Thursday, November 10, 2011

Serious Moonlight

With all due respect to David Bowie, that was some serious moonlight last night.

I have, admittedly, not been terribly successful at blogging here every day in November. More days than not, but that's not the point of the exercise. The good news is that on the days where I haven't put up a post here, I have worked on other writing projects.

The past couple of days I've been en route from Minnesota to Connecticut and internet access was spotty along the way, but I had a really wonderful trip. Snow was to begin falling in Minnesota shortly after I departed, and as I crossed the Mississippi River into Wisconsin the sky looked as though it might snow at any moment. Looking down the river the bluffs were already a wintery blue, looking as though they were part of an old-fashioned cyanotype.

Crossing Wisconsin is rarely my favorite part of the journey east, no offense to my badger state pals, but it can be a terribly annoying drive what with the folks in their Crown Victorias who seem to feel they were born with an entitlement to drive in the passing lane on I-90. At a speed of 50 or so miles per hour. In a 70 mile per hour zone. This lead foot admittedly has little patience for those who won't slide over for those of us who are really through traffic.

From Wisconsin--where cheese curd and bread cheese were procured--it's basically onward to Chicago. Even though it was drippy and dark, I love the drive through Chi-town. It's such a great city and even though the skyscrapers were shrouded in a dense fog bank, I wasn't disappointed. Chicago always feels a little like home to me.

I stopped for the night in Mishawaka, Indiana. It's basically South Bend, but I suspect they don't like it when you say that. Typically I'd go farther on the first day of my drive, but I was getting a little drowsy and my knee definitely needed a break, so it was likely for the best. I didn't rest as well as one might when one is exhausted, but I still decamped for points east at a properly early hour making short work of the remainder of Indiana and then crossing into Ohio. Now, if you scroll back through my posts, I believe you'll see a certain amount of negativity toward Ohio (in general) and the Ohio Turnpike (specifically) which I generally rename the Ohio Turnip Pike. To be fair, there are some really pretty stretches of Ohio with rolling hills and bright fall you get close to Pennsylvania. The first hundred-plus miles as you go past Toledo (Remind me, someday I'll tell you about The Catholic Club and Toledo. It's not a story for the faint of heart...) are just not a lot to look at. I will say that I do enjoy the drive through Cleveland and the way that Lake Erie just kind of appears as you make the sharp right hand turn.

When I left Indiana at 0-dark-hundred hours I wasn't sure whether I was going to take the sensible route--I-80 though Pennsylvania (where you cross the state in relatively direct fashion, and then wind around the Scranton-Wilkes Barre area)--or the way I've come to prefer, the Southern Tier Expressway which takes travelers from Erie to Jamestown and then winds through Allegany State Park (Allegheny in PA) and then across New York State down into the Catskills before depositing exhausted sojourners back onto I-84.

Drawn by the possibility of one last Steak-and-Shake stop in Erie, PA, I took the road that is (I think, anyway) the road less traveled, the Southern Tier Expressway, also known as New York State Route 17 and Future I-86. I know, it's a lot to take let's just call it the scenic route.

Via my BlackBerry, Allegany skies in the rearview. 
The first time I took this route west, I was avoiding some of the typical construction on I-80 in Pennsylvania. I thought it would be a one-off as it is a bit longer in distance, and most certainly less direct. But as I crossed New York, mostly in daylight that first trip, I was so happy that I'd decided on this road.

Here on the scenic route you can drive from Cuba to Salamanca and Panama to Damascus. Painted Post, Horseheads, Friendship, and Amity aren't far off, either. The road rises and falls with the undulating hills of the Allegany Range and the crisp "mountain" air is punctuated by smoke from wood-burning stoves. Chautauqua Lake greets drivers not long after Erie, Pennsylvania, and from there it's beautiful hills and gently rolling, brilliantly verdant meadows. The setting of the sun as I made my way east meant deep rosy pinks and warm amber clouds gleaming back at me from my rearview mirror. And that was only the start of Mother Nature's show for the evening.

