Saturday, November 23, 2013

View From a Horse

My first encounter with a horse occurred when I was 8 or 9 years old. I had won a "Day at a Dude Ranch" for selling newspaper subscriptions. As an adult I am short, 5'5", as a child I was tiny. The massive animal, each of it's teeth seeming as large as my head, terrified me. Climbing on top of one was a feat which required unbelievable bravery from my diminutive self. As I recall they were not even able to adjust the stirrups high enough for me to slip my feet in them leaving my little legs dangling on either side of the beast as they slowly walked us around the corral.

Another day trip I won was to Catalina, a small island off the southern California coast. At Long Beach airport I boarded a plane, for the first time in my life, for the short flight to the island., It was a small seaplane which landed offshore in the Pacific. It is ironic that my first flight was on a plane the likes of which I probably will never experience again. I remember the water washing over the windows as we touched down. There too a portion of the day was given up to horseback riding. At least at this point my legs had grown to a length where I could secure myself on top of the animal, although the stirrups still had to be set to the highest point possible.

A friend of mine in junior high and high school owned a horse. At the time tract homes had not completely taken over the once bucolic valley we lived in. One afternoon, she in front, I in back, rode through the walnut groves and fields which remained. Now that ground has been paved over and filled with the concrete slab foundations of homes which personify suburban sprawl.

My partner and I have ridden through the back acres of farms during weekends enjoying the fall colors in Michigan and the southern portion of Indiana. That portion of the state where the board flat cornfields transition into rolling hills before the terrain slopes down to the Ohio river. Unfortunately rising insurance costs have made the rides unaffordable for many of the small family farms.

We rode through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. We were led by a park ranger along wide paths, although my horse seemed obsessed with walking the very edge of the commodious path next to a precipitous drop. It was as if it was exhibiting some sort of equine daredevil death wish, which I did not share.

On the first of my two rides in the jungle covered hills above Puerta Vallarta our gay guide dismounted and said, in Mexican accented English, "We rest here a few minutes." As we sat in a dry riverbed he then declared, "This is the part where we drink Tequila", pulling a flask and shot glass from his bag. After several rounds we returned to the horses and the remainder of our, now somewhat unsteady, ride. On my second ride our less festive straight guide seemed most concerned with attempting to lasso the trees and shrubs we passed along our way. In his defense he did point out a orchid sprouting wild from one of the trees he was attempting to lasso.

Following a rain soaked day we took a muddy ride the next afternoon at the foot of the Grand Tetons. As we climbed to over 7000 feet we looked down at the Snake river winding below.

The perspective is different when on top of a horse. In the saddle, high off the ground, sights you are accustomed to looking up at are at eye level. Your view is more expansive. On a hill atop the animal you can see further than on your own two feet.

There's a relationship, friendly or antagonistic, sometimes cooperative, sometimes not, with the large animal carrying you. I've had horses that are playful and horses that are headstrong, ignoring the instructions you are trying to convey with the reins. Some horses have an attitude which seems to say "I've been on this trail scores of times! I know what I'm doing here better than you!" Others seem less arrogant, although I sometimes think they are merely placating me, just letting me think I am in charge. Some seem resigned to a life of servitude, carrying a person around over ground they have trod countless times before. Some prefer to go slow and steady, some love to gallop. Some horses are friends with others on the trail, some are loners. Like many other animals each one has it's own personality.

The large draft horse I rode in the Tetons, gray hairs in his mane, breathed heavily after carrying me up one steep hillside; even though he avoided the mudslick trail and walked along the grass beside it where he could get better traction during the climb. Yet, at the end of the ride when he was allowed to gallop through  a flat meadow he took off with an exuberance which belied his obvious age. In Mexico I was given a horse named Clown, due to the white markings on his face. However, during the course of the ride he seemed determined to live up to his name with his silly, erratic behavior.

Each ride is different. Each is a unique moment in time. The view from a horse is always an adventure.


Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Tilting at Windmills

"Would you like to help us fight Monsanto?" He was young, perhaps 19 or 20, innocent and earnest. He stood on a street corner trying to interest passersby in his quest to battle the heartless, soulless corporate monster.

In my youth I held the belief that if enough people banded together we could enact change. I engaged in protest. In a loud public voice I expressed my disapproval of 3 wars, watching these conflicts end only when it was convenient for the government and corporations involved to end them. One still persists, costing us billions of dollars and thousands of lives lost on both sides.

I now watch with a feeling of resign as politicians bicker like children while the world outside their citadels dissolve into chaos and poverty. They spend their days scrambling for power while corporations throw money at them. When they gain power they spend their time and energy attempting to maintain it.

The curious thing is that once they have power they do nothing with it. Or they create laws so ill thought out and byzantine that they only worsen the ills they were meant to alleviate. They play with people's lives like slot machine addicted gamblers while corporate interests shove quarters in their pockets allowing them to pull the levers and spin the dials endlessly.

We are now mandated to buy health insurance from profit making companies or be fined, in Washington parlance "taxed", for not doing so. I was laid off in March of 2012. It was 6 months before I could find new employment. I had a choice to make. Use the meager amount I received from unemployment to continue my health insurance, or, use it to pay my mortgage. There simply was not enough money to do both. I chose my mortgage, which, were I put in the same situation today, would mean I was breaking the law. I would be subject to a government penalty for keeping a roof over my head.

All the while the politicians argue and bicker while 25% of the children in the U.S. live in poverty. Corporations cut costs and raise their already ample profits by laying off staff and slashing the hours and pay of those they retain.

Politicians seek power for powers sake. When they acquire it they use the power to maintain it accomplishing nothing. It's like watching a hamster running an a wheel. Moving endlessly, getting nowhere.

Perhaps if we ditched our republic and formed a parliamentary form of government more varied views would be represented and perhaps compromise, by necessity would be the result. The people voted in to serve the people would actually get down to the business of serving the people.

Till then I go to work, pay my mortgage and now, health insurance premiums, partly subsidised by my employer. I take solace in art, theatre, what travel I can afford and the natural beauty of a warm summer day or the glorious colors of fall. I try to keep my personal impact on the enviorment low, using public transit and my bike whenever possible, while also trying to keep my electrical usage at a reasonable level. I attempt to do what is within my power to do.

The young man stands on the street corner, "Would you like to help us fight Monsanto?" Yes, I would, but sadly I don't know how.....besides, I'm late for work.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Key West - Circa 1992

The Florida Keys are a masterpiece of geology. Coral reefs support a series of small islands lush with tropical foliage. Among their wildlife is a miniature species of deer, found nowhere else. It is assumed that deer became trapped on the islands during the last ice age and, over time, adjusted their size to their, now extremely limited territory. Alas, the Key Deer are endangered. However conservation efforts since the 1950's seemed to have stabilized the population level. Pirates used the Keys to evade authorities, Flying over them in one of the tiny planes that leave Miami for Key West on a schedule as regular as that of a city bus, it is easy to imagine a ship being successfully secreted in one of the numerous bays and inlets of the island chain.

I visited Key West 3 times over 3 consecutive years seeking a week long respite from Chicago's wintry chill. It is the southernmost point in the U.S. It's reputation as a hedonistic playground had begun to wane by the time of my visits, although there was still a sizable gay presence. One of the highlights of the trips were the Sunday afternoon dance parties attended by scores of bare chested men held on a pier which extended out over the ocean.

The island does posses a rich architectural legacy. An architectural sub genre, appropriately named "Key West Architecture" is defined as a mixture of Victorian and Southern Gothic with a Caribbean flair. One building along Duval Street, the town';s main drag, would look at home in any southern town, except for the bounding dolphins cut out in the balustrade of it's second floor balcony. Some buildings are raised above ground level to protect them from the waters that can rage through the streets during tropical storms. Being a coral island water cannot soak in, only run off. In one area, the Bahamian Village, the homes were constructed in the Bahamas and then shipped to Key West. There was a restaurant in this area I always made a point to visit where chickens ran wild around the dining tables in the yard.

Due to the hardness of the islands coral base creating swimming pools requires explosives to blast open holes in which to construct them. Outside of Ernest Hemingway's home, featured in a James Bond movie, which has a wine cellar, basements are nonexistent. Because of the year round warm, sunny climate the foliage is full and rich. I recall a philodendron which wound around a tree in the courtyard of the guest house we stayed in whose leaves were easily 3 feet across.

There is little to "do" there. Tourists seemed to satisfy themselves relaxing by pools and eating or shopping in the numerous restaurants and boutiques. On one visit my travel companions gifted me with a beautiful silver and lapis cuff I had seen in one of the shop windows. Although I no longer wear it, it did see everyday wear for a number of years, it sits on my dresser where I can always see and enjoy it and be reminded of the deep level of love and generosity in my friends who I feel fortunate to still have in my life.

I always rented a bike, one of the best ways to explore the far corners of the island. I remember a Sunday morning ride where I encountered a young girl, perhaps 6 or 7, dancing on the sidewalk outside a church to the sounds of the spirited gospel choir singing inside. Several afternoons over my visits were whiled away sitting on the hard coral beach watching pelicans dive for fish unfortunate enough to be swimming near the waters surface. You could see the fish wiggle in the birds pouch beneath it's beak before it would throw it's head back swallowing it's unlucky prey. Evenings were spent enjoying the company of other visitors at the evening wine get togethers at the guest house and dancing in the gay bars still extant at the time.

Friendships were developed during these visits. There was the couple from New York City whose upper west side apartment I stayed in during visits to Manhattan. There was the man from Australia  stationed in Nairobi while starting up an office for his company there. He not only got all my jokes, no matter how subtle, but also took them one step further. He was a joy to spend time with. During one conversation he mentioned how vacations were his only chance to express his sexuality due to the conservative social nature of Africa. When I encounter tales like this it makes me grateful that I live in a place which allows me to be myself. I have fought too many battles, personally and publicly, to let that privilege go easily.

