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August 27, 2011

New Orleans – a mixed bag

New Orleans – a mixed bag

I was disappointed and disgusted by New Orleans on the day of my arrival.

Well, actually I did not arrive in the day but at night. So I was ready for a bite of food and a beer after a long journey.

Since Bourbon Street – the party street of New Orleans – was nearby, it seemed like a sensible destination to go. And there was certainly something for my senses in Bourbon Street.

The first thing that struck me, as I entered the street, was the horrible stench of horse manure, garbage, urine and vomit that mixed in the hot and humid air. Oh boy…

At the same time my eyes were met with the flashing signs of the various establishments of Bourbon Street. And the first few establishments on the street were exactly “establishments” if you know, what I mean – and I think you do.

If the signs were not enough to get your attention, one or more girls of the said establishments would stand in the doorway “wearing nothing but a button and a bow” – to quote a song by Leiber and Stoller – while pointing at you and yelling: “come heeeeere!”

The girls had to yell pretty loud because the street was like a disco inferno. It seems that the loudspeakers were turned out the windows and doorways in another attempt to get your attention.

The crowd was as thick as the stench, and everybody seemed to be intoxicated to the point where they had lost any inhibition.

From the balconies “pearl” necklaces went flying though the air aimed at the ladies walking on the street. Some would pick them up and in turn flash something the other way. It is apparently a New Orleans tradition…

In the pubs I witnessed a way of “dancing” that I had not seen carried that far before. And I have to admit that I am not ashamed on a dance floor. Let’s give them something to talk about, right?

But hey, the “dry dancing” that I saw that night was a bit over the top. In one place the singer of a band put her big behind over the railing. A guy in the audience would then stick his whole face – well, you know where – and rub it in. His wife cheered him on…

If that was not enough, the big mamma on stage would then turn around, grab his head with one leg around his neck while standing on the other and rubbed his face in again. Meanwhile, another couple was “dry dancing” against the railing. I left…

In fact I left Bourbon Street after a couple of beers and walked back disgusted by the place.

I was thinking to myself – what is this place? Well, it was certainly dirty in every meaning of the word.

It really is a shame, because there is so much history, culture and cuisine in New Orleans, which is easily overshadowed by all the decadence and tacky touristic stuff.

Now, it is not as bad everywhere in Bourbon Street as described above. But being just by myself, being sober and unable to engage anyone in a normal conversation, I took a negative focus, I guess.

However, the next day I started to view New Orleans from a different perspectives. I received an email from my hiking buddy, Tania, who I had met in Yellowstone. She was in town with her colleagues for a convention and invited me to join them for lunch. How nice – I ran to the “Crazy Lobster” to join the group!

We had some nice seafood, and afterwards Tania and I went for smoothie (not smooching) and a chat on a bench overlooking the mighty Mississippi. As mentioned in other posts, the social experiences on my trip are really the best part of it. And it is really amazing how you sometimes can have a great conversation with someone that you have just met recently.

Tania was a bit stricken after a few days of attending the convention (and partying with her colleagues), so she went back to her hotel to get a nap, while I wandered on through town and looked at some of the nice galleries and antique shops in the French quarter.

In the evening I had the opportunity to hang out with Tania and her colleagues again. I really appreciated that. Suddenly, I saw Bourbon Street from another angle as I was now part of a group and could focus on my new friends instead of feeling alienated by the too-much behavior of some of the people.

We had a ball, and I was thankful that I did not have to go straight to the airport like my new friends from Texas.

In fact, I stayed a few more days exploring the Big Easy and trying to discover more of the genuine culture, cuisine and architecture.

It is there – actually, there is so much of it. But it is like grasping for gold nuggets in a muddy stream, if you do not come prepared: you do not know where to reach, the stream might lead you on a detour, you might grab something unintentional and get your hands dirty, if you are not careful…

So, during the next couple of days I tried to grasp those nuggets in the muddy stream and avoiding the cheap offers and the tricksters of the town.

Among other activities, I went for a nice historic walk in the garden district with a very educated guide, Nancy, and a couple of other tourists from New York.

