Thursday, October 7, 2010

Week Two - Thursday October 7, 2010

We spent Monday night in Toronto and Tuesday and Wednesday in Montreal. We also made a stop in Ottawa to tour the capital. Nice tour.

We got into Montreal late Tuesday night so we went straight to our hotel and stayed in for the night. The next morning we left the hotel to walk the old part of the city. The first thing I noticed was how quiet it was for a big city. There was hardly any noise at all, it was kind of weird in a way, cars, trucks, buses, people, but very little noise. It wasn’t until late in the afternoon that we discovered the reason….there is a gigantic four level underground mall that went on for blocks and blocks. That’s where all the noise was. It is a virtual underground city. Here is where the noise and hustle and bustle can be found, it’s a very modern and very busy place.

Note: I was unable to connect my computer to the hotel’s Internet, so I am way behind on posting this blog.

Before we left Michigan we took a trip up to Midland to see the Dow House. Alden Dow was a student of Frank Lloyd Wright. After studying with Wright, Dow designed and built a home and studio in Midland, something on the order of Wright’s Taliesin West studio. We took a tour* of his house and studio along with a driving tour around town where we got to see and visit a church and tour two houses he designed. I was really impressed with his home and studio, it was well done and most definitely Wright influenced.. However, that’s about all I liked, the rest of his buildings looked like poor Frank Lloyd Wright imitations.

Alden Dow spent his entire life in Midland working as an architect, where he designed over 130 homes and buildings. Unlike Wright, Alden did not need commissions to survive, his father was the founder of Dow Chemicals, a multi millionaire, so money was never a problem. He was loaded - something that must have privately irked Wright. Young men with tons of money, talented or not, can leave a rather large footprint on whatever endeavor they may set their minds upon.

However, Frank Lloyd Wright remained friends with Alden Dow and his wife all his life. (Wright was never one to let loose of people with money) And, even though he came to Midland to give seminars, he refused to ever step foot in the Dow’s home or studio. One could speculate that it had something to do with Wright’s oversized ego.

But not to worry Frank, architect Alden Dow will never reach the status of architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright is a God in the world of architecture whereas Alden Dow is a mere mortal; a man with money, a pencil and a ruler - and he will always remain so.
*a note to the tour guides: enough of the “compression - release” thing already!

Toronto has a population of around two and a half million. I had no idea it was such a big city. We walked around the downtown area and went into a few high-end stores. In one, Holt Renfrew, as I was looking over a pair of designer spike heel shoes, ($1,975.00) I overheard a sales woman telling a prospective customer who was contemplating buying a new upscale purse…“…you’ll see more Hollywood stars with that bag than any of the others…” So there you go, American influence working its way deep into the bowels of the Canadian economy. Yea for America!

We went to Toronto’s large Chinatown for dinner and ate at King’s Noodle House. It was recommended to us by the parking lot cashier. It was very good. It was raining a bit but there were still lots of people out and about. Toronto is a nice city.

Marathon Update: I’ve been giving my muscles a rest for the past week and a half. I have however been taking my Whey Protein without fail. Cousin Doug had scouted out a store that sold my brand of Whey Protein before we arrived in Rochester Hills so I was able to buy four pounds the day I arrived.

The Best Western Motel in Toronto had a “Fitness Room” so I went down to have a look and maybe to do some light lifting, but there were four young guys who looked like soccer players working out on the machines. I watched for a bit then left. I could tell by the way they were exercising that they weren’t serious iron men.

As we were heading out on the freeway for Ottawa the traffic was light, but the traffic coming the other direction, into Toronto, backed up for miles and miles. I saw the same in Rochester Hills and in every other city I’ve been in. These people sit in their cars hour after hour, day after day, year after year, inching along an endless strip of concrete. It made me wonder if perhaps the day will come when these people will completely break down. They will give up. Not with a loud burst of anger, but with a whisper, “I’ve had enough, I’m done.” and they will get out of their cars and walk away. One big human shut down. Just like during the Civil War when after seeing so much killing and death all around, some men would say, “I’ve had enough, I’m done,” and they would set down their rifles and walk back home. Human beings are programmed to shut down when they reach maximum stimulus overload. It seems to me we are getting close to that on a grand scale on our freeways.

Montreal is a nice city. We toured some of its gothic cathedrals, walked all over the old town district, ate in a French restaurant, went to the Contemprary Art Museum, and saw part of its featured light show, all of which we did in a light downpour. Montreal is also a French city for all intents and purposes. Everyone speaks French, but they will switch to English if you say, “English please.”

I’m not so sure the French like Americans anymore, at least not like they did after WWII…they still like our money but I think they think Americans are more or less unsophisticated culturally challenged backwood hicks. But I make no excuse for being American. I love America and I love Americans in all their diversity. We cut through the BS and get to the point, whereas the French like to wrap every subject in fine linen and then admire and talk endlessly about the package.  They can talk for hours about the most trivial of things….I think they love their language so much that they just talk to hear themselves speak the language.

Americans use language to get from one place to another, the French use language to take a leisurely stroll through the park.

Here we are back in the states….funny though, I still feel like I’m in a foreign country; I‘ll have to reboot..

While I was trying to readjust myself we pulled into the Shelburne Museum parking lot.  It looked like we were out in the country somewhere in the middle of a golf course. It was all green grass with 25 or 30 building scattered here and there. What kind of museum is this I wondered.

