Monday, July 16, 2018

The Country

Living as one does in the flatlands of limestone knobs sticking a few feet above the ocean there is a desire to see mountains and farms and rivers and forests and things not generally available in the Keys. 

So on the drive from Hendersonville to Cincinnati through Kentucky we took main roads away from the freeway. It was beautiful. The roads wound up and down and around passing through villages often with distressed storefronts. Beyond the human sadness there were horizons filled with trees and valleys dipping out of sight, grass everywhere and richly leaves trees. It was hot all right but everything looked fresh and new.  It was a perfect afternoon drive for one used to Highway One every day. 

Rusty was fascinated and far from running wildly around he sniffed slowly and thoughtfully chewing grass and checking every inch of Kentucky sod. 

Eventually the sun started to make it clear it was descending for a landing and that combined with the fact that upon crossing the Ohio River we were going to add an hour with our return to Eastern Time got us in gear to seek out a freeway. “Turn right” my wife the navigator ordered. This I asked is the fast way to Cincinnati? 

It’s a short cut she said with no conviction at all. We started laughing as we descended below sea level on Tom’s Cut Road. Around a corner we met a pick up coming head-on. As it was only one horsepower I had plenty of time to dowse my headlights and stop the car. The driver in full Amish costume pulled aside and waved gravely as I inched forward trying not to leer at the babe in the bonnet sitting next to him. You know I was itching to take a picture but I’m not that crass. We pulled over to let the dog out. 

Rusty was ready to enjoy some grass and to commune with a local dog who was not ready to reciprocate and ran off. 

A van approached out of the hollow and wasn’t I surprised when it blew by filled to the brim with women and children... but what was surprising was the women’s clothing: Amish gowns and bonnets. Driving no less and smiling broadly at my little brown bundle of joy standing at the roadside. They must be Mennonites, or else they were Amish making a break for it. 
A dry riverbed:

Google got us out of what it had got us into and soon enough we were dodging traffic on the interstate for the last hour before we arrived at our downtown hotel. Another world just an hour away. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018


I suppose it was inevitable. I had looked forward to this trip to explore a piece of the USA not properly explored, so coming down with a thick head cold was practically a requirement.  Naturally I got it when we were visiting Gary and Barbara outside Nashville. Everyone needs friends like them. Not least because they occupy a rural palace, just the place to stage a noisy bronchial recovery. 

The other thing is they live a half hour outside Nashville a city of certain opulent charms. We are told that when we return, not ill, there is a country music museum which I’d like to visit oddly enough, to broaden my education. This is however the city of bridal showers and I’m not joking. 

My only excuse for the quality of the pictures was the state of my health and an outside temperature in the mid 90s, but everywhere you looked women were walking, drinking, partying and shopping. Fellini would have loved it. I was overwhelmed.

This town deserves a second look and not just for the pedestrians.  I’ve heard opera all over the place but never at the Opry so I think that needs to happen before I die. 

Gary and Barbara were splendid and showed me ways of defeating my symptoms, they being of the medical profession and the rest of my visit was rather subdued as a consequence. More importantly Rusty loved their place. 

We left with real reluctance. Feeling better but feeling slightly deprived. Rusty was pining for the deciduous forests, the proud wild turkeys strutting in front of him and the fearless families of giant deer. 

Saturday, July 14, 2018

Barber Motorsports Museum

Call it a pilgrimage but every time I drive through Birmingham Alabama I pay a visit to the largest collection of motorcycles on display anywhere.
Five levels of machines including Lotus racing cars in the basement and a thousand motorcycles on display, all for $15 admission. An extraordinary ambition by a local dairy distributor who increased his family fortune developing real estate in Birmingham. 

There is also a race track outside the museum building and they recently added a pedestrian walkway to allow visitors to view the racing close up. I didn’t have time to walk out on this visit but they were apparently giving driving lessons on the track as cars raced around outside. I was here for the two wheelers. 

A 1940s Harley Davidson such as my Italian grandfather would have ridden. This place is a bottomless pit of nostalgia.
A Vespa 50, my first two wheeler.  They aren’t terribly interested in scooters at the Barber. This one was mislabeled as a 125 and there are very few of these iconic scooters, such a huge part of motorcycling history, in the collection. They do now have a Russian copy, a Vyatka 150 on display which is a nice catch. 
The first motorcycles from before and after 1900 are displayed as replicas and the interesting thing to me is that they are clearly motorcycles, just as identifiable today as they were then. There is no mistaking these as anything but power two wheelers, directly related to the most modern machines today. 

The peculiar sport of board racing from the 1920s is set up as a diorama in the vast museum. No brakes at 75mph on what were essentially motorized bicycles. No guts no glory!
Harley Davidson is well represented along with its early rivals from the first part of the 20th century. 

Such is the purchasing power of the Barber and its team of mechanics and restorers they have some of the rarest motorcycles on display. 

And then there are the run of the mill machines from the 1970s, my dream bikes which I shall never get to ride. 

And so on...The motorcycles I saw ridden to work daily in my youth now considered Italian classics. 

I can never quite make my mind up if this is a good use of money or not. Purely on aesthetic grounds it is lovely for someone like me who relives his youth in these displays but I wonder at the expense in a world where there are so many more pressing needs.

As a rather more practical non motorcycling friend of mine put it, at least he’s out using the money and hiring people. Better a museum than storing it in a Swiss Bank and I think Birmingham Johnny is right so I reserve the right to enjoy the Barber, a fine first world indulgence.