Wednesday, December 28, 2011

These Were My Storytellers: A Year of Books

So I've been hearing print books referred to as "dead tree" books. I'm not sure if that's to prey on ecological minded people like myself who would save so much paper if only they became "modern" and got one of those fancy eReaders. One of the things I value about myself is that I care and think often about the environment, but I still like a print copy of The New York Times, and I am not giving up my print books. I also deeply care about bookstores. I don't want to those disappearing. They are valuable on our too quickly eroding main streets. No eReader for me, give me my "dead tree" books. But,

These trees are not dead. They have been repurposed, reinvisioned, and made into storytellers. They transport me to prairies of the West in the 1800s, onto a life boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with members of the Greatest Generation, inspire me to stop buying so much convenience food and start cooking. They may have once provided shade, but now offer escape from boredom, provoke and stimulate the human mind and provide nourishment to the soul. These pages are not dead. They are alive and filled with life and I turn back to them to remember the words. Other than for shelter, one of life's true "needs" I think of no greater end for a tree than to be made into a book. There is something in the human spirit from the beginning of time that draws us to tell stories, and to seek them out. Look at ancient writings on the walls. Pictures told their stories for the ages. We advanced to words and the printing press brought writing, books and information to the masses. Who doesn't love to hear, "I'm going to tell you a story about..."

I think of how often I turn to the books I read for reflection and to inspire my own writing. Take a favorite passage from Paula McLain's The Paris Wife when a woman is devastated her best friend Hadley is marrying the man she secretly loves, Ernest Hemingway. It's very much about how we can drown in our own misery of the present when things are down or not how we hoped they'd turn out, failing to realize the possibilities the future holds,

"Her eyes brimmed with tears. If we had only known that eight years ahead of us, in a Paris we hadn't begun to imagine, John Dos Passos would fall victim to Kate's sparkle. And pursue her with force until she agreed to marry him. That Dos was figure nearly as dashing and important to American letters as Ernest was would have softened the moment ever so much - but we never know what awaits us, good or bad. The future stayed behind its veil as Kate gave me a wan smile and paddled away..."

Leisure time is valuable and hard earned by those who came before us. I hope the beauty of words from books touch your life.

Cate from Liberal Simplicity has been a big reading inspiration. I love that she compiles lists of what she reads as well as what she reads with her daughter, Simone. In her spirit, I'm compiling a list of what I've read this year, and where I obtained them. Many are through thrift, and I love how I find books, but they also find me. My mom, friends and I also share books with one another. I've put asterisks next to my most favorites.

The Paris Wife , Paula McLain. The book club at work was supposed to read this, but never met formally.
The Sweet Life in Paris, David Lebovitz. I just love his blog. I laughed out loud many times during this book.
Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann. A suggestion from Cate, who also recommended John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, the main character of which will always stay with me. The book's characters live in dark worlds which are hard to enter. It gives you much pause on people's lots in life, and what role they play in their own destinies.
*The Wilder Life, My Adventures into the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie, Wendy McClure. I saw this in the shop of my local bookstore but got it from the library. I am so grateful McClure penned this book about her trips to the Little House sites and more. I don't think I would have started reading the books, which I'm trying to savor.
Little Girl Blue: The Life of Karen Carpenter, Randy Schmidt. I read this because my former neighbor was reading it on the porch. I really like the Carpenters but I'm not that serious a fan, although I did find out about their stunning cover of the Rainbow Connection and some interesting stories behind their hits. "We've Only Just Begun" - a bank jingle to get new couples to open accounts.

Our Thrift Shop, Westwood, NJ:
In the Shadow of Gotham, Stefanie Pintoff, 25 cents. Engaging historical murder mystery set in New York City. I have another of her books from the thrift shop on my "to read" list.
Marrying Mozart, Stephanie Cowell, 25 cents. A great wintry read that makes you want to learn more about classical musical (I'm embarrassingly ignorant on the matter), and drink great wine and eat chocolate.

