Monthly Archives: July 2015

Vancouver’s Roedde House



There was a major fire in 1886 in Vancouver’s original Gastown neighborhood.  Settlement moved west to what is now called the West End. The land was taken from the First Nations Musqueam tribe, and the neighborhood became an elite area of the city stretching from Burrard Street to Stanley Park.  Today, it’s a densely populated neighborhood of high rises, hotels, and narrow streets.

German-born Gustav Roedde and his wife Matilda moved from Cleveland, Ohio, to California and then to Victoria, BC before settling in Vancouver where they decided to invest in an upper-middle class house in the West End.  Gustav was a successful bookbinder.  In fact, his company is still in existence, now a printing company.  The Late Queen Anne Revival house they built with an octagonal parlor is no millionaire’s mansion but may have been designed by architect/friend Francis Rattenbury.  Francis also created Victoria’s famous Empress Hotel.  He was murdered by his wife’s teenage lover in 1935. Francis’ head received many blows from a carpenter’s mallet.

The Roedde’s moved in with their six children and 3 Saint Bernard dogs shortly after the construction that began in 1893 ended.   Three family tragedies followed.  The Roedde’s oldest daughter died at the age of 5 after eating some berries.  Her mother was arrested and charged with poisoning her daughter but was found not guilty.  The house’s play and homework area was damaged in 1913 when a Christmas tree caught fire.  Several years later another of Gustav and Matilda’s children, Anna Catherine, switched shifts with another nurse at St. Paul’s Hospital and was stabbed to death by a mental patient who mistook Anna for the nurse she subbed for.  The Roedde’s lived at 1415 Barclay Street for 32 years.

The Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation acquired the entire block containing Roedde House in 1996 with plans to demolish a lot of what was on it.  Vancouverites reacted negatively, Roedde House was given a Heritage Designation, and the block became a park with houses in it that by 1980 had become Barclay Heritage Square.  Nine houses built between 1890 and 1908 were chosen for preservation and restoration.  Roedde, which had been a rooming house for a while, was one of them.  It was redone as faithfully to Vancouver Victorian times as was possible.  Four Compass guided tours are available.




5 Compass Thessaloniki


Europa was the daughter of a Phoenician King named Agenor.  Zeus fell in love with her, changed himself into bull, and appeared in a meadow near her. Europa found him handsome, came close, and mounted him.  He started running like lightning, crossed the sea, and came ashore on Crete where Europa had 3 sons with Zeus and gave her name to a continent.  On that continent today there are more than 50 countries.  One of them, Greece, is getting a lot of attention because of its financial troubles.

The 3 largest Greek communities in the world are, in order, Athens, Thessaloniki, and Melbourne, Australia.  I’ve written much about 1 and 3 but didn’t visit 2 until recently where I read the story of Europa in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki and regretted that I had waited so long to come to this terrific city.

Thessaloniki was established in 315 BCE by Cassander, King of Macedonia. It grew quickly because it had a perfect harbor.    Pella, however, remained the capital of northern Greece because Alexander the Great called it home. Thessaloniki was named for Alex’s sister.  For a while it was co-capital of the Roman Empire.   Emperor Octavian gave this city the right to make its own coins, which was unique in Roman times.  It was under Ottoman rule from 1430 until 1912 and almost all of the Christian churches became mosques.  It was the 2nd capital of the Byzantine Empire and acquired an Asian character that lingers and makes it very different from Hellenistic Athens.  It’s a multi-ethnic city for sure.  In 1500 many Jewish refugees from Spain settled in Thessaloniki.  Today it faces an influx of refugees from North Africa and the Middle East, especially from Syria, and the economic consequences of Greece’s financial turmoil.

Today, it’s a surprising large and sprawling modern city of 1,200,000 with the largest university in Greece.  Our guide, a lifelong resident of Thessaloniki, told us that it had 110,000 students.  An incredible amount of Thessaloniki’s colorful history remains.  There are, for example, 15 UNESCO monuments scattered about this city.  The White Tower on the pedestrian promenade along the harbor is one of them and Thessaloniki’s defining monument and greatest tourist attraction.   A tower has stood where it is since, at least, the Middle Ages.

