A Country Rag Americana Travel Tweets




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Alaska!




Maybe a year or so after moving to Jonesborough, Carolyn Moore invited me to be her roommate on a cruise through Alaska's Inland Passage, sponsored and organized by alumni of Appalachian State University, Boone NC, where her husband had been Chair of the Law Department until he died. With some last minute confusion and scrambling, I obtained a copy of my birth certificate from the City of Angels CA for entry into Canada, where we would stay for two nights in the process of meeting and boarding our Royal Caribbean ship. That mode of travel was a new adventure for me, and I was very excited anticipating the prospect, which lived up to its billing of fabulousness. Carolyn's three daughters -- Susan, Diana and Cassandra -- and one son-in-law, Gary, accompanied us as we flew from Atlanta GA to Vancouver BC, via Dallas, and checked in to a tall, modern hotel overlooking the bay with its myriad boats and barges and surrounding snow-capped mountains. Vancouver is very cosmopolitan with signs in five languages (English, French, Spanish, German and Japanese, I believe) and warmly interesting with lots of shops, cafes and restaurants and generally friendly, laid-back people. The atmosphere was great in every way: beautiful, fascinating, lively, and open.

Our top-tier stateroom had a huge floor-to-ceiling window looking out on water, islands, mainland, orcas and seabirds. The main atrium lobby was usually entertained by a small group of classical musicians on a small, very highly raised round podium, and an all-glass round elevator ran up one side. All the windows, and ones along outside halls, were also floor-to-ceiling affording clear and spectacular views. In the formal large terraced dining room a pianist played a grand piano each evening as we ate sumptuous courses requiring diverse silverware. The pieces are placed by stewards to conform to the order of offerings and are to be used from the outside in. Smorgasbord buffet breakfasts and lunches, as well as mid-meal snacks, were set out in a semi-circular, all-windowed and two-tiered room with variously-sized tables and chairs. When the captain pulled up for a scenic iceberg viewing, we gathered there where an informational ASU lecture was broadcast about those awesomely monumental and glimmeringly blue natural occurrences, plentiful in Alaskan waters and on land, too.

There were several comfortable and gay small lounges with views and music, and one large and dark two-tiered one with a performance stage, as well as a good-sized theatre where we enjoyed a pops musical tribute. Interior walls were lined with very good, original art, and one afternoon a well-known professional house auctioned off diversely sized and stylized framed paintings in the central lobby to an enthusiastic passenger crowd. On the top two decks were amply-sized outdoor and indoor swimming pools, the latter of Eqyptian design with angularly-created tiles and wide steps descending into the deepening water. Both were encircled with tables and lounging chairs with stand-up bars. From various outdoor observation decks, we could observe wildlife and habitat as we glided noiselessly by. Weather was pleasant and rarely interfered with our enjoyment of cruise amenities and land explorations. Many of the islands we passed toward the Atlantic side had one or a few buildings erected where homeowners resided in an ultimate recursion from everyday working worlds, urban to rural, of mainlands, countries and continents into the whims and wonders of God and unbounded, unfettered nature.

We all got along well, mingling and separating as we chose mutual and divergent destinations. Every morning, I brought a plate of breakfast foods from the buffet to Carolyn, as she's somewhat older and arthritic and enjoyed extra time to rest, relax and observe the enchantments passing by our twin beds and soft chairs with a table between. Once, when Diana, an Army Judge Advocate at the time (later promoted to General, she retired when her full service commitment ended, returned to university, and became what she is now professionally, a Presbyterian minister), and I were standing by the lobby's picture windows with their couches, chairs and small tables arrayed before them, I asked the name of an island we were passing. She looked at me in some grounded wit and amusement and said, "I don't know, Jeannette. They don't put signs on them, you know." She'd never been there before either. Tall Susan, an investigative officer with the NC state police, put her arm firmly and tightly around my shoulders as we stood together in emergency life jackets on deck railings for a group photo. The evening before, in the Vancouver lounge of an elegant seafood restaurant after dinner celebrating Carolyn's birthday, Susan began to cry as the pianist played one particular love song. She was in the throes of a disorienting and dislocating divorce and unusually, demonstrably emotional. In consternation, the pianist, along with us, soothed and consoled her sympathetically, as he altered his routine to play cheerier and more upbeat songs. We all ended up smiling and laughing instead and enjoyed the rest of the evening. Exquisite Cassandra, a nurse and major in Army Reserves who had served a year in Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm, was the dressiest of us with absolutely gorgeous designer clothes and jewelry. Her husband, Gary, a musician and potter, remained his casual and humorous, sometimes off-beat self, saying once jokingly as we stood in a line somewhere, "Get out of my way. Can't you see I'm an American?"

The ship made three ports of call at distinct and isolated waterside mainland villages -- rural and farming, cosmopolitan with buses to ride around the environs, and quaintly small-town -- where we walked the sights, including constructed homes and vegetation, on narrow streets, browsed small shops and restaurants, and interacted with residents who spend their long winters in close, mutually dependent and supportive community without the infusion of guests and tourist commerce. Our excursions lasted ten days from which we arrived back in Jonesborough enlightened and exhausted, as ASU generally planned our daily schedules from early morning until dinner including, for instance, a formal Elizabethan garden visit and excursion through one native Alaskan outdoor park with authentic tall and thick, colorfully carved and painted totem poles. Before driving down the mountains from Boone NC, we ate an early morning last meal together with the few left somewhat bleary-eyed from our tour, including the university president and friend of Carolyn's who had accompanied us, at International House of Pancakes.







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Original material c. A Country Rag, Inc. and/or Jeannette Harris, Jonesborough Tennessee, April 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013. All rights reserved.