Monthly Archives: December 2017

Ruth’s Best of Year


I asked Ruth about her best 2017 travel experience.  She thought it over and said that hers was in Cornwall too.  It began in the town library of St. Just, Great Britain’s most south-westerly town.  There are many abandoned mines in the area.  There was once so much ore gathering on this coastline that Winston Graham set Poldark novels here.  When Poldark became a TV series, a lot of scenes were filmed near St Just with some difficulty.  And that’s one of the reasons why we got off the bus to look around St Just.

There was nothing to see on the parking lot so Ruth and I stepped into the library to see if we could learn something.  Town libraries are 2nd only to visitor centers when we’re looking for informed, friendly locals.  We never made it into the library itself.  A woman exiting it heard our American accents and asked where we were from.  We said near Portland, Oregon.  Life is full of coincidence.  Christine told us that her son was living and working in Portland for 2 years and hoped to visit him there.  When she heard of Ruth’s interest in Poldark, she took us to her car and treated us to a 2 ½ hour tour of all the Poldark locations in the area, including a small museum at a former tin mine where we watched a film about the new Poldark series.   Ruth wrote in her travel log, “It was magical.  Fog.  Rolling waves….wild flowers….”

We next talked about our best shared experience.  It happened in Washington, DC.  We were spending the day exploring some Smithsonian buildings and wanted to see the new National Museum of African American History & Culture.  We got in line to enter and were told that tickets were necessary.  We had never been asked for tickets at any Smithsonian facility.  Later, we learned that this museum has been so successful that people are getting the next available tickets to be used in 8 months!   We learned that each day some are offered via a website that people must access at 6:30 am.   They go fast.

We sat down near the National Museum of African American History & Culture’s entrance and began talking to 2 African American women who had just come out.  They raved about the museum.    We told them our sad story about not being able to get in.  They left.

I walked down to the street.  As I stood on the corner staring at the building I couldn’t enter, a car containing the 2 ladies pulled up and the passenger opened her window and waved a piece of paper at me.  She announced that they had 2 extra tickets because her friend visiting from the West Coast had also ordered tickets that they hadn’t used.  She gave them to us and we saw a 5 compass attraction because of her generosity.


Best of Year

It’s near the end of 2017, and I’m recalling the travel from Havana to Tofino that has enriched our lives since it began.   One of my top five experiences occurred in a church in Launceston, Cornwall, England.  At the time it seemed rather small-town ordinary, but as I thought about it afterwards it took on special significance  because of the welcome we received.

Wandering around this best-of-Cornwall town, Ruth and I passed St. Mary Magdalene Church.  It was early Sunday afternoon and an event was clearly unfolding inside.  We entered to find “Words into Bloom” in progress,  We were greeted like much-honored locals.   The man at the welcoming desk took us to the vestibule to show us a best-of-show flower arrangement and told us that St. Mary Magdalene was having a festival just that day to mark the 100 years since the birth of Charles Causley.

I had never heard of Charles Causley so the friendly church member educated me.  Causley taught school in Launceston but composed poetry in his spare time.  Some of it was published and Causley became a local celebrity.  The ladies of this church had made floral arrangements inspired by some of his poems.  The town hoped that Mr. Causley would be named Poet Laureate of England, but that never happened.   He remained a local but much respected local phenomenon.  There was a lot of his poetry on view, and “All Day Saturday” was my favorite.  It began “Let it sleet on Sunday, Monday let it snow…”  The last line, not unexpectedly, called for sunshine on Saturday.

Late Medieval St. Mary Magdalene Church was quite an attraction.   Built by Henry Trecarrell, it’s considered one of the 100 best churches in England because of its exterior carved detail.  Trecarrell was planning to use richly carved blocks to decorate the exterior of the new manor house he was building, but then his infant son reportedly drowned.   Deciding he needed a memorial, Trecarrell donated the stones to rebuild the church that stood on this site.   Completed and rededicated in 1524, the exterior has changed little since then.

