Tasting Life Twice

Archive for the category “Tales from the Road”

Memories of Florence

A new book from Dan Brown was released today.  An NBC news article states,

Inferno, released Tuesday, sticks with the classic recipe: The novel’s opening scenes are set in Florence, an Italian city with a history as convoluted as its street map. Dante’s Divine Comedy provides literary and artistic allusions — and lots of numerological clues for Langdon.

Florence? Convoluted street maps? Really? You don’t say.

I recall a trip to Florence a few years ago, where we attempted to navigate the labyrinthine streets.

“I think the hotel is this way.”

“Are you sure? I thought it was that way.”

“We just came from that way.”

“No, we can from that direction. I remember.”

“Oh look guys, there’s the Duomo.  Again.”

“Oh. Ok.  Well maybe it’s that way, then.”

“My shoes are wet. I need to buy a pair of socks.”

“How about we stop and get some wine?”

“Good idea.”

“Weren’t we just here?”

As J.R.R. Tolkien reminded us, “not all who wander are lost.”







Some Pointers for Peru

So you are headed to Peru?  How exciting! You’ll be stepping back in time and sightseeing at the crossroad of two great cultures.  Reflecting on the Spanish arrival in the Americas, Bartolome de Las Casas concluded that what happened 500 years ago is a story of “events so amazing that they overshadow all other famous deeds in history.”

Ahead of going, I’d highly recommend reading two fairly recent books, The Last Day of the Incas and Turn Right at Machu Picchu.  Both of them are very well written and engaging accounts of the history that surrounds your trip.

When you are in Lima, I’d recommend dinner (and pisco sours) at La Rosa Nautica on the waterfront.  The food is great and the view is exceptional.  And did I mention the pisco sours?  If possible, plan your dining for dinnertime so you can watch the surfers and also watch the sun disappear into the western horizon.  Or do what we did and dine there more than once!

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In Lima, there are some beautiful parks on the bluff tops that look out on the Pacific Ocean. They are great for an evening stroll. 

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Be sure and check out the Lima Cathedral, the catacombs there and the burial site of Spanish Conquistador, Francisco Pizarro. 

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When in Cusco, you’ll be in the heart of the former Incan Empire.  You’ll see The Convent of Santo Domingo, once one of the oldest Christian churches in Latin America, built right on top of Coricancha, the Incan Temple to the Sun God.  In Cusco, you’ll also see the incredible stone masonry of the Incans.  The stonework is so masterfully done that you can’t slide a credit card between the blocks.Peru 143

The historic square is filled with great shops and restaurants, some of which feature live music and salsa dancing.  We ate at a second floor restaurant on the Plaza de Armas that looks out on the beautifully illuminated Cusco cathedral. 

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While in Cusco, be sure and check out The International Center for the Study for Machu Picchu and Incan Culture.  For many years, Peru and the Peabody Museum at Yale University were in a dispute over rights to the antiquities taken from Machu Picchu.  Hiram Bingham, the famed explorer of Machu Picchu took many artifacts to New Haven, CT and in the last few years, Yale University has returned them.  Many of them are now housed in this new center in Cusco.  Your children will be interested to know that Yale Professor Hiram Bingham was an inspiration for the Indiana Jones character.  Bingham’s own story is riveting and that will help you get ready for visiting Machu Picchu.  Your children will enjoy seeing the first photographs taken from his National Geographic Expedition there in 1912 and published in April 1913.

After you’ve acclimated to the altitude in Cusco, you’ll make your way to Machu Picchu, which is indescribable.  It was recently designated one of the seven new wonders of the world and it is a mesmerizing place.  We spent two days there and I’m grateful we did.  One day was cloudy and misty and the mountain citadel was shrouded in mystery.  The next day was filled with glorious sun breaks on the peaks of the Andean mountains. 

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You’ll love the town of Aguas Calientes as the base of Machu Picchu. There are a lot of great food restaurant choices but one we really liked was The Café Inkaterra which has some stunning views of the Urubamba River. 

Enjoy the trip! I’ll look forward to hearing about it upon your return.  As I’ll be returning there again in the near future, I expect you to update me on other good places to eat and important things to see. 

Bon voyage!

p.s.  When you are in Peru, your family needs to try the guinea pigs.  It’s one of their delicacies, you know.  You might want to wash it down with a chicha beer or a pisco sour or two!  Did I mention the pisco sours, already?

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Office Boss on the Rez

A picture of Kilo, our top dog boss, at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.  He’s making sure we get to work.