So back to that serious moonlight I mentioned above. The moon rose higher and higher in the sky and by the time I was reaching the Catskills region it was shining down from the midnight blue sky like a torch. And the sky was just that blue--exactly like the Midnight Blue crayon in the big box of 64 crayons from Crayola--and that clear. Stars were everywhere and the bright beacon of Jupiter, holding court just to the right of the Moon, was simply gorgeous. There's something both comforting and nostalgia-inducing about the full(ish) moonlight shining down on valleys, towns, hamlets, and villages with warm lights and white steeples peeking back at you. As I approached the Beaver Kill River area, the moon was glinting quicksilver off the river, cool and haunting. I needed to take a break and have a little coffee so I pulled off and listened to the water tumble over the rocks as the moon shone was idyllic and the best nocturne I could imagine. I'm not a painter, but when I see the moonlight on the water, I always wish that I was one. I can see the light, the cold silver reflections are etched in my mind. Moonlight in Vermont has nothing on Moonlight in the Catskills. I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful late stage of my journey.

This happy traveler is also happy to be home in Connecticut. As Judy Garland once sang in Connecticut Is the Place For Me...

I know the spot, peaceful and fair,
I'd be so happy if I were there.
No matter where I chance to be,
Connecticut is the place for me.

Miss every lake, miss every hill,
Even in dreams I think of them still.
And when you see them you'll agree,
Connecticut is the place to be.

Village greens and childhood scenes,
Are things I remember yet.
Land of dreams and moonlit streams,
How close to heaven can you get?

Nights full of stars, hearts full of joy,
Paradise for girl and a boy,
I guess it suits me to a tee,
Connecticut is the place for me to be,
Connecticut is the place for me.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Reporting from Rrrrochester...

Even though I'm not anywhere near old enough to actually remember anything other than you-tube clips of The Jack Benny Show, Benny's drawling call out to Eddie "Rochester" Anderson has somehow crept into my subconscious along with too many Monty Python routines and most of the dialogue from Gone With the Wind, The Sound of Music (I blame my Mother for this one), Casablanca, a few of the Thin Man films, and St. Elmo's Fire.

Right, now where was I going with this? Yes. Now I remember. Seeing as I'm heading back to Connecticut on Tuesday (and hope we'll all be lit up by then, FINGERS CROSSED!!) I took a few minutes today to stop back down to the Plummer Building and take some more photographs. No crowds, no one hurrying past you and clear shot at any details you wish to capture.

One of the first things I noticed when approaching the doors that I was planning on photographing was the wonderful warmth of old building smell. I'd smelled it last weekend as well, but there's a kind of comforting clean scent that is a mix of old books, old leather, and some kind of polish. This will sound ridiculous to those who don't skulk about old structures, but for those of us who do, I bet you know the aroma I'm talking about.

Last weekend I'd heard the strains of a lovely piano concerto coming from downstairs in the Siebens building next door...this week I met another "fan" for lack of a better term. We exchanged Dr. Henry Plummer stories (his combination of single-minded focus and absent-mindedness for daily life are legendary around Rochester) and he and his small daughter were on their way. I'm always a little surprised when I'm approached because (a) we all know I' have sunnies on roughly 85% of the time and (b) I try terribly hard not to look approachable. But yet, it happens. All the time. In every country I've visited, from France to Hungary and even, yes, Canada, I'm the one who gets stopped and queried for directions. Now yes, often I can be of help and I don't mind doing so, but I wonder if there's a special sign that's flashing from my scarf or my boots that says..."Please Ask Me!"It's a mystery.

And as I was leaving, of course, there was a horse...the lovely (and somewhat angry in this representation) winged horse, Pegasus, occupies a prominent place above the main glass doors. I'm always on the look for signs, I'm funny that way and as I took one last look at the large bronze doors, polished to a deep, warm glow, I caught sight of oak leaf and acorn, the symbols of Connecticut and The Charter Oak. I've decided to consider this a wee sign that my trip back to Connecticut will go well. As the nutmeg state motto goes, "Qui Transtulit Sustinet"(He who is transplanted still sustains).