We were just the four of us, so it was a real personal experience and I even had the time to do a bit of photography along the way, setting up my tripod etc.

We started at the historic Lafayette Cemetery, where Nancy explained how a Louisiana burial works.  A family tomb usually consists of a small mausoleum with two burial chambers – one above the other.

When somebody dies, the body is placed in the chamber below in a thin wooden casket. When the next family member passes – if at least one year and one day has passed – the burial chamber will be cleaned out and the remains moved to the “second floor” with the rest of the family. You see, after a year of “cooking” (as Nancy put it) in the Louisiana heat and humidity, the body and casket is broken down almost completely. Only the scull and pelvis may be left with the remaining dust…

We went on to see a lot of interesting homes in the beautiful garden district – a very nice break from dirty downtown. As we stopped at the home of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, where he in fact died, I had to ask Nancy how southerners feel about the civil war.

I had expected a rather complicated explanation, but almost before I finished the question, Nancy blurted out: “we should have won!”

Nancy went on to explain how Lincoln had not freed (all) the slaves; that the proclamation of emancipation was only directed at the Confederate States as a measure of war. The slaves of the rest of the country (Union states and various other areas) were only freed in 1865 when congress passed the 13th amendment, she informed me.

Well, I learn and experience something new every day. Hmmm…

Nancy could also tell a ghost story or two. In her house, the pictures would come off the wall. They would not fall down and break. No, the ghost of a young woman would gently pick them down and put them on the floor. Hmmm, Nancy, maybe you husband is playing tricks with you!

Anyway, it seemed like a fitting story, as we would soon pass the house not only of local residents Sandra Bullock and John Goodman, but also the birthplace of Ann Rice, who wrote “Interview with the Vampire” – which by the way was filmed in part at Oak Alley Plantation, which I would later visit.

I highly recommend such a walk in the garden district, if you visit New Orleans.

Back in dirty downtown I continued to explore and grasp for the golden nuggets in the muddy stream of New Orleans. One nugget was easy to locate: Preservation Hall just off Bourbon Street. The building truly looks dilapidated and the interior is even “worse” – but that is part of its charm! And every night it comes alive with original and acoustic New Orleans jazz without any amplification whatsoever. It is great – go there, if you are in N’awlins!

I also got to hear some great amplified music in another street – where you definitely have to go, if you are in town – Frenchmen Street. It is just off the French quarter, but more authentic than the tourist district. There are lots of places with live music on Frenchmen Street – and as opposed to Bourbon Street it is fortunately not a bunch of Bon Jovi cover bands. It is the real thing.

One night I heard the greatest blues-jazz-funk I have ever experienced. The band was smoking hot. In the middle of a set a blind gentleman, who looked like the ghost of Ray Charles, stepped up to the vintage Fender Rhodes and set the place on fire. Well, it looked like his fingers were on fire the way he played. And what music he/they made; man it rocked – or as a native son of Louisiana, Jerry Lee Lewis, once put it: “down in Louisiana, we call that boogie-woogie…”

By the way, in that pub I had the good fortune of meeting a nice young couple, Kim and Jason, from Chicago. They seemed to match each other perfectly like yin and yang. Kim had her 32nd birthday and probably had a drink or two to celebrate it. Or perhaps she just let all of her charisma and extrovert personality shine through on her birthday. Jason on the other hand was calm as a rock taking in the experience of the band in a cool relaxed fashion. I enjoyed hanging out with my new friends for a couple of drinks and enjoying the incredible band together. By the way, thanks guys, for the party photos – I really appreciate it! ;-)

As I walked home, I passed a couple of poetry writers on the street. They were typing away on old typewriters, writing poetry at demand. One of them was sitting on a chair. The other was sitting in a (clean) trashcan on a cushion. Hmm…

As I approached my hotel, I was approached myself by a working girl, but she was fortunately no hassle. Then next a fat rat crossed the street and literally ran over my feet as it headed for the basement of a luxury hotel, which I will leave unnamed.

