Thursday, June 30, 2011

What Is Black Paris?

“[T]his is a niche travel guide that covers the culture and history of Africans, African-Americans and Antilleans…in Paris, along with enough mainstream tourist information to that you won’t miss anything.” - Kiratiana’s Travel Guide to Black Paris

That should sum up what Kiratiana Freelon offers in her first travel guide in a series that will include London and other destinations around the world. When I began reading the guide, I wasn’t sure what to expect: A typical travel guide, but targeted towards black readers? Or a guide to black communities in Paris? Kiratiana tackles both. The book covers standard information about Parisian hotels, restaurants, and museums along with tips to aid the adventurous but inexperienced African American traveler. The main focus, however, is helping readers get a taste of “Black Paris,” the cultural contributions of peoples of black African descent.

This is where I feel that the guide is a bit weak. Too often “black” becomes African American, and the guide is reduced to a list of who slept or performed where. Although there are some wonderful sections on African and Caribbean history and food, I didn’t get a sense of what homebred black Parisian culture really is all about. In addition, it’s difficult to have faith in a few reviews about places she’s never been to. In her attempt to be thorough, Kiratiana becomes a secondary source that might not be all that reliable. Points for originality though. Kiratiana is a true entrepreneur, having the sense and wherewithal to meet the growing demand of black women for travel resources. I’m looking forward to using her guide to Paris and reading the others as they come out.

Monday, April 4, 2011

04-02-11: Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum

There was some delay posting about my trip last Saturday because I developed severe cold symptoms that worsened later that day and are still lingering now. However, I was thrilled to have finally gotten an opportunity to tour the Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle House and Medical Museum (NRHP #77000320). The Santa Ana Historical Preservation Society (SAHPS) only opens it up once every other month, so it’s been difficult to schedule. Once there, it was a treat. I had a wonderful docent who showed me around the spacious Late Victorian house, the former residence of early Orange County physicians Alvin and Willella Howe. It sits two blocks away from its original location, rescued from destruction by the SAHPS, which is currently working to save addition historic houses in the area.

Like many other historic houses, Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle’s house is currently furnished with period pieces found elsewhere. The dining room is still used today, tea and other treats being regularly provided for visitors.

The bookshelf, however, is original. It spins around like a lazy-susan.

The house contains a lot of redwood, as can be seen on the attic door. Unfortunately, most of it was painted over in gray when the United States Army used the house as a recruiting station during World War II.

The Drs. Howe were prominent physicians, and Dr. Mrs. Howe’s second husband, Edson Waffle, a prominent livery stable owner. Hence, the family could afford niceties such as beautiful wall trimmings.

They even had floor heating in the upstairs bathroom via the kitchen, and a porthole window in the mistress’ bedroom closet for light.

Since Dr. Willella Howe-Waffle worked from home, she had an office and supplies to tend to her patients.

Her diplomas and certificates are also on display.

The bill above the wheelchair is for $13.00 worth of services rendered.

The lady doctor even had an “intercom”-like device installed so that late-night callers could wake her to deliver a baby. The yellow speaker peeks out of her bedroom wall.

When patients weren’t quarantined in the attic, they stayed in the carriage house. One of the docents said that the children would often camp out in the courtyard area, which now features a gazebo.

All in all, the Howe-Waffle House is a cute little museum. I hope I won’t have to wait years to see it a second time.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

03-30-11: Mission San Juan Capistrano

Yesterday, I commenced my mission to visit all of the Orange County sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places, some which are also California Historical Landmarks. It was fitting to begin with Mission San Juan Capistrano (CHL #200, NRHP #71000170), seventh in the chain of Franciscan missions here in Alta California, named for an Italian crusader. It holds the distinction of having been founded twice, once in 1775 by Padre Fermín Lasuén and revived in 1776 by Padre Junipero Serra, to serve the Acagchemem (Juaneño) Indian population. The mission declined during the later Spanish colonial period and was all but abandoned after Mexico secularized it. However, in 1865, under the United States, control reverted back to the Roman Catholic Church, and the long restoration process began.

