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People, Places, Stuff

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

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 Asilomar’s architectural crown jewels.

That includes Morgan’s 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.

“You won’t find another California state park with that amount of improvement and no state funding,” 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. Read More 
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New Zealand Sheep Show

I don’t 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 aren’t recollections of unforgettable, red-letter sites on the order of the Great Wall of China and St. Peter’s in Rome. They are sudden, serendipitous flashbacks to nutty things I’ve seen and done in my travels like getting my haircut in Beijing and having my hiking boots stolen on a trek through Morocco’s 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 wasn’t dreaming because I’d 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 Agrodome’s Sheep Show.
I almost did. I mean, I like wool sweaters. But sheep? Besides, I’d 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 Winston’s goggle-eyes, horizontal ears and woolly coat, somewhat bedraggled at the hem. And at a restaurant I’d rather put a steak knife through my heart than order a lamb chop. Read More 
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