Petrafied - Day Three

I spend the first half of a three hour drive into the desert sleeping and the second half writing. In between we stop at a roadhouse and are given complimentary tea and Arabic snacks (bread, olives, hummus, cheese etc.). There’s no charge for the guides and drivers at places like this because typically the tourists they bring in will be paying over the odds for the surrounding tat on offer.
Petra costs about 20 quid to get in and, when I think about some of the pointless shit I’ve spent the same amount on (bags of fun mostly, be they filled with pills, powder or pound coins) I doubt there’s much better value to be had anywhere in the world. Like a cross between the Grand Canyon and the Pyramids, its sprawling magnificence has to be seen to be believed. Constructed and occupied by the Nabateans from about 500BC to 400AD, it is a city carved into the pink rock of a humungous valley. They had pavements, art work, shops, tourism and a clay-pipe water system for every house in town. At its peak, around 30,000 lived in and around these rock faces. After they died out the Romans moved in and it was only a few hundred years ago that the majority of the place was tragically destroyed by earthquake and stumbled upon by accident by a Swiss explorer.
The closing scenes in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade were also shot here, a fact not lost on the endless mob of hawkers lurking round every twist and turn of this ancient “rose red city, half as old as time.” So persistent are they that I imagine for some tourists they may take the sheen off of what is an experience impossible to forget.
But in talking to me they are dealing with someone who has walked Ibiza’s West End, where the fast talk of PRs who spoke my own language failed to make a dent. Polite refusal does fine, though it is fun to listen to some of their bullshit sales pitches. “Taxi miss? Ferrari – very fast!” Shouts one toothless urchin atop a donkey that looks more dead than alive.
To their credit, they know how to get people’s attention in a number of different languages. On the other hand, a number of the workers are kids trained to earn sympathy (and demand payment if you try take a picture of them).
There are a couple of workers employed to shovel donkey and camel shit all day, a job only marginally better than actually being one of the beasts of burden that are frequently abused by handlers whose boredom has turned to cruelty. With so many folk trudging around – tourists and cavern dwellers alike – it’s hard to pretend I’m someone I’m not. It’s also hard to take people-free pictures, but I aim up as much as I dare.
There are three caches in Petra, all of which are located at higher ground. Droopy tells me I simply won’t have time to go to all of them in the five hours of daylight we have left. Despite his claim that he has been here many hundred times, I don’t believe him, but humour him all the same. We have lunch at a buffet (which, being two thirds of the way into the valley is predictably expensive) after which he gives me directions to get to the Monastery.
“Jordan is a hard road to travel I believe,” sing chirpy folkers Bellowhead. Perhaps this is what they meant as the 40 minute hike is a long and hard. The gnawed pencils that jut out from where my legs used to be ache and plead for me to stop; my throat, chest and lungs agree. But no. I need to find a cache or the feature is doomed and more importantly my pride will be crushed.
The trek may be tough, but it is astonishingly beautiful - the winding path passes through layer cake rock, frequently offers breathless panoramas and presents a physical challenge, the likes of which I haven’t had since bumbling around in the Swiss snow. I’m frequently amazed by the age and decrepitude of some of the others making the journey and while the Americans pant and wheeze like overheated dogs, scores of Japanese visitors serenely float to the summit.
But when I get to the top... man, when I get to the top it’s all worth it. Like the famous Treasury, the Monastery isn’t what the world says it is, but rather an enormous tomb for a long-dead Nabatean king (the funeral precession to get here must have been a real motherfucker).
 This summit also offers some amazing panoramas of the valley beyond Petra from the imaginatively titled Sacrifice and End of the World views (both are looking at essentially the same thing). A couple canoodle at the second of these, gazing out across the abyss below.
I retreat from the edge and go back to the Monastery and take the pic myself. I check my clue sheet too, which reads: “Find shade under a tree.”
Hmm. There are a number of trees here and without a GPS it’s tough to know which one. But for some reason, my eye is drawn just to the left of the old tomb. I toddle over and look around. I’m just about to turn away when the sunlight catches something white in the corner of my eye; I move a rock and here, finally, is my first Geocache, right in the middle of Indiana Jones country. Perfect.

Without anything else to offer, I swap my small sporran keyring for a leather Sri Lanka one, fill out the log, take some pictures and head back down the valley incredibly satisfied.
By the time I reach the valley floor, my legs have grown heavy and I've taken far longer than I planned. Droopy was right, there is no chance I can make another ascent like that – my energy levels and the lack of daylight make it impossible.
Instead I check out a few more of Petra’s cave dwellings, before finding a large flat rock to sit on. The heat may have gone, but I splay myself lizard-like and watch the sun disappear over a dramatic ochre mountain. What a day, what a day, what a day... I left six months ago and I’ve never felt further from home.


On April 17th, the U.S. Postal Service will issue COWBOYS OF THE SILVER SCREEN, four stamps honoring all-time favorite cowpunchers William S. Hart, Tom Mix, Gene Autry and Roy Rogers. Robert Rodriguez is the artist for all four portraits. It's been a noteworthy time for Roy Rogers in particular, whose Under Western Skies (1938) was selected for preservation by the National Film Registry, along with The Mark of Zorro (1940), Once Upon a Time In The West (1968) and The Revenge of Pancho Villa (1930-1936). Ironic that both happy events should happen so close to the closing of the Roy Rogers Museum in Branson, Missouri. If you'd like read Roy Rogers Jr. statement about the closing, click here. And if you'd like to nominate movies for the National Film Registry, click here.


The 17th Annual Festival will be taking place at the fabled Melody Ranch, of Gene Autry fame, April 22nd-25th. There are many different events and activities, including eating, shopping, touring the Melody Ranch Museum, a wide range of music and dance performances -- including my personal favorites, The Quebe Sisters Band, screenings of High Noon, and of The Shootist - featuring screenwriter Miles Swarthout. There are a ton of different individual events and packages, so for more information and tickets, click here.


C. Courtney Joyner’s collection of interviews, entitled THE WESTERNERS is, simply, one of the best books ever written about the western film. While most such books are written by one of two kinds of outsider – either a goofy fan with enthusiasm but no knowledge, or a pretentious academic with a wealth of pointless statistics – in this one the story told by the men and women who actually made the movies, interviewed by a man who knows what questions to ask.

Joyner is a screenwriter with more than twenty produced films to his credit, and he’s directed a couple as well. He’s written extensively about his two favorite film genres – westerns and horror – in Wildest Westerns, Fangoria and Famous Monster of Filmland. Joyner’s book covers a wide range of western entertainment in terms of year and budget. He speaks to Glenn Ford, one of the biggest stars to ever ride the range, and to the great character people like perennial John Wayne sideman Edward Faulkner, and accountant-turned-villain-turned-comic Jack Elam. Elam’s story of what happened during the filming of the train-station opening of Leone’s Once Upon A Time in the West (1968) is a jaw-dropper.

