“This is the forest primeval,” is the beginning phrase of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline. It’s a fictional story of love lost and then found too late. It’s also about political injustice, because French settlers of Canada, called Acadians, were deported by the British, just for being Catholics. In the story, Evangeline is among the deportees who were sent to Louisiana – hence Evangeline Parish. Let’s go visit.
Traveling Evangeline Country
Though I can’t remember all the logistics between Dallas and Evangeline Country, I do remember being sick and tired of riding in the back seat on a sticky August afternoon. We had Aunt Edie with us, which was fun, but I’m guessing we hit the road around 4 AM. By late afternoon I’m sure I was second guessing my decision to go on this family vacation.
We piled out of the car at a Mardi Gras museum, but I’m not sure where it was. They were very proud of the fact that they’d been doing Mardi Gras a lot longer than New Orleans. The museum was full of beautiful costumes, but the best part was the air conditioning! There was also a lot of material about Acadian history. They were very interested in visitors understanding that while outsiders may think the terms Cajun and Creole are interchangeable, Cajuns and Creoles don’t. Cajuns descended from the Acadians. Creoles are descended from the French mixing with various other races, especially around New Orleans. Creoles probably thought Cajuns were hicks, while Cajuns claimed a purer racial lineage, which was much more important back in the 70’s than it is today.
Ça C’est Bon
Regardless of their racial heritage, Cajuns know how to eat. That evening we ate the local cuisine. Mom had done her research and we had dinner at what was supposed to be THE place to eat crawfish. I keep thinking the name of it was Anderson’s, but don’t hold me to that.
Wherever it was, it was a great, big barn-like place. The menu offered crawfish this, crawfish that and crawfish whatever else. I was a little squeamish about sucking heads, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me. I’m sure I got some sort of combo plate so I could try it more than one way. I’m also pretty sure that everyone else chose more traditional seafood choices, like fried shrimp and then sampled my entrees. I’ve always been a little more food adventurous than the rest of my family.
We probably spent the night at a Holiday Inn. That’s where we usually stayed. The next day we moved on to New Orleans.
Our second day in Alex began with the usual buffet breakfast and a quick cab ride to the Alexandria National Museum. (No adventures this time!)
If you somehow landed in Alex and hadn’t yet figured out that Egypt is a country with very ancient roots, you should visit this museum. It’s not as extensive as the famed Cairo Museum, but it is arranged in such a way that you can get a quick overview of Egypt’s history organized by deities. If you’re just somebody like me that geeks out on history, well then you have even more reasons to spend and hour or so here.
Down in the basement is the Pharaonic section when Egyptians worshiped a pantheon of gods led by Ra, the sun god, and Isis, goddess of marriage, fertility, motherhood, magic, medicine and probably a few other things. The main floor is devoted to the Greek and Roman eras of Egypt, when the Egyptian gods mixed and mingled with other religious traditions. Many of the artifacts have, in fact, been fished out of the sea right there in Alexandria. Our favorite floor was the top floor. There Christianity faced off against Islam in a sort of duel by artifacts.
Like many things in Egypt, if you visit this museum you’ll be on a constant seesaw. One moment you are wowed out of your socks by an item you can’t even believe still exists. Then you won’t be able to see into the next case at all, because the light has burned out. It’s exhilarating, frustrating and totally unique. Gorgeous white marble edifices with spectacular polished black granite floors and dust collecting in the corners. It made me want to shake someone!
At this museum you can take all the pictures you want outside, but you are supposed to pay to take pictures inside. Bill didn’t think he wanted to part with the coin, but once he got inside he couldn’t help taking a few pictures of the beautiful Christian artifacts. They didn’t say anything right away, but when he left, they hit him up for the photography fee. Since we had to pay to take them, I’ll share them with you.
This trip to Egypt was so marvelous from so many standpoints I would be hard-pressed to pick out my favorite thing. However, I can easily tell you the Royal Jewelry Museum is a strong contender for the position. In fact, it is on my short list of favorite museums ever!
We took a taxi from the history museum to this gem of a palace. (Forgive me the pun, I couldn’t resist.) It was immediately apparent this was something completely different from the previous museum. Both buildings were magnificent, but the history museum was past its prime and showing its age. It didn’t look like anyone loved it anymore. The edifice holding the jewelry museum is pristine. It’s well-loved and it shows.
