Category Archives: 5 Compass

London’s National Gallery



One of the biggest fires in history occurred in London in 1666.   It destroyed 13,000 buildings, but this city was and is indomitable and 34 years later it was the largest one in Europe.

London has some of the world’s best tourist attractions.  Certainly one of them is its National Gallery at Trafalgar Square.  The 2,300 works of art on display inside include some of the most famous paintings in the world, and it truly offers a complete education in art history in about 60 rooms. As an incredible bonus, it’s free, except for special exhibitions in the attached Sainsbury Gallery. To my knowledge, the National Gallery is the only place in the world except for Italy where visitors can see 3 of Caravaggio’s 79 paintings still in existence in one building.  The National Gallery justifiably brags, “From Leonardo da Vinci to Vincent van Gogh”.

Germany-born banker/collector John Julius Angerstein died in 1823 at the age of 88.  The next year the government acquired his collection to get the National Gallery started.  Another gentleman promised his collected works if a suitable place to display them could be arranged.  What the government had amassed thus far was moved to Trafalgar Square in 1838 with no formal collection policy, which led to criticism.  J.M.W. Turner, one of England’s most famous artists, left a number of his paintings to the National Gallery in his will with instructions about how to display 2 of them.  Some of Turner’s cousins contested the will and, ironically, this led to a much larger gift of Turner’s works to the nation.

There’s almost always an outstanding temporary show in the Sainsbury Wing. Upcoming is “Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art”.  If you’re visiting London between February 17 and May 22, 2016, this will be the hot show to see. Turner did some pre-impressionistic paintings that included fires, storms, and a new technology–the train, but Eugène Delacroix, basically a romantic painter in the French Grand Style, influenced the Impressionists too.  A highly admired artist who claimed that a painting should be “a feast for the eye”, Delacroix died about ten years before Claude Monet turned to Impressionism. Perhaps Delacroix’s most famous painting is “Liberty Leading the People,” a graphic image of the 1830 revolution.  Adults will pay up to £16 to see Delacroix’s passionate works and will have no regrets.






The 5 Compass Oklahoma History Center


Oklahoma City proved to be such a great destination that Ruth and I visited it twice in 2015.   The first time we made it to the American Banjo Museum and the Ninety-Nines Museum of Women Pilots but missed the Oklahoma History Center.  We made up for that during the summer and found it both 5 Compass and agreed with the GEM that AAA gives it.

A Smithsonian affiliate, the Oklahoma History Center (OHC) does an especially good job of getting the word out about this state’s complexity.  If you think that Oklahoma’s history is only about displaced Native Americans, cowboys, and oil, you need to see the multitude of artifacts on display in what this city’s official guide calls “the place to discover Oklahoma’s multifaceted story”.

As Ruth and I walked into OHC, I was making a mental list of movies made in Oklahoma because someone in Guthrie told me that a movie crew was there for several months earlier in the year making a soon to be released film.  She couldn’t remember its name.  On my list were the recent August, Osage County and a classic, The Outsiders.  I asked Tiffany at the entry desk if she know the name of the Guthrie movie.  She didn’t.  However, while Ruth and I were spending 2 hours looking at OHC’s many displays, Tiffany was, completely on her own, compiling a made-in-Oklahoma list for me that included Rainman, Twister, and many more.

Tiffany apologized that the INASMUCH  Gallery was closed until a new exhibit about Oklahoma commerce opens in November, 2015.  She also told Ruth & me about OKPOP.  This new 30,000 square-feet museum will open in Tulsa in 2018.  OKPOP will focus on the creative spirit of Oklahoma’s people and their international influence on pop culture and the arts.  Blake Shelton, Patti Page, Garth Brooks, and Reba McEntire are sure to be among the stars in the music section.


Across the street from the State Capitol, OHC vividly tells why so many Native American tribes live in Oklahoma, but it personalizes the story.  For example, it tells the incredible tale of the Aitson family.  Ruth brought me over to see it.  After her mother died, Joan Aitson found some old documents among her Mom’s possessions in an old trunk.  They turned out to be medals and documents, including a signed peace certificate, presented to the Otoe tribe when Joan’s ancestors met Lewis and Clark.  One tribal rep even went to Washington, DC and met with Thomas Jefferson who promised  fertile land that the Otoes never received.   Joan and Joe Dent, her cousin and a member of the Otoe Tribe, decided to donate what Joan had found to the Oklahoma Historical Society.   They ended up on permanent display in the OK History Center.

