George Bernard Shaw In 2016

by Christine

I heart New York! My affection for the City is multifaceted and is shaped by the knowledge that with an estimated population of 8.5 million people, one can find a minimum of 150 like-minded individuals on any interest or need. Monday night I enjoyed the fruits of one such group, The Gingold Theatrical Group. The GTG presents the works of George Bernard Shaw as a "platform to entertain, enlighten and enrich." Shaw was an Irish playwright and critic who wrote satirically about the leading political issues of his day. 

GTG as Visiting Presenters at Symphony Space -home to my favorite, Selected Shorts-hosted a one night only reading of Shaw's play, Geneva. I must first say that I knew very little about Shaw before attending last night's performance.  I did know he wrote the play Pygmalion that was the bases for the movie My Fair Lady. I loved the movie and who wouldn't with Audrey Hepburn and Rex Harrison in the title roles. The film won 8 Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director. I was twelve and in love with the music, particularly The Rain in Spain but embarrassingly I was oblivious to the irony and political overtones of the musical. 

To be oblivious Monday night was impossible to anyone sitting up right and breathing. The evening opened with GTG's Creative Director, David Staller, giving an engaging introduction to Shaw and his play. Geneva was fast paced, witty and frightening in the context of what we know today about World War II. Geneva shines a light on the dictators who were democratically placed in a position of power and explores how Fascism grabbed hold of a people.  Shaw wittily remarked that "Democracy is a device that insures we shall be governed no better than we deserve" and uses humor and wit to look at world crisis in the making. 

After the performance, half the audience remained in place to take part in a "Talk Back" hosted by Staller with Irish Consul General to New York, Barbara Jones and Professor Andrew M. Flescher joining him on stage. The exhilarating conversation that followed touched upon Shaw's politics, Donald Trump and the competency and diligence of the European Commission bureaucrats. (Ms. Jones steadfastly maintained that individuals who work for the EC are caring and capable. I liked Ms. Jones from the get go because of her measured responses and wonderful accent but liked her even more after her straightforward defense of the EC bureaucrats. I am weary of all the negative speech from U.S. politicians during this election season and it was just plain nice to hear a politician say a kind word about another person.)

But I digress, two of the actors,  Jay O. Sanders and Christine Pedi, - joined the audience for the discussion- giving their take on Shaw and the play as performers and actors. I was completely enthralled as Sanders described how he would visually support Shaw's words if he were to direct a full-blown production. I was reminded there are working actors in New York City theatre that love his or her work and continually strive to elevate the craft. 

Shaw's words have lingered long after the walk home from the theater. I will definitely be exploring more of Shaw's work and checking out additional performances by the GTG. If you live here or are heading to New York City over the next couple of months then I encourage you to check out GTG and Symphony Spaces. Broadway is wonderful but if you venture out beyond Time Square and 42nd Street, you may find yourself surrounded by ardent enthusiasts who will give you a glimpse of the true magic of theatre. 



Bad People Doing Bad Things

by Christine

{ James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano }

My earliest memories of my grandmother are warm and wonderful and include her daily willingness to read my brother and me stories. She read stories of princesses, fairies and peasant boys who battled evil to eventually win the day and live happily every after. As I grew I read the cautionary tales of the Brothers Grimm and learned that it was better to lose ones life in the battle against evil than to lose ones soul. The Turn of the Screw - a heart pounding horror story - haunted me for days as I grieved the physical loss of life to the evil forces that fought mightily to secure the innocent souls of children. I worked to understand the battle that raged between the ephemeral world I lived in and the eternal reality of God.  Stories have influenced and shaped how I view the world and I have often measured my behavior against the behavior of the fictional characters in the stories I have experienced. I can assure you, I will never go up the stairs in an abandoned house...with or without a really good looking guy. 

