Saturday, February 23, 2013


The Architecture Is Cliche' - But The Coffee is Killer

I have never been a big fan of the school of architectural planning known as New Urbanism that exploded with the launch of the Seaside Community in the early eighties, in the sleepy panhandle of Florida about thirty miles west of Panama City Beach, infamously referred to as The Redneck Riviera when I was a kid. My how things have changed! The formerly bucolic Gulf Coast from Panama City Beach to Destin is now packed with McMansions galore and all the development that comes with serving this ever growing region of Northwest Florida. But  I digress. I'll save the architectural criticism for another day. This Random Vagabond Alert is to tell my fellow Nomads who happen to be heading for that part of Florida this travel season - and I know there are many - about a great little coffee shop that will satisfy even the most discriminating drinker of hot java.

The Amavida Seaside Cafe is right on Highway 30A in the heart of Seaside. Serving a variety of organic, small batch coffees, within a simple, minimalist designed space, it's the perfect place for bleary eyed Nomads to meet the day. It also has a small patio/deck area for al fresco java enjoyment, which not only makes for a nice cup of coffee, but affords one  a pleasant outdoor space for conversation, reading or people watching.
And, if you are going to this area, The Watercolor Inn is a stone's throw away just down the road. It is pricey but can make the claim as the only AAA Four Diamond Rated Hotel on the Gulf Coast of Northwest Florida. Of course, there are countless other residences, condos and villas to rent in the area. But no matter where you stay, or even if you are passing through, go early enough to stop and get your morning mud fix and a nice pastry. They also have a limited menu of sandwiches and other munchies if you feel the need. And for the non-coffee Nomad, they have all the organic teas a discriminating tea drinker could ever want.
Happy Mojo 
d.l. stafford


Sunday, February 17, 2013

American Regionalism Part One - Restless Nomads Can Look Away In Dixieland

In The Shadow of Levon and Ms. Mitchell

As I am writing this, I have Levon Helm and The Band playing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down on the headset. This great song about the pain and suffering throughout the south at the end of the Civil War firmly established Helm and The Band as one of America's most iconic musical groups. I am a southerner, born and bred. I have incontrovertible evidence of that fact because I am the proud owner of a first edition copy of the great southern novel Gone With The Wind by Pulitzer Prize winning author Margaret Mitchell. Given to me by my mother, it contains  the following note written inside the front cover:

To Doyle - I bought this for your grandmother as soon as they came out and I want you to have
it as I feel you appreciate and love books and will cherish it. Love Mother - April 1, 1977.
And though I cannot confirm the exact date, my grandmother, Ruth Footman, wrote a note in the book just below the title and author's name:
Margaret Mitchell
wife of John R. Marsh, died August 16, 1949 in Grady Memorial Hospital
Atlanta, Ga 5 days after she was struck down by an automobile driven by Hugh D. Gravitt, a taxi driver. She was about 43 years old and a dearly beloved writer.

I think I can say, without hesitation, that the generational continuum of one's "southerness" is evidenced by the passing of a cherished keepsake, which just happens to define the "south of the imagination", from daughter to mother back to son and grandson. If you have read the master work or seen the David O. Selsnik produced movie, you know that it is one of literature's and cinema's great love stories played out against the tragedy and triumph of the Civil War. The movie, released in 1936, brought together one of America's greatest leading men, Clark Gable as dashing rogue Rett Butler and a little know British actress, Vivian Leigh as the indefatigable Scarlett O'Hara, to create one of the greatest movies of all time. The final scene is one of the most poignant in movie history, capturing the triumph of love and the human spirit over tragedy of epic proportions.  In all it won ten Oscars and is still regularly listed in Annual Top Ten Movie Lists.
In addition to Margaret Mitchell, the south has produced more great authors and great literature, as a region, than any other part of America. From Harper Lee's  To Kill A Mockingbird to Cat On A Hot Tin Roof by the great playwright Tennessee Williams, southern writers have long captured the unique pain and joys of all that is southern. Even Mark Twain, America's greatest writer, referred to himself as a "southern" writer. And current day authors, such as Tom Wolfe (A Man In Full), Pat Conroy (Prince of Tides) and Fannie Flagg (Fried Green Tomatoes & The Whistle Stop Cafe),  continue the southern tradition of great storytelling.
The Path To The Southern Soul - The Food, The Music and a Few Tall Tales
Real southern food - I mean, real southern food is like nothing prepared or eaten anywhere else in the world. James Dickey, author of Deliverance, a darker story about bad southerners in the extreme, said the south created the only original cookery in America, with all other regions "importing" their culinary staples from Europe and Latin America. If you have ever sat down to a meal prepared by a cadre of southern women with only what their mothers, older sisters and aunts have taught them about cooking to guide them, you know of what he speaks. From grits to fried okra to butter beans to corn bread to pan fried chicken, authentic southern food has more soul and fat per ounce than any "imported" culinary concoction from New York or LA. And of course, all southern food must be chased with the sweetest of ice tea. Lemon is optional.

