Archive for the ‘Must See/Must Do’ Category

Best Kept Secret IV–Pancake Breakfast

April 27, 2010

Mrs. LanceAround and # 1 Daughter Making Fresh Pancakes

Last year I was excited to discover Wekiwa Spring.

This year I’m ecstatic.  

I’m ecstatic because I just discovered De Leon Springs State Park featuring a spring, a visitor’s center, an eco/history boat tour and a restaurant where you can griddle up pancakes right on your table! 

This State Park is located near Deland, FL, just north of Orlando and not too far from Wekiwa Springs.  It’s about an hour drive from the attractions.  Like Wekiwa, Ponce de Leon is a huge spring that creates a large swimming hole which has been surrounded with a concrete rim and walkway.  It also maintains a temperature of 72 degrees year round (although at some places on the website it says 68 degrees.)

Grammy LanceAround Loved the View

Unlike Wekiwa, De Leon spring features a roped off area shallow enough for youngsters, a ground level platform off which you can jump into the spring, a beautiful waterfall, a visitor’s center, an eco/history boat tour and (best of all) a restaurant right beside the spring where you can cook your own pancakes on the griddle in the middle of your table.

Grammy came down from Pennsylvania for another visit this week, so Mrs. LanceAround, Number One Son, Number One Daughter and I took her to De Leon Springs State Park.  (Number Two Son is still at college.)  We had a wonderful day.  (Even though we missed not having Number Two Son with us.)

We went to the park on Sunday.  Since we were planning to eat brunch at the park, we had not eaten breakfast.  As we drove through the park entrance, we were dismayed to see a sign that said the wait at the restaurant was one and a half hours!  However, when we got to the restaurant the hostess told us the wait was only an hour.  Less than 30 minutes later, our name was called.  Perfect timing.

Step Back Into a Florida Past

The Old Spanish Sugar Mill Restaurant is a delight–And an absolute “must see” on your Florida vacation.

While some local folks like to claim the mill was built as early as 1570, most historians date it to the early 1800’s.  it was destroyed and rebuilt at least twice.  In 1961, the old building was scheduled for demolition to be destroyed once again but Peter and Marjorie Schwarze had other ideas.  They restored the mill and created this unique restaurant.

The all-you-can-eat pancake breakfast is only $4.75 per person.  For $1.50 more, you can get a small bowl of pecans, cinamon apples, bananas, blueberries, peanut butter, applesauce or (my personal favorite) chocolate chips.  Two beautiful, handmade pitchers are brought to the table containing stone ground pancake batter–One made with five grain flour the other with unbleached flour.  The griddle in the center of the table is turned on, oil spray is applied and then you pour out the batter and add whatever extras you selected.

Number One Son enjoyed making pancakes shaped to resemble Mickey Mouse.  Number One Daughter enjoyed eating them!

In addition to pancakes, you can also order eggs, bacon, homemade bread and even vegetarian sausage which you also cook on the griddle at your table.  When I ordered eggs, I was expecting that I would get a bowl with the contents of a cracked egg.  I was surprised to receive two eggs which I had to crack and pour onto the griddle myself.  It was fun (once I got the shell out.)  The menu also includes assorted sandwiches and side items.

Ellen Was a Hoot!

Ellen, our waitress, has worked at the Mill for 18 years.  She was friendly, knowledgeable and very helpful.  At one point, the griddle at our table stopped working and she immediately provided a new thermostat and got it functional.  She even posed for some pictures for this blog.

The park has a visitor’s center right beside the spring with lots of great information.

Also available at the park is an eco/history boat tour.  From the mill, you walk across a bridge with the spring to your right and a small waterfall to your left where the spring empties into the Spring Garden Run.  You then come to the boat dock where the Fountain of Youth eco/history boat tour begins.  It lasts 50 minutes and costs only $12.  We arrived at the park too late to take advantage of this tour but it looked like a wonderful experience.

We will find out because this is one place we plan to return to–Often!

