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I don’t think this lovely, sea-encrusted relic would be able to do much harm now. But in its day…

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Cozumel, Mexico.

Quote of the day: “The sound of a kiss is not so loud as that of a cannon, but its echo lasts a great deal longer.”  — Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Daily gratitudes:
The prairie dog sitting on his little mound, watching the world go by
Using my bus time as writing time
MKL
Women’s war stories
Teaching Kelsea to make my secret-super-special devilled eggs

My memory. My memories. They are elusive at times, and at other times, random memory flash to front of my mind. On the bus home, I thought of two metal snakelike belts that I had about 30 years ago, one silver, one gold. I can remember the feel of them in my hands. I can remember when I had to stop wearing them because the clasp was bent in an irreparable way. They weren’t particularly special and I’ve owned hundreds of articles of clothing. So why would that just pop into my mind as I gazed at the mountains? It makes me think that everything – everything – we have done, experienced, thought, dreamed, smelled, or felt is stored in our brains, if we could only access it all. As my memory tends to fail me more often than I’d wish – because of concussions, West Nile, Dengue, or overload – I find the thought that it’s all in there, stored in the gray matter, quite a comfort, and a beacon of hope. I keep that dim fear of Alzheimer’s, which my mother had, though she remained blessedly asymptomatic until the end, tucked away in a corner pocket of my consciousness somewhere, but I wonder, if it were ever to strike me, would I have more access to those seemingly insignificant memories, like the feel of a belt in my hand?

If objects have memory (and I suspect they do), imagine the memory of this bannister, of the hands that touched it over the last 250 years.

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Beaufort, North Carolina.

Quote of the day: “There are too many books I haven’t read, too many places I haven’t seen, too many memories I haven’t kept long enough.” — Irwin Shaw

Daily gratitudes:
The man who rescued the terrified cat from the side of the speeding eight-lane interstate
Early evening light
Clean sheets
Sending my daughter to do the grocery shopping when I don’t feel good
Outlander

Fishing is still one of the primary industries of the small town of New Quay, which was once known for its shipbuilders. Located along Cardigan Bay, which is home to bottleneck dolphins, the town has made its mark as a spot for tourists on The Dylan Thomas Trail.

New Quay, Ceredigion, West Wales.

Quote of the day: “Be not the slave of your own past – plunge into the sublime seas, dive deep, and swim far, so you shall come back with new self-respect, with new power, and with an advanced experience that shall explain and overlook the old.”  —  Ralph Waldo Emerson

Daily gratitudes:
The scent of early fall
Roosters crowing in town
The irrational number of pillows on my  bed
Quick egg sandwiches
Sleeping with the windows open

Sounds like the title of a gothic novel, doesn’t it? But it’s an exquisite place in Wales, that is still steeped in an air of mystery and devotion. The buildings on the grounds date from 1136 to 1536.  Would that we still valued our past to retain our buildings for nearly a thousand years.

Tintern, Monmouthshire, Wales.

Quote of the day: “Real strength never impairs beauty or harmony, but it often bestows it; and in everything imposingly beautiful, strength has much to do with the magic.”  —  Herman Melville

Daily gratitudes:
My happy (if slightly manic) daughter
Positive attitudes
Sharing with someone you love
My pork green chile so spicy it makes me weep
Faded roses
Mornings that feel like fall

 

It’s a little early or a little late for Christmas photos, but I was watching an Amtrak pull out heading east this morning, wishing I was on it.  During the holidays, Union Station is lit up with a rainbow of lights.  I hope that the construction project centered around this historic depot doesn’t prevent the lights from shining this year.

Denver, Colorado.

Quote of the day: “The reason it hurts so much to separate is because our souls are connected. Maybe they always have been and will be. Maybe we’ve lived a thousand lives before this one and in each of them we’ve found each other. And maybe each time, we’ve been forced apart for the same reasons. That means that this goodbye is both a goodbye for the past ten thousand years and a prelude to what will come.”  —  Nicholas Sparks

Daly gratitudes:
MKL
Getting done with Job #2 early tonight
Smiles
Poetry
Tin cups

As the end of my birthday week celebration (or at least the first week of my birthday month celebration), MKL and I went to see La Boheme at the Central City Opera on Friday night.