The most important relationship forged on the island was that of my dear friends in Phoenix who met there and are still together years later. The deep and long lasting friendship between them and I is one of my life's great treasures.

Often as we get older we shed some of our more wild behaviors, settling on more refined and less adventurous pursuits. Such is the case with Key West. Even during my visits you could tell that the legendary tolerance and debauchery the island was noted for was beginning to disappear. On the downward slope from it's apex. Today it is reinventing itself as a more family friendly destination. One of the most notorious of the gay guest houses now caters to a hetero clientele. While physical places may not change times do. Particular places at particular times exist only in memories. I look forward to new places, in new times to create more of these.   

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bread & Roses Concert - U.C. Berkeley Greek Theatre - Early 1980's

Every year, during my time in San Francisco, the Greek Theatre on the U.C. Berkeley campus hosted a 3 day benefit music festival for an organization called "Bread and Roses". The organization brought live music performances to schools and hospitals. The benefit concerts consisted largely of folk music with many of the musicians coming from the rich mix of artists living in the area at the time. All instrumentation was acoustic, although miked so it could be heard in the large outdoor venue. Since it was a benefit, and many of the performers resided nearby, traditionally they would spend all weekend backstage ensuring a wealth of surprise, sometimes once in a lifetime, musical collaborations.

Growing up my parents music collection, although small, was heavy in Peter, Paul and Mary. 2 guitars and 3 voices conjuring up a sound that no one has ever been able to equal. The trio's beautiful harmonies filled our home as the vinyl records spun on the turntable. Even as a child I knew many of the songs by heart. One year they were headlining the final day of the festival. I called my mother and then procured tickets for myself, her and my stepfather. I met her and my stepfather outside the theatre and we climbed our way to the top finding a suitable spot on the lawn.

 The stage was festooned with a floral swag along it's edge. The Persuasions opened the concert that afternoon. Coming out in matching suits they sang with R&B and gospel harmonies so tight they performed their entire set acapella. My mother, a proficient pianist, mentioned to me that she had not noticed that they had no backup musicians until the group pointed it out midset. Near the end of their program they stepped down from the front of the stage, obliterating a portion of the floral swag in the process, and began the folk classic "Tom Dooley". They asked the crowd to sing with them. Almost everyone knowing the tune, the arena was filled with sound. They broke us up into groups. "Just the men." A chorus of male voices rose up from the crowd. "Now the women." The higher register of female voices replaced the tenors, baritones and basses of the men. They then shouted "Women over 40".....the silence was deafening. One or two voices could be heard reminding me of the lonely chirp of crickets on a summer night. Individual audience members were invited to take the mike. A handful of people accepted the challenge including one woman whose powerful voice would have shaken the rafters, had the outdoor theatre contained any.

Next Mimi Farina, a poet and founder of Bread and Roses, also the younger sister of Joan Baez, came onstage to introduce Maria Muldaur. Ms. Muldaur, best known for "Midnight at the Oasis", has, to my mind, always been an underrated talent. Perhaps it is because her eclectic repertoire, which ranges from folk to gospel, country to honky tonk, made her difficult to pigeonhole and market. After Ms. Farina's warm and gracious introduction Maria said she almost felt embarrassed to sing the first song she had selected before launching into the bawdy, rollicking "It Ain't the Meat It's the Motion". Her performance offered up the first, that afternoon, of the collaborations this festival was noted for as The Persuasions returned to the stage, having traded in their matching suits for street clothes, to sing backup as she belted out gospel numbers. My memories of her unrestrained, spirited delivery seems a world away from the sanitized, commercial music industry of today.

Next up was Graham Nash. His band included Leah Kunkle, the younger sister of Cass Elliot, who, having just released her own album, had appeared at the festival on one of the 2 previous days. Her husband, Russ Kunkle, a respected and sought after studio musician of the era, handled the background percussion. Midway through his set Graham Nash announced a special guest. A somewhat bedraggled and obese David Crosby waddled out onstage. I had expected his appearance as he also had played the festival earlier that weekend. The venue erupted in applause and cheers. I found myself on the lawn thinking "Well, two out of four ain't bad".

As afternoon turned into evening 3 legendary people took to the stage. 2 men, 2 guitars, 1 woman. As they sang my mother remarked to me, more than once, how they sounded just as they had in the 60's. Their voices rang out clear and pure, in particular the glorious instrument possessed by Mary Travers. Maria Muldaur and The Persuasions joined them onstage adding layer upon layer of stunning vocal harmonies to the already soul stirring sound.

My mother and stepfather, leaving early, missed the final moments of the concert. All the performers that had appeared over the weekend, including iconic folk singers Joan Baez and Pete Seeger, came out to perform Woody Guthrie's American anthem "This Land is Your Land". As I left the theatre and rode the train back across the bay to my apartment in San Francisco I realized that on that afternoon I had been a part of and experienced something very special. A moment in time I cherish that I cannot imagine being replicated today.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Mid September

The light slants in from a different angle, lower in the sky. Sundown arrives earlier, sunrise later. The nights and mornings are cool. During the day summers heat has given way to mild warmth. As I bike home from the gym in the morning children with backpacks fill the sidewalks and crosswalks on their way to school, their long summer vacations over. Along the underside of the trees which shade the street, where sunlight no longer penetrates, the leaves have begun their annual metamorphose. They start to turn the dusty yellows, oranges and reds, the soft hues that are the hallmark of a midwestern fall. They turn the colors of the freshly harvested gourds found in supermarket aisles and at roadside farmstands. They are calming and soothing, allowing us to take a few final deep breaths before the onset of winter.

Friday, September 6, 2013

The Art of Fashion

The legendary hot, humid Chicago summer almost seemed to have past us by. Cold and rainy well into June we waited wondering when, if, we would experience the torrid conditions we were accustomed to and steel ourselves against each year. It was a season of pleasantly warm temperatures and cool lake breezes. A short spell of uncomfortably hot weather came and went in the blink of an eye. While I was visiting the furnace that is central Texas late in July Chicago's high one day was 57 degrees. Windows were left open and air conditioners were left off.

Late in the season the dreaded moment finally arrived. Weather forecasters across the region announced the approach of severe heat moving in our direction. Heat advisories were issued and the population panicked as they watched the severe weather conditions advance toward them. Along with the heat and humidity came flies,their sharp, stinging bites adding to the misery. I took refuge where I have in torrid times past, Chicago's Art Institute.

There are some things I will admit to being old fashioned about, particularly in terms of appropriate dress. For instance, I dress when going to the theatre, almost always donning a blazer or sport jacket, at the very least , for the occasion. I also, when going to a museum, particularly an art museum, wear long pants. On this day I broke one of my own cardinal rules and wore shorts. I attempted to mitigate my fashion faux pas by also sporting an expensive silver bracelet given to me by a vendor at work for attaining a certain level of sales of their product. I quickly ascertained, after arriving at the Art Institute, that I was not the only man, or woman for that matter, who was baring my knees on that extremely hot afternoon.

The special exhibition "Impressionism Fashion and Modernity" explored the depiction and importance of fashions of the day in the works of Impressionists. Apparel and accessories from the era, most culled from the remarkable collection of New York's Metropolitan Museum, were showcased with impressionist works, many on loan from the D'Orsay in Paris, featuring similar fashions.

Before heading upstairs to the main event, I visited one of my favorite spots in the museum. As you pass the grand staircase and go through a set of glass doors there are a series of rooms, accessed through a rather small, nondescript entry, where selections from the Art Institutes expansive collection of works on paper are exhibited. Due to their extremely fragile nature, the pieces are rotated frequently virtually assuring a happy new discovery with each visit.

The works on view that day, exhibited under the title, "Undressed, The Fashion of Privacy" explored nude and partially unclothed figures in works by many of the same artists whose interest in fashion was shown in the main exhibition. Drawings, lithographs, woodcuts and pastels by impressionist masters such as Degas and Renoir graced the walls. The works ranged from studio figure studies to works from the artist's imagination. A grouping of works depicting male bathers by Cezanne and Munch, because of the placement and relationship to one another of the figures pictured, carried subtle homoerotic undertones. One room depicted visions of sex, death and violence. The disturbing quality of these pieces were juxtaposed against the tranquility expressed in the following room which was anchored by a large, charming pastel by Mary Cassatt.

I continued on my way to the main exhibit. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the art I have become familiar with over my many visits to the museum. Grant Wood's "American Gothic", the large, surrealist work that was commissioned for Frank Lloyd Wright's "Falling Water", and Hopper's "Nighthawks". This work by Hopper has the ability to draw me into it's ambiguous story. I can feel the cool night air and hear the silence of the deserted street. When it is on loan I miss it like I would miss a friend who is far away.

The exhibition relates how, with the advent of printed fashion illustration and department stores, information on the current trends of dress of the late 19th century became widespread. The show opens with two small works by Manet and Renoir depicting women reading fashion ads followed in the next room by a large Monet portrait of his mistress complimented by a dress much like the one in the painting displayed in a case nearby. There is an imposing, breathtakingly beautiful Renoir of a woman posing with her two identically dressed children and their family dog. The languid and sensual "Woman with Fans" by Manet pictures a woman lounging on a couch, the fans of the title hanging on the wall behind her. A favorite holding of the Art Institute by Degas, "The Millinery Shop" is shown in a room showcasing hats, gloves and evening slippers in a gallery devoted to the depiction of fashion accessories in impressionists works.

