Allyson Johnson

Pieces of my Mind

Archive for the category “hidden treasures”

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot: Week 19 – Revisiting a Blast from the Past

tarzan_jumpdocYears ago, my father used to say “Everything I know about life I learned from  Tarzan of the Apes.” Although some tattered Tarzan paperbacks were around the house, somehow I never got around to reading them, though my kid sister read the series avidly.  Some time back I mentioned this family story to my husband, and as a gag gift at Christmas he gave me the first four books of the series.  They sat on my bookshelf untouched until four months into lockdown.  With all libraries closed and the neighborhood Little Free Libraries exhausted, I turned in desperation  to the Lord of the Jungle for escape.

Fortunately, I was able to remember that my father was laughing when he claimed Tarzan as his literary preceptor.  The book was published in 1912, and by today’s standards is offensively racist, with its portrayals of black Africans as vicious and cowardly: sexist, with its portrayals of Jane Porter and other women as helpless creatures instinctively drawn to the alpha male; and even animalist – Jane Goodall would shudder at the way Burroughs describes the life and traits of the Great Apes.TarzanJanedoc

If you can overlook the above offensiveness, the story can suck you in.  Tarzan’s birth, adoption by the apes, upbringing, and his discovery by other white men are ingeniously plotted (though Burroughs probably owes a lot to Rudyard Kipling’s Mowgli of The Jungle Book). The first volume, Tarzan of the Apes, takes our hero through the events of the above paragraph, terminating with his unselfish refusal to claim either his title of Lord Greystoke or the woman he loves from the hands of the man, his friend, who has  taken both.

Tarzan2Of course, we couldn’t leave it there.  The second volume, The Return of Tarzan, sees Tarzan transformed into a 1912 version of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher: handsome, well-spoken, without ties, and able to fend off an adoring female or fight off  a dozen malefactors without suffering a scratch. I’m about half-way through this volume, but I’m pretty sure that Tarzan’s true love Jane Porter will end up in his arms by the end.  After all, I still have Son of Tarzan and Tarzan the Untamed waiting on the shelf, and I’m pretty sure Tarzan didn’t get it on with any of the apes.

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 7: Nature’s soft side shows in Spring

Nature has been throwing  us a lot of nasties in the last months – pandemic, killer tornados, smothering snow, torrential rain, and historic drought levels, to name a few.  And then, as if to make up for the tantrums, she sends us a Spring as lavish and luscious as any I can remember.  From native-plant gardens,  to cultivated rose gardens, to bursting containers, everything that has ever thought of blooming in my own garden and my neighborhood is out-doing itself this year.

Above: Poppies, sage, lupine, and blue-eyed grass from a native-plant garden in a nearby park.

Above: calendula, roses, raphiolepsis and orchids in my own garden.

Above: ranunculus border, tulips, wisteria, and rhododendron from a heritage garden nearby.

Above: cultivated roses at a neighboring university campus.

I hope these pix refresh you a bit, especially those of you who are still snowbound as well as lockdown-bound.  Spring still arrives, in spite of everything!

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 6 -Lockdown Extended 4 more weeks!

 

Cooped up with the morning paper and the hourly news, one would think the apocalypse is at hand.  A walk in nature is called for, but where does one go during lockdown?   Many parks are closed, or have closed the  parking lots  in order to discourage crowding, or at least have cordoned off picnic tables and playgrounds.

20200403_172027webWe found a little oasis not too far from our home – theBlackberry Farm Preserve.  Normally, this green dell offers visits to farm animals and truck gardens as well as grassy paths, but these tours and visits are now locked off.  The playground and picnic areas are also marked as dubious.  But the stately redwoods, the creek,  the twisted bay trees, the fearless deer, and the feral vincas are all still available to soothe the restless mind.

 

 

Life in a COVID-19 Hot Spot – Week 5 – in praise of Little Free Libraries

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Thank goodness for the Little Free Libraries which have popped up over the last several years in my neighborhood!  With the public libraries closed during Lockdown, these are the source for books I would not have thought of reading an movies I would not have thought of watching. These little neighborhood oases of exchange are so welcome!

