Showing posts from June, 2009

Never Can Say Goodbye

Sitting in a Mexican cafe and hearing the news that Michael Jackson was dead, my first reaction was disbelief. Just another silly rumor, there was no way that the King of Pop was dead. But stories from AP, Reuters and BBC were produced and I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. As Americans away from home, we stared blankly at each other, unable to digest how an American icon could be gone without warning. I arrived back and slowly absorbed the reality of Michael Jackson's death. Growing up on the south side of Chicago, Michael Jackson was like a neighborhood friend. His image, voice and moves were everywhere throughout my youth.No boy could be described as attractive unless he had a Michael Jackson 'fro. Nobody could be called a good dancer unless they had perfected the cool, precise, Michael Jackson spin. Anybody with the last name of Jackson automatically claimed a relation to Michael Jackson. Anybody who journeyed to Michael's nearby home state of Indiana always declar

Next Stop: Land of Ixchel

For the rest of the week, I'll be exploring the Land Of Ixchel (ee-shell)or Cozumel. Ixchel was the Mayan goddess of the moon, fertility, childbirth and weaving. Cozumel was her sacred island and the site of the San Gervasio shrine where every Mayan women was expected to make a pilgrimage at least once. I'll visit the San Gervasio ruins as well as check out the local Cozumel culture. Stay tuned for my posts next week.

Lowcountry Paradise

Covered with palmetto trees, hydrangeas and Lilly of the Valley, South Carolina resembles a swampy Garden of Eden. One of the best places to catch a glimpse of the state's natural beauty is at the National Historic Landmark of Brookgreen Gardens. Nestled between Myrtle Beach and Pawleys Island, the 9,200-acre outdoor museum boasts swamps, marshes,sculptures, fountains an aviary and a zoo. I had no idea how massive the place was until I arrived and was handed back my ticket because it's good for 7 consecutive days. You need a day to devote to just one of the half dozen areas so I chose the sculpture garden and the lowcountry zoo. At the zoo filled with indigenous animals, we saw a red fox snuggled in a tree. Eagles perched on a branch. And a fountain decked with loons in flight. The Huntington Sculpture Garden opened as the country's first public sculpture garden in 1931 and continues to display one of the most diverse collections of 1,200 works by 350 sculptors. The garden

Lyrical Leaps in Myrtle Beach

I love music and I love amusement parks. I've never seen these two loves come together quite as well as in the Freestyle Music Park. Formerly Hard Rock Amusement Park, it's 55 acres of music, roller coasters and fun. Myrtle Beach has a lot of amusement parks, from water parks, to a NASCAR playground but I enjoyed Freestyle the most, just because of the overall music theme. The rides, shows and park areas all reference some aspect of pop music. The Time Machine is Freestyle's signature roller coaster, with a 155 foot lift and six inversions and loops. I didn't get any where near this monster but my daughter rode it 3 consecutive times. The highlight is that the tracks have five separate audio tracks that you can choose while riding-60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 00s. I found it difficult to believe that riders would remember what tunes were playing as they whooshed through stomach-churning loops but my daughter reported hearing the Supremes for the 60s track, Michael Jackson for

A Frog and a Coconut Tree

I just couldn't resist. This is cultural enlightenment for all my readers who have never heard of Jimmy Buffett. He's a singer that relies on cheesey Caribbean references but this is an example where it works. You can't go wrong with steel pan playing Muppets. And for Cubano, this is the very best kind of kitsch.

Parrotheads and Sandlappers

So this is the thing. I have always been irritated by "Gulf and Western" singer Jimmy Buffett's broad stereotypes of the Caribbean. Palm trees and well-placed "yeah mon's" do not a culture make. Even though his music is acknowledged for its island escapism theme, the cheesy tropical rhythms and overly languid delivery just gets on my nerves. So it goes without saying that I never considered stepping foot in Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville restaurants. But there it was, the first item on my Myrtle Beach itinerary. It seems that Margaritaville is the anchor for the bustling Broadway on the Beach shopping district. And since the focus of my trip was family-friendly activities, Margaritaville apparently topped the list. Here's the other thing. I love kitsch. Silly, tongue-in-cheek decor, childish and whimsical knick knacks, always make me smile. So when I was greeted by the swirling hurricane above (I thought it was a giant margarita since it was next to a

Next Stop: Myrtle Beach

I never knew that Myrtle Beach had more than endless beaches but apparently there are museums, zoos and theaters to compete with all the sand. The photo above is from Brookgreen Gardens, home of the world's first and largest sculpture garden as well a depository of Lowcountry history. I'll be diving into this other side of South Carolina for the week so look for posts on my Myrtle Beach discoveries this weekend.

Long Live The Queen of the Blues

The blues runs through my blood. It seeped in through the Mississippi cotton fields of my father and the New Orleans swamp land of my grandfather. It jumped out and grabbed me in Chicago blues clubs and never let go. Although the genre reveres and focuses on men and manhood, Koko Taylor snatched the spotlight with gutsy vocals and growls that few men matched. She was born to Memphis sharecroppers and scrubbed floors in Chicago houses until Willie Dixon heard her formidable contralto and urged her to record. He wrote her signature 1965 hit "Wang Dang Doodle," which pushed her to the forefront of the blues, where she remained for four decades straight. She won 29 music awards over her impressive career, including a Grammy and an NEA National Heritage Fellowship Award. What made Koko Taylor the Queen of the Blues was not just her voice but a regal, commanding spirit that forces your attention. The blues doesn't just represent pain and sorrow, but strength and the joy of livi