"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

"Never on the Rocks"--investigating Scotch whisky

A whisky tasting  is an experience in Scotland
My story in today's Journal Record
Investigative journalism at its best...that's what I thought when I asked for a travel assignment from the Journal Record daily business newspaper in Oklahoma City this summer. 
"Sure," said Editor Ted Streuli, when he learned we were going to Scotland. "Report on the business of scotch"
So in our trip to the UK, Susan and I had to experience Edinburgh, and I made sure to investigate Scotch whisky. That meant multiple "interviews" of the subject--because a "one source" story is shallow.
(Note--AP style--scotch is capitalized only when preceding "whisky." "Whisky" is the spelling in Scotland--elsewhere it's spelled "whiskey" if produced elsewhere.)
Alan Rogerson in Edinburgh
It was a tough assignment, but someone has to cover this beat. I also interviewed friend Amie Hendrickson, manager and certified sommelier at Edmond Wine Shop, who provided important local information.
So today, my story appeared in the Journal Record. Ah, the power of a byline, it tastes almost as good as...well, maybe not.
Whisky stores are everywhere in Scotland
I'll share the written story in a few days, but if you want to read it first, buy a Journal Record.
For perspective, there are more than 100 whisky distilleries in Scotland, which in land area is smaller than Maine. The next largest number of whiskey distilleries is in the U.S. with 15.
In the meantime, here are some of the photos I took.
Your investigative reporter at work

Saturday, July 18, 2015

"Childhood is gone"--Harper Lee's new novel

Gut-wrenching, and prose as poetry, and insight.  That's my initial reaction reading "Go Set a Watchman" by Harper Lee, purchased by Susan from Best of Books in Edmond--she'd reserved it ahead of time.​
Yesterday, after 99 pages, I told her, "Well, It's not 'To Kill a Mockingbird,'  and not as serious. It's a good story, some good humor in conversations, but no drama, yet."
Then I picked it up again in the afternoon, turned the page to a new chapter, and like Scout, was jolted.
Reading some more this morning, on the back porch, where wrens and cardinals and robins flitted around the feeder and lawn, I found peace, prose and insight that fits even today, especially in light of those Oklahoma racists waving flags in President Obama's face this past week.
Here's one small excerpt:
"...in terms of a recurring story as old as time: the chapter which concerned her began two hundred years ago and was played out in a proud society the bloodiest war and harshest peace in modern history could not destroy, returning, to be played out again on private ground in the twilight of a civilization no wars and no peace could save."
Don't try to compare it with "Mockingbird," which is mythic, but you and everyone will.   It is a sort of sequel, set 20 years later. Even the covers are similar, which is symbolic. I'd just say, "Childhood is gone." Of course the new book has critics. So? 
But it is Harper Lee's beautiful writing and story telling, and in addition to the reality of racism, there is humor, grace, insight and depth to the characters and into 1950s America, and to 2015, apparently,  as well.

Monday, July 13, 2015

A window on real education, in a word

Cambridge students punting while they attend, and tourists "attending" to students.
Words are windows on the way we live. Thinking about our pilgrimage to Cambridge--the town and mostly the University...students don't "attend" Cambridge...they "study at"--and therein, with just one word,  you have the difference between real higher education, and in America, especially public education. Isaac Newton  and Charles Darwin didn't attend Cambridge, they "studied" there, for example.

Ready to punt
There's another word with a difference.
Here, "punting" is what Bob Stoops does twice. In Cambridge, "punting" is boating on the River Cam. Cambridge is named after the first bridge over the river back in 731 AD. Cambridge as a University was founded in 1284, but we do have some similarities at UCO and in America. We have buildings, and we have students, but they attend here, not study. There are many more bridges at Cambridge these days, some dating from the 1500s and 1600s. The University has 33 colleges, none of which has more than 1,100 students "studying" there.
Ready to punt
If you go to Cambridge, you have to go punting, and we did...down the river, on the "backs" of the medieval campus buildings, with other tourists and students. 
At top is a photo of why I prefer the English punting, two students who "attend" Cambridge. Susan and I did too. 
Top students get the best rooms, and windows
For more windows, here are some others. Here are some  windows dating from 1460 behind which some excellent students live. I learned that the best and biggest  rooms go to the students who have the best grades.
 And for lower classmen and other students who just "attend" rather than "study," I expect the rooms are somewhat less kind. 
Punting on the River Cam, with King's College iconic chapel in the background

