Saturday, October 11, 2014

Smooth Getaway Postcard From Shenandoah Valley

Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley is not merely noted for lovely scenery, though its position between the Blue Ridge and the Allegheny Mountains certainly provides beautiful landscapes. The area also played an important role in the history of the United States, from its time as a British colony through its tragic Civil War and beyond.

A little over two hours’ drive West of Washington DC, the Shenandoah Valley offers visitors an experience rich in history, rich in scenic beauty and rich in Southern hospitality. You can start your tour in Winchester, at the North end of the valley off busy highway 81. Here you can see the headquarters of famed Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, who is still considered one of the world’s military geniuses. There is also a memorial dedicated to country music legend Patsy Cline, who came from Winchester.

South of Winchester is the entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park, one of America’s scenic highlights. Just North of where the drive terminates, near the junction of highways 64 and 81, is Harrisonburg, a vibrant college town and home to James Madison University. The town’s tourist center shows a video that follows Stonewall Jackson’s famed “Valley Campagn” that is often studied at military academies today. Nearby is the Virginia Quilt Museum, where history and artistry mingle.

Drive South on 81 to Staunton and continue your tour of the valley. (Or you could take an hour’s detour West on 64 to Monticello, the stately home of Thomas Jefferson.) Staunton has been named “one of the best small towns in America” by the Smithsonian Institution. Here you’ll find the Museum of American Frontier Culture, which documents the valley's settlement by Native Americans, enslaved Africans, then English, Irish and German immigrants. Local homesteads are recreated. 

Staunton is also where President Woodrow Wilson was born. The home of his parents is restored as a library and museum. It might seem incongruous, but Staunton is also the location of the American Shakespeare Center, which presents the Bard’s plays as they were once performed at the original Globe.

About thirty miles South is Lexington, also one of America’s prettiest towns. This is the home of the Virginia Military Academy (VMI) and Washington & Lee University. The latter contains the tomb of chief Confederate general Robert E. Lee, while VMI’s museum covers the school's role in training leaders including General George C. Marshall and George S. Patton. Some of the museum is dedicated to Stonewall Jackson, who taught at VMI before the Civil War.

A bit farther South on 81 is Natural Bridge, a geological wonder. On the eastern side of the Blue Ridge is Bedford, home of the D-Day Memorial and Thomas Jefferson’s retreat Poplar Forest. Throughout the valley, there are many additional scenic and historic attractions, such as Luray Caverns and New Market Battlefield Historical Park. For more info or a tour guide, contact the Shenandoah Valley Tourism Association at

Mike Quane is a travel writer with twenty-five years experience. His work has appeared in The New York Daily News, Newsday, Grit, Endless Vacation, Parents Magazine, The Portland Press Herald, Telegraph Publications, Hong Kong Traveling Magazine, the inflight magazines of Singapore and Korean airlines plus many other places. He wrote a weekly column at This Week Publications for fifteen years and a monthly column at for over a decade.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Why I Have Rights Most People Don't

Just received my new U.S. passport. This document allows me to travel faster, cheaper, more easily and to more destinations than most people can. An ugly truth but still the truth. Why am I more entitled to access the world than billions of other folks. I will now explain exactly why.

The founders of my country were not mega religious. Yet, they acknowledged the existence of heavenly management and the existence of divinely given rights that governments cannot take away without showing contempt for both the masses and the Creator.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Cantinflas Can't Even Entertain Us

Cantinflas is one of those English and Spanish films that Latinos in The United States are supposed to make their kids watch so they can appreciate their cultural roots. Yet, culture worth celebrating and preserving doesn't have to be forcefed. This movie is as barely Latino as it is proudly Latino - like Eva Longoria. The director apparently wanted to use every possible device to imply that Mexican comedian Cantinflas was the funniest guy ever, except one: showing Cantinflas actually being funny.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Primal Wilderness Rambling From The Adirondacks

When you say “New York,” people generally think of the Statue of Liberty, Manhattan skyscrapers or endless entertainment in “the city that never sleeps.” Yet, there’s more to New York than the “Big Apple.” A different type of adventure awaits in the Adirondack Mountains of the Empire State.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Music is the Universal Language

In my experience, music is the universal language, because it communicates passionate sentiment directly to the heart with or without comprehension of the lyrics. Plato wrote that music is a powerful irrational force capable of almost anything, because it commands the listener to dance with or without a reason to do so. Perhaps the most powerful music is that which reflects love and loss, which are perhaps the most beautiful and painful of all experiences.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Public Drunkenness As Performance Art

We're not breaking the law, just taking a break from the law.
My students may look a bit like criminals, but they're actually just really friendly drunks. That is me hiding in the back. Right before this photo, I was asking two Mexican cops whether there was any problem with us getting shitfaced in a vacant lot next to the highway from the university. Noone was asking if it was legal. What the bloated self-important polĂ­ticos decide for the rest of us in a galaxy far far away rarely comes up in Mexican conversation.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Tasteless Ethnic and Gender Humor

During this photo, I was hoping Victoria was grabbing my butt not Harold.
The mind is the most attractive part of an elegant woman, but damn sure not the only part. It is ironic that the internet can reduce one's attention span to where a book by a great mind becomes unreadable and also rivet the attention to where music, candles and massaging an extraordinary woman seems old school. I must admit that I find the minds of great authors and the smiles of great women more captivating than online blogs or video games. This may make me a Luddite. I only know that I like nature and people more than gadgets and gizmos, and I'm generally a happy guy.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Robin Williams Stamps His Own Passport

Robin Williams starred in what is likely the most life-affirming movie ever made, Dead Poet's Society, but he ended his own life this week, echoing the despair of a suicidal actor he wept for in that film. What can we learn from this? Williams was one of the world's most gifted, sensitive and intelligent artists, yet he wasn't very happy. What does that mean for the rest of us? In Awakenings, Good Morning Vietnam and What Dreams May Come, Williams personified lust for life. In his last day, he devoted his sharp mind and manic energy primarily to stopping his own heartbeat. What do we make of all this?