Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On a Summer Day I Chanced to Stray



Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus is a conservatory like most other conservatories.  Glass walls gleam in the sunlight, and while the outside is stark white, on the inside, there's nothing but green.


Each room is set up to resemble a different region of the world.  Theoretically, I suspect the rooms are meant to mimic the climate of the region as well as the landscape, but on this bright summer day, every region of the world it set to "hot."  The Himalayas are mildly uncomfortable.  The Deserts are absolutely stifling.  Even the trees stretch up to tap the ceiling glass, reaching for a bit of fresh air.


Good for the cactus, though.   


Every room features at least one piece of Chihuly glasswork, but that's a story for another day.


This is exciting; in the courtyard, they're preparing to instal their yearly summer exhibit, Savage Gardens, a tribute to the meat-eating plants of the world.  I might have to come back for that.  It might finally help me come to terms with the tragic and dramatic end met by my venus fly-trap (R.I.P Audry III March '02 - March '02).


There are two sets of doors leading in to the Pacific Room, and a sign politely asking that you only open one set of doors at a time.  Past the first set of doors is a mirror, and a notice saying that you should check yourself for visitors before you leave.  Here be Butterflies.  Interestingly, this exhibit, first debuted in 1994, was the first of its kind in America.  Now it seems like everyone's doing it.


There's a different energy in this butterfly room, compared with the last butterfly exhibit I visited.  The room at Krohn was more open, but smaller, and overflowing with visitors.  There was barely enough room to breath, let alone enjoy the butterflies.  Here at Franklin, the air in Pacific Room is heavy and humid, the handful of visitors stroll easily through the exhibit, admiring the colorful plants just as much as the colorful wings.  Where the Krohn butterflies seemed to feed off the frenetic nature of their packed little room, darting here and there almost faster than your eyes can see them, Franklin's butterflies float lazily through the trees, giving you ample time to coo over their brilliant shine.


We can't go into the Palm House, which breaks my heart a little, because we all know how much I love a palm tree, but it's closed for a special event.  A young woman hovers in the doorway, holding the skirts of her wedding dress up off the ground.  It'd be a lovely place to get married.  A destination wedding without the destination.


I can't get inside the Palm House, but I do sneak around the back of the conservatory, where the chairs a neatly aligned on the patio and the rest of the wedding party awaits direction, in order to get a picture.  It's worth it - the Palm House is the oldest part of Franklin, built in 1893 after the Chicago's World Fair.  It's a beautiful building, freshly white in that grand Victorian style this era favored so much.  They used to keep animals in the lower levels in the years before the Columbus Zoo.  Small animals, surely - monkeys, birds.  Nothing that might damage the glass.  Not that I would know; in all of my reading, nothing's ever said what kind of animals they were, just generally animals.  

(Like most things I love, the Palm House, in recognition of it's historic and architectural merit, has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.  I don't know if they have a plaque.)    

Come back tomorrow, and learn the amazing story behind Franklin Park's Chihuly collection!

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Having Just a Vision's No Solution; Everything Depends on Execution



In the artist's own words:

"If an artist can pain a picture of a landscape - art mimicking
 nature, then why not a sculptor creating a landscape
 of a work of art - nature mimicking art?"
-James T. Mason


And really, is there a better piece to render in landscape than Seurat's famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of La Grand Jatee?  After all, the evergreen bush is a profoundly pointalist medium.  Stand up close, and it's just fragments of green and lines.  Stand far enough away, it can be anything you want.


This living art exhibit rests at the heart of Columbus' Old Deaf School Park, once the site of the Ohio School for the Deaf, established in 1829.  The school eventually changes locations, but the buildings remained.  Before the city was able to officially claim the location as a historic district in 1981, a fire swept through the park, destroying most of the school buildings and scarring the ground.  A year later, it finally achieved it's historic recognition, even though the reason for the award was now lost to time.  


But why the topiary?  Ask Mr. Mason's wife.  In the late 1980s, Elaine Mason asked her sculptor husband if he would create a topiary garden for their back yard.  But Mason's vision was too big to be contained by their back yard alone.  Now it's one of Columbus' most iconic locations.    

Planted in just 1989, the landscape is a touch under grown.  Wire umbrellas and top hats peek out from the tops of the tallest structures, the evergreen branches having not quiet reached those heights.  I should come back in a few years - I wonder how this park will look when all of it's people are fully grown.


