Monday, September 22, 2014

PETRIFIED FOREST: Three Million Year Old Redwoods Turned to Stone, Calistoga, California

Petrified Forest, Calistoga, California
“The petrified forest, dating from the Eocene Period, is the only known example of a petrified forest in California.  Its size, scope and variety of petrification is unique in the world.  Opalized wood, obsidian, quartz crystal, petrified coral and fossilized insects number among its wonders.”
California Registered Historical Landmark No. 915
Gift shop/Museum and Garden
Like many people today, Art and I rely on GPS to get us where we’re going when we travel.  But sometimes our GPS isn’t as reliable as we would like it to be.  Recently, we were on our way to a wedding at the Hans Fahden Vineyards near Calistoga, California, located on Petrified Forest Road.  We got off the 101 freeway at Santa Rosa and wound our way along a long, narrow country road overhung with live oaks and other greenery.  It was a lovely drive and after following the turns dictated by our GPS, the voice announced: “You have arrived at your destination.”  The problem was that the only thing we saw were trees and rocks–no sign of the winery, or of any other civilization!  We continued and soon came to the entrance to the Petrified Forest, which we decided would be a good place to ask directions.  As it turned out, we were very close and since we were early, we decided to stop for a little while and take a look around the museum and gift shop and find out more about the Petrified Forest.
Petrified log with visible tree rings
Between three and four million years ago, a redwood forest grew in this part of northern California.  Nearby, there was an active volcano. Over time, fallen trees became covered by ashes and mud and then, as water seeped down through the dirt and dust, the buried wood was gradually replaced by minerals, thus becoming fossilized.  In some cases, this occurred so precisely that you can see tree rings and other detailed features of the trees. Under a microsope, individual cells can be seen.
Fossil fish (from somewhere else), petrified wood bookends, guest book, and copies of The Silverado Squatters by Robert Louis Stevenson, inspired by a visit to the Petrified Forest in 1880
The museum at the entrance to the Petrified Forest is filled with samples of petrified wood and a variety of other fossils.  Outside, large pieces of petrified wood can be seen in the garden.  For a fee, one can walk through the forest and see whole logs preserved as they were when they fell millions of years ago. Guided tours are given every day at 11am, 1pm, and 3pm. We didn’t have time to do the walk. Someday I want to go back and do a guided tour.
Fireplace inside gift shop constructed with chunks of petrified wood
It turned out that our wedding destination was just five minutes down the road.  I’m glad we got lost on our way.  Otherwise we would never have discovered the Petrified Forest. It is truly a unique place.
Tree near entrance. Famous botanist Luther Burbank, known as the "tree wizard" visited the Petrified Forest in 1917
The Petrified Forest• 4100 Petrified Forest Road, Calistoga Ca 94515• • 707.942.6667

Monday, September 15, 2014

ALBANIA: Off the Beaten Path for American Tourists, Guest Post by Judith Steihm

Judith at the Milingona Hostel, Tirana, Albania
My friend Judith Stiehm is a professor of Political Science at Florida International University in Miami, Florida, and author of numerous books including Champions for Peace: Women Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.  She is a true intrepid tourist and loves to travel to places off the tourist path.  Earlier this year she spent two weeks in Albania, traveling with a friend, staying in hostels, and taking local buses to get around. She has graciously allowed me to share a few excerpts from her fascinating blog about the trip.  For a full report, go to .

June 16  The Milingona Hostel in Tirana sits behind stores on a busy street, behind a locked gate with a noisy dog and up three flights of stairs but is decorated with cheery murals, some painted by guests. Albania has a population under 4 million.  It is about the size of Maryland and has fine beaches and mountains up to 9,000 feet. Albania is the poorest European country, but you can drink the water and people--dressed in drab and incoherent clothing--are chatting on iphones.

