Monday, December 29, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 11 or 12 or whatever

On the way to Charleston is Beaufort, where I learn to speak Gullah, or at least I acquire a Gullah dictionary. "Dat seek'n' sistuh git 'ligun."*
Beaufort is known for its gorgeous antebellum homes in various states of decay and restoration (CSB prefers the elegant decay), and much as we love old houses we get sidetracked by the many political lawn signs bearing the name of a man who was once married to a very attractive friend of CSB’s younger sister. He has not forgotten her, the very attractive friend.
This was enough to set CSB to search for the whereabouts of this very attractive friend, whom we shall call Z D Spink. If you Google her name the very first two items to pop up are:
1. Her wedding announcement in the New York Times in 1982 to the man with the political lawn signs.
2. The legal record of a lawsuit, Spink vs Spink enacted about 3 years after their divorce.
And between those two items, in that white space on the screen, in the interstices of small print, lays the history of a marriage made and sundered, of lives derailed and rebooted. The stuff of stories.
Further investigations discover the successful business of Z D, now using her maiden name, and CSB sends her an email. Does she remember him, from back when was in boarding school and visited with the family, and he was the very tall and amusing older brother? She does indeed.

It is true that Charleston is full of history and old houses and excellent restaurants. But it has a dearth of public restrooms. In point of fact there are no public restrooms south of Broad Street. This is obviously very valuable information, and to aid the weary traveler, Historic Charleston has printed up a map indicating the public restrooms along with the aforementioned proviso. In my vast experience, this printed document constitutes an unrivalled public service.

Having just visited one of the rare public restrooms, we are strolling through St Philip’s Graveyard, where several notables are buried, including John C. Calhoun. Like Abelard and Heloise his remains traveled quite a bit before being translated to their current home. I am tempted to relate to other cemetery tourists how Calhoun’s corpse’s travels resemble numerous stories of saints’ relics being transported across countries and oceans, often by miraculous means. CSB is not enthusiastic.
Then my cell phone chimes its generic tones. It is Bill P. calling, to let me know that the police have in fact hand-delivered to my mother notice that her driving license is revoked. She promptly announced to Bill that this is surely a egregious error, and that she plans to appeal the decision. Bill wants me to be forewarned.

A few other interesting items about Charleston:
The oldest house in the city is pink. Also pink are the high heels worn by CSB’s very attractive friend, as she bicycles around the city.

The first theater in the US is in Charleston, the Dock Street Theater. John Wilkes Booth’s father, Junius Brutus, plied the boards there in the 19th century, but no presidents were shot there.
On the corner of Church Street and Queen Street is a massive Gothic revival Huguenot Church, even though there are technically no more Huguenots. Anywhere.
I am learning to love fried green tomatoes.

*Translation: "That sister wanting religion was baptized."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 9 or 10, or both

Day by day our relationship deepens. We are in sync. Often we don’t even need to communicate with words, so visceral is the connection.
William Shatner and I have gone from mere acquaintances to bosom buddies, BFFs, bonded at the hip and the fingertip. I honestly don’t know how it is for the rest of you, because I know William Shatner is pointing at me personally and that he is doing his best negotiating on my behalf. I know that when Captain Kirk is putting up his dukes, he is doing it to assure me alone (& CSB by association) the best possible price at the No-tell Motel in Savannah, Georgia. In fact, Captain Kirk directs us to the Cotton Sail Hotel, in an old cotton warehouse and with a river view. One morning we will watch a container ship slide by, and I will be thinking of William Shatner.

There are many wonderful things to see and do in Savannah, most of which involve old houses, lovely squares, and cemeteries, but it goes without saying that the one thing above all I long to visit in Savannah is the childhood home of Flannery O’Connor, at 207 East Charlton Street, off Lafayette Square, and a stone’s throw from the ginormous Cathedral of St John the Baptist.
I am particularly eager to see the “kiddie koop” Flannery slept in as a babe, because my mother had the identical model of "kiddie koop"* for us, including the screened top, and I used it a generation later for my number one daughter when we lived in a house on the salt marsh with a vast and various population of biting spiders.
According to the guidebook and the website, the house is open from 1 to 4 pm, on Wednesday through Sunday. Or we could say: it is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays. I have timed our travels to ensure that we are in Savannah on the proper days.
I am also eager to see the backyard where Flannery raised the chicken that learned to walk backward – a news sensation in the late 1920’s.
So after lunch on Wednesday we walk over to East Charlton Street. And here I am, sad, bereft and downtrodden, because for reasons unknown and clearly spurious, Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home is CLOSED when it is meant to be open. I call the number listed on the sign and leave a rather long message to the effect that I am bereft, sad and downtrodden that the house is closed and that I have made a special trip from the land of Yankees to visit it, and someone should call me immediately to explain and rectify the situation.
No one calls.
The house never opens while we are in Savannah.