I've never thought about topiary maintenance before. How often does someone have to come out here and trim back the bushes?  Do they have a little boat for the water?  Or do they pull on the galoshes and try to keep the duck poo out of their socks? 

The park is open from dawn to dusk every day.  When I come back (if I come back), I ought to come in the evening, if just to see the sun set on La Grand Jatee.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Letter to a Baby Tourist 4

September 1, 1987

Dear Sweet Pea,

In the last 21 days you have learned lots of amazing things!  Like going "Br-r-r-r" with your mouth and making bubbles.  When you hold on to my hands you can pull yourself right up to your feet and that always makes you smile, and sometimes laugh.  You do laugh when Daddy dances with you.  And you talk and talk and talk.  To us, to yourself, to the baby you find in Mom's bedroom mirror.  You and I visit with the mirror lots, and you think it's great fun.  You don't like to so much if I leave you alone with the baby, but when I'm there you have lots to tell her.

You are also getting real good at rolling from your tummy to back.  We've never seen you do it, but you are always rolled over now when we get you from your crib.  Most days you wake up and roll over and talk to the elephants on the mobile, or the crib mirror.  You are also busy with your fingers a lot.  This past week you have gotten good at catching your foot in your hand and holding it while you look at your wiggly toes.  You often play quietly by yourself for about half an hour (as long as you don't see or hear me).  I can always tell when you are ready to get out because you will yell for me.  You don't cry, you just say "AH!"  Real loud.  If we don't come right away, you try again.  "AH AH AH AH!"  When it's early in the morning, you seem to know that you have to give us time to wake up and get you, but during the daytime, if we haven't responded to the 3rd set of "AH's," then you being to whimper.

Your little head will be held up (if you are on your tummy) looking for us with your big blue eyes.  Once you see us, you break into your gooey little grin and start Br-r-r-ring and talking and blowing bubbles.

I think you are more aware that we belong to you.  You are still accepting of other people and don't cry when others hold you.  But when we get you now at the baby sitter's, you seem to be excited about seeing us.  

You smile and bob and lean towards us.  You are also more aware of being alone in a room.  If you look around and don't see us, you yell.

You can see and follow things really well now.  Trees continue to fascinate you.  And you like watching the colors and motion on the television.  The ceiling fan is still a favorite of yours!

You have begun to reach out to things that catch your eyes.  You can't yet bring them to back to yourself at will, but you can grab hold sometimes.  If both Mom and Dad talk to you, you very carefully watch both of us as we speak until you get confused.

Some days you are crabbier than others, but the majority of the time, you are still our sweet happy girl.

I must get some of my house chores done, that then you and I must go pay the mortgage and buy birthday cards for cousin Mike, Uncle George, Grandpa P and Grandpa M.

Love you Baby P!

Mom. 

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Weekend Round-Up

Welcome, New Readers!  And welcome back, Old Friends.

Did you happen to stop by Tacky Tourist Photos this week?  If you haven't, you might want to give it a look - if only to see a familiar face.   

Kate the Beer Babe - When I first moved to my current small town, I was amazed at all the funny little quirks it held.  Sometimes it pays to play the tourist in your own home town!  I hope your car feels better soon - the sunsets on Lake Michigan aren't going to photograph themselves.  (And between you and me, how big is my head now that you've said I've inspired you [even if it's just in a small way]?  I can barely fit my hat on anymore.)

Purple Cow - Truth be told, along with going to Japan the year before, that Europe trip opened my eyes to just how vast world culture is, how we've all come to essentially the same place using extremely different roads.  If your daughters ever get the chance, I hope they enjoy it as much as I did.  As for keeping them out of trouble, well... :).  My mother always told me that she trusted me to know better and make good decisions, and somehow, that seemed to do the trick.  But then, I was born an Old Lady already, so I may just not have been able to keep up with those crazy kids.

Sarah - I think a fortune cookie a day is a lovely idea!  I've passed those big boxes of fortune cookies in the grocery store, and have thought to myself, "Surely they can't all be different."  But what a delightful thing if it turns out to be true!  I'll be following your fortunes with interest.

I've just come back from an instructive day surrounded by Chihuly glass, tropical fauna, butterflies, and pointillist landscaping, so look forward to those write ups later this week!

Thank you for reading.  Come back soon!  (And bring a friend!)

Friday, June 25, 2010

Signs: Hawai'i (Oahu)

More signs and lables from Hawai'i, mostly from the surrounding Honolulu area, but occasionally not.









