LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Father Sherman’s Magnum Opus: ‘Prairie Mosaic’

With every turn of a page in “Prairie Mosaic,” the reader will delve into the rich ethnic history of North Dakota. The Rev. William C. Sherman labored for many years to reveal an astonishing level of detail, down to the township level, and to tell the story of the state’s inhabitants.

“Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota,” originally published in 1983, has been published by the North Dakota State University Press in a fine second edition (2017, 151 pages, photographs, maps, tables, index), with an insightful new introduction by Dr. Thomas D. Isern of NDSU.

The Rev. William Sherman.
The Rev. William Sherman.

“In 1983 the Institute for Regional Studies, a little-known academic publisher headquartered at North Dakota State University, issued the title, “Prairie Mosaic: An Ethnic Atlas of Rural North Dakota,” by a little-known prairie scholar, William C. Sherman. Distribution was limited … Evident at the time was the dedication of the scholar behind the book, Father Bill Sherman, and the enormous amount of work that must have gone into the completion of the meticulous local complications and cartographic depictions of ethnic immigrant settlements on the northern Plains, as well as the author’s affectionate familiarity with the landscape and its people. Evident in hindsight, however, is how Sherman’s study took place — in the belated development of ethnic studies on the Plains, becoming a touchstone for a rising generation of scholars uncovering the region’s immigrant past.” (Isern, pg. ix of the Introduction)

The maps and their accompanying descriptions are the compilation of an enormous amount of detailed and tedious work entailing “the determination and proper placement of some 50,000 bits and pieces of data.” (Sherman, pg. 118) This landmark work takes the reader back to the settlement days and reveals the customs and traditions of these sturdy folk. The strongest undercurrent was the role of the various churches in forming community ties and perpetuating culture.

When I was growing up in Slope County, I would hear folks remark, “He is a Bohunk,” and it was explained to me that this was a slur for people of Bohemian origins, but I hadn’t since then given it much thought, until reading “Prairie Mosaic.” In Sherman’s book, a reader can see just where the people of different ethnic origin settled, including those of Native American origins. I was quite surprised to learn that a group of Japanese homesteaders laid claim to land in western Montrail County. I was also surprised to note that the valley of the Little Missouri River was predominantly inhabited by Anglo-Americans. There are dozens of these nuggets of information on every page of this book.

My only criticism would be that it is a shame that some of the photographs are without captions. Readers who are interested in this topic should also look at the excellent website Digital Horizons, housed at NDSU, “an online treasure house of thousands of images, documents, video and oral histories depicting life on the northern Plains from the late 1800s to today. Here you’ll find a fascinating snapshot of the lives, culture, and history of the people who shaped life on the prairies.”

Ron Vossler writes of “Prairie Mosaic”:

“To borrow an idea from anthropology, we can theorize (and hope) that just as ancient Asian trade centers flourished where different cultures rubbed together, places where caravans stopped and variegated races intermingled, so now in North Dakota, now that the spring mud and winter snow are no longer the impassable obstacles they once were, and the little Norways and little Germanys are no longer so isolated, and with people like William Sherman giving us research and ideas in volumes like this one, the same flowering will occure here: a transfer of the well-known work ethic to solving social problems, and encouraging intellectual endeavors and social relationships — carrying as great a load in our minds and our hearts as those early settlers once did on their backs.” (Book Review of “Prairie Mosaic” by Ron Vossler in North Dakota Quarterly, Spring, 1983)

The rich heritage of North Dakota holds much to be proud of, and everyone will delve deeper into this heritage by reading this book. To my mind, this book’s enjoyment would be increased by tucking it into a bag and taking it on a North Dakota road trip, stopping along the way frequently to read the stories of the earliest inhabitants from its pages. Add to the bag, the books “North Dakota Place Names” by Douglas A. Wick (Sweetgrass Communications, 1988) and “A Traveler’s Companion to North Dakota State Historic Sites” (third ed. SHSND 2014), along with a good atlas and experience a multilayered expedition, rather than an ordinary road trip. Oh, and be sure to sample authentic food along the way.

North Dakota’s landscape is a quilt of many colors that enriches all of our lives.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Winter Interlude

We went away over Christmas for a winter interlude with my sisters and their families and my mother, gathering in a large house in the woods of the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Driving west across the Memorial Bridge, we could see chunks of ice in the Missouri River. We traversed familiar west Dakota roads, in the midst of the first true cold snap of the season, all of our cars loaded full of passengers, food and family.  As I drove, I counted 22 ruffed-legged hawks from Belfield, N.D., to Belle Fourche, S.D., and spotted a large herd of antelope south of Crow Butte, S.D. The prairie was mostly brown (the drought continues,) and we only experienced one near-whiteout south of Buffalo, S.D.

The rental house was in the aspen and pine forest near Lead, S.D. We work together as a well-oiled machine and in no time at all, we had transformed the house to our gathering space for the next four days, each of us taking turns cooking the meals and performing KP. A long folding table was heaped with cookies and other holiday treats and at the end of this table, we set up a bar.  Some of the famous Walby Tom & Jerrys were whipped up, too, and the wine was uncorked.

Jim and I attended Christmas morning Mass in Lead. For the next four days, everyone did what made them happy, a variety of activities that included card and board games, reading, movies, visiting, napping, downhill and cross-country skiing and snowmobiling, sprinkled with a few visits to the nearby Deadwood, S.D., casinos.

We had given each other books for Christmas and taking turns, both read the new Louise Erdrich novel (too bleak for my taste). We caught up with the kids who live on the East Coast and played lots of pinochle and cribbage with my mother.

The first couple of days were bitter cold, but the youngest headed to Terry Peak right away for some skiing.

My mother is a stitching wizard, and she presented me with a beautiful new apron, with the words “Red Oak House” and some of the leaves of the plants in our yard. We were particularly happy to have been able to bring her on this trip as she has a deep love of the Black Hills and seldom is able to travel anymore.