Tirana Square

Hoxha Museum
Mention must be made of the giant marble pyramid designed as a Hoxha museum. (Communists, led by French teacher Enver Hoxha  created the People's Republic of Albania in 1946.) The marble is now gone and the pyramid is covered with graffiti, but daring souls climb its exterior. Mention must also be made of the many circular bunkers (800,000) which dot the landscape. Designed to withstand the weight of a tank they are too sturdy to easily demolish.

June 18  I present a lecture for the American Embassy on "Champions for Peace: Women Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize",  Afterwards, two young professors from Vitrina University whisk us away to visit their 10 year old campus with 7,000 students.  Ten attend lunch with the Rector--all sit silently and don't even eat while Mollie and I chat with the founder who because of politics was not allowed to attend university--so at age 37 he founded this one.

June 19 Now in Shkodra at hostel called Mi Casa Es Tu Casa, three hours away by bus. An old city of under 100,000 and flat with lots of bicycles. Scenery is green and lush; agriculture seems to flourish and there are many new, brightly painted houses--old ones are just left to deteriorate and are not torn down.

Mi Casa Hostel, Shkodra
At the top of a hill is the Bronze Age Castle of Rozafa.  Rozafa was the wife of one of three brothers whose hard work was undone each night by a spirit who said all would be well once a human had been sacrificed. The three wives brought the brothers lunch each day.  The brothers  agreed that whichever wife came first would be the sacrifice--but the older two told their wives not to come--and Rozafa agreed to be the sacrifice--walled up into the castle on the condition that a hole be left for her breast so she could feed her baby.  The tunnel to the castle still cries and drips her tears.

Komani Lake
June 20 Depart at 6 a.m. for 45 km drive to Komani Lake and a three hour dramatic cruise through a fjord. Fellow travelers: on roof of boat are two Slovak women on bicycles, two Belgians, two Dutch, two Italians, and me. Also aboard is a tour group of nine Israelis who let us ride in their bus to Valbona, our destination, 30 miles away.  There we walk two miles before finding a guest house on a path near the river where we can stay the night before embarking on a long and strenuous hike over the mountain. Our hosts, a widowed mother and daughter, enjoy our family pictures. Shoes off at the door--but they have TV and washers (no dryers) although electricity is irregular. It actually cuts out today--so we have candles and no hot water.  Cat is a mouser, who leaves one in the hall which Mollie steps on in bare feet.  After the soccer match is over a son appears--a soldier slated to get training at Fort Benning, Georgia next month.

Judith and Mollie were in Albania for another week, which included a side trip to Macedonia.  Go to Judith's blog for more of her report.  Here is her list of the 10 best and 10 worst things about the trip:

1 Leg problem on 8 hour mountain hike
2. Mollie steps barefoot on a dead mouse
3. Squat outdoor toilet
4. Bathroom waste enters mountain stream people drink from
5. No shower available after 8 hour hike
6. Buildings left to rot, and trash left on ground
7  Mollie's hamburger in Orhid
8. Unemployed men  sitting in cafes all day long
9. Raucous noise outside hotel window
10. Running to catch flight to LA

1.Lunch at Vitrana University
2.Taking bets on my age by soldier going to Fort Benning and his family
3. Standing at top of Thetsi Pass
4. Tour of icons with guide in Korca
5. Hotel balconies in Berat and Tirana
6. Berat promenade
7. People eager to help
8. Watching World Cup most nights
9. Shopkeeper who cried over her Susan B Anthony dollar
10. Folk festival in Ohrid
Berat, Albania

Monday, September 8, 2014

FESTIVALS OF MEXICO, The Blessing of the Animals, Guest Post by Ann Stalcup

My friend and fellow author Ann Stalcup has been fascinated by Mexican customs and culture for many years. She has taken numerous photographs in the Mexican communities of Los Angeles, California, where cultural events are celebrated frequently throughout the year. She has also visited areas of Mexico where she has observed many of the traditional festivals including The Blessing of the Animals, The Day of the Dead, and A Mexican Christmas. Here are a few of her photos and comments on the Blessing of the Animals.

