Category Archives: Travel

Oweynagat: Ireland’s cave of the cats

Oweynagat, or the cave of the cats. This may not look like much, but is in fact a gateway to the underworld — it is more terrifying that it is small and hidden I suppose. From this portal have emerged herds of fiendish swine, the ancient goddess of battle Morrigan, malevolent birds, and a monstrous triple-headed creature. Also cats, who battled Cuchulainn and two other warriors. Later it was just known as a cave entrance to hell. Now it sits in a field to be entered perilously by the informed adventurer.

Oweynagat

Oweynagat from a fiend’s eye view, my partner’s legs, if not his very soul, here at risk:

Oweynagat

As St Patrick’s day is not only my dad’s birthday and a day for St Patrick himself, but also St Gertrude’s day, the patron saint of cats, it seemed fitting to share a few more photos of the great Ireland tour of ought thirteen. The cave is part of a larger complex, from the Rathcroghan website:

the royal complex of Cruachan, the oldest and largest unexcavated Royal Complex in Europe….Rathcroghan boasts a multitude of monument types, from the majestic and enigmatic Rathcroghan Mound, which in the Iron Age was impressively topped by wooden ramparts and ceremonial henges, and whose secret heart remains an untouched mystery. … Kings were inaugurated at the ceremonial heart of Rathcroghan and the site is witness to the rise and fall of great tribes, wealthy chieftains and dynastic families. Some of these went on to rule the whole island as High Kings, ensuring the continuing legacy of this unique complex well into the modern era.

This was the home of the

great Iron Age Warrior Queen Medb, who ruled all of Connacht from her home here in Rathcroghan, the origin point for our National Epic ‘an Táin Bó Cuailnge’ – the Cattle Raid of Cooley, which features a whole host of legendary heroes including Medb herself, the mighty Battle Goddess Morrigan, the Connacht Champion Fraech and the boy hero Cúchulainn, whose names and deeds are inextricably linked to the landscape that surrounds us here. Witness the site where the ferocious white horned bull Finnbennach, battled the legendary Donn Cuailnge, the brown bull of Cooley.

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Days at the Triangle L Ranch, Oracle

The Triangle L Ranch — our getaway for a few glorious days in Oracle, AZ.

A dirt road off of the 77, a sign of welcome:

Triangle L

The company was quite sparkling, the breakfasts absurdly varied and delicious (I mean, we had our first but not our last taste of clafoutis), everything wonderful. Our casita — the guest house, in a rare ray of sunshine:

Triangle L

I got no pictures that did justice the small but quite exquisite main room, but the sleeping porch came out all right — the perfect place to escape the summer night’s heat.

Triangle L

On the side table sat a couple of books on local history, and of course I read one of them. Annie’s Guests: Tales From a Frontier Hotel by Barbara Marriott. It mostly looked at Oracle’s Mountain View Hotel, built and run by Annie (Box) and William Curley Neals, who were both of mixed Cherokee, African American and English ancestry — a fascinating discovery, and one I shall write about more. But there was a chapter on William Bloodgood Trowbridge who once owned this ranch, so I shall start there.

He came from East Coast money, and arrived in Oracle on what seems a most slender whim — when hunting with friends on the other side of the country they became fed up with their luck and headed out west without even going home for a change of clothes first.  Money, like I said. He decided to stay on a while, and returned regularly (staying at the Mountain View of course). When it came up for sale, he bought the Triangle L in 1924. It had been built for Mrs Westry Ladd, another woman of East Coast money whose family had built the Baldwin locomotive engine. This began its life as a place of privilege with its wooden floors covered with Navajo rugs and comfortable antique furniture.– but it feels a surprisingly modest, comfortable and welcoming one.

Most of the chapter, however, is about Trowbridge’s rather tawdry love affair — I am a bit more judgmental than the author I am afraid. It seemed Trowbridge had some kind of understanding with the daughter who with her mother managed the ranch — when he broke that informal engagement to marry a Miss Smith from Edinburgh, he moved them to another ranch in the area. The marriage did not appear to be a happy one, and he commenced an affair with a woman named Margaret in Tucson. While he burned the letters he received from her, she failed to burn his. They are a rather depressing look into a relationship where you really hope she was just in it for the money — Trowbridge, despite all protestations of love clearly had no intention of leaving his wife. His parsimony is often hinted at, and in fact he asks Margaret to keep an accounting of her expenses and the money he gives her so he can review it. It all goes wrong, he is blackmailed by the family, the wife finds out (though she seems to have known much all along).

Not very interesting but for the fact that somehow, some way, the packet of his letters to Margaret were found in the disused well on the ranch itself — I imagine it must be this well, right next to our temporary home.