Ponce de Leon may have never discovered the fountain of youth, but we all felt younger and rejuvenated after our visit to De Leon Springs State Park.

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An Idiot’s Guide to Film Festivals

March 25, 2010

Enzian Theatre, Home of the Not-To-Be-Missed Florida Film Festival

I love movies. I mean, I REALLY love movies. 

If you love movies, don’t make the same mistake I did. Don’t wait until your life is half over before you attend your first film festival. 

Approximately eight years ago I attended my first Florida Film Festival movie. Since then, I’ve seen hundreds of film festival movies.  Last week I sat down with Chris Blanc, General Manager of the Florida Film Festival.  He seemed a little surprised by my first question; so obvious, yet not easy to answer: 

LanceAround:  What, exactly, is a Film Festival? 

Chris Blanc:  [pause, then slight laughter] Well…that’s a good question.  Let’s see…

…A collection and exhibition of great films
……A celebration of the community that supports filmmaking
………The ability to touch, feel and interact with the artists.
 

Chris went on to explain that most movies that play at your local multiplex are made by one of the major studios–Universal, MGM, Warner Brothers and so forth. These movies are made under the “guidance” of the studio. (guidance generally means complete control, including creative control.) 

Chris Blanc LOVES film

Yet there are many, many people who love to make movies, but will never be part of the studio system. These range from teenagers with a home video camera to huge, bankable stars who just want complete creative control on a project.  Sometimes these filmmakers finance their own film. Sometimes they beg, borrow or finagle the money–some of them mortgaging their future to make their film. Some of them are wealthy enough to make the movie on their own. In any case, these are filmmakers who are passionate about making the movie they want to make. 

Where do you find these movies? 

Usually NOT at the local Cineplex. You might find them at the local arthouse theatre. More and more of them are making their way onto the internet. But the best place to find them is at a film festival. 

Personally, I used to think that film festivals were only for the elite. I thought you needed an invitation, or it was expensive or you had to be in the industry. 

Instead, I discovered that film festivals are for everyone. Just pick a movie, buy a ticket and enjoy.  As a bonus, if you are watching one of the Florida Film Festival films playing at the Enzian Theatre, you can also order dinner while you watch the movie.  It’s a blast! 

But are the movies any good? 

YES….and….NO….and VERY MUCH IN-BETWEEN!  You will find some of the best movies you have ever seen. You may see some of the worst movies ever made. Most film festivals go through a selection process, so a really bad movie is unlikely.  Over 1500 movies were submitted to the Florida Film Festival this year, but less than 170 will be shown. However, I am always reminded of the words of Shakespeare from “A Midsummer’s Night Dream” where the king is warned against seeing a play by the local troupe and responds, “I will hear that play. For never anything can be amiss when simpleness and duty tender it.” The king goes on to explain that even if the product is bad, one can always be gracious and appreciate the effort and energy that went into making it. 

The Iconic Theme of this Year's Festival is "Film Sweet Film"

Still, film festivals are something even deeper than that. Chris Blanc became animated as he explained the extra element that makes it truly special. It is the pleasure of watching a movie in a theatre packed with people who, like you, love movies. These are people who can tell whether it is the directing or acting or cinematography that is making the difference. They watch the credits to the end to find all the players who toiled to bring the film to life. 

Another plus about film festivals is the variety of film types. In addition to feature narratives–the kind of film you’d most likely see at your Cineplex–there are documentaries, short films, animated films and experimental films. I personally love watching a selection of short films; lasting from two to twenty minutes a film. If I don’t like a particular short film, I merely need to wait a few minutes until the next one. Usually there are anywhere from six to twelve short films played during any one showing. 

If that’s not enough, there is one more priceless perk–at a film festival it is not uncommon for the actual filmmakers and actors to be present. Often, there are Q & A sessions after the movie. These conversations tend to continue out into the foyer and over to the Eden Bar. It’s great! 

Chris Blanc ended our talk by stating that it is not uncommon for someone who has never been to a film festival to feel intimidated by the prospect of attending their first festival, but once they do they find it friendly and inviting. 