Then there are the subjects whose families span generations in the film business. Harry Carey Jr., a solid presence in westerns from Red River and Three Godfathers, both 1948, to Tombstone (1993) – with Billy The Kid Vs. Dracula (1966) in between – is the son of silent western star Harry Carey Sr. You’ll learn what it was like working with John Wayne and John Ford, how an innocuous, overheard comment from Ben Johnson got him banned from John Ford sets for fourteen years. You’ll read about how Dennis Hopper got blackballed after storming off the set, because director Henry Hathaway was mocking his recently deceased pal James Dean. Another second generationer, director Andrew V. McLaglen, son of actor Victor, has plenty of stories to tell.

Joyner’s talk with Elmore ‘Dutch’ Leonard traces his career from the pulps, to Hombre, to the phone-call he got from Clint Eastwood: “Dirty Harry is going to make an awful lot of money. I want one just like it. A guy with a gun, only different.” That’s what led to Joe Kidd(1972). Writer-director Burt Kennedy talks at length about his collaboration with director Budd Boetticher and Randolph Scott, which gave us, arguably, the best series of westerns ever made – a subject Kennedy glossed over in his autobiography.

This volume is clearly a labor of love. It contains the only extensive interview I’ve ever read with Warren Oates, who died back in 1982. We are fortunate that Joyner managed to interview Oates while still a college student, as part of a class project!

Also represented are two of the great beauties of the western screen, Virginia Mayo and Julie Adams. While most actresses whine about dust in their hair and eating outside, both of these women enjoyed the often down-and-dirty work, and Mayo won my heart by referring to westerns as ‘outdoor pictures,’ the term John Ford preferred.

Producer A.C. Lyles, the grand old man of Paramount Pictures, discusses his highly successful series of small-budget westerns that kept a slew of old-timers in front of the camera. The television side of westerns is not slighted either. Joyner speaks to Andrew J. Fenady, who in addition to writing Chisum (1970), also wrote and/or produced series like The Rebel, Branded and Hondo.

And spaghetti westerns are welcomed into the fold. Aldo Sambrell, the greatest of the banditos in the Sergio Leones, and so many others, tells the story of why he had to pull a saber on Jim Brown during the making of 100 Rifles(1969).

THE WESTERNERS is a trade paperback published by MacFarland, 256 pages, $39.95, with a forward by Miles Swarthout, the screenwriter of the wonderful The Shootist (1976), from his father Glendon Swarthout’s novel. If you click this link, you’ll be connected to the Westerners’ website, and can order the book from MacFarland or Amazon – and you can watch the trailer for The Wild Bunch (1969)!


The ruggedly handsome actor who would forever blur a generation's identification of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone was born, appropriately, in Fort Worth, Texas in 1924. Walt Disney, searching for an actor to play Crockett, was considering pre-GUNSMOKE James Arness, and watched him in a 1954 sci-fier, THEM! There he apotted Fess Parker in a small role, and the rest is legend. He became a star over-night, and nearly every kid in the world sported a coon-skin cap for a few years. His rendition of 'Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier,' was #1 for sixteen weeks, for which he was paid $150.00. After the seven CROCKETTS he starred in Westward Ho The Wagons (1956), and Old Yeller (1957), both for Disney. He wanted to be let out of his contract to play a role in Ford's The Searchers, and to star opposite Marilyn Monroe in Bus Stop, but Uncle Walt nixed both. In the 1962 season he starred in a TV adaptation of Mr. Smith Goes To Washington. Starting in 1964 Parker began playing Daniel Boone, and would continue for 159 episodes. He only took a few roles after Boone, before shifting his business interests to real estate. He had a tremendously successful development in Santa Barbara. He'd drop in there every weekend, and talk for hours to the many aging kids who grew up with him as Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.


Although handsome leading man Culp is best remembered by the public for his long-running series, I SPY, he appeared frequently in western movies and TV shows. He starred in 70 episodes of Trackdown, guested on The Rifleman and Peckinpah's The Westerner, and played Wild Bill Hickok in The Raiders (1963). He starred in Castaway Cowboy (1974) and the comedy The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday (1976). His best western role was ine starred in Hannie Caulder (1971), where he plays the gunslinger who teaches Raquel Welch to shoot. In addition to acting, Culp was a talented writer, and wrote episodes of Trackdown, I Spy and The Greatest American Hero. He also wrote a pilot, Summer Soldiers, for Sam Peckinpah, but they never got it made. He also directed episodes of I SPY, Greatest American Hero, and the feature Hickey and Boggs(1972), in which he co-starred with his old I SPY pal Bill Cosby. I remember hearing him speak at a Writers Guild rally about twenty years ago, where he revealed that he became a director not so much to direct as to protect the integrity of the scripts he had written. If you, like me, haven't seen Culp in the saddle in a while, you can click here and watch The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday.


The Billy Wilder Theatre at UCLA has an occasional series of screenings entitled The Movie That Inspired Me. David Fincher, who has directed Benjamin Button (2008), Zodiac (2007) and Fight Club (1999), has selected Butch Cassidy and The Sundance Kid (1969), directed by George Roy Hill, written by William Goldman. And in case anyone forgot, it stars Paul Newman, Robert Redford, Katherine Ross and Strother Martin (I love to point out that Strother was in both Butch Cassidy and The Wild Bunch, both films about the same guys in the same year). David Fincher and series curator, director Curtis Hanson, will attend. For details and tickets, click here.


Here is the official blurb about a new documentary. "SWEETGRASS is an unsentimental elegy to the American West. The documentary follows the last modern-day cowboys to lead their flocks of sheep up into Montana's breathtaking and often dangerous Absaroka-Beartooth mountains for summer pasture. The astonishingly beautiful yet unsparing film reveals a world in which nature and culture, animals and humans, vulnerability and violence are all intimately meshed. Manohla Dargis of The New York Times calls the film 'a really intimate, beautifully shot examination of the connection between man and beast,' while Ronnie Scheib of Variety considers it 'a one-of-a-kind once epic-scale and earthbound.'" Okay, none of those Brokeback Mountain (2005) cheap-shots -- I'm sure these poor cowboys have heard 'em all. Sweetgrass is playing at the Varsity Theatre in Seattle, the Nuart in Los Angeles, and will open this week at the Kendall Square Cinema in Boston.

I don't know how many of you went to see Ernest Borgnine at the North Hollywood Library on March 20th, but he played to a packed house. As one of the librarians commented that they'd never seen so many people at the library, nervous firemen slipped in and out of the auditorium where MARTY was being screened. The sign on the wall allowed an occupancy maximum of 116, but there were probably 150 or more. After, the big man answered questions about his career in general, talked a bit about The Wild Bunch, Vera Cruz(1954), and Burt Lancaster, and signed a helluvah lot of copies of his autobio, ERNIE.

Note:AMC=American Movie Classics, EXT= Showtime Extreme, FMC=Fox Movie Channel, TCM=Turner Classic Movies. All times given are Pacific Standard Time.

Monday March 29th

FMC 3:00 a.m. Call Of The Wild (1935) Clark Gable, Loretta Young, Jack Oakie, Buck, D:William Wellman, W:Gene Fowler - from Jack London's novel. (Great stuff, and Gable at his best - no wonder Loretta got impregnated by him on the shoot!)

