Monthly Archives: June 2012

Emily Carr





Emily Carr had a pet monkey named Woo.  Their many adventures together were recorded in  her journals and books.  According to the temporary Royal BC Museum display now in Vancouver, BC, this unusual pet was “one of Carr’s most open challenges to mainstream society and its standards of behavior.”   Indeed, Emily was a lifelong rebel who also doted on dogs.

Two of her paintings were hung at the 1911 Salon d’Automne exhibition in Paris. This controversial art showcase was established by artists like Matisse to defy the conservative Salon.  But real international recognition for Emily Carr didn’t begin to happen until recently.

When she died in 1945, she was in her 70s.  Over the past 60+ years her reputation has grown, and she is now finally emerging as, perhaps, Canada’s most important artist.

Carr lived in Victoria, British Columbia, most of her life but she was quite a traveler.  She studied at the California School of Design in San Francisco and took art classes in France and England.  At the age of 40, she made a First Nation’s sketching trip to record abandoned monumental totem carvings in native villages on the Canadian coast and a passion was born. She became especially familiar with the Queen Charlotte Islands.

She had 4 sisters and one brother, Richard, whom she was especially close to.  He died of tuberculosis at the age of 23.  One sister became a masseuse and another helped found the YWCA.  When not on the road, Emily taught art and had a studio in Victoria where she ran a boarding house for 10 years.

She was a cartoonist for Western Women’s Weekly beginning in 1918.  At the age of 55 she took a short story writing course which led to half a dozen books, 3 published posthumously.  Award Winning Klee Wyck told of her travel adventures in British Columbia.

Most of the Carr paintings I’ve seen in museums are of totems and dark forests, but she also did seascapes, etc.  A lot of her European era sketches and paintings remind me a lot of the work of Toulouse-Lautrec.  Currently, there are 2 great temporary exhibits of her work in Vancouver, BC.  The one at its main Art Gallery closes September 3.  The other is in an experimental venue that I’ll tell you about tomorrow.

Although I’ve been aware of her art for many years, I didn’t especially appreciate Emily Carr or her considerable output until this trip.  Now, like the world in general, I’m beginning to realize what a single-minded, talented force she was.


Fear Factor, Guatemala


A very well-dressed, cultured lady and complete stranger on a bus in Rome gave Ruth explicit instructions on how to carry her purse so it would not be grabbed.  Rome!

A lady on the underground metro in Buenos Aires admonished me for wearing my watch on my wrist instead of carrying it in my pocket.  I learned later that it was not unusual for thieves to hack off hands to get at watches more easily.   Urban legend?  Fact?  I never verified.

We’ve been assaulted in Madrid, ripped off in Brussels, robbed in Washington, DC, and this week I blogged about why we’ve decided not to go to Belarus on our own next autumn.

So I was surprised and fascinated by an article in the TRAVEL section of The Sunday Oregonian today named, “Overcome the fear factor and discover Guatemala” by Alan Solomon.  He goes on to report “well-documented bursts of excessive violence, including the murderous kind.”  He mentions that the US State Department reports that there were 40 murders per week in Guatemala City in 2011.  He speaks of a square where tour guides won’t let passengers get off the bus because “unfortunately, they have incidents.”   He talks about tourists with cameras being “fish in water”.  The pickpockets are described as the cleverest in the world.  He goes on to make Guatemala sound like a very desirable destination.

We have a friend/neighbor whose husband works for the US Government. He was assigned to Guatemala for, I believe, 2 years and she and their children went along.   It was like being incarcerated she told me.  She was so glad to leave after living in fear for so long that instead of flying from LA to San Francisco as planned she rented a car and drove instead just to experience the release of tension and freedom.

One of my best friends retired early to go to Belize and build a second home for him and his wife up in the cooler mountains near the Guatemala border. When the house was done and she was ready to retire and join him, the four of us planned an extensive trip around Central America together to celebrate.  We had dates picked out, destinations determined, and concrete plans were underway when he was murdered.  There was so much blood that the police, at first, thought he had been killed by a machete, but it turned out that he had been shot at close range.  The killers were identified but never brought to justice because, I assume, the incident involved a drug cartel.

Are travelers who go to places like Guatemala and Belarus for cultural stimulation brave risk takers or naive potential victims taking foolish chances?


Dining in Australia 2


Usually restaurants in tourist areas are expensive and, at best, average. Time Out is an exception.  Across from Flinders Street Station, Melbourne’s heart, this Federation Square bistro type cafe attracts partying groups so it’s celebratory.  Ruth and I found it quite by accident, an exception to our rule–when we have lots of unfamiliar restaurant choices, we invariably pick the worst one.

The other Adelaide restaurant we loved is in its best attraction–Central Market.  Around since 1870, this aromatic cluster of mostly food shops is reportedly the largest undercover marketplace in the Southern Hemisphere. Best explored with a map so you don’t miss anything, Central Market is in Australia’s driest state, so most of what’s for sale comes from no more than an hour away.  This isn’t just a place to buy cheese, it’s a cultural phenomenon.  Check out and start salivating.

There are many places to eat, especially Asian, outside and across the streets from Central.   Inside are 8, including unpretentious Lucias Pizza & Spaghetti Bar where you’re extremely lucky to get a table any time of the day.  There’s a reason why Lucia has been around since 1957.

In Launceston, Tasmania, we found two outstanding restaurants and one very good one–Hallams.  STILLwater ranks among the best, anywhere.  Its brochure states, “river cafe restaurant wine bar, elegant casual dining contemporary tasmanian cuisine“.  All true.

In Calabrisella on our last Tasmanian night, its owner, Lorenzo Macri, kept coming over to our table for compliments so we learned a lot about Calabria, his roots, and about his family.  After he became established, he brought his two brothers here and they also opened restaurants.  He was so proud of their success that we didn’t tell him that we had eaten in his brother’s place the night before and found it not nearly as good as Calabrisella.

The most interesting dining experience we had in the ACT, Australian Capital Territory, was outside Canberra in the gentle Brindabella Mountains–Scope Mount Stromlo, which had just reopened in an astronomical observatory that was in ruins after 2003 bushfires devastated the area.  Four telescopes, 8 staff houses, etc. were destroyed, and it has taken almost 10 years for this fine restaurant to rise from the ashes.

On our last night in Sydney, we ate at our favorite restaurant in Australia–Cafe Sydney–and had a   bonus.  This superfine dining spot is on the 5th floor of the old Customs House across the street from Circular Quay.  Since we had made the reservation a month before, we had a balcony table overlooking the harbor so our sadness was somewhat deflected by awe.   The 1st and 2nd floors of Customs House is a library.  As we exited the elevator, an event was in progress.  Gawking from the fringe, we soon realized we had stumbled into a preview of the upcoming Sydney Film Festival.

Life is good.

By the way, tipping is controversial in Australia.  Since waitpeople are reportedly well paid, leaving additional money often elicits growls from Aussies.  Some leave nothing at all unless service has been really exceptional. If, being an American, you feel you must leave a tip, up to 10% isn’t scowled at.


Dining in Australia


Often memorable restaurant experiences aren’t just about fine food.  We had a lot of  meals in Australia but 10 stood out like Swarovski crystals.

While in Sydney, Ruth and I decided to take the time and go the distance to a stunningly good restaurant, the original Doyle’s.  Having been there by accident only once before, we took the ferry from Circular Quay to Watson’s Bay at the mouth of Sydney harbor, a great treat in and of itself.  After a bit of a wait (reservations advised), we spent two delirious hours feasting on seafood while looking at Sydney’s magnificent skyline in the distance.   Doyle’s on the Beach, 126 years in business, is, according to Lonely Planet, “a quintessential Sydney experience.”   Yes, indeed.

Melbourne has a daunting number of outstanding restaurants but our 2 favorites had gone out of business, so we took the tram to St. Kilda’s Acland Street.  It has several pastry and candy shops among its eclectic store mix.  It was mid to late afternoon as we bought some chocolates for their, uh, antioxidant properties.  As we paid, I asked the in-their-20s male and female running the store if they could recommend a place to eat and they said in unison, “Rococo.”  Just down the street and across from Holy Sheet, Rococo was effortlessly gourmet, welcoming, and inexpensive–2nd best meal of trip.