It was magical.  Our last opera was The Marriage of Figaro by Opera Colorado in February.  If you’ve never seen an opera, I don’t recommend Marriage of Figaro as your first one.  I love opera, but haven’t seen one in about 17 years, and “Figaro” was four hours long and tough to follow, which made me wonder why I loved opera in the past.  But La Boheme made me remember.

We drove Tristan, MKL’s BMW show car, up to Central City just in time for an appetizer and a glass of champagne at the Teller House as the sun dropped below the mountains.   The Teller House fortunately still has an air of age and elegance to it.

Though the Face in the Barroom Floor has faded, as has much of the grandness of this former mining boom town since gambling was introduced back in the early 1990s.

The Face in the Barroom Floor – image from centralcityoperafestival.blogspot.com

We still had a little time to peek inside some buildings that have not been tainted by slot machines and blackjack tables, including the Williams Stables, which is also the purvey of the Central City Opera, and which holds small pre-performance excerpts of whatever is playing.

And the dagger in that picture?  REALLY sharp and totally unattended.

You are notified that it is almost time to head in for the performance by the staff marching up the street singing, by the ringing of handheld bells, and by  ten-minute, five-minute announcements, a friendly and gentle reminder to get your buns in gear.

Image from centralcityoperafestival.blogspot.com

It takes no time to get to your seat, and the interior of the Opera House is intimate, old, and beautiful.

As photos weren’t allowed during the performance, I borrowed this one from the Central City Opera website.

The Central City players performing La Boheme

This version of La Boheme was staged in Paris in the 1930s, and sung in Italian. The subtitles on the foot of the stage were very helpful, even though I knew the storyline, and I played with my own memory of two years of college Italian to see if I could catch any words or phrases. I must say, the subtitles were pretty loose with their translation, but it was still easy to follow.  The orchestra was seated beneath the stage, and I could just see the tops of their heads from our seats in the fourth row.

At intermission, we retreated to the darkened, romantic, terraced garden for a glass of wine.

Central City Opera House Courtyard image courtesy of http://www.waymarking.com

Every performer had a simply heavenly voice, and we both cried at the end (spoiler alert) when Mimi died.

It was a lovely evening, though it was late as we started home, and we had just reached the turn-off to I-70, when Tristan decided to play out his own death scene. Yep, he died.  And no amount of MKL’s roll-up-your-sleeves sensor/relay switching and eventual tire iron thumping made him start. My view was approximately this:

We wound up our evening with a long ride in a cushy (really!) tow truck, learning about life story of Ryan, owner of Father and Son Towing and longtime acquaintance of MKL.  It was a little surreal, but totally charming.

A marvelous birthday present…

Because of our senses, so many parts of the past are not lost to us.

Sight? We have images from as far back as 1826.

Sound? The first audio recording ever is from the 1860s. For Christmas last year, when I bought Kelsea her record player, I also bought an album of historical figures speaking, just so we could have a voice to attach to a name and a picture. We are cut off from this part of the past prior to the recorded word.  Such is not the case with visuals, as we have paintings prior to photographs that give us images from centuries ago.

Taste? Well, for centuries some people have had good taste and some people have had questionable taste, but we’re not talking about that kind of taste. We’re talking about, say, turnips. A turnip today – at least one grown organically – likely tastes pretty much like a turnip six hundred years ago tasted. Ergo, status quo. We retain a history of taste due to the unchanging nature of basic foodstuffs.

Touch? Ditto taste. A cat’s fur feels the same as it did one thousand years ago. I think. Not everything is the same to the touch but there is a living history, A rock still feels like a rock.

And so we come to smell. And here is where history fails us. The sense of smell is lost with time – it is the most fleeting and least replicable of the senses. You know the fragrance of a rose, yet one fragrant rose is unlike another. And many roses are having the fragrance bred out of them, either because of people’s allergies and oversensitvity, or because the scent is sacrificed for a more stunning visual beauty. Will there come a day when the scent of roses is just a memory? Can it even live on in essential oils if there are no more fragrant roses?

