Eila Hiltunen’s landmark sculpture, Passio Musicae pays tribute to Finland’s Jean Sibelius, but not without controversy.
Sibelius was an internationally acclaimed symphonic composer inspired by Finnish folklore. Long regarded by Finns as a national icon, his celebrity and talent sparked a public fundraising campaign to memorialize him in a meaningful way after his death in 1957, while also fueling a public debate on the purpose of public art.
In 1961, the Sibelius Society arranged a competition among 50 of Finland’s finest sculptors. The local jury recognized five finalists with statuary proposals and gave consideration to Hiltunen’s abstract design of 600 stainless steel tubes clustered in free-form formations.
The second tier of judging was bolstered by three additional experts of international reputation, who ultimately favored Hiltunen’s more refined proposal, and awarded her the commission,
immediately angering half of Finland’s population who favored a more figurative solution (later added by Hiltunen as a compromise),
yet pleasing the other half of the nation looking for a modernist approach.
But irony abounds when Hiltunen’s monument honors an accomplished violinist, but resembles a mighty display of scrolled organ pipes, or perhaps a birch forest or the Northern Lights to an imaginative viewer.
Nearby, Leah and I huddled for warmth inside a fanciful shoebox called Cafe Regatta, located on the edge of the park,
to contemplate the Sibelius monument, and enjoy a hot cocoa and donut…
while around the bend, on the water’s edge,
two hearty locals dared to dip into icy waters–
reminding me that taking the plunge is risky, but the results can take your breath away.
With our Norway cruise behind us, Leah and I had designs on extending our Northern European adventure. Unfortunately, our plan to visit St. Petersburg hit a fatal snag after we neglected to apply for Russian visas in a timely fashion.
Originally, our flight from Bergen to St. Peterburg required a transfer through Helsinki, so Helsinki became our default destination for the next four days. Although my dream of touring the Winter Palace and Hermitage was temporarily dashed, Helsinki seemed like a worthy safety net and exciting city to explore.
But something about Helsinki was off. Ordinarily, Helsinki during winter months would be blanketed in snow with the harbor frozen over…
but during our visit, the landscape was fully thawed.
In fact, residents hadn’t seen a trace of snow since winter’s arrival, although they were experiencing one of the wettest and gloomiest seasons on record.
And that’s exactly how it felt to us as we wandered through Helsinki’s city streets, taking in the cultural setting and the vibe.
On our first day of touring, the rain and wind was relentless, but we were undeterred. In the end, we punished our umbrellas, and rendered them useless. But they saved us from a soaking and protected my camera as we found our way to Helsinki’s 50-year old landmark, the Church of the Rock–
embedded in bedrock,
and capped by an oval dome of skylights and copper.
In 1961, Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen–Finnish brothers and architects–conceptualized a church excavated from solid rock amidst Helsinki’s Töölö district, and were awarded the commission by a jury of their peers.
Ultimately, budget constraints and construction delays prevented the project from getting underway until February 1968, but the brothers saw their vision consecrated in September 1969.
The church became an instant mecca for concerts,
after sound engineers determined that exposing the rough-hewn rock walls could deliver an acoustic nirvana.
More than half a million visitors a year flock to Church of the Rock for worship, wedding celebrations, and meditation.
Our quest to chase Aurora Borealis continued aboard the Viking Star, cruising northbound through Finnmark, the heart of Norwegian Lapland,
and on to Alta, our northern-most destination inside the Arctic Circle.
Leah and I were praying for clear skies plus a surge in solar activity–given Alta’s reputation as the Town of the Northern Lights and home to the world’s first Northern Lights Observatory (1899) for conducting scientific research.
To that end, we mounted a pilgrimage to the Cathedral of the Northern Lights to increase our chances of an anticipated sighting. However, on this temperate night, an unexpected veil of dew painted the town, offering up a cathedral bathed in shimmery titanium,
lunging 47 meters (154 ft) toward an elusive phenomenon.
To the townsfolk, this sanctuary is as much a tourist attraction as it is a church.
It represents “a landmark, which through its architecture symbolizes the extraordinary natural phenomenon of the Arctic northern lights,” according to John F. Lassen, partner of Schmidt Hammer Lassen–a Danish design firm that collaborated with Scandinavian firm Link Arkitektur to win the city council’s design competition in 2001.
And there is much to appreciate about the design–outside and in. The exterior’s circular body mimics a magic curtain of light once illustrated by Louis Bevalet in 1838.
And the interior lighting resembles the long shafts of light associated with the Aurora.
Religious overtones are emphasized through the metal mosaics representing Twelve Disciples…
and the 4.3 meter (14 ft) modernist bronze of Christ searching the blue-glazed heavens, imagined by Danish artist Peter Brandes. While some worshippers may claim that a hidden face lives in the outstretched neck of the subject,
the illusion is subject to personal interpretation.
Consecrated in 2013, the Cathedral of Northern Lights functions as Alta’s parish church of the Church of Norway, yet remains an open forum for assembly and performance.
One-year after the first benediction, the concrete walls had settled and the pipe organ was installed. The dynamic acoustics attracted notable talent and filled all 350 seats.
Leah and I attended an organ recital by Irina Girunyan,
While following a complex score for hands and feet,
Irina skipped and fluttered her way through an evocative program of classical and contemporary music.
The ethereal sound from 1800 pipes and 26 stops was heavenly,
Leah and I eagerly anticipated our arrival to Tromsø. For one, we were bored of cruising, having spent two consecutive days at sea after missing the port of Bodø because of high winds and rough seas (seeOrder of the Blue Nose).
But Tromsø, for us, provided the needed adrenelin rush to jumpstart our Norway adventure. Now that we finally arrived at the Gateway to the Arctic, we could participate in many of the off-the-ship excursions within our reach, like snowmobiling through white-carpeted mountain passes, and searching for the Northern Lights.
The Viking Star gently glided past Polaria’s domino-stacked building as Captain Nilsen steered us through the harbor on our way to docking.
While waiting for the local authorities to clear our vessel, I had an opportunity to photograph our new surroundings from our stateroom veranda, looking from stem…
But one building that piqued my interest sat off the port side of the ship, nestled in the snowy foothills of Tromsø Sound–the Arctic Cathedral. Absolutely stunning!
Strikingly modern, the church was designed by architect Jan Inge Hovig and built in 1965. It’s roof structure was formed by concrete sheathed in aluminum panels,
as opposed to Tromsø’s other landmark church, the Tromsø Cathedral. Located in the center of town on the spot of Tromsø’s first church built in 1252, this cathedral was finished in 1861, and remains Norway’s only cathedral made of wood.
Leah and I crossed the Tromsø Bridge by bus for a closer look.
Likened to the Sydney Opera House, the exterior of the Arctic Cathedral is simple in shape and style,
while the interior design is modestly appointed to accentuate: the large prism chandeliers;
the sparse altar rail and pulpit; and the grand glass mosaic commissioned by artist Victor Sparre–depicting three rays of light emanating from God’s hand: one through the form of Jesus, one through woman and one through man.
