Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Three Days of Stress & Relaxation - A Wedding Under The Big Tree

Today's post will be very short as we are making last minute preparations for our son's wedding to his beloved under the afternoon shade of a giant pecan tree at a classic southern venue, Vinewood Plantation  near Atlanta. The groom is fairly relaxed, the groom's father is keeping it together so far, the groom's mother, as always, is a rock and the bride - well - my son said last night he couldn't really find the words. He just knows he is marrying the girl of his dreams. This is my first wedding in the modern era, and things have certainly changed. No more cake and punch in the church basement! But I must say here that I am so proud and thankful for all of the family and friends that have gone beyond the call to make this a once in a lifetime event for Lance and Tara.

Last night, as I was making out various last minute lists and talking and texting my son about this and that, I thought back about my own wedding to the most amazing woman who came into my life and changed me forever.  And now I think I finally understand what my mother meant when she said - One day you will understand. As they watch from another time and another place, Juanita and Chester will be so very proud.

Video Artist of The Week - Another fine British import - Corrine Bailey Rae. With a fresh take on jazz, pop and soul, this unique singer brings the right vibe to every tune she lays down.

Travel Quote of The Week - "My wife says I never listen to her. At least I think that's what she said." -anonymous

Life Goes On,


Friday, May 18, 2012

Random Musings from A Committed Nomad

The First, The Best & The Worst

This week's post is, well, all about me. Or at least about me and the important people in my life. I have talked before about this architect's obsessive need to make lists. I have also been told by friend and foe alike that I generally do no know when to be quiet. That is one of the reasons I took up this adventure in journalistic narcissism. You know the song - I need a release, etc. etc. ugh!! Having said all that, I thought this week would be a great time to recount some memorable moments of travel I have experienced. Normally, I would come up with a plethora of insights on the unique qualities of a small hotel or other place of architectural quality down some road in a place I hope you have never been. And I know that my legions of fans have come to expect erudition & enlightenment on a weekly basis about traveling down the smaller road. But this week its all personal. So please indulge me my musings, random though they may be. I thank you in advance.

If the following list appears to be incomplete and random, it is. You will have to forgive me for not being intellectually on my game, as I am watching the clock on the wall as the seconds tick down to next Saturday at 5:30 PM when my smart, handsome, witty, fair haired son, Lance, will marry the equally smart, gorgeous, wonderful fashionista, Tara, under a large pecan tree at Vinewood Plantation just south of Atlanta in Newnan, Georgia. And let me just say, even though, as the father of the groom, I have been pretty much out of the loop, the organizational skills required in planning a wedding make planning a vacation look like ordering a Happy Meal at Mickey D's! The "kids" will be honeymooning at a small, ocean front resort in Barbados Tara found, by being a diligent and obsessive Nomad. We've discussed getting daily reports from Tara & Lance to share on The Nomad Architect. We shall see.

So Without Further Ado - A Random List of Travel Memories

First travel memory - Way back in the day - Ordering & then eating, all by myself,  a loaded hot dog with a side order of fries in a cone, then chasing it with an ice cold six ounce bottle of coke, followed by a Nutty Buddy ice cream cone from the mobile hot dog stand in front of the Castaway Motel on The World's Most Famous Beach - Daytona. The coolest thing about the beach was that people could drive on it. What a way to live for a seven year old!

First memory of traveling with a car radio - Riding late at night to Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to go camping in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, my father would find the great radio DJ John R. on WLAC from Nashville on the AM dial. Sitting in the back seat cocoon of the big car, I heard music and "radio talk" I had never heard before. Rhythm & Blues from the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf and a raspy, gravelly aged voice broadcasting an array of eclectic "commercials" for everything from vinyl seat covers to hair cream. It seemed so exotic back then.

