Monthly Archives: June 2014

Tonopah, Time Capsule Town


Tonopah, Nevada, surprises.  Remote, full of character(s), and a throwback that hasn’t been curated, yet, it reminds me of Nome, Alaska.  Sitting in the barren middle of Nevada, it has a number of worthwhile attractions.

Its Central Nevada Museum is the first old-style venue, as in dusty and cluttered, that I’ve been in recently where excess really works. There’s a giddy surprise with each step.  Some examples: a permanent wave machine used in early 20th century beauty parlors that looks like a female torture and/or execution device, supposed gold nuggets in a bottle for sale for 7 dollars, a photo taken in a local bar/ brothel that looks positively wholesome, etc.

This town exists, in part, because of mining. Adjusted for inflation, 2 billion dollars have been made from its mines. Lithium, silver, gold, etc. are still mined in the area. It reminds me of Coober Pedy, Australia.

There’s a 7,100 feet, active runway at its airport but no commercial flights. The U.S. Army is a presence. Chuck Yeager trained here. Stealths and drones are discussed at The Bug Bar, the most popular local hangout.

The fully restored Mizpah Hotel, opened in 1908, has a resident ghost, the Lady in Red, who might leave a pearl on your pillow.

On our way out of town, Ruth and I checked out 3 historic treasures, derelict World War II wooden hangars abandoned in the desert.


Sydney’s Jewish Museum and Lotte


Three weeks ago today I met Lotte Weiss.  Lotte is a Holocaust survivor.  At one point during our conversation she rolled up her sleeve and showed Ruth and me the 2065 tattooed on her left arm in Auschwitz in 1942.  It was done by a Jewish man who had been a sign writer.  I know this because I bought and read Lotte’s autobiography, My Two Lives, in which she contrasts her experiences before and after World War II.  She later tried to removed the numbers from her arm and made them worse.  Lotte is now 90 years old.   She’s regretful and still affected by her concentration camp experiences, but she’s not bitter.  She considers herself lucky instead.  In fact, she’s full of love and thankfulness for her family.  Not her birth family.  None of her brothers and sisters survived.   Her parents died too.

After her release in 1945, she returned to Bratislava, Slovakia, her hometown.  She was basically alone except for an aunt and uncle. Of the 80,000 Jews from Slovakia who were deported to concentration and extermination camps, only 236 returned.  Lotte married another Holocaust survivor in 1947 and they emigrated, with considerable difficulty, to New Zealand where they started a family.  She moved to Sydney in 1986 to be closer to children and grandchildren and now considers it home.

I met dear Lotte because Ruth and I went to the Sydney Jewish Museum on the corner of Darlinghurst Road and Burton Street that Frommer accurately described as “one of the best museums of its type in the world”.  We actually planned to see this excellent museum’s temporary exhibit, “Anne Frank–A History for Today”, which has since closed.  I never made it into the Anne Frank exhibit, which was coordinated by the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, because I got caught up in seeing the permanent displays and meeting Lotte, who volunteers her time when she can on Sundays.

One of my favorites was the circular timeline on the Ground Floor that paralleled world and Jewish history from 400 BCE to 2008, the 60th anniversary of the State of Israel.  Sixteen Jewish convicts were on board the First Fleet that arrived in Australia in 1788.  10,000 Holocaust survivors made their way to Australia by 1954.  Bill Marr said, “I was so tired of war, I said I will go as far away from Europe as I can…to Australia.  They said go the end of the world and turn right until you find it.”   There are now 100,000 Jews living there, about 0.5% of the population.  The entire story of Jewish migration and daily life in Australia before and after World War II are well told in the Sydney Jewish Museum, where there are 4 levels to explore.

If you go on Sunday, you increase your chances of meeting Lotte and perhaps her Son.  Just in case you don’t get to, here is their picture, graciously granted 3 weeks ago.



Japan Delights Roadsrus


Japan intrigued me so much that I asked John Bolen, Assistant Professor of Religion and Philosophy, to recommend a book to help me understand it. As Lonely Planet observed, “The Japanese are as varied as any people on earth.” His suggestion was The Japanese Mind by Roger Davies.  It’s on order.    Here are 10 tips that really helped me make the most of Kyoto, Hiroshima, etc.