The western wall of the sanctuary is complemented by Grönlunds Orgelbyggeri’s organ, built in 2005.
The Star of David radiating through the eastern wimdow symbolizes a spirit of inclusiveness and community acceptance. (Just kidding)
The organ was built in the French Romantic tradition, and was adapted to the cathedral’s architecture, providing illusions of sails and ice floes. The organ comprises 2940 pipes, measuring from 32 feet (9.6 m) to just 5 mm. Much of the woodwork is solid pine with bellows made of reindeer hide.
It’s a pity I never heard it played, as I’m certain the cathedral’s vaulted vortex provides impressive acoustics.
Back at the Viking Star, after a brief bout of daylight (6hrs, 15min.)…
I returned to my veranda to record the Arctic Cathedral bathed in moonlight…
and I imagined I heard Grieg’s Song of Norway playing from its soaring arches.
Captain Terje Nilsen of the Viking Star personally delivered the unfortunate news over the ship’s PA system during breakfast.
“Because of high winds, we will be cruising past the port of Bodø, and continuing onto Tromsø. I apologize for the inconvenience, but the weather is just not safe for us to make a landing.”
Of course, we were disappointed.
Bodø is a charming alpine village north of the Arctic Circle and home to Saltstraumen, the world’s largest maelstrom. Additionally, Leah and I had booked an excursion to Kjerringøy, and would have enjoyed hiking through this preserved trading post dating back to the 1800s.
But Captain Nilsen wasn’t kidding. If the gusting winds and pounding seas were any indication of what was witnessed as the Hurtigruten ferry attempted docking in Bodø, then I couldn’t imagine the Viking Star following suit–certainly not with so many passengers unable to handle the rough crossing from Tilbury, England.
Nevertheless, passengers were invited to the pool deck following breakfast to celebrate a longtime maritime tradition of crossing the Arctic Circle.
While Paulo serenaded us with folk classics and Beatles covers of Here Comes the Sun, and I’ll Follow the Sun, (ironic, don’t you think),
the crew assembled to initiate each of us into the Order of the Blue Nose.
Our Cruise Director, Brensley Pope took the microphone to give some background:
Good afternoon Ladies & Gentlemen and welcome! We have entered through the Arctic Circle, and it is time to make our journey official by welcoming you to the Order of the Blue Nose! First, a little history.
The word “arctic” comes from the Greek word arktikos: “near the Bear, northern” The name refers to the constellation Ursa Major, the “Great Bear”, which is prominent in the northern sky.
The region north of the Circle, known as the “Arctic” covers roughly 4% of the Earth’s surface.
The position of the Arctic Circle coincides with the southernmost latitude in the Northern Hemisphere at which the sun can remain continuously above or below the horizon for a full twenty-four hours; hence the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” This position depends on the tilt of the earth’s axis, and therefore is not a “fixed” latitude. The Arctic circle is moving north at a rate of 15 meters per year, and is currently located at 66 degrees 33 minutes North latitude.
Captain Terje Nilsen interupted, “I believe that’s enough history for now…”
The crowd responded with laughter. And then it became official with his declaration…
Hear ye… hear ye….
Whereas by official consension, our most honorable and well-beloved Guests have completed successful passage through the Arctic Domain. We do hereby declare to all in attendance and that those who possess the courage to take the Aquavit cleanse shall be marked accordingly, with the prestigious Order of the Blue Nose.
Captain Nilsen continued…
This is to certify that you all have been formally and officially initiated into the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Chilly Deep, and should wear your blue noses proudly! With the order of myself, the Captain, I command all subjects to Honor and Respect those onboard Viking Star as one of our Trusty Blue Nose family.
We officially welcome you to the Blue Nose Order! Skol!
I got my blue nose and drained my shot glass of chilled Aquavit. Was I now a proud member of a society of alcoholics and sun worshippers?
But I wasn’t alone.
Lines formed from both sides of the pool deck for distinguished crew members to efficiently annoint all worthy passangers with a blue-tinted dab of meringue.
What follows is a small sample of inductee’s portraits–some more enthusiastic than others…
United in singular purpose, we now shared a common bond.
To validate our accomplishment, each of us received a certificate of achievement validated by Captain Nilsen.
Soon after, while walking about the jogging track in whipping winds after a filling lunch, I caught a glimpse of what made this affair so special.
Cirque du Soleil is seemingly ubiquitous–with a dozen touring companies scouring the continents, and 7 different resident shows selling out across the Las Vegas strip, making this entertainment company the most prolific circus producer on the planet.
But JOYÀ is different, and I couldn’t wait to share the experience with my family.
Staged in a custom-built, butterfly-inspired structure surrounded by a cenote within the Riviera Maya jungle,
the 600-seat theater features a thrust stage anchored by perimeter table service, and tiered seating beyond the waiters’ service stations.
For the epicure, this production offers a dinner component one-hour before showtime that relies on gastronomic smoke and mirrors to draw the guest deeper into the Mexican experience.
According to Mexican Top Chef Alexis Bostelmann, “Each element of this magnificent show served as my inspiration, where imaginative curiosity is met with unexpected discovery,” said Bostelmann.
The adventure began with an edible menu,
followed by a polished slab of wood featuring a salad of edible flowers and Iberian ham, served with a lobster taco, a sweet potato, and fresh ceviche seasoned with coconut, mint and passion fruit.
I said “yes” to the protein option to garnish my salad: locally-sourced chinicuiles–a salty worm that feeds off maguey roots, and is often found swimming at the bottom of a mezcal bottle. A true Mexican delicacy!
Our featured beverage, in addition to a chilled bottle of Mecier Brut Champagne was Dragon Breath–a signature tequila concoction that was smokin’ and refreshing!
We noshed on a basket of bread bark,
and broccoli boughs while we waited for the second course.
My entree arrived under a meteor shell. I opted for braised short ribs nestled beside a dugout dinosaur bone of grilled veggies, and accompanied by a geode-styled crock filled with ginger, coconut and sweet potato mash.
Leah received a treasure chest of jewels…
accented by a fillet of salmon resting on a poblano-mint puree, elevated by a tower of grilled vegetables, and an oyster-sized seaweed salad topped with a coconut milk pearl.
All the while, our remaining senses were treated to traditional Latin music performed with a jazzy twist.
After the second course was cleared, we were presented with a novel idea–
–a quartet of desserts plated within the pages of the Periodic Table of Pastries.
“My goal was to present a menu rooted in historical meaning that parallels the show’s beloved storyline so that once the performance begins, guests will connect all the details for a completely immersive theatrical experience,” Bostelmann added.
If dinner set the scene, then the show would bear more earthly delights. Noah, Nathan, Leah and I waited for the lights to dim…
and let Cirque du Soleil transport us to a magical place, where gravity is optional.
It was September 1969, and I was in my senior year at Pittsburgh’s Peabody High School. To my mother’s dismay, my bell-bottom jeans were torn and faded, my hair was too long, and my music was too noisy. The British Invasion was casting Pittsburgh’s favorite sons Bobbie Vinton and Lou Christie aside, although Tommy James and the Shondells were pushing back hard with their psychedelic sound.
