Roman Forum 2006

Roman Forum 2006
Foro Romano, from the Palatine Hill - a favorite photo from one of my favorite cities

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Not London, but...

This may strike some of you as the silliest blog post Dottore Gianni has ever put his readers through. In fact DOTTORE GIANNI thinks it's the silliest! But, primarily due to my near daily walks through his new home, Greenville, SC, and with nostalgia for my year abroad in London, he is offering the following photo essay, showing a pic from London and its "counterpart" in Greenville. Some compare favorably, some compare not so well, some are just nonsense. It's intended in no way to denigrate Greenville, which the good doctor has come to really like, but to gain some perspective on his transition from Europe to the U.S., from work into retirement, from one way of life to a very different one.

So, here goes!

Not the London skyline...

But the Greenville skyline.

See how it works? And just to note this once, while very different, both are very pretty, right? So on we go!

Not the Millenium Bridge...

But the Liberty Bridge over Falls Park:

Not the mighty Thames...

But the but the teeny Reedy River:

Not the British Library...

But the main branch of the Greenville Public Library:

Not the Ithaca College London Center

But my apartment building at McBee Station:

Not the flat at ICLC...

But my Greeenville apartment (the rocker is my retirement present from IC!):

Not the National Gallery of Art...

But the Greenville County Museum of Art:

Not a pub on the River Thames...

But the Swamp Rabbit Cafe, next to the river:

Not the Thames Barrier

But a bit of water regulation on the Reedy River:

It's all a matter of scale, isn't it? I have plenty more comparisons, and I might just do another set one day, but this will give you a taste of "NOT LONDON, BUT..."
Hope you enjoyed it!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Un Bloggo Piccolo per una citta piccola

Dottore Gianni must admit that he misses writing blog posts...somewhat at least. Which is why he will now hold forth, briefly,  on a tiny town in the North Carolina mountains called Saluda, and about the nearby Pearson's Falls, two places that he visited quite recently.
Main Street, Saluda NC
At least he THINKS it will be a brief post (or un bloggo piccolo in Dottore Gianni's unique, some might even say peculiar, form of Italiano). How much can he say about a town of a mere 700 plus souls? Of course faithful readers of this blog will be aware that the good doctor DOES tend to go on...and on...and...well, you know what I'm/he's saying! 

Pace's General Store
Some quickly researched history: first, the name Saluda comes from the Cherokee Tsaludiyi" meaning "green corn place," or, depending on the source you're reading, a Cherokee chief named Saluda, whose name meant "corn river," and whose name sounded like Saluda to the white settlers. Whichever theory you follow you can be sure there's something corny about it...sorry, that the name has something to do with corn. AND with Native America, which is of much more interest to me. But Saluda was not the name the area was first known by. That would be Pace's Gap, named for what is probably the first and certainly the most important family in Saluda's history. The "gap" was a mere crossroad for traders and herders, and as it's easy enough to guess, a guy names Pace ran it. He built an inn on this spot for the traders and herders, with a fenced-in area where their herds could spend the night. 

For all Pace's efforts by 1878 there were only two houses in the area, but that year the the Southern Railroad made Saluda part of its route, and the town grew rapidly. The Mountain House was the first of many hotels and rooming houses built primarily for the workers who built the railroad, the people that worked for it once completed, and the travelers that the railroad brought to town beginning in 1879. The two most famous of these tourists were F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda.

The major issue with placing a rail station in Saluda was its grade -- 
Saluds Grade Cafe -- get it? "grade"?
the "steepest main line standard gauge grade" in the entire U.S, according to one source, the steepest east of the Rocky Mountains according to another. For those of you who understand such things, and Dottore Gianni is NOT one of you, the grade drops 600 feet to the mile. Ah! Thirteen miles of grading had to be completed, and it was dangerous work, several workers falling to their deaths from the cliffs. Even after the railroad was complete dangers continued because of the journey down the mountain from Saluda to the next stop, Melrose. Clearly it was steep, and there were 50 sharp curvings on the tracks, one of which was known as Slaughterhouse Curve because a trainload of cattle was destroyed in an accident there. By 1903 not only cattle but 27 men had been killed in the frequent crashes caused by engines going out of control and jumping tracks..

Cafe at Thompson's Grocery, Market & Grill

By the late 1880s eight trains a day stopped at Saluda, and approximately 3,000 visitors came to the town each year. But Saluda began to attract fewer and fewer visitors in part because of World War I and later because of the depression. After World War II highways began to be built and there was less and less interest in taking the train up to the beautiful but secluded spot.  And sad to say (or not) the train no longer runs through Saluda. But there is talk currently of a  passenger train route as a tourist attraction. Not a bad idea. The area is certainly beautiful. Though all in all, from what I've read Dottore Gianni would rather take it UP the mountain than down.