He points out that it’s the “community engagement” that makes film festivals so special. 

At a film festival, there are several different screens that play the movies.  For the Florida Film Festival, movies are played at the Enzian Theatre (where you can have dinner during your movie) as well as at some screens at the Winter Park Village theatre and, new for this year, some films will be shown at the beautiful, new Plaza Cinema Cafe in downtown Orlando.  During the 10 day festival you can go to as many of the movies as you like or simply pick a single movie to attend.  You can find the schedule and movie descriptions at www.FloridaFilmFestival.com

This year, the Florida Film Festival is held from April 9 to 18 at the Enzian Theatre in Maitland, just north of Orlando. If you are going to be in the area and you have never been to a film festival, please make an effort to attend one of the films. If you would like some company, just write in the comments which film you are going to see and I will plan to meet you there.  I will describe what I will be wearing so you can recognize me and we can enjoy your first film festival movie together. I guarantee it won’t be your last!

Here’s a short video that beautifully encapsulates what it means to attend a film at a film festival…

Florida Film Festival 2010

March 21, 2010

Media Sneak Preview of the Festival at the Enzian Arthouse Dinner Theatre

The Florida Film Festival will take place at the Enzian Theatre as well as a couple of other Orlando area venues from April 9 to 18, 2010.

For the first time this year, LanceAroundOrlando has been issued press passes to cover the film festival.  We are going to do something we have never done before with our blog–we are going to be onsite, almost every day of the festival, bringing you live updates from every film we see.

Outdoor Eden Bar Attached to the Enzian is a Great Gathering Place for Film Lovers

In addition to the best in cutting-edge cinema, the film festival features indulgent experiences in food and wine; a blissful mix of industry parties and special events; a star-packed attendee list and the warmth of a community of dedicated film lovers.

Even with daily coverage, it would be impossible for us to fully report on every aspect of the festival.  If you are attending any of the films, parties or special events, please help us by adding your comments to this blog.

Begin your journey by seeing all the festival has to offer at their website:  www.FloridaFilmFestival.com.  Given the complex nature of a festival this large, note that the website is constantly updated with programming changes and additional events.

Be sure to subscribe to the email updates on the right hand sidebar of my blog.  From today onwards, we will be giving almost daily updates from the film festival–including advance screenings of several narrative and documentary films.  During the actual festival, we will be onsite providing updates every few hours on most days.

For those of you from out of town who are lucky enough to be coming to Orlando the week of April 9 to 18 and are even luckier to be regular readers of my blog, you have the opportunity for a real treat.  The Florida Film Festival is one of my all time favorite activities–not just in Orlando, but anywhere I have ever been.

I hope to see you there.

In the meantime, here’s the video that was shown at the Press Conference

Zipline in Florida–Best Kept Secret II

September 19, 2009
 
Zipline Safari at Forever Florida
Zipline Safari at Forever Florida

Thousands of tourists mob Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World every day.  But as a lucky reader of my blog, you are about to discover one of the best attractions in Central Florida.  It costs about the same as a theme park yet provides a different kind of Florida experience.  It’s our second “Best Kept Secret” in Central Florida

Let me introduce you to the Zipline Safari at Forever Florida.

Do you know what Florida is really like?  Along with Hawaii, it is one of only two subtropical climates in the United States.  But if all you do when you are down here is visit the mouse, well, you really can’t tell you’re in Florida, can you?  You might be in California, Tokyo, Paris or even Hong Kong–they all have a place to visit Mickey! 

If you want to experience Florida, the REAL Florida, then the safaris at Forever Florida is the place to begin.  And the best safari is the Zipline Safari.  Located less than hour east of Disney World, this is one attraction you won’t soon forget.

