Thursday, January 31, 2008

Upside-down Geography

You won't be in Detroit very long before one of the locals tries to catch you with the city's favorite trivia question. "If you go south from Detroit, what country do you come to?" Okay, logic tells you that Detroit is still part of the United States and what's south of the U.S.? -- Mexico. Right answer -- except in Detroit -- where the correct answer is Canada. Check a good map.

Photo: Looking towards the southwest at the Detroit River, Detroit is on the right (north) and Windsor, Ontario, Canada, is on the left (south).

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Monastery

On our fall trip to England, we visited Gorton Monastery -- here's that story.

In 1861, three Franciscan priests (two from Belgium, one from Ireland) came to Gorton to serve the few Catholic families there. Catholics had been forbidden to openly practice their religion until 1829. Nearby Manchester was highly Protestant and anti-Catholic. By the time the group had grown to about 300 parishoners, the priests decided to build a church -- not just any church -- a real architectural poke in the eye to their Protestant neighbors.

Architect Edward Pugin was engaged to draw up plans for a massive, Gothic-style building situated on a north/south axis -- rather than the traditional east/west -- the better to be seen from Manchester.

The project would cost 8000 pounds -- money the parish didn't have. Other Franciscans donated 2000 pounds; another 1000 came from general donations. The 4000 pound labor would be taken care of by volunteer builders. The remainder came from begging. Brother Patrick, the talented Irish mason/builder monk begged a penny a brick. Bricks were scrounged from demolished buildings or made on the premises from local clay.

The parish flourished and grew to around 6000 congregants. It provided three schools, youth clubs, theatre and music groups, choirs, even brass bands. The church was the center of community activity.

The parish, however, was not a wealthy one. Surrounding homes and buildings became the target of redevelopment efforts in the 1970s. Residents were relocated as the area buildings were torn down. The members were scattered and the church suffered.

In 1989 the church closed and was sold to developers who stripped it for conversion to flats. This scheme failed and the building fell into receivership.

By 1993, the church and friary were totally abandoned and unprotected. Vandals destroyed altars and windows and stole anything of any value -- marble, even lead from the windows.

In 1996, Elaine Griffiths and her husband formed a group of volunteers to save the building. The building was already a Grade II listed building giving it some protection but, structurally, it was falling down on its own. Elaine made a case for the monastery to the World Monument Fund based on its being the work of Edward Pugin. In 1997, the WMF put it, along with the Taj Mahal and the Valley of the Kings, on its 100 Most Endangered Sites in the World list.

Through grants and fund raising, structural integrity has been restored and the building is again open to the public. Though not a church, nor owned by an ecclesiastical organization, the building itself exudes a sanctified air and areas are being reserved for private prayer or meditation.

From the outside, the building is something of a monstrosity -- like a wedding cake on a card table. Some parts are still in ruins and the whole thing seems to loom over the landscape. But the first reaction on entering the former sanctuary is an involuntary "ah."

The white walls and pointed, clear windows lead the eye to the dark, wooden ceiling almost 100 feet above the floor. Six pedestals on each side of the nave await the return of the statues of saints that once stood there. The statues were found in an art dealer's catalogue and purchased back for 25,000 pounds. The clerestory windows have been strategically placed so that, at certain times, the light falls directly on each statue.

In June, 2007, The Monastery opened as an events center hosting conferences, meetings, weddings and parties. Elaine Griffiths was awarded an MBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours List for her services to heritage.

There's more work to be done but we were awed by the tremendous effort that has brought this church back from little more than a rubble-filled shell of bricks.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hot Dog!

Rereading my last two blogs -- I hope they don't sound whiny. Yes, I did fall on my face and, yes, my legs did ache after climbing down the hotel stairs -- but that was such a small part of my trip. I had a great time in Detroit -- lots of surprises. I'll be blogging more about some of them in the future. Today, I want to talk about food. I had some magnificent meals in Detroit -- one at Iridescence, Detroit's only Four-Diamond award-winning restaurant, located in the Motor City Hotel and the other at Wolfgang Puck's in the MGM Grand Hotel. And I had some fun meals that, though they don't qualify as gourmet fare, provided food for thought.

