Blog | Globetrotter Dogma
A country whose history is discovered in its songs
Estonia lacks military might and has always been surrounded by much larger countries with intimidating armies. Russia, Germany, and Sweden all vied for its control, creating a tug of war that lasted centuries. Inspired by the fall of the Iron Curtain, Estonia symbolically overcame its latest suppressor, the U.S.S.R., when country-wide choir jam-bands launched their Singing Revolution. Here, choirs outrank sports as a national pastime—some attracting as many as 30,000 singers. Song festival fairgrounds, with their signature bandshell arches, are everywhere.
After 50 years of Soviet repression, in August, 1989, two million Baltic citizens, including people from neighboring Latvia and Lithuania, created an unbroken 350-mile human chain linking the countries in their call for freedom. The likeminded people held hands, and changed their destiny. Estonia, where medieval meets modern, sang themselves free. Their keynote battle-charge song, “My Fatherland is My Love,” has since become their unofficial national anthem.
While in Estonia, I asked several street-strolling locals to sing for me, and true to form, they obliged. One woman sang the entire unofficial anthem as we stood on an empty street. The Baltic Singing Revolution made me wonder, what would the U.S. choose if it needed a new anthem to sing its way out of a real jam? “Won’t Back Down,” “Born in the USA,” “American Woman,” “Highway to Hell,” “Don’t Stop Believin’?”
Estonia’s national bird is the barn swallow. It’s no pin-up like the bald eagle, nor a chart-busting singer—but, aptly, a humble survivor for all seasons. Healing conflict with music, now that’s a concept.
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“We are the music makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” —Willy Wonka
New York’s Catskills
Sullivan County’s Take on the Good Life
Many people lump the Catskills into one big clichéd New Yorker getaway. But each county in the legendary mountainous haven has its own persona. Sullivan County, for instance, has no shortage of vacation-option diversity, earth-sensitive culture, or natural bliss. Here are a few options that might lure you into its quiet, or not so quiet, greenery.
DANCE LIKE A HIPPIE: Bethel Woods Center for the Arts is a beautiful concert pavilion built adjacent to the site of the 1969 Woodstock music festival that attracted half a million fans. Up to 16,000 fans can enjoy the shade under the pavilion or sprawl out on acres of grass surrounded by farms and hillsides. The onsite museum—The Museum at Bethel Woods—proves that this is still ground zero for peace and love by reincarnating the legacy of the Sixties with the Woodstock concert as its beacon. The first third of the magical mystery tour sets the historical stage for the era, while the rest of inspired space uses video, relics, fashion displays, iconic pictures, sit-down theaters, and even a magic bus to transport you into the freedom-loving hippie era. Museum curator and Woodstock expert Wade Lawrence noted that for the original festival “half a million fans couldn’t make it here, so they just parked on the highway and started their own parties.” This place is memorabilia heaven for any student of alternative American history. For indoor and outdoor concert schedules, a wide variety of year-round events, and a taste of the museum’s paraphernalia, visit bethelwoodscenter.org.
FEAST: The Dancing Cat Saloon, across the street from the Bethel Woods convert pavilion, is way more than a live music joint. Its hearty cuisine is interweaved with spirits distilled right next door with local grains at Catskill Distilling. Options include Mama’s “Wicked White” Meatloaf, infused with their handcrafted, unaged Wicked White Whiskey, and “Peace” Shrimp & Clams, which is spiced up with their award-winning Peace Vodka and with a hint of everything from pastry dough to cola. The antique bar was transported from a famed haunt in New Haven, CT, and the wood theme never sleeps as carvings—including a few dancing cats—enliven the warm space. dancingcatsaloon.com and catskilldistilling.com.
STAY: Cochecton’s inviting B&B (barn & breakfast) option is the Golden Guernsey, a two-story cabin with a first floor common room, including a reading area, full kitchen, and a supply of games, classic video tapes, and books. The cozy throwback bedroom has a VCR. Chickens and turkeys roam the otherwise quiet, wooded yard area while very few cars pass by each hour. A home-cooked vegetarian breakfast is served each morning and relaxing in-room massages are available. Very close to Bethel Woods. thegoldenguernsey.com.
Villa Roma is a classic, everyone-welcome Catskills resort with an all-inclusive camp atmosphere. The sprawling hotel and timeshare campus (near Callicoon) has something for everyone including nightly family night activities and live music options. The five-course meals served in a dressed-down banquet-like environment is further colored by the friendly international staff. villaroma.com
SPLASH: The Delaware River is the spine of the Catskills and a great place to tube, kayak, and canoe. Contact Lander’s River Trips, 800 252 3925 or landersrivertrips.com.