Sky Bridge Along the Zipline

Sky Bridge Along the Zipline

The Zipline Safari consists of seven “zips” and two sky bridges over three different Florida ecosystems.  To take part in the safari, you have to be at least 10 years old and weigh between 70 and 250 pounds.  The entire experience takes approximately 2.5 hours.  You will go up to 55 feet in the air, zip along at a maximum speed of 25mph, experience nine different observation platforms and enjoy the longest run of 750 feet–longer than two football fields!

Your adventure begins with a short hike along a scenic section of the Florida Trail.  (This is one of only eight National Scenic Trails in the United States.)  Then you arrive at the zipline.  You’ll be led by an expert guide as you “zip” amongst the trees from platform to platform along a system of seven high tension cables.

 As fun as it is to zip and walk across the sky bridges, it is the breathtaking views and the natural tranquility of Florida that provides the most memorable moments. If you’ve never done a zipline before, it might take you a couple of zips to get used to the concept of entrusting your weight to a small harness and wire while dangling over 50 feet in the air.  By the third zip, however, this will become more natural and you will be in a better position to observe the beautiful surroundings as you zing down the line.

Who knows what you might see on any given day?  Alligators, black bears, white tail deer and even the endangered Florida Panther are native to this landscape.  There are numerous species of birds.  You might even spot an eagle.  Of course there are armadillos, skunks, raccoons and lots of other critters roaming the wild.  Perhaps most of all you will simply enjoy the lush, subtropical climate and native trees and undergrowth of the three different ecosystems you will go through.

Peaceful Tranquility at Forever Florida

Peaceful Tranquility at Forever Florida

Along the way, an expert guide will not only be attending to your safety but will also be available to answer your questions and point out the various “attractions” of this unique and natural “theme park;” all this at a cost of only $85 per zip.

For an even wilder adventure Florida EcoSafaris offers moonlight and starlight zips.  Wow, what a ride!

There’s much more to do at Forever Florida including a working cattle ranch, Coach Safari, Horseback Safari, restaurant, camping, gift shop and more.  We’ll blog about it all.

Definitely off-the-beaten-path.

Florida EcoSafaris
Forever Florida
4755 N. Kenansville Road
St. Cloud, FL 34773
866.85-4EVER

Orlando Shakespeare Theatre is a MUST SEE

February 27, 2009
Jim Helsinger, Queen Elizabeth and #1 Son

Jim Helsinger, Queen Elizabeth and #1 Son

“A visitor to Orlando may not expect to find arts and culture–They expect to find Theme Parks,” states Jim Helsinger, Artistic Director for the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.

Number One son and I are sitting at a table in the lobby of the Lowndes Shakespeare Center.  We have just watched an incredible, new play entitled, Wittenberg by David Davalos.  Jim was one of the leads.  He took a moment to speak with Brandon and I after the final performance of the play.

This was the third year that Number One Son and I were blown away by a new play’s premiere at this theatre.  In addition, we have seen several Shakespearean productions and other traditional and contemporary works in one of the four small theatres that comprise this complex.  I have also accompanied Number One Daughter’s Montessori School on a couple of afternoon field trips to see a Shakespearean play as part of the theatre’s commitment to educating young people.

Every show I have seen has been exceptional.

I have been to shows on Broadway, Off Broadway and regional theatre productions throughout the country.  I have seen professional touring productions in Los Angeles, Washington D. C. and Cincinnati.  I have seen musicals & plays in London, ballets & Russian folk dances in St. Petersburg, as well as Shakespearean productions at the recently re-created Globe Theatre near the banks of the Thames.  I have even appeared on the professional stage myself and was a theatre major for my undergraduate studies.

But I have never seen a theatre consistently produce so many high quality works of art as the OST; performance after performance, year after year.

Jim Helsinger has been with OST for seventeen of the 20 seasons it has been in existence and he is also a faculty member at UCF.  I was grateful that he took a few moments after his final performance to chat with Brandon and I.

I ask him if he wants me to convey any special message in my blog and he is quick to sing the praises of all the organizations that make up the Loch Haven Park complex, where OST is headquartered.

In addition to the OST in the Lowndes Shakespeare Center, there is the Orlando Museum of Art, the Mennello Museum of American Art, the Orlando Repertory Theatre, the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orlando Science Center.

