Friday, July 20, 2012

In The Land of Enchanment The Inn of The Five Graces Is Where You Must Sleep

It's Not The Heat, It's The Humidity

As we began our ascent into Albuquerque for our Annual Anniversary Nomad and Nomadess Extravaganza Celebration, I was already enchanted with the desert from 20,000 feet. We had fallen in love with the great Southwest some years earlier when we had purchased land in an unknown corner of southwestern Utah near Kanab, about three hours from Las Vegas - not an enchanted land, city or anything else at all! We both grew up in North Florida which has enough heat and humidity to drive all of the annoying tourists  that venture down the interstates to Disney and other Central Florida attractions back to their hometowns in Poughkeepsie and Cleveland. We Floridians refer to our summers as baseball weather. A close friend recently returned from Phoenix to my home town, Tallahassee, for a visit, after some time away. When I picked him up at the airport he observed that he knew he was in Tallahassee when he stepped off the plane and all of the air was sucked out of his body. One of the great things about travel is the change from our day to day to a new environment, weather wise and otherwise, even if for a short while. And since we were visiting the "Land of Enchantment" for the first time, we were both filled with excitement to see what the great southwest, the storied Santa Fe and surrounds had to offer.

Purple Mountain Majesties

One of the attributes of this great country is its diversity. Geography, culture, food, people. From Miami to Seattle to San Diego to Maine, no country possesses so many different ways for people to enjoy travel and experience different aspects of the melting pot that  is the USA. Santa Fe and New Mexico are at the top of the Nomad's list when it comes to travel that is unique, regional and, as yet, not taken over by the banality of "tourist" oriented travel. The Turquoise Trail (Highway 14) takes you the forty five minutes from Albuquerque to Santa Fe through several small, off the beaten path towns and some of the most beautiful desert you will ever see. And the mountains really are purple. As we pulled into the small parking area just off the central plaza of New Mexico's capital city, I was struck by this "real" town of southwestern adobe architecture, its small streets and color everywhere. Best of all, this unique place has a population of only 67,000! Any time you happen on a town that small with an international reputation for interesting culture, great food, fabulous art and amazing history, you have, indeed, landed in a place that any Romantic Nomad can drop anchor.

The Inn of The Five Graces Indeed

Few hotels are as intensely committed to its vision as the Inn of The Five Graces. The very name itself is music to the ears of any Nomad seeking a place to not only lay their weary head but to embrace the exotic environs of a place like Santa Fe. The Five Graces are the very essence of our personal experiences as Nomads of every ilk. Sight, sound, touch, smell and taste. These are the portals of experience we embrace, without thinking, that give our lives meaning. They also are the essence of what unique travel experiences are all about. To say that the proprietors of The Inn of The Five Graces have sought to embrace their vision without flinching would be an understatement. So many phrases can be used to describe this amazing property located on the oldest inhabited "block" in the United States. East Meets West here in the land of the Anasazi. Imagine Ali Baba  meets Georgia O'Keeffe and you have a sense  of the aesthetic of The Inn. Replete with an eclectic blend of near eastern furnishings, tapestries, rugs and artwork, this retreat for Discerning Nomads feels magical and real at the same time. Each unit is unique, with no two repeated. We stayed in the Tourmaline Deluxe Suite complete with exquisitely mosaic tiled bath, comfortable living room and kitchen. As an added feature, just off the kitchen area, there was a small walled, shaded courtyard. This was a great place to be served an afternoon glass of your favorite beverage served by one of the many staff who's purpose in life seems to be to ensure your absolute enjoyment of this small twenty four room boutique sleepery

And the beds! Simply put, the beds are the most comfortable I have EVER slept in. At one time, you could purchase the "sleep system" used by the inn for a princely sum. It is clear that the inn is dedicated to the proposition that no expense should be spared to ensure your ultimate comfort when you retire for the evening. And what better way to enjoy the most comfortable beds on earth than to be surrounded by highly detailed and exotic headboards and fine Egyptian cotton sheets finished off with one of a kind comforters and afghan blankets of intricate designs in blazing colors? After a couple of days at this exotic boutique, we began to feel like the chic sheik and sheika of our domain. Sorry, I couldn't resist it!

Of course the true test of any hotel is, ultimately, service. The staff of The Five Graces is, in a word, fabulous. Friendly, always close by but never in the way. From the delicious breakfast served by excellent wait staff in the main courtyard to the wine and hors d'oeuvre served in your own courtyard every afternoon, the professionalism exhibited by every person at the inn is second to none. In addition, they know where everything is in Santa Fe. From the best eateries to the best galleries to the best day trips, no guide book is needed to enjoy all that Santa Fe and its eclectic environment has to offer. Just ask the concierge. They will have all the answers.

