Monday, February 26, 2007

We’ll have a Dalmatian Plantation!

Despite Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of an early spring, it seems most of the US has battened down the hatches as nature unleashes one last winter blast. Across the pond, Edinburgh isn’t fairing much better – there’s a crispness in the air reminiscent of fall and ominous storm clouds rolling in. While I tuck into a steaming mug of cocoa, I thought it was about time to recount some more of my Florida adventure with high school buddy K. (A special thank you to K for letting me use her digital images as mine are on film and I don't have a scanner.)

While researching Tallahassee, I discovered that the 35 miles between Thomasville, Georgia and Tallahassee, Florida are home to the highest concentration of plantations in the US – over 100. After reading this, and having watched many many many episodes of “America’s Castles” on A&E with my dad, I was determined to see at least a few of these grand old ladies from a forgotten era. Thankfully, K humored my excessive interest in architecture and agreed to see a couple of the historic homes too! First up, the Knott House.

Located in downtown Tallahassee, and home to one of the key figures in Florida history (William Knott), the “house that rhymes” has been lovingly restored to its 1928 glory. Although simply constructed, there are some clever examples of cunning interior design. For the entrance hall and grand staircase, Mrs. Knott acquired Parisian wallpaper designed to look like trees. Not enough arrived, so, she carefully cut the paper apart and pasted it to the wall to create a forest. Eccentric, maybe, but then again, Mrs. Knott also wrote poetry about the furniture and hung it on the item in question.

Next up, the gem known as Pebble Hill. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, I thought we’d hit the jackpot. Formerly a cotton plantation, the grounds and house have hosted elaborate hunting parties and reared horses since 1827. Given that brief, the mind wanders towards Gone With The Wind and the wrap around porches of a proper southern manor. Unfortunately, most of the house burnt down in 1934. Only the furnishings were saved. When reconstructed in 1936, a Greek revival style was chosen and is the house we see today.

Again, always a hound for art and architecture, it was wonderful to see over 33 original Audubon prints from Birds of America. I say wonderful because the original silver plates used to engrave Audubon’s famous book were sold by his wife to pay off their debts following his death and subsequently melted down. Shocking I know, but to see a set of original prints provides a welcome highlight to a horrific story.

Similarly, the Big Room was recently restored and showcases a massive wildlife mural by Clinton Shepherd.

One of my favorite sights from ‘the South’ is Spanish Moss. Native Americans named this bromeliad after the Spanish conquistadors who had pointed beards. Despite its name, it is not a moss but a relative of the pineapple and is deceptively soft. Softly rustling, it makes for a meandering afternoon stroll.

So, not exactly the plantations I was expecting, practically brand new by European standards, but an interesting slice of Americanna nonetheless.

Next up, a road trip.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Survey says...

If, like me, you've looked to a guide book for help planning an escape you'll be interested to know both Lonely Planet and Rough Guides turn 25 this year. And, if you like to wonder about how the world has changed I'd have a look at Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way from this past weekend's Independent:

Simon Calder: The Man Who Pays His Way

On to the survey... This taurean is rapidly approaching the anniversary of her arrival and as such is looking for an escape. Due to time and budget constrants, I'm looking into either:
-Tuscany: Florence & surrounds (image courtesy of Rough Guides)

-Greece: Athens & Crete (image courtesy of Rough Guides)

So, have your say!

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Oh, the weather...

outside is frightful... Let it snow! Let it snow! -Sammy Cahn & Jule Styne

Despite Phil declaring spring is on its way, I doubt few in the Northern Hemisphere believed him this week. After the warmest January in over 90 years, the United Kingdom was treated to arctic temperatures the past few days. And, for the lucky, up to 4 inches of snow overnight. Edinburgh wasn't blessed with more than a skiff, but it made a crisp (25F) sunrise well worth pausing to admire.

I had hoped to provide a wonderful panorama from 'my' back garden but it seems assembling these large files takes a bit more skill than this novice digital photographer has. Heck, I almost printed the lot, assembled them on the desk, and rescanned the result! Oh, its days like today when I miss 35mm film.

Hopefully a friend or two will come to the rescue over the next few days... but, until then here is a taste of what's to come:

-Arthur's Seat, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh, Scotland 08/02/2007

Friday, February 02, 2007

Groundhog's Day

"Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don't forget your booties 'cause it's cooooold out there today." - First DJ, Groundhog Day (Columbia Pictures, 1993)

I'm guessing more than just Edinburgh felt that way this morning. At dawn, it was clear and crisp, certainly not 'spring predicting' weather. Yet on this day, February 2nd, American rural folklore proclaims, "If the groundhog sees his shadow, six more weeks of winter." I was surprised to learn the legend of Groundhog Day is based on an old Scottish couplet: "If Candlemas Day is bright and clear, there'll be two winters in the year." Funny how interconnect we all are.

Despite the arctic weather, Punxsutawney Phil didn't see his shadow. (He was probably thinking, as I was, that it was a duvet day.) The thaw is on its way!
-Loopy (sister-in-law's kitty), 01/2007

In honor of our illustrious spring predictor, I thought I'd post a few pics from Tumwater, Washington, USA. While visiting my family, we were treated to some of the worst weather on record. According to my mum, this lunchtime, not much has changed... record cold temperatures with freezing fog and icy roadways. But, its so pretty.
-Back garden, freezing fog, 01/2007

-Back garden, freezing fog, 01/2007

For more information on Groundhog Day and Punxsutawney, PA:
1) summary);
2) Phil's official site);
3), PA official site).

On a personal note, the photos you see are the first from my new toy. As most will know, I've been a bit of a stalwart about the roll of digital photography in an artist’s portfolio. After months of research, increasing film processing fees, and dwindling 35mm stocks, I took the plunge and bought a dSLR - the Nikon D80 with an 18-135mm lens. It is taking some get used to, and I certainly don't know how to use all the bells and whistles yet, but it may be my new best friend. My Minolta, rather than being relegated to the closet, has been reserved for black and white as I pursue my other passion - dark room manipulations. I hope you enjoy this new era with me. And, as ever, if you borrow an image, please attribute it. =)

And with that, I hope Spring arrives quickly wherever you are. I'm tucking into a nice glass of wine and the Bill Murray homage to second chances, "Groundhog Day."