Aug
22

Manning, South Carolina

by Christine

 

Recently, my granddaughter asked me to read to her a charming book titled, Amelia Bedelia. Amelia, the heroine of the story, works as a housekeeper and is a true literalist. When asked to dust the furniture by her employer, she lightly covers all the home's furnishings with a fine powder. The story is a funny glimpse into the use and meaning of words. To celebrate the last hooray of summer before work and school started in earnest, I headed to Charleston, South Carolina to experience some of America's best restaurants and get in some serious beach reading time. Also, it was the perfect time to begin the second "season" of my Pride of Place series.  In my research of the area, I learned that the author of Amelia Bedelia, Margaret Cecile "Peggy' Parish, lived a short distance away from Charleston in Manning, South Carolina. 

I headed out in the cool of the morning - or as cool as it gets down south in August - to explore Manning and see what insights I could glimpse of Peggy Parish through her birth town. I prefer to avoid the Interstate and take the back roads as I search for the hometowns of the authors on the Pride of Place Tour. The terrain between the beaches of Charleston and the low country of Manning is rich and lush. Bright green marshland is woven around and through Charleston and becomes pine and oak forest the further from the beach you drive. I take the back roads in hopes of finding small towns and crossroads with assorted craftsman selling birdhouses or other handmade crafts. On the way to Manning, I found acres and acres of pine tree farms, wind blown oak trees and fields of soy beans, dried sun flowers and corn stalks. The congestion of Northeast became an illusive memory as I became accustomed to roads canopied by oaks trees covered in Spanish moss. 


Built circa 1906

My first stop in Manning was the public library. A statue of Amelia Bedelia stands in front of the library to honor and acknowledge Manning's native daughter, Peggy Parish. As has become my modus operandi, I dropped into the library to chat up the local librarian on town lore. The young volunteer working the desk was kind and suggested I walk next door to meet with the town historian. Archivist Nancy Cave and Glyn Oliver Bethune are the go-to people if you want to learn about Manning past and present. I was ushered into the old Manning library during lunchtime as we swapped stories about living down south. We had a dynamic and rich conversation about Peggy Parish, the Swamp Fox and the demographic changes in Manning. 

One of the most interesting facts I learned talking to Ms. Cave was prior to the building of the Interstate Highway System, U.S. Route 301 was the main road used by New Yorkers to get to Florida. Manning and many other cities thrived as tourist made their way south to vacation in South Florida. Large homes on either side of the highway became Tourist Homes and lodged travelers for the night and then sent them on their way the next morning after breakfast.  As Ms. Cave said, "We would call them Bed and Breakfasts today."  

Manning as the county seat of Clarendon County pays homage to another South Carolina favorite, Francis Marion - aka The Swamp Fox - through a series of murals painted on the building throughout the town.  Francis Marion earned his nickname due to his stealth and cunning during the Revolutionary War and the murals tell that story. It is a lovely walking tour that allows you to be outside and learn about South Carolina's part in the revolutionary war.

I continue to be amazed at the individual creative spark that exists in our towns and cities and Manning is no exception. Friday, I will blog on Peggy Parish and her work as an author. Chat later!

Hugs,
C

P.S. A heartfelt thank-you to Nancy L. Cave and Glyn Oliver Bethune of the Clarendon County Archives & History Center. I learned something new and met two really nice people -for me that is a perfect day.

 

Aug
15

Summer Fun And New Ideas

by Christine

Summer is in full swing as my squash and zucchini plants are heavy with fruit and I am in full gardening gear as I work to out wit our resident groundhog in battle for the most tender parts of the lettuce. He is winning. My grandkids are visiting one at a time this summer instead of descending upon us in a pack. There is such joy in these intimate and joyful visits but I will be the first to concede that at times very tiring. On about the third day of their visit I am reminded why parenthood is for the young.

I am calling these visits, the Weekend of Yes. Each grandchild is told yes to anything thing that is safe and within the budget. They ask to go to Time Square so they can visit the M&M store and purchase a pound of M&Ms. Yes, let’s do it! You want cookie dough pancakes with whipped cream? Yes, coming right up!. The grandkids control the remote control and I gladly watch reruns of the University of Florida playing football against a Southern rival while my grandson excitedly narrates each play it is about to happen. They choose the play, the movie, the museum and the kinds of food we eat for this one special summer vacation as well as what time we go to bed. It is their Weekend of Yes. The WOF is a once in a lifetime treat; a very special treat because it happens only once during their childhood. 

I am saying yes to a few things that I want to share with you. Footsteps is starting a new series on Wednesday called Letters From Dixie. We are printing letters from a displaced Southerner to her sister as she attempts to navigate the ideas and people of her new Northern home. I hope you are amused by Dixie's observations as I am. Also, I have discovered a new podcast that has captured my attention. Malcolm Gladwell is on episode 09 of this podcast Revisionist History. Gladwell takes a second look at events that shaped actions and thoughts in the United States and questions there impact. While I don't agree with all his conclusions, I find it refreshing to give brain power to ideas instead of the minutiae of the current media banter. 

And finally how about the Olympics! Inspiring and dramatic are two words that come to mind as I watch this year's event in Rio. If you get a chance to check out Under Armour's new video piece on Michael Phelps, do it, it is worth your time. Their new tag line is Rule Yourself. I Will. I believe that slogan rivals the Nike, Just Do It!  

And finally, finally. The Pride of Place tour is gearing up again so be on the look out for the next installment.

Hugs,
C

 

 

Jun
24

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. 

Hugs, 
Christine

May
11

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.

Hugs,
C

 

 

May
09

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?

Hugs,
C

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.

 

 

 

 

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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

 

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