Mature Life Features

Cecil Scaglione, Editor

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Perry Mason’s Mysteries Rooted in Ventura

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perrymason1A triangular buttress supports the Mission San Buenaventura

facade that was fractured by an 1812 earthquake.

— Cecil Scaglione photo

 

By Beverly Rahn, Mature Life Features

VENTURA, Calif. —- One of the biggest mysteries to locals is why the ghost of Erle Stanley Gardner hasn’t lured more visitors to his home town.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists and travelers, most of them from the sprawling Los Angeles metropolis an hour away on the portion of Highway 101 that’s called the Ventura Freeway, visit Santa Barbara next door each year.

They drive right by the Pierpont Inn, where the creator of Perry Mason went for victory dinners after his successes in the nearby Ventura County courthouse. It was straightforward country-lawyer cuisine — steak, baked potato and green salad —  but it’s no longer on the inn’s regular menu. Nowadays, you should try the bouillabaisse.

Gardner began his 150-novel career, which he launched with a short story using the pseudonym Charles M. Green, in his second-floor law office at California and Main streets overlooking downtown’s commercial core.

He didn’t have to turn to writing to achieve success, said Richard Senate, who has written about Ventura’s most famous resident and bills himself as a tour guide and ghost hunter.

“Erle Stanley Gardner was a good lawyer and probably would have become at least a California Supreme Court judge,” Senate said.

“He was a founder of the Downtown Lions Club and the Elks Club here. But he was — he would have liked to have been — Perry Mason. He actually did pull off some of the stunts that appeared in the Perry Mason books, movies, radio shows, comic books and television shows.

“To keep from getting mixed up with his settings, Gardner used this courtroom, his office and the views from each of them as models for his settings.”

Visitors to the real courtroom enter the City of Buenaventura — that’s the official name of the municipality popularly known as Ventura — city hall through its bronze sliding grilled entrance adorned with depictions of lima beans. (“Ventura was once the lima-bean capital of the world,” Senate explained.)

Railway officials shortened the city’s name because it was too long for their schedules.

The civic center, perched on a hill overlooking Gardner’s office and the Pacific, served as a courthouse until it was scheduled for demolition after a 1962 earthquake. The city bought it for $140,000 and spent $4 million making it quake-proof. The prototype of Perry Mason’s courtroom is on the second floor.

“After World War II, a young Navy officer named George Bush came here with his family in 1949 to learn the oil business,” Senate said.

Keeping an eye on the comings and goings in front of City Hall is a bronze statue of Fr. Junipero Serra, the Franciscan friar who founded Mission San Buenaventura in 1782.

The mission, a half-dozen blocks below the civic center, features a triangular buttress across its face — a support installed after an 1812 earthquake fractured its face. Also visible are two metal crosses imbedded on each side of the front door. These are assurances that the building will remain operating as a Roman Catholic church into perpetuity.

Visitors can circle these two complexes on a variety of walking and motor tours of such attractions as blocks of Victorian houses, oil-boom mansions from the 1920s, flower gardens, some three-dozen antique boutiques downtown alone, and a meandering string of art studios, galleries and workshops.

Senate offers an array of spirited attractions. On the list are ghost-and-ghoul hunts in and around City Hall, Pierpont Inn and various downtown restaurants, a trip back to 3,000-year-old artifacts left by ancestors of the present-day Chumash Indians, and an opportunity at attempting to unravel the location of Mission San Buenaventura’s legendary treasure chest crammed with gold and silver.

But there are more than mansions, missions and mysteries to experience in this coastal community a $30 shuttle ride from Los Angeles International Airport.

Ventura’s oceanfront harbor, which offers marine diversions to please visitors of all ages, is embraced by a 125-year-old pier and 33 acres of galleries, cafes and restaurants to suit all tastes. Boats shuttle several times a day to and from the Channel Islands for hiking, picnicking, snorkeling and camping.

Prices and times vary for the crossing but whatever vessel you choose is worth it just to watch the dozens of porpoise pods slip, slide, slap, soar, swoop and swish all around your boat as pelicans patrol overhead. You might also encounter orcas or gray, minke, humpback or blue whales.

Twenty minutes southeast of town, the Ronald Reagan presidential library is enshrined atop a Simi Valley hill. One visitor declared, after seeing the reproduced Oval Office, “I could sense the power of the presidency.”

 

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

January 8, 2017 at 8:37 pm

Jim Thorpe’s Legacy Buried in Pennsylvania Coal Town

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                                           By Cecil Scaglione

Mature Life Features 

JIM THORPE, Penn. — Rolling along the country roads stitched through this northeastern pocket of the Keystone State is akin to meandering through central Italy, where every hill is crowned by  a town with its own version of history.