Like other Orange Countians, I’ve visited the mission a number of times, including within the last year. But this time was unique because I saw the mission entirely through a camera lens, that is, viewfinder. The second picture (below) depicts the “Apostle of California” embracing a Juaneño boy, a tribute to the early proselytizing efforts and the site’s continued educational role as a popular field trip stop and parochial school location. In the background are the ruins of the Great Stone Church, destroyed by the 1812 earthquake. Unfortunately, the sun was in a terrible spot for photographing the inside.

Recently, a docent pointed out two spots of paint remains that had largely gone unnoticed by visitors. [Edit - I've been informed that it's oxidized copper. Duh! Sorry about that.] I was happy to have caught both on camera.

The crows finally cooperated for a shot with the infamous church bells.

And for once, the cemetery was empty and quiet. The large marker (foreground left) is for Monsignor Saint John O'Sullivan, the man responsible for leading much of the restoration efforts. The tombstone (background center) is for Don José Antonio Yorba I, a member of Gaspar de Portolà’s 1769 expedition. I – along with maybe 0.75 million other people – live on his Rancho Santiago de Santa Ana, better known today as Central Orange County.

The original 1782 church features a beautiful Baroque alter imported from Spain along with hundreds of restored paintings and other decorations. Yesterday, as usual, there was someone kneeling at prayer. The chapel certainly isn’t at risk of losing its standing as the oldest building in California continuously being used.

Here are some pictures of the beautiful grounds enclosed by the chapel, barracks, kitchens, and storerooms.

The basilica’s main rotunda and bell tower (background left) can be seen beyond. Built in 1984, the Mission Basilica now features a stunning new gold retablo, but I haven’t had a chance to see it yet. (I personally preferred its minimalist old look, but it’s now probably a more accurate copy of the Great Stone Church.)

Archaeological excavations in 1935 uncovered evidence of early industry during the mission period. The tallow cooking stoves were used to melt beef fat, eventually turning it into a more functional form useful for making household products.

In 1988, the metalworking furnaces, the oldest in the state, became an ASM Historical Landmark. The site introduced the production of wrought iron to an exclusively stone-age culture.

This mission is the site of Alta California’s first winery, the Criollo grape having been planted there. Although this wine vat might look like it’s outside, excavations in the 1980s have shown that it was once an indoor stomping ground.

That about wraps up my latest visit to the mission. It’s a stop on future tours, so more will come as things progress.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Missions 1 & 2 Commence

Back in September, on my main blog, I posted “More Burger for Your Buck,” a brief commentary on the moral and economic success of the Christian-owned In-N-Out Burger chain restaurants. Although I am aware that there are die-hard Chick-Fil-A fans in the Christian community, I’ll continue to argue that doing good for one’s customers and workers is far more important than observing the Sabbath.

Okay, now my point. Two weeks ago, I decided on what three travel/tour missions I’d tackle first. Number one is dragging along my brother to eat at every In-N-Out Burger joint in existence, which shouldn’t be too, too difficult since 78% of the locations are in my home state. But I’m not setting deadline anyway. Who knows how many new stores will pop up during the course of my mission. Last stop, if they let us, will be the Irvine headquarters, which by the way is near the UCI location, the one with probably the best In-N-Out service I’ve ever experienced. And that’s saying a lot. What to do about restricted sites? I don't know.

Number two is visiting all of the Orange County sites listed in the National Register of Historic Places. I’ll probably expand to all of California later, but this will work for now. Hopefully, the National Park Service won’t add new ones faster than I can complete them.

What’s number three? One that I’ll need to work out more before it’s revealed. Stay tuned!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Bringing the Faraway Home - Part 2

I can think of three travel-related instances during my mid-to-late teens when I was jolted out of my zombie state and made to reconsider the life ahead of me. That’s not necessarily something expected on family road trips cross-country, but it happened nevertheless.

The first occurred at Kings Mountain National Military Park, the site of a pivotal Revolutionary War battle in which a number of my ancestors and their extended family had participated. The stillness of the forest, reminiscent of the past, and the unusual coolness of that summer morning gave the site an almost sacred aura that firmly impressed on my mind images of what had occurred centuries earlier. I gained a new respect and admiration for those who had risked and sacrificed their lives to protect their families and their community. However, in the end, that wasn’t what touched me the most.

At some point during that day, a park ranger happened to mention some recent visitors from Scotland. They were kin of Major Patrick Ferguson, the Royal officer who had led the Loyalists to defeat. These Fergusons had travelled across the Atlantic to pay their respects and lay flowers at his grave. Suddenly, I saw the dead man as they must have seen him: not as a stereotyped image of political oppression yanked out of an American History textbook, but as a family man who was just doing his job and whose body had been needlessly defiled at the hands of the Rebel Patriots.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.” - Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad

A historian hundreds of years from now might try to pinpoint that day as when I first started on the path towards pacifism, but that would be incorrect. Yet it was the first time I clearly saw “the enemy” as a human rather than as a deranged, soulless, faceless monster, be him Muslim, Spanish, French, German, or Vietnamese.

A typical family vacation led to an unforgettable lesson, and I had not even left my home country. If anything, you could say I had returned to it. I had let down my guard, believing that I had perfect foresight regarding what I’d experience. Instead I had made myself vulnerable, and a shock to the system caused the walls of my secluded world to come crashing down. “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 6:27-36) has taken on a whole new meaning ever since.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

10 Things I Can’t Leave Without

“Be Prepared.” - Robert Baden-Powell’s Scouting for Boys

Everyone has their list of favorite traveling goodies, the junk that’s packed regardless of where one’s going. It doesn’t hold for something like a campout or backpacking trip, but I usually depend on having the following items around when poking around in unknown parts of the country:

  1. AAA/Auto Club Map: Murphy’s Law requires that your phone, laptop, and GPS go on strike at exactly the same moment. So, in case of a technological emergency, don’t go anywhere unfamiliar without one of these. One can easily be tucked into a carryon bag.
  2. Student/Teacher IDs: I never find a good discount until I leave my proof at home.
  3. Purse-Sized Photo Album: Like to collect postcards? I discovered years ago that granny brag-books will prevent these souvenirs from getting damaged in transit.
  4. ESV Journaling Bible: Keep up with a daily reading and journaling at the same time…although often there isn’t enough room for the latter.
  5. Loose Change/One-Dollar Bills: Even in a credit-card world, tipping and coin-only machines are still with us.
  6. Ibuprofen (also found in Advil and Motrin): The number one pain reliever for menstrual cramps actually handles motion sickness quite well, in my opinion. Dramamine and Bonine, my dad’s choices, never worked for me. I carry a bottle with me at all times.
  7. Purse-Sized Umbrella: It always seems to rain when I don’t have one. And retail stores never seem to carry any out of season.
  8. Toshiba Mini-Notebook: I can’t believe how light it is! And easy to unpack and repack, a real plus when dealing with the TSA security check at airports.
  9. DVF Luggage: Cute, stylish, and practical. And inexpensive too when you grab up a discontinued design.
  10. Digital Camera: I’m currently in the market for a new one. Any recommendations?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Bringing the Faraway Home - Part 1

What I love more than Landchamp’s new Faraway Collection is the fact that Kate Moss was inspired by her travels. There’s something about leaving home that just brings out new ideas. It’s as if we need some force to throw our ho-hum lives out of balance, immersing us into an unfamiliar culture that shocks us, encourages us, and challenges us to meet the future head on. Stay at home, and we might very well stay at rest forever.

I’m no artist – let alone a fashion designer – but as a musician, writer, and all-around “idea person,” I have experienced the creative burst of energy born out of an unusual event. That includes travel. I love that the relaxed, stress-free atmosphere gets the body regenerated and the brainwaves moving. Let’s just hope it lasts the flight home.