In 2002, a small independent film, In The Bedroom, was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Writing. I viewed the movie in the theater when it came out and internally cheered when, Matt Fowler, played by Tom Wilkinson took matters into his own hands after the legal system failed his family. Movies were one area of interest to both my mother and me so the conversation about In The Bedroom started out easily enough as Mom and I deconstructed and analyzed Todd Field's directorial decisions and the chemistry between Tom Wilkinson and Sissy Spacek. But I was startled when our talk took an emotional turn after I announced I loved the film. My mom said she hated it. She went on to ardently declare that the movie's characters, Matt and Ruth Fowler, were decent people, the kind of people you want in the world and when that really bad thing happened to them, they did not rise above but sought revenge. Mom hated watching these good and kind people give into the evil impulses that led to a heinous act. Mom was heartbroken to see good people doing bad things. 

I have witnessed an evolution in popular storytelling that gives me pause. We have gone from stories about good people, doing heroic things to good people, doing bad things to bad people, doing bad things. Books, television and movies are filled with stories of bad people, doing bad things. Tony Soprano, Francis & Claire Underwood and Walter White are given life by very talented actors who add a dose of "humanity" to characters that do bad things, creating characters we "like" even as they cause harm to the innocent and not so innocent. When Walter White had his existential moment, he did not endeavor to leave the world better than he found it or even partake of the beauty of creation, he chose to be remembered. If he could not be remembered for doing good, he would be remembered for doing bad. Breaking Bad was the quintessential example of "it's all about me." But we did not turn away in heartbreak as Walter White traveled down the rabbit hole of evil. We justified and embraced his every move until the series end. 

A story is called a tragedy when a good person does a bad thing that leads to his or her downfall. The tragedy is the loss of the opportunity to rise above but what is it called when bad person does a bad thing? Shakespeare's first "tragedy", Titus Andronicus, is about bad people doing bad things. In the end it is a blood bath and everyone dies. (Sorry George RR Martin, you weren't the first.) It was a very popular play during its time but is not considered to be one of Shakespeare's respected playsSidebar: If you want a visual treat, check out Julie Taymor's, film Titus. The movie, based on Shakespeare's play, Titus Andronicus, is directed by Taymor and brings her strong sense of design to the film. I do caution that in this revenge story, everyone dies a bloody death.

My question is what does a steady diet of stories about bad people doing bad things do to the individual and ultimately to society? A genre of fiction has emerged call Apocalyptic Fiction. The concept is a global catastrophic event ends life, as we know it. But can't Apocalyptic Fiction pertain to the individual too? Is not the destruction of one life, the destruction of the world? Don't we need stories with heroes and heroines that cause us to strive to be better than we are? Do the stories you tell and listen to shape your view of the world? Love to hear what you think here or on Facebook.





To Be or To Do

by Christine

{ James Hunter Black Draftee }

A new internal dialogue has emerged as I become increasingly aware of the finite nature of time. Money, shoes, and books are like Doritos, when needed, we just make more. But time appears to be the only resource that is specific and determined and therefore our most valuable gift. Over the course of my life, my time has been dedicated to everything thing from going to school, to raising my children, to working and now, to writing. In a nutshell, I have spent my life doing. I have accomplished many personal and professional goals that have given my life purpose and pleasure. 

Increasingly though, I find that I linger in the moment to just "be". In the early morning as the sun comes up, I sit drinking a cup of tea as I watch the light creep down the side of the mountain, changing in color from a cool blue to a warm yellow. If I am not careful, Gary the Gardener will take up my time as I watch him race from one end of the fence to the other reveling in the warmer days of spring. A little voice whispers that I need to be doing something, anything but wasting my time contemplating the subtle changes of the morning light or laughing at the frolicking of a North American Grey Squirrel. 

The tension between doing and being came into greater conflict after the death of my mother. I felt the need to organize family photos and write a narrative on my parents and grandparents but my energy level was drained after years of caring for my mother. Now a sense of urgency and a tad bit of guilt sets in each time I remember the boxes of photos that still need to be scanned or the half completed family history. To make matters worse I have my own projects that have lain dormant longer that I would care to confess. I moved the half completed embroidery project to the TV room so that it would be easy to continue work while listening to the Yankees baseball but sadly to no avail. 

