Sunday, October 28, 2007

When Pigs Fly

Last Thursday was a day of rest, recuperation and laundry . . .

So Friday was travel day as we set off to see my cousins in Ohio, having changed our itinerary to Ohio, then North Carolina rather than the original reversed order.

Part of what we were doing was attempting to escape the rain that blanketed the East yesterday, today, tomorrow, the next day . . .

Just before reaching Cumberland, MD we stopped at a visitors' info spot and, among many other things, asked for a lunch recommendation in Cumberland. The staff was unanimous so we set off for "When Pigs Fly" to continue our "Food Tourism" adventure – WPF specializes in pulled-pork-barbecue. Clara had the expected barbecue sandwich (very good) but I opted for the totally unexpected "Garden Salad with Pulled-Pork Barbecue."

It's not an overstatement to say that I was totally unprepared for "Garden Salad with Pulled-Pork Barbecue" – such a dish had never occurred to me – salad and barbecue do not seem to me to belong in the same meal, let alone on the same plate, so I had to try it. To be frank, it was not really all that good – either by itself was very good – but I'll stand by my original thought – salad and barbecue do not
belong on the same plate – however the pictures of the pigs in the restaurant were delightful!

We stopped Friday evening in a very lovely setting at Coopers Rock State Forest just short of Morgantown, West Virginia.

Two apples and a chocolate bar

On Tuesday morning we walked over to the Longworth House Office Building to see our representative (actually his staff) Jim McDermott for our tour. On the way in we had the expected security check – everything metal into the pan, purse through the X-ray machine, etc. – and on to his office.

From there we headed (through the tunnel) to the Cannon Office Building (another security check even though we had just come from the interior of the Longworth) and then (through another tunnel) to the Capitol Building (yet another . . . ). After a brief look around the Rotunda, we headed for the Senate chamber (actually the visitors' gallery) and of course another security check, even though it was impossible for us to have just come in from outside the building. Here it was discovered that Clara had (gasp!) food in her purse! Horrors! Massive Security Threat! The guard stated that he would have to confiscate the "Two apples and a chocolate bar" she had put in there against the possibility that we might continue touring through lunch.

Since we were still going to the House chamber, we still had security checks to face. I nearly wore out my pants pockets digging all of the stuff out of them and then putting it all back in – camera, cell phone, keys (which they had to keep in check since they had a remote device on the key-chain), coins . . . good grief! Oh, and there they discovered that I had a spare battery for my camera – can't carry that into chambers, might set off something with it – what would I set off, they'd examined or put in a check box everything else I was carrying.

To say that we thought they were overdoing this security check business has to be just about as much of an understatement as all of their over-the-top security measures . . .

On our tour on Tuesday we passed by the entrance to Blair House and chuckled at the two armed guards standing sentry duty at the gate. Later on the tour we got a brief glimpse of the White House from a distance (my camera has a forty-times zoom that was extended all the way for this shot so we were quite a ways away!!)

During all of our walks around the Capital and down the Mall, the slap-dash cobbling together of security barriers and steel-plate blockades was absolutely astounding and appalling! The entire Capital looked like Fred Flintstone had been given the job of making sure no one could easily walk or drive anywhere in the whole area! If in fact we need this much security we could at least do a smoother job of installing it!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Slices of egg and flowers and houses

On Tuesday morning our "courtesy bus" arrived at Union Station at 7:30 and since our tour OTS bus did not leave until 9, we decided to find something for breakfast in the Station. The only place that appeared to be open was one called "Au Bon Pain," which had a sort of breakfast sandwich – a sort we've never seen before, and, with any sort of luck, will never see again! What you do is cut a bagel in half, toast it, then plunk on a slice of egg, a slice of sausage, another slice of egg – what's that you say? -- "What's a 'slice of egg'?" Well, welcome to the modern world – we have no knowledge of how they did it, but apparently they had some scrambled egg which they somehow cooked in a tube with whole yolks suspended in the center, cooked it and sliced it crosswise – what came out was actually a slice of cooked scrambled egg with a slice of yolk perfectly in the center – the slice of sausage is easy to grasp, but egg?? Anyway, the resulting sandwich filling was nuked, then plunked onto the bagel, and presto, breakfast sandwich extraordinaire!! [Sorry, no picture – I just didn't have the stomach for it . . . ]

Being a Southwesterner for most of my adult life, I was totally unprepared for the houses of Washington, D.C. – tall, thin and completely wall-to-wall. In the Southwest, such structures are called either condos or apartments . . . at least no land is wasted on side yards . . . don't know how they handle the fire insurance . . .

