Magical Time in South Carolina

Susan Pat Conroy center signOur visit to Charleston and Beaufort, South Carolina, this past Wednesday-Sunday was nothing short of magical. In five days we ate meals at five amazing restaurants (and dinner at Cassandra Kings home in Beaufort Saturday night); did a walking tour of historic Charleston with Bill’s friend from high school who has lived in Charleston for over forty years; Bill gave two medical lectures; I had two book signings at terrific independent bookstores, Buxton Books in Charleston and Nevermore Books in Beaufort; we visited the Pat Conroy Literary Center (in Beaufort) and met Executive Director Jonathan Haupt; and I had the opportunity to meet several authors and a literary agent I admire greatly.

At Nevermore Books in Beaufort, I was joined for a reading and signing of A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be by contributors Cassandra King, Susan Marquez, and NancyKay Wessman. Owner Lorrie Anderson was a fabulous hostess!

Cassandra Susan Susan NK

My favorite restaurant was Fulton Five, in downtown Charleston. It has won the “Most Romantic Restaurant” award 17 years in a row, and the atmosphere, service, and food were amazing. We were the guests of Dan and Ilene Lackland. Dan invited Bill to Charleston to give two lectures at the Medical University of South Carolina, and they were delightful hosts.

oysters at AmenOutdoor dining on the front porch at Cru Café and the patio at Blossom, both also dowtown Charleston, were both wonderful. At Cru we dined with Bill’s high school friends, Bill and Sally Wallace. At Blossom we were joined by Julien and Polly Buxton, owners of Buxton Books in Charleston.

Lunch at Amen Street (just Bill and I) was another favorite outing, with She Crab Soup and East Coast Oysters on the Halfshell. Breakfast Saturday morning with our friend (from Memphis) Julia Alissandratos was at Café Framboise, a short walk from Julia’s house near downtown Charleston. And I had lunch with author friend Nicole Seitz at Napa in Mount Pleasant, where Nicole lives, on Friday.

The (surprising) good news is that I only gained ½ pound! Maybe the walking helped.

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Meeting John Warley at Nevermore Books in Beaufort

Among the authors I met in Beaufort was John Warley, who wrote A Southern Girl, which I read last year, and loved. John and his wife adopted a daughter from South Korea, and the book is about some of the events circling around the social milieu in Charleston. Wonderful book and a delightful man. I can’t wait to see what he writes next.

0cc6d8_6728dfa9946a4d518af1d73afe67813dA Southern Girl was published by Story River Books, an imprint of the University of South Carolina Press, which was started by Pat Conroy.

So, why do I say it was “magical”? The trip combined so many of my favorite things in five short days: coastal sunsets, delicious seafood, bookstores, writers, old and new friendships, and several stimulating conversations with people who are very much in tune with their spiritual lives. I came home refreshed and renewed, as though I had been on a retreat. And inspired to get back to work on my next novel (which is in my head but only a few pages are drafted so far).

With my spring book tour winding down this week (17 events in 6 states in 3 months) and only one event scheduled for June/July, my plan is to use those first hot months of summer to stay inside with butt in chair and get a good chunk of this next book written. This is the hard part, but books don’t write themselves while we’re out having fun on tour. Stay tuned….

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer's

With Polly Buxton at Buxton Books in Charleston, signing for Tangles and Plaques: A Mother and Daughter Face Alzheimer’s AND A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be

Sea Fever

3-year-old Gabby catches a wave during our 2015 beach trip

3-year-old Gabby catches a wave during our 2015 beach trip

We’re headed to my favorite place on earth Sunday—Seagrove Beach, Florida—for our (almost) annual family beach vacation. I’m so excited that all of our kids and grands will be there this year. Bill and I took a year off from this annual tradition last year, for our “bucket list” trip to Paris. But we did make it down for Thanksgiving last year (just the two of us). So, the last time we were there with any of our kids was in May of 2015, when our daughter Beth, her husband Kevin, and their three-year-old daughter Gabby joined us. Beth was pregnant with Izzy at the time. Here are some great pictures from that trip. So, this year there will be 7 adults and 4 kids, ages 7 ½, 6 ½, 5, and 20 months—Izzy’s first beach trip! Can’t wait! I always think about John Masefield’s poem, “Sea Fever” when I’m getting ready for the beach:

I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by; And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.

I love Kris Delmhorst’s musical version of “Sea Fever” on her wonderful CD “Strange Conversation.”  I’m listening to it now as I write this. Can’t wait to be there!

