Monthly Archives: November 2009

Person: Amelia Earhart

The spirit of adventure, of unlimited possibilities, is embodied in our memories of Amelia Earhart. Uploaded by news.uns.purdue.edu.

Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly solo across the United States. The first woman passenger to fly across the Atlantic. The first woman pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic. And the first woman to fly around the world – almost.

In 1920, Amelia’s father took her to an airfield, where a pilot took her up for a ten-minute flight for $10. And she was hooked. She worked a variety of odd jobs to earn the $1000 she needed for flying lessons, after which she became the sixteenth woman to be issued a pilot’s license by Fédération Aéronautique Internationale.

Her first flight across the Atlantic, a year following Charles Lindbergh’s remarkable feat, was as a passenger. She dismissed her accomplishment, saying “I was just baggage, like a sack of potatoes.” Even so, she and the two-man crew were given a ticker-tape parade in New York and met with President Coolidge.

For her own solo attempt, Earhart intended to emulate Lindbergh by flying from Newfoundland to Paris. But due to strong winds, she landed instead in Northern Ireland. For her accomplishment she received the Distinguished Flying Cross from Congress and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society.

Uploaded by asds.org.

Of course, we all remember Earhart due to her mysterious disappearance during her attempt to fly around the world. She flew west to east, and successfully went from California to Florida, down to South America, across to Africa, India, Southeast Asia, and New Guinea. On July 2, 1937, she took off with the destination of Howland Island, a tiny, flat stretch that was adequate for a landing and subsequent takeoff. She never made it.

There is endless speculation about what happened. Some of it is technical (radios on the wrong frequency, incorrect navigation), some of it is conspiratorial (Earhart was actually spying on the Japanese for President Roosevelt, or she lived and assumed another identity), some of it is just logical (the aircraft ran out of fuel, she crashed into a lagoon on another island). Everyone has a theory. But no one is likely to ever know the truth about what happened to Amelia Earhart.

Even so, she remains a transcendent symbol of the adventurous American spirit, and particularly of the unlimited horizons available to determined women.

Americana: Covered Bridges

Bridge  Woodstock Vermont by florida-sportsman-magazinedotcom

Woodstock, Vermont. Uploaded by florida-sportsman-magazine.com.

You don’t have to go to Madison County, Iowa to see them. Most are on small, out-of-the-way byways, since they’d have been replaced if they were carrying lots of traffic. While Pennsylvania has more than any other state, you can find them throughout the country, and most are now protected as historic landmarks.

But why talk about them when we can see them?

Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Uploaded by en.wikipedia.org.

Old Bennington, Vermont. Uploaded by sonatina.com.

Elizabethton, Tennessee. Uploaded by tdot.state.tn.us.

Randolph County, North Carolina by neatorama.com.

Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Uploaded by wvdot.com.

Jackson, Wyoming. Uploaded by sourcesanddesign.com.

Beaver Creek State Park, Ohio by neatorama.com.

And then there are those bridges of Madison County:

Sports: The Play (Cal vs. Stanford)

The Stanford band thought the game was over. Bad band. Bad, bad band. Uploaded by cdn2.ioffer.com.

Of all the plays in all the football games ever contested, why is this one known simply as The Play? First, it happened in a major rivalry game, California vs. Stanford. And second, it came after future hall of fame quarterback John Elway had led Stanford to a field goal with four seconds left that everyone thought ended the game.

Stanford squib-kicked the ball down the field, and Cal’s only choice was for a player about to be tackled to lateral the ball to a teammate, keeping the play alive. They did that; in fact, they lateraled the ball five times.

Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to play trombone. Uploaded by 3bp.blogspot.com.

Meanwhile the Stanford band, all 144 members, thought the game was over, and started onto the field. The last lateral was completed in the midst of the band, obscuring the view of the officials. And then, in one of the most memorable moments in football history, Cal’s Kevin Moen scored the game-winning touchdown by knocking over a trombone player.

