Thursday, July 28, 2011

Top 2 Civil War Things to Do

The Civil War is 150, which means four years of particularly robust re-enactments and a lot of new Civil War books. Even a CD or two.

Here are two things I recommend doing to tribute the occasion:


Do you know this 1986 documentary? At nearly three hours, it's way too long, but simply impossible to stop looking at once you start.

A heart-broken, deadpan-hilarious film-maker Ross McElwee (mostly behind the camera) wants to retrace the tragic figure of William Sherman on his (in)famous rampage through the South, a region he had loved and spent much time before the war. But McElwee's girlfriend dumps him after McElwee gets the film grant, so he ends up loosely following Sherman, while mostly flirting from behind the camera with a string of mesmerizingly bizarre southern women (a rocker, a 'prophet' actress, a Mormon, a hermit).

It is more a glimpse of '1981 South' -- when it was filmed -- than a Civil War doc. (The New York Times even called it a 'timely memoir of the '80s' in 1986!) Plus Burt Reynolds makes an unplanned cameo.


I made this two years ago at Gettysburg, and still await the answer on how Civil War re-enactors decide who dies first.

If pressed, I'd have to admit no one really knows.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Favorite Bathroom Door (Male Category)

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves, why? Why do we travel? Part of the reason -- a big part -- is to track down the best bathroom door in the world. So far, this one from Churchill, Manitoba is the winner.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Photos: Women's World Cup '99

Some sporting events mean more than others. We're a week removed from Japan's "heal a nation" upset win over the USA in the Women's World Cup. Much of the conversation around the game compared the American "girls of '11" with the famed "girls of '99," who -- by the way -- won their gold medal in penalty kicks medal after 120 minutes of a scoreless game against a (slightly more threatening) China team.

I happened to be there -- at the biggest, most important women's sporting event of all time. A sold-out Rose Bowl, a captivated nation, and President Bill Clinton eating chili dogs in the press box.

Here are a few photos. Note: the last one is the moment the Americans one, taken -- if you squint -- a moment before Brandi Chastain tears off her jersey.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Photo of the Day: Regina's RCMP Depot

Every mountie in Canada comes through Regina, Saskatchewan -- home to the RCMP Depot, a training facility in place since 1885. Last week I served as a 'cadet for a day.' Marched for 6:30am inspection, learned how to remove people from cars (using ears, pain points) or putting them in (with a memorable groin toss). I got a regulation Mountie haircut & moustache, drove an advanced track, learned I have 14% body fat in fitness class ('that's better than average'), ate light meals at the mess hall, and met people from all over Canada.

In one troop, they joked I was the 'token moustache.' Proud to be.

It was exhausting. But an unreal experience. More on it soon.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

What is a Mountie?

Follow my mountie exploits this week at #MountieLand

I don't remember when I first heard of mounties, or wanted one of their red serge tunics and carefully pressed, flat-brim Stetson hats. It was definitely before Canada Day when I was 9. That's when my gerbil Steve bit my finger, I bled, I fainted, then flew to Calgary for a family vacation to Banff and Jasper. I never got the hat.

Today I'm off to Regina, Saskatchewan to make a Lonely Planet video on how one becomes a mountie. From the inside. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police "Depot" has trained mounties there since the late 1800s. Recently I asked about joining as a cadet for a '24-hour immersion.' And they surprisingly agreed. One official told me, 'They WON'T go easy on you.'


Meanwhile, a few things to consider about mounties:

  1. They may be mounties, but they don't mount horses in Regina. Horse riding hasn't been part of the six-month training since 1966.
  2. Women are mounties too. Since 1974.
  3. Americans were once mounties. In the early 20th century, most mounties were recruited from elsewhere -- chiefly England but also the US. Canadians took over after the Depression. And now you have to be a Canadian citizen to qualify.
  4. Mounties aren't for show. They're Canada's full municipal and federal police, akin to 'Canada's equivalent to the FBI,' per the New York Times.
  5. Mounties still wear the red serge tunic and Stetson (yay!), but only in special occasions, like the daily 'Noon Parade' in Regina, at graduation.
  6. Dudley Do-Right was invented by a couple blokes from Berkeley, California, and animated in Mexico. And, yes, it IS the same voice behind Bullwinkle, George of the Jungle and Dudley (Bill Scott).
So I go. Very scared. Stayed tuned for more.