A Father and Son Go on Their Last Oddysey Together

I’m pulled in by the allure of road trip stories, be they from classical lit or the age of exploration or the Beat Writers or more recent ones from friends and students.  Here is another really good one from NPR’s weekend edition.


A few years ago, author, critic, and translator Daniel Mendelsohn was teaching the epic Greek poem The Odyssey when his father decided to take his class.

Jay Mendelsohn, a retired research scientist, wanted to understand his son better, and understand his life’s work. When Daniel decided he wanted to retrace one of the most epic journeys of Greek literature, Jay became his travel partner.

Daniel, a professor at Bard College in New York, wrote about the trip for the April 2012 issue of Travel and Leisure Magazine. His father did not like the character of Odysseus in the first place, Daniel tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz.

“He said, ‘How can this guy be a hero? You know, he lies, he tricks people, he cheats on his wife, he cries’ — my father didn’t like that at all,” Daniel remembers – “How can you make this guy the center of a poem,'” Daniel remembers.

But Jay did love Homer’s first poem, The Iliad, and he wanted to learn more about Homer and Ancient Greece. So, they partnered up and began cruising the Mediterranean, starting in the ancient city of Troy in modern Turkey – the city where Odysseus’ journey begins.

“One certainly gets a sense of the cultural power and authority of the Homeric poems, both The Iliad and The Odyssey,” he says, “from the fact that already in antiquity, it was a tourist destination to go to Troy.” Even Alexander The Great visited the city as a tourist, he says.

Of course, Daniel and Jay didn’t stop there. They visited places throughout Greece and the Mediterranean associated with locations in Homer’s The Odyssey. There’s a lot of speculation, however, about whether these sites are truly the places mentioned in these epic poems.

“A lot of these sites,” Daniel says, “like Calypso’s cave on Malta, one definitely feels like they were sort of invented — or at least hyped.” Jay got a big kick out of each location anyway, Daniel says, even the phoniest ones.

The two companions traveled the ancient world on a cruise ship, which offered lectures by academics and archeologists. It was a small cruise ship, with about 80 passengers on board, but that didn’t stop them from having unlikely encounters.

The Odyssey is, of course, about funny encounters and unexpected coincidences and meetings that are too good to be true,” Daniel says. “We got to talking with a couple that we had seen a couple times, and it turns out he had been the CEO of my dad’s company,” he says.

Some of the people they met even had an uncanny resemblance to characters from The Odyssey.

For example: There’s one key moment in The Odyssey when Odysseus returns to his palace in Ithaca — in disguise, to slay all the suitors who had been courting his wife while he was away. Once at the palace, however, he’s recognized by a scar on his leg from a childhood wound.

Coincidentally, Daniel was sunbathing on the deck when he noticed a Dutch man with a scar on his leg and an extraordinary story.

During World War II, this man was a starving teenager. He was weak and malnourished and ended up injuring himself while chopping firewood, swinging the axe into his own leg. This wound almost cost him his life.

“A family friend, who was a classicist, helped him get through this illness in part by reading The Odyssey to him,” Mendelsohn says. “Even though he was not a classic student, he recited to me, on the deck of this ship as an elderly man, lines from The Odyssey in Greek,” he says.

The man told Daniel he was on the cruise because he had vowed to see what Odysseus saw before he died.

All in all, it was a good trip for both father and son — and an especially poignant one. On April 6, 2012, Jay Mendelsohn passed away.

“I can’t travel with him anymore,” Daniel says, “but in a lot of ways, he will stay with me during the remaining trips that I am making and the readings I am making of these texts,” he says. “That just became a different kind of odyssey.”

There’s Only One Mona Lisa

Some pictures from a beautiful day in Paris.

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Woods Around the World

Here is a slide show I made to highlight recent trips we have made at William Woods University.  In recent years, we have travelled the map, journeying to Peru, the American south, Germany, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.  Next up: France and a return trip to Pine Ridge. 

A Rock of Remembrance: JoAnne Bland and the Story of Selma, Alabama

(My video of JoAnne speaking to our group in 2009)

In 2009, I took a group of students to the American South as we traveled the path of the civil rights movement.  We worshipped at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta (home church of Martin Luther King), visited the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama and ended our trip visiting The Lorraine Motel and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.  Along the way on this memorable road trip, we made an unforgettable stop in Selma, Alabama, a small town that was historically important to the story of America. 

When I stepped out of the van, just outside of the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, I was greeted by JoAnne Bland: “You must be Travis.  Get over here and give me a hug; that’s how we do it in the South.”  JoAnne then welcomed our group and led us on an inspirational walking tour of the town she calls home. 

