Buttons! Buttons! Everywhere!

Buttons! Buttons! Everywhere!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Wild, Wonderful...Puerto Rico

There's something very mysterious about Puerto Rico. I've never been able to fully put my finger on it, but something lingers just below the surface that is exciting! I ventured there recently, taking my off time to breathe in the warm sunshine and vibrant life that surrounds those visiting this nearby paradise.

I'd had some experience here before, as a travel escort for large groups that often sought out the history and beaches of San Juan. I'd even cruised into her port a time or two. But nothing fills the senses as when you can
walk the cobbled streets of Old San Juan seeking the rich history of this tiny nation.

A short cab ride from the Old San Juan hotel ($21) drops you into the heart of Old Town, where old men face off on giant domino tables and old women are not afraid to smoke a Cuban cigar. A short shuttle ride (free) takes you up the daunting hill to Castillo Dan Filipe del Morro, fondly known as El Morro, a structure built to protect the city of San Juan in 1539. Views from this area are spectacular!

Strolling through the streets of the old city one is apt to see trolley buses winding through the tiny avenues, motor scooters squeezing into the tiniest parking spots, nightclubs, and taverns that have been part of the city for hundreds of years. The people are friendly and warm, and the youth smile when you cannot understand their Spanish, although they speak English quite well. Shopping is everywhere, from trendy boutiques to stores clearly recognizable by any tourist.

But the pulse of the city is music. Salsa, in particular. You'll have a very pleasurable experience at the El San Juan Hotel, one of Puerto Rico's most beautiful old hotels. The night was steamy and you can hear the high-pitched squeals of tree frogs in the courtyard as you walk to the hotel. Strains of salsa already emerges from the doors when you arrive. Just inside the door, smells of heavy perfume and cologne covered you like a warm blanket. Bodies are moving to a rich sound of bongo drums, guitar, and steel trumpets slice through the dark like a newly sharpened bread knife. Women and men of all ages gyrate across the floor, their smiles wide and happy.

You'll could hear the chinking sounds of the casino to your right, but it is the music and the dancers that keeps your attention. Stand quietly out of sight taking in the joy in the lobby of that gracious hotel and when its was time to go, you'll leave unwillingly. They say the dances go on until the wee hours in Puerto Rico, each dancer enjoying life to the fullest.

If you love the charm of Puerto Rico or want to read a more historical piece of fiction, you'll love,"Conquistadora" by Esmeralda Santiago. It's an epic novel of love, discovery, and adventure by the author of the best-selling memoir When I Was Puerto Rican.(striaght from the book review.)
This is a riveting tale, set in a place where human passions and cruelties collide: thrilling history that has never before been brought so vividly and unforgettably to life.
Adios' Amigo.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Edgefield Manor Hautings

Sometimes when I travel I'm amazed by the history that's found in the most odd places. I'd finished my work for the day and opted to not eat my dinner on property, instead deciding to take a quiet drive along the historic Route 30 to Multnomah Falls. While driving, I saw off to my left a small sign almost obscured by bushes that said, "Edgefield Manor." With a quick jerk to the right, (those who know my driving know this is easy for me,) I found a winding driveway up to a large building that bore the name Edgefield Manor. I wandered throughout the grounds, slowly discovering the beauty and history contained on the property.At least ten or twelve outbuildings had all been restored and housed things outside of the main lodge, like a movie theatre and pub, Jerry Garcia's bar which sat only 10 people, the Black Rabbit gourmet restaurant, a distillery, gift shop, tea house and vineyards.

Seems this property had a rich past, most notably as an Oregon "poor house." The dark hallways and doors just inside Edgefield were painted with some of the prior residents, their faces long and sad. Black and white photographs intermingled with faded walpaper and gave this explorer the chance to think about who they were, what lives and circumstances brought them to this place. The smell was not musty as one might expect, but savorful and rich, most notable because of the Black Rabbit Restaurant.

After talking with a few staff I discovered that the place was supposedly haunted, or at least a few of the rooms are and that guests can request to stay in a haunted room. Old women and several young children (the place had once been an orphanage,) had been seen in various rooms and on the grounds throughout the years. Poorhouses or Poor Farms as they were called were homes people were required to go to if they could not support themselves. They were tax-supported and used as a system of what would be known today as "welfare." They requested assistance, or someone might do it for them,from a town official. If the "help" was deemed to be long term, they'd be sent to the poor farm. They might also be sent there if they were found begging.

I actually have a memory of a poor farm in Indiana that was situated between Elkhart and Goshen. It was next to a county park. The structure was large, white with a huge garden in front of it. I can remember drving past the old place, it's 14 residents sitting on the front porch on those hot and humid summer days waving at the passing cars. Every old man and woman was smiling. I never saw a car turn in and often wondered what happened to those people the day they shut it down.

It was quite a journey this trip and with it I learned about a book that might be of interest to those who go to Portland or enjoy the history of the poor house. It's written by Michael B Katz and it's called In the Shadow of the Poor House:A Social History of WelfareEnjoy!


Wednesday, February 1, 2012

NOVEL TRAVELERS.....: John Grisham and Mary Mahoney's

NOVEL TRAVELERS.....: John Grisham and Mary Mahoney's

John Grisham and Mary Mahoney's

I love discovering connections between authors and historical places when I travel. I travled to Biloxi, Mississippi last weekend where I happened onto a fine dining restaurant called Mary Mahoney's Old French House. I took a few photos on the outside then wandered in the place for a bite of lunch. The small stone bar was empty and the bartender was eager to serve, as it was the middle of the day and the lunch crowd had long gone. For me, it's rarely about the food or beverages, it's about what one finds when you get off the beaten track and rummage a bit around these old cities. It passes times and gives me the area's "sense of place," something all writers end up using at one time or another.
It was odd, but something here triggered a memory. A city. Bioloxi. A name. Mahoney's. A book. The Runaway Jury. I tapped my fork on the bar top and got the attention of the waitress.
"Was this the restaurant featured in John Grisham's book, The Runaway Jury?" I asked.
"Yup," she replied, and The Confession as well! Joh comes in here all of the time. Sits right where you are sometimes."

Then I remembered the passage from a Grisham's book....

"He turned left and was soon entering a large, old white building that houses Mary Mahoney's, a locally famous restuarant where most of the town's legal community usually gathered for lunch when court was in session.
Nicholas enetered the restaurant and asked the first waitress he saw if Judge Harkin was eating. Yes. And where might he be? She pointed and Nicholas walked quickly through the bar, through a small foyer and into a large dining room with windows and sunshine and lots of fresh flowers."

And here I was, munching on a bowl of Mary Mahoney's famous gumbo, and sipping a sweet tea on a chair where a fellow writer soaked in the atmosphere of a building almost as old as the country itself.

I jotted down a few observations and walked through the old place, taking the same route as Grisham described, to the large dining room befit with large greenhouse-like windows and white table's bedecked with sweet smelling flowers.

Nothing like discovering truth in fiction. For those readers who love a good "sense of place,finding a "real" place that's been used in fiction is like finding buried treasure. Gold, all around. Imagine what heaven will be like?

Any place from a book you've ever found to be real? Share it with us, won't you?