Currently at The Metropolitan Museum of Art is the exhibit UNFINISHED THOUGHTS LEFT VISIBLE. The curators of the exhibit are addressing the question, "When is a work of art finished?" This exhibit is one of the best if not the best exhibit I've ever experienced in a museum. The work covers the "grand sweep" of time with pieces from every period and shows not only the technics behind the work created but also the thinking. I asked the question, "Why wasn't it finished?" In the case of Alice Neel's painting, James Hunter Black Draftee, the young man went off to the Viet Nam War and never returned to finish the painting. Did he not return from the war or did he just not return to sit for Alice? I personally love the look of what is considered an unfinished painting. 

Why did Rembrandt, da Vinci, Picasso, Turner, El Greco, and Degas leave work incomplete? Did Turner get bored with his subject? (Did it make him feel guilty every time he walked passed it?) Did Rembrandt receive another commission and simply put aside the incomplete painting, never to find time to once again resume work? Did Picasso have more ideas than could be completed in his lifetime? Or was it something else? Did one or all of these painters want to take some time to be instead of do? Instead of painting one morning, did they take time to watch the sunrise? On a sunny afternoon did they sit in the town square and drink a glass of wine and people watch? 

I am not in the midst some existential crisis, nor am I questioning the meaning or purpose of pursuing a life of accomplishment. I am asking if there is value in incorporating moments of being into a life of doing? What do you think?


PS: The exhibit is at the MET Breuer and runs through September 4, 2016. If you are anywhere near New York City, I encourage you to make time and go.






Madeleine L'Engle: A Wrinkle In Time

by Christine

Meg, Charles Wallace, Calvin, the twins, Sandy and Denny, Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which area all characters from Madeleine L’Engle’s juvenile novel, A Wrinkle in Time.  Each character has his or her idiosyncrasies that makes then magnetic and pleasing but my favorite is Mrs. Who. Mrs. Who is new to the human form and speech is difficult for her. Her solution to the energy drain of conjuring up her own words is to quote the great thinkers from human history, in their native language.  “Come t´è picciol fallo amaro morso! Dante. What grievous pain a little fault doth give thee!” How spectacular to share Dante effortlessly with children!

In AWIT, Meg, the heroine, is called to save her father and the world from a totalitarian evil that consumes and devours individual will. Miss L’Engle creates multiple worlds, some beautiful with loving, creative beings as well as worlds filled with hardship and evil. Meg, along with her brother Charles Wallace and their friend Calvin must cross multiple universes to reach her father and save earth from the impending evil. Their guides on this journey are Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which and Mrs. Who.

I did not read Miss L’Engle’s novel when it came out in 1963 but generations of young girls and boys did. Similar to J. K. Rowling of Harry Potter fame, Miss L’Engle was rejected 26 times before her book was acquired by John Farrar at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and turned in to an enduring children’s classic.

In many ways, A Wrinkle in Time is a precursor to Harry Potter. Miss L’Engle relied on science to explain traveling millions of miles through space and time while Ms. Rowlings declared space and time travel to be magic; no further explanation needed.  To someone who finds explanations offered by math and science to be a bit magical at times, I see no difference between the two. Taking a worm hole to a distance planet is very much the same as jumping up a chimney and landing in the parking lot of a quidditch field.

The protagonist in each story lost his or her parent or parents. Meg and Harry both had to stand up to evil, alone, relying on their own skill and the collective love of friends. Individuals with strong religious and political views thought AWIT and HP contained the wrong kind of message for kid and denounced the books.

Both authors created a series of books about their popular characters. One glaring difference is Rowling’s had multiple and very successful movies made from the Harry Potter series. L’Engle had one made for TV movie produced by ABC TV and candidly, it was terrible. Avoid it if at all possible because it will ruin the wonderful images your imagination created as you read the story.  The other difference is Miss L’Engle created a hero’s journey starring a heroine, one that young girls embrace.

