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Wednesday, July 31, 2013


 Hello Y'Guys,
      We're holed up in in a North Carolina library waiting for the rain to stop.  I have no time to write so I am throwing down a few more pictures from our trip (much easier than writing!).  Above is the photo I could not find a month ago, the John Wayne impersonator trying to loosen my chiclets.

   Yeah, it is fake but the one below represents one of the scariest moments of my life.  Driving south on Virginia's I-81 last week,  we slowly began passing a huge, 18-wheeler.  It then began pulling into our lane to pass the guy in front of him.  
   For a moment we were horrified, scared to death, it felt like he was going to make contact and push us off of the road. In a second or less we were able brake enough for him to slip ahead of us by inches.  He either pulled out without looking perhaps he just wanted to kill us.
 (No, this isn't the truck.  I took this the next day after I had calmed down)
 Airport Observatory Tower, Northport, MI.
 Propaganda Art, Montreal
 Wires-to-Go, NYC
 Neanderthal Replica, Washington DC  ( They say they were driven into extinction 10,000 years but let's get real.  Haven't you seen this guy in the last week?)
 Weather Vane With Lens Dust, National Portrait Museum  (above and below)
In case you don't remember, "handwriting" is what we stopped teaching to our children ten years ago. 

Sunday, July 28, 2013


     Music may save Galax.  The western Virginia town's manufacturing base was outsourced to Asia long ago.  Slowly, like many other American cities, it is fighting its way back.


      Trains are no longer needed so they tore up the tracks and created a bike path.  The popular New River Trail now stretches forty miles north.   We had a great time bicycling upstream and canoeing down.

    Antique stores now fill the town.  Each was like a little museum where you had the option to take the contents home.  Ancient trumpets?  I tried all four.  Exquisite European coffee grinders?  We had twenty to choose from.  Shopping in one tin-ceilinged store, we eyed a little blue cup that had no price.   When we inquired the owner asked, "What's it worth to you?".  We took it home. 
I got a $6 trim at the Galax Barber Shop from Otey Rikert.  I got more than my money's worth just hearing his stories.  One was about his thin blood. It causes bruising all over his 80-year-old body.  He showed me both arms then lifted his baggy pants so I could see his damaged legs.  It made me want to take better care of mine.   
   There are music festivals all over America this summer.  We drove past Bonaroo (near Nashville) last month and Floydfest (Floyd, Va.) last week but every Friday night they're gathering to enjoy live music in Galax.  They say its the only local product that you can't outsource.
       (Don't feel bad if the music video above does not play.  It won't play -or delete- for me either) 
When their little movie theater died in the 80's,  the "Rex" sat forlorn for years.  Someone then had the bright idea to put on musical shows and broadcast them live on the local radio station.  Going there is so fun, it's Galax's own Prairie Home Companion.   
     The show starts with a radio announcer welcoming everyone, doing a few commercials, and introducing the band.  The one we saw was "Old Grass" a collection of young musicians who had won top honors in recent state competitions.   As soon as they began to play people jumped up from the audience to "clog".   It's something like an Irish jig where people shuffle your feet much faster than I can shuffle my feet.  I tried anyway, gettin' down with the locals. 

    The town is best known for its annual music festival, The Old Time Fidler's Convention, which begins again next week.  For sixty years fifty thousand people have descended on Galax to celebrate the bluegrass musical traditions of old.   Some say it is the original Woodstock.
    Who knows?  I do know we had a great time cloggin' at the Rex.  I also know the world would be be a much better place if all of us danced to the music of live, local musicians on Friday nights. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013


   The Shenandoah Valley stretches southwest from northern Virgina to the Smoky Mountains.  We camped on its eastern ridge and tried hiking on the Appalachian Trail.   

(Photo by Francesca)

Of course we got lost but this marker helped us find our way home.
     The next day we dropped in on two South Florida expatriates, Phyllis and Fred Fevrier.   Twenty-three years ago they gave up the Grove so they they could spend half the year sailing and the other six months on their farm outside Lexington, Va.
   Their summers are something.  Days begin with gardening.   Much of the morning's harvest is served as lunch on the expansive covered porch.   

One afternoon we picked apples and turned them into apple sauce.

