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Clockwise, from top left: Blackfriar's Theater in Staunton, VA, home of the American Shakespeare Center; National Cathedral in Guatemala City; church near Volin, SD; engraved stellae at ruins of Copan, Honduras; folk musicians in La Paz, Bolivia.

Culture and Travel montage shadow

Culture-related pages:

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Local drama & music

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My favorite movies

  1. Casablanca
  2. O Brother, Where Art Thou?
  3. Raising Arizona
  4. Fargo
  5. Shawshank Redemption
  6. Field of Dreams
  7. Bull Durham
  8. Fiddler on the Roof
  9. Patton
  10. Bananas
  11. Fort Apache: The Bronx
  12. Broadcast News

May 2, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Stevie Nicks in concert!

Time for me to get caught up with blogging about music! Several weeks ago (on March 25), Jacqueline and I went to a Stevie Nicks concert at John Paul Jones Arena in Charlottesville. The Pretenders were supposed to be the opening show, but Chrissie Hynde was sick and had to cancel several performances. Frankly, she and her group were a higher priority for me, since we had just seen Stevie Nicks as part of a Fleetwood Mac concert at the very same venue (John Paul Jones Arena) two years earlier, in March 2015; my blog post about it was on July 18, 2015.

Unlike some rock musicians, Stevie Nicks has not lost her voice or skill as she has aged. I was very impressed not just by the quality of the music as well as by her earnest engagement with the audience. She is not some bigger-than-life goddess, she is a talented and creative artist who wants to share her passion about life. Most of the songs she did were preceded by a brief explanation of the circumstances by which she wrote them. In particular, I learned that "Gypsy" was about Stevie's early life in the trendy counter-culture scene in San Francisco. Then she met Lindsey Buckingham and before you knew it, those two had joined Fleetwood Mac! Overall, it was a wonderful performance, very uplifting and satisfying.

I tried to find the names of her musicians on her website, but couldn't find them there. As usual, I made a point to write down the song titles as she song them, but I had to consult the Internet to fill a couple gaps in the set list

  1. Gold and Braid **
  2. If Anyone Falls
  3. Stop Draggin' My Heart Around (#TP)
  4. Belle Fleur **
  5. Gypsy (#FM)
  6. Wild Heart
  7. Belladonna
  8. Enchanted **
  9. New Orleans
  10. Star Shine **
  11. Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream) **
  12. Stand Back
  13. Crying In the Night
  14. If You Were My Love
  15. Gold Dust Woman (#FM)
  16. Edge of Seventeen

  17. Rhiannon (#FM)
  18. Landslide (#FM)

The last two songs were the encore.
** Song titles from
#FM: Song originally appeared on a Fleetwood Mac album. All songs were written by Stevie Nicks except:
#TP: Written by Tom Petty and Michael Campbell

The song "New Orleans" was written in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and "Moonlight (A Vampire's Dream)" was written about the movie Twilight (2008). I was a little disappointed that Stevie didn't sing "Leather and Lace," which was originally recorded with Don Henley of Eagles fame. The same goes for "Sara," which was on the Fleetwood Mac album Tusk. But she did sing two of my very favorite Fleetwood Mac songs: "Rhiannon" and "Landslide," inspiring me to play those at an open mic event a couple weeks later. (See below.) Otherwise, she did just about every big hit song from her "Bella Donna" (1981) and "The Wild Heart" (1983) albums, as well as the Fleetwood Mac hits for which she is best known.

Before the concert started, I bought the Pretenders' new CD Alone, but I have only listened to it once so far.

Stevie Nicks in concert dark

This wide-angle view of the concert was the only photo I took in which Stevie Nicks (on the video monitor to the right) was recognizable. My iPhone camera is fine in normal conditions, but can't handle sharp contrasts between dark and light.

Stevie Nicks in concert light

A closer-in view of Stevie Nicks in concert.

The most recent concert Jacqueline and I had been to before this one was Lynyrd Skynyrd, at the Rockingham County Fair on August 19, 2015; blog post January 29, 2016.