Enhanced by the floral displays, the interior was still fairly ordinary but ancient.   For example, its high altar was dedicated in 1338.  The outside was the better attraction because of the elaborate carvings.  Some of them showed the various plants that were in the ointment Mary Magdalene supposedly used to anoint Christ’s feet.  But the star carving was a face-forward, reclining Mary on the back of the church.  Rather than just tell me about it, the generous man left his station to take me on a complete exterior tour and tell me about a local legend.  Mary is kind of voluptuously reclining next to an ointment pot, and Launcestonites believe that if you throw a pebble over your shoulder that lands on her back you will soon get a new set of clothes.


Washington at Fraunces Tavern

George Washington was sworn in as President on the balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, New York City.  Washington spent a lot of time in New York where he dined at Fraunces Tavern, which became his New York Revolutionary War headquarters.  After this war’s last battle, Washington came here to deliver a farewell address and say goodbye to his officers before returning to Mount Vernon.  He returned in 1789 to be sworn in as the 1st President.

Samuel Fraunces bought the building at 54 Pearl Street that is now the location of Fraunces Tavern in 1762 when it was a large brick house belonging to the DeLancey family.  Several months later Fraunces, a savvy early New York City entrepreneur, opened what was called the Queen’s Head Tavern here.  It was an ideal location because it was close to both the harbor and this town’s financial center, now known as Wall Street.  As the Revolutionary Was was brewing, Fraunces moved his family to Philadelphia and opened another tavern but he still owned what eventually became Fraunces Tavern.  It’s thought that he first met George Washington in 1776, but George didn’t employ Sam as his chief steward until 1789, the year he became President.  Fraunces oversaw the operation of the President’s house and selected food for his table.  When the Federal Government moved to Philadelphia in 1790, Samuel Fraunces moved too.  His service to the President ended in 1794 when he opened a new tavern in Philadelphia, where he died the next year.

Today, there’s a restaurant on the 1st floor of Fraunces Tavern, a preserved treasure in Lower Manhattan with a museum upstairs devoted to early American history and culture.   There are currently lots of pictures of George Washington, surely the most frequently depicted human at that time, there in a special exhibition.  A Russian diplomat named Pavel Svinin said in 1811, “Every American considers it his sacred duty to have a likeness of Washington in his house…”  Also in this museum, at least for now, is a panel from the coach that took Washington to his inauguration and one of Martha Washington’s slippers.

If you want to know more about early New York history, this is a great place to start.  I loved seeing the pre-Revolutionary War map of the city, the many flags on exhibit from this museum’s collection of 200 early American flags and standards, the period rooms, etc.

Ruth and I walked the short distance from Fraunces Tavern to Delmonico’s for lunch.




Surviving Faneuil Hall

Boston’s Faneuil Hall is still called The Cradle of Liberty, but the name could be changed to Cradle of Tourism.  Behind it is Quincy Market.  Returning there after several years, I asked myself this question,  “What’s the difference between a historic marketplace and a mall food court?”  Answer:  there is none.

There are only 2 things still somewhat authentic about Quincy Market, the grasshopper weathervane and Durgin Park.  The latter is a restaurant that has been around since 1827.  When there was an 18th century warehouse here, there was a restaurant in it by 1742.  This, however, wasn’t Durgin Park, where people have been sitting at communal tables enduring cheeky service since John Durgin became involved in the 19th century.  Things have slightly changed since then.  Durgin Park has a basement beer garden now and serves soup and sandwiches at Logan Airport.  The stores surrounding it and the ones in the companion South Market are mall-like with some familiar names.  If you travel to shop, you might be delighted.  I was delighted in only one store, which was very touristy but fun–Newbury Comics.  It was the only “different” store in the faux historic Quincy Markets, which promise more than 40 unique shops, 35 foot stalls, pubs, etc.   Newbury sells practically everything trendy–vinyl, cheap body jewelry, bots, etc.  I was most amused by its Die Hard Coloring Book.