I enter a room with faux grass on the floor and the recorded sounds of birds in the air. Devoted to outdoor scenes it is dominated by two surviving fragments of a monumental, life size work by Monet, "Luncheon on the Grass". Damaged when Monet's landlord stored it in a cellar, Monet giving it to him in lieu of rent, only these two fragments remain. Earlier studies give the viewer an idea of how the finished work would have appeared. This was the first time the two pieces had been shown together in the U.S. Examples of fashions in these paintings are provided by day dresses on turntables in the center of the room.

Throughout the exhibit the mirrored backs of some of the cases containing dresses and gowns allow the visitor to enjoy the detail in the back of these fabulous costumes. I was amazed at the condition of these fashions, especially considering their age.

One gallery is focused on women's undergarments. Featured there is a highly erotic work by Henri Gervez. "Rolla", painted in 1878 portrays a woman sprawled seductively on a bed entirely nude. A well positioned bit of the bedsheet covers the area between her legs but all else is bared. A man stands at a window, dressed but with several buttons undone on his shirt. In the poem which inspired the painting the man, from a good family, commits suicide after suffering the shame of a relationship  with a courtesan. The painting was removed from the studio during it's initial showing for "indecency". Not because of the naked seductress pictured but because, lying over a chair in the room, her corset and petticoats are shown in the painting.

Near the end of the exhibition is a small room focusing on men's fashion. While providing a handsome silhouette, it seemed, outside of ceremonial military garb, to be invariably black and white and lacked the individuality afforded to women.

One gallery is devoted to fashion illustration from the period. This innovation was a large part of the introduction of the concept of fashion trends to the masses. It propelled fashion forward as the industry needed to provide new looks and ideas to keep the interest of a now more informed population.

The exhibition ends with the presentation of Seurat's pointillist masterwork "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte", regarded as one of the two most important works in the Art Institute's collection. The painting, in terms of fashion, portrays a range of people from a number of classes. From the wealthy couple out for a stroll to the man in the sleeveless shirt lounging on the grass. Men in military uniform mix with middle class families, one person famously walks a monkey on a leash.

As I leave the museum I stop into one of the libraries to view another small display of fashion illustration and women's magazines from the period. As I head back out onto Michigan Avenue I observe the locals and tourists who swarm the street on this extremely hot afternoon, wondering how the fashion of today would be rendered by the impressionist masters of the past.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Martians and Stuff

For several decades now some of our best minds have spent billions of dollars to determine if Mars was capable, in the distant past, of sustaining life. Was there water, a source of energy and carbon; was Mars, at one time, hospitable to life as we know it on earth?

As I consider this several issues come to mind. First, with all the problems we have on our own planet, such as disease, starvation and environmental degradation, might all that time, ingenuity and money be better spent on our own celestial plane? Earlier in our history the cold war era "race for space" helped stoke patriotism as we competed with the Soviets for the bragging rights of global alpha dog. Those pioneers of space helped develop the network of lightening fast and far reaching satellite communication technology that we enjoy and take for granted today. Although I do recall at the time that some felt that a bit of the romance of the moon had been diminished by the knowledge that we had traveled, walked and hit golf balls there, the initial manned moon landings left those of us who are old enough to remember them with a sense of awe and helped further our understanding of the origins of our own planet. Within the context of their time I understand the reasons for the space exploration of that day. What I do not understand, in the present day, is what useful information can be gleaned from spending an investment of time and intellectual and financial treasure sending a robotic device to a tiny red speck in the night sky.

I am further intrigued by the lack of intellectual creativity evidenced in the minds of those engaged in these pursuits. They seem to not have developed an ability to conceive of life forms unlike our own. They insist that without water, for instance, life cannot exist. They seem to not consider that there may be forms of life that thrive in arid, airless conditions. The toxic atmospheres of other known planets could be tailor made for life that may inhabit them. There may be forms of intelligence, far greater than we can comprehend, that have evolved beyond the need for physical form. Beings of pure thought for instance unencumbered by the limitations of a body.

Man is a creature with a curious mind. He longs for new ideas and a greater understanding of the world and space that surrounds him. This curiosity has led to the development of the satellites which orbit our earth enabling us to communicate with one another with astonishing speed. These accomplishments allow mankind to progress. But perhaps it is time for us to step back. To stop expanding and turn our concerns inward. To return to marveling at the night sky. Perhaps some things are not meant to be understood too deeply. Perhaps some things are meant to remain slightly mysterious. Perhaps it is time to turn our attention, to apply out intellect and wealth to that which will benefit us here.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Importance of First Impressions

It is sometimes said that a person's opinion of someone is formed within the first few seconds after meeting them. Although that opinion may change as the acquaintance deepens those first moments can be crucial. This same adage can be applied to places as well as people.

I enjoy visiting museums, both at home and when I travel. They are places of interest and intellectual and emotional enrichment for me. I appreciate not only the collections housed within the institutions but also the skill and artistry of the curators in their presentations of them. Lighting, placement of the objects or artwork and use of space can all greatly enhance the visitors experience. But it is that critical first impression that can often set the mood for what is to follow.

The stately, almost imposing facade of New York City's Metropolitan Museum speaks volumes of what lies within. As one ascends the steps a feeling of almost religious reverence can be experienced. The grandeur of the building sets the mood for the grandeur of the priceless riches inside.

In my own beloved Chicago the Art Institute has for years wrapped the visitor in a warm, midwestern embrace from the moment you set eyes on it. Lions bearing a blue green patina of age and the elements, occasionally adorned with Chicago Bears helmets, Cubs regalia or evergreen holiday wreaths, sit on either side of the wide staircase that ascends from Michigan Avenue. Passing through two sets of glass doors brings you into the classically designed entry hall. A grand staircase leads up to the second floor galleries. The space imparts an immediate sense of history. A sense that this building, with it impressive holdings, is a place of stature and importance. The welcoming staff provides the warmth and friendliness that is one of the hallmarks of my hometown.

Several years ago a new wing was added to the museum, as the enormity of it's collection had outgrow it's original home. The wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is accessed by an entrance around the corner from the museum's grand Michigan Avenue entrance. Instead of going up a flight of stairs, one goes down a short flight. Beyond this building's glass doors is a large, spare, sunlit space, a fitting introduction to the modern works the wing was built to house. A floating staircase off to one side, which adds to the airy feeling of the space, leads to the galleries. Louvered ceilings provide natural light inside the galleries. Windows afford exquisite views of the park across the street with it's Frank Gehry designed bandshell. The Gehry structure quickly became one of the city's defining symbols.

Chicago's neighbor to the north sports a museum entry that is almost sculptural in nature. Over a glass walled atrium huge movable wings fan out from the buildings rooftop. It gives one the feeling that you are entering a work of art, setting the stage for the experience which awaits you within it's walls.

In Mexico City's Museum of Anthropology a case can be made that the building's design competes with the artifacts in it's collection. In the central courtyard water flows from the top of a stone column to the courtyard floor. Reflecting pools hold aquatic life, small fish and turtles, delighting the children that visit.

In Merida, Mexico the former home of the Museum of Anthropology and History contained a touch of irony. Many of the exhibits relate to the history and customs of the Mayan people, indigenous to the region. The exhibits were housed in the former Governor's Mansion, which could be seen by some as a symbol of the domination, suppression and eventual destruction of the very culture celebrated by the museum.

A failure, in my view, are the I.M. Pei designed glass pyramids in the courtyard of the Louvre in Paris. The attempt to juxtapose the old and new was, for me, odd and jarring. A repository for some of the greatest art in the world deserves an entrance that reflects and respects the grandeur of that art.

There is no standard blueprint for the designs of museums nor should there be. The museum on the campus of the University of California at Berkeley, with it's concrete ramps and open galleries, broke all rules when it was first opened to the public yet is a hugely successful example of a modern, non traditional setting for art and exhibitions. However a sensitivity to the collections should be evident. There should be a respect for and a relationship between collections and the places in which they are housed. In that way the design of the buildings and the art they hold can both be celebrated and enjoyed by the visitor.

Monday, August 26, 2013

"Churchbells Chiming on a Sunday Morn"

When one lives in a city one hears noise. Traffic, televisions blaring through open windows, the revving of motorcycles ridden by men who you sometimes feel are covering up "inadequacies" with the sound of their engines. There are the voices of people, arguing, debating, laughing, sharing their day with one another. Occasionally there are gunshots, occasionally there are sirens, occasionally there are the musical tones of songbirds. Along shorelines there is the sound of water as it meets the land and the squawk of seagulls. And there are churchbells.

I once lived in a neighborhood of Chicago where the bells of the numerous churches in the area rang on Sunday mornings. Although, at the time, I, and many of my friends, were out till the wee hours of Saturday night, we all agreed that we enjoyed the peal of the bells as we lay in bed.

Staying in an apartment in Dayton one weekend, the bells from the church across the street, as I awoke, announced the start of Sunday services. I've heard them ring out over the streets of St. Louis as I waited for a bus one rainy Sunday morning. There is something about the sound of church bells that is soul filling. A sound full, comforting and soothing.

As children, pulling the rope to ring the church bell was a special treat. Sometimes it would take the efforts of more that one of us. At the base of the Tetons my partner rang the outdoor bell of a tiny historic church on a quiet weekday afternoon.. The sound and moment was special and private, shared only by us and the grand, snowcapped mountains in the distance.

Sometimes church bells allow me to ascertain the time without looking at my watch, or my phone. Every 15 minutes an increasingly longer series of chimes until the bells peal out their full chorus followed by rings counting out the hour as it turns. They sound out from the gothic belfry of
the St. Ida's as I walk down Broadway in Chicago. Venerable bells tolled the early afternoon hour as I walked across the grounds of an 18th century mission outside of San Antonio. I hear them in the distance as I lay on the beach where they mingle with the gentle sound of small lake waves breaking on the shore.