 Bees hum constantly in the crepe myrtle blooms.  

Dozens of hummingbirds
vie for the four feeders filled with sugar water.
Our friends have planted thousands of trees, plants and flowers on their twenty-seven acres. Despite all the work, there is time to read, relax, and take long hikes.  

Phyllis took us on a tour of "Boxerwood", a fantastic garden nearby.  She works there as a volunteer.  It is something like our own Fairchild Gardens but it is free and much more fun. 

 You can enjoy the weekly concerts while sitting on the sloping lawn or in this giant chair.

Kids have the time of their lives on "The Play Trail".  It is a playground that looks like it was created by children.  

Being there lets you feel like one.

The Mud Kitchen
Willow Tunnel

Little Eagles' Nest Entry

Little Eagles at Work

Bone Yard and Poem House

We loved our three days there. On the last evening we gathered atop Sky Hill.  As the sunlight faded the firelight began. Reluctantly we began planning our next move.


     It was no larger than a Coco Puff, that dark orb displayed before me, yet this little metallic ball had a huge effect on our country.  
  I saw it at the National Health and Medicine Museum in Silver Springs, Maryland, on our current summer tour.
     I first visited the facility when I was a teen hearing it was filled with strange, believe-it-or-not medical oddities.   I was intrigued by the scary photos, shattered bones, and pieces of people stuffed into jars.  I never could find what one kid had told me was the main attraction, John Dillinger's pickled "pickle".   
  Two years ago it moved from the backside of the Washington Mall to this modern facility ten miles north.  Few people go there.  The day before we had shared the Museum of Natural History with about eight thousand others.  This place had six visitors while we were there.  No wonder, it is very hard to find and, for us, difficult to enjoy.
     Most of the curiosities have been tucked away.  You can not see civil war general's leg and the huge hair ball that once filled a young girl's stomach.   Yes, there still is the leg of an elephantiasis victim and the  skeletons of children but these things now leave me sad.


 The emphasis now is on the history of military medicine.  Basically you see what our country has done to try and stop the bleeding of the world's greatest killing machine. 
   Viewing a hundred year history of prosthetics, attempts to repair shattered brains and disfigured faces left us feeling empty.  
   Then there was the big plastic box in the corner.  It held some of the leftovers from President Lincoln's autopsy.

   On April 15, 1865, Army physicians gathered in the White House to perform a postmortem examination on the president.  We learned that as they removed Lincoln's brain from his skull the bullet that killed him clattered into a basin below.  Dr. Edward Curtis recalled,

There it lay upon the white china, a little black mass no larger than the end of my finger -dull, motionless, and harmless, yet the cause of such mighty changes in the world's history as we may perhaps never realize.

  We stared at it thinking, "Will the madness ever end?".   

    It was time to put our crowded capitol behind us and continue our trip home. The cool air of the Shenandoah Valley will do us good.

Friday, July 26, 2013


     I suppose it all started on my ninth grade trip to Washington, DC.  Breaking a rule had me confined to the bus while everyone else was outside seeing our capitol's fantastic museums.  I've tried to catch up ever since.
 A few days ago Francesca and I began camping out at the apartment of my step-son, Ruy, shares with his effervescent partner, Meagan. 

   The next day we coasted down Capitol Hill on bicycles to feast on our nation's great collections.  Most of us wanted to see one or two museums.  I later broke off to see more.
    Here's how the afternoon went ,

Hour One-  Smithsonian Museum of Natural History          An early ancestor of mine

      Grover & Clyde

Dr. Grover Krantz was a professor of physical anthropology at Washington State University.  When he died eight years ago he left his remains and those of his 160 lb. Irish wolfhound, Clyde,  to the museum.  It was his wish  that their skeletons would be reunited for eternal public display. 
   I would never do such a thing.  If you'd like to see Pi and me frolic, come by the house.  We'll be home in two weeks.

Two- Hirshhorn  Museum of Art.
   This exhibit showed us all the cool things you can do with coat hangers besides store you clothes. 

 Tiring of this, I scurried over to the   
 Air & Space Museum next door.

  On the way I saw a kid wearing a space blanket.  He was overjoyed that grandpa had shelled out $22 for the darn thing.