HIKE: Morgan Outdoors in Livingston Manor is the Catskills hiking and nature-loving nerve center. This informed hiking retailer takes environmental awareness and mountain climbing advice to another level. The top-shelf gear, clothing, and footwear is matched by an array of maps and guidebooks. Owner Lisa Lyons—“When in doubt, go out!”—should be appointed to our national conservation board. morgan-outdoors.com.
For more information on Sullivan County visit scva.net.
For city folks, consider taking the Shortline bus (coachusa.com) from the Port Authority to Liberty, NY and renting a car via Sam’s. samstowingworld.com (click to Hertz site).
Ps, Narrowsburg, a quaint Pennsylvania-bordering village has an annual Riverfest, featuring bands, local cuisine, and reminders that we all share this planet. artsaliancesite.org.
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My Catskills highlight: At the impressive concert pavilion in Bethel Woods, N.Y., on the site of the 1969 Woodstock music festival, I witnessed an overpowering Bad Company show. I managed a photo pit pass for the first four songs, and uh, sorta forgot to snap. Ten feet from singer Paul Rodgers and guitar legend Mick Ralphs, I couldn’t help but just rock it, dancing in the aisles as they say. The career concert photogs looked at me like I was a hack. I did manage a few pics (above). I also got curious looks from the band. I think they were thinking ‘who brought the dancing guy into the photo pit?’
Jasper—Where Things are Looking Up, Literally!
Saving the sky over Canada’s Rockies
Jasper is a handsome railroad town if ever there was one. Epic mountain splendor surrounds a valley with a freight yard and train depot near the edge of the woody hamlet. Arriving by train, from either east or west, lets you experience the splendor of lofty peaks, wildlife, and untamed rivers and lakes. The VIA Rail trumps all other means of transport. Five-thousand lucky people live within Jasper National Park’s 4,200 square miles, the largest inhabitable region in the Canadian Rockies. These Rockies span from north of Montana up into the Yukon Territory and are disconnected from the Lower 48’s Rockies. This special part of the world is also disconnected from stress.
Historic Jasper sits in a basin that strikes a delicate balance between conservation and development, ecology and economics. It’s the ultimate gateway to adventure within the largest and most northerly of the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks. In this UNESCO World Heritage Site, humans are in the minority of this lair for bear, elk, sheep, goats, coyotes, wolves, moose and lynx. But, the human presence here goes out of its way to show you a good time.
Nightlife in this part of the world comes with a twist. Artificial light pollution in the night sky now means that two-thirds of the people living on earth can’t see the Milky Way. Stargazing aside, light smog, if you will, fundamentally changes what is day and night, meaning that all species (humans, birds, turtles…keep going) day/night cycles are disrupted. The hormones that fight diseases in all living things are altered by this interference.
This type of illumination trespass will forever hit a wall in Jasper National Park where sky-gazers don’t have to be a dying breed. Jasper National Park is now one of the world’s largest Dark Sky Preserves, as it conserves one of the world’s darkest skies. Hats off to Parks Canada for maintaining exemplary conservation practices in an area nearly as big as Connecticut. This preserve goes beyond applying strict lighting guidelines to enhance star and constellation viewing. The rules are also tailored to protect ecosystems and reduce energy consumption.
Canadians know a good thing when they see it, and they want to keep it that way. The third annual Dark Sky Festival returns to its Jasper home October 25-27, 2013. Officially recognized by The Royal Astronomical Society as a Dark Sky Preserve, Jasper National Park offers some of the world’s best starlight viewing. Professional star-seekers and experienced astronomers are on hand throughout the festival to give their expert how-to advice on the prime viewing spots. There will be a full schedule of events, lectures, and lessons on capturing the night sky on camera with acclaimed photographers and some of the biggest names in the world of stargazing. For more information about The Jasper Dark Sky Festival visit jasperdarkskyfest.com.
With all that looking skyward, you’ll need a place to rest your head. The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge is one of Canada’s classic lodge experiences. A great starting point for multiple hikes, this year-round destination for those seeking outdoor bliss and inner quietude. Originally an eight-bungalow wilderness retreat at the turn of the 20th century, the landmark lodge now has 446 rooms on 900-acres in the heart of the Canadian Rockies. Imagine basking in an outdoor heated pool while gazing at untamed, snow-covered peaks. Cavell’s Restaurant in the lodge also overlooks the ice-blessed mountains, but also gives you a view of the lake. The lodge’s Reflections Spa can make a good day even better. fairmont.com/jasper/
Marmot Basin, located only 20 minutes outside of Jasper is made up of a breathtaking, vast, and rugged mountain landscape. There are 1,675 skiable acres and 3,000 vertical feet of superb, crowd-free terrain that make this a skier’s paradise. Adjoining log-style chalets provide a variety of food and drink options, inside or on several outdoor decks. There are also handy mid-mountain dining options. skimarmot.com.
The Jasper Brewing Company, a brew pub and eatery, is the first brewery to open in a National Park. The diverse menu includes Old School Spaghetti & Cheddar Filled Meatballs, and the Fist Pumping Hippy, a vegetarian medley. Here, they believe there’s an occasion for every beer and a beer for every occasion. This spacious, old-style tavern looks to the future of beer and food while honoring its past. jasperbrewingco.ca
Evil Dave’s Grill, a funky, upbeat restaurant, is the backdrop for an unexpected Canadian Rockies dining experience—uncomplicated Canadian gourmet fare. The globally inspired menu includes the tasty and gigantic Malevolent Meatloaf (lean ground Alberta bison and wild boar), Cowboy Sushi, and Hell’s Chicken Sinful Soup. evildavesgrill.com
A wildlife tour might fall flat if you only see the region’s usual suspects, elk and mountain goats. But the guides—Wildlife Interpreters—at Sundog Wildlife Tours double as historians, sightseeing commentators, photography advisors, and entertainers. They also run van shuttles to and from Edmonton. sundogtours.com.
*Via Rail has service to and from all points east and west of Jasper. Arriving via either direction passes through the Canadian Rockies—some of the best scenery in North America. viarail.ca
*The Glacier Skywalk in Jasper National Park overlooks the Sunwapta Valley and will be open in spring 2014. glacierskywalk.ca
Nantucket: Doable Paradise
An Early American Time Capsule—Served by Private Jets
Getting away from it all is relative. When you land on a small island without fast food, nowhere to drive faster than 45 miles per hour, and little connection to the 24-hour broadcasts of worldly woes, you’re onto something. Taking the art of escape a step further, many Nantucket regulars favor Siasconset (commonly referred to as Sconset), a quieter, sunnier corner of the island known for quaint cottages overtaken by roses. Fans of this curve of the island avoid Nantucket’s “downtown” high-season like a Manhattanite despises midtown during rush hour. A classic home decorating hall-of-fame, this small 18th century village/arts community would win any gardening Olympics.
In contrast to the less intimate mansions that define other parts of the island, Sconset’s flora-ensconced bungalows all have cedar-shake shingles tinted blue by the salty wind. The cottages line narrow roads and pathways—a stroller’s paradise and a treat for your senses. The Colonial American perspective lingers here. Not only do locals still hang flags on gravestones on Memorial Day, but their steep New England accents also conjure up images of an earlier era when whalers battled pirates. Colonial Williamsburg, an olden Americana theme park in Virginia employing actors in character, should be peering over its shoulder at Nantucket—the real thing.
Barely a square mile, Sconset is the only other hamlet on the island with a market and other conveniences within walking distance. Surviving on other parts of the island requires a drive. In the 1800s, Sconset’s summer cottages were for the “city folks” from Nantucket’s business district, which is a few miles away.
Visitors who want to make themselves at home in the area will find stylish accommodations in Sconset’s legendary Summer House Cottages. They keep it simple though with optional door padlocks, broken-in wood floors, and old-fashioned light switches (a relief from the complicated remote-control lighting that’s now common in upstart posh digs). The boutique rooms are plush without trying. An inviting courtyard with sitting areas is surrounded by 18 beautifully appointed rose-covered cottages that come in as many shapes and sizes. The cottages recall the area’s history as a collection of rustic fishing bungalows.
At the heart of the cottages is the main house, a multi-room refuge that serves as a bar, a living room, a breakfast buffet, and at night an old-style party room. There, after dining, guests surround a crooning piano player and sing and dance the night away. This enchanting haven also features The Summer House Restaurant, a timeless, homey setting where the seafood makes headlines. There’s no shortage of freshly ocean-caught anything, prosciutto-wrapped black mission figs, or the best clam chowder you’ll taste this year. Leave your watch, gadgets, and distractions behind.