My point in comparing and contrasting A Wrinkle in Time to Harry Potter is to say there are classic elements captured in great juvenile literature to makes a story endearing and enduring. If you like stories of families who fight for a cause and for one another, A Wrinkle in Time is for you.



New York City: The Upper East Side

by Christine

{View of Upper East Side from the Jacqueline Onassis Reservoir}

The sun is shining and the temperature is mild so I have chosen to sit outside in our courtyard to write about New York City and Madeleine L’Engle. It is a bit of a struggle because a hullabaloo of sound is vying for my attention. A myriad of birds bellow lyrically at one another from above as heavy trucks rumble along in the distance. The louder the trucks, the louder the birds and I do believe the birds are winning.

Since my return to New York I have begun to explore the work of writers who were born in the City.  I am asking the question, how does place influence a writer and his or her work? How does a place leave an imprint on a writer that in some cases can last a lifetime?

I chose to read Madeleine L’Engle's, A Wrinkle in Time next. Miss L'Engle was born in New York City, in 1918, to Madeleine and Wadsworth Camp. I was surprised and intrigued to learn that Madeleine's mother, Madeleine Hall Barnett was one of the Jacksonville, Florida Barnett's. I was raised in Jacksonville and knew nothing of the Barnett name except as how it related to the Barnett Bank on Arlington Road. Apparently the Barnett's led an influential and scandalous life in the town of my youth. Bion Barnett, Madeleine's grandfather, was the Chairman of the Barnett Bank and in what was considered legendary by the Barnett family, ran off to the South of France with a woman other than his wife, only leaving a note on the mantel

But I digress, for the first twelve years of her life; Miss L'Engle lived with her parents on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. To understand life in New York City, one must know the neighborhood and the time period that one lived in New York City. If someone mentions the Upper East Side today, the vision created by books like The Nanny Diaries and Primates of Park Avenue prevail. But by 1918, the fashionable New Yorkers had built or were building homes and townhouse on the Upper East Side. The Rockefellers, Roosevelt's and even latecomers like the Frick and Carnegie families were all part of Millionaire Row. Miss L'Engle lived on the Upper East Side of New York City during the time of and in the neighborhood of the great industrialist. Since money was in abundance, will and imagination was the driving force in this neighborhood. 

Miss L'Engle would have been exposed to a time and place that was shaped by money and power. As an adulthood Miss L'Engle, stated how much she hated school in New York because she felt gangly, needy, bullied, and dismayed. In her discomfort, she found refuge in reading and writing. When she was about twelve, she accompanied her parents to Switzerland for a holiday and was abruptly dropped off at the Swiss boarding school, Chatelard. Miss L’Engle remained at Chatelard for three years before returning to the States. Her parents set-up camp in Jacksonville, Florida due to family obligations while Miss L’Engle was sent to Ashley Hall, a boarding school in Charleston, South Carolina. 

I believe part of the New York City imprint that lingers with many people who are born of wealth in the City is the idea that you can come and go based on the season or a particular need of your life. Maybe it isn't even tied to wealth. Immigrants who come to this country are very comfortable going back and forth from their birth country to New York City based on family need. Like many others, Miss L’Engle lived several different places during her lifetime but always returned to New York. 

Today, the Upper East Side has given way to commercial space and high-rise apartments on property that faces Central Park. Miss L'Engle would not recognize it as the home of her childhood. I wonder if she were born there today, if she would have written the same kind of stories?



New York City: The Flower District

by Christine

{Dutch Flower Line}

For years I imagined the NYC flower market to be a large warehouse type building with stalls for vendors; an imagining solely based on my experience with the farmer's market of my youth.  As I learned the New York City flower market is really more of a district and is located on West 28th between 6th and 7th Avenue. This past Wednesday I took a crowded, early morning train to West 28th and walked only a few step before I was immersed in flowers and people who make their living from flowers. I was a meanderer in the middle of wedding florists, restaurateurs and designers. 

In the spring, flowers and plants spill out on to the sidewalk and at times even on to the street. Trees laden with kumquats mingle with containers of box shrubs and rosemary. Trays and trays of lemongrass are stacked up against the wall and I had to resist the urge to tote home a flat of lemongrass. I kept asking how many smoothies' I would have to make to use up an entire flat and ultimately decided too many to justify following thorough on my impulse?  

Flowers of vibrant spring colors are stacked on shelves, clustered together in buckets or loose in boxes segregated by type. It is all reminiscent of an artist's new paintbox. The raw material is alluring and delightful but an artist or designer can blend and unite color and texture to create an exciting aesthetic. If you want to see an example of what I am talking about, take a moment to stop into Gramercy Tavern sometime to see the floral displays that will greet you. 

I knew many of the flowers on display, tulips, roses and even the peonies. I was introduced to peonies while working in China. These beautiful flowers don't grow in Florida; they can't stand the heat. The people of the Republic of China love these flowers so much they made them their national flower. 



Whole stores are dedicated to a single family of flowers. Orchids filled one entire wall of this shop coupled with assorted other hothouse varieties. 


My favorite were these purple, pink and orange combo beauties and I even asked their name so I could share it with you but candidly, I got the spelling wrong. I spelled it so badly that Google can't even rescue me, so if you know please drop me a note. I adore them but failed to purchase a single one. They were ten dollars apiece and for some reason I felt the price was extreme and walked away. Next time I will take the plunge and bring a single flower home to enjoy.  

Interspersed between the flower shops were outlets for all the things you could think of to create floral arrangements or displays. Silk umbrellas, glass containers, cement planters and wood structures were hanged from the ceiling, stacked on shelves or leaned against the wall. 

I had to include this photo of all the ribbon. The emotion I felt walking upon the sight of so much ribbon organized neatly by color was one that Marty shared with me on occasion when he walks into a local hardware store. The meticulous organization and the potential to create are overwhelming. Neatness does count!!

While many of the stores have a minimum purchase requirement of twenty-five dollars, "retail" shoppers are welcome. Next time you are in the City, I encourage you to head over to the Flower District. I believe it will be worth your time and will lift your spirits to be surrounded by such beauty and energy.




Carl Hiaasen: The Funny Man Crusader

by Christine

Hello one and all. I have returned to New York to finish up this round of writers and schedule my calendar with the next group. As I was contemplating what to say about Carl Hiaasen I was struck by the notion that each writer in this series has his or her compelling differentia. Michael Chabon is a world builder, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is an anthropologist, Padgett Powell is a risk taker and Carl Hiassen is a crusader. Carl Hiassen's crusade has been fought on the pages of the Miami Herald and in his book of fiction for adults and young people. He also hosted along with Dave Barry a very funny video on the 2016 primary season and other humorous observations about life in America. If you have a moment and are in need of a laugh, I would encourage you to check to it. 

Carl Hiassen is a Florida boy who grew up during the time his hometown Plantation and South Florida were evolving from a southern economic hub to the "Capitol of the Caribbean". During my years as an undergraduate at Florida International University, we spent hours in the Political Science Department discussing and analyzing the challenges of the region as it managed growth, crime and a fractious Latin community. Hiaasen through his work - first as a general assignment reporter and then as an investigative reporter - learned of the deleterious and noxious side of politics and human nature. This is the material that makes up his genre of Florida crime fiction. An additional concern for him is the environment. His entire life has been spent in an area that has welcomed the onslaught of urbanization with little or no thought given to what that urbanization was doing to the area. Hiaasen's young adult fiction is his platform to entertain young people while highlighting the environmental issues facing Florida. 

During some lazy July or August, I may pick-up Bad Monkey or Tourist Season to read while sitting by the Lake but for this blog entry I choose to read his young adult book, Hoot.  The hero of Hoot is twelve-year-old Roy Eberhardt who fights off the angry bully at his new school, makes friends with an eclectic group of kids and learns how to fight corruption at the local fast food outlet. The story is appealing and I cared about the characters. The telling of this story is NOT pedantic or schoolteachery -I made that word up just now -as it shows how indifferent or corrupt people can destroy the environment. 

