apuglia but today is the Sassi city on a hilltop in Basilicata. The bus was parked alongside a long string of buses about a mile from the center of the town of Matera located on top of the Sassi cave dwellings. We were herded on to a viewing platform as we had in Alberbello here with Italian tourists and their families taking selfies before the spectacle of the troglodyte village.

My grandmother often told me that people lived in caves in Apuglia and now I knew she was not exaggerating as I stood before a ghoulish stage set from a production of Dante’s Inferno. The caves carved into limestone ravine, treeless and desolate, a fortress standing above the plains and the Gravina River below. Although sassi existed in some form since Neolithic man they remained throughout the millennia dire peasant dwellings for the poorest of the poor in one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world, like Aleppo. For several centuries the city was entirely underground hiding in a dense forest so invading Saracens could never see it from above.

Matera Momento Mori

Matera Momento Mori

Down, down, down Escher- like steps into the old city hewn we see limestone rocks, tufa, high above the river and plains, past the newer sassi now 4- star hotels and boutiques and second homes (some call it Tribeca) down down into the vertical chaos of the old city that was exposed by
Carlo Levi in Christ Stopped and Eboli. When it was published in 1945 a horrified government forced the evacuation of the population of 15,000 who lived with their animals in the filthy underground caves. They were moved into sterile new housing blocks, destroying the community, but in 1986 subsidies were made available to renovate the sassi and grotto churches cutting costs in half and in 1993 it had recovered enough to be declared a UNESCO world heritage site.



Ah would that we had happened upon this astonishing vision by chance in another era. Today the city of Matera with 60,000 residents with its elegant 18th century square with palazzi and restaurants was just declared the 2019 European Capitol of Culture. After viewing all the momento mori skulls and crossbones on the cathedral we grabbed an aperitivo at Hemingway’s Bistrot on the via Riobla Domenico. Yes. Hemingway again, even here in the Mezzogiorno. This man was a historical menace.

Towards Benevento

Towards Benevento

Such melancholy thoughts accompanied me the 200 miles to Sorrento. through Basilicata’s mountains that resemble the Dolomites which after the flatness of Apuglia was a shock. Both regions of the Mezzogiorno are still poor compared to the rest of Italy with over one quarter (some say 75%) of young men unemployed. One of our guides Simonetta told me with that characteristic menefreghismo that there were no opportunities in the south and that she will probably be stuck in her job forever if she choses to stay here. Many young people have already jumped the train out of there since Matteo Renzi’s master plan to resusitate Apuglia seems to have stalled.
Sorrento was a mass of humanity spilling off the sidewalks, so exquisite, so picturesque, so polluted with unregulated tourism, here on the beautiful Tyrrhenian. The Cristina Hotel had a spectacular view of the coast. You cannot ruin the beauty of the natural setting of the peninsula, the red clfffs against the blue sea and the golden light.

Cerignola from the bus

Cerignola from the bus

We took the bait and went to Capri via the hydrofoil, then on to a waiting speedboat that zipped around the gorgeous aquamarine grottoes (though the Blue one now off limits) past scores of boats some with divers. Then we were crammed into a funicular for the ride to the Piazza Umberto a seething scrum of comically overpriced shops and restaurants. We did get some stunning tourist shots from the Garden of Augustus at the base of the Krupp mansion but this was not the Villa of Jovis of Tiberius or the Capri of Graham Greene and Debussy. One needs to go to the private parts of the island for that and there was no more time.



One of the pitfalls of being a tourist is the relentless momentum of it all, when your brain cannot keep pace with your feet and spectacular sights flash by with one’s dwindling comprehension. I will have to return to Apuglia some day as a traveller but I will always be grateful for this chance to see what I have always dreamt of. Ciao




Road Trip to Yellowstone

October 3, 2015


Grand Canyon,YellowstoneWe piled high the Mercedes, stepped on the gas in Chicago at 6 a.m. on September 15th to drive 1,300 miles to Yellowstone National Park.  Nine hours later we arrived at Sioux Falls, South Dakota after a featureless drive across southern Minnesota. The Fairfield Marriott was for the next ten days our main sleepery, breakfast included, right next to the highway and usually with Outback in shouting distance.  The point was not the journey but the destination.


The largest city in South Dakota was eerily empty in midday, midweek with a silencc soon to become familiar on the Western Plains. A bit of a commercial boost pre- 2008, was evident in street sculpture, a brewery restaurant, espresso shops, and curiously “casinos” digital game machines where you could win up to $200,  bank after bank after bank and  smoking emporia that served beer and wine.

Day two, Rapid City on the far western side of the state was achieved after Wall Drugs relentlessly bombarded I-90 drivers with innane billboards. We stopped for a few minutes at the shameless advertiser with its replica of a wild west town, acres of junk and a gigantic roaring plastic T Rex. Bypassing the Badlands and reluctant to depart from the plan we headed to the Crazy Horse Memorial, the World’s Largest Mountain Carving started in 1948 by Polish Bostonian Korczak Ziolkowski at the invitation of Lakota elder Henry Standing Bear.  Just the head has been sculpted on the sacred Thunderhead mountain, 87 feet to tall to Mount Rushmore’s presidential 63 feet, rather like an Easter Island moai, Its eternal incompleteless is all the more poignant with the Oglala Sioux chief looking at “My lands where the dead lie buried.” The foundation has no federal funding and the vast sophisticated exhibitions in the visitor’s center and the new Native American University are supported by tourist dollars if you’re looking for a good cause.

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse

Driving by a location of Dances with Wolves at Fort Hayes a few miles outside of Rapid City in the gorgeous Black Hills, so steep, so stunning, we continued on to Mount Rushmore 7,200 feet high with the quartet of American presidents. The tiny old lead mining town of Keystone that supplied the laborers for the carving had for some reason shuttered the Gutzon Borglum Museum so Jack couldn’t see the remarkable story of carving solid white granite heads from 1927 to 1941. Even in mid September RVs were lined up so we viewed the gleaming white heads head of George Washington, and Teddy Roosevelt wedged between Jefferson and Lincoln.

We drove around the mountain from various angles then headed on to Yellowstone. Here we were, 73 and 85, tourists speeding by the landmarks of American History like Clark Griswold. Pushing on north into Montana we went past Sturgis, where 100,000 motorcyclists rally the first week every August, more prosperous weekend warriors than Hell’s Angels. On past Spearfish, (the winter camp of the Costner film), Mitchell the birthplace of George McGovern,  and Belle Fourche, the geographic center of the US if you consider Alaska and Hawaii.


