Author Archives: roadsrus

About roadsrus

Since the beginning, I've had to avoid writing about the downside of travel in order to sell more than 100 articles. Just because something negative happened doesn't mean your trip was ruined. But tell that to publishers who are into 5-star cruise and tropical beach fantasies. I want to tell what happened on my way to the beach, and it may not have been all that pleasant. My number one rule of the road is...today's disaster is tomorrow's great story. My travel experiences have appeared in about twenty magazines and newspapers. I've been in all 50 states more than once and more than 50 countries. Ruth and I love to travel internationally--Japan, Canada, China, Argentina, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, etc. Within the next 2 years we will have visited all of the European countries. But our favorite destination is Australia. Ruth and I have been there 9 times. I've written a book about Australia's Outback, ALONE NEAR ALICE, which is available through both Amazon & Barnes & Noble. My first fictional work, MOVING FORWARD, GETTING NOWHERE, has recently been posted on Amazon. It's a contemporary, hopefully funny re-telling of The Odyssey.

A Singular Courtroom Experience

In 1844 a murder occurred on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall, England.  Charlotte Dymond was a local girl.  While taking a walk with her boyfriend, Matthew Weeks, on Bodmin Moor, she vanished.  When her lifeless body was found with her throat slit, Matthew, a humble farm hand, was charged with murder.  Although his guilt was far from certain, he was hanged in the town that travel writer Kirsty Fergusson called “poor old Bodmin”.   I’ve been rather critical of this town not too far from vast Bodmin Moor myself, but today I’m recommending it for 2 reasons:  Bodmin Moor is fascinating as a tourist attraction and there’s a clever presentation called The Courtroom Experience in Bodmin at its exceptional visitor center.

The Courtroom Experience recreates Matthew’s trial, and visitors like Ruth and myself get to act as jurors.  After some actual testimony is presented along with details of the trial that cast doubt, we were asked to find Matthew guilty or not guilty.   His jury was all male.  After our verdict, we were taken downstairs to see the cramped, depressing holding cell where inmates like Matthew Weeks awaited trial.   More information was presented down there.  This will work as long as visitors to Bodmin aren’t aware of this local crime or its consequences.

Bodmin Moor is an often fog shrouded bleak stretch of granite and marshy flats with a highway, A30, cutting across it diagonally.   Bodmin is one of five towns ringing it.  It’s hard not to think of Sherlock Holmes and/or hounds when you experience it.  Locals will tell you about the beast of Bodmin, another legend without basis in fact like Bigfoot.  Speaking of legends, this moor’s Dozmary Pool is said to be the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur rose from the depths.  Kirsty Fergusson says, “Bodmin Moor–on a fine day–is one of the best places in England for walking and exploring.”

The Courtroom Experience is worth doing and gets excellent reviews.  The presentation is competent but no threat to CGI.   The visual effects are sometimes less than impressive while the overall presentation gets high marks for originality.

Hank

PS  Since I didn’t experience Bodmin Moor on a foggy day, I had to download a free pic with no beast from pixabay.com.

 

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Harlon Block, American Hero

In 1943 Harlon H. Block  was one of 8 members of his high school class who enlisted in The Marine Corps together.  That’s Harlon on the right in the photo.  He was 18 at the time.

Two years later on February 24 he was one of the 6 men who raised the American flag on Iwo Jima’s Mount Suribachi.  Harlon is the one in front at the bottom of the flagstaff.   Joe Rosenthal took the historic photo that captured the event.  He won a Pulitzer Prize for it.  That photo inspired the sculpture that was placed in Arlington National Cemetery.  This iconic Marine Corps War Memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1954 on the 179th anniversary of this branch of the service.

Three of the 6 men who raised the flag died on Iwo Jima.  Harlon H. Block was killed in action 6 days after he took part in the event.  He was buried on the island.  After the war his body was returned to Weslaco, Texas, his hometown.  A replica of the Iwo Jima monument rose in Weslaco and was placed on the Parade Ground of the Marine Military Academy in 1982.  Harlon was moved to be near it in 1995.

Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who also grew to manhood in Texas, wrote the tribute to the fighting men on Iwo Jima that is inscribed on this memorial’s black Brazilian granite base.  “Uncommon Valor was a Common Virtue.”