I only remember one beach trip with my family when I was a little girl. Most of our family vacations involved following my dad around golf courses and watching him play in (and often win) tournaments. Swimming in the pools at the various country clubs where he played was fun, but it wasn’t the ocean.

When our boys were 3 (Jason) and 6 (Jon) we took them to Destin for the first time. (Beth wasn’t with us yet.) And then later we took Jason and Beth to Hilton Head, South Carolina one summer when Jon was in school at St. Andrews-Sewanee. And we took all three kids to Kiawa once. But it wasn’t until November of 2006 that we went back to Florida with our grown son, Jon, to celebrate his graduation from flight school. This was our first trip to Seagrove Beach, Florida, which has become our favorite destination. I documented some of those earlier vacations in this post from 2010. We’ve been back with our kids and grands numerous times, and I spent three one-month writing retreats alone there, in 2011, 2012, and 2013. (It’s where I gave birth to Cherry Bomb, my novel that’s coming out in August.)

Our daughter Beth was married at Seagrove Beach in May of 2011. Next week we’ll be staying at a house right next door to the wedding venue. Lots of great memories….

I’ll close with a few photos. I might not be blogging from the beach next week… so please come back in May!

 

May 2013 (sunset photo taken at Seaside).

May 2013 (sunset photo taken at Seaside).

Father-daughter dance at Beth's wedding, May 2011, at Seagrove Beach

Father-daughter dance at Beth’s wedding, May 2011, at Seagrove Beach

On one trip (I think this was actually at Gulf Shores) I kept a watercolor journal....

On one trip (I think this was actually at Gulf Shores) I kept a watercolor journal….

November 2006... when I fell in love with Seagrove....

November 2006… when I fell in love with Seagrove….

November 2006

November 2006

Jason and Beth Kiawah

Jason and Beth Kiawah

Jon and Jason's first beach trip 1984

Jon and Jason’s first beach trip 1984

Dad, Mom, me 1956

Dad, Mom, me 1956 (can’t believe my parents let me go topless! I think my swimsuit straps hurt my sunburn….)

Me, Dad, Mike 1956

Me, Dad, Mike 1956

Time Was Soft There—Literary Gossip and Catnip for Book Junkies

55008Flying to and from Austin (through Atlanta, of course) gave me several extra hours of reading time this weekend, so I finished my third book of 2017:

Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer

I had planned to write a book review today until I found a Kirkus Review that pretty much says what I would have said. I’ll add that when I was in Paris last May, I stopped into Shakespeare & Company right after visiting nearby Notre Dame Cathedral. Now I wish I had read this book before visiting the legendary store. I had no idea that people lived inside the store (for free) nor did I know any of the owner’s colorful history. Read the Kirkus Review for a quick summary. I’ll share the closing line here as a teaser:

Literary gossip, and catnip for book junkies.

Susan and JulieWe had a wonderful time in Austin at my first cousin, Julie Johnson’s wedding this weekend. What a beautiful city and surrounding areas—the wedding was held on a deck/patio high up at The Oasis at Lake Travis, with an incredible view of sailboats on the lake (temperatures in the 70s) and later, a windy and cloudy but powerful sunset. My husband and I also loved hanging out with two more of my first cousins (Jimmy and Johnny Jones from Jackson, Mississippi) during the weekend, so, as weddings often are, it was a fun reunion. Johnny remarked that it was great getting together for something other than a funeral, which is the main time we usually see each other! My husband and I had a great time shopping for his first pair of cowboy boots, and a new cowboy hat for me (I collect them from most cities I visit), which we wore to the wedding.

Now I’m back home in Memphis, enjoying editing the essays that are arriving in my inbox for next year’s anthology, So Y’all Think You Can Write: Southern Writers on Writing. I love my job. Have a great week!

 

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

me and Bill at sunset at The Oasis

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

First cousins: Johnny Jones, me, Jimmy Jones

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

The bride and groom: Julie and Blake Brice

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Julie with her 19-year-old son, Colton, a rodeo-rider.

Five Days in NOLA

SuBill Peche

I didn’t blog on Monday because I was having too much fun here in New Orleans. What a great city… especially in mid November when the highs are in the low to mid 70s and the humidity uncharacteristically low. I’m here with my husband, who is speaking at the American Heart Association’s 2016 Scientific Sessions. This is a huge meeting—Scientific Sessions attracts nearly 18,000 professional attendees, with a global presence from more than 100 countries. In addition, 2 million medical professionals participate virtually in lectures and discussions about basic, translational, clinical and population science. Bill has spoken twice during the five-day meeting. But he has found time to join me on an amazing culinary pilgrimage.

