Cowboys are my weakness

Dawson City, in the Yukon, with its dirt roads, wooden sidewalks, and swing-door saloons took me back in time to a world I’d liked to have lived in. As Pam Houston’s book title so adequately declaims: cowboys are my weakness.

The colonial old town of Trididad in central Cuba, with its cobblestone streets, is a relic of times past. Plaza Mayor, the main square, is lined by other-worldly buildings like the Museo Romántico, in the restored Palacio Brunet mansion; the Museo de Arquitectura Colonial; and the Iglesia de la Santísima, the 19th-century cathedral with a statue of Jesus in a pose I’d never seen before. Man, did He look just a tad fed up. An empty rum bottle in a corner threw me. Was it an offering or a convenient place to discard an empty? And the Lenten posters could teach the church in Ireland or Hungary a thing or three about the relevance of communication.

The warren of narrow streets are home to markets of all sorts, actual shops selling real things, and a host of art galleries that while not quite on the Havana scale, are still to be reckoned with. The street vendors are chatty and pleasant, and perhaps at times a tad too forceful, but that’s only to be expected. Bargaining is part of the process but I found it embarrassing. It seemed cheap to haggle when people have a living to make and work within earshot of tourists sitting in cafés moaning about the exchange rate and how many hundreds of dollars it’s cost them to have brought US dollars rather than Canadian dollars or euro with them on their trip.

Had I done my homework before I left, I’d have taken Julio Muñoz of Casa Muñoz up on his offer of guided tours of an authentic Trinitario santero (priest) of Santería. And I’d had gone to see the rumba, the courtship dance, at the Palenque de los Congos Reales on Calle Echerri. But instead, I wandered the streets, up and down alleyways, taking it all in. There are plenty cafés and bars, both local and tourist, something for everyone. [As a complete aside, I never once had a bad cup of coffee in Cuba – who’d have known their coffee was that good?]

Off the beaten track, walking towards the hills past the Santería church, there’s one of a few tourist-free neighbourhoods that are so local, I felt like I was intruding. It was here I met my cowboys. What is it about a man in a hat on a horse? {Okay – so these were boy-cowboys … but ain’t the future lookin’ good?}

Trinidad is a departure spot for many. It’s not far from Playa Ancun, close to the La Boca sunset, the train depot for the Valley de los Ingenios, and probably the liveliest night life in the region. Worth a day or two to wander around.



Be still my fickle heart

Nashville is my heaven – or at least one version of what heaven might be like. What more could a gal ask for than country music and cowboys and conversation peppered with ‘Yes, ma’am’ and ‘No, little lady’. And if Nashville is  heaven, Broadway is at its heart. A busy street lined with honky tonks (bars that provide live country music), this is the bloodline of the Tennessee state capital. It was here that many country and western legends got their break and where many more ply their trade in the hope of being discovered.

IMG_5010 (692x800)Musicians play for tips and a chance to sell their CDs to an appreciative public. I wanted to go to Tootsies Orchid Lounge – that honky tonk where Willie Nelson caught a break; he got his first songwriting job after singing there. Rumour has it that Roger Miller wrote ‘Dang Me’ in Tootsies and rumour aside, his stool was the third one in from the door. It’s an amazing place, chock full of memorabilia, and a picture of Tootsie herself over the bar. In a future life, if not in this one, I’d like to try my hand at being a Tootsie – to be an incubator for live talent, to facilitate that fame … now that would be quite the accomplishment.

IMG_5004 (600x800)You can’t help but think about what it all must have been like thirty or forty years ago when Kris Kristofferson, Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash, and Patsy Kline were in their prime. Bumping into one of those as you bellied up to the bar would have been nothing short of amazing. As it is, Broadway is bopping, even on a Monday night. Music seeps out of every pore and into every muscle. No one can stand or sit still. Such is country. It gets into your blood. If ever I missed a dance partner, this was it.

IMG_5009 (800x600)We struck lucky when we came across Jake Maurer, who along with his band, the Naked Truth, has been playing in Tootsies for five years – so you know he has to be doing something right. The guy is good … and cute!

And, in yet another bout of synchronicity, his bass player is none other than the CJ Wilder I was raving about from the Henderson Blues and BBQ festival. Maurer and Wilder have co-written some of the songs on Maurer’s latest album – American Hat. What a break – the music gods were certainly smiling on me.

IMG_4972 (800x600)Nashville has its tacky side – of course, it does. It wouldn’t be a tourist attraction without the requisite tacky shops and those selling seriously upmarket boots and stetsons (most of which are made in China!). It’s got its themed restaurants – the line outside Jack’s stretched half-way down the street – and famous crab-shacks and rib joints. Waiters and bar staff may work for tips, as do the musicians, yet it ain’t a cheap night out – which is probably why most of the patrons sip slowly on their beers and just enjoy the music.

IMG_4968 (591x800)In 1941, Nashville was granted the first FM license in the United States. Music City then became the first to enjoy static-free radio. And it was in Nashville, at  RCA’s Historic Studio B on Music Row where Elvis Presley recorded 200 of his hits. The city itself was founded on Christmas Eve 1779 by two teams of pioneers who had come from the Carolinas. Originally called Fort Nashborough, it would change to Nashville when the French were more in favour than the British.

Today, more than six million tourists visit the city annually – and this year, I was one of them.
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