Wednesday March 31st

TCM 8:00 a.m. TWO RODE TOGETHER (1961) John Ford directd James Stewart and Richard Widmark in this story of two tough characters bringing home a group of freed Comanche hostages. Screenplay by Frank S. Nugent from the novel by Will Cook.

John Ford directed with gusto from the Lamar Trotti, Sonya Levian script, based on the Walter D. Edmonds novel. Claudette Colbert and Henry Fonda star in one of the finest of 'eastern' westerns, a Revoltionary War story packed with Ford stock company greats like John Carradine, Arthur Shields and Ward Bond. In a more normal year, it might have been named Best Picture, but in 1939 it received only two Oscar nominations, for Edna Mae Oliver's comic turn as Best Supporting Actress, and for Ray Rennahan and Bert Glennon's glorious Technicolor photography -- and it won neither. Highly recommended.

FMC 9:00 a.m. THE TRUE STORY OF JESSE JAMES (1957) Nicholas Ray directed this remake of the 1939 classic, starring Robert Wagner as Jesse, Jeffrey Hunter as Frank, and Alan Hale Jr. as Cole Younger, with Hope Lange and Agnes Moorehead. Scripy by Walter Newman, adapted from Nunnally Johnson's original.

Thursday April 1st

FNC 7:01 a.m. SHERIFF OF FRACTURED JAW (1959) Comedy western, D:Raoul Walsh, W:Howard Dimsdale, starring Jayne Mansfield, Kenneth More, Henry Hull, Bruce Cabot.

AMC 7:00 p.m. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)Mel Brooks directed and co-wrote, with Norman Steinberg, this delightfully broad western comedy about a town getting it's first black sheriff, Cleavon Little, helped only by Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid. With Slim Pickens and Madeline Kahn, and featuring a rousing theme sung by Frankie Laine.

Friday April 2nd

TCM 1:15 a.m. MEN WHO MADE THE MOVIES: HOWARD HAWKS (1973) Docymentary directd by Richard Schickel.

TCM 6:16 a.m. GIRL OF THE GOLDEN WEST (1938) Theatre impressario David Belasco's play about a frontierwoman sheltering an outlaw becomes a vehicle for the voices of Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald. With Buddy Ebsen. Directed by Robert Z. Leonard, script by Isabel Dawn.

TCM 10:15 a.m. THE KID FROM TEXAS (1939) A playboy turns cowboy, and sets up a polo match with an Indian tribe. Stars Dennis O'Keefe, Buddy Ebsen and Jack Carson. Directed by S. Sylvan Simon, story by Milton Merlin and Byron Morgan, screenplya by Florence Ryerson, Edgar Allen Woolf and Albert Mann Heimer.

AMC 12:30 p.m. BLAZING SADDLES (1974)Mel Brooks directed and co-wrote, with Norman Steinberg, this delightfully broad western comedy about a town getting it's first black sheriff, Cleavon Little, helped only by Gene Wilder as the Waco Kid. With Slim Pickens and Madeline Kahn, and featuring a rousing theme sung by Frankie Laine.

TCM 12:45 p.m. FRONTIER RANGERS (1959) This movie and the next are cobbled together from the excellent TV series NORTHWEST PASSAGE, based on Kenneth Robert's novel about Robert's Rangers and the French and Indian War. Starring Keith Larsen, Buddy Ebsen and Angie Dickinson, directed by the great Jacques Tourneur. Screenplay by Gerald Drayson Adams.

TCM 2:15 p.m. FURY RIVER (1961) See above, the same cast, this time with four directors and several writers.

Saturday April 3rd

AMC 7:00 a.m. The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972) Directed by Dick Richards from his own story, scripted by Gregory Prentiss and Eric Bercovici. Young Gary Grimes talks a trail boss, Billy Green Bush, into taking him on a cattle drive. With Luke Askew, Bo Hopkins, Charles Martin Smith and Matt Clark -- how many westerns is Matt Clark in, anyway? As many as Gabby Hayes?

TCM 9:00 a.m. LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) LITTLE BIG MAN (1970) As a little big fan of director Arthur Penn and screenwriter Calder Willingham, I couldn't wait to see this adaptation of Thomas Berger's novel about an incredibly old Dustin Hoffman recalling his upbringing by Indians and fighting alongside Custer. But it's just ghastly, nearly unwatchable, and absolutely pointless, for 140 minutes! It strives to be funny on occasion, but fails utterly. Hoffman doesn't suck, but he can't save it. Faye Dunaway is fetching as she seduces Hoffman. Chief Dan George was nominated for as Oscar, in a performance that reminds you of Bela Lugosi's later work -- when he was at such a higher level of professionalism than those around him that you wondered how he could stand it. Great make-up by Dick Smith. Burn the negative.

AMC 9:15 a.m. THE COMANCHEROS (1961) John Wayne arrests Stuart Whitman, but they must join forces to defeat evil gun-running comanchero Lee Marvin. Great fun, written by James Edward Grant from a novel by Paul Wellman. It was Michael Curtiz's last film. When he became too ill, John Wayne took over the directorial reins, but refused credit. Fine Elmer Bernstein score. Biggest weakness: Lee Marvin is supposed to be horribly scared from surviving being scalped, but he actually looks like he's wearing a horse-shoe crab on top of his head.

AMC 11:45 a.m. LAST OF THE DOGMEN (1995) - Tab Murphy wrote and directed this story about a bounty hunter tracking three escaped convicts, and supernatural events that ensue. Starring Tom Berenger, Barbara Hershey, Kurtwood Smith and, Parley Baer, the original 'Chester' from the radio drama GUNSMOKE.

AMC 2:30 p.m. JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford in the story of a real mountain man, culled from several different writers: Vardis Fisher, Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. The screenplay is by John Milius and Edward Anholt, and is co-stars Will Geer. Probably Redford's best western role (yes, I know SUNDANCE KID is good, too), and it was a wise move to eliminate his character's nickname: Liver-Eating Johnson.

AMC 5:00 p.m. THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES (1976) Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, John Vernon and Sheb Wooley. Clint's a Missouri farmer who becaomes a Confederate guerilla -- reportedly Clints favorite among his films. Screenplay by Philip Kaufman, from Forrest Carton's novel.

AMC 8:00 p.m. THE OUTLAW JOSIE WALES (1976) Directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, with Chief Dan George, Sondra Locke, John Vernon and Sheb Wooley. Clint's a Missouri farmer who becaomes a Confederate guerilla -- reportedly Clints favorite among his films. Screenplay by Philip Kaufman, from Forrest Carton's novel.

AMC 11:00 p.m. JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford in the story of a real mountain man, culled from several different writers: Vardis Fisher, Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. The screenplay is by John Milius and Edward Anholt, and is co-stars Will Geer. Probably Redford's best western role (yes, I know SUNDANCE KID is good, too), and it was a wise move to eliminate his character's nickname: Liver-Eating Johnson.



Oh-So Busy!

Lots of new work. Just finished my business class at Mercy Corps (which was awesome!!) Making exciting new plans, some of which will be unveiled soon!