Thursday, June 24, 2010

It's Time to Go; I Hate to Leave-I Have to, Though.

It's almost the beginning of every teen slasher flick ever made.

We've just come from Mauthausen, and some of us haven't quite recovered from the experience, and when the bus stops in the city center of this tiny Austrian town, we'll be shuffled out of our seats and into the cars of complete strangers and expected to spend two nights in a foreign house, totally isolated from everyone we've come to know in the previous two weeks.  It's just a home stay, nothing to be scared about (I did two weeks of home stays when I went to Japan, so I have a little experience in that area), but it's been an emotional day, and the last thing anyone wants is to be away from their friends tonight.  I've lucked out - there are more kids than host families, and I end up sharing a family with another girl, Erica.  I think she's more relieved than I am.

Brigitte is a year ahead of us in school.  Tomorrow is her last day in class (all she has to do is pick up her grades), and tells us that she and her classmates are having a party tonight to celebrate.  It's been a long day, Erica and I are exhausted, but we pretend to be excited.  

We stop at the house long enough to put our suitcases in our room and use the facilities before we're back in the car.  Brigitte's mom is driving, which I don't understand until later in the evening when Brigitte starts drinking.  She tells us that the party is at her friend's "little house," but the street lights of the town are melting away in the rearview mirror as we drive deeper and deeper into the woods.  I almost lean over to Erica to say "This is the part where we all get killed," but by the look of her face in the dashboard lights, I don't think she'd find it funny.

There's a light up ahead, flickering between the trees.  The little house turns out to be a two-room wooden cabin ten miles outside of town, and there are close to twenty of Brigitte's friends packed into the tiny great room.  Her mom drives away; Brigitte promises to call her when we're ready to come home.  I'm amazed she can get cell phone reception out here.

There's a boy at the door handing out bottles of beer.  He tries to press a bottle into my hand, but I politely wave him off.  I never could get a taste for alcohol.  Erica shyly takes the offered bottle, looking around as if she thinks someone's waiting to bust her for underage drinking.  She forgets that we're miles from the nearest chaperone, and everyone in the cabin is legally allowed to drink.  A chorus of excited squeals sings out from the long table in the corner - a handful of girls from our group are also at this party, and they also have a growing collection of bottles and plastic cups spread out in front of them.  They wave when they catch our eyes, and we slide down the bench next to them. 

When I go with to school with Brigitte tomorrow to get her final grades while Erica stays behind sleeping off her first hangover, these girls will corner me in the back of the classroom with worry in their eyes.  They want to know if I'm going to rat them our to the chaperones when the group comes back together.  We did all sign the agreement not to drink on the trip, but I won't tell.  If someone had gotten hurt that'd be a different story, but hangovers notwithstanding, everyone woke up fine this morning, so their secret is safe with me.  

Later, riding the bus across the boarder into Italy, the line of gossip up the aisle reveals that everyone went to a bar with their host family, and nearly everyone spent at least one evening drunk off their asses.  My Morman friend practically glows when she describes her first taste of Red Bull and Vodka.  One boy ended up in Hungary, and has no idea how he got there without his passport.  When we ask about it, he just shakes his head and smiles wryly - clearly, we don't want to know.  

I'm sure the chaperones knew - I don't know how they couldn't.  Or if they didn't know for sure, they must have suspected that a group of unsupervised American teenagers would relish the opportunity to bend the rules a little.  They must feel the same way about this sort of thing as I do - out of sight, out of mind, and as long as everyone stays safe, there's no harm in turning a blind eye.  

Back in the cabin, there's a fairly drinking game working it's way around the table, and the American girls excitedly take sip after sip.  I feel like an old duck when I think, "They'll regret that in the morning." A young man and woman duck into the side bedroom; as he pulls the wood paneled sliding door shut, I see her reach for the top button on her pants, and in a stunning moment of naivete, I assume they're getting changed for school tomorrow.  (Seriously, it was at least three years later when I finally realized that Oh My God, they were having sex back there.  I don't have a good reason for being this dense.  Sorry.)  

One of Brigitte's friends squeezes onto the bench next to me.  I don't remember her name any more - I don't know if she ever gave it to me.  She offers me a cigarette.

"I don't smoke."