Florals aside, while we can look at Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s picture, Netherlandish Proverbs, and you can see a lot of what life might have been like in a Dutch village in the 1500s.

You can imagine sounds, because you know what a voice sounds like, what a goat sounds like, what a cacophony of noise sounds like, but what is missing is being able to imagine the rich aroma of the place and time.This was an era when people didn’t bathe often, lived in close quarters, kept animals on small parcels of property, and had no particular system for waste disposal of any kind. Of course, they didn’t have all the trash that we do now, but organic waste is just as smelly as any other kind of waste. And there was possibly a lot more organic waste than we have now – I have no idea what they did with dead animals.  Buried them, I hope. Or ate them, perhaps?  Times could be tough.

This one sense, which in each of us today, is so variable – some can smell things that others cannot – is the element of the past from which we are most disconnected. A curious thought.  Especially when scents can trigger such memories. When I open boxes that I packed up five years ago the day after my Mother died, her scent can waft out as if she’s by my shoulder. Perhaps she is.

When I was pregnant, I would have olfactory hallucinations – memories of smells from my past – primarily gardenias.  It was lovely.

But then Kelsea came up to me this morning and said, “Mom, smell my shoulder.”

I guess that sense of smell can be a mixed blessing.

 

 

For those of you grumbling over the oooginess of this Hallmark-driven holiday, I share with you a short profile of the day’s history, that I researched back in 2009.

I did a little googling to determine the origins of the event.  I recall from ‘Picnic at Hanging Rock’ that they were toasting St. Valentine long before Hallmark was a gleam in the greeting card industry’s eye.  So it’s truly NOT just a Hallmark holiday.

Knock me down and color me pink if I didn’t discover that is actually a pagan holiday (gotta love the pagans).  Per the National Geographic news site, it originated as an annual Roman festival called Lupercalia in which naked men spanked young women with goatskin whips in order to increase their fertility.  I’m not sure that a goatskin-whip-spanking would do much for me except piss me off, but to each his own.  Naturally, with the advent of Christianity, this kind of celebratory revel became totally unacceptable (although who knows what the early Christians did behind closed doors) and the date on which the festival occurred became linked with St. Valentine, who was executed on February 14 for performing marriages in secret, defying the ban on soldiers marrying that had been imposed by the emporer Claudius II.  Rather different from whip-snapping naked pagans, but that’s Christianity for you – kind of takes the fun out of a lot of things.

So if you’re lamenting today – or celebrating Single Awareness Day (which has the unfortunate acronym of SAD, although Valentine’s Day has the even less fortunate, though perhaps more apt acronym of VD) – take heart (no pun intended). It’s not all it’s whip-cracked up to be.  And remember that everyone loves someone and everyone is loved by someone.

Image source: http://resobscura.blogspot.com

(And as a heartfelt postscript, I hope my beloved Christian and Pagan friends take no offense.)

(Kudos to waywardbound for the perfect post title!)

Kelsea and I packed so much hoopla into our two-day getaway that it felt like we were gone for much longer – in a good way.  It’s awful when that happens on a getaway that doesn’t go well (she says, remembering an endlessly hideous car ride from DC to NJ.)

On my trip to the Cripple Creek Ice Festival in February, I decided that Kelsea would really like this little mining-cum-gambling town.  I hadn’t been so sure of the place before my first visit.  In 1991, the state of Colorado legalized gambling in three rapidly declining mining towns: Black Hawk, Central City, and Cripple Creek.  Black Hawk and Central City are towns I knew well both prior to and after gambling came to them thar hills.  In fact, we lived outside of Black Hawk when ex-Pat worked up there around the time Kelsea was born.  One of the “requirements” of legalized gambling was that the casinos had to respect and retain the original characters of the towns.  Apparently, in those two towns, that requirement was interpreted as “Well, we left a brick with a plaque on it.”  Horrible, in my opinion.  So I wasn’t too keen on seeing Cripple Creek, but I wanted to see the Ice Festival.