Petrafied - Day Two

The next morning I load up on an enormous breakfast in Le Royale before Carlton comes to meet me with N, my guide. He’s a friendly old man with a decent grasp of English, who looks like a cross between Droopy and George Foulkes. He too will accompany me for the rest of my stay in Bible country. Droopy has a knowledge of Jordan’s history that is both broad and deep, which is fine, but clearly no one has told him the purpose of my visit: geocaching.
Given I’ve never done it before, it’s hard enough to explain to fellow English speakers, but getting the message across to Carlton and Droopy is hard work indeed. The basics are this: you go online, get coordinates, stick them in your GPS device, decode a cryptic clue and try and find a “treasure”. Typically this will be a bottle or container with a logbook, pencil, sharpener and nominal prize inside. You find it, leave your mark, take the prize (so long as you replace it with one of your own) and tick it off your list. Unbelievably there are over a million of these trinkets around the globe; ten of which are allegedly in Jordan.
My first major problem is simple: I don’t have a GPS device. (Fortunately, the Jordanian caches are all hidden at major historic locations, all of which are on my itinerary.) My second is that I don’t really know what I’m looking for. And my third is that I’m a bit of a wimp.
Our first stop is the hilltop citadel area in the centre of Amman, Jordan’s capital. Here monuments, mosques and palaces have been built by a number of rulers, cultures and religions. Where normally you’d have to travel to several sites for a collection of history like this, here they are collected together; the view must have been a popular one. 

My first cache is Uriah’s Last Stand which, according to the directions, is between the Umayyad Mosque and Palace Complex. This area isn’t too big, but I can’t find any hint of it.
The sheet also says, “Svaq n fvta bs gur bprna, gur bar uvture hc, tb gb vg?f onpxfvqr, fgrc hc, naw ybbx hc naq gb gur evtug.” How to translate this is too boring to put into words, but suffice to say I use a key to work out it says: “Find a sign of the ocean, the one higher up, go to it’s backside, step up and look to the right.” My inner-nerd throbs like an angry dick at an orgy when I work this out and begin to clamber around an ancient gate bearing a symbol for waves. Droopy looks on at me, the foolish European who has quite possibly lost his mind.
Fifteen minutes pass and I have nothing to show but I’m excited and not disheartened – there are nine more caches and this early failure will make writing the final piece much easier. We sacrifice going to Um Qais to visit the Roman Amphitheatre instead, which according to the instructions is where the next cache is. But five of the last six people to try and find it failed. I do too. I console myself with some vaguely interesting photographs, including one of the most intersting tramp I’ve seen for ages.

Next we head into the country to Ajloun Castle, a 1000 year old fortress that sits atop a large hill, surveying the valley below. Droopy is old and clearly has bad knees, which fills me with uncomfortable foreboding and stops him from following me inside. I have 40 minutes to find this cache, somewhere within the castle’s labyrinthine corridors. “Elevation of the cache is 3,343 feet. It is placed around 6.2 feet off the ‘ground,’” says the clue. Balls, I wish I had a GPS now – I have no idea what my elevation is; and what the hell does it mean “ground”? Why quote it like that? I prick about, letting my imagination run wild as I leap around the castle; getting unreasonably nervous about spiders, snakes or scorpions lurking in nooks and crannies in which I stick my hands. I take a brief break to consider a precarious pair of lovers, then continue.
In the time it takes to crack a bull whip my time is up – I imagine reaching back through a closing door to snatch my (enormous) hat –  and I have nothing to show. Damnit. Three attempts, three failures and trudging back to the car, Carlton and Droopy know I’ve failed before I’ve opened my mouth.
We stop for a Lebanese feast before going to the final site of the day: the 2000-year-old Roman city of Jerash. The place is incredible and, had I not been bumbling around Actual Rome only a month earlier, I’m sure I would be blown away completely. In its pomp this place had over 35,000 inhabitants, a working sewage system, a high street shopping district and even a sort of traffic lights (which were actually watering holes for horses just before major intersections, to slow chariots). An astonishing amount of pillars still stand as does the bold Temple of Artemis which oversees the town from a hillside like an inspecting centurion. 

The directions say this is where I will find a cache, the last one I will be able to seek today. “Check the wall about two feet off the ground and about two feet from the wooden door,” instructs the gobbledygook. Droopy even joins in this time – though my shambolic display has given him absolutely no reason to, he now seems to believe in my quest too. “Wonderful visit. Saw parts of Jerash I hadn’t visited before,” said Gcmcgraw online, having found the cache in December. Finding nothing, I build up a small hatred for this smug bastard – perhaps he removed it after his discovery. Asshole. Droopy leaves me to walk back through Jerash alone, kicking pebbles along the Roman road as I go. Having taken nearly 160 shots, my camera promptly runs out of battery too. I sigh: a treasure hunter I may be; Indiana Jones I am not.

Petrafied - Day One

The flight time from Abu Dhabi to Amman, Jordan is a little over three hours, the majority of which is spent high above the deserts of Saudi Arabia. As it’s a smaller plane I cannot get an upgrade, nor is there the usual in-flight entertainment system. I get progressively full of Baileys while reading some Real Travel Writing and notice that despite the lack of other things to do, still – still – no one bothers with my magazine. When I do notice an old Englishman pick it up, I nervously crane my neck to see if he reads my Italian cooking cover story; when he bypasses it like a dog shit on the pavement, I humph back down into my seat.
I’m met at the airport by a tiny driver named M who looks a bit like a Jordanian version of Carlton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air. He will accompany me for the duration of my stay. He seems alright, speaks with a slight American accent having lived in Chicago for six years and smokes like the world is ending.
Something that I didn’t know (or had forgotten) about Jordan is that it has kicked off here fairly recently: in 2005 there was a series of coordinated suicide bombings at hotels around the city. One woman was arrested when her device failed to explode and she was Iraqi; people speculated that the attack was a protest at Jordan’s friendly relationship with America.
Carlton explains this while driving me to the five-star Le Royale (which didn’t get attacked). Getting inside – into all hotels in fact – is tighter than in some airports; metal detector, bag scan and personal search, just to get into the lobby. A bit like Scotland’s response to guns after Dunblane, it only took one incident here for people to screw the nut in a big way.
I’m tired and almost completely disinterested by the time I have to go to the Four Seasons for dinner with their head of marketing. There is literally no chance I will print a single word about her hotel (let’s face it: no one would read it even if I did), but have to play the game sufficiently long enough to get a free dinner. And it’s not just free, it’s an excellent combination of sushi and other seafood that presumably costs quite a lot… In fact I know it does; the exchange rate between the Jordanian Dinar and the British Pound is virtually 1:1.
A couple of hours later I’m alone again and just about manage to watch Liverpool obliterate the pitiful Real Madrid before falling into a grateful sleep, entertained and gently amused.


IT MAY BE GEORGE CLOONEY. Jerry Bruckheimer is in the pre-production stages for a LONE RANGER feature that has recently seen a change of screenwriters (CLICK HERE for that entry). And although Johnny Depp was announced as Tonto some time ago, the project has been lacking a Kemo Sabe. But according to EXTRA, George Clooney is now in the lead for the lead. When EXTRA tried to confirm with Bruckheimer, he replied, "It's true that Johnny Depp is going to play Tonto. As far as George is concerned, we have not made a decision on the Lone Ranger yet. He's a fantastic actor!" Bruckheimer states. "Who wouldn't consider him. We are still working on the script. It depends on the age range, what we are going to do with it."