This is me, sad, bereft and downtrodden outside Flannery O'Connor's closed Childhood Home.
Just now I revisited the website and found this message, which was not on their website back when we were in Savannah, and perhaps was put on the website in response to my pathetic and tragic phone message.
We apologize that we will have several exceptions to our regular hours over the next few months, and appreciate your patience with our changing schedule. If you are devastated that your trip to Savannah will not be complete without a tour of the Childhood Home, please get in touch via email with a week or so notice, and we will make a heroic, if not always successful, attempt to accommodate.

Or maybe I just should have put William Shatner onto the case of Flannery O’Connor’s childhood home?

*Through the miracle of Google, I have learned many poultry farmers are using kiddie koops for their chickens. Or they are on the Internet.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 8 something

What we see between Waycross and Savannah

What we don't see between Waycross and Savannah, or anywhere else

An old wooden church, in the vernacular style, that CSB has read about, and wants to see, because he loves old buildings and in particular old buildings on the verge of collapsing and in need of restoration, called the Smyrna Church. We drive down the Smyrna church road which quickly becomes a very rutted dirt. We see houses falling down and lots of beautifully weathered old timber. We see porches separate from their houses. We see a couple of donkeys and several chickens. We have seen so many other churches, but we don't see the Smyrna church.

The island of Sea Island
So, having spent vacations on Sea Island when he was a lad prone to falling into scuppernong bushes, CSB wanted to show me the place. We took a few wrong turns – I was following the church signs and not the road signs – and crossed a few bridges, and finally found ourselves at the gatehouse for Sea Island. Where there was an armed guard. A very polite armed guard.
CSB pulled up.
Guard: Your name, sir.
CSB gave his name and explained he wanted to show his dear wife some of the settings of his boyish escapades.
Guard: Do you have a property on the island, sir?
CSB: No as I explained…
Guard: Sir, do you have reservations here?
CSB: No, we just want to drive through and see the old place.
Guard: I am afraid you can’t do that, sir.
CSB: We can’t?!
Guard: I believe you can call the Cloisters and reserve a room – they start at $500 a night.
CSB: What if I just told you I have a reservation at the Cloisters?
Guard: I would call the desk to confirm that, sir.
CSB: What if we just drove through the barrier and took a quick look?
Guard: I would call the police and they would arrest you, sir.
CSB: What if my wife takes a picture of you rejecting us and posts it on her blog?
Guard: That is her privilege, sir. Then I would have to arrest her.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day Seven - "It's a finger of speech."

All I knew was that I really wanted to go to the Okefenokee Swamp and that I had wanted to go there for as long as I could remember. When we planned NiCGS, Part 2, the idea was that the Okefenokee would be our southernmost terminus, and everything else fell into place around that point.
Then one day came the coup de foudre, the light-dawns-over-Marblehead-moment, the Jupiter-zap: Pogo Possum lived in the Okefenokee Swamp. Many years ago, in my bean sprout days, my father read Walt Kelly’s Pogo in the Boston Globe every morning. It amused him. I didn't get the satire on political campaigns, or the mockery of Joe McCarthy as Simple Malarkey, and the Jack Acid Society…but I could get that it amused my father. He approved of Pogo.
So it wasn’t really the swamp I was after, but some glimmer of a memory of my father, some connection to the father that in fact I knew very little because he traveled so much and when he was around, he was more interested in the three sons. I couldn’t get his attention when I was a child, but I could pay homage to the wit and wisdom of Pogo and Albert the Alligator and I too could quote Pogo: “Don’t talk life so serious…It ain’t no how permanent.”