Bill, Tom, Ellen and me at Mariza

Bill, Tom, Ellen and me at Mariza

Friday night when we arrived we went to visit our friends Tom and Ellen Prewitt at their Bywater apartment in the Rice Mill Lofts for drinks on the rooftop. Then we went downstairs to Mariza – a wonderful Italian restaurant on the ground floor of their building. Fabulous atmosphere and food, and great to be with our Memphis-NOLA friends. (Tom and Ellen live around the corner from us in Memphis when they’re not at their NOLA location.)

Commanders groupCommander’s Palace is my favorite restaurant/experience in NOLA, hands down. We went for jazz brunch on Saturday with our son, Jonathan, and two of his (and our) friends, Nicole Marquez and Joe Gravier. Commander’s never fails to offer the best service, atmosphere, cocktails, and food. It didn’t hurt that we got a table on the patio and it was 72 degrees and sunny! Nicole was able to get the jazz group to play about six requests—she has that affect on people! Saturday night we ventured to Patois with Dr. Larry Fine, Bill’s friend from Washington, D.C., also in town for the AHA meeting. Another wonderful place, great atmosphere and food!

 

Galatoire’s was also great fun—on Sunday night, again with Jon. First he joined us at our hotel to watch the Saints vs. Broncos game, while Bill worked on his AHA presentations on his laptop. We cheered for the Saints since we were in town with our NOLA son, but when the Broncos won, we knew our Denver kids were celebrating. Galatoire’s was really our only visit to the French Quarter this trip, and Bourbon Street was hopping. The Saints fans didn’t seem to let their loss keep them from having a good time!

 

with Emma at Octavia Books

with Emma at Octavia Books

On Monday I had a great visit with my friend Emma Connolly, who moved to NOLA from Memphis a couple of years ago to open a shop, Uptown Needle and CraftWorks, on Magazine Street. I love Emma and Robert’s house in uptown. Emma is one of the contributors to the anthology I edited, A Second Blooming: Becoming the Women We Are Meant to Be (coming in March 2017).  We visited Octavia Books to introduce ourselves and leave a press release for the book, hoping to give a reading/signing there in the spring. Wonderful bookstore—and of course I had to buy something. Two things, actually. A Christmas gift that I won’t describe here in case the receiver is reading, and the novel The Muralist by B. A. Shapiro, which I’ve been wanting to read. We had delicious crepes at Toast, just down the street from the bookstore.

Susan w graff outside Ogden

Maude Schuyler Clay at Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Maude Schuyler Clay at Ogden Museum of Southern Art

 

Next I stopped at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art to see my friend Maude Schuyler Clay’s photography exhibit, Mississippi History. I already had Maude’s wonderful book, which included many of the photos on exhibit, but there was something special about seeing the prints in person at the exhibit. She captures the souls of her subjects in such a beautiful, haunting way.

Outside the museum I was happy to discover this wall of graffiti done by NOLA graf writers.

mugAnd then I stopped into the coffee/gift shop at the Contemporary Art Center, just across the street from the Ogden. There is so much art in this city! I treated myself to a new coffee mug as a reminder of my visit

Monday night Jonathan joined us again, this time for dinner at Emeril’s, which is only a block from our hotel. I had never been, and again the atmosphere, service, and food did not disappoint.

"Abstraction" by Will Henry Stevens, ca.1940

“Abstraction” by Will Henry Stevens, ca.1940

 

On Tuesday I ventured out again (it’s pretty easy to drive around New Orleans, by the way) to the Paris Parker Salon on Prytania for a shampoo and blow out (and picked up a few Christmas gifts—it’s an Aveda salon). “Andrea” did my hair when I was here back in June, and it was fun feeling like one of her “regulars.” (She also does the head chef at Comander’s Palace’s hair, which I’ve never seen, but his food is great!)  Next I drove out to City Park to stroll around the lakes and enjoy the breeze and the ducks and geese. NOMA (New Orleans Museum of Art) is in the Park, so I spent about an hour there, appreciating their permanent collection but loving their abstract exhibits, with works by Picasso, Modigliani, Miro, and others. I discovered New Orleans abstract artist Will Henry Stevens (1881-1949). Like Kandinsky, Stevens viewed painting as an almost spiritual experience, a way of connecting people to a universal truth.

beignetsI ended my visit to City Park at Morning Call, where I ate all three beignets covered in powdered sugar with my coffee while enjoying a nice breeze on the patio.