1.  The best way to get around Japan is high-speed train, the fastest being Japanese Railway’s shinkansen or “bullet trains”.   Luckily, someone told us about the Japan Rail Pass before it was too late for Ruth and me to get them. They must be ordered before travel because they’re only available to sightseeing visitors from foreign countries.  They cannot be purchased in Japan.  Before use, we presented our Exchange Orders at a Japan Rail Pass office and received our actual passes, plastic cards to show every time we entered the system.   JR passes cost us $276 apiece, which turned out to be a genuine bargain.  When some citizens saw them, they expressed jealousy because train travel, especially on bullets, is quite expensive.  You can also pay more and make seat reservations, but we weren’t in Japan during a big holiday so we never did.  There were consistently 2 or 3 cars of non-reserved seats for travelers without seat assignments.

2. It took us a day or two to realize that JR was just one company among many and that our passes were only good on their trains, buses, ferries, etc. There are a great number of private railways operating in Japanese cities and from city to city, and it’s very easy to get on the wrong train.  The Japanese are generally eager to help you buy a ticket, find the correct platform, etc. whether or not they speak English.  Generally.  I developed a rash and we sought a pharmacist.  “Do you speak English?” I asked.  “No,” he replied.  I hoisted my leg up anyway and showed him the redness. “Does it itch?” he asked.   “No,” I replied.  He handed me a small tube of what looked like Neosporin.  The rash was gone in 24 hours.

3. Japan can be expensive.   If money is no object, you can enjoy the finest of meals in hundreds of restaurants.  If you’re watching the yen, you will usually find many reasonable restaurant choices on the top floors of department stores, which are common.  I love Tempura, soba (thin buckwheat noodles), udon (thick wheat noodles), etc. and I had my fill every day.   If a bowl of noodles with additions costs, say, 1,000 yen, that was about $10.

4.  If you’re facing dehydration by mid-afternoon in a hot Japanese city, you will probably be near a vending machine that dispenses Cokes, fruit juices, local variations on coffee, tea, etc. for reasonable prices.  Always have plenty of coins on you that add up to about 150 yen.

5.  People bow everywhere and Japanese deference takes some getting used to.  Unlike the French, they really do seem to appreciate any attempt on your part to speak their language.  Every time I said, “arigato” (thank you), I elicited smiles.

6.  You sometimes still have the option of Japanese or Western Style toilets.

7.  Tipping is not common in Japan.  If you feel you must reward someone for service, give them a gift instead of money.

8.  Those entering a restaurant are greeted like treasured guests and complimentary tea, often green, is brought to the table.  It’s a lovely custom.

9.  I had read some articles that talked about Japan’s aging population, so I was surprised that wherever we went Ruth and I were surrounded by literally hundreds of mostly well-behaved students.  Most ignored us unless part of their assignment was to find an English speaking him or her to engage in conversation.

10. Prepare to be impressed by Japanese efficiency, intelligence, and work-ethic.





A Great Party Idea from Kununurra


Kununurra is the main town in the eastern part of Australia’s Kimberley. When Ruth and I arrived there on Saturday, May 17, 2014, winter was beginning and “the Wet” was not entirely over.  The temperature was about 100 degrees.  This is as good as it gets in the afternoon in this vast area considered one of the Earth’s last true frontiers where crocodiles vastly outnumber people.  It’s beautiful but difficult to live there.

When we arrived in Kununurra, we didn’t know that the Ord Valley Muster, a 2 week festival now in its 14th year, was underway.  During the Muster concerts, sporting events, and activities occur every day.  Ruth and I looked at the program.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t fit in the rodeo or the almost sold-out concert by John Williamson, who appeared to be an Australian George Strait, etc.  We could, however, attend Jazz and Modern Art in the Kimberley that evening.