On our last night in Melbourne before heading down the Great  Ocean Road, we walked up Lygon Street with John and Trish and  entered Tiamo as if that was planned.  It wasn’t.  The staff at their hotel had recommended Tiamo, and we had eaten there the last time we were in Melbourne and liked it.  Some coincidence, huh?  Lygon Street, within walking distance of central Melbourne, is locally popular but not exactly a tourist magnet.  Many of Lygon’s restaurants aren’t very good.  Many have outside tables with annoying hosts who try to get you to sit down as you stroll by.  In my experience, this practice almost guarantees indifferent food and drives me crazy.  Tiamo, not beautiful but serving great fare, is the orchid under the weeds.

We got very lucky in Adelaide.  Normally, folks who work in tourist information facilities can’t recommend restaurants.  I learned a long time ago never to go into one and ask for the best restaurant in town.  They can’t, and shouldn’t, tell you.  What works, however, is something like this, “We’re looking for an inexpensive bistro type cafe with great soups.  Can you recommend a few?”

The staff in the info kiosk on the Rundle Square pedestrian mall included a well-seasoned man and a woman who looked grandmotherly.  Both were friendly, informative, and mentoring a young woman who seemed to be in training.  I asked if they might recommend a couple of places to eat within walking distance. I mentioned sandwiches, pastas, and pizza.  When I said the last one, the girl’s face literally lit up.   I turned to see if Justin Bieber had just walked in.

Good Life at 170 Hutt Street was a bit of a walk but well worth it. Apparently a notable success, it creates organic, gourmet pizzas with unusual toppings.  Good Life has more business than it can handle so, unlike us, book ahead.


Excellent Travel News, But…


The New York Times  for June 15, 2012,  announced that, despite an ongoing weak economy “when federal and state public works programs are stalled” , some of our bigger airports are receiving funds for expansions and/or renovations, including New York’s La Guardia.  La Guardia’s Central Terminal building opened in 1964 and looks it.  It has received $3.6 billion for what the Times calls rebuilding.  Excellent news.

On our last visit, the day began at 6 am in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with a flight to Detroit and a connection to La Guardia.  Already a crazy enough route but the best available so at least understandable.

Our early afternoon flight to La Guardia was cancelled due to mid-July weather  problems.  Again, at least understandable.  The next flight was only delayed so we touched down in New York at 7:15 pm.

Our bags didn’t show up, somewhat understandable.  The carousel area was piled high with unclaimed luggage and looked like a scene from a disaster movie.   The Delta baggage service office was nearby.  A long line of passengers snaked out of it.  We joined them and, when we got to the head of the queue, the woman clicked furiously on her keyboard and announced that our bags would be on the next flight due in one hour and that they’d be brought immediately to our hotel.

The line for taxis was 3 rows deep and not moving, so we made shuttle arrangements, boarded a mini-van, and sat in traffic without moving until 5 minutes to 9, the scheduled arrival time for Delta’s next flight from Detroit.  “Should we?’ I asked and Ruth nodded, so we jumped out of the shuttle and ran to the carousel.

Our bags, as promised, did not show up.  Why do airline personnel give customers information that might not be true?  I’ve literally lost track of the times we have been misinformed, promised, and treated as annoyances by airline personnel.   Who hasn’t?

We had no alternative now but to get back into another long line to talk to a Delta representative offering more false promises.  The taxi line was longer than before but we joined it anyway and arrived at our hotel at 10:30 pm.   We had not had dinner, and our travel day had been 16 1/2 hours long.  The distance between Halifax and New York is less than 600 miles.

Our bags were outside our hotel room door two days later.

All 3 New York area airports are scheduled for improvement as are those in Los Angeles, Dallas, Atlanta, and Chicago.  Good news for future travelers to these cities.  The article doesn’t report the anticipated date of completion.  In a way, I”m glad that I don’t know.

In the meantime, weather + airline issues + aging terminals = travel days from hell.