My bucket list up at Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Sunday Interview!
Category Archives: Sightseeing & Travel
Every family has its stories. The ones that cause us to post links and odd comments on the social media of our family members. Nobody else “gets” it because they don’t know the stories we’ve developed over the years.
One of our private stories (no longer private with this post, I guess) may or may not be apocryphal. I’m going to tell it as I know it, but maybe somebody else might have a different take on it.
Years ago, before I had kids even, it was very special to be able to tour Burbank Studios (now part of Warner Brothers). They only allowed a handful of people to tour each week, and you had to have some sort of connection to the industry. They were private tours.
When the gardener and I visited Los Angeles, I decided I just had to go on the tour. So I had to come up with an occupation that had some involvement in the film biz. I told them that I was a writer. That did the trick. Hahaha, this was before I was a writer. I wanted to be a writer, but if wishin’ were horses, I’d have my own stables.
On the day of the tour, the southern California sky turned a very opaque gray and hurled a deluge at us. The lot at the studio had turned to mud and it splashed at my ankles as I ran from the car to the building. I remember what I was wearing. My good blue and green striped cotton Polo sweater and ivory cords. You know what mud does on the back of ivory cords? Brown spatters up to the knees. It’s a good thing those cords were ruined. Nobody dresses like that anymore. I hope.
My hair was medium length by then, no longer to-the-waist. And I’d gotten a perm to try to replicate marcel waves, a look I’d always loved. My hair had turned a golden color from the perm. OK, it was positively brassy, but shiny and twinkly and not too ugly under a strong overhead light. Because I was young I looked pretty good, but if I had been any older I think the hair and the outfit would have DONE ME IN.
We toured some of the facility by golf cart, but most of our time was spent inside the sound stages because of the rain. They were filming T.J. Hooker, and William Shatner was hamming it up for the cameras. The four of us (a screenwriter and his wife, the gardener and moi) and our tour guide sat on the far side of the sound stage to watch the action. Fifteen minutes into this, a “runner” came to our tour guide and whispered into her ear. She whispered back and the runner ran back to the Hooker set. Our guide caught my eyes and raised her eyebrows, then pursed her mouth in a way that said I’m impressed.
When we left the sound stage, she told me that I had caught Shatner’s eye and he’d sent the runner to find out who I was. Maybe he assumed that I really was a writer, maybe even one cooking up a good story for him to star in.
This blog post is the best I could do for him, I’m sorry to say.
The gardener kept the story going for years, assuring the kids that I could have married the TV star before they were even born. Because the kids grew up with that story, my fate as almost-Shatner’s-wife became family lore.
Perry’s bloodwork came back negative, so his heart must be ok. And I #amwriting, no kidding. Maybe not what I intended (the memoir), but still writing.
Go write one of your family stories, a page out of your family lore. If you post it on your blog, let me know!
For years, whenever I traveled on the 202 freeway loop and saw a strange wedding cake shaped structure in the distance I wondered about it. Then the gardener saw a program on TV where the place was identified as Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights. I googled the castle and discovered that there were tours of the property. When we decided we wanted to go check it out, I found that I needed to book the tour many months in advance. So about nine months ago I bought the $15 tickets for two. In the amount of time it takes to develop a full human baby, the gardener and I finally were allowed to visit and learn about Tovrea Castle.
Our tour group traveled across the property and up to the castle in two golf carts driven by our two orange-attired docents, each named Nancy. I’m not sure if the tour guides have to be called Nancy or if it was a coincidence they were both named Nancy. (OK, I’m kidding).
The castle and acreage are now in the middle of the city with industrial and commercial zoning all around. It’s not far from Sky Harbor Airport either, and I saw several planes overhead. Other people on my tour saw roadrunners, squirrels, and a jackrabbit with big ears, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anything with a heartbeat outside of our tour.
What looked like a castle from afar actually wasn’t that large up close. The entire building is about 5,000 square feet, and that includes the basement, which is the largest floor. The second and third floors have small hotel rooms. We were not allowed to go up there, but were told that there is only one bathroom per floor. On a 360 degree iPad tour, the rooms looked quite nice and ready for move in. I might call the architectural style cheesy, but maybe I just don’t appreciate it properly. The light fixtures and other accessories were all in the art deco style, which is definitely a style I like very much.
The castle is painted in its original colors. The front door was remarkable for its plainness. From every floor of the building it is possible to get a 360 degree view of Phoenix.