My sisters and I bundled up and took a walk, stretching our legs and exploring the area. There was adequate snow and more in the forecast. Later on Christmas Day, our friend, Valerie Naylor, who lives nearby, came for a visit.

The two fireplaces were quite popular with everyone as was the hot tub. Relatives who live in the southern U.S. texted me that we were very hearty folks, having seen the news of the temperatures in the Dakotas.

On Day 2, Jim and I drove over to Spearfish Canyon and took a two-mile hike to Roughlock Falls, relishing the fresh air and quiet grandeur. There were a few other folks on the trail here and there, but we mostly had it to ourselves.

On Day 3, my sister, Beckie, and I took our cross-country skis to Eagle Cliffs trails and did a few loops in the lovely powder snow and burned off some of the cookie calories. It was very peaceful there and we saw no one else on the trail.

With the sunset, came the first flakes of an all-night snow. And in the dawn light, we could see that there were about 6 inches on all of our cars. Time to load up and head north to our homes!

The temperatures were a little on the upward trend Thursday, but the forecast of more frigid weather was on our minds.

My mother rode from Bowman, N.D. with us and as we passed through Slope and Stark counties, I enjoyed her stories of those old days so long ago. She has very interesting and funny memories.

Today has been unpacking and dealing with Chelsea’s dead car battery, greatly touched at the friends and family who had attempted to assist her in our absence. While Jim got her car going, I hauled in heaps of firewood in preparation for the upcoming cold snap.

The Missouri River is now frozen over and will be for the foreseeable future. My husband has ice fishing on his mind. Our gardening boots are replaced by winter boots. I’ve had my trusty black Sorels for 25 years now.

It is time to add another down comforter to the bed and settle in, reading books, writing manuscripts and fighting the proposed refinery near Theodore Roosevelt National Park. And maybe we will squeeze in the Bismarck Christmas Bird Count.

This poem by T.S. Eliot is on much my mind today as we anticipate the Epiphany. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

The Journey Of The Magi

A cold coming we had of it,

Just the worst time of the year

For a journey, and such a long journey:

The ways deep and the weather sharp,

The very dead of winter.

And the camels galled, sorefooted, refractory,

Lying down in the melting snow.

There were times we regretted

The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,

And the silken girls bringing sherbet.

Then the camel men cursing and grumbling

and running away, and wanting their liquor and women,

And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,

And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly

And the villages dirty and charging high prices:

A hard time we had of it.

At the end we preferred to travel all night,

Sleeping in snatches,

With the voices singing in our ears, saying

That this was all folly.

Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,

Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;

With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,

And three trees on the low sky,

And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.

Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,

Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,

And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.

But there was no information, and so we continued

And arriving at evening, not a moment too soon

Finding the place; it was (you might say) satisfactory.

All this was a long time ago, I remember,

And I would do it again, but set down

This set down

This: were we led all that way for

Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly

We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,

But had thought they were different; this Birth was

Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.

We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,

But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,

With an alien people clutching their gods.

I should be glad of another death.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — Havana By (Classic) Car

I’ve never been much for bucket lists. But if I were, I’d have been able to check off a big one earlier this month. That is to see Havana, Cuba, from the backseat of one of the country’s classic American cars from the 1950s and ’60s, still operating on the streets every day.

The importation of new cars — and lots of other things — has been rare in Cuba, ever since, you know, the revolution.

But there are thousands of classic cars throughout Cuba. If you have a car here, you have a job in the country’s thriving tourism/taxi industry. Another cottage industry has sprung up around the cars with what must be dozens of shops that produce otherwise unavailable parts to keep them going.

The cars are practically the first thing tourists notice about Havana. Actually, we are not tourists anymore, we’re told we are travelers. Each of us with a special new “people to people” visa. The application for ours changed two, maybe three times before we got here. But enough about politics.

Ginny picked out “our” car from a row of classics, a 1952 Pontiac Chieftain, red and white with a ton of chrome. It was our driver and our guide in the front seats, Ginny and me in the back, sitting on what looked like the original red leather.

We’d spent the morning tooling around Old Havana and elsewhere in the city, taking in the sights like Revolution Square, where two guides got into a slight argument as to whether Fidel Castro’s last speech was two hours long or four hours long.

We’d see the U.S. Embassy, where the most recent unpleasantness has been some sort of mysterious audio attack on the people who work there. Or rather, who used to work there. The parking lot looked nearly empty.

We drove past the Floridita Hotel and Sloppy Joe’s, two of writer Ernest Hemingway’s favorite watering holes, unchanged in the least by time. Later, we’d stop for a quick mojito (white rum, club soda, lime juice, sugar, crushed ice and lots of mint leaves) at the Hotel Nacional de Cuba, not one of Hemingway’s favorite watering holes. And at the “most important” of Havana’s four major cemeteries, and one of my favorite stops, we’d see a large monument to Hemingway’s favorite bartender, Constantino Ribalaigua Vert, whose life is celebrated annually by other barkeeps from around the world who come to Cuba each year to remember him. In life, he must have worked very, very hard for Papa Hemingway.

A very funny older woman showed us around the cemetery. At one stop, she told us we were standing, more or less, on the grave of Christopher Columbus, unmarked and covered over by a street. “After all,” she said, “Spain lost the war.”

All in all, it was the most fun I’ve had in a long time — sitting up.

At one point, our guide asked me what I thought of Havana “so far.” I said I felt like I was in a movie. Not “watching” a movie, but “in” a movie. I’ll never forget how he threw his head back and laughed —  for quite awhile.

TERRY DULLUM: The Dullum File — The Tropicana

For me, a trip to Cuba earlier this month would not have been complete without experiencing the Tropicana nightclub in Havana. Its cabaret show is considered among the top three shows in the world (by people who decide these kinds of things, I guess). After seeing it, I believe it.