In Florence the bells of the Doumo sounded at intermittent, seemingly random intervals. They rang at dusk as we sat on the roof deck of our hotel on my partner's 50th birthday sending a swarm of bats out from the belfry into the early evening sky, repeating an ancient ritual performed countless times in countless places over the centuries.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Texas 2013

This was my second visit to Texas. In my first I explored areas in around Houston, as well as Galveston. This time I was able to explore a wider area of this immense state, incidentally the state in which I was born and spent the first 5 years of my life.

In my friends, both the ones I had prior to the trip and the new ones I made while there, I experienced grace and sweetness. In strangers I found a friendliness that somehow seemed only skin deep. It was an attitude that felt deeply guarded. In the Midwest people wear their hearts on the sleeves. In Texas, at least in my experience, they wear them inside, only displaying them when they desire.

For an area that is so hot I found that many buildings are kept almost freakishly cold. I had assumed that the people there would be accustomed to warmth. They seem, however to be in a state of denial of it. A recent documentary I saw mentioned that the rapid growth of sunbelt cities would not have been possible with air conditioning. The people of Texas seem to have taken this and run with it. The spread out nature of these cities, making long commutes the norm and public transit virtually impossible, strains the energy supply and poisons the enviorment. Again, this is in contrast to my home town of Chicago and it's enviormentally friendly mindset. The green nature of my city is evident in the amount of wildlife, raccoons, possums, hares and even the occasional small fox,  that exist in my city's parks.

I experienced a dry humor. As we left one small town the billboard outside a church bore the message "He who dies with the most toys is still dead!" I discovered great beauty in the hill country, still largely natural and pristine. Multihued birds flit through indigenous trees designed by nature to endure the sometimes harsh climate of the region. Meadows filled with wildflowers cover the rolling terrain. I've been told that in spring, when the bluebonnets are in bloom filling the fields with their color, is a sight one would find difficult to forget.

I found history, particularly in the areas in and around San Antonio. As I stood in a building 250 years old I pondered the lives of the people, with their own individual histories, that have passed through these walls and stood where I had. I pondered my own life and my own personal history , adding it to those who came before me.

San Antonio 2013 - A City of Contrasts

San Antonio is a city of contrasts. Venerable buildings stand next to modern ones. Poor people, some appear to be desperately so, walk along side well heeled tourists and businessmen. Both extremes seem to be invisible to the other. The cool tree shaded oasis of the riverwalk contrasts with the sun baked streets above it. A block boasting a magnificent theatre marquee and beautifully restored late 19th and early 20th century office buildings and hotels,  is followed by a homeless man, his tattered possessions lying around him, sitting in a park in the intense Texas heat.

In the King Williams historic district tidy Victorian cottages sit next to grand Italianate mansions. Across the street resides a pre war bungalow, it's porch sagging and paint peeling. Loving, respectful restoration abuts neglect and decay. A forms a juxtaposition of eras, architectural styles and uneven wealth. On the porch of one well kept 19th century cottage a young, skinny, shirtless punk, complete with mohawk and tattoos stands playing an acid green electric guitar, his large golden lab sitting faithfully beside him. One mansion is on sale for $1.5 million, a bungalow nearby is listed at $220,000.

Located near the center of the city are the Spanish Governors home and the cities main Cathedral, both dating from the 18th century. The Cathedral is the oldest "Cathedral Sanctuary" in the U.S. This specificity seemed odd, however I could find no explanation for the seemingly overly precise nature of the description. In the simple, spare interior of the cathedral faith takes precedent over ostentatious ornamentation. It allows worshipers to concentrate on the their spiritual health and relationship with God undistracted by the trappings of the structure itself. It is a reverent space designed for quiet contemplation. The Spanish governors home, closed the day I visited, is a small, unpretentious one story hacienda. There is a 19th century brick courthouse in the same area. I failed to notice, until it was pointed out by my partner as I was showing him pictures of the trip, the phallic nature of it's torpedo shaped turret.

Outside of the city 6 missions were constructed in the 18th century. We visited two of these. The first was a fortified compound. Around a large grassy area, where workshops once stood, are rows of cells where the indigenous people who built the Cathedral were housed. The imposing main building, like many of the buildings in the region, is constructed of native limestone. The outside was originally c plastered and then painted to appear as if it was covered in tile. A small section of the painted plaster surface remains allowing one to imagine what it would have looked like. The temperature had soared to 100 degrees yet in the simple interior the air was comfortable due to the thick, solid walls. Ornately carved statues frame the Cathedral doors. Brick buttresses support the brick walls of the large granary. A series of arches juts off the main Cathedral, the remains of the convent housing the priests and nuns. Reconstruction was begun in the mid 19th century then abandoned leaving a half ruined reminder of what once stood there. The ancient bells of the cathedral rang out the early afternoon hour as we explored the grounds. Nuns, their habits fluttering walked past us reminding visitors that, although ancient and historical, these buildings are still functioning houses of worship.

The second mission, a mere 4 miles distant from the first, lacks the defensive walls and outbuildings of the other. It sits at the far end of a grass field. In one corner of the field is a small pit in the ground, once the quarry where much of the stone for the construction of the missions was gathered. This mission complex is the most well preserved of the 6 in the area. The remnants of the paint in the rooms and chapels hint at what once was. A blue sun decorates the center of the ceiling in one small room. In a chapel off to the side of the main Cathedral sanctuary the faded remains of a frescoed crucifix hover above an elaborately carved baptistery.

The beauty and age of the missions stands in contrast to the industrial and in some cases, poor and squalid neighborhoods that surround them  As the city grew to encompass the missions which once sat outside of it, it created another contrast in a city full of them.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

San Antonio 2013 - Remember the Alamo Over Dinner on the Riverwalk

When visiting San Antonio one's first instinct is to visit the Alamo. We followed our instincts and made our way to the world famous historical site. It is a fairly small structure, once part of a larger fortified compound. During the battle which bears it's name the settlers and townspeople took refuge there as it was the most secure building in the area. The iconic Americans James Bowie and Davey Crockett met their ends during the battle, as did all the defenders. Many think of it as a church. Although originally constructed for religious purposes it was later utilized as a fortress.

Today it is treated as a shrine to those who fought and died there. Photographs of the inside and the use of cell phones are not permitted. Men are instructed to remove their hats before entering. The ones who died during the siege and battle are revered as heroes, so much so that their remains are interred at the entrance to the city's 18th century cathedral.

I found this reverence to be a somewhat offensive and unsettling. One of the main causes for the Texas revolution were disagreements over slavery. The Texans wanted to break away from Mexico due to the Mexican government's resistance to the institution where one man owns and forces labor from another. These so called heroes were fighting for the right to have slavery as an integral part of their society. Eventually they were able to secede from Mexico and form their own republic, slavery included.

After strolling thorough the gardens behind the Alamo we took the cities Riverwalk. Begun in the 1930's it's present level of fame came during San Antonio's centennial celebration in the 1960's. Lush landscaping and waterfeatures mix with the shops and restaurants found there. Walkways wind along the edge of the shallow river, bridges cross over it and water taxis carrying tourists travel down it. It being Sunday night the sidewalk was packed with people.

We found it ironic that, in a state that went to war to secede from Mexico, Mariachi bands are featured in several of the restaurants. I have always found Mariachi bands slightly comical. In my experience they tend to be comprised of portly men shoved into skintight clothes, reminiscent of a late era Elvis.

We had dinner and engaged in people watching. There were a plethora of options to view. An extremely handsome and hunky dad with trendy long sideburns strode by our table several times. There was the massive, deeply tanned, shaved head bodybuilder in a tight gray tee shirt and another prematurely gray haired biker looking dad, his tank top revealing his muscled, tattooed arms. I suppose there were some women there as well......

We stopped on our way back to the car to once again view the Alamo, beautifully lit at night, and enjoyed the LED illuminated carriages as they moved through the historic streets.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Central Texas 2013 - On the Road Again

I have heard it said that due to the interstate highway system in the U.S. it is possible to drive coast to coast without ever really seeing anything. Nowhere is this more evident then on the drive from the Texas hill country to San Antonio. For 2 plus hours we pass through board flat scrub land crisscrossed by bone dry creek and river beds. Some riverbeds, during dry seasons, are stony affairs.  They pay homage to the power of the water that flows through them during the wetter times of the year. These alleged creeks, each named, appear as shallow, grass fill trenches. I have been assured, by those who should know, that these, in some cases almost imperceptible indentations in the surrounding countryside do indeed carry small amounts of water at some points during the year.

Billboards along the way announce the existence of historic towns. These, however, are so far off the main road that even in this flat landscape neither a church steeple or the dome atop a courthouse of a county seat can be seen as you travel past them. I compare this to travel by train where the stations are often important structures in even the smallest of towns. As you go through the centers of the places along your way you sense a connection, however fleeting, with those who live there. I recall the brick ruins as we departed from Rome and seeing the bell tower and dome of the Doumo as well as the fortification wall surrounding Florence while enroute to Venice. In the U.S. there is the beaux arts beauty of the train station in Joliet, Illinois or the panoramic view of the Arch, skyline and river as you pass high over the Mississippi entering St. Louis. You are treated to a view of Albany, New York across the river and flower dappled hills as you near the Catskills in summer.

