Cemetery hearts

“Behold and See as you Pass By

As you are Now so Once was I

As I am Now you soon will Be

Prepare for Death and Follow Me.”

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On the grounds of St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan, New York City, is a tombstone that stands upright in the earth of the chapel’s cemetery with the above inscription.  The Episcopal chapel dates back to the 1700s.

So recently as I was returning home from a dentist appointment, I stopped in to linger briefly in the old cemetery at St. Paul’s Chapel, one of my favorites, to admire the old headstones, with their antique font, archaic verbiage, and then to imagine the lives of the people who once walked around right where I was standing, and all of the layers of lives that have traversed these grounds since.

Though the church itself dates back to the 1700s, many of the headstones look much older than they are; most of the dates I read were from the 1800s.

I’ve written here before about how much I love cemeteries, though how different these IMG_3927are from the ones I viewed from afar in Africa!  These graves are in the middle of a metropolis and just steps away from the World Trade Center site (now One World Observatory).

With all this activity, I wonder, can these souls rest in peace, especially when they overlay an underground system of active trains that rumble night and day beneath them?

About a mile north of lower Manhattan’s St. Paul’s Chapel cemetery is another extremely tiny cemetery, tucked away behind a brick wall and bars in a triangular plot on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village.  The plaque outside reads “The Second Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.”  (Two others are hidden away elsewhere in Manhattan, one in Chinatown and the other on West 21st Street.)

I couldn’t get close enough to see the dates on any of the headstones in this small enclosed burial ground, but I doubt they compare to how old the graves are at the first cemetery in Salem, MassDCP_2978., known as “The Burying Point,” many of which date back to the 1600s.

Like the one of this young soul who, it says here, lived a mere “nineteen winters in this world.”

More on this one come Halloween.

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Vintagio* mini-films

A few years ago I got really into making little mini-movies with an app I was playing around with at the time called Vintagio*.  I would find something of interest to shoot with my iPhone camera, record a few minutes of it, and then set the whole thing to music.

When I tried to upload them to this blog, I learned that I’d have to upgrade to a considerably higher-cost plan, so I’ve decided to post a link here to my YouTube channel that contains (so far) three of these mini-films.  While you’re there, feel free to subscribe.

One (titled Monks Shearwater Snow Leopard) is from a rainy afternoon in early September 2011, near the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.  That would explain the monks meditating outside the World Trade Center site. (The WTC is not visible in this video, but the monks are.)  I set this video to the song “Snow Leopard” by Shearwater.

Another is one that I made going through a car wash in my old hometown.  This is a car wash that my dad named through a naming contest back when I was a kid.  The “Tunnel o’ Suds.”  Now it’s been re-named, but that name stuck for a good 30+ years.  This video is set to Rose Royce’s song “Car Wash,” for obvious reasons.

A third is one I made sitting inside a Starbucks on 7th Avenue in Manhattan a few years ago while I watched the window cleaner do his thing.  It’s set to a Tom Petty song I don’t know the title of.  (Tom, if you are reading this, don’t sue me. Just contact me by email. We’ll talk.)

One thing I never did figure out was how to do a nice fade-out so that it doesn’t end so abruptly.  I’ll work on that.

There are more of these, but I need to find them on a missing-in-action external hard drive.  For now, these, for your viewing and listening pleasure.

* Correction:  The title of this post originally referred to the video editing app as Magisto (which I have also used and is legitimately good in its own right), but in fact, the videos in the above links were edited and produced using an app called Vintagio.

 

 

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Babysitting by Willard

One of my favorite posts on the entire Internet — an excellent piece titled “If 70s Moms Had Blogs” — takes me hilariously back to the long-gone good-and-bad old days of the 1970s.  I’m somewhat of a nostalgia addict, so posts like this just tear me up and take me down thought avenues that can last for days.

I never imagined my childhood was how Victoria Fedden describes growing up with a 70s mom in the above post… UNTIL TODAY, when, while watching the movie Willard, I was hit with the distinct memory of seeing it for the first time as a kid at a movie theatre.  Yes, a kid.