Each library has its own style.  Some are shingled, some are stained wood, some are gaily painted.  I’ve seen one made from a doll house,  and one  splash- painted with peace symbols.  On my street is ones built into a stone pillar,  with an accompanying bench seat if you can’t wait to start reading. One is decorated inside with  origami flowers, and gives away origami bookmark.  One gives away colored pencils, sharpeners, and erasers as well as books.

And each has its own literary personality.  One  offers a lot of teenage fantasy novels featuring magic and quests.  One is almost exclusively filled with early-reader story books. One has a lot of 20200406_114628webclassy trade paperbacks which look like they were originally purchased for a book club. Another features a variety of interesting non-fiction.

20200407_080112webOf course, anything you put out for the public is liable to malicious abuse.  A neighbor had worked with her daughter’s Girl Scout troop to set up a Little Free Library in front of her house.  The girls decided it would be good to make it into a food pantry during the Lockdown, and stocked it with canned goods and dried pasta.  The next morning the door had been ripped off and the canned goods had been scattered around, dented, wrappers ripped off.  The debate began – was it vicious mean-spirited teens, or was it racoons attracted by the food?  A neighbor’s security camera settled the question several days later:  it was a person, not an animal.  Maybe he was crazy-mad because he was hoping to find a book?  New hinges were bought, and the Little Free Pantry is open again, fingers crossed.

Each one of these carefully built, gaily decorated, and communally filled mini-libraries is like one of those magic boxes in fairy tales that, no matter how much you draw from it, is never empty, but always refills with a new treasure.  Every time I pass one and open the door, I might find a book I will never want to give away.  And if not, I’ll be able to try again. Thanks to all my librarian neighbors!

 

 

Freeway Free in California: A Serene Escape from COVID-19 Stress

20200310_123757webI live in a COVID-19 hotspot – 43 cases and one death since the beginning of March – and public and private events are being cancelled left and right to prevent transmission.  So what is one to do if you are healthy, not in one of the “vulnerable” groups, and needing some relief from the stress of it all?  Maybe it’s time to visit a local museum.

The Asian Art Museum in San Francisco is one of my favorites.  I visited this week and found plenty of parking in the Civic Center Garage ($12.00 for 5 hours), two featured exhibits of great interest, no crowds, and decent food at the museum restaurant.  And if you are looking for stress relief, Asian art is all about serenity.

20200307_121146webThe exhibit that drew me to the museum featured Zhang Da Qian (Chiang Dai-Chien in traditional transcription) who was the Pablo Picasso of 20th Century Chinese art.  His work spans styles ranging from impeccable copies of venerated Chinese master artists of the past, to modern splash-ink impressions worthy of Jackson Pollock.  He lived in mainland China, Brazil, Argentina, Taiwan, and California, and in each venue did his best to promote appreciation of Chinese art.  One of the featured works in this exhibit is titled “Scholars on a wilderness path”, but the giant monolith in the background must be Half Dome.

Other paintings include a marvelous white gibbon, a black horse grazing in a blue-green pasture, a Tibetan dancer, several giant lotuses, and landscapes formed from giant splashes of ink enhanced with a few brush-strokes to define space, foliage, light, and dark.

After studying Zhang’s various works, a stroll through the adjacent Korean gallery offers a different range of experiences.

You can admire a glowing white “moon jar”, pristine on its wooden shelf, and discover an Asian precursor of the classic patchwork quilt, made from silken scraps.

Or perhaps you will spend some time in another featured exhibit, called “Awakening” which walks you through several centuries of Buddhist tradition, juxtaposing ceremonial vessels made from human skulls, many-armed monsters intricately carved and painted, and dainty gilded bronze sculptures celebrating sensual tenderness.

