Monday, April 21, 2014

Maxo Vanka’s Murals, Millvale, PA, photos by Joanne Rocklin

Mural of Christ and St. Peter by Maxo Vanka in St. Nicholas Catholic Church, Millvale, PA
On Easter morning, April 5th, 1942, the Bishop came to bless the newly completed murals by Croatian artist Maxo Vanka that filled the walls and ceilings of St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Millvale, Pennsylvania, just outside Pittsburgh.  Begun in 1937 and finished in 1941 and 1942, the spectacular tempera paintings depicted Christ and Mary, saints and apostles, life in Croatia, and social commentary on war and poverty. The brilliant colors and mixture of traditional iconography and scenes of daily life make the images memorable and moving. Many Croatians worked in the mines and steel mills in and around Pittsburgh. Murals painted before the war depict Croatian immigrants coming to America to seek a better life, grateful to have escaped the slaughter taking place in their homeland. Their strong sense of pride in their heritage is evident.
Women in Croatia weep over the coffin of a young, dead soldier.
One of the murals is an homage to labor while another documents the tragedy that occurred when one of the mills burned and collapsed. There are a total of twenty murals in the church. Murals painted after the war are much more striking and vivid with very dark and haunting themes. Maxo Vanka was a committed pacifist and the intensity of his beliefs are depicted clearly in these murals. Maximilian Vanka, also known as Maxo Vanka, was born in Croatia in 1889, came to the United States in the 1930's, and died in 1963. Maxo Vanka and his family lived in New York at the time that he painted the murals in Millvale.  To read about his life and other work click HERE.
Altar with Pieta, the Mother of Sorrows weeping over her dead son. 
My parents, Les and Kay Scheaffer, who were graduate students at the University of Pittsburgh in the 1940s, made regular visits to Millvale to watch Maxo Vanka work.  In his retirement, my father wrote about their experience. I posted his story on October 29, 2012.  It is a window on Maxo Vanka's personality and process of painting. Although I was born in Pittsburgh, I have never seen the murals myself.  Last summer, when my friend, writer Joanne Rocklin, went to Pittsburgh to research her new book for children, I asked her if she would be interested in visiting St. Nicholas Church and in sending me pictures of the murals.  She did and has graciously allowed me to post them here.
St. Matthew (left) and St. Mark (right)
Joanne Rocklin’s new book is FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY, a middle grade novel, and is the story of Franny, a young polio victim with an unusual soul mate, Fleabrain. It takes place in 1952-53, just before Salk announced the results of his groundbreaking vaccine research, which he did in his lab at the University of Pittsburgh. The book is also an homage to CHARLOTTE'S WEB by E.B. White which was published in 1952, after a summer of the worst polio outbreak in U.S. history, in which 53,000 were stricken. FLEABRAIN LOVES FRANNY will be published next August. Find out more about Joanne Rocklin and her books at www.joannerocklin.com .
Visiting the Murals
A 60-minute docent-guided tour of the murals is a fascinating glimpse into Vanka's art and the experiences that shaped his ideas. Docents discuss Vanka's early life, his success in Europe and his life in America.
Docent-led tours on Saturdays: 11:00am, 12:00noon and 1:00pm. For special arrangements, please call the Docent Manager at 412-407-2570. Weekend masses at St. Nicholas Church are at 6:00pm on Saturday and Noon on Sunday.
The church is located at 24 Maryland Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15209, minutes from downtown, just off Route 28 at the Millvale exit.

For more about Maxo Vanka’s murals in Millvale go to www.vankamurals.com . The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka, founded in 1990, is dedicated to preserving the murals for the future.

Monday, April 14, 2014

WHERE IN THE WORLD? Celebrating the Third Anniversary of The Intrepid Tourist

Greenwich, England, Prime Meridian
From the time I was young and followed the progress of our family road trips on the map as I sat in the back seat of the car, I have always been fascinated with geography–both the actual places that we passed and the lines imposed on the map marking arbitrary divisions between towns, states and countries. I love reading atlases and finding geographic markers on the globe.  In celebration of the third anniversary of The Intrepid Tourist I would like to share a few photos that mark some of the geographic points I have personally visited.