  Hank

 

 


Rio Grande Valley Towns

Brownsville is the largest city in the Rio Grande Valley.  Its sister city across the river, Matamoros, is 3 times larger.  The 2 communities economies and cultures are seriously intertwined.  I found Brownsville the most fundamentally Mexico-influenced town Ruth & I visited.  Although it has a reputation for having one of the highest poverty rates in the United States, its economy seems to be improving with a bustling port and some new businesses, like the nearby SpaceX South Texas launch site.  Brownsville’s downtown is compact and reminded me of both New Orleans’ French Quarter and Havana.  Our favorite attraction, the Sabal Palm Plantation, is in the U.S. but geographically surrounded by Mexico.

East of Brownsville are 2 other towns whose fates are intertwined, Port Isabel and the resort community at the bottom of South Padre Island.  Connected by the Queen Isabella Causeway, they have a combined population of about 8,000.  Compact and congested Port Isabel experiences a lot of tourists because of its lighthouse and museums, one of which is devoted to shipwrecks.   The resort town across the causeway reminded me of a smaller version of Miami Beach with half a dozen high-rise hotel complexes and lots of restaurants and shops catering to beachgoers.   Our favorite attraction in the area was the SPI Birding & Nature Center, one of 9 such facilities in the Rio Grande Valley but the only one on the Gulf of Mexico.

The first town we spent time in was Harlingen, which was once known as Six Shooter Junction.  It struck me as having a fair number of non-Hispanic residents, including many seasonal ones.  It has many murals downtown including one celebrating the most famous person born in Harlingen, a town that was named after a city in The Netherlands.  Bill Haley, the first rock & roller, smiles down from this mural on a quiet, commercial street.   The ladies at Harlingen’s Chamber of Commerce insisted that their community a close-knit with lots of civic pride.  Harlingen is large enough to have a shopping center, a cinema complex, and a tourist attraction that we both really liked, an Iwo Jima Memorial.  It’s there because of a World War II marine hero who was born in nearby Weslaco.

The 2nd largest town in the Rio Grande Valley is McAllen.  Known as The City of Palms, McCallen looks more prosperous than other area towns because of its air base, railroad, and ranching history.   With contiguous Mission and Pharr, it contains every familiar store franchise in the United States; but Mission seemed more rural, Spanish speaking, and nature-centered (the National Butterfly Center is just outside of it) than McAllen.  Behind a golf course near town center, Quinta Mazatlan was McAllen best attraction.  It’s affiliated with the world birding centers that abound in the Rio Grande Valley and caters to serious birders and nature lovers.  The best restaurant we found in all of these communities was in McAllen.  In a small shopping center, the Santa Fe Steakhouse surprised us with wild salmon on its menu.  It has added “and Cantina” to its name to compete with almost every other restaurant in this part of Texas.  Quinta Mazatlan is a hacienda/estate founded by a fascinating Renaissance Man.

West of Mission there’s far less urban action and lots of scrubland all the way to Rio Grande City.

Hank

PS  Ruth & I saw Prickly Poppies in 3 colors because this part of the United States has relatively mild winters. 

 

 

 


The Rio Grande Valley

 

Ruth & I spent 10 days in the Rio Grande Valley and talked to a lot of people who live there.  Many of them are tense and told us not to cross into Mexico.  That’s why I was very interested in “A Bridge Now Crossed Less Freely” in Sunday’s (February 11) New York Times by Oscar Cásares.  I wanted to visit Matamoros and, perhaps, Nuevo Laredo, which we had experienced in the past.  Ruth was wary.  The closest I came to visiting Mexico was standing among many parked vehicles with Texas license plates while trying to decide whether or not to cross the Rio Grande as a pedestrian on the Los Ebanos ferry, last hand-pulled one on the Rio Grande River.

I’m now glad I didn’t cross on that ferry even though Ruth agreed to stay with the rental car while I did it.  Her caution prevented potential problems every day we were near the Mexican border.

