Mexico Beach, FL 2006

I’m really shocked by the devastation of Mexico Beach by Hurricane Michael.  The little beach town has a special place in my heart.  In 2006, Ann Marie and I were married in a sunset ceremony on Mexico Beach, with two long time friends and their dogs as witnesses.

To see the photos of the destruction left behind by the hurricane leaves me with a helpless feeling.  Our friends are just a few miles east of Mexico Beach, in Port St. Joe.  We haven’t been able to talk to them yet and I hope they were able to evacuate before the storm hit.

We spent a week in Port St. Joe and Mexico Beach before the wedding.  We spent a day on cruising around the bay, enjoyed a beautiful evening shrimp boil on the beach, had a memorable drunken pre-nuptial celebration at a cute little oyster bar and, of course, tied the knot on the beach.  We even came back with a couple tacky t-shirts from Toucans, the popular beachfront restaurant/ souvenir shop.  Like most of the town, Toucans suffered major damage from the storm.

I have photos to remember the biggest day of our lives.  I didn’t take all of them; some were taken by the photographer who captured the memories of our wedding.

I remind myself every day, no matter how bad things may seem, so many people around the world have much larger problems than I have.  I hope and pray that the citizens of Mexico Beach, Port St. Joe and the rest of the towns along the Panhandle that were affected by the hurricane can rebuild their lives.  Please keep them in your thoughts.

 

The Legend of Ponte de Lima

Ponte de Lima is one of the oldest towns in Portugal.  The town’s beautiful bridge, which spans the River Lima, goes back to Roman times.  Ponte de Lima’s ties to the Romans is reflected in the legend of the River Lima.

Around 139 B.C., the Romans had turned their attention to conquering the Celtic tribe of Gallaeci, who controlled Hispania.  It was a hard fought campaign, covering what is now Spain and Portugal.

According to legend, when the war-weary Romans first reached the Ria Lima they mistook it for the River Lethe, the river of forgetfulness and one of the five rivers of Hades.  The soldiers, afraid that the water would cause them to lose all memory, refused to cross the river.  The Roman commander, General Decimus Junius Brutus Callaicus, frustrated that the river was impeding his military campaign, Roman Soldiersrode across the river.

Despite seeing their commander on the opposite bank of the river, the soldiers were not convinced. The General then began to call each of the men by name.  The troops, astonished that their commander had retained his memories, crossed the river to join their fearless leader, their fears dispelled and their memories intact.

Today the legend is celebrated by a display of statues along the river banks- the troops on the near bank and the general on the opposite side of the river.

 

Moon Rise

I was lucky enough, many years ago, to catch this beautiful moon rise over a beach in South Carolina.  It was a handheld shot using a relatively slow slide film, but I think it came out pretty well.  The texture of the clouds and the ripples of the water add interest to an otherwise monochromatic scene.

Moonrise

Manatees, Homosassa Springs, FL

One of my favorite day trips in Florida was our visit to the Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park.  It was our first opportunity to see the fascinating West Indian Manatee up close.

Manatee
Credit: Department of the Interior/USGS

Manatees are one of the animals most associated with Florida.  Some times called sea cows because of their habit of grazing on plant life as they slowly move along their way, these gentle giants are a sight to behold.  With its crystal clear water, Homosassa Springs is one of the places where you can get a good look at these creatures.

The park puts on a Manatee Educational Program several times daily.  You learn about these gentle giants, and get to see them interact with a park ranger.  For instance, manatees are quite intelligent and are capable of learning complex tasks.  Their ability to learn is on par with dolphins, and they have pretty impressive long-term memory.

It also turns out that they have a love of sweet potatoes.  When a ranger enters the water with a bucket full of cut up sweet potatoes, it’s a sure bet that she’ll have a cadre of manatees gather around in short order for their treats.  You haven’t lived until you see a manatee poke its mouth out of the water and ask for a sweet potato.

Feeding Manatees

The water at Homosassa Springs is perfectly suited to the manatee, who require a water habitat within a quite narrow range of temperatures.  The park is home to several manatees who, because of health issues, cannot be re-released into the wild.  They also care for injured or ill manatees until they can be released back into the wild.  I loved being able to walk along the canal and watch the manatee graze their way past.

Homosassa Springs

Because of their size there are no real natural threats to the manatee.  Unfortunately, they’re considered endangered because of loss of habitat, increased contact with motorized boats, and climate change.  Most of the manatees at Homosassa Springs were injured by contact with boats.  There have also been several instances of manatee deaths related to algae blooms, a result of rising water temperatures.

There are an estimated 13,000 West Indian Manatees, with about 6,100 of them in Florida.

Wind Sculpture II, Yinka Shonibare MBE

The North Carolina Art Museum, located in Raleigh, has a park full of wonderful works of art.  Yinka Shonibare’s Wind Sculpture II is one of them.

Shonibare is a London-born British-Nigerian artist whose work has been exhibited all over the world.  He has a disability that has left him partially paralyzed and wheelchair-bound, but that hasn’t stopped him from creating beautiful works of art.  Unable physically to carry out the making of the art, he directs a team of assistants who help him bring his creations into being.

