City Showdown: Memphis vs. Nashville

26 Aug

Memphis has traditionally held the title of “Tennessee’s Largest City,” ever since westward expansion post-Civil War brought settlers across the Mississippi River.  But that honor changed hands not long ago.  Nashville, the state capital, is now 25,000 people greater than Memphis in population.  In fact, Memphis actually has fewer residents than it did in 2000!

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What is going on here?  How can a city decline in population?  And which city is the better one, really?  Over the next several paragraphs, I’ll give my $0.02 on which city reigns supreme in categories of location, food, museums, parks and gardens, sports, nightlife, and – most important of all – overall livability.

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Where I Come From – Part Two

17 Aug

Last June, I published a blog entry that was near and dear to my heart.  In it, I wrote about my paternal family tree.  I first told of my grandfather, a WWII sailor, Middle East adventurer, Paraguayan coffee plantation owner, and Prohibition-era beat cop who fathered eight children with three different women.  I then blogged about my grandmother, an incredible cook who outlived three husbands and had a closet filled with identical-looking blue house dresses.  Finally, I introduced Loyal Readers to my father, a decent man and Army vet with an encyclopedic knowledge of baseball and a functional case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, the latter of which is simultaneously annoying and endearing.

But that is just half of the story.

Lincoln Museum 5

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Photo Locale of the Month – August 2016

10 Aug

The 2016 Summer Olympics are underway.  When I first learned, in 2009, that Rio de Janeiro was awarded the games, my heart leaped.  No South American city has ever hosted an Olympic games before this year, and if the 2014 World Cup (also held in Brazil) was any indication, the Games of the XXXI Olympiad will go off without a hitch.

The New Seven Wonders of the World were announced in 2012, and Rio’s Cristo Redentor – Christ the Redeemer – made the final cut.  But did you know that Rio’s Natural Harbor was one of the original Seven Natural Wonders of the World?  And for good reason.

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Hiking the Grand Canyon – Part Two

5 Aug

As you recall from Part One, I hiked the South Rim of the Grand Canyon in 2010 – the South Kaibab Trail down and the Bright Angel Trail up.  Not easily sated, I returned two years later and tackled the much, much longer North Kaibab Trail.

The North Rim of the Grand Canyon is a long way from anywhere.  It is over 1,000 feet higher in elevation than the South Rim, and its northern exposure makes it a dumping ground for snow for seven months of the year (the North Rim is closed to visitors from mid-October to mid-April).  The flora and fauna are different, too.  The access road from the one-trick hamlet of Jacob Lake passes through terrain that looks like Yellowstone.  “Beefalo” – cow and bison hybrids – graze peacefully along the roadside, and sub-alpine meadows are home to wildflowers during the warmer months.  The scent of pine is all around.

Highway 67-10 - Beefalo

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Hiking the Grand Canyon – Part One

30 Jul

Earlier this summer, TripAdvisor ranked the Grand Canyon as the #1 National Park.  I couldn’t agree more with their top pick.  I have meaning to write about the Grand Canyon ever since I first saw TripAdvisor’s list (the complete ranking is here, BTW), but it has taken me until the hottest week of summer to get my thoughts on paper.  It was similarly hot when I hiked from the rim (top) of the Grand Canyon to the Colorado River and back…twice!  No wonder my ex-girlfriend called me crazy!  ;)

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My first visit to the Grand Canyon was in October, 2000.  It was little more than a two-hour stopover on my way from Chicago to Los Angeles, my first cross-country move.  My friend Chuck came along for the ride.  We took photos from various South Rim vantage points, hiked perhaps one-quarter mile down the Bright Angel Trail, ate at one of the Grand Canyon Village restaurants, and continued on our way.  Still…the few pictures I took, including the photo above, taken from Hopi Point with my $60 manual camera, lent quite the inspiration, and I promised myself that I would one day return and hike all the way down to the canyon floor.

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Photo Locale of the Month – July 2016

20 Jul

Where does the time go?  It was exactly five years ago that I was in London, Paris, and Cardiff.  I had invited my friend Steve to tag along, as it was his first trip to Europe and my third time in London and fourth time in Paris.  Cardiff, however, was a first for both of us.  I had once passed through the Welsh countryside by train en route to London, but had never alighted in Wales.  When Steve suggested adding Cardiff onto the itinerary, who was I to disagree?

Our hostel, NosDa, was set back from the River Taff and directly across the water from Millennium Stadium.  I would imagine the area to be quite raucous during a Cardiff City Football Club game, but we lucked into having the whole place to ourselves despite visiting during high season.  An easy walk from NosDa Hostel took us to the city’s main tourist attraction (aside from the footy arena), Cardiff Castle.