The jewelry museum is in a lovely part of the city, obviously still home to the well-to-do. An impressive rod iron fence guards the one-time palace. The security procedure into the grounds is more than cursory, but it was very polite. This is the museum-less-visited, competing with the well-known Bibliotheca and the official history museum, but I would like to see that change. This is a rare and wonderful experience and if you go to Alexandria you should not miss it! They were glad to have such obvious American tourists entering their facility. So glad in fact they gifted me with a beautiful souvenir guidebook.
If this museum did not hold a single piece of jewelry, I would still say it is one of the best attractions I had ever visited. The palace is just awesome – and I use the word in the traditional sense, not in the way it’s used to describe a hamburger. I walked from room to room wishing I could live there or at least I would have had the opportunity to visit when Fatma Heidar herself called it home. She was a several-times-great granddaughter of Mohammed Ali Pasha the Great. I think she and I could have been great friends.
But there was jewelry, magnificent jewelry, in attractive cases spread throughout the elegant rooms. The house looked as if they had only removed the furniture the day before. It was easy to imagine dignitaries in gorgeous caftans and morning suits wandering around. Among the treasures in the cases were items which once belonged to King Farouk I and his wife, the lovely Queen Farida. Here’s a shot of my very favorite piece stolen from the gifted souvenir guidebook. We saw it, but couldn’t get a good shot.
After a morning and early afternoon of touring, we were hungry. Come back next week and find out what we did about it.
TRAVEL THERE: MORE EXHIBITS THAN YOU CAN SHAKE A STICK AT
When we finally found the museums at the Library of Alexandria, we were stunned by everything there was to see. Come along with us.
Confession: I know little to nothing about Arab Art. I like what I see, but I can’t name any favorite artist or tell you the life story of any of them. In sixteen and a half years of formal schooling in the US and a degree in Humanities, that’s a pretty sad situation. The Dallas Museum of Art’s Keir Collection is beginning to open a few doors for me on this subject, but I really do understand the blind spot in my knowledge.
This means that I had no idea of what I was looking at down in the guts of Alexandria’s famous library, but I can tell you it was beautiful. In gallery after gallery I found plenty to enjoy.
There were sculptures and works on paper. There were paintings, from the very modern to the very old, with a great representation of what is known as folk art, but some of it didn’t look very folksy to me. It looked spectacular.
There was a whole gallery devoted to astronomy and scientific instruments, but they were so pretty you couldn’t believe they’d been designed for practical use. I stood before their cases in awe of the men and perhaps women who had crafted the gorgeous items.
Perhaps my favorite section was the many examples of every day items which transcended the idea of crafts, like the lovely caftans and pottery in the picture above. I moved from case to case wondering about the craftsmen who had envisioned these lovely pieces and envying those who had worn them, poured water from them or carried them from place to place.
There are several different galleries with a variety of Arabic names I wouldn’t even try to spell or pronounce, but I didn’t worry about the divisions. You can’t make up for lifetime of neglected information in a few hours. I promised myself I’d learn more about these talented artists and artisians, but on that day, I just resolved to enjoy what I was seeing.
The Sadat Museum
My ultimate destination in the Library was the Sadat museum. This is the area with a personal touch to my favorite Egyptian, my husband. Bill’s Uncle Raouf had been a translator for Nassar, president while Bill was growing up, but Sadat had been actively involved in Nassar’s administration. All of the personal items included in the exhibits of the Sadat Museum were familiar to Bill.
Bill was already hungry when we got to the Library. He’d endured the hour of wandering around lost among the stacks. Then he patiently stood by while I gawked at all the beautiful items in the art galleries. The exhibits in the Sadat Museum were so interesting to him, that hunger stood still.
He lingered at each case, pointing out items similar to those in his own home. He read headlines to me. He’d say, “We had a radio just like that.” The suits Sadat wore were the same style Bill’s dad and uncles wore. The newspapers documenting important events in Sadat’s life were the same newspapers Bill’s family shared around the breakfast table. He looked for familiar faces in the photos.
I’d had a hard time finding the museums of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, but when we finally walked among these treasures, it was well worth the effort. It would have been worth the effort if there had been no Sadat Museum, but because there was, I had a special peek into my husband’s history. It’s something he doesn’t talk about very often, and I loved every moment of it.
