In 1784, the Empress of China, an American ship bearing American ginseng, sailed to China for trade. It was the first time the new nation had tried such trade, and the Americans did not know what to expect, for instance, in what they might be served at dinners. It was all well if they ate with the British or Portuguese who were already trading there, but dining with the Chinese would have been a problem.
Perfect Portland. That’s what my family calls it, this beautiful jewel of a city on the edge of our continent. I am here visiting my family. My sister, Victoria, and her husband, Rich, were transferred here. In the term “upwardly mobile,” the emphasis is on “mobile.” Mother followed a few years later to be with her only grandchild, Gillian. My mother’s generation reproduced.
My recurring dream has been recurring. Surprisingly, I’ve found that it’s a pretty common dream, a fact that gives me some comfort as to the state of my mental health. There are three variations all centered around my college days: I can’t find my classroom; have lost my class schedule; or a professor drops a three-page final exam on my desk that I have not prepared for and have no hope of passing.
It is one of the shibboleths of evolution that the blind forces which change genes and change creatures have no aim or direction. Our hands and the wings of bats may be wonderfully engineered biological machines, and may arise from the same basic limb design, but it is wrong to think that evolutionary forces set out to build up progressively so that hands and wings could emerge with their current efficient designs.
Competent military commanders have known for centuries that disease will take away more of their soldiers than cannonballs or bullets will. There was no truer case of this than that of Napoleon’s Grande Armée, a multinational force of more than half a million men issuing from various nations in Europe with the mission of conquering Russia in 1812. Sure, most people know that the vicious Russian cold froze away any chance Napoleon had for victory, but his losses to typhus had cut his forces drastically long before the winter set in, and typhus kept killing.
This past weekend was another whirlwind back in Athens, Ga. Terry and I attended the Potlikker Film Festival sponsored by Southern Foodways Alliance. These showings of short films are held at various times in various towns to showcase the documentaries made in conjunction with SFA and to introduce the SFA to new people.
As I remember the story, the Pied Piper contracted with the people of Hamelin to rid the town of rats. As promised, he led them with his pipe music into the river, where they drowned; but the townspeople refused to pay him. So he then piped their children away as well.
Monday evening my “barkler” alarm went off, full force. This signal can mean that some strange person has dared to walk in front of our house, or that one of the neighbor’s cats is sauntering across the porch, clearly invading their doggy territory.
Philipp Freiherr von Boeselager died in May 2008. He was the longest surviving member of the most famous assassination plot against Hitler. Before he died he sat down for long conversations with Florence and Jérôme Fehrenbach, and together they have produced the memoir “Valkyrie: The Story of the Plot to Kill Hitler, by Its Last Member” (Knopf).
August is the cruelest month. (My apologies to that other Eliot, the one deficient in double letters.) August is my most-hated month. It is the time when summer drags on, like an unwanted house guest. Not much to do about it, just suffer and dream of cooler months.
Goodness, they say, is its own reward. That’s not enough for those uber-wealthy folks who like to slap their names on the wings of hospitals or endow charities. But, certainly, most of us consider ourselves “good,” and take some comfort in the idea that we are decent people.
Some people become legends in their own time. One of the neat things about going to a water exercise class for non-athletes like me is being among people who are athletes, some of them legendary. Jake Propst is one of those from Columbus.
The Cold War is over; we won it and we have forgotten about it, because we have hotter things to worry about. Young people now, and those in the future, will watch, say, “Doctor Strangelove,” and be astonished that the world could have organized itself in such a way. If you really want to get in touch with how weird the Cold War years were, a wonderful introduction is “K Blows Top: A Cold War Comic Interlude, Starring Nikita Khrushchev, America’s Most Unlikely Tourist” (PublicAffairs) by Peter Carlson.
In Mississippi talent flourishes like kudzu. Maybe this is because of the lush fertility of the land. Or perhaps it is a result of generations of oral tradition. Whether the artist’s flair is visual, or musical, or poetic, the results are almost always narrative. On some level, every one of us is a writer, spinning tales with pen, or brush, or song.
I just got a Blackberry. Some of you — that’s folks living the good life — may be wondering whether or not I picked it myself or bought it at the Hitching Lot Farmers’ Market. No.
This past Sunday as I was coming home from church, Lynne Rosetto Kasper on “The Splendid Table” was chatting with a caller to the radio program about bacon fat in cookie recipes. Like many of us, I grew up with the can of bacon fat on the counter (I really don’t remember it being refrigerated), waiting to be dipped into for frying or flavoring. And, for a time in my life I, too, saved bacon fat, refrigerated, and would spoon a tad in the water for my butter beans or mix it with olive oil for frying corn or green tomatoes, or in my cast iron muffin pan for corn muffins. I used it judiciously, telling myself that a little bit couldn’t hurt me.
Insects, even the greatest of couch potatoes knows, are everywhere. If you weighed all the insects and weighed all the people on the planet, insects would win.
Anyone who lived in Columbus between 1922 and 1992 probably has some story or memory of Bob’s Place, quintessential drive-in of Columbus and thought to be Mississippi’s first drive-in.
Denizens of large cities love to boast about the cultural events, performances and limitless entertainment available to them. In some ways they are right. However, it seems to me that very few take advantage of this wealth of artistic opportunity. Most people just stay home, in front of the “boob tube,” in a sort of semi-catatonic state.
Bessie Johnson has come to appreciate the humor in it. But when check-out clerks first suspected her of being up to no good after repeat store visits to buy armloads of wooden matches and bottles of glue, the moment wasn’t quite as amusing.