"I should quit," she says, and takes another drag.  She starts to ask me about America, about Indiana, my school, my friends, my family.  Everything I tell her is pretty commonplace, there's nothing particularly exciting about my small town home, but she hangs of my every word.  She tells me about how hard she's studying her English, because she wants to move to American to work someday.

"What do you want to do?"

"I have no idea," she says brightly, waving cigarette smoke away with her hand.  "I just want to be there." It's a familiar feeling.

It's past midnight now, and while there are no official classes tomorrow, everyone still has to be up early tomorrow for grades.  Brigitte's mom is on her way.  Something quiet and contemplative falls over the party, and a girl in the farthest corner begins to sing.

"Life!"  She calls, and the boys and girls around her join in the chorus.  "Life is life!  Bam ba, ba da daaaaa..."  They're all a bit drunk and charmingly off-key.  It's the beginning of a different type of teen movie now, the kind that starts off too maudlin and ends with lots of tears and feelings.  I know this song, but I don't remember why.  It's not my place to sing, but I hum along on my own.    

Into the woods, and out of the woods, and home before dawn.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Cox Arboretum Metropark



Cox Arboretum is a part of Dayton's Five Rivers Metroparks system, the same system that contains previous destination Carriage Hill.  The park promises the gardens to be in full bloom these days - my house is surrounded by green trees these days, so I'm looking forward to a little bit of color. 


I pull into the parking lot, keeping a watchful eye out for Zip, the border collie who lives and works in the park.  There are signs around the grounds asking you the please not pet him, which breaks this dog-lovers heart just a little bit, but too much attention can confuse and distract the dog, and Zip's got a job to do - he's meant to chase away destructive geese, and it's hard to chase birds when he's busy being adored by strangers.  There's plenty here to distract a person, though.  Dragonflies float between the reeds while the many, many lily pads bob on the gently rippling water.  


So many turtles.  Turtles sun bathing on rocks, turtles resting on logs, and if they can't find a dry spot, they rest on top of the shallow-growing aquatic plants, poking their heads out of the water to catch the sun's rays.  A turtle scurries across the path in front of me, and plop!  Drops into the water.  I don't see where he goes.


The rock garden is full of colorful flowers and bumblebees and signs politely asking that you NOT step on the fragile plants.  The post up ahead says "This Way to the Butterfly House!" but I'm too early.  The house won't open for another week or so.  Through the screened walls I can still see the butterflies flutter by from bush to bush.


The park promises hiking, and behind the butterfly house is the entrance into the trail.  I'm immediately swallowed by daisies and black-eyed susans, trees and birdsong.  The rest of the park melts away - the busy Dayton streets are still close enough that the hum of running engines hangs as heavy in the air as the full leafy trees.  A car tire bursts, and the woods shudder.


On my way back to the entrance, I pass the best smelling seat in the house.


Back at the parking lot, there's a Zip sighting.  He's lazily making his way past a sudden rush of incoming well-dressed patrons, finding the shade cast by the roof of the educational center to be far more interesting.  I don't blame him - there are plenty of trees in this arboretum, but the sun is relentless today.  I can't touch, but I do take a picture, and appreciate the lack of geese.


Monday, June 21, 2010

Letter to a Baby Tourist 3

August, 11, 1987

Dear Baby Tourist, 

Here you are, three months old already!  You continue to be a happy little soul at delight your mom and dad more each day.  You have started to chuckle and laugh with us now.  When you do, we laugh more, which makes you laugh more.  It's a good sound of a happy family.

These last few weeks have been busy for me.  I auditioned, and was cast in, a play called Quilters.  It is an important show to me, because it's the first time I've acted in a year, so it's good to be back onstage again.  It means I have to be gone four nights a week, and Saturday morning, so you spend a lot of time with Dad.  I'm glad you two have that time together.  Dad teaches you tricks like sticking out your tongue and making funny noises, and you watch baseball and boxing together.  It's good for me to be away from you, too.  I can so easily get wrapped up in you that it's good for me to remember I'm interested in other tings.

I also started back to work three days a week.  I enjoy this set-up, because I get two days with you, and I enjoy work when I go.  Your babysitter is Linda.  She likes you a lot and you seem to like going to her house.  I guess you are really too young to care where you are, ut I think you can sense when you're not home.  I think you can also tell when you're safe and cared for, and you feel that at Linda's, so you don't get tense and upset.  Linda takes care of five other children, and she has a little girl who is six weeks old.  It's nice that you will have kids around as you learn how to play.