An interesting side note to our walks in the city was the condition of the plants – they apparently think it's still summer! Look at these roses! And this flower garden!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

A Tour of the Capitol

On Wednesday morning we rode the courtesy bus in to Union Station, then walked over to the Capitol – a lovely walk through some tree-lined streets -- and on to the Longworth House Office Building where our representative has his office. The office staff graciously arranged a tour for us with an intern, a young lady from Cameroon (Africa) who was a student at SUNY Buffalo (she was working at the office for a semester for 15 hours credit toward her degree in Political Science and International Relations.)

We were able to go to the Capitol Rotunda, where Clara stood on a spot that was allegedly the geographical center of the District of Columbia, and to briefly enter both the Senate and the House chambers. In the Senate, Thad Cochran of Mississippi was holding forth on the virtues of a nominee for Appellate Court District #5 – to an otherwise completely empty chamber -- while in the House, a few New England Congressmen were voicing their support of a section of a bill granting funds for American Heritage projects in their respective states – to an otherwise completely empty chamber. Photography was prohibited throughout most of the Capitol Building, except for the Rotunda where we also saw a statue of MLK, whom our intern described as "the only Native American whose statue was in the Capitol" (hmmm . . . apparently schools in Cameroon teach a different sort of American history, or nomenclature at least!)

We did get to go through the tunnel from the Office building to the Capitol and to ride the train back, which was quite nice as it was raining cats and dogs outside.

Afterwards we went through another tunnel over to the Madison Building of the Library of Congress for lunch, and then to the Jefferson Building of the LOC. Fantastic place, where they collect all of the significant publications from within our country – one source said "over 300 million books on 530 miles of shelves," (a completely unbelievable pairing of numbers requiring 100 books per foot of shelf space!) while another had a somewhat smaller number – as well as other types of collections, including a Bob Hope exhibit.

The Memorials of Washington, D.C.

On Tuesday we got up way before breakfast and boarded a bus for the big city. This first picture is shot through a skylight panel in the front of our bus after we had been on the road for a while. Once in the city we boarded another bus, an "Open Top Sight-Seeing" bus for a tour. After the tour, we set off on an extended walk down the mall and around the Tidal Basin to see the Memorials. You will be able to judge our reactions to the various Memorials by the text and pictures we choose to include here – it was a very moving day.

The first stop was the Jefferson Memorial where I lined up a shot showing the opening of the Declaration of Independence alongside the statue. The Memorial definitely does not do justice to the importance of Jefferson in our history and for our American principles.

Next up (because it comes next in line in a circuit of the Tidal Basin) was the Roosevelt Memorial, which I felt was the most impressive in terms of overall design and presentation of the various Presidential Memorials. It consists of a series of little "rooms" each of which has a central wall with a statement or other image. Several of the statements of FDR some 70 years ago are eerily prescient in their relation to today. One of the "walls" which I have included even though it is very difficult to read comes from his speech enunciating "The Four Freedoms" of our American political system.

The Roosevelt Memorial is also unique in that it includes a statue of Eleanor Roosevelt and a quote from her in her role as UN Representative.

The last photo from FDR's memorial is of a statement particularly relevant to today.

The Lincoln Memorial sits at one end of the Reflecting Pond. I wasn't able to walk all the way over to it (my foot was acting up too much) and we had to settle for a somewhat distant view.

The Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam War Memorial were indispensable stops along our walk, as they were for many other people – of all the sights we saw, these were the most visited . . . and I guess we can understand why.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Red Bank, NJ and Sandy Hook

Our friend Bonnie took us on a short driving tour around Red Bank, including a run along Navesink River Road where many of the homes are comparable to those along Newport's Ocean Drive, although most of these are full-time residences whereas the ones in Newport are allegedly "summer homes."

We also went out to the Twin Lights, lighthouses along the shore which are known in New Jersey history for early introduction of Fresnel lenses in the lights, and an early demonstration of "wire-less telegraphy" by Marconi. Yes, Clara did actually climb all 70 or so steps up to the top (well short of the 209 in the lighthouse in Michigan!) Off shore you can see Sandy Hook, a very narrow spit, and you can even view the New York City skyline, and that's as close to NYC as I care to get.

