Apr
22

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.

Hugs,
C

Apr
20

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?

Hugs,
C

Apr
15

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. 


{Peony}


{Pincushion}

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


{Orchids}

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.

Hugs,
C

 

Mar
31

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 report 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. 

Hugs,
C

 

Mar
25

Plantation, Florida

by Christine

Writer Carl Hiaasen and Plantation, Florida were 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...
C

 

Mar
22

Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings: Oranges, Snakes & Hammocks

by Christine

The thesis is simple, place crafts and models 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...
Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

Mar
16

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 student 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,
Hugs,
C

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Mar
14

Padgett Powell: Something Is Always Happening

by Christine

The rhythm that drives Padgett Powell's novel, Edisto, evokes the nonsense syllables of scat singing performed by the greats like Ella Fitzgerald or Mel Tormé. Powell - like Ella or Mel - uses words as an instrument to capture feeling and emotion. If a word is lacking, he makes one up. In Edisto, Simon thinks, "Well, I'm in these ugly mediations when the Doctor gets up and announces we're going to church. We do that about twice a year; once if it rains on Easter. I'm 3 a.m. fugued out anyway, so I sport up and we head out." I love the phase "fugued out". Fugue refers to music or refers to a psychiatric concept surrounding the loss of identity. But the meaning also included interweaving repetitive elements. The words are lyrical and embody the emotion of loss and the feeling of the repetitive elements in life. The cadence of Powell's language builds to the finale as Simon comes to understand that there is more to the world than he understands. 

Never to forget that, dull as things get, old as it is, something is happening, happening all the time, and to watch. That is the admonition of twelve-year-old Simon Everson Manigault as he said goodbye to life in Edisto. Dan Halpern in his New York Times piece, Southern Discomfort, declares Simon a "linguistically precocious 12-year old" but from page one I struggled with the "voice" of our hero. His speech and observations felt like ones of a fifty-year-old man stuck in the body of child, a child who is chained to the floor of Plato's cave and forced to draw conclusions from shadows on the wall. 

The novel is funny and disturbing at the same time. Simon finds himself between a father who is a philanderer and a mother who is an alcoholic. The Progenitor and The Duchess have become "free range parents" as their focus turns to the one-upmanship of separation. Taurus - a name anointed by Simon on his caretaker - is hired to be nanny, bodyguard, mentor and father figure to Simon. Again, more is going on than Simon "sees".  All the characters are likeable including Simon's parents because in Powell's world ones weaknesses are also ones strengths. 

While Powell's themes are universal, I feel his sensibilities are Southern. Feelings run deep under a layer of good manners that keep society in check. His description of life in the south comes from someone who is more than just observant; he is from around there. He could only write this sentence because he knows what an oak tree in South Carolina is "suppose" to look like. "Living in a joint where the oaks are robbed of their moss and amputated of their little limbs..." That sentence takes my breath away; I see those trees in my minds eye and feel the sadness at their denuded and maimed limbs, reaching to the sky without hands. 

In 1986 Powell was the recipient of the Whiting Award and over the last 30 years has written six novels and three story collections. He writes honestly about the South and as he says "I make comments that are risky" in reference to "racial things". Powell relayed that "Saul Bellow pointed out to me once that I'd be in big trouble if anybody ever read me." I guess that is writer's humor because Edisto was excerpted in The New Yorker and nominated for the American Book Award. 

As I wrote last week Powell was born in Gainesville, Florida and as he stated raised in Jacksonville, Florida but he also moved around quite a bit as a young man before settling down once again in Gainesville. I was amused to read a piece in bombmagazine.org where he said, he "had the wit to conceal during the interview" that he was from Gainesville as he was being considered for a job with the University of Florida. His comment made me think of the quote "Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown" and apparently that applies to writers too. Powell is now part of the core faculty at the University of Florida in the Poets & Writers program

I recommend Edisto but be forewarned, you will need to sit quietly and pay attention. The book I am most excited to read by Padgett Powell in the coming weeks is The Interrogative Mood. The novel is completely comprised of questions and I look forward to learning how he tells a story by asking questions. I head next to Cross Creek and go back in time to learn about Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings. 

Until next time...
Hugs,
C

 

Mar
09

Gainesville, FL-Football, Red Brick & Padgett Powell

by Christine

I rolled into Gainesville on one of those days that the Chamber of Commerce highlights when trying to convince new business to set up shop in its town. Glorious weather and spring break coincided making Gainesville the perfect place to spend a couple of days researching writer Padgett Powell and leisurely strolling the grounds of the University of Florida. Folklore has it that the University of Florida and Florida State were built in Gainesville and Tallahassee respectively because land was cheap and educators wanted to keep the young people isolated and focused on their studies. Amazingly both schools continue to land in the Top 20 of Party Schools in the United States; as you can see, the goals of professors and students don't always align.

The Gators and the Seminoles continue to be the football powerhouses in Florida. They are like the two older brothers in a large family who taunt one another until a wrestling match breaks out while the rest of the siblings are forced to stand around and watch. University of Florida football has produced Steve Spurrier, Tim Tebow and hundreds of millions of dollars for the school. The school is also the birthplace of Gatorade - the original sports drink- formulated by scientist at the College of Medicine to help the football team replace body fluids while playing football in the Florida sun and humidly. PepsiCo now owns the beverage and sells it worldwide. In 2012, Forbes valued Gatorade at $4.8 Billion and number 86 on their World's Most Valuable Brands list. Not too shabby. 