This last weekend was an important one for our family.  Saturday, August 8th was Dad's birthday, and Sunday, August 9th, you were baptized.  The minister, Steve N., is a good friend of our family, and he was the man who married your dad and me.  It was special for us that he was able to baptize you.

We all met in Holland at Camp Geneva and we had the ceremony in the pine grove amphitheater.  You wore the same dress Aunt Heidi, Joy, and Judy wore when they were baptized.  You looked very pretty.  You cried because you were tired, but we didn't mind (I think you were mad because you got your head wet!).  The people who were there were Grandma and Grandpa M., Steve and Jean N., Joel and Karen, Gregg, Todd and Shelly, Heidi, Joy, and Judy.  We were glad they could share this special time with us.

We all promised to help raise you as a child of God.  I will do my best to guide you in God's family as I guide you in mine.  You are truly God's gift to me, Baby Tourist, and I hope I can teach you that he is a kind and loving heavenly father!

I am going to check in on you once more before I go to bed.  Sleep well, sweet pea.

Love, Mom.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Weekend Round-Up

First, I want to give a hearty "Welcome" to all my new followers (and a fond "Welcome back" to my returning readers)!  I've had the blog for about two months now, and I couldn't be happier with the reception.  It's such a thrill to know that someone is reading what you've written, and an even bigger thrill to know that someone is more than just your mom.  

Speaking of my mom, I've had a few questions about the letters being posted, and thought I'd answer them here.  Yes, they're real.  A few years ago, Mom handed a stack of letters over to me, letters she had written to me during my first year.  I don't know if she ever actually meant to give them to me, and I'm almost certain she didn't write them thinking I would one day publish them for the world to see, but a lot of things go in to being a tourist, and I thought, "Well.  Why not this, too?"  I'll post one a week, every Monday, until I run out.  (I haven't read them in a while.  I hope there's nothing too embarrassing.)

I want to pass a shout out to blogger Megan, who left the following comment on my post about the Madonna of the Trail:

I read this article last week, and then went on a trip down to San Fransisco to
 explore(I'm new to Northern California). We came across a Madonna of the Trail 
in Golden Gate Park, and I was so excited because I knew 
who she was from reading your entry.

Thanks for the notice, Megan!  It's one thing to know that people are reading, but now I feel almost educational.   

And finally, while you're all here, can I point you in the direction of Tacky Tourist Photos?  If you've ever laughed at someone else's embarrassing vacation pictures (or gleefully shared your own), then this is the blog for you.  And they're soon to be featuring my ugly mug, so go, and go often!

Well, that's all for this week's Round-Up.   I'm always open to your questions and your comments and your suggestions, so please, if the mood moves you, don't hesitate to leave a comment, or send me an e-mail at thisamericantourist@gmail.com.  I'd love to hear from you!

Friday, June 18, 2010

Statues - Venice




We moved so quickly through Venice (and I may have wasted an hour or so feeding the pigeons), that I hardly had any time to catch these statues, which is why there are so few.  I'll just have to go back some day.









Thursday, June 17, 2010

Fills My Heart With Very Special Things

This is the true story of the only love affair I've ever had.  To call it a whirlwind romance may be a bit strong; it may have been little more than a sly infatuation, a gentle building of a relationship doomed to failure.  I suppose everyone has one of those in college, and ours was brief, but memorable.  

It started with the note on my windshield.  I didn't see it at first - I was in a bit of a mood that day, irritated by something I no longer remember, but it was really important at the time.  I'm halfway home before I notice the little slip of orange under my wiper blade, and I'm a bit put off that someone's put another advert on my window.

But when I get home, and can pull the little paper off my window, I can see it's not an advertisement at all.  It's a post-it, and there's a note written on it in extra-girly penmanship: 

Bug Love!  -Yellow Bug

Yellow bug?  And then I remember: in the space adjacent to mine, a yellow Volkswagen Beetle parked nose to nose with my grey one.  I noticed it enough in my sour state to think, "Aw.  It's like they're kissing," and then promptly forgot about it.  But clearly, I wasn't the only one to see it.

It's such a sweet gesture that my bad mood immediately disappears.  What a harmlessly thoughtful thing to do for a stranger, and how...frivolous.  It's silly little things like this that I cherish, because they simply don't happen.  The world is far too serious nowadays to dabble in whimsy like this, and I'm so warmed by it, I know I have to write back.