It’s a thriving cultural center that not many visitors to Orlando take advantage of or even know about.

Jim knows that the majority of people visiting the Orlando area come for the Theme Parks.  But for the lucky few who have found this blog–The well informed traveler looking for “more than a mouse”™–They will discover a show at the Orlando Shakespeare Theatre.

And they will be so glad they did!

Kennedy Space Center

February 1, 2009
Apollo 1 Launch Pad

Apollo 1 Launch Pad

I stand under the concrete structure and stare through the enormous round hole above my head.  It is a simple edifice– four concrete pillars in each corner, about thirty feet apart and about twenty feet high, supporting  a concrete slab with a perfectly round hole about 20 feet in diameter above my head.  I can see the clear blue sky and white billowing clouds of a perfect Florida afternoon.

Tears come to my eyes.

I know that on Friday, 27 January 1967 at 6:31pm, a small spark in a tiny capsule approximately 100 feet above where I am now standing created a flash fire that took the lives of Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee.

Deke Slayton was standing in the launch bunkhouse, just a few yards away.  He ran to the capsule, hoping against all reason that somehow the three men survived the fire.  Nowadays, the launch control room is located so far from the Shuttle, you could not possibly run there in just a few moments.  I am surprised to learn that for the Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo flights, the bunkhouse was in a bunker right next to the rockets that are about to launch.

View of Mercury from Firing Room

View of Mercury from Firing Room

Our tour takes us into another small bunker and I peer through several layers of thick glass.  I put my hand under a Plexiglas buffer and literally click the same button clicked over 40 years ago to send one of the Mercury astronauts into space from the launch pad I can see just a few hundred feet outside the thick glass.  There is even a real, life sized Mercury Rocket sitting on the launchpad.  The tour guide describes the people and conditions that occupied this very same room during that historic moment when I was too young to even begin to comprehend what it all meant.

Number One Daughter clicks the button

#1 Daughter clicks the button

I have seen many specials, read many books and talked to many people about the NASA space flight programs–But today’s tour taught me unimaginable new things.  It is one of two “behind the scenes” tours that KSC (Kennedy Space Center) Visitor’s Complex offers.  Had my good friend, JediBFA, not insisted on taking this tour, I would have never known about them.

The KSC Visitor’s Complex combines all the essential elements of an ideal vacation spot.  There are interesting and historical things to see, just like a museum, an abundance of educational opportunities, the chance to meet with humans who have “slipped the surly bonds of earth”* and traveled into space, IMAX movies, guided tours, theme park-like attractions, a live-working launch complex and, of course, plenty of food and gift shop items to satisfy everyone.

In addition, there is a camp program, occasional shuttle & rocket launches, astronaut training simulations and the chance to have lunch with one of the astronauts.  The astronaut memorial and hall of fame are also close by.  To top it off, the pleasurable surf of Cocoa Beach is just a few minutes to the south.

The KSC visitor’s complex is open every day of the year, except for Christmas and during some launches.  It is much less expensive than a one day ticket to see the mouse, even when you add the extra for a behind the scenes tour or lunch with an astronaut.  With careful planning, you can even get a pass to be inside the center during a shuttle launch–The closest vantage point available for anyone who does not have a special connection to a NASA employee or high ranking politician!  But be careful–Be sure to plan your launch watch early in your vacation window so you can make the necessary adjustments should the launch experience one of their many, common delays.

As I watch my three children tour the space center with Mrs. LanceAround and JediBFA, I notice how the many displays catch their attention, invoke their imagination and create enthusiasm.  While I find the Space Center to be perfect for anyone traveling to Central Florida, parents with children would be remiss if they did not avail themselves of this great opportunity for educational fun.

Vacationing at KSC

Vacationing at KSC

KSC is located only 45 minutes away from the Theme Park area of Central Florida.

