Travels with Susan Spano

People, Places, Stuff

Asilomar at 100, LA Times, 7/7/13

August 20, 2013

Tags: Asilomar, California, Architecture, Julia Morgan, Travel

The 100th birthday of the Asilomar Conference Grounds is being celebrated this year with a full slate of events, including lunch and lecture series, guided walks, chef-led cooking demonstrations and holiday guest packages.

All are designed to welcome back folks to the historic meeting grounds designed by architect Julia Morgan in 1913 as a YWCA summer camp on the Central Coast between Pebble Beach and Pacific Grove.

The old girl has great bones thanks to Morgan, the first female architect licensed in California and best known for designing Hearst Castle. She put her rustic, Western Arts and Crafts signature on 11 buildings at Asilomar (a National Historic Landmark), with its creaking wood floors, weathered shingles, overhanging roofs and yawning stone fireplaces, all set in a gnarled Monterey pine forest and bordered by 25 acres of rolling sand dunes.

Asilomar has completed restoration to rid the dunes of non-native invasives and eradicate a disease that threatened to lay waste to the woods.

During the last few years Aramark, which manages the center, has spent more than $20 million to upgrade some of Asilomarís architectural crown jewels.

That includes Morganís signature Social Hall, where guests check in, play pool and sit in rockers by the fireplace. Wheelchair accessible stone walkways are being laid.

The center has a cellphone tour and Wi-Fi.

ďYou wonít find another California state park with that amount of improvement and no state funding,Ē said Scott A. Wilson, sales and marketing director at Asilomar.

Things have changed in 100 years, but not the important ones. If you walk into Dodge Chapel where a window above the altar looks out on the dunes, you may still see a sparrow flying from beam to beam.

New Zealand Sheep Show

August 2, 2012

Tags: Sheep, New Zealand, Travel

I donít sleep easily at night. Not because I have a guilty conscience, but because odd, unconnected travel memories keep coming to mind as soon as I close my eyes. By and large, these arenít recollections of unforgettable, red-letter sites on the order of the Great Wall of China and St. Peterís in Rome. They are sudden, serendipitous flashbacks to nutty things Iíve seen and done in my travels like getting my haircut in Beijing and having my hiking boots stolen on a trek through Moroccoís Anti-Atlas Mountains.
One night recently I was all at once in the audience at the Agrodome in Rotorua, New Zealand, known for its geothermic hot springs. I knew I wasnít dreaming because Iíd been to the lakeside town before while taking a marvelous 6-day train tour of the North Island on KiwiRail. And, kitschy though it sounds, no one who goes to Rotorua can afford to miss the Agrodomeís Sheep Show.
I almost did. I mean, I like wool sweaters. But sheep? Besides, Iíd already seen plenty of the beasts crossing the luxuriant grasslands of New Zealand by train.
Fortunately, the show was included in a Rotorua bus tour that was part of the KiwiRail package. Lots of things were. Traveling in New Zealand is a good deal, the way it was in the U.S. 50 years ago.
From the moment the curtain rose at the Agrodome I was hooked. There were live demonstrations of sheering, milking and feeding. Nimble, intelligent sheep dogs were put through their paces, commanded by a whistle. Then the rams came on, one at a time like Miss America contestants, each taking its appointed place on stage. There were Merinos, Drysdales, Romneys, not to mention an English Leicester named Winston who bore a striking resemblance to Harpo Marx.
Sheep were introduced to New Zealand by Captain Cook in 1773. By 1980 there were about 70 million of them there, though the population is now more like 40 million: one sheep for every 12 Kiwis, to put it in context.
But since seeing the Sheep Show, I think of them as individuals. I think of Winstonís goggle-eyes, horizontal ears and woolly coat, somewhat bedraggled at the hem. And at a restaurant Iíd rather put a steak knife through my heart than order a lamb chop.
From the first annual SPEAK UP! contest, June 23, 2018, Muhanga, Rwanda

Syracuse Archaeological Museum, Sicily

Proshyan School bathroom with water tank

Takar and Kataro are my favorite Armenia reds

School time in Armenia.

Garni Temple, Armenia

Big Sur from Soberanes Point


Artichoke Pickers by Henriette Shore

On the way to the beach

Jalama Beach, CA

Hello, little sea urchin!

Famous Jalama Beach Burger

Three by Peter Hessler

Spring time on the Big Sur Coast


Jalama Beach, CA

Motya Charioteer. Image from

Laboratory for Atmospheres, NASA

Homesick for Rome

Therme Vals in Switzerland

At Vogelsgang

National Socialist Party poster from Vogelsgang

Palm Springs

Image courtesy of Tylas at English Wikipedia

Vintage Naples Historic District

From Palm Cottage

Borobudur frieze; Buddha's life

Borobudur at sunrise

Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania

Tacoma Narrows Bridge

Image courtesy of Politics and Prose

Image courtesy of John Wehrheim.

Lotusland in Montecito, CA

Ganna Walska of Lotusland

Image courtesy of Flickr user ViaMoi.

Conques Church. Image courtesy of Flickr user Seligr.

Weiming Lake, Peking University. Image courtesy of Flickr user ImGump.

The Coral Casino at the Four Seasons Biltmore Hotel near Santa Barbara

Agrodome, Rotorua, New Zealand. Image courtesy of Flickr user _gem_.

Vandalized images at Painted Rock

Painted Rock, Carrizo Plain National Monument

Mesa Verde National Park. Courtesy Wikipedia Commons user BenFrantzDale.

A map of Chicago, Illinois, imprinted in 1913 from the United States Geographical Surveyís historical topographic map collection. Image courtesy of the USGS.

Image courtesy of Flickr user hattiesburgmemory.

Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro. Image courtesy of Flickr user alobos flickr.

Image courtesy of Flickr user joiseyshowaa.

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Selected Works

Nonfiction, Travel, Human Interest
A new collection of travel essays by Susan Spano
Tracking Colette in Paris and Burgundy
A draught sinks Lake Powell, revealing lost wonders of Glen Canyon
Rome's Most Roman Neighborhood
Studying Mandarin in Beijing
Around the world and back to New York
Nonfiction Book
Divorce. Why do we do it? And what does it do to us? fourteen prominent writers have pondered these questions and have set down heir thoughts and personal stories, in this gathering of sometimes irreverent and always intelligent essays. "A disarmingly candid, invaluable collection." --Publishers Weekly
"Anyone who doubts that men, too, suffer in divorce should be required to read this." --Glamour Magazine "A rare, unusually focused anthology of original essays that both entertains and instructs." --Publishers Weekly

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