A couple of interesting notes. It was John Elways’ last regular-season game for Stanford. Cal only had ten players on the field. If Cal hadn’t scored, Stanford would have been penalized for the band coming onto the field. And as exciting as the play is visually, it’s made even better by the radio call of Cal announcer Joe Starkey.

Well, you can talk about it all you want, but you’ve just got to see The Play to believe it. Here’s Starkey’s call of the last minute, “Only a miracle can save the Bears…”:

Food: Grits

Grits with butter. Excellent. Grits with cheese. Even better. Grits with shrimp. Best. Uploaded by southernplate.com.

I can hear it now from our readers outside of the South. “Grits? What exactly are grits? They look like colorless mush – what’s the big deal? To which I reply, you haven’t had good grits. With butter, or even better, with cheese. And if you want to go for the gold, with shrimp. As my mama never said, “Hush my mouth.”

Grits are nothing more than coarsely ground corn. If you ground it any further, you’d have cornmeal. If you like polenta, you’ll be happy to know that grits are a first cousin. They’re white because they don’t use the whole kernel of corn, just the hulled kernels. Quaker makes an instant grits product which really isn’t too bad. (Don’t tell this to the purists, but sometimes you just don’t have the time to make the real thing.)

It’ll come as no surprise that 80 percent of alll grits are consumed in the South, the area between Virginia and Texas being called the “grits belt.” Grits are the official processed food of the state of Georgia. In fact, Georgia and South Carolina are engaged in a friendly dispute about which is more committed to grits.

Grits by blogcdndotcom

Warwick, Georgia (uploaded by blogcdn.com) and

...St. George SC seem to have lost perspective. Uploaded by journalscene.com.

The town of St. George, S.C. calls itself the “official” Grits Capitol (sic) of the World, certified by no less an authority than the Piggly Wiggly as eating more grits than any other town. Next April 16-18, the town will host its 25th Annual World Grits Festival. Don’t tell that to the good folks of Warwick, Georgia, however. It proclaims itself the Grits Capital of the World, and it even knows how to spell “capital.” It’s going to hold its National Grits Festival on April 10 next year. So those who are truly dedicated could go to the competing festivals on back-to-back weeks and make their own determination about who’s top grit.

If all this sounds corny to you…that’s because it is.

The Arts: Spoleto Festival USA

The Spoleto Festival USA goes on for seventeen days. Woodstock lasted just three. Wimps. Uploaded by myislandtown.com.

Many cities and towns have arts festivals, often quite impressive ones. But Charleston, South Carolina’s Spoleto Festival USA stands out for its breadth of offerings, the talent of the performers, and the support that allows a moderate-sized Southern city to bring it all to reality.

Spoleto includes opera, theater, musical theater, the visual arts, and dance, as well as chamber, symphonic, choral, and jazz music. This past May and June, over a period of 17 days, the Charleston region was treated to more than 120 performances that ranged from favorite classics to brand new works, from established artists to exciting new talents.

The official 2009 festival poster. Uploaded by greatercharleston.com.

If that weren’t enough, Charleston also hosts a companion festival to bring the arts even further into the community. Piccolo Spoleto has more than seven hundred additional performances, including a film festival, a literary festival, organ recitals, and blues and jazz at outdoor venues all around town.

Spoleto came into being in 1977 under the inspiration of composer Gian Carlo Menotti. The festival derives its name from the town of Spoleto in Italy, which has long hosted a similar festival, Festival dei Due Mondi (Festival of Two Worlds).

Festival director Nigel Redden sums up this year’s festival: “I happen to believe that (Spoleto founder) Gian Carlo Menotti’s ideas for this festival were pretty damn good ideas – to bring all the arts together, to make daring and unusual choices, to bring young artists along with a sprinkling of the more seasoned, to let people who have passion about something have their way, even if you may not agree with them.”

If you’d like to plan ahead, the 2010 festival takes place May 28-June 13.