So from a simple ‘wildlife adventure’, our trip to the Okefenokee is transformed into a pilgrimage, a quest of sorts. I am looking for Pogo Possum, in order to find my father.
CSB is agreeable. True, it isn’t Andalusia, but he is happy to come to the swamp. He recalls going there as a boy with his father: they rented a canoe and paddled under looming cypresses. It was mysterious and hidden. They surprised alligators and were surprised by water moccasins. He does not recall any possums, but he wasn’t seeking one either.
After a long day driving (recall the daring foray into the cotton fields) we eat in, happily ensconced at the Waycross Comfort Suites -thanks to more repartee with my guy, William Shatner. We dine on car snacks: nuts, dried tomatoes, clementines, and dark chocolate, and drink some white wine. (Foolishly, we leave the white wine behind in the Comfort Suites mini-frig, and we will regret this.) Here is our view:

The next morning, it is bloody-hell, nose-numbing freezing cold the next morning. In Waycross, Georgia. On the cusp of the Okefenokee. Almost into Florida. I am outraged and indignant. Also very cold.

Upon cursory reading of the website, it becomes obvious that we will give a pass to the Okefenokee Swamp Park, with its Serpentarium and ‘railroad’ tours, and go further south to the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge.

This involves a lengthy chat with the lady at the entrance booth. She is wearing a lilac sweater. She is friendly, very friendly. She wants us to buy a Yearlong Senior Pass to National Wildlife Refuges. “A great deal,” she says. “That y’all won’t regret.” CSB hesitates because we are unlikely to go to another wildlife refuge this year. She is insistent. CSB mentions that there is a car waiting behind us. She says we needn’t worry. CSB says that back in New York that car would be honking impatiently. (He does not specify that he would be the one honking.) She is interested to learn that we are Yankees from New York. She tells CSB that y’all in New York are responsible for the terrible president we now have, and CSB tells her that we actually like that terrible president. She looks incredulous. The lady in lilac promises us that no one in Georgia or the Okefenokee will ever get impatient or honk a horn. CSB caves and buys the Senior Pass to all National Wildlife Refuges. He tells the lady in the booth, “Lilac is your color.”

Then we are at the swamp, and well, it is not quite what I imagined. Feared. Hoped.

Most of it burned down in 2007. Lightning struck in April, and fire overtook the swamp until July; its smoke could be seen in the skies of Atlanta and Orlando. Pretty much the whole swamp went up in flames. Then again in April of 2011, the Honey Prairie fire ignited. It was not declared to be extinguished until a year later.
These fires meant that the towering bald cypresses draped in mosses, the swamp tupelos were gone. The hammocks were denuded of their evergreen oaks and longleaf pine. The flora that had been home and hiding place to all that fauna, to Pogo, Albert Alligator, Churchy LaFemme, Howland Owl, Mam’selle Hepzibah and Porky Pine, was no more.

We tread a boardwalk over the prairie, see a mother alligator and three or four babies, and we climb a five-story tower, for the view. We take a boat trip along canals and see exactly two alligators and some birds. It is so cold we wrap up in fleece blankets provide by the refuge. I am wearing: a tee shirt, a flannel shirt, a cashmere sweater, a fleece jacket –the black one featuring the FANNIN/LEHNER/ PRESERVATION CONSULTANTS logo stitched over my left breast – and a very old red barn jacket that will turn out to have a hole in the right side pocket. I have a fleece hat and a pair of lightweight pale yellow gloves, which I had thought I might have to wear in the mountains on North Carolina. It was never my intention to wear them on the Okefenokee. CSB is wearing about 3 fewer layers than I am, and he complains of the cold far less than I do.
The swamp is still beautiful and the water is black and shimmering. I do not find Pogo Possum, no more than Peter Matthiessen saw the snow leopard, but all day long I thought about what my father found so funny, and muttered to myself, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Whose art is this anyway?

Germaine Jeanne Marie Levêque Lehner painted the canvas sometime in the early 1950’s.

The paper wasps, Vespidae polistes, built the nest out of ‘paper’ sometime in the summer of 2014.
They raised their brood in the open honeycombs beneath the paper outer cover, they pollinated crops, then they all flew away or died.