I was hooked on rock ‘n roll, and doubled down on my commitment as a record collector by retiring my GE record player and worn 45’s in favor of LPs. Fortunately, my summer job as a yardman at Steel City Lumber funded my new Pioneer SX-1000 receiver and Dual 1219 turntable, complemented by a pair of Advent Loudspeakers. All I needed now was a record that was worthy of blasting.
My weekly allowance was meant to cover my bus transportation and school lunches for the week, but if I scrimped hard enough, I could afford an album, and I knew exactly which one I wanted. The Beatles’ Abbey Road LP had just been released, and I couldn’t wait to listen to it in its entirety, uninterrupted.
However, a weekend trip to National Record Mart’s East Liberty location left me high and dry. Unfortunately, the Beatles’ much anticipated album was already out of stock. Rather than leave the store empty-handed, I took the store clerk’s advice and picked up a record from a display he was building by the store entrance.
Being unfamiliar with the group, I was reassured that this band was unlike any other I may have heard. He said these guys performed at Woodstock, and this was definitely a band to pay close attention to. My interest was piqued. On the surface, I was trading a color photo of the Fab Four stepping through a London crosswalk for a sepia-toned picture of five scruffy guys posing in the woods. The album in question was self-titled, The Band.
I couldn’t wait to get home. I slit the shrink wrap, and carefully placed the record on the turntable platter. From the first track, a romping Across the Great Divide, to the last track, a haunting King Harvest (Has Surely Come), I knew I was hooked. It was completely different from any music playing on the radio at the time. This was a melange of mountain music, blues, and rockabilly mixed with unusual signatures. The music was delightful! How ironic that four of the five players were Canadian, but their expression was pure Americana.
That was 50 years ago. Today, The Band’s iconic album still resonates. While The Band’s songbook is limited to seven studio albums of original material over a ten-year career, their legendary status as consumate musicians was cemented in their final Thanksgiving concert, The Last Waltz (1976)–captured for the big screen by Martin Scorsese–where a string of special guests joined the group on stage to make music history as one of the greatest concerts of all time.
The magic continues this November, as The Last Waltz Tour reprises The Band’s original setlist with fresh arrangements and a steller line-up of musicians. I had admired the film and listened to the original recording, but I had to catch this performance now that it was coming to my newly adopted home town.
It was a chilly evening at St. Augustine’s Amphitheater, but the capacity crowd was warmed up for the event, as a familiar whiff of marijuana wafted through the tiered venue before The Last Waltz Overture signaled the beginning of the show.
Three frontmen took the stage,
and for the next 3½ hours shared lead vocals and guitar riffs, and provided subtle harmonies for a trove of rock ‘n roll gems memorialized 43 years ago. The all-star ensemble also included jazz keyboardist, John Medeski of MedeskiMartin & Wood;
legendary producer and bassist Don Was, and funk-master drummer Terrance Higgins anchoring a solid rhythm section; and a New Orleans-flavored horn section powered by Mark Mullins and the Levee Horns, playing from Alain Toussaint’s original charts.
Guest stars included: Cyril Neville,
and septuagenarian guitarist Bob Margolin, who played with The Band and Muddy Waters at the original Last Waltz in 1976, and reminisced about performing at the concert and jamming at the after-party with Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Ronnie Wood, and Paul Butterfield until 7am.
Such a night!
Theme From The Last Waltz
Up on Cripple Creek
The Shape I’m In
Georgia (On My Mind)
It Makes No Difference
The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
Down South in New Orleans
Who Do You Love?
This Wheel’s on Fire
King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
The Genetic Method
Life Is a Carnival
Rag Mama Rag
Kind Hearted Woman Blues
Further On Up the Road
I Shall Be Released
Such a Night
Baby Don’t You Do It
The Band’s music endures after 50 years, and may it keep us Forever Young.
“It’s a fine line between nutty and eccentric,” explained docent Jim Masseau of the Bayernhof Museum, “and the difference between the two is money.” Over the next two-plus hours, as Leah and I toured this residential mansion in suburban Pittsburgh, Jim’s definition proved to be an understatement, as we learned more about the behavior of Charles Boyd Brown III, the master of Bayernhof.
We entered the house through heavy double-doors, which opened into an airy vestibule sporting a heavy chandelier–
befitting a man who made his fortune fabricating sand-casted aluminum lanterns.
Along the way, we passed what appeared to be a life-sized Hummel figurine (later identified as bearing a likeness to his great-grandfather),
and gathered in the family room with the other guests, only to stare at Charlie’s portrait while we waited for Jim to begin the tour.
After informal introductions, Jim fed us details about Charlie’s bachelor life (born in 1937) and the house he left behind.
Built high on a hill covering 18 acres, and completed in 1982–after 6 years of construction without blueprints–Charlie’s 19,000 square-foot, Bavarian-styled “castle” overlooks the Alleghany Valley, with views reaching one-hundred miles beyond city limits on a clear day.
However, despite Charlie’s dream of constructing a $4.2 miilion estate with German folk-flourishes–
a rooftop observatory with a 16 inch reflecting telescope…
a basement batcave made of concrete and fiberglass,
a swimming pool with a 10-foot waterfall…
a wine celler with a working copper still…
a billiard room (starring a pool table thought to belong to Jackie Gleason)…
a home office…
and a boardroom (only used twice)–
his house, unfortunately, would never be considered museum-worthy on its own. Charlie would need a gimmick to attract greater attention. And that’s when he started collecting automated music machines from the 19th and 20th century.
Charlie couldn’t carry a tune, and had as much musicality as a bag of bagel holes. But his appreciation for century-old music machines instructed his passion for collecting them, until he acquired nearly 150 working devices (many rare and unusual), now scattered throughout the premises.
A sample of instruments can be viewed in the video below:
As Charlie grew his collection, he loved showing them off, and held lavish parties for 5 to 500 guests at a time–always in charge of the cooking, and always dressed in one of his signature blue Oxford shirts. He owned 283 of them. Whenever he tired of his company, he would magically slip away through one of many secret passages, leaving his guests to fend for themselves.
Before Charlie passed away in 1999, he endowed a foundation valued at $10 million to convert his home into a museum. In 2004, the O’Hara Township zoning board granted his wish, and the Bayernhof Museum was born, with the stipulation that pre-arranged guided tours be limited to 12 people at a time.
Charlie’s Bayernhof got its big break when CBS News did a feature for its Sunday Morning broadcast earlier this year…
The sole reason Leah and I traveled to Cleveland was to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, period…
and it didn’t disappoint.
Classic rock music filled the cavernous lobby…
and lighter-than-air concert props hung from cables…
It was a crusty carnival atmosphere on the outside, but we were there for the gooey goodness of the center.
Inside was like a multi-media circus. There was so much information and memorabilia organized on the walls, on the ceilings, and inside floating kiosks that whiplash seemed inevitable. And the Hall was buzzing: with so many tourists, campers, musicians, and music enthusiasts, that at times it felt like a mosh pit, as I moved from one area to another.