Because people often make a place, Summer House’s owner, Danielle De Benidictus, raises personalized service to a new level. A renowned lawyer and one of the first female law partners in U.S. history, Danielle brought two Equal Rights Amendment cases to the Supreme Court in the early 1970s. Older, wiser, and mellower, she still carries the torch for justice. Her storied marriage adds another dimension to her knack for storytelling. Her husband, Peter Karlsen, is like having Cary Grant around to wryly balance her tales of fair dealing, island lore, and co-owning one of the niftiest archetypal resorts on the east coast. The couple once owned the “Aerosmith Building,” where the band of the same name lived in the early 80s as “aberrational tenants.” Peter has since happily made amends with Steven Tyler. Visiting musicians are fans of the Summer House, as Billy Joel and Carly Simon have also graced its piano bench.
Just across the road and down 27 steps from The Summer House Cottages is the popular Beachside Bistro, where you can dine al fresco in Gatsby-mode, but wearing shorts and flip-flops. Danielle and Peter’s son, Chris Karlsen, dons many hats, triple-hitting as restaurant manager, hotelier, and the resort’s ambassador. Chris understands that nature comes first here—a venue serving crab cakes, lobster bisque, and other classics. The newly renovated bistro is sandwiched between the freshwater pool and an ocean overlook. The next eastbound stop is Portugal. White umbrellas shade 40 tables that are all surrounded by Mother Nature’s rugged oceanside glory. It’s the only establishment on this quiet stretch of beach, and it thrives among sea grass, piney brush, and rosehips.
I got the lowdown on Nantucket’s reputation as a Who’s Who summer-camp-for-the-elite between the Beachside Bistro’s lunch and dinner rushes. That’s when the local career caddies—members of a self-elected caddy hall of fame—belly-up to the bistro’s outdoor bar to discuss life on the island’s three-and-a half courses. One telling caddy testimonial about Nantucket’s rich-and-famous golf set got me thinking: “Millionaires leave their tees behind, but billionaires bend over and pick them up—because they know the value of a nickel.”
Herman Melville penned his epic novel Moby-Dick (1851) without having visited Nantucket, though the island and its whaling history form the backbone of that novel. Another caddie, a Melville buff, lifted his mug and toasted the gang by quoting from his tattered copy… “The Nantucketer, he alone resides and riots on the sea…” And then another calming breeze graced the bistro just as the scallops arrived.
But you can’t sleep at the bar. The impressive and inexpensive island-wide bus service ($2 from Sconset into town) is called The Wave, which doubles as a conversation center and a fashion show. New Yorkers who ride public transport are all too familiar with the “You lookin’ at me?” dilemma. It takes a bit of magic and luck to start a conversation on a subway. However, on Nantucket’s bus routes, folks spontaneously chat like they’re long-lost pals. However, once you step off the bus, the bargains expire. There seems to be no downside here, as long as you’re not cringing every time you pass an ATM.
If you need further proof that Nantucket is also a foodie destination, check out Figs at 29 Fair, which serves superb meals inspired by celebrity chef Todd English. Built in 1709, the restaurant proves that getting old isn’t so bad. Ducking under interior structural outcrops is in vogue here, including inside the bathroom where you have to dip below the underside of the base of a staircase to reach the toilet. The old wood is comforting, and the flickering-candle lighting is still not for show. Menu options include Maine lobster ravioli, gourmet pizzas, and bread pudding. Some waiters are 30-year veterans with no shortage of goodwill, jokes, and vintage wine wisdom. Within walking distance from this iconic landmark, the downtown boat basin, once a whaler’s dock, is a showcase for billionaires’ boats and ships. More telling, from my angle, is how this dock serves up a variety of international crew members who are ready to share the real lowdown on the lifestyles of floating royalty.
Nantucket is more than Massachusetts’ privileged on vacation. People from every niche come from far and wide to enjoy this interactive antique, and when you see daytrippers lining up for the ferry ride back to the mainland you sense their despair about exiting a fantasy. While stuck in that moment, a Porsche bounces by on an uneven cobblestone street past a skateboarder who is chatting with an elegantly dressed woman as she walks her golden retriever. Stylish but briny and broken in—also possibly a metaphor for your purse while here—this storied island clamps all things fancy down-to-earth. Back when kerosene killed the whale oil industry, many Nantucketers fled to the California Gold Rush. Seems that rush has found its way back east.
* For more information visit thesummerhouse.com ~ 508.257.4577 ~ 17 Ocean Ave, Siasconset, Massachusetts
* Don’t miss the Whaling Museum, featuring the skeleton of a 47-foot sperm whale (they can grow to 65-80 feet), a scrimshaw exhibit of elaborate carvings made from whale tusks, and paintings of seafaring men and women. Also check out Nantucket, a DVD by Rick Burns. Visit nha.org/sites/index.