TV Show: M*A*S*H

The movie cast was better, but no one became a character more than Alan Alda became Hawkeye. Uploaded to Flickr by timwilliamson.

The 4077 Unit in Korea apparently was where funny doctors were stationed. Now, 26 years after the series left the air, it’s not the plots that we remember, as with other comedies. It’s the writing, the repartee that’s still sharp to our twenty-first century ears.

Uploaded to Flickr by Troy G. Artwork.

In my opinion, the casting of M*A*S*H was never up to the high standards of the writing. Alan Alda was brilliant, so was Harry Morgan. But Larry Linville? Loretta Swit? Wayne Rogers? Just adequate.

So instead of chronicling the show’s achievements, I think it’s more appropriate to remember some of the great one-liners from the show:

Frank Burns: Funny thing, war: never have so many suffered so much so so few could be so happy.
Margaret: We’re lucky to be two of the few and not the many.
Frank Burns: I know, darling, and I love being both of us.

Hawkeye: No wonder they execute people at dawn. Who wants to live at six A.M.?

Col. Potter: I said fire that weapon.
Hawkeye: All right. [to the gun] You’re fired.
Hawkeye: [to Potter] I did it as gently as I could.
Col. Potter: That was an order, Pierce.
Hawkeye: [Snapping his fingers] Oh waiter, would you take this man’s order, please?

Col. Potter: The General answers his own phone. Must be a Unitarian.

Radar: Sir, I was just crossing the compound when…
Frank Burns: I have no interest in the compound.
Klinger: He has no compound-interest.

B.J.: [Hawkeye and B.J. had walked into the woods to try and find civilization] Just woods and more woods.
Hawkeye: I met a little girl with a basket for her grandma.
B.J.: Wearing a little red riding hood?
Hawkeye: Actually she was with seven little dwarfs.
B.J.: She’s in the wrong woods.
Hawkeye: Or the wrong story.
Col. Potter: Are you finished, doctors?
Hawkeye: Are you…?
[B.J. nods]
Hawkeye: Yes.

Film: Driving Miss Daisy

Hoke tries to talk Miss Daisy back into the car so he can drive her to the Piggly Wiggly. Uploaded by fujishobo.np.infoseek.co.jp

Can’t you see the pitch meeting in Hollywood for this movie? WRITER: “It’s about an old Jewish woman in Atlanta and how she comes to respect her black chauffeur.” MOVIE EXEC: “Does something blow up? Do they have to run from the fireball?”

Miss Daisy was a 72-year-old woman who’d had an accident, and her son felt it was no longer safe for her to drive. So he hires a chauffeur to take her around town. She resists the idea, even telling her driver, “This is not the way to the Piggly Wiggly!”

Uploaded to Flickr by Web 2.

Although Driving Miss Daisy was a successful play before being adapted to the screen, I think the film’s success depends almost entirely on the performances of Jessica Tandy as Miss Daisy Werthen and Morgan Freeman as Hoke. Morgan Freeman was nominated for an Oscar (he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis’s wonderful performance in My Left Foot), and Jessica Tandy was named Best Actress, becoming the oldest winner (81) of that honor.

Speaking of awards, this movie has a couple of unusual distinctions. Alfred Uhry wrote the screenplay, based on his own Pulitzer award-winning play. It’s only the second Pulitzer winner that was adapted and became Best Picture, following Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take it With You (1937). Driving Miss Daisy is also the first film since 1932 to win Best Picture without its director (Bruce Beresford) even being nominated.

Americana: The SS United States

Isn't that a beautiful sight? No rock climbing walls or bowling alleys, though. Uploaded by oldgloryprints.com.

It had no rock climbing wall. No Olympic-size pools. You couldn’t play miniature golf, or go bowling, or ice skate. What you could do, however, was travel across the Atlantic in true style. And fast – faster than any passenger liner before or since.