The 212 from Rapid City to Billings Montana, a five plus hour drive was cut in half by the Little Big Horn Battlefield National Monument in Crow Agency. By the time we arrived at the visitor’s center run by the Crow very much in evidence en famille I hated George Armstrong Custer, the  7th cavalry, and Ulysses Grant for trying to force Sitting Bull, Tatanka iyotanka, the Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho onto the hideous reservations we had just spent three hours driving through, where the white man’s cattle ranches gave way to sterile rocky dusty land impossible to graze cattle no less cultivate with crops. The Bighorn memorial on a high hill overlooks a vast basin surrounded by Custer National cemetery where the 262 American troops were buried after the massacre on June 26, 1876. Custer’s remains went on to West Point.

The vast North Cheyenne Reservation, with tiny human settlements Ashland, Lame Deer, Busby was little more than abandoned petrol stations and devastation and poverty, shacks bungalows rusting cars, crumbling shacks, piles of garbage, 1970s cars, the same scene appearing in the adjacent Crow Tribe and Nez Pierce reservations. The sad tale of the genocide was impossible to forget as were Red Cloud’s words, ”They made us many promises, more than I can remember—They kept but one; they promised to take our land and they took it.”


Billings, the largest city in the state, is an old oil and gas boom town located amidst six mountain ranges including the beautiful Beartooth at 12,000 feet. We had planned to drive  to Red Lodge one of the gateways to Yellowstone via the Beartooth All -American Road, 65 treacherous exciting miles to the northeast entrance to the park but alas it was closed for the week because of snow so we missed out on what Charles Kurault called it the most stunning drive in America.

Billings was hosting the Indian Relay Championships at the Metra Center an annual contest where young Native American braves from 15 tribes in Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Canada compete in a relay race, transferring from one horse after another bareback at a wild gallop. We watched the spectacle on television in the Fairfield and read the Billings Gazette containing an obit for an old brave Arnold Coyote Runs Sr. born Ootchiash dunkxilee-sh (night warrior) in 1945 in Crow Agency, known as the Greasy Mouth Child of the Bundle Clan with extended family Knows His Gun, Pretty Eagle, Round Face and Real Bird. He married Gery Old Elk and never left Crow Agency.

Downtown Billings had a few too many suicide prevention notices and crisis center banners announcing upcoming Walk to Fight Suicide, a harbinger of the other towns we were to see shuttered, blighted, empty and with wobbly men and disheveled women sitting outside cafes or walking arm in arm obviously with heroine and meth problems.


Bozeman a few miles west, home of Montana State University,is a predictable university town, eco minded (big issues are pine beetles in Black Hills, cheatgrass replacing sagebrush, sage grouse habitat conservation), food coops, countless coffee shops, captivating fly fishing and hunting outfitters and a Peter Fonda brass plaque on the sidewalk outside the opera house performing Don Pasquale. Between Bozeman and Big Sky Mountain Village where we stopped for pea soup amidst the rain so welcomed after the long drought, is Flying D one of Ted Turner’s 15 ranches in the state. After The Divorce he spends little or no time here raising the bison elsewhere for his restaurants. This is Redford Country; A River Runs Through It was filmed in nearby Livingstone and south of Bozeman on the Upper Yellowstone Gallatin River and Boulder River.  Granite Falls where the Maclean brothers jumped the falls, and farther south at Big Timber is the site of The Horse Whisperer.

Little Bighorn Cemetery

Little Big Horn

We continued on the next day the remaining 90 miles to Yellowstone’s west entrance staying in the little town of West Yellowstone, Montana where we booked a room sight unseen at the Club House Inn. Half of its annual business is from Chinese tourists and this was no exception with much pushing and shoving at the breakfast buffet. West Yellowstone is a rough tourist town with one school house, located exactly midpoint between the equator and the North Pole. It has a subarctic climate and clocked a record minus -66 F .some years ago. Though off season by a hair the cars and buses were lined up at the entrance at 8 a.m.



We took an eight hour long Buffalo Bus Tour of the park’s South Loop in the center of 2.2 million acres of forest and grassland. Minutes later we were in Wyoming where 96% of the park is located.  The driver was passionate about tatanka, buffalo (same as bison) spotting, and along with pointing out the dramatic beauty of the landscape we were on a buffalo hunt. These 4,900 resident wild beasts are pure bred, no mild cattle breeding mixture here,  with many warnings about keeping a 25 foot distance ignored by tourists one of whom was recently gored and thrown 10 feet into the air.

From the west entrance we followed the Madison River north to the Norris Geyser Basin where plenty were spewing sulphur, Canyon Village where bear spray was very much in evidence, then down to Yellowstone Lake, and the Lake Hotel which the driver joked looked like the hotel in The Shining (spot on). Then more geysers at West Thumb geysers and finally Old Faithful which went off exactly on time within a 10 minute window right outside the mobbed 1920s Inn. In 2014 292 million visited Yellowstone. And this day only 1000 were in attendance outside at the eruption though is high summer it is 3,000.

Apparently the giant caldera, the center of Yellowstone, 50 miles by 30 miles, is 40,000 years overdue to blow, a rueful thought, to alter the global environment for a millennia, but today it was just smoky whiffs of sulphur bubbling out of the grey clay in the form of geysers, hot springs and mudspots. We were warned not to take a single step off the narrow boardwalks with no railings at risk being scorched to death. The best part of the park is the 1,000 feet deep Grand Canyon, 20 miles long, and the thermal Yellowstone River the longest undammed river in the States at 662 miles, that runs into the Missouri with its forces, waterfalls surrounded by rugged mountains, the last free-flowing undammed river in the Lower 48, with one of the world’s greatest trout streams. Looking out of the bus window how I envied the numerous fishermen evidence and the young hikers and cyclists setting off for one of the 1,000 miles of trails in the back country.

Later at the Branch restaurant one of the several offering local prime rib,cattle, hay an beets and largest agricultural industries the state,the silence was deafening until unable to stand it another minute I plugged two bucks in a juke box for Alan Jackson, and Toby Keith’s Shoulda Been a Cowboy.