I highly recommend that you plan to take a break from the mouse for at least one day to see this extraordinary place that has witnessed pieces of humankind’s greatest history and yet still holds such promise for the future of all humankind!

* from the poem High Flight by John Magee, Jr.,  re-printed here in its entirety:

High Flight
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of—wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….
Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace
Where never lark nor even eagle flew—
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

The Coral Castle

January 19, 2009

A view of Coral Castle

During my graduate studies in Newton, MA, I would often go with my good friends Dave and Jay on many wonderful adventures.  We drove to New Hampshire to visit America’s Stonehenge, then to Vermont to see The Old Man Of The Mountain before it collapsed in 2003.  We designed a Live Action Role Playing game before LARPs had even been invented and we played it around the Bear Hill Tower on the Middlesex Fells Reservation just north of Boston.  Dave even got married in the old Hammond Castle on the shores of Gloucester, MA right next to the famous Motif #1 of Rockport, MA. 

And we talked about visiting the Coral Castle in Homestead, Florida

At the time, we did not know anything about the Coral Castle, except for its name and that it was in Florida, somewhere.  We had visions of a large, multi storied, medieval style edifice with sharp coral edges at every turn and lots of dark hallways and dank dungeons.  It was one of the few adventures of which we dreamed but never had the opportunity to act upon.  Last year, however, I finally got to visit the Coral Castle located just south of Miami in the Redland area.  It was nothing like I expected yet everything I’ve ever hoped for in an adventure. 

First, a little history.  Edward Leedskalnin was born in Latvia 1887.  At the age of 26 he was engaged to 16 year old Agnes Scuffs.  He used to call her his “sweet sixteen.” She jilted him just one day before their wedding.  Ed decided to create a monument to the only love of his life.

Without any outside assistance or large machinery, Ed built Rock Gate Park, which later came to be renamed Coral Castle. Ed never did anything the easy or normal way. He immigrated to Canada, then later moved to California and Texas before a bout of tuberculosis made him finally move to the subtropical climate of Florida City in 1918. He stayed there, creating his stone sculptures, until someone planned a subdivision right beside his property in 1936. Being a private person, over the next three years Ed moved his coral rocks 10 miles to a 10 acre plot of land he purchased in Homestead, FL. He would load his the large rocks, each weighing several tons, on an old truck chassis and a friend with a trailer would drive them the 10 miles. Ed himself never owned a car and would ride a bike 3.5 miles into town for food and supplies. He was just over five feet tall and weighed around 100 pounds.

Although many people saw the large carvings being moved along the Old Dixie Hwy., no one ever saw Ed load or unload the rocks. He did most of his work at night, by lantern light. The numerous lookouts on his walls attests to Ed’s desire for privacy. When asked how he was able to move such heavy structures, he would only reply that he understood the laws of weights and leverage well.

I am a skeptical person by nature. I believe that if it sounds too good to be true, or too fantastical, it probably is a hoax. I also have a strong inquisitive streak. Like the mythical Sherlock Holmes, when presented with a mystery I explore all possible avenues and try to solve it.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out how Ed created the Coral Castle.

Yes, there are crazy stories of Ed using magnetism, kids who claim they saw Ed hovering over the rocks and doing a mysterious chant as well as other tall tales of the supernatural. I just dismiss those out of hand. But how did Ed cut, carve, lift, place and stabilize all the walls and sculptures of his Rock Garden that is now known as the Coral Castle.

Large Coral Door

Large Coral Door

Coral weighs approx. 125 pounds per cubic foot. Each section of his wall is 8 feet tall, 4 feet wide and 3 feet thick. That’s 6 tons per section. After visiting the Coral Castle and examining the walls, carvings, castle and educational material in the gift shop, my Sherlock Holmes is completely befuddled. How did he do it? Holmes himself used to say that when you have eliminated the impossible, that which remains, however improbable, must be the answer. Occam’s Razor also admonishes that, all things being equal, the simplest solution is the best. In this case, I believe that it simply means what Ed says is true–He so fully understood the laws of weights and leverage that he was able to devise ropes, pulleys and tripods in such a way that he could literally move mountains. The ancient Egyptians and the creators of Stonehenge had nothing on Ed!