The bannister is made of terrazo and the columns marble. Terrazo is a compound of granite and concrete.
Before the castle was ever built, F.L. and Lizzie Warner established a homestead on 160 acres in 1907. They built their house (no longer in existence) on a rocky knoll, overlooking . . . desert. Scrub is what I call it. Eventually they added to their property and when Lizzie (after F.L. died) sold the property to Alessio Carraro in 1928 there was a total of 277 acres.
Carraro was an Italian immigrant who made a fortune in the sheet metal business in San Francisco. In 1928 he moved to Arizona, wanting to develop a desert resort and luxury housing subdivision. The “castle” was built as a hotel and completed in 1930. Because of the Great Depression, Carraro had to sell the property in 1931 at a great loss to get cash. Maybe he also sold because his wife refused to move to the desert. Or maybe it was another reason . . . .
While Carraro owned the property, a lot of construction was completed. He hired a Russian gardener, called Mokta, who built an enormous cactus garden. The garden still exists, in a way, but some of the sahuaros (the sentinels of the Sonoran Desert) are dead or dying, and it does not look as rich and thickly planted as shown in the old photographs. What my gardener noticed (that was not mentioned by the tour guides) was that in the old days the property was completely irrigated, whereas today it is not. Even sahuaros need some water, I guess.
Mokta, Carraro, and Carraro’s son Leo planted over 500 species of cactus and lined the property with white river rock from the Salt River. They also created two concrete-lined pools, a horseshoe area, and a game court (for a game that was a combination of bocce and pool).
At this point, the history of Carraro and the “castle” meets the history of the Tovrea family.
Edward Ambrose (“E.A.”) Tovrea was born in Illinois in 1861 and moved to Kansas at the age of 10 where he worked on a cattle ranch. He started a freight company that transported goods between western states and eventually settled in Arizona where he built and owned butcher shops throughout the state, founding the Arizona Packing Company, later known as the Tovrea Packing Company.
In 1931, E.A. and his second wife, Della, purchased the castle with 44 acres from Alessio Carraro. Now this is not part of the official story, but I found it online and maybe it’s the real reason Carrara had to sell the property:
Carraro’s dream of a resort hotel and a subdivision of fine homes ended a few months later. For some time, Carraro had tried unsuccessfully to buy 40 acres adjacent to his land that would serve as an important buffer between his property and a stockyard and meat packing plant. When the acreage finally was sold, it went not to Carraro, but to the owner of the nearby packing company E. A. Tovrea.
Tovrea promptly put up sheep pens on the land. That was it for Carraro, who figured few people would be interested in buying a nice home next to a flock of sheep. In June, 1931, Carraro accepted an offer from a real estate agent for the hotel and much of the property. Unknown to him was that the buyer was Della Tovrea.
What rotten luck. I’ve seen photos of the descendents of Carrara and Tovrea together in a friendly manner, but this must have been such a blow to Carrara.
That stockyard came to be part of the Tovrea Stockyards. Can you imagine the smell in the heat of the summer?
E.A. passed away within a year, leaving behind a son who took over the family businesses. Della Tovrea resided in the castle until her death in 1969. During the time the property was owned by the Tovreas, features added to the gardens include a large concrete patio just east of the castle, a rose garden, an aviary, and a reflecting pool. The pool reflected an enormous sahuaro. The sahuaro is now a skeleton only 1/3 its original height.
There are a lot of small outbuildings on the property, but most are completely falling apart. The well house is one of the few that still stands. You can see it below.
Near the well house is the dovecote which is completely fallen apart. The dovecote was to keep pigeons to feed the many workers.
Another outbuilding was a little kennel for the dogs. It was just a large free-standing cage. The guide explained that this was built for the protection of the dogs because of the dangerous predators in the area. Hello! So the dogs are inside this cage the size of a small bathroom and the bobcats, mountain lions, javelina, coyotes, and God knows what else, are LUNGING at them from the outside. How many dogs ended up with heart attacks?!