The next day after two nights at the Club House we had a decision to make – head south to  $300-400 a night Jackson and nearby Teton Village—or not. A decade or two ago I had spent a week or two there auditioning for a job as a cook at the dude ranch the Flying A in Pinedale; I flunked the cooking trials but did dance the paso doble in the Cowboy Bar with the CEO of Orvis. So instead visiting another fancy ski town (recently in Park City an St,Moritz) we decided to go to Cody.

We headed east through the park and took a left at Lake Village towards the east entrance which is closed in early November. And you can see why—precipitous breathtaking mountainous terrain on narrow roads over 11,000 feet winding through the Shoshone National Forest and the giant peaks of the Absarocka Range. If you decide to visit Yellowstone do take the east entrance from Cody probably as impressive as the northeast entrance over the Beartooth. After we left the park (no lines at all here) another fascinating river landscape to Cody, past towering buttes, deep narrow canyons and the Buffalo Bill dam and reservoir on the western edge of the Bighorn Basin.


Cody was invented in the 1890s to lure tourists to the disappearing frontier by the circus impresarios of the Wild West Show which toured America and Europe with entertainer “Buffalo Bill” Cody from the branding namesake.  They even moved his childhood home here from Iowa. The same legend- manufacturing machine in action as in Wild Bill Hitchcock, Calamity Jane, Doc Holliday, Butch Cassidy, Kit Carson and so forth. I don’t begrudge Wyoming a nickel since it was then and always will be a tough terrain where tourism is an enduring economic engine and 80% of the population either ranchers for farmers.  The energy boom is over and Wyoming has lost thousands of jobs in oil and gas in recent years with aging oil production and mining in decline.

We stayed at the Moose Creek Lodge in town center with soap the size of a half dollar and had we planned all this leg of the trip would have stayed Buffalo Bill’s Irma Hotel built in 1902 today full of beer drinkers with red bandanas with their dogs in the pickups outside. On Sheridan Street the main drag 30 mph dusty winds fiercely swirled as we sat outside a closed gimcrack geejaw shop in the dusk waiting to go to the Best Western for dinner.

The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, a conglomeration of five museums including Gertrude Whitney’s collection of western art luxurious and amazing attracted a busload of seniors but these two were not inclined to pay $20 each to learn about the west inside in the dark on the gorgeous early Autumn day. There are great archives there to study on the freezing winter days.




Beartooth Range in the distance

The Beartooths

Driving to Casper, the center of the petroleum industry right in the middle of the state, we stopped  in Thermopolis which sprang up around the world’s largest single mineral hot spring and prehistoric rock hieroglyphs. At the local Café lunchers ate mammoth sandwiches in silence with the wind swirling around outside. It all looked so inviting in the brochures but it was bleak even desolate like this whole stretch from Cody to Casper  past Meeteetse home of the black footed ferret, Shoshone, Power River and Bar nunn. Over 200 miles in three and a half hours of red dust landscape that looked exactly like Mars without the water. With no other cars on the road I had the irrational fear the Mercedes would break down. What would we do?  Walk to Hildale, population 10, where there was little sign of life.

Casper, the hometown of Dick and Lynn Cheney (you can understand his no-nonsense personality)  has a beautiful Art Deco  town center and  a century ago was the hub of the great western migration on the 19th century all the rails converging here, the.Oregon, Pony Express, Bozeman, Mormon. Of the half a million pioneers settlers only the toughest stayed, at the frontier outpost of Fort Casper. They stuck it, the grittiest for generation after generation. This was the answer the secret to the Silence. Not only so few people but also the ranchers and farmers who stayed were gritty and proud that they did. A young bartender at Poor Boy’s Steakhouse said he left Wyoming for awhile and returned home here as people always do.

Cheyenne & Laramie

Route 25 to Cheyenne, a hundred years ago the richest city in the world, and today the largest city in Wyoming with a pretty gold domed capitol building and advanced urban blight in action. The 1880s cattle baron mansions are gone or boarded up, the Gilded Age a distant memory where the Opera Hose which burned down in 1962  saw Langtree, Bernhardt and Buffalo Bill himself performed. The Plains Hotel which opened in 1911 was a reminder of past glories.  Nixon, Truman, Reagan and Debbie Reynolds stayed here,the first hotel in America to have telephones in every room. Two folks were eating lunch in the beautiful cherry wood paneled restaurant as we walked past into the street with the SROs, shuttered stores and the Cowgirls of the West Museum on 17th street.

Forty miles east to Laramie we were greeted by the gigantic statue of Chief Washakie a Shoshone who sided the US Army in wars against the Cheyenne and Sioux.Laramie was name for Jacques LaRamee a fur trader; in 1878 Edison supposedly had the idea of the filament when fly fishing awaiting the lunar eclipse in the cold dark skies. We went to see the Cooper Mansion now the location of the American Studies Department. A swell 1927 mansion now falling apart built by cattle baron Frank Cooper and his son Richard,a friend of Bror Blixen and Hemingway’s in East Africa. The social climbing author stayed in the house leaving a thank you telegram, displayed on the mantle. The director of the program wryly commented he sure knew where to find a good vacation.

En route home we stayed in North Platte Nebraska, such drought parched land and Des Moines where the landscape, the greenery and the rain welcomed us back to the Midwest of America. Here are a few photos taken with iPhone. Next time back to Canon or Nikon


Beartooth Range in the distance




From Yellowstone to Cody

From Yellowstone to Cody




Old Faithful

Old Faithful















Save the Everglades

March 21, 2015


cork2We spent much of the wicked winter in Naples, Florida where dangerously wealthy retirees and their ubiquitous wives, mainly from the Midwest, spend the cold months. Save the physical beauty, the warmth, the palmettoes it could be Oak Brook, Illinois, with a similar demographic, builder’s mansions, malls and golf clubs. Etcetera.

Biblical rainstorms plagued us from Chicago to Savannah so we saw little of the city Sherman stormed in the War of Northern Aggression. The landmark Riverfront Hotel, a converted cotton warehouse on the Savannah River, was casual at best, with that disturbing southern racial divide as in black staff, white guests. The same syndrome appeared in Paula Deen’s buffet restaurant, no more inviting than Waffle House. Forsyth Square featured in the hothouse fantasy Midnight in the Garden etc. was invisible in the storm.  Some other time, perhaps.