My parents and three brothers at the Continental Divide, 1958
The oldest is a family photo at the Continental Divide I took with my Brownie camera on our trip in 1958 from Minneapolis to California.  That trip was the first time any of us had seen mountains–Minnesota, by comparison, being a relatively flat state. We were all suitably impressed.  At Monarch pass, elevation 11,312 feet, we read that water flowing to the east ended up in the Gulf of Mexico and water flowing to the west, in the Pacific.

Standing on Four States at once at the Four Corners, 1990
On that same trip our family camped for several days at Mesa Verde in Colorado. As we headed south we drove through the four corners area where Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Utah meet.  Many years later I was in southwestern Colorado again researching my book, The Ancient Cliff Dwellers of Mesa Verde, with Richard Hewett, the photographer of the book.  On our way back to Los Angeles, we stopped at the Four Corners marker and took pictures.

Caroline in the Northern Hemisphere, Jennifer in the Southern Hemisphere
Another historic photo is the picture of me and my daughter Jennifer taken on the Equator in Uganda in 1971.  Two things impressed me about being on the Equator. I had expected it to be hot, but, in fact, due to the elevation, the climate in Uganda was quite comfortable even in summer. As expected, the sun was almost directly overhead at noon. What surprised me was how quickly it became dark when the sun set.  Conversely, at dawn the sun just seemed to pop over the horizon, and suddenly it was day.

When I was in Turkey two years ago, I crossed the bridge that links Asia and Europe in Istanbul. On our return, we passed a similar sign welcoming us to Europe.

Welcome sign on the Asian side of the Bosporus
In 1999, while spending three months in Australia when Art was on sabbatical, we traveled to Alice Springs where we made a point to visit the marker for the Tropic of Capricorn.  Visiting the Tropic of Cancer is still on my bucket list.  We were relatively close last summer while vacationing in the Yucatan, but not close enough to make it a destination.
At the Tropic of Capricorn, near Alice Springs, Australia 1999
I still have many geographic points I would like to visit. Who knows, perhaps they will become subjects for The Intrepid Tourist someday.  As I begin this fourth year of the blog, I thank all of my friends and family who have contributed to The Intrepid Tourist and all of you who have been my faithful readers.
To another year of Happy Traveling!

Monday, April 7, 2014

DEATH VALLEY: Sunrise to Sunset, Guest Post by Owen Floody



Death Valley, sunrise in the dunes

Last September, our friend Owen Floody went on a photo tour of Death Valley National Park in the California desert.  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken several trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is a short reflection on his trip to Death Valley and a few of his excellent photographs.

Death Valley Badlands
Early September is probably not the ideal time to visit Death Valley National Park.  But I was in nearby Las Vegas to attend a family wedding and making a quick 4-day tour of Death Valley was too convenient to pass up.  However, the impressive heat (often of 110-120° in the shade) did have a major impact on my schedule of activities, forcing a retreat to my books and the motel pool in the middle of each day, when anything much more vigorous would have been unpleasant. 

A view of the valley from Dante’s View in the course of a sunrise. 

After a very early start, I always attempted to catch an attractive sunrise at one of several vantage points, including the Mesquite Flat sand dunes, the Badwater Basin salt flat, and Dante’s View, overlooking much of the entire valley.  Later in the morning, when it was beginning to heat up, I would look for some shade in one or more of the many canyons in the Furnace Creek or Stovepipe Wells areas.  
A lucky shot of a sandstorm at sunset in the Mesquite Flat dunes
Then, after my siesta, I would return to the canyons and badlands in the late afternoon before beginning the search for a good sunset, usually in or near the sand dunes. 

A moment shortly after sunrise in the salt flat.
Though this strategy was a matter of choice only in part, it worked out well, yielding pleasant experiences and some good photo ops, especially in the dunes and on the salt flats. Also, even if sunrises had not been a priority, early morning was by far the coolest and most pleasant part of each day.  As a result of my relatively brief visit, I was only able to pay one visit to the salt flats and never did catch a sunrise at the famous Zabriskie Point.  
 