To be expected, there was a tribute to Woodstock…
and Dick Clark…
a salute to the 2019 inductees…
and the icons of rock: Elvis,
The Rolling Stones,
and Jimi Hendrix, to name a few.
There was plenty of concert apparel to gush about…
And there were interactivities to capture one’s creativity, like Garage Band.
Most importantly, when the last lyric was sung and the last chord was strummed, it was time to shop!
Leah and I were looking forward to touring Hitsville, USA after determining that a visit to Detroit was an essential part of our Great Lakes adventure.
Once we arrived at Motown Studios, I sensed a different kind of energy around me. Almost immediately, I found parking for the F-150 just beyond the funeral parlor’s yellow lines, and saw it as an omen of sorts for something good.
The scene around the house pulsed with enthusiasm and excitement. The crowd was as mixed as a casting call for Felinni’s Amarcord, yet everyone shared a common connection to the music, which made for instant bonding.
A like-minded gentleman of similar age joined me as I read the commemorative plaque, and I turned to him.
“Do you realize that we are the generation of those spider things?” I joked.
“Tell me about it!” he shrugged. “I got memories fitting that thingagmajig into the record hole just so I could stack my 45’s on the record player.”
“Amen!” I replied.
We shook hand and moved on.
Fans from across the country and around the world made the pilgrimage to celebrate the soundtrack to America’s social, political, and cultural consciousness.
Leah took a trip to the box office, while I attempted a portrait of Hitsville Chapel, all the while dodging families posing for selfies on the steps.
Leah returned without tickets. To our disappointment, the 5pm tour was sold out…weeks ago. It never occurred to us to secure tickets beforehand.
“Let’s go inside,” I suggested. “We’ve come this far. Maybe there’s something to see, or something we can do to fix this fiasco.”
The front door opened to an overflowing gift shop doing brisk business, but we weren’t there to buy souvenirs (at least not right away). We were there to relive our childhoods.
I walked around the backside of the shop, where I found the exit to the exhibition.
So close, yet so far…to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, 173 miles east of us…
to catch up on nifty artifacts.
“I think I can get us in,” Leah announced.
“Really!?” I mused. “And how are you gonnna manage that?”
“I think I can convince the guard to feel sorry for us, and he’ll let us in,” she boasted.
“Just like that!?” I laughed.
“You’ll see,” she insisted.
I think the security guard of 25 years has probably heard every sob story imaginable, except for Leah’s. To be expected, Leah’s story had little impact on his decision, but he must have been moved somewhat.
He withdrew a tattered writing pad from his shirt pocket. “Y’know, over the years, I collected the addresses of some Motown legends, and I don’t really show it aroun’, but I’m gonna make an exception in your case, ’cause you came all this way for nothin’.”
“And all these addresses are in Detroit?” I asked.
“Yup!” declared security.
Wanting clarification, “and they’re real?”
“Yup, but do me a favor and keep it on the QT, OK? I don’t want the neighbors hassled and all,” he advised.
Cool! While we had lost the grand prize, it seemed, at the very least, that we were leaving with parting gifts. With addresses in hand, Leah and I decided to regroup and return the following day to play “private investigator.”
When plotting addresses on GPS, it became clear to us that many of the homes were within a ten-mile range of each other, so off we went on our real estate scavanger hunt of once-lived-in homes of America’s greatest rhythm and blues, and soul singers.
We started our tour at Florence Ballard’s home in Detroit’s largest historic district, Russell Woods. Florence was a founding member of the Supremes, who passed in 1976.
In her early years, Diana Ross lived with her family on the top floor of this duplex, just north of Arden Park.
It turns out, it was only five miles away from Berry Gordy, Jr.’s home, until he sold it to Mavin Gaye in the ’70’s…
and moved to a 10,500 sq ft Italianate mansion in Detroit’s Boston-Edison historic district with 10 bedrooms, 7 baths, a 4,000 sq ft pool house, and a 5-car carriage house.
Nearby, Gladys Knight lived in a 4 bedroom, 3.5 bath Tudor in Detroit’s Martin Park neighborhood.
Around the corner, lived Temptation’s co-founder and lead singer, Eddie Kendricks in a 4 bedroom, 2 bath 2,300 sq ft house.
And only a couple of miles away in the Bagley neighborhood lived Stevie Wonder in a 3 bedroom, 2.5 bath gabled house.
By now, I was fading from driving through Detroit traffic; and I was losing interest in photographing the rest of the listings. Additionally, I considered that crawling to a stop in front of someone’s house, double-parking, and positioning a camera through the window probably looked suspicious and creepy to any onlookers.
The following afternoon, the day of our departure, a home in Detroit’s Chandler Park section exploded–14 miles east of our recent real estate sweep.
One firefighter was injured in the blast. The Fire Marshall determined that a gas leak was to blame, but arson investigators are on the scene.
“Y’think this was an omen, too?” Leah mused.
“Nah! Just a coincidence!” I answered.
(Or maybe the beginning of another impossibly flaky, half-baked conspiracy theory!)
Within a span of five days, Leah and I had occasion to enjoy the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the Grand Rapids Symphony (GRS), but in a nontraditional manner with uncommon overtones.
Dan Akroyd set the scene for our future expectations at the Ravinia Festival in Highland Park IL, the CSO summer residency.
To be sure, it was a carnival atmosphere, with popcorn and green slime for sale. The Windy City Ghostbusters were on board, protecting their ride
and providing plenty of photo ops…
Meanwhile, the CSO was warming up on stage…
waiting for dusk and the arrival of their guest conductor, Peter Bernstein, son of legendary composer and Oscar-winner, Elmer Bernstein, who wrote the original score to Ghostbusters.
Happily, the orchestra never missed a beat, synchronizing perfectly with the film. While the band played on and the Ghostbusters faced their ectoplasmic foes, we enjoyed a picnic on the lawn with my niece Rachel and her partner, Kevin. Thanks, guys.
Days later, we traveled to Grand Rapids, MI for “Weird Al” Yankovic’s Strings Attached tour. Unlike last year’s stripped-down tour (seeParody Paradigm), and stripped of shtick, this concert promised to be vintage “Weird Al”–the parodies, the costumes, the MTV videos, and 41 pieces of symphonic punctuation.
The GRS opened the show with 20 minutes of John Williams’ cinema overtures from Raiders of the Lost Ark, Superman, and Star Wars…
to set the mood for a sell-out crowd that was every bit as white and nerdy as “Weird Al.”
It was the largest collection of ugly Hawaiian shirts I’d ever seen.
And some fans decided to elevate their look with shiny accessories.
The band was tight; the parodies are clever; the singing was splendid; and the GRS added an extra richness to the event. “Weird Al” showcased a deep catalogue of “funny,” paying homage to Don Pardo,
a twine ball from Minnesota,
and sending up Coolio with an irreverent Amish rap.
The crowd was treated to a crowd-favorite Star Wars encore, á la Don McClean’s American Pie (The Saga Begins),
and the Kink’s Lola (Yoda).