Yes, New Orleans is a mixed bag indeed. But do go to the Big Easy to visit – especially if you have somebody to go with. Just prepare yourself so that you know in advance where to find the golden nuggets of your interest. Then you can have a great time spiced with some rather unusual impressions…

To my surprise, I was almost thrown out of Jackson Square for setting up my tripod to take a photo of the equestrian statue and the cathedral. Notice that this is one of the rare equestrian statues, where the horse is only resting on two legs. Usually, the statue is also resting on the tail for structural strength.


St. Louis Cathedral is a catholic church.


I met Giovanni just around the corner from Jackson Square. He was down on his luck and I gave him a buck or two. In turn he posed for a photo or two. I promised to tell everybody to go look for Giovanni, if you go to New Orleans!


Preservation Hall also looks like it has been through a lot. It is a great place to experience authentic New Orleans jazz.


There is a woodoo shop just across the street from Preservation Hall. Here is the shop's window display.


A waitress, Rita, was hanging out in the doorway waiting for guests. She kindly offered me a glass of water as she saw that I was dehydrated. In return I took her portrait and this silhouette as I cooled off inside.


Certain parts of Bourbon Street are quite dirty... every sense of the word. I will spare you from pictures from this spot at night, when the "staff" started working...


Here is another shot from Bourbon Street before sunset, when the creatures of the night would really come out. I was heading back for my hotel as I did not want to get stranded there with all my photo equipment.


A residence in the French quarter a bit earlier in the day. I think somebody likes white here...


Here are a couple of garden cottages in the French quarter. I used the Canon TS-E 24mm II to blur the top and bottom of the photo - but it really only shows at the bottom as there is no detail in the sky. A nice effect, I think.


Now we are in the garden district, which is much nicer and cleaner. I just love the the Greek revival architecture and the columns.


Here is another set of columns. Former President of the Confederate States of America, Jefferson Davis, died in this home in the garden district. He was first laid to rest in New Orleans. Later his remains were moved to Richmond, Virginia.


The members of a secret society are resting in these tombs. Nobody knows exactly what it was about, because the last member burned all the papers of the secret society before passing away. Your guess is as good as mine...


August 25, 2011

The Cabin Restaurant

The Cabin Restaurant

There are not many slave cabins left at the old plantations. In fact there were none at the couple of plantations that I visited. So to get the full picture I visited the Cabin Restaurant in Burnside, which is based in an old slave cabin that was moved from a plantation to its present location.

It is a very nice rustic place with a lot of great old antiques and wonderful junk around. Inside the cabin still has old newspapers in certain places as “wallpaper” to insulate it.

I highly recommend the Cabin Restaurant – not only because of the authenticity of the building and the decor – but also for the authentic great southern cooking. And you get your ice tea in an old fruit jar!

I visited the Cabin Restaurant in Burnside in the afternoon when the sun was behind the cabin. The sky would have been blown out or the cabin would have been in darkness, if I took a normal photo. So instead I took three bracketed exposures and combined them into a high dynamic range image (HDR) via Photomax. I am not very experienced with Photomatix yet. But, what do you think?


Some of the nice old junk as seen through the Canon TS-E 24mm II lens with a bit of swing.


I also let the TS-E 24mm II shine on this rustic old wreck of a safe. I tried just to keep (part of) the combination lock in focus.


August 25, 2011

Nottoway UPDATED

Nottoway UPDATED

My reason to visit Nottoway was primarily to see the Greek Revival and Italianate style architecture designed by Henry Howard of New Orleans.

The “White Castle” was completed in 1859 for John Hampden Randolph and his wife, Emily Jane Liddell Randolph. It became the home to them and their eleven children!

The mansion, which is the largest remaining antebellum in the South, has 53,000 square feet of space and originally sat on 400 acres of land and 620 acres of swamp.

Randolph started out with 20 slaves on the plantation but eventually he would reach 500 slaves between Nottoway and his other plantation, Forest Home.