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Haunting windows of UK itinerary discoveries

The Benedictine abbey, destroyed when the Protestants revolted.
We worked almost a year on putting together an itinerary for the trip to England and Scotland.
Susan did most of the work, using travel books, and then we turned to Vickie Nichols of Nichols Travel for more help.
We made some of the arrangements ourselves, including a stay in Cambridge, and bed in breakfasts in York and Keswick, driving through the moors, Lake district and into Scotland. 
Someone still decorates the graves of monks.
Still we rented a car in York, and braved me learning how to drive and sit on the opposite side of the car and road than here. 
And behind the wheel of this new Mercedes, thankfully with a gps system we named "Maggie," we discovered countryside and people we never dream of, nor planned on our large itinerary. 
Discoveries included the ruins of this haunting, historic  Benedictine Abbey on a high, windy bluff overlooking Whitby, a fishing village on the coast of the North Sea.
For some reason I'm having trouble writing and organizing these trip stories, but the them of windows helps keep be going. Susan's priority were the moors and mine was Cambridge. We missed much and changed schedules. More about that later.
So for the record, here's the official itinerary--we neglected to plan for all the walking--anywhere from five to nine miles a day, so we lost weight!
  • London--five nights. parliament, Westminster Abbey, Churchill's War Rooms, Buckingham Palace, Tower bridge and the Tower of London, Trafalgar Square, Picadilly circus, British Museum, Harrods department store, Dickens' house and museum, side train trip to Canterbury Cathedral, and various pubs, using the Tube (subway, cabs, double-decker bus, and walking..
  • Brit rail to Cambridge--one night. My pilgrimage to a real university. Punting (not the Stoops' kind) on the River cam. Painted one watercolor.
Haunting windows on the past

  • Brit rail to York--three nights. touring York Minster, largest cathedral north of the Alps. Toured the National Railway Museum, a little boy's dream of real locomotives. Visiting Viking center, visiting pubs, walking the medieval walls. Car trip to Scarborough and discovering Anne Bronte's grave. North through the most beautiful country I've ever seen. Whitby and the Abbey. The Yorkshire Moors. Whitby was a religious site from the mid 600s. The Abbey was built about 1225, after the Catholic Normans had conquered England.  Henry VIII disestablished the monasteries in 1540 and destroyed it. The windows are haunted, in more than one way. Bram Stoker lived in Whitby and the abbey  may have been an inspiration for "Dracula."
  • Keswick--Lake district, two nights in a country house. Drove through beautiful North York Dales. Drove to Grasmere, toured Wordsworth's Dove Cottage and grave. Hiked in the mist alongside on of the lakes. Painted one watercolor.
  • Scotland and Edinburgh--three nights. Drove up through Scotland on the rural roads, Turned in car at Edinburgh after nightmare traffic.  Took 12-hour small bus tour to Loch Ness and through the highlands. Shopped Edinburgh. Toured Edinburgh castle, and sampled great Scotch. At and drank in pubs.
  • Took tram in front of hotel for 30 minute ride to airport, five pounds each. Home.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Windows into a wonderful world--2

Old window at Canterbury Cathedral
Windows tell you a lot about a place, a people, a time, a civilization, We take ours for granted, though I wish our 1970s house had bigger ones. Many of the newer ones do, but they're not distinctive, just cookie-cutter pre-fab ones.  
Go back in time and you'll find American windows smaller, especially on the frontier, or in pre-white man days when there was no glass. We're spoiled today with storm windows, screens, air conditioning and more. 
Parliament, Union Jack, from Westminster cloisters
Over time, windows reflect a civilization and culture, and that tells you something about the shallowness of America. Only in some aging neighborhoods in the city and elsewhere do you find windows with character, grace and style.
Windows draw me, my imagination--so many stories, histories, ghosts, hopes, fears--demanding to be photographed, to be encountered.
In England and Scotland I found different stories, growing out of centuries of habitation.
Too many words--I was overwhelmed everywhere I went, and it's hard to write about, to organize. The windows help. 