THE BLESSING OF THE ANIMALS is celebrated each year on Saturday, the day before Easter. In Los Angeles, California, people gather with their pets at the historic center of the city on Olvera Street for this festival. Their pets can be as large as a horse or as small as a mouse, and each one is decorated with ribbons, hats, or flowers. Every type of pet is welcome. Many participants dress in colorful Mexican costumes. Everyone waits patiently in line as the robed priest sprinkles each pet with holy water and blesses it, thus ensuring a happy, healthy year ahead.
The Blessing of the Animals is a ceremony that has been a tradition for many years in some of the cities, towns, and villages of Mexico. Children bring their birds, crickets, frogs, lizards and other pets to be blessed.  There are rabbits and turtles, rats, guinea pigs, and monkeys.  There are parrots, canaries, and fish. Sometimes there is even a pet tarantula in the parade!
Mariachi Band
Before the parade begins a mariachi band of men dressed in elegant grey trousers and jackets perform their lively music.  Trumpets in harmony with violins get everyone in the mood for the fiesta.
At last the priest appears in his long robes.  He is usually one of the bishops of Los Angeles. People line up to have their animals blessed.  They celebrate on the plaza afterward.
Blessing of the Animals, Mural by Leo Politi
Near the plaza on Olvera Street is a beautiful mural of The Blessing of the Animals.  It was painted by Leo Politi, a Los Angeles artist.  He loved to paint children and wrote and illustrated many books for children about the special events that occurred in the city he loved.
Leo Politi at work on the mural
Ann Stalcup is the author of Leo Politi: Artist of the Angels (Silver Moon Press, 2004). For more information about Ann and her published work, visit her at her website:

Monday, September 1, 2014

GORGEOUS: Art exhibit at the Asian Art Museum, San Francisco

Detail from Miss Blanche Chair, 1988 by Shiro Kuramata
What is beauty?  What is gorgeous?  Curators at the Asian Art Museum and at the Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in San Francisco have picked out examples of their personal idea of gorgeous art from the two museum’s collections and arranged the pieces in a fascinating and thought provoking exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco.  From the statue of a bird/man from Thailand to Andy Warhol’s portraits of Jackie Kennedy, from a Rajastani miniature to a large luminous painting by Mark Rothko, the exhibit illustrates that beauty IS in the eye of the beholder and that each piece of art connects with the viewer in personal ways.

Phebo by Beatriz Milhazes, 2004, combination of painting, collage, printmaking.
To quote from one of the exhibit panels:  “Certain artworks come alive in the mind’s eye.  Others linger in memory, inspiring a range of imaginative musings, pointing to ideas, implications, or states of being beyond the visible. Sometimes this experience surpasses the art itself over time, and that may just be the point.”

Ewer with lid, 1050-1150, Korea. Stoneware with celadon glaze
Some of the pieces in the exhibit are gorgeous because of their elegant simplicity–such as a celadon glazed Korean jar–or from the richness and complexity of the design–such as the intricate woven designs on a Japanese robe. However, many of the works chosen for the exhibit contained an inherent conflict between the richness of the art medium and the subject being portrayed. From the sensual to the cerebral, elegant to outrageous, intimate to grandiose, ancient to modern, the exhibit has something for everyone.

