Monday, August 07, 2006
A boat, an Ark, an Henri, and a Henge
Whenever you travel there are always unexpected, odd, even bizarre people and places that cross your path. I thought I'd present a couple today.
1) Henri’s Motel and Restaurant in Angola, New York--and in particular the woman we dubbed Madame Henri. We arrived in late afternoon having come west along Lake Erie from Buffalo. There wasn't a single motel on our route. Suddenly, on a slight rise and around a gentle curve, there appeared Henri’s, like a welcome mirage with pool. The fact that there were no cars parked at either the restaurant or motel wasn't lost on us, but we figured this was the only game in town (or the countryside) so what the hell.
The motel office was located in the bar. We went in. Nobody was around. I called out and there appeared--and what an apparition she was!--Madame Henri. Four feet ten inches tall--if that--in what used to be called a house dress, she appeared to be around sixty five or even older, her head topped by a 1970s "big hair" wig that made her look dangerously top heavy. The hair in the wig was dry, carelessly combed and almost dead. Some people fear encountering the Bates Motel on their trips off the beaten path; with Madam Henri, it looked like we'd encountered Mrs. Bates in person.
We got a room that was perfectly adequate--we only later discovered that the bathroom was so narrow you couldn't quite get your shoulders into the space between the shower stall and the wall when you wanted to stand at the sink. Shaving was done stepped back a couple of feet from the sink and mirror. We thought it better to eat elsewhere when not a single car showed up at the restaurant for happy hour or dinner. Nor did anyone choose to eat breakfast there the next morning. We didn't go back to the office with our key the next morning—we just left it on the dresser and slipped away as quietly as possible.
2) Foamhenge. On our way to the breathtaking Natural Bridge in southwestern Virginia, I caught sight of a partial circle of monoliths in a field beside the road, dark stone gray but with curious patches of white wherethe surface was chipped or hacked away. We finally came to the sign announcing the name of the place--Foamhenge. It looked pretty hokey and we passed on to the Natural Bridge itself, but I made a mental note to look it up when we got home.
To my surprise, it turns out there are two. One, recreating what the Celtic Stonehenge would have looked like when just built, was put up in England for a BBC documentary. But the English Foamhenge was not brought over to the U.S. and set up in Virginia. The American Foamhenge is an incomplete replica of Stonehenge as it is now, fabricated by Mark Cline of Enchanted Castle Studios, an exhibit designer and, apparently, a purveyor of tourist kitch. He's also a first rate promoter, getting the Natural Bridge Association to let him install Virginia's Foamhenge on its property, and convincing businesses and manufacturers from Virginia and surrounding states to donate all the necessary materials. The replica has been covered with carved and painted graffiti. It was never completed, possibly because Cline lost interest after the initial rush of publicity. Reputedly, it's now the site of beer busts and other debauchery at night.
3) Noah's Ark on a Maryland Hill. As we headed east from a stop at Appomattox, where the Civil War ended in Robert E. Lee's surrender to General Grant, we climbed into the hills where Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland come together. Hills, rock formations and trees were dramatized by bands of blustery rain and scudding low clouds. Suddenly, just ahead, an imposing steel skeleton loomed out of the mist with a big sign announcing "Noah's Ark Being Rebuilt Here!" Fritz had relaxed into a quick nap and I didn't try to wake him to see it, as we were by it in a flash. But I made another note to myself to find out what the thing was.
It's a very American story. For several months during the spring of 1974, Reverend Pastor Richard Green had dreams of a huge Ark on a hillside to which people from all over the world were coming for refuge. In his dreams, God personally told the Reverend to build his church in the form of an Ark to provide safe refuge from the corruption of the world because Jesus was coming again soon.Grandiose plans for a combination church, bible school, conference center, library, missionary center and museum with outbuildings were drawn up. In 1976 foundation piers were poured and about 20 percent of the steel frame for the ark building was erected. But despite extensive fund raising efforts, including appeals on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club TV show, money never came in to do any more than put up a small shed-like building next to the foundation that serves as a substitute church, office for the God’s Ark of Safety ministry, and for Reverend Green’s radio program, all he has left of his dream.
Oh, Michael, she was really a piece of work. Quite nice, actually, just visually completely bizarre!