I spent my two mornings in Gainesville exploring the University and the town on foot. Both are very walkable and since it was spring break I virtually had the place to myself. An occasional runner or security guard would jog or drive passed me as I enjoyed the morning light from the rising sun. The University is comprised of sturdy looking buildings made of red brick. I got the feeling this was a place that educated people to "do things" and then sent them out in the world to do them. University of Florida architecture is not inspirational. It is practical, well cared for and houses some of the best public research groups in the country. Red brick is one of my favorite building materials. Buildings made of these long lasting extruded clay bricks were a staple of the industrial era and are found up and down the East Coast. Today many of the shuttered manufacturing plants are being given new life by developers and community leaders who appreciate the beauty of red brick, high ceilings and large window. 

Gainesville is home to an estimated 127,500 locals and when the University is in session 52,000 students infuse the area with energy and money. As I walked University Avenue, I found shops like The Boardr, Unified Training Center and BodyTech closed in honor of spring break. In case you are wondering, Boardr is a store with all things skate boarding, Unified teaches fencing and BodyTech specialized in tattoos and piercing. I spent two evenings enjoying the company of the locals along with fellow travelers while continuing my study of the great mimosa migration. I was surprised to learn Frank Meiser invented the mimos circa 1925 in the Hôtel Ritz Paris. Midmorning I searched out and found Maude's Classic Cafe, a local coffee seller. I am also surveying lattes on the Pride of Place tour and while Maude's was tasty, the best to be found is back home at the Peekskill Coffee House. 

All this brings me to our next author, Padgett Powell. Mr. Powell was born in Gainesville on April 25, 1952. A time before Disney moved in and bought up all the orange groves and built a theme park. He is a rare citizen of Florida in that he is native to the state. As a native Floridian he witnessed Claude Kirk get elected as Florida's first Republican governor since Reconstruction, the Miami Dolphins play a perfect season in 1972 and the development of Gatorade at the University of Florida in 1965. Like me, he states he grew up in Jacksonville, Florida and hung out with the Lynyrd Skynyrd crowd in high school.  I continue to be a fan of Southern Rock particularly the further north I move but in my high school days I was all about the English Invasion, Beatles, Rod Stewart and the Small Faces and the Yardbirds.  Today Powell is a Professor at U of F in its MFA Program.  Mr. Powell has clearly decided ideas about being labeled a Southern writer and I have been reading his novel Edisto looking through that lens. More on that tomorrow. 

Hugs,
C

 

Mar
08

Rocky Mount, NC

by Christine

As with most things in life, traveling alone has its pros and cons. I have come upon people and places on this journey that caused me to wish Marty were with me to share the moment. Conversely, alone I am able to do what I want, when I want and that freedom is what led me to stop at Rocky Mount, NC for the night. Rocky Mount is at exit 138A at US 64 on the I-95 corridor between Roanoke Rapids and Lumberton. I've driven under the large, green and white sign on I-95 that points the way to Rocky Mount multiple times and this time I gave in to my urge to stop. 

In my mind, the name conjures up visions of Mayberry, Andy Griffith, Opie and Aunt Bee. Mayberry was the fictional town in the 1960s TV show, Andy Griffith, which was actually based on the North Carolina town Pilot Mountain. So as you can see, there is no reason for me to believe that Rocky Mount is similar to Mayberry but I refuse to allow a fact to get in the way of my belief. 

As I approach the Rocky Mount I-95 exit I see a billboard that declares, Rocky Mount: The place you stay on your way to someplace else. My first thought was, "Oh honey". That is what my daughter says lovingly when someone, particularly a family member, shows a blatant lack of self-esteem or has gotten his or feelings hurt unnecessarily. She will also give out a hug and then tell you in a very nice way to get over yourself. 

I quickly learned Rocky Mount has a clear understanding of its value to the travelers on Interstate 95. Every conceivable moderately priced hotel and chain food restaurant is clustered together waiting to welcome the weary traveler. Comfort is found through the familiar. The kind gentleman behind the desk at the Hampton Inn gave me a list of restaurants in the area and of the 53 on the list only one was local. If traveling is really about the journey and not the destination, then Rocky Mount wants you to know this part of the journey is safe and predictable. 

Much to the surprise of the desk clerk, I asked for directions to the town. In keeping with Hampton Inn's policy to be friendly and helpful, he gave it to me but I could tell he wasn't happy about it. He so wanted to say, "How about going over to the IHOP and have breakfast for dinner or better yet, head over to the McDonald's where they have soft serve ice cream?" But I was determined to explore the area before hunkering down for the night. 

Since moving to New York, I have become interested in how small towns survive and I wanted to get a feel for Rocky Mount. In 2015 more people were leaving the State of New York than were moving into the state. The only place exempt from this shift is New York City. I've watched as small towns in New York struggle under massive tax burdens with no plans to attract new business or increase population growth. 

As I drove to Rocky Mount's town center I noticed retired red brick factories that have been converted to other functional spaces. Restaurants, offices and retail shops now inhabit these great old buildings. Next, came the large homes with wrap around porches that are reminiscent of another time. The houses looked a bit worn but at least they are standing. So many neighborhoods like this have been bull dozed to make room for more "modern" buildings. 

My favorite place in the whole town was the train station. The building, the loading area and the grounds are immaculate with original pieces of art decorating the public space. Next to the train station is a strip of retail buildings that face hopefully towards the railroad tracks. These refurbished storefronts sit side-by-side like lovely young girls at a spring cotillion. Each store is unique in design and updated to reflect today's taste while honoring the history of the area. 

My brief tour of Rocky Mount convinced me that the citizens of RM understand what is of value in their town. I am glad I took the time to visit. I encourage you to stop by Rocky Mount, NC the next time you are traveling I-95 or if there is a place that calls out to you, take the time and stop!

Hugs,
C

 

 

 

 

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