A fun show in a serious summer

Not that hair can't be political, but this was a lively episode to work on that had nothing to do with the drumbeat of news this summer, and it was glorious to just not think about how the planet's going to explode and the U.S. is ceding power to autocratic nations on the world stage for a hot minute. This isn't hot off the presses, but it is worth a listen for the breathless news coverage of Elvis's haircut alone.

What are men to rocks and mountains?

I'll always go back to the mountains, is all I'm saying. Much delayed photos of a trip to a deserted ghost town in Nevada with one of my oldest friends last year for her birthday. We never made it to Bodie since the passes got snowed. So, a detour to Yosemite, Angel's Camp, and Calaveras Big Trees. And after that, a few shots from Thanksgiving with my mom's family in the Colorado Rockies. It was so cold your nose and ears went numb in a minute. So beautiful you didn't care.

What are we really afraid of?

One of the more fascinating stories I've come across while working at BackStory. Sadly, we had to cut lots from the final interview for time, but our guest Paul Jones had a fascinating reading of Edgar Allen Poe. Poe's tales, he says, are very rarely about the supernatural - they're about what violence humans can inflict upon each other. And while his stories are filled with the universal fear of what one human can do to another, they're rooted in a very specific 19th century fear that the person who would do you in would be someone in your household, some who you might have told yourself loved you and cared for you... your servant. Or more likely, your slave. 

Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, or my new favorite lady of the Early Republic

If you hear about Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte at all, it tends to be as a tragic footnote to Napoleon's rule. She married Napoleon's youngest brother, Jerome in 1803. They sailed for Europe not long after, and Jerome left a pregnant Elizabeth in Lisbon to try to calm a furious Napoleon. Instead, Napoleon banished Elizabeth from the French Empire and married Jerome off to a German princess before the couple's official divorce even came through. The wiki version of the story ends with a dejected, rejected Elizabeth returning to the U.S. to raise her young son.

She did go back to the U.S., but not in disgrace. America was fascinated by the almost-royal Elizabeth, who went to every party she was invited to dripping in jewels and clad in sheer French gowns. Before she was done, she would wrangle the promise of a title out of Napoleon, reject at least six more marriage proposals (many from titled men), and very nearly cause a constitutional crisis. 

Listen to the whole story here -- part of our episode on Americans and royalty, and one my absolute favorite stories to work on in a long time.

Source: https://soundcloud.com/backstory/drama-que...

Photoblog: With Wind

One of the many pleasures of a quick trip back to the Bay Area for New Year's was the chance to see Ai Wei Wei's exhibit @Large on Alcatraz (getting up at 6 to catch the ferry and shelling out for the ferry tickets was another matter all together). Alcatraz is a strange place. It's close to San Francisco, but it's an island, and not a very big one at that, and the currents around it are strong enough that at certain times of day you can see them flowing so quickly they give the impression you're on a river, not a bay. It's full of flowering succulents, cypress and seabirds. And its strange isolation makes it all the more beautiful, with sweeping views of the city, the Golden Gate and Bay Bridge, Mt. Tam, and Sausalito. And, for a hundred years or so, starting with Confederate sympathizers during the Civil War, it was a prison. And not just for the likes of Al Capone - Hopi leaders who objected to sending tribal children to U.S. government run boarding schools and religious objectors to the WWI-era military were imprisoned here.

All of which makes it an excellent site for @Large, which is meant as an exploration of prisoners of conscious, mostly those imprisoned for their political beliefs around the world. The installations are scattered throughout the standing buildings, including the main cell block and hospital wing. Many used sound: poetry prisoners had written in jail, or the songs and speeches which had gotten them arrested. The pictures below (click through) are from the first installation, a series of kites in what was the prison's New Industries building, where the well-behaved prisoners on Alcatraz were allowed to work. First, you walked through the exhibit on the ground floor, where the prisoners worked, then doubled back to look down from a narrow catwalk called the gun gallery, where armed guards would have watched the prisoners.