Upon leaving the hill country I spent a few minutes figuring out how to program the GPS in our rental car. My ability to harness new technology is improving as I get older, even though these posts at still initially written in longhand on paper. Her calm, soothing, reassuring voice successfully guides us to San Antonio and our hotel as the silhouette of the tall hemisphere park tower, built for the fair which celebrated the city's centennial, comes into view.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Texas 2013 - The Hill Country

We were delayed leaving Houston due to late rising, rental car problems and organizational issues while attempting to pack the car. The delay increased when a phone call informed us we had left behind the camp stove as well as the corkscrew, both essentials of any weekend camping trip. We returned to the house, retrieved the missing items and were once again on our way.

A system of freeways resembling a plate of spaghetti spirals around and also carries one out of Houston. Once clear of the subdivisions and strip malls one finds themselves in a flat landscape which appears to be barren of any life form other than cows. Small pockets of civilization occasionally appear offering up gas and fast food to the traveler before they once again set out upon the highway.

It is when you turn off the main highway that the beauty of the Texas hill country becomes apparent. On either side of the road tangles of woodlands are interspersed with fields of brilliant wildflowers. Gates announce the location of ranches, their commodious houses half hidden behind stands of tall, old trees. Cresting the top of one of the gentle rolling hills affords one a panoramic view of forest, meadows and hot, clear, brilliant blue, sunlit Texas sky. Bright red cardinals, turquoise blue jays, huge black hawks with formidable wingspans and white cranes fly and roost in this pastoral landscape. Bird calls echo through air so clean it feels as if their songs could carry for miles.
On that weekend rain showers tempered the usual heat. As they passed they left remnants of gray and white in the topaz blue sky.

We went into the nearby town of Navasoda for supplies. A sign at the city limits informs you that the population stands at 7049. A question passes through my mind. Is there a designated person whose responsibility it is to run to the edge of town, paint over and amend the sign if there is a birth or death? 9 months after the local high school's prom do they change the sign on a daily basis or just wait until all the new arrivals can be added at once? The buildings along the small main street are solid stone structures. The town mandated that new construction be fireproof after a blaze destroyed a portion of the town center in the mid 19th century. A small section of the hamlet contains the grand Victorian homes of the well to do. Their large wrap around porches and lacy frills once again speak to the southern influence on this area of Texas.

It is unfortunate, as I have stated in previous posts, that a local Walmart has taken over the commerce of this town as will as many others like it across the U.S. In it's wake it has left a trail of dusty "antique" shops and empty store fronts along their venerable main streets. It has destroyed some businesses that had perhaps been held in the hands of the same family for generations. Although through the efforts of those engaged in historic preservation we have the buildings, the spirits of these towns has been damaged irreparably.

We returned to the country road. The hill country is quiet and serene, a world away from the frenetic, noise filled city world I am accustomed to.


Houston 2013 - Dinner With Friends

On a cruise a couple of years back I met another gentleman from Houston. This cruise, as a footnote, was when I began writing what would eventually become this blog. A blank book, given to me the previous Christmas, was thrown into my suitcase on a whim at the last minute and I found myself recounting the trip during quiet moments as the ship sailed through the Caribbean. I contacted him to let him know I would becoming to town. He invited me to dinner during my stay.

Outside of Facebook he and I had not chatted for a while. Responding to my initial emails he mentioned that he had met someone he was anxious to introduce me to. I was happy for him. He is a dear, sweet and caring man and deserves to have someone special in his life. He mentioned that a friend of theirs, a fairly recent transplant to Chicago, would be joining us. My host drove me to their home in the Montrose area, know as Houston's main gay district. They drove me back afterwards.

Throughout my life I have always felt a sense of trepidation prior to meeting a partner of a person I care for. What if the partner is revealed to be a complete ass? There is the fear that I could find myself holding a tight smile on my face while thoughts swirl around in the back of my head such as "Oh my God! This guy is unbearable! What could he possibly see in him!" Before I met the partner of my dear friend in Phoenix this fear gripped me. There the fear was exacerbated as  I would be staying with them for several days. This was only dinner, whatever happened I would be able to soldier through it. Fortunately, in both these cases this concern was unwarranted.

Although I do not see this man often, or enough, he appeared happier, almost elated and more content than I have ever known him to be. It is obvious that there is a deep love and respect between them. His partner is charming with a delightfully playful side. Their friend, as I discovered a long term ex roommate of the partner, was attractive and equally charming with the same underlying playful manner. Wine, excellent food and conversation flowed.

They were in the process of moving in together. They are striving to create a home that is "Theirs". A fusion of their styles, personalities and possessions.  Having done this myself I know that this is not an easy task but with determination, patience and the love I sense in them for each other I am sure they will succeed. They will create a nest, a shared and cherished space.

During a quiet conversation on one of the balconies of the townhouse I related to him part of my experience meeting someone later in life. I was 40 when I moved in with my partner. The big experiences and the small everyday occurrences are equally important. The returns home after a hard days work, the quiet dinners together or just sitting and watching a favorite T.V. show are all moments to be savored and held dear. I wish them both many years of these. 

Friday, August 9, 2013

Houston 2013 - 150 Years of History in a Day

One of my requests on this trip was to tour the downtown area of Houston as I had not seen it on my previous visit. Much is sometimes made, when people write of this sprawling metropolis, about it's total lack of zoning laws. Venerable structures are razed to make way for towering highrises completely out of scale and without respect to their surroundings. Out of town, former farm and pasture land disappear under faceless subdivisions and strip malls. Therefore, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that a historic section of the city, abutting the bayou that winds it's way near downtown, has been rehabilitated.

Storefronts, office buildings and hotels, some dating back to the mid 19th century, grace the area. A small restaurant, originally a bakery built in 1860, is one of the oldest buildings in the city still on it's original site. It sits across from the Market Square, the center of the early city, used in those days as an open air produce market. Today it is a lovely area of flower beds, sculptures and fountains, one a memorial to the victims of 9/11. Misters spray diners at an outdoor eating area in  an effort to keep the Texas heat at bay.

The old courthouse, a solid, domed, stone symbol of the law is located a few blocks away. The new civil courthouse is designed to reference and pay homage to it's older sibling. The area's architectural styles range from Beaux Arts to Victorian to Art Deco. Old hotels have been rehabbed and office buildings have been reclaimed for residential uses. Bars, nightclubs and restaurants fill the street level floors of many of the buildings. A bike path runs alongside the bayou which was used to bring goods from the gulf during the 18th century, giving rise to the city.

As you move away from the Historic District you encounter the more modern portion of downtown. Yet, every so often, an older building can be seen sandwiched between two glass walled highrises, appearing to resist the cities determination to completely relinquish it's history in this part of town.

There are also neighborhood historical districts. We drove through two of them, Westmoreland and Audubon. Old trees shade streets of late 19th and early 20th century homes which range from cozy, quaint bungalows to grand, sometimes imposing mansions. The southern influences on Houston are evidenced by occasional rows of shotgun houses, a staple of cities such as New Orleans. We drove past the impressive home of Houston's mayor, an out lesbian. In a state as conservative as Texas it is interesting to note that Houston is the largest city in the country where an openly gay woman holds it's highest elective office.

Though homes and buildings possessing character and charm are still being torn down in Houston, sacrificed to make way for newer structures without these attributes, it is heartening to know that in some areas these traits are still respected and preserved.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Houston 2013 - The Mystery of the Gray Pickup

As I landed and picked my way through the labyrinth that is Houston International Airport I found myself thinking that it resembled the somewhat twisted logic of the president for which it is named. I fondly recalled Geraldine Ferraro, the first woman to run for vice president, instructing him not patronize her in their famous exchange during the historic 1984 vice presidential debate. I collected my bag and went to the arrival pickup area.

After a short wait I phoned my hosts. Asking if their pick up truck was what I should be expecting I was assured that it was. Upon further inquiry regarding what color the truck was I was told that it was gray. I surveyed the cars in the area which were waiting for arriving passengers. There were no less than 4 gray pick up trucks. Knowing that theirs did not have a gun rack I was able to narrow the possible number of gray pick ups to 2. After a second phone call I was informed that I had misread my arrival time placing it a half hour behind my actual one. After 20 minutes or so, and the passing of a number of other gray pick up trucks, some sporting gun racks, some not, I was after all in Texas, the proper one arrived.

We drove away from the airport and onto the highway. The passing landscape was a mixture of horses grazing in fields, industrial parks and gentle, slow flowing bayous, their banks festooned with midsummer wildflowers.

Houston, like many sunbelt cities, is low and spreads out for miles. Over dinner at a local Mexican restaurant we discussed how, due to the sprawling nature of such cities, devising a public mass transit system is a challenging, if not impossible, task. There is a light rail system downtown, built during a failed bid to host a summer Olympics and a bus system, but service is infrequent and requires hours to get from one location to another. Add to this the blazing Texas heat and it appears from the people seen at the bus stops, that public transit is primarily used by only the most desperate and poor citizens. One option might be a light rail system reaching to the corners of the city with shorter feeder bus routes but this would be costly. Gas lobbyists are a powerful bunch. As long as money, as opposed to common sense, decides public policy reliable and efficient mass transit in the private auto addicted U.S. will remain a pipe dream. When fossil fuel becomes more difficult to obtain, when the price of gas climbs so high that it becomes a luxury item, perhaps we will be spurred to action. Till then I fear public monies will be spent building an increasing number of roads leading us to places we can already get to.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Houston - The Second Time Around

This was my second trip to Houston. Since my last visit my friend and host had experienced major health problems eventually necessitating a liver transplant. Although his energy level is uneven he was well on the mend, eagerly anticipating my visit.

I have a friend from my Caribbean cruise who also lives in Houston. Several weeks ago he was in Chicago for a period too brief to allow me to meet up with him. Since I last saw him he has found a new man in his life, something of which he is richly deserving. I was to have dinner with them during my time in Texas along with the person they stayed with in my hometown. It is a recurring theme, my meeting fellow Chicagoans when I travel.

