Island In the Slum

William M. Dowd photo

KINGSTON, JAMAICA -- This Caribbean island, fabled in swashbuckling tales and rhythm-accented music, has a long and storied history since the advent of European contact shortly after Columbus' late  15th Century voyages of exploration.

Much of its history is violent -- from the oppressive slavery of indigenous people forced to work on sprawling sugar plantations to today's high rates of crime and violence, even in the capital city of Kingston. Visitors to the famous plantation mansion Rosehall (above) can see the lair of one of the most oppressive and powerful female landowners of colonial days.

The 1999 and 2000 gasoline price riots remain a fresh memory and poverty, inflation and unemployment continue unabated. Armed guards are common sights in front of many businesses; travelers are advised to travel in sizeable groups and preferably only in daylight.

That said, and even though tourism has taken a marked dip in recent years, construction of new hotels continues and some of the more established retreats around Negril and Montego Bay have been refurbished and expanded. They offer all the expected tropical amenities, some including golf.
CIA World Factbook: Jamaica
• Dowd's Guides


Syracuse, much more than Orange

SYRACUSE, NY -- Few American communities are as connected to a color as this area is to orange.

The Orange of national collegiate sports power Syracuse University permeates the color palette of the region even though there is a lot more to it than football, basketball and lacrosse. The university itself is known for its Maxwell School of Business and Newhouse School of Communications as well as its undergraduate programs.

The community is home to numerous other colleges and professional schools (see the hot links listing on this page to visit them), museums and art galleries, as well as boating, fishing, camping and other outdoor recreational activities -- particularly in nearby wooded and lake areas. The Oswego area is one such hotspot.

The city of Syracuse also has a history of cultural activities, perhaps most famous among them being Syracuse Stage, a prominent "out of town" tryout spot for new productions eventually destined for the Broadway theater district.
Beyond that, a variety of museums and cultural institutions add to the ongoing cultural and societal activities, or just plain fun.

But, not everything is indoors despite the sometimes sever winter months dotted with lake-effect snowstorms coming off the Great Lakes.

Fair-weather outings at the many lakes in the region -- Onondaga, Oneida, Cross, Otisco and others -- as well as in the marshlandsand along the historic Erie Canal are popular among fishermen, campers and hikers.

In the city of 160,000 residents, Armory Square is the center of non-university activities. The historic district offers shopping, dining and nightspots, as well as outdoor concerts and other events. It has its own Web site with a regularly-updated calendar of events throughout the year. It also has its own Columbus Circle (seen above) which gives it an offbeat architectural touch.

The city also has a domed stadium (the inflatable Carrier Dome at SU), a domed IMAX  theater, and the Great New York State Fair. The latter is the oldest continually-operating fair in the U.S.

As befits a town that revolves to a great deal around its educational institutions (see below), the most popular and successful eating places tend toward the casual. A great example is the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, a funky, controlled chaotic place that has spawned offshoots in other cities, including New York.
• SUNY Environmental Science & Forestry
• SUNY Institute of Technology
• Syracuse University
• Herkimer Diamond Mines


Experiencing Abundance In the Napa Valley

NAPA, CA -- To the outsider, the Napa Valley image is wall-to-wall grapes. To anyone traversing the valley on Route 29 or the parallel Silverado Trail, that is merely part of the inventory.

The moderate climate, affected by low mountains on either side and by the narrow Napa River that meanders through the cleft, nurtures brilliant clumps of lilies, oleander and roses, as well as stands of camphor, valley oak, cedar, magnolia and olive trees.

Despite its relatively diminutive size -- 30 miles long and one to five miles wide -- the Napa Valley's undulating topography creates a series of microclimates. Temperatures can differ by 10 or more degrees from one end to the other.

Swaths of browned-out vegetation form the floor of the woods and fields, in marked contrast to the deep blue-greens and brilliant emeralds of the numerous copses of trees dotting the landscape from this little city at the valley's southern edge to the village of Calistoga and its mineral and mud baths up north.

In February and March, the valley gets its share of precipitation. In summer and early autumn, rain is so rare the natives can tell you on what day in what year they last recall seeing a downpour.

"It was five years ago, on Aug. 16 ... No, it was on the 15th," the noted wine writer Dan Berger told a couple of visitors over breakfast one day. "Just enough to really be a pain."

Clever viniculture methods and irrigation systems have nevertheless made this spot an hour's drive northeast of San Francisco arguably America's premier wine producing area.

Such popular names as Robert Mondavi, Beringer, Stags Leap, Louis Martini, Chimney Rock, Franciscan, Coppola, Domaine Chandon and Sterling are among the 200 wineries in operation today, marked by their distinctive main-building architecture that ranges from Victorian farmhouse to French chateau to Tuscan villa to the "Star Wars" look of Mondavi's Opus One operation across the road from its main fields.