Selma, Alabama was the site of what is known as “Bloody Sunday”. On March 7, 1965, state troopers brutally attacked 500 to 600 civil rights demonstrators.  The televised images were horrific. Men and women, young and old, were beaten back with tear gas, billy clubs and dogs.  JoAnne Bland was there at that time, an eyewitness to history, an active participant in America’s struggle to right its wrongs and redeem its past.  Only eleven years old at the time, she has the distinction of being the youngest person arrested and jailed during the civil rights demonstrations. 

One of the more memorable moments on our visit occurred when JoAnne took our group to a piece of pavement behind a Head Start building.  The place was non-descript, uninteresting to the uninformed. She ordered us all to pick up a rock and place the rock in our open palm.  We did.  She then began to look at each of our rocks and tell us stories.  “Let me see your rock…..that rock in your hand is Bob Mants….”   “Now let me see your rock, that one is Lynda Lowery, She was 14 years old on that bridge on March 7th.  14. She received wounds that required 26 stitches and then, still, three weeks later walked every step of the way from Selma to Montgomery.”

She went on to tell us, “I saved that cement so you could hold that history.” And then she proceeded to tell us why that cement pavement was so important.  It marked out the place where the demonstrators gathered to begin their march. She then urged us to take back our little rock or pebble to Missouri and remember the fight and the struggle, telling us:

“When you see injustice committed against anyone, no matter who they are, and you feel like you can’t do anything, go pick up that rock and take from it the strength that ordinary people stood on that rock, ordinary people just like yourself, stood on that rock and walked right up to that bridge and made history that not only changed Selma, but this entire nation. And get up off your behinds, and do something.  Can you do that?”

On Monday night, January 16th and the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, JoAnne Bland will be our guest at William Woods University and will tell stories of America’s struggle for justice and equality.  As part of the President’s Concert & Lecture series, JoAnne’s talk will connect us to the past that paved a way for the future.  The event, which is free and open to the public, will be held in Cutlip Auditorium and begins at 7 pm.

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Unlucky in the Ocean


Last week was a first.  I’ve swam in the ocean numerous times.  But last week was the first time I’ve ever been stung by a jellyfish.  Ouch!  We were in the water for only a few minutes when we all got zapped by one of those dreadful creatures.  We made our way back to beachhead, nursed our wounds and complained about a day gone awry.  Our legs had varying degrees of redness and the numbness took about 20 – 30 minutes to subside.  And then we began to watch others have their turn.  And then it became fun.  It was sort of like a sporting event.  We sat in our lounge chairs and watched uninformed fresh meat take their happy faces into the Atlantic Ocean.  You could tell they were humming a song in their head.  Probably Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah or Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.  It would be only a manner of minutes and then the theme song would change to the soundtrack from Jaws.  You’d see those same people running to the beach for survival.  At no time did we tell them what they were in for.  Early on, my dad said to my laughing brother, “where’s your compassion?” to which Lance responded, “I’m on vacation.”

Pretty soon, it became our favorite activity on the beach.  Others were engaged in different activities.  Fathers and sons were playing catch.  Kids were flying kites.  Teenagers were building colossal sandcastles.  The energetic were running their dogs or biking on the hard-packed sand.  And there we were, watching people get stung by jellyfish.  In time, we placed bets on who would be next.

“OK, there are four newcomers over there to the left.  I’ll pick the man with the white hat.”

“Ok, I’ll take the pale-skinned guy to his left.”

“Give me the lady in the blue swimsuit.  I like my odds.  She’s farther out than the others.”

“I like my odds.  My guy has more body mass for a jelly fish to strike.”

It was such fun.  Kind of like a poor man’s running of the derby.  I felt like singing My Old Kentucky Home and sipping on a mint julep. 

And it was educational. We learned a lot about the human race.  As much as I hate to admit it, women tended to suffer the throbbing pain better than the men did.  One burley middle-aged guy got nailed by a jellyfish and he was bobbing back to the lifeguard so fast he looked like a giant top-water jig.  In contrast, one suffering woman, who had delivered a tribe of babies no doubt, she slowly walked to the beach and  then casually looked down at what had just happened. 

We also learned how to assess the strength of a relationship by observing how couples interact.  For instance, we saw one lady who was out much further than her husband/boyfriend/friend.  She got stung and we knew it.  We saw her initial reaction.  But then, she walked back to the beach, walked right past her companion, and DIDN’T EVEN TELL HIM.  Minutes later, he fell victim to the same plague and let out a war hoop louder than the deafening sound of the ocean waves.  For whatever reason, she decided not to spare him the same fate that befell her.  One can only guess at the reasons.  Maybe, like Custer, he had it coming.  Or maybe, like my brother, her “give a damn” was on vacation. 