DSC00308My favorite attraction, however, was the Church of St. Demetrius, once the site of a Roman bath.  Demetrius was a stubborn Roman military man who became the patron saint of soldiers.  He converted to Christianity, started preaching in public, and was arrested and put in what is now a crypt under this church. The emperor begged him not to preach, but Demetrius kept on and was killed in the year 306.  Ruth and I both favored it but spent far more time in the Archaeological and Byzantine Culture Museums meeting Europa and looking at coins, helmets, and icons.  Brad Paisley would call this time well wasted.














Lake Ohrid’s Museum on Water


Lake Ohrid, Europe’s oldest, is Macedonia’s #1 tourist draw.  The most likely international visitor to Lake Ohrid is not an American like me.  He is from The Netherlands.   As Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil increased travel to Savannah, Our Dutch Friend A. den Doolaard, a best seller by Ohrid author Misho Yuzmeski, created interest in Ohrid.   It’s about a Dutch writer, appeals to those who like Macedonian history, and is available in the town of Ohrid and probably in Amsterdam but not on Amazon.  Our Lake Ohrid guide Katrina, a fiery Macedonian, told us about this book with a bit of amazement as we approached one of the Lake’s biggest attractions–Museum on Water and Bay of the Bones.

Unique and truly amazing even if you’re not Dutch, the Museum on Water is actually a neolithic village built atop this lake. The original one was abandoned after The Bronze Age.  Some objects found in the lake are estimated to be 4,000-years-old.  By the Iron Age, this was already an old community.  Wooden piles and much more were found in the water and studied by a research team between 1997 and 2005.  Scientists learned that there were at least 24 prehistoric plaster and wood houses on a platform extended over Lake Ohrid.  Trapdoors gave access to the lake underneath the houses.  Baskets were lowered to catch fish that fed people and horses. The sophisticated ancient village had 21 rectangular homes and 3 round meeting buildings that reminded me of southwest U.S. kivas.  By 2010 the village was being reconstructed and a museum to display found artifacts was being built.

Scientists learned a lot about life in this village from what they found under the water. The women lived longer than the men, who usually died by the age of 30 probably from living above water, hard work, being around animals, and having multiple wives.  Children were roped to the houses by their feet.  Ceramic pottery and totems were found, so were bones and a lot of deer antlers.  Authorities figure that the antlers were used for religious purposes and speculate that storms might have caused villagers to believe that the area was cursed and that the antlers protected them.


Damaged Durres


At least Albania’s not on globetrotter Gunnar Garfors list of the 25 least visited countries in the world like Libya.  Gunnar claims to have been in every country, even the 25 most ignored ones like Somalia with only 500 tourists showing up in 2012.   He has, therefore, been to Albania.  This Balkan country is making a big effort to increase tourism.  Only one of the obstacles in its way is the fact that it’s across the Adriatic Sea from traveler magnet Italy.  Another is that its major resort city on the Adriatic is bedraggled Durres.

Durres was once Albania’s capital.  Its one of the oldest cities in Albania and, currently, its 2nd largest with about 100,000 residents.  Its ancient name was Epidamnos.  That was almost 3,000 years ago when it was founded by Greeks in 627 BCE.  When it was part of the Roman Empire, Durres was where Julius Caesar fought his last battle with Pompey.  One of the few reasons to visit Durres, in my opinion, is to see what’s left of a Roman amphitheater, the 2nd largest in The Balkans.  It was constructed in the 2nd century AD and doesn’t photograph especially well.