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Horse That Stops a Nation

I could be wrong, but I don't think the US has "stopped" for a horse race since the 1938 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral. Back then, as was lovingly chronicled in Laura Hillenbrand's book, it was a nation glued to their radios and calling off sick or pulling their cars over to the side of the road to hear the broadcast of "the race of the century."

Things like that don't seem to happen in horse racing anymore and I--along with my racing pals--often bemoan the fact that horse racing feels so much further away from the public's consciousness than it used to be. The beautiful and talented Zenyatta undoubtedly brought new fans into racing, but not many other horses in recent years have had her magnetic combination of grace, star power, beauty, and overwhelming class.

And then onto our collective racing radar screen strode Black Caviar. She's an Aussie mare, a brilliant sprinter, and she's won all of her 16 races with elegant ease. Racing under chic salmon and black silks, the large bay mare is grace personified. I'd say she's never really been tested so we don't know just how good she honestly is because she's yet to *need* to go full throttle. It's easy to run out of superlatives when writing and talking about this superstar.

I've stayed up into the wee hours of the morning or woken up well before O-dark-hundred to watch Black Caviar with a wonderful (and international) cadre of racing fans. We've tweeted, had a Google+ hangout (with cocktails!) and each time shared our collective admiration for this mare. From both coasts of Canada, to Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and down under to Oz itself, we all amble in, as if to some international watering hole in a Humphrey Bogart film, and we cheer for "our" girl. OURS because like all the greats, they can in a small way belong to everyone. We carry a piece of them around with us when we share their victories with our non-racing friends. Every time I "introduce" someone to Black Caviar they comment on how effortlessly she runs, how professional she is. Little by little, "Nelly" as she is called familiarly, winds around your heart and you just have to see her next race. She's addictive. And let's hope that she's got many more thrills in store in the coming year!

And she's good for racing, good for sport, good for us all. The horses who remain in our memory touch us and they share with us briefly their eagerness and their heart...they remind us of all the best qualities we can strive for.

If you're not yet familiar with Black Caviar and her winning ways, check her out. I dare you not to fall head-over-heels in love with this mare, the horse that stops a nation.

And a shout out to the "usual suspects" @inkmarksofsu, @milkmaid58 @hltonini, @ourmaizcay, @cmdevereux who make it such fun to cheer for Black Caviar every couple of weeks!

Friday, November 4, 2011

No mojo for NaBloPoMo (or something like that...)

Some days you've got it, somedays you couldn't buy it with all the gold in Fort Knox. (That is, if there actually IS gold in Fort Knox...had to toss that in for the conspiracy theorists out there!)

I've taken many photographs over the last two days--of everything from landscapes to interiors to close ups of vintage cooking utensils--and nothing turned out. Over-exposed, under-exposed, slightly out of focus (thanks, autofocus and your gazillion zones...) too close, too far, no depth of field. You name it, there the glaring fault was in any of the photos I've taken. Not wrong enough to be really bad (in most cases), but wrong enough to elicit a sigh of frustration and merit a drag to the trash can in iPhoto.

And maybe it's the same for writing today...because none of my photos inspired me (and likely because I'm pretty tired and in the parlance of a friend "feeling rougher than a badger's arse" from some LONG days) and I'm rather drained, the words just don't want to flow.

So, that're getting a shamelessly lame blog post for today and a perfectly "nice" autumn photo of some chrysanthemums. Let's hope for better things in entry 4...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When in Rochester...

Since I'm still in Minnesota (and why not since my part of Connecticut is still mostly dark and rather chilly) today's entry will once again be centered around good old Rochester.

