Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
The author of Blue Highways, Roads to Quoz, and PrairyErth, William Least Heat-Moon, has written his newest book called Here, There, Elsewhere; Stories From the Road. This volume is a series of chapters, each one unique, about his lifetime of travels all over the world and here at home. There is something for everyone in this collection of articles, many never before published. Because my daughter was married in Yosemite National Park I especially loved that chapter and felt like I was right there with the wandering author. I felt the same about all the Missouri connections as well. What is really neat for me is that I knew the author, not by his pen name but as Bill Trogden, in my years at the University of Missouri in Columbia. He was a doctoral student in the English Department and I was an English major and then Library School graduate student. I knew he traveled, kept a journal, loved his beer, and was a thoughtful and introspective kind of guy–but who would have known that he’d become such a well-respected and famous author! I thought he’d end up as an English professor somewhere. He also grew up in Kansas City, Missouri, like me, so I was familiar with many of the places he mentioned in his writing. I can’t remember if it was Prairie Lights Bookstore or the Writers’ Workshop at Iowa that brought Bill to Iowa City a few years ago. He stopped in the Iowa City Public Library and I happened to see him; we enjoyed catching up with each others’ lives. Back to his new book… I don’t drink beer and yet even I enjoyed the chapter on micro-breweries in the United States and all the references made to the pubs in Ireland, England, and Wales. The chapter on his hiking in Oregon was also appealing because my daughter now lives in Corvallis and I’ve visited there as well as Portland and the Oregon coast. My husband and I are taking an Alaskan cruise in August and I enjoyed reading about the Tlingit people in another chapter. Throughout the book, the author who is part Osage Indian, makes many comments about the injustices done to our native people. Bill is brilliant and well-read, with a terrific grasp of history and literature, not to mention his enviable travels all over the globe. His vocabulary is astonishing. The selections contained in this latest work of travel writing are appealing to a readership who like a challenging book and yet can pick and choose the parts they want to read. Of course I read his book from cover to cover and was completely amazed at the fine writing. Check it out if you like intellectual quest books and introspective, articulate travel writing about journeys of the mind, body and soul.
I dream of moving to Paris. Walks along the Seine, long lunches at outdoor cafes, and immersion into French culture would be an amazing experience for a Midwestern girl. Mary Bly, who hails from Minnesota and is only a couple years older than me, survived breast cancer and decided to do something remarkable. After a lot of discussion, she and her husband move to Paris for a year with their two children, ages 11 and 15. Mary Bly, better known as romance writer Eloisa James, is a Shakespeare professor and has degrees from Harvard, Oxford, and Yale.
Paris in Love is written as a series of social media posts documenting Mary Bly’s experiences in Paris. From the early days of transitioning into Parisian life to the final days of savoring a few final meals with friends, Bly captures everyday life and the transformation her family experiences during their year abroad. Some posts are laugh-out-loud funny while others capture the coming-of-age experiences of her children and memories of family and friends. I listened to the book on disc, narrated by the author. The narration was wonderful and added to my enjoyment of the book.
Although it is not likely I will move to Paris, I thoroughly enjoyed moving there vicariously with Bly and her family. I was very sorry when the book ended and miss my daily commuter dose of Paris. I haven’t read an Eloisa James novel, but now I am curious about those stories as well. ~~Enjoy~~
This book is another great find on the New shelf on the second floor, where I was browsing recently. I have often admired the quilt squares I’ve seen on barns around Iowa, but assumed they were isolated pieces put up by quilt lovers and that it was just a happy coincidence that I’d caught sight of them. After reading Barn Quilts, I know that they are not there by accident, and I’m inspired by the story of how the American Quilt Trail movement came to be.
Author Suzi Parron has researched the origins of the quilt trails, followed the trails in numerous states and found beautiful art and heartwarming stories all along the way. The barn quilts often represent cooperation among state and local arts organizations, philanthropic groups, visitor bureaus, and local craftspeople and community members interested in sharing their art with all passersby.