If Bill was hungry when we got to the museum, imagine how hungry he was after all the time we spent there. I collected my belongings from the area where they’d been collected and checked. Now it was time to eat. Join us next week as my hungry husband looks for the fish market. In the meantime enjoy these few photos from the museums. Unfortunately, no photos were allowed in the Sadat Museum, but there are other lovely things to see.
So Rom the Rogue Hantoor Driver dropped us off at the Library of Alexandria. We knew we were there, because the unique curved roof is unmistakable. What we didn’t know was how to get inside.
A Little Signage Please
We thought we were standing in front of the Library. Huge plate glass windows allowed us to look in, but nothing told us we needed to go around to the other side. We did eventually find our way to the front, but that was even more confusing.
The world was lined up at a building over to the side of the Library, but nothing suggested the crowd was headed into the library itself. Remember, I may not read or understand Arabic, but Bill does and we stood there at the curb reading every sign we could see and watching the people to figure out what they were doing.
Through trial and error (and an exasperated guard) we found out we had to join the crowd and check pretty much everything on our persons, except the clothes on our back at the place with the crowd. Then we got the secret sauce to entering the library. Once inside there are all kinds of signs directing you to the various stacks of books over many floors, but nothing seemed to direct us to the free museums we were there to enjoy. Now they have great signage to the museum that has a pricey entry fee, but I wanted the free stuff.
We even asked people for directions and they’d point vaguely in a direction which wouldn’t help at all or they’d give us very detailed directions to something that wasn’t what I wanted to see. We were literally about to give up and walk out when I decided to see if there was any wi-fi. Rest assured there was no signage to suggest they did, I just thought it made sense for them to have it.
VOILA! There was wi-fi, but the first thing it told me was the exhibit I had been asking about for the last hour was closed for restoration. It also sent me down a staircase I’d been down several times before and directed me to what seemed like a dead end. We’d been there at least four other times. We decided to give the dead end a try and suddenly we were in free exhibit heaven.
How to Get There
So, if you ever go to Alexandria, here’s what you do. First, find the front of the building. It will be on the opposite side from the part facing the beach. Go get in the huge line at the building next to the Library. At the counter, hand them everything not actually connected to you and pay them whatever they want. Move quickly during this process so you can follow the person who was in line in front of you or you won’t find the entrance.
Once in the foyer, look for a stairwell on the right side. Go down to the next floor. Right in front of you will be the museum you can pay to go into, but turn to your left instead. Go to the end of the hall and turn to the right, even though it looks like you are entering a warren of offices. If you walk down the hall past the offices, you will suddenly find yourself in a treasure trove of exhibits.
The pictures above are all of the library proper, which you enter through many doors all along the back of the foyer. I do recommend you take some time wandering around. We happened upon several interesting exhibits that way, which weren’t even listed in the cornucopia of materials I’d been studying for weeks before the trip. It’s also the only way to seem the amazing architecture of the place. But if you want to see the free museums, follow the instructions above.
I’m all out of words today, but come back next week and I’ll share some of the marvelous things we found down in the guts of the library.
I just got back from Egypt and I want you to visit this amazing country. You’re not going to believe some of the exciting adventures I had while I was there. I hope that as you read my blog in the coming months, you’ll start planning your own trip in your head. As much as I want you to go, I have always been totally honest with you – sharing the good and the bad. So it is only fair that I start this series by warning you that Egypt is not an easy country to visit. You have to overlook a lot to see what is valuable, but there is great value. In the coming weeks I will rave about spectacular hotels and jaw-dropping sites, but I have to start here, with the not-so-pleasant reality of Egypt today.
Then and Now
This was my second trip to Egypt. The first was in 1996 when terrorism was an occasional, rather than a daily, thing and the only terror incident associated with Egypt was an attack on a busload of tourists in 1990. The world has changed a lot since then. Days before I was scheduled to leave for this trip, bombs went off in two different Coptic Churches. It didn’t stop us from going, but it did give us pause. It shouldn’t stop you from going either, but you need to know what you’re getting into.
The imminent threat of violence was the most obvious difference between this trip and the one we enjoyed twenty years ago. Security was a pervasive presence, everywhere we went – whether we were visiting a museum, an airport or a church. Every time we entered our hotel we had to put all our belongings through a scanner and ourselves through a metal detector. I was glad for the security, but saddened by the need for it.