I paused there and wondered what Peter Faneuil, colonial merchant, would think of what happened to his marketplace.  Before he founded Faneuil Hall, he traded fish, molasses, and slaves with his uncles.  One rich uncle said he would disinherit Peter and his brother if they married.  His brother defied this edict, so Peter inherited a bundle and became a wealthy colonial entrepreneur.  When he died, his will left 5 slaves and 195 bottles of wine to his surviving, uncle-defying brother and a sister.

Peter Faneuil’s hall has remained a bit more historically authentic than the markets, but only a bit.  Faneuil was the first man to successfully establish a central food market in Boston.  The building known as Faneuil Hall today was constructed in 1742.  Back then, its lower level contained stalls selling vegetables, meat, and dairy products.  A large meeting hall on the 2nd floor became Boston’s town hall and a history-making space.  British taxation policies were hotly debated here as violent occurrences erupted in Boston streets, all leading to the Revolutionary War.   In 1805 noted architect Charles Bulfinch was hired to redo the building and the three granite structures were built behind Faneuil Hall that would expand the market-idea.  The malling of these markets occurred in the 1970s.  Faneuil Hall itself is now run by the National Park Service but is owned by the city of Boston.  Level one now has a visitor information desk, a gift shop, etc.  Upstairs is a museum and armory.

A lot of tourists see Faneuil Hall and the markets as part of the famous Freedom Trail that begins at the Boston Common and ends at Bunker Hill.




Wonder Women at NMWA


Name one important Renaissance painter like Michelangelo who was a woman.  If you, like me, can’t think of one, the question becomes, “Why have female artists been ‘marginalized for centuries’?  This 3-word-phrase was in a brochure called “Champion Women Through the Arts”. The first female artists were probably 16th century portrait painters like Lavinia Fontana.  Ever heard of her?  The sad fact is that until the 19th century cultural traditions and rigid gender roles kept woman from becoming artists.  This is why the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC, was necessary.  It’s one of those museums, like the new and outrageously successful African American History and Culture Museum, that shouldn’t have to exist but does because an important story has not been told.

Wallace and Wilhelmina Cole Holladay began collecting art by women in the 1970s.  They discovered that there was very little about females in reference books about art.  This caused them to establish a museum dedicated to exhibiting only women artists.  It opened in 1987 and Wilhelmina is still actively involved in its mission.  It’s the only major museum in the world dedicated to female artists.  Its collection has grown to more than 5,000 works by 16th through 21st century women.

This museum is, ironically, in a Renaissance Revival building completed in 1908 for Freemasons, a male-only fraternal organization.   It’s in downtown Washington, DC, at New York Avenue & 13th Street NW.  Inside today are a performance hall, a research library, and 3 floors exhibiting examples of its vast collection of women artists in every artistic field.   The 2nd floor is dedicated to temporary shows.  Ruth and I were there the day “Magnetic Fields” opened.  This show that runs until January 21, 2018, features abstract works from 20 women of color and is part of the National Museum of Women in the Arts 30th anniversary celebration.

Among its collected works on current exhibit is a sculpture reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta.   It’s called “After the Storm” and is one of 50 sculptural works by Sarah Bernhardt.   If you know that name, you’re probably saying, “I thought she was an actress.”  Indeed, she was; but she also created sculptures like this.  Only 20 are known to exist today.  There are examples of the works of most well-known female artists, like Frida Kahlo and Lee Krasner, in the permanent collection and out to be viewed.

The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is thriving.   In spring, 2017, Madeleine Rast donated $9 million via her estate to this museum.  This is the single largest cash gift NMWA has ever received.  Rast was a successful businesswoman/investor who emigrated from Switzerland to the U. S. and settled in California.


PS    Khalo’s self-portrait was dedicated to Leon Trotsky.  The other portrait was by Sarah Peale, whose father James was a noted artist.