Friday, December 12, 2008

Louisville sights and sounds abound

Kentucky's largest city has much to offer the visitor, from the Louisville Slugger Museum to the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts and much everything else in between.

This week, as I joined 10 professionals tied to Crittenden County's school district at an international summit on education, three of my out-of-conference experiences stand out. These observations cover the world of fine art, human interaction and some travelers' delights.

First, down the street from the site of the forum, Louisville's famous Galt House, stands another hotel. The C21 Museum Hotel offers a fine dining experience, overnight stay and art museum all in one. A must see on any trip to Louisville, say visitors to and residents of Louisville, the hotel is certainly unique.

As you enter the dining and service area off Fourth Street, a bronzed faun (half-man, half-goat mythological creature) greets the customer with an apple held in his hand that is to be rubbed for good luck. A bit creepy, the effigy is far from the most imaginative creation in the building. 

Walking through the bar service area, faces of famous Louisvillians can be seen on neatly-arranged tiles to the left. At the back, above a couch for social visits, framed images show a bare-chested woman in numerous poses for the watchful eye. The black and white photography leads the observer into the display area of the museum, which also doubles as the front desk for the hotel.

The current exhibits in the museum are artistic statements defining war. From bars topped with razor wire to a large American flag made entirely of painted, plastic toy soldiers, the images are striking. Each submission makes its own statement on war. One video shows a Columbian soldier washing camouflage painting from his face with what is left of a limb blown off in that nation's war against drugs. Arguing against the war in Iraq, a mosque is replicated from nothing but parts from weapons, whether gun barrels or ammunition. The smell of the display, the unmistakable odor of gun metal, gives pause for thought before making your way to a showcase of comical miniatures designed by a Louisville artist. Each replicates a man in modern history that has in some way been made infamous through acts of war or violence.

Though The Galt House itself is a wonder to behold as the state's top choice for conference gatherings. The rooms are a delight. Walk-in showers, flat screen, high-def TVs and delightful employees who politely hold onto the camera you forgot in the meeting until heading out of the parking garage; all made the two-night stay enjoyable. But what made the stay exquisite were the bath towels. From Homestead, Fla., to Ukiah, Calif., stiff hotel bath towels have left my overnight experiences uncomfortable. Coarse enough to sand paint from a car, most towels leave air-drying as a better method for redress. But not at The Galt House.

Lastly, the shoe-shine man in the lobby was the highlight. A 57-year-old who is headed back to school at Kentucky State in Frankfort to finish a degree he started years ago to avoid the Vietnam War draft, he charms the customer as he spit-shines a shoe. A bit rough in appearance, his warm heart and insight to child-rearing perhaps would have made him a perfect choice for a featured speaker for the educational leaders gathered for a summit at the hotel.

"It's like shining shoes," Henry said of raising his own children. "You've got to have lots of patience and give them lots of love."

--Daryl K. Tabor