Guitar under repair

I bought my Conn acoustic guitar way back in 1975 or so, from a friend of a friend at the University of South Dakota named Carey Hofer. While I was inspecting it (and wondering if I really wanted to spend that much money!), he taught me to play the intro part of "Stairway to Heaven." It has served me well for these past four decades, and while I have considered replacing it with something better, the rich sound of an all-wood guitar is better than most mid-range guitars these days, since most of them have a body that is part plastic.

What happened was that one of the wooden braces inside the body suddenly broke while I was playing a song, without any warning. [This was on March 21, a Tuesday.] There was no bumping involved, it was apparently just the result of cumulative built-up stress. The process of getting it repaired took longer than my patience could tolerate, and I ended up taking it to a guy named Danny Dolinger who has a guitar repair shop in Bridgewater. After a few days, I had it back as good as new, thank goodness! Danny is not just a highly skilled and conscientious craftsman, he is also a local musician who performs with other guys on occasion. He looked familiar, and said he remembers me playing the Moody Blues song "Tuesday [Afternoon]" at an open mic event several months ago.

Conn acoustic guitar, CD rack

My newly-repaired Conn acoustic guitar, in front of our CD/DVD rack.

More open mic events

My first open mic performance at Queen City Brewing after returning from South America and Florida (March 15) focused on the theme of returning home after a long absence. "Back In the U.S.S.R." was especially appropriate since I had flown into Miami. (Contrary to the first line of that song, there is no airport in Miami Beach itself.) I enjoy playing the harmonica on "Take the Long Way Home," a prime example of bending notes.

Since my guitar was in the shop on March 22, I brought my charango, even though it has a warped neck that makes it impossible to play certain notes. I did my best, but it frankly sounded horrible, so I just gave up halfway through "El Condor Pasa," which was a real bummer. (That's an adaptation of a South American folk song.) Later on, Open Mic Host Fritz Horisk graciously lent me his guitar so I could play a nice Eagles song.

I skipped the next week open mic event because my guitar was still in the repair shop. Not until April 5 was it available [to me again], and I made the most of it, playing two songs I had done before and then "Landslide," in recognition of the Stevie Nicks concert Jacqueline and I had seen recently. I used the harmonica for the lead guitar part, and people really liked how it sounded. My final song was also based on a concert we had once seen (October 2005), by the Rolling Stones: [on "Sweet Virginia" I played the harmonica in the "proper" way.]

On April 12 I started with "Talkin' Baseball," which I had done once before, but I should have done it much better the second time. My rendition of "Bennie and the Jets" wowed the crowd, as I used the harmonica for the lead part, except in this case it was for lead piano. That was the first Elton John song that I had ever played in public, and it was inspired by another guy's performance of "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" at the open mic event the week before. I became obsessed with learning "Bennie and the Jets" in the days that followed, and later learned more Elton John songs. My rendition of "All My Loving" uses the arpeggio (finger picking) technique rather than the fast strumming on the original song.

On April 19 I started with a challenging Beatles song using the arpeggio technique, but couldn't sustain the rhythm very well, so I'll probably strum that one next time. I thought "Your Song" sounded beautiful, but didn't get as much applause as I was hoping for. I played the other Elton John songs pretty well, but had a hard time with the vocals, having to shift octaves more than once. My voice range obviously pales in comparison to Reggie Dwight's. (That's Elton John's real name!)

Finally, on April 26 I marked the arrival of baseball season once again, but to my chagrin just couldn't deliver on the complex lead guitar part of "Centerfield," in spite of much practice. It's a song I have been working on for a few months, and I'll just have to practice it a lot more before I do it in public again. At least I did better on the other hit song from John Fogerty's Centerfield (1984) album ("The Old Man Man Down the Road"), and on the biggest hit song from his days with Creedence Clearwater Revival ("Proud Mary"). The latter was one of the first rock songs I learned to play on the guitar back in the early 1970s. I plan to do even more CCR songs I have learned recently at a future open mic event -- perhaps tomorrow!

The above songs have been added to my Music page.