 Eat, Drink and Be Merry With Georgia O'Keeffe!

One of the reasons Santa Fe is such an interesting place is its history. Native Americans built a settlement on the site that is today's central plaza around 900 AD. With a blend of many influences, including Native American, Spanish, Mexican and New World Settlers, Santa Fe is truly an exotic blend of cultures evidenced by its food, culture and architecture. At one point, it was even claimed as a part of Texas. With The Inn of The Five Graces as your base of operation, Santa Fe offers the Curious Nomad numerous opportunities for adventure, cultural discovery and sheer enjoyment of a truly unique place. To start with, the inn is only a couple of blocks from the main city plaza. The plaza is always busy with various vendors and local artisans selling their wares. There are also numerous places to grab a snack and sit and enjoy the day. As you walk around the city, you have access to some of the best restaurants in the country that serve both local and international cuisine. The Anasazi Restaurant is a sure winner. Serving a blend of fusion and southwest, it is all good with excellent service. And if you are an art lover, Canyon Road is just a few minutes by foot. This area contains dozens of art galleries featuring some of the finest painting, sculpture and other creations that rival anything found in any big city gallery. One caveat - bring your wallet. These people are serious about their work.

If you can't get enough of all that pricey artwork on Canyon Road, Santa Fe boasts a great museum featuring the works of one of the twentieth century's most important modern artists, The Georgia O'Keeffe Museum, just a few steps from the plaza. A darling of the New York art world long before women were recognized in the rarefied world of the art elite, O'Keeffe became one of the leading proponents and creators of the modern aesthetic.  Her work produced while in New Mexico is know the world over. O'Keeffe is a must see while in Santa Fe.

Day Trippin' and The High Road To Taos

Because Santa Fe is at the center of interesting places, unparalleled natural beauty and some of the most innovative art studios anywhere, the world becomes your oyster, artistically speaking. One such place that is a must do day trip is the Shidoni Foundry & Galleries. Located about five miles outside of Santa Fe, Shidoni boasts an eight acre sculpture garden, an indoor gallery, the Shidoni metal foundry and the Tesuque Glassworks, where you can see artists in residence creating large and small works of bronze, steel and glass. We were fortunate to find an affordable piece that reminds me of the joys of being a Nomad in the magic land of the sun every time I see it on the shelf.

And of course, no trip to Santa Fe would be complete without an all day visit to Taos. Take the High Road up  to enjoy the history and amazing scenery. Plan to take about two hours each way, as you will want to stop often. The small high desert community (population 5,000) is another artists mecca for the Curious Nomad. In addition, it has the Taos Pueblo, a thousand year old Pueblo community that will give you insight into the history and life of the earliest inhabitants of the ancient Southwest. The list of modern architects that have utilized the design motifs of the Pueblo is long and varied. After lunch at one of many local eateries, and more gallery ogling, the Low Road is recommended for your return to Santa Fe for more panoramas. Some say to take the Low Road to Taos and the High Road back to Santa Fe. Either way, its a great way to spend the day.

And finally, for all Nomad Architects, The Loretto Chapel is an absolute must see. Just a few steps from the hotel, this former Roman Catholic Church is famous for its "Miraculous Stair", a wooden helix shaped spiral stair that has baffled architects and designers since it was constructed, allegedly, by French carpenter Francois-Jean "Frenchy" Rochas. Wikipedia states, however, that the Sisters of Loretto credit St. Joseph with its construction. Shrouded in mystery, this architectural construction, a wooden spiral stair with no central support, has developed a life of its own as to builder, designer. connection methods and source of  materials used. So much so that an episode of Unsolved Mysteries finally declared that it was, in fact, built by Saint Joseph!

So, if you want to see a slice of America that has been in our consciousness for decades through film, television, writing and art up close and personal, grab a Southwest flight to Albuquerque, hop in the car and plan to have sweet dreams with the one you love at  The Inn of The Five Graces. Your senses will thank you and your significant other will forgive you for all those mean things you said to the kids.

Memories To You All

D.L. Stafford

Video Artist of The Week - Rusted Root. Combining African, Latin, Native American and Indian influences with fusion, jazz and rock, this world music group combines insane percussion, great instrumentals and unique vocals that will get will get your mind right for The Land of Enchantment.