Quilt show in Westerly, RI

The Quilt Show had several interesting features, including the appearance of some of the quilters for Q&A sessions regarding their works. These first two quilts impressed Clara with their artistry, and the third one for the sheer fun of it. The last two were quite out of the ordinary for quilts because of their attention to social commentary. These were the so-called "Wal-Mart Quilts" where the quilter (as she stated in the Q&A) attempted to portray typical Wal-Mart shoppers – she stood in front of the store and studied the people who came in, and tried to present some representative types. The quilts are done life-size and you could (potentially but not at this show) stand behind one and put your head through the opening to "be" that person. The first one is a self-portrait with the quilter and all her supplies, while the second one (the tryptic of sorts) shows a harried working mother on the left, a typical young couple with all their household supplies (in the middle), and on the right a teen age couple, she with a red bra in her pocket and he with a condom in his hand (actual objects you could examine at the exhibit.)

The White Horse Inn and the mansions

In the morning we left Bourne Scenic Park and Massachusetts and headed for Newport, RI. Somehow the streets in Newport led us straight to the White Horse Inn, built in 1673 and just running over with history, including the regular assembly of the RI legislature (informally) on these premises. The floor boards, being how-many-years-old, were wide planks and very well-worn; the bar was unbelievably well-stocked and oakishly old looking; the food for lunch was also quite beyond belief – everything was "just so" and "so good."

From there, after a quick visit to the info center, we drove the waterfront and gazed in awe at the mansions, including "The Marble House" of one of the Vanderbilts. Terry told us of one mansion that he and Vicky toured where the "footprint" of the house was a full acre (42,560 square feet) and the total living space of the house was 132,000 square feet – enough for a small truck farm!! It makes the socialist in me think of words such as "obscene show of wealth" and "no one should do this while others are homeless . . . "

Friday, October 19, 2007

Some notes on GPS quirks and New England eccentricities

Night before last we were coming back from our trip out on Cape Cod, and it was already dark but we were not afraid of not finding our way back to our campground, we had our "never-fail-always-get-you-there" GPS system that we bought before leaving Seattle. So we put in the name of the RV park – Bourne Scenic Park – and waited while it whirred and then started speaking to us in confident and commanding tones – "Drive to high-lighted route" – "In point two miles, turn right on Scenic Route Six," and so on. Now you must know, our RV park (you remember the picture of the bridge from the front door of our camper) was nearly under the Bourne Bridge on the bank of the Cape Cod Canal. Well, sure enough, GPS Inc. brought us to a little driveway that said "Bourne Recreation Area" and it was directly under the Bourne Bridge – on the opposite side of the canal from our park – it was the headquarters office of the company that operated the park!! Do you think Garmin would consider giving us a refund??

The system of town names and placements in this part of the U.S. is particularly weird . . . we headed for a restaurant whose address was in the town of West Dennis, heading toward the town of Dennis from the west, thinking we'd find it along the way – makes sense, right? Not on Cape Cod!! West Dennis is about ten miles SOUTH of Dennis, just a little EAST of the town of South Dennis! Dennis itself is on the north shore of Cape Cod, while West Dennis is all the way across the Cape on the south shore of Cape Cod. Well, at least, I don't have to live here.

As we were heading south from the town of Dennis, about five miles out, we came upon a sign saying "Welcome to Dennis," and we thought we had left Dennis a couple miles back.

Perhaps the most irritating feature of highway signage in all of New England is the total lack of advance notice – you pull up to a corner in the right lane only to then see a sign on the opposite corner saying your highway is turning left! Every change in a highway's direction is announced at the last corner, every entrance into a park, monument, etc., is announced no more than thirty feet from the entrance whether it's on the right or left – we've made more U-turns and "around-the-block" maneuvers in the last couple weeks than in all of our lives

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cape Cod

The day started off fairly routinely with stops at two quilt shops followed by an exquisitely enjoyable lunch at the Marathon, an unpretentious seafood shack run by a Greek family (there's a sizable Greek community throughout Massachusetts!)

Then it was off to the National Seashore Visitors' Center to learn about the geological history of the Cape Cod area – we're talking glaciers thousands of years ago that left "Kettles" – holes with large ice cubes that became fresh-water ponds – and the force of ocean erosion that moves the sand around on an almost daily basis.

A small side note was a single tree with more color than we'd seen almost anywhere else.

The view from
the back of the Visitors' Center was of the "salt pond" for which it was named (as well as the ocean beyond it.) Since most of the ponds on Cape Cod were fresh water as noted above, the existence of a pond open to the ocean was considered worthy of its own name.

Just up the road from the Visitors' Center is the Nauset Light House. Much of Cape Cod is sand dunes and somewhat stunted vegetation, but the view is dominated even from miles away by the Pilgrim Monument mentioned in the rant a couple e-mails back.