live blog: just ducky

Back in 1933 Frank Schutt, General Manager of The Peabody, and a friend returned from a weekend hunting trip in Arkansas full of too much Tennessee sippin’ whiskey and thought it would be funny to deposit some of their live duck decoys in the hotel fountain. As a result three small English call ducks spent the night swimming in the lobby while their owners snored away in their beds. By morning the reaction of the other hotel guests was nothing short of enthusiastic and voila, a now-famous Memphis tradition was born.

Bellman Edward Pembroke took things a step further a few years later when he offered to help deliver the ducks to the fountain each morning. A former animal trainer with the circus, Pembroke brought considerable flair to bear on the ceremony, ushering the drake and four consorts from their rooftop aerie, down a red carpet, and into the lobby fountain to the delight of those who soon began gathering to witness the Peabody Duck March. The original ducks have long since gone. So, too, Mr. Pembroke, who for 50 years held the honorific of Duckmaster until his retirement. Yet after more than 75 years the ceremony continues – and the lobby fountain daily hosts a quintet of Memphis’ famous feathered friends. A local farmer and friend of the hotel now raises the mallards. They live in a Duck Palace atop the hotel and once fully-grown are retired and returned to the wild. A few lucky ducks guests such as myself are tapped each day to serve as Honorary Duckmaster and assist with stewarding the most famous ducks since Donald. Trust me: it’s everything it’s quacked up to be - and then some.

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an urban retreat

No ordinary park, Parque del Buen Retiro is a 350-acre expanse of green that was once the private preserve of the Spanish kings and queens.  What they left behind, aside from some stunning gardens and topiary, is a legacy of architectural showpieces in the heart of Madrid:  the boating pond is watched over by the colonnade of the Monumento de Alfonso XII on one side, while the Palacio de Cristal, an imposing glass palace modeled on London’s Crystal Palace, lies hidden among the trees on the other. In the northeastern corner of the park are the 13th Century Romanesque ruins of a hermitage, while the southwestern corner is home to the poignant Bosque de los Ausentes, an olive and cypress memorial to the victims of the March, 2004 train bombings.  Near Rosaleda, the formal expanse of rose gardens, is the reason I ventured into the park in the first place: the fountain of The Fallen Angel, El Angel Caido. Surrounded by a phalanx of water-spouting serpents it must be one of the only – if not the only statue – dedicated to Lucifer.

 

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