Standing a loved one or a friend, or even an animal before a fabulous vista is a cultural staple of the holiday snapper. For me, apart from the “I/we was/were there” element, the juxtaposing of a human and or animal before vastness simultaneously humanises and accentuates the majesty of the given panorama. Painters have been doing the same thing since the days of the great Dutch and British landscape painters of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, from Van Ruisdael to Caspar David Friedrich.
Presented here are sadly no Friedrich’s, but this set of enhanced-photos from all my years of travel do nevertheless express something of that dramatic relationship between “us” and the landscapes we move within…
This dates back to the late 70’s when my old mate Simon and I drove around Cork and Kerry in his old orange Datsun. This is Simon peering over the edge at Slea Head near Dingle on the Kerry coast (famous for being the location for the movie Ryan’s Daughter)…
Taken around 1981, this is the summit of Mount Gilboa. The field of boulders could seem to bear witness to the power of David’s curse in his great lament for the fallen Saul and Jonathan that nothing should ever grow upon the mountain’s slopes again…
I thought that a lifetime of watching movies and TV series based in New York would have prepared me for my first visit to Central Park. But all the Kojak, all the Law and Order and all the Sex in the City in the universe could not have anticipated the blizzard of January 2016 and its magical transforming effect.
So, instead of a stroll through one of the world’s most famous urban “green” spaces, we found ourselves trecking through a pristine winter landscape.
Fortunately, unlike the evening before when I had left my camera in the hotel (see previous post “The Big White Apple”), this time I was prepared and here are some of the results…
Life’s a funny old thing, full of unexpected twists and turns. For instance, who knew just a few years ago, that the city of Little Rock, Arkansas would become one of my most regular travel destinations?
But unexpected things like that can happen to you when Little Rock ends up as your in-laws’ home town (how that came to pass is another story altogether).
And, as it happens, and contrary to nearly everything I’d been led to expect from its hillbilly caricature, Little Rock turned out to be an agreeable and welcoming town.
Bisected north from south by the Arkansas River, the city is unusually contained by American standards, surrounded as it is on most sides by wooded hills. The downtown area is on a reassuringly human scale for European sensibilities, and fairly pleasant to stroll around. The Arkansas State Capitol building (a virtual, smaller replica of the Capitol in DC) and the Old State House are both highly photogenic, and with its river walks, river market, excellent Historic Arkansas Museum and the Clinton Library, there’s enough to keep the average traveller interested for a day or two. Moreover, easy road access to the stunning Ouachita Forest and Lake, not to mention the nearby Hot Springs resort ensures that there’s plenty on offer for lovers of the American big outdoors.
And if all this weren’t sufficient reason for visiting then I should also mention that Little Rock has a rather special hotel; The Capital…
Ask the average Brit to name an iconic American hotel / city synonymy, the one that they would probably first think of would be the Waldorf Astoria / New York City. Asked to name another, they could then suggest the Beverly Hills / Los Angeles. If they were more than usually informed they would even be able to list a few more, such as the Biltmore / Miami, the Monteleone / New Orleans or the del Coronado / San Diego (of Some Like it Hot fame).
In fact just about every US city, large and small, from Spokane in the north to El Paso in the south has an iconic hotel that reflects the spirit, texture, and the history of the host town.
And as it turns out, Little Rock is no different.
Entering the Capital Hotel is the epitome of that cliché, entering a different world. More Claridges than Dorchester (for the benefit of my British readers), it’s an oasis of 19th century, understated grandness and subtle, tasteful decor. From its colonnaded, high ceilinged foyer to its immaculately appointed rooms and suites, the Capital offers an exceptionally comfortable experience embellished by flawlessly competent and courteous service.
In fact, the service at the Capital is worthy of special mention, for it somehow pulls off genuine southern charm without being gushing or over-the-top. So much of north American Hotel and restaurant service these days, and not merely in the South , is so intensely “friendly” and overly attentive, to non-Americans at least, it often feels more like your being dared or challenged not to have a good time. But, under the skilled guidance of its genial and dapper manager, Michael Chaffin, the staff at the Capital, exude the kind of confidence and assuredness that guarantees those fortunate enough to stay there the feeling of being sincerely valued and cared for.
Like all great American Hotels the Capital takes its restaurant and particularly its bars very seriously. So, it’s hardly a surprise that its main bar — the stylish-yet-business-like Capital Bar and Grill — is the place to be seen for anyone who is anyone in Little Rock; from brunching politicians to lunching celebrities to cocktail sipping businessmen and women. A solid, reasonably-priced menu of both typical, and not-so-typical bar snacks and entrees, plus a well-stocked bar, all contained within a relaxed, informal ambiance (often enhanced by a live jazz trio) make the bar a must-visit, even for non-guests of the hotel.