I toured the grounds by myself and the mansion with a guide. She mentioned that the slaves probably did not have it too bad. They got a hog for Christmas…

In addition to the interesting information about the family, the plantation, how the mansion was saved etc., it was an experience by itself to listen to the real southern accent of the young lady that served as a guide.

It is impossible in writing to express how she could say “Nottowaaayyyy” in that slow southern style and hang on to the last syllable. Also, it seemed that every sentence contained a “y’all”. I found it very charming – as I love local accents, which unfortunately are fading away in most places.

So, go and see or stay at Nottowaaayyyy if y’all are in the area!

Obviously I used the Canon TS-E 24 mm II to avoid converging lines when photographing Nottoway Plantation.


I used the same lens for this photo. But due to the setting of the sun I had to do an HDR from this angle, so I took three photos and combined them in Photomatix. How do you like it?


Nottoway is located just outside the village of White Castle, which was named after Nottoway. Back in the day not only the exterior but also the interior of the mansion was white.Today only this room is white. You may notice yours truly and the flash in the mirror.


A section of a Randolph family portrait hanging in the mansion. It was obviously painted before the reaming nine children were born.


The dining room of Nottoway. The original china was pink, but as only a few pieces could be found, the curator decided to collect a similar set in blue, which apparently was easier to obtain.


This bell was used to inform the slaves when the working day began and ended.


August 24, 2011

Oak Alley Plantation UPDATED

Oak Alley Plantation UPDATED

I went by Oak Alley Plantation as I just had to snap that familiar image of the mansion at the end of the alley.

I also toured the building escorted by a lady dressed up in a gown from back in the day, when the mansion was in its heyday. On the guided tour you mostly get to hear about the family, the construction of the mansion, tragedy and dilapidation – and finally how the mansion was restored and saved for the future. The slaves that made it all possible are only mentioned briefly. But their names are known as they figure on the list of inventory (!) that made the quite accurate re-furnishing of the mansion possible. It was also mentioned that there is an effort to put up a recreated slave cabin on the grounds.

Photography is not allowed inside the mansion, but the alley and facade alone made my visit worthwhile.

By the way, Oak Alley has been used as a location for countless movies, “Interview with the Vampire” among them.

The mansion is nice as seen from this side...


...but the oak alley makes it great! The alley was planted much earlier than the present mansion was built.


The oak alley as seen from the second floor of the house. At the end of the alley the Mississippi levee system is visible.


August 16, 2011

Elvis Week – Graceland UPDATED

Elvis Week – Graceland UPDATED

Memphis and Elvis Presley’s Graceland was originally not on my schedule for this trip.

I had been there and done that more than 20 years ago. But a good friend convinced me to go, and since I had the opportunity to visit coinciding with the events of “Elvis Week”, why not?

From a personal point of view, my visit to Memphis gave me the unexpected opportunity to reunite with a dear friend that I have known for 23 years, but with whom I had lost contact. Incidentally, as I drove towards Memphis I heard on the radio that Mr. Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires – who backed Elvis from 1956-1970 – would appear at a charity dinner at the Peabody Hotel. I went straight there for a ticket to a reunion!

Our meeting has certainly been a highlight on my trip. I respect Gordon Stoker so much for all of his amazing accomplishments in the field of music, but most of all I respect him and treasure our friendship because he is a great human being!

Among the official events, I enjoyed the concert with Elvis appearing on a large video screen and backed by a real live band. It rocked and brought down the house. Go see “Elvis in Concert” if it comes near you – or go travel to see it. There will be a tour in Europe, March 2012.

At other events, people who had worked with Elvis appeared and shared some really great stories. There were also other concerts, including morning gospel with the “Imperials”.

Also the forthcoming box set: “Elvis – the young man with the big beat” containing all of Elvis masters and newly discovered live recordings from the crucial year of 1956 was presented. It will be released September 23rd.

But let me just get back to the whole Elvis phenomenon, because it is not really as portrayed in the general media that always focuses on a few nerds dressed up in jumpsuits.

But hey, nerds like that only represent perhaps 1 percent of the fans. In fact, the diversity among fans does not seize to amaze me. Fans come from all walks of life, spanning across generations, races, nationalities and other barriers.