Canterbury Cathedral, from its cloisters
Earls Court Tube station--our window to the rest of London

A sea of red buses outside the 18th Century pub, The Clarence

Parliament...windows on freedom
Westminster, windows on the past

Windows on Wordsworth's world-1

I'm drawn to windows, especially old ones. To me, they beckon to be photographed, hinting at ghosts and stories and imagination. Of memories and lives once lived. Of beliefs and hopes.
It's no wonder that windows in our trip to England and Scotland grabbed my attention.
This first window and pitcher  in Grasmere near William Wordsworth's home begged to be photographed. There's a novel here, or, more fittingly, a poem.
You don't have to be in England or Scotland long before you understand how the landscape imbues the work of their artists and writers. Impossibly green. It was a cold, misty day in the Lake district, and absolutely wonderful. Clouds obscured the tops of the mountains, but not the spirit of a poet who is one of the founders of the Romantic movement. No wonder. 
Dove Cottage, where Wordsworth wrote

Susan photographing at the rear of the cottage

Looking out at Wordsworth's garden

Wordsworth's graves at St. Oswald's, Grasmere

Stained glass inside the church, with ropes to ring the bell

Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Dickens, you say...yes, in London

Charles Dickens' desk
Finishing A Tale of Two Cities, by Charles Dickens, which I read most of in trip to England and Scotland. Bought the book at Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris 11 years ago. Fitting. Here's where he wrote most of it. We journeyed on The Tube and foot to visit his somewhat non-descript house and now museum in London...his desk, and beside it, the appropriate wastebasket. 
Stepping in here is as though you just missed him, having stepped out for a brew at a pub. I love that you can see he wrote with pen and ink, the way I write best.
One of Dickens' manuscripts.
He's a favorite of mine, a testament to what a journalist ought to be. Alas, no mention in the four storey museum of his young mistress who he fell in love with and shaped much of his life. No wonder the 2013 movie is called "The Invisible Woman."
A drawing of Dickens at his desk and his characters
Any writer is a reader--some of Dickens' books

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I am a Confederate, but...