Della Tovrea was a very important person in the Arizona Democratic Party and the only woman representative for Arizona at the 1936 convention. In her later years, she began sleeping in the kitchen. I have no idea why she slept in the kitchen. She had developed a fear of being locked in her huge bank-type vault in the basement by burglars and had had the lock disabled. One night while she slept just feet away from her beautiful blue kitchen sink two burglars did break in and force her to take them around the house pointing out the valuables. There are two different stories about how a bullet hole was made in the kitchen ceiling that night. In one version, a burglar shot his gun. In another version, it was Della herself and her old Colt. When the men left in their pink Cadillac (no relation to Mary Kay or Elvis, to my knowledge), she had no way (in 1969!) to contact the police or the caretakers who lived in a cottage on the grounds and had to make her way to their house in the pouring rain. She died two months later, possibly of pneumonia.
The cast of characters in the story of Tovrea Castle would make for a picaresque novel, to be sure, and I think Della was the greatest piece of work of all. I have a soft spot, though, for Carrara who was a dreamer who repurposed creatively (the blue sink might have come from elsewhere, as did the maple floors and other features of the building and grounds). He took risks and couldn’t withstand the machinations of “bottom line Tovrea,” as I like to think of him.
Today the basement is a tiny museum of Carraro Heights. The ceiling is the bird’s nest style (with hidden eggs throughout). And there are tunnels leading outside.
The Boy Scouts made and installed green ladder stairs around the property. These are views far away and up close.
In 1993, the Castle and the 44 acre Cactus Gardens were purchased from the Tovrea Family Estate by the City of Phoenix which now maintains the National Register of Historic Places property and runs the tours. But at some point somebody else must have run tours here because in the basement there is an old sign.
When I asked why it’s necessary to buy tickets so many months in advance, the tour guides explained to me that they don’t have enough docents. I’d almost swear the one lady looked at me pointedly and hopefully at that moment.
The thing is that while the combination of history and garden and architecture was great fun for both the gardener and me, the desert leaves me cold (you know what I mean). I can’t blame Carrara’s wife for not budging from San Francisco. Are you KIDDING me? What was he thinking? We probably lucked out and got the last beautiful weather for the next three months or so. From now on it will be HOT.
On the other hand, plenty of people love the desert. Identify yourself right now!
And, like Tevye (I like musical theatre references), I can always repeat on the other hand: have you ever seen a bluer sky than ours?
Over the last week we had company and had fun every day. My best friend from junior high visited with her husband. We had fun here in town and also traveled through mid-Arizona to Arcosanti (Paolo Soleri’s unfinished utopian city), Montezuma Castle (cave dwellings), Sedona, Cottonwood, Jerome, and Prescott. I got myself beyond-tired, that’s how tired! But what a great time, and we will miss them as they live in Indiana.
In fact, I’m so tired I haven’t prepared any photos for your viewing pleasure. Sigh.
Next day, the floor men and the termite man (yes, all men) came to fix our wood floor that was invaded by a few termites. Luckily, they all turned out to be dead (the termites, not the men, thank goodness), but the work lasted twelve hours–and is not done since they haven’t been able to match the stain color yet.
I received two copies of the new issue of Badlands Literary Journal with my poem “The Stuff of Claustrophobia” in it. You might recall an earlier version from when I did the Tupelo Press 30/30 poetry writing event. It’s based on a news event from Mexico where a young bride is misdiagnosed and mistakenly buried alive. When her husband realizes it, he tries to dig her up before it’s too late.
As far as Kin Types goes, the pre-order period has less than four weeks left. I know this sounds really obnoxious, but if FLP doesn’t get enough pre-orders, the chapbook can’t go to press. So if you are considering purchasing one, please do so now while it counts toward that initial important fact: getting it published.
A huge thank you to those who have already placed your order!
Carla McGill, of Writing Customs, in her advance review, says there are “surprises and multiple perspectives.” Justin Hamm, editor of the museum of americana says “Kin Types exists at the precise place where literature and history intersect to make something both beautiful and true.”
Carla’s entire review is available through the pre-order link:
I’ve been beachside for my future DIL’s bridal shower.
Lovely air for my sinuses and skin.
The hills were alive with the color of wildflowers everywhere that housing developments haven’t taken over!
We had a great family time. Now it’s good to be home with our cats and away from the hubbub.
Pear Blossom wondering why Tiger Queenie keeps coming so close. After all, Pear is the undisputed actual Queen of the house at age 17.
Last weekend the gardener and I visited the Heard Museum Guild Indian Fair & Market. We love looking at the work of Native artists and craftspeople. I had a gift to buy and thought I’d check out the jewelry.
On the way there, I started wondering about different viewpoints–differing perspectives–on this subject.