On the day when the Northeast was being pummeled by the Nor'easter, I was enjoying a quiet stroll around the Mayo Clinic campus here in town. The weather was lovely and since the clinic buildings themselves aren't really open on weekends (the Mayo hospitals are, obviously, but not the clinic buildings) it's the perfect time to soak up the beautiful plantings, the architectural details (as per yesterday's post) and enjoy the bells pealing out from the carillon tower. The carillon is rarely--if ever--on tour, but if you get the chance to visit it, snap it up immediately. The tower offers stunning views of the hills surrounding Rochester and you can really appreciate the terra cotta work and the gargoyles from that vantage point, too.

And since Mayowood, the former home of Dr. Charles H. Mayo (and later his son Charles W. Mayo) has been in the news lately, I took the time to stop and "chat" with Charlie and his elder brother, Will, in the small plaza where they hold court behind the Gonda building. It seemed only fitting to stop and spend a few minutes with two wise and utterly old-school gentlemen. The two men were incredibly close, living next door to one another during their early married days in homes that were connected by a speaking tube. There was even a double rocking chair on Charlie's front porch...for the Mayo brothers even rocking in a chair was a cooperative effort. Charlie always looked a little rumpled and somewhat like the town grocer, whereas Will was steely eyed and the picture of sophistication and stoicism. Charlie, who would eventually move his large and active family out to the farms that made up Mayowood (there were seven farms including a dairy and greenhouse, riding stables, and a sulky track), considered himself an agriculturalist, not a farmer. The difference being that farmers made their money on the farm and spent it in town and agriculturalists such as Charlie made their money in town and spent it on the farm. A subtle, but keenly observed difference.

I think their own words..."Always do what is in the best interest of the patient" ring as true today as they did 80 or so years ago and I hope that the Mayo Clinic in the broadest sense will keep those words in mind as they go forward with their new partnership at Mayowood.

Dr. Charles H. Mayo (l) and Dr. William J. Mayo (r)

Charlie (l) and Will (r) with the new(ish) Gonda Building in rear

The view of Will (l) and Charlie (r) from the back, I like to think their
families often saw them similarly positioned. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

NaNo Something Or Other, Entry 1.

It's November 1st and that means it's National (fill in your favorite form of writing) Month. I'm generally wary of these kind of "marathons," but as I'm toiling away at getting a writing project ready for primetime, I thought that this challenge might be a good way to keep the creative thoughts flowing and keep the words streaming from brain to keyboard and/or notebook. So in addition to the new levels of productivity on my non-fiction project, I'm also committing (wow, even typing that word makes me shift a little in my chair...) to a new post here--of some kind--each and every day during the month of November. No doubt some will be short on words and long on photographic content, but I hope that it will help reinforce the general writing habit.

With that in mind then, I'm going to start November with a little photo study of The 1927 Plummer Building, part of the Mayo Clinic campus in downtown Rochester. Dr. Henry Plummer was the local genius, a physician who designed the structure with the architects from Ellerbe and Company. I would doubt that there is an ornament or motif in this building that he didn't have a direct hand in. His interest in (and respect for) art, history, literature, and medicine can be seen in every corner of this building. It's beautifully constructed and while it's not used for patients any longer, it's an architectural gem with some wonderfully ornate and detailed interiors. Wandering around the exterior on a quiet weekend is a real pleasure. The giant bronze doors (16 feet high, 5 inches thick) have rarely been closed over the history of the Mayo Clinic, so when they close it's a historic occasion. They were closed after the assassination of JFK, after the 9/11 attacks, and if I'm not mistaken for the deaths of the Mayo brothers in 1939.

The upper floors and carillon

Astrology beside mythology on the building's facade

St George, mid-slay

The Canada Geese that (over) populate Rochester

Minnesota's state mascot...the humble gopher

There are little gophers hiding in many spots, here on the large, solid bronze doors

Interior door detail

The newer (1960s) Mayo Building reflected in Plummer's windows

Griffins on the entry doors

The beautiful lighting fixtures in the main lobby

What appears to be a caparisoned horse, used as a door handle

The 1927 Plummer Building reflected in the sleek glass
of the very recently built Gonda Building