Finally, for the record, at the April 10 monthly meeting of the Augusta Bird Club, I was asked to play my "bird song medley" that I did at the club's 50th anniversary dinner last December, so I did, but substituting "Tern, Tern, Tern" (Turn, Turn, Turn")" -- The Byrds for John Denver's "Back Home Again." This time I had the proper cable adapter to show the accompanying photo slide show that I had intended to show at the dinner. As for the music, however, I wasn't as well prepared as the first time.

April 6, 2017 [LINK / comment]

Photo tour of the "Sunshine State": Florida!

In the movie National Lampoon's Vacation, there is a humorous scene at the rim of the Grand Canyon where Chevy Chase impatiently pauses for a few seconds while his family tries to get a good view of the magnificent scenery. In a way, that describes my brief visit to south Florida, which began exactly one month ago today. "OK, great, now let's go!" Florida was the final leg of my big journey to South America, but unlike my visits to Peru and Colombia, I was not constrained by lack of transportation. I rented a car in order to take care of multiple tourist objectives, and I tried to see as much as possible.

As with my previous photo-travelogs to Peru (Feb. 20 - 28) and Colombia (Mar. 1 - 4), this one parallels the birding blog post I did on Florida, so I will try to avoid duplication. The first destination after arriving at Miami International Airport (early afternoon on Sunday, March 5) was Marlins Park, the almost-new (five years old) home of the Miami Marlins baseball team. I just wanted to get some well-lit photos, in case it wasn't as sunny the next day, when I planned to return for a tour. With its massive, hurricane-proof roof fully retracted, it was a pretty impressive sight:

Marlins Park exterior from the northwest

Marlins Park exterior from the northwest. (March 5; Photo spliced together from two separate images.)

Because of heavy traffic and road construction, driving from the stadium through the southern part of Miami took longer than expected, so I didn't arrive at my motel in Florida City until an hour and a half later. After checking in and resting a bit, I drove west about 15 miles, and made it to the Everglades National Park about 5:15, just after the main visitor center had closed. No matter, I got the information I needed and headed into the park for some late-afternoon sightseeing and birding. I was delighted to see so many birds -- and an alligator! -- at Royal Palm, about five miles away. It was the second time in my life that I had been to the Everglades, the first being in December 1985.

Everglades Ernest Coe Visitor Center

Entrance to Everglades National Park: Ernest Coe Visitor Center. Note the Saw Palmetto, seemingly ubiquitous in south Florida. (March 5)

I got up early on Monday morning, and made a point to visit nearly all of the points of interest along the main Everglades highway. My first stop was at a "skeleton forest" of Bald Cypress trees, which shed their needles during the dry months, and grow new needles when the rains resume. Then I stopped at Pahayokee Overlook, a large observation deck accessed via a boardwalk, located at the edge of the vast open area known as the "freshwater marl prairie." (The excellent map of the Everglades given to park visitors describes in great detail the nine different ecosystems, and where they extend.) Then came Mahogany Hammock, where I did a lengthier circuit walk along a boardwalk, marveling at the variety of plant life, especially bromeliads. (There were lots of those in Colombia as well.) At Paurotis Pond, a few miles further south, I saw densely-packed mangrove trees, which only thrive near the coast where the water is salty. Some of the Wood Storks and Roseate Spoonbills I saw there were building nests in those trees. Finally, I reached the small community of Flamingo, at the end of the road and the tip of the Florida peninsula. There I had a tasty lunch at a casual screened-patio restaurant at which Jimmy Buffet would have fit right in.

Everglades Flamingo coconut tree

Coconut tree at Flamingo, in the Everglades. (March 6)

On the way back from Flamingo, I stopped at both Paurotis Pond and Royal Palm for a second time. But that put me way behind schedule, so I decided to give up on the idea of taking a tour of Marlins Park, set for 2:00. It was probably for the best, as I was able to appreciate the natural wonders of the Everglades just a little more. Indeed, the group of 12 or so alligators I saw at Royal Palm was one of the biggest thrills of the trip. The Everglades are an amazing, unique ecological treasure, and we are fortunate that those in generations past had the wisdom and foresight to preserve it. But in spite of recent big initiatives to mitigate the environmental damage caused by overdevelopment in Florida, there remain serious threats to wildlife there. "More people, more scars upon the land..."