The audience was on its feet by the end of the show, and so was the orchestra,
because their job was done and it was time to leave.
Leah and I caught up with the Associate Concertmaster as she exited the DeVos Performance Hall stage door.
“Great show, tonight,” I offered.
“Thank you. It was lots of fun,” she said.
“Did you have much practice time with the band?” I asked.
“Not really,” she admitted. “Just a couple of sessions.”
“That’s all!? You guys nailed it,” I gushed. “Any after-party plans?”
Crossing the street–“A glass of milk, and bed,” she sighed. “I’m glad you enjoyed it”–and she was gone.
From a distance, Mt McKay is imposing, rising 1200 ft over Lake Superior and making it the largest of the Nor’Wester mountains. It gets its name from William Mackay, a Scottish fur trader from the mid-1800s, who lived for a time in the Fort William vicinity.
However, the Fort William First Nation, descendents of the Chippewa tribe, call the mountain Anemki Wajiw (ah-NIM-ih-key waw-JOO), meaning Thunder Mountain,
and consider it sacred land.
Mt McKay is a prominent landmark of the Fort Williams First Nation reserve, and offers sweeping views of Thunder Bay…
from its boardwalk overlook on the eastern plateau…
Leah and I drove up Mission Road to a toll house, where a First Nation member collected $5.00. She advised us to hike the western trail to the flat cap for more commanding views, and encouraged us to return in 3 days to witness a powwow of the Lake Superior chapters. She also offered a menu and invited us to visit her lunch counter in town.
The trail was narrow, steep and challenging with shards of shale scattered over rocky formations. We took our time.
After a weary climb of 40 minutes, we welcomed the cooler air around us as we crossed onto a plate of volcanic rock formed over 1,100 million years ago.
The bright sun promised a crisp and dazzling vista,
but it also seemed to energize the horse flies that soon regarded me as bait.
That’s when I knew it was time to retreat to the bottom of the hill, oh-so-gingerly over long drops onto loose shale.
Once we landed at the trail head, I had decided (after checking with Leah) that we should attend the powwow on Satuday.
On the day of the powwow, we looked for news on the internet. and it was everywhere. The council was expecting over 5,000 attendees over two days with plenty of drumming and dancing. Food tents and crafts stalls would round out the affair. The rules were simple: No Alcohol. No Drugs. No hiking. Have a Safe Time.
We drove to Fort Williams First Nation ice arena, where we met a yellow school bus that shuttled us the rest of the way. Only three days ago, the area was empty and quiet, but today, it looked like a parking lot next to a fairground with fringe tents and trailer camping.
Participants were gathering inside the spirit circle and adjusting their costumes, while spectators were filling the grandstands, and the royalty was assembling in anticipation of the welcoming ceremony.
It was a colorful and festive affair. A steady drum beat managed by eight drummers, accompanied a caterwauling chant of guttural highs and lows and occasional shrieks.
After a prolonged opening procession and invocation, Chiefs and Elders presented flags,
and then it was time to drum and sing and dance again. Grass dancers followed Elders…
who were followed by family members…
who also danced several times around the pavillion with their children…
showing off their feathers,
their elaborate ceremonial costumes…
and their elaborate moves…
After a couple of hours, Leah and I returned to the boardwalk for a stroll to the memorial,
where we discovered a trail to the right that hugged the cliff around the plateau. We hiked further along, scouting for poison ivy as we walked, and came to a clearing where three girls in training bras were sneaking cigarettes around a slab of concrete.
It was an amusing irony and signaled our time to return to the ice arena. The school bus that brought us circled the field–collecting passengers–and momentarily paused at a graphic display of Ojibwe insight and life lessons:
From too much rain to bother honoring the dead. I don’t give a shit. Those…NATO allies that I dread–
keep me bawlin’…
So I just did me some talking to my sons. And I said, “I didn’t like the way Dems got things done– Winning at the polls. Those…losses are falling on my head,
they keep fallin’…”
But there’s one thing…I know. The Blues they sent to beat me Just defeat me.
It won’t be long, Subpoenas now step up to greet me.
Democrats keep falling on my head. But that doesn’t mean the House will soon be turning Red. Winning’s not for me, ‘Cause, I’m never gonna stop the wave with complaining. I’ll cop a plea. It terrifies me.
It won’t be long ’till prison opens up to greet me.
Bad vibes keep falling on my head. But that’s just karma coming ‘round on me, I dread… Mueller’s got the key. ‘Cause, I’m never gonna stop the probe by complaining. I’ll drop a tweet,
’cause I’m President Cheat!
Thanks to Original Songwriters: Burt Bacharach / Hal David
“Let’s get this shuttle moving!” shouts a middle-aged surfer dude in an orange muscle shirt at the volunteer driver of the tram parked curbside at the farthest reaches of Anastasia State Park’s parking lot by the beach.
“First of all, I’ve got plenty of empty seats to fill, with plenty of people still on their way. And secondly, you should have thought about getting here earlier pal, ’cause I been here since 5:30 transporting people to the concert. So stop complaining that I’m the one who’s making you late!” the driver retorts.
“Well asshole, I have no intention of missing the opening number because of you,” he bellows.
“You’re welcome to get off my ride anytime and call an Uber if you want, but otherwise, I suggest you shut the fuck up, and sit the fuck down, and wait patiently like the rest of these folks,” the driver threatens.
According to Joe and Jenny, who had come from Gainesville in celebration of their 10th wedding anniversary, the passengers on the tram were stunned into silence after this fiery exchange. The moment Leah and I took our seats on the tram, the mood seemed unusually somber for a group of mostly baby boomers who were on their way to attend a sold-out performance of Steve Miller Band with Peter Frampton at St. Augustine Amphitheater.
This was to be our maiden concert at the amphitheater–having purchased tickets over three months ago–knowing that we were taking a chance with the rainy summer weather, but choosing to risk it all for just a few hours of iconic rock and roll nostalgia.
At last the day had come, and despite the iffy forecast through late afternoon, the overcast sky had held firm, and it wasn’t long before we were on our way, barreling along the service roads…
to the back door entrance of the amphitheater.
It was 7:05pm and the opening power chords of Something’sHappening were already resonating through the thick air. We bypassed the crowded concessions…
and settled into our seats…
under the big top…
to lose ourselves in Frampton’s guitar licks.
From the start of the evening, Frampton established a smooth repartee with his exuberant audience–thankful for the fans who’ve stuck with him through thick and thin.
At 72, Frampton has seen his share of sunsets in your eyes and lines on [his] face, affably referencing his musical longevity during the interludes between songs, and reflecting on the passage of time through his career–from his chart dominance to his subsequent free fall to his eventual resurrection.
The devotees in attendance who may have missed the ’70s, seized this downtime as the perfect opportunity for a bathroom break, but not without escaping playful ridicule from Peter..
“I wish I could pee. I really do,” quipped Frampton. Now I can only pee on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday… with the help of Flomax.
