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CAROLINA IN THE MORNING

Let me first explain where we are. That’s Susanne in a cotton field some years past. Visiting dear friends/relatives on their 40 acre estate–Ferncroft, it’s called– in North Carolina. Nearest town–Fairmont. Nearest town of any size–Lumberton,IMG_035821, 000 souls strong. Built around the Lumber River in the Lumber River Valley. It’s in Robeson County, demographically home to a variety of southerners, but including significantly, the Lumbee Indian tribe. The Lumbees are little known and of vague origin. The most intriguing theory I’ve heard is that they are connected somehow with the lost colony of Roanoke Island, a 16th century English settlement which just plain disappeared not long after it began. Are the Lumbees a white-native american hybrid of some sort descended from the lost colony? No one knows, so I prefer to believe it.

This area has suffered mightily from hurricanes over the last few years, the latest of which were Matthew (2016), followed closely by Florence (2018). Many people lost everything twice in two years. Good thing climate change isn’t real, or it might have been worse. ( Insert a weak “ho-ho” here.)

I’m sitting in a dark wood-and-leather chair at a fine small table in one of the most exquisite kitchens you’ll ever meet. Nila and husband Lionel are always on the hunt for the latest and greatest. Newest example, a smart refrigerator that shows you on its door what’s inside and where before you even touch it. It sits beside a cast iron stove whose operation I don’t fully understand except that its ovens are at a constant temperature and can handle more simultaneous projects than you could possibly imagine. Oh, and they just added a second dishwasher. No more dishes sitting out waiting for the last load to finish. And so on.

I look out through French doors and plate glass windows into an enclosed Lanai, perfect for all kinds of festivities, of which they host many. Beyond the lanai is a spacious veranda, also perfect for such festivities. Beyond that is a well-planted garden bordered by an elaborate pergola under which sit a rich collection of patio furniture and plants.

Above me sit a number of rooms–bedroom and non–connected by a fine staircase.

IMG_4797The journey from here to there is chock full of terrific and surprising art, much of it fashioned by Nila herself. Not that she made the peacock, of course, but she brought it home and placed it just so.

IMG_4790And looking beyond the Manor on the side opposite where I am perched is this grand reflecting pool, complete with–of course–swans–in this shot resting from their morning paddle.

IMG_4288There are are many more marvels, too numerous and widespread to show here. The home grown truffles, the exhibition gate house, the iron sculptured lions standing a roaring guard at the front gate, the fountain of Erasmus B. Dragon, who breathes fire at intruders, the miniature horses no bigger than a giant schnauzer, and so much more. It’s been just a couple of years since we were here last, but we’re told there are a number of additions ready and waiting for us to encounter on our next tour, coming up. In the meantime, we leave you with this haunting memento of Susanne and hostess Nila from a Halloween past. ha-ha-ha-etc.

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Welcome to the kingdom of America

With today’s confirmation of Kavanaugh, we enter a new and dangerous era, the end of which I, at my age, will undoubtedly not survive to witness. I doubt we will see the overt reversal of Roe V. Wade. Instead, we will more likely see a process similar to post-civil war Jim Crow whereby states will restrict abortion to such an extent as to make the “right” meaningless. It will be simpler that way than going to all the trouble of overturning the whole thing. Already, states such as Texas and Mississippi have shown the way by devising arcane rules and regulations that make it practically impossible, especially for women of color or limited means, to reach providers. They must travel great distances, endure endless waiting periods, and pass unmedical “tests” in order to exercise their constitutional rights.

Similar harassments await voters, who thanks to the gutting of the voting rights act, now must meet draconian regulations simply to cast ballots. Polling places great distances apart and/or with such limited facilities that they can’t accommodate everyone who wants to exercise the most fundamental right of a democracy.

In the past, as legislatures and local officials and an imperial-minded chief executive seek to restrict those of unpopular (to them) opinions, the courts have been the last bastion of succor. No more.

The redistribution of our political and civil rights life will increasingly go the way of the redistribution of the country’s wealth. And we all know how that’s worked out.