Or maybe some of the more modern pieces will appeal to you, like this sculpture by Liu Jianhua formed of letters and Chinese characters on view just outside the Korean section. 20200307_121012web

The museum restaurant,Sunday at the Museum, features Asian style street food such as Vietnamese Pulled pork sandwiches, Japanese ramen noodles,  and Chinese dumplings.  You order at a counter and the food is brought piping hot to your table.  Of course you could get better Chinese food in Chinatown, better ramen in Japantown, but the setting attractive and the service is fast and friendly.

If you have children tossed out of their school/daycare, the museum usually has some activities geared toward children set up either in an activity area or  in the Shriram Learning Center on the first floor.

Travels with a Tiny Trailer – Day 5: the Home Stretch

20191022_125051webBack to Bro’s house after our wet, windy, but wonderful weekend at Ft. Stevens State Park.  A night snuggled under C’s cozy quilts, and a day spent visiting nearby relatives.  Then it’s time to hit the road again.

About those bicycles that we never used.  I hate to ask Bro to get up on a ladder to hoist them to the top of the Tiny Trailer, since he has been allergic to ladders since his death-defying dive a few years ago.  But wrestling them into the back of Sis’s compact SUV was such a pain. Then I get a flash of brilliance – why not take the front wheels off the bikes?  Doh!  Suddenly stashing the unused wheels was so easy!  We are packed and ready to roll by the time Bro and his wife C have left for work.

20191022_131329webOur first stop – a quick visit to the local grocery to replenish our stocks of butter, cheese, and wine.  By the time we exit the grocery, the morning  drizzle has given way to sunshine.  We make excellent progress down I-5 through Portland and Salem, and stop for our mid-day refreshment at the Albany rest stop  about 15 miles south of Salem.  Okay, so a highway rest-stop is not exactly a camping haven, but the big rigs kept their distance, and this particular stop does boast the world’s quaintest rest stop visitors’ center.

We follow Bro’s sage advice for our evening stop, and mak our way to  Schroeder County Park tucked away behind suburban streets just outside Grant’s Pass.   This is a lovely park  right on the Rogue River, with lots of trailer sites, and EVERY ONE OF THEM A PULL-THROUGH SITE! No more spending a half hour backing and swerving into the site!  A chance to eat before 9PM!  Truly a Hidden Gem!

We actually got to set up in daylight.  Since it was NOT raining, we left the add-on tent in its wrapper in back  of the SUV, and used the convenient picnic table.  We cooked our chicken on our two burner range, and ate by head-lamp light.  And afterward we built a fire from a bit of shredded newspaper and five twigs.  Now THIS is what camping is about!

And so to bed. The most triumphant day of our trip – on our own, and everything worked!20191022_195634web

Freeway Free in Oregon – the Columbia River Maritime Museum

[AKA: Travels in a Tiny Trailer – Day 4]

20191019_143112webIf you are going camping in a tiny trailer, and you left your bikes at home because the forecast call for a 99% chance of rain,  better hope you can find some indoor activity to pass the time!  If you are camping at Ft Stevens State Park you are in luck, because you are only a short drive from the quaint town of Astoria, [more on this later] and its Columbia River Maritime Museum. 

 

The CRMM is an amazing little museum with exhibits including early navigational charts, an IMAX theater showing films from Jacques Cousteau and others, a comprehensive map of shipwrecks at the mouth of the Columbia River, and a sea-sickness-inducing recreation of what it is like to be on a Coast Guard cutter going out to rescue mariners during a Pacific storm.

20191019_123504webIf you are going to spend some time in a small museum on a rainy weekend, it helps if  Executive Director happens to be an old friend from college.  Dr. Samuel E. Johnson and I had more than a few memories dating back to our freshman year Ballroom Dancing classes together. (I took the class to fill a Physical Education requirement; I suspect Sam took it because at that time the ratio of men to women at our college was officially 3.5 / 1, and it was chance to meet girls.)

In addition to being a very good dancer, Sam is an accomplished raconteur and a dedicated evangelist on behalf of his museum.  Sis, Bro, C and I spent a couple of hours being fascinated by a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, coupled with stories of plans for the museum’s future expansion and enhancement.