The book is full of color pictures of barns with their quilt squares. It covers trails in eight, mostly midwestern states. In the chapter on Iowa, the counties represented include Grundy, Buchanan, Fayette, Humboldt, Sac and Washington. The quilt trail closest to us is in Washington County, the “Barn Quilt Capital of Iowa“. My only quibble with this lovely book is that there are no maps or website listings for the trails. However, a simple internet search for barn quilt trails in the counties named will deliver specific information on each county and maps that show the locations of the barns.
Barns and quilts, two art forms in their own right, go together beautifully as this book shows. Take a look at this history of a grassroots movement, and then take a drive down some country roads to see some unique midwestern art.
Do you have summer travel plans? No? Then let reading be your escape. Travel writing is a wonderful way to take a trip vicariously, especially a trip to a destination that you wouldn’t necessarily choose or to ones that no longer exist. My picks are a mixture of new and classic travel stories.
Start with “Wild: from lost to found on the Pacific Crest Trail” by Cheryl Strayed. This new bestseller takes readers on Strayed’s 1,100-mile trek on the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT). It is a trip Strayed is ill-prepared to take. She is almost always alone. Her shoes are too small. Her pack is too big – so big in fact that she names it Monster. As she hikes she sheds items from her overstuffed backpack and the grief and pain she has carried for years. While “Wild” is the story of Strayed hiking the PCT, it is so much more; it is the journey of Strayed’s redemption.
A much older but classic travel title is John Steinbeck’s “Travels with Charley: in search of America.” Originally published in 1962, “Travels with Charley” recounts Steinbeck’s 10,000-mile journey with his standard Poodle, Charley. They cross the United States in Rocinante, (the name of Don Quixote’s horse), his three-quarter-ton truck, outfitted with a cabin. Steinbeck’s goal was to reconnect with America. “Travels” was well received by the public, but not so by all the critics. Put me firmly in the public camp. I like Charley and I enjoyed Steinbeck’s reflections.
Pick up any travel book by Des Moines native Bill Bryson and you will not be disappointed. A favorite is “A Walk in the Woods: rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail.” It is a humorous account of one man’s attempt to walk the Appalachian Trail (AT). After returning to America following a long sojourn in England, Bryson decided to “rediscover” his home country by walking the 2,100-mile trail. He is joined by a childhood friend and the two of them set out on their trek. They too are ill-prepared and have packed far more than needed. But unlike the PCT the AT offers more stops and more opportunities for interactions with other hikers and the local folk. Bryson will provide a summer’s worth of enjoyment and exploration.
“Best American Travel Writing” is an annual publication and takes readers across the globe with some of the best writing from magazines and blogs. The short pieces can be serious or humorous and are often eye-opening. If one of the stories strikes your fancy the library may have a book or two by the author. Other travel anthologies include “The Best Women’s Travel Writing: true stories from around the world” or “Best of Lonely Planet Travel Writing.”
Your journey to another location need not involve a plane or train or passport, just a trip to your library. Come explore the shelves and transport yourself.
In 1937, everybody in Beijing was on edge. Except Pamela Werner. The nineteen-year-old daughter of a former British consul, Pamela had grown up comfortably, but largely unsupervised in Armour Factory Alley, outside the Legation Quarter where most foreigners in Beijing lived at the time. She confidently travelled between both worlds boldly declaring “I am not afraid of anything.” Unfortunately her confidence was misplaced.
In Midnight in Peking: How the Murder of a Young Englishwoman Haunted the Last Days of Old China, Paul French uses the investigation of the vicious murder of Pamela Werner to highlight the tensions between the Chineseand the privileged foreign residents of the Legation Quarter and the fear that both felt with the impending Japanese occupation of the city. The detection work is restricted by the requirement that Col. Han Shih-ching work alongside British Detective Chief Inspector Richard Dennis with Col. Han discouraged from questioning foreigners and DCI Dennis restricted to investigation inside the Legation Quarter. Ultimately, her murder would be declared unsolved as the Japanese occupation took priority. Her father’s relentless quest to solve his daughter’s murder provided many of the resources Paul French calls upon to finally piece the puzzle together.