Cardiff Castle 8

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Istanbul: A City by Any Other Name

15 Jul

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It has already been over two weeks since a trio of suicide bombers shot up Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport (IST), killing at least 44 people and injuring 150 others before detonating their explosive devices and thereby taking their own lives.

The scourge known colloquially as ISIS has once again taken credit for the attack, as if that is something to boast about.  Ataturk Airport is Europe’s third-busiest airport, based in Europe’s largest city, and it handled 62 million passengers in 2015.  So if there is a silver lining to the attack, it is merely that the body count could easily have been much higher.

During the time it took me to gather my thoughts about this latest attack – one of too, too many in recent years – the Mediterranean city of Nice, France was attacked as well, during a joyous Bastille Day celebration, at that.  Merde.

This is getting old.

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Ten More Great Screen Biopics (11-20)

9 Jul

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I recently watched an interesting pair of biopics that make for companion pieces of sorts.  The first, Unbroken, a 2014 WWII drama directed by Angelina Jolie and taken from the book by Lauren Hillenbrand, reintroduces the world to Louis “Louie” Zamperini, the Torrance, CA-born long distance runner who made a splash at the Berlin Olympics in 1936 before joining the war effort, crashing into the Pacific, and spending two years in a Japanese POW camp.  The second film, 2016’s Race, details the struggles of Ohio State graduate and African American track-and-field athlete Jesse Owens, who won four gold medals at those same Berlin Olympics – a new world record that made one Adolf Hitler none too pleased.

The two films complement each other in several ways.  First, in Unbroken, we see a brief glance at the face of a black athlete in Berlin, and are supposed to assume that this is Owens.  Second, both films depict, in that timeless sports drama tradition, the triumph over adversity and the struggle against impossible odds.  Third – and a detriment to both films – they “whitewash” later aspects of their characters’ lives.  The takeaway from Hillenbrand’s book was that Zamperini dedicated his post-WWII life to God.  This fact earns barely a mention at the end of Jolie’s film.  As for Owens, he battled the IRS for much of his post-Olympics life, but that subplot didn’t make the final cut of Race.  If that small detail doesn’t make for the most exciting of dramas, it at least grounds the athlete in Everyman reality.  Zamperini and Owens were just people, same as the rest of us.

A good sports drama will show us what made its subject such a remarkable athlete.  A great sports drama will complement – or at least counter – the character’s physical accomplishments with humanizing (or, in the case of Raging Bull, the best sports biography, dehumanizing) subplots.  Only boxing films seem to get it right.

My work was cut out for me last month when I came up with a top ten list of biopics – movies about the lives of real people.  How do you depict a life on screen?  And who is to say what makes a life worthy of having a movie made about it?  Several of the films I came up were larger-than-life epics.  Adventure films like Lawrence of Arabia and Patton earned a few places on the list.  Others, like Frida and The Imitation Game, revolved around artists and inventors.  One, the aforementioned Raging Bull, focused on a truly gifted – but truly monstrous – human being.

But there are more than just ten good stories out there.  Here are ten more great screen biopics:

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Photo Locale of the Month – June 2016

24 Jun

If, like me, you occasionally grow disheartened over the vitriol and hate-mongering that seems so common in the divisive world of today, take comfort in the fact that while our planet can sometimes be a violent place, it is a beautiful place as well.  Few corners of the world are these contrasts so apparent as in Africa.

My first trip to sub-Saharan Africa found me enjoying shoulder season safaris in South Africa and Botswana.  It is about the latter destination that I will focus this month’s photo gallery on.  May, 2009 found me spending three perfect days on makoro (motorless boat) safari in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.

Delta Day 1-38

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A Day Trip to the Biltmore

17 Jun

Biltmore 5

An adventurer at heart, I yearn to explore more of the cities, towns, natural wonders, and points of interest around wherever I happen to be living.  For at least the past 12 months, I have wanted to visit the Biltmore, a sprawling estate just 50 miles over the state line in North Carolina.  With the day off work, the sky nearly free of clouds, and the temperature a perfect 80 degrees, I road tripped last Thursday to the Biltmore and enjoyed a perfect day of fresh air, photography, and walking.

Art collector and horticulturalist George W. Vanderbilt, who inherited several million dollars from his shipping magnate parents, spent much of his fortune in 1895 when he dreamed up plans for the colossal Biltmore House.  Working with architect Richard Morris Hunt and landscaper Frederick Law Olmsted, Vanderbilt’s dream became a reality.  The finished product: 250 rooms on 8,000 forested acres – the largest private estate in the U.S.  If you were to picture the Hearst Castle, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.  If you were to picture France’s Chambord Château, you’d be even closer.  Notice the exterior spiral staircase, taken straight out of French château architecture books.

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