If you go, plan to spend a couple of hours exploring, especially if you take in the IMAX film.  You might not get the hands-on tour, but you won’t be sorry for the visit.

Freeway Free in France: the other national cemeteries of Normandy

20190605_093503docWe are all familiar with pictures of the American Cemetery in Normandy, with its rows of white crosses stretching into the distance.  I had not known that the United States was the only combatant in World War II which offered families of its dead an option to repatriate their remains for burial in the US.  The nine thousand plus graves at the American Cemetery are only a third of the fallen.  These are those soldiers who had no family, or whose families lacked means or desire to hold funeral rites at home, so they preferred to let the government bury their dead.

Soldiers from other countries were buried near where they fell. There is a cemetery for Commonwealth soldiers in Bayeux, with tombstones rather than crosses.  There is a Canadian cemetery near Caen.  And, most ironically, there is a German cemetery. at LaCambe, also near Bayeux.

The German cemetery is quite different in look and feel from the rows of white marble favored by the victors.  One enters the cemetery through what seems like a large arch, but once inside, the spacious entrance gives onto a small room with a memorial wall on one side and a listing of the cemetery’s occupants on the other. Exit into the cemetery is through a narrow and low door.  The symbolism, we were told, is that the soldiers entered the war as a group, but died individually, one by one.

The central feature of the cemetery is a tumulus which contains the remains of mostly unidentified German soldiers, topped by a black lava cross and two human figures, one of Jesus, the other of Mary.  Scattered around the grounds are groups of black crosses, some slightly larger than others.  The individual graves are marked by brown plaques laid flat in the grass, each bearing the names of two German soldiers, with their dates of birth and death, and sometimes merely the inscription “Ein Deutcher Soldat”. The plaques are made of German clay.

In school we learned Rupert Brooke’s elegy “The Soldier” which begins

If I should die, think only this of me:
      That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England.
France has ceded the land which contains the World War II cemeteries to the respective nations which maintain them.  (Thus President Trump acted as host for ceremonies on D-Day at the American cemetery, arriving first and greeting French President Macon and his wife as guests.) It is sobering to realize that this corner of France will be forever Germany, peacefully coexisting in death with its former enemies.
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Freeway Free in France: Tales of War in Bayeux

20190604_154859docBayeux was the first French city to be liberated by Allied Forces.  Troops marched into the city on a street bordered with cheering townsfolk who waved French and American flags, and offered kisses from happy young women and fresh baked treats from older ones.  The Germans evacuated so quickly that they had no time to organize a defense, so the most of the medieval structures remained intact.

20190604_134313webWe first stopped at Bayeux Cathedral, with its mix of old and new stained glass, its ornate Gothic verticality, its mystic paintings decorating the crypt beneath the alter.  The apse was decked in French tricolor, British Union Jacks, Canadian maple leafs,  and American stars and stripes.  Behind the altar there was a large concert band practicing for Prince Charles’ visit the following day (Wed. June 5).  This was a truly excellent brass ensemble, plus some woodwinds and tympani.  The sound reverberating through the cathedral was thrilling.  One piece was “The Spitfire Overture” and another, appropriate for a visiting Brit, was the lovely, noble main theme from “Jupiter” from “The Planets” by Gustav Holst.  My partner, a music-lover with bad knees, stayed in the church for the whole rehearsal while I wandered around the side chapels and lower levels.

20190604_145313webRight across from the cathedral is an old store front set us as a Lace Museum, with lovely examples of the prototypically Breton/Norman craft.  Unfortunately, I have since read that the Lace Museum is in danger of being closed, as it is funded by the city of Bayeux and patronage has been light.  So don’t forget to stop in!

Just down the street is a more modern museum of Breton arts and crafts, housed in a former bishop’s palace, with lovely landscape paintings, more lace samples, and a well-stocked gift shop offering post cards and booklets about the medieval city, its role in World War II, and its artistic heritage.