Day four (Little Rock - Nashville)

This day ended with a really delightful dinner in Nashville with Susie, Kathryn, and John, but just before lunch I hit Memphis and headed straight to Graceland. Inspired of course by this:

 

 

...but also a lot by this. There's something fun about planning a road trip via song. It makes uprooting your whole life seem a bit prophetic, not just random chance.

There's something fun about planning a road trip via song. It makes uprooting your whole life seem a bit prophetic, not just random chance.

One thing that was kind of nice about Graceland: it was definitely over the top, but it felt less like a mansion designed to impress and more like a house intended to be lived in than I ever expected.

Day three (Oklahoma City - Little Rock)

Apologies to eastern Oklahoma and western Arkansas, both of which provided lovely scenery (bright red dirt, huge trees, fields of wildflowers and tall grass) and astronaut hometowns which I couldn't stop to grab shots of due to lots of road construction. 

I ended the day at Little Rock Central High School. Today, it's both a national park and a functioning (really lovely!) high school campus. In 1957, it became a symbol of resistance to federal efforts to end racial segregation in public schools, when images of federal troops escorting the nine black students enrolled in the school past enraged white protestors were broadcast worldwide. 

I got up every morning, polished my saddle shoes, and went off to war
— Melba Pattillo Beals

The nine students continued to suffer once they were inside. Students threw acid at one of the girls, Melba Pattillo, in the hallway. They continued to be by turns harassed, abused, or ignored. After appealing the federal mandate to end school segregation, the governor of Arkansas closed Little Rock's public schools rather than see black students in formerly all white campuses including Central High. He hoped to lease the buildings to private schools, which would remain segregated. The schemed didn't work. Students returned to Little Rock's public schools , but many white parents and students blamed the Little Rock Nine for the "lost year," and the abuse against them continued.

School is out for summer, (which I totally forgot about), so the campus was quiet. Every few minutes, someone would walk across from the visitor's center and stand on the lawn taking pictures. One women took her shot, lowered her camera and said in a surprised voice "It's so beautiful! I never knew."

Day two (Albuquerque - Oklahoma City)

Today started out with a quick, self-guided tour of Breaking Bad locations in Albuquerque (including the carwash and the vacuum store run by the "disappearer"), but unless you're pretty in to Breaking Bad, they're pretty boring. So here's some shots from my second stop of the day, the infamous Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo, Texas:

The ground around it was pretty thickly populated with massive caterpillars and spray paint cans.

Moving cross-country: day one (Palm Springs - Albuquerque)

For those that don't know, I'm moving all the way across this great country of ours to Charlottesville, Virginia to start a new job producing for BackStory with the American History Guys! I'm really excited to get started, but first I've got to get there.

Right now, I'm driving out to Charlottesville on 1-40. The trip will take four or five days, depending on what I discover along the way. Day one, I crossed the Sonoran desert into the high country of Arizona and New Mexico, including a stop at Petrified Forest National Park. It's right across from the Painted Desert, and there's definitely some overlap, as you'll see if you click through the gallery below:  
 

#tbt: Hawaii proper

Almost exactly a year ago, I took a trip to Hawaii with the most excellent Sarah Fox. And only a few days after I got back to LA, I packed everything else and moved 120 miles to Palm Springs. So, a year late and a dollar short, here are a few of the pictures from the trip. Included: Waimanalo, Wiamea Falls, Pipeline Break (wave free, sadly), I'olani Palace, and the Honolulu Art Museum, Doris Duke's personal Shangri-La, Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona memorial, and my good friend Sarah Fox.

Photoblog: The Integratron

The Integratron  is hard to explain. It's a big dome built with no nails and perfect acoustics out in middle of the desert. Not far, as the crow flies, from Twentynine Palms Marine Base and Joshua Tree National Park. It was built by a man named George Van Tassell who believed very strongly that aliens had visited the site, which sits on the confluence of several underground rivers and fields of concentrated energy. Regardless of the aliens, it's still a pretty spectacular place. Click the photo below for a slideshow of images from the Integratron and Joshua Tree National Park during a full moon.