My first realization that there was another world  out there - Visiting New York with our father while on business was always a treat. I believe my penchant for wanderlust came to be when my father rented a bright red convertible and took an all day tour of New York City from Manhattan to Harlem to The East Village to The Bowery with the top down. With my mom in the front seat and my brother and I rubbernecking at every turn in the back, it was an experience I have never forgotten.

Favorite Disney World memory - After the sixth or seventh time riding with my daughter, Lauren, through It's A Small World , in one day, and sharing the simple pleasure of my baby girl being mesmerized by magic, I realized that life simply does not get any better.

Favorite sports memory - This didn't involve travel, per se, unless you consider the fifteen minute ride to the ball park travel. My son's first No Hitter. If you know anything about baseball, you must understand the depth of pride that that was my kid. Absolute proof positive that life simply doesn't get any better.

Coolest Small Hotel - On a side street, a few blocks from the Eiffel Tower, is the lilliputian Hotel Mayet. Everything about this cool little hotel is - well - cool and small. The rooms, the corridors, the two person elevator and, of course, the bathroom is designed for the little people. But I have never stayed anywhere that has more style and design. Every surface, every piece of art and every fixture is well executed. No detail is left to chance. The topper was the cave like breakfast room, in the basement, with bright striped vinyl clad floors inserted under an old stone vaulted ceiling. What a way to begin the day!

Funniest travel memory - Nothing like a road trip with the kids, right? On our way to Nashville we decided to take some R&R at the Dillard House, a family restaurant and small inn north of  Atlanta.  In addition to a great restaurant, they also have a small petting zoo of goats, rabbits and other farm animals for a pleasant diversion for NOWK's (Nomads with Kids). The day was a classic summer day in the South. Very hot and very humid. As the kids were being entertained by this particularly large bearded goat, we observed one of the truly unique happenings in nature, at least among farm animals. With sad eyes gazing in the distance, the goat slowly turned its head to the side and proceeded to "cool" himself by peeing on top of his head causing the four us to laugh uncontrollably. Had we had a video camera, we could have paid for the trip with our winnings from The World's Funniest Home Video. And to send us over the edge into laugh nirvana was watching another family with kids walk up to the goat and start petting it on the very head that had just been relieved upon. Now that's funny!

Most Romantic Place We Ever Slept - This one is hard. But at least tied for first place has to be The Cliff House on Whidbey Island near Seattle. Accessible by ferry, this amazing awarding winning house of glass and wood boasts killer views of Puget Sound, deep in the forest on the west side of Whidbey. It feels like the end of the world. After walks on the rugged, desolate beach or down the lane under canopies of massive douglas firs and redwoods, you get to return to this amazing piece of residential design to watch the sun go down and rest for the next mist covered morning. It's the perfect place to take the one you love.

Most Favorite City - Hands down - Paris!. Paris has it all. Great boulevards and side streets to wander down. Because Paris has so few tall buildings, it has a human scale that invites you to investigate around every corner. The street side cafes, along with intimate public spaces, allow you to just sit and watch the world go by. And of course, you have the Eiffel, the Louvre and the Centre Pompidou. And last, but not least, the food. The perfect combination of art and artistry.

Least Favorite City - Also a no-brainer - Las Vegas. Sin City has everything, including 110 degree heat, thousands of wandering, sweaty tourists looking for something that isn't there and more tacky buildings per square foot than any place on earth. You cannot take any city seriously that has a fake Statue of Liberty, a fake Empire State Building, a fake Brooklyn Bridge and a fake Eiffel Tower. But, the topper of tacky has to be the real estate developer's ultimate testament to bad design - the coup de gras of imposture  - The Grand Canal of Venice. One can only hope that what gets built in Vegas stays in Vegas. The most attractive part of this desert enclave of banality is US 15 North, the road to the natural wonders of Southwest Utah.