If I buy a Native necklace, can it be worn without cultural appropriation? If you use cultural elements in a colonizing manner, it is cultural appropriation. How does one determine what “in a colonizing manner” mean? Outrageous examples are easy to identify; but what about more subtle ones?
I have to assume if an artist makes a silver necklace and sells it at an event called “Indian Fair & Market,” that she wants it purchased at said event and then worn and loved. Doesn’t that make sense?
Life is a lot of thinking work. It’s good that I have to think about this subject so that I don’t walk all over somebody else, but it’s a little exhausting that I have to wonder if an artist wants me to buy her art. All us artist types want our stuff purchased and enjoyed.
This man was one of the few people practicing his skill at the event.
These lovely young ladies enjoyed showing off their crowns.
What do you think about the subject of cultural appropriation? Obviously, a lot of it has gone on in the past, which is how we have ended up with blended cultures and blended cultural arts–like American jazz, for instance. Do you have a “rule of thumb” for knowing if you are overstepping and colonizing someone else’s culture?
On another note completely, I finished Jill Weatherholt‘s delightful novel Second Chance Romance. If you want to read my review, head on over to Goodreads or Amazon before you buy your own copy!
Enjoy your read–and then head on over to Jill’s blog and let her know!
What a week. But I’m on the upside of it now, and that reminds me of a favorite children’s book. It Could Always Be Worse is based on a Yiddish folk tale where a man complains to his rabbi about his small overcrowded house. The rabbi has him add to his inside household, the chickens, the cow, and other animals. The man does what the rabbi instructs. Then when he is ready to pull his hair out, the rabbi has him take the animals back out. When the household is back to its original size, the man is so relieved he stops complaining.
I feel as if I’ve written about this book before, but not sure.
Mom was scheduled to come on Wednesday morning, and I had been having a problem with my leg (part of my lymphedema), but hadn’t found time to treat it. I was rushing around, trying to get stuff done before she comes for a month. Tuesday night, right after dinner, my cat Felix got very sick–vomiting and diarrhea. We ended up taking him to the emergency clinic because we were afraid of a urinary blockage (since male cats are prone to those), but he was diagnosed with a microscopic parasite called Coccidia. It’s very contagious. Yippee! Great to hear when you have 5 cats (4 of them elderly). We started medicating Felix, and separated all the cats from each other!
Wednesday morning I took poos from the other cats to the vet and picked up meds for them, then went to Petsmart and bought disposable litter boxes. Then we had to haul all the plastic litter boxes and other cat paraphernalia out to the driveway for cleaning and disinfecting.
FYI, Felix did not get the Coccidia from the animal shelter where we volunteer. He came to us as a stray with parasites that hid from detection in his intestines, and he has had problems in the past because of his medical history.
Then Mom’s first flight was late, and she missed her connection. They couldn’t find her another flight to Phoenix that day! Eighty-two years old, traveling by herself, and they gave her the wrong shuttle bus name. Then they made her go to some ancient Day’s Inn where the ceiling was crumbling onto the bed. They bought her dinner, but NOT a glass of wine!
She arrived the next day in the midst of the chaos of Coccidia over here. I am exhausted. No hat is going to help me now ;).
But day by day things are getting better (or so I tell myself). And we’re just glad to have Mom here and not in Michigan weather right now.
Even this busy, I am doing a little secret editing. #amwriting
When I taught children’s lit at the university, I often included a Newbery Honor Book on my book list called To Be a Slave, edited by Julius Lester. The bulk of the material is from stories collected during the Great Depression through the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Works Progress Administration set up by FDR. These stories were told by ex-slaves about their experiences under American slavery. Of course, by the time they told their stories, it had been decades since the end of slavery, so most of the storytellers had been children during the days of slavery. While the book is aimed at middle school kids, it’s really a book for adults, too. It can be read in brief readings, like poetry, because it is arranged by theme in little anecdotes or partial stories.
In New Orleans we went on a plantation tour, but it wasn’t the typical tour where the focus is on the lives of the plantation owners. Rather, the Whitney Plantation explores the lives of the enslaved. Our guide was very careful to use the word “enslaved” rather than slaves, and while it was sometimes slightly awkward, I really liked how it made us concentrate every time we heard it on the notion of PEOPLE who were enslaved. It doesn’t allow for the distancing that some people might feel using the word slaves, which is an “othering” word–a way to be different from the person being talked about.