I have attempted to keep myself from feeling too culpable for my friends health issues, even though they began during my last visit. He assured me that all his organs would be in good working order this time.

So, early on a Wednesday morning I left my apartment on Chicago's far north side enroute to O'hare airport. A white, just past full, moon hung in a blue sunlit sky. As I transferred from one bus to the next I passed by a building undergoing renovations. The businesses operating there have had to create temporary signage for their establishments.  "Dynasty Insurance" has resorted to a small paper sign in their window. It is somewhat unfortunate that a corner of the sign has folded over and now reads "Nasty Insurance". Heading west I am once again reminded of the architectural and visual riches of my hometown. The intricate spires of gothic revival churches loom over streets lined with vintage two flats and bungalows, their yards bright with summer flowers. Towering venerable trees provide shade. The Chicago river, it's banks lush with foliage, flows through a verdant city park. A forest preserve, surrounded by the city, speaks to the "green" nature of Chicago, sometimes called "The City in a Garden".

As the plane takes off the view transitions from the silhouette of a metropolis with it's formidable highrises to small houses set among a patchwork of fields, the rich prairie soil ideal for growing many different crops. Wednesday, due to  my waking up at an absurdly early hour, I plan to settle in and relax. Thursday I had requested to see the downtown highrise district, missed on my previous visit, followed by my dinner with my cruise friend that evening. The weekend would be spent at a camp in the Texas hill country. 3 of us would be making that trip, myself, my host and a friend of his who at one time kept a weekend trailer home at the campground. Sunday night would be spent in San Antonio, touring the city the following day before driving back to Houston and returning to Chicago on Tuesday.

Although I had packed a pair of jeans in the gym bag serving as my suitcase, they were a purely precautionary measure. Having to don a suit and tie every workday I was determined to wear shorts and shirts without sleeves during my entire stay. The only exception to this was the v neck gray tee shirt I brought for Thursday evening. When someone is being gracious and generous enough to have you to dinner completely bare arms could be seen by some as disrespectful. 


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Stop and Smell the Gemstones

I sell fine jewelry at one of America's most well known, almost iconic really, chain department stores. It is how I make my living. It is what keeps a roof over my head and food on my table. Jewelry is unique. Clothing can warm and protect. Jewelry, although it can suggest one's financial and social status to others, serves no real purpose other than adornment. Despite this, evidence of it's existence, in some form, can be found dating back to the onset of civilization. I have been in the business of retail, selling this, that and the other, for most of my adult life. It is something I am adept at witnessed by my longevity in the business. I am immersed, focused and intent when I sell. I highlight the quality, craftsmanship and beauty of the item to the customer. I work to connect with them, they share small parts of their history with me, I share portions of my history with them. But, every so often, I take a step back and consider the wonder of the natural forces which create the gems I vend.

There is the pearl, beautiful and lustrous, highly prized since ancient times. A foreign body works it's way into the shell of a mollusk, settling in the delicate inner membrane of the creature. To protect itself the host secretes a chemical which builds up layer upon layer on the unwanted visitor, forming the precious gem.

Consider the humble origins of the diamond. Merely pieces of carbon subjected to immense pressure. It is highly valued, yet, at it's core, is essentially the remains of a campfire compressed over time into one of the hardest substances known. An unprepossessing stone it it's natural state, when cut it's inner structure captures and refracts light in a manner unlike any other gemstone.

Amber wears it's history on it's sleeve. Fossilized tree sap, found in an array of orange and yellow hues, it can carry dirt, bark, bits of leaves, occasionally even an insect in it's opaque center. I feel as if, when wearing amber, I am carrying with me an ancient, frozen moment of time.

Onyx, in it's multitude of colors, also owes it's creation to an immense span of time. It is formed by minerals picked up and carried by water through fissures in the earth and deposited on cavern floors. It can be faceted to give it's surface a glittering appearance or polished smooth making it look muscular and strong. There is a ring I wear often of silver and black onyx I bought on Aruba. It is a favorite piece among my personal sizable jewelry collection.

Then there are beryls, a category that includes the bright green of the emerald, the soft blue of the aquamarine and the pale pink morganite. They are formed when superheated water vapor or magma becomes trapped between layers of rock then hardens as it cools. The colors are determined by the minerals contained in the water or magma. These gems, whether worn on the fingers or around the neck, are hundreds of millions of years old. A span of time difficult to comprehend.

Gemstones not only provide me with my living, they are things of immense age, deserving of respect. Pieces of often mundane origins transitioned, over time, into things of great beauty.   

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Things I Have Strong Feelings About - Overpopulation

A discussion has been ongoing regarding ways to pull the U.S. government out of it's present, less than ideal economic state. One suggestion is to tax the wealthy at a higher rate. This inevitably leads to a discussion of what defines "wealthy". Many New York based, well compensated newscasters argue that if you live in Manhattan with 4 children $250,000 per year is not wealthy. As $250,000 is 5 times the median U.S. household income of  $50,000 stating that you are not economically advantaged if you fit into that category is a difficult argument to make.

I have always wanted to point out two things when these statements are made. One, Manhattan is expensive. If you feel financially strained move somewhere cheaper. Some of the boroughs or even New Jersey are just as accessible to Midtown as the Upper West Side and much more affordable. Two, in an already overpopulated world what do you think you are doing having 4 children?

Species are going extinct at an alarming rate. Most due to habitat destruction caused by human encroachment. We have poisoned, redirected, drained and dammed waterways and wetlands. Forests have been felled in order to make more space for people and to produce the food to feed them. It is time, in fact past time, for everyone to understand that we do not own the earth, we share it.

Most articles I have read on population regard the continuing growth of the human race as inevitable. It is time to challenge that assumption. Some countries, notably several in Europe, are seeing declines in their populations generation to generation. China has in place laws, which some suggest are too harsh, to control population growth. These are the exceptions. Some of the highest birth rates are found in developing countries.

This growth is both dangerous and unnecessary. It strains resources and degrades standards of living for all people. The situation, however, is not hopeless. As health care improves in poorer countries a decline in birth rates is seen. People have fewer children as they become assured that those they have will live to adulthood. As Brazil's middle class has grown it's population has slowed. The Brazilians are concerned about the life they can provide for their children. Many couples are choosing to have only two in order to insure their children's financial and physical well being.

Here in the U.S. there are steps we can take to keep our population growth at a level that will make both people and the earth healthier. Presently our tax system allows exceptions based partially on the number of children in a household. Perhaps we could cap exceptions at 3, which I feel would be a reasonable accommodation. Accidents can happen, my brother's third child was unplanned. Bearing 4, 5 or more children, however, becomes, in this day and age, a selfish and thoughtless act. This is regardless of whether you can afford the cost of housing, feeding and educating that many children or not.

For those possessing a strong faith and devotion to their religious beliefs the highest levels of religious organizations need to become involved. Reliable birth control measures should not only be tolerated but embraced, viewed as a moral obligation. If you believe that God gave you dominion over the earth it is your duty as it's overseer to care for it.

Creating and maintaining a stable and sustainable human population will require all people and nations to work together. Governments, religious institutions and individuals must all take responsibility towards this goal. It will take time, perhaps several generations to achieve but it needs to be addressed. We cannot allow ourselves to outgrow the earth, it's all we've got. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ode to a Spiral Bound Notebook

As I have remarked before I write, edit and reedit these posts by hand before sending them on their cyberjourney. To do this I use three hole spiral bound notebooks, the type available in any drugstore or supermarket. After a time I come to the end of a notebook. The last few white pages, scored with blue lines, wait patiently to be filled with my rants, raves and chronicles of my travels to different locales and through the everyday, sometimes ordinary, sometimes confounding, mysteries of life.

These notes are written in a left handed scrawl, most probably indecipherable to anyone but me. Words, phrases, sometime entire sentences are scratched out. Arrows point to words, phrases, sometimes entire sentences I want to insert. Occasionally paragraphs are written on subsequent pages with a note reminding me to add them in at a particular point. Eventually it all comes together, I post it and send it on it's way, disposing of the handwritten manuscript.

As a notebook becomes past history I occasionally think back over what it has held during it's time in my life. Sometimes it has traveled with me. Packed in my suitcase it serves as a companion to me. It becomes a sounding board for my thoughts, as well as a place to chronicle my trips. At times it is almost a friend, albeit a transitory and inanimate one. Although, when it would be to cumbersome to carry with me  while exploring new places I leave it behind for the day, taking notes instead using the memo app on my phone, I always return to it's comfortable, familiar presence. It is a place for me to sort out thoughts and refine ideas. It is the vessel I use to capture my written voice.

As I crumple the sheets I realize I owe the pages a debt. They have served me well. Those that follow them, I trust, will serve me just as well as I bid farewell to an old confidant and welcome a spiral bound new one.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Over The Hill

As I travel through my 50's occasionally questions of age appropriateness come to the fore. Answers to these questions can be difficult to come by. What is proper behavior or a proper standard of dress. How is one who has experienced over half a century of life supposed to behave. Certainly my life and health at 55 is different than my parents at that age. To my grandparents, 55 today would be almost unrecognizable.

Man lives longer today, mankind moves faster. In the middle ages I would either have died by this time or would be considered extremely old. Although one may have, in that era, lived through several different rulers or regimes, the world at large, the basic experience of living, would not change greatly. For much of man's existence on earth change has come slowly.

Today technology speeds forward at a dizzying pace. What was new a decade ago is hopelessly outmoded today. Capitalism has always contained, as one of it's traits to ensure self perpetuation, planned obsolescence. Today this obsolescence is attained in months, not years. The latest technical innovation, no matter how trivial or inconsequential, has people lining up around the block desperate to own it.