St. Augustine was celebrating its 450th anniversary in the somewhat bedraggled historical district with its chilling Spanish fort where the European assault on Florida all began. The skies lifted in Naples just in time to see pelicans plunging balletically into the Gulf against a blazing pink sunset. We had passed the tropical Mason Dixon into Southwest Florida where the foliage and climate become Caribbean, colorful, exotic. Which is precisely why it is so suffocatingly, chokingly overcrowded with cars, condos, people, shopping centers. In 2014, over 97 million tourists visited Florida, and with 18% of the state water, and 20 million residents no wonder it has a higher density of population per square mile than California.



In February the Imagine Solutions Conference, a TED- style think tank where retirees can have the Renaissance Man Experience, took place at the Ritz seeking “general solutions” to world problems. Over 600 seekers paid $600 for lunch and to listen to local healthcare experts in a state with the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the nation.  One seeker exclaimed, “holding a conference like Imagine Solutions makes a lot of sense in Naples, where there are so many smart retirees looking for something to do.”

Ah yes! Something To Do!  A Plague of Volunteers is much in evidence at every turn in this city of 20,000 with the world’s largest chapter of the Circumnavigators Club. Each week the Naples Daily News lists 200 plus events and club meetings, for soroptimists, optimists, orchid lovers, pastel painters, rubber bridge players, alums of Notre Dame, Delta Gamma, Midwest high schools, the list endless……stock options, canasta, Corvettes, DAR chapters. Philanthropy is High Sport.

Florida is recovering from the Great Recession and yet more gated communities are breaking ground with land grabbing golf courses called Chambord or Tuscany (even a St. Lucia!)  developed by Lennar builders. In 2015 SWFL tops the nation in job growth and a hot housing market and Naples and Marco (a sea of coastal) are exploding reminiscent of the 90s when Carl Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy described “Trucks, bulldozers, cement mixers, cranes, gasoline tankers….Here’s where the yacht harbor will be dredged. There’s where the golf courses go. That’s being cleared for the airstrip. And everywhere else: homesites. Very expensive houses also condominiums and townhouses and even some year round rentals. Duplexes and triplexes.”

1956Sadly and ineluctably Florida’s unique fragile ecosystem will not sustain the onslaught of even more prosperity. Though many of the winter billionaires have become feel-good conservationists their efforts are too late; the next generations need to make a buck from the weather, the weather, the waters, the waters, the exploitation of the fragments that remain of Old Florida.

There are facsimiles of Old Florida, like zoos for flora, called “preserves” that give one a sample of Nature in the past. The Southwest Conservancy has a patch of mangrove swamp near the heart of Naples, offering half hour electric boat tours down the Gordon River where one can see the expanding number of houses and the Bear Claw development lurking on the perimeter. Only a matter of time!  The Naples Botanic Garden has 90 acres of a river of grass, a restored habitat which you whip by on a path before entering the gift shop. There are state parks and endless environmental learning centers but it’s all….well, you know.



The Land Preservation Trust and the Conservancy are dedicated to saving wetlands but this year saw a very steep decline in wading birds’ nests, and sightings of egrets and herons and ibis. Corkscrew Swamp is 13,000 fragile acres of wetlands where the ancient old growth cypress, 100 feet tall, are submerged in a shallow slow moving river. So beautiful! So refreshing! A chap in a Tilly hat and walking stick emerged from the forest as we were about to enter the two mile boardwalk and mumbled sadly, “This is the real Florida, the old Florida.” The Romance of the Swamp. We saw  a couple of mammoth gators, two tiny turtles, two squirrels, two anhingas and one lonely white ibis in the hour’s walk though the Audubon guide said panthers and woodstorks are coming back one of the many promised sightings over the months.

We spotted two dolphin fins on a boat tour of Naples Bay and listened to numerous teasers about manatees but none materialized amidst all the racing speedboats. What we did see were ugly McMansions being constructed by corporations and syndicates, many foreign, and left uninhabited. They say 20% of the estates in Port Royal are empty. A panther was found hiding in a backyard of one of these rented mansions having swam across the bay from Keewaydin Island, a 22 -mile preserve. The cousin of the American cougar  is losing more and more habitat and there are weekly postings of how many were killed on highways like I-75, 2014 being highest and 2015 surpassing that already.



“The growth is coming. The growth is coming.” warn local newspapers about Fort Myers. Today the blue collar river town, where in 1881 Hamilton Disston from Philadelphia came to dredge and drain the Everglades, is seeing a building boom on the Caloosahatchee River, nice but not the Gulf. The main attractions are the airport and the Edison Ford Estate, 20 acres of experimental labs where the great inventors tried to find a cheap source of rubber, from goldenrod to banyan trees, for auto tires. The gardens by Olmsted are stunning but tough to navigate with the mobs.

 Old Florida, or what remains of it, became increasingly alluring as we took refuge from Mercato, Venetian Bay and Waterside (jewelry stores, sweatshirts and kitchen supplies) and escaped south to Everglades City for our annual crazy-fast airboat ride through the mangroves this time led by Shaun. Born on Chokoloskee Island as his father and grandfather were, this wiry Cracker lured a few raccoons out of the mangroves with Cheetos. The only Confederate flag we saw during this trip (and the only one since West Virginia!) was on a crabbing boat outside the Triad Café here which sold blue stone crabs.

16th century

16th century

The city was, as so many in early industrial Florida history, a company town built by another Everglades drainage outsider Barron Collier and is today a real backwater. The Rod and Gun Club hosted five presidents seeking great hunting and fishing and today is a restaurant.  The 11th Annual Marjory Stoneman Douglas Festival in the wee Museum of the Everglades, the Old Laundry Building, built in 1927 was organized by Friends of the Everglades. It was founded in 1962 (the Rachel Carson era) by the conservationist when she was 78 the media age of the club members listening to Seminole Indians talk about powerful women in their culture.

There are six Seminole reservations in Florida but the Seminoles are long gone and you need only one-fourth Indian blood to be a tribal member now. The tribe is more involved with the Immokalee casino and live in their own gated communities though the history of the tribe resonates. A loose amalgam of many southern tribes, they welcomed runaway slaves before the Civil War and after the Seminole Wars retreated deep into the Everglades rather than be forced onto western reservations.

msdFrom Everglades City it’s a short drive over a causeway to Chokoloskee Island, a Calusa Indian shell mound, where the Smallwood Store founded in 1906 was a trading post in the heart of Ten Thousand Islands. In 1982 it became a designated landmark and museum. Totch Brown and his pioneer family were born in Chokoloskee and his book which we bought one desperate day in Barnes & Noble in Waterside,  Totch!A Life in the Everglades, is wonderful oral history of the land and the life of this alligator hunter, fisherman, crabber, poacher, weed runner, singer and character of the Western Everglades. He appeared in Bud Schulberg’s Winds Across the Everglades which seems to be running permanently in some cinema or other. The Glades have inspired filmmakers and writers for a hundred years, the best of which is Peter Matthiesen’s Shadow Country a classic of the outlaw life in the Glades.  As usual an informed literary imagination is the redeeming factor in the arduous sport of traveling.