Three- Air & Space

In the huge building behind this golden kid, the first space plane hung overhead.
When they unveil the next version you'll be able to take a $200,000 space ride.



Eighty feet away a huge Eastern Airlines DC-3 was suspended from the ceiling.  My dad flew these in the forties.  Imagining Captain Terry in the front seat thundering through the clouds made me proud.
Old Patent Office, Washington, D.C. 2011.jpg 
    Now it was time for something new, a museum we had never seen.  Francesca and I pedaled north to the National Portrait Museum.  I had avoided it for years figuring, "Who needs to see a lot of painted faces?"
   As I soon found out, I did.  The former Patient Office Building is fantastic.   

The portraits are well worth seeing but just a third of this beautiful, uncrowded space is devoted to images of people.

I told my wife, "This place is amazing, worth seeing just for its folk art!"  While enjoying paintings by Grandma Moses and Miami's Purvis Young I came upon "The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nation's General Assembly".
  It was created by artist James Hampton in a rented garage.  It took him fourteen years to assemble it using cardboard, cups, and aluminum foil.   

  The Throne was created to give God's son a comfortable place to reside upon his return to earth.  Jesus, of course, was privy to this but it was not discovered by people until the artist died in 1964.

    The Portrait Museum was a hard act to follow but I did check out one more, the National Building Museum.

Five- National Building Museum
The lobby is impressive, one hundred feet high.  The
building was created to handle 
pensions for Civil War veterans in the 1870's.  Its a big shell with these 80-foot pillars holding it up.
You got to the side offices (now exhibition spaces) by climbing up long low-rise stairs, easier for wounded veterans to climb.
Now it houses exhibitions on architecture, construction, and urban design.
   The coolest part was the northwest corner where you can play miniature golf.  The person who knocks his ball through little  buildings with the least strokes wins. 
    It was creative, fun, but not all that impressive when compared to the Throne of Jesus.

Saturday, July 20, 2013


  Don't worry about Ward and Scott Shelly.  The Miami brothers are doing fine on their farm in western Connecticut. 

 Scott, an Emmy-award winning cameraman, lives in the 18th-century farm house while his older brother Ward bunks nearby in this converted barn.


 They were nice enough to let us camp there this week.  Both were busy.  Scott left today to film bike racing in France.  

Ward is working in his studio on one of his intricate time-line paintings.  This one maps out the history of  consumerism.


 His creations are drawn in pencil, transferred onto Mylar, then painted.
 This one will be exhibited in Vienna in October.
When Scott's not behind a camera he is helping to raise his kids or working on his '63 split-window Corvette.

 Isn't his pool gate great?  (that's Scott in the background
looking a little like Freddy Mercury)

Ward took a day off to give us the Big Apple tour.  Our train arrived in Grand Central Station which is celebrating its 100th birthday.  This city is huge, crowded and somewhat intimidating.  People rush like ants with a purpose, going this way and that. We were fortunate to have Ward-o leading the way.


A twenty-minute walk took us over to the 34th Street Ferry Terminal which was designed by Francesca's brother, Frano, and his wife, Sheila.  The fabric ceiling dances with lights at night.

 In the American Museum of Natural History I saw  slice of "The Mark Twain Tree".  Felled ing 1890, the tree rings go back 1382 years.  

    The Bahama reef diorama made me both happy and sad. I had never seen anything like it because reefs like this now rarely exist. 
   It was was created in 1930 when a museum crew took these underwater wonders for museum display. The accompanying text admits that greed (taking coral) and pollution have destroyed the beauty I witnessed here.  The same thing happened to South Florida's reefs.  They are in a such a sad state now.

It was 99 degrees when I wandered through Central Park to visit the Met. Seeing General Washington crossing the icy Potomac helped slack the heat. 

Our next stop was Joe's Shanghai in Chinatown. The dumplings were delicious,

  and the haircuts, cheap.     

 Dragon Fruit, probably from South Florida,
were piled up for sale


 Walking past a park we heard Chinese violins. When they spotted us gringos their tune changed from some sad, oriental number to "Jingle Bells".  That sounded pretty sad as well.


It was time to head to the subway (Francesca was having so much fun she was dancing in the street)

The train home served very cold beer.  It was
the perfect way to toast making it out of the Big Apple alive.