I get to school early the next day, and roam the parking lot before class, searching for Yellow Bug.  There are two yellow Beetles in this lot, but only one has a turtle sticker on the rear window.  I take a gamble on the turtle, and hope Yellow Bug remembers I'm the grey Beetle with the purple flower.  I slide my note under her windshield wiper, and cross my fingers for no rain.

Is this THE Yellow Bug, of Bug Love fame?  
Thank you for brightening my day!
Love, Grey Bug

That afternoon, when I return to my car:

I AM the Yellow Bug, and you're welcome!
I love making bad days better!

Ah.  Now contact has officially been made.

There's a brief period of post-it silence.  I don't see Yellow Bug for over a week, when suddenly there she is with an empty parking spot next to her.  All I have are index cards in my car, so I dash off a quick note on the unlined side.

Hey there, Yellow Bug.  Long time, no see!
-Grey Bug

I draw a pair of googly eyes in the corner, and stick it under her windshield wiper.  It's still there when I leave for the day, but the next afternoon, there's another orange post-it on my window.

What's up, Grey Bug? 

It may sound silly to get so much joy out of these anonymous notes, but there's something almost comforting about thinking of a stranger, and knowing that stranger is thinking back.  "What's up, Grey Bug," may not seem like much, but when's the last time you were moved to leave a friendly note on a stranger's car?  When has a stranger ever left kind words under your wiper blades?  It's a little thing, but every one lifted my spirits a little higher.

We met only once.  The truth is, our meeting is probably the thing that ended it all.

It's a Friday afternoon, and I'm ready to go home.  It's been a long day, but tomorrow's Halloween, which is exciting, because it means Half-Price Candy Day is almost upon us.  I fiddle with my key chain, trying to decide if I should run right out first thing Sunday morning, or risk waiting until Monday afternoon, when a voice rings out in the distance - "Hey!  It's Grey Bug!"

My head snaps up.  Four other students are walking my way, three young men and a girl with braided pigtails and her face painted to look like Heath Ledger's Joker.  The second our eyes meet, I know it's going to be awkward.  Like when you dance in your living room, and you think your alone, but then you realize that everyone you know and care about has been watching you from the doorway the whole time.  You feel great while you're doing it, but now that you've been caught being silly, you don't know anything else to feel but embarrassed.

We're parked right next to each other, so we can't just throw each other a passing wave and go about our business.  This is a meeting that can't be avoided.  

She waves tentatively as she approaches.  She probably wishes she weren't done up like the Joker right now.  Our conversation is as follows:   

"Hi.  I'm Yellow Bug."

"Hi.  I'm Grey Bug."

"Yep."

"Hm."

"Okay, bye!"

"See ya!"

And that was the end of that.

There were no more notes after that.  I'd still recognize her by her sticker, and I'm sure she recognized my flower, but now that the fourth wall had come down around our ankles the thrill had all but disappeared.  It was no longer cars talking to cars but people talking to people, and without the anonymity of our license plates to hide behind, the whole act of passing notes to a stranger felt supremely dorky.  The mystique had gone, and so had the fun.

I no longer go to that school, and I've long stopped checking passing Beetles for turtle stickers.  But I still think about you, Yellow Bug, wherever you are, and how a kind note from a stranger made a sour day a little sweeter.  I hope you're still passing around the Bug Love.  I'll try to do the same.  

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Are You a Fan of Delicious Flavor?


How many ways can you photograph a pineapple?  Let's find out.


The roots of Oahu's pineapple plantation grow deep into November, 1899, When James Drummond Dole moved to Hawai'i with his eye set on becoming the Pineapple King, and by the end of his life, his fruit and his company made him arguably the most powerful man on the islands.  The Dole Plantation stands to honor his legacy, though it wasn't always the sprawling tourist attraction it is now.  It started life in 1950 as a humble fruit stand smack dab in the middle of the original pineapple field.  In 1989, the stand was transformed to resemble a plantation style homestead, a fabricated relic of the once great Pineapple Empire.

How would you think a pineapple grows?  I, perhaps naively, thought that maybe they grew on a vine, or that you dug them up out of the ground like a carrot, or maybe I didn't think about how they grew at all (though I've heard enough stories about pineapple trees to know that they definitely do not grow on trees).