For openers, Havana’s Tropicana nightclub shouldn’t be confused with the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. I stayed at the Tropicana on The Strip once. I loved it. What I remember most, in addition to the hotel’s beautiful collection of tropical birds, was the mirrors on the ceiling above the beds. For me, a first. And another story for another time, perhaps.

People still arrive at Havana’s Tropicana in those beautiful vintage cars from the 1950s and ’60s everyone thinks of when they think of Cuba. Also tour buses. But it’s the classic cars that make people feel they’ve just stepped out of a time machine.

You’re handed a (Guantanamera Cristales) cigar at the door, if you’re a man. Women are given flowers. Champagne is poured at the tables (very slowly, for some reason). Later, a bottle of Cuban rum arrives at each table. Still later, cans of Coke. Cuba Libres are mixed by the customers themselves.

The real show is the show. Backed by huge orchestra with conga drums up front and strings to the side, the cast, according to the guide books, features 200 dancers, many of them fully clothed at different points during the evening. Actually, there is no nudity. The Tropicana is now owned by the government. Fidel used to bring his guests here.

Sitting on the aisle, Ginny got to bust one or two of her best moves with one of the dancers who hung around our table long enough for the three of us to take a selfie.

There’s no special scenery in this show. And aside from the lighting, no special effects. But lots of talent. Four or five male and female singers are insanely good!

One production number flows seamlessly into another nearly nonstop for two hours. It is spectacular!  If Desi Arnaz had appeared in a tux and straw hat, I wouldn’t have been surprised. It’s like that.

Supposedly the show changes every 15 days, but as a whole, I doubt that it looks much different than it did back in 1959, when American celebrities (and mobsters) visited the Tropicana. And that’s the fun of it. It is what a nightclub should — and used to be. Exotic, exciting and fun. They don’t really exist like this in very many places anymore. Except here. Not even in Las Vegas.

Entertainers like Liberace and Josephine Baker have been a part of the show over the years. Nat King Cole was so popular he was asked to return the next season. He did, but only on the condition that he be allowed to stay at Havana’s Hotel Nacional de Cuba, something he had been denied during his first visit because of the color of his skin. Just as he and others had done in Las Vegas, he helped break the “color barrier” in Cuba. Today, there is a statue of Nat King Cole in the hotel’s museum which doubles as a bar.

Cuba loves its cabaret shows. I heard someone say there are more than 200 of them throughout the island. But the Tropicana is king, and considered nothing less than a national treasure by the locals. It’s as simple as that.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — A €62 Bowl Of Soup! 

One of the benefits I enjoy when traveling the world is trying new dishes in the country I’m exploring.

My ever-increasing list of favorites include Germany’s humble spätzle, England’s simple Shepherd’s Pie, Scotland’s perfect Scotch Eggs, France’s yummy Brie and Bleu d’Auvergne cheeses, Cuba’s creamy flans and Spain’s authentic paella.

Shortly after arriving on Menorca, one of Spain’s three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean this past October, I overheard people talking about the island’s famous lobster soup. “You have to try it,” was their consensus.

However, not every restaurant features this delectable specialty on their menu. So I was fortunate when my daughter, Andrea, and I were exploring the narrow cobblestone streets of Ciutadella on the island’s west coast and almost literally stumbled upon Café Bálear.

The modest-size restaurant with my preferred water view was perfect. While the main seating area is inside across the narrow street, we were drawn to the dozen tables outside positioned precariously close to water’s edge at the tip of the marina.

Menorca’s lobster soup is definitely a step up from my regular favorite tomato basil soup. Highly regarded by locals and first-time customers alike, this restaurant has been in the same family for almost 50 years.

We sat at a table joining the mostly local customers sitting comfortably under umbrellas that screened us from the late autumn sun.

Our waiter brought the obligatory menus touting numerous dishes featuring fish and seafood, freshly caught from their own boat, the Rosa Santa Primera.

We selected a starter of freshly caught shrimp to go with a crisp glass of cool wine and crusty white bread. Andrea, who has lived in Barcelona for over a year and enjoys fresh seafood often, ordered a steak.

But I knew my tastebuds were in for a treat when I ordered the Caldereta de Langosta — Menorca’s famous lobster soup — and the waiter’s body language affirmed that I had made “the right choice” despite a significant ding to my pocketbook. At €62 — that’s $73.60! — it is without question, the most expensive soup I’ve ever eaten.

We settled into our comfortable chairs, watching the ever-present birds and other patrons while enjoying our Spanish wine and conversation.

In short order, our waiter arrived with Andrea’s steak and an enormous thick brown pottery bowl — at least 16 inches in diameter — filled with a dark red broth and a huge lobster.

With accomplished flair and only inches from a 4-foot drop to the water’s edge, our waiter ladled out the rich, dark red broth in my white soup bowl and then delicately placed several pieces of lobster in the middle of the bowl, leaving me to strategically remove its delicious morsel of white meat from the spiky shell without splashing on my clothes.

After a second helping in which I managed to eat every morsel of the lobster, there was still a full meal’s worth of broth, which I was able to chill in our hotel refrigerator and enjoy cold the following day.

Somehow, it is understood that you do not share your Caldereta de Langosta delicacy with anyone at your table, although no one ever explained why.