The memory goes like this:  I somehow heard of this movie Willard, about an Willard posterawkward guy who makes friends with rats and trains them to do his bidding.  The movie poster said something about how it’s the one movie you should not see alone.  It featured a tall lanky blond boy actor and showed images of one particularly creepy scary rat with glowing threatening eyes.  Naturally, this movie seems like it would be irresistible for any kid.  Okay, maybe not.

The poster says you should not see it alone.  It doesn’t say you shouldn’t see it without your parents.  I don’t remember how it went down, but somehow it turned into an opportunity for my parents to drop the kids off at the Willard poster 2theater to see Willard while they killed a couple hours at my aunt’s house a short drive from the cinema.

This might seem pretty lax now, what with “helicopter parenting” and over-scheduled, over-protected and heavily-monitored children, but it didn’t seem even remotely weird then.  Besides, it had a “GP” rating (remember “GP ratings”?)  So kids got breaks from their parents as much as the other way around, and we were no worse for it (on second thought, I can’t make that assertion with 100 percent certainty, but let’s just say…).  I do know at least one person who was permanently scarred by the scene where Socrates breaks Willard’s heart.

The point is, as is the point of most nostalgic reminiscence, that it seemed like a simpler time when parents had no idea what the hell their kids were doing while they were “out playing,” or it was not unusual to leave your un-chaperoned, underage kids to be babysat by Willard Stiles at a suburban movie theater without being reported for negligence. There may have been no fewer threats to kids at that time, just maybe different ones than we have now.  Evil rats notwithstanding.

In many ways, the 70s were a frightening time.  We were immersed in a culture of Pop Tarts, roller skates, turquoise appliances, the-exorcist-posterconjunction junction, station wagons, and 2001, the disco.  Besides conjunction junction — which is its own category of Awesome and not scary at all but must be mentioned — that’s some pretty scary stuff.

And remember, we were still two years away from the release of  The Exorcist.

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Small towns

On a recent drive along Route 78 East in Pennsylvania, I passed a roadside attraction I’d driven past a million times before without stopping.  It’s called Roadside America Miniature Village. It’s a museum of miniatures built over decades by a man named Laurence Gieringer in the mid-1930s.

The appeal of miniatures for me goes back to my dollhouse and Barbie days. The Twilight Zone episode where it turns out at the end that everybody in the episode is actually a doll being moved around by a massive human girl who occasionally sticks her hand into the scene to ruin their little doll lives.  This museum I went to when I was visiting Denver in March 2016:  the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys.  Even those little miniature models of MINI Coopers they have at MINI dealerships.

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I hadn’t stopped at Roadside America before mainly because there had always been some reason not to — I didn’t want to leave the dog in the car alone for too long; I was in a hurry to get to my destination; it was closed — but this time circumstances worked in Roadside America’s and my favor.  It was near closing time; I was making good time to my destination; and it just felt right.

So this time I went for it.  This is a much more grand, much more massive “village” than I expected.  Apparently, it is over 7,000 square feet of moving trains, trolleys, cable cars, windmills, steel mills, coal mines, department stores, houses, farms, people, horses, dogs, birds, planes, cars, old time gas stations, a cemetery, a cathedral, and a hotel.  It is, quite frankly, a remarkable feat and clearly a labor of love that went beyond a simple hobby for Mr. Gieringer.

IMG_3350There were many private houses, and weaving in and out of those were inns, streams, ponds, and “paved” roads.  IMG_3358

There was also a covered bridge, and, quite unexpectedly, a small Native American teepee village.

The entry fee was $8.00, and it took about 45 minutes to go through.  Toward the end of a half-hour, they direct visitors to one end of the room where there are bleacher-like rows of seats for the “night show.”  The lights go down, and the town goes through a fast-motion sundown, overnight, and sunrise, against a soundtrack of patriotic American anthems (including the national anthem and God Bless America) and a backdrop of a painting of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag.

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A new day dawns over Roadside America Miniature Village.

Roadside America indeed.

Small replicas of large mundane objects are irresistible in their charm.  Maybe it evokes a circular symmetry that distracts from humdrum everyday life or adds a level of what I’ve always referred to as “magic” to an experience.

Or maybe it’s just that Twilight Zone thing where perhaps our whole reality is just somebody’s plaything, and we are dolls playing in a dollhouse where we can be scooped up by a big hand at any moment.  But until then, we get to keep playing obliviously in our miniature world.

