Fresh Squeeze from California

 “Accordions don’t play ‘Lady of Spain,’ People Do.”
Tee shirt at the Cotati Accordion Festival

The accordion — the “the squeeze box,” the “stomach Steinway” — may be may be due for a comeback. Accordions reached their peak in the pre-rock-and-roll 1950s when primitive infomercials, featuring twangy guys with Brylcream hair, flogged instruments and lessons while squeezing out “Lady of Spain” or “Beer Barrel Polka.”

I once interviewed Brazilian gem mogul Hans Stern in his office in Rio. He said that he sold his accordion back in the ’50s and, with the proceeds, founded H. Stern.

Yeah, right.

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Sydney on the Rocks


The Entertainment at the Hero of Waterloo

It is Sunday afternoon on The Rocks, in Sydney, Australia. Pretty tame at the Hero of Waterloo a saloon that , depending on who you talk to, is either the oldest or second oldest in Sydney. It was built by convicts in 1843. There is a tunnel under it that was used to smuggle goods in and drunken sailors out.those unlucky sots who were shanghaied to the clippers lining the docks. There are still iron shackles decorating the walls.

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Dearth Valley

If less is more, what is NOTHING?

Every place I revisit these days — as little as a year later — has changed to become almost unrecognizable. Every little buttcrack town has heard the sucking sound of globalization with a premium outlet mall, a Starbucks and a KFC/Taco Bell combo store.

Almost.

I had not been to Death Valley since 1970. Except for a couple of luxury hotels, a motel that in any place with trees would be named “The Shady Rest,” lots of huge crows and a passel of coyotes, it could be Mars.

Nothing has changed.

But, in this age where less is more, nothing can be truly something.

AUDIO: DEARTH VALLEY

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The Doctor and the Boilermaker: A Cruise to Fiji’s Islands

He was a Herr Doktor, a demanding, pompous man shaped like a pork sausage. By the second night aboard our Fiji Cruise he was the victim of mass-avoidance. Like Mark Twain’s “Old Traveler” he boasted about where he had been, about his prominence as a surgeon, how he was traveling the world while his wife, also a surgeon, stayed at home, tending to the sutures and clamps.

But Jack was a different type.  Everybody took to him immediately. Jack was a big Samoan, a boilermaker by trade who was taking his wife on her first vacation without the kids in 20 years.  Jack became our official chief, our Ratu, in Fijian tribal parlance, and he didn’t let go until he broke Herr Doktor.

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Tub Med Not: A Mediterranean Cruise on the Seabourn Spirit


Santorini, Greece © Russell Johnson

Where are the surly waiters? Where are the soggy pommes frites? Where is the water blasting out of the shower head like an Arctic squall? Where are all of those travel horror stories that you laugh about later?

Some people I know think travel means travail, that Christ-like suffering is honorable and that cruising is nothing more than high calorie sensory euthanasia. I suggest that they “get a life” (albeit an expensive one) and try, just once, one of the luxury cruise ships. It may be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but I would trade half a dozen mediocre experiences on a behemoth party ship for one on a smaller luxury vessel.

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