He’s willingly traded his teen-idol, cascading hair locks and bare-chested pop star status for a musician’s bald/bold appreciation of his instrument, and aptly demonstrated his guitar prowess throughout his set list:
Lines on My Face
Show Me the Way
Black Hole Sun
(I’ll Give You) Money
Baby, I Love Your Way
I Want You To Love Me
Do You Feel Like We Do
But the literal centerpiece was Black Hole Sun–“the best song [he’s] never written”–performed as an instrumental from the 2007 release of his Fingerprints album that garnered Grammy acclaim.
As if channeling Chris Cornell on the anniversary of his birth, July 20,
Frampton commanded the stage with a mindful intent of demonstrating his guitar virtuosity,
and he deftly acquitted himself in the eyes and ears of his audience.
And when the last shred had been wrung from his beloved Gibson, the crowd let him know how much they were with him and how much they cared.
After a half-hour intermission to reset the stage, the evening continued with Steve Miller and his band.
With a few exceptions, Steve Miller’s set list mimicked his multi-platinum Greatest Hits album, spanning the mid to late 70’s, and nobody in the crowd was disappointed, because they had come to sing along and Dance, Dance, Dance.
True Fine Love
Living in the U.S.A.
Take the Money and Run
I Want to Make the World Turn Around
Wild Mountain Honey
Dance, Dance, Dance
Fly Like an Eagle
From his early overture into blues-infused rock, to experiments in psychedelia, to a catchy collection of counter-culture anthems with mainstream melodies, Miller captured the songbook for a new generation of America in flux.
Midway through his set, Miller evoked a memory from 1965 that took him from San Francisco to New York for a performance of The Mother Song on NBC’s Hullabaloo with The Four Tops and The Supremes.
As Miller recounts, the $250 he earned from the gig gave him the confidence to shop for a new guitar at Manny’s Music, a cherished, legendary music instrument store located in mid-town Manhattan. Unfortunately, he discovered there was nothing he could afford. Rejected and dejected, he headed for the door, whereupon he discovered a cluttered barrel of buried guitars standing neck up with a posted sign: “Your Pick–$125.”
One guitar called to him–a 19-string sitar-guitar that he had to have. Along the way, Miller explained some of its unusual features: spool-like knobs, 3 pick-ups, and a mirror on the backside.
Of course, after 53 years it’s still in his possession, despite an offer of $125,000 from a bigwig music producer. This tale has been repeated at similar events for years and years–with fluctuating asking prices–but the audience was hooked on every word and ate it up.
“Whadaya think? Should I consider selling it?” he petitioned the crowd.
Naturally, the crowd answered back with a resounding, “HELL NO!”
Miller put the instrument to good use in a soulful rendition of Wild Mountain Honey.
Thereafter, with each new tune, the audience responded with greater enthusiasm and a deeper appreciation of his classic hits.
The band returned with a raucous 4-song encore (if you consider Threshold to be a song rather than an intro)…
And in an instant, the show was over. We were transported back to the here and now–no longer celebrating the soundtrack of our salad days from high school or college, but always reminded that “time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’ into the future.”
Ironically, I spotted the belligerent surfer dude from before, who had embarrassed himself aboard our tram. Folks were filing past him to the exits, yet he seemed frozen in place–as if locked in a trance–holding onto a past that he was so impatient to embrace.
When I was eight, it was thrilling to be able to watch television. It was 1960, and as America’s new favorite past-time, television had quickly taken over as the modern recipe for family togetherness.
Early television programming came from only three channels (NBC, CBS, ABC), so the networks’ scheduling had to appeal to as many home viewers as possible to attract sponsors’ advertising dollars needed to fund the show. Usually that meant finding a personality with versatility and broad appeal, and crafting a show around their persona.
Aside from notable comedians (Sid Caesar, Milton Berle, George Burns, Jack Benny, Groucho Marks), variety stars (Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey), and singers (Perry Como, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland), movie actors were also drawn to television with an opportunity to increase their audience. Yet few would cross over with the success enjoyed by Andy Griffith.
Already a star of stage…
Andy Griffith easily transitioned to sitcom television as a guest star on an episode of The Danny Thomas Show, playing a country bumpkin sheriff who arrests Danny Thomas for running a stop sign in Mayberry.
The Andy Griffith Show pilot ran on CBS later in the same year, where Andy reprised his role of sheriff,
often playing straight man to a host of characters…
who worked and lived in a fictionalized town patterned after Andy’s beloved hometown, Mount Airy, North Carolina, where today, the Andy Griffith Museum shares space with the Andy Griffith Playhouse,
bringing fans from across the nation…
to follow the career of Mt. Airy’s favorite son, and enjoy a collection of memorabilia,
dedicated to a cultural icon.
Whenever I watched The Andy Griffith Show, I’d pretend being Opie Taylor (Ron Howard), Andy’s son,
walking hand in hand with Pa, down to the Fishin’ Hole,
while whistling the show’s familiar theme song:
There would be lunch at Snappy’s…
and a haircut at Floyd’s…
before heading back home, where Aunt Bee would be frying up the catch of the day for dinner.
Without sounding too utopian, life seemed simpler in 1960. Looking back, our role models were wholesome, our families were intact, and civility was practiced in earnest.
How many of us Baby Boomers yearn for the nostalgia we remember from classic TV, before the innocence was shattered by the assassination of JFK, and television brought us closer to the horror and tragedy that’s so commonplace today?
Last night, I took Leah to see your show at the Apollo Theater for her birthday, and she loved all of it.*
We highly approved of Emo Phillips as your opening act, and appreciated him opening up to us about his personal life. I never knew he was married and divorced. He mentioned that her name will forever remain nameless, but only if he can manage to be unseen at her gravestone with a sandblaster. Also, I didn’t know of his interest in playing chess with old men in the park, and how difficult it is finding 32 of them at once.
And then you took Apollo’s iconic stage…
with your long-time back-up band, and you guys were as tight as a vise grip. Whether it was your impressions of Bob Dylan in Bob, James Taylor in Even Worse, the Police in Velvet Elvis, or Gordon Lightfoot in The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota, and many more…
the crowd was enthusiastic, and all the applause was well-deserved.
Your stripped-down version of you, known as The Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, neglected the familiar fat suit from Eat It, and you never donned a Reynolds Wrap hat from Foil, or a Jedi robe from The Saga Begins.Instead, you featured composed musicians seated on stools,
playing original music from your library of clever parodies that we fondly remember from the 80’s and 90’s, and we loved all 100 minutes of it… although, we would have benefitted from cue cards on your rendition of Bob, for no other reason than to appreciate your insanity just a bit more:
Your twisted vision is a true testament to a society gone crazy on Crazy Glue, and koo-koo for Coco Puffs.
Your self-mocking and lampooning lyrics are delicately designed around intricate word puzzles that tell stories of ridiculous proportions, but still manage to make us smirk at ourselves with unwitting social commentaries about pop culture, religion and other uncharacteristic conventions of modern living.
Your wink-and-nod parodies–the product of a love affair mashup of music genres and sub-cultures–are at their best when you rip off the bandaid of political correctness and hypocrisy, and generously sing about the neurosis of our society.