One Eleven at the Capital constitutes the hotel’s main restaurant and doubles up in the morning as the breakfast dining room. It also has its own, beautifully elegant bar manned by seriously skilled and intuitive bartenders whose cocktails are simply fabulous. (They even stock Lillet Blonde aperitif for those brave enough to try an authentic Vespa (a la Casino Royale).
Formally known as Ashley’s, the recently re-vamped restaurant itself now has a Michelin decorated French chef whose menu reflects a noble intention to bring his native expertise to local raw materials. And for the most part he succeeds brilliantly — the shrimp (prawns) and grits for example were an orgasmic revelation and worth a trip to Little Rock all on their own. However, even where the dishes don’t quite attain this kind of sublime perfection, everything we sampled was at the very least, delicious and perfectly cooked. Moreover, the Capital has a vast cellar, stocked with plenty of fine wines to match the quality of the food.
All in all then, a stay at the Capital Hotel — even if only for one night — is an experience worth saving for and sufficient reason in itself to visit Little Rock.
When I started this blog the only thing I ever meant to advertise was my own books. But, our experiences over the past few years at the Capital have been so pleasurable that I felt it was about time I let the world know about this southern gem of a hotel.
This is almost totally true except for the fact that the lady cutting my hair had two girlfriends in the salon with her and for much of the time my head was compressed by three sets of boobs rather than just merely one as they passed the time of day over my poor noggin!
The “salon” was situated in our local pueblo blanco, where, back in the 90’s “men were men” and never entered – let alone got their hair cut in such a “feminine” establishment. Thus, the hairdresser’s surprise and thrill at getting her hands on a head like mine was extreme.
Fortunately, Dido took pity on me and immediately raced me down to our local town on the coast for a remedial styling…
This episode also occurred during our 1993 move trip down to Spain in a 2 Michelin Star establishment in the French Pyrenees. There are just two “slight” exaggerations in this strip: Firstly; we didn’t really exchange places with Aura – as much as wanted to, and secondly; all the chef actually gave to Aura was merely a plate of duck carpaccio followed by sauteed calves liver in butter. There’s also one priceless thing which I failed to get across in this strip, and that was the horrified expressions of the mostly American patrons at the neighbouring tables!
And a PS: Aura really did often eat reclining, true to her ancient Roman heritage…
This is the first in the series where I stretched the truth somewhat, insomuch as the last box is a slight exaggeration – in reality, Dido merely manhandled the hotel manager out of the room. This happened on our drive down through Spain on the journey when we actually moved here – in the early summer of 1993. The most amazing element of the episode was how passive Aura remained throughout the contretemps – which was fortunate for all concerned!
When I first set my eyes upon the cover to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti in 1975 it captivated me almost as much as the incredible music on the two pieces of vinyl it contained. This next “gallery” offering is by way of an homage to that and the art of record cover design in general – an art form in the process of being resurrected due to the return of vinyl discs.
I’ve long been fascinated by bridges and the way they frame and colour the waters which flow beneath them. Perhaps it’s that they are a natural metaphor for hope and unity, or perhaps it’s just I’ve always hated getting my feet wet. But whatever the reason, they and their host rivers, streams, inlets and lakes are indisputably photogenic. Presented here are images sourced from over four decades of photography.
(Cameras used: Canonet 28 / Nikon FE / Nikon D80 / Canon EOS 5D)
Followers of this site will already be familiar with many of the details of our remarkable trip to Chile back in 1991, just several months after the demise the Pinochet regime.
As if to mark this new era of democracy, freedom and hope, the month we arrived, the southern Atacama Desert experienced – what we were assured by the locals – were the first meaningful rains in forty years, and so exploded in a celebratory riot of colour. It was as if a vast technicolor carpet had been laid atop the normally monochromatic desert floor as every cactus, every succulent and every dormant seed erupted into flower.
Even in normal circumstances Chile’s many disparate landscapes offer a stunning smorgasbord for the visual senses, but this was simply wondrous. Rarely have we experienced, before or since such good luck being in the right place at the right time.
The dozen or so images presented here give a taste of what we were so privileged to witness with our own eyes…
A small gallery of images of Tel Aviv from the late 70’s and early 80’s. Colourful, ramshackle, exotic and cosmopolitan even then, the seeds were well sewn for the exciting, “happening” city we know today…
(camera used: Nikon FE with Ektachrome and Agfachrome)