At the Michigan Cafe in the Henry Ford Museum, I was introduced to Faygo sodapop. Faygo has been making pop for over 100 years. They produce familiar flavors like cola, creme soda and grape and unusual ones like Rock & Rye. That was the one I tried. It was really good but all I can say to describe its taste is it tastes red! Two other Michigan favorites that I saw but didn't try were Better Made Potato Chips and bumpy cake. My guide pointed out the bumpy cake as we were leaving the restaurant. It's a rich, chocolate cake with a buttercream filling and rows of buttercream on top -- covered with a smooth, chocolate icing. Just one more reason to go back to Michigan.

The big mystery to me was being told that the definitive Detroit food was a Coney Island -- a hot dog topped with chili, chopped onions and mustard, served on a steamed bun. American Coney Island Inc., founded in 1917, in Detroit, has a legitimate claim to the invention of the coney as we know it. Because the founders of the company were Greek, it's become tradition to serve it with a Greek salad. I had a chance to try this meal (at a different chain) at the airport where I took this picture. Historically, I'd have preferred an American coney, but sure couldn't fault National Coney Island for their attempt.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

What Goes Up

In 1924, Detroit's Book-Cadillac Hotel was the tallest hotel in the world and the tallest building in Detroit. Built in popular Italian Renaissance style, its decor leaned toward the more lavish Venetian manner. Famous for its dining areas and clubs, it was the hub of social activity for many years. It reigned for 60 years, though, in the later years, showed its age -- like a fading matinee idol whose collar and cuffs are frayed and whose tie is stained with food spots. The hotel closed its doors in 1984. Ornamental metal and chandeliers were stripped from the building and wood paneling and wallpapers suffered from water leaks and vandalism.

Twenty years later, plans for redevelopment included creating a 455-room luxury hotel topped with 67 upscale apartments. The $180 million project is scheduled to be completed in the fall of 2008.

"Should I take my camera?" I asked our host as we prepared to take a hard-hat tour of the work-in-progress.

"No," I was told. "There's not much to see yet."

We took the construction elevator up 30 floors to the roof where we got a bird's eye view of the city. And me without my camera!!!!!

Inside, we toured a $1.5 million, three-level apartment -- had to use lots of imagination since it was still at dry-wall stage. We walked down a floor to see a smaller unit, then down another few floors to see what would become hotel rooms.

And then came the bad news! We were not taking the elevator down. Yep, we walked down 60 flights (30 floors) of stairs. I wouldn't have thought I could do it but I didn't have a choice. What goes up.....and I did. But it took two days for the backs of my calves to recover.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Okies Hit Mo(o)town

One hundred and twenty longhorn steers from Oklahoma paraded through downtown Detroit to help introduce the new Dodge Ram truck last week. (Wouldn't sheep have been more appropriate?) It took four semis and three one-ton trucks hauling trailers to get the cattle, cowboys and horses over a thousand miles to their destination. Media outlets all featured shots of the cattle drive and coverage was extensive, if not always accurate. One paper wrote about the bulls (need a sex check?) and several were fascinated with the bored steer who decided to give the crowd a little X-rated entertainment. Still, it was good to see Oklahoma's Chain Ranch getting some great publicity.

This was just part of the hoopla surrounding the North American International Auto Show -- Detroit's biggest do. Over 700 vehicles -- both concept and in production -- vied for attention in the massive Cobo Center. I attended the black-tie, charity preview where ball gowns and jewels were de rigueur. The event was topped off with a rockin' Barenaked Ladies concert. I capped my evening by catching my toe on a rug seam and falling flat on my face. Falling down is a great way to be the center of attention -- but I don't recommend it!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Road Hazards

Yesterday it was 60 and sunny. Today was cloudy, then drizzly, then rainy and the thermometer dropped like the New Year's Eve ball. Will the roads freeze? Chances are good. It figures. I need to leave before sunrise for an early flight to Detroit. Keep your fingers crossed for me. If I get out of town, I'll be posting photos of some pretty elegant autos -- I'm headed for the North American International Auto Show.