Hiaasen also has a love of the Florida terrain and landscape. He writes to help the reader see the beauty of Florida's natural world. In Hoot he writes: First he spotted the T-shaped shadow of the osprey crossing the pale green water beneath him. Later came the white heron, gliding low in futile search of a shallow edge to wade. Eventually the bird lighted halfway up a black mangrove, squawking irritably about the high tides.

The elegant company was welcome, but Roy kept his eyes fastened on the creek. The splash of a feeding tarpon upstream put him on alert, and sure enough, the surface of the water began to shake and boil. Within moments a school of mullet erupted, sleek bards of silver shooting airborne again and again.  You can see and hear the beauty of the momentHiaasen wants his readers to understand that the Florida Everglades and swamps are as important to us as a people as is the Redwood forests out west. 

I am a big fan of young adult literature and believe some of the best storytelling on the market today is aimed at that group. I encourage you to read Hoot but if young adult literature is not your "thing" then pick-up a copy for your the kids in your life. I am not the only one who feels this way about this book. Hoot earned the 2003 Newberry Medal from the Association for Library Service to Children and was on the New York Times Bestseller's List. Give him a chance; he might become your new favorite author. 

I am home watching the crocus push the soil aside as it races the daffodils and tulips in announcing the coming of spring. The narcissus were lulled into blooming early because of unseasonably warm temperatures only to be caught off guard as an arctic wind blew in and made the world an inhospitable place once again. Relying on the lessons of last year, I am plotting out for my garden that will include cherry trees and potatoes. I plan to continue the Pride of Place series but I will be researching author's closer to home. Stick around and we will welcome spring together. 




Plantation, Florida

by Christine

Writer Carl Hiaasen and Plantation, Florida are the next subjects on my Pride Of Place Tour. I drove from Cross Creek to Plantation in only a matter of hours but the distance between the two places was not limited to only the number of miles. If Cross Creek is a glimpse of Florida's southern past, then Plantation, Florida is the quintessential representation of Florida today. Plantation is one of 31 municipalities in Broward County. In less than a hundred years, Broward County has gone from being a major agricultural producer to an urban center with 1.839 million people.

Carl Hiaasen was born in Plantation, Florida on March 12, 2953 and Plantation was in incorporate on April 30, 1953. Hiaasen development as a writer and human being coincided with the "Out of the Wilderness, This City" (Plantation) as it grew to be a modern community in what Forbes reported to be one of the most corrupt states in Union. (Though candidly, if you research that statement further, you will find tons of statistics and opinions on how to measure corruption and as criteria changes so do the states on the list.)  I mention this fact because Carl Hiaasen worked for many years as an Investigative Reporter for the Miami Herald before he started writing opinion pieces for the Herald. I will bring all this together when I write about Hiaasen and how place shaped his writing. 

I spent a couple of days in Plantation enjoying local restaurants, taking morning walks, visiting the local library and chatting with the residents. I learned during my stay that Plantation is the perfect place for...CARS. Homes, commercial space and public spaces are well manicured and built around driving and parking ones car. Plantation has an abundance of sidewalks so each morning I headed out for my daily march. On the second morning, midway through my walk, I was in the middle of the intersection at the entrance to an office park when a young woman came hurtling towards the entranceway in her white SUV. She was attempting to take the right hand turn at 35 miles an hour and I was in her way. I kid you not; she released the steering wheel and threw both her hands in the air as she rolled her eyes at me in disgust and horror. This was an individual who was not accustomed to sharing the road with pedestrians. Involuntarily I started to laugh as one does when one comes upon a toddler on the floor in the grocery store in the middle of a temper tantrum. I thought better of my actions later as I learned that Florida is the #1 state in concealed weapons permits

About four years ago I participated in a writer's retreat in Montana. I met a man whose first words to me after finding out I lived in New York was "I hate New York". I was stunned at his bad manners and immediately felt pity for him because it was obvious the woman who raised him was a very poor mother. I couldn't even respond over my internal mantra, you poor, poor man. Unlike this man, I know very well that ones home is a special place for the person living there and I would never want to insult a place or its inhabitants so I will just say Plantation, Florida is not for me. 

