Tuesday, July 13, 2010

We returned yesterday evening from almost a week away. We'd left Wednesday morning very early on the first leg of a trip to Gatlinburg, TN, where Fritz was scheduled to present at a big educational conference. Gatlinburg plotted out to be almost exactly 1000 miles from our house, so we planned for a two day drive, doing at least two thirds of the distance on the first day to make sure we'd arrive at our hotel early in the afternoon of the second day so he could visit the convention center, check out the room in which his session was scheduled, and have some time to decompress before the Friday 8am starting time.

We were on the road Wednesday for 11 1/2 hours, which should have been exhausting but for the fact that the new Hyundai rides smooth as silk, handles beautifully and has a great air-conditioning system. We stopped for the night near Lynchburg, Virginia, our motel on a hilltop with the promised mountain view:

The near-100 degree temperatures and smothering humidity hit us hard whenever we stopped, but we perked up significantly when we got back in the car.

Another advantage is that we'd been lent three books on CD by Fritz's office manager. I'm used to popping an opera or two into the player on long trips but had always been skeptical about listening to a book being read at length. So, this was my first experience and it was a real winner. We listened to Lisa See's Shanghai Girls, a novel about the Japanese invasion of Shanghai, the refugee family's struggles to reach the U.S. and their efforts to balance assimilation and preservation of their culture as we headed south; and to David McCullough's superbly researched John Adams on the way back home.

After Disc One (of eleven) of Shanghai Girls, (beautifully read and acted by Janet Song) I was fully on board with the idea of listening to a book while driving. Absorbing but never distracting, at least for me, they made the time pass quickly. Well-known actor Edward Herrmann read the somewhat abridged story of Adams on nine discs, amusingly from time to time in his unfamiliarity with Massachusetts pronunciation. Haverhill, which he pronounced literally, is really Havrill here and Quincy is pronounced Quinzy. But his rich voice and crystal clear enunciation made the narative flow effortlessly.

Gatlinburg is approached by one of the most heavily congested and schlocky commercial strips I've ever encountered. Engulfing the road (currently being widened further to facilitate even greater tourism) through the town of Pigeon Forge, it has every imaginable form of fast food, cheap motel and tourist trap, from amusement arcades and parks to an upside-down house to this:

Unfortunately, the fiberglass iceberg jammed onto the other side of the hull wasn't visible to us until after we'd passed it in our rear-view mirrors.

Then suddenly, like turning off a faucet, it ended and we were in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. For four miles, we followed the bed of a rocky stream and were surrounded by towering trees growing up the deep sides of a canyon it had apparently carved. Then we were in Gatlinberg with a row of half-timbered commercial buildings built certainly to give a European alpine feel. They gave way to Gatlinberg proper: hotels, shops, the sprawling convention/conference center, cable cars ascending the surrounding mountains and crowds everywhere.

The agency that hired Fritz booked us into a Marriott Garden Inn, the only hotel/motel room I've ever been in with its own fireplace (fire courtesy of natural gas).

The stream we'd encountered on the way into town ran directly opposite our hotel, so we began our exploration there. Although extremely shallow and not much wider than five to six feet, it was billed as Gatlinburg River and was attractive, even with hotels crowded around its banks, "Balconies overhanging the River" being a commonly advertised come-on.

Mamma and her ducklings almost disappear into the colors and patterns of the water.

Gatlinburg itself, while not without some interest, is essentially an oasis of commercialism within the magnificent landscape. There are some true artisans among the T shirt and souvenier shops but few and far between. Fortunately, a former student of Fritz's from long ago and far away (Las Vegas) had relocated some years ago to Nashville. She and one of her sons joined us for the afternoon and a long leisurely dinner.

The presentation next morning went well, although it was the last offering of the 3 1/3 day conference and many teachers drifted away before the end to head for airports, buses, or to begin long drives home. After lunch, we drove out of town to the south, crossing the entire National Park, its approximately forty mile length with a 35 mile speed limit and frequent turn-outs to view the beauties everywhere.

We returned home a different route, visiting a nephew of Fritz's in Franklin, NC, a sister in Greensboro and another nephew, his wife and daughter in Takoma Park, just north of DC along the way.


Pope Benedict XVI's now-infamous $400 a pair red Prada shoes.
I have to wonder if vanities like these aren't contributing to the problem reported on below more than is admitted. As I recall, Jesus, whose representative on Earth the Pope is reputed to be, wore simple sandals and cared little for luxuries or even for possessions of any kind. Were he to come back now, I bet he'd be thrown out of the Vatican as a dirty, badly dressed bum.

Vatican sees third straight loss
Sunday, 11 July 2010 10:03 UK

The Vatican has seen its third consecutive financial loss, with a 4.1m euros (£3.4m; $5.2m) deficit in 2009. It saw revenues of 250.2m euros against expenses of 254.3m euros. But annual donations from churches worldwide - known as Peter's Pence - were up by about 9% in 2009 at $82.52m.

Most of the Vatican's outlay was to cover the activities of Pope Benedict XVI, and services such as Vatican Radio which is broadcast on five continents in 40 different languages. It said it also faced costly improvements to its telecommunication system while restoring cultural treasures and ensuring security added to the bill.

The Vatican began publishing annual financial reports in 1981 when Pope John Paul II set out to challenge perceptions that the Vatican was rich. In 2008, the Vatican lost 900,000 euros but in 2007 saw a 9.1m euro deficit.

What a wonderful journey to share! Looks like you both had a great time.
I've never been but it looks beautiful.
Is the she-male! pigeon toed! Who bought the shoes? LOL! No balls here! LOL!
I have wondered about those Prada shoes, what they looked like. Don't quite know why I hadn't googled them already. Lipstick comes to mind.

And as for the 4.1m euros deficit; auction off a treasure from the vault. There must be stuff worth millions stacked and stashed away, down there.
I love books on tape. I have heard many classics this way and have enjoyed the actors who read them. I find this is a good way to tackle books of which I have little patience to read on my own.
The Smokies are wonderful. Pigeon Forge is an experience I'm in no hurry to repeat- and the last time I was there was nearly 30 years ago. It was already totally tacky by then. I'm sure it has only gotten worse in the intervening years.
I once stayed in a little motel outside Sedona with rooms with their own fireplace and a wood log in easy-to-light brown paper wrapping. Only in America.

I've arrived from Oz (via David Nice's blog) delighted to find gardens, birds, trips and arty stuff - hello, and no reciprocation necessary.
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