Tristram, Number One Son, climbed the tree with a pair of lopping shears between his teeth, and clipped the branch that was anchoring the nest. He passed it down to his grateful mother.

This morning, with a box cutter, I sliced an X in the center of the painting, then inserted the branch through my grandmother’s canvas, and affixed it to the stretcher bars with wire threaded through eyehooks.

It has recently been discovered by scientists that paper wasps have the ability to recognize faces, on the same level as humans and chimps.
Other research on wasps tells us that the intensity of their coloration can indicate the intensity of their toxicity. According to the Starr sting pain scale, paper wasps come in at 3.0, worse than fire ants, yellow jackets or Africanized bees, but not as bad as bullet ants. According to the Schmidt pain index, the sting of a paper wasp feels “Like spilling a beaker of hydrochloric acid on a paper cut.”

Just so you know.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Nothing in Common goes South, Part 2, Day #6

We are pulling out of the vast campus that used to be the Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot and Epileptic Asylum, when my cell phone rings. I see on the caller ID that it is Bill P, and I know that something is up with my mother. He tells me that the police will be hand-delivering the notice from the Dept. of Transportation revoking my mother’s license. (I am visited by an eerie recollection of the time when Lilla’s late-lamented mother was likewise visited by the local police, in North Wales, likewise on account of her driving mishaps, and she sent the constable to the back - that is the servants’ - door. This, of course, will not be an option at my mother’s house.) Knowing that my mother will quickly pocket the document, then hide it, and then forget where she has hidden it, I ask Bill if he can possibly get me a copy. He says he will try.
We are driving south, toward the southernmost point of our journey, which will be Waycross, Georgia, the gateway to the Okefenokee Swamp, the swamp I have longed to visit, the swamp I have dreamt of, the swamp I have imagined, the swamp inhabited by a witty and wise Possum, a cigar-smoking Alligator, and an owl who speaks in dark Gothic script. On the way we pass cotton fields, lots of cotton fields. If you live in southern Georgia cotton fields, fields of cotton, are not an exotic sight. If you live outside NYC, they are. So I want to stop the car and walk into a field of cotton and actually pick some cotton and extract the cottonseed. CSB pulls over, and as I get out, he warns me about: rattlesnakes, fire ants, and crackers with guns. He stays in the car and watches as I cross the ditch and wander into the cotton.

Many years ago I read that Aldous Huxley* had a specially constructed traveling trunk in which he kept the entire set of the Encyclopedia Britannica. Presumably it was the iconic 11th edition, all 29 volumes. Those were the halcyon days of porters. Because Huxley could not imagine traveling without that wonderful source of knowledge, that repository of obscure facts and incontrovertible argument-winner. I love this detail because I too cannot imagine traveling without having the population of Macon, Georgia or the number of bales of cotton produced by South Carolina (400,000) or the symptoms of lupus, as suffered by Flannery O’Connor, at my fingertips.
I cannot verify Huxley’s bespoke trunk anywhere. I have looked in all the obvious places (the encyclopedia) and some less obvious. I would give quite a lot to find the source. I would be sad to learn it was Somerset Maugham who had the bespoke trunk, but I would accept the fact gracefully.
Unlike Aldous Huxley, or whoever it was, we do not have to carry around 144 pounds of information and develop incurable curvature of the spine, because we have iPhones and on my smart talking pink device I can look up ….almost anything. One of the many delights we discovered on our road trip was that in the Wikipedia entry for more or less every town in American, along with the demographics, geography and history, there is a section called: Notable People. All sorts of small towns have all sorts of notable people. True, most of them are high school football players. Then there are the surprises.
Among the notable residents, past and present, of Waycross, Georgia, I doubt there is anyone quite as intriguing as Sonora Webster Carver, the Horse Diver.
I very much hope I am not the only person who has never before heard of – or even conceived of - horse diving as a career option. It was in 1923 that Sonora ((1904-2003) responded to an ad seeking a horse diver, placed by William “Doc” Carver. He signed her on and soon she was the star of the show: riding a horse up to a sixty-foot tower and then hanging on for dear as it dove into a puddle below. Sonora soon married Doc’s son, Al, who took over the show and brought it to the Atlantic City Pier. That was where Sonora was blinded, when she hit the water off balance. But she kept right on diving with her horse for another 11 years.
It seems worth noting that she lived to be 99 years old.