On its maiden voyage begun, appropriately, on July 4, 1952, the S.S. United States broke the transatlantic speed record held by the Queen Mary. Broke it by ten hours.

Uploaded by cruiselinehistory.com.

The ship was built at the famous Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Company, and remains the largest ocean liner built entirely in America. Its secret was aluminum – more aluminum than any ship had used at that time. The United States was also virtually fireproof – it was said that the only wood aboard ship was in the grand piano and in the kitchen’s butcher block.

The US Navy helped fund its construction, and was prepared to appropriate it for use as a troop carrier should the need arrive. Except for a brief alert duing the Cuban Missile Crisis, however, it was never needed for that purpose.

The United States has not been seaworthy since 1969. It now sits at Pier 82 in Philadelphia, awaiting its fate. The SS United States Foundation is today lobbying to keep the ship from being sold for scrap, and for its restoration. I’m not sure if the ship could ever compete in today’s huge cruise ship environment, but she is a beautiful lady who deserves a better fate than neglect and decay.

There was actually a song written about the ship, and tell me you can’t find almost anything on YouTube!

Singer: Nat King Cole

When you can sing songs as Nat did, you don't need all those look-at-me riffs. Uploaded by warchild13.com.

Is this the smoothest voice in American music history? I think you could make the case that it is. Nat is almost as popular today as he was in his prime, because everyone loves that voice. The amazing thing is that he made his name not as a singer, but as a jazz pianist. And he was great at that, too.

The King Cole Trio began performing in 1937, and was a big success in the L.A. area. Nat would sing between sets, and it wasn’t long before people were clamoring for more vocals.

Uploaded by mensxp.com.

His first hit record was “Straighten Up and Fly Right” in 1943. His last hit was “That Sunday, That Summer,” which happens to be one of my favorite Cole songs. In between, he hit the charts with such classics as “Mona Lisa,” “Too Young,” “The Very Thought of You,” “Smile,” “When I Fall in Love”, “A Blossom Fell,” “Ramblin’ Rose,” “Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer,” and of course the haunting “Unforgettable,” which his daughter Natalie inserted herself in and made a hit again in 1991.

If you look around the TV dial, you might happen upon broadcasts of The Nat King Cole Show from 1956-57. If you’re lucky enough to find them, you’ll see that Nat was a natural in front of the camera. The primary reason the show is memorable, though, is that it’s the first network broadcast (NBC) ever hosted by an African-American. Sadly, the series only lasted one year, largely due to lack of a sponsor willing to stand up and be identified with a black entertainer.

Oh, one more thing. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, it’s always a good day to hear Nat’s iconic recording of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song”:

Food: Kona Coffee

It's easy to see why Kona berries are called cherries. Uploaded to Flickr by punawelefarms.

I was surprised to learn how small the Kona coffee-growing region actually is. It’s only in the state of Hawaii, only on the Big Island, only in its Kona District on the west side of the island, and only on the slopes of Mount Hualanai and Mauna Loa. No wonder it’s a bit pricey.

Uploaded to Flickr by mr tentacle.

At the risk of sounding like a commercial, it’s the unique climate and soil of this region that gives the coffee its richness. The Kona Coffee Council puts it this way: “Rocky volcano slopes nurture it. Sun-drenched mornings ripen it. Misty afternoons refresh it. Six hundred farmers meticulously handpick it.”

That’s right, six hundred farmers. There are no huge corporate farms on Kona. Only about 2,300 acres are available, and most local growers have less than five acres each. And because of the topography of the land and the uneven ripening rate of the “cherries” that hold the beans, Kona coffee is all picked by hand.

Uploaded by kona-coffee-council.com.

One word of warning before you buy – be careful of the wording on the package. Genuine Kona has a label with the words “100% Kona” on it. Be wary of “Kona Blend”, “Kona “Roast”, and “Kona Style.” Oh, and if you’re heading to Hawaii, how about bringing me back a couple of pounds? I’d be happy to put on a pot and share…