This new direct-to-home-video revenge drama from THE ASYLUM stars SAGE MEARS as the wronged woman, BARRY VAN DYKE(above) as the bounty hunter, GEOFF MEAD as the bounty, and GREG EVIGAN as the sheriff. In addition to being the villain of the piece, Mead also wrote the screenplay, and Southern Californians may recognize him from his days in the western stunt show at UNIVERSAL STUDIOS. Speaking of double-duty, Barry's son SHANE VAN DYKE (above right) directed the picture, and also plays a member of the outlaw gang. I'll have a review next week. To view the trailer, CLICK HERE.


Due in stores May 18th, this direct-to-home-video release is from the prolific writer-director FRED OLEN RAY, and toplines PETER FONDA as Marshal Kane, back in the saddle again after wearing the badge in 3:10 TO YUMA(2007). TIM ABELL is Frank, GEORGE STULTS, from 7th HEAVEN , is Jesse, and MICHAEL GAGLIO is Otis. To see the trailer, CLICK HERE


One of the most fervently-loved tellings of the O.K. Corral will be back with a $29.99 price on its head. Written by KEVIN JARRE, it was directed by the late GEORGE P. COSMATOS. Born in Italy in the midst of World War II, Cosmatos learned his craft assistant directing on European productions like EXODUS (1960) and ZORBA THE GREEK (1964). TOMBSTONE (1993), which stars Kurt Russell, Val Kilmer and a prairie schooner-full of stars, was Cosmatos's crowning achievment. CLICK HERE for the trailer.


Check out your cable system for WHT, which stands for World Harvest Television. It's a religious network that runs a lot of good western programming. Your times may vary, depending on where you live, but weekdays in Los Angeles they run THE LONE RANGER at 1:30 p.m., and two episodes of THE RIFLEMAN from 2:00 to 3:00 p.m.. On Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. it's THE RIFLEMAN again, followed at 2:30 by BAT MASTERSON. And unlike many stations in the re-run business, they run the shows in the original airing order. There's an afternoon movie on weekdays at noon, often a western, and they show western films on the weekend, but the schedule is sporadic.

Note:AMC=American Movie Classics, EXT= Showtime Extreme, FMC=Fox Movie Channel, TCM=Turner Classic Movies. All times given are Pacific Standard Time.

Monday March 22

EXT 10:25 a.m. THE CLAIM (2000) Michael Winterbottom directs from Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay, based on Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, moved to the American west. Stars Peter Mullan, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinsky, Sarah Polley and Milla Jovovich.

TCM 9:00 p.m. THE SHOOTIST (1976) John Wayne's last movie role is one of his most emotionally affecting as a dying lawman surrounded by people who want to profit from his notoriety. It's a shame it's the only time Don Siegel directed him. Glendon Swarthout's novel is adapted beautifully by his son, Miles Swarthout. Starring Lauren Bacall, James Stewart, Ron Howard, Harry Morgan, Richard Boone and Hugh O'Brien.

TCM 11:00 p.m. STAGECOACH (1939) The movie that made the Duke a star, and rescued westerns from the kiddie matinee ghetto. Screenplay by frequent John Ford collabotator Dudley Nichols, from the short story STAGE TO LORDSBERG by Ernest Haycox. The story of a group of stagecoach travelers also stars Claire Trevor, George Bancroft, Andy Devine, Donald Meek and John Carradine. After Duke read the script, John Ford asked who he thought would be good for The Ringo Kid. "How about Lloyd Nolan?" Duke replied. Thank God Ford didn't listen!

EXT 11:45 p.m. THE CLAIM (2000) Michael Winterbottom directs from Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay, based on Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, moved to the American west. Stars Peter Mullan, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinsky, Sarah Polley and Milla Jovovich.

Tuesday March 23rd

TCM 1:00 a.m. DIRECTED BY JOHN FORD (2006) Peter Bogdonavich updated his 1971 documentary, narrated by Orson Welles, who watched STAGECOACH repeatedly before directing CITIZEN KANE.

Wednesday March 24th

TCM 8:30 A.M. NEVADA SMITH (1966) Steve McQueen stars as a 'half-breed' out to avenge his parents slaughter. Enthralling, and endlessly imitated, it is the great revenge western story, directed with consumate skill by Henry Hathaway. The story was a novel-within-a-novel, from Harold Robbins's THE CARPETBAGGERS, adapted by one of Hitchcock's favorite writers, John Michael Hayes. Also starring Karl Malden and Brian Keith.

TCM 10:45 a.m. The Reivers (1969) Charming, easy-going turn-of-the-century tale of Steve McQueen, Rupert Cross, and Mitch Vogel's adventures in a stolen car. Sharon Farrell is at her most radiant, and B-western fans will appreciate the cameo by Roy Barcroft as the judge. Written by the Oscar-winning wife and husband team of Harriet Frank Jr, and Irving Ravetch, from William Faulkner's novel. Directed by Mark Rydell.

Thursday March 25th

FMC 3:00 a.m. THE PROUD ONES (1956) Marshal Robert Ryan must protect his town when a Texas herd arrives with murderous Jeffrey Hunter. Directed by Robert D. Webb, also starring Virginia Mayo, Walter Brennan, Robert Middleton. Verne Athanas's novel was adapted by Edmund North and Joseph Petraca.

FMC 5:00 a.m. RIO CONCHOS (1964) Richard Boone, Anthony Francisoa, STuart Whitman and Edmund O'Brien fight over a shipment of guns. Directed by Gordon Douglas. Clair Huffaker adapted his own novel, with the help of Joe Landon.

Friday March 26th

TCM 3:30 a.m. AMBUSH (1949) Robert Taylor searches for a white woman held captive by Apaches. With John Hodiak and Arlene Dahl, directed by Sam Wood. The screenplay by Marguerite Roberts is based on a story by the great Luke Short.

FMC 11:00 a.m. THE UNDEFEATED (1969) D:Andrew V. McLaglen, W:James Lee Barrett, from a story by Stanley Hough. At the close of the Civil War, Confederate officer Rock Hudson leads a group of southern loyalists to Mexico and Emperor Maximillian -- unless John Wayne can stop him. Rock Hudson later described the movies as "crap." Ironic, considering it's one of his more convincing performances. With Ben Johnson and Harry Carey Jr.

FMC 1:00 p.m. Flaming Star (1960) An early film from the soon-to-be-great Don Siegal, working from Nunnally Johnson's script of a Clair Huffaker novel. Elvis Presley, playing a role planned for Marlon Brando, is the half-breed son of white John McIntire and Kiowa Dolores Del Rio, forced to take sides in a local war between white and Indian. Surprisingly good, you realize how good an actor Elvis could have been if Col. Parker hadn't steered him into mostly inane crap. With Steve Forrest and Barbara Eden.

TCM 1:30 p.m. JOHNNY GUITAR (1954) Nicholas Ray directed this crazily over-the-top story of Sterling Hayden as Johnny Guitar, and Scott Brady as The Dancin' Kid, brawling for the affections of the terrifying Joan Crawford. Adapted by Philip Yordan from the novel by Roy Chanslor.