Triangle L

Behind it you can see the main house — I realise I failed to take a good picture to give a sense of the whole, there is a wonderful old picture on the website, though this view is just as you enter:

I did get a few pictures from inside, though they fail to do it justice. It is a perfect kind of house to my mind: thick adobe walls, wood floors, dark stained vigas and wood ceilings. What Marriot called the 360 degree fireplace, with three openings all leading to a central chimney shaft. From the dining room

Triangle L

Triangle L

The sitting room:

Triangle L

A most wonderful enormous screened living room/sleeping area/porch:

Triangle L

In addition to the extraordinary breakfasts to be enjoyed in the main house, the ranch also now serves as host to artists’ workshops, a wonderful little gift shop and  a very large sculpture garden, primarily showcasing constructions of salvaged metal and glass, but plenty of other recycled materials here too:

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

Triangle L

This maze had music set off by motion detectors — some rabbits had triggered it while we were still some ways away, making it all a bit creepier than it should have been…

Triangle L

Pictures did not do this bird justice, nor its pair across the path with plumage of old shovels, I loved them both:

Triangle L

As I did these robots (most robots I confess):

Triangle L

This made quite an impact

Triangle L

Music Tree!

Triangle L

A beautiful new take on bottle trees:

Triangle L

Sabretooth tiger.

Triangle L

Triangle L

The country surrounding the Triangle L — hidden gullies and rocks of granite, dusk falling:

Triangle L

The old corral:

Triangle L

A wonderful place to stay and explore the surrounding country — Oracle, Buffalo Bill Cody’s mining claims, beautiful hikes through country teeming with wildlife and the most wonderful views, the Biosphere 2. All coming up.

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Valletta’s Spaces of Stone

Valletta’s architecture is unified in its building material — as is all of Malta it seems, but here it is most striking how this unifies the old and the new. Renzo Piano’s fabulous new city gate rises up as you enter, it’s massive square forms work beautifully in this space, as modern as they are. I wish I had taken more pictures.

Valleta

Just as I wish I had more pictures of the opera house beyond (the columns visible just beyond), where they chose not to rebuild the massive building left in ruins by WWII bombs, but to leave its foundations and columns to embrace an outdoor performance space, which I also quite loved. Similar pictures of the ruins were shown several time through the Cities as Community Spaces conference, a symbol of the city’s resilience.

Valletta opera-house-8-april-1942Valletta is in fact surrounded by monumental space, this stairway rises up to the left as you enter, leading to Hastings gardens along the battlements that protect the city.

Valletta

I’ll come back to those because they are fascinating, but still what most captivated me were the narrow streets in this Renaissance city, originally named the most humble city of Valletta, after the Master of the Knights of Malta, Jean de Vallette, who had successfully led the defense of the island against the Ottoman Turks in 1565. This city on the isthmus was to solidify defenses — and you can tell. Built in 40 years by Italian architect Francesco Laparelli, student of Michelangelo, and finished by the Maltese architect Girolamo Cassar, I am curious to explore how it connects to other city planning from this time. Their auberges — grand renaissance building with a municipal feel that housed the langues and now house museums and government offices — are familiar, the churches also:

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These wonderful grand colonnaded spaces

Valletta

But the streets laid out in a perfect (then almost revolutionary) grid with these wonderful balconies — these are like nothing I had ever seen.

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

It is a city where the whole is beautiful to look upon, but the details are as well…

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

And just look at these balconies, the individuality they bring to each building front, and the craftsmanship of them, they all seem to have their individual touches amplified by the passing of time and the histories of their owners:

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Interesting, though, that so many of them are enclosed and hardly large enough to be used as extended living spaces. They seem used for laundry and plants. You could not squeeze a table and chairs outside as we saw so often in Paris, you cannot easily connect and talk to your neighbour next door or across the way, even with the windows wide open as they are above. It seems an opportunity missed, a reflection of a more enclosed society or perhaps an aspect of the city that helps create one. Nor are there stoops or enough space to extend living into the doorways and streets the way families do in say New York. Much of this seems concentrated in the squares, but still, I wonder at the impact on the everyday life and conviviality.

These streets contain atmosphere, and the surprise lost through the absence of twists and turns is found instead in the variegated building surfaces and the faded palimpsests painted onto stone, the flaking remnants of the past .