Neither did I see a lot of fans crying at the candlelight vigil, where fans defile past the grave to show their respect. In fact, out of the several thousand people at the vigil I noticed only one lady shedding a tear. More probably did so, but the event is by no means a mass hysteria as it is often portrayed in the media. It is just a very cool social event – with a certain reverence to it – where a diverse crowd of people from all over the world come together over their common interest: Elvis and his music.

The real interesting story that the media is missing out on is really why Elvis Presley and his music continues to stay so popular attracting new legions of fans from all over the world?

I mean; during the Elvis Week the re-release of “The Great Performances” on DVD went straight to number 1 on Billboard. Elvis has 4.5 million friends on Facebook. Not bad for a guy that has been gone for 34 years…

Sure he was a handsome guy, he had a great voice, he had the moves, he revolutionized the music scene, he was the highest paid actor in Hollywood and he had lot of other talents and accomplishments on his CV. He also had human flaws that contributed to the end and the whole myth around him.

But there is more to it and it transcends all that. Somehow Elvis just touched people in a genuine way through his music and performances. And his legacy continues to do so. And what is wrong with that?

Do not hesitate to leave a comment or message on the Elvis phenomenon or your experience, if you took part in Elvis Week 2011. I always appreciate the feedback.

Thank-you-very-much, ladies-and-gentlemen!

PS: If you are an Elvis fan, be sure also to check out the following posts: “Bling for the King” which features exclusive videos clips with Elvis’ jeweler, Mr. Lowell Hays, who tells a couple of candid stories about Elvis, a cocktail waitress, jewelry and more; “Elvis’ birthplace & museum” about the interesting things I learned in Tupelo and “Sun Studio – my first recordings!

While in Memphis I had the unexpected opportunity to meet my good friend, Mr. Gordon Stoker of the Jordanaires. Here Gordon Stoker is surrounded by his wonderful wife, Jean, and his sons Brent and Alan (left to right).


Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis, TN. Thanks to Elvis Presley Enterprises for access.


The living room and the music room at Graceland.


Visitors admire a few of the costumes and awards on display at Graceland.


Fans leave flowers and some tacky stuff on the grave. In the early morning of August 16th when the candlelight vigil ended, the grave slab was covered with a huge heap of flowers. Elvis name was barely readable.


"The pride of Elvis Presley Airways" - the Lisa Marie jet - named after his daughter. It is a four engine Convair 880. There is also a smaller Jetstar on display. You may also want to see the car museum...


Photographer Alfred Wertheimer, who took the iconic photo in the background, talks to Tom Brown of Turner Classic Movies about how the photograph came about. The girl in the photo only identified herself this year and told the story from her perspective.


George Klein was a longtime friend of Elvis and wrote the book "Elvis: My Best Man". George hosts the annual "Memphis Mafia Reunion" at Alfred's on Beale Street. Here he is posing with a couple of Australian fans.


I "caught" these very young Elvis fans writing graffiti on the Graceland wall - but it is allowed! I found it so cute that the girl left the following message to the King on the wall: "Even though I did not get to see you, I still love you, Dannesha."


This sweet lady did get to meet Elvis and I am sure she also loves him still.


Young fans from Mexico visited with their parents. Yes, teenage girls sport Elvis sunglasses and it is cool!


Another cool young Elvis fan at the candlelight vigil.


And here's a whole bunch of young fans who declared that they were "hot". I will leave that undisputed.


Three generations of Elvis fans: grandmother, daughter and a grandchild. If you wonder about grandma's expression, I asked her to imagine, that I was Elvis...


The diversity among Elvis fans at the candlelight vigil is amazing. Elvis transcends all the usual boundaries. That is what makes the candlelight vigil so cool - people from all walks of life and from all over the world come together over Elvis and his music.


Graceland at the night of the candlelight vigil. Thanks to Elvis Presley Enterprises for access.