While this book is recommended for any fan of detective fiction or Chinese history, it was especially engaging if you are familiar with or planning a trip to Beijing. Using the the map and audio tour at the book’s website, plan a walk along Pamela’s route from her house, through the Badlands and into the Legation Quarter. Kuijiachang Hutong where Pamela and her widowed father lived on Armour Factor Alley is suitably spooky while the Tartar Wall near the Fox Tower (where her body was found) is magical at night – filled with people dancing in the park and, in spring, the scent of cherry blossoms. The hulking embassy buildings with their distinctive architecture make a striking end to the trek, but don’t stop there. Keep going past the official walk to swanky Capital M (just south of Tiananmen Square) for drinks overlooking Zheng Yang Gate.
I learned a new word today while researching this blog. Or at least a new definition for the word in question. We’ve all experienced the meaning of the word folly and/or its plural. Whether used to describe foolish behaviors or thoughts, useless undertakings, or disastrous actions, the word folly is a favorite for critics. And for those who wish to disagree with or disparage the decisions or efforts of others.
But the other meaning for “follies” is more whimsical. In fact, follies are eccentric structures built primarily as architectural ornaments. They are often located in gardens and appear as full fledged buildings, though usually are not functional as such. They may include fakery in their design (for example, deliberately built “ruins” and “ancient” temples.) Their intent isn’t to be functional. Instead these curious constructions are created and built purely for pleasure and for looks.
Related to follies is another type of garden whimsy called grottoes. Often religious in nature, these artificial creations are delightful sparkly caves embellished with thousands upon thousands of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, ceramic tiles, glass, and more. Midwest America has the largest number of such grottoes, most of which were originally built by German Catholic priests inspired by 18th & 19th century European traditions.
The Grotto of the Redemption in West Bend Iowa is the largest single grotto in the world with four million dollars worth of minerals cemented in its walls. There is lovely example at the Holy Ghost Grotto in Dickeyville, Wisconsin.There are several smaller grottoes located in West Burlington and Guttenberg. Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids had a beautiful grotto and lake called Our Mother of Sorrows which will be partially restored soon. On Nov. 3rd, Lisa Stone (a curator and professor at the School of Art Institute of Chicago) will present a lecture called “Grottoes in the Heartland” at 7:00 p.m. in Donnelly 300 at Mercy. For information, see:
What both follies and grottoes represent are self-made outside worlds, created for pleasure and inspiration by people with a different vision. Garden follies use traditional architecture and construction techniques. While grottoes are more a visionary folk or outsider art form built by those with no formal training (and plenty of cheap cement!)
If you’d like to see some but don’t have time to travel, there’s an excellent book at ICPL that includes grotto examples called Self-Made Worlds: Visionary Folk Art Environments by Roger Manley. You can also read about the West Bend and Dickeyville grottoes in a number of Iowa and Wisconsin travel guides (at 917.77 and 917.75 upstairs in nonfiction.) Using Google and the Internet, you can find many examples of grotto, folly, and other self-made worlds, including an excellent site called “NarrowLarry’s World of the Outstanding.” Check it out below and enjoy!
There’s always a preseason buzz in the air. Personally I don’t go to the football games (you’ll find me at the Library on kickoff day!) but I do enjoy the anticipation leading up to the football games. I also have an appreciation of the Hawkeye legacy and enjoy the food at the tailgaters I attend.
The Library has many wonderful resources to help you prepare for the football season. If you are interested in exciting moments in Hawkeye sports, search the Library’s catalog (click on the Word/Phrase Tab) for “Iowa Sports History.” Or check out the “Go Hawkeyes” sound recording to listen to the Iowa Fightsong and other great moments in Hawkeye History.
If you want to watch an interview with the legendary Hayden Fry, navigate to the Library’s streaming video collection and select the entry for Hayden Fry. Or if you need some ideas to plan for an awesome tailgate food spread, search Catalog Pro for “Tailgate Parties.”