If you go:

  • Menorca: We spent $350 each for the 45-minute round-trip flight from Barcelona, a five-day, four-night stay at the fabulous Hotel Meliã, which included the largest breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced, plus car rental for five days.
  • Café Bálear, Pla de Sant Joan, 15. Ciutadella, www.cafebalear.com*, website is in Spanish. If you’re like me and don’t speak the language, click on English for a translation. When you go, be sure to order Caldereta de Langosta — Menorca’s famous lobster soup!
  • Hotel Meliã, https://www.melia.com/en/hotels/spain/menorca/melia-cala-galdana/index.html

Upcoming:

My next blog will be Barcelona by Bus, followed by a Tour of Sagrada Família, Gaudi’s cathedral in Barcelona.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Menorca: Mediterannean’s Hidden Treasure

If you’d asked me a couple of months ago if I had plans to spend a few days in Menorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean, I’d have said not anytime soon.

However, when you have a daughter who is a seasoned world traveler and lives in Barcelona, Spain, you learn to keep your options open.

Andrea found a terrific buy that included:

  • Round-trip flight from Barcelona.
  • Five days and four nights at Meliã Hotel.
  • Five days car rental.

And all for only $350 each. I said, “Book it!”

So after a few days in Barcelona spent with friends from Germany and England, we headed for Barcelona-El Prat Airport and after a 45-minute flight, landed in Menorca.

Hotel Meliã served as our “home” for the next few days. It was top-notch, beautifully appointed with spectacular water views, the best breakfast buffet I’ve ever experienced (which is saying something given I lived for 20 years in Europe and have done a fair bit of traveling). On our last day, we especially appreciated being able to check out at 5 p.m. vs. 11 a.m., since our flight was at 7 p.m. Basically, we got an extra day at no cost.

Menorca — in some places spelled Minorca — is one of three Balearic Islands, touted in tourist blurbs as “the treasure of the Mediterranean.” It is one of the best preserved and most unique natural environments in the Mediterranean. The other two islands, Majorca, much larger and more touristy, and the smaller Ibiza.

After driving along some of the 134 miles of coastline, I wasn’t surprised to learn that Menorca was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 1993.

For sure, its pristine sandy beaches are its main attraction leading to the crystal clear turquoise waters of the Mediterranean. Locals claim that it is easier to get around on a horse than by car due to the miles of meandering bridle tracks and country paths.

The island excursion turned out to be a delightful surprise and one of the highlights of my 17-day trip to Barcelona for so many reasons. We were there Oct. 21-25, which was a great time to go, since most places including our hotel had or were closing for the season the following week.

With the hotel at probably 25 percent occupancy, there were no lines or wait times for service at restaurants, cafes nor any of the other attractions we visited.

The stunning beach cove in front of our hotel had only a fraction of the normal high season swimmers and water activity that made for a more relaxing, quiet atmosphere. We shared the vast comfortable dockside seating areas with only a handful of other hotel guests — mostly from England, France and Germany — for our afternoon glass of wine or plate of tapas. A few times, I was on my own with my leg raised icing an injured hamstring — with a gin and tonic in hand to make it all better — while Andrea was off exploring the more rugged points of interest on the island.

 

Speaking of gin, I did try the local gin, which is famous for its characteristic distillation process used for 200 years. It is made from alcohol derived from grapes vs. grains. The taste was definitely different. I think I’ll stick with Beefeaters.

The temperatures were great, too, for which I was grateful as I don’t do well in hot weather. We enjoyed high in the 60s and 70s with cooler evenings. Keeping with the annual precipitation averages of between 3 inches to 17 inches, we only experienced a few raindrops on one day.

I was happy to take advantage of the Red Cross station next to our hotel right on the beach. It provided me with a free wheelchair for my entire visit, which came in handy when we visited some of the prehistoric sites featuring Talaiots, huge stones of megalithic construction in various locations throughout the island.

One day I hopped on a plastic 3-wheeler, and a Red Cross worker pulled me the few meters to the beach where — with the help of special water crutches — I was able to stand in the clear, cool water which was great therapy.

Given my walking limitations and the season, I thought we did pretty well to visit eight out of the 14 “unmisable” activities listed in the 2017-2018 Menorca Explorer tourist guide.

Fun things we visited:

  • Maó, a town at the east end of the island near the airport with one of the largest ports in the world; a busy waterfront with restaurants, bars, nightclubs, shops; and Town Hall with a neoclassical façade and clock. We stopped for coffee and tapas at an outdoor cafe.  Then we visited the outdoor market where I bought a cool pair of Spanish trousers.
  • Prehistoric sites where signs of ancient settlers and fortresses are left from the island’s British occupation.
  • The ubiquitous, fascinating dry stonewalls called Paret, which are constructed without mortar or cement using different size stones to create miles and miles of boarder walls typically three to 4 feet high protecting livestock and serving to separate properties.
  • A Son Martorellet production of the famous Somni black stallion dancing horses in Ferreries, www.sonmartorellet.com.
  • The Ria Factory Tour & Shop also in Ferreries (www.ria.es), where I bought two pairs of their famous handmade leather sandals called abacus.
  • The plentiful wild olive woods called ullastrar, oak groves called alzinar, pine woods and tamarisks near the beaches.
  • My favorite town, Ciutadella, at the west end of the island with its old quarter of labyrinth of streets, shops, bars, cafes, restaurants, churches, historic art, interesting old buildings, beautiful port and the main square called Plaça des Born with its newly restored Cathedral of Menorca.

Would love to have …

  • Gone on a boat trip around the entire island, however they had stopped for the season.
  • Taken an adventurous visit to the caves — both on land and underwater — to see fish, birds and animals like the famous Mediterranean tortoises and sargantana lizards in their natural habitat.
  • Stopped at the Menorca Museum.
  • Traced the full permitter of the island on the Cami de Cavalls to appreciate it’s ecological and environmental significance.
  • Photographed the five lighthouses which protect ships sailing near the island.

Where to stay:

Where to eat:

Watch for my upcoming blogs about Barcelona:

  • A €62 Bowl of Lobster Soup
  • Barcelona by Bus
  • Sagrada Família: Over 100 Years in the Making

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Willa Cather’s Red Cloud

Although it is now more than 30 years ago, I remember very clearly the day when I was a graduate student at Peabody College of Vanderbilt University and Dr. Michael Rothacker gave his students the assignment of reading a novel of our choosing and writing a report on said novel.