For 150 years wetlands have been considered wastelands to be drained so today half the Everglades is gone and the other half is dying, au revoir to the unique flora and fauna not found anywhere else in the world.  What remains of the River of Grass is 2,500 square miles of Everglades National Park, designated in 1947 as a subtropical wilderness of mangroves, hardwood pine forests, cypress swamps and sawgrass prairies. It is located next door to the Big Cypress preserve another 2,400 square miles of subtropical swamp one- third covered with cypress trees.  You can a glimpse of the wilderness with a tram tour at Shark Alley on Highway 41 but no sense of the extent of the national park whose waters are disappearing or being ravaged.

coonsThe Everglades Restoration Plan 30 years and eight billion dollars later fresh water still does not flow in sheets across the sawgrass prairie. Jeb Bush crossed party lines to sign Clinton’s bill to balance restoration with growth management but alas uncontrolled development reigns, traffic, air and water pollution, ever more loss of trees and marches. Newspapers bristle with fights between developers and city councils struggling to preserve What’s Left even if it just a theme park like the Bonita Springs Everglades Wonder Garden.

One day we drove straight east from Naples to Clewiston, past fields and fields of sugar cane plantations and humongous belching sugar refineries, to see what once was the beating heart of the Everglades, its headwaters at Lake Okeechobee. It has of course been dammed up since the 30s by the Herbert Hoover Dike forever preventing its clear waters to return to the Everglades. The Sweetest City in the World now an old former company town was built for executives of the US Sugar Corporation and we stopped briefly at the famous Clewiston Inn where the Windsors once stayed before going bass fishing on the lake. It was dark and empty and the new owner from New Delhi said the restaurant was now closed.

totchWe tried to see the lake but without a boat to go through the locks and levees it was accessible only on foot 35 feet high up so we settled for having a beer at Roland Martin’s Marina. At the Tiki Bar we continued to read Michael Grunwald’s extraordinary book The Swamp, one for the ages, telling the melancholy history of the ruination of Nature in south Florida from the 19th to the 21st centuries.  Apparently the sugar farmers are still back pumping polluted water into to Lake O which is then released into the Caloosahatchee, fouling Estero Bay and continuing on as red tide into the Atlantic.

The March 8th New York Times reports, Miami Port Project killing off coral reef. The Army Corps of Engineers is ignoring environmentalists and creating even more of an underwater moonscape by poor dredging, poor management. It’s all a Lost Cause. “Alligator” Ron Bergeron a Fish & Wildlife Commissioner writes, “you have to decompartmentalize the system to where it has a natural flow from Lake Okeechobee to the central Everglades and on to Florida Bay.”  That will never happen of course.



Before we left Florida we had to see Ave Maria a new town founded a decade or so ago by the Domino’s Pizza guy according to the strictest (loathe that word) Catholic principles. This Bizzaro Brave New World has a university whose president Jim Towey is the biggest donor to Jeb Bush.  The alien cult like atmosphere After the Bomb empty with a creepy cathedral where the entire town was at a service on the Sunday morning we appeared.

We should have taken the four hour ferry from Marco to Key West since driving was at gruesome snail’s pace. Eight hours in half way through we gave up at Marker 61 and stopped at Marathon’s Duck Key and the Hawks Cay Resort along with half of the Jersey shore. The Preferred Group hotel definitely needed Leona Helmsley and finding solace at yet another Tiki Bar we could not help but notice the clear aquamarine waters, the exquisite beauty of the lagoon and the breathtaking natural setting.

Botanic Gardens

Botanic Gardens

Hoping to avoid The Flood we returned home through the Panhandle en route to Alabama’s I-65, the War on Terror Memorial Highway. In all our American travels over the years no state seemed more impoverished than southern Alabama with countless derelict shacks next to billboards for the Robert Trent Jones Trail.  We arrived in Montgomery, trying to exploit its history to draw tourists, this time thankfully Civil Rights not the Civil War, on this the 50th anniversary of the march from Selma. We stayed at Hampton Inn next to the Hank Williams Museum and took a pass on the Zelda Fitzgerald and Jefferson Davis’ homes. We will definitely return to this living history museum someday.









Anjelica Huston


November 22, 2014


monet (2)At the Union League Club, with its fine art collection including a first -rate Monet, was a book signing luncheon promoting Anjelica Huston’s latest autobiography Watch Me.  A nervous local actor Kevin O’Connor asked her pre-approved questions warding off any soupcon of spontaneity and posing the inevitable question about being Hollywood Royalty. The 62 –year- old actress (intelligently free of plastic surgery) said her family was more rag tag gypsy than regal. Even that seemed scripted.

No slave to fashion on this freezing Midwestern day (for the New York book party she wore a black dress and diamond brooch) the actress-producer was coolly cordial and of course very much aware of being Hollywood Royalty. Estranged from her father as a girl she said he and Jack Nicholson were “two big rocks” in her life; she shared the loony actor’s advice “Never give brown presents” whatever that means and never mentioned her late husband sculptor Robert Graham.


photo (39)Her mother, killed in a car crash when Angelica was 17, was an Italian restaurateur’s daughter from Brooklyn (way to go!) and they lived in the Little House on Huston’s estate in Western Ireland while he and his girlfriend lived in the Big House. She lamented that opportunities for women in film in Hollywood are few, worse than they were 40 years ago, “the boys should be more magnanimous when it comes to sharing.” Sensitive and a bit wounded by life (who isn’t?) she loves animals more then homo sapiens and offered universal advice: Never panic on a horse. Horses feel your heart. Breathe and let go.

A propos of horses we see The Daughters of the Famous, Spielberg, Bloomberg, Gates, Springsteen are now ubiquitously, conspicuously and ineluctably On Horseback.