One of the many canyons in Death Valley
Finally, my access to some parts of the park was limited by a series of temporary road closures prompted, surprisingly enough, by recent heavy rains.  This contributed to my failure to see some sights, most notably the mysterious and relatively remote Racetrack, where large rocks seem to be blown across a flat and slippery surface when observers are absent and the conditions just right.  In truth, even more time and clearer roads might not have reversed this failing, as I was strongly advised that a trip to the Racetrack requires 4-wheel drive and tires with puncture-resistant sidewalls, neither of which came with my rental.  The net effect, though, is not an entirely unwelcome one: A return trip to Death Valley clearly will be required, perhaps even timed to exploit the more congenial temperatures of the late fall - early spring. 

Sunrise on dunes
Read more about Owen's travels in these posts at The Intrepid Tourist.

Monday, March 31, 2014

CAPE LEEUWIN LIGHTHOUSE, AUSTRALIA: Where the Southern and Indian Oceans Meet

Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, Western Australia
At a recent meeting of my book club we discussed The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman, a story that takes place at a lighthouse station on an island off the coast of Western Australia just after the First World War.  The story is fiction but the setting is based on real towns and lighthouses on the Australian coast, and reminded me of our visit to Australia’s extreme southwestern corner in 2007.
The lighthouse, built of limestone, is 128' (39 m) tall.
We were visiting a friend who lived in Augusta, not far from Cape Leeuwin and its famous lighthouse.  One day we went to visit the lighthouse and nearby Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park.
Looking north from the top of the lighthouse. The buildings along the strip of land going to the mainland are used by the lighthouse keepers.
It was a beautiful day so we climbed the steep lighthouse steps for a view from the top. One can look south to the ocean--next stop Antarctica!-- or north to the mainland. Opened in 1895, the lighthouse has since been automated. The lighthouse, besides being a navigational aid, serves as an important automatic weather station.
Cape Leeuwin  is the most south-westerly mainland point of the Australian Continent, in the state of Western Australia. It got its name from the Dutch sailors who first came to the area in 1622.
And, of course, we couldn’t resist having our picture taken next to the sign marking the place where the Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean meet. In Australia, the Cape is considered the point where these two oceans meet; however most other nations and bodies consider the Southern Ocean to only exist south of 60 degrees South.
Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park has extensive heath vegetation and thick scrub which supports a high number of plant and bird species that utilise this coastal habitat.

Rottnest Lighthouse
On that same trip to Western Australia we also took a day trip to Rottnest Island near Perth.  Originally built as a penal colony, it is now a tourist destination.  No cars are allowed on the island, but one can rent bicycles, which we did, and rode to the Rottnest Lighthouse.  On our way we met numerous quokkas–small marsupials extinct everywhere in Australia except on Rottnest.  They were remarkably fearless and approached us hoping for a handout.

For more about the Cape Leeuwin Lighthouse, click HERE.
For more about Rottnest Island, click HERE.
Quokka

Monday, March 24, 2014

WILL ROGERS STATE HISTORIC PARK, Los Angeles, California

Will Rogers House, Will Rogers State Park
When I have visitors in Los Angeles, one of my favorite places to take them is Will Rogers State Historic Park, the former home of the famous cowboy, humorist, film star and commentator of the 1920s and 1930s.  Tucked into the foothills of the Santa Monica Mountains just north of Sunset Boulevard, the ranch style home looks out over a broad lawn (once used by Will’s friends to practice golf) and a large field where Will and his friends played polo. The field is still used for weekend matches and occasionally we take a picnic and sit on the sidelines and watch. A short walk from the house leads to the stables where Will once kept his horses.  According to Will, “A man that don’t love a horse, there is something the matter with him.” Today one can go for horse riding lessons and trail rides in the park.