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Hollywood, Oakland, and the gospel truth

Blindspotting is among the top movie experiences of my life. That includes such triumphs as The Seventh Seal and The Godfather. What makes it so?

There is no better answer to that question than is contained in a recent homily by Father Steve Keplinger of Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Tucson. (http://gsptucson.tumblr.com/post/177945930259/fr-steves-sermon-for-sunday-sept-9-2018) Without going into detail as to how our paths crossed, I will simply say that the paths were not long, though they were a little convoluted and indirect. What’s important is that what Father Steve, my friend, Bill Roeske, and I saw in this film was a painful and ugly explanation for the stereotyping and racism that too often dictate our thoughts and actions.

I won’t explore and explain the themes, plot and characters here. I’m going to skim over those and dive right into the deep waters of what this portends for our lives. The film’s title has its origins in concept one of the main characters is studying in her psychology class and demonstrates that we are physically and psychologically incapable of simultaneously seeing two realities at once within the same image. Thus, we can perhaps see below either a vase or two faces looking at one another. We cannot see both at once.

downloadThus it is that we cannot look at another person and see both a saint and a sinner, a criminal and a minion of the law. Or to further complicate the situation, a black person/criminal and a black person/upstanding citizen. Yet, we deal with these realities every day, and what you might call cognitive dissonance keeps us from appreciating and understanding them. Everything about Blindspotting helps us experience this situation, and it’s not a pleasant experience. The pain, danger, and injustice we visit upon one another because of this inherent disability is enormous. It’s one thing to be told about it and to recognize it intellectually, it’s quite another to see and understand it in depth the way this film forces us to do.

Father Steve’s homily pleads with his audience to recognize and attempt to overcome the human tendencies of Blindspotting, and he evinces some optimism that is possible to do so. He chooses as a scriptural example the parable of Jesus’ treatment of the Canaanite woman from St. Matthew, wherein the prophet recognizes his own racist assumptions and changes his attitude. Father Steve seems to me to suggest that  the narrative shows that we are all capable of reform just as Jesus was.

However, I can’t help thinking about how a generation or so later, St. Paul finds it necessary to admonish the Roman Christians to change their ways and to start admitting perviously-excluded gentiles into their ranks. Part of that appeal was strategic, I suppose. The church could not grow and survive if they continued drawing members only from their limited circle. However, I think it was mostly a matter of Early Christian blindspotting that did not allow the folks within that insulated community to see both Roman citizens and sincere Christians in the same person or group.

A couple of thousand years later, we’re still at it. Both the racism and the struggle to reform. Like life itself, the struggle to achieve the goal is often seemingly futile. When asked what a particular poem meant, T.S. Eliot is said to have answered by reading the poem itself aloud. The meaning, he was pointing out, is in the experience, not outside of it. You’ve got to see it to understand it. And like life itself, like the wonderfully poetic rap that is at the center of the film’s epiphany, Blindspotting tells us to keep struggling and, somehow, keep laughing and rapping and writing poems the while.

AND THE WINNING BID IS. . .

MEDICINE LAKE 6700'
MEDICINE LAKE 6700′

My history with this little mountain jewel is pretty fascinating–at least to me, and this is my blog, so read on.

Medicine Lake One: Sometime in the late 40’s we lived in Mount Shasta and went camping often. One such trip was to Medicine lake. My dad hand-pumped an old navy surplus life raft and turned my sister and me loose on the water. He undoubtedly retired for a libation after that chore, but we kids didn’t know or care. We just splashed and paddled our delighted way to summer fun. As it happens on this earth, high-altitude splashing a paddling comes with a price, and we paid it in terms of a yummy sunburn.

Medicine Lake Two (Maybe 35 years later): “Hey, Susanne, says here there’s an outfit sponsoring cross-country ski trips to Medicine Lake. Ten miles in and out. I’d Like to see how it looks in the winter. You up for it?” She was. We drove to Mount Shasta (maybe 5 hours), jumped in a couple of vans, headed for the trailhead. Brilliant weather. Small group. Very promising. Here’s a list of things that arose thereafter.