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

I don’t have a picture of the old grafittied pictures of ships that was pointed out to me by someone from Valletta as we walked back from a panel through the streets — her friend had uncovered it as he was cleaning the stone. There is no telling how old it is, a deep ochre red and it looked like pictures of the galleys so prevalent in the Mediterranean I have seen in books. She told me too the use of statues of saints at the street corners instead of street signs — St Christopher easily recognisable embodied in stone for those unable to read the letters of his name. We laughed that no longer are we literate in that way. I had a thought to catalogue them, but it fell away, saints are not my favourite things, and these are many of them grand, not the humble saints dressed in hand-sewn clothing I am more used to. But I do love shrines.

Valletta

This on the other hand…on the grand masters palace on the edge of George’s Square. Perhaps this was explained on one of the tours or if I could hit upon the right search terms, I usually love grotesques but this man in European dress riding what seems to be a naked African woman? Telling, if rather horrible.

Valletta

I only really noticed it my last day, because always your eyes are drawn to the life in the square — though early on a Sunday as I headed to the airport is was more quiet than I ever saw it:

Valletta

There are fountains here which must be wonderful in summer, it was  always full of children, including two little girls swanning through delightedly on scooters. Tourists and townfolk and migrants alike make use of the many places to sit that ring the square, as did I the night I wandered here alone. It is a lovely space, especially at night when the cafes overflow and there is lively talk and the clink of glasses and the smell of food…

Funny that it almost never smells of the sea here. Yet the sea surrounds it, on the other side of these enormous fortifications. This is looking towards Sliema:

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Finding these fields tucked away made me so happy though, I can’t image football in this kind of setting! I was glad too, as many of the conference speakers mentioned the way they had played football in the streets as children — streets now very full of cars, and it’s true no children play there now.

Valletta

More views, this of Fort Manoel with the massive luxury build in Sliema behind it:

Valletta

Back over Valletta itself — in the foreground graffiti. Float like a butterfly sting like a bee, I was happy to find Mohammed Ali quoted here.

Valletta

Valletta at night — it is magical, I confess I wrote reams, though nothing coalesced quite into a story. My thoughts circled around Caravaggio for some reason, swaggering through the streets. It struck me that sober he wanted to be like the knights who were lords of all this, and that drunk he wanted to destroy them. It is easy to imagine him wandering through streets such as these, unlike England the modern almost never intrudes to break the atmosphere. Maybe the story will come, tinged with the recent car bombings, the old man wandering down the street with a bird in a tiny cage held reverently between his hands, chirping as he went. The undercurrents you can feel here, though I am ignorant of their precise nature.

Valletta

Valleta

Valletta

Valletta

Valletta

Looking across from the other side of Valletta, towards the Forti Sant’ Anġl

Valletta

There are spaces underneath as well — I was lucky enough to visit the air raid shelter beneath the Crypt of St Augustine where the conference dinners were hosted. The crypt itself is a beautiful vaulted space where many lived during WWII, escaping down rickety stairs at the sirens. Boards covered the puddles of water at the bottom, we half-drunkenly explored the long passages and rooms and it was wonderful.

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

St Augustine's Bomb Shelter Valletta

I had to leave too soon. But luck brought me a window seat, and it is from the air that you can best appreciate how small Valletta is, and the position it holds within this much larger urban conglomeration. I loved the fields as well, these are small plots that can never become too mechanised or monocultured.

Valletta from the air

Valletta from the air

I think this was Gozo in fact, but you can see the stark lines of the towns and the terracing of the hillsides, even if you can’t quite see the wonderful blues of the sea itself.

Malta from the air

A wonderful place, I am so thankful for the luck and generosity of those I love that allowed me come here.

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Death in St John’s Co-Cathedral

Never have I seen so many momento mori, strange and yet not strange in this enormous almost unbelievable place.

Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-Cathedral Death - St John's Co-CathedralThese are knights pledged to give their lives willingly in battle — while running hospitals and protecting travellers they also pledged themselves to the fight against the Arabs, the Christian presence in the Holy Land, the stand against the Ottoman Empire. They enriched themselves through piracy against the enemy trading in the rich waters of the Mediterranean.

This is what Christianity — turn the other cheek, love your neighbour as yourself — this is what it really meant to them. It took me a while to find the enemies that they trampled underfoot, but they are hardly forgotten:

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The slaves upon which much of their wealth was built — and who built this city — are here as well:

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The wealth is staggering. Still, so many ruthless and wealthy men meditating on their own deaths — I suppose it’s not all bad. I confess it gives a sense of awe.