The Ice Festival on Bennett Avenue in February 2011

I was so amazingly surprised.  The casinos in Cripple Creek, while in many, if not most, buildings along Bennett Avenue, the main drag, are somewhat unobtrusive.  The buildings truly are original and the town still has real residents who hold real jobs.  Mining is still an active industry in the area, as is ranching, and that helps.  The only impact that the casinos have on a non-gambling visitor with a teenage daughter is that there is a dearth of places to eat – no one under 21 allowed.

The town has museums, live theater, and festivals like the Ice Festival and like the purpose of our visit this weekend, the 80th annual Donkey Derby Days, which will be the topic of several posts this week.  And today, you get to learn a bit about the history of the town and the event.

Oooooo, that smell...

Cripple Creek was founded around 1890, when Bob Womack discovered gold and started one of the State’s final gold rushes.  At one point, the population was over 35,000 and the town lost its bid to become the state capitol by a mere three votes – obviously, Denver won.  How different many things would have been had that not been the case.

The town burned in April 1896 when a bartender knocked over a kerosene stove in a fight with a lady of the evening whom he accused of stealing his money.  Unfortunately, a second fire occurred several days later, when some hot grease from a local restaurant came into too-close contact with some hot coals from the first fire, virtually destroying what was left of the town.

Cripple Creek Fire - 1896 (image courtesy of Cripple Creek District Museum)

But we are hardy and determined folk here in the mountains, and the town was rebuilt with primarily brick structures, many of which are still standing today.

Donkey Derby Days was started in 1931 when Charley Lehew decided that the town needed to do something to draw in tourists during the summer.  He and two business partners had the light bulb idea to capitalize on the herd of donkeys that roamed the town.  Donkeys had been a key component of successful mines – they were used to carry loads up from the depths of the earth.  Unfortunately, the only way to get the donkeys onto the shaft lifts was to knock them out with sledgehammers.  The whole process seemed kind of bizarre and certainly no fun for the donkeys.  As they graduated out of the mines, no doubt with brain injuries, they were allowed the freedom of Cripple Creek.  Many residents treated them as pets.

Donkey Copping Some Shade

At any rate, Charlie and his pals built a race track, and started the event.  It has gone on for all these years, changing in character, but always retaining its mining root flavor.  In some decades, people rode the donkeys.  At one point, the race consisted of a ride between Cripple Creek and the neighboring mining town of Victor, eight miles away. The town has its own herd of donkeys, descendants of the original herd.  They are impossible, love to mingle with townsfolk and tourists, and are contained (when they are contained) behind the old jail, which closed in 1992 and became a museum in 2004.  The donkeys are tended to by the Two Mile High Club (which until several years ago was called the Mile High Club, but changed its name for obvious reasons.  At an elevation of 9494 feet, the town decided that was close enough to being two miles high.)

Up To Two

For the current Donkey Derby Days, there are two versions of the race: one in which pairs of participants lead donkeys down a mile-long stretch of Bennett Avenue, stopping at five waystations to do things like bob for apples or kiss a cardboard cut-out of a prostitute.  The donkeys that participate in this event are borrowed from a local outfitter, and are halter-trained and relatively docile, as far as donkeys go.  The second race variation is open only to town businessmen (and women) and the donkeys that participate are all members of that legendary, ornery, obstinate heritage herd.  Pat Conner, one of the docents at the Jail Museum, told me that it’s a hoot and that most of the businessfolk can’t even get the donkeys down the first hill.  I think the locals (like Pat, who has lived there 50 years) enjoy it mostly because it puts these interlopers in their place and humbles them a bit.  You can’t help but be humbled when you realize that it’s really a donkey in charge.

The festival now has street vendors, a parade, and wonderful little competitions such as best beard, best donkey call, cutest/smallest/largest/most talented dog, and hairiest legs.  We saw it all, along with a live performance of a melodrama, a whorehouse tour, and an overnight in the town of Victor, in its haunted Victor Hotel.  So stay with me, and I’ll give you all the poop from the weekend

The event certainly lived up to it’s slogan –  It was ReDONKulous!!

Re-DONK-ulous!

Photo Title: Fate Worse Than Death

Wyoming Territorial Prison, Laramie, Wyoming

Quote of the day: “When you have got an elephant by the hind legs and he is trying to run away, it is best to let him run.”  —  Abraham Lincoln

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