Our friend Mary Daniels, a true horsewoman, and the Tribune’s art and design writer for many years died this month. If anyone has spotted an obituary in the newspaper please inform. Mary was pursued and lionized by PR hounds for a generation then poof !


photo (47)Drove over to Fulton Street to visit art galleries and turned back due to absolutely no parking spaces. None. Not one. How do businesses survive there? Speaking of the art world have you been following the Perelman-Gagosian lawsuit revealing the dirty side of a huge tradeable asset these days when the Mugrabi family of the Caymans offered more for a rather dull Twombly than Perelman and Gagosian broke his promise to sell it to him.

We enjoyed the Royal Oak presentation at the Casino of Clarissa Clifford, Baroness Clifford of Chudleigh, interior designer, second wife of the 14th Baron Thomas Hugh, stepmother to Alexander who appeared with a Kardashian on Filthy Rich, chatelaine of Robert Adam’s Ugbrooke House in Devonshire. She showed many slides of her impressive renovation always with elaborate thanks, with a wee hint of condescension to her “heroes”  (Let’s scrap that word for awhile) carpenters and other workmen and so forth.

Today this 17th century cadet branch of an 11th century family runs the stately home as a series of businesses, sand, gravel, waste, special events venue for weddings and conferences. This financial model appeared half a century ago with Longleat and has proven successful even without lions and circus tents

photo (53)Alastair Bruce the historical advisor for Downton Abbey has had rather a time of it with anachronism checks, such as reminding actors NOT to go around hugging one another or stuffing their hands in pockets like the always poorly behaved rebellious Duke of Windsor invariably did.

At the invitation of a friend Monroe Trout, investor wizard and Ayn Rander, Randolph Churchill and his sister Jennie gave a lecture in Knoxville, Tennessee reading some correspondence of their namesakes Jennie Jerome and Lord Randolph. This was all on a new find, which we enjoy.

 WSJ Magazine writes that Joss Kent son of Geoffrey was fired from A&K, returned, then resigned again in 2011 when the former family company was bought by a large investment group. He joined andBeyond a more au courant safari company with its community oriented Africa Foundation.

The Chicago History Museum, sigh! that name change, with relatively low admission rates, $14 and seniors $12, has a recommended memento mori of an exhibition currently on view (anyone who was even near Grant Park has been on a trip down memory lane recently). The 1968 Exhibit is a rather cramped assortment of posters and soundtracks of this tumultuous year with the most evocative item being a Huey helicopter actually flown in Vietnam. After August and the DNC Maire Daley the First was crowned as Beelzebub.


dukeA bête noir these days (no this is not an old person’s rant, a la Jerry Seinfeld) is the “Cultural Appropriation of Intellectual Property.”  We have a Watchlist of Offenders including Town and Country with its articles on Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Co. and those ghastly Hemingway women. Basically it is a cynical commercial enterprise exploiting unique and valid cultural phenomena to sell magazine ads.

A petit rant. All is lost when the New York Times reviews the sounds produced by Brittany Spears and Taylor Swift with the same seriousness it once reserved for Renata Tebaldi or Joan Sutherland.

Raine Countess Spencer attended the luncheon of the Foreign Sisters recently in London. Remember when her Upset Stepdaughter Diana threw her down the stairs, or claimed to.

Someone or other said “We must select the illusion which appeals to our temperament, and embrace it with passion, if we want to be happy.” What is your illusion?  Our’s is a High Bohemia of the educated and irreverent as in D. J. Taylor’s Bright Young People which cites Anthony Powell, Graham Green, Nancy Mitford and Ronald Firbank, and Evelyn Waugh literary chroniclers of “a society, cosmopolitan, sympathetic to the arts, well-mannered, above all ornamental even in rather bizarre ways”.

At LUX bar Upstairs Adam Umbach and Tom O’Gorman impressed the large crowd with their latest paintings in as good or better a show than you find in many galleries in the West Loop or River North. Nice chat with art lovers Mark Schimmelpfennig, Nora Gainer, Layne Jackson (also of alice gallery), Diane OConnell, Rosie O’Neill, Stanley, Mamie and Cynthia.

Local Restaurant notes:

photo (45)We dined at Gibson’s several times this month for huge manly portions, great quality control and still the best hamburgers in Chicago.  La Luce has undergone a seismic shift from a good red sauce joint to chain restaurant quality food with designer prices. We were not impressed with Dove Luncheonette with Mexican fare a little too porcinely authentic. The James bar is lively but and like drinking in a railway station waiting room.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tells all the world his girlfriend, a TV cook, tall blond doll and Wisconsinite Sandra Lee is “an extraordinary lady”. Hmmmm. Is that so? Hey da man’s in love!

Malcolm Muggeridge’s papers are rather oddly in Wheaton, Illinois. Notre pere’s photographs have been added to the extraordinary archives of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin.

On Wisconsin the alumni mag says that non-resident tuition per semester is now 26 thousand such an insane leap from the 600 when we labored there to pass endless examinations.

Anthony Bourdain’s Paraguay episode is truly compelling history of a sad country decimated by one family’s greed and home to Nazis after the war. It is however improving with oil blabla. Over 9000 Nazis took refuge in South America, and 2000 in Paraguay and Uruguay and thousands more north of the borders.

Encore sorry for the clunky placement of photos with stubborn WordPress

bientot !


Robert Sackville-West



October 8, 2014


treeAt the Newberry’s annual book sale we spent $100 for a year’s worth of entertainment. Edith Sitwell’s autobiography Taken Care Of is a harrowing account of an Edwardian childhood that she survived thanks to Osbert and Sacheverell. In the last chapter she describes a meeting with Marilyn Monroe trotted out like a freakish pony for visiting intelligentsia like Edith, Karen Blixen and so forth.

Painting as a Pastime, 1932, by the Rt. Honorable Sir Winston Churchill notes how he used the art as therapy to overcome “worry and mental strain” during a lacunae in his career after the disgrace of Gallipolli. His Jungian anti-shadow created sweet Impressionist style paintings now in the collection of Chartwell House.

Also bought for pennies, Clive Fisher’s Cyril Connolly, Fawn Brodie’s The Devil Drives a life of Sir Richard Burton (the explorer), Crome Yellow, A.L. Rowse’s annotated Shakespeare Sonnets, Malraux’s Anti-Memoirs, Janet Flanner’s Paris Journals 1965-71, history of  Harrow. Diana Cooper’s Autobiography.