Shaw's Book Shop, Westwood, NJ: Hardcovers books have a 20 percent discount, so I paid about $20-$25.
Centuries of June, Keith Donohue. A man awakes in the middle of a June night with a hole in his head, but keeps getting interrupted by six women telling stories of American myth and history over the centuries. I tend to be seasonal with my reading, so this is more a summer read, which is when I read it. I did like it but my favorite of his is Angels of Destruction, which I recommend for winter, followed by The Stolen Child. Donohue is a great storyteller of fairy tales for adults. I'll read any book he puts out.
*Unbroken, Laura Hillendbrand. My book club read this because a colleague's young daughter ordered it by accident on her phone, my coworker started reading it and recommended it to the organizer, and we all started reading it. I keep expecting to hear this story of a World War II veteran's saga was fraud since it's so unbelievable, but they do say the truth is stranger than fiction. It saddens me just that much more that any holiday honoring veterans is turned into just another sale day.

CATS Resale Shop, Westwood, NJ
The White, Deborah Larsen, 50 cents. A poetic, short tale about a young girl who lives among the Indians after her family is killed by them.
*These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine, Nancy E. Turner, 50 cents. While I found the love story between the main character and Captain Jack Elliot a little over-the-top sickly sweet toward the end, I finished this book wanting to look up Geronimo and some books that she mentioned, and felt truly swept away to the Arizona territories of the 1800s.

Housing Works, New York City:
*Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 50 cents.
Little House on the Prairie, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 50 cents.
Farmer Boy, Laura Ingalls Wilder, 50 cents. Anyone who has read this blog lately knows how much I love these books (grain of historical salt needed)!
Julie and Julia, Julie Powell, $3. Again, I laughed out loud many times during this book and think Powell can be a great writer at times, but there's way too much information about the bedroom escapades of her friends. I wanted to learn more about Julia Child and her cooking experiences, not how her friend always dates guys named "David" and was supposed to keep picking up a couch. She gets defensive about her cursing (sailor's mouth, well, she's not a sailor) that really takes away from the writing. I agree with an reviewer that as a writer it's lazy to use foul language so much, and she goes overboard Republican bashing. But if Powell hadn't written this, we would have never seen Meryl Streep as Julia Child, and as much as Child didn't like her, Powell really did start of the chain of events to get Mastering the Art of French Cooking on the best seller lists again.

Library Book Sales:
*Witch Child, 25 cents and the sequel, *Sorceress, Celia Rees, 50 cents. The story of young Mary starts with an ocean passage to the New World where charges of witchcraft come. Technically "young adult" books, these are well worth a read for all ages.
*The Diary of Mattie Spenser, Sandra Dallas, 25 cents. New bride Mattie's adventures with Luke in the Colorado frontier. I hope to read more from this author. Do you ever finish a book and keep comparing every book after to that one - "but it's not as good as the last one!" My mom and I did this with this book and Raven's End.
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho, 25 cents. An enchanting fable about a young shepherd boy from Spain in search of riches in Egypt. So different than anything I'd read all year.

*Raven's End, Ben Gadd, purchased from the author and autographed, $30. I found this book after seeing A Life Ascending at the BANFF Film Festival, which features films about mountain and other outdoor culture. I will never look at ravens the same.
*Death and the Dream, J.J. Brown, free, gift from my friend who is also the author. I am not drawn to short stories as a reader, but I loved these haunting stories and finished the book in record time. She reminds me a bit of Neil Gaiman and infuses her stories with science. Her new book, Vector: A Modern Love Story, is on my to-read list. The author is one of those people I feel my life is exponentially better because I know them.

I hope to double my reading list for the new year. I'm not one of those people who can read 3 books in a week and don't think I ever will be. Books can be very all-consuming for me and my spirit needs a rest. I also just don't want to rush through them and can't absorb the content so quickly, and have other interests.

What are the best books you've read this year? Are you in the print book camp? I do think eReaders are good if they help someone read more, but let's try and co-exist peacefully and keep bookstores alive. Above all else, support authors and books. Happy reading.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Fondue Party: Our Swiss-Kissed Christmas Eve

Fondue, a Swiss favorite and a tradition in our family the past few years on Christmas Eve. Both my parents were born in Switzerland (they met and married here) and they were the only ones in their families to come to the United States. On holidays, we have never been surrounded by aunts and uncles, cousins, and grandparents. I have cousins I wouldn't recognize if they passed me by on the street. Steve and I took a trip to Switzerland a few years ago and met with some family and I traveled there more often as a child. On Christmas Eve, a fondue is a little piece of Switzerland which is a plane ride away, but still very far.