And then there is the music.Virtually all American music, including country, gospel, blues, jazz and rock, has its roots in the south. The Bluegrass of Southern Appalachia and The Blues born in the fields and watering holes of the Deep South have given rise to a plethora of musical forms that have come to define the American musical experience the world over. From Ray Charles and Bill Monroe to Tony Joe White and Lyle Lovett, it can all be traced back to someone sitting on a porch or playing in a juke joint in search of the soul of its people through lyrics and sounds about real life with real pain and real joy.

For Nomads who long for real live music, Nashville is one the South's locales that can provide many alternatives to the über hyped world of contemporary music so prevalent in pop culture today. On one of several visits to the Mother Church of Country Music, The Ryman Auditorium,  I had the pleasure of attending a performance with my world traveling daughter, a Nomadic prodigy of the first order.  If you have ever been to the Ryman, then you know that it is home to  The Grand Ole Opry, the oldest continuous radio music program in the United States, broadcasting without interruption since 1925.

As we enjoyed some of the lesser known artists, the main attraction for the night, Marty Stuart and The Fabulous Superlatives, showed what thirty plus years of writing, singing and touring with the likes of Johnny Cash  can provide those of us that long for real music. After about an hour of an eclectic collection of gospel, rock, and country, the one and only George Jones was brought to the stage to perform one of the greatest country songs ever recorded - He Stopped Loving Her Today. And then, together, Jones and Stuart sang the saddest song, of any genre, ever written - She Thinks I Still Care. James Taylor once said of this timeless tune - "This song is so sad it'll make your roof leak". As they performed this poignant song about the pain and longing of lost love, my daughter leaned over and whispered - My friends are going to be so jealous. I raised her right!
Every southerner has a story. Even the Gen X'ers and Millennials can relate some funny, poignant or mythical remembrance from a grandmother or a favorite aunt or uncle. I can remember, as a kid, going to my grandfather's farm for the summer and experiencing the freedom and excitement of living in the country and my grandmother making flapjacks that, to this day, I have never seen duplicated. And until you have climbed up into a scuppernong vine and eaten the juiciest grapes this side of Eden until you are ill - Well, let's just say - It don't git no better! And watching and listening to a group of southern women across three generations - I call them The Steel Magnolia Girls - discuss the events of the day, as they live their lives in the most genteel, funny and eccentric way, I am confident that our history and the importance of living life on your own terms, tempered with an understanding of what came  before, is being passed on to a brand new generation.
And What About Travel for Nomads in Dixie? A Road Trip Is The Only Way

The south is full of many options for wandering Nomads in need of a place to lay their weary heads. I have previously posted about some great little places to sleep in the south. The Inn at Middleton Place in Charlotte, The Lotus Inn in Ormond Beach, Avia Boutique in Savannah or the 21 C Museum Hotel in Louisville are just a few of the places that meet the exacting standards of The Nomad Architect. In addition,  countless others can be found in virtually every state of The Old Confederacy. And, there is always Texas. However, the Lone Star State will be covered in another post due to its uniqueness and relationship to the Southern experience. From Watercolor Inn in the Panhandle of Florida to Blackberry Farm in Tennessee to The Cloister at Sea Island Georgia, the south is filled to the brim with small, intimate boutique hotels, B&B's and unique resorts for every taste and pocketbook.
The best way to see the south is to just get in the car and go. Just make a loose itinerary and hit the road. And stay away from the interstates. The south has more interesting two lane roads for curious vagabonds than you can shake a stick at. Plus, you will inevitably stumble on somebody or something that your friends back in Chicago will never believe.
And , if you see a really strange looking guy, holding a poodle dog in a country store and you hear banjos, get in the car and leave immediately!
From The Land of High Cotton - See Y'all Later
d.l. stafford

Travel Quote of The Week - "We don't mind ya datin' our women or eatin' our food, but, we don't really care how ya do it in Cleveland" - Lewis Grizzard - Southern humorist, writer and raconteur

Video Artist of The Week - The Allman Brothers - from Idlewild South to Filmore East, the inventors of Southern Rock changed everything.