Scariest Travel Memory - Yosemite. Shortly after Labor Day. No Crowds. What a great way to see one of the great natural wonders of this vast country. But on this trip, the splendor of the natural world quickly evaporated when we lost our eleven year old Lance. Lance needed to use the restroom, so his mother patiently waited outside the restroom while Lance went inside. After what seemed like an eternity - no Lance. Now, my bride is not one to panic, but, after yelling from the door, with no answer, then asking a gentleman exiting if he had seen a cute little blond kid inside - to which he replied no, the freaking out began. Ready to stand in front of the exit and allow no one to leave the park, we started our feverish search. After several minutes, there he was, quietly standing on a large boulder enjoying the view. Turns out the restroom had two entrances/exits and he went out the in door! Together again, we laughed happily, but it wasn't funny.

Most Memorable Meal - This one is easy. After arriving late on a Sunday at the Castello Di Tornano, a country hotel in a tenth century stone castle, in the heart of Tuscany, we asked if we could get something to eat. Without hesitation, an awning was opened up over a table on the terrace overlooking the rolling hills of this picturesque place. As we sat down, plates of  prosciutto, risotto, cheese, bread, fruit and a nice local red were cheerily served by Massimo and his assistant. There we sat, literally under the Tuscan sun, on this beautiful plateau with an ancient castle cum hotel as  backdrop, enjoying lunch like a Don and his mistress.

So, that's just some random thoughts on memorable travel moments. I could write a book of anecdotes, but that would probably be pretty tedious. I encourage you to sit and write down or at least ponder your own travel moments that have stuck with you. It's an exercise worthy of your time. Like old photographs, travel memories give your life meaning and continuity. In this world that seems to turn more upside down every day, we need to hang on to those images. And, if you feel so led, I welcome you to share your own travel experiences. Just click on the comments link below and write away! If you are reading this as an email, then just click THENOMADARCHITECT to go to the blog for the comments link.

Video Artist of The Week - You cannot get any more random than David Byrne. The front man and main force behind the New Wave Band Talking Heads, Byrne has made a career of singing and dancing to a different beat. Always interesting and never boring.

Travel Quote of The Week -Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going. - Paul Theroux

From Memory Lane,


Saturday, May 12, 2012

A Pilgrimage To Mecca - Frank Lloyd Wright's Fallingwater

"There in a beautiful forest was a solid, high rock ledge rising beside a waterfall, and the natural thing seemed to be to cantilever the house from that rock bank over the falling water..." - Frank Lloyd Wright in an interview with Hugh Downs, 1954

Every architect, at some point in their life, must make the pilgrimage to what many consider, including this architect, to be the greatest work of modern architectural residential design ever built - Fallingwater at Bear Run, Pennsylvania. With a back story worthy of a mini-series, this great American house, designed and built between 1935 and 1937, came to be as a result of two men - Edgar Kaufmann, a self made plutocrat and patron  and Frank Lloyd Wright, an architect who, at the age of seventy, had become largely irrelevant to the world of architecture, etched his position as America's greatest architect in stone and concrete. The "house on the waterfall" captured the imagination of the architectural press and subsequently became  the most visited work of modern residential design ever built in America.

Only Two Hours To Make A House!

The stories behind the design and construction of Fallingwater have been chronicled in numerous books, documentary films and countless design magazines. Separating fact from legend is not always easy in the course of studying such an enigmatic figure as Wright. In addition to being America's greatest architect, he was a philanderer, a terrible businessman and an unabashed self promoter. And the technical construction problems that plagued the house have been well chronicled. But those issues are beyond the scope of today's post. As an architect, I have always been intrigued by the creative process. Every architect, painter, sculptor, writer or musician develops their own methodology of creating their work.  Upon talking with his client on the phone and learning that he would be at his studio in a few hours, Wright sat down to "design" what would come to be known as Fallingwater. Verbal accounts of apprentices present at the time, as chronicled by Franklin Toker in his definitive "biography" Fallingwater Rising, give insight into the particular genius of Wright as he created America's most famous modern house:

Apprentice Cary Caraway:

"Wright took three sheets of tracing paper in different colors, one for the basement, another for the first floor and a third for the second floor, and sketched it to a scale of one-eight inch equals one foot. We were all standing around him. I'd say it took two hours."

