Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Finding the Unexpected

One of the joys of travel is coming across the unexpected. It may be an unplanned stop in a village where you discover friendly people, interesting sights, or good food. It may be stepping into a side street after visiting a museum or cathedral, seeing an interesting shop and finding a "treasure" that you've been looking for as a rememberance of your stay. Or it could even be stumbling across a place you never knew existed in a city you have visited many times before. The photos included in this post fall into the latter category, just 50 miles from my home.

A few weeks ago, we drove to Milwaukee to take our daughter to the airport. It was a beautiful summer's day and her flight was later in the day, so we decided to explore. The beaches were crowded and orange road construction cones seemed to be everywhere, so we headed away from Lake Michigan in search for coffee and lunch. A two-hour parking place was found near a coffee house on a Sunday afternoon! Lunch and a bit of exploration were the game plan; we didn't have to be at the airport until after 5 p.m. As we headed eastward on foot hoping to find an uncrowded lake view, we came across the Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum & Renaissance Garden. I, for one, hadn't known of its existence. We spent an hour or more exploring the museum and admiring its fantastic view of Lake Michigan.

As you look at the photos, you need to remember that this was once the private home of the Lloyd R. Smith family. While many aspects of Milwaukee are working class or university-centered, there has been also an element of affluence and many of those people chose lakeside homes as their places of residence. Milwaukee is definitely a city where there is a sharp divisions between the "haves" and "have-nots", one that is particularly hard for me to reconcile in my own mind.
The home, itself, and its furnishings were influenced by the family's trip to Italy in the early 1900's. As we wandered through what is now the museum, caterers were setting up for an Italian-American event. It was interesting to think that what was once a "mere" family home was transformed into a museum and cultural center. One expects to find this in the castles and palaces of Europe, not in metropolitan Milwaukee, Wisconsin home of Miller Beer and Harley=Davidson motorcycles. It was definitely the unexpected in more than one way. If you are interested in learning more about the museum or the history of the home that it used to be, you can visit their website: http://www.villaterracemuseum.org/index.html .

Thank you for visiting, feel free to stop by again. I hope that you have enjoyed your stay. In the meantime, may your travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Sunday, August 21, 2011


There was a time when cities and towns were designed to be experienced, not circumvented by outer roads and by-passes. Nothing brings this concept home to me more that the plazas of Spain. The plaza is a place of beauty and liveliness. It is a place where families and friends connect , as they have for generations. Often shaded from the warm sun, sometimes lined with cafes and neighborhood bars and restaurants, usually containing a statue or monument to remember something significant in the life of the community.

I am envious of these settings and wish that they were found more often in my own country. They seem to say to those who visit them that life is meant to be savored and that it's important to spend time in social interactions. Perhaps that's one of the reasons I've enjoyed New Mexico's Santa Fe and Old Town Albuquerque with their strong Spanish designs. Unfortunately, my own community had a plaza when I first moved here, then converted back into a through street in order to "facilitate cross-town traffic" and "better access to stores". Many Americans have a car mind-set and prefer it to walking. Oh, well.

Thank you for visiting, please come again. If you happen to know any other places where I can experience plazas, town squares, and similar settings please let me know. I will definitely include them on my list of "places to visit". Until the next time, may your travels be interesting and enjoyable.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

A Matter of Intent/The Sometimes Perplexed Traveler

artificial roses-Seville

new age statues-Edinburgh

religious statues-Malaga



As you wander along the streets of an unfamiliar city, the almost universal modern cultural element of the storefront window display is unavoidable. Some travelers intentionally try to avoid these displays and focus on architecture, statues, modes of transportation, and the ways people dress and act. I look at a storefront window display and try to figure out for whom the items are intended. Unless you know the culture of a place, coming to a conclusion isn't always an easy thing to do. Even if you do arrive at a conclusion, there are times that the only way you can be sure you are correct is to ask someone native to the community. That assumes that you are able to develop a rapport with someone who lives there and he/she will be frank with you. That conversation, if you are fortunate to have it, can lead to interesting cross-cultural discussions.

Take a minute and think about the photos in this post. In the bottom photo you see a rather unimpressive display of haggis. Are you familiar with haggis? If not, read what Wikipedia has to say about it:
"Haggis is a dish containing sheep's 'pluck' (heart, liver and lungs), minced with onion, oatmeal,suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, and traditionally simmered in the animal's stomach for approximately three hours. Most modern commercial haggis is prepared in a casing rather than an actual stomach.

Haggis is a kind of sausage, or savoury pudding cooked in a casing of sheep's intestine, as many sausages are. As the 2001 English edition of the Larousse Gastronomique puts it, "Although its description is not immediately appealing, haggis has an excellent nutty texture and delicious savoury flavour".[1]"

Given the fact that many Scottish people consider haggis to be a taste treat, was this display intended for them or for the tourist who wants to "take a walk on the culinary wild side"?

Spain has many very religious people and Catholicism is very strong there. The religious statues could be for them. On the other hand, they may be intended for commercial purposes only and "real" religious statues are best bought though Church-related places. Spain is also known for its colorful clothing and accompaniments. I can envision a Spanish woman potentially wearing one of the artificial roses. On the other hand, I have a minimal understanding of the culture of Spain, and both displays could be for the tourist who thinks that the items are small, light, easy to pack, and are representative of Spanish culture. I never took the opportunity to ask-any conclusion would be pure speculation on my part. The same could be said of what I think of as the "New Age" angels founded in the window of an Edinburgh store. Do Scottish people get involved in the concept of "New Age" to any degree?

The only photo that I am 99% certain that it contains goods intended for local buyers is the furniture store in Lucca, Italy. Few tourists buy large pieces of furniture and have it shipped home, at least among the travelers with whom I am familiar. Even this photo's content perplexes me because it seems incongruous. The modernistic lighting was found in a narrow side-street in the walled old city rather than the modern part of the city.

Travel and all of its opportunities to be exposed to other cultures is what going beyond your present horizon is all about. It is enjoyable and, at least sometimes, is a chance to experience different styles and perspectives.

I hope that you enjoyed your visit, thank you for stopping by. May your travels be interesting and enjoyable.