Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rattlesnake Lodge Trail - Blue Ridge Parkway

This tree had once stood guard over a spring in a forest not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway near Asheville. The winter storm a couple of weeks ago toppled this old sentinel -- creating a bit of abstract art.
These tall poplar trees survived the winds and heavy snow, but so many trees were downed -- making it difficult to hike the trails.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Day Trip to Greenville, SC

Not many towns can boast a waterfall right in the city center -- so I was amazed when I visited Greenville and saw the Reedy River Falls.

This photo was snapped from a pedestrian bridge that is an engineering marvel. Only two steel posts with suspension cables hold it up.

When in Greenville -- a must see is the Museum of Art. Check out the Andrew Wyeth collection.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Close to Flood Stage

The little town of Marshall, NC escaped the flood waters the day after Christmas. This photo was taken on Blannehassett Island -- which is prone to flooding -- but like Marshall -- stayed dry. The awesome power of the water was very much on display today -- there was a constant rumbling sound as huge stones in the river bed where pushing around by the water like tiny pebbles.

The photo below was snapped just below the hydroelectric dam in Marshall - where some giant rocks stood their ground against the flood waters.

Hikes in Snow, Wind and Floods

Hiking is something I always look forward to when I come home to western North Carolina. I attempted the Rich Mountain hike on Christmas Eve, but high winds on the ridges made it extremely dangerous with dead limbs falling all around me. I turned back.

Christmas Day I stayed off the ridges and hiked the Laurel River trail that parallels the river -- the snow melt and rain the night before caused the river to flood -- so there was a constant roar as I walked the trail -- a cliff on my left -- the raging Laurel River just inches away on my right.The snow melt had created some amazing waterfalls on both sides of the river.And the plant life loved the water!
Tim-Berrrr! The beavers decided to take a break.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Snow Desert

The Day Before Winter

As I stood on a hillside looking into a pine thicket covered with 15 inches of snow -- there was a large snapping sound -- followed by a small storm of snow rising above the trees. This scene was repeated throughout the afternoon today -- as the heavy snow kept snapping the tops out of the pine trees -- releasing an evergreen smell onto the hillside.

It smelled like Christmas.

The trees were falling in the forests, and also in the roadways -- making things doubly treacherous -- heavy snow on the roadway and downed trees in some places blocked or made roads into single lane tracks. Particularly hard-hit was Madison County, North Carolina -- where power and phone lines also snapped -- leaving thousands in Madison and nearby Buncombe County in the dark -- and in some cases -- in the freezing cold.

Below are some photos snapped today in Madison County, near Marshall, NC.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Pharr Mounds

I'd never seen "mounds" until my trip along the length of the Natchez Trace Parkway. I encountered the Pharr Mounds about 20 miles or so north of Tupelo, Mississippi. They were constructed some 2000 years ago -- during excavations at this site -- cremated and unburned remains were found -- along with ceremonial artifacts. Many of these artifacts, including stones and other objects are not from Mississippi -- indicating the people who constructed these mounds -- had trading networks.

There are a total of eight mounds at the Pharr site -- covering about 85 acres.

The Emerald Mound below is the second largest in the United States. It was constructed by the ancestors of the Natchez Indians.

Emerald Mound contained temples, ceremonial structures and also served as a burial site for those who ruled the community.

61 Highway and Clarksdale

As I turned left off Canal Street in Natchez onto Highway 61, Mississippi Fred McDowell was playing on my Ipod. I was ready for my trip up the famous blues highway to the town of Clarksdale -- the place where Robert Johnson sold his soul to the devil -- at the Crossroads.

Most of Highway 61 is four-lane, but there are places where it narrows to two -- and it was then that I felt I was driving on the legendary roadway. Endless fields of un-harvested cotton, soybeans and corn -- line both sides of the roadway.

I got goosebumps when McDowell's 61 Highway came on the player -- I'd forgotten it was on the Ipod. Then, it was B.B. King, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton and Howlin' Wolf -- doing Highway 49.

