Monday, July 30, 2012

Flying the Colors

Almost ever lasting Olympic image includes an athlete draped in their respective nation's flag. The 2012 London Olympic games will be no different, starting with the Opening Ceremony scene of a hill covered in every country's colors.

In honor of the 30th Olympiad, I've included some of my favorite photos of flags (or flag-related paraphernalia) from around the world. These next two weeks are meant for international camaraderie - but let's face it, they're also meant for unadulterated patriotism.

Patriotic dude, Jefferson Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Paris, France

Jungrfau, Switzerland

Buckingham Palace, London, UK

Quebec City, Canada

St. Michael's, Maryland, USA

Friday, July 27, 2012

Q&A with Me!

Literary Traveler did a Q&A with me in response to my piece, "I am not an original groundling," which they published last week at

Check out the full Q&A here:

Thanks Literary Traveler for the opportunity to print my piece and the follow-up interview!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Literary Traveler piece - "I am not an original groundling"

Check out my latest published piece in Literary Traveler about a visit to Shakespeare's Globe Theater and what it must have been like to be a Groundling, the front row spectators that drank and heckled their way into infamy.

I am Not an Original Groundling

photo by www.fatturtletravel.comBy Michael Hartigan
I am not an original Groundling. Nor could I ever be, what with widespread theatrical ambivalence, modern day health codes and a personal dislike for sloshing through human waste.
However, had I been a child of the 60s (the 1560s), I might’ve felt right at home on the wrong side of the Thames, amongst the bawdy bards and applauding proletariat. Right there, on the floor, standing room only at Shakespeare’s Globe, ankle deep in mud, stale ale and whatever that steaming liquid over there in the corner might be – reveling in revelry with a raucous reaction to sword fights and swooning ladies (well, men dressed like ladies) all the same.
These are the cheap seats, the Elizabethan equivalent of the Wrigley bleachers during a mid-summer weekend day game – with more beer. Here on the theater’s ground, directly in front of the stage, apprentices skipped out on their masters to pack the floor and interact with the actors. They were loud, rambunctious and if their nickname, “stinkards,” doesn’t describe them fully enough for you, just know that a trip to the loo meant aiming in between your shoes.
But what the cheap seats during Elizabethan times lacked in hygiene (and they lacked a lot, including any actual seats or any actual hygiene), they made up for in sheer entertainment value. You were part of the production. The sweat on Shylock’s brow as Portia argues his punishment must have dropped right at your poorly shod feet.
True, to stand at the foot of the stage meant to be in prime trampling range should an errant spark find its way onto the thatched roof. But the play was the thing, ensnaring the attention of everyone from commoner to king. For what equaled out to ten percent of your day’s pay, a bit of entertainment was worth the risk and the aroma, which may have been just as deadly.
The Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre you visit in London, England, today is a reconstruction. The original, lost to fire like most of London at one point or another, was located nearby the site of its modern day doppelganger. Like my ability to be a true groundling, the modern Globe is not, nor could it ever be an original. But barring a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon, it provides one of the area’s best Shakespeare-o-phile indulgences.
With its open-air theater style, the play season does not start until mid-April. I visited too early in the year to enjoy a show, settling for a guided tour. Clad in scarf and fingerless gloves, our guide led us around the balcony, through the corridors and out onto the floor, all the while his voice fully ingrained in gravitas, doing his best to fill the void where the play should be.
The history was fascinating, as were the tidbits about royalty’s penchant for sitting onstage and other behind the scenes Elizabethan gossip. Standing in the dirt at the foot of the stage, the groundling experience could be imagined, if not fully realized.
Although an exact replica of the original, the modern builders did made a point to include indoor plumbing in this century’s Globe Theater. A knock to the philosophy of the original groundlings, but nonetheless mandated by building codes and common decency. I broke away from the crowd to find one of these little bard’s rooms and returned henceforth to find the group seated on wooden benches in another staging area near the gift shop (another modern addition).
As I descended the stairway into the waiting area the small crowd all turned to stare–all save my wife, who was standing in front of everyone  like a frightened actress. My wife was accompanied by a young woman, an older gentleman and two racks of traditional Elizabethan garb, including dresses, surcoats and vibrant doublets, white leggings and an assortment of hats hung, trembling in wait.
I cursed not so subtly under my breath. There was an ambush coming, scheming to dress me up and parade my be-knickered arse in front of international tourists. Why did I open my big mouth and ask the tour guide a question?
With every step toward the group I tried to convince myself it would be fun. I could pull off tights and a feathered cap, right? Maybe they’d give me a sword. That would make it swashbuckling and masculine, right?
As I did my best to hide my oncoming embarrassment, my wife’s face turned as red as the deep scarlet dress hanging behind her–turns out I was not the star of this show.
She flicked her hand timidly, as if shooing away a fly, toward one of the benches right up front. The groundling section.
The young woman announced she and the older gentleman would be dressing my wife up in the traditional clothing of Ophelia, an Elizabethan royal (albeit Hamlet wasn’t British but they wore the British clothes on the stage. You get the idea). It was not the marquee production but as a matinee, this had the makings of a hit.
In the cheapest of seats with the closest of views, I witnessed a transformation from embarrassed modern woman to embarrassed Elizabethan era British lady. She donned a white linen undergarment that looked more bedsheet than bra. The corset came next, laced up fully in the back until everything in front was elevated, squeezed and popping. To make her rear more ample, they inserted a “bump.” Elizabethans liked a little junk in their trunks and the crescent pillow gave all the inflation one could ask for. They finished the beautiful crimson dress with an ivory jacket, laden with jewels and delicate stitching. And topped it all off with a bonnet.
Perhaps I should’ve been more true to the groundling form and heckled her–also, a pint of ale would have been welcomed– but something wholly Shakespearian clamped my voice. My wife sacrificed some of her dignity and probably a few pounds by dressing up in hot, heavy and heaving period attire at the Globe, and I appreciated it.
For all their tomfoolery and mudslinging – literal and figurative – the groundlings understood undertone. Shakespeare wrote for the people; even when he was writing for royalty he include the subtle commoner lingo usually reserved for farmers and flock herds. Billy and his minions would’ve appreciated this scene, for all its skewering of humility, tugging of romantic souls, ironic reversal of perceived roles and just plain comedic value. (She did look like a serving wench.)
So while I didn’t get the full groundling experience–no play, no mud, no free-flowing insults, ale or urine–I thoroughly enjoyed the show.
For more information on Michael Hartigan’s groundling experience, read Literary Traveler’s accompanying interview with the author and take a look “behind the article.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