It was the same thing pretty much everywhere we went and you just got tired of it. Take a romantic walk on the beach and come back to the hotel for a thorough search. By the time you prove you have a right to be there and you don’t have any WMD’s, the romance has dissipated. This adds to the stress of travel and distracts from your ability to really relax.
One evening we accompanied a niece and her husband to a hotel where they stayed on their honeymoon. They wanted to take a walk down memory lane. Our taxi went through one inspection at the gate to the property and we were put through a thorough search at the front door. Then as we headed out to the pool to look around, we were stopped because we were not actually guests at the hotel. We had to go to the front desk, explain ourselves, show them our room keys to a sister property in town and give them a passport to hold before we were allowed into the pool area. By the time we actually made it down there, we had more thoughts about the intrusion of security than we did Maggie and Shady’s honeymoon.
The threat of terrorism has devastated the country. Tourism has been at the center of Egypt’s economy for a very long time, but they have nothing to take its place and little with which to woo the tourists who actually show up. Yes, they have some of the most splendid sights in the world, like The Pyramids, Luxor Temple, The Valley of the Kings and such, but the hassle associated with visiting them is challenging.
I thought Egypt was the dirtiest place I had ever visited the last time I went. Well, now it is beyond dirty. It’s down right filthy and much of it has been abandoned. Whole blocks of Cairo and Alexandria’s city centers are just empty graffiti-covered buildings, surrounded by piles of trash. Everywhere we went, unfinished new construction showed signs of being abandoned years ago, when their hope of an Arab Spring turned into a nightmare. Don’t plan on wearing the same clothes over and over. A day of touring will render you and everything you are wearing disgusting. You either need to pack more or plan on a budget for laundry.
And Then There’s the People
Egyptians, as a whole, are wonderful. They are happy people who want to get to know you and they love pleasing you. They want you to love their country the way they do, but right now they are a little embarrassed – as if you caught them between working in the yard and getting a shower. They’ll point you towards the freshly planted flowers, hoping you won’t notice how dirty and sweaty they are.
However, they are also frustrated and tired. At almost every hotel we observed someone having a meltdown in the lobby and it was usually an Egyptian guest. Life is hard. The economy is impossible. Traffic is horrendous. Everything is harder to do than it should be and after a ten minute walk your white shirt just isn’t white anymore. Still, given the chance, most of them will bend over backwards to accommodate you and try to create a smile.
At the same time, we noticed there is also a trend that distances the female population from visitors. There was a greater number of women completely covered from head to toe. During our last visit, most women dressed very conservatively and the majority covered their heads, often with a bright colorful scarf. Many would be sharply dressed, while sporting a more conservative hijab. There were some who wore the more old-fashioned gallabeya and hijab, but only a rare woman was covered and veiled in black.
This time gallabeyas and hijabs were the norm. Young women wore leggings or jeans with a tunic, but the hijabs were everywhere and they were not brightly colored scarves, but solid blocks of neutral colors. However, women covered from head to toe in black were no longer rare and I noticed most of them also wore black gloves. They were moving shadows with just a sliver of their eyes showing – distant, aloof, unapproachable.
In the Cairo Museum we saw a young couple taking a selfie. The woman was completely covered in black. We wondered at the incongruity of hiding yourself and then taking a selfie. The young man’s outfit was standard casual fare, but she was covered in plain black without even a bit of embroidery. A lot of mixed messages there.
So I will tell you the story of our trip. I’ll remind you of the difficulties from time to time, but I’ll leave it to you to remember that everything was dirty, inconvenient and noisy, whether I mention it or not. Come back next week and we’ll hit the road.
Of all the places I’ve traveled to over the years, Melk Abbey qualifies as one of the most remarkable. All they need in the dictionary, to define the word Baroque, is a picture of the chapel’s interior. But that dictionary doesn’t have enough words in it to adequately describe the wonders you will see inside the abbey.
Melk Abbey has become somewhat of a tourist trap in the days since my last visit, 3-4 decades ago. I remember parking on the street, strolling over to the abbey and having a private tour with my small busload of tourists. This time I disembarked along a riverside crowded with cruise boats and hordes of people heading toward the abbey. Do not be dismayed or discouraged. Just line up and go with it. The abbey is worth your time and the hassle of dealing with tourists and guides.
The weather was miserably cold and damp, while my gear was sadly inadequate. What was intended to be a pleasant stroll through a garden and a chance to visit a small outdoor cafe, was instead an overlong huddle in the abbey’s courtyard.
Eventually the ubiquitous Viking guides, with their red jackets and numbered signs, showed up to talk us through the experience. Since my last visit, the abbey has had some renovations and remodeling, adding several exhibit rooms displaying a wonderful array of abbey treasures. While the exhibits are truly extraordinary, I would have easily traded them in on the opportunity to see my first guide just one more time.
The Charming Abbot Emeritus of Melk
And here’s the reason I enjoyed my first visit to Melk ever so much more than I did my return. The sweet little man in this photo had been the abbot of this remarkable place for many years and he loved it almost as much as he did God. He’d been retired from running the place for only a little while and had been assigned the joy of sharing it with others. During the tour he’d come to a closed door and look around surreptitiously to see if anyone was watching. If the coast was clear, he’d wrench open the door and say, “I’m not supposed to show you this, but I didn’t want you to miss it.” Then he’d go on to tell us a marvelous story about something that happened in the room or a tidbit about the artist who decorated it.
I loved him so much that I wanted to bundle him up and take him home with me. My admiration for the place was obvious and he begged me to come back some time and visit him. He confided that when there wasn’t such a crowd, he could show me other places in the abbey.
That small busload of travelers would have been lost in the horde of tourists on my latest visit. I wonder what my friend would have thought about the abbey’s popularity. The guides did a great job of sharing architectural highlights, but they were completely devoid of the affection the Abbot Emeritus displayed. I’ve always wished I could have returned for the promised private tour, but life changed for me after that trip and it was a long time before I crossed the ocean again. Too long of a time for the Abbot Emeritus to give me a tour.
Even without the Abbot Emeritus to show us around, the wonders of the abbey are apparent. This guide was quite good about rolling off pertinent dates of the abbey’s history, but she was not as insistent about keeping our eyes focused upwards. In every room the Abbot Emeritus told us to look up, as he described in detail the story of the ceiling frescoes. The average tourist probably misses the wonder of contemplating the effects of trompe–l’œil.
Sure the ceilings are beautiful, but gazing up your eyes are tricked into thinking you are looking up at arched ceilings and domes. It’s all an optical illusion, because the ceilings of the abbey are flat. There is one stairwell where the tour highlights the painted effects, but they are ignored in the rest of the abbey.
The guide also didn’t tell us any of the enchanting tales of the artist, tales of which I’ve long forgotten the details, but I had hoped to be reminded of during this visit. Nor did she explain in detail the meaning behind the elaborate frescoes. She was pedantic about the many ways the features of the abbey were Baroque in nature, but I was more interested in being reminded why they were unique.
Eventually, I gave up and quit listening to her. Instead I recalled the chuckles of glee my first guide shared with me and I wandered about mouth agape. I tried to jog my memory for the details of the frescoes and their painter, but they’d gotten lost somewhere along the way. More than once I stumbled into a fellow tourist because my eyes were glued above my head, rather than at my immediate surroundings.
I’ve saved the best for last, but in the meantime ran out of words for today. Come back next week and we’ll visit the chapel.
TRAVEL THERE: THE HUNTINGTON LIBRARY AND GARDENS IN SAN MARINO, CALIFORNA
Until I started planning this trip I hadn’t heard of the Huntington Library and Gardens in San Marino. I was just looking for a museum to visit, since the Getty Villa would be closed the day I wanted to go. As it turned out, I got to see both the Getty Villa and the Huntington. Let me tell you – you’ve got to go to the Huntington.
THE HUNTING WHAT?
Even now that I’ve been there, I don’t quite know how to describe the Huntington – which might be part of the problem. The official name of the place is The Huntington Library. Quite frankly, though I’m very grateful our nation is blessed with wonderful libraries, I don’t consider them as tourist destinations. Also, it’s in San Marino, not LA, so maybe that’s why I’d never heard of it. Call it what you will, it’s one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been and very little of it is actually a library.