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The highlights were Caravaggio, of course. A massive painting, the Beheading of John the Baptist, simple, the great dark spaces of dingy and shadowy wall are even more immense staring at it from afar, framed by gold leaf and pomp. It fits, somehow, while also overshadowing its surroundings. These details of architecture and frame are hardly visible as you look at it, they fade into the background and the skin, the sorrow, stand out above all.

beheading-of-saint-john-the-baptist- Caravaggio

Opposite is St Jerome, elderly, simple. A skull, to match the hundreds of skulls in this place, but an honesty and decay that sits oddly here.

st-jerome

The other wonder that I never knew was here are the choral books, especially those of Grand Master L’Isle Adam. They are wondrous indeed, with miniatures of surpassing beauty (and I promise I am not using that word lightly despite my many enthusiasms), and along the margins the most wonderful grostesques, creatures of bark, creatures with horns and eyes in their stomachs — and there is nothing written of them in the cathedral or postcards for sale. I shall have to hunt for them further. Later. Now, more wandering through the evening and some wine. What I did find, to end:

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Arriving in Malta

I landed in Malta today, Malta! I jumped on the bus from the airport to Valletta — public transport defines all nations, doesn’t it? And you learn so much. The bus was full as it wound through the dusty spaces between the airport and Valletta, it seemed to me to be one third privileged (but not so privileged as to be in a taxi) tourists like me, one third migrants — a few Bangladeshi (?) and more African speaking in languages I had never heard, and one third (perhaps less of these) Maltese who almost all alighted at the park and ride. A strange English and very modern title for a stop amidst the Maltese names of places.

Ruins everywhere. Every. Where. Honey coloured, cream coloured stone, piles of rubble and a feeling of dust, of crumbling, of life now gone. A feeling of ages, of history — beautiful walls of stone blocks, cut beautifully, fit beautifully in dry construction, and that wonderful feeling of time passing in that there is a sense in driving along the road of the same blocks being used in different ways across the centuries. Miles of them, from farm buildings and walls to medieval and defensive-feeling buildings to more recent but still old buildings…I cannot explain how strange that feels to me. At the same time new buildings going up here and there, concrete frames, empty and often feeling as though they had been put on pause. This construction I remember from Greece, but that also reminds me of Rio’s favelas, concrete frames and apartments built to fit them in many different ways, often floor by floor differences that I love so much. So many old rows of houses with beautiful cut out and enclosed balconies, so many spaces empty and boarded up. The same colour of dark green against the light stone over and over again.

I have never seen so many ruins, so much history piled carelessly as though by a child alongside the road, waiting to be put away.

Nopales grew everywhere too, prickly pears.  I wondered when they arrived here from America.

The bus was full of languages, but the languages of everyone but tourists had disappeared by the time we  finally arrived at the final station outside the walled city of Valletta, a chaotic wheel of green and white buses. The triton in the middle, a great fountain, young men hovering around it the way day laborers might hover around an L.A. corner and I wondered how work and migration are managed here. Wondered if things are similar, or if it is just the limitations of my sight.

I walked through the entrance of this walled Renaissance city, over a walkway with a startling drop to either side that I did not expect and that construction fencing masked and no one wondered at. A gate that must once have been immense and impressive. I remembered this was once a closed place, inaccessible to those without permission.

Then the dread of a conference where I don’t know anyone, a couple of good keynotes and some words about justice and equality but not enough for the mood I am in. A reception and new friends and suddenly tomorrow is much more something to look forward to.

A wander back to my apartment through the night. I can only think of Caravaggio for some reason, wandering these streets full of swagger and insecurity, but my mind is also full of Abulafia’s history of the Mediterranean which has transformed how I think about things really and I am still processing, particularly the rise and fall of ages and their rules and understandings and how now I think we are in the middle of a great change…all of it wrapped up together and perfumed by wine in this warm beautiful night. I think about my luck, and how happy I am to be here.

Valleta

Where I am staying:

Valleta

Madrid, New Mexico: Coal Mining and Company Town

We drove from Los Cerrillos, down Highway 14 it’s only a few short miles to Madrid, New Mexico. But a world away.

A company town, an old coal mining town. The coal trail isn’t as picturesque sounding as turquoise I suppose. Madrid, New Mexico is full of tiny wooden shacks — the picture that brought us here:

From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States
From The Smithsonian Guide to Historic America: the Desert States

So Madrid as it is now was completely unexpected.

I have no current pictures of them because this town was full up, no parking, no where to stop until we had almost driven the length of it. That quintessentially western kind of hippie counter culture, biker, tourist boom town. Either brightly painted or left/made to look properly old and weathered and ghost towny. More pronounced than Bisbee because it is nowhere near as substantial — and this town had all but died. Maybe it’s better to compare it to Tombstone, the bones of an old town twisted and touristed and made subject to a variety of interpretations of authenticity. I’m not saying it doesn’t succeed in many ways, though Los Cerrillos is more my kind of place. With trips down here for company and live music.