The valley's growing tourist popularity has fueled the rebirth of Napa, the anchor city of 53,000, and made the region home to such hospitality industry facilities as the Culinary Institute of America's West Coast branch, opened in 1995 in the former Greystone Cellars complex near the village of St. Helena.

Perhaps the most unusual facility in the valley, however, is something called COPIA, named for the Roman goddess of abundance who carried a cornucopia, the horn of plenty. The capitalization of its name serves to underscore that.

COPIA's subtitle is "The American Center for Wine, Food & The Arts." It's a not-for-profit cultural center and museum that has been open to the public less than two years. But, it got its start in 1988 when the legendary vintner Robert Mondavi and other Napa community leaders began kicking around the idea of a place to honor and explore the culinary and wine- making arts.

In 1996, Mondavi donated a 12-acre parcel of land in the city of Napa plus $20 million of the $55 million startup funding. The next year, Peggy Loar, who had been president of the United States International Council of Museums, was hired as director and began putting together her staff.

COPIA includes sprawling herb, flower and tree gardens, as well as several restaurants in the 80,000-square-foot building on the banks of an oxbow bend in the Napa River.

Daphne L. Derven, a native of Schenectady, NY, and a graduate of Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY, is the curator of food and assistant director for programs.

"We're a non-collecting museum," she said, "and that keeps us on our toes to continually come up with new ways to educate and entertain our visitors.

"We've had showings of extensive collections of wine glasses over the years, for example, and right now we have 'Eating and Drinking in Splendor,' a collection of Georgian silver tableware and artifacts on display through the end of September."

Derven spent several decades as an archeologist in the field, with a particular interest in the impact of food on culture and vice-versa. Her experience is put to use in helping create the displays and programs at COPIA.

"It's a wonderful way of blending my years in the field with my institutional interests to help the public enjoy a visit," she said.

In addition to exhibition and event space, the center, open year-round, has many clever ways of appealing to visitors of all ages. The programs, guests and styles of entertainment are geared toward virtually any demographic group.

Formal or self-guided walking tours in the extensive herb and vegetable gardens -- home to an amazing 100 kinds of tomatoes and 40 kinds of lavender, for example -- show how the institution helps keep heirloom plant species alive.

Celebrity appearnces for book signings and demonstrations are commonplace, most recently from the likes of famed chef Jacques Pepin, TV's "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver, and the iconic Julia Child, for whom one of the public restaurants here is named.

A fair-weather outdoor concert series offers music from salsa to West African to zydeco to New Age. Films in the "Friday Night Flicks" series range from French comedies to war zone documentaries to Tunisian belly dancing.

Wine tastings, beer tastings, food sampling and open displays that offer foodstuffs to sniff, feel and look at help explain why people's reactions to the same substances vary wildly.

COPIA may be in the heart of California wine country, but its venue is the world. Many visitors take full advantage of being plopped down in the middle of this temple dedicated to the senses.

A long, winding staircase leads from the first-floor atrium space to a floor divided among a formal exhibition of pre-Christianity wine vessels from Iran, an open- space display of turn-of-the-20th Century advertising artwork extolling the virtues of California products, and -- the most popular of all -- a large walled-off area called "Forks In the Road: Food, Wine and the American Table."

That's where kids and adults alike tend to flock when they're not involved in some formal program, lecture or film. It's a hands-on area replete with exhibits of cooking vessels, short films, electronic quiz stations sure to please youngsters reared on Xboxes, even a film loop splicing together famous movie mealtime scenes.

Want to hear oral histories of ethnic food in America, cooking for the military, making wine at home? Interested in the rise of convenience foods? It's all here. Visitors also can hear classic food songs, test their sense of smell, try to identify strange kitchen gadgets. They also can contribute their own thoughts on current topics in food, or share food-related stories which will be recorded.

Curious which states have wineries? They all do, now, and an interactive display lets you select which ones you want to know about.

The one trait all humans share is the need for food and drink. At COPIA, its history and its present are celebrated and experienced, going well beyond the struggle for survival to the exultation of the senses.


• Official COPA site
• California Wineries Directory
• California Wine Country Events
• California Cuisine
• Napa Valley.com
• California Wine Regions


The 2 Faces of Niagara Falls

World famous Niagara Falls, destination point for honeymooners, barrel-riders, artists and photographers -- straddles the U.S./Canadian border just north of Buffalo.

Its attractions range from the natural wonders of the falls to a honky-tonk atmosphere in some of the shopping areas.

Daytime views of the Falls are fun to see, and light shows focusing on the cascades at night are worth angling for good vantagepoints.

Pedestrian traffic across the bridge to the Canadian side once was  fairly casual. Now, under increased security, vehicle and pedestrian traffic can sometimes be held up by Customs inspections.
• Niagara Falls Visitors Guide (Canada)
• Niagara Falls Visitors Guide (U.S.)
• Niagara University (U.S.)
• Dowd's Guides

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