Chéticamp Brigadoon: Tangled Music Traditions in Cape Breton

Photo of Harbour Range Front Lighthouse, Chéticamp, Cape Breton-1

Cultural traditions are not always as they seem and their origins are often more complicated than we imagine. So it is with the Acadians and Scots of Nova Scotia, whose unlikely convergence on Cape Breton helped preserve tangled traditions that first traveled to the island with their ancestors many generations earlier. Continue Reading →

The Jackass Hill Mystery

Drawing of Mark Twain on bullfrog's back by Frederick Waddy, 1872 [Public domain]

He’d been silent, the other man at the bar, gazing into his glass of whiskey before growing animated at the mention of Mark Twain. “I met Twain one time, you know, out near Jackass Hill.”

“You look pretty good for a hundred and fifty years old,” I said in jest, assuming he wasn’t serious.

“It wasn’t all that long ago; a few years back,” he answered in a matter-of-fact tone, though he had a faraway look in his eyes as he said it. “For a few hours that day,” he continued, “I became a time traveler.”

The bartender grunted, sounding more annoyed than alarmed, as if he’d heard the line too many times before. He quickly busied himself at the other end of the bar. As the World Series of Poker flickered silently on the TV above us, I sipped my beer and considered my options. Dare I press the matter further?
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Inside the Tower: Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House

Photo of Robinson Jeffers, 1937 By Carl Van Vechten [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“A chill rippled across my skin as I realized that we were standing in that very room and the bed before me was the subject of the poem — the death-bed in ‘The Bed by the Window.’ Robinson Jeffers had written the poem as a young man shortly after building the house. Many years later, he had indeed died in the room, thereby fulfilling its destiny.” Continue Reading →

Uncovering 1866 Greenwood — Mendocino County Frontier Town

Survey of Greenwood: Greenwood and Clift's Ridge

The random discovery of an 1866 survey map allows a historical novelist to better reconstruct the frontier town of Greenwood (Elk, CA) along the Mendocino Coast. Continue Reading →

Book Review: Chronicles of Old San Francisco

Chronicles of Old SF Book Cover

Cities are complicated creatures best understood by peeling back the layers of time and sifting through the accumulation of secrets, lost artifacts, and earlier incarnations that might otherwise go unnoticed. Chosen well and presented correctly, such exhumed history excites our curiosity and exposes our imaginations to the gamut of a city’s character and mystery. We become incapable of seeing it through the same eyes again because, no matter which direction we turn or where we look, the voices, the faces, and the stories instantly appear.

In the first part of Chronicles of Old San Francisco, Gael Chandler makes an ambitious attempt to squeeze 240 epic years into a modest 208 pages, and is surprisingly successful with her efforts. Continue Reading →

José Martí Memorial, Cuba in Miniature

José Martí Memorial, Havana

Perhaps Cuba’s most memorable patriot and National Hero, José Martí was born in Havana in 1853 and spent twenty-four years in exile. The José Martí Memorial that dominates Plaza de la Revolución in Havana’s Vedado district, aside from being the tallest structure in Havana, has a story as long and complicated as Cuba itself. Continue Reading →

The Real Cuban Taxi

Cuban Hitchhikers Boarding Transport Truck in Pinar del Rio

Mention Cuba in a crowd of Americans and two topics will emerge: Buena Vista Social Club and vintage American cars. The Cuban taxi, or taxi particular has effectively supplanted Fidel Castro as the island’s most recognized feature, even though a change in Cuban import law may eventually render the cars extinct. Does the average Cuban really use taxis or is their primary purpose to entertain tourists? It’s not unusual in cities like Havana to see taxis particulares stuffed to capacity with Cubanos, particularly away from the central tourist areas. But taxis are far too expensive for the average Cuban when traveling long distances. Other forms of transportation are available: buses that may not arrive, trains that are frequently delayed, and planes that, in the words of one native, “…are Russian-style; not so good.” After the Russians pulled out of Cuba in 1993, the government faced many new challenges, including transportation. Gas and oil were scarce. The Cuban people were more impoverished than ever. Officials responded with Continue Reading →

A Sweet Spot in Brittany: La Fée Cabosse Chocolat

La Fée Cabosse Chocolat - Dinan, Brittany, France

Perhaps one of the most attractive and well-preserved towns in the region is Dinan, an 11th century walled village that straddles the graceful Rance River. One of my favorite epicurean discoveries while staying in Dinan was the La Fée Cabosse Chocolat shop. Passersby are likely to find themselves as helpless as Hercules in Circe’s grasp when resisting the urge to enter. Continue Reading →