Jim Thorpe is like that. The all-round all-American athlete after whom this town is named was not born here, did not attend school here, and there is no evidence he ever set foot or even drove through here.

Yet this “Gateway to the Poconos,” which as been proclaimed one of the nation’s prettiest towns, owes its survival to the Oklahoma-born Olympic champion who, when the King of Sweden handed him his pentathlon and decathlon medals at the 1912 Olympic Games in Sweden and proclaimed him “the greatest athlete in the world,” said “Thanks, King.”

This struggling little coal community was known as Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk until the 1950s. A sign with that historic title still hangs from  the front of its Victorian train station. It populace had blazed through the heyday of coal and railroad expansion and was existing on those fumes of fame when Thorpe died in 1953. His widow, disappointed and disgusted when Oklahoma movers and shakers refused to establish a memorial to their renowned native son, began shopping around for a place that would welcome his remains.

The Mauch Chunk leaders heard of her efforts when she landed in Philadelphia and, desperate for new lifeblood and new business, agreed to build a memorial for her late husband and rename their town after him. They even dug up some soil from the Stockholm Olympic Stadium and used it to form a small mound at the base of his monument.

Native-American tribal and family factions in Oklahoma have battled through several courtroms to have his remains returned to the Sooner State. An appeals-court decision last year appears to have settled things by leaving matters as they lay.

Visiters who pop into this forest-girdled Carbon County community mid-way between Wilkes Barre and Allentown and wish to visit the man’s memorial head across the Lehigh River about a mile north of downtown to a small park dedicated to the football Hall of Famer who was arguably the finest all-round athlete in recorded history.

If they park in the lot beside the train station that debouched passengers into the heart of the commercial zone, they’re more likely to see Molly Maguires Pub and Steakhouse, a benign reminder that this is where four members of the infamous group involved in a bloody mining war were found guilty of murder and hanged in the mid-1870s.

Comfortable memories of the community’s salad days are housed in the Asa Packer Mansion straddling a hill overlooking the town. Packer started out as an apprentice carpenter who opened a store in Mauch Chunk while operating a boat yard that made vessels for transporting coal along the Lehigh Canal. This led him into the mining industry and, eventually, railroading. His first link was built to Easton, Penn., and his Lehigh Valley Railroad eventually reached out to the Jersey shore. When he died in 1879, his estate was valued at $54 million.

The comfort of his life as an industrialist, congressman, candidate for governor, presidential nominee, and judge are on view for tours of the Victorian building that peers over the town to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church perched on a hill on the other side of the village. Packer was, of course, instrumental in having this Gothic landmark built. Among its eye-catching features are two vibrant Tiffany windows. Today, the church has just a little more than 30 members.

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 16, 2016 at 7:52 am

Getting Trapped in an Elevator . . .

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. . . is pretty low on the list of things most people would like to do. It’s high on the list of nightmares for anyone with phobias related to loss of control and tight places.

But that’s what happened to 10 people in a Minneapolis hotel this past week. The crunch lasted a bit more than an hour when their rising elevator stopped, plummeted a few feet, and braked to a stop between the second and third floors. And the doors would not open. Maintenance workers were unable to improve matters so the fire department was called. They lowered a ladder from the hotel roof down the elevator shaft and the sweating hotel guests clambered out to take the stairs down to their respective floors.

As the climbed out, the last of the locked-in said they had left their luggage. Most just shrugged and said they’d get it later. So the gent still in the cage – an American Airlines co-pilot still in uniform — hauled the bags up and out for them. It could be considered a mixture of personal courtesy and professional customer service. Knowing the flyer, we’d say it’s a bit of both. You see, he’s our son-in-law.

 

Written by Cecil Scaglione

February 7, 2016 at 10:44 am

Posted in Travel

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We made it …

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… barely.missed_flight_100
Had we scheduled our return trip home ending our three-week R & R (relatives and reminiscing) hiatus a day later, we might still be in Toronto.
Our Air Canada flight home lifted off at 8:45 a.m. Tuesday. That same flight Wednesday was among the dozens cancelled or delayed because of the massive rain/snow/wind storm that flopped over much of the eastern portion of the continent.
At the same time, Bev and I basked in 78-degree San Diego as we refilled our larder – er – freezer with goods from WalMart and Sam’s Club and settled into the sparkle that Mike created by painting the interior of our home while we were away.
It wouldn’t have been all that bad if we’d been delayed. It would have extended our visit with brother Lou and his wife Jean. We spent a week with them for Canadian Thanksgiving and drove down to Pennsylvania to visit with Bev’s uncle Donald and aunt Nancy Linderman for a week, during which we attended a 90th birthday party for her cousin, Bernice Kleinsmith. Then it was back to Toronto for a week to help celebrate Jean’s 75th birthday. She chose dinner at Rodney’s Oyster House for tuna tartare. Bev selected the chowder and mussels while Lou and I washed down a couple of dozen oysters with Canadian beer.
Now, it’s back to catching up on paying the bills…

Written by Cecil Scaglione

October 30, 2015 at 7:47 am

No Baloney in Bologna

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8BolognaA10

Fountain of Neptune anchors Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore.