My friend, Pamela Jean, and I went right over to the Main Library on the Vanderbilt campus, where I gravitated to the American literature section. Likely Pamela recommended to me the novel “My Antonia,” by the inimitable Willa Cather. I devoured it, with its sumptuous details of pioneer life — and I aced that assignment. If you’ve not read this book and are interested in learning more about the prairie, I urge you to do so pronto.

Since that time in Nashville, Tenn., I’ve read more of her books as well as her “Selected Letters” and have enjoyed many conversations with friends about Cather, including one just this very afternoon with North Dakota’s Poet Laureate, Larry Woiwode, in the Menards parking lot.

As I’ve described in another blog, Two English majors take a mostly blue highways trip, one of our travel guides is the book “Novel Destinations.” Our recent travels also found us in Red Cloud, Neb., Willa Cather’s childhood home.  Fortuitously, as we were finalizing our plans for our trip to Des Moines, Iowa, the New Yorker magazine published a story by a writer who had visited Red Cloud, entitled “A Walk in Willa Cather’s Prairie.” I put it on Jim’s reading pile and made my plea for adding a day onto our trip to go there ourselves. He was skeptical that we’d be able to find a room for the night given the timing of this article, but I called and booked one, in what is called “Willa Cather’s Second Home,” a lovingly preserved home in an enchanting prairie town.

We arrived on a Sunday night, after dark, and followed the detailed instructions for letting ourselves into the home, beginning our full immersion into Cather’s world. To our great delight, we discovered that we were, in fact, the only guests that night and had the entire house to ourselves! We settled in and made ourselves quite comfortable, and then explored every square inch. It was ever so quiet. Like little kids, we texted photos to our close friends who we knew would most appreciate this news. Jim mixed up Manhattans, and we settled in to read some of the literature that the Willa Cather Foundation, which operates this house, has left here and there for guests. Here is the link with lodging information if you are interested in staying there.

When I was a child growing up in Slope County, we had a bureau like this in the kitchen, next to the round oak table.

This book on a table in the home caught my eye because just the day before as we drove through Nebraska we were talking about the poet and Nebraskan Ted Kooser, who wrote the foreword. I was so excited about being in this place that I couldn’t sleep, but the pages of this book lulled me into a calm and I finally crawled into the comfy bed and drifted off.

The next morning, we ate the breakfast that had been left for us and set off for the Visitor’s Center, which occupies a full block in the downtown, in the historic Opera House. But first, we walked around the exterior of Willa Cather’s Second Home. When she would come home to visit her parents, she would often be seen on the balcony that is just off her second-floor bedroom, scribbling away in her notebook.

There we took in the excellent exhibits and recounted to each other our personal Cather memories, asked questions of the committed staff members and made plans for further explorations. Next we walked around the downtown area. which is chockablock full of interesting old buildings, getting a feel for Cather’s time, followed by a drive around Red Cloud, where many of the historic homes have markers out front describing their significance to Cather’s time.

Below is the house her parents were living in when she was born, where she lived from 1884 to 1890.

This is the train depot, her embarkation point for the wide world east of Red Cloud. It is very well-preserved, and there are exhibits within.

Our final Cather destination was south of Red Cloud, the Willa Cather Memorial Prairie, purchased by The Nature Conservancy, with the help of the Woods Charitable Fund, in August 1974, 612 acres of native prairie. The Willa Cather Foundation acquired the area from the Conservancy in 2006. Here one truly gets the sense of what the prairie was like in Cather’s time, complete with a cold, stiff wind the day we visited. With good reason, Visit Nebraska calls this place “a botanical treasure.”

Today I donned my souvenir sweatshirt and realized that this was a sign that it was time for me to write this post. I need only look at it to know there are some of her books I still need to read. Meanwhile, we hope to visit Red Cloud again and meet some friends there who share our love of literature. Do go.

LA VALLEUR COMMUNICATES: Musings by Barbara La Valleur — Barcelona: Not What You Think

It’s taken me a couple of weeks to return to reality after a 17-day trip to Barcelona, which included an extraordinary side trip of five days in Menorca.

The initial purpose of my trip was to visit my daughter, Andrea La Valleur-Purvis, who has called the Catalonian capital home for over a year. She loves it, and I can see why. It’s exciting, has a mix of old and new in terms of architecture, is international, very diverse and has countless places to eat, enjoy and experience a special part of Spain. Plus, one of my favorite parts was seeing an abundance of public art everywhere.

Yet, it turned out to be so much more than what I imagined. Having spent 20 years living in Europe in the late 1970s, ’80s and early ’90s, I still have friends and family there. So I was thrilled when they agreed to fly to Spain from Germany and England to reconnect, if only for a few days at the beginning and end of my trip.

Allow me to whine before going into the heart of the experience. You may not feel much compassion for me, what the heck you may be thinking, you just got back from Spain! What’s the complaint? But days before leaving, I pulled a hamstring and, damn it, that seriously hampered my flexibility and mobility.

Boarding passes for my 17-day trip to Barcelona.
Boarding passes for my 17-day trip to Barcelona.

Heck, on my trip to Cuba earlier this year, I took over 5,000 photos. On this trip, I didn’t even take 2,000! Waaa waaa. I even had to use a cane the entire time and wheelchairs at all the airports from MSP to CHI to ZÜR to BAR to MEN to BAR to TOR to CHI to MSP. Plus poor Andrea had to push me up steep hills and over rough track to visit historical sights. What a drag.

OK, I’m done feeling sorry for myself.