Girl in a Pink Dress, Senegal, 2008, photograph by Jim Goldberg.
Among my many favorites was a photograph of a young girl at a construction site in Senegal.  The colors of the photo are hauntingly beautiful and yet I had some of the same questions as the curator who chose it. “I am curious about what led up to the photo.  Why does the girl have on (in addition to her flip-flops) a satiny dress and necklace that seem to fancy for everyday?  Was it her idea to climb the rubble pile?  Did she get to know the photographer?” Like the curator who chose Girl in a Pink Dress I liked the photo because of its visual qualities but was also intrigued by what it did–and didn’t– depict.
Portrait by Yasimasu Morimura recreated Edouard Manet's 1865 Olympia using his own image for Olympia and her maid
 I actually had many favorites.  Here are a few of them.
Women of Algiers, 1955, by Pablo Picasso.
Women of Algiers is one of 15 paintings by Picasso inspired by Eugene Delacroix’s 1834 painting Les Femmes d’Algiers dans leur appartament, depicting Algerian concubines in their private quarters. I love the abstract figures against the patterned background.
Miss Blanche Chair, 1988 by Shiro Kuramata paired with ancient Chinese throne chair
I went to see Gorgeous on a recent trip to San Francisco.  I had never been to the Asian museum before. It is at the Civic Center, across from the square with convenient underground parking. It has a nice cafĂ© where I had a delicious lunch of dim sum and a wonderful gift shop with many tempting items. I realized that I need to go back to the Asian Museum another time to see the rest of the floors.  Gorgeous will be on view through September 14, 2014.
Detail, Phebo by Beatriz Milhazes, 2004, combination of painting, collage, printmaking

Monday, August 25, 2014

ISTANBUL, TURKEY:, Guest Post by Kathryn Mohrman

Istanbul, Turkey.  Hagia Sofia at Sunset
My friend, Kathryn Mohrman, an avid and excellent photographer, visited Turkey earlier this year when she was on her way to Ethiopia.  She has graciously agreed to share some of her photos and impressions of her visit to Turkey. Kathryn is a professor at Arizona State University and travels widely for her job as director of several projects with partner universities in China and Vietnam. You can see photos from her trip to Lalibela, Ethiopia, at her 2/17/14 post on this blog.  I have known Kathryn since we were students together at Grinnell College in Iowa. Here is her report of part of her trip to Istanbul.

Around Christmas and New Year's, 2013, I traveled to Istanbul to see the only city in the world that straddles two continents.
Olives, tomatoes, and cheese are standard items for a Turkish breakfast
Breakfast in my hotel.  I became especially fond of soft yoghurt with local honey (the small dish on the left).

The most impressive structures in Istanbul are the mosques.  The Hagia Sophia was originally built as a Byzantine Christian cathedral  in the 6th century, converted to a mosque in the 15th century, and is now a museum. It is huge!  The great dome is 184 feet above the floor of Hagia Sophia. The medallions around the nave are the names of important prophets. The small structure near the center of the photo (where the altar would be in a Christian church) is the mihrab, the niche indicating the direction of Mecca, and thus the direction to face for prayer.

Blue Mosque

About four blocks from my hotel, on the opposite side of Sultanahmet Square from the Hagia Sophia, is the Blue Mosque.  It gets its name from the predominantly blue Itzik tiles in the interior.
Tahrir Square
Early on I went to Tahrir Square, site of significant protests not too long ago.  It was peaceful when I was there, but I noticed a significant police presence (lots of police cars and soldiers in the background).  Tahrir Square is rather small--I was expecting something larger given the importance of the place in recent history.
Trams go throughout Istanbul
This is the main street running downhill from Tahrir Square toward the Golden Horn
Inside the Grand Bazaar
Istanbul is known for its covered markets, and the Grand Bazaar is THE grand bazaar.  I found it overwhelming.  After an hour or so, I fled.
Rustum Pasha Mosque
I also walked around open-air markets that were frequented by local people. But I found mosques to be more peaceful, even with lots of tourists. On the day I took a food tour of Istanbul (see my post for 7/3) we stopped at Rustum Pasha mosque, known for its wonderful tile work.  Unlike the situation in larger mosques, we could walk throughout the mosque when there were no services.
Entrance to Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace, former residence of the rulers, is a must-see.
Whirling Dervishes
I also attended a whirling dervish religious ceremony.  I'm not a particularly religious person but I found the ceremony to be very spiritual.