Lucky Enough at Hilton Head

Ah, Hilton Head!  What a place.  We stayed at Sea Pines Plantation and there was a sign on the poolside bar which said, “If you’re lucky enough to be at the beach, you’re lucky enough.”  We were lucky last week.  Live music everywhere you go.  Beautiful sunrises and sunsets.  Islanders who were relaxed and interesting in conversation. There was a medley of songs running through my head.  With Jimmy Buffett, I was looking for my “lost shaker of salt”.  With Zac Brown I had my “toes in the water, my ass in the sand”.  With Brad Paisley we drove until the “map turned blue” and there I confessed my “love affair with water’.  With Kenny Chesney, it was a time for the beachcombers to “let the warm air melt these blues away”.  On more than one occasion, I thought I was in one of those Corona beer commercials with our lounge chairs looking out into the great blue yonder.

Two of the days we arose early to watch the sunrise.  One of those days, we ate dinner facing the other direction, watching the sun go down at Skull Creek Boathouse while listening to live reggae music.  Late one evening, dad and I walked the beach at dark.  Looking up a nighttime sky exploding with stars, I downloaded the SkyView app for my phone and we were able to name the stars and constellations. 

I almost didn’t make it home, not only because I’m smitten with ocean life, but also because we had to fetch the rental keys out of a storm drain.  You see, my brother threw me the keys to the rental car late one night after dinner.  He said, “you drive.”  Did I mention that he threw them?  And did I tell you it was nighttime?  He sort of led me with a high pop fly, like when we were boys playing the baseball game of 500.  And because the keys were out of my reach and because the keys did not glow in the dark like a lightning bug, I couldn’t see them.  And those keys, our ticket home, fell on the top of a storm drain near the car.  And before we could get them in hand, they slid between the grates and down below into the underworld, the place of the dead.  

You should have seen the look on our faces.  With raised eyebrows, I looked at him.  With hand over mouth, he looked at me.  It was like the scene in A Christmas Story when young Ralphie is helping his father change a flat tire.  Ralphie loses the lug nuts in the snow and his nightmare moves in slow motion while he expresses his horror at what is happening. 

We lifted up the storm drain cover and looked for the bottom.  It was about four feet deep, filled with water and debris and home to “where the wild things are”. Fortunately for us, my brother had a thin flashlight in his pocket.  Unfortunately for me, on that particular night I was still taller than my brother.  That meant I would have to fetch the keys if we were going to make it home.  I did.  With my brother holding the flashlight and laughing, I barely got the keys on a finger without having to rent scuba gear.  He kindly offered to hold my feet.  I kindly declined, certain I would end up in the ocean, feeding the fish.  It was a late discovery we made but after checking out the status of our wet rental keys, (keyless entry still worked) it was then we noticed the replacement fee: $200.  Had we lost them, we might have missed my niece’s wedding.  We would have been lucky enough to have another day at the beach, however. 





Summer in the South

Summer must be nearing the end.  Students are returning to our college town, U-Haul’s are everywhere, the voice of Kirk Herbstreit can be heard on sports radio and the pop of shoulder pads echoes from football fields all around. For me, this summer was a tour of America the Beautiful.  In May, I was on an Indian reservation in the Badlands of South Dakota.  In June, I was praying with Benedictine Monks in northern Minnesota.  In July, I was watching tourists “live famously” in Las Vegas and in August, I walked among the beachcombers at Hilton Head, South Carolina. Along the way, I saw a lot of beautiful landscapes, met some fascinating individuals and brought home some unforgettable images. 

Last week’s road trip took us to the American south.  I finally got to see Asheville, North Carolina which I had heard so much about.  We were there just in time to catch the final day of the bele chere (an ancient Scottish term for “beautiful living”) street festival.  Musicians and artisans were everywhere.  There also seemed to be street preachers on every corner preaching to no one in particular and to no one even listening.  But they were not deterred.  They acted as if it were otherwise, as if they had an audience in rapt attention (“I want to thank all of you for coming out here today with me to celebrate the resurrected Jesus Christ”).  Just down the street,were rows and rows of food stalls.  The most eye-catching and least appetizing was a novelty item: Krispy Kreme Burgers.  I might have ordered one had they served it with a defibrillator. 


Other memorable images from Asheville included a dog-diving contest, featuring a local three-legged canine, seen below.


And there was a unique musical group of youngsters dressed in their old-fashioned giddy up and playing old-time music.  I felt like I had walked onto the cast of  O, Brother Where Art Thou.



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