And now it is time to reignite my torrid relationship with William Shatner.

*Based on the number of books she owned by each author, Aldous Huxley was my paternal grandmother’s second favorite writer, between H.G. Wells, #1 by a long margin, and Tagore at #3.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 5: All the Andalusias

Andalusia is not only an autonomous region in Spain. It is also the home of Flannery O’Connor, where she wrote most of her great stories and where her mother managed a dairy farm. It was the home of over fifty peacocks and other fowl, both exotic and ordinary.

The name Andalusia, the autonomous region in southern Spain, comes from the Arabic: Al-Andalus. Most Spanish words starting with al derive from the Arabic; I love knowing this simple fact, and conjuring up the words that comprise that group: words for cotton, lunch, warehouse, and pillow. The origin of the name Andalusia, the former dairy farm in Milledgeville, is shrouded in the mists of time and the Spanish moss.

Andalusia is in the town of Milledgeville, Georgia. When O’Connor and her mother lived and farmed there, it was considered to be outside of town and in the country. Now it shares its address of North Columbia Street - also known as Route 441 - with a Ford dealership, Holiday Inn, Econo-Lodge, Wal-Mart and more chain store you haven’t even heard of, Appleby’s, Domino’s Pizza, Papa John’s, Firehouse Subs and Longhorn Steakhouse. That is, Andalusia is tucked between strip malls and is across the street from strip malls, miles and miles of strip malls, leading into the older downtown of Milledgeville.

Unlike most people in my demographic (Yankee, geeky, parochial) I have known of Milledgeville for a long time, that is to say, I have known it is a place in Georgia where Flannery O’Connor lived with her peacocks and her mother.

I knew nothing else about Milledgeville. I never knew that it was, from 1804 until 1868, the capital of Georgia, which explains why the enormous pink stucco Greek revival mansion is known as the Old Governor’s Mansion. I had no idea that Milledgeville’s Georgia State Lunatic, Idiot, and Epileptic Asylum was once the largest mental institution in the world.* Nor did I know that for most Georgians, Milledgeville is best known as the home of this vast mental institution. According to April Moon, the lovely docent at Flannery O’Connor’s house, when she told her grandparents she was moving to Milledgeville, they asked if she was crazy. If you tell someone in Georgia you used to live in Milledgeville, they will ask, “When did they let you out?”
This is the Green Building at the Central State Hospital. From 1947 until 1977 it housed "white convalescent patients who suffered from conditions such as schizophrenia. These patients were likely to never leave."

I did not know that in 1825 the Marquis de Lafayette, by then a hero of two revolutions, visited Milledgeville and was honored with a barbecue and a formal ball.

Andalusia has always been in the back of my mind as a place I wanted to visit, if I ever got to southern Georgia. Over time it became clear, even to me, that I would never happen to be in southern Georgia, and that I would need to purposefully go to southern Georgia in order to see Andalusia. CSB had no idea that he too had always longed to see Andalusia.

So we brave the strip mall gauntlet and turn into the dirt driveway where a smallish sign announces “Andalusia” and we drive through a grove of cedars, oaks and longleaf pines up to the old farmhouse.
We walk through Flannery O’Connor’s house and admire the 1950’s refrigerator she proudly bought with the earnings from her first novel. We also admire the chicken costume sewn by the lovely docent, April, in homage to O’Connor’s penchant for sewing clothes for her chickens. One of the things I come away with from Andalusia is the understanding that I don’t love my chickens nearly enough. It would never occur to me to name our rooster Haile Selassie. Down the gentle hill from the farmhouse is a pond, surrounded by tall oaks and noisome with frogs. My delight upon spying a turtle basking in the mud at the edge of the pond is perhaps hyperbolic. I have no picture because the thing about turtles in ponds is that they blend in so well: their brownish carapace is one with muddy shores. This is how they avoid being constantly annoyed by people, like me, who are endlessly intrigued by the very fact of a turtle.
Because it is a simple farmhouse, because the oaks are taller now and getting taller, because the yard has its share of rusted farm tools, because there are only three peacocks left and they reside in an apiary because there are coyotes about, because it is so close and yet so far from the strip malls, Andalusia is absolutely worth going all the way to southern Georgia.