We go in, buy our tickets, grab a walking tour map and walk out onto the grounds.  The first thing I saw was a large wooden round barn.  What is this place I thought to myself…there was a round barn in my home town of San Luis Obispo so I didn’t see what was so “museum worthy” about a round barn.  The next building on the tour was a long wooden barn like building built in the shape of a C.  Out front were two rows of old circus sideshow banners, The Man With Two Faces, The Alligator Woman, things like that.  I remember those things from when I was a kid and the circus would come to town.

The sign said Entrance so I went in.  What I saw was truly amazing. It was filled with  a 112 miniature hand carved  attractions from the Buffalo Bill Wild West, Barnum and Bailey, Ringling Bro, and Robinsons circuses parade stretching 552 linear feet around the C shaped building. At the other end of the building was a truly remarkable bit of circus folk art, a 4,000 piece hand carved, hand painted miniature three ring circus complete with audience in the stands! It took artist Kirk Brothers 25 years to carve and paint all these pieces, and he did it in his spare time while holding down a full time job!

But that was just the tip of the iceberg.  As we went from building to building we found more and more interesting things housed inside.  This museum had more interesting stuff in it than twenty Guggenheim museums.  The museum also included original paintings  by such well known artists as, Monet, Degas, Manet, Homer, Remington, Cassett, Wyeth, and Corot to name just a few… But I don’t have room on this blog to tell you all about it…so go to this website for all the amazing details:

Leaf Peepers and Tripod Hole’rs
Here in Vermont they have a word for those tourists types who come up here to see the fall colors, they call them; “leaf peepers.”  That’s an inside joke I guess, but it makes me feel a little uncomfortable knowing that in every store or restaurant I go into the people that work there are looking and laughing at me behind my back calling me a leaf peeper, like I don‘t have a life.  But then I guess tourists get a bad rap from the locals no matter where they go.  In San Francisco the tourists are probably called, “bridge gawkers.”

It doesn’t interfere with commerce though, money is still king and a lot of it is changing hands.  

At any rate here we are in among the leaf peepers, big time.  The Japanese, are here by the bus load, having fun as usual.  The Indians (from India) are also scattered in among us.  Some leather boys on their rented Harley’s are here, and lots of peepers from the surrounding states too.  We are all here to “peep” at the beautiful landscape from well mowed green grass…which I understand is kept up by the locals just for us.  Thank you Vermont people for providing us with such a beautiful place to peep.

Something else you see here a lot this time of year are the “tripod hole’rs” or “photo-holics.”  Almost every photo of some old barn, white church steeple, farm house, covered bridge, rolling hills with pumpkin orange, yellow, and red trees, you have ever seen of Vermont was taken from a well mapped out spot.  The exact spot where the photo was taken has been circulated throughout the world by every camera club, camera newsletter publication, and tourist photo guide that has ever been printed probably since the camera was invented.

It seems every camera person wants to take the very same photo of the photo they saw in a photo gallery, camera club meeting or on a  post card, or calendar.  They read about the exact place every photo was taken then go there to take a photo of the very same thing from the very same spot.  Cousin Doug is using Arnold J. Kaplan’s Handbook On How To Find (and photograph) The Photo-Scenics In Vermont to locate spots he wants to photograph.  He has mapped out this part of the trip well in advance.  The handbook guide takes him up small backloads, behind this or that building, or up the side of this or that hill, or off into someone’s field, etc.

One spot where the view is “picture perfect,” an enterprising farmer has even placed a small donation box for the Tripod Hole’rs to drop a few coins in for the privilege of taking yet another photo from that very spot.  I seems that wherever peepers congregate there is always an opportunity for income generation.  Cousin Doug said there was a large bunch of Japanese camera-holics gathered at this spot early the morning he was there making it hard for him to find a place to plant his tripod poles to get just the right angle for the shot he wanted.

Myself, I’m still photographing all the food I eat, which doesn’t require much planning, just a quick point and shoot.

Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Plant
No trip to Vermont is complete without a trip to the Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream plant.  I anticipated getting as much ice cream as I could eat - paid for by a tour of the plant.  Shoot, I can do that.  A half hour of boredom for at least a gallon of ice cream, small price to pay.  .....WRONG!

It seems that those nice socially conscious hippie looking guys Ben and Jerry, who you expect to be churning ice cream in the back room, sold out and sold the plant to a big corporation.  It is now run like a well oiled business machine. Instead of getting paid with all the ice cream you can eat for taking the tour, you have to pay them $3.00 for the privilege of listening to a twenty minute PR video and a short walk through the plant with a talking guide. What a bummer.  We took the tour anyway since we came all this way but I was very disappointed…its all about money now.  They have a gift shop and of course they sell all their ice cream treats too… at ridiculously high prices.  Oh yes, they did give us a taste of their, “flavor of the day” in a small one inch by one inch paper pill dispenser cup.  It barely wet the tongue.  I should also mention that they had a “Flavor Graveyard” out near the parking lot where they had grave markers with the names of various discontinued flavors.  It seems that the bean counters found that Ben and Jerry had come up with flavors that were not cost effective so they were dumped for some more profit enhancing flavors.  Do you expect less from big business?  Ben & Jerry’s, booo!

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