With all sincerity, Weird Al, you are the court jester of a generation, and for that, I thank you.
P.S. I have dedicated a parody of my own to you–an homage of sorts, as a tribute to your talent and imagination that is rooted in a James Bond classic, The Spy Who Loved Me:
Nobody does it better
Makes me feel sad for the rest
Nobody does it half as good as you
Weird Al, you’re the best.
[It’s more fun if you play the audio and sing along]
Nobody doesn’t like butter.
Dairy is simply the best.
Starting out warm, straight from the bovine’s udder,
Baby, it’s a breast.
Whenever we’re beaching,
I can’t help from reaching
the strings to your bathing suit top.
I want to unbind them,
and simply remind them
of what it’s like to be there when they flop.
And nobody doesn’t like boobies,
cuz titties are always the best.
Your buttocks and legs, they only take second place.
Baby, it’s your breasts.
Whenever you’re nursing,
and people are cursing,
“You shouldn’t be flashing your breasts!”
They can’t stop their gawking,
while all the time talking–
Claiming it’s too lewd and lascivious.
Nobody doesn’t like butter
Soy milk just won’t pass the test
As for me, it’s always been half and half
Baby, baby, darlin’, it’s your breasts.
Baby it’s the breasts
Darlin’, it’s your breasts
Baby, like them best
Uh, uh, uh,
Oh, oh, oh,
uh, uh, uh, eyuh, eyuh
Uh, uh, uh,
Oh, oh, oh,
uh, uh, uh, eyuh, eyuh
*Special thanks to my son, Noah who arranged the “extra” of our extra special evening.
June 15, 2018 UPDATE
“Weird Al” just completed his 77th and last date of his Ridiculously Self-Indulgent, Ill-Advised Vanity Tour, and has released a compendium of snippets from all the cover songs his band performed as the encore of each concert.
It’s hard to imagine going away to a resort to relax, and then being sidelined because of a cold. But after a day of Ubers, planes, and transport vans, we finally arrived at Hacienda Tres Rios–north of Playa del Carmen on the Riviera Maya–for a week of fun,
and all I could muster was a trip to the hotel convenience store for antihistamine pills before I was ready to collapse. It seems that running around the continent for nearly ten months had compromised my resistance, and was now threatening to compromise my vacation.
Saturdays at the resort have always been a busy day of transitioning, as the staff warmly welcomes new arrivals with chocolate-covered strawberries and mimosas, while firmly ushering last week’s guests through the check-out process and out the door.
After checking in, we killed time at the buffet, waiting for our room to be ready. It was an excellent opportunity to people-watch and predict who among us would be the chosen people we see again and again throughout the week. Of course, it’s always the loudest guests who make a lasting impression, and this week would be no exception. Sitting at the farthest end of the room, three overweight, middle-aged woman were easily heard above the dining room din, kibitzing with the waiter, and on their way to getting shit-faced with yet another round of drinks.
Eventually, a bellman escorted us to our accomodations–a top floor room with an ocean view, or so we were told.
Standing on the balcony, I strained my eyes past the clearing where the last building stood, and that’s when I discovered the deception; the hotel had determined that the miniscule ribbon of gray beyond the mangrove canopy qualified as a view of the ocean.
But I was in no shape to argue. All I could think about was getting into bed with a small hope of shaking this nasty hand that was reaching past my scratchy throat and squeezing my sinuses. That’s when our next-door neighbors arrived, and headed straight for the balcony. I immediately recognized the drunken cackling and the pitchy singing. Standing on my side of the dividing wall, I peered around the other side unnoticed to have a peek, and sure enough, each one held a drink in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other, confirming my worst nightmare.
“This can’t be happening!” I quickly re-entered the room, and shut the terrace door to keep the cigarette smoke from seeping through the opening. “With 272 other rooms spread out through the resort, this is where they’re staying?” I moaned in resignation.
“Well, not if I have something to say about it,” declared Leah.
She grabbed the phone, and dialed the front desk downstairs.
“Tell them about the smoking,” I coached, “because obnoxious is too subjective.”
Leah asserted, “I’m calling from 1307. We just arrived, and already the cigarette smoke from the people next door is drifting into our room from the balcony, and it’s intolerable. So you need to find us another room.”
“I’m very sorry that you are being inconvenienced, ma’am” the desk clerk regretted, “but we are unable to accomodate you because of the volume of registrations at the moment. However, if you could be patient with us, we should be able to make other arrangements tomorrow after check-out time, when we’ve had a chance to review our room inventory,” the advised.
“What time, tomorrow?” Leah zeroed in.
“If you come to the desk at 9:00 am, we will be happy to help you,” she elaborated.
Meanwhile, a slurred rendition of Shape of You vibrated through the shared door between the rooms.
“Damn! I used to like that song,” I aired, “and now it’s ruined forever.”
The clatter of their high heels on marble floors resonated throughout the night, and imprinted on my sinus headache. As I lay awake in bed with a box of tissues by my side, I wondered how many costume changes they could go through in one evening, and cursed the day Ed Sheeran had become popular.
A new day for a fresh start, Leah and I packed the last of our belongings and shlepped our bags to the front desk. We previewed a room on the top floor of another building and unconditionally accepted the exchange.
Not too shabby–an ocean view with a whirlpool tub on our new balcony, and a chance to reboot our vacation. Ahhhh…
Feeling sick and tired of feeling sick and tired, Leah and I consulted the concierge to schedule enough activities through the week to balance my boredom with my recovery.
After settling into room 4302, we met up with Salvador, our trail guide who escorted us through the Nature Park on mountain bikes.
We wove our way around the mangrove forest through a labyrinth of sandy trails recognizing white, red, black, and buttonwood mangroves–the four distinctive varieties that flourish in this tropical environment. On the way to the many cenotes,
we identified a plethora of termite burls, several songbirds, a vulture and an iguana.
Of the ten cenotes on the property, we visited Cenote Tortuga;
and Cenote Orchideo…
where we were greeted by a small school of Garra Rufa,
eager to perform ichthyotherapy for free.
On Monday, we spent our morning with sales agent, Ricardo (At Your Service, Too), and our afternoon with Manuel, who guided us from Cenote Aguila,
down the Rio Selva…
to the ocean.
On Tuesday, we took a behind-the scenes-tour of the kitchen with Celia, the kitchen supervisor. She invited us into her casa to showcase the operation and preparation of all food within the hotel:
Celia’s staff works hard–six ten-hour days every week–and is committed to ensuring a healthy and tasty experience with fresh ingredients and a variety of international cuisines. She acknowledges us by placing her hand on her heart–a sanitary salute of sorts to thank us for the opportunity to serve.
On Wednesday, we travelled by hotel shuttle to Playa del Carmen,
for a stroll up and down 5th Avenue–a pedestrian marketplace stretching 20 blocks, and lined with fashionable shops,
eateries, tequilarias, t-shirt mills, modern malls, massage stations, tchotchke kiosks, tourist stands, Mom-and-Pop Mexicana, and pharmacias, etc.