Travel Quote of The Week - "To put it rather bluntly, I am not the type who wants to go back to the land; I am the type who wants to go back to the hotel." - Fran Lebowitz

Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Whole 'Nother Place In A Whole 'Nother Country - The Mansion On Turtle Creek

So I Found This Little Hotel In Big 'D'

Some years back, I had occasion to accompany my favorite traveling companion and muse to Dallas for a business conference. As an executive assistant, she got to pretty much run the show while I hung out around the very big Hilton somewhere downtown doing nothing, waiting for her conference to end. To be perfectly honest, I don't actually remember which Hilton it was, as I tend to block all Hiltons from my mind. All those big, over designed corporate spaces with miles of corridors to acres of conference rooms just isn't my cup of tea, But, it was the headquarters for the big business event my wife was attending and I got a clean bed and big shower for free. So whose complaining?

Dallas is, first of all, very, very big. It is one of those cities that has grown exponentially and, at the time we were there, was awash in oil money and unbridled real estate development. Of course, as we all know, television really placed Dallas in the pop cultural consciousness of most Americans. JR and his cast of rich oil men, high rent grifters and near do wells projected all that we voyeuristic Americans love about soap operas. "Who Shot JR?" was one of the most compelling advertising slogans in the history of television, right up there with "Where's The Beef? or Coke-It's the Real Thing. Of course it didn't hurt that there was a hit TV show to go with the slogan. Admit it, you couldn't stand having to wait all summer to find out "Who done it". But I digress.

Before leaving Florida, I had performed some due diligence on a place to sojourn post big conference hotel where my wife and I could get away for some R&R. I happened upon an extraordinary boutique hotel, The Mansion On Turtle Creek. Now a Rosewood Property, this small, elegant, boutique hotel is in the heart of Dallas. According to their web site:

      Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek is one of the most celebrated destinations in
      America. Considered a Dallas icon by both locals and visitors alike, the Mansion
      retains the intimate ambiance of the private residence it once was. Meticulously
      restored interiors, hand-carve fireplaces, marble floors and stained-glass windows
      preserve the estate's original magnificence while impeccable service, an attentive
      staff and thoughtful amenities ensure absolute comfort.

All true. And for a hotel that can boast that it is the only Forbes Four Star and AAA Five Star Hotel in Texas, the price is well worth it. With a staff that is never out of touch, yet never obvious, it makes one feel as if they have gone back in time to a great hotel of the past. Travel has become so "self serve" today. Not so at Turtle Creek. Like some throwback to a bygone era, you can even leave your shoes outside your door and they will be returned by morning, spit shined to perfection. Puttin' On The Ritz, Texas style! At Turtle Creek, they made me remember what my father always preached in  his business - The customer is always right. Those are not just words at this magnificent property located just minutes from downtown.

Much Ado About Dallas

Of course, there is more to Dallas and The Mansion than just another pretty face. Dallas and Fort Worth are awash in many cultural opportunities for the Nomad who wants to get out more. If you are a shopaholic, then Dallas does, indeed , have it all. One particularly unique retail icon is just around the corner from the hotel, Highland Park Village. According to the Urban Land Institute, this high end "outdoor mall" is the "first planned shopping center in the United States with a unified architectural style and stores facing in toward an interior parking area, all built and managed under single ownership". With over a hundred boutiques from Anthropologie to Harry Winston you can max out your gold card with impunity.

But don't spend all of your money, because you need to at least have the admission to visit two must see museums. First, the iconic Kimbell Art Museum, designed by one of the twentieth century's greatest architects, Louis I. Kahn, is one of the most compelling spacial compositions for displaying and viewing art. The introduction of natural light through vaulted light diffusers gives the elongated spaces a simplicity that could only be accomplished by an architect of Kahn's vision. These unique light elements, along with simple cladding materials for walls and floors, render spaces that enhance the experience of viewing great works of art. Another museum that any visit to Dallas/Fort Worth must include is The Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. Housing an extensive collection of paintings and sculpture by western artists Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, as well as other American artists, it is well worth the side trip to view some of the most compelling American art ever created.

And It Wasn't Even On The Menu!!

Of course no visit to Dallas would be complete without discussing what else? Food. Like all large cosmopolitan cities, Dallas has culinary offerings to suit every taste. However, what makes a visit to Dallas a unique adventure for any Nomadic Foodie, is on site in the elegant Mansion Restaurant. I can personally vouch for their food - mind blowing, and their service - other worldly. This became most evident during a mid morning brunch. Prior to our trip, I had read about one of their signature southwestern dishes, Warm Lobster Tacos With Yellow Tomato Salsa. Not only had I read about this interesting dish, I had dreamed about it and discussed it at great length with myself and my bride. Imagine my dismay, my chagrin, my utter disillusionment when it did not appear on the menu! When I asked, with pleading eyes, why this particular dish was not on the menu, the waiter said with a congenial smile - "Don't worry sir, the chef will be happy to prepare the tacos as requested". Problem solved. Like I said, this is a whole 'nother place. And the chef did not disappoint. Every single morsel of this unique Texas dish was simply beyond description. A perfect meal, in a perfect room with the woman I loved before we met, made this Nomad glad he decided to drop anchor for a few days at this intimate little place in the heart of Big 'D'.