The Times article confirmed what we both felt, this is a very troubled border right now.   Cásares reports about the “stunning violence in the turf war between the Zetas and Gulf Cartel for control of this lucrative drug smuggling route into the United States”.  No wonder we were never too far from the sight of a border control vehicle.  No wonder several Hispanic residents of the Rio Grande Valley told us they no longer cross the bridges to visit Matamoros, Reynosa, etc.  The article warns about “armed robberies, sexual assaults, carjackings, murder, extortions, and kidnappings”.  Ruth read this article too and underlined one sentence that talks about the brave souls who still cross the border but stay on the main drags and clear out before dark.  Locals in Brownsville report hearing gun battles across the Rio Grande that have scared off lots of motorhoming winter visitors, often retirees from the Midwest trying to escape winter weather.  In many places Ruth & I saw 18-feet-high fences that many residents hope will become an actual border wall.

The most Hispanic city along the Mexico-U.S. border in the Rio Grande Valley is busy Brownsville, an important port.   We felt completely safe there because of the Border Patrol’s ongoing efforts to secure the border.  Reportedly, some senators and other high-placed government officials from the United States have been to the area to get a closer look at efforts to keep citizens protected.  The Official Guide to the Rio Grande Valley claims that it’s “really a safe place to call home”.  We also found it a safe place to visit as long as we didn’t cross the border.  This Guide told me about a Border Community Liaison Program called Operation Detour that strives to keep teens and young adults from becoming involved in smuggling narcotics.  Cartels that control much of the Mexican side of the border often recruit young people with the promise of easy money and “the myth that juveniles who get caught will not be prosecuted”.

Each of the communities on the U. S. side of the border has its own personality.  I’ll tell about them tomorrow.

Hank


Oscar de la Renta Made Ruth Drool

We started our 2018 trip to Texas in Houston because of Oscar de la Renta.  Ruth wanted to see “The Glamour and Romance of Oscar de la Renta” at the Museum of Fine Arts.   It has been so popular that it was extended until  March 18, 2018.   Popular among women, that is.  I saw this show with literally hundreds of females all oohing and aahing about his designs.  After it closes, this show will travel to Charlotte, North Carolina’s Mint Museum and open some time this spring.   It will not be the same show we saw in Houston, which has been, well, tailor-made for a Texas audience.  I hope I don’t have to go to Charlotte any time soon.

The hit of this show was clearly Amal Clooney’s wedding dress, one of the last designs de la Renta created before he died in 2014.   Oscar de la Renta’s career lasted for more than 5 decades.  Although he was born in the Dominican Republic, he trained in Madrid, Spain, with Cristóbal Balenciaga and moved to New York to work for Elizabeth Arden.   His solo career began in the late 1960s.  During it he became the first American to lead a French couture house.  This show was curated by Leon Talley, A Vogue Magazine editor and friend of Oscar’s.

 Always remaining true to his roots, de la Renta was consistently inspire by Spanish customs and people.  In his designs, he reflected their art, bullfights, flamemco, etc.  The black evening dress of silk velvet, beads, and sequins at the top is typical of the elegant designs that women like Ruth love.   “I have always been attracted to the exotic,” he needlessly said.  “I would always look at folklore and how people were dressed in different cultures…that’s what fascinates me.”    The cultures he featured also included The Middle East, Russia, Turkey, etc.   In fact, he won prestigious Coty Awards 2 years in a row early in his career.  The first was for a show called “The Road of Spices”.

Oscar was a lifelong gardener who called this passion “the most spiritual and pure of joys”.  He also designed a wedding dress for his stepdaughter, Eliza Bolen, who was married in his Connecticut garden.   He had another garden at his home in the Dominican Republic.

Like the London-based character Daniel Day Lewis plays in Phanton Thread, Reynolds Woodcock,  Oscar de la Renta had an on-site workroom when he worked in New York and was dressing women like Taylor Swift and Laura Bush.  De la Renta figured that skilled craftspeople, fabrics, and trims helped his creative process that began with drawing a collection that took 3 months of work to create.

About the time I read this, I was on fabric overload but Ruth wanted more time with Oscar, so I went off on my own to see a bit of this museum’s permanent collection.  While wandering, I found artist Robert Henri’s picador and learned that Henri made several trips to Spain where he became a bullfight fan.  Within a week I’d learn about picadors in La Gloria, Texas.

Hank