With Barcelona being front-page news the entire trip, you might be surprised to learn I saw very little of the political goings on you were reading about on a daily basis here in the U.S. All that despite the fact that Andrea lives only six blocks from the heart of the city center and within breathtaking view of Gaudi’s towering Basilica of the Sagrada Família from her rooftop terrace.

Andrea pours wine while Ingrid takes photos of our spread.

Twice, our taxi was diverted a few blocks due to demonstrations, which still remained out of our sight and sound. Late one evening while on my own and enjoying a glass of wine on Andrea’s eighth-floor terrace, I heard what sounded like three rapid fire gunshots followed by sirens two minutes later. But I was never able to confirm if the sounds were gunshots.

That said, safety was never an issue on my trip. I felt totally safe the entire time.

I photographed numerous flags hanging from balconies. But there were just as many pro as con, for and against Catalonia separating from the rest of Spain. Those flags were identified with Si! signs on their red and yellow strips with a blue triangle and white star indicating their support for Catalonia to separate from Spain. The national Spanish flags are red and yellow with the Spanish coat of arms depicting two crown-topped pillars with red banners displaying the motto in Latin, “Plus Ultra” or “more beyond” referring to Columbus’ discovery of the New World.

My friends from Germany and England, who had arrived hours before me, Andrea and I shared an AirBNB for the first couple of days. It was a newly appointed and very nice two-bedroom apartment that Andrea had booked for us, which also had a balcony view around the corner of Gaudi’s Cathedral.

The bathroom was stylish albeit small, with an open kitchen dining area. A sleeper sofa provided a “third” sleeping area three steps up to a small terrace with two separate seating areas. It was perfect, and we had a blast drinking wine, eating cheeses, breads, Spanish sausages and catching up on the past two-plus decades.

Yes, that’s the Spanish cheese I brought with me from Minnesota.

We had a good laugh when I brought out some snack cheese from my trip that I had in my suitcase when Ingrid, my German friend, pointed out it was “A Product of Spain”! Gez, not only was that illegal, but I could have gotten into deep doo-doo if caught.

Andrea rented a car so that we could cover more ground, especially since I was unable to walk any distance. We drove north to a vineyard and a wine-tasting at a well-known winery, Freixenet. (See note below.)

Thanks to Andrea’s knowledge of the area, we ate at some great places and continued catching up. All too soon, it was time for them to return home. The four of us took a taxi to the Barcelona Airport, with them flying off to England and Germany and Andrea and I taking a 45-minute flight to Menorca (spelled Minorca by some), one of the three Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean See along with Mallorca and Ibiza, where we spent a delightful five days and four night.

I’ll share more about Menorca in an upcoming blog as well as a separate blog about the Gaudi’s Basilica.

If you go to Barcelona, a few of my favorite places and things to do …

Restaurants:

  • El Nacional, www.enlaceionalbcn.com, €58 (a little over $68) for two of us, various tapas and including Cava, the local sparkling wine; it’s a destination as well as a restaurant with four featured sections; be sure to check out their bathrooms.
  • Firebug, www.firebugbarcelona.com, €53 brunch for four, brunch, bar, bistro, very nice, we sat outside both times, bathroom located upstairs; brunch for six including Cava — €74 Euros
  • Patrón, www.patron-restaurant.com, delicious meal, which I didn’t pay for, so no idea of the cost. I sure enjoyed my paella and I ate the WHOLE THING.
  • Cuines Santa Caterina, http://grupotragaluz.com/en/restaurant/cuines-santa-caterina/, various different food bars indoors, outdoor terrace, fun place to share several plates of small, tasty delights! Seven days a week, check website for hours. Again, I didn’t pay the bill, but it was not expensive.

Fun things to do:

  • Freixenet, a vineyard and wine tasting, http://www.freixenet.es. We rented a car, Andrea drove about 40 kilometers or about 25 miles north of Barcelona. It’s in the heart of the Penedés region in the town of Sant Sadurni d’Anora, a lovely drive with views of hills if not modest mountains. Tour the facility and end up in the tasting room where you have a huge selection of wines to taste. Light snacks also available.
  • Basilica of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family), a trip to Barcelona without touring the Basilica would be like going to Paris without having your photo taking next to the Eiffel Tower. If you’re considering paying extra for the tour up an elevator to one of the tall spirals, beware: the elevator only takes you up. You have to walk down 420 steep and small, tight circular steps, which, given my cane, I was prevented from doing.

Shopping Centers:

  • www.maremagnum.es — a huge shopping center on three levels, open 365 days a year from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., with 80 shops of fashion, home and decor, beauty, kids and services plus about 24 places to eat and/or drink. Andrea and I enjoyed shopping at Swarovski, where I bought her birthday and Christmas present. And a bracelet for myself, too, of course.
  • https://www.barcelona.com/barcelona_directory/shops/la_maquinista — the only open air mall in Barcelona and one of the largest in Catalonia with 230 stores. Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., right on the harbor with a small albeit lively old market, harbor ship rides and Miraestels, whimsical white floating sculptures by Robert Llimós floating in the bay.

Your tax refund:

Remember, if you want to receive a tax refund at the end of your stay, you need to track your purchases, have receipts, fill out the forms at point of purchase and when you arrive at the airport, you need extra time to go to the proper office for your tax refund. I didn’t and probably lost $100 or so I could have claimed.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Taliesin, After The Anticipation Of Decades

How do I write about a place I’ve waited four decades to see, with great anticipation? Only to say architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin home, Taliesin (near the town of Spring Green), was worth the wait, and I find myself ttruly inspired anew.

All of my life, I’ve been an admirer of Wright’s work. Long ago when I cataloged Stoxen Library’s copy of the coffee-table book on Fallingwater, the home he designed in Pennsylvania, I pored over the pages, and I’ve since read the book several times. I’ve not been to Fallingwater, but it remains on my list.