I am a Confederate.
My folks fought for the Confederacy.
I grew up with many white Americans, hearing the romantic myths about the Confederacy, and very little about the horrors of slavery.
In high school I believed the argument that the war was not about slavery, but about northern economic aggrandizement (which is where I first heard that word).
There was even a TV show, "Johnny Reb."
I love history and romanticized the South, because I also love underdogs. To this day, my brother Jerry says that I just like to be contrary.
I'm also a Texan, and that adds to the chemistry of misty eyes at the sound of the word "Alamo."  Can't help it...it's part of my heritage. Thus I still like causes that take on the odds, the established authority.
I've even seen that flag flying from a ranch house in the remote Texas panhandle, and with U.S. troops in Afghanistan. It is a pervasive symbol for some of defiance.
But for others, it is uglier.
Still, I'm proud of my ancestors who fought for "Southern Independence."
Thanks to genealogy work by my oldest son, I found that my great-great grandfather did own slaves. That is a very disturbing feeling, when we always thought that we were somehow purer, and just fought for "The Cause."
I had a photo in my office one year of some Confederate re-enactors, marching under that battle flag.  
A black student in my office  commented that he hoped I would treat him with dignity.
That's when it first dawned on me that the Confederate battle flag had become a symbol of racism and hatred.
I despise the KKK and others making that flag of blood and bravery--a flag many brave people served and died under-- a disgrace, but they have.
The Stars and Bars
It is not the flag of the Confederacy, the Stars and Bars--which flies at the Oklahoma capitol and at Texas welcome centers. That flag was so similar to the stars and stripes that the Confederate battle flag, at first square, was adopted because it was hard for the Southern armies to tell if those in the distance were friend or foe. Like the U.S., there are several versions of the flag through the brief history of the Confederacy.
I have mixed feelings about this. I even read an article in a British paper recently claiming that slavery wasn't the cause of the Civil War--"The War Between the States," for my people. The author argued that if the South hadn't seceded, slavery would not have been done away with so soon. I agree with that small point, but it is moot.
I see a few car tags and bumper stickers here in Oklahoma that are the actual Stars and Bars...those are Southerners making their point without being racists.
I know graves in Oklahoma and across the South are decorated with the battle flag every Memorial Day. I think that is ok, though many disagree.
I also agree that the battle flag should be allowed during the Civil War re-enactments held every year...it is a historical document--men marched and died under that flag--accuracy demands it. I know others will disagree, and others--including a Union re-enactor-- sum up the controversy by saying, "It's complicated." Indeed.
In my freshman year in college in Oklahoma, my debate partner was a black Church of Christ ministerial student, Arthur Smith. We lost debates because of that, and were refused service in Texas. I heard him called the "N' word on the Oklahoma Christian College campus.
I know this now...that  Confederate battle flag would have insulted and disturbed him...with good reason.
And the actions of the maniac in South Carolina and the KKK, add salt to an honorable wound.
It's time to take that flag down. It belongs in museums, on graves, and in re-enactments, like the tattered one at Gettysburg, but not flying from government buildings or elsewhere in  America.
This proud Confederate says, "Take it down."

A journal of journaling in England

Every time we take a trip, this old newspaper man can't keep from taking notes, finding time at the end of the day to comment, to record impressions, to give a brief summary of the day's events. That, by the way, is where the first meaning of "journalism" came from, a record, or log, of the day's travel--using the Latin and now French word for "day," which is "jour."
Painting in Cambridge
So yes, I'm a journalist in many ways, and our trip to the England and Scotland was no exception, but with a couple of twists.
First, I went off and left the specific journal I'd bought for the trip. Fortunately, I had an Associated Press reporter's notebook in my bag.
And I did take another kind of journal, the handmade leather bound watercolour (in deference to my British heritage) from Mind's Eye Journals that I bought at the Paseo arts festival this year. And I brought my traveling watercolor kit, plus one other brush.
St. John's chapel
I had no idea if I'd have time to paint on our two week trip, but I was going to try. Fortunately, I did three paintings, and while they're not very good, they are mementos for me of specific days and times I will remember forever. I remember the seller of the journal telling me the journals are artifacts, and indeed they are--but then so have all my trip journals become.
Another reason the painting isn't great is that painting in England is far different that the desert southwest, where there is little moisture and lots of harsh landscapes. It's a slow transition for me to different painting.

My watercolours, and painting journal
Having been to England, Susan and I now understand how that landscape has so influenced English painting...it is moist and green. I wrote this in my AP notebook on the train on the way to Canterbury: "The English atmosphere cries out for watercolor. It's humid, fluid skies, green. It's idyllic, pastoral. The landscape drips with watercolour."
Here's the second of my three watercolours...St. John's College chapel at Cambridge University, done on the rooftop of the Varsity Hotel, virtually on the banks of the river Cam. It's late in the evening, we're getting a little sunburned, and there are lots of clouds in this distance. We've eaten, had some wine, and are listening to some Cambridge students at the next table celebrating the end of the semester. 
Yes, it's done in plein air, drying quickly, and painted quickly. I'd like to do it over, but that's later, and won't have as much meaning.
My AP notebook and transcribed notes
But at least, my doldrums of writing since we've returned seem to have ended. Here's hoping for a fresh breeze to gather and write all the thoughts and stories we encountered and experienced, recorded on those 81 pages of notes in the AP notebook and three watercolors. 

Some of my previous trip journals--the thick one is from Paris, 11 years ago,