Apprentice Edgar Tafel:

"Wright hung up the phone with Kaufmann, briskly emerged from his office, some twelve steps from the the drafting room, sat down at the table set with the plot plan (of the topography of Bear Run), and started to draw. First floor plan. Second floor. Section, elevation. Side sketches of details, talking sotto voce all the while. The design just poured out of him. "Liliane and E.J. will have tea on the balcony...they'll cross the bridge to walk into the woods..." Pencils being used up as fast as we could sharpen them when broken...Erasures, overdrawings, modifying, flipping sheets back and forth. Then, the bold title across the bottom: "Fallingwater." A house has to have a name....The basic design never changed.

The Pilgrim Asked - Where On Earth Will We Stay?

Like many of Wright's houses, Fallingwater is located in the hinterland. Due to its location about two hours from Pittsburgh in the Bear Run Nature Reserve, finding a nearby hotel, four star or otherwise, proved to be a challenge. After much searching on the internet, I landed on the very large, golf centered Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. And as luck would have it, one of their many properties was designed and built to emulate the one and only Frank Lloyd Wright. Falling Rock, the Wright inspired hotel on the Nemacolin property, provides a refreshing alternative to the Chateau Lafayette, a rather pedestrian copy of  The Ritz in Paris. Recently given the 2012 Forbes Travel Guide Five Star Award, the ample rooms, which overlook the Pete Dye designed Mystic Rock Golf Course, come complete with Wright inspired furnishings and showers that would be at home in any high end spa. There is also an excellent on site restaurant, Aqueous, that serves food a cut above typical "resort" food.

Doing Mecca Wright

After a good night of rest and relaxation, we headed out early to make the twenty minute drive to Fallingwater. This area of Pennsylvania is bucolic in every sense of the word. The countryside is dotted with small farms scattered amongst rolling hills, rivers and forests. One of the most annoying realities of many great works of architecture, particularly houses, is that the environment they were originally designed and built in no longer exists. What once was an isolated work of art on a wind swept prairie is now in the middle of a suburb filled with over the top garish McMansions. Not so with Fallingwater. In 1963, the Kaufmann family endowed the house and surrounding property to the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, ensuring that this famous house will always be appreciated in the unfettered natural beauty of its unique site with no built distractions.

As you would expect, the Visitor's Center is designed to conform with the aesthetics of Fallingwater. Linear stonework, concrete and wood details abound. In addition, the cafe serves decent food for those who wish to take a load off before or after viewing the house. And of course, it sells  everything ever designed by, sketched by or thought of by Frank Lloyd Wright. Every piece of "organic", Wright inspired accessory, from ash trays to earrings, is available. This did not bother me, as the conservancy must spend an inordinate amount of money to maintain this unique work of architecture.

After picking up our tickets, we decided to grab a quick bite in the cafe, while waiting for our tour to begin. I recommend purchasing tickets before you go. One point needs to be made here about tours. While the regular tour gives you a chance to see this great work of art, I highly recommend the In-Depth Tour. This tour allows you much more access to virtually every space to see the entirety of the design and learn much of the thinking, planning and construction behind various spaces and details incorporated into the house. In addition, the group for this tour is much smaller, so you can appreciate the house with fewer distractions. In my humble opinion, it is worth more than the price of admission.

