Tag Archives: travel

Bromance Has No Age Limit

For myriad reasons, I was having a crummy week. Fortunately, Land Ho!–written and directed by Martha Stephens and Aaron Katz–was just the pick-me-up I needed.

Whilst catching up one day, Mitch (Earl Lynn Nelson), a former surgeon with a raunchy streak, tells his taciturn ex-brother-in-law, Colin (Paul Eenhoorn), a former bank manager, that he’s bought them two tickets to Iceland. Reluctant to join Mitch at first, Colin eventually acquiesces and the adorable odd couple traverse the majestic land of Iceland.

And did I mention that they’re both senior citizens?

Despite the fact that they’re no longer linked by a marriage, Mitch and Colin’s friendship remains. Think about that for a moment:  the friendship these two forged was longer-lasting than a marriage, the supposed end-all, be-all of relationships. Speaking personally, I’ve had male friendships last much, much longer than my romantic relationships. Oftentimes I’d much rather be bro-ing it out with my bros than listening to a girl continually ask me if it’s cold outside or watching her obsessively pin things on Pinterest (this sentence brought to you by Iliza Schlesinger).

Image from RogerEbert.com - all rights reserved to the same - click through for a review of the film

Image from RogerEbert.com – all rights reserved to the same – click through for another review of the film

Even at their age, Mitch and Colin still wonder about what they’re going to do with their lives. Maybe that’s why I felt a connection to this movie. Hearing them talk about life was much more relatable than when, say, Lena Dunham complains about life. It comes across as much less whiny, to be sure. It got me thinking about life and its cyclic nature. The problems of life don’t subscribe to things like age restrictions.

Whoa, this just got way too serious. Let’s get back to what I liked about this film.

Like when I saw Ant-Man, I had a grin on my face for nearly every frame of film. At one point a fellow traveler is taking their picture in a hot spring and she remarks that the two friends make the picture. That’s true of the film as a whole. I loved the friendship between Mitch and Colin and I could totally see myself and a few of my guy friends embarking on a similar journey in half a century. Mitch came across as a bit too vulgar at times, but I feel like anyone in their sixties has earned the right to say whatever he wants. In fact, part of the humor is when Mitch and Colin act like teenagers—Mitch loves seeing girls in leggings. I don’t think I would have liked it nearly as much if the two leads were younger millennials. Seeing them dancing on the beaches of Iceland to the film’s title song was both surreal and oddly comforting.

And speaking of the soundtrack, it sounds like it stepped right out of the 80s (which was no accident). The synth-heavy songs, along with Keegan DeWitt’s dreamy score and the breathtakingly gorgeous scenery give the film an almost-ethereal quality. It’s basically a travelogue for Iceland. In fact, when the film ended I immediately placed a reserve for The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, also filmed in the Nordic island nation (and one of my faves). I’ll have to live vicariously through film until I can visit the land of unpronounceable names. Seriously, Grundarfjörður? Reyðarfjörður? Kirkjubæjarklaustur?! How did they come up with these names?

Oh, that makes sense.

Makes sense.

So what didn’t I like?

Land Ho! is definitely in the mumblecore genre and the one problem I always have with such films is that I’ve never seen one with a satisfying ending (except for Frances Ha). I guess I was hoping for a more definite ending because these men are, for all intents and purposes, nearing the end of their lives. I suppose ignoring their ages and just telling the story is in keeping with the rest of the film, but to the mumblecore filmmakers I ask, is it too much to ask to just pick an ending?

If you don’t like mumblecore, or quiet character-driven films, then this probably isn’t for you. If you don’t think two sexagenarians road-tripping around Iceland is a realistic depiction of seniors, I defer to the epic bromance of Sirs Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here passing a few languid hours with this light, airy film. I forgot about my crummy week and felt happy while I watched it. What more can you ask for from a film?

Do you have a favorite bromance, fictional or otherwise? Have you ever been to Iceland? Let us know in the comments below!