I mark time in days, weeks, months, years and, in some cases, decades. I do not understand the fascination with things being accomplished a nano second faster. Seconds do not concern me. While I feel life is too precious and short to waste time, I have been known to put down a book of leave a theatrical or musical performance before it's end when I feel my time is being wasted, spending time can be one of life's great pleasures. Spending time with ones we care about, spending time on a particular project, spending quiet time with ones own thoughts or merely reveling in the glory of a beautiful sunlit day.

I have spent time wandering the streets of new cities, exploring the less traveled, sometimes almost hidden, corners of museums and sitting on a bus or train enjoying the scenery outside as it rolls by. I have learned, over the past half century, to relish the experience of life. I do not shut myself off from it by staring at my phone or putting pods in my ears. I am constantly entranced by the sights and sounds which surround me.

I have occasionally been described as "old school". It is a title I wear with pride. For instance, I hand write and hand edit my blog posts before committing them to cyberspace. When new technology will add to my life I embrace it. When it does not I eschew it.

I find myself confronted with what look is appropriate. I  have always veered toward a classic style. In my younger days I had a fondness for vintage. An appreciation of the timeless silhouette and excellent workmanship of bygone eras. Even though these days vintage fashion is extremely difficult to find and often too fragile to be worn I still own a few cherished pieces. I have maintained the sense and sensibility of that classic silhouette. The skinny suit and skinny jeans popular today are not appropriate for a man of my age and physique.

My desire is not to cling to my youth but to learn from it and move forward. At this age I do not consider myself to be over the hill but still ascending it, eagerly anticipating what I will discover further up the trail.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Measure for Measure - Dateline Chicago - St Patrick's Day 2013

When Chicago's Goodman Theatre, for which I hold a season ticket, released it's lineup for the 2012/2103 season it named 4 plays and another "to be announced". I pondered; are they attempting to obtain the rights to something? Perhaps they're pursuing a particular actor for a particular role. When they declared that Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure" was the 5th production I thought, "Well it wasn't a problem with getting the rights."

The director had decided to set the play in New York City during the 1970's. Rather than anything that said "New York" the set presented a non specific, garbage strewn, graffiti scarred, sex club laden urban landscape. This was a fortunate design choice as more than once in the early scenes the locale is identified as Vienna. It is difficult to present this play without sexual references as the entire play is centered around the sexual activities of the principal characters. This production contained an opening vignette depicting various sexual acts culminating in a veritable orgy on one side of the stage, setting the mood for the events that follow. It has been called one of Shakespeare's "problem plays", although comedic, it is also dark, at times cruelly so.

One issue with many Shakespeare productions is the actor's tendency to feel that, in order to do justice to the majestic and masterful words of the bard, they must rant and rave and rail their way through the play. What struck me in this production was the naturalism lent to the work by the actors. They make complex plot of the play is understandable by, while remaining true to the text, delivering the lines like everyday dialogue. The grand speeches presented in a non grand, at times almost understated manner.

As with most Goodman productions the visual aspects of the show were above average. Set pieces moved in and out and up and down. The dozen or so speaking roles are augmented by another dozen or so non speaking actors. These non speaking actors, used primarily as background, added to the rich texture of the production. One in particular caught my attention, a handsome, muscular fellow clad in tight jeans, a vest and sleeveless tee shirt, but that's another story, never mind.

Years ago I worked with a woman with an almost sacred respect for Shakespeare. She related to us how she felt his work remains timeless because of his keen observation of the human animal. Times, technology and fashions may change but the basics of the human condition do not. This is why, after 500 years, Shakespeare's work remains vital and relevant.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Measure for Measure - Dateline - San Francisco Circa 1984

As I have mentioned before in these posts, for a period of several months, close to the end of my San Francisco tenure, I worked with a small, semi professional theater group. We performed in Golden Gate Park and later at a San Francisco community college auditorium getting paid an amount which ranged from minuscule to nothing at all. In this company were two actors who were also working on a small black box production of Shakespeare's "Measure for Measure". The production, which was mounted with a budget of approximately $1.98, featured an all male cast, as Elizabethan productions would have had, and, it being San Francisco in the 1980's, homoerotic undertones.

Produced and directed by a gay man, with a largely gay cast, I found it somewhat ironic that of the 3 friends of mine in the show, 2 were straight. One of these played Claudio, one of the young male leads. He was a good actor with solid training and only one flaw, on occasion he would forget his lines. In a contemporary play, provided the other actors were reasonably adept and familiar enough with the script, this forgetfulness could be taken care of with relative ease. In the case of Shakespeare taking care of a problem of this sort becomes, well, problematic.

During my experiences with him on stage this "forgetfulness" of his occurred on 2 memorable occasions. We were performing "Alice in Wonderland". I portrayed the King of Hearts and he the Mad Hatter. As we moved into the theatre after our run in the park the actor playing the March Hare was unexpectedly called home to Tennessee and had to drop out of the production. Familiar with the role and the lines having heard them numerous times during rehearsal and our park performances, I was called upon to play the March Hare as well as the King. This required a lightning fast costume and makeup change accomplished by myself and a crew of three other cast members. I always arrived at my seat at the tea table slightly out of breath , microseconds prior to the lights coming on and the platform the Tea Party set was on being rolled downstage.

During one performance we had a minor prop malfunction which caused a major meltdown. I, the Hatter and Alice all realized we had no idea where we were in the script. Having only run through the scene 2 or 3 times and playing it in front of an audience a similar number of times I was neither adept or familiar enough to get us back on track. We jumped forward in the script, we moved backward in the script, we moved sideways in the script. Eventually we pulled ourselves out of our theatrical train wreck and the play went forward. Wisely, the preteen girl playing the Dormouse feigned sleep during the entire ordeal, which is essentially what her character did anyway., While we realized that it was the Mat Hatter's tea party scene and that noone would realize what a mess we had created I, for one, was never so glad to have a scene over with in my entire life...until...

In our subsequent production of Shakespeare's "As You Like It" the "forgetfull one" was playing Touchstone, in his defense, a demanding role. One evening, in the plays final scene, it once again became apparent he had "lost his way". He was in the middle of a long and complex speech describing a "laundry list" of items regarding human behavior it was obvious he could not recall. My character had the next line, asking him to state, "in order", the list of behaviors. There followed a second lengthy speech reciting the behaviors previously mentioned ticked off in a particular order. My mind raced trying to come up with an alternative to my character's scripted request. I came up empty. As my character asked him to recite in order a list of behaviors he obviously couldn't recall even out of order I felt I should have prefaced my line with "I'm terribly sorry to ask you this but"...This was the performance we were videotaping for prosperity. Although we all thought we were disguising our alarm at the quickly deteriorating situation, there was a glance between myself and another cast member which seemed to say "How is he gonna' get himself out of this one?" Gamely, he made up something on the fly. It being Shakespeare I doubt anyone noticed. No less a thespian than Lawrence Olivier confessed to forgetting his lines in a Shakespeare play. He related how he spouted Elizabethan gibberish for 10 minutes throwing thees and thous about with reckless abandon. He too, assumed that noone noticed.

But back to "Measure for Measure". The production was a heavily edited version of the play. It's running time had been cut by the director/producer, one person held both titles, by over an hour. Still the gist of the play remained. It was the period of the early years of the AIDS epidemic. A number of notable figures in the city's gay community had already succumbed. As the years wore on many more were to follow. The opening scene was a discussion regarding a plague which was affecting a town outside Vienna, the play's setting. The decision was made to portray the plague as AIDS. An actor portraying the representative of the town was made up to appear afflicted with Kaposi's Sarcoma, a rare form of skin cancer prevalent, at the time, among people with AIDS. This was done in a rather subtle manner. Had I not been told about it beforehand it might have even been missed by me, and I was well aware and educated about AIDS at the time.

Other parts of the production carried gay, sometimes somewhat erotic, tones that were much easier to identify. A tall, rather campy drag queen portrayed one of the female roles. There were two thickly muscled alpha males who played the guards clad in tight black pants, even tighter black sleeveless shirts, allowing the audience tantalizing views of their powerful, rippling tattooed arms and Doc Martens. They had no lines and served no purpose other than to stand at attention and hold characters down during interrogation. They were essentially set dressing. I for one, had no complaints nor did I ever hear any about their seemingly superfluous stature. There was also a servant to the Executioner, played in a slightly but not overly fey manner by another of my three friends who were in the show, the one gay one. The character was dressed in black leather overall shorts, tee shirt and combat boots and possessed an overly prurient interest in his master.

The Executioner was played by the same actor that played Claudio. This was accomplished by the Executioner wearing a hood, appearing in no scenes with Claudio and by cutting all of the Executioner's lines. A musclesuit was planned to bulk him out and further differentiate the two characters. In one scene the executioner accidentally hangs himself.  This entailed him being hoisted up by a harness. The harness was borrowed from the owner of one of the era's most notorious leather bars. As my friend described the harness to me, "It's greasy and it smells!" When the director gave it to him he informed him "I didn't have time to make the musclesuit so just wear a lot of clothes under it." Holding the foul thing at arm's length by his fingertips he replied "Not to worry!" He began to construct a list of clothing he could wear under it that he would later be able to boil.

Then there was the extended sequence in which an actor, a handsome blond possessing an almost impossibly chiseled physique displayed in the skimpiest of loincloths, flogs his genitals with a Cat of NineTails. Believe it or not this does make some sense within the context of the play. This chiseled actor professed to be straight however took full advantage of any chance which came around to flaunt his eye candy body in front of gay men.

