Photo Locale of the Month – September 2018

Do you ever feel like disappearing into the mountains for a few days as a way of leaving your troubles behind? Yeah, I do, too. A few days of breathing clean – but thin – mountain air and taking in sub-alpine vistas can really cleanse one’s soul, and even though the journey doesn’t truly offer a permanent escape from whatever ails you, the trip can at least help put life’s crises into manageable perspective.

I lived in California for 12 years, and “escaped” into the mountains whenever possible. The 65-mile Backbone Trail, which I have section-hiked countless times, was no more than an hour’s drive from my apartment. That being said, there isn’t a single hiking experience in California that is on par with hiking in the High Sierra. Yosemite National Park, Inyo National Forest, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, …these are special places.

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Farmsteads and Open-Air Museums of Tennessee

As I mentioned in my recent July post about Johnson City, I have made a concerted effort during my four years of Tennessee residency to take in as much of the state’s natural and political history as possible. For starters, I visit my sister in Memphis once or twice each year, and often stop off in Nashville along the way. The state’s two largest cities have much to offer, and my August, 2016 post on the subject remains one of my most-read entries. Secondly, I hit up the state’s spectacular hiking trails as often as possible. Panther Creek and Seven Islands are two favorite tramping spots close to where I live, while Cummins Falls, further afield, has a short, but tough, hike to a spectacular, watery destination. Great Smoky Mountains National Park, one of the jewels of the national park system, is 90 minutes by car with traffic, and I could write pages upon pages about the joys of hiking in the Smokies. Finally, I commute to Knoxville each day for work, and have gotten to know that city almost as well as places like my original hometown of Chicago or my beloved Mexico City.

Tennessee began as a series of settlements in the late 1700’s, farmsteads usually established on or close to one of Tennessee’s many rivers, and grew from there. Few buildings from that time period remain, although you will find some early 19th-century brick “Federalist” architectural gems in towns like Jonesborough and Rogersville, and several in Johnson City. If it is log cabins, moonshine stills, and one-room schoolhouses that you are looking for, however, you’ll have to look a bit harder; most are preserved at various public parks and open-air museums. Here are just a few:

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Photo Locale of the Month – August 2018

In many ways, Scandinavia is the best region of Europe in which to travel. It is safe, clean, and progressive. The fish is fresh, the summer days are long, and the green space is plentiful. Finally, the level of spoken English is often better than even, it sometimes seems, what you’ll find in the United States…making travel here a breeze.

Last month’s photo entry about Suomenlinna, near Finland, was only the first blog post about the wonders of the region; a tremendous narrative oversight by yours truly. For August, let us cross the border to the east into Sweden, my favorite country in the region. The coastal town of Kalmar, which ranked number one on my list of the top ten small cities and towns in Europe, is home to one of Scandinavia’s greatest wonders, Kalmar Castle.

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Top Ten Mexico City Museums

Mexico City, once the biggest city in the world and still the biggest city in the Americas, has more than enough museums to keep its 20 million + residents satisfied: over 100, the most of any city in the world.

An exact count is not really possible considering that new museums and galleries open every month, but seemingly every subject is covered. Do you like classic cars? Check out the Museo del Automóvil (Automobile Museum), in the south of the city. Are you fascinated by European decorative arts? You won’t want to miss Museo Franz Mayer, near the Alameda Central and home to a rich collection of tapestries, furnishings, and garments. Eager to learn more about the struggle for indigenous women’s rights? You should visit the Museo de la Mujer (Museum of the Woman), a few blocks east of Plaza Garibaldi. Curious about the agave harvest? The Museo del Tequila y El Mezcal, (Museum of Tequila and Mezcal) in Plaza Garibaldi itself, is for you – and admission includes a free tequila shot!

Some of the museums are real oddities. The delightful Museo de Arte Popular (Popular Art Museum), housed in an Art Deco firehouse south of the Alameda Central, displays fanciful alebrijes – colorful folk art sculptures that feature in an elaborate parade each October. The Museo de la Medicina (Museum of Medicine), near Plaza San Jacinto in the Centro Histórico, has more exhibits of aborted fetuses and genital warts than even the strongest stomach can handle. The adjacent Museo de la Inquisición (Inquisition Museum), which shares the same building, is of the disturbing-and-yet-I-can’t-avert-my-eyes variety. And Anahacualli, south of Coyoacán, is a cool and spooky stone hacienda that resembles an Aztec temple of sorts and that houses Diego Rivera’s formidable collection of pre-Hispanic idols.