FMC 3:00 p.m. THE MAN FROM SNOWY RIVER (1982) An Australian 'western' based on a poem by A. B. 'Banjo' Paterson, scripted by Cul Cullen, directed by George Miller. Stars Jack Thompson, Tom Burlinson, Kirk Douglas, and the lovely gal from the under-appreciated series, PARADISE, Sigrid Thornton.

Saturday March 27th

FMC 3:00 a.m. The Big Trail (1930) Raoul Walsh directed John Wayne in his first lead in this epic from Hal G. Evarts' story, and good as it was, it was a box-office disappointment, sending the Duke to do leads in Bs until Stagecoach (1939). Beautiful telling of the story of a wagon train, with Marguerite Churchill, El Brendel, Ty Power Sr., with uncredited early roles by Ward Bond and Iron Eyes Cody. Shot in 35 MM by Lucien Andriot, and 70MM by Arthur Edeson -- I don't know which version they show.

AMC 6:30 a.m. BIG HAND FOR THE LITTLE LADY (1966) Joanne Woodward has to step into a high-stakes poker game when her husband is too ill to continue. With Henry Fonda and Jason Robards Jr. Directed by Fielder Cook, written by Sidney Carroll, originally as an episode of the tv series PLAYHOUSE 90. If you'd like to see that version, click here.

AMC 8:45 a.m. The Last Wagon (1956) Directed by the great historical filmmaker Delmer Daves, which he co-scripted with James Edward Grant. The wagin-train survivors of an Apache attack must turn to 'Commanche Todd' Richard Widmark for help. With Tommy 'Lassie' Rettig and Nick Adams.

TCM 9:00 a.m. TENSION AT TABLE ROCK (1956) A gunman takes over a stagecoach stop. Starring Richard Egan, Dorothy Malone and Angie Dickinson. The novel by Frank Gruber is adapted by Winston Miller. Directed by one of the great unsung talents of western films, John Marquis Warren, who was responsible for eraly, defining episodes of GUNSMOKE and RAWHIDE.

TCM 11:00 a.m. MONTE WALSH (1970) Lee Marvin shines as a cowboy not pleased at the modern world's encroachment on his way of life. Co-starring Jack Palance and Jeanne Moreau, helmed by cinematographer-turned-director William Fraker. Screenplay by David Zelag Goodman from Jack 'Shane' Schaeffer's novel.

AMC 11:00 a.m. GERONIMO: AN AMERICAN LEGEND (1993) Walter Hill directs from the John Milius script, the Apache chief's life story, starring Wes Studi in the title role, with Jason Partic, Gene Hackman, Robert Duvall and Matt Damon.

TCM 1:00 p.m. SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON (1949) One of John Ford's celebrated cavalry trilogy, with John Wayne as an officer retiring when an Indian uprising threatens. With Joanne Dru, Ben Johnson, Harry Carey Jr., Victor McLaglen, John Agar. Story by James Warner Bellah, screenplay by Frank Nugent and Laurence Stalling.

AMC 5:00 p.m. JEREMIAH JOHNSON (1972) Sydney Pollack directs Robert Redford in the story of a real mountain man, culled from several different writers: Vardis Fisher, Raymond W. Thorp and Robert Bunker. The screenplay is by John Milius and Edward Anholt, and is co-stars Will Geer. Probably Redford's best western role (yes, I know SUNDANCE KID is good, too), and it was a wise move to eliminate his character's nickname: Liver-Eating Johnson.

AMC 7:30 p.m.SILVERADO (1985) Larry Kasdan directs from a script he wrote with his brother Mark. Lots of good stuff in it, but at 133 minutes, it's at least a half hour too long. Starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner.

AMC 10:30 p.m. SILVERADO (1985) Larry Kasdan directs from a script he wrote with his brother Mark. Lots of good stuff in it, but at 133 minutes, it's at least a half hour too long. Starring Kevin Kline, Scott Glenn and Kevin Costner.

Sunday March 27th

FMC 7:00 a.m. THE MARK OF ZORRO (1940) A delight! Rouben Mamoulian directs John Taintor Foote's adaptation of the Johnston McCulley story. Ty Power, Basil Rathbone, Linda Darnell et al have great fun, and the audience has even more.

FMC 8:45 a.m. BROKEN ARROW (1950) James Stewart is an ex-soldier, and Jeff Chandler is Apache Chief Cochise, trying together for peace. D:Delmer Daves, W:Albert Maltz(another writer's name may be one the credits -- Maltz was blacklisted and had someone 'front' for him).

EXT 7:55 p.m. THE CLAIM (2000) Michael Winterbottom directs from Frank Cottrell Boyce's screenplay, based on Thomas Hardy's The Mayor of Casterbridge, moved to the American west. Stars Peter Mullan, Wes Bentley, Nastassja Kinsky, Sarah Polley and Milla Jovovich.



Hello Baby Goose

Back in 1996 a parent from Open Fields School, a small non-graded private school in Thetford Hill, Vermont, offered the school 100+ blown goose eggs. She thought the children could use the eggs for projects. But the late Trina Schart Hyman, (April 8, 1939–November 19, 2004), an American Illustrator of children's books and friend of the school, suggested that the eggs be used for a fundraiser instead. Her idea hatched a bi-annual fundraiser where artists decorate the eggs and send them back to the school for an online auction.

Various types of eggs – goose, quail, hen and emu – are sent to artists all over the world. They return transformed with paint, ink, pencil, gilded, sculpted, cut, collaged and otherwise incredible eggs. Trina's "eggstraordinary" art event has become the school’s biggest fundraiser - The Great Goose Egg Auction.

Despite skepticism at first, the eggs returned were great "Egg Art", and raised over $5,000 that first year. Since then, the school has held the auction every other year, and has raised as much
as $21,500 (2006 auction, honoring Trina's memory). Over the years, the eggs have been donated by a dozen Caldecott Medal & honor recipients and four Macarthur Fellows. Other contributions have come from alumni of the school, local artists, and volunteers from around the world.

I am excited to be a part of this great fundraiser that Trina Schart Hyman began. My goose egg arrived, neatly bubble wrapped in a brown box, back in November 2009. I unwrapped it and left it positioned on my drawing table for inspiration. It didn't take long and an image came right to mind of a baby goose sleeping. I did a sketch with a baby goose in a stroller. I pictured the baby goose on either side of the egg, in a night and day version. By night, sleeping. By day strolling

Here is a step-by- step diary of how I painted, "Hello Baby Goose".

Spring Blossoms

We are enjoying the fresh spring weather. It's time to bring out the bicycles, scooters, and to freshen up the spring wardrobe. I was in Walmart yesterday and I saw this large group of jewelry findings for sale. I decided to have a little fun, bought  a few things and dug out a few things from my stash. I ended up making this necklace for about $13. 

Enjoy! xo, L

Can't Get Enough Of...

The Fitzgeralds (& the 1920's)! Just read Tender is the Night and am on to Zelda, a biography by Nancy Milton... next will be This Side of Paradise!