The music created this feeling that I was driving through history -- past the old fields, the old buildings and the little churches.I highly recommend this trip up to Clarksville -- and the Delta Blues Museum is a must-see for Blues fans -- lunch at Abe's BBQ topped off the short visit -- Abe's is located right at the legendary crossroads of Rt 49 and 61.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Faulkner's Oxford

Rowan Oak, the house where William Faulkner lived, is not an easy place to find. He wanted it that way. He was something of a hermit and it was stipulated that when the house was converted into a museum there would be no signs pointing the way. As a museum staffer told me "you have to really want to find it."

The house is well off the beaten path in a quiet neighborhood of Oxford, Mississippi.
In Oxford, itself, the county courthouse dominates the little square in the center of town. Faulkner wrote of the courthouse in Requiem for a Nun: "tall as cloud, solid as rock, dominating all."When in Oxford -- check out Ajax Restaurant on the square -- great catfish and fried okra.

Calling Elvis. Is Anyone Home?

Day two of a trip down the Natchez-Trace Parkway included a stop in Tupelo, Mississippi and a visit to the birthplace of Elvis. It's a two-room "shotgun shack" as the tour guide described it. She said someone could stand at the front door and fire a shotgun through the house and out the backdoor.
In the gift shop, you can buy a refrigerator magnet -- Made in China -- for five bucks. I passed.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Suicide or Murder?

Meriwhether Lewis met his death in this house along the Natchez Trace on October 11, 1809 at Hohenwald, Tennessee. His death occurred late at night. The circumstances of his death remain a mystery -- was it suicide or was he murdered?

I snapped this photo just after sunset today -- two hundred years and just over two months after his death. To mark the 200th anniversary of his death this past October -- dozens of people gathered at the site for the first public memorial service.


A cold, blustery day in Nashville. First visit in more than 20 years and first-ever visit to the Ryman Auditorium.

Nashville was a quick stop-over on the way to the Natchez Trace Parkway -- the roadway that goes from just south of Nashville to Natchez, Mississippi. Below are some photos of Nashville -- including one of Roy and Minnie in bronze.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Feed 'Em and Water 'Em

Those who fly regularly on US-based airlines are probably familiar with the "service" on the carriers. I rarely fly on them, but when I do, I've noticed the service continues to go downhill. My flight to the US yesterday on a US-based carrier was in a word - awful.

The flight attendants were not there to help. I had been told a few years ago by a relative who is a flight attendant that the main objective was to "feed 'em, water 'em and get them the hell off the plane." I'm not even sure about the feeding and watering -- after yesterday's flight.

They barked orders at passengers: "move out of the way, don't line up at the toilet" and they essentially acted like everyone was in their way. When it came time to serve "lunch" -- there was no "would you like something to drink," it was "what do you want?" It was asked that way every time by several different flight attendants. Maybe it is part of the training.

There was an on-screen advertisement between movies suggesting that it you were hungry, you could order from the menu in the airlines' magazine. The turkey sandwich looked pretty good -- a bit expensive at 9 bucks, but I was hungry. I rang for the attendant to place my order. Fifteen minutes later, no one had shown up. Luckily, an attendant was running up the aisle and I flagged her down.

She had never heard of the menu and admitted "I have no idea what you are talking about." As she was leaving she informed me that lunch would be served in 20 minutes. It was -- a tuna sandwich about the size of a pack of cigarettes.

This was an 11 hour flight so the airline would have probably made a lot of money if it had served the food listed on the menu in the magazine. I'm sure I wasn't the only one that was hungry. Some of the other "meals" included gravy with a few small pieces of beef, a few pieces of pasta with a few slices of vegetables and a pastry with chicken.

When the flight arrived in the U.S., I noticed that the handle on my Samsonite had been broken by the baggage handlers. When I went to the airline baggage area I was told that that was normal wear and tear and it wasn't covered. (Another airline, Air France, had broken a similar handle on another one of my bags two years ago and paid for the repairs.)

The baggage claim office yesterday, then gave me a long list of other things not covered by the U.S.-based airline -- which begged the question: what was covered? I was informed by the attendant that about the only thing the airline would make right is when a hole is ripped into the bag. Then he added: "but there are no guarantees even then."