The tour begins about a quarter mile from the house. At the risk of sounding like an architecture geek, my anticipation of seeing this work of architecture that I had studied and read obsessively about as an architecture student, was very intense. Walking along the original car path towards the house, deep in the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania,  you take yourself back to a time when the Kaufmann family took extended vacations in what would eventually become the world's most famous modern house. And then you turn a small, slow curve to catch the first glimpse of this work of "Organic Architecture" set against the backdrop of ancient stone outcroppings. Massive stone walls support white concrete, gravity defying cantilevers reaching out over the cascading waterfall. As you walk across the bridge towards the entrance, the perspective begins to change and the multi-dimensional character of the house becomes more apparent. Once inside, all of the tenants of organic architecture become apparent. Modern and ancient. Cave like and light filled at the same time. And seamless detailing on virtually every surface. Fallingwater delivers on the promise that great design offers. From the massive central stone hearth to the terraces reaching out to the waterfall and the woods beyond, you simply do not want to leave this living work of art. And finally you walk downstream for the view of the most photographed image of this iconic house showing the concrete forms which seem to take flight over the water. Architecture geek indeed!

After spending the day at Fallingwater, we returned to the hotel for an excellent dinner, and rested up for the next day's excursion to another Wright designed house nearby - Kentuck Knob - an exquisitely maintained house designed by Wright in 1953 at the tender young age of eighyt six. Complete with an extensive collection of outdoor sculpture, it is worth your time to see this smaller house that Wright claimed he "shook out of his sleeve at will”.

So, if you want to spend a few days seeing one of America's great works of architecture and some of the country's most beautiful landscapes, Fallingwater is a must see for all Curious Nomads. And with The Nemacolin Resort nearby, you will have a great place to rest and relax at the end of the day.

Nomad Quote of The Week - Early in life I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose the former and have seen no reason to change.  - Frank Lloyd Wright

Video Artist of The Week - Simon & Garfunkel - One of the most compelling duos to come out of the sixties. Great writing and amazing vocals made them a household name. And, they may be the only group to ever record a song about an architect -  So Long Frank Lloyd Wright. How's that for a seamless blend of journalism and the arts?

From Somewhere Deep In The Woods,,

D.L. Stafford

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Lolligaggin' In Provence Part Deux - Lazy Days In A Vineyard

Ne rien faire du tout

Doing absolutely nothing. It is pretty much a lost art in the new millennium. Back Door Travel Guru Rick Steves admonishes all travelers to insert "down days" into any travel itinerary. In this age of travel at the speed of sound, we are accustomed to doing things fast. And that tends to spill over into traveling as well. We have all subjected ourselves to seeing far too much in far too little time. If you have kids and have been to Disney, you know of what I speak. This Blog is dedicated to the proposition that half the fun of travel is getting there (Delta being the default exception of course) and when you do get there - just relax! You may be a Nomad, but dropping anchor and staying awhile is an absolute requirement to absorb the people, culture and eccentricities of any place worth visiting. Setting aside a day or two just to rest and relax with no side trips, no museums and no attractions will ensure that you  maintain your equilibrium and truly enjoy the reasons you suffered through that nine hour flight from Atlanta to Paris in the first place.Today's post is about just such a place and will prove that Mr. Steves is absolutely spot on with his down day rule.

Bienvenue - Take Your Shoes Off & Set A Spell

After three days of serious sight seeing in Paris, a day of travel on high speed rail, more walking and rubbernecking in Avignon and a good bit of road travel in Provence, we pulled through the gate at the immaculately groomed La Bastide de Marie, an 18th century farmhouse converted into a destination boutique property with a seamless, eclectic design of old stone walls, tile roofs and  interiors that would be at home in any century. The "bastide" goes to great lengths to provide what I would term unpretentious elegance. And the best part. This lovingly restored eighteenth century mansion functions as the epicenter of sixty plus acres of the Le Domaine de Marie Vineyard. If you were to assemble a portfolio of images touting the essence of the country life in rural France, you would start at this place that was made for good friends, good food and great memories. And the architecture is five star. From the ancient stone house with exquisitely detailed interior spaces and other structures, to the beds that would satisfy the most demanding Nomad in need of rest, this place should be on every Nomad's List of Places To Sleep Before You Die!