Next I found my way back to Magazine Street to drop by Uptown Needle and CraftWorks and browse a few more shops. (Yes, more Christmas gifts, and a couple of happies for myself.)

Streetcar Spritzer on the porch at The Columns Hotel

Streetcar Spritzer on the porch at The Columns Hotel

Then at three o’clock, when the porch opens at The Columns Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, I was there, enjoying a Streetcar Spritzer while reading a book Emma loaned me—Writers on Writing, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. I was interested in this book, published twenty-five years ago, because I’m editing a similar collection with exclusively Southern contributors (coming out in 2018). I especially enjoyed the Foreword, and essays by Richard Ford and Gail Godwin. Pack and Parini say, in the Foreword, “… the essays all

at The Columns on St. Charles

at The Columns on St. Charles

reveal an underlying commitment to writing as a craft, something that can be passed on from generation to generation of writers, and to the notion of literature as a place where values are tested, where ideas are bodied forth, where the only limits are those enforced by the limits of a writer’s own imagination: limits that, by the paradox of art, make the production possible.” Reading those words got me excited about writing an introduction for my Southern writers anthology!

Su door PecheTuesday night Bill and I had reservations at Peche, which we always enjoy when we’re in NOLA. (Peche has won at least two James Beard awards.) One of the owner/chefs, Ryan Prewitt, is Tom Prewitt’s son. (We had dinner with Tom and Ellen on Friday, remember?) I love how connected our visit has been. So, we arrive at Peche (a short walk from our hotel) just before 8 p.m. on a Tuesday night in November, and the bar crowd is flowing out into the street and every table is full. We always enjoy the whole fish, but we especially loved the oysters on the hall shell.

Bill oysters pecheWe decided to try six Louisiana oysters and six from Alabama. I liked the ‘Bama oysters the best, but they were all delicious! It was November 15… the 47th anniversary of our engagement! Why November 15? It was the night Ole Miss beat Tennessee 38-0 in Jackson, Mississippi. “Archie Who?” (Romantic, right?)

Today is our last day here. After I finish this post, I’m heading over to the Outlet Collection at Riverwalk (a few blocks from our hotel) to do a little more Christmas shopping. Tonight will be our only evening meal that we didn’t plan ahead of time. Our friends Emma and Robert recommended Mandina’s on Canal Street. They don’t take reservations, so I think we’ll show up and see what happens. Tomorrow we’ll drive home to Memphis, stopping at the cemetery in Jackson to visit Mom and Dad, my brother Mike, and my Goddaughter Mary Allison. I know they aren’t really there—but I always feel closer to them when I visit their graves. This has really been a wonderful vacation, even for Bill, who has mixed business with pleasure in his usual seamless way. Thanks for reading—I hope you enjoyed my little travelogue, and can find your way to some of these great places the next time you visit New Orleans!

Traveling the World With Poet Jennifer Horne

Little Wanderer coverMy friend Jennifer Horne is a poet. She’s published several books of poetry, and also a collection of short stories. She’s also a traveler. The cover of her latest book, Little Wanderer, features a seventeenth century map of Iceland and the Faroe Islands surrounded by a sea of monsters. The image is mystical, like the poet whose latest words wait inside the covers of the book, poised to take the reader on journeys to Greece, Italy, Bucharest, Prague, Amsterdam, England, and back home to less exotic but no less colorful places like Arkansas and Alabama.

My personal favorites were in the section on Greece—probably because I’ve made two trips to Greece—as a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy I was on pilgrimage—and I have such vivid memories that were called to mind by Horne’s poems, especially the section called “Evil Eye.” In Meteora, she shows a woman’s grief over losing someone to a monastic call:

. . . We must sacrifice, you say, for the Lord.

Here I lie, your sacrifice, your lamb—

yet you walk ever higher up that rocky path,

never looking back, eyes set on the company of old men.

And later, in “Greece, I Love You, But You’re Making Me Crazy,” she explores issues of gender in her frustration that only men (and by the way, only male animals) are allowed on Mount Athos:

Still, you haven’t allowed me

            Onto Mount Athos

Or almost a thousand years!

            Are my female parts

So very frightening?