Posted in Miniatures, Pennsylvania, Road trip, Roadside, U.S.A. | Tagged | 1 Comment

Stanley

A year and two months ago, I had the opportunity to spend a night alone at The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park, Colorado.  Among other things, this hotel is known for being the inspiration for the hotel with a sinister history in Stephen King’s novel The Shining.

Just prior to driving up to Estes Park, I had been in Denver visiting a (now former) friend and took fuNothing Worshipping Satan comicll advantage of the opportunity to escape one frightening experience (the details of which I will leave to the reader’s imagination) and go in search of another.

The drive up from Denver to Estes Park cuts right through the astounding Rocky Mountains.  There’s the scenic route, and then there’s the wildly mind-blowingly scenic route.  I took the former on the way to the Stanley, and the latter on the way back.

Both were adventures.  Because cellular access was spotty throughout the Rockies, I couldn’t rely too heavily on my GPS to get me to my destination.  There are enough signs, though, so you can do it easily the old fashioned way, and once you get near enough, you can see the huge structure from a far distance, which is a pretty cool experience on approach.IMG_1135

And, well, I’m going to cut a corner here and let my August 2016 Yelp review fill in the rest of this story:

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“The Stanley Hotel SAVED what had turned out to be a pretty awful trip to Colorado for me.  Not to mention that it completely lived up to the spooky fear factor I was hoping for by visiting the hotel that inspired Stephen King’s The Shining (and I can VERY EASILY see why).

Yeah, I was scared out of my wits for the one night I was there. My stay took place in early March 2016.  I was traveling alone.  I went on the night time “Scary Mary” tour of the hotel.  I had dinner and drinks at the whiskey bar (they appropriately have a drink called Redrum Punch).  The whole thing, for whatever reason, just felt perfectly and beautifully spooky.  I’d love to go for any October special-ness they have.

They do encourage a little ghost-hunting while you’re there — just to keep up the hype — but thank God I didn’t see one (as far as I could tell), because if I had, I wouldn’t be writing this review right now due to death by heart attack from utter fright.

The hotel service was great, very attentive and professional.  The hotel itself was very grand and beautiful, though at the time I was there, there was some construction going on that limited access to certain areas on the grounds.  They are also in the process of planting trees for what will ultimately grow into a replication of the famous MAZE that is featured in the movie version of The Shining.

IMG_1154The room was much bigger than I expected — huge walk-in closet, mirrors, a TV that has an “all-The-Shining-all-the-time” channel that loops the movie over and over.  They have SK to thank for at least a portion of their success, though without the book and movie, it seems to me that the hotel could stand on its own as a beautiful destination amid stunning scenery.  The pop culture appeal just adds a unique dimension.  Seriously, it’s pretty scary. I woke up during the night once or twice and was afraid to open my eyes.  I was also afraid to take a shower or look behind the shower curtain.  If you’ve seen the movie, you’ll know what I mean.

They accomplished their goal, and I got my money’s worth (which, actually, was much more reasonable than I expected).

The drive to and from The Stanley Hotel was pretty spectacular (took the standard route through the Rocky Mountains on the way FROM Boulder & downtown Denver, and took the more scenic route on the way back).  The scenic route has spotty cell service, so if you’re relying on a GPS, you’re out of luck, but my advice would be to just turn the damn thing off and follow the road, take in the glorious and magnificent natural sights, and just be in the moment for a few hours.

I look forward to the next visit.  Honestly, it’s the only reason I’d need to return to Colorado, and certainly the best, Rocky Mountains notwithstanding.”  8-17-2016

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And you can stick your face into the cut-out holes of the scary little girl twins from The Shining.

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Sitting on the veranda of this grand, noble, historic hotel, it’s difficult to imagine IMG_1054anything more troubling happening in this hotel outside of being woken up by housekeeping at an ungodly hour, but apparently, it does.

Because, apparently, this hotel actually is haunted.

Apparently.

… though I am not in a hurry to find that out anytime soon.

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Frank

I’ve written several times in this space over the past few years about death and dying and those I’ve lost.  Unfortunately, on April 1, there was another death, this one unexpected. His name is Frank, and he was the longtime companion and partner of a very old, very dear friend.  So, spoiler alert:  This isn’t technically a travel post.