THE HUNTINGTON GALLERY
As I researched LA, some clue hinted at an art museum inside the grounds of the Huntington Library. Following my nose I found The Huntington’s website and investigated their collection. I about had a heart attack. Staring right at me from the webpage was Blue Boy – yes, Gainsborough’s Blue Boy. And do you want to know who is looking at Blue Boy from across the room? You’re not going to believe it!! Pinkie! Thomas Lawrence’s painting of a young girl in pink and white. (Go ahead and click over there, I’ll wait.)You’ll be amazed You’ve seen prints of the two displayed together a million times. Well, at the Huntington, the real things are in the same room…looking at one another. It was almost too much for me to bear.
The Huntington has a whole slew of gorgeous European paintings that you will devour, but even if they didn’t have a single painting, I’d still tell you to go. I’ve been to a lot of luxurious, ornate, beautiful historic homes in my life, but I have never ever seen anything like the Huntington Art Gallery. Well, maybe “never ever” is stretching it a bit. King Ludwig’s Linderhof in Bavaria was on par. (Probably Versailles is too, but I’m still mad a Jimmy Carter for being there when I went to Paris.) Bottom line – go get your socks knocked off.
THE PRICE OF ADMISSION
If you go during the week, it will cost you $20 per person ($23 on weekends). It doesn’t open until noon (10:30 on weekends) and they shoo you out at 4:30. It ought to be illegal. Not the price, it’s worth every penny, even if all you see is the Art Gallery, but how are you supposed to see any of it in just four and a half hours. I could have spent four and a half hours in the Art Gallery alone. I call a foul. They should open up at the crack of dawn and stay until very late. Charge me by the hour. I don’t care. Just give me more access.
THE HUNTINGTON BOTANICAL GARDENS
With only a few hours to see everything and an entourage to manage, I made a tactical error. I thought the prudent thing to do would be to stroll along the paved road that leads through the gardens. Sure enough, you get a peek at the edge of the gardens, but not much more. The gardens are designed for you to enjoy them on the foot paths within the various settings, not zipping by on the paved road.
Needless to say, my entourage soon tired of almost seeing things. Just about the time I figured out the drill, the entourage was through. I tried to encourage them deeper into the garden, but their visit was over. A lot of the conversation happened in Arabic, but I knew they thought I was nuts. Besides, I don’t think they had prints of Blue Boy and Pinkie for sale at the five and dime in Egypt. They just didn’t get any of my rapture.
Too bad. They departed and Bill reluctantly followed me into the Japanese Garden. Moments later he was calling the kids and begging them to come back, but it was too late.
The Japanese Garden, which was unbelievably beautiful, gave way to a Chinese Garden which was even better. I realize that I’ve run out of superlatives, but if you’ve been there you understand. Get this! There are fifteen gardens, each one more amazing than the last one. How are you supposed to see fifteen gardens in four and a half hours?
AND THAT’S NOT ALL!
As if being able to enjoy the Huntington Art Gallery in the gorgeous palace housing the remarkable collection wasn’t enough, there are two other galleries. One is home to American art and the other hosts special exhibitions. I’d pay twenty dollars to see either of them!
Oh, and why is it called a library? Because they have a huge building with 420,ooo rare books and 7,000,000 manuscripts. Yes – SEVEN MILLION manuscripts. Now the general public is not allowed to get their grubby hands on all of that, but they can see highlights of the library in an exhibit hall.
I didn’t even get near to any of this. I’m ready to go back, right now.
A GIFT SHOP TO BEAT ALL GIFT SHOPS
The Huntington Gift Shopis not the largest gift shop I’ve ever been to. Oh you can get a T-shirt, but why would you bother when there are gorgeous scarves, amazing jewelry and stunning decor items. Go ahead – do a little browsing. See if you won’t want one of everything.
So, now you know. The Huntington is more than an art museum, more than a library and more than a garden. It’s shangri-la, the garden of eden and utopia all rolled into one. Go! It’s wonderful!
But my day wasn’t over! I was meeting one of my besties at one of my favorite places for dinner. Come back next week and I’ll tell you about it.
PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: THE GEORGE W.BUSH PRESIDENTIAL LIBRARY AND MUSEUM ON THE SMU CAMPUS
Welcome to my series on Presidential Destinations. The series was supposed to stop with Number 14, Mount Vernon, but even though I live in Dallas, I forgot that it actually has a presidential destination. If you read Number 15, you know that I’m not fond of Dallas’ association with Kennedy’s assassination, but there will soon be a presidential destination here that I’ll be proud to take visitors to: The George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum.
I Love My Local President
I know GWB’s name is a lightning rod. People either love him or they hate him. Here’s your warning: I’m on the loving team. I’ll readily admit that, like most human beings, he made mistakes, but I think history will be a lot kinder to him than our modern day talking heads have been. He’ll be the guy that carried us through the aftermath of 9/11, focused on critical National Security issues and, if our sense of fairness ever returns, his policies will be credited for the capture of Bin Laden. Many people see him from a completely different point of view. I acknowledge that and respect it, but this is my blog.
I’m a fan of GWB, but not exactly a groupie. I remember the excitement created when Laura picked out the Preston Hollow estate for their Dallas home and I was aware that SMU would be the site of his library, but I was in the middle of completing my degree when all the fuss was going on and I really didn’t pay much attention to it. When you offset your mid-life crisis by returning to school, your brain doesn’t have much room for anything else, but the local papers and evening news were full of it.
I still haven’t driven by their home, but I’m very familiar with the site of the library, thanks to my mom’s CPA. He’s one of those liberals. He knows I’m a conservative, but he baits me with liberal propaganda the whole time he’s preparing my parents’ return. Without the political commentary, it would only take about fifteen minutes for him to plug in the few numbers necessary to complete my parents’ tax return, but we never get out of there in less than an hour.
A few years ago, in an effort to avoid the usual liberal harangue, I glanced out of his high rise office onto a baseball diamond across the highway. “What a great view,” I said, thinking I’d hit upon a neutral subject – WRONG! I wasn’t aware that the baseball diamond would soon be a building site for GWB’s library. It was like Pavlov’s Dogs. The subject of George W. Bush came up and the liberal in the room started salivating.
If you’re a fan of our forty-third president, you may already be planning a visit to Dallas next year, so you can see the largest presidential library and museum built to date. If you aren’t a fan, maybe you should plan a visit so you’ll have a chance to hear the other side of the story. One thing I know for sure, once the library opens my mom’s accountant will have plenty to bend my ear with.
I’ve visited Monticello twice. The first time I was a captive in the back seat of my parents’ car. Their attitude seemed to be, “This is your heritage, gosh darn it, and you better appreciate it.” Let me be honest with you. Given my druthers back then, I might just have traded two weeks of American History in for a day at Disneyland. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, my parents were doing me a great service.
In the years after that trip, Thomas Jefferson was not just some guy in a history book. He was the guy who invented some very cool stuff I’d seen when I visited his house. Washington was the guy who had that pretty blue and white china in his dining room (Wedgewood). Lincoln was born in a tiny log cabin and I knew it wasn’t as big as my parents’ living room, because I saw the facsimile they’d built at his birthplace. The dry history on the pages of the textbook assigned to me for a semester became something real.
Chances are, if you took your kids on a family vacation, like the one my parents took me on in 1969, you’d get the same sort of heavy sighs and reluctant cooperation that my parents put up with. I urge you to take the kids anyway – and don’t let them watch movies in the back seat. Make them sit up straight, look out the window and talk about what they’re looking at. Quiz them about what they see, what impresses them and what disappoints them. The video games are not going anywhere, but the empty spaces in your kid’s heads are filling up fast. Best to put some stuff up there that you want them to have.
I returned to Monticello in 1999, thirty years after my first visit. The first thing I noticed was that it had shrunk. In my memory the house outstripped anything on Lives of the Rich and Famous. Sure, it has about 11,000 square feet of living area, but back in 1969 I hadn’t been to Europe. Those guys get the whole idea of a country estate. They call them castles.
Being dragged to Monticello by your parents is also quite different than traveling with your husband. Bill indulges me, trailing through all the museums I find, but he wouldn’t fuss if I didn’t need to visit so many. Monticello, on the other hand, completely captured his imagination.