Quinoa Pudding with Mango and Pineapple

Inspiration. Is it an ephemeral, elusive bit of magic? Something people lie in wait for, sometimes living life only from one flash of brilliance to the next…the time in between inconsequential and forgotten. Or is it something that is ever present? Slyly camouflaged all around us…just waiting for us to notice?

I’d like to think it is that latter. That inspiration truly exists among us and can be found in the everyday. That it is precisely in the everyday where brilliance thrives. That it is inspiration that lies in wait for us, and not the other way around.

It doesn’t take much to inspire me or make me smile in wonder. The scent of a mangoes ripening on my dining room table. The way bread dough comes together. Butter melting. The slight tickle of really long earrings brushing against my bare shoulder. What happens to vegetables when you roast them. Nice stationary. My baby’s giggle. My friends.

And all of you. Those of you that always leave your comments here even when I’ve been terribly delinquent. Those of you that are silent but keep dropping in. You who leave helpful hints and answer my sometimes amateurish questions. You who cheer me on. You who I have met. You who I have yet to meet.

Another place where I find endless inspiration is other blogs. Food bloggers’ passion, and the delicious results of that passion, never fails to inspire me. This beautiful pudding is one such example.

Quinoa Pudding with Mango and Pineapple
(adapted from Cannelle at Vanille)

  • 3 – 3 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup dark muscovado sugar
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1/2 cup pineapple chunks
  • 1/2 cup mango chunks

- Rinse quinoa in a strainer for a few seconds.
- Combine 3 cups of the milk and the sugar in a saucepan and bring to a simmer.
- Add the quinoa and stir. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring every few minutes, especially in the latter part of cooking so your quinoa doesn’t stick.
- If mixture starts looking too dry, or you would like a more liquid pudding, add the extra 1/2 cup of milk. I didn’t have too although I must admit I do like a fairly squidgy pudding.
- Ladle pudding into bowls, cups, or glasses (as I did here) and top with mango and pineapples.

Anyone who has visited Aran’s gorgeous blog knows that it is bursting at the seams with charm and beauty. A virtual stroll through her pages always leaves me inspired. When I saw this pudding I knew I had to recreate it – not only did it look enticing, it was a quinoa version of arroz con leche (which my mum makes and I love!). I decided to make mine with our local dark muscovado sugar, whose deep molasses-y flavor got on perfectly with the quinoa’s earthiness. Instead of strawberries, I topped mine with pineapples and mangoes…our intensely sweet summer fruits. The juicy mangoes were a gift from another food blogging friend. Yet one more thing that inspires me – the generosity of food bloggers who are so willing to share even if they haven’t really “met” the person at the other end (thank you Divina!)!

This blog has always been a very personal space for me – a place where I journal my life in the kitchen (and sometimes outside of it too!). But over the course of almost five years you (yes you!) have, happily, become a part of it. No, it isn’t my birthday, nor my blog’s birthday, nor any occasion of distinction. Just another lovely everyday in which I'd like to say thank YOU for the inspiration! :)


I have found  myself subscribing to many blogs here on the interwebs.  People are so crafty, and they give me so many fantastic ideas!  I am, however, going to take a break from reading some of these blogs because my brain and hands cannot work on the same schedule.  My brain and feet are currently conspiring together so that I may train for a marathon, but the hands get left out.  So if I am absent, it is probably because I am running.  Or playing trivia.  You know, whichever comes first.

Obamarama - Day Six

I sleep deeply for the first time in their house and piss away the morning doing nothing in particular. In the early afternoon, my godmother takes me into the city. Pittsburgh has a pretty poor reputation around the rest of America; a steel town that died a graceless death, it is only now starting to emerge as something worthwhile again. The fact that it is the home of both the NHL and NFL champions must annoy those detractors.

That night we have a barbeque and I'm given presents that I don't expect or deserve. My godmother is giving me a lift to the airport early in the morning, but I won't see my godfather, or their son, again on this trip. Saying goodbye is strangely emotional - though their being my godparents was little more than a favour to fellow expats 26 years ago, for me it feels like I've had an all-too-brief family reunion. But one day I intend to drive around America and now I know I'll be sincerely welcome here. That warm feeling pushes out any gloom.

Obamarama - Day Five

I suppose if you went through the rule book strictly, I'd have already drifted into sacking territory a number of times. Today, though, is the day for arguably my worst offence. I was baptised in Pakistan. Most people who went drinking with me in university know this: for reasons unknown, when steaming I had a habit of telling strangers the fact and when they inevitably didn't believe me, I called my mother who would inevitably be working nightshift to verify the story. It was a strange chat-up line, no doubt.
It was, however, true. I've never found out as much as I'd like about those sketchy days, and had intended to do a chunk of my own investigating back where they were working in my infancy. That was, of course, until Pakistan imploded and the US started bombing the north of the country. Perhaps one day I'll make it back to the Tarbela Dam, but in the mean time I've decided to track down my godparents who I haven't seen since I was a baby. Having spent a number of years working around the world, they settled in Pittsburgh in the early 1990s. I got in touch with them before I left and they were happy to meet me; so far as the office knows, I'm still in Chicago.
With everyone out of town or working, I'm picked up at the airport by a family friend and left to potter around the house for a few hours. To my surprise, a mask of professionalism takes hold and I use the time to write my piece. With the right editing, it may well be the best thing I've written since moving. It'll doubtless be denounced as boring.
Then my godparents arrive. Much of the detail about the visit is either personal or wholly uninteresting to outsiders, so I'll be brief: they live in a beautiful house in a wooded suburb and are even warmer and lovelier than I could reasonably have expected. When I find out my godfather is a Charles Bukowski and John Fante fan, I know beyond doubt that I'm in the right place.
I question him on the brief time he knew my parents, but more intently on what it's been like to spend a life moving around the world for work, taking opportunities as the arose, deciding when to leap and when to stay. He talks and talks and as he does so an image builds in my mind of a man standing at the top of hill looking down. Rather than hesitate or fret, he starts running. Faster and faster he runs, never stopping, always moving towards the unknown. I'm not sure if the man is me or him, but for a few months now I've had a feeling that my next full time job won't be in the UK. Speaking to my godfather, though he doesn't know it, has probably confirmed that.