They have ready-made fondue kits you can buy, but it's really worth it to buy the Emmentaler and Gruyere cheeses. Just a few ingredients are needed to add to the grated cheese: garlic to rub the pot, cornstarch, pepper, white wine, optional kirsch (ours is on the side for dipping).

White wine and melted cheese on bread. What's better on a winter's night? I looked up some history of fondue on and learned that fondue is the French word for melted, that most historians agree it was invented in Switzerland in the early nineteenth century and was a peasant dish, and Swiss fondue became a party novelty among American cooks in 1950s with many U.S. households adding "fondue pots" to their party ware in the 1960s and 70s. Chocolate fondues are distinctly American.

I always think back to a cozy alpine restaurant Steve and I shared fondue at in Zermatt, Restaurant Whymper-Stube...

and the beauty of this church up in the mountains. I love the smell and glow of the candles in church. Even on the highest mountaintops, places of worship exist.

It was all like a faraway and long ago dream, but still how I remember it.

Rick Steves produced a heartwarming special on Christmas in Europe, and he perfectly captured the cozy, intimate feeling of eating a fondue around a table. I wish I could magically jump into this scene with them.

No ham for me, but I'd take an extra serving of those scalloped potatoes with mountain cheese. My mom has a framed photo of her family's Christmas tree in Switzerland with the candles on it and it looks exactly like the one in the video.

Does your family carry on or incorporate traditions from the Old World (wherever your family's Old World lies) in your holiday festivities?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

All is Calm, All is Bright: A Colonial Christmas

I feel a sense of calm whenever I gaze into a candle. The same goes for when I smell a fire in winter. Calm isn't easy to capture at this time of year, but it's so wonderful when you find moments of it. I'm not a winter complainer. I welcome the winter solstice with open arms. I love that "snug" and "cozy" feeling you get that Laura Ingalls Wilder so often talks about in her Little House books. I felt all snug and cozy at the Bergen County Historical Society's annual Colonial Christmas concert. I know Laura didn't live in Colonial times, her childhood was much later in the 1800s, but what she talks about and what was celebrated is so universal: enjoying good food, spending time with loved ones, the joy of small things, like a pair of red mittens.

The rooms in their Black Horse Tavern were aglow.

Enjoying their special holiday menu: Sweet potato cheddar soup, with a cheddar biscuit, and a poughman plate with cheese, bread and butter, a pickle, tomato, and cucumber salad.

Bread pudding, and hot mulled cider.

Carrots and hay, treats for Santa's hungry reindeer.

Mary crushing herbs in the Dutch Out Kitchen.

Remembering Laura's food memories of Christmas in Little House on the Prairie,

"For Christmas dinner there was a tender, juicy roasted turkey. There were the sweet potatoes baked in ashes and carefully wiped so you could eat the skins, too. There was a loaf of salt-rising bread made from the last of the white flour. And after all that there were stewed dried blackberries and little cakes. But these little cakes were made with brown sugar and they did not have white sugar sprinkled over their tops."

A foot warmer to bring to church, sometimes given to women with their initials on them by a suitor, and a yellow hot water bottle for sleigh rides. Imagine taking a sleigh ride to where you're going for Christmas. Does it seem fun or make you more grateful for your heated car?

Christmas music, yes, but this was also a celebration of light and the solstice, and of bringing joy into the homes and hearts during a dark time.

A holiday wreath. The five apples represent the planets that were known at that time, and mistletoe hangs below. The greenery was a symbol of life when the land was barren and not much grew.

From Little House in the Big Woods,

"Santa Claus had been there. Alice and Ella and Laura in their red flannel nightgowns and Peter in his red flannel shirt.

In each stocking there was a pair of bright red mittens, and there was a long, flat stick of red-and-white-striped peppermint candy, all beautiful and notched along each side. They were all so happy they could hardly speak at first. They just looked with shining eyes at those lovely Christmas presents."

"Christmas comes but once a year," said Aunt Eliza.

I hope in your holiday season you found moments filled with light, wonder and calm.


