silver queen of the rockies

IMG_1725Georgetown, the “Silver Queen of the Rockies,” is often described as the most picturesque town in Colorado. Founded in 1859, it grew from a small mining camp tucked into a scenic valley to the state’s first great silver mining boom town – and its third most populated city. With more than 200 historic Victorian buildings still standing in the historic downtown, it’s hard to argue about its scenic charm. The most intriguing building of all is the Hotel de Paris, built by a mysterious Frenchman called Louis Dupuy. Richly furnished, it became noted for continental delicacies and the literary bent of its proprietor, a philosopher, social rebel and master chef. Now a museum overseen by the Colonial Dames of America, the building retains its original 1890’s decor and furnishings and is – unfortunately for me today – open by appointment only.hotel de paris

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romantic notions in the agora

temple of hephaestus - side view

In the middle of Athens, nestled under the Acropolis, is the ancient agora, once the center of athletic, artistic, spiritual and political life of the city. Later, it would also serve as a marketplace, where merchants would set up their stalls in the colonnades of long, covered buildings called stoa.  (The Romans would go on to call this conglomeration a forum; we would call it a mall.) A large open area surrounded by buildings of various functions, the agora was a daily part of public life in Athens, whether you were coming to shop, pay homage to a particular god, visit the law courts, use the library, or even go swimming in the great bathhouse. Laying mostly in ruins today, the agora has the feel of an overgrown park or an English country estate. (I can’t help but think of Richard Payne Knight, Uvedale Price and the Romantic notions of picturesque landscape architecture, constructed in imitation of wild nature, which was once in fashion and still survives in the gardens at many a stately British home.) Yet on the top of Agoraios Kolonas hill, keeping watch on the northwest side of the square is perched the Temple of Hephaestus, a well-preserved temple that remains largely as it was built. Like a Parthenon in miniature, it presents a serene sense of what this all must have looked like in the full-flower of antiquity.

temple of hephaestus - looking over the agora

temple of hephaestus

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live blog: oia

Oia, pronounced “Ia”, is the most famous of all the small villages of Santorini. It’s also the most picturesque. At the northern crescent tip of the island, Oia is a traditional village of beguiling houses terraced up a hill, narrow laneways, blue-domed churches and sun-bathed verandas all overlooking the Caldera. A world away from the tat-filled, tourist-clogged streets of Fira it’s here in this idealized version of Greece that I understand why so many people feel drawn to Santorini.

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on the great caledonian macbrayne

So long, Oban. At last I’m off to mull things over on Mull, one of the Inner Hebrides. For an island with only 3,0000 full-time residents, however, it warrants a quite impressive ferry. The journey to the port of Craignure is little over an hour, and on a clear, calm afternoon it’s the most pleasant of boat trips. It’s also a picturesque harbinger of what’s to come.

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at the theatre: arcadia & bengal tiger at the baghdad zoo

Catching Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Rajiv Joseph’s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on successive evenings was a mistake.  A big mistake.  After the textured ideas of Stoppard’s elegiac masterpiece, sitting through Joseph’s foul-mouthed sketch of a play was tantamount to watching monkeys bang about on a typewriter that would never produce Hamlet. I make no bones about being a fan of Stoppard’s work.  His plays are consistently engaging and edifying, filled with an almost unquenchable intellectual curiosity.  Technically sound, they bear the discrete hallmarks of a craftsman.  Yet despite all the work you know must be going into building such a complex work of art, Stoppard’s plays don’t flaunt their intellectual rigor; nor is there any wink to the artifice of the endeavor.  Instead there’s just that sublime experience that happens all too frequently in the theater:  getting swept along by a ripping good story that provokes you both above and below the waist.  Arcadia is so stimulating, so hugely satisfying that it bears up to repeated viewings because you simply want to be engaged in the playwright’s conversation.  Set at Sidley Park, a Derbyshire country estate, Arcadia concerns itself with two sets of inhabitants some two hundred years apart:  Thomasina, a gifted young girl who proposes a theory in 1809 that’s far beyond the intellectual boundaries of the times, and her tutor, Septimus, a dashing poet in the mold of Lord Byron, who – like Byron – gets  mixed up with the ladies of the estate far too frequently for his own good.  In deep focus, Thomasina’s mother quarrels with her landscape gardener:  her idealized English garden is a Capability Brown-designed triumph of man over nature; are the newfangled Romantic yearnings for the picturesque worth ripping up all that perfectly pruned hedge?  Flashing forward to the same setting in the present day we find two academic adversaries piecing together clues that curiously recollect the events of 1809:  was Lord Byron a guest at Sidley Park – and more importantly, was he responsible for a murder which would explain his sudden flight to the Continent? Are the garden follies and the hermitage a fitting metaphor for the decline of the Age of Reason and the triumph of feelings?  Between the deductions of the present day and historical reality, we see the hubris, the yawning chasm. Despite all the linguistic fireworks, this is the simple idea Stoppard seems to be trying to share: the elusiveness of truth is our wilderness, our Arcadia.  Et in Arcadia ego. Joseph’s play has it’s own elusive truths, granted in an altogether much less hospitable environment – Baghdad, 2003.  A pair of soldiers guarding the bombed out zoo taunt a tiger til it bites back, ripping the hand off one of the grunts and getting shot dead in the process.  However, nothing truly dies along the Tigris, or at least the souls of the departed aren’t allowed a moment’s rest. The beast is released to wander the streets, contemplating the existence of God in these hellish surroundings, while questioning his own animal nature.  While Stoppard allows his story to unfold through his characters, Joseph seems content to settle for the easy way out: one endless amateur metaphor after another.  War is hell, nobody remains unscathed, we are all complicit – yeah, we get it.  Next?  The play is riddled with lazy writing and bad dramaturgy. Saddled with a plot that lacks basic narrative sense, it devolves into a race between the grunt with the missing hand (haunted by the ghost of his buddy who shot the tiger) and a military translator (haunted by the ghost of Uday Hussein and the head of his brother, Qusay) to find a golden gun and toilet seat looted from the palace of the Hussein boys. The play isn’t helped by the casting of Robin Williams in the role of the blind-leading-the-blind tiger.  A dominating personality, Williams’ comic genius doesn’t lend itself to introspective existential musings.  He lacks a certain gravitas that would give the role a needed legitimacy.  Don’t get me wrong, King Lear the part is not.  But Mork lost in the wilderness it shouldn’t be either.  Mork searching for a lost Arcadia, however, now that would be an altogether more interesting idea for a play than what’s currently taking up space at the Richard Rodgers Theater.

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