–Ross

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Travel Here, Travel There, Travel Everywhere…..Hopefully

Summer is the time to take vacation. Some people like to take vacation at home, just relaxing and reading a good book (a librarian can hope). However, some people like to travel during their summer vacation. The question is always, where to go? There are lots of lists about where you should take your (summer) vacation. I’ve been very lucky with my personal travel experience. I’ve been able to visit a lot of places, and for one semester in undergrad I was able to study abroad. The one thing that I have learned through my travel experiences is that you can have fun anywhere you go; it’s all in how you plan it. Make sure that you are prepared for that plan to fall apart entirely, and then you will be able to explore. Some books that I have found helpful, either because they are awesome reads and take place where I was traveling, or because they provide loads of information, are below.

where to go when

DK books overall are extremely helpful. They provide a lot of information and most of them also contain maps. Where To Go When is great if you are taking a summer vacation … not during the summer. Or in fact if you are taking a summer vacation during the summer too. It will tell you weather and other facts about places, including what is happening during that time of the year.

count of monte cristoIf you are traveling to France, consider taking along this classic. The Count of Monte Cristo has everything a book needs: romance, adventure, mystery, and revenge. This book gives the appeal of old France along with the importance of the City of Love. Plus the movie is awesome!

we were liarsThis book is not your typical beach read, but what kind of post would this be if I didn’t put a beach read on for the summer? We Were Liars is about a girl who is trying to remember her last summer on the private island where she had been every summer before. What was different about this summer? What had happened? A sad, but moving book, I would recommend this book for any time of the year. If this isn’t the type of beach read you are looking for though, there are a lot of lists with plenty of other titles.

I hope everyone has a wonderful adventure-filled (or not, if you prefer quiet) summer. Are you traveling somewhere exciting? Let me know in the comments.

-Abbey

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Visit Arkansas

The Hot Springs National Park headquarters is located in one of the old bath houses. Courtesy the National Parks Service.

The Hot Springs National Park headquarters is located in one of the old bath houses. Courtesy the National Parks Service.

I have some time off between Christmas and New Year’s Day, and I decided to spend it with one of my best friends in Arkansas. When I tell people I’m going to Arkansas, they inevitably look shocked and ask, “What’s in Arkansas?”

Visiting friends aside, if you’ve never been there, you might be surprised by all there is to do in this Southern state. Little Rock alone has a wealth of historic sites and museums to visit, and there’s Hot Springs National Park an hour or so to the east—not to mention the Ozarks.

I, too, used to be one of those people who thought, “What’s in Arkansas?” until the first time I visited my friend. I thought we’d visit the national park and then mostly hang out at her house while we worked on our master’s theses.

In 1957, nine black students began attending the formerly all-white Central High, causing a prominent conflict in the area. It's still a functioning high school. Photo courtesy the National Parks Service.

In 1957, nine black students began attending the formerly all-white Central High, causing a prominent conflict in the area. It’s still a functioning high school. Photo courtesy the National Parks Service.

Instead, we went out almost every day to see something different. We visited Central High School, one of the first Southern high schools to go through desegregation (it’s still a functioning high school, but there’s a small-but-thorough interactive exhibit next door). Then we went to the Old State House Museum, which features exhibits about the political history and life of the state, including one featuring gowns from the wives of all the governors over the past hundred odd years.

Although the labs at my friend’s university aren’t technically open to the public, she was able to give me a tour. Aquaculture—fish farming—is huge down there, and it was really cool to visit the university’s farms and learn a little bit about their research on nutrition and water treatment. I also got to see a nature center that had free admission and beautiful hiking trails.

My favorite part, though, was visiting Hot Springs National Park. All the springs have been capped to preserve them, and several of them are available for public use. You can bring a jug or many jugs and fill them up from the public fountains. The water comes out steaming hot. There are also several spas that sit near springs and use the water in their services. My friend and I didn’t get any spa treatments, but we did do a nice hike up the mountain, where we got some great views of the town below.

The one thing I wanted to do but didn’t get the chance to do was go fishing–this state has a ton of outdoor recreation opportunities.

If you’ve never visited Arkansas, consider it. Here are some guides to get you started:

Arkansas, Off the Beaten Path
This book features the big tourist sites as well as lesser known places.

