November 2016 - The Deep South

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Stone Mountain

In the rolling hills just outside of Atlanta Georgia is an anomaly. Plopped among the wooded hills is a giant lump of if bare stone rising 825 feet above its neighbors, completely unlike anything in the neighborhood. The park around the mountain is beautiful, but for a confirmed Yankee the place is troubling.

You can read about the place in detail in this Wikipedia article, but in a nutshell, the park is unabashedly dedicated to the racist past of Georgia. On November 25, 1915 it was the site of the rebirth of the KKK. The side of the mountain is defaced with a carving of the so-called heroes of the Confederacy.

The museum and other information there carefully avoids telling you that these so-called heroes led thousands of men to their deaths in order to be sure that they could continue own men, women and children with black skins.

All right, I sound rather sour, but as I write this we have had an avowed racist in the Oval Office for a month now; a man who is encouraging anti-Semitism, takes advice from a neo-Nazi and has instituted a terror campaign of midnight raids against anyone with a brown skin. This country just doesn't need a memorial to racism and hate.

On the top of the mountain we met three people. The first was a black woman who talked with Judy and me for some time. When the talk turned to politics (this was just before the election) she told us she couldn't vote for a woman because the Bible said that women could not be leaders.

As you can imagine, this rocked our liberal, bleeding hearts - how could a black woman vote for a man who was overtly racist? We batted the idea around, but she clung firmly to her beliefs - we were mystified.

The second two were the two little girls below. They were obviously best buds, holding hands and giggling as they explored the mountaintop.

I can't think of a better way to counteract the poison of racism that lies at the base of Stone Mountain than these little girls. They knew that they were friends and what anyone else thought was meaningless. I just hope they can remain best friends without having to be censured by the rest of society.

OK - rant over.

You get to the top of the mountain on a cable car or by walking up the trail - naturally we opted to ride. The view from the top is wonderful.

Inevitably, some of the visitors opted to leave a reminder of their presence. Some, like this one in 1912 put a lot of effort into it.

Others simply re-arranged a few rocks.

Looking down there was something that looked like a mountain of snow. Snow in Georgia? Yup! Some fool has decided to waste enormous amounts of power to create a mountain of snow in 80 temperatures so they can charge people to ski down the thing.

The park at the base of the mountain has some lovely walking paths through the woods and around the lakes.

While walking we made two discoveries. Spying something hanging from a tree, we found a sweet little piece of beadwork left as a gift to someone who wandered by. This card, somewhat the worse for the weather, was attached to it.

What a wonderful idea, one more proof that there are people who will love and spread joy even in a monument to hate. Thanks, Sherry, whoever you are. You've made our lives brighter. Your artwork is hanging next to my computer and I glance at it every so often and remember a day made better by your thoughtfulness.

The second discovery was a simple memorial to a beloved pet left by the side of the trail. I hope whoever Lola was she found joy walking through these woods with her people.

We certainly found joy in the antics of Sophia, who seemed to consider the RV and everything in it her personal play toy. You can watch a kitten for hours on end, at least until they suddenly tire and collapse in a heap wherever they happen to be.

Florida

Once again we stopped in Orlando to visit with Brad & Louise, old friends of Judy's that she found last year on Facebook. There wasn't much reminiscing this year as we got there just before the election. Brad & Louise are solidly bleeding heart liberals just as Judy and I are, so we spent much of our time discussing what an idiot Trump was, little realizing what the country was about to go through with a fool for a president.

Wait - I'm coming perilously close to another rant here, so I'll just leave it at that and go on about the visit. This time we visited the Mead Botanical Garden, a lovely and peaceful place to enjoy for an afternoon.

Another Lost Cousin

It's been close to 50 years since I've seen my cousin Nancy, (on my father's side) but my sister Kris somehow found her on Facebook. She lives in Palm Beach, so we had to stop by and see her on our Florida tour. We were greeted in the RV park by many friendly ducks, but this one seemed to have a liking for our RV and was often outside the door just hanging out.

We arrived in West Palm Beach in on election day. Having long since sent in our absentee ballots, we were awaiting news of who won. By the time we realized that the gerrymandering and voter suppression in Republican states has resulted in electing an idiot millionaire who lost the election by almost three million votes, we were in a state of shock. Somehow it seemed appropriate we tour the The Breakers Hotel, a monument to opulent excess and great piles of money. Talk about your cognitive dissonance - an aging hippie in a tie-dye walking through marble halls filled with people in suits.

Actually, the staff there were used to riffraff such as myself wandering through and were very pleasant, but they charged twenty bucks to valet park our car - no free parking in this place. One of the assistant managers actually took the time to fill us in on some of the history of the place and pointed out some of the things we should be sure to see.

Oil Tycoon Henry Flagler founded Palm Beach and built the original hotel (it burned twice and was rebuilt) and the man didn't think small. I rather doubt I could afford a coffee in the restaurant, let alone a room for the night, but it is a beautiful place. The superb craftsmanship is well worth looking at.

Before we left, Judy made a new friend in cousin Nancy's front yard.