We spent most of our time here with its ghosts, alone for the most part in the museum backing off the Mine Shaft Tavern. So-called, because it has this:

Madrid, New Mexico

It is, however, also the original Red Pony in Longmire, which made my mother very happy. Other things filmed here (and a longer list for the Turquoise Trail as a whole — somewhere along here we passed the ‘private movie ranch’): Easy Rider (1969), The McMasters (1970), Flap Aka: The Last Warrior (1970), The Cheyenne Social Club (1970), Greasers Palace (1972), The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Convoy (1978)… I’ll stop there, with this hilarious poster:

Madrid

The Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad once came through here, and from the tavern you go into what was once the engine repair room and is now a theatre, with an old engine presiding. It stares in at you through the faded velvet curtains.

Madrid

We walked through, out into the yard full of old equipment towards a larger shed:

Madrid

Madrid

Into wide open spaces crammed full of things, and more things. Some displays. I bring you Edison himself:

Madrid

He had attempted a gold extraction project in the mountains, but that failed. He did build a successful electric power plant at Madrid, though, to power both his failed gold experiment and the town. Every town had electricity by the 1920s, before Santa Fe, and they boasted the first lighted baseball park in the West.

The Madrid Miners, there is some very cool stuff on the baseball team.

Madrid

Some amazing old machines.

Madrid

Pictures of the old mine and equipment:

Madrid

This was a company town. From the town’s merchant’s association website, a kind of amalgam of beneficent yet autocratic rule, possibly a lurking hidden fear of strikes and unrest, a mandatory and worker-funded town pride:

in 1919 Oscar Joseph Huber was hired by Mr. Kaseman, of the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company, as full time superintendent of mines. Under his capable leadership Madrid became a model for other mining towns to follow. Elementary and High Schools, a fully equipped hospital, a Company Store and an Employee’s Club were some of the benefits of line in Madrid during the 20’s and 30’s. Believing that idleness was an enemy to a stable community, Mr. Huber formed the Employee’s Club, requiring miners to donate from .50 to $1.00 per month for community causes. They were also required to participate in town events such as the Fourth of July celebration and the now famous Christmas Light Display.

In the Museum they describe Madrid as the “Town of Lights” & “Toyland”, as every Christmas the ballpark was converted, a miniature train and Children’s Ferris Wheel erected.

Beginning in the early 1920’s, Madrid miners lit up the winter sky with 150,000 Christmas lights powered by 500,000 kilowatt hours of electricity. The power was provided by the company’s own coal fed generators. The displays were the product of both Madrid and Northern New Mexico artisans and laborers. Madrid’s Christmas celebrations ended with W.W.II and the mines closed in the 1950’s.

It is hard to imagine planes diverting their flights to allow passengers to marvel at the light show from above, and promotion of Madrid’s celebrations in LA, Miami, Chicago.

The museum display states:

The last coal sublease, Johnny Ochoa & John Taber’s one care “wagon mine,” was abandoned in 1961.

A view of the Ferris Wheel now from on board the old engine:

Madrid

And the engine itself — so cool to see after riding the steam train from Chama…The engine:

Madrid

The controls (!):

Madrid

The blowdown lever — this expels water, creating the great spout from the side of the train and subsequent rainbows that we saw in the trip from Chama to Antonito.

Madrid

There were awesome engines of another kind:

Madrid

Madrid

It was good to find it so vibrant now, though this isn’t entirely my kind of scene. Way too many people. And I keep bumping into hard questions raised by sentences like this:

In the early 1970’s Joe Huber (Oscar’s son), then owner of the entire town site, rented a few of the miner’s cabins to rugged individuals, artists and craftsmen eager to make a home in the mountains of New Mexico.

Of course, the Albuquerque and Cerrillos Coal Company had put the whole town up for sale in 1954. I hate the idea of one company, one person owning a town. But I am glad this is no longer true:

Madrid

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Cumbres & Toltec Railroad, Chama to Antonito

The Cumbres & Toltec Railroad is amazing, a narrow three-foot gauge railroad along which the steam engines of yore still ride…Built in 1880 by the Rio Grande to serve the silver mines in the San Juan mountains. As we all know, the Sherman Act of 1893 destroyed the silver industry for a good long time, but this train line kept slowly going until the 1960s. This piece of the track was saved by a handful of wonderful people working to preserve this awesomeness, it was secured in 1970 by New Mexico and Colorado working together, and is now run by a commission and a friend group.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

I love how trains inspire the utmost love and devotion, brings groups of people to selflessly work together to keep them going despite all odds. People also stood by the side of roads and RV parks to wave at the train, a couple of cars followed us down I-17. A number of cars pulled off the road to take pictures of the train.