Friday, January 11, 2008

High Rise Happiness

For a photographer, happiness is a great view. I think you'll agree, this late afternoon view of the Dallas skyline is pretty good. The only thing missing is the Reunion Tower. And there's a reason. I was looking out my window at the Hyatt Regency Dallas at Reunion! With a view like this I didn't need television. What a great stay. Our room was spacious and comfortable and the bed was fantastic. My husband, who rarely gets to travel with me, was on this trip (as my chauffeur) and now understands one of the reasons I love to travel. With a great bed like this, who wants to go home? A brochure describing the bed and decor elements available for purchase was enticing -- the price, which didn't include shipping, was daunting. I think I'll just keep traveling!

Sounds Like Fun

Just got this email and this sounds like a lot of fun, so I'm sharing it.
"It's the Year of the Rat!Help Tulsa ring in Chinese New Year 2008 (the Year of the Rat) with a spectacular celebration of dance, music, theater, and performing arts on Saturday, February 2, 2008 at 7:00 p.m. in the Van Trease Performing Arts Center, 81st Street & Highway 169. Traditional lion dancing, Kung Fu demonstrations, a fashion show, and much more will be presented by the Chinese American Association of Tulsa, Tulsa Community College, and dozens of talented participants at this year's performance. It will be the best show ever!
This is a fabulous cultural event suitable for the whole family. Come learn more about Chinese culture - with traditions dating back more than 5,000 years."
The event is free but seats are limited so arrive early.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Really Exclusive

You want to know what frustration is? Trying to follow those online driving directions. You know what's worse? Trying to follow those online driving directions to find someplace that is particular about who finds it. Being confused in Dallas traffic is not a good thing. We shot U-turns and turned quickly without signalling. We had finally pulled to the side of the street to call for help when the phone rang. It was our breakfast host who "talked us in" to the Mansion on Turtle Creek. What an elegant place! But don't look for a big sign. It's great for celebrities who are looking for a hideaway and a little anonymity, but tough on those of us who aren't "in the know." Frustration aside, the breakfast was wonderful. The juice of the day was watermelon-strawberry -- yum. This was followed by a Hazelnut Brioche French Toast. Think I'd like to start every day this way. Our table, tucked into a sunny alcove, overlooked the new veranda -- a charming space which must look magical at night with twinkling Mexican, punched-tin lanterns hanging from the branches of large trees. The restaurant is located in the what was originally a mansion and many of the decorative elements have been retained. I loved the ornately plastered ceilings and beautiful stained glass in the Chef's Room. After such a lovely start to my day, I felt like a celebrity!

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

What a Coincidence

I'm in Dallas and spent the afternoon touring museums at Fair Park. The Women's Museum here is fabulous -- hundreds of great exhibits on women of all ages, times and walks of life. Lo and behold, there was a poster just like the one on my previous blog. Pawnee Bill does Dallas!

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Pawnee Bill

The Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum were the subjects of my Sunday article in the Edmond Sun. At church I ran into a friend, Ed Berry, who lived in Pawnee as a young (very young, I'm sure) boy. "Pawnee Bill used to come into town in a big yellow car -- I think it was a Cord," he told me. "He would let the kids climb in and I got to honk the horn." How cool! (To read the article, go to )

Thursday, January 03, 2008


You know I generally write about travel and entertainment -- not politics. Our world, however, is a small one and it is our responsibility to be aware not only of the pleasant aspects of other countries but also of the travails. Jean Warner is an Oklahoma woman who has done significant work in Kenya. She is blogging extensively about the situation there. Please check her blog at for information on the political unrest in that country.