As I age I want to walk more and drive less and Plantation is designed to do exactly the opposite. In all fairness others disagree with me about the livability of the place. In 2010 America's Promise Alliance once again named Plantation part of "100 Best Communities for Young People". And I loved the local branch of the Broward County Library in Plantation though I did have to go to the main library in Fort Lauderdale to get information on the beginnings of Plantation, Florida. It appears the history of Broward County and Plantation, Florida is not high on the list of the local library. Joseph Gremillion, a very thoughtful and kind librarian from the main library in Fort Lauderdale, did help me find material from the twenties and thirties on Broward County and I found that information hugely interesting. To think of South Florida as one big farm speaks to the farmer in me and it caused me to I wonder how Florida and the rest of the country will change over the next 90 years.

Thursday I will share with you the work of Carl Hiaasen and how I believe Plantation, Florida and South Florida influenced his writing. 

Until then...



Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Oranges, Snakes & Hammocks

by Christine

The thesis is simple, place crafts and molds the individual generally and writers and artist specifically. Of all the writers I've studied to date, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is the one most influenced by a place. Cross Creek, Florida touched her soul and out of her love affair with the place and its people she composed a Pulitzer Prizing winning novel. The Yearling was required reading when I was in school and even today is considered a classic.

Rawlings wrote prodigiously about her years in Florida and her fifth book Cross Creek is a memior of her experiences while living in the Florida outpost. Rawlings made Cross Creek her home for thirteen years while she worked her orange groves, hunted indigenous game and developed friendships with cautious locals. I loved the book as it renewed and revived old memories of my youth. She wrote eloquently and expressively of working with a hired team to save her Valencia oranges from the freezing cold winter nights. Her description of her struggle to save her oranges brought back my memories of watching a somber news reporters standing in an orange grove with local Florida growers discussing the forecast of freezing temperatures and how they would warm the grove if the temperature continued to fall. In Ms. Rawlings books she shared her concern that the loss of her oranges might ruin her but during my childhood the news reporter warned the viewer that if the orange crop were destroyed then the entire state's economy would be ruined.

Rawlings was up for a challenge whether bear hunting or snake wrangling. Her description of living in peace with the many varieties of snakes in Florida could cause a shiver to go up the back of the bravest. She wrote of the first time she came across a coral snake. "The yard was desperate for flowers and greenery and I began separating the bulbs to set out for spring blooming. I dug with my fingers under the pile and brought out in my hand not a snake, surely, but a ten-inch long piece of Chinese lacquer. The slim inert reptile was an exquisite series of shining bands of yellow and black and vermilion, with a tiny black nose. I thought, 'Here is a snake, in my hands, and it is as beautiful as a necklace. This is the moment to forget all the nonsense' I let it slide back and forth through my fingers."  In this passageRawlings makes holding a deadly snake an enviable moment. 

Descriptions of the land and wildlife are recounted in the language of a poet while life on "The Creek" is chronicled clearly and factually. I hungered to read about the people and hear their voices. Rawlings relayed stories that made life at Cross Creek fascinating and gripping. But I was also uncomfortable with some of her descriptions of the poor and black. Life on the creek was feudal. I took away from Cross Creek a life under a hierarchy based on money and skin color. Rawlings also believed and perpetuated some of the bias of that period and writes openly about her perceptions. At the risk of being accused of justifying her prejudice, her bias truthfully portrayed the time and the place. To do otherwise would be the same as failing to chronicle her participation in hunting wildlife that today is illegal to kill. 

Cross Creek is a beautifully written book about a time and place that is no longer in existence. If you would like to time travel and hear the voices of the people from the past, Cross Creek is a lovely read. I could not find a hard copy but I was able to download it to my Nook for only $2.99. 