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Retro Matinee Feature Showing: Meet Me In St. Louis

"Meet me in St. Louis aimed straight at America's nostalgic heart and centered on a year in the life of the perfect all American family. The Smiths of St. Louis," said one commenter on a dvd extra of Meet Me in St. Louis. The perfect American family, or perfect any family - because that can only be a work of Hollywood magic right?

America was at war in 1944 when the film came out. America in 2011 just ended a war and still has a shaky economy. I wish Hollywood produced more feel good fare. Entertainment is about escapism but it's also psychological. To me, too much entertainment is about vicarious living, numbing ourselves, and shock value.

I love watching these old films and considering the dialogue then and in the context of the present day. Like when Katie the housekeeper declares, "Personally I wouldn't marry a man who proposed to me over an invention." I think about how much courtship occurs over the internet (even meeting on dating sites), exchanging e-mails and texts and such. All over an "invention." Steve and I have been together for six years and we've never exchanged a single text message, which makes us "young" old fogies, I guess. I do long for romance and courtship, which I think is a dying art. I've never wanted a laundry list of men like in shows like Sex and the City. I think there's something sweet and enduring about Esther's love of the boy next door. Are we too cynical for that?

There's a scene where Rose declared, "Money. I hate loathe, despise and abominate money" to which her father responds, "You also spend it." Well that's a universal line for the ages if I ever heard one. I feel the same way about money. But no money - no trips to the Southwest, no vintage dresses from the thrift shop, no meals out. I also recall what Ben Stein said in his commentary about instead of buying our parents a sweater for Christmas we should give thanks that they spent the heart of their lives caring for us. Rose's father seems worried how he would pay for their education which was behind the family's move to New York City from their beloved St. Louis. My parents paid for my college at a state university and I don't have the crippling debt many of my colleagues still have a decade into their career. And just thinking about starting a family, I consider how our own parents were at that same place once, dreaming about the future, making sacrifices, nervous about how they would pay for it, wondering how it would all turn out. Maybe Ben Stein is right, giving thanks is the greatest gift of all. Thanks Mom and Dad.

I now have new meaning when I hear "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," which was written with the troops in mind, "Faithful friends who are dear to us, will be near to us, once more. Someday we will all be soon together, if the fates allow." And I so hope next year "all our troubles will be miles away." Wouldn't that be nice? Aren't you tired of bad news from the media? Any glimmer of hope from a jobs report seems trampled on. Where's a modern day Judy Garland to lift our spirits? Thank goodness we have her on her film.

Confession, until this year, I'd never seen Meet Me in St. Louis. Just mentioning it to people who love it, I've seen their eyes light up and a smile go check to check. That's what great entertainment should do. My eyes are lit and a smile is on my face just thinking about Judy Garland's jolly hour on the trolley. I know some people who shun old movies and boy, are they missing out. Don't miss out on our great American film history. This year I decided to explore old films and I've seen more than in my entire life. There's a running joke in the Partridge Family where Shirley Jones will mention an old movie star and singer, say Ruby Keeler (of the great Busby Berkeley film's of the thirties) and the youngest children will say, "Who?!?") I now know who Ruby Keeler is, and why she, Dick Powell, Joan Blondell are so worth seeing in his pictures, which are works of art. I've fallen in love with the music of Elvis Presley after watching Viva Las Vegas and Simon and Garfunkle's melodic tunes in The Graduate. I've now seen almost every film Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire did together. My life feels richer for it. I consider my riches (not the monetary kind) and am grateful for them this Christmas.

And I hope you have yourself a Merry Little Christmas.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Westard American Road Diary: Las Vegas

It's no big secret: I'm a francophile. I just love French things. I can't explain it. My favorite episodes of a cherished American sitcom I Love Lucy - when they are in Paris for Ricky's band's European tour. Remember when Lucy thinks she spots Charles Boyer at a cafe and he pretends to be a down-on-his-luck actor Maurice Dubois and she coaches him on how to be romantic? I just bought a perfume, Celine Dion's Spring in Paris, at a library holiday sale that I hadn't even smelled because I was seduced by the pretty pink and green packaging with an image of the Eiffel Tower. It smells quite lovely, like lily of the valley, and very much like spring. Instead of blogging, or things I really need to be doing like exercising or housework, I'm watching Maurice Chevalier films from the library. Favorite cocktail? A kir royale, French, bien sur! I'm sure there's a French girl in Paris who eats bagels since it's a New York thing to do while I think of croissants, and she dreams of cheesecake and a stroll down Fifth Avenue while I long for apple tarte tatin and a walk along the Seine. Maybe we can trade lives for a bit like Kate Winslet and Cameron Diaz do in the film The Holiday?

