Saturday, July 27, 2013

Around-the-world architecture tour ...

... in 37 minutes or less!

This has been the summer of colossal, all-encompassing museum experiences. First up, was the ENTIRE HISTORY of mankind (not WOMANKIND, NO, NO, NO) in 45 minutes or less. Now, I've seen ALL the marvels of architecture -- from the Great Wall of China to St. Peter's Cathedral -- without leaving Cullman, Alabama.

Ave Maria Rock Grotto at St. Bernard Abbey, "the only Benedictine monastery of men in Alabama" (If you'd have asked me, I'd have said there were NO Benedictine monasteries in Alabama, of men or women or even armadillos. How did they get past the Baptists?) "consists of 125 small stone and cement structures, the handiwork of creative genius (or obsessive fruitcake) Brother Joseph Zoetl, a monk at the abbey for almost 70 years."

The quote is from the flyer you get when you visit the Grotto--expect for the parenthetical comments. Those are mine. And it pretty much sums up the works, but it does nothing to capture the JOY the whole experience brought. It's like a much more orderly version of Georgia folk artist Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens.

Just take a look at these incredible representations--created from the images on postcards, because Brother Joe didn't travel, so they have no backsides. That also helps explain the bizarre relative scale of some of the creations. Like this one--who knew the Lizard Condo was so much bigger than the Great Wall?

They are all made of found and donated materials, like marbles (Brother Joe's lost ones, perhaps), shells and toilet parts.

To give you an idea of scale, that orange blob in the center left is the Abbey Tabby sitting on the roof of St. Peter's in the display called Roman Group.

I loved the leaning Tower of Pisa, a tiny structure stuck up at the top right of the Roman group like an afterthought.

This one was like a cross between the roadside shrines you see all over Greece and the fortune tellers at state fairs. It looked like if you put a quarter in, Jesus would lay your whole future out for you.

It's not all famous buildings and religious themes, though. Brother Joe had a soft spot for fairy tales. This is the Temple of the Fairies. I love the little bitty pipe organ in the lower right.

And here, Hansel & Gretal visit the Temple of the Fairies. This time a dragon, that looked a lot like a slobbering and happy dog, was literally chained up under the temple.

Go visit Brother Joseph and his creations. It is an unbelievable, fun time!

And when you're finished and starving, hit All Steak--who knew there were two places in Cullman a tourist would want to go?--for their orange rolls and whatever else is the special that day. YUMMY!!!!

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