Diana Cooper was “an orchid among cowslips and a black tulip in a garden of cucumbers.”  In her later years she called Margaret Thatcher “my niece” because her own natural (she was illegitimate) father, the supernaturally handsome Harry Cockayne-Cust, was also the lover of the future prime minister’s great grandmother, a housemaid, who had a child Beatrice ….and so on….

EXPO beauty

EXPO beauty

Noel Annan in Our Age calls Diana a déclassé aristocrat like Nancy Mitford. The last of the Mitford lot Deborah Devonshire has been elaborately lauded in obituaries for being the dowager of Chatsworth, and an aristocrat. She preferred Elvis and chickens to reading and once said, “Oh Proust.  Shall I try it now or later? I do hope it’s too late.”

The Upper Ten Thousand was a 19th century term to denote Britain’s ruling elite who had divvied up all the land by the 11th century.

The surname Sackville-West is dazzling enough and Robert (“don’t call me Baron”) the current resident of Knole in Kent added an extra frisson at the Casino for a lecture about his latest book The Disinherited, another chapter in the upper classes illegitimate children saga, one of whom was the grandmother of Vita. Fourteen generations of Sackville-Wests have lived in the house which was built for show and always a drain on resources and psyches.

We are contemplating writing a book maybe to be called Keepers of the Piles, about the current residents of the grandest homes, Castle Howard, Knole, Chatsworth, Highclere and so forth. Crime writers and other nincompoops get 15 million dollar advances and we would have a smaller audience who can actually read.

Florence King in the stodgy National Review calls Claire Booth Luce a rapacious, stupid man-eater, another Pamela Harrington putain-type. We were misinformed that brains got the man.

Ken Burn’s Roosevelt extravaganza on PBS dwelled rather much on FDR’s polio and on Eleanor (early model Hillary) who raised the president’s blood pressure to 240 over 150 after every conversation. She loved being the center of attention and never had dinner alone. Teddy was Da Man! but we can never forgive him the slaughter of 11,000 animals including endangered (even in 1909) white rhino during his trip to Africa.

Robert Sackville-West

Robert Sackville-West

Eric Hobsbawn’s memoir Interesting Times laments the Lost Civilization of prewar Europa and Mittel Europa, a time when there actually was an elite not a pack of phony baloney Hollywood types jamming the canals in Venice; formerly “a place made sacred by building” it would horrify Ruskin and Mary McCarthy today.

The Gone With the Wind revival prompted another viewing and it was utterly impossible to get past the false depiction of the life of African-Americans under the yoke of slavery. As in Downton Abbey it embraced the Myth of the Loving Servant. Read Mary Chesnut or Ella Clanton to see what plantation mistresses were really like, even worse than the thoroughly loathsome Scarlet.

Hugh Lowther, the 8th earl of Lonsdale is a truck driver currently selling the mountain Blencathra (we called it Saddleback in our climbing days in the Lake District.)  The mystery bidder probably some “swivel eyed loon” who wants the meaningless title of Lord of the Manor of Threlkeld.

EXPO was bloodless this year, with the absence of those magnificent monumental –scale photographs. Jeanne Gang did a splendid job in the atmosphere-y communal spaces but the identical cubicles, so glaringly lit, created La Nausee.

Free community college to any student with at least a 3.0 in high school. Wunderbar, Now, Rahm, will you address the absurd entrance fees to the Big Five? Those who could most benefit cannot afford to go. And let’s not get started again on the parking costs on Museum Campus.

At the Casino

At the Casino

Fig and Olive served a ghastly tagine with dried rock-like apricots, mammoth stuffed green olives and a deconstructed cold couscous.  Prosecco on Wells is still wonderful however and a new rule emerges: let a restaurant prove itself for a year before dropping dollars.

Poor old Woody Allen looked more bummed out than usual here in Chicago for his latest movie premier probably to please backers Ron Chez and Michael Rose.

The new Aspen Art Museum by Pritzker winner Shigeru Ban was deemed an ugly squat box by Holland Cotter. Museum board members of the future should just hire Gehry and be done with it or if he’s busy call Libeskind or Renzo Piano.

A Suddenly-It- All-Became-Clear Moment occurred when director David Steinberg told Robert Osborne how he loved films and how art never really did it for him. All those years racing through the Uffizi or the Alte Pinakothek now made sense.

A Channel 5 survey concluded that New Yorkers, i.e. smart, are the unhappiest and Louisianans, i.e. stupid, the happiest people in America at the same time another survey claimed Utah the happiest and West Virginia the most miserable which makes more sense.  Monocle names the top 25 livable cities in the world and only one in America, Portland, borrrrrrrrrrring, makes the cut.

Wisconsin Huddle

Wisconsin Huddle

We note that owner Oscar Farinetti’s third food emporium,  Eataly on Ohio, is exploiting  locally born writer (he left as soon as he could) Ernest Hemingway to promote wares with posters of the Great Misogynist and an idiotic book.

At a recent benefit fashion show at the Fairmont, such an old dark renovated dog these days, we witnessed the spectacle of women coyly parading in front of other women and figured out it was less about the shmatte than about sizing up the competition.

Dickie Arbiter blows another lid off the Diana and Charles teapot, confirming that she was crazier than we thought (if that’s possible) and wanted to murder Camilla.

It’s medically official! We are now, along with many others in the civilized world who drink a glass or two of wine at dinner, “a mild alcoholic.” Makes you want to take up smoking again.

The Secret of Life: Do Not Dabble. We learned that one too late.

A bientot




Door County

Lunch at Maxwelton

August 21, 2014


All the chattering about Route 66 induced road trip fever and Door County was only five hours away so off we went. In 25 years, nothing much has changed, still the land of Illinois and Wisconsin tourists in moldy cottages, milling around leather hat and moccasin shoppes waiting for the next meal, breakfast, brats, fish boils and something in between. Unless you’re exhausted from grueling factory work and need to regain your strength …you know what we mean….

In Sturgeon Bay with a reservation, we drove straight past a peeling white stucco bungalow on 1st Street, nahhhhhh this can’t be it. It was. A stuffed crow on top of the plastic Christmas tree in the lobby of the Holiday Music Hotel on 1st Street said it all. We wrote a tart email to the site and the even more inaccurate trip advisor and repaired to Maxwelton in Bailey’s Harbor, a once fashionable golf resort and now a bit down-in-the-heels though still fadedly- glamorous.It must have been swell in 1936. Washington Island

Foregoing kayaking, hopefully just a fad unlike the more sociable and even somewhat elegant canoeing, we hiked buggy trails in Peninsula State Park past family campsites, human settlements, ratty tents and tarps, to the American Folklore Theater where on a red bearded preacher exhorted the audience to be all that they could be.

