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Thursday, December 22, 2016

Traveling with H.G. Wells, Jane Austen, and Arthur Conan Doyle

In November, I read several graphic novels, lots of comics, and a book on geology. I also read three novels. The first, by H. G. Wells, transported me to Switzerland. Or, at least, so it seemed. 

Supposedly, A Modern Utopia takes place on a planet like Earth in another solar system, but the descriptions of the landscape, and the picturesque villages, reminded me of Switzerland. In many ways, it reminded me of one of his earlier novels, The Wheels of Chance. In that novel, his protagonist, a young draper, sets off on a bicycle holiday in the south of England. His descriptions of the landscape are so vivid, so evocative, and so overwhelmingly beautiful that it made me want to follow the hero's bicycle journey with my wife. In A Modern Utopia, I felt as though he was transporting me to Switzerland. It's a country I would very much like to visit some day, and Wells spoke just as passionately about his surroundings in this idealized world as he did in The Wheels of Chance

After A Modern Utopia, Jane Austen returned me to some familiar sites in her novel Persuasion. The story begins in a manor house in Somerset, a county in southern England. In fact, it's the same county in which the real-life manor in the TV series To The Manor Born is located. 

As in the TV series, Austen's protagonist Anne, through no fault of her own, is forced to leave her beloved country home due to the fiscal mismanagement of a family member: in this case, her father. So she travels to stay with a family friend, then another member of her family, and this second visit takes her to Lyme Regis. 

While she and her party tour the seaside resort, a crucial event in the story takes place on the Cobb. This is a long walkway or pier, and perhaps the town's most striking feature. 

Jane Austen's characters then make their way to Bath, a setting she used in Northanger Abbey, which I read in October. Sadly, she doesn't offer much description of Bath in Persuasion. Austen painted a more vibrant view of the historic city in Northanger Abbey. (Also, Charles Dickens set part of his first novel The Pickwick Papers there, which I read earlier this year). Still, reading about Anne's visit to Bath made me want to travel there. It was a fashionable resort town in Austen's time, and remains a popular town for tourists today.

Finally, I returned to England for The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. This second collection of stories took me back to London, the great town's suburbs, and other towns in rural England. Then for the last story, "The Final Problem", Arthur Conan Doyle returned me to Switzerland, as Holmes and Watson seek to evade the clutches of the evil Professor Moriarty. As all Holmes aficionados know, Holmes and Moriarty have their final confrontation at a very real place: Reichenbach Falls. Having seen many dramatizations of this beloved story, I enjoyed reading Doyle's words, and following the characters' journey through Switzerland. 

Ah, the places great stories can take us!

Dragon Dave

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Insane Discover America Tour 2016: The Final Four

The final four stops on this year's trip were relatively short ones. Nonetheless, we could have spent longer at each place if we would have liked. While staying in Flagstaff, Arizona for two nights, we drove a short distance to Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument. It was odd to suddenly be surrounded by black lava fields. We found the landscape, and the plant life, reminiscent of our trips to Hawaii. Even the geological terms for lava, such as A'a and Pahoehoe, are used here. 

Adjacent to Sunset Crater is another national monument. Wupatki National Monument offers several sites of former habitation. The Native Americans who lived here built their settlements from these red stones, instead of carving into the hillsides, as they did in Mesa Verde National Park. In this flat landscape, you could see different aspects of community life, such as circular ball fields, in which children, and perhaps adults, played sports. There was also an interesting vent in the ground, through which you could hear air blowing to the surface. 

The movie "Best Friends" featured a short scene here. In the movie, actor Richard Hatch, who would later go on to star in the TV series "Battlestar Galactica," played a young military veteran who is driving cross country in an RV with his friends and his fiancé. A recurring theme of the movie is the Native American peoples with whom they interact in varying ways. Certainly the movie reflects on the value of community, as well as one's responsibility to others. This is something that these Native American Indian ruins also make one reflect on.

Within another short drive of our motel was Walnut Canyon National Monument. Here you enter at the visitor center, then descend stairs to visit more Native American dwellings. You can see how stratified the stone layers here are. It looks as though a giant carved these hills into steps. The dwellings are interesting to look inside. Unlike those in Mesa Verde National Park and Wupatki National Monument, you get the feeling that there were lots of hillside homes here, located really close together. So this gives the area a real suburban feel.

Finally, there's the grandly-named Montezuma's Castle. Apparently it has no more to do with the ancient Aztec king Montezuma than the ride Montezuma's Revenge at Knott's Berry Farm. Someone just saw the abandoned community one day, and was so bowled-over by it that they gave it a grand name. It's the last National Monument we visited on our trip, during our drive from Flagstaff to Pheonix. We spent a couple hours there eating lunch, and people paused to look over our shoulders as I sketched and my wife did a water color. Unlike our experience at Bryce Canyon National Park, no one seemed all that enthused by my sketching, but they loved my wife's painting. When my wife told one woman that she had not been painting long, she exclaimed, "Well, it certainly doesn't show!"

Sadly, we found no places of value at which to stop on our drive home from Phoenix to San Diego. Just hours and hours of featureless landscape. Maybe we missed some truly remarkable places. I hope so. It'd be nice to discover that there were all kinds of places chocked full of scenic beauty and historic interest, and plan another trip to see them. Nonetheless, this trip was filled with so many overwhelmingly beautiful and interesting places. I'm glad we stopped in each of them. I just wish we'd had more time to explore most of them. But then, that's the best way to remember a vacation, as it leaves you with a sense of awe, and perhaps, a reason to return.

Dragon Dave