I don't know what I thought I was going to see when I stepped into the presentational garden at the plantation, but I certainly wasn't expecting what I saw.  Pineapples grow on stalks.  Big fat fruits growing close to the ground, peeking out from a nest of long leaves.  Little baby pineapples perched precariously on their stalks, bobbing softly in the breeze.  Bright pink buds kissing the sweetened air, saying "Someday I, too, will be delicious."  It's quite a site.


There's a walkable garden stretching along the length of the (in)famous Pineapple Maze, featuring nearly every type of pineapple grown in the world, if not grown on the plantation.  The working fields reach much, much further.  The tour train chugs its way through the grounds.  We've never ridden it.  Maybe next time.


When you go, you absolutely must have the Dole Whip.  I'll admit I was dubious about the prospect of pineapple ice cream, but as it happens, it's the tastiest pineapple thing I've ever eaten.  Icy and refreshing, it's just what you need to cool down after walking through the pineapple maze, and it's not so creamy as to make you feel tired and heavy.  

Pineapple.  Good stuff.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No One Can Blame You for Walking Away


The Dole Plantation on Oahu might be one of my favorite places in the world, and not just for all the pineapple.  It's been a lifelong dream of mine to walk through a giant maze made out of bushes, and I did it first at Dole.

You're issued a card when you buy your ticket.  To officially complete the pineapple maze (so-called because it's shaped like a pineapple, not because it's made of pineapples, although that would be delicious), you have to find the six stations hidden in the maze, stick your card into a stencil, and trace the little Hawai'iana figure onto the card, proving that you've been there.


Not pictured: Monkey

There's a board at the front of the maze listing the top ten best finishing times, and they're all under or around ten minutes.  I don't know how many times you have to walk this maze to be able to complete it in ten minutes, but that's a rabbit hole even I don't want to go down.  Sarah and I will be happy to beat my standing record time of an hour and a half.

The woman selling tickets hands us our cards and our little pencils, and asks us if we want a map of the maze.  Oh no, we assure her, we do not want a map.  We are going to do this the right way, the industrious way, with honor.

That lasts as long as it takes for us to find someone's discarded map at our third dead end.  "Okay, I'm pretty sure we're here," says Sarah, making a little mark on the map with her pencil.  "So I think we need to go that way."


We passed this cone fifteen times.

We do that for a long while, Sarah with her pencil on the map, telling me when to turn left, and when to go straight.  We walk and walk and walk and walk and still we haven't found the first checkpoint.  "I don't understand," she says as we circle the same bush for the seventh time.  "It should be right here."   I peek through the bushes, and I can see it.  It's right there.  Some other woman is tracing a monkey onto her card while we're futzing around on the other side.  "Whatever," says my sister, throwing her hands up in frustration, and pushes her way through the line of bushes.  I follow.  I tell you, it was worth it to get that monkey.  So much for honor. 

We do try to actually do the maze.  We reset ourselves on the map at the checkpoint, and follow the map diligently, but we just keep hitting those dead ends.  And, well, we're not going to beat my record going around in circles, so...yes.  We cheated.  We're big fat cheaters.  We felt really guilty about it, but sometimes sacrifices must be made.  Every time we hit a dead end, we pushed our way through the bushes to the other side quick like ninjas.  And we hit plenty of dead ends.

Which gives me ample time to do this:


I should say, Sarah is adorable in real life, but I could fill entire blogs with unflattering photos I've taken of my sister.  This is actually one of the better ones.  

In the end, I think we shaved about fifteen minutes off my previous time, so all that heartache was totally worth it. 

Monday, June 14, 2010

Letter to a Baby Tourist 2

July 15th, 1987
5:45 am

Dear Baby Tourist,

We have been up together since 4:15, and since you show no sign of going back to sleep, we are in the living room so we won't wake up Dad.  You are talking to your elephants, and I've been picking up the house and enjoying you.

Today we go to the Doctor for your 2 month check-up.  You will get your first shots today.  I'm not looking forward to that.  I don't like anything to hurt you, and you won't feel very well afterwards.  You are so happy, that I hate to have you not feel good.  I've gotten some baby tylenol for you, so I hope that will help you.

The last three weeks have been busy ones for you.  We went to Michigan for vacation this year and stayed at the cottage in Glen for a week.  Daddy and I had a nice rest, and had a lot of fun being with you.  We were able to visit almost every day with Grandpa R and Becky.  I know Grandpa liked that.  You liked swinging in the hammock with your Aunt Judy & Uncle Gregg.  The trees above really fascinated you.  While I sat on the deck in the sun, you would take your nap under an umbrella.  You seemed to like being outdoors.