Durres is Albania’s major seaside resort town.  During the years when Russia had major influence, Soviets liked to vacation here.  Today ethnic Albanians from Kosovo favor Durres for their annual beach time.  I personally would not go in the water.   Its 6-mile-long beach with hundreds of hotels claustrophobically side by side developed haphazardly.  This resort area is so close to city center and a busy port that Durres’ urban waste, according to Lonely Planet, “causes frequent outbreaks of skin infections in swimmers”.  I saw many empty buildings but was told that, being May, the busy summer season had not yet begun.

The Roman theater seated up to 20,000.  Built during Emperor Trajan’s  time, it was unusual in that it was within city walls in the heart of Duyrrachium and close to the sea rather than outside town center like other large Roman amphitheaters.  As a result of its urban location, the area filled in completely with houses after a major 4th century earthquake and rising Christianity caused a shut-down.  The amphitheater wasn’t rediscovered until 1966 when a tree fell and a gallery appeared.  There are still houses perched atop its exposed walls even though it has become a major archaeological and tourist site.  These dwellings will eventually be removed, I was told.   In Roman times, our guide said, there were 3 shows per day. The 1st paired animals, the 2nd was a beast vs gladiator affair, and the evening event brought combat between 2 desperate-to-win gladiators.


Revisiting Crystal Bridges


It seemed like a good idea.  Ruth has relatives in West Plains, Missouri, who were interested in seeing Crystal Bridges, Alice Walton’s American Art Museum in Bentonville.  Ruth and I hadn’t been there since 2012.  Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bachman-Wilson House was scheduled to open in spring, 2015.   I added some months to this, and we organized a cousins’ trip for July, 2015.

I should have known better.  Bachman-Turner was built in 1954 close enough to New Jersey’s Millstone River to invite flooding.  The owners who restored it, the Tarantinos, decided to sell it to an institution willing to relocate it.  Enter Alice Walton, daughter of Walmart’s founder Sam Walton and the money and spirit behind Crystal Bridges.  Alice bought this Usonian home and began the process of moving it to a woodsy hillside near the Crystal Spring Trail on Crystal Bridges’ 120 acre property.  It cannot be seen from the museum but is very close.  It’s now scheduled to open for limited tours in autumn, 2015.  We decided to go anyway.

Crystal Bridges’ American art collection spans 5 centuries, from Colonial portraits to Warhol.  In 8 pavilions that surround 2 spring-fed ponds and remind me of a ready-for-action Samurai warrior architecturally, Alice’s art collection is arranged chronologically and interrupted by small temporary exhibitions.  What surprised me the most was that visiting Crystal Bridges after a 3 year absence was like seeing it for the first time.  Much of its permanent collection, I was told, is still in storage and new acquisitions are being added regularly. I would estimate that about half of what I saw was not up when Ruth and I first visited.  I also noticed an attempt to introduce a bit of non-American art to the mix, like the Chardin in the temporary show “American Encounters” that closes September 14.  Crystal Bridges is still free and its Eleven restaurant remains excellent.    I was not surprised to learn that it will welcome its millionth visitor in August, 2015.  Since it opened on 11-11-11, Crystal Bridges has attracted, on average, about 21,700 visitors each month.

They come to see American icons like George Washington and Rosie the Riveter.  I used to be among the amateur critics who claimed that Norman Rockwell was just a popular illustrator.   This time I sat and stared at Rosie for a long time and decided that this is simply not true.  Rockwell was an American artist of note.  I hadn’t noticed before that Rosie’s frame has corner stars and that her right foot is on Hitler’s book Mein Kampf.

“Picturing the Americas: Landscape painting from Tierra del Fuego to the Arctic” opens on November 7, 2015, and runs through January 18, 2016. Landscape imagery that inspired our national identity sounds like an interesting idea for a show, and this exhibit promises about 100 paintings, photographs, prints, etc. from well-known artists like Georgia O’Keeffe and not-so-famous ones like Francisco Oller. This show combined with a Frank Lloyd Wright house and a Collection Highlights Tour would be a trip worth taking.  But this time, I’ll check on Bachamn-Turner before I start planning.