The Everglades

We timed our arrival in the Everglades for a weekend so we could spend it with our friends Dave and Helga's grandkids. We picked up the kids, leaving dad and grandma to enjoy a weekend by themselves, and headed for the Flamingo Campground in the Everglades National Park. At the visitor's center we were greeted by this sign:

Horrible mosquitoes today? Not a one to be seen of swatted at the visitor's center, so we piled in the pickup and headed for the campground. The place was empty, so we picked a spot and got out of the pickup to be immediately covered in swarms of vicious, blood sucking insects. Horrible indeed! I hesitate to contemplate what Hysterical conditions would be. Drenching ourselves in repellant we quickly set up the RV and ran inside, turning on the AC and closing all the windows. Then we unshipped the fly swatters and attacked the little buggers who managed to get inside.

Actually, we found the campground was the only place where the mosquitoes were really bad, most of the park was just fine and bloodthirsty insect free. We took a trip on one of the boats and got to see some of the interior of the park, Kaylee and Madison even got to drive the boat for a while, resulting on very wide grins.

The Everglades Alligator Farm was a big hit, especially watching the big gators chomp chicken at feeding time.

We took another boat ride, this time on an airboat whose pilot delighted in doing 360 turns and swamping the boat. The wildlife seems to have gotten use to the roaring of the fans and just stood there watching as we passed by.

The girls got to hold snakes after the snake show, and I was recruited to take pictures of two women whose boyfriends had forgotten their cameras. I e-mailed them copies the next time we had Wi-Fi access.

Then there was the alligator show, but the star of the show had to be dragged kicking and clawing on to the stage.

The girls got to hold a baby, had fun playing with a concrete alligator and feeding the emus.

The next day we took a sunset cruise into the ocean, where the girls again got to drive while we watched the birds nesting on the channel markers. The sunset was spectacular.

The best part of the cruise was when we docked and the crew ran water through the engines to cool them down. It seems the local manatees have learned that they have a free fresh water fountain for the taking. Watching them crowd each other out for the best position was amusing.

Frank Lloyd Wright

At Florida Southern University

Somewhere along the line, don't ask me where, we learned that Frank Lloyd Wright, our favorite architect had designed much of the campus of Florida Southern University. Since our friend Maureen lives quite near to the campus, we collected her and paid a visit to Frank, or at least his handiwork. The tour was interesting, it seems that Ludd M. Spivey, the President of the University had ambitions just as large as Frank had ego and they got along famously. Even in the middle of the Great Depression the prez wanted to build "a great education temple in Florida," and he wanted Frank to design it. The only problem was the university didn't have any money for the project. Frank always had a way to get around a roadblock (his abysmal driving record proves that!) so he designed the place on credit. Taking a page out of Wright's approach to his students, the university had their students build the buildings. They actually poured the sand-cast blocks to that the buildings were constructed from, then assemble the buildings. In fact, during WWII, when men were off fighting the war, the female students continued building the campus.

While the student labor force was cheap, there was much they didn't know about the building trades. Many of the sand-cast blocks are failing because the mix of materials used wasn't right. You can see the reinforcing bars exposed in several places around the campus.

The buildings are connected by a mile and a half of covered walkways, something the students must appreciate during Florida's torrential rains.

My two favorite buildings were the library and the Annie Pfeiffer Chapel. The library is built in the round with light coming from windows in the roof. While aesthetically pleasing, it is rather dark for reading and the students were know to bring reading lamps with them. I've mentioned before that Frank strongly disapproved of the people who lived in his buildings making any changes to them, well he was scandalized by those lamps. The story is told of how they were quickly hidden when he paid a visit to the campus.

Frank also included two unique features in the library - a fireplace that is seldom used in the heat of southern Florida and student chairs designed to tip over if the student should fall asleep. They work, they let you sit in one of the chairs reserved for tourist to try out.

The Annie Pfeiffer Chapel shows Wright's genius with light, the stairways and walls are pierced by colored glass which softly illuminate the darker spaces while the main chapel is brilliantly lit by the windows and glass tower.

The smaller Danforth Chapel is notable for it's windows as well. To me it has an almost Jewish feeling.

When Wright started work there were a few buildings already on campus. Typically, he demanded they be torn down so they wouldn't ruin his grand concept, but the powers-that-be were unwilling to leave the students without dormitories while the great education temple in Florida was implemented. They're still there.

Here are few more pictures from around the campus.

One more building deserves special attention - the visitor's center. It is one of Frank's Eusonian houses built of modern materials from the original plans for the campus. Naturally it includes an useless-in-Florida fireplace, but Frank was convinced all homes must have a fireplace and a grand piano. Since he isn't around any more, they didn't furnish the place with the piano.

Galveston Island

On our way to Austin for Thanksgiving with the family we stopped at Galveston Island State Park for a couple of days. Lots of sea birds, beautiful beaches and gorgeous sunsets.

Austin, Texas

When we settled into our place at the Royal Palms in Austin, we were cohabiters with a rather aggressive cardinal. Sophia spent hours watching the birds. Me, I was pretty happy to be sitting in one place and not driving. Alas, the settled life was not to last long, but you'll have to wait for the next blog entry to find out what happened.

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