When we made plans to travel to Iowa for a wedding, it came to me pretty quickly that a side trip to Taliesin was possible. I did the research on their web page and we agreed to a 4½-hour tour, the full grounds and house tour, the full monty.

To backtrack, about 10 years ago, when in Phoenix for a winter trip, we visited Wright’s western home, Taliesin West, and took the tour. The architect who finished the Guggenheim Museum in New York after Wright’s death was strolling the grounds as we took our tour. We were thrilled and below are the photos I took on that day.

Fast-forward to 2017. In Wisconsin, we arrived at the Taliesin Visitors Center early, allowing us time to browse the gift store prior to boarding the van. The Center sits on the banks of the broad Wisconsin River, and the Taliesin estate is in the adjacent Wyoming Valley, which drains into the Wisconsin.

I indulged myself in a purchase of these coasters, something practical that would also serve as a memento of our visit, inscribed with what FLW called “The Organic Commandment.” The gift store has many lovely FLW inspired items. I spotted two of the many FLW-themed books I’ve read in the past, good reads I would recommend.

Wright was of Welsh ancestry, and Taleisin is the Welsh word for “shining brow” — the house is placed on the “brow” of a hill overlooking the wooded Wyoming Valley.

Our tour began at the building he designed to house his architectural school when he moved back home from Chicago. It is now called the School of Architecture at Taliesin. In the summer, the students and professors are in Wisconsin and in the winter in Arizona. The school was in residence in Arizona when we visited, but our exceptional tour guide went into great detail about what it is like when the students are there as well as telling us how FLW designed the building.

Cherokee Red was his signature color, and he even had his automobiles painted this color. It is evident everywhere at Taliesin.

Taliesin once encompassed 3,000 acres, but it is now 600 acres. It is still a working farm, with a huge organic food operation. Our guide said “he was a pretty good farmer, but his artistry won out.” On the top of one of the hills is a fascinating windmill that he designed as a very young man.

His extended family lived all along the Wyoming Valley. Near the architecture school is the house he designed for his sister, called Tanyderi, which means “under the oaks.”

Below are three photographs of his very unusual barn on the grounds.

As we walked along past the barn and approached his house, a bald eagle soared over us, and we all agreed that was a powerful sign.

Jim snapped this picture of me in front of the home and later told me how happy it made him to watch me on the tour, knowing that I was delighted in every single moment, every single step.

This is the third of the homes that FLW built at Taliesin. The first, built in 1911, burned as did the second. Each time, he built it larger, and there are 37,000 square feet under the same roofline.

The entrance is designed to be “a journey of discovery.”

FLW loved music. Pictured below, in the living room, is seating he designed (next to the grand piano) for a string quartet.

When the original house burned, FLW sifted through the ruins and recovered sculptures, some of which were then incorporated into the new house. One is shown in my photograph below.

FLW called this structure his “bird walk,” and I recognized it from famous photographs taken of him standing on the walk, in his coat and hat.

These two photographs below are of his bedroom. He would arise before dawn and walk over to start working before anyone else in the house was stirring.

He famously said, “Nothing is too big or too small for me to design.”

There is a wealth of wonderful resources about FLW, who lived from 1867-1959.  I highly recommend the Ken Burns and Lynn Novick PBS film “Frank Lloyd Wright.” A few others of my favorite resources include:

“An Illustrated Guide to Frank Lloyd Wright”

“Frank Lloyd Wright Buildings Road Trip”

Our last stop before departing the Wyoming valley was the family cemetery. FLW was buried here, but his third wife had his body moved to the grounds of Taliesin West.

Here in Wisconsin, the Unity Chapel was one of FLW’s first commissions, designed when his family called him the “boy architect.”

He truly was “one of the greatest architects of the 20th century, his work heralding a new thinking, using innovation in design and engineering made possible by newly developed technology and materials. His creative ability extended far beyond the border of architecture to graphic design, furniture, art glass, textiles and decorative elements for the home.”

His amazing buildings can be seen all around the U.S., and I look forward to inspirational visits to more FLW places. For now, I will savor my visit to Taliesin every time I put my coffee mug down on my new coaster.

LILLIAN CROOK: WildDakotaWoman — Two English Majors Take A (Mostly) Blue Highways Trip East

Lizzie was sad Monday a week past. She saw those suitcases, and she became clingy, not sure whether she was going with us or not. For her, this time it was the kennel, as Chelsea is gone for schooling and thus her best pal not available for dog-sitting.

Thus, it was that we two English majors made a road trip east, to Iowa for our grandson’s wedding. We took this opportunity to visit some destinations in the Midwest that have been on our list for quite some time.

Our field guide for traveling is very often the book “Novel Destinations: Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen’s Bath to Ernest Hemingway’s Key West” by Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon (National Geographic, 2008). It has helped us find many wonderful treasures and inspired us on many occasions. When we can, we get the local tour guide to sign and date our copy of the book.

Our first stop was Sauk Centre, Min., the boyhood hometown of the novelist Sinclair Lewis, a place that both of us have driven by hundreds of times but not explored, always in a hurry to get to the Twin Cities. The town was in Lewis’ fiction known as “Gopher Prairie.” Here we enjoyed a hearty lunch in the old Palmer Hotel, where Lewis worked as a boy. I recommend the wild rice chicken salad. It is brought in generous portions, and I put some in our cooler for another lunch along the trail.

The Palmer House is a beautiful old hotel with many interesting items within and “Main Street’ Sauk Centre has lots of well-preserved old buildings.

A word to the wise about traveling to some of these smaller museums and historic houses in the winter. Many have few or restricted hours in the offseason. We arrived at Lewis’ boyhood home five minutes prior to the advertised closing, but someone had locked up early for the day. We were quite satisfied with an explore around the house and left with the knowledge that we still had one of our longest day’s drive before us. That and we have both spent lots of time in homes very much like this in our lives. We’ll go back another day.