When I got back and told my dad I thought Vegas was seedy, he said people go there because it's seedy. I would have loved to lounge by the pool at our hotel The Golden Nugget with a frozen bellini, but it was 20 degrees below normal. Luckily, I found a little bit of Paris in Las Vegas since Vegas isn't really my kind of town. Vegas stays up late. I go to bed early and am cranky without eight hours sleep. Vegas women favor short tight skirts and high heels. I like flowy skirts below the knees and ballet flats. Vegas bets. My idea of betting is scratch off cards I get on my birthday. Vegas has upscale shopping and fancy chain restaurants. Give me a thrift shop and a mom-and-pop BYOB any day. Vegas really reminded me of a larger version of New York City's Times Square. My least favorite place in New York City (save for Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal): Times Square. I think tigers belong in the wild. In Vegas, they're imprisoned for tourists to take photos of. Some cub is on earth for a $25 a pop picture?

So here we are at touring and eating often at the Paris hotel. We also had a breakfast buffet at our hotel (just so so).

J'adore! One of my favorite things in the "real" Paris was the pastry shops and bakeries everywhere. Do you ever read the scary long ingredient list of store bought cakes, even at their bakeries?

Arc de Triomphe. Steve and I have fond memories of the view from the real Arc de Triomphe. I dream of going back to Paris, but really there are so many places to see yet it's hard to commit valuable vacation time to going back to the same place. Who knew my American Westward trip would be my favorite so far? Maybe because it was so spiritual.

A vegetarian crepe with bechamel sauce and a cider.

Even the pooches in Paris have a charmed life! I spotted these in a children's shop. If we're blessed with children one day we'd love to introduce them to languages early on (Steve studies Spanish while I've toyed around with French at community school classes off and on). It's sad foreign languages take so little priority in education.

Artichoke pizza, so good!

The words "bistro" and "cafe" just warm my heart. I live in a fast-paced world in New York City. Enjoying a meal at a table is so civilized, such a celebration of food and time and life. Life is too short for Lean Cuisines, I say.

A banana Nutella crepe, the perfect ending to a French buffet.

The Graceland Wedding Chapel. Fellow New Jerseyian John Bon Jovi got married here! I've become a bit of an Elvis fan this year and we saw a free show at Bill's Gambling Hall and Saloon. There's a Cirque de Soleil Elvis show but the cheapest seats were $100, too steep for us. I'll stick to my Youtube videos of the 68 Comeback Special.

And then we came happened upon the New York hotel, and remembered the city that I work in and we both live in New Jersey not far from, and it was time to go back to reality.

Our last night was at the Fremont Street experience, an enormous light and music show. Bye Bye Miss America Pie played, and it felt right to end the trip. At one point in Colorado, we realized a different kind of pollution we suffered from - light pollution, how we could not see the stars like we did out West. Vegas was such an assault to the senses after the calm of the rest of the trip.

So my heart is in Paris, but it's also now in the American Southwest. I can't stop thinking of the scenery in Colorado and our short time in Durango, or the smells and tastes of New Mexico. The pioneer footprints all over. We end our journey here. I hope you've enjoyed coming along. I've chosen to document it so extensively as a love letter to the West. I'm someone whose often dreamt of foreign lands for vacation choices. Now I'm dreaming about places like South Dakota and Montana.

I recall something Laura said in Beyond the Prairie: The True Story of Laura Ingalls Wilder, "This is where I told myself I must remember. The feel of things, the scratch of wool on your skin, the sharp smell of a wood fire, the long stagnant afternoons when it seems nothing interesting can ever happen." This blog is a diary of sorts and about remembering...the warm feeling of the fire and smile of the woman who invited us in at the Taos Pueblo. The sight and emotion brought on by the one-room school house in Capitol Reef Park. The ravens in the national parks. The decency of all the Americans we met who so love and are concerned about our country. These are my memories.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Westward American Road Diary: Route 66, the Hoover Dam and Area 51

An iconic image of Route 66 in Arizona captured in 1953 in Life magazine.