And what a garden he created! No, there were no large edifices, dank dungeons nor twisty passages. There is one two story structure approximately 10 feet square with turrets on top. This was Ed’s workshop and a place to sleep in inclement weather. In addition to the wall that surrounded the garden, the remaining items within the garden were sculptures and furniture all carved from coral and each with a unique story that only Ed could write.

Testing out the furniture

Testing out the furniture

There is a table shaped liked the state of Florida complete with a carved out section filled with water representing Lake Okeechobee and stone chairs surrounding the table. Here, Ed said, the politicians of Florida could sit around the table of Florida figuring out how to raise your taxes. There are large, crescent moon shaped monoliths, holes aligned to give views of stars and planets, bathtubs made of coral rock, chairs, sofas, kids areas and much more all carved out of coral. There is a rock gate that weighs several tons but is so perfectly balanced that even a child can spin it. Although it is interesting to look at the photos of this place, they do not do it justice. You really have to experience the Coral Castle.

Ed used to give tours of his masterpiece, but in a his typically eccentric way. There was a bell with instructions on how to ring it for a tour. Ring it correctly, and if Ed was around he would take your dime or quarter and give you a tour. Ring it incorrectly and you would get no answer, even if Ed was around.

One day, in 1951 at the age of 64, Ed was feeling sickly and hung a sign on the rock garden gate, “gone to hospital.” He took a bus trip to the nearest hospital and died in his sleep three days later.

But his monument to the love of his “sweet sixteen” remains and is a must see. Indeed, it was this Rock Garden masterpiece that inspired Billy Idol to pen the song “Sweet Sixteen”.  If you watch this video carefully, you’ll see it begins with a grainy image of Ed standing in his Rock Garden.

La Nouba at Downtown Disney

September 7, 2008

About 10 years ago when Disney gave my family comp tickets to see Cirque du Soleil’s newest show La Nouba at their Downtown Disney complex I had never heard of Cirque du Soleil and had no idea what to expect. I could not imagine how it was going to affect me. I now know that it is incorrect to say that one “sees” a Cirque du Soleil show. One “experiences” it. And if you are open to it, you might find that it has a profound effect upon you. In my lifetime, there have only been a handful of theatre experiences that have affected me so profoundly as did La Nouba.

Cirque du Soleil is a large organization that has performances of various shows all around the world. Some shows are in permanent residence–Such as La Nouba at Disney World and others in Las Vegas. Some shows travel and are actually performed under a big tent. Lately, there have been shows especially made for film and television. In the beginning, their tag line was “We reinvent the Circus.” Once you see a show, you will understand the truth embedded in that description. But as the French say, “viva la difference.”

La Nouba has a permanent home in a theatre located in the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment complex, right next to Disney Quest, House of Blues, and Wolfgang Puck’s Restaurant. The building is cleverly shaped to give the impression of a large circus tent complete with guide wires. Parking is convenient and free right next to the theatre. One website I visited said the theatre holds over 1600 seats. I would never have guessed it was that large. I have been to La Nouba several times and have sat in several different seats, from the front to the back and from the left to the center to the right. I can honestly say there is not a single bad seat in the house. In fact, the different seats have all presented a different view that allowed me to enjoy the show from a different perspective. It is not cheap. Tickets range in price from $52 to $115 as of 2008.

The show lasts ninety minutes without an intermission. There are concession stands that sell drinks and food items, but don’t waste your time. This show puts you on the edge of your seat and you are constantly looking left to right, up and down. You don’t want anything in your hands that distracts you. The proscenium juts way out into the audience and the seats are curved around it, making every seat feel intimately close to the action. In addition, there is a long walkway between the lower and upper seating sections that is used during the performance to create an even closer experience regardless of your seat. Lastly, come early. There is a pre-show, audience participation act by two clowns that is not to be missed!