As I've said, the place was and remains small. The 2000 census counted 713 residents in the town. And that tininess I suppose accounts for its charm, along with the fact that the buildings on Main Street have determinedly retained an antique look inside and out.
Interior of Pace's General Store -- see what I mean
by buildings "determinedly retained"?
And while the name of the area has changed some of you will be happy to know that the Pace General Store is still a center of Main Street activity in the tiny town. Others could probably care less.

Do I care? Of course!  Not so much about Pace General Store itself as for the overall charm of the place. 
The Depot District
The historic Depot District at the western end of Main Street is to my mind the most interesting district (if three or four buildings could be called a district, and why not I suppose)on that street, as of course one of those buildings WAS the train depot, and the history of the trains and the grade is THE history of Saluda.

I must tell you that much as I enjoyed the town (make that the street) I was really delighted at what I found only a few miles beyond it, Pearson's Falls. It takes its name from the engineer who scouted the area to determine where to run the railroad, and who made the choice to take the line up the moutain rather than through a nearby gap, primarily because the gap was fraught with underground streams which could wreak havoc with the tracks, albeit a different kind of havoc than was caused by the grade up to Saluda. Pearson bought the area around the falls and he and his descendants kindly allowed visitors to come and picnic on its grounds. Had I but known I would definitely packed a basket!
The trail leading to Pearson's Falls

The falls was later bought by the Tryon Garden Club in the townof that name just to the east of Saluda (but west of the falls), which owns and cares for it to this day. And a very nice job they do with it. So for a $5 fee it is open to the public, but is under the protection of that private club. 

I was told by by the knowledgable and enthusiastic ranger that the falls is THE most popular tourist attraction in all of Polk County, attracting up to 18,000 visitors a year. The mid-week morning I was there there was one couple in addition to me, and as I made my way back down the trail to the parking area another group, a threesome, was on its way up. The ranger also noted that the glen within which flows the falls is known for its several species of bird and that so-called "birders" love it; also known for a wide variety of wildflowers and wildlife, which not only attracts visitors, but has also made it an outdoor "lab" for students from nearby colleges and a field trip destination for local elementary and secondary schools. Let me just confess that I am delighted I was there with only a few other adults and not in the middle of a middle school excursion!

There is a motto posted at the entrance to the trail up to the falls:
On the way up to
or back from the falls

To Linger but not Litter

To Rest but not Molesst

To Enjoy but not destroy

I think the ditty wants to be more poetical than it actually is, but it makes a good point, and the first thing I picture when I picture student excursions anywhere, is the bad seeds among them, making a lot of noise, groping girlfriends, not paying attention, generally attempting to ruin it for the rest of the students, the teacher, and certainly the poor clod who had such bad timing as to climb to the falls along with such a group!

Another confession, not so much about the flora as about the fauna. 
On the way up to 
or back from the falls
Whenever Dottore Gianni finds himself out walking in mountain woodsides, pretty much all alone, almost immediately after he feels the thrill of the beauty of the place (and Pearson's Falls IS beautiful, the walk up, the walk back down and best of all the lovely 90-foot waterfall, the apex of the journey), he almost immediately begins to wonder about the fauna...particularly about bears. One example of my own personal "worst ways to die" is by being mauled by a bear. Maybe not THE worst (for a full list, stay tuned -- who knows? I might blog about it) but right up there in the top ten. And that thought process can eat away (no pun intended...or was it?) at the pleasure to be had.

As many of you know I was an Upstate New Yorker for many a year, and early in my time of teaching at Ithaca I used to head up to the Adirondacks for a few days to a tiny B&B near a place called Blue Mountain Lake. 
I am certain that the quality of my time spent there was lessened a tad, by this but potential mauling-by-bear kept me from long solitary hikes through the woods nearby. One of my best/worst memories of the reason why is when I was driving up into the mountains one summer. I stopped for gas and the friendly attendant told me that just up the road a piece there was a great place for a hike. I thanked him and actually contemplated stopping and giving it a try. I passed the area and sure enough there were three or four cars parked there, evidence of some travelers intrepid enough, or at very least less bear-obsessed than I, to make the hike. In fact I was about to turn around and drive back to it when all of a sudden a huge brown bear bolted across the road just in front of me, in the exact direction, you guessed it, of the trail that I was nearly trepidacious enough to take. I was about to apply my brakes when I realized I need not bother, as the bear was moving SO fast. I was doing about 50 miles per hour and this bear literally shot by me. So! I maintained my forward motion, I took the road more traveled and it has made all the difference! As I'm alive to write about it.

Pearson's Falls
God! This was going to be PICCOLO, Dottore, PICCOLO! To recapitulate: liked Saluda, loved the falls, hate school groups, fear bears -- and thus ends my not so piccolo account of a few hours in the mountains of North Carolina!