There's a scene in the film Dirty Dancing where a man bemoans to a father that no one wants to come to summer resorts like his in the Catskills anymore. Trips to Europe are all the rage now among the kids. As we traveled the American West we kept seeing signs for "Historic Route 66" and finally took one of the roads in Seligman, Arizona, I felt the ghosts of a time of booming American road travel and discovery. I didn't know much about Route 66 before this trip, other than some references in popular culture. Some history notes from Wikipedia on Route 66,

"The National Historic Route 66 Federation was founded in 1995 for the purpose of saving the businesses, communities and roadbed of Route 66. The famous road carried travelers across much of the country from the day it was commissioned on November 11, 1926 through June 25, 1985 when it was decommissioned.

Since its birth, most motorists preferred it because the weather tended to be more hospitable than along the more northerly highways. Businesses and entire towns sprang up to cater to the ever-increasing traffic. Although it brought considerable prosperity, the thoroughfare also spawned bumper-to-bumper congestion in the communities and numerous accidents on the rural stretches leading to the gruesome nickname, "Bloody 66."

Just as it seemed the mostly two lane road could not handle another vehicle, on June 29, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower signed the Interstate Highway Act into law which allocated $25 billion for the construction of 41,000 miles (66,000 km) of interstate highway. Over the next 29 years, section after section of Route 66 was methodically bypassed by multi-lane, high speed expressways enabling motorists to increase their speeds, significantly. This was a time-saving advantage to those on the move, but a distinct disadvantage to businesses and communities along the Route. Where customers once thronged, they rarely showed up at all, anymore."

You'll see images of icons like James Dean, Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe everywhere. I wonder if there will be cutouts of Lady Gaga that tourists will snap photos of fifty years from now? Maybe because Dean and Monroe didn't grow old - no grey hairs or wrinkles, no few extra pounds each year - that they are so captured in time. Myself - I long for a time when "stars" had actual talent and lifted us up to the sky, and didn't have to rely so heavily on shock value or stunts.

A pink Cadillac. I love the style of these older cars. "Style" is what I think of clothes, cars, and architecture of earlier eras likes the fifties. I don't know if there's a lot of "style" now. What do you think?

Made America, thank you! So many tourist trinkets (and many other goods) have a Made in China sticker. Bring back manufacturing jobs! I hope corporations start to figure out soon that if Americans don't have jobs, they won't have money to take a vacation, go out to eat, buy a sweater, and such.

Breakfast at Westside Lilo's Cafe. I forgot how much I love cinnamon toast. I remember checking out a cookbook as a kid in elementary school and cinnamon toast was one of the recipes. Isn't it curious what the heart remembers?

We hear about the Gold Rush in California in our history classes, but less so about the Silver Rush in Nevada, which is the second largest producer of silver in the country after Alaska, according to Wikipedia. Several prospectors in 1859 discovered a rich lode silver ore in the Comstock Lodge, which was a minor gold placer district since 1849. A great rush of miners came eastward from California, but the district has been mostly inactive since the 1920s. How little I thought about the origins of silver until now.

The Rough Guide to the Southwest tells us "The Hoover Dam...was designed to block the Colorado River and provide low-cost electricity for the cities of the Southwest, it's among the tallest dams ever built (760 ft high), and is made of enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from the West Coast to New York. It was completed in 1935." Most tourists like myself come here before Las Vegas, snap their photos and head to Sin City. Curious about labor history and those built this, I discovered this on Wikipedia,

"Soon after the dam was authorized, increasing numbers of unemployed converged on southern Nevada. Las Vegas, then a small city of some 5,000, saw between 10,000 and 20,000 unemployed descend on it. A government camp was established for surveyors and other personnel near the dam site; this soon became surrounded by a squatters' camp...Once construction began, Six Companies hired large numbers of workers, with more than 3,000 on the payroll by 1932 and with employment peaking at 5,251 in July 1934. "Mongolian" (Chinese) labor was forbidden by the construction contract, while the number of blacks employed by Six Companies never exceeded thirty, mostly lowest-pay-scale laborers in a segregated crew, who were issued separate water buckets...