 

You say I’m impure

            But you throw your trash

out the window.

Horne captures another side of life in Greece in “Letter from an Athenian Wife,” in which a woman bemoans her place: “But Mother, the solitude! My servants have a better life,/meeting to chatter as they fill the water jugs, helping/one another in childbirth and sickness….”

As she turns her pen towards visits to Italy (where my husband and celebrated our fortieth anniversary—a trip all about the beauty of the land, the people, and the food) I loved her “Postscript to Paradise,” in which she takes the reader through her journey as a poet to a place of happiness:

. . . Do I say I’ve weathered the pain,

this ship of mine has reached calm harbor? I will say,

looking out my window at nothing much, I am happy just

            to love the world again.

Perhaps my favorite poem in the book for the sheer joy of its rhythm and fun of reading was “Abbastanza.” With a Dr. Seuss-type beating of her pen’s drum, she makes me want to buy that cottage in a village in Italy.

Heading East, Horne takes us to Bucharest with several poems revealing darkness and fear (“Night Watch: Bucharest, Revisited”) which transports the reader from Bucharest back to Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1960. If that connection seems odd, you must get this book and read these poems in sequence to follow her emotional journey. The title poem, “Little Wanderer,” takes us vividly to Prague, as does “Sudek’s Studio.” Again, I loved this because of my own trip to Prague, where I remember with Horne, “walking down to the Old Town,/the Charles Bridge,/ clock tower, town hall….” And then there’s “Musee,” where Horne shows us how viewing nudes can help us feel more comfortable with our own bodies. (I had a similar experience in Italy once.)

Horne brings us back to the States with “Local Honey,” in which she remembers a time in her youth: “I’m always welcome . . ./soon gears shift/and I am twenty,/kissing Sam Fiasca/as we drive down Cantrell Hill/in his 1950-something/brown Ford pick-up….”

Jennifer Horne

Jennifer Horne

She switches gears with her ekphrastic piece, “Talisman,”—after a sculpture by Susan Perry and then gives us another glimpse of her soul in “Sound Over Water.”
It’s difficult to review this book without mentioning each and every poem. What a treasure. And what a joy to read it today, on the day after the presidential election, when my heart needed to take a journey away from all the craziness. Thank you for this gift, Jennifer.

Give yourself a gift—buy this book and enjoy the journeys inside. Or give it as a Christmas gift to someone who loves to travel, or just loves good poetry.

Mental Health Monday: The Best Medicine for Grief

This post is a day late because I was traveling home from Denver yesterday, where we just spent the weekend with two of our kids and all four granddaughters. Celebrating Izzy’s first birthday and Anna’s sixth, and also enjoying Gabby (4) and Grace (7) and their folks so much.I feel that I might have turned a corner on the grief and depression I’ve been struggling with all summer. I’m not saying it’s over, but I’m learning to let it be. I’m also learning not to completely crash, emotionally, over the fact that I’ve gained back some of the weight I worked so hard to lose this past year. I understand that I was eating and drinking to comfort my loss, but I’m ready to let go of some of that and move forward today. Being with our family (all except Jon, whom we miss!) this weekend was the best medicine! So I’m not going to write any more on this post, but simply share some pictures. How can I not be happy, right?

Anna Susu Grace

Anna Gabby slide 2

Pops Izzy

IMG_1022

IMG_1082

Anna Gabby

Izzy feeding doll

izzy drinking doll bottle

Writing on Wednesday: Thank you, Mr. Conroy

headmastercoverYesterday morning before leaving New Orleans, I finished reading Katherine Clark’s novel, The Headmaster’s Darlings, which I enjoyed immensely. I bought the book for two reasons: (1) It was published by the University of South Carolina’s new fiction imprint, Story River Books (whom I dreamed of as a publisher for my novel before they closed their submissions); and (2) Pat Conroy was the editor of this new press, and wrote the Foreword. After Pat’s untimely death in March, I couldn’t help but wonder if his words in this Foreword were the last of his writing to be published. So I feel that I own more than a wonderful new Southern novel, but also a piece of literary history. As Clark says in her Author’s Note and Acknowledgements at the back of the book—which were written before his death:

There are several people responsible for making sure that what I’ve written has a public life. The first is the unbelievable person who got this book into print. His name is Pat Conroy. He read my novel when it was still just a Kinko’s manuscript…. I suspected from having read Pat’s novels many times that he possessed a soul as large and generous as that