Monday, August 18, 2014

EPHESUS, TURKEY: Guest Post by Kathryn Mohrman

Library of Celsus, Ephesus, Turkey. 
My friend, Kathryn Mohrman, an avid and excellent photographer, visited Turkey earlier this year when she was on her way to Ethiopia.  She has graciously agreed to share some of her photos and impressions of her visit to Ephesus, the ancient city in southeastern Turkey known for its Greco-Roman ruins. Kathryn is a professor at Arizona State University and travels widely for her job as director of several projects with partner universities in China and Vietnam. You can see photos from her trip to Lalibela, Ethiopia, at her 2/17/14 post on this blog.  I have known Kathryn since we were students together at Grinnell College in Iowa. 
Ephesus is organized along the Curetes Way, the grand marble-paved main street of the town.
The site of Ephesus has been occupied for at least 6000 years, with Mycenaean, Hittite, Lydean, Greek, Persian, Macedonian, Roman, and Byzantine citizens, up to 250,000 when the city was the capital of Roman Asia Minor. By the 6th century AD the harbor had silted up, however, so Ephesus was no longer a lively trading port. Earthquakes also damaged the city. Gradually people moved away and the site was abandoned.

Today Ephesus is a national monument displaying artifacts unearthed by Turkish and European archeologists--but 80% of the ancient city remains buried. Like many Roman cities, Ephesus has a huge amphitheater.

Nike, goddess of victory.
While some walls and structures are standing, a more common sight while walking through Ephesus is a jumble of fragments, some of them beautifully carved. Most of the artifacts are simply displayed rather than reconstructed into actual buildings.

Library of Celsus, looking up
The highlight of the city is the Library of Celsus, built in the 2nd century AD. At one time it contained more than 12,000 scrolls!
Ephesus is full of stray cats, many of them existing on handouts from happy tourists (and field mice, too).
 What a fascinating place! I'd love to have the chance to see more of Turkey.

(For more about the amazing ruins of Ephesus, check out the Intrepid Tourist posts for June 10, 2013 and  August 27, 2012. )

Monday, August 11, 2014

BEIJING ZOO and PEKING DUCK, Beijing, China (Day 5)

Red Panda, Beijing Zoo
The following is an excerpt from the diary of our trip to China July, 1995.  We were traveling with three friends, spending five days in Beijing and then three days in Xian.  China has changed greatly since our visit but many of the places we went to are still among the popular tourist spots.
Golden Monkey, Beijing Zoo
Beijing, Day 5:  Our last day in Beijing was a free day with no organized tours.  In the morning, Art and I took a taxi to the zoo.  The weather was hot but not unbearable.  The panda exhibit is the first inside the gate and required an extra fee.  The inside enclosures were filled with cut bamboo and one panda was eating.  The others were more active outside.  We also photographed a red panda, which circled around and round its enclosure before finally climbing a tree to sleep.  After leaving the pandas we searched for other Chinese animals and saw some cranes and golden monkeys.  The zoo is huge and we got somewhat lost because there weren’t many maps.  At the far end we found two polar bears play-fighting in the water.
Polar bears, Beijing Zoo
After the zoo we took a taxi to the Great Bell Temple to see the biggest bell in China.  You can read more about the bell in my post on 6/30/14.

Preparation of Peking Duck
That evening we went out for a Peking duck dinner at a restaurant recommended by the hotel.  The waitress convinced us that we needed two ducks (for five of us) but we would have been better off with just one because they were so greasy and rich that we ate too much and felt sick the next day.  The waiter brings the whole roast duck on a cart and then carves the pieces into piles on small plates.  You eat them with your hands, folding the duck pieces inside thin pancakes that have been swabbed in bean sauce. Afterwards we watched them prepare and cook the ducks and bought a few souvenirs, including a duck hat for Art.
Tiananmen Square at Night
We then walked back to our hotel via Tiananmen Square, where people were picnicking, talking, playing badminton and soccer, and flying kites.  (Badminton was obviously very popular in China. Every night on television we saw broadcasts of the international badminton championships which were being played that week.)  The moon, which had been a crescent earlier in the week, was growing fuller and small bats flew among the kites catching insects.  After a hot day, the relatively cool night air was refreshing.
My bird kite purchased in Beijing