Saturday, February 9, 2013


How About A Chain That Doesn't Feel Like A Chain?
Generally speaking, this Nomad avoids chains like the plague. If you are constantly looking for those small, unique places at the end of the lane, then sleeping at a big Hilton or eating at an Outback just doesn't quite jibe with the whole notion of a traveler looking for  the types of  personal travel experiences this blog is dedicated to.
Well, fellow Nomads, there is hope. There is a small chain that is worth checking out. One could say that Taqueria del Sol is  actually not a chain, since they currently have only seven locations, with expansion plans underway. We have eaten many times at the Westside Atlanta location. The quality of the food, the service and the minimalist interior design says local. One can only hope as the inevitable expansion comes, the quality will remain. So far, they are making all the right moves. Among other positive reviews, none other than Bon Appétit magazine has declared them to be one of "America's Top Restaurants". I am not an expert foodie, but, according to those that are, when Bon Appétit says you're good, that's something to brag about.
Who Ever Heard of a Fried Chicken Taco? Viva Sabroso!
Taqueria del Sol has an eclectic menu that manages to combine the best of Southern, Mexican and Southwest culinary traditions and make great food from scratch. The Memphis Taco combines smoked pork with a spicy jalapeno coleslaw and tequila BBQ sauce. You'll think you're in Tijuana, Georgia!  The Fried Chicken Taco combines fried chicken breast strips, lime jalapeño mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato. My guess is you cannot get this tasty "Southern" dish south of the other border. In addition to great tacos and the best home made salsa and chips this side of El Paso,  they have a variety of tasty  enchiladas, made with the same eclectic culinary panache as the tacos. And with sides like spicy turnip greens, shrimp corn chowder and blue cheese grits your taste buds will not go wanting in the least. They also have  veggie tacos and enchiladas  for those who can't bring themselves to partake of carrion.  Plus, as you would expect, they have all the libations one might require to complete the culinary experience.
And don't be turned off by the long lines. They are very fast and will seat you and serve you in record time. Besides, long lines usually indicate that its worth the wait. And the delicacies at this cool little place are most assuredly worth the wait with prices that are downright cheap, when compared to today's food prices, fast or otherwise.
So, if you are around Atlanta, Cary NC, Philly or Nashville, I highly recommend taking the plunge at the anti-chain chain Taqueria del Sol. You'll love the food and you you won't break the bank.
Via Con Pollo Podner    
d.l. stafford


Saturday, February 2, 2013


I Think That I Shall Never See A Poem Lovely As A Tree
Poet Joyce Kilmer forever etched in our mind's eye the cosmic connection we humans have to trees. And Frank LLoyd Wright once said he always felt friendly to a tree when he saw one. But, as far as I know, neither Kilmer nor Wright ever actually lived "in" a tree. I actually slept many nights in various tree houses I built as a kid. Thank goodness for an understanding mother and an encouraging father, a former carpenter,  who allowed me to pursue my passion for all things built at such a young age. Well, if you're willing to take a plane, a train and probably at least one automobile, you can actually live in a tree, even if for a short time.
There are many places that proclaim "Treehouses" for rent, but, not many do it with quite the style and sense of eco-travel the way the two places I recently found doing some research for a future post on unusual places to lay your pretty heads. This blog is all about seamless connections between design and comfort and the zen of travel, if you will. So, next time you and yours are sitting around deciding where to go next, these two sets of Nomad Digs are worth checking out.

Free Spirit Spheres - According to their website, Free Spirit Spheres are  "set among the tall trees of the west coast rain forest of Vancouver Island, Canada" With names like Eve, Eryn and Melody you can probably expect some fairly friendly hosts. The elegance and simplicity of these cool little engineering marvels suspended among massive trees in the Pacific Northwest will make the Ritz Carlton feel completely passe'. Travel is all about memories. And, based on the many articles and reviews I have read about this little place in the woods up in western Canada, you will come away from this boutique in the trees with something to tell the folks back home. One recent guest said this of Free Spirit Spheres  - "If you're looking for a unique experience...and never got to live out your childhood tree house fantasy, this is the place for you". If that's  not a ringing endorsement, I don't know what is.
Treehotel - If you happen to be planning a trip to Sweden any time soon, then the Treehotel is a must. "Unique hotel" does not really begin to capture the essence of this one of a kind spot for Vagabonds who have had enough of terra firma.
This exquisitely designed floating  hotel of five rooms  exceeds all the criteria the Nomad Architect lists for great places to sleep.  Designed by various leading Scandinavian architects, each of the current tree rooms is different. From the Mirrorcube to The Bird's Nest, these cool little beds in the sky push the design envelope. Dare I say - it's very European. And, as you would expect, they are very eco-friendly  and sustainably designed. As one reviewer wrote - “Many hotels around the world offer guests the chance to get closer to nature, but only this one, in the forests of Swedish Lapland, lets them disappear within it".
So next time you want to experience the new and the fresh - go where no Nomad has gone before, reserve one of these cool spots for your R&R and experience sleeping among the trees as God, or at least some very innovative designers, intended.
Just Hanging Out
d.l. stafford