Dan_Frank_me_on_NJ_beach_80sInitially, I met Frank through my friend, his partner. It started in the late 1980s “back east,” going to the beach, attending parties at their comparatively massive apartment (in contrast to my and other friends’ puny NYC pads).  My dances around Frank’s acerbic wit and intimidating intellect bordered on fear, mainly due to its potential to crack my hyper-sensitive 20-something shell.  After those first few years they were together, when I saw them often, I was so bummed out when they moved to the west coast in the early 90s.  At the same time, now trips to California took on a whole new shade of fun.

As it will, time and various life experiences ebbed and flowed the frequency of our contact. There were long gaps where we fell out of touch, but then we would bridge those gaps when we eventually saw each other again, usually for some entertaining Los Angeles experience, and the thrill of returning to that familiar bond.

We’ve all by now heard that Maya Angelou quote over and over, the one that reminds Winnie the Pooh for Frankyou that “people will never forget how you made them feel.”   Frank had a way of making me feel curious, interested, attentive, engaged, and a little bit closer to fully alive.  There was no topic I could bring up that Frank wouldn’t be able to talk about with knowledge and authority without losing my attention, being the fabulously reliable font of information that he was.

But Frank had something else I rarely found in anyone I met as an adult, due in part to the fact that he hailed from the general region of the hometown I grew up in — he understood my background:  ethnically, politically, religiously.  Possibly more than anything else, that bonded me to Frank in ways I don’t fully grasp.  In his passing, I, like many who knew him, will feel for quite some time the penetrating absence of this one-of-a-kind man whose impact is hard to match.

Posted in Friends, Los Angeles, Non-travel, Personal | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Happy April Fool’s Day

April Fool 2017

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Table Settings

Atop Cape Town’s Table Mountain, more than 3,500 feet above sea level, there is more to see than a flat tabletop.

Table Mountain can be scaled if you have the right gear and a heart for the challenge.  I met a fellow train passenger who did just that, using the popular Platteklip Gorge route.

I, on the other hand, took the easy way up:  the cable car (locally, the “cableway”), risking vertigo and fear of dropping my phone (which I would still have for a few more hours) while capturing a great photo op.  (I keep wondering why smartphone lanyards are not a more popular accessory for situations like this.)

There are endless views, and lush vegetation, and unbearably cute creatures called dassies, who dwell up there.

Once you get to the top of where the cable car stops, there is a self-guided pathway you can follow, with various outlooks and stops along the way to take in the spectacular views of Table Bay.

 

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Also visible from one outlook is Robben Island, site of Nelson Mandela’s imprisonment for nearly two decades.

Here are a few more pictures of what it’s like just meandering around the top of the mountain.

Apparently, there have been fires atop the mountain.

Periodically, the path allows you to venture toward one of the edges of the mountain.  It’s safe, for sure, but there’s always that queasy feeling that would creep up in the pit of my stomach, and then that “almost falling” feeling that would rush me all the faster along the designated path toward the gift shop.

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As thrilling as it was to spend an hour or two high atop Table Mountain, eventually it’s somewhat of a relief to take the cable back down to safer ground.

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Cape Town hijinks

img_3228About forty minutes after this picture was taken (right, the shot of a statue of a man in a “heil”-like pose), something dire occurred.

My iPhone was lifted out of my bag, never to be returned.  Or found.

I have told this story several times since that day, and I usually tell it the same way.

During one rare window when — though not completely alone — I still was not accompanied by a local tour guide, I had no sooner dropped my iPhone into a zippered slot in the front of the crossbody handbag I wore close to my side and was just ready to zip it back up — pffft, just like that, the bag felt the slightest mite lighter, thanks to an agile thief with the sleightest of hand.

Now, as I’ve said elsewhere on this blog, I have long lived in an urban environment known for crowds.  I have also traveled to foreign cities on various continents.  I am no stranger to pickpockets and other petty crimes that occur in large crowded metropolises where anyone can become a victim of opportunity if not on high alert.  In fact, no fewer (and perhaps surprisingly, no more) than three times have I had my wallet stolen right out of my backpack or handbag:  Twice in New York City (a shoe store and a pizza joint), and once in a Paris pub.