Fish Creek is the liveliest town on the peninsula and we booked a $28 fish boil in a jammed eaterie, dining on laps with paper plates before an iron cauldron that boiled over on cue, transforming whitefish into paper pulp. We asked a bartender what people do off season here? He said, “Drink.”

A car ferry across Death’s Door to Washington Island, a 25 mile gap in the Niagara Escarpment which freezes in winter with shipwrecks and lighthouses created some  sense of drama. (Never did we long more for the ferry to Sag Harbor).

On an early Sunday morning there was a fly-in, a mini-Oshkosh, Pipers, Cessnas, for, yes, a fish boil. Only on Washington Island can you find fresh lawyers, the fish, a ‘burbot’ cross between cod and eel. On the drive back to Chicago we stopped at the Island of Herb Kohler, unrepentant snob, for lunch at Whistling Straits and a return to a somewhat more advanced civilization.



Our next road trip was longer,the monotonous interstates between Chicago and Baltimore, 13 long hours of the ghastly industrial landscape of northern Indiana and its dirty unkempt bathrooms, through Ohio, thence the high terror of the Ho Chi Minh trail of the Pennsylvania turnpike which has not upgraded in 50 years.

Who were these people lining up at Hardee’s in the plazas? The truck drivers should be on treadmills (why are they not available?) not killing themselves with Cinnabons. And were we the only ones of our tribe who take road trips? Do the others just fly or perhaps rent old beaters and paste on tattoos for class camouflage?

The Baltimore suburb of Columbia is middle American dog-obsession country for NSA employees at nearby Fort Meade and prosperous Asians. We attended a preseason football match between the local Ravens (Poe lives!) and the 49ers, all fireworks, big screen televisions, and thunderous screaming, forcing us to try Zen once more. Our host said he sat next to George Will at a recent Orioles vs. Padres (baseball) game and he was very grumpy indeed when recognized. Oh dear!

Annapolis, the Naval Academy, 300 acres on the River Severn, 4,000 undergraduates in blinding whites and braced shoulders preparing to be Marines or Navy men. Alums include Jimmy Carter, John McCain, Montel Williams, Jim Lovell, and our left-wing  history prof  in Madison, William Appleman Williams. Preble Hall’s museum is a shrine to alums, practitioners of sea warfare with memorabilia such as Don’t Give Up the Ship the personal battle flag of Commodore Perry during the war of 1812, which still looms very large in these parts.

Bloody WordPress will not let us upload other photos into the text for some bizarro reason. iPhone takes poor photos anyway so we’ll return to the Canon next time.

The small city of Annapolis with its 18th century human scale is utterly charming and relatively untouched unlike the manicured reconstruction in “colonial” Williamsburg. It takes however some sincere effort of the imagination to get inspired by old buildings such as the Maryland State House, where the first Continental Congress, 1783, took place now the oldest capitol building in use. We recommend the Old Stein Inn in Edgewater where a lecture in the bier garten was about the remaining (only 35) descendants of Germans in the Maroon country in Jamaica live.

Departing Baltimore, forgoing the usual return route north through Hagerstown and Cumberland that tiny northern strip on Maryland, so beautiful, we drove past Harper’s Ferry, through the Shenandoah Valley’s Winchester and Woodstock Virginia, all hunting, cabins, knives, tractor pulls, drag races, lawnmower pulls and demolition derbys. Country roads, take me home to the place I belong, West Virginia mountain momma take me home country roads.

Then we decided to head towards the Monongahela National Forest and Elkins, West Virginia, the county seat of Randolph County and the Mountain Highlands. Maybe it was John Denver, or Dorothea Lange, or The Song Catcher, but we wanted to visit West Virginia in the Allegheny Mountains, the core region of Appalachia, and the only state completely in the Appalachian Mountain Region. The mountain road winds past the Smoke Hole Caverns named for the Seneca Indians who smoked wild game in them before being relocated to reservations. At Seneca Rocks in Germany Valley near Riverton was a climbing school and a few young people convened outside Yokum’s general store before ascending the needle, Gendarme.

West Virginia seceded from Virginia in 1861, joined the Union, and abolished slavery but you wouldn’t know that today here in the High South, the land that time forgot, with the confederate flags still flying on top of log cabins and everything from rivers to restaurants named for Stonewall Jackson. Finally four hours later Elkins, one of Theroux’s “vast number of dying and depopulated towns” in the south. The largest regional municipality it was a boomtown from 1900-20 then died for good sometime in the 1980s.

Though not the Appalachia in last week’s 60 Minutes, poverty stricken southwestern Virginia, in West Virginia you just know that those who remain here, working men, inherit adversity. Elkins is located just a few miles from Sago Mine on the Buckhannon River where 12 miners died in 2006 after grave dancing Palm Beach fancy man Wilbur Ross ignored 21 citations times for toxic gas build up.

West Virginia’s new governor Earl Ray Tomblin is a progressive Democrat and native son who is trying to revitalize a feeble economy. After Wyoming it is  the top coal mining state in the country though exports fell 40% in 2013, population radically declined, and the state is last in the Gallup Economic Index, last in employment to population ration with the revenue growth in the country. There are two different Americas, and life is a lot harder in one of them not just in urban slums but in Appalachia.

We stayed in the showpiece of the town, the spotless but empty Holiday Inn Xpress in front of the defunct railway station, across the dusty path from the American Mountain Theater and the Delmonte Hotel where we just missed the Bluegrass and Southern Gospel Fests. The locals are elaborately courteous and mannerly in an ante bellum way or maybe they were just happy to see a tourist or two. The 1863 Grill with portraits of Robert E. Lee in the lobby didn’t serve drinks so we went to a deserted boarded up downtown and ended up in Scottie’s where the wiry chicken under thick white gravy was inedible. Sunday dinner was eight bucks and the parking lot was full.

There’s no obvious starvation here but malnutrition, bad teeth, and wrinkled, resigned demeanors on the faces of the Ulster Scots’ descendants. Passing up the Hatfield McCoy Trails for jeeps and dune buggies and nearby Weston’s tour of the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum we headed north.


Memorial -John L. Lewis


Miners mural in Weston