By Thursday I was dying. After five days of dosing Sensibit D (an antihistamine decongestant), my body had betrayed me, turning my free-flow nose into a gripping sinus headache.
But that didn’t stop me from touring the Cancun Brewery with Leah and The Ed Sheeran Trio. Hiding behind the green wall of an unassuming building,
a shiny brewery has taken shape in the middle of Tres Rios jungle. According to Brandon, brewmaster from Michigan,
a Sunset Group partner bartered a warehouse, utilities and unlimited clean water in exchange for craft beer supplied to all Sunset Group hotels.
Additionally, production runs of Pale Ale, Hefeweizen, and Pilsner are crafted in short batches of kegs and cans to satisfy Riviera Maya’s thirst from Cancun to Tulum.
To some extent, I felt sorry for Brandon, as he was peppered with ridiculous comments, questions, and suggestions from my ex-neighbors, yet good-naturedly responded to everything that came his way. Then I stopped myself when I realized that here is a guy who otherwise, would still be living in Michigan, but instead comes to work in shorts and flip flops, and gets to drink cerveza for a living.
Adios, Cancun Beer.
Friday was a good day to lay low and do nothing in preparation of an early departure on Saturday.
Lounging by the pool, I reflected on the past week, thinking about the activities I’d missed out on: snorkeling at Yal-ku in Akumal; diving Santa Rosa reef at Cozumel; and exploring the ruins of Coba or Tulum. While all of that would have made for an exciting itinerary, it wouldn’t have made for a relaxing vacation, and maybe that’s what my body was really craving.
Every day discovering something brand new
The sun felt good on my face, as I moved in and out of consciousness–half awake, half-asleep–my body floating through a cenote abloom with fragrant orchids,
In the distance, a hypnotic song was playing–a lilting melody of love that grew louder and louder with every new verse–until I snapped awake. The Three Little Mermaids were at it again, wading in the pool with a drink, and killing me softly with an execution of Shape of You.
No matter. It was time to rise, and the perfect segue to a late-afternoon hot-stone massage we had scheduled as our reward for enduring Ricardo’s two-hour spiel (At Your Service, Too).
By evening, we were totally relaxed and ready to celebrate our mock 13th anniversary over a langoustine dinner and a special treat from the pastry chef.
It was everything I needed to forget about the miserable cold that plagued me through this vacation.
Many have asked, “Why on earth do you call it a vacation, when you’ve been on a vacation for the past ten months?”
To which I answer, “Who cares what it’s called!”
Come on now, follow my lead I may be crazy, don’t mind me…
We refused to leave Nashville without attending a concert.
Of course, it’s impossible to ignore the live music screaming from scores of Broadway juke joints and honky tonks, combining to create a three chord din, and it’s all for free.
But getting past the burly bouncers requires mastery of a special skill set, namely: zigzagging through hordes of bridal parties and lady’s-night-outers;
sidestepping the street people and the homeless; and dodging the drunks and the soon-to-become-drunks who walk a crooked line.
Instead, Leah and I were in the mood for more of a formal venue. However, Grand Ole Opry’s Ryman Auditorium–featuring The Charlie Daniel Band–had sold out weeks ago, including standing room.
Undeterred, we scoured the internet and stumbled across an offering that showcased the quieter side of Nashville.
I was definitely up for the concert, but Leah was hesitant.
“I think we should do it,” I stated. “Besides, there’s nothing else out there that compares to this.”
“I don’t know,” said Leah, unconvinced. “For starters, I don’t know anything about John Hiatt. And second of all, I don’t think I can spend two hours looking at Lyle Lovett. I mean, how in the world he was married to Julia Roberts has to be one of life’s great mysteries!”
“I don’t think she fell in love with his looks, and I’m certain he feels the same way after two years together with her… Look, why don’t we find out if tickets are even available?” I argued.
“Okay,” Leah relented.
Unfortunately, online shopping established that only single seats scattered through the orchestra and balconies still remained, and that was not an option. However, a direct call to the box office revealed that a cache of tiered seats directly behind the stage could be ours if we were willing to forgo direct eye contact.
“What about the sound quality?” Leah asked the agent.
“It’s a symphony hall! You’ll hear it the same as everybody else, and it’s amazing!” the agent proclaimed.
“That’s perfect!” I declared, openly displaying my enthusiasm. “We get to hear two time-honored performers with deep songbooks, and you don’t have to look at either one of them.”
“Okay,” Leah surrendered.
Schermerhorn Symphony Center was designed with neo-classical underpinnings,
which seems characteristically out of place,
given Nashville’s lowbrow sensibility, and glass tower affinity.
We stepped into a stripped-down, blue-lit stage–just guitars and voices, and an occasional harmonica–as Lovett and Hiatt traded songs and repartee,
providing 2½ hours of mutual admiration,
and audience participation.
An evening of watching the backs of Lovett and Hiatt, while listening to their tone poems and anthems about America sounded wonderful.
The following day, the hit parade continued with a pilgrimage to Country Music nirvana,
where a million fans come every year to pay tribute to Country Western legends who’ve turned an American music genre into an international juggernaut.
Currently, museum exhibits follow the careers of music royalty, honoring the Queen of Country,
and the King of Folk–
–with multi-media memories, and enough testimonial trivia to solidify their golden reputations.
This is our second time through Nashville during our year-long odyssey; we’ve passed this way over seven months ago (Rig or Mortis) traveling southbound, and it’s become our way station once again as we move to warmer weather for the winter season.
We’ll surely pass through Nashville after we’ve emerged from our Florida hibernation, but next time around, we’ll have reserved tickets to the Grand Ole Opry in our hands before we get there.
As an outgrowth of downsizing, I have routinely reflected on the virtues of the mimimalist mantra of less is more.
Robert Browning is credited with creating the phrase, which was later mainstreamed by architect Mies van der Rohe to explain his philosophy of design. It appears to be a contradiction of quantitative terms, and as such, represents an apparent oxymoron. But the quote also has a number of practical as well as esotetic applications.
Less is more is a cause and effect–an itch that requires a scratch, but in an opposite kind of way. So, if less is more, then what is it more than, or more of?
For instance, if less is a number, like income, then what logically follows is more frugality or poverty. And if the number relates to temperature, then less heat requires more clothing or blankets, and lower temperatures may certainly create conditions for greater risk of frostbite.
Insurance actuaries will tell you that less risk assures more surety.
Musically, less noise produces more clarity. Conversely, less clarity produces more confusion.
For dieters, less food intake results in more weight loss. Additionally, doctors will tell you that less exercise results in more illness.
Donald Trump would benefit from considering that less diplomacy promotes more hostility; that less suspicion builds more trust; and less insight produces more ignorance.
Personally, traveling in a road home has taught us certain restraints. The less water we use, the more space we conserve in our disposal tanks. Limited storage between the truck and trailor means making do with less clothes, and consequently, more laundry time. Most importantly, the less Leah argues, the more peaceful things are.
And so I open up the discussion to the blogosphere. How many examples can my readers come up with. Record your thoughts in the comments box for all to share.
After all, it was never my intention to create an exhaustive list, since less is more.