  1. Mother and daughter (adults) team had rented equipment which they wore for the first time that day.
  2. Our cabin was piled high above the rooftop with snow. Picturesque, but not so appealing when you have to tunnel down into it.
  3. The outhouse was maybe 10 yards or so from the cabin, so to seek relief, one was required to tunnel out of the cabin, cross a few yards of frozen ground, then tunnel down into the facility. Process was repeated on the way out
  4. Before long, the blisters acquired by the mother-daughter new equipment team began to tell. They couldn’t join in the sightseeing excursions and were generally pretty miserable. In turn they infected the mood of the rest of the party. It was decided that everyone would be happier if the two ladies were snowmobiled out.
  5. Their exit did not proceed without incident. The vehicle ran out of gas short of the road, and one of the guides had to ski to the trailhead for more. But they finally made it.

Medicine Lake three: This time was different. 5 people, 5 dogs (an occasional 6th when Copper came to visit.) in one house. Our puppy (5 mos.) had another (7 mos.) to play with, and they chased and chewed and tug-of-warred till they wore us out. It was ideal weather in a perfect environment.

But, finally getting back to the title of this piece–there’s an annual auction on Labor Day to raise money for the resident group’s anti-fracking fund (The fracking would be to get at water in the aquifer.) I was asked to contribute some books for the auction. Glad, of course, to do so. Then came the most flabbergasting thing: The two sets of two books sold for a total of $290.

Keeerap and hooray for labor day. Thinking about how to arrange more auctions.

 

 

VARINA–FIRST LADY REFUGEE

51ZH1EHY6JL._AC_US218_I first encountered Charles Frazier via his wonderful Cold Mountain and the equally powerful film with Renee Zellweger. For some reason I sort of lost track of him until I encountered his powerful latest–Varina.  I recognized the reference of the title immediately, since her name is one of the most memorable in American history. Yet, she seldom gets more than a passing mention as Jefferson Davis’s wife. Well, Frazier’s terrific book will I hope start to change all that.

The novel starts right where it should, with a narrator coming to interview Varina in her old age. But this narrator is not just some reporter from a major newspaper. He was one of Varina’s children, a sort of adoptee she rescued when he was a small boy being beaten on a Richmond, Virginia, sidewalk. And he bears a book compiled of mementos, press clippings, and some articles by a woman whose relationship is not given. However, in the course (seven Sundays) of checking the veracity of “the blue book” against Varina’s memory and his own, We slowly see the course of the life of this remarkable lady. From her privileged Mississippi childhood, spoiled by a drunken, profligate father, to a virtual imprisonment on a poor wilderness estate, held virtual prisoner by Jefferson Davis, or more particularly his brother, who held sway over the both of them. Her forced marriage to this much older man who lives pining for his first wife to the extent that the first stop on their honeymoon is a visit to her grave. It appears her life is destined to be an emotional graveyard, but she refused to make it so.

She’s devilish smart, gets herself educated to the extent that when Davis is elected to congress, she makes herself prominent in Washington, holding salon conversations with the wittiest and wisest of all and sundry. Through it all, Davis is too busy to pay much attention to her, and their marriage begins to take on the pattern of long and frequent separations.

When it comes time to split from the union and Davis gets elected Confederate President, of course, things start to fall apart in every way. Before long, Varina is on the road with what’s left of her household fleeing toward what they hope will be safety in Cuba. They don’t make it, of course, and Davis is captured in disgrace, trying to disguise himself as a woman. Though the rest of her life is filled with failure and disappointment, there is a sort of joyful redemption that emerges from her attitude that nothing and no one is worth adopting eternal pain as a companion. In her refuge at Saratoga Springs, she virtually adopts an emotionally damaged young lady. She communes with our narrator about the past and future. And out of the ruins she establishes hope where most of us would despair.

Combine all that happens here with Frazier’s poetic language, and you have a near-perfect book, at least for readers of historical fiction. Kudos to the man.

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