Horses in one of the corrals
On a recent Sunday when my brothers were in town, we spent an afternoon at the park.  We began at the small museum adjacent to the house.  People of our parents' generation have fond memories of listening to Will Rogers on the radio, seeing him in movies, and reading his newspaper columns, but for most of us today Will Rogers is a historical figure. Will was born in 1879 of Cherokee and European descent. He was raised on a ranch in Oklahoma where he learned to ride and rope, skills that led him to perform in Wild West shows, and eventually brought him to Hollywood. He died in an airplane crash in Alaska in 1935. In the museum are photographs and exhibits and a wonderful video showing his amazing rope tricks and clips from some of his speeches. 
At Christmas time the house is decorated by volunteers
Thursday through Sunday, volunteers lead free tours of Will Rogers’ house, providing an opportunity to see his collection of Western art, hear some of the many stories about his life, and get a sense of the casual and comfortable style of life he preferred.  Despite his fame and wealth, Will did not live the glamorous life of other movie stars of the time. Instead, he entertained with casual barbecues and sing-a-longs and decorated his house in a homey, ranch style. 
View of Los Angeles from Inspiration Point, Will Rogers State Park
After our tour we set out for a walk on the loop trail up to Inspiration Point.  Following the dirt path past the stables, we wound our way uphill.  As we passed the corrals, a few friendly horses came over for a pat on the nose. Although the trail is not strenuous, I chose to loop the other way and met the rest of the group on their way back down.  I have been to the top many times and the view of the city and Pacific Ocean is impressive.
Will Rogers lived on the ranch from 1926 to 1935
Perhaps Will Rogers’ most famous quip was: “I never met a man I didn’t like.” His house and ranch reflect his generous spirit and love of the outdoors. After Will Rogers died, his daughter donated the house and ranch to the state of California so that it would be preserved as a state park. We are lucky she did.
For directions and information about visiting the park go to www.parks.ca.gov/willrogers .

Monday, March 17, 2014

California’s PYRAMID LAKE and VISTA DEL LAGO VISITOR CENTER

The Vista Del Lago Visitor Center is a cool and refreshing stop along I-5
Along Interstate 5 an hour north of Los Angeles Pyramid Lake lies nestled between the steep hills of the southern California mountains.  The Vista Del Lago Visitor Center sits on a scenic overlook of the lake. The lake and dam are part of the California State Water Project. Most of the time as Art and I travel this route between northern and southern California we zoom by the lake, eager to get home. But on a recent trip, we decided to make the visitor center a rest stop and ended up spending considerable time looking at the many exhibits.

A zigzag line was the Egyptian symbol for water
Water has been important since the dawn of time. The exhibits begin with dioramas depicting the history of water use in ancient civilizations ranging from Roman aqueducts, to the Egyptian Shadouf and Nilometer, to China’s Dujiangyan Irrigation Canal, to the Stepwells of India and Pakistan.



A stepwell is a stairway into the earth, leading to an underground pool. Invented in the late sixth century, these ingenious devices allowed people to collect water at various levels, depending on the height of the water table at different times of year. Stepwells were both practical sources of water and beautiful structures. They were widely used for hundreds of years.  Then, during the mid-nineteenth century, as modern water pumps and plumbing replaced the need for open wells, most stepwells were abandoned and fell into disrepair.  Today, some have been restored and preserved as historic sites. 

Another exhibit is a video display projected on a map of the state of California. As you listen to the narration, bright lights illuminate various parts of the state water project (SWP), including Pyramid Lake and the dam.  According to the brochure I picked up at the desk, the SWP spans more than 600 miles from Northern California to Southern California and includes 32 storage facilities, 17 pumping plants, 3 pumping-generating plants, 5 hydroelectric power plants and approximately 660 miles of canals and pipelines.  I now have a new appreciation of the many canals that we see as we drive along I-5 between the Bay Area and southern California!

Another room provides a time-line of the development of water resources in California during the last century.  The doorway into the exhibit is the actual diameter of the pipe that carries water from the Castaic power plant at the end of the lake!


Pyramid Lake and Dam.  Completed in 1973, they were named after the pyramid shaped rock carved out by engineers building the Old Highway 99, now replaced by I-5.  Water stored in this man-made reservoir flows through the Castaic Power plant and generates electricity for the Los Angeles area.
After we finished looking at the exhibits we went outside to take in the view and watch the boats on the lake below.  Someday, we’ll stop longer and visit one of the picnic areas along the lakeshore. 