As for the show itself, what can one say? Every now and then a piece of theatre comes along that is so new and so innovative that it defies conventional description. I will attempt to give some indication of the show. But I can’t do it justice. Just know that what I say with words can only be express in pictures, what you see in pictures can only be felt in person, and what you feel in person can only be experienced within your own heart. That, I believe, is the magic of La Nouba. It is a magic that is at once timeless yet very much in the moment. It is a magic that touches all ages. Your three year old will enjoy the show as much as you and you will enjoy the show as much as your grandmother.

Overall, the show is a combination of circus-like acts performed by incredible athletes and acrobats in the most gorgeous and unique costumes highlighted by a live band and soloist playing soulfully esoteric music which enhances the visual experience. Very few words are spoken. Each acrobatic and athletic act is engulfed by moments of comedy, dance, or some other visual element most of which will be a new experience for you.

The show begins with a pre-show where two clowns, dressed and performing in a classic Emmet Kelly-esque fashion, interact with the audience and a load of boxes. Then comes the opening march, where the most fantastically costumed people you have ever seen do a slow processional through the center of the audience–Each one walking in a unique way that creates a memorable character. This is an introduction to the characters that will grace your evening for the next ninety minutes. An entertaining, if not confusing, segment occurs next leaving you to wonder if you are watching a play, a surreal play, a dance, an opera, or simply something unintelligible. My advice to you at this point is to sit back and take it all in. Soon enough you’ll be grabbing the edge of your seat.

Then comes one unbelievable act after another. There are tight rope walkers, trampolinists, BMX bikers, young Chinese girls with diabolos, human wheels, a person who climbs a mountain of chairs, and my personal favorite-The aerial ballet in silk (Which is exactly what it sounds like!) that soars over your head. Between, and sometimes during, the acts you are entertained by four bald “clowns” dressed in white flowing garb whose facial expressions and choreographed movements enhance the performance and bring lots of laughter. The two Emmet Kelly-esque clowns also have small bits which are usually hilarious.

From time to time you will get a glimpse of the musicians and soloist elaborately costumed and performing beautiful numbers from somewhere high above the performers on the stage. The stage itself is an engineering marvel. Large building-like structures complete with windows appear from nowhere, performers disappear into the floor, extensive trampoline runners appear and disappear, high wires come and go, a large moon and a cowboy on a horse traverse the rear for who knows what reason, and there is even a miniature train set chugging along the stage floor at one point.

You won’t notice it when you attend your first performance, but in subsequent performances you may see that the complex choreography of the action belies an intense focus on the safety of the performers. A gangly trampolinist in tights adds humor to the person climbing chairs, but a closer look reveals that he is the safety net in the event of an accident. His own safety is ensured as he slips under the table when new chairs are piled high. The four clowns in flowing white appear to be augmenting the young Chinese girls doing fantastic feats with the diabolos, but a closer look reveals the extra diabolos hidden behind the fountain ready to be unobtrusively passed from clown to girl in the event of a mistake while a neighboring clown retrieves the errant diabolo in a way that makes the error appear to be a part of the show.

I was a theatre major in college, so I am attracted to the theatrical arts. Occasionally, you may encounter a show that breaks new ground. Occasionally you may encounter a show that simply leaves you speechless. And occasionally you may encounter a show that for some unknown reason just tugs on your heart. But to find a show that does all that and more seems miraculous. In a way I can’t explain, this show bypasses your brain, ignores logic, and simply creeps inside your heart helping you to feel more alive.

I mentioned at the beginning of the blog that there were only a few theatre pieces, in addition to La Nouba, that had such a profound effect on me. Those would include the first time I experienced the movie Chariots of Fire in 1981 (not coincidentally the same year I won the National Championship in wrestling), the first time I saw the movie An Officer and a Gentleman in 1982, and the first time I saw Les Miserables with the incomparable Colm Wilkinson portraying Jean Valjean at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC in 1987.

Don’t miss La Nouba. After the show, I predict you won’t miss the money you had to spend to see it.