The site of Hoover Dam endures extremely hot weather, but the summer of 1931 was especially torrid, with the daytime high averaging 119.9 °F (48.8 °C). Sixteen workers and other riverbank residents died of heat prostration between June 25 and July 26."

Do you think the masses would descend if such massive projects were developed now? Some people I've spoken to think the government should be providing for projects that develop alternative energy and road repair that would supply such jobs. It's food for thought as we go into the next election and also ponder the state of jobs in America.

We are now on the Extraterrestrial Highway looking for an entry to Area 51 because of two men: Bob Lazar and my alien-obsessed boyfriend Steve.

Lazar, according to Wikipedia, "has said to have worked from 1988 until 1989 as a physicist at an area called S-4 (Sector Four), allegedly located near Groom Lake, Nevada, at the location also known as Area 51. According to Lazar, S-4 served as a hidden military location for the study and possible reverse engineering of extraterrestrial flying saucers. Lazar says he saw nine different discs there and provides details on their mode of propulsion. However, his credibility has come under fire after "schools he was supposed to have attended had no record of him, while others in the scientific community had no memory of ever meeting him."

Steve keeps telling me my book club at work (which meets sporadically) should read Mack Maloney's, "UFOs in Wartime: What They Don't Want You to Know." It actually sounds pretty intriguing.

Farmer's mailbox? Transporter of secret messages? You be the judge. On the other side of this someone scribbled, "Don't Drink Starbucks!"

Little A'Le'Inn in Rachel, Nevada.

You can stay at the motel or dine here. We sat a table next to the bar. There was a husband and his wife with their daughter a few tables away and I was tempted to ask, "Which one of you is the true believer and who is here for moral support? I'm the latter." It's not that I'm a non-believer, I'm just not the enthusiast Steve is, which is why I'll be watching a Ginger Rogers film in the bedroom while he's watching Ancient Aliens on the History Channel in the living room.

Steve had a burger with some special alien sauce. I had the homemade pumpkin pie and coffee.

The landscape between Rachel and Las Vegas was haunting.

It felt dreamlike. A dream I didn't want to waken from.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Westward American Road Diary: The Grand Canyon

Some foods instantly transport you back in time and place. Blueberry pie will forever be associated with my American West road trip. And this was just some of the best blueberry pie I've had ever, at the Jacob Lake Inn's restaurant in Jacob Lake, Arizona. I had to eat it at the counter. There's something about eating pie at a counter.

A much more sensible breakfast! The six grain cereal with fruit and whole wheat toast, grapefruit juice and Earl Grey tea at the inn's restaurant.

A lot of places were closed for the season and we happened upon the inn. It's one of those classic Americana places that remain family owned that you're glad still exist, maybe for a sense of permanence.

At the North Rim, where we stopped briefly before heading to the South Rim (a few hours drive, by the way). The North Rim gets a tenth of the visitors as the South, in part because it's not as developed with lodges, restaurants and such. The Rough Guide to the Southwest says it offers a "splendid sense of isolation." There was definitely a calmer feeling here.

"Made a friend of the Western sky." - Tori Amos, Honey

The legendary Roy Rogers, yet I haven't seen any of his movies either. Oh my!

Everyone says the pictures don't do it justice. True.

The Ooh Aah lookout point.

Donkeys taking a rest on the trail. I won't lie: I felt kind of bad for the donkeys lugging tourists around.

A morbid choice for the park's best selling book. Steve and I couldn't stop flipping through it in the bookstore.

A call to conserve.

Vegetarian chili in a sourdough bread bowl washed down with apple juice at the Bright Angel Restaurant. I was longing for a good bowl of chili on this trip. I ate here for dinner too: roasted red pepper soup, veggie tortellini and angel food cake with strawberries.

We slumbered one night at the Xanterra Lodge in the canyon (about $140 for two with the Triple A discount). After Durango we didn't book any places and stayed here on a whim after being exhausted from driving.

We were supposed to be bound for the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert next, but an unexpected snow storm (seriously?!) and a need to change rental cars in Flagstaff due to a scary sounding transmission derailed our plans. Next stop: Historic Route 66, then Vegas here we come (with some aliens mixed in too, again!)