For me, though, this particular train had a slightly different glamour. I am not a proper fan girl of many, but James Garner is one. James Garner as Maverick? Especially. For some reason I climbed up onto this train and suddenly felt myself close, very close. It didn’t even take that much imagination to ignore everyone else. I stood at the end staring at the mountains and wished I had a cigar. It was grand. I didn’t even mind the constant shower of grit.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We climbed high up into the mountains, then back down to high-desert plateau. We saw deer, chipmunks, prairie dogs, antelope. Unbelievably beautiful.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

We even spouted rainbows.

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Cumbres & Toltec Railroad

Even more special, is that me and mum first took this trip with my Dad and my Godmother Clare when I was about 2 years old.

(I have skipped a day, yesterday we drove through rainbows but I was just too tired to think and write, and there is more to write! But it will be made part of this history)

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Dinosaurs and the Martian Canals: From Tucson to Tuba City

Road trip! Day one, a long driving day to get up past the sprawling monster of Phoenix, up up to the top of our enormous state. This all used to be two lane highway when I was a kid, but it’s four to six now most of the way…and has traffic to fill it. If you build it bigger they will drive it say the planners, and they are right.

Tucson to Phoenix

I just realised there is almost no traffic in this picture. But honestly. It’s there. It is anything but carefree. I kind of admire the effort some planner put into this though:

Tucson to Phoenix

We put a lot of effort into destroying the desert too… sucking up the groundwater reservoirs to grow crops, leaving the rest of the valley dry as dust edged with an unbelievable green:

Tucson to Phoenix

Like the efforts of a corporate chain pretending they have any kind of authentic history, but without making too much of an effort:

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Enough of that kind of effort though. Getting up to Flagstaff, cooler air, and the Lowell Observatory, now that was amazing. Lowell — built in 1894 by millionaire Percival Lowell of the Lowell, Massachusetts mill owner Lowells. You know. Those fucking Lowells. Which makes this a place that combines a quixotic history with quite a lot of space-exploration awesomeness.

So…I was excited to come here because Lowell believed — and tried desperately hard to prove — that Mars was covered by immense canals being built by martians in an immense hurry to channel water from the poles to held save their dying civilization. That is my all-time favourite Mars theory, and yes, yes it was inspired by reading a lot of science fiction (it also inspired a lot of science fiction, as you can guess). But also because a famous Italian astronomer by the name of Schiaparelli wrote a book about the canali of Mars, which should simply have been translated as channels (natural), but were instead translated as canals. And Percival Lowell being one of those fucking Lowells and the guy who funded and ran the observatory, there was no one who could really budge him from that hobby horse. So he spent a lot of years working on these maps, drawing canals that no one else could see because they just weren’t there given the low resolution of the telescope.

lowell mars map2bI still love them. Especially as there are apparently three theories about where these lines actually came from. The first is — his own eyelashes. The second — shit, I have forgotten the second. The third — that he spent a lot of time staring into bright skies and he was actually seeing the patterns of his own retina reflected back the way you sometimes do when getting your eyes checked. That was my favourite.

But back then he had some credibility — this from the New York Times on August 27, 1911 (105 years ago yesterday! That’s a bit of a coincidence).

life-on-mars

The Clark observatory today:

Lowell Observatory

Inside it’s even better:

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

Lowell hired two guys to build this dome who had never built a dome before — and you can pretty much tell. But it works. It needs to move of course, so originally that dome sat on great castors and two men with ropes had to move it according to Lowell’s instructions. The next attempt was my favourite — to set it floating on a course of salt water (to prevent it from freezing). Our tour guide (who was awesome) noted that it worked great. For all of two hours. All kinds of things went wrong, some of the stains are still visible on the wood. So they went back to castors and two guys pulling it with ropes, but then the next director came along and had the bright idea of using tires. So it is now cushioned on original Ford 1957? steel rims and hubcaps — the tires themselves have to be replaced frequently given the weight of the dome.

Lowell Observatory

I haven’t even gotten to the more exciting parts, like the way Vesto Slipher (!) actually discovered from his observations here that the universe was expanding, though his measurements of the various spectrums of stars and the realisation that most of them were moving away from us. Spectrum analysis also proved that those spiral things people were seeing were actually entirely separate galaxies. This meant that universe was actually much bigger than just our galaxy. Imagine that jump when the two had always been conflated. Imagine how the universe expanded then (not literally you understand, but our understandings of it).

Vesto presented his findings and had astronomy’s first ever standing ovation in 1912 — in the audience sat the not-yet-Doctor Hubble, who would first try to put a number to the expanding universe.