AAA Tour book: Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma
In addition to maps, AAA Tour Books feature information on hotels, restaurants, and tourist sites.

In the Arkansas Backwoods: Tales and Sketches
This is an annotated travel journal/memoir from the mid-1800s.

The Ozarks, An Explorer’s Guide
If the outdoors are calling you, check out this book to learn about Arkansas mountains.

America’s National Parks vol. 2
This is a digital video available from OverDrive. All you need is your library card number to check it out and watch it!

Complete National Parks
This beautiful full-color book features battlefields and historic sites like Central High School as well as the parks.

–Kelly

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Us vs Them: or, a Rust Belt Sibling Rivalry

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My regular late summer visit home to Cleveland was this past weekend with its requisite must do’s of each visit – family, friends, food, and cultural or sporting event. I’ve been living in Southwest PA nearly as long as I lived in Northeast Ohio, and the one constant over those many years has been the comments (some positive, but most not) from family, friends, co-workers, neighbors regarding the “other” city. If they only knew that each is more alike than not, and both cities have such great assets that citizens of each city should be eager to explore, and easy to do with such a relatively short drive down the respective turnpikes. And so I thought it high time that I point out some of the greatness of each city:

FOOD

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Who doesn’t need to eat, and make that part of any trip? Both cities have wonderful ethnic neighborhoods highlighting the melting pot aspects of each of these Rust Belt cities. Cleveland’s Little Italy  neighborhood near the cultural center of  University Circle, which hosted its annual “Feast” celebration this past weekend, is not to be outdone by Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield neighborhood, nor is Polish Hill and the pierogies produced throughout Pittsburgh to be outdone by Cleveland’s Slavic Village and those specialty foods produced by the hearts and hands of Northeastern Ohioans. And while Clevelanders have the historic West Side Market to make their purchases of specialty meats, cheeses, produce and more, Pittsburghers are able to stroll the streets of their historic Strip District and stop in to make purchases at the likes of Salem’s, Wholey’s, and Penn Mac.

Hot Sauce Williams is a must stop in Cleveland for lovers or ribs, and soul food specialties, but in Pittsburgh you have to do a little bit more digging to fill your craving for mac and cheese or greens and other soul food favorites. Cleveland, and more specifically my childhood neighborhood of Cleveland Heights, boasts famous chefs in residence (Michael Symon, Michael Ruhlman and James Beard award winning Douglas Katz). Pittsburgh has many of its own top chefs in the local restaurant world… including James Beard contenders and winners Justin Severino, Kevin Sousa and Trevett Hooper to name only a few… where it will just be a matter of time before many of these become nationally known food stars.

SPORTS

pncpark

Now, be honest, we must all agree that Pittsburgh has a bit of a leg up on this topic with the many championships achieved by the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins throughout the decades (brought to light in the very excellent Heinz History Center’s Sports Museum), but Clevelanders have something Pittsburghers don’t – a professional basketball team.With the return of basketball’s prodigal son whose name shall still remain nameless among many of my Cleveland family and friends, it may be soon that Cleveland will be able to crow about a being a city of champions.

WATER

clevelandlake

Pittsburgh has three rivers, which come together at “The Point”,  and the spectacular bridge architecture and terrain that goes along with those geographic features. Cleveland, on the other hand has a river (which no longer burns!) and a Great Lake, complete with beaches, marinas and fresh walleye. A trip along the Mon or Allegheny is just as enjoyable as a boat ride along “north coast” beaches and down the Cuyahoga River, famous for having caught on fire back in 1969, as well as having a beer and festival named after it.

CULTURE

Cleveland_Museum_of_Art_-_lagoon_with_statue

Two rust belt cities only 2.5 hours from each other are so fortunate to have world class orchestras, not to mention museums of art housing some of the greatest works of art from world renowned artists (one of which is free to get in!) Pittsburgh has a wonderful children’s museum, both cities have fun science centers, Pittsburgh can claim the wildly eclectic Warhol Museum and Mattress Factory, while Cleveland is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Pittsburgh’s contribution to the jazz world might be a surprise to outsiders, but with names like Eckstine and Strayhorn as part of the musical fabric of this town, this particular musical genre puts a plus in Pittsburgh’s column.  And neither city lacks multiple options for live theater venues for fans of Broadway, off Broadway, and home grown productions.