1:30pm

Home from the doctor.  Dr. C says you are a healthy kid an we can keep you another month!  You now weigh 12lbs 5oz and are 24 1/2 inches long.  Big girl!

In another week and a half, I start back to work.  I feel very fortunate that I have been able to get a part time position at a banking center closer to home, and only 3 days a week - Monday, Thursday, Friday - so I will be home with you on the weekends and Tuesday and Wednesday.  I am very happy about that.  I like being with you, and it is important to me to spend time with you.  Also, since we've had you, life is busier for me, so it will be nice to have some time to myself, and time to get housework done without having to cram it all into the evenings and weekends.  Also, it looks like I may be acting in another show soon, so I will have rehearsals in the evenings.  I won't feel bad about leaving you with Dad at night when I have time with you during the day.

This weekend we go back to Michigan for Uncle Todd's graduation party.  He has his associates degree from K.U.C.C and is working for an architect in Kalamazoo.  He likes to design houses.  Maybe someday he will design one for us to live in!

You will be baptized in Michigan on August 9th, probably at Camp Geneva in Holland.  Steve N. will "dunk" you.  Steve is the minister who married Mom & Dad, and we are glad he can baptize you.  I have known Steve ever since I was 14 years old, and he is a very important friend to my family.  It is special that he will be the one to baptize you as a child of God.

Baby T, I have to do some work today!  I treasure this time of sharing with you.  Knowing that I have this time with you now, and that through these letters, I can share it again with you when you are older.  You are very precious to me, dear.  You are only two months old, but you fill me with such pride with your baby accomplishments.  Your first noises, smiles and laughs, the first time you rolled from tummy to back thrilled me, I felt triumphant for you.  You are a constant source of joy and wonder to me.  I enjoy being a mother.  I love being your mother.

XO,
Mom.

Dear Mom,

I'm glad my baby accomplishments thrilled you.  I hope someday my Big Girl accomplishments thrill you, too.  (I secretly hope I've thrilled you already.)

It's almost strange to read these letters now, to have you write so fondly of Dad, of Grandpa and Becky, knowing every thing that comes after.  Especially Grandpa R.  I can only just barely remember a time when he wasn't the way he is now, when life was more that just his garden and his clarinet.  These are just hazy half-remembereds, though, split-second snippets of Becky taking us to visit him at work, laughing at dinner, talking to the bird that had landed on his foot.  I couldn't even tell you how much of that is real memory, and how much of that is fabricated ideas of what I feel should have happened.  Now my thoughts of him are dominated by that hurtful letter he sent when you got remarried, that awkward car ride last summer (or was it two summers ago already) where we barely spoke, because we couldn't even pretend to have something in common, or that moment the year before, when we stood feet from each other, and he didn't even recognize my face.  Oh, what time (and drugs) will do.

You know how I feel about Vacationing Babies - I don't know if it's exactly ironic, but what a strange twist of fate to have been a Vacationed Baby myself.  Maybe it's a sign.  Maybe I was always meant to travel, and I just forgot about it in the way I've forgotten so many other baby things.  A tourist in diapers.

These letters are revealing.  I now know that my fear of needles is well-established historical fact, and that I've apparently always been a bit of an insomniac.  I don't remember these elephants, though.  I can't picture them in my mind, and I have a pretty far reaching memory for toys.  Strange the way memory works - I can't remember a conversation we had last week, but if you needed it, I could provide a word for word transcript of some of the amazing things my Barbies would get up to.  Sorry about that.

I'm so grateful you like being my mother.  I rather enjoy being your daughter.  Thank you for sharing these letters with me.  I hope you don't mind that I've shared them with the internet as well.

Love,
Your American Tourist 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

When Your Heart is Breaking, Even Though It's Aching

There's a church not far from Vienna.  It calls itself a monastery, but it's entirely full of nuns.  Believe me, this caused no small amount of debate when I got home. "They said it was a monastery."  "Surely, nuns in a nunnery?"  "Don't correct the nuns."  I didn't really have the nerve to ask where all the monks were, though, because every statue outside the church was a saint in varying degrees of martyrdom.  Even the Jesus on the Cross in the sanctuary was a Bloody Anguish Jesus instead of the Regretfully Resigned Jesus we'd seen in every other church.  Enjoy these statues.  Don't have nightmares.






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