Though he uses a variety of materials to create his art, one of his favorites is Dutch wax cloth, a printed cotton material popular throughout Africa.  Shonibare uses the material extensively.  In the case of Wind Sculpture II, the material was formed and then covered with a heavy coating of clear fiberglass to keep it’s shape.  The result is a work of art that looks as if it’s being blown across the field by the wind.

It’s one of my favorite pieces from the Park.  I love the colors and the playful feel of it being caught by the wind.  It’s a beautiful work of art and one that makes me smile when I see it.

Wind Sculpture II (2)

 

 

 

Bexar County Courthouse, San Antonio

Completed in 1896 the historic Bexar County Courthouse in San Antonio, Texas is one of the city’s most iconic landmarks.  Nicknamed “the Beehive” for the unusually shaped roof of one of its towers, the courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.  The red standstone building still functions as the county seat.

SA Bexar County CH 1

Nazaré, Portugal

We spent two weeks in March traveling through Portugal. The beach town of Nazaré was our first stop after leaving Lisbon.  Once a fishing village, the town of 15,000 is now a popular tourist destination.  Our hotel was in the main part of town, Praia, and directly across from the beach.  March is still off-season, so the summer crowds were missing, and our stay was a relaxing beginning to our trip.

Nazare with Sitio
A funicular connects Praia, below, to Sitio, above.

The town’s fishing tradition still exists, but  the boats have moved from the beach to the new harbor just south of Praia.  Signs of the tradition can still be found- a few colorful fishing boats are on the beach and many of the older women still wear the seven skirts of Nazaré- but, with the restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops lining the beach, Nazaré feels like a typical beach town rather than a quaint fishing village.

Red Boat
Traditional fishing boat on Nazaré beach

Sitting high above Praia is the neighborhood of Sitio.  Much quieter and more traditional than Praia, Sitio provides spectacular views of Praia.

Rue do Horizonte- Sitio
Rue do Horizonte, Sitio

There are also several historical points of interest.  The first is the Santuário de Nossa Senhora Nazaré, a baroque 14th century church that houses Nazaré’s famous Black Madonna, a small statue which, according to legend, was brought from Nazareth by a monk in the 5th century.

Santuario de Nossa Senhora da Nazare
Santuario de Nossa Senhora  da Nazaré

Nearby is a small chapel, the Ermida da Memória.  The chapel is closely tied to the Legend of Nazaré.  According to the legend, the chapel was ordered built by a knight, Dom Fuas Roupinho, who was saved by the Madonna, located just a few feet away on a shrine in a cave, from riding off the fog-shrouded cliff while chasing a deer.  Built over the cave in 1182, the small chapel’s roof and interior are covered with azulejos.

Ermida da Memoria- Sitio
Ermida da Memória

To the right is a small monument marking Vasco da Gama’s visit to the shrine before sailing for India.

At the farthest point of the cliff is the Fort of Saint Michael the Archangel.  It was originally built to protect Nazaré from Vikings.  Today the fort houses the lighthouse and a surfing museum and is one of the prime spots for watching the big wave surfing at Praia do Norte.

Fortaleza and Waves
The fort seen from Nazaré beach

To the north of the fort is the famous Praia do Norte, where, in 2014, Garrett McNamara surfed the biggest wave ever surfed, nearly 100 feet tall.  The giant waves are possible because there’s a 16,000 foot deep canyon just off the coast that allows waves to build as they travel across the Atlantic.  Usually the ocean bottom creates a drag that limits the size of the waves.  Not so here.  The monster waves at Nazaré have made the beach a mecca for surfers everywhere.

There were no monster waves on the day we were there but the beach was still very impressive, with a wild, desolate look compared to Praia de Nazaré’s bustling tourist feel.

Praia Norte
Praia do Norte

While we enjoyed our time in Nazaré and enjoyed Nazaré’s beach, the fresh seafood and the fantastic views from Sitio, we were glad we were there during the off season.  We’re too old to enjoy the crowds and we were happy to not have to wait to be seated at the restaurants.  We’ll settle for quiet and peaceful.

Praia de Nazare from Fortaleza
Praia Nazaré seen from Sitio

Tower Life Building, San Antonio

Downtown San Antonio, Texas has a lot of interesting buildings.  One of them is the neo-gothic Tower Life Building.  The 30-floor skyscraper was designed by local architects Ayres & Ayres and opened in 1929.  Originally named the Smith-Young Tower, the building was the home of San Antonio’s first Sears, Roebuck and Company Store.

I love the unusual octagonal shape of the tower and the two-tone brick and terra-cotta exterior.  The gargoyles jutting from the top floors are a bit unusual for San Antonio.  It’s a beautiful building.

At one point, a television transmission tower topped the building.  Luckily for us, the tower was transmission tower was removed and the copper dome and flag pole were restored in 2010.

SA Tower Life Bldg 2

Booth Western Art Museum, Cartersville, Georgia

It had been many years since I’d visited Cartersville, a small city of 20,000 north of Atlanta.  In October of 2017 my wife’s sister took us to the Booth Western Art Museum.  I never imagined that this gem of a museum was in the little town famous for the world’s first outdoor Coca Cola sign and the Etowah Indian Mounds.