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Walking the Beat in Dili, Timor-Leste

Australian Peacekeepers are a common sight around Dili. Admittedly, it is still a bit unsettling to see automatic weapons carried on the street -- and in restaurants.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Azerbaijan's "spin" on the Conviction of Two Bloggers

Nearly a week after two bloggers were convicted on trumped-up charges of hooliganism, the Azeri authorities are responding. Ali Hasanov, who is the deputy of the Parliament and also part of the presidential apparatus, says "the judicial system in Azerbaijan is independent and executive authorities cannot affect its decisions." He adds that "Azerbaijan has more freedom of speech, than such European countries as Germany and France."

Hasanov is quoted in various news reports.

On November 11th, the two bloggers, Adnan Hajizada and Emin Milli were sentenced to two-and-a-half years and two years, respectively, in prison on the charge of hooliganism.

They were arrested last July after being beaten up as they dined at a restaurant with friends. Adnan and Emin have criticized the government in their blog.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Kafka in Baku

Imagine coming home from work and finding a metal fence around your apartment building. When you attempt to go through the fence, security guards forcefully refuse to allow you inside.

According to press reports in Azerbaijan, it happened to Gurban Aliyev and the other residents of 95/97 Neftyanik Avenue – which is near the historic Maiden Tower – at the edge of Baku’s old walled city.

Aliyev says “all our stuff is in the apartments.” She said several days earlier, water, gas and power to the apartment building was suspended. She says the city plans to demolish the building. Aliyev says some residents have been driven to despair and are threatening to throw themselves off the top of the multi-story Maiden Tower.

Police apparently anticipated such a move, the Maiden Tower is closed and is guarded by police.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who Needs Elections?

The deputy of Azerbaijan’s ruling party, Aydyn Hasanov, has a novel way of saving money. He’s proposing that parliamentary elections scheduled for 2010 be postponed until after the war in Nagorno Karabakh – an area claimed by Azerbaijan, but occupied by Armenia.

“The draft budget for fiscal year 2010 allocates 50 million manat (62 million US dollars) for elections. We cannot afford ourselves such a luxury during the world economic crisis,” Hasanov said on Friday during a discussion of the draft budget for fiscal year 2010. He went on to say “all deputies, including me, are worthy people. Why do we need to conduct elections? Do you think people will elect someone better than we are?”

Ali Ahmadov, the deputy chairman of the ruling party, Yeni Azerbaijan, said Hasanov was making a joke. He said parliamentary elections will be conducted in 2010.

The Parliament is a rubber stamp for President Ilham Aliyev.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

And Azerbaijan Calls Itself a Democracy....

Shame on the Azeri government.

On Tuesday, two young bloggers were sentenced to prison -- one for two-and-a-half years, the other for two years -- on the ridiculous charge of hooliganism. The whole thing is a sham -- driven by political motives, but it is not surprising.

The bloggers, Adnan Hajizade and Emin Milli, have been jailed in Baku since last summer -- in an effort by the government of Azerbaijan to silence those who criticize the policies of Ilham Aliyev - the president.

Adnan and Emin were arrested on the evening of July 8 after having dinner with some friends at a Baku restaurant. During dinner, witnesses describe how two thugs came up to Adnan and Emin and started beating them. Afterward, when the bloggers went to police to report the crime, it was they, not the thugs, who were arrested.

Tuesday's verdict sends a strong message that the government of Azerbaijan is frightened of any dissent or criticism and will use any means to attempt to intimidate and control its people. It also further signals that the Azeri government has no intention of honoring international agreements it has signed to ensure the people of Azerbaijan have the right to express themselves. In the past, Azerbaijan has jailed a number of journalists -- and several are still behind bars.

Since Azerbaijan is an oil-rich fiefdom, the West has treaded carefully in responding to this very undemocratic behavior by the Azeri government.

The Azeri government must be strongly condemned by the democracies of the world that this kind of behavior is unacceptable.