August 14, 2011

Beale Street, Memphis

Beale Street, Memphis

Beale Street in Memphis is home to the flippers – and the blues. At night the police keep the place in a tight grip as the party gets going. Story is coming up about my experiences on Beale…

August 8, 2011

Kimballton & Elk Horn (video)

Kimballton & Elk Horn (video)

The villages Kimballton and Elk Horn in Iowa are probably less well-known Danish immigrant communities than Solvang, California. But while I have not met a single person of Danish descent on my two visits to Solvang, Danish descendants are everywhere in the two Iowa villages. In fact the very first person I had the pleasure of meeting in Elk Horn – Lisa Steen Riggs, manager of the Danish windmill – had a Danish background.

Yes, Elk Horn has an original Danish windmill from 1848 – in contrast to the replicas in Solvang. Check out the video below to learn more about the windmill.

Lisa explained to me that the Danish immigrants had settled in two villages according to life style and beliefs. The “holy Danes”, of which many were member of “The Internal Mission”, had settled in Elk Horn. The “happy Danes” had settled in nearby Kimballton. Later during my visit the local hairdresser told me the same story and added that even though the “holy Danes” were not supposed to drink,  some did anyway secretly…

Perhaps things have changed, because a micro brewery is underway in Elk Horn and there is a winery too in addition to the windmill, the Danish Immigrant Museum and other attractions. In Kimballton you will find a nice  replica of the Little Mermaid.

By the way, I think my colleagues in the Danish electricity company SEAS-NVE will be interested in knowing that just outside the village of Elk Horn there are a lot of modern windmills, just like in the real Denmark. Furthermore, Elk Horn is the community in the USA with the highest number of charging stations for electric vehicles per capita. Finally, Elk Horn has a high-speed optical fiber network!

How about that?

By the way, not many speak Danish anymore other than a few words, and Danish traditions change over time, which is understandable. But I have a hard time understanding that in Elk Horn the Danish Christmas special, “æbleskiver” (kind of waffles), and the dinner dish of “medisterpølse” (sausage) are served together – for breakfast!!!

After the windmill from Nørre Snede, Denmark was moved to Elk Horn, Iowa, Danish legislation was put in place to prevent further export of historic windmills. But the windmill had probably not been preserved, if it had not been exported. And, the undertaking really galvanized the Danish communities in and around Elk Horn.


The windmill as seen from behind the bust of famous Danish fairytale writer, Hans Christian Andersen.


Charging stations for electrical vehicles in Elk Horn, Iowa.



A typical house in Elk Horn.



The Little Mermaid in Kimballton, Iowa.


Stars and Stripes and Dannebrog seen to caress each other.


August 5, 2011

Crazy Horse Memorial

Crazy Horse Memorial

Sculptor Korczak Ziolkowski admired Gutzon Borglum and went to work for him at $1.25 an hour on Mount Rushmore in the summer of 1939. However, he would be fired after just three weeks on the mountain.

In his quite courteous termination letter to Ziolkowski, which is displayed at the Crazy Horse Memorial, Borglum implies that Mount Rushmore was not big enough for the two of them. Later Borglum would be less courteous though and denounce Ziolkowski and his talents. But Ziolkowski apparently continued to look up to Borglum, who is honored at the Crazy Horse Memorial visitor center.

Determined to make a name for him self, Ziokwsky went on to see if he could land the job to complete the Stone Mountain project that Borglum had quit in Georgia. It has been asserted that he presented himself as Borglum’s right hand man, but he was not successful in any case.

But later that year Ziolkowski’s luck would change. He won the first prize by popular vote for a sculpture at the New York World’s Fair. Then he got a letter from Lakota chief Henry Standing Bear, who in vain had tried to get war chief Crazy Horse represented on Mount Rushmore. He wrote to Ziolkowsky that, “my fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.”

Back in the Black Hills Ziolkowski presented a model for the project that did not exactly look like Crazy Horse as remembered by those who knew him. Ziolkowski explained that he meant the sculpture to represent all Indians…

What the sculpture may lack in actual resemblance and artistic elegance as found in Borglum’s work at Rushmore, it certainly makes up for it in size. Thus the Crazy Horse Memorial is several times bigger than Mount Rushmore.