As we pulled into the parking area, we were met by a friendly Frenchman, who sounded exactly like Maurice Chevalier in Gigi. I could hear "Thank Heavens for Little Girls" as he dispatched various staff to transfer our luggage to our one of a kind room in this very large, magnificently appointed place. As he leisurely walked us around the estate showing us the Living Room, the Bar Area, The Restaurant, The Patio and The Vineyard, the only thing missing was the boater hat. As we looked out over the vineyard, the essence of this unique place, just outside Menerbes, began to sink in.  I mean, if you are going to have a "down day" and do absolutely nothing,  it might as well be in a world class boutique farm house/hotel, in the middle of Provence, in the middle of a vineyard, with a concierge that reminds you of the classic Maurice Chevalier, right? After settling into our room, we strolled leisurely around the exquisitely landscaped grounds to take in the vibe and completely succumb to this unique environment and all of its essence as a place of reflection and rest. Little did we know that the art of doing nothing, at least at La Bastide de Marie, involves doing at least one thing with reckless abandon . Eating!

Did Julia Child Sleep Here Or What?

When it comes to food, it is an incontrovertible fact  that the French are masters of the culinary arts. They invented the crepe and perfected the omelet. And they are known the world over for the finest wines ever to cross a palette. Eating French food really only requires two sentiments. One - Embrace a diversity of flavors and combinations of  ingredients unparalleled in the world of epicurean delights and Two - Don't even think about dieting on French Food! You must rid yourself of all trepidation and simply give in to the joy of French Cooking. We had already enjoyed many fine meals of all kinds in Paris and Avignon, including some late afternoon wine, bread and cheese we had found in a small market near our hotel. But nothing had prepared us for the culinary delights of a multi-course meal at The Restaurant, housed in a glass enclosed solarium or, if you prefer, a shaded terrace under cover of ancient shade trees. Most people think of French Food as somewhat complicated and fussy. Not so at La Bastide de Marie. As they say on their web site:

 "The chef works closely with nature, using seasonal produce. Freshness is his watchword as he sets out each day to gather treasures from the local markets, where the displays of regional producers inspire his dish of the day. Simple recipes and imaginative combinations give his menus their light, scented and melodious accents, full of the Provence we love to breathe in and savour. As proof, for dinner you can appreciate our Chef's very best specialities: smoky chilled tomato soup with olive tartare, Provençal-style "caillettes" (a kind of meatball) with herbs from the garden, creamy risotto with Vaucluse mushrooms and truffles, crème brulée flavoured with lavender grown on the estate, and profiteroles with lime tree blossom and lemon frosted with juniper and thyme...nature is entirely a matter of taste!"

And every word rings true with every bite of food from each course and each companion wine. After a meal at this simple house in a vineyard, you will never look at food quite the same again. Spending time at this place of unpretentious elegance, allowed us to take  Rick Steves' admonishment to heart and do absolutely nothing for two full days. Unless you count reading a book while drinking a local red with a little cheese, and watching the chef and his old hound cut flowers at ends of vineyard rows in preparation for the next exercise in culinary magic. As Intrepid Nomads, we knew we needed to move on to the next leg of our trip. We said our goodbyes to the lovely people who ran this unique place with feelings of thankfulness and regret that we were leaving an experience of what great travel can and should be, without a single tourist attraction in site. Magnifique!!

Video Artist of The WeekDave Brubeck - In my humble opinion, the greatest jazz pianist of all time. Take Five alone, a tune written and performed in 5/4 time is still considered to be one of the most groundbreaking compositions of all of time. I had the pleasure of seeing Mr. Brubeck and his Trio in 1969 and in 2007 at the age of 95. Mesmerizing! A true jazz genius.

Nomad Quote of The Week - “The best way to execute French cooking is to get good and loaded and whack the hell out of a chicken. Bon appétit. ” - Julia Child

Vous voyez en provence,