Andrew, alligators

Yours truly, along with some alligators at Royal Palm in the Everglades National Park. I was on an elevated boardwalk, out of harm's way. (March 6)

After leaving the Everglades, I drove through Miami again, taking some late-afternoon photos of Marlins Park, from the east side this time. The stadium occupies land where the famed Orange Bowl once stood, in the predominantly-Cuban "Little Havana" part of the city. So, I photographed some urban scenes in Miami. As night fell, I then drove north toward Pompano Beach, where I had a motel reservation; it's about half way to Palm Beach.

The plan for Tuesday was to visit the renowned bird sanctuary at Wakodahatchee, which is basically the regional water supply / waste disposal system, but it was closed. So I went to nearby Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge instead. This federally-protected natural sanctuary covers 221 square miles, most of which is closed to the public. The elevated gravel trails which are accessible to the public (mostly bird-watchers like me) are arranged in rectangular grids composed of marshy ponds inhabited by many birds, some turtles, and a few alligators. There weren't many interesting trees or plants to see, but I did see and photograph two new (to me) butterfly species that I will describe in a future blog post.

Loxahatchee NWR canals, alligator

Loxahatchee NWR canals; roll mouse over image to a closeup of the alligator and a Common Moorhen/Gallinule, which may have been just a bit too curious. (March 7)

I then made haste north-northeast toward West Palm Beach, where the Washington Nationals were hosting the Boston Red Sox in a spring training game at the Nats' brand-new "Ballpark of the Palm Beaches." (Actually, they share the facility with the Houston Astros.) The intervening distance was about 15 miles, passing through some upscale luxurious neighborhoods, and the unexpectedly-heavy traffic caused me to arrive a few minutes late to the game. It was a windy day, alternating between sun and clouds.

Ballpark of the Palm Beaches behind home plate

The Ballpark of the Palm Beaches from my ideally-located seat behind home plate. (March 7)

After the game, I decided to drive to Palm Beach, about five miles away, and see President Trump's vacation resort known as Mar-a-Lago. Once again, I was astonished by the opulent lifestyle of the local residents. I noticed that most of the homes of wealthy people in Palm Beach are surrounded by tall hedges that often exceed 15 feet in height. Since President Trump has often boasted about how the wall he seeks to build along the border with Mexico will be "beautiful," that gave me an idea for an alternative kind of "wall" -- consisting of greenery! There was no place to stop near the mansion, but I was fortunate to find a small public beach on the causeway between Palm Beach (which occupies a thin strip of land) and the mainland. There I took a quick photo, just as a television news crew finished taping a report, presumably about the President.

Mar-a-Lago closeup

Closeup (cropped) view of President Trump's vacation resort known as Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach. (March 7)

From Palm Beach, I headed straight west as the sun sank toward the horizon. By the time I passed Lake Okeechobee it was already dark, and I never saw anything of the lake other than some levees along the road. That night I stayed in the town of Immokalee, located about 25 miles southeast of Fort Myers and the Gulf Coast. The town itself was an interesting mixture of cultures, with an economy apparently based on growing oranges and perhaps other citrus fruits. I saw a number of Spanish-speaking people, presumably farm workers. The rural mostly-white populace in the restaurant where I dined (barbecue!) seemed rather familiar to me, as a resident of a mostly-rural southern state.

I woke up before dawn on March 8, wanting to maximize my enjoyment of Florida in the brief time before my airline flight left from Orlando in the afternoon. It took about 15 minutes to drive to next destination: Corkscrew Swamp, and I passed many orange groves along the way. The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary is owned and operated by the Audubon Society. The land was purchased by the Society in 1954, as part of an emergency effort to thwart logging operations that would have destroyed the last remaining Bald Cypress forest in the United States. I was generally aware of the different habitat zones in the sanctuary, rather like the Everglades in terms of its ecological diversity, but I only gained a full appreciation for the role played by (for example) Bald Cypress trees after returning to Virginia and reading the background information booklet which I purchased at Corkscrew Swamp. It is a truly special place.

Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk pines

Corkscrew Swamp boardwalk passing the majestic pine trees. (March 8)

Corkscrew Swamp pond, birds

Corkscrew Swamp pond, with Great Egrets, White Ibises, Roseate Spoonbills, and perhaps other birds. (March 8)

I gave myself a firm deadline for leaving Corkscrew, to make sure I would get to the airport on time, but it was hard to leave such a beautiful place behind. I hope it's not too long before I can visit there again.

I was originally hoping to swing through St. Petersburg on my way to Orlando so as to see Tropicana Field, the home of the Tampa Bay Rays. But I realized that the distance from Corkscrew to Orlando was greater than I had estimated, and I just didn't have enough time to do that. So instead, I drove almost straight north, mostly along U.S. Route 27. I recall crossing the Caloosahatchee River at the town of LaBelle, but I didn't realize until later that the river (which goes from Lake Okeechobee to Fort Myers) constitutes a virtual barrier between distinct ecological regions in south Florida. For example, Florida Panthers hardly ever stray north of that river, but some were spotted recently. Later I passed by a highway sign for the oddly-named town of Frostproof. I remember in grade school learning about that town, so named because it was thought that temperatures never went below freezing there, making it safe for orange trees. (There was in fact a deep freeze there in January 2010; see As I was driving through downtown Orlando on the way to the airport, I noticed the Amway Center, home of the Orlando Magic NBA team. Had I realized that it was soon to be the venue for the first round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament, I might have stopped to take a photo.

It's hard to believe I accomplished all that in just three days (including two half days). The complete set of Florida photos can be seen (along with photos from Peru and Colombia) on the Chronological photo gallery (2017) page. They are mostly 600 x 400 pixels in size; ventually I will post double-sized versions (1200 x 800 pixels) of the best ones... I hope you enjoyed this photo tour!

Major world languages

Language 2002
Chinese * 874 # 1,213
Spanish * 322 329
English * 341 328
Arabic ? 221
Hindi 366 # 182
Bengali 207 181
Portuguese 176 178
Russian * 167 144
Japanese 125 122
German 100 90

# : 2004 data for Chinese pertained only to Mandarin speakers, whereas data for Hindi speakers were defined more broadly.
Asterisks (*) denote the official languages of the United Nations, which also includes French (68 million speakers).

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I speak Spanish, some Portuguese, and have dabbled in German, French, Italian, Russian, Catalan, and Quechua.

Major world religions

Religion 2002
Christians 2,038 2,281
Muslims 1,226 1,553
Hindus 828 943
Chinese folk 389 454
Buddhists 364 463
Sikhs 24 24
Jews 14 15
Local, other 32 379
Non-religious 925 798

The obvious discontinuities in the last two lines of data are of uncertain origin.

SOURCE: The World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2004 & 2012

I belong to the Episcopal Church and am annoyed at the recent polarization. According to a Theology quiz, I scored as a "Classical Liberal."

Ten Commandments

  1. Worship ONE God only
  2. No graven images
  3. No taking God's name in vain
  4. Keep Sabbath day holy
  5. Honor parents
  6. No stealing
  7. No murder
  8. No adultery
  9. No bearing false witness
  10. No coveting what others have

Seven deadly sins

  1. Pride
  2. Covetousness
  3. Lust
  4. Anger
  5. Gluttony
  6. Envy
  7. Sloth

Proverbs 6: 16-19

There are six things the Lord hates,
seven that are detestable to him:

haughty eyes,
a lying tongue,
hands that shed innocent blood,
a heart that devises wicked schemes,
feet that are quick to rush into evil,
a false witness who pours out lies,
and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.

Romans 12: 17, 21

Do not repay anyone evil for evil.
Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.

Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.

Serenity Prayer

Reinhold Niebuhr was a leading theologian of the mid-20th Century, and often wrote about foreign policy from a "Christian realist" perspective. From

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.