I have always felt that the theatre, when it is at it's finest, is magic. In this production the actor who played Isabella, the female lead, created magic with every movement he made onstage. He was small in stature and dressed as a nun, which perhaps helped the illusion. I found myself forgetting that there was a man underneath the habit. He had a soliloquy at the beginning of the second act that was mesmerizing. It was one of those moments in which I was completely drawn in by an actor, unable to tear my eyes away from the stage.

Theatre can be brave. It can be imaginative and creative. It can have an emotional effect on those who experience it. Sometimes this effect is experienced in a grand house full of history. Other times it is experienced in a black box watching a production that has a budget of $1.98.  

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Has Spring Sprung?

Spring in the Midwest is a teasing, playful creature. Lake a coquette it appears full of beauty and promise. She flutters her fan, bats her eyes and then departs as mysteriously as she arrives. One day can be damp, cold and rainy. Even as late as April feeble snowflakes can be seen in the cool, wet morning air. The next day the sun is out, the temperature soars and cabin fevered locals emerge, their eyes blinking, attempting to accustom themselves to the light and warmth. The next day can dawn colder and wetter that the one 2 days earlier. New Easter clothes are buried beneath down coats that one can't chance putting away just yet. Then, almost overnight, the long wished for moment happens. The coquette puts down her fan and actually speaks to you.

The days noticeably lengthen. The warmth of the sun becomes a more constant companion. Early budding trees sprout diminutive new leaves. Grass transitions from brown to verdant green. Bright yellow daffodils and jonquils and the Easter egg hues of hyacinths appear in carefully cultivated patches. Planters, window boxes and balconies begin to fill with blooms purchased at the neighborhood garden center. Birds perform elaborate mating rituals and tiny bits of color peeking out from the tightly wrapped buds of tulips hint at what is still to come as spring tightens it once tenuous grasp. People fill the streets and parks. Heavy winter coats are traded in for light jackets. Later even these are eschewed as the sun climbs in the sky. It is tee shirt weather. Winter white limbs are exposed to the warmth. Once brows, furrowed from the frustration of winters tedium, smooth. Shoulders, hunched for months against the winter cold, relax.

We know it not quite over. There will still be cool nights, perhaps another drenching spring rain. However, at this time, in this place, we are gifted with this sunlit moment to treasure and enjoy.

Sunday, April 14, 2013


With all traveling adventures there is the final leg, the trip home. From the air I surveyed the red rock country's deep canyons and snowcapped mountains. We followed the winding course of the Snake river before turning east. We crossed the great, flat plains that are the center, some say the heart of the country. Pressed out by the immense weight of ancient glaciers their soil is among the richest in the world. Much of what feeds the U.S. comes from the farms and fields that passed beneath me.

I continue to Chicago and home, that small warm place I have carved out for myself within my cities muscular street grid. That place where I can shut the door and feel safe. Where I can rest when I grow weary of the chaos of live.

My apartment overlooks the neighborhoods on the west side of the city. There I can look across them and be happy that I am a part of them and also be thankful that I have a place where I can find respite when it all just seems too much.  I yearn for travel because it broadens my soul, I yearn for home because it restores it.

Just Outside of Phoenix - Ancient Lives and Natural Wonders

I had requested, prior to my arrival, a visit to the ruins of a cliffside dwelling in the desert outside of town know as "Montezuma's Castle." As in many newer U.S. cities it takes quite a while to get "out of town", but after a time I found myself looking at a desert landscape of odd, austere beauty. We climbed out of the valley where Phoenix is located, the rain had turned the mountains surrounding the city were more verdant than I had ever seen them, into a land of mesquite, the broad leafs of prickly pears and saguaro cactus with their branched arms raised upward resembling an attitude of prayer.

We passed small creeks and rivers, on their banks thin lines of trees took advantage of these rare water sources in the otherwise dry enviorment. As we began to reach the mountains peaks I was treated to a breathtaking vista. The mountains dove down to the valley floor below. On the far side of the valley cliffs bearing bands of red, white and pale yellow revealed themselves. Further in the distance snowcapped mountaintops were visible, standing majestic and tall above the straited cliffs. The sky was a brilliant cloudless blue.

Reaching our destination and stepping out of the car we were greeted by air that was refreshing, pleasantly cool and pure.We paid our fee and entered the site. A minor disappointment was that we were not in the line manned by the adorable, red haired, bearded park ranger but in the line of the older, more grizzled one. Over the years, however, I have come to not dwell on opportunities missed and we moved on. The cliff dwelling is one of the best preserved of such sites in the Southwest. Accessed from the valley floor in ancient times by ladders, it stands several stories tall. An equally impressive structure once stood on the floor of the valley to one side of the cliff dwelling. It has long since deteriorated and only the outline of the buildings foundation remains. Holes in the rock wall where posts were secured to hold up the structures several levels suggest it's impressive original size. The plants in the area are marked with signs containing information about them and what the ancient people living here used them for such as making twine or medicines. Information on how they were prepared as food sources is also displayed. Some fruits and berries were made into delicacies. The desert of the era. The sap of one tree was used as a form of adhesive. We wondered as we read the signs how the people discovered how these plants could be used in what were often ingenious ways. A surprisingly large river in this desert setting provided an abundant water source for both drinking and irrigating crops.The surviving examples of the cloth woven by these people is beautiful bearing intricate patterns.

We returned to the car and headed to Sedona. Although it is a location I have never felt particularly compelled to visit, this, it being in the area, seemed and opportune time to take a look at what I have heard so many people rave about. It is as I imagined it to be, a place of stunning natural beauty marred by the excesses of tourism. The red rock formations are towering, impressive examples of the sculpting capabilities of weather and time. We drove to a high point overlooking the valley. I marveled at the russet pinnacles and the hues the elements have exposed in the sides of the rock walls. The flawless blue sky against the rock spires and walls created a crisp, vivid kaleidoscope of colors.

We continued on to Jerome. Perched high on a mountainside, romantically named Cleopatra Hill, it was once know as the "wickedest town in the west". A copper mining town, at it's height in the 1920's it boasted a population of 15,000. By the early 1950's the population had dwindled to between 50 and 100 people. These remaining residents began to promote the Jerome as a historic ghost town. In 1967 it was designated a National Historic District. Today it has a population of about 450. After suffering fires in the late 1800's, it's streets are now lined with the reconstruction from that era as well as buildings dating from the early portion of the 20th century. The buildings have been turned into shops, bars and restaurants. There are also a handful of historic hotels and bed and breakfasts. The town affords the visitor incredible views across the valley to the multihued cliffs beyond. We lunched at the "Mile High Grill", so named because it stands 1 mile above sea level. We wandered the streets, stepping into the lobby of a silent move house built during the towns heyday, and delighted at the look and feel of the venerable structures which climb up the hillside.

Passing through the desert returning to Phoenix the saguaro stood like sentinels overlooking and guarding the harsh terrain as hawks floated overhead surveying the arid, forbidding landscape in search of their next meal. 



Thursday, April 11, 2013

Phoenix - More Gym, More Drinks and Find a Grave

The expected Phoenix sun had finally appeared. Once again we made our way to the gym, a recurring theme during my visits to Phoenix. As I worked out I once again enjoyed the assortment of eye candy on display. I'm certain that were I a regular habitue of this particular facility the view would become more routine, however, since I was a visitor passing through there was still a novelty factor in play.

I was, at last, able to enjoy the spring time, southwest rays in the back yard. Our plan was to take in the local Sunday afternoon gay bar scene, starting with, at my request, an establishment with a sizable outdoor space. Enjoying a drink outdoors, indeed enjoying anything outdoors, can be challenging in Chicago in March. We ended up visiting 3 bars that afternoon. Cocktails were also a recurring theme during this visit.

One of my hosts has been active on a networking web site called "Find a Grave". Online memorials are created and requests are sent out for photos of grave markers or memorabilia celebrating the life of the deceased. On this day he was going out to the nearby Veteran's Cemetery to locate and photograph grave markers.

As a child traveling with my family visits to cemeteries were often on our itinerary. Not only did my mother have a fondness for gothic horror and the macabre, she also understood the lessons in history that could be learned by these cemetery visits, particularly older ones. Viewing the resting place of one who is particularly admired or historically important can often instill a feeling of connection with them. In some cases it may spark interest in further study and exploration. I remember going through cemeteries on a trip to the east coast visiting the graves of the founders of the U.S., and later, on a trip to Dayton as an adult, visiting the gravesites of the founder of the Huffy bicycle company and the Wright Brothers.

The day was bright and sunny but the sun had not yet reached it's full height and heat. Our time was concentrated on the columbarium. While my host took photos of the memorials behind which rested the cremated remains of those who had served in the Armed Forces, I spent my time reading the epitaphs.

There were the ones you would expect to encounter, husbands and wives sharing a space with the word "Together Forever" carved on the memorial plaque. Others remembered the deceased as "Beloved Father", "Beloved Mother", Beloved Son, or "Beloved Daughter". Some were whimsical, "Gone Fishin"or "Lining up on the First Tee". There must have been quite a pair of mouths on the couple who were remembered with "Cursing Together Forever". Some were poetic, "2nd Star to the Right, Straight on Till Morning". One that had a particular effect on me read "Now You Can Dance Again". There was the unexpected, a memorial to the Mayor of Phoenix from 1964 to 1970.
I was saddened by memorials to the young men and women killed in our senseless conflict in the Middle East. Many of them decades younger that I, I pondered what their future would have held.
I tried to imagine the lives lived alone after the death of a spouse of many years or the history that had been witnessed by those who lived to see 90 years of change.

I tried to imagine a utopia where places like these would no longer be necessary. A time when mankind could learn to live without armed conflict. I tried to imagine a time when respect and tolerance would result in a world at peace.