And of course…LIBRARIES

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What kind of librarian would I be if I didn’t mention the plethora of FREE resources available to residents of both cities and their surrounding suburbs through their local public library system!? For those of you here in Pittsburgh, the city has 19 neighborhood branches for you to visit via the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, and if that’s not enough the entire county of Allegheny boasts a total of 70 library locations! Cleveland and Cuyahoga County are equally rich in their public library offerings –from the downtown branch on Superior Avenue to the outlying community libraries in Euclid, Beechwood, Berea and more.

Beyond the spectacular architecture of many of the original Carnegie libraries, many branches in both cities boast special collections worth the trip out of your own neighborhood. The A.C. Free Library in Carnegie, PA has a special collection of Civil War memorabilia for all you history buffs, and speaking of history, the Braddock Carnegie Library in Braddock, PA was the first Carnegie Library in the United States! The Main Library of the Cleveland Public Library system’s historic Walker & Weeks building is home to a large circulation collection, special collections and the Eastman Reading Garden, which is home to a fantastic collection of public art. And CPL’s Main branch even has a drive up window!

Now, before you start commenting below, I know that I left out A LOT of other assets both cities have to offer (alternative music scene, green space, urban agriculture, educational institutions, public transit, brew pubs, and more), but I’m going to leave those for you to discover and share with your favorite naysayer when you make your trip up to Cleveland or down to Pittsburgh, because I know you will after reading this, AND I know that you will be pleasantly surprised at the fact that these siblings are more alike than not!

-Maria J. (proud to claim both cities as “home”)

(all images courtesy of Google Image search)

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Who Needs Reality Shows When You Have eCLP?

So there we were, enjoying a glorious vacation week at my aunt and uncle’s beach house, and my 12 year old twins were watching the latest episode of America’s Singing Horribly with People Who Don’t Have Any Talent.

(True parenting confession time: my kids are really into reality shows. If you know me and my husband, there’s no rational explanation for how this happened.)

Less than five minutes of this cacophony and I’d had more than enough. Unfortunately, my options were somewhat limited.

Now, my aunt and uncle have a nice beach house — but it’s a tad on the smaller side. Whatever goes on in the living room of the beach house is heard everywhere throughout the beach house. Reading was impossible because I couldn’t concentrate. Going outside for a walk was out of the question: It was thunderstorming. And I am among that pitiful percentage of the population who lacks an iPod or iPad or iAnything that would allow me to listen to music iAnytime.

But what I do own is a Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh library card.

And a smartphone.*

And the OverDrive app conveniently located on that smartphone.

And a pair of headphones.

As the banal banter from the TV continued incessantly, I snuck into the bedroom, fluffed up the pillows on the bed and pressed that OverDrive app button on my phone. Clicked Get Books. Clicked Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. Signed in. There, as if by magic (but because I’d told my phone I wanted it to remember it) was my library card number, right there from the last time I used it. I clicked on the nebulous person icon (who I could relate to pretty well at the moment) and brought up my Wish List.

Overdrive - My Account Overdrive - Wish List Available Now

My friends. These are the times that OverDrive Wish Lists are made for, and you’d better believe I was ever so grateful for having created it. This was no time for browsing as a bubble-headed bleached blonde was on the TV yammering about how the only way this incredible talent was going to get his Number One Wish and advance to the finals was if you, America, gotoyourphonesandmakeatollfreecallortweetusingthishashtag….

I was more interested in using my phone to download one of my Wish Listed audio books, and — holy cow! — I had plenty to choose from. As it turned out, of the numerous eBooks and audio books on my wish List, 131 of them were available right at that moment! Right there in the beach house! One hundred and thirty-one books!

(What can I say? I have a pretty extensive Wish List.)