Count on the Iowa City Public Library to help you prepare for football season. Go Hawkeyes!
Summer is perfect for taking day trips with family. The weather is warm and Iowa’s green fields look beautiful as miles speed by on a road trip. Our state has over a hundred state parks and nature preserves offering gorgeous settings to hike or play in. Many of our communities have fascinating histories or attractions that appeal to kids. And let’s not forget the acclaimed Iowa State Fair and butter cow! Luckily there are great picture books about the Hawkeye State that you can share in the car while traveling.
My favorite is by author/illustrator Arthur Geisert. He relocated and now resides in Bernard, a small town of 98 people in northeast Iowa. He and his neighbors in the hard scrabble town have become fond friends. So he has featured them in an alphabet book called Country Road ABC: an Illustrated Journey through America’s Farmland. This book is a loving yet realistic record of what life is like in small farming communities. Examples for letters include farming information with multiple stories being told in intricate etchings. Some are funny and all can found cruising down county highways.
Sue F. Cornelison wrote The Twelve Days of Christmas in Iowa. A take-off on the song, it is also a nice introduction to Iowa. In it, a boy named Aiden visits his cousin Ella on holiday. She lives on a farm and is so happy to see him that she gives him a special Iowa gift each day. He then writes home about them, telling his parents (and readers) all about our state’s lore, history, and famous places (like LeMars – the Ice Cream Capitol of the World!)
If driving (or being hungry) takes you to the Amanas, be sure to find a copy of Kolonie Kinder: a Children’s Story of Communal Amana. It’s about a day in the life of a little girl living in South Amana when the Colonies still lived apart from the world. And speaking of hunger, no vacation is complete without a visit to the Iowa State Fair. There, besides contests and carnival rides, you can find almost any food conveniently placed on a stick to eat. Susan Knapp’s Bells Goes to the Fair is a fun introduction for kids going to the fair for the first time. It tells the true story of a naughty dog’s escapade after he gets loose there. Iowa’s Tradition: an ABC Photo Album of the Iowa State Fair is another good title by J.O. Parker.
Should you travel north, be sure to check out Dewey: There’s a Cat in the Library! It is based on Vicki Myron’s true story of Dewey Readmore Books, a cat who lived at the Spencer Public Library for many years. There he became world famous and the town’s water tower now sports paw prints in his honor. But if going south, take a look at William Hosford’s Geo the Geode, a book about Iowa’s official state rock which visitors can search for at Geode State Park near Burlington. If lucky, you might just find one!
These books celebrate Iowa and are available at the Iowa City Public Library. Read them together and may happy trails be yours.
My travelin’ dreams are on the rise, now that spring is here and summer’s just a month away. There’s nothing like a road trip when skies are blue and the world’s freshly green! The Library has a wonderful collection of travel books and DVDs, many of which have good road trip recommendations for different parts of the country.
But the type of car trip I like best involves stopping at more unusual roadside attractions. Ones that include natural or man-made curiosities, folk and outsider art, eccentric architecture, forgotten historic sites, giant statues, or just old-fashioned, down home restaurants and diners. The Midwest has quite of few of these locations and there are plenty within a day’s drive from Iowa City. For inspiration, one can get lots of ideas on the Roadside America.com site at: http://www.roadsideamerica.com/
Or, better yet, browse through these nifty books from ICPL:
Two for the Road: Our Love Affair with American Food – Jane & Michael Stern (2006)
Oddball Iowa: a Guide to Some Really Strange Places – Jerome Pohlen (2005)
Iowa Curiosities: Quirky Characters, Roadside Oddities, & Other Offbeat Stuff – Dan Coffey (2005)
Roadside America: Architectural Relics From a Vanishing Past – John Margolies (2010)
Weird Illinois – Troy Taylor (2005)
Weird Wisconsin – Linda S. Godfrey (2005)
Weird Minnesota – Eric Dregni (2006)
Weird Missouri – James Strait (2008)
As Jack Keroac wrote in his famous work, On the Road:
“…the road is life.”