Obamarama - Day Four

This morning I am going on a tour of Hyde Park, the neighbourhood on the south side of Chicago where Barack Obama lived while teaching and going to White Sox games. My guide is a small Pinoy (let's face it: they're nearly all small) who has lived in Chicago all his life. He's part of the city's Greeter programme which uses people who are genuinely so in love with Chicago they're happy to volunteer afternoons to take visitors around. It's hard to imagine such a scheme in Glasgow - if there was one, it'd likely end in a mugging in Easterhoose.
The tour itself is only so interesting and it's not helped by my lack of questions. My fatigue has moved beyond just yawning to something more complete. Still, I follow the wee man around as enthusiastically as I can, even though he has to remind me to take pictures on more than one occasion. After an hour or so we get to the Obama's house, which sits right in the middle of the neighbourhood like any other. "He's the first urban President for quite a while," the professor had said yesterday. He wasn't kidding.
Outside sits a permanent police guard hurrying along any loiterers, including tour busses that aren't allowed to stop. Presumably those on board paid money to see his house and while they technically have, it strikes me as a tremendous rip off. From our vantage point on the pavement across the road, we can take our time to try and glimpse nothing in particular through the trees. Also concealed nearby will be a team of secret service agents, the guide tells me.
From there we go to his old barber, where his favourite chair is now encased in hard plastic and signed. On the wall there are covers of Time magazine carrying his image. They've been signed too. The guide tells me to take a picture of the chair, which I do to be polite, but really it's nothing interesting. Barack Obama is the biggest celebrity in the United States, so said the Republican Party in one of their less outrageous smear campaigns against him during the election. It's hard not to agree with that now, and nowhere is his fame more celebrated than here.
I think my guide is a little disappointed that I've not been a bit more enthusiastic about his tour, but in truth it's kind of hard to get enthusiastic about anything. My physical energy feels OK - I go to the gym to test it out - but mentally, I'm pooped. I piss away part of the afternoon on the internet, mindlessly checking things that I'll forget a few minutes later.
I try outside again. Gino's East is a famous pizzeria in the middle of town; what originally started as family business is now a chain. In each branch, punters have graffitied the inside with thousands on menchies: "Bawbag Snr and Bawbag Jnr woz ere 2 c u, b 4 u" and all that shite.
I skip the queue again, not because I'm anything special, but because I'm alone so they can stick me on a stool at the bar. I'm not sure the small victory of sauntering to the front outweighs the public defeat of being a loner.
I'm here to get the pizza for which the chain is famed - that is until I see the price of it: an individual deep dish is $23. Instead I go for the lasagne which is literally half the price for double the portion. I'm just forcing down the last mouthful I can muster when a staggeringly fat Texan plonks himself on the stool next to me. I look at the fragile wooden structure beneath him... carpentry is an amazing thing.
Surprisingly he's a family doctor, in town with his slightly less humongous wife for some conference or other. We shoot the breeze for a while, but I find myself unsure of whether or not I've already told them some things. With hindsight, there's no way I could have, but I've repeated the same shit to so many people over the past few days ("Yeah, well they do have a lot of tall buildings, but when you actually live there, you realise it's a bit of a nightmare" and so on) that I've kind of lost track. Doubtless the large amount of heavy food and two beers haven't helped, but I quickly retreat to the hotel room, confused.
This is my last night in Chicago - who knows, perhaps ever - and I'm supposed to be going to a blues show. I've been looking forward to it all week, but now my brain feels detached from my body and I'm not sure. "Never pass up an opportunity" my mother told me when I went to Israel a couple of years ago on my first press trip. I've stuck to that maxim since, but tonight, when a cloudburst puts the final nail in the coffin, I'm relieved to be staying in alone.

Nautical Photography

Allan Villiers: Sailor & Photographer.

Obamarama - Day Three

The University of Chicago has been associated with over 70 Nobel laureates, a world record. Not only that, but Barack Obama taught constitutional law there for 12 years. And that, in part at least, is what my story is about – Chicago and its history with Presidents, especially Obama.
Rather than mangle with public transport to get there, I opt for a cab, only to be denied by fate. Inexplicably my ATM card has stopped working, leaving me without enough money for a taxi across the city.

I only have about $7 in my pocket so I send a pre-emptively apologetic email to the media contact at the uni and head to the train station. Looking at the map, Garfield station seems to be within sight of the UOC so that’s where I get off. Already half an hour late, I walk in what I think is the right direction, sweaty, frustrated and in no way ready to do a proper interview.

It quickly becomes clear that the uni isn’t within sight. Not only that, but I suddenly seem to be in the middle of a Wire-esque project . It’s less immediately intimidating that, say, Nitshill but it’s not too nice all the same. The fact that I haven’t seen a cab in 15 minutes doesn’t bode well either. It’s been longer since I saw another white face too and with slightly blonder hair than I had yesterday (thanks to the endless sun) I stick out like a polar bear in grizzly country.
A middle aged dude in a blue vest walks past and roars to one of his friends, “It ain’t easy, being Cheesy!” And, after my turtle head has retracted, I take the time to note that he’s got a grizzled voice like James Brown gargling gravel.
Amused as I am by this, though, I’m still not in a friendly neighbourhood, nor am I any closer to my interviewee. Desperate, I hail a police wagon. Inside an enormous black cop grudgingly ends a call to his woman and asks me what I’m doing. A bit of to-ing, fro-ing and dumb foreigner routine later and I find myself in the back of the car.
The seats are hard, the leg space non-existent – this certainly isn’t the kind of chauffeuring I imagined I’d be getting at the start of the week. But I can’t stop grinning all the same.

The cop talks a bit, politely hinting that I’m an idiot. “Actually a new study came out and it said that the corner you were just waiting on is the second most dangerous neighbourhood in America. One in four people experience violent crime, so they say anyway.” I’m very proud of this fact, although slightly sceptical; he is too.

“Personally I work more dangerous corners in Chicago, let alone the rest of the country.”
A few minutes later I’m at the University, receiving a bear of a handshake from the cop and being ushered into the complex. I talk to a professor of black politics, who despite being bombarded with the same pissy questions for the past couple of years (“So do you actually know Him? What about Her?”) is polite and friendly.

After finishing up the Obama stuff I’m led to the Oriental Institute. The University of Chicago is an old, rich university and as such is a world leader in many fields, including archaeology. They have 11 digs around the world discovering things for the first time, bringing artefacts back here or sometimes trading them with institutions like the British Museum and the Louvre. It’s an incredible place, all backed by old Rockefeller money.

I leave the university and take the much safer over-ground train back to the city centre. Inexplicably, although I’m again the only white person in sight, the conductor moves through the train and asks for everyone’s ticket but mine. I certainly don’t offer to buy on either; as anyone who has commuted between Glasgow and Ayr will tell you, there are few more satisfying things in life than a free train fare.
I get off at Grant Park (which is dedicated to an American president and has a statue of Lincoln; meanwhile, in Lincoln Park there is a statue of Grant). This weekend sees the start of Taste of Chicago, an enormous, sprawling food fair that gives most of the city an excuse to be extra-special fat bastards, while also putting on a bit of music. I walk through the carnage and don’t stop, not even when offered cocaine by a fragile looking slinger near The Bean.
A quick turn around at Ritz Carlton, where I’ll be spending my last two nights, and I’m out again, this time to the Donald Trump Tower. It’s one of the tallest structures in a city of skyscrapers, all shiny and imposing at the river’s edge. They’ve just opened a new bar for posers and are keen for coverage, so that’s where I find myself. If the clientele are to be judged on their conversation, then there can be little doubt that they are all shit people, albeit a rich and good looking shade of shit. With my backpack that now reeks of sweat and my humidity-generated afro, I look like a hobo that snuck in the back door, but I’m essentially a VIP which almightily pisses off a lot a preening dicks that are on a two hour waiting list to get in.
I double check with the manager that everything is free, then order three courses and three cocktails which quickly make me horribly tipsy. I’m supposed to be writing tonight and after the day it’s been I probably should. That window of opportunity has passed though; once again, it’s bed time.