Story & Photo
By Cecil Scaglione

BOLOGNA —- Bologna’s location is one of its major attractions, said Na’ama, the young Israeli economist who came here to study at the oldest university on the continent.
“From here,” she said, “you can get on a train and in a short time be in Parma or Ravenna or Rimini.”
There’s also Turin, Venice, the Italian lake country, Padua, and Florence all within a two-hour train ride.
After a 45-minute ride, we debarked onto the comfortably clean streets of Parma and fine-tuned our noses to hone in on a local delicacy — not parmesan cheese but prosciutto di Parma. Cut thin enough to almost see through, this version of the Italian cured ham is tender on the teeth and has a keen flavor that still lingers.
The following day, we headed in the opposite direction to Ravenna, just off the Adriatic coast.
Before tracking down a site to gorge on a plate of overflowing seafood, we made our way to the Basilica di San Vitale to view 1,500-year-old mosaics that reflect the town’s tenure as capital of the Byzantine Empire in Europe for three centuries.
We stopped by Dante’s tomb on the way. Dante was tossed out of is native Florence after he picked the wrong side in the ongoing battle with the papacy. In exile, he wrote “The Divine Comedy” after taking up residence in Ravenna.
Incidentally, you won’t find any baloney in Bologna. The model for the U.S. version of the large round ground-pork sausage is mortadella, which houses delectable chunks of fat and, when copied on this side of the Atlantic, was dubbed bologna/baloney.
And the street-and-sidewalk no-baloney bustle convinced us we weren’t in the typical town when one thinks of somnolent sunny Italy.
The desk clerk gave us a polite but brisk “Bon giorno.” The fellows who put together our coffees, rolls and fruit in the eating emporium down the street must have known we weren’t fully awakened to local prices. The bill for a banana was more than $4, which taught us quickly to ask the locals where they munch.
The clerks in the bank where I set off alarms by trying to exit through the wrong door did not take operatic offense. They just politely pointed me to the designated door without much more than a polite shrug.
The point is, Bologna is as much business as badinage. But it’s still as much about food as finance.
For our introduction to what Bolognese boast about — tortelloni made on the premises — we checked with merchants in the old quarter. A florist suggested Trattoria da Gianni, a hole in the wall down a little alley that we would have overlooked. The proprietor ushered us to a table crammed amongst many jammed with men and women in office attire who gathered here for the same reason we did. The fine food.
After getting fortified with the local specialty, we moved on to visit the two leaning towers that anchor the historic downtown. While not as attractive nor as storied as Pisa’s I Torre Pendente, these two monoliths lounge unruffled by the hurrying hordes and beeping buses rumbling around their bases. They appear more attuned to the music and musings that emanate from the nearby University of Bologna grounds, where Copernicus and Dante once scurried to class.
There’s an outdoor market every Friday in the Piazza dell’ VIII Agosto on the rim of the commercial hub that offers everything from boots to bracelets. Merchants in the nearby market-and-bakery complex display an array of fruit, vegetables, breads and sweets to match all the sights and scents of one’s dreams.
Among them we found a fist-sized roll with thumb-sized studs poking out in all directions. They appeared on our table at Trattoria Fantoni, another enticing hole-in-the-wall eatery, where we watched other diners break off these protuberences and eat them as breadsticks.
Asked what these rolls are called, our server said: “Sputnik.”

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 27, 2015 at 7:16 am

Posted in Italy, Travel

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Cruising for Bargains

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sailship
By Cecil Scaglione

A recent conversation with a travel agent revealed cruise packages can be had for as little as $75 a day.

But hold on before you pounce on the phone or crouch by your computer to nab the first bargain you can find. Taking a cruise takes a bit of thought.

First of all, where do you want to go? If you can’t answer that, ask yourself where don’t you want to go. If you aren’t comfortable in cold climates, booking a voyage to Antarctica isn’t going to be enjoyable even if it costs only $1 a day.

Once you’ve settled on some sailing sites, check on what you’ll need to pack. You won’t be getting a bargain if you have to stretch your plastic to the limits to acquire the proper cruise costumes.