* Fly to Nantucket in style: Cape Air flies to Nantucket from Westchester County Airport (HPN). These lower altitude flights above Long Island Sound overlook the Long Island and Connecticut shorelines, and is trip in itself. Cape Air flies the super-reliable Cessna 420 twin engine prop planes, which can cruise at 9,000 feet and fly at 165+ MPH. The trip takes 80 minutes and costs approximately $650 round trip from HPN. Cape Air also provides options for overland transport to the airport from New York Metro area—I cruised in one of their Mercedes mini vans. Visit capeair.com.
Tweak Your Identity While Traveling
“Inspector of snowstorms.” —Henry David Thoreau’s self-appointed title
Choctaw Indians communicate using two past tenses: one for giving confirmed information, and the other for passing on material taken without verifying the source. Consider a tense that pardons fleeting impersonations.
I am a proud American who has been roving the international circuit for decades. However, in the days of my youth, I’d occasionally find it necessary to beat anti-American hecklers to the punch using a little bait and switch. Socializing while traveling abroad, especially as a rookie, can be an uphill climb involving feeble attempts to overturn stereotypes. Due to a legacy—with some kinks—a swath of other-country folk tend to negatively generalize about all things Americana. If you need a break from this patented scenario, throw them off course with a fib or two. Embellish. Be someone else for a day.
Example: “Where are you from?” they ask.
Possible replies: “I’m a professional pogo stick competitor.” … “I’m scouting local talent for the next edition of the Guinness World Records.” … “I’m here to invent this country’s new tourism slogan.” I’ve also claimed that I was a “Beer Cicerone.” Most effective was stating, in a whisper, “I can’t talk about it.”
Also consider toying with an invented alias. Your parents chose a name for you that suited their mood at the time. Sometimes you may be more in the mood for a pen name. Pick one that suits your future aspirations, hints at an emerging talent, reflects your life experience, or might help you gain entry into an otherwise private function. You update friends on your relationship and occupation status. While roaming, entice strangers by stating those ranks with a twist.
Reflective of achievements and aspirations, name changing was, and hopefully still is, common among Aboriginal tribes. Here and now, how about naming things (like you) in conjunction with a visual equivalent? One of the prevailing clichés of contemporary art is that it serves as a “mirror of its time.” Inherit your new self by way of an interim stage name. Testers: Colt, Wit, Emmy, Chairman, Dare, Dog-God, Dynamode, Stellar, Aide.
Until the 1990s, American collegians were still flocking exclusively to Europe in droves while young Australians, New Zealanders, and Northern Europeans were discovering Asia’s charms. Ronald Reagan and Bush, Sr. weren’t very popular with the aforementioned travel set, who often drank beer in packs and made their imperial annoyances known to the rare, roaming Americans. If you think today’s young Canadians are tough on Americans while abroad, triple it before Bill Clinton.
At first, I stoutly defended my homeland, falling into their traps (Sylvester Stallone good, right?). Later, I helped the residents of these mostly socialized countries to understand some of America’s charms: blues and jazz, ZZ Top, Michael Jordan, vigilante Charles Bronson. As the years of socializing with surly alien critics became decades, I realized that it takes time for all of us to separate citizenry from politics…something very clear to most travelers you’ll meet once they pass the age of 30. You really can’t judge travelers by their country—unless you’ve been a waiter who has served the French.
The next step in the ceasefire process presents an intersection. One route is to gang up on the good ole USA with critics, which derails the killjoy, spins the slagging around, and eventually makes them sit back while you help them pick on their homeland. A more sustainable option is erasing the trite American labels foreigners embrace, usually because they believe the BS spewing from televisions, by sharing your truths about our homeland. It’s more fun too, but that’s another story.
*Question—asked by a European—overheard in Aruba (driving past Outback Steakhouse): Can I talk English here?
*Answer (now peering into Hooters): Sure, but you’ll need to learn it first.
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In a related vein, skewing otherwise bothersome conversations at home is also a way to entertain oneself. Tribe-sensitive discrimination can also occur in-country. When people ask me where I grew up, my patent answer is, “Isle de Long.” This throws generalization-bent inquisitors off the stereotypical mockery about heralding from New York’s Long Island: “Strong Island?”…“You mean LawnGuyland?” The list goes on. Anyone from New Jersey has also been down this road.
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