Thursday, September 1, 2016

Pop Quiz!

Where was Coca-Cola bottled for the first time?

If you guessed Atlanta, Georgia, you'd be off by over 420 miles. The correct answer is: Vicksburg, Mississippi.

Up until 1894, when candy merchant Joseph Beidenharn came up with the concept of dispensing Coca-Cola in individual bottles, the popular beverage was always sold at ornate soda fountains. His idea revolutionized the way soft drinks were marketed, and today, franchised bottlers distribute the product worldwide.

Visitors can tour the Museum of Coca-Cola in downtown Vicksburg to learn the history this beverage and see various memorabilia inside the fully-restored Biedenharn Candy Company.  Wander through the exhibits to see old-time maps, photos, souvenirs, 1890s furniture, and original processing equipment.

The candy shop-museum is located at 1107 Washington Street in historic Vicksburg, MS. Open year round except for New Years Day, Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Monday-Saturday from 9:00 - 5:00, Sunday 1:30 - 4:30. Admission is $3.50 for adults and $2.50 for children (6 - 12).  While you're there, enjoy a Coke and delicious ice cream or homemade candy. Visit their website at

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Bronze Lady of Buceo

 In a quiet corner of the Buceo barrio in Montevideo, Uruguay, lies El Cementerio, the oldest burial ground in the city. Built in 1835, this cemetery is one of four laid out on a bluff across the road from the sandy beaches of the Rio de la Plata. Much of it is laid out in a grid with lanes bordered by palm trees, evergreens and flowering shrubs.

Mourners and necro-tourists pass through a triple-arched stone entrance gate into the necropolis to wander through the grounds to admire ornately carved marble monuments garnished with flowers and tributes. Here and there a statue (angel, saint, anchor, crucifix) poke upward through a jumbled maze of bronze, marble and granite.

Here, visitors can enjoy the work of international sculptors: Italian artists such as Morelli, Livi and Lavarello and local artisans such as Zorrilla de San Martin and Belloni. Many of the burial monuments are allegorical: sleeping children, angels weeping, figures carrying young women who had died in childbirth.  

In a cluttered grove of elaborate monuments, one simple grave stands alone. The figure of a bronze woman lies procumbent on a sheet, spread over a granite slab. Her body emerges from the smooth surface in high relief. Curled on her right side, she lies in a fetal position; face blurred in a mass of tangled hair. Who is she, this girl whose arms cradle her head, her fingers flexed and pressing gently into tender flesh? A delicate shoulder emerges gracefully from the folds of her sleeveless dress. The hem of her dress flows to cover her heels. Only her toes are seen arched gracefully.

Grass fringing the gray stone slab has dried to a crispy yellow. Debris from dead vegetation encircles her neck like a garland. The only green is the patina covering her bronze flesh and flowing garment. Does she grieve for someone or is she to be grieved?

This is the vision of faceless death. At once peaceful and fearful, it is not grand. No angelic intermediaries link heaven and earth. There are no florid architectural devices. Stunning in its simplicity it stands alone in its haunting beauty.

In a city known for its magnificent architecture, a trip to El Cementerio del Buceo is a fascinating and absorbing experience. Take the bus (cars 38 or 39) or hire one of the reasonably priced city taxis. Night tours are conducted by a local historian.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Exotic, Diverse Puerto Rico

In two-and-a-half hours--the time it takes to slog through security lines at most airports--you can fly from Miami International to San Juan, Puerto Rico. Relax and dip your toes into the frothy waters of the tropical Atlantic Ocean. Order a plate of mofongo and wash it down with a refreshing mojito!

On arrival at this island paradise, it's a short taxi ride to the center of the original capital, which covers seven square blocks. Take a walking tour of city center and wander over blue cobblestone streets made of bricks originally used as ballast on wooden trade ships. Did you know that Old San Juan was established in 1492?

Visit La Fortaleza, the Governor's Residence, built as a fort in the early 1500's to fend off invaders from the sea. Today it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can tour its gardens Monday through Friday from 9:00 until 3:30 pm, for a $3 donation.

Did you know that the famous explorer, Ponce De Leon, is buried in the San Juan Bautista Cathedral, a 450 year-old church? Daily Mass is still celebrated inside.

Be sure to schedule an afternoon, or day-long visit the lush green El Yunque Rainforest, 45 minutes drive from the capital, where you can see mist-covered mountains, ponds, flowers and coqui frogs up close. The tour guide will take you to the La Coca waterfall and the Yokahu Observation Tower.

Next trip, I'm going to see Arecibo, the world's largest radio telescope.

Puerto Rico offers a variety of activities: golf, sailing, catamaran snorkeling, hiking and zip lining. Whether you're looking for nature adventures, sandy tropical beaches, exciting night-life, interesting culture--a mix of Taino, African and Spanish influences--or great food, it's all here. Visitors can reach the island by direct flights from several State-side gateways, and no passports are required for U.S citizens.