Then in 1930, Clyde Tombaugh discovered Pluto.

That turned out trickier than expected of course, given it was not a planet at all, but still.

I loved the Rotunda too, though we didn’t get enough time here as we still had far to go.

Lowell Observatory

Inside we had a little fun with spectrum analysis ourselves. We got to wear glasses.

Lowell Observatory

And these simple and flimsy things revealed wonders when staring at tubes of neon or mercury. Not quite this good, but close enough. This is neon:

neon

We got a quick look at everything else…I wanted more time but we couldn’t wait until evening when they were opening it up fully.

Lowell Observatory

Lowell Observatory

From there we drove up to Tuba City…and a sign on the side of the road said dinosaur footprints and mom said ‘hell yes, let’s do it’ (or something to that effect). We had seen a dinosaur earlier of course:

Tucson to Phoenix Dinosaur

But look at these things, they are amazing…

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

I’m not sure I can say the same about this toenail polish which I bought on a crazed whim — I am never colour coordinated like this.

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

This place is one of my favourite in the world. Mum says it took her forever coming from England to get used to the space, it made her feel so small, so insignificant. Me, I feel like this space makes you humble and at the same time opens you up, gives you a spirit big enough to fill it. It makes me so happy to be back here again in the red rocks. Especially staring across an ancient seabed at dinosaur tracks.

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

Tuba City Dinosaur Footprints

We gave our guide and her partner a ride into Tuba City, it being the end of the day, and then found a hotel. An expensive hotel. Damn. But the Hogan Restaurant next door? The best waitress ever and they had mutton stew with frybread on the menu which probably gave mum more joy than anything else through the day — she grew up on that in postwar England don’t you know.

Hogan Cafe, Tuba City

Me, I had a cheese burger — on fry bread. Which was delicious but oh. my. god. Filling. I can’t tell you how filling. I could eat almost no fries, but that was probably a good thing. As it is, I feel I should run the first ten miles tomorrow alongside the car…

Tomorrow, Anasazi ruins! Chama! So exciting.

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Chasing Lenin in Krakow

While in exile Lenin lived in Krakow a little while, and it is always our tradition to try and find the haunts of radicals and revolutionaries while visiting a city (like the Parisian cafe where he played chess with Trotsky and etc). For some context, I give you Israel Joshua Singer’s description of Lenin from The Brothers Ashkenazi (which you can read about as it relates the anti-Jewish sentiments to Marxist theory here):

…the squat man with the naked skull and Tatar features didn’t wax sentimental upon the occasion….He gazed ironically at the forest of red flags, his bald pate reflecting the gleam of the military trumpets blaring the “Marseillaise” in his honor, and narrowed his slanted eyes at the hordes of welcomers…Their speeches left him unmoved. A narrow smile played at the corners of his sly slit eyes as he patiently listened to their cultured voices and waited to douse their rhetoric with cold, sobering logic.

That cold, calculating logic wins the day, but Singer is unconvinced that is a good thing. Still, I could not get this description out of my head while staring at pictures of the statue of Lenin erected in the Stalinist workers’ housing development of Nova Huta — and still standing after attempts to blow it up, blow off its head, make of it a monument covered in cat piss, and etc.

ybGyoZx

 

Only to be taken down in 1989 and sold to a Swedish theme park. This reminded me of similar remnants of Lenin’s legacy in Prague, particularly the absurd Museum of Communism.

IMG_8986

The fact that it was the workers of Nova Huta themselves, facing down immense state violence, who helped bring down the ‘communist’ regime shows just how far the USSR had moved from early ideals of all-power-to-the-soviets and its dream of a workers state. Lenin can’t, of course, be blamed entirely for that, but I personally feel he sowed a few of those seeds.

On a lighter note…this is  an alternative view of Lenin, and his time in Krakow from a site more geared to the promotion of tourism:

Lenin arrived in Kraków on June 22, 1912 on the overnight train from Vienna, wife and mother-in-law in tow. Working as a freelance journalist for Russian papers like Pravda he took rented lodgings first on Krolowej Jadwigi, behind the Salwator tram terminus, and then at ul. Lubomirskiego 47. His favoured hangout was apparently Noworolski Café (Rynek Główny 1), a spot he used to entertain both wife and lover. One of Lenin’s great passions was ice skating, and he’d often be seen spinning deft moves on an ice rink which once stood close to the Botanical Gardens. In warmer months he’d pass time cycling in Wolski Forest as well as taking romantic walks through the Błonia Meadow.