As a footnote, after the publication of Cross Creek, a friend who was highlighted in the book sued Rawlings. The "right to privacy" lawsuit took five years to work through the court system and ended up being argued before the Florida Supreme Court. Rawlings lost the suit but the justices signaled their opinion of the issue by fining her just one dollar and court cost. The message was clear the court felt no harm was done to Zelma Cason but ultimately the real damage was to Rawlings as a writer. The fear of being sued inhibited her ability to write until her death in 1953. 

From here I head to Plantation, Florida to learn more about South Florida and Carl Hiaasen.

Until next time...






Cross Creek: A Trip Back In Time

by Christine

I love Florida. There I said it. And just like a teenage girl defending her bad boy sweetheart to her skeptical parents, I declare to you, you don't know Florida. The Florida of my youth can be found today but one must get off the beaten path and venture beyond Orlando and the coastal cities. Our next author, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings moved to Cross Creek, Florida in 1928 well before my family moved to Jacksonville in 1955 but we both found the same Florida. 

As I turned onto this road a sense of peace washed over me as one who was finally home. I remember this Florida. I had begun to wonder if the canopy of oak trees and dappled light that painted the roads of my childhood was a dream. As a girl had my family really driven down such a road on Sunday's after church to buy oranges at the local fruit stands?  Up ahead I could see the remains of a time that was my Florida. The oak trees on the right have been butchered as happens to many an indigenous inhabitant once a conqueror decides to settle new land but traces of the former still remain.

I made my way to Cross Creek from Gainesville to visit the Florida home of Charles and Marjorie Rawlings. Marjorie believed as I do "there is of course an affinity between people and places".  She also wrote in her book Cross Creek "along with our deep knowledge of the earth is a preference of each of us for certain different kinds of it, for the earth is various as we are various". Cross Creek and it rustic charm did not suit Charles so he left signaling the end of the marriage. Marjorie remained behind and flourished as a writer. During her thirteen years in Cross Creek she wrote multiple novels -including her Pulitzer Prizing winning novel The Yearling- short stories and letters. 

The home she lived in is pretty much today as it was when Marjorie lived there. That fact is more due to luck than planning. She willed the home and land to the University of Florida at her death believing that it could be used as a writer's retreat by up and coming young writers. Marjorie's vision was never realized by the students or faculty of the University of Florida and it fell into disrepair. Eventually the State of Florida took over the place as part of its Historic State Parks program. Today you can tour the grounds and take a tour of the home with a knowledgeable docent. 

Donna Wright led our small group of out-of-towners through the house regaling us with stories about Mrs. Rawlings and her life at Cross Creek. Ms. Wright is a petite woman who lives locally and is a Rawlings enthusiast. She and I talked about Mrs. Rawlings' independent streak and our mutual love for Old Florida. I had a thoroughly wonderful time discussing gardening, cooking on a wood burning stove and the joys of indoor plumbing with the other members of the tour. We learned on the tour that Mrs. Rawlings spent much of her first royalties putting a bathroom indoors and celebrated with friends by using the newly installed facility as a bar complete with a congratulatory flower arrangement. At the risk of sounding wistful for a time when less was actually less, indoor plumbing was a cause for a major celebration. 

From there I moved on in search of a copy of Mrs. Rawlings' book Cross Creek and lunch. I was promised both at a restaurant by the name The Yearling. A copy of the book was not to be found but I did get a yummy lunch of fried green tomatoes and collard greens. As I ate I listened to eighty year old Willie Green sing the blues song Going To New York and tell stories about his life. 

Mrs. Rawlings was inspired by and wrote about the events, people and nature that surrounded her while living in Cross Creek. She captured an attitude, a time and a place that no longer exists. When I was in school, I read The Yearling; it was required reading for all Florida students.  Instead of rereading the book for the Pride of Place tour, I read her book, Cross Creek. It is a better choice given Mrs. Rawlings own sentiments about the pride of place. 

Until next time,

PS: A personal thank you to Donna Wright and the other volunteers at the Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park who lovingly give of their time and energy to preserve Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Cross Creek home and Old Florida.