I cannot help thinking that Ziolkowski had a score to settle there with Borglum; mine is bigger than yours, or something.

Blasting eventually started in 1948. Ziolkowski started by himself with an old compressor and a jackhammer. Given the scale of the project one has to be impressed with Ziolkowski’s determination to carry on for years with what seemed an impossible mission.

Eventually former students of his came out to assist him and that is how he met his wife to be, Ruth, and mother of their no less than 10 children. I guess Ziolkowski was not completely exhausted each night after working on the mountain…

Korczak Ziolkowski died in 1982 when he had basically only managed to scratch the surface of the mountain. But unlike Mount Rushmore work continued after the artist’s death. Thus Ruth, many of their children and the non-profit foundation behind the project hammered on, and 16 years later the face would be completed. Ruth, now in her 80’s, continues to lead the project.

Ziolkowski and the foundation have declined federal funding and the project is entirely driven by private funding.

I was told at my visit that they receive three million visitors each year. The admittance fee is $10, and each visitor surely spends a bit of money on concessions. Thus the foundation must have an annual turnover of around $50 million, I would estimate. So it seems do be doing all right without federal support.

The day I was there, 800 tons of rock was blasted from the mountain, and I was told that completion was expected in 25 years or so…

I have to say that I am not that impressed with the sculpture itself as a piece of art. In my opinion it is opulent and lacks the elegance of Mount Rushmore. However, I am immensely impressed by the determination of Ziolkowski and his family.

I could have taken a stone with me from the mountain as a souvenir. I did not. In stead I took note of a quote by Ziolkowski, which is as great as it is simple:

“Always remember your dreams!”

I will, and I am living a small one right now traveling across the US on my three-month road. I may even have bigger things up my sleeve. Just you wait and see… ;-)

A thunder storm assembles over the Crazy Horse Memorial. It prevented me from going closer as the buss rides were terminated due to the danger of lightning strikes.


The study model and the mountain taking shape in the background.


The mountain sculpture seen again from the study model - this time through the bended leg of the horse. When completed the openings of the sculpture will be smaller than originally envisioned for structural reasons.


August 5, 2011

Mount Rushmore controversies

Mount Rushmore controversies

I had expected that my visit to the Mount Rushmore National Memorial would be a drive by shooting – in photographic terms. But it turned out to be quite interesting from different perspectives – photographically and metaphorically speaking.

The fairly new visitor center in polished granite provides a nice setting for admiring the iconic monument and sinking into the patriotic atmosphere of the place.

The center also provides a lot of interesting information, but the story told is as polished as the shiny granite – and politically correct of course. Thus it leaves out some interesting controversies that I will get into in this post.

First of all there are quite a quite a few controversies surrounding the artist behind Mount Rushmore, Gutzon Borglum.

I knew that Borglum was the son of Danish immigrants, and at the visitor center I learned that his parents were Mormons. But it was not mentioned that Gutzon apparently was a child of polygamy (according to Wikipedia). When his father eventually left the Mormon movement, he apparently cast Gutzon’s mother out of the family never to be spoken of again.

I wonder if and how it affected young Borglum? In any case, whatever may have affected him, he certainly developed a controversial character. Thus Wikipedia describes him as domineering, perfectionistic, irascible and authoritarian.

It is also interesting that the stepping stone for Borglum to do Mount Rushmore was his experience from working on a stone carving of confederate leaders on Stone Mountain, Georgia. According to Wikipedia he became involved with Ku Klux Klan during that endeavor. He eventually quit the project in rage over disputes with the association behind the project.

Borglum would then go on to do Mount Rushmore where he chose to depict four union presidents, Lincoln among them.

Finally, there is the controversy regarding the rightful ownership of the Black Hills, where Borglum carved the faces of the four “great white fathers”. Thus in the Treaty of Fort Laramie of 1868 the Black Hills where granted to the Sioux Lakota tribe in perpetuity. Yet in 1877 the United States seized the lands from the Lakota.