In planning the trip, I also checked out three books from the Bismarck Public Library as additional field guides for exploring out-of-the-way places. We vastly prefer blue highway travel and for the more than 2000 miles, we drove we managed that very goal.

In the book “Backroads of Minnesota,” I noted that our route toward Spring Valley, Minn., would take us right by a place neither of us had ever heard of: the Jeffers Petroglyphs, a Minnesota State Historical Society site.

Sure enough, the Visitor’s Center was closed when we arrived; however, we were able to take the walk and enjoy the enchanting petroglyphs accompanied by fine interpretive signs as the sun was low in the west. These are the treasures one finds when one gets off the freeway.

Backroads Minnesota and Iowa take travelers through the agricultural heart of the United States and past lots of corn fields. We enjoyed the various folk art found here and there, especially this crow. We spotted a few crows flying by as well. Blessings to all of the folks who’ve preserved these places.

After a night in a small Minnesota town, we drove on to Iowa, where we stopped north of Decorah at Seed Savers Exchange, a fascinating place located in wooded, hilly rural Iowa, employing a surprising number of local folks. We have in the past ordered many of our gardening seeds from here, and it was fun to see it in person. We stocked up on some seeds for next year and some other delicious delights.

Onward, the trail took us to Decorah, another beautiful and charming small city in the Midwest, home of Luther College. We indulged on some local barbecue and then spent a couple of hours touring the Vesterheim: the National Norwegian-American Museum & Heritage Center, of particular interest to us because we are both of Norwegian ancestry. I recommend a visit there. Do take the guided tour. They even sell bottled water from Norway, and it was particularly tasty!

The Bethania Lutheran Church was brought here from North Dakota, in several pieces, no small feat.

These rosemaling painted trunks were of particular interest to me because my great-grandmother traveled to the United States from Norway with her trunk to Iowa. Sadly, when the family later traveled to the South Dakota prairies, at some point, it was forced to jettison the trunk, filled with her dowry treasures from Norway. The strength of these pioneers leaves me humbled.

Our next stop was the Effigy Mounds National Monument, high on the banks of the Mississippi River, on the border of Iowa and Wisconsin. Here we took a four-mile hike to view the ancient mounds and marvel at the works of humans so many millennia ago. The woods were quiet in the late autumn as we practically had the place to ourselves. The views of the mighty river from the high points were splendid.

We crossed the Mississippi River on an old bridge and entered Wisconsin, headed to Avoca, where we had reservations at an organic farm tucked away in the woods, our first experience with Airbnb, and it was a good one. Thanks to Google maps,we found our way there in the pitch dark and were greeted with wonderful touches, like this delicious cheese.

The next morning, our hosts fed us a bounty of their delectable dishes including freshly pressed apple juice and gave us advice on our travels in their home country. As we drove out of their yard, Tom was off to milk their cows and gave us a friendly wave.

This day’s focus was a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin, a place that I’ve been longing to visit for many decades and which I will write more about on another day, it being a worthy topic for a blog of its own. Later, we tucked in for the night in West Branch, Iowa, and wished we had taken in the Wisconsin State Capitol, but alas, there was not enough time.

Day four found us in Des Moines , Iowa, as scheduled, for the wedding rehearsal at Brown’s Woods Forest Preserve and the good company of new members of our extended family. On morning No. 4, we toured the ornate and awe-inspiring Iowa State Capitol, finishing in time for the wedding and reception. The mosaics in the building are not to be missed, and it is one of the loveliest Capitols we have yet toured.

Now it was time to return to the west, and our trail took us in the direction of Lincoln, where at the urgings of knowledgeable friends, we visited the Nebraska State Capitol, again an magnificent building of very different architecture. Nebraska is celebrating 150 years of statehood this year.

At the top of the 400-foot tower of the Nebraska State Capitol is a figure called “The Sower,” “modeled after the traditional method of hand sowing grain for planting, symbolic of agriculture’s role in the development of civilization. … New York sculptor Lee Lawrie represents this timeless symbol of agriculture as a barefoot man …”

Again, the mosaics were beautiful, as were all of the detail throughout the building.

We were traveling toward our destination of Red Cloud (which I will also write about on a later date) and spotted the “brown signs” we like so much, so we quickly routed ourselves to Homestead National Monument, where Jim could get another stamp in his National Park Service Passport book.

The ingenuity of the homesteaders is to be admired. Good for the U.S. and the National Park Service for preserving and interpreting these great places so we can better understand the people who came before us and better appreciate our native country.

We were relieved to be off the freeway traffic and back on our preferred blue highways. Again, we had the place to ourselves due to the autumn season. A cold wind was blowing the cornstalks across the roads, and it was time to tuck in our lodging for the night. A sneak preview: we slept in the writer Willa Cather’s Second Home in Red Cloud and Jim told me (the trip planner of our partnership), “You did great!”

We will forevermore remember that we were in Nebraska when the news of the Mueller indictments came out.

After the briefest of ventures to nearby Kansas, we pointed the Highlander toward South Dakota, where we spent the night on the banks of the Missouri River in Chamberlain. En route, we drove through the sandhills of Nebraska. Overhead, the sandhill cranes flew in the other direction in flock after flock. In my mind, I could imagine their plaintive and distinctive call. We crossed many prairie rivers, including the Platte and the Elkhorn.

Jim’s U.S. Navy blue laundry bag was full of dirty clothes, and it was time to get back to our washer and dryer. It is true: there’s no place like home and, yes, Lizzie jumped with joy when we picked her up.

There must have been some hellacious winds when we were gone. The Red Oak tree is completely bare. We are now hunkered down for the winter. I see a few snowflakes as I write this.

“Wander where there is no trail. Hold on to all that you have received from Heaven but do not think you have gotten anything.”Chuang-Tzu