This is just one example of what’s on view in the Oklahoma History Center. Among my favorites were a reproduction of the plane that Oklahoma icon Will Rogers died in, the story of the Steamboat Heroine, a 1951 bullet-nosed Studebaker called “The Champion” outside the Kerr-McGee Gallery on the 3rd floor, and information about Honey Springs, Oklahoma’s biggest Civil War battle.


Port Townsend, WA, Awakened


The State of Washington has lots of cool towns–Twisp, Winthrop, Dayton, Camas, Walla Walla, Forks, etc–but Port Townsend is rapidly becoming my favorite.  Ruth and I just returned from our 2nd 2015 visit after several years of not going there.  Much is new among the old.

Port Townsend could have become Seattle.  In the sea travel era, it became a Northwest U.S. superstar town because of its Admiralty Inlet location at the entrance to Puget Sound where the water went from wild to placid.  In the 1800s it was on the brink of becoming a great city with a booming economy. The population was projected to quadruple to 20,000 by the turn of the century.   Called the New York of the West, Port Townsend, which was founded in 1851, attracted a Customs Collection facility that made it necessary for every ship from any foreign port to stop there.  The town was growing on 2 levels.  Bankers, merchants, and ship owners were building mansions on the hill now called Uptown.  Downtown, kind of a sin at sea level place, had brothels, the city jail, wharfs, etc.  But then the Depression of 1893 occurred and the railroad terminated in Seattle, not Port Townsend as expected.  It went to sleep.

But in the 1970s Port Townsend awakened and became a hippie hangout. The mansions on the hill became B&Bs.  In the early 1980s Hollywood came to town to make the successful An Officer and a Gentleman.  Port Townsend was on its way back up.  Ruth & I saw its potential when we first started visiting in the 1990s, but then we got distracted and didn’t return until 2015.

We were amazed at Port Townsend’s rebirth.  The population was soaring with both young families and retirees finding, and loving, its slow pace, unspoiled environment, and undeniable quality of life.  New attractions included the sensational Kelly Art Deco Lighting Museum in Vintage Hardware that I wrote about on April 28.   Old attractions like the downtown Jefferson Museum and the uptown Carnegie Library were being redone.  Manresa Castle was thriving.  Places with vast potential for tourism development like Fort Worden, the Northwest’s Presidio, were being discussed.  Visiting Port Townsend was still like time travel back to the 19th century, but with modern amenities.

Tomorrow, Fort Worden.



Natchitoches, a Traveler’s Destination Since 1714


Our best source for regional attractions and important towns we might not know about is the people Ruth and I meet on the road.  On our way from Shreveport to New Orleans recently, Ruth asked John Cariere of Fairfield Place about an essential  place to visit and he said there were 2, Breaux Bridge and Natchitoches.   We made it to both.

Natchitoches, pronounced Nack a tish, immediately became a town to go back to as soon as possible.  In a few hours we only had time for a walking tour, a church, one store, and lunch.  All 4 were sensational.  Population 18,000+, Natchitoches has some notable tourist lures including the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, an alligator facility where feeding time is reportedly popular, and a National Historical Park, Cane River Creole, that features 18th century plantation life.  The last one is especially important to see next time.

18th century is not a misprint.  In north/central Louisiana, Natichoches is the oldest permanent settlement in the entire Louisiana Purchase.  It has been an important trading center since way back in 1714, four years before the French founded New Orleans.   Natchitoches’ downtown district, which we much admired on the walking tour, contained 50+ historic homes, buildings, and restaurants.  Among the latter, Lasyone’s specialty was a locally popular meat pie.  Many restaurants served authentic creole dishes.  The National Trust for Historic Preservation named Natchitoches a Great American Main Street 9 years ago, just one of its multiple awards and designations.

