02/06/13. We bid Paducah adieu and hit the road for a four hour drive through to Lexington and the Jordan Farm Stay B&B. Harold and Becky are a lovely well to do Southern couple with a delightful Southern drawl and an even more delightful manner.
|Harold and Becky|
It seems a common thread with the Southerners, all incredibly generous, polite and welcoming. When we arrived they were just pulling out of the drive way, top down in their late model platinum E type Jaguar, but they stopped to have a quick chat. They train and own thoroughbred horses, which is what the gentry do in these parts. Their grand two storey Southern mansion sits at the end of a long drive way that stretches under a canopy of ornamental Aristocrat Pears and loops back on itself with a small parking lot to the side for guests cars.
|A beautiful canopy of Aristocrat Pears lines the entrance to the house|
|Nothing but blue skies and rolling blue grass|
|The dogs would be sitting patiently on our porch first thing in the morning|
The two guest cottages sit across from the main house on the other side of the drive way with a recycled brick courtyard and a small garden separating them. Ample privacy for all. The twenty acres that occupies the rest of the property is all white corralled fences, manicured bluegrass fields and magnificent horse sheds that look like they belong on the set of Sea Biscuit or Black Beauty . A thoroughbred mare and her new foal Lilly are in the paddock right behind the cottages and spend their time ambling around chewing on a bit of grass here and there with Lilly occasionally kicking up her heels.
|Two magnificent looking animals. Lilly is only two months old.|
Occasionally they look up to give disdainful looks to Maggie and Skye, the two playful Border Collies who run up and down the fence barking and jumping and who were to become short term extended members of our family.
|When Skye wasn't chasing a stick she would offer herself up for a good scratching|
The cottage was stocked with a freshly made Blueberry Cake, a basket of freshly made muffins and a basket of beautiful seasonal fruits. In the fridge was fresh milk, a jug of freshly squeezed orange juice and a bowl of chopped sweet strawberries and grapes. These were replaced fresh every day. The very next morning, after testing the beds to make sure they were as comfortable as they looked and the howling coyotes we were warned about didn't keep us up all night, we extended our stay from the original three nights to six nights.
3/06/13 The next day we took a drive into Lexington to try and find Gratz Park. We wanted to relive a walk through the park we had twenty years ago when we were here, courtesy of a competition Christina won to go to the Kentucky Derby. The beautiful old buildings surrounding the park were still as grand and pretty but the park itself seemed to have been let go. The grass was riddled with all manner of weeds and in need of a cut and the bronze statue in honour of the cities children, showing a young girl and her young male companion playing with a sail boat in a pond, could have done with a clean up. Even though it had lost a little of it's gloss it still bought back some great memories. Apart from Gratz Park and a light lunch, Lexington held no great allure, so we quickly headed back to the rarefied air of our country retreat where the boys splashed in the pool and Christina and I explored the ponds and paddocks of the property.
|This pond has water running into it most of the year and is stocked with fish|
|This stunning structure is the horses "shed"|
4/06/13 Looking forward to today. A 90 minute drive out to Louisville to the Muhammad Ali Center. He is a Louisville local and he still keeps a home here. The lady behind the ticket desk said that on rare occasions Ali and his wife will come in the back way and sit in the theatre to watch the short film that kicks off the tour we were about to go on. People will walk in expecting to see the man on the screen and there he is, just sitting in the back row. Unfortunately for us, today was not one of those days.
|An ordinary building from the outside that, inside, chronicles the life of an amazing man|
The Center is a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much, not just to the sport of boxing and the millions who he entertained and enthralled, but more importantly to the struggle of his fellow black Americans to gain equality and respect in the community. At a time when segregation was still a part of every day life in parts of the South, including Louisville, he used his status, his outstanding oratory skills, the unstoppable presence of his personality and his standing in the community to help break these barriers. He was an exceptional athlete, showman and humanitarian.
I would have like to have seen a bit more memorabilia of his, boxing gloves, heavyweight belts etc. There were some cool things like the gem encrusted robe given to him by Elvis in 1972, his brown convertible Rolls Royce Corniche in the basement and the torch he used to light the flame at the Atlanta Olympics, but not much else. Unfortunately opportunities are limited to take photos so we only have a couple of shots.
|This was his favourite ride, can't say I blame him, it is a convertible Rolls Royce|
The fourth floor has about eight televisions showing continual loops of fifteen of his fights. The fifth floor was all film clips and time lines starting with his life as a young boy with a single minded determination to become the heavyweight champion of the world. It progresses through his triumph at the 1960 Rome Olympics, his shock defeat of Sonny Liston in both 1962 and 1964, his name change from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali when he became a follower of Islam, his refusal to go to Vietnam and consequent loss of his titles and boxing license, his return, his victories and defeats, his humanitarian work and influence with world leaders and finally to his last and greatest battle, the one fight he cannot win, his fight with Parkinson's Disease. The film clip showing on the big screen of the moment he is handed the final Olympic torch to light the flame at Atlanta, him trying so valiantly yet vainly to still the uncontrollable shaking in his left arm, still brings a lump to my throat.
We left the Ali Center and walked down Main Street towards the five storey baseball bat leaning against the red brick building that was The Louisville Slugger museum.
|You'd need big balls to throw at this bat|
Much to my delight, it turns out it's not just a museum but the actual factory where they have been churning out Louisville Slugger bats since 1914. The factory was a normal wood turning shop till one day the son of the owner decided to make a bat for a pro ball player he knew called Pete Browning, known then as The Louisville Slugger. Well, old Pete went on and hit some pretty big home runs with his new bat and soon everyone was wanting the bat that Pete Browning, The Louisville Slugger, was using.
|1.8 million bats a year, it's not like they wear out, where do they all go?|
Today the factory turns out around 1.8 million bats a year and although they now have 32 competitors they still manage to hold about 50% of the market. The tour of the factory was an unexpected bonus. They use approx 40,000 White Ash or Maple trees a year to make their bats and according to them it is all renewable timber. There must an absolute load of these trees because he also said that the trees need to be 70 years old to be suitable. They must have some mighty big plantations out there they can tap into. They have some great bats on display and Charlie got to put some gloves on and have a swing with a bat used by the famous Mickey Mantle.
|Charlie with Mickey Mantles bat, Callum with Gigantors mit|
They had a bat used by Babe Ruth in the season of 1927 where he hit 60 home runs over 158 games. A record unbroken for nearly 40 years. This bat was used to score 21 of those home runs and is now valued at over 2.5 million dollars. You can see where Babe used to put a small notch in the back of the bat every time he hit a homer.
|Yours for only 2.5 million dollars|
The batting cage was hands on fun. The attendant, a generous young man, gave me 20 hits for the price of ten and I tell ya it was hard work. Mine were only coming down at about 50 mph and I would have been lucky to have hit 4 or 5 of them decently. It was a lot of fun. Turned out the whole family ended up having a bash with Callum and Charlie being the "pros".
|Christina with bat, a real swinger|
We finished with a short film on the history of baseball with a definite lean towards the importance of The Louisville Slugger, and who can blame them, it is their museum. Another great day of discovery.