For more information about Pyramid Lake and the Vista Del Lago Visitor Center, click here.

Note:  Unlike many of California's reservoirs which are severely depleted because of the drought, Pyramid Lake is nearly full.  

Monday, March 10, 2014

FLOATING MARKETS OF THAILAND from Aunt Carolyn's Memoir

Floating Market, Thailand
I have never been to Thailand, but I learned about the traditional floating markets when doing a research project. I would love to see them someday.  My husband’s Aunt Carolyn was luckier. She visited Thailand in the 1960's and '70's and wrote about the floating markets in her memoir.

Ready for launch trip to floating markets
Every visitor to Bangkok visits the floating markets. One takes a motor launch on the Chao Phyra River for some distance down stream, then turns off into a small canal or klong, for a close-up view of the klong people. Luxuriant vegetation and overhanging trees lining the klong show that the jungle is near.
Canal with boats

Soon the market appears with many sampans jockeying for position in the crowded market for the day’s trading. The sampans are filled with exotic fruits: mangoes, papaya, rambutan (a small red prickly fruit whose succulent pulp belied its outer appearance.)  I tried a “love apple” but found it loveless. Bargaining is done from boat to boat. There are also platforms built at the canal’s edge where more traditional trading is done.
Bargaining for Batiks
I first visited Thailand when there were no buses from the airport to the city.  The road had recently been graded, but not paved.  My tour group rode in a procession of cars.  In front of our hotel, the Erawan, the wide canal was being filled in and the street is now a wide boulevard. 
Excerpted from Up and Down and Around the World With Carrie by Carolyn T. Arnold

More about the floating markets:
Damnoen Saduak is a group of canals about fifty miles from the capital city of Bangkok.  It is the biggest floating market in Thailand. Its canals were built around 1866 when Thailand was called Siam and was ruled by King Rama the Fourth. (Siam began to be called Thailand in 1939.  The name means “free nation.”)

Every morning the canals are filled with long boats piled high with fruit, vegetables, rice and other crops grown on country farms.  Thousands of people, including many tourists, shop at this colorful and noisy floating market. The main canal at Damnoen Saduak, which connects the Mae Klong river and the Tacheen River, is 32 km long. About 200 smaller canals branch off the main canal and within this complex are three market areas--Ton Khem, Kia Kui and Khum Phitak.
Floating Market
Most of the goods at the floating market are sold by women wearing bright blue shirts and blue pants.  Wide-brimmed hats made of bamboo and palm leaves shade them from the hot sun. Expertly steering their boats, they paddle up and down the canals.  Some sell mangoes, grapes, coconuts.  Some cook noodles or fried bananas on small stoves on their boats.  Others sell fish, meat and other goods.

Most of Thailand’s food is grown in the rich soil on its broad central plain.  Water comes to the fields from the river through thousands of small canals, a system of water highways that connects farms to towns and cities. Canals used to be common in most towns and cities as well.   People used the water for washing and drinking and boats were the main form of transportation. In recent years, however, most of the canals have been filled in and made into streets. (See comment by Aunt Carolyn above.)  Now taxis, cars, and bicycles go where boats once traveled. People get the water they need from faucets connected to pipes underground and buy what they need from markets along the street. Just a few canal systems and floating markets remain in the towns of Thailand.

More about Caroline T. Arnold:
Perhaps the original intrepid tourist was Carolyn T. Arnold, my husband’s aunt.  A single school teacher in Des Moines, Iowa, she began traveling abroad when she was in her forties, beginning with a bicycling trip through Ireland in 1952.  She went on from there to spend a year as a Fulbright Exchange Teacher in Wales, to more trips to Europe and beyond, and eventually became a tour leader, taking all her nieces and nephews (including Art) on her travels.  When she retired from teaching, she wrote of her experiences in a memoir called Up and Down and Around the World with Carrie.  Today, as I read of her travels, I marvel at her spirit of adventure at a time when women did not have the independence they do today.  You can read of some of her other adventures in these posts on this blog:  October 21, 2013; October 7, 2013; July 29, 2013.

(All photos are by Carolyn T. Arnold)