I scrolled through the offerings. I was being pickier than I should have been, given my quasi-desperate circumstances and plethora of e-choices from the Library. I selected Jess Walter‘s short story collection We Live In Water (an appropriate if not ironic title, since we’d just spent the day by the ocean) and by the time I finished the heart-crushing first story “Anything Helps” (so incredibly good!) my kids were finished with their show and ready for bed.

Everybody in this family wins. Everybody gets a trophy. Especially when one can be 500 miles away from Pittsburgh on a barrier island located in a town too small to be listed on most maps and still be able to access the Library’s collection of books within seconds via one’s phone.

Now that’s my kind of reality show.

* Yes, I know I could very well listen to music on my phone (via the Library, too!) but that’s an Eleventh Stack post for another day. 

~Melissa F.

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“Africa Zina” – Beautiful Africa

2015-04-23 14.08.03

Africa Zina, Tamazight or Berber for Beautiful Africa became the byword of the two-week adventure my wife and I just had in Morocco. Maybe one day it will classify as a vacation, but right now, it’s still an adventure. We had a blast and enjoyed ourselves immensely, but by virtue of the itinerary we planned, and it wasn’t entirely a surprise, this was not a stress-free trip.

First, a few2015-04-23 10.12.48 things about Morocco. Because of the media and our propensity to make things identifiable and simple, we tend to classify all of North Africa and the non-European parts of the Mediterranean basin as “the Middle East”.  It isn’t so. Moroccans identify wholly as Africans – North Africans.  Mention the Middle East and the Moroccans we met will point vaguely east and tell you the Middle East is over that way, where the Lebanese, Syrians and Israelis are. It’s not a political writing off, just geo and ethnographic fact setting. Along with our geographic lumping together, we pretty much classify most of the 2015-04-25 10.17.39citizens of the North Africa / Middle East area as Arabs. While mostly true, it’s a matter of degrees. Forty to fifty percent of Moroccans are Berber or Amazigh, and they’re proud of that distinction. Berber is actually a shortened version of Barbarian, a term conferred on the Amazigh (and others, including the Corsicans) by Rome as the empire was collapsing. While Rome ruled the region, the Amazigh were never entirely subdued and didn’t wholly embrace the glory of Rome.

2015-04-28 10.43.12Morocco is a Moslem country, but by virtue of its history and location it’s also cosmopolitan. Historically Morocco hasn’t been insular and offers visitors a culture and history influenced by sub-Saharan Africans, Jews, Islam, the Berber-Arab mix, and a French (and Spanish) colonial past .

While we saw many people in traditionally modest dress, and guide books recommend that even men eschew shorts (except maybe in the desert,) and remain sensitive to local mores, our guides intimated that many Moroccans (like High Holiday Jews or Easter Christians) manage to find their mosques around Ramadan. Maybe in the bigger cities, but the villages certainly seemed more observant.

So, the stress. This experience was unlike anything either of us have experienced. Going into the medinah (old city) of Marrakech makes midtown Manhattan 2015-04-29 10.58.42seem almost sedate and Midwestern by comparison. Either the Rough Guide or Lonely Planet commented that a visit to Morocco’s historical cities would involve “sensory overload”, and they were absolutely correct.  The whole older city, whether Marrakech or Fes, are warrens of narrow, nameless alleys, and merchants in stalls selling every variety of good, food, spice, fabric and clothing.  Marrakech, more so than Fes is the living embodiment of commercial capitalism.  If you stop and make eye-contact for more than 3 seconds, you’ve effectively entered a contract to try and buy something through bargaining. If y2015-04-27 11.20.33ou stop to look at a map or read a non-existent street sign, you are inviting a score of helpful but not necessarily altruistic youth (boys, never girls) to show you where you want to go, or think you w
ant to go.  And, usually for a fee.  It can be unseemly and uncomfortable at times, but it’s normal.  We learned to look determined in the face of wrong turns, and to ask directions from vendors or shop owners, or men (again, never woman) in cafes.  As Chicago is less intense than NYC, so Fes is several degrees more manageable than Marrakech, and to a degree, more interesting historically.