The church was not just an ordinary place of worship.  Established in 1728, the Church of the Immaculate Conception became a Cathedral in 1856, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and was declared a Minor Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2010.   There are only 63 of these in the United States.  Appropriately on the corner of 2nd and Church Street, Immaculate Conception’s pews and crystal chandeliers came from France, and its original Austrian stained glass windows looked newly installed.

The store was Kaffie-Frederick, Inc. General Mercantile.  Louisiana’s oldest general store, Kaffie was established in 1863, and if it weren’t for the modern, eclectic merchandise on level one I would swear that I was browsing it on opening day.  I have never been in a store so enchanting or unchanged over time.  Only upstairs, where Ruth bought some jewelry, was it a bit more updated.

If you can’t make it to Natchitoches any time soon, find and view Steel Magnolias.  If you’re a woman, this probably won’t be your 1st viewing, but it might be the first time you actually paid attention to the town instead of the famous cast.  Steel Magnolias was filmed in many locations in and around Natchitoches in 1988.  Robert Harling, its author, was from here and based his story on a family experience.  If you’re a man, you might want to see The Horse Soldiers instead.  John Wayne came to Natchitoches to make it.


The Atypical Institute of Texas Cultures


The lady carrying the pot on her head was an early Texan.  She was a member of the Caddo tribe and lived in what is now the eastern part of the Lone Star State.  Her town had temples and plazas.  The men she knew were farmers and hunters.  If she lived in the middle of the 16th century, she may have seen some male European explorers.  About 5,000 of her people still live in Texas, Oklahoma, etc.   I took her picture in the Institute of Texan Cultures in San Antonio.

The Institute of Texas Cultures is affiliated with the Smithsonian.  Its building was once a World’s Fair pavilion because back in 1968 San Antonio hosted HemisFair, an international exposition involving 30 countries. HemisFair’s theme was the celebration of the many groups, like the Caddos, who contributed to Texas culture.   After the fair closed, some wise curators kept the good stuff on view and ITC became a permanent, excellent museum.

The Institute of Texas Cultures provides a lively, often unexpected education in the history of the people of Texas.  Well prepared volunteers, like some quilting ladies, were available to tell me about the past.  After I learned about the Clovis people and other native settlers, I moved on to Irish, Scots, and Brits and realized that this is not your ordinary ethnographic museum, as in thousands of unread, dry facts.  11 men from Ireland died at The Alamo.  Half Scot, half Cherokee Jesse Chisolm established a wagon route from Kansas to Oklahoma that became the history-making, cattle-driving Chisolm Trail.  Dealey Plaza was named for two Brit Brothers who owned the Dallas Morning News.

To me the most surprising story in the entire museum involved African-American Stella Hollis. Stella began researching her family history in 1990 and learned that her great-great Grandmother, Emeline Miller, lived in the White House!  When she was 8, Emeline was given by President Andrew Jackson to his 3-year-old grandniece Mary as a christening gift.  Emeline, Mary’s “personal servant”, moved to Texas in 1855 where she earned her freedom and had 8 children.

Germans are the 4th largest ethnic group in Texas, and many towns like Fredericksburg have German names.  Born there, Frank Van der Stucken Jr. conducted the 1st American concert in Europe, led the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, and entertained Edvard Grieg with his compositions.

Many Hungarian Texans struggled with loyalty issues during the Civil War. They and other immigrants, especially those from Europe, didn’t know whether to join the North or the South.  This must have been true for great numbers of folks struggling to learn English and become Texans who had no background with American civil unrest yet had to take sides.  The ethnic group I had no knowledge about were the Wendish.  The Institute even asked, “Who are the Texas Wends?  Their ethics roots were in Lusatia, part of Saxony and Prussia.  600 of them landed in Galveston in 1854 after a difficult Atlantic crossing.

Polish Pola Negri was a big movie star.  She made more than 20 movies like Good and Naughty for Paramount in the 1920s.  Her last film was Walt Disney’s The Moonspinners in 1964.  Pola moved to San Antonio where she lived quietly until she died in 1987.

At a party last night Pat told me that he thought there were only 4 American cities whose histories were important to learn about when visiting–New Orleans, San Francisco, New York, and San Antonio.  Like Tejanos and Hungarian Civil War soldiers, here was something new to think about.