New Orleans is important to the history of American slavery. It’s the end point for enslaved people whose situations went from bad to worse. When an enslaved person was sold from an enslaver who lived closer to the Mason-Dixon line, but sold farther south down the Mississippi River it meant that he or she would be worked harder and live in more dangerous conditions. New Orleans had the biggest slave market, so many enslaved people ended up at that market. The swamps and bayous of the area meant disease and more back-breaking work, namely growing and harvesting sugar cane.
Whitney Plantation is really just beginning to record and share the plight of the enslaved people of the south. There is much more work to be done. But I loved how they focused on the children because of the voices of the FWP/WPA storytellers. By the way, the bookstore has a great collection, including the Lester book.
After the church with the children (sculptures), we toured the property.
Whitney has memorials that list the names of the enslaved, as well as a particular memorial for the babies who died by age two, which was very very sad. This is a sample of a memorial wall for the adults.
The main house was almost an afterthought after seeing some of the outbuildings, the kettles for harvesting sugarcane, and reading the memorials.
Wherever we travel, there are big beautiful houses to tour, and although this one was plainer than many, the emphasis here is long overdue. It’s a place to learn about the lives of the people who were bought and sold in order to work these plantations.
Today would have been my father’s 88th birthday, and it is my uncle’s 88th birthday (Dad’s twin). A week and a half ago, my aunt on my mom’s side (her SIL) entered the ER on the two-year anniversary of the day my father entered (that began his health decline). She was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia and has already entered hospice. Our family is in shock over this as we didn’t know she was ill. If you’re so inclined, please send up your prayers for Aunt Jean.
If you think cemeteries are unbearably creepy or sad, you might want to skip this post. After returning from a trip to New Orleans, I am still seeing her “Cities of the Dead”– as the graveyards are called–in my mind. New Orleans has dozens of cemeteries, but why are they so memorable?
Because so much of the land is at or below sea level, burials are mainly above ground. When caskets are buried underground, as the water table rises, they come right up out of the ground and float away. Above ground burials are in stone vaults or monuments, and when you see a cemetery full of these little “houses” they give the appearance of a ghoulish neighborhood or town. You can see decorative iron trim, stone crosses and sculptures, and some vaults even have stained glass.
A lot of movies have been filmed in these cemeteries. The one that has stayed with me is Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd gets locked in a casket in Lafayette Cemetery #1. The Easy Rider scene was filmed at St. Louis Cemetery #1. The latter one is the oldest cemetery in the city and located in a swamp. It’s claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen, who was buried there in 1881. Many of the cemeteries are Roman Catholic or divided into sections by religion and also by race. The oldest cemeteries, like St. Louis 1, 2, and 3 are very dilapitated. The stone is crumbling, there is moss over many of the vaults, and therefore they are the most creepy.
Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans, not the city of Metairie) is newer and was set up by a Creole (usually “mixed race” person, and that is important to the following) who did not want sections by religion and race and did not want a segregated cemetery. It has the most extravagant marble monuments in the city, though, and Anne Rice’s husband the poet Stan Rice is buried there. He died at age 60 of brain cancer. At the same cemetery, the owners of Whitney Bank made their monument look like a little bank.
You can take tours of the cemeteries, but I think the best way is to plan a couple of days to visit several cemeteries on your own. That way you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the ones you prefer.
It might seem odd to take photos of places where people just like me were buried, but I belong to FindaGrave, which accesses cemetery records across the country. The point of that site is to take photos of all the headstones/graves in the U.S.–and connect each one to the person buried there–birth and death info, relationships with others buried, and photos of the individual. I “tend” a few graves on there by paying a one-time fee of $5 to remove advertising from the grave’s page.
New Orleans even has a Masonic cemetery. I was actually surprised to see the old, abandoned Masonic Temple because my understanding is that the doctrines of the Catholic Church and Freemasonry are incompatible. Since New Orleans has a Catholic historical base and population, I mentioned to the gardener that I probably wouldn’t find a Masonic Temple here, and right at that moment, it stood in front of our car.
I wanted to visit the Masonic cemetery, but it was not to be (for which I blame the gardener).
He doesn’t really understand my fascination with the Masons. He even said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a place for a bunch of guys to hang out.” He doesn’t think they are mysterious or intriguing at all.
But I do ;).
And the same is true for those cemeteries. But then I can’t go past an old cemetery without stopping.