We spent several days with some wonderful people learning to prepare Moroccan
dishes, gallivanting from butcher to baker to the spice man2015-04-22 13.21.37 with a delightful young woman in Fes. Her demeanor with the stall vendors was reminiscent of how our grandparents interacted with the neighborhood butcher and grocer before the coming of the supermarket. We also had a serendipitous encounter with a “healer” who beckoned us into his shop, but was fun to listen to and provided a relaxing reflexology massage to weary feet and strained shoulders, and a recommended selection of Argan Oil, musk and Amber.

Finally; despite geographic, social and cultural differences, we really are all human, and have more in common than we sometimes think. Even when there’s no snow.2015-04-21 12.43.36

– Richard

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Oh, The Places You’ll Go

Most of us have seen or heard comments about books and reading; their ability to transport us away from the here and now to the wherever and whenever.  It could be Berlin in the Cold War and you’ve become one of Smiley’s People, or perhaps you remember when Jules Verne took you aboard the Nautilus and you were sweating out how to fight off giant squid.  Maybe you even saw yourself as an aspiring literature student off to interview a successful, handsome businessman, but we’ll let that one go.

Every so often we forget some basic truths and need to be guided back to the better path, and I don’t mean morals. I’m talking about writing.  This happened to me just recently.  Browsing the New Books display on the second floor of Main Library, one of the spine names caught my eye – Philip Caputo.  If you haven’t heard of him, and you enjoy reading, then you really should do right by yourself and find some of his works.  He successfully writes both fiction and non-fiction, has shared a Pulitzer for Journalism, and is credited with writing what is perhaps the first (and best?) defining book about the Vietnam War.  The title that drew me in and was a delight to read is: The Longest Road: Overland in Search of America, from Key West to the Arctic Ocean.

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I discovered Caputo when I bought hist first book, A Rumor of War, his Vietnam memoir, right after it was published in 1977. I was either still in high school or just on my way to college, and its currency (remember, the war had ended in 1975) brought some unpleasant truths home to me. Not so much the war, but the warriors, the Vietnam Vets who were my brothers’ ages became very real.  It was the first time I remember that history lost some of its abstraction.  Philip Caputo writes vividly and in the case of a combat narrative, not gratuitously; every episode and description in Rumor’s pages has a purpose and a function.   I became hooked for many years, in the same way others of us patiently wait for the next Sue Grafton, Barbara Kingsolver or James Lee Burke (me.)

The Longest Road lives up to that literary city-on-the-hill of moving the reader.  In 2011, the then 70 year old author and his wife take us with them (and their two English Setters) on their 16,000 mile trip from Key West, Florida – the southern most point in the continental US –  to Deadhorse, Alaska – the northern most point. Their mode of travel; a 19 foot Airstream and a 2007 Toyota Tundra.  Yes, the goal was to see America, maybe in a 2010s derivation of Kerouac or a modified Zen and the Art of Airstream Repair.  They pretty much avoided the interstates and deliberately went through populated areas. For much of the trip they followed the route that Lewis & Clark forged, but no visits to Pittsburgh.  Caputo’s focus is simpler and more aligned with his background as a newspaperman. Given the extreme political divisiveness of the last 5-10 years, he wanted to find out what holds us together as Americans. Or maybe if we really still hold together.

The book’s Preface sucked me in and I was hooked after that; I couldn’t put it down. When I did, I couldn’t wait to pick it up again.

The idea hatched on Barter Island, A WIND-SCOURED ROCK in the Beaufort Sea that was almost not an island; the channel separating it from the Alaskan mainland looked so narrow a center fielder on one side could have thrown to a second baseman on the other.

. . . Kaktovic had the architectural charm of a New Jersey warehouse district: a dirt airstrip, a hangar, houses like container boxes with doors and windows.

More than just enjoying the book, and thinking about Americaness through the writer’s eyes, is the idea plant. That kernel in the back of my head that’s trying to think about how I’d approach my wife (not to mention the Library) with the idea of finding a camper or an Airstream (NO, they are not the same) and making our own American sojourn.

– Richard

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