* This is such an amazing fact that I have to credit my source: A Literary Guide to Flannery O’Connor’s Georgia, by Sarah Gordon. U of Georgia press, Athens: 2008

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 4 something

It is a much longer trip from Greenville, SC to Milledgeville than anticipated. This could be on account of a lengthy stop in Pendleton, SC a small town with more than its share of historic buildings.
Despite rumors that we have nothing in common, CSB and I both like old historic buildings and old graveyards, though his fondness for unrestored and decrepit old buildings far outstrips mine.
While we are walking through the old and atmospheric St Paul’s Cemetery in Pendleton, I get the first call regarding my mother’s driving license. Or the revocation of her driving license. The driving license that is no more. I am reading Confederate era gravestones when I get the call from Bill P., her caretaker and great friend, who is also a Fire Chief and hence a super-safety conscious individual. He has learned from the local police that my mother’s license has been revoked, effective immediately, for “Immediate Threat-Medical.”
This is the best news I have heard in a while.
Someone else, a faceless entity, someone/thing who is neither me nor my sister, has taken away my mother’s license to drive a 3,560 pound machine capable of moving at over 100 mph, and we can stop worrying about her driving off the road into a snow bank, or mistaking the gas pedal for the brake and driving into a plate glass storefront and killing a family of six celebrating a child’s birthday, or getting hopelessly lost and ending up in a sketchy neighborhood in another state.
My mother, however, does not see this news as the positive step it is. She has informed Bill that she plans to appeal this egregious error.
I am standing here, reading the epitaph composed for his wife, Anna née Calhoun, by Thomas Greene Clemson, “erected by her disconsolate husband.”
Meanwhile, CSB would like to visit Ashtabula, a lovely example of the Lowcountry plantation style. The lady at the Visitor Center – she is wearing period costume, and yes, people wearing period costumes make me very anxious – informs us that Ashtabula should be open now for visitors, but she is not making any promises.
We drive over there, and it is closed. It is unclear if it is closed for the day or closed for the season, but it is closed.

Here is CSB looking in the windows. We discuss, heatedly, the shade of blue used for the porch ceiling; CSB feels strongly that it is not the correct, that is, robins’ egg shade of blue traditionally used for porch ceilings as a mosquito repellant, as well as because it is lovely.
Later, at the Agricultural Museum of South Carolina – where we can operate a real cotton gin, a very small hand-operated cotton gin, but a real one – we see the same lady from the Visitors’ Center, but now she has shed her period costume, and it is a definite improvement. She is enthusiastic about the genuine old McCormick Reaper on display. It also works. I mention to the Visitor Center lady now in mufti that Ashtabula was closed this morning. She does not seem surprised.
This is a lot of architecture and agriculture for a morning, and CSB has heard rumors that somewhere in the vicinity is a restaurant called The Esso Club which is in an old gas station, an oddly appealing concept. I won’t mention which brand, and it serves many types of local beer. We find it. We slake our thirst. We have still not left South Carolina.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 3 1/2

Textile Recycling as Meteorology
Cirrus or cumulus.
Cirrostratus or cirrocumulus.
Cirrus nebulosus?

Read all instructions before starting the test.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2, Day 2

An alternate title for this entire saga could well be:
Things (people, places) that Are Well-Known and Obvious to Almost Everyone, but about which I was Tragically Ignorant.
The above would include O. Winston Link. CSB knew all about O. Winston Link and his iconic photographs of steam trains at night. I had no clue. But now I do, and I am delighted. Also, the O stands for Ogle, which seems noteworthy.

In the former Roanoke railroad station of the Norfolk & Western RR there is now a museum dedicated to the pictures of Link; it is also full of all sorts of random RR paraphernalia, such as menus of train travel. Sometime in the 1960’s, while riding the rails you could get 3 strips of breakfast bacon with eggs for $1.25, and “Parents may Share their Portions with Children without Extra Charge”. That seems generous.