In 1980 the Sioux Nation won a victory in the United States Supreme Court that awarded the tribe $120 million. However, the Sioux Nation refused to take the money and demanded that their sacred lands be returned to them. In the meantime the money has apparently accrued significantly and it seems that at least some Lakota are now interested in taking the money. I wonder how it will turn out, and how the money will be distributed?

Speaking of money: I believe there is a great deal of controversy regarding the funding of the Mount Rushmore project, but I will leave that up to the reader to research further…

Regardless of the controversies, Mount Rushmore is definitely worth a visit. Perhaps it is even better to forget about the controversies and just enjoy the marvelous mountain carvings.

In fact, I spent a great deal of time thinking about how even an unfinished, can be more than good enough, when the vision is grand enough.

An alley of flags from alle the states and terrirories lead to the monument.


A film is screened at this arena accompanied by a patriotic program hosted by a ranger.


The classic perspective on Mount Rushmore.


You can view Mount Rushmore from many different perspectives. Here is the face of George Washington as seen from a crack between two boulders.


A bust of Gutzon Borglum by his son, Lincoln Borglum, and his life's work in the background.



The model study of Borglums vision with the mountain seen through the window. It would have been impossible to take this photo in one shot due to the differences in lighting outside and inside. It was my plan to create a high dynamic range (HDR) photo using Photomatix. But I gave up and combined the two photos manually. I hope that it is good enough...


July 23, 2011

Colorado River rafting UPDATED

Colorado River rafting UPDATED

If you are looking for some action while staying in Moab, the Moab Adventure Center is the place to go.

So, I went there and met Anastasia of Russia, who was in an exchange program working in the center. With her charming Russian accent she quickly sweet-talked me into a full day of rafting.

I did not regret it. The rafting part was fun, and the social part was even better.

I was on a raft with the Solomon family from Arizona. They were great people and besides sharing the rafting experience, we discussed a whole range of subjects.

We discussed politics and cultural differences as I informed them about the Danish way of life and they informed about their faith and values as Mormons.

We probably did not agree on all issues and details, but we certainly agreed on a lot – not least a lot of values. Agreeing on all details was not the point anyway. The point was to exchange views and get a better understanding of one another. In addition we had a great time sharing the rafting adventure including a great lunch.

There were not too many rapids, but it was good fun anyway.

The guides were pretty good at instigating more fun by suggesting us to jump off the raft for a swim in the cool Colorado River. It was even more fun to get into water splashing battles with other rafts or to raid them, but we behaved ourselves on our vessel – for a while.

Then a raft came by with a bunch of cool guys and three girls that appeared to me as Charlie’s Angels. One of them, Courtney, was definitely the spitting image of Cameron Diaz, and the other two, Jen and Katelin, were equally pretty.

Somehow my Viking instincts got triggered and I felt an urge to raid that raft.

I jumped in and swam towards the “enemy” from one side while my buddy Brigg – a capable wrestler to say the least – approached it from the other in a classic pincer movement.

Before long the cool guys got cooler as Brigg and I pulled them into the river one after the other.

Charlie’s Angels seemed to freak out completely, screaming and holding on to held on to each other in the middle of the raft. Meanwhile, “Charlie” – the captain of their raft – defended them well as a rooster watching over his hens.

Finally, Brigg and I gave up – or perhaps we just showed mercy, as we were not entirely sure whether the girls nooooooooo’s were actually nays or ayes. Eventually the Angels jumped in the river voluntarily, but better safe than sorry on our part.

Later that evening I happened to run into the Angels again on the main street in Moab. They seemed a little freaked for a second. But I managed to repair my image somehow – even though Jen remained a bit suspicious, I think.

Nevertheless, Katelin kindly offered to show me around Salt Lake City, if I would be there on Tuesday.

I was not sure, but it turned out that I would…

We approach the rapids.


We are going under!


No, we made it - woohoo!


Charlie's Angels: Courtney, Jen and Katelin. This photo was taken using an iPhone.