I’m not surprised it happened any of those times.  I was off guard, not paying attention, engrossed in some other activity, a conversation or something.

This day, however, was different:  I had even felt a strangely close brush past me several times leading up to the event, something I only noticed in context, in hindsight.  I was on high alert.  It was a crowded section of Cape Town, with market vendors selling their wares.  I was aware of strangers too close, held my bag tight to my side, protected my wallet, made sure not to put anything in a back pocket.  But I was protecting the wrong loot against a bandit who was too skilled at his trade (and, I think, was operating in a pair).

All of which is to say that the thief who absconded with my iPhone 5S quite justifiably deserved it.  Like a hard-won prize.

In the moment it happened, I panicked. I looked around. I confronted a couple of vendors at the street market where it happened.  Surely they had seen something and were staying mum.  I even asked a “safety officer” who was wearing some official-looking type of orange vest, and he pointed me toward the police station to report it a few blocks away (which I did, a futile exercise).

Ultimately, after racing all over that area, visiting cell phone “re-sellers,” and scanning the area for guilty-looking parties and reeling from thoughts of the irretrievable and un-backed-up contents of my phone (mainly the two thousand or so photos and a multitude of notes and lists and writings), I let myself be devastated for about 24 hours (okay, maybe a tiny bit more), and contacted my service provider, who happily informed me that I qualified for a free phone upgrade, and eventually started looking ahead to the new phone that would be waiting for me when I arrived home a week later, the following Saturday.

Ultimately, I just chalked it up to being part of the “vacation experience.”  There was far too much to love about this beautiful country and its people to get dragged down by one bum circumstance.

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This fellow in the “heil”-like pose, by the way, is Cecil John Rhodes, the British imperialist who took over large swaths of African land and named portions of it after himself (Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, for instance), until 1980 when his name faded into the distant past.

Sort of like the loot a thief makes off with.

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For the Love of the Grape

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In addition to cemeteries, sunsets, and trains, I love wine.

There was one particularly cloudy, wet, drizzly day toward the end of my Cape Town IMG_3459.JPGsojourn, and that is the day that called for one of those other things South Africa is well known for:  Its VINO.

While I am not necessarily a connoisseur of grape varietals, I can easily distinguish between a wine that is a good match with my palate and one that isn’t.  It’s not too complicated.

I selected a half-day (about four hour) Winelands tour of a couple of vineyards along the Stellenbosch wine route.  Thimg_3460e tour was comprised of about seven tourists and included two stops.

I’ve been to wine tastings in Santa Barbara, CA and in Sonoma County, CA, but these tastings were unique in the way they were conducted.

Instead of standing around at a bar with a very brief introduction for each wine presented, the way they usually are, we were seated at a picnic bench and served cheese and crackers to accompany each of the wines — and to that, all I can say is, when is cheese an unwelcome addition to anything?

The first stIMG_3478.JPGop was at the Zevenwacht wine estate.  They extended generous portions.  As a wine tasting should be, it was an easy, non-rushed experience, with plenty of time to take in the aromas, the vibe, the company of our fellow travelers, and gather an overall sense of the room, including a friendly house dog.

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After the tastings, we were taken into another room, where we were given a tour of the wine cellar and shown the large barrels of wine used in the Zevenwacht wine-making process.

After Zevenwacht, we hauled back into the van to be transported through the afternoon rain over to another wine estate on the Stellenbosch route:  Saxenburg.

This tasting room had a similar format but quite different feel.  The wine steward (if that is the technical name for the person who presents and pours the wine) emphasized the history of the estate much more than the previous one had.

As evidenced in the photos below, the timeline of the Saxenburg history was laid out on the wall of the tasting room.

A “must” experience for those so inclined, I highly recommend the Winelands Tours for a stay in the Cape Town region, regardless of weather.  Once we were well into the tastings, we didn’t notice the weather anyway.

The trip back to our respective hotels occurred during the midst of the local rush hour, but that didn’t seem like much of a problem either.

Save it for a rainy day?  Definitely!

Posted in Africa, Day trips, South Africa, Stellenbosch, Tourism, Wine, Winelands, Zevenwacht | Leave a comment