Jazz and Modern’s description in the program promised, “Artopia will be transformed into a New Orleans jazz bar!”  Artopia turned out to be a regional art gallery and gift shop.   It was also a fine place for a party where the guests included about 50 locals, most of them couples who were living in Kununurra due to jobs in energy or mining, and 2 Americans.  Many of the women, including the sole singer Sassy Catch (stage name for Tarnia Lynn Coppers), were dressed in 1920s attire.  But not Ruth, who fretted that she didn’t fit in.   I was dressed like all the other men, who were mostly drinking beer instead of wine, talking about Australian rules football, and telling me that there wasn’t much to do in Kununurra.

After Sassy entertained, we were told to go to the other large room in Artopia where we’d find 2 large blank canvases, one labeled HIS and the other HERS.   We were told to cover the canvases with acrylic paint and that at the end of the evening both paintings would be auctioned off and the money donated to charity.

One woman immediately drew large female lips on HERS and Ruth filled in a face.  Ruth was already bonding with all the other woman present, especially Nadeen Lovell, former Artopia owner and a noted Kimberley artist.  Within 20 minutes the female canvas was half-full of flowers, hearts, butterflies, etc. while the men’s was still blank.  So I painted a squiggly line and a hand in the center and went to get a drink.  By the time I returned, the men were lined up to add fish, trees, the Bungle Bungles (local mountains that look like giant beehives), etc. to HIS.

Shock and awe occurred when I realized that the man who outbid all others for HIS, Tony Rooke, was the first man I had talked to that evening.  If you had asked me to point to the man least likely to contribute to and then bid on HIS, I would have said, without hesitation, “Tony”.

The women’s painting, seen above, sold for about twice the men’s.   If you’re throwing a party, especially a large one where you want to encourage bonding more than socializing, buy plenty of wine and beer and set up 2 blank canvases.


The Varied Museum of Texas Tech University


Tripadvisor ranks Silent Wings, which I have written about previously, the #1 attraction in Lubbock, Texas.  Well-deserved.  Its #7 attraction is the Museum of Texas Tech University.  I’d rank it #2.   If you want to see raves, check out Tripadvisor’s “Things to do in Lubbock”.  Don’t if you have an aversion to exclamation marks.   Also, be aware that the reviews are all “from our community” so you have a bit of Lubbock pride in the glowing words.  22 of the 24 raters call MTTU either excellent or very good, and  I agree.  It is very good to excellent.

On the corner of 4th and Indiana, it’s also free, large, and extremely diverse. Ruth and I spent a couple of hours there and never made it into the Moody Planetarium, the upstairs print gallery, or the gift shop, which hadn’t yet opened for the day.

Glenna Goodacre, Harry Connick Jr.’s mother-in-law, is a noted and excellent sculptor, and her bronze “The Basket Dance” greets visitors and sets the tone for the rest of this museum.  Behind it is a Triceratops.  The curators wittily, and rather accurately, call this dinosaur species the original longhorns.

My MTTU favorites were the Talkington Gallery of Art, which had its inaugural opening in April, 2013, and features major artists like Georgia O’Keeffe.  It was made possible by Margaret Talkington, who donated the collection in 2011.  Making room for it gave this already very eclectic museum a chance to showcase some fine southwest U.S. art created in the 20th and 21st centuries, like Dorothy Brett’s “Deer Dance”.  A native of England, Brett visited Taos, New Mexico, with D H. Lawrence, author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, in 1924, settled there, and became a U.S. citizen.  Her paintings of natives, as you can see above, are attention-getting.  The Diamond M. Gallery Wing contains the finest collection of N.C. Wyeth’s work I have ever seen. The father of noted American artist Andrew Wyeth, Newel Convers Wyeth was one of the best illustrators of his time, 1882 to 1945.   His oil on canvas painting “The Little Shepherd of Kingdom Come” is among his works on display, graced one of Scribner’s most successful books, and inspired 2 movies.

An Ice Age Gallery!   An Omniglobe!  The history of Lubbock!  The Museum of Texas Tech University is one treat after another, and I was not surprised to learn that it’s accredited by the American Association of Museums, has amassed more than 5 million objects, and participates in a popular Master of Arts degree in Museum Science.  Go.