The museum is home to the largest collection of western art in the United States and is the second largest art museum in Georgia.

Booth Museum of Western Art
Booth Museum of Western Art

The grounds contain sculptures by leading western artists, including the wonderful “An Honest Day’s Work by Fred Fellows.

The museum hosts hundreds of paintings and sculptures from artists as diverse as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell to Andy Warhol and Leroy Neiman.  The art is divided into galleries focusing on various aspects of western art.  There are also galleries dedicated to the American Civil War and U.S. Presidents.

 

 

 

The Millar Presidential Gallery is fascinating, with portraits and information about each of our presidents.  There is a trivia question for each president.  Did you know that the “S” in Harry S. Truman doesn’t stand for anything and that Ulysses S. Grant was the first president to be pulled over for speeding?  Interesting and fun stuff.

My favorite gallery was the Modern Art gallery, but all the galleries were full of beautiful works. There was a lot of art by Native American artists and African American artists as well as famous artists like Frederic Remington.  Here’s a wonderful painting by Shonto Begay titled “Our Promised Road”.

Shonto Begay, Our Promised Road
Shonto Begay, Our Promised Road

Bob Vann has a couple pieces in the museum including “The Victorio Campaign”.

Bobb Vann, The Victorio Campaign
Bobb Vann, The Victorio Campaign

Andy Warhol’s “Sitting Bull” is one of the highlights of the Modern Art gallery.

Andy Warhol - Sitting Bull
Andy Warhol – Sitting Bull

And now for something completely different.  Bill Schenk’s beautiful “From Dust to Dusk” celebrates the beauty of the western landscape with an unusual jazz theme.

Bill Schenck, From Dust to Dusk
Bill Schenck, From Dust to Dusk

We spent hours at the museum and could probably return to find new art or art that we failed to notice on the first trip.  If you’re in the Atlanta area I hope you’ll visit this wonderful museum.

The House in the Horseshoe

Built in 1772, the House in the Horseshoe, also called the Alston House,  gets its name from its location, a horseshoe shaped bend in the Deep River of North Carolina.  The house was the site of a Revolutionary War battle between Philip Alston, a colonel in the Cumberland Militia, and a troop of Tory Loyalists led by the infamous David Fanning.  During the battle, Fanning and his men attempted to burn the house down by pushing a wagon loaded with hay bails against the building and setting it ablaze.  The attempt failed and, after numerous casualties on both sides, Alston’s forces surrendered to Fanning under terms negotiated by Alston’s wife.

Alston House
A re-enactor guards the house from a potential Tory attack

Both Alston and Fanning went on to lives marked with controversy.  Alston was accused  of murdering Thomas Taylor during the war.  The death was found to be a legitimate act of war and Alston was pardoned by Governor Richard Caswell.

Alston was then elected to the General Assembly, but his seat was contested by George Glascock and several others on the grounds that Alston had been accused of Taylor’s murder and that Alston had threatened to instigate a riot if he lost the election.  Alston was removed from his seat, but a bitter feud broke out between Alston and Glascock.  Glascock was murdered by Dave, one of Alston’s slaves, but Alston had an alibi.  He had thrown a party on the night of the murder and made sure that his presence at the party was beyond doubt.

A year later, Alston was arrested for contempt of court and jailed.  He escaped from jail and fled to Georgia, only to be murdered a few years later.  Legend has it that the murderer was none other than Dave, the slave who murdered George Glascock, and who had fled shortly after being bailed out by Alston.

David Fanning, the Tory who had captured Alston and his men at the battle of the House of the Horseshoe, moved to the Bahamas before settling in New Brunswick.  In 1800, he was accused of raping 15-year old Sarah London and was found guilty and sentenced to death.  He was eventually pardoned but exiled from New Brunswick.  He settled in Nova Scotia, where he died in 1825.

After the Revolutionary War, the House in the Horseshoe was sold to future North Carolina governor Benjamin Williams.  The Alston House is now a North Carolina Historic Site and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.  The house, now nearly 250 years old, still bears the scars of the battle between Alston and Fanning.  Bullet holes mark the walls, both inside and out.

Bullet Holes
Bullet holes mark the wall around the door

We were able to visit the house on a beautiful summer day a few years ago.  Alston picked a beautiful place to make a home.  The grounds and land around the house are beautiful.

Landscape
The beautiful land of the Horseshoe

The house is a beautiful plantation house built in the coastal lowlands style.  Four rooms have been furnished and there was a small, but interesting, display of medical tools that would have been used by a doctor during the Revolutionary War.  The most interesting aspect, to me, was the bullet pocked walls.  After nearly 250 years, I would have expected one of the owners to patch the walls.  Luckily, history won out and the scars of the battle are there for us to see.

Bedroom
Bullet holes can be seen on the wall behind the bed

If you’re ever in Moore County, North Carolina and want to get close enough to Revolutionary War history that you can literally touch it, the Alston House would be a great place to visit.  Walk the grounds and take a tour of the house.  It’s well worth the trip.