Summers were spent in Poronin, just outside Zakopane, where he would play chess and hang out with Polish heavyweight writers like Witkiewicz and Żeromski. His reputation as a good-for-nothing finally caught up with him however, and on August 8th, 1914 he was arrested as an enemy of the state and imprisoned in Nowy Targ. Released days later he returned to Kraków to pack his bags and fled to Switzerland.

I laughed out loud at reading ‘His reputation as a good-for-nothing’ I confess. Another site mentions that his wife believed Krakow had mellowed him, and he was a fan of its zurek soup (rye soup) and hard liquor. Combine that with ice skating, and I can understand mellow. It also notes that Krakow was only six miles from the Russian border at the time, and a zone for smuggling of currency, goods and people. It also notes the move to ul. Lubomirskiego was made so Lenin could be closer to the post office.

Our trip to the Naworolski Cafe — its interior designed by Joseph Mehoffer, one of the artists of the Young Poland movement whose house was also well worth our visit.

Noworolski

Noworolski

Noworolski

The service was terribly slow, so we had lots of time to think about Lenin as ladies’ man and early-morning-paper-reader, hope that the coffee was better back in those days, and enjoy the view across Krakow’s main square:

Noworolski
Then there’s the Propaganda Cafe in Kazimierz, which was never a haunt of Lenin’s, but did contain a lot of awesome old stuff from communist days, including this picture. Also, the Gin and Tonics were exactly what we needed on a day whose heat almost killed Mark…

IMG_4500

We were in the area of his first place of residence – Krolowej Jadwigi, behind the Salwator tram terminus. This is the tram station closest to the Kościuszko Mound which we visited. Here we walked through Las Wolski — a welcome escape for those who live in the city.

IMG_4925

Another day we set off for ul. Lubomirskiego 47 on the way to the Botanic Garden, an area unlike any we had visited yet

Krakow

Krakow

Krakow

We found ul. Lubomirskiego to be a rather interesting street:

Krakow

We passed apartments like this, surely it would be like this we thought:

Krakow

But no, the one shiny newly-painted building on the block was Lenin’s — a pale beigey yellow. I don’t know why my heart demanded Lenin’s old digs to be of faded splendour, but so it was.

Krakow

Across the street, Krakow marching into modernity.

Krakow

I think part of why I enjoy hunting down these places is how it helps you step outside the role of visitor a little, get a feel for more of the city.

That was all…but I think this will be my last Krakow post — too much to do: too many blogs that are hopefully working through material for my article on social movement, too many applications to write, too much work on Whispering Truth stories, too many more days of failing to finish my book rewrites and get this review done for City and these other articles wrapped up and submitted. I am looking forward to all of that work so little that I have managed to exercise every day despite the heat and have submitted three short stories to magazines and my book to another agent.

I hate that shit, but not as much as working on articles apparently.

But there is always Krakow.

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Katowice: City of the Unseen

I loved Katowice. You will not be surprised after I confess my love of street art, of contrast, of things that are not pinned down in their disinfected cleanliness and their frozen historicities and false fronts but that are in various stages of subsiding or becoming. I find these places full of possibility. Palimpsests of all that has been, visible in crumblings and peeling paint, all that could be in the fanciful newness and bright colour, growth made possible through the crumbling itself. Above all an opportunity for imagination.

Katowice

The strange feeling that something, something had happened here behind this door.

Katowice

The how-on-earth of a caravan behind another door of faded magnificence:

Katowice

The courtyards that lie behind each arch — spaces full of corners, the unseen. Spaces allowed to retain a fullness of mystery and hints of green spaces.

Katowice

It is mystery, perhaps, that I loved most. Not knowing what lies around those corners. Modern constructions leave no spaces unseen like this, never frame space so beautifully, never encourage. exploration in this way, and definitely do not age with such fascination.

Katowice

Unless, of course, modern constructions are built in contrast to the older forms. Then they startle, provide difference. I confess I quite love these towers, their geometries, their thoughtfulness in granting all tenants views and light. I only wish they were a little closer, instead of isolating residents away from the movement and life of the city.

Katowice

Here too, just as in its deeply contrasted satellites Nikiszowiec and Giszowiec, the central mines hovers above and between buildings, filling the view with the memory of the coal that helped bring it to life.

Katowice

Katowice

There is also the great wide center, full of people, buildings representing a different kind of glass-and-steel modernity contrasting with these older streets, and a working public transportation system. I actually like this center as it sits in contrast to other things. I imagine, however, it might be a bit arctic in winter.

Katowice

Beauty and humour abounds here, and it is vibrant with life.

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

A little more of the art & design that I loved:

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

Katowice

This place illustrates many of the principles of creating fascinating human city-scapes explored by people like Cullen and Alexander, I only wish we had had a little more time to explore this city.

Katowice

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