Go West Nomads!!

D.L. Stafford

Video Artist of The Week - The Little Willies led by Norah Jones, who grew up in Fort Worth. This unique group must be heard to be appreciated. The tune  Fowl Owl On The Prowl gives you something to ponder next time you are daydreaming.

Travel Quote of The Week - Why did the chicken cross the road?  To prove to the armadillo it could be done! - Anonymous


Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Independence Day - Around The World or In The Backyard, It Defines Us As Americans

Sorry for not posting last week. Due to some very bad water intrusion, we had to bail for a few days and put things back together. We got off pretty light based on the reports from other residents around the country far and wide.

To celebrate Independence Day we usually go to a little piece of Heaven on Earth named Lake Blackshear near Warwick, Georgia to visit with family at my wife's aunt's place in an elegant home that sits on a peninsular with uninterrupted views of one of South Georgia's most beautiful waterways. The house itself is one of those places that they just don't build anymore. Low slung with wide eaves and lots of glass, it is a classic fifties ranch that combines modern design with well crafted details, traditional influences and comfortable furnishings. And of course, there is always the food. There simply is nothing quite like real southern food. Somehow it just makes people nicer and sleepy.

As we were planning this little road trip with various family members, it occurred to me that the uniqueness of the celebration of our nation's independence brings together love of family and love of country like no other holiday we celebrate. It is precisely because, over two hundred years ago, men of incredible vision and bravery drew a metaphorical line in the sand and established The United States which has endured wars, economic upheaval and, at times, amazing political stupidity, to become the longest continuous government in history.

In the Pulitzer Prize winning book Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis he reminds us that the American Revolution was just that, a revolution. Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, et al were not only men of profound character, they also understood that what they were engaging in could land them all at the end of a noose. As Ellis recounts a conversation overheard by Benjamin Rush, a declaration signer, you can understand the gravity of the revolution being birthed by men of political genius and fortitude:

     Rush overheard a conversation between Benjamin Harrison of Virginia and
     Eldridge Gerry of Massachusetts: "I shall have a great advantage over you Mr.
     Gerry," said Harrison, "when we are all hung for what we are now doing. From
     the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes, but from the lightness
     of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead." Rush
     recalled that the comment "procured a transient smile, but was soon succeeded   
     by the solemnity with which the whole business was conducted."

So what is the point and what does any of this have to do with travel for Nomads? The point- Because of the invention of Democracy in 1776, we are free to travel as we please and enjoy the incredible grandeur and beauty of this great country. In addition, the very act of rebellion founded in the words and the eventual fight for the new republic started something that has been responsible for more people being free the world over than any other single event in history. The next time you see a newscast showing some place in the world where women can't drive or people are persecuted because of their religious beliefs, it is imperative that you recognize that we are free because a group of "brilliant rebels" fulfilled  "our" destiny with history through the greatest single document ever penned by humankind.

So, in honor of this great day in our nation's history, I have reprinted the entire Declaration of Independence. I urge you to read it, make your kids read it and be thankful that we live in the greatest country on earth.

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen United States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.--Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
Column 1
Button Gwinnett
Lyman Hall
George Walton
Column 2
North Carolina:
William Hooper
Joseph Hewes
John Penn
South Carolina:
Edward Rutledge
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Arthur Middleton
Column 3
John Hancock
Samuel Chase
William Paca
Thomas Stone
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
George Wythe
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Jefferson
Benjamin Harrison
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Carter Braxton
Column 4
Robert Morris
Benjamin Rush
Benjamin Franklin
John Morton
George Clymer
James Smith
George Taylor
James Wilson
George Ross
Caesar Rodney
George Read
Thomas McKean
Column 5
New York:
William Floyd
Philip Livingston
Francis Lewis
Lewis Morris
New Jersey:
Richard Stockton
John Witherspoon
Francis Hopkinson
John Hart
Abraham Clark
Column 6
New Hampshire:
Josiah Bartlett
William Whipple
Samuel Adams
John Adams
Robert Treat Paine
Elbridge Gerry
Rhode Island:
Stephen Hopkins
William Ellery
Roger Sherman
Samuel Huntington
William Williams
Oliver Wolcott
New Hampshire:
Matthew Thornton

Happy Fourth To Free Nomads Everywhere!!!!

D.L. Stafford

Video Artists of The Week - America The Beautiful by the one and only Ray Charles and other arrangements by various artists including Lee Greenwood and The Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Quote of The Week - See Above