You also have to ponder what you want to see. If you choose a Mediterranean package, do you want to see the pyramids in Egypt, Vatican in Italy, or castles in Spain? The on-board bargain price does not necessarily translate into inexpensive excursions. On-shore outings can be brutal, both physically and fiscally.

Choices range widely from line to line. Is your interest archeology or architecture, churches or
cuisine? If you pick a Caribbean cruise, do you want to splash in the surf or go shopping?
Do you want to grab photographs of such renowned icons as the leaning tower in Pisa
or Parthenon in Athens, or would you rather pick out spots not pictured on postcards?

There are some caveats.

You could wind up in port with one or two other liners, which means hordes of hundreds of cruise customers milling around the community competing for cafe tables and native crafts at the same time. Check schedules while you’re hunting down bargains.

In major cities, end-running the tours touted by the cruise line’s excursion director can be
rewarding. You can probably get your own ground transportation to an attraction without having to be packed into a tourist-packed van or bus. This will also give you freedom to investigate on your own rather than being locked into the schedule directed by the guides.

On our first cruise several years ago, we found a few couples who shared our interests so we arranged to share cabs and other group costs when we left the liner. This was not only cheaper than the ship-sponsored tours but we avoided the lines of the debarking crowd and had more time to experience and explore on our own.

Doing some homework can save you dollars at the docks but, if all you want is to enjoy being catered to, booking a cruise can be worth the experience at any price.

Mature Life Features, Copyright 2010

Written by Cecil Scaglione

September 6, 2015 at 10:52 am

Gorillas We Almost Missed

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8Bwindi14Afyllis

Story & Photo

 By Fyllis Hockman

Mature Life Features

 

 

BWINDI NATIONAL PARK, Uganda —- The eight of us huddled together, staying close and quiet as we were warned. A soft cough escaped from one of our party and the guide shot us a glare. We were told that, if we were scraped by a stinging nettle, don’t even think about screaming.
And be sure to stay at least 25 feet away.
That rule was to protect both us and the gorillas. Because they share 98.4 percent of our DNA, gorillas are susceptible to human-borne illnesses. We’re carriers and they have to be protected from us. They’re wild animals, so we have to be protected from them.
You have to really want to see them because it involves at trek of up to seven hours, depending upon where they are.
There are about 880 mountain gorillas in the world. Almost half are in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in southwestern Uganda,
The hike is intimidating. You need sturdy hiking boots, gloves for the nettles, and plenty of water. A walking stick is mandatory.
We were feeling pretty good about ourselves as we maneuvered through the steep climbs and slippery descents traversing narrow ravines.
Until we entered the forest.
There was no semblance of a trail. The guides chopped one with machetes. The rocks, roots and brambles beneath our feet were not visible because of the thick underbrush.
With walking stick in one hand and the porter’s hand in the other, I kept moving, though at times the porter was either dragging me up or saving me from sliding down steep slopes.
I felt my arm might be pulled off by the porter or my legs by the clutching vines.
By the time we got to the designated area, the gorillas had left.
But down another steep embankment about 15 minutes later, we came into view of a couple of gorillas chowing down in the bush. They were fun to see but were mostly hidden in the trees and bushes and several of us felt it hadn’t justified the arduous journey.
Suddenly, the mammoth silverback — the alpha male of the group — turned from chowing to charging. It came very close before the tracker waving his AK-47 quickly sent him into retreat. Both tracker and silverback remained immune to our pleas to try that again after we got our cameras ready.
It was 4:30 p.m when we got back to our bus, which we had left at 9:30 a.m.
While our half of the ElderTreks group was hacking our way through the jungle, the other eight members were mingling with a group of the great apes on a road right near our lodge.
After hearing of our experience, they said they felt a little guilty but were happy to explain they saw their first gorilla within 20 minutes of leaving the lodge. Fifteen minutes later, they reached a banana plantation that a group of 19 gorillas was gleefully dismantling.
Good for the gorillas, bad for the farmer, though the trekkers did take a collection to compensate him. At one point, they said they were totally surrounded by gorillas. So much for the 25-foot rule.
While gorilla-trekking is touted as a highlight of the trip, it was only part of a 16-day adventure that included safari-game drives on both land and water in multiple wildlife reserves, chimpanzee tracking, scenic terrain, cultural outings that included a meeting with members of a Pygmy tribe and a demonstration by a traditional medicine man who used indigenous herbs to cure almost any ailment, and a lunch of native Ugandan delicacies prepared by a farmer and his wife. For more information about the list of ElderTreks destinations for travelers 50 and over, call (800) 741-7956 or visit eldertreks.com online.

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Written by Cecil Scaglione

August 19, 2015 at 7:02 am

Posted in Africa, Travel

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