By occupation, Bill is a very successful options trader. But that doesn’t keep him from an interest in everything from architecture to zoology and all subjects in between. He and old Tom Jefferson would have been fast friends. As we wandered from room to room, Bill was enchanted with the design and execution of the house. He loved Mr. Jefferson’s taste in decor. Mr. Jefferson’s inventions like mechanical doors, great clock and reading lamp stirred Bill’s imagination. Then we walked outside. Bill’s interest in the man multiplied geometrically. In fact, even though that was twelve years ago, merely the mention of Monticello or Thomas Jefferson will send Bill off into the stratosphere.
Monticello should be on everyone’s bucket list. Kids should be taken as soon as they are old enough to comprehend the magnitude of what they are seeing and not so late that they will ignore it simply because their parents took them. Then, we should all return as adults to appreciate what we couldn’t comprehend as kids. And no – you can’t take Bill with you unless you take me, too.
PRIMARILY PRESIDENTIAL DESTINATIONS: GERALD FORD PRESIDENTIAL MUSEUM IN GRAND RAPIDS MI
Welcome to my series on Presidential Destinations. We’re about halfway through the list of libraries, museums and residences I’ve visited. For the last two weeks I discussed destinations associated with FDR, who was elected to more terms as president than anyone else. Now, I’m going to take you to Grand Rapids, Michigan to visit the museum of a president that served, but was never elected, Gerald Ford.
Visiting the Museum
When I asked my husband for his impression of the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum, he focused on how approachable the facility was in comparison to the overwhelming magnitude of other presidential destinations. “When you walk up to it, you can see the whole thing,” he said. This can be attributed to the fact that Grand Rapids only has the Museum. For the Library you have to go to Ann Arbor. Also contributing to the scale of the facility is the short time Ford actually served as president. For this reason it might be a good place to begin if you’ve never visited a Presidential Museum.
The Ford Footprint
Not only did Gerald Ford serve a partial term as president, he also left a smaller footprint on history. His contribution to our country during a time of great need was invaluable, but instead of a long resume on the world scene, Gerald Ford was somewhat of a mystery when Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in disgrace.
Back in those days the media was not quite so pervasive. We read the paper in hard copy and watched Walter Cronkite on TV. There was no cable news network. There was no 24 hour source for news. There were no blogs or websites. Even though Gerald Ford had been a congressman for almost twenty-five years, eight of them as Minority House Leader (the same position Nancy Pelosi holds now), no one knew who he was.
Today, in order to fill up all the hours of programming, the media gives the general public more frequent and wider exposure to our legislators. The media also spends a whole lot more time speculating on what might happen than Walter Cronkite did. Old Walter made it his job to report the news, not dream up what might be news next week or next year. Speculations on the future were left to conversations around dinner tables, at cocktail parties and perhaps at Sunday School.
A Picture of the Times
What the Gerald Ford Presidential Museum does offer is an excellent picture of the Seventies. Often when you’re living through a time, it is easy to miss the state of the world, because you’re too busy with your own life. During the Seventies I graduated from high school, attended several years of college and tried to establish a career while dancing disco in the nightclubs of Dallas. I remember listening to Nixon resign on the radio during a family vacation to Louisiana. I also remember being shocked that Americans would choose Carter over Ford in the next election. I understood their disgust with the Republican Party, but not with Gerald Ford. Few men would have had the wisdom to guide our nation through the mess he inherited from Nixon.
Gerald Ford’s life had many twists and turns. A quick perusal of his Wikipedia page reveals he was an Eagle Scout and war hero, had an abusive birth father and alcoholic wife, and was threatened by two assassination attempts. His legacy to America includes serving on the Warren Commission, pardoning Nixon, finally getting Americans out of Vietnam and support for the Women’s Equal Rights Amendment.
Other Michigan Attractions
Because I was visiting relatives in the Flint area when I drove over to Grand Rapids to see the Museum, I can’t give much in the way of advice concerning accommodations and eating establishments, but I can tell you that seeing more of Michigan is on my short list of vacations – and not just because of my darling grand-niece and grand-nephew. The Detroit area is chock-full of interesting things to see which are associated with the automobile industry, like the Edsel Ford home and the Henry Ford Museum. Driving around the shoreline of Michigan is not only a visual feast, but there are unique attractions all along the way, like Mackinac Island with it’s Grand Hotel and Holland with its tulips.
Were you even alive when Nixon resigned and if you were, do you remember where you were and what you were doing? How do you think that event compares to the assassination of JFK?