I was inspired to write this post at the suggestion of my fellow blogger William, a retired English teacher who now spends half the year in Mexico City. (Life goals – en serio!) Check out his writings at ilovemexico2013.blogspot.com. In the meantime, here are my Top Ten Mexico City Museums:

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Four Days in Kaintuck

Ever since I moved to East Tennessee four years ago, I had it on my radar to check out Mammoth Cave National Park, three hours to the west and just 30 miles north of the Tennessee-Kentucky state line. I had long known that the cave system includes the largest-mapped single cave in the world, famous not only for its size but also for such geological features as Frozen Niagara. What I didn’t know was that the national park that manages the cave also includes over 80 miles of hiking trails, dotted with sinkholes and natural springs and rich in native wildlife.

I discovered this first hand six weeks ago.

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Comparing the “Mission: Impossible” films

Seven days into the theatrical release of “Mission: Impossible – Fallout,” the summer sequel and Paramount Pictures tent-pole is a certified hit. The Friday-Sunday opening release garnered $61.5 million in domestic ticket sales, a series-best and career second-best for star and producer Tom Cruise. Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an “A” rating, and critics have almost universally praised it as well. With so much goodwill surrounding the film, it seems hard to believe that Cruise was almost written out of the series after the third film, released in 2006, was considered something of a box office disappointment.

But even though his Hollywood star doesn’t shine quite as brightly as it did in the 1980’s and 90’s, his “M:I” movies now seem bomb-proof, with three mega-hits in a row, starting with the 2011 sorta-soft reboot, “Ghost Protocol.” And to his credit, he brings 200% commitment to whichever film he is shooting, even cinematic turkeys like “Jack Reacher” and “Rock of Ages.” (Well, maybe not to “The Mummy,” but the less said about that film, the better.)

Does “Fallout” live up to the hype? More on this several paragraphs down, but in a word: Yes. And as we near the second weekend of domestic release for the latest “Mission: Impossible” film, I thought I’d wax critical about the series as a whole. Oh, and you’ve been warned: There may be SPOILERS.

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Photo Locale of the Month – July 2018

July is a terrific month for visiting Scandinavia. For one thing, the long daylight hours mean that sidewalk cafes and public squares bustle as late as 9 p.m. or even later. For another thing, kids are off school, so museums aren’t mobbed with the usual field trip crowds. For another thing still, the weather is quite pleasant in mid-summer, so it makes it easy for those of us who do not hail from there to see why countries such as Norway, Denmark, and Finland rank so high on quality-of-life meters.

Take Finland. I had a chance to visit that country’s capital, Helsinki, on part of a much longer trip in 2009 that also included time spent in South Africa, Greece, and Russia. It was early July when I arrived, and except for one rainy day, I had mostly sunny skies and long afternoons rife for exploring at a time of year when the sky didn’t grow dark until 11 p.m. One day even found me taking a dip in the Baltic Sea! (Please don’t try that at home, Loyal Reader.) The highlight was taking a ferry past some of the city’s outlying Susiluodot Islands to its fortress and museum complex of Suomenlinna.

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A Friday in Johnson City

In the four (so far) years that I’ve lived in Tennessee, and over countless holiday visits prior to my having established permanent residency here, I’ve managed to explore quite a bit of the Volunteer State, from the Delta blues history of Memphis in the west to the trails of the Great Smoky Mountains in the east. One corner of the state that I have, for the most part, overlooked – and for no real reason – is the “Tri-Cities” corner of Bristol, Kingsport, and Johnson City.

I am actively working on changing that.

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People around the World: The Americas

Over the past several months, I have shared a series of portraits – staged and unstaged – of people from various ports of call around the world. The last three entries focused on the Eastern Hemisphere, broken down as Africa, Asia, and Europe. For today’s entry, I thought I’d “cross the pond” to North, Central, and South America.

I hope you enjoy the photos in this latest entry in the series, as well as the stories behind them. 🙂

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Photo Locale of the Month – June 2018

China has been in the news a lot recently – and for all the wrong reasons. It seems that China’s current premier, Xi Jinping, continuing the efforts of his predecessor, Hu Jintao, to bring the country into the 21st century, has enraged the U.S.’s own orange Cheeto, one Donald J. Trump, with his bullying stance on trade. Not only that, it has long been suspected that China has sold weapons to dictators like Kim Jong-un and Bashir al-Assad, further infuriating his pompous orangeness.

But forget that for a moment. China, already an old nation when Greece was in its infancy, is a treasure trove of history and sightseeing riches – never moreso than in its ever-changing capital, Beijing, home to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.

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