Winston Link was born in Brooklyn in 1914. He studied civil engineering but soon after school he began to work as a commercial photographer. At one point his most famous image was of a man pointing a gun at a pig wearing a bulletproof vest. I have no idea what this was meant to sell. I don’t think Hamlette would have let me dress her in a vest of any style. (Unlike Flannery O’Connor’s chickens, who liked to wear costumes.)

Around 1955, while doing a job in Virginia Link’s lifelong affection for railroads expanded into a total obsession. N&W was the last railroad to transition from steam to diesel, and Link began photographing steam trains, at night, when he could control the lighting.

Link’s first wife was a former Miss Ark-La-Tex who later became a body double for the Hungarian femme fatale Franciska Gaal. His second wife, Conchita, stole a collection of Link’s photos and tried to sell them, claiming that he had Alzheimer’s. For this she went to prison for 6 years. As soon as she got out, Conchita tried to sell Link’s pictures again on eBay. The second time she got three years. One has to admire her determination. Or something.

Also in Roanoke we visit the Taubman Art Museum that has several fine paintings in its collection, but most notably it has what may be the world’s largest collection of Judith Leiber handbags. If this isn’t amazing enough, it turns out that CSB was pretty amazed and impressed by these sparkle-studded evening purses or minaudieres. It is a good thing to be surprised by your spouse.

Somewhere on the road between Roanoke and Greenville, SC I reach into my very carefully organized back seat looking for the watercolor set. I am thinking of painting my impressions of Jesus billboards. But instead of my paints, there in the canvas satchel, I come upon a Giant-Family size bag of Twizzlers™, and a similarly gigantic bag of Reese’s Peanut-Butter Cups™. How did they get there? CSB’s expression is as innocent as a politician’s, denying that latest incident in the Potomac Fountain.

Given CSB’s evidenced taste in road food, it is all the more shocking how little he enjoys the American-Made Cow Tales, a gift from a chatty fellow in Union Grove, NC, where decades ago CSB had been to a Fiddlers’ Convention. We went to check it out, and yes, there still is a Fiddler’s Convention, and Cow Tales were the favorite snack of our newfound friend. Chucker throws it out the window; I save the wrapper for my Travel Log.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Day #1 of Nothing in Common Goes South, Part 2

There are fond farewells with Bruno, more cursory farewells with the chickens, (yes, I admit to preferring, canine over avian pets) and we depart Hastings for the second iteration of Nothing in Common goes South. But first we go to the bank and the drug store for items already forgotten. Ten minutes later we turn around because I forgot my watercolors, and even though I never once lifted a paintbrush during the entirety of the first incarnation of Nothing in Common goes South, I have a sixth sense that this will time I will. Hence the U-turn on the Saw Mill Parkway.
Three states away there is a horse stranded in the middle of a highway, which will be the subject of our first photograph. Who knows how the horse got there, but he/she is clearly not happy.
Our first lunch on the road is in Hagerstown, Maryland. The eatery calls itself The Rhubard Café, but there is no rhubarb on the menu, and the food goes downhill from there. What you need to know about Hagerstown is that on July 6, 1864 Gen. John McCausland’s Confederate cavalry demanded a ransom of $20,000 and some clothing from the town. I don’t know the style and color of the clothing, or if it was specified, and this seems like an unfortunate lacuna in the historical record. Having seen what happened to neighboring towns when the ransom was not paid (conflagration, destruction) the local bankers paid the ransom, and Hagerstown was saved. After the war the bankers were repaid by a tax levied on the people.
I like free maps. Ladies in welcome centers like to give away maps, so we are well matched. After Pennsylvania we drive though the western panhandle of West Virginia for exactly 26 miles. In order to get my free map of West Virginia at the West Virginia Welcome Center, I am asked to sign the register with my name and home state, and indicate whether or not W.Va. is our final destination. I do as required, and note that everyone else on the register (from New York, Maine, Quebec, and Pennsylvania) had likewise indicated that No, West Virginia was not their final destination. I feel bad for the ladies, handing out free maps to a state no one is actually visiting. I consider changing my answer to yes, just to enliven their register. I never consider not taking the free map.
Outside Roanoke I begin what will be a long and complicated relationship with William Shatner. With the Priceline app my nephew just last week installed on my phone, I banter with William, that eager battler and barterer, and find us a hotel room. Just me, CSB and the specter of Captain Kirk.