African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Mid-Century Modern

Even though I risk having to fend off the paparazzi for the rest of my stay here, I'll tell you that I'm in Palm Springs for a few days to visit family. Walking around the neighborhood and taking a celebrity homes tour are not separable activities here. And it is not unusual to have to pull my cap down over my eyes and hang my head as a tour bus goes by. You know, so as not to be recognized. It's a real nuisance, trust me (OK, maybe not).

Seriously, within just a few blocks of here, I can stroll by homes that at one time were occupied by the likes of Edgar Bergen (yes, Candice and Charlie McCarthy both grew up there), Elvis Presley, Dinah Shore, Frank Sinatra and Liberace. What you see here are single story homes in the "mid-century modern" style. Most are behind low walls, are surrounded by palm trees and all manner of lush, colorful, tropical foliage and have flat or gently sloping roofs; snow loads are not an issue. In fact, not a lot of consideration is even given to rain. Stucco, stone, metal and glass are the primary building materials. All of this is in a desert setting up against a startlingly imposing backdrop of steep, rocky mountains that rise up quite literally at the edge of the city.

Views in the Neighborhood

While I would not have thought this before my first visit here, Palm Springs is not a gaudy, touristy place. Quite the contrary, the architecture and landscaping work well in this setting. There are a few exceptions, of course. Like Liberace's place. It looks pretty much like, well, what you might expect it would look like.

Alan Ladd lived in Palm Springs and while I'll not get into details, his former home is, let me say, "accessible" to me. When you approach it from the street it is, as with so many other places, seen only as an entrance in the wall that hides the house from the street.

Entry to the Alan Ladd House

Passing through the gate, you approach the front of the house which, except for the tease of a view through the living room out into the pool area, seems not altogether that special. A display in the entry introduces Alan.

Front Door and Foyer

As you pass into the living room, you begin to appreciate the light, open feeling that makes the place so appealing. The kitchen and informal dining are just behind the fireplace wall.

Living Room and Kitchen Area

The back walls of both rooms are almost entirely windows, providing views into the pool area.

Pool Area and Mountain Views

It isn't "homey" by any means. But if you are into mid-century modern and art deco, this would be the place for you. And, if you are interested, get in touch with me. I can help you work out a deal. Trust me. No, really. I can. Really.

And, if I may be afforded the luxury of shameless promotion (it IS my blog, after all), when you are in town, you might want to stop by my brother's shop, Dazzles on Palm Canyon Drive, where you can find all the retro furniture, home décor and jewelry you'll need for those hard-to-find-gifts-for people on your list.


Now, if you will excuse me, I'm off to the Blue Coyote Grill for lunch. Please, don't breathe a word of this to anyone ~ I'm not up to signing a lot of autographs today. Thanks.

At the Blue Coyote Grill


I should mention that the Blue Coyote has a margarita that challenges Rita's for top spot on my list. And, thanks for keeping quiet about my visit there. I wasn't asked for a single autograph. Whew!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Simply the Best

I am easily satisfied with the very best.
Winston Churchill

We are often satisfied with what we have, but I might still have to give a nod to Sir Winston for pointing out the obvious. Best isn’t always an easy thing to define nor to agree upon. And sometimes, there is a price to pay for experiencing it. Take the margarita I had in San Antonio at Rita's on the River. It was the BEST. I mean, it was fantastic. And now, out of reach - as good as it was, I'm not inclined to make regular visits to San Antonio just to relive the experience. Having had the best, once, means, of course, that any margarita I have now will be not-the-best. Hmmm....

In my search for the best of the best, I regularly sample margherita pizzas. Mozzarella, tomatoes, basil and olive oil on a Neapolitan (very thin) crust, it is simple and tasty. My first encounter was in London, of all places. England, is, as you know, not generally considered high on lists of culinary excellence. You may have heard that, in England, they consider food to be the enemy and thus cook it until it is dead. But not so with this particular pizza. It might have been that it was enjoyed with friends from around the world on a pleasant evening in an outdoor café on the south bank of the Thames, but I think it was a fine meal in its own right. So began the search for the best margherita pizza.

On my recent trip to Germany I happened across a small restaurant offering margherita pizzas. What else could I do? Perhaps this would be it, the ultimate margherita so, I went in, sat at a small table by the window and waited expectantly for the masterpiece to be delivered. Alas, before the first bite, I knew something was amiss. The melted cheese on top was yellow. And after first bite, my worst suspicions were confirmed - UGH! A pizza without that "clean" taste that comes from the simple combination of mozzarella, tomato, basil and olive oil. And SALTY to boot. Bummer.

One of the Not-The-Best Margherita Pizzas

Now before you get a chance to say it, what I did later in the week was, how should I put this? Stupid. I ordered another margherita pizza in Germany. In my defense, it was a very nice Italian restaurant and surely there was a CHANCE that they knew how to do this right. Not to be. It was better, but remarkably similar to the one I had earlier. I'd rate it as simply Ugh!

I know, I know. You think I have already had the best Margherita pizza. And for sure, there are a couple that rise above the rest. That may make one of them the best I've had. So far. But that doesn't make them the BEST. Not like Rita's margarita. That was the BEST. It's just something you know. So I am sure that the BEST margherita pizza is still out there, waiting for me to find it. And I will continue the search. I know that's what you'd want me to do.

Coming soon, some thoughts on doing your best.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Power of Two

On our visits to Uganda we are treated as very special guests. It's nice, I'll have to admit, but the attention can also be a bit disconcerting. When we drove up to the church in 2006, we were met by an enthusiastic, noisy, moving-fluidly-to-the-rhythm crowd. As we emerged from the car, I was greeted by a woman from the congregation (as were the others) who took my backpack and led me into the building. She was committed to carrying the pack and my water bottle for me during the entire time we were at the church. When I took it from her to get my camera out, it was quite obvious that I WAS going to give it back to her and was certainly NOT going to actually carry it. Shirley told me, upon my return, that I could, in this case, be sure that "what happens in Africa, stays in Africa."

That brings me to my upcoming trip to Germany. Just a few hours ago, I received an email from one of the organization staff for the conference I will be attending, one I've attended every time it has been held, save the first in 1984. The message was as follows (names have been changed to protect the innocent; however, I don’t think that's going to help me much):

Dear Jack (my real name):

I would like to let you know that your contact person on site in Dortmund during our conference will be Mrs. Smith and Dr. Jones as I cannot be there. Mrs. Smith will welcome you and attend you during the whole conference.

I wish you two interesting days and say many thanks in advance

Kind regards

Caroline Brown

Perhaps it is a quirk of translation, but I see a few issues here. My contact person will be Mrs. Smith AND Dr. Jones. Could this be some new cloning breakthrough where instead of a one-to-one copy, the German scientists have achieved two-to-one? Just asking.

And consider that Mrs. Smith will "attend you (that's me) during the whole conference." Sounds Ugandan to me and I can deal with that. But that last sentence. You have to be oh so careful with intonation and cadence as you say it out loud. "I wish you-two [pause] interesting days…" or "I wish you [pause] two-interesting days…" See where this could go?

It will be, I'm sure, two interesting days at the conference in Dortmund. And, two more days visiting another of my company's engineering operations in Oberhausen. But more than anything, I'll will be able to greet friends that I get to see only occasionally. And that makes it twice as good. At least.

Bis nächsten mal - auf Wiedersehen!

Begging for forgiveness, because I didn't ask for permission!
Caroline – Hope you don't mind my having a little fun with your note. Rest assured that 1) I wish my German was half as good as your English and 2) I appreciate very much what you and the rest of the staff at the VDI do to make the conference such a valuable experience for those of us who attend.