WiTList - War Destinations

In Massachusetts we are taught from an early age that we are lucky enough to live in a place that gave birth to America. It is no doubt that most of our best tourist spots revolve around Revolutionary War history and the people who fought to found our nation. From Paul Revere to John Hancock, their names are legendary and the occurrences have become lore.

Destinations of significant moments in war require delicate balance between information and entertainment. How do you make visitors enjoy a visit to a place where hundreds or thousands of men were slaughtered? How can someone understand the weight of a patch of grass, overgrown over time? What do you want visitors to tell people back home when they’re asked, ‘how was your trip?’” The answers at a killing field or a concentration camp are not always attainable.

But regardless of solemnity, the impact a war-related destination can have is different for everyone, sometimes immeasurable.

I left the Dachau concentration camp in a haze, having stood in front of ovens used to burn thousands of human corpses. But on the grounds, there were other young people laughing, joking, apparently immune to the emotion behind the barbed wire.

The experiences are more personal, and that is where war destinations truly hold their travel lure. The locations on this list are not museums or memorials (although some have them on the grounds). These are locations where significant events in wartime occurred. The sites have been preserved, rebuilt, or in some cases destroyed, in order to show the world the events that made them significant.

My reaction when people ask me about what visiting these places is like, typically goes something like this: “It was emotional.”

But we don’t travel to take photos. Or even to get fodder to write stories. We travel to have experiences, and emotional experiences are usually the ones we remember the longest.

1. Antietam Battlefield - Sharpsburg, Maryland (American Civil War)

Located in the Hallowed Ground of Maryland’s most visited Civil War region, the Antietam Battlefield is awe-inspiring because of its sheer size. The location was considered the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War and as you drive around the battlefield (yes, drive because it is so large), you begin to imagine holding a line or retreating to the tree line. 

At the Sunken Road, or what is also called “Bloody Lane,” a very knowledgeable guide described the view Confederate soldiers had from one side of the gulley. Union bayonets were hidden due to the contour of the land until they marched up over a ridge and into the field across the Sunken Road. The fighting there was ravenous, Union soldiers broke the line and ultimately no ground was gained by either side. 

Antietam is full of stories and spots like this. Bridges, fields, overlooks, are all dotted with canons and hundreds of metal signs that tell the tales of skirmishes and soldiers, no matter what rank or side they fought on. One of the most impressive aspects of Antietam is its ability to provide unbiased information, giving information on fighters from both sides with unwavering respect.

2. Dachau Concentration Camp - outside of Munich, Germany (World War II)

The solemnity of a visit to Dachau may not strike the average tourist as a fun way to spend your afternoon in southern Germany. There are, of course, so many beer halls and Bavarian castles awaiting your arrival with open arms and empty steins. But the thoughtful traveler will go and be struck by the power in a few photographs, or a small concrete room, or a twisting rusty barb-wire gate, or a long row of poplar trees.

There is meaning here and no one person can tell another how or where to find it. The gate through which you enter reminds you, “work will make you free" and the inscribed stone above a tomb of unknown prisoner ashes says, “Never Again.” Cause and effect personified. But some things pluck different strings on every heart. I watched a young Italian woman in a tour group become overwhelmed and not be able to look into the cremation ovens.

The museum here provides a long, informative timeline of Dachau and Nazi concentration camps during World War II. There is more information here than one visit can handle, in my opinion, which is not a bad thing. Choose a few aspects and immerse yourself into them; get a rounded understanding of what you're experiencing. 

But the real power of Dachau is not in the museum but rather in the stark, open gravel-covered grounds.  A lot is said with so much open space; it makes the structures and sculptures that much more potent. To walk the paths at Dachau, where so many bare and broken feet had trod without hope, is to support the purpose of the site's continued, post-war existence - to remember and, as the memorial on the grounds says, to "Never Forget."

3. Minute Man National Historic Park & Battlefields - Lexington & Concord, Massachusetts (American Revolution)

April 19, 1775: British soldiers clash with colonial militia and the American Revolution begins in earnest. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s phrase, “the shot heard round the world,” may eloquently reflect the historic and worldly significance of this event, but a trip to Minute Man National Park will do more.

Located in a beautiful wooded area, this is the home to the famous Minute Man statue, a symbol of Massachusetts, and the North Bridge, where much of the fighting on that day back 1775 took place. Houses on the grounds, called “witness houses” were actually there during the time of the battle and serve as strong symbols of the independence and freedom that was culled from that day.

Lest you forget, take a walk to the grave of the British soldiers – an actual burial site. The men buried there fought just as bravely in the name of duty as their American counterparts, and this show of respect reflects the spirit of Minute Man.   

For more info, visit here:

4. St. Paul’s Cathedral - London, UK (World War II)

There are many reasons to visit St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, not the least of which is its stunning architecture and grand size. But once you wade through the significant British history built into its foundations, pay close attention to the stories from World War II. 

The Nazi’s Blitz on London was a time of hellish destruction and fear. But as Churchill denounced Hitler and encouraged Brits to continue defying evil, the city burned at all corners. Throughout the attack, people were stationed on the dome of St. Paul’s as lookouts, risking life and limb atop one of London’s most recognizable buildings.

The cathedral was targeted several times, including the night of December 29, 1940. The night included intense bombings across the city, with heavy concentration on St. Paul’s and surrounding areas. The cathedral was hit by multiple strikes, bombs pierced the iconic dome and fire raged inside. Molten leads dripped from above and the entire building appeared lost. But the determined fireman and volunteers brought St. Paul’s under control. When Londoners awoke the next morning, terrified, frantic and exhausted, the dome of St. Paul’s remained steadfast and erect amongst the rubble.

The image became a lasting symbol of British resilience throughout the war and a visit here will inspire as much as overwhelm.

5. Les Invalides - Paris, France (French Revolution)

I know I said that I was not going to include locations on this list that were primarily museums. Les Invalides in Paris is home the Army Museum and multiple other military-related venues, making it seem as though I went against my word above.

However, I include Les Invalides on this list for two reasons: because of what it used to house and because of who it houses now.

Les Invalides was, in its heyday, an armory. On the night French Revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, they first stormed this facility. They took from it ammunition and weapons used later to storm the Bastille and erupt the French Revolution into full-blown, bloody conflict. It’s historical and military significance, which you will learn over and over with a visit, is unrivaled. Make all the jokes you want about the French Military, this is still some good history here.

But Les Invalides is also significant because of its most famous resident: Napolean Bonapart. His tomb is located in the central rotunda and is impossible to miss. In stark contrast to his shortened stature, this historic legend is laid to rest in an enormous wooden ark of a tomb. It can be viewed both from above and from the ground floor, making Napolean’s final resting place an awe-inspiring symbol of dominance.

Do you have any favorite war-related destinations? Post them here in the comments section or on Twitter @WhereverItTakes 

Monday, July 2, 2012

America the Beautiful

America has exposed the world to a cadre of carping TV Housewives, the Dorito taco shell, a fried chicken sandwich with no bread just extra fried chicken and the acting career of Nicholas Cage. We sincerely apologize for that last one and won't let it happen again. 

Fortunately, this great land has so much more to offer visitors than just trans-fats and overacting. From the majestic mountains of Yosemite to the cool breezes of the Chesapeake Bay, from the bustle of Times Square to the buzz of a good old-fashioned rock show, there is more to experience than I have space to write about.

Instead, in honor of this week's July 4th celebration, I'm wearing my patriotism on my sleeve via virtual visual aid. There are certain symbols of America that remind me of all the great things we bring to the table. Baseball and apple pie are great, but I'd prefer a beat up old Chevy and a 19th Century war ship any day. 

Here are a few of my photos that stand out as American symbols. Some are natural wonders, like the moonscape Badlands of South Dakota or Wyoming's big sky country. And others are more personal, like a rock and roll show on a boat off of New York, a ride on an old-timey ferris wheel or an up close encounter with a buffalo. All are made in the U.S.A. and none of them were featured in Ghost Rider.

(Add your favorite U.S. photos in the comment section below!)

Sailing the Chesapeake - Maryland

Stormy Times Square - NYC

Cherry Blossoms - Washington, D.C.

Key West Sunset - Florida

The Mighty Half Dome - Yosemite, CA

Big Sky Country - Wyoming

Rock & Roll with Roger Clyne - concert on a boat off Manhattan, NYC

The Badlands - South Dakota (that's me up on the ridge)

Steadfast Chevy - Turquoise Trail, New Mexico

Navy Pier Carnival - Chicago, IL

Buffalo! - South Dakota

Old Ironsides - Boston, MA

Portland Head Lighthouse - Cape Elizabeth, Maine