20190604_161740webOf course, Bayeux is most famous for that other artifact of war, the Bayeux Tapestry, now displayed beautifully in a circular museum which allows the entire 200 feet of  embroidered cloth to be shown, accompanied by an audio commentary provided through headsets to each visitor.  (This device not only fills you on details a guidebook may have overlooked, but it artfully keeps the visitors moving forward as the audio commentary moves forward to the next panel.  No pause button. ) Notice the way the borders complement the action, with dead and dying soldiers, archers, and mythic beast bordering the action-packed cavalry sequences.  The Bayeux tapestry is like an early graphic novel, with leading characters easily identified by distinctive dress or hair, and scenes of ribaldry aleternating with the diplomacy and bloodshed.  Definitely a Don’t Miss!

Freeway Free in CAlifornia – Adventures on the Empty Coast (Day 1)

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What’s the empty coast? Where Highway 1 clings to the cliff faces south of Carmel, with basically no left turns and few habitations until it regains civilization and a few crossroads south of San Simeon.

We needed a fall getaway, so D and I headed lickety-split down US-101, aiming for a calm coastal stay in Cambria, followed by a visit to Hearst San Simeon National Monument, and a scenic trip back up through Big Sur and the stretch of California Highway 1 that had been cut off by landslides and fires for several of the past years.

We stopped for lunch in Paso Robles, one of my favorite pauses for trips south and north on Historic El Camino Real. There are several good restaurants in Paso. This time we stopped at the Berry Hill Bistro, where the paninis are huge, the salads ample, and the servers slim and smiling. (I always think it’s a good sign if a restaurant’s waitresses are thin. It means they are running off the calories serving customers as fast as they can, rather than sitting around eating the leftovers.)

Just past Paso we found our exit on CA Highway 46, and sailed along a well maintained road through San Luis Obispo wine country. Acres of grapevines in fall colors cloaked the dry hills, and each winery seemed to be vying with the next to have the most oddly memorable name (my favorite: Tooth and Nail Winery.)

Only a half hour later we were cruising along Cambria’s Main Street. To our delight, we discovered that the entire month of October in Cambria is devoted to a Scarecrow Festival, and each retail, educational, and many private establishments compete for the notice of passers-by. There were Mexican-themed flamenco scarecrows for the Mexican restaurants, a Victorian lady in blue and white next to the blue and white Chase bank logo, and my favorite Raggedy Ann and Andy from my childhood next to a toy and gift store.

After checking into our beachfront motel, the Little Sur Inn,  we walked along the boardwalk bordering Moonstone Beach to check out the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill as a dinner prospect, but although it has a lovely front veranda with a stunning sunset view,  and seemed to have a lively patronage, we would have been walking back in the dark, and it seemed a bit far.

We has our traditional champagne on the balcony of our room, looking out over Moonstone Beach. The sunset looked like a banana skin shading around the curve from pale yellow to golden brown.   We lingered until we both thought we saw the green flash accompanying the last rays of the sun. Lovely.20191001_190339web

As long as we would be getting in the car anyway, we decided to try Robin’s Restaurant in Cambria’s east village, a recommendation from a friend. It is a beautiful adapted home just a block from the Main Street, with a quiet ambiance, excellent service and good food (roasted Brussels sprouts with pine nuts and blue cheese, miso sea bass, firecracker shrimp).

One caveat: As we watched, there were maybe three younger couples coming in or leaving during the evening, but this is definitely a quiet restaurant for an older crowd.  D and I are used to upping the average age of the customer base by 10 years when we enter a restaurant. In this case we were right on average. D observed thatRobin’s does not have high chairs or booster seats, but they do seem to have an ample supply of walkers and supplemental oxygen bottles.  I guess the younger crowd was still quaffing brewskis on the Moonstone Beach Bar and Grill veranda.

IMG_0247webWe took the remains of a bottle of local Pinot Noir back to our balcony to finish off the evening with the complimentary chocolate chip cookies from our check- in desk. We sat on our balcony again to watch the crescent moon setting near where the sun had set before our dinner. Suddenly stars! The Milky Way! D even saw a shooting star. Only one spotlight shining on the entry sign for our hotel spoiled the dark sky.

 

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