Monday, June 22, 2009

Greetings from the "Home of the Gentle Giant"

Situated along the banks of the Mississippi River, Alton, Illinois, is where I grew up, the place I love to visit when I need a break from the big city, the kind of town I'd like to settle down in once I finally escape New York.

It's also the birthplace of Robert Wadlow, the tallest man on record ever to have walked the earth. A life-sized statue of the Gentle Giant at his full height of 8' 11" was erected several years ago on the campus of the SIU Dental School. I used to dream that this statue was my best friend, but all we would do is sit face-to-face on the benches you can see in the photo above and chat. Once, I asked him if he was sad that his glasses kept getting stolen. His reply: "Rachel, I'm a statue come to life. I don't need glasses to see." It's a good thing since in real life, the statue no longer wears glasses. My dad tells me that it got too expensive to replace them every time they were taken. He also told me that the statue gets a new set of braces every once in awhile. Those cheeky dental students.

Other neat things about Alton: Miles Davis was born here, too. It was a major stop on the Underground Railroad thanks in large part to abolitionist Elijah Lovejoy. It was the site of one of the many Lincoln-Douglas debates. It's considered one of the most haunted cities in America mostly due to its violent history: Bootleggers wreaked bloody havoc on Alton in the 1930s and before that many Confederate soldiers died in Alton's Union prison during the Civil War. (One of my friends suspects a ghost lives in the basement of her beautiful old craftsman home--hopefully I'll never find out firsthand!) Of course, there are some not so neat things, too, and plenty of things I'm leaving out, but I'm just too tired to write about that now. But a post about Alton wouldn't be complete without mention of the Piasa Bird painted on the bluffs along the Great River Road:

Sadly, the original, prehistoric images of two Piasa birds no longer exist--I think they were destroyed to make way for the River road. In his diary, Jacques Marquette says, "each was as large as calf with horns like a deer, red eyes, a beard like a tiger's, a face like a man, the body covered with green, red and black scales, and a tail so long that it passed around the body, over the head and between the legs, ending like a fish's tail." Legend has it they were also strong enough to swoop down and pick up a cow in their talons and that they had an insatiable appetite for human flesh. Guess ghosts don't seem so scary after all!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Insecta Fantasia

What happens when you arrange thousands of insects in kaleidoscopic patterns on the walls of Newark Museum's Ballantine House?

You get Jennifer Angus' whimsical exhibit, Insecta Fantasia...

...a beautiful mix of insects, mostly from Malaysia, and detailed images of flora and fauna in fairytale settings.

I'm not sure what the small, iridescent blue insects in the innermost circle are, but the rest of this arrangement is fashioned out of Malaysian jungle nymphs, Malaysian leaf insects, and the world's largest Giant Cicadas, complete with small-sized snout beetle pinstripes.

Read all about it--like I did--at Curious Expeditions!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Visiting the City of Roses

On the itinerary: a wedding, a surprise party, meeting Seth's sweet-as-can-be new niece for the first time ever, seeing friends and family we haven't seen in years, eating breakfast in Seth's aunt and uncle's beautiful backyard surrounded by roses and California poppies.

In addition to the bride, groom and guests, the wedding reception was attended by horses, miniature and regular-sized goats, llamas, chickens, rabbits, a scary sheep, a cow, and...

What a ham!
...tons of kids racing around the holly tree grove on every kind of ATV (that's "all-terrain vehicle"--I had to ask!) imaginable.

Whenever Seth's family gets together in Portland they have to eat at Nick's Famous Coney Island (traditions!), but I also got to go to a couple of my old favorites--Justa Pasta and J&M. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to check out Dots and Beaterville--I used to head to one or the other on Saturday afternoons after a morning's-worth of browsing estate sales when I lived in PDX. It was always nice to retreat to the cool and dark and quiet of Dots on especially hot Portland afternoons. And the funky decor is reason enough to love Beaterville, but the yummy garlicky tofu scrambles make it that much better. Oh, and then there's:
  • Rismsky-Korsakoffeehouse for dessert and one of the best bathrooms ever
  • Clinton Street Theater (I saw a bizarre, live action stop-motion movie there called The Secret Life of Tom Thumb that I wish I could find and watch again--has anyone else seen this?)
  • picking berries and tiptoeing through the tulips at the lovely Sauvie Island
  • exploring the Portland Japanese Garden
  • cocktails at The Empire Room (not the one on Hawthorne, but its predecessor on a practically abandoned strip of Burnside Avenue. Sadly, it closed after its building caught on fire, has anyone else been there? If only it was still around...)
  • watching Elliot Smith and Nashville Pussy perform (not at the same time!) at La Luna
  • tiki drinks at The Alibi
  • pizza at Old Town Pizza (it used to be a brothel and it's said to be haunted!)
  • hikes and picnics on Mount Tabor (I used to trek there from my apartment on Belmont)
  • tasty late-night green basil pesto mac under the Morrison Bridge at Montage
  • coffee with a kick at the beautiful Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood...and the list goes on and on.
What great memories and what a great city! We needed more time!!!

Downtown Portland on a Thursday night. This is pretty much as I remember it, but seeing the Pearl District and what is now known as the Alberta Arts District for the first time in ten years..well, it was like visiting a brand-new city. I must admit, I enjoyed window shopping on NE Alberta and wish I had more time to check out the Pearl District (talk about a MAJOR transformation. Wow!) as well as explore the Portland hills as written about by Posie Gets Cozy. Well, maybe next time.

Bird's-eye view of Mount Hood.
If you live in Portland, or love to visit, what are your favorite haunts?