Friday, October 29, 2010

Country Music -- Internet radio from France

Hey -- I just added a link in the sidebar to Big Cactus Country, the Internet country music channel from France.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

There's gold in them thar hills! The discovery of gold by James W. Marshall at Sutter's Mill in what is today California, on January 24, 1848 sparked the extraordinary migration of as many as 300,000 people who "rushed" to the region by land and sea to seek their fortune in search of the yellow metal.

The Gold Rush and fabled Mother Lode captured the world's collective imagination, inspiring songs and stories, literature and tall tales, as well as attracting fortune-seekers from all directions. Boom towns grew up, and prospectors and gold-panners became Wild West archetypes, part and parcel of the set of Frontier characters that ranged from Native Americans in feathered headdress to cowboys, trappers, schoolmarms and whores. Indeed, gold-panning ponds are de rigeur features of some of the Wild West theme parks in Europe, and there are gold-panner hobbyist/reenactor groups. One of these hobbyists taught me to pan for gold when I visited Beaver City, a private wild west town in the Czech Republic.

I learn to pan for gold in Beaver City

Last week, I spent a day in the "real" Gold Rush country, partaking in a mash-up of experiences that blended today's realities with the romance of the Imaginary West.

I visited Sutter's Mill itself, where a nicely laid out museum park tells the Gold Rush story through monuments, mock-ups of old buildings (reminiscent of stage-sets, theme-parks or European skansen open air museums) and preserved original sites. From the top of a hill, a monument to Sutter surveys the scene.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

The park includes two fascinating pioneer cemeteries, one Protestant and one Catholic, whose tombstones and epitaphs told the story of European fortune-seekers who ended up in this corner of California. (I also visited the tiny Jewish cemetery in Placerville - I posted about this on my Jewish Heritage blog.)

What was particular interesting at the cemeteries was to see the stones on which was inscribed as part of the epitaph the origin of the deceased: "A Native of Germany," "A Native of Ireland," etc etc: all drawn, one way or another, by the lure of gold.

Catholic cemetery. photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
Protestant cemetery. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
I stayed (natch) at the Mother Lode Motel in Placerville,  a tourist town in the heart of the region, where Wild West kitsch similar to that found in Europe is on sale.

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
There is a historic 19th century hotel in town, the Cary House.

Cary House. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber
But the Mother Lode was more my price range -- and it had free WiFi, too.

Mother Lode Motel, Placerville. Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

What brought me to the Gold Rush territory also formed part of the real imaginary mash-up -- my friends, the  Czech bluegrass/country/acoustic rock band  Druha Trava, were giving a concert in Placerville on Oct. 6. (I toted my newly purchased ukulele to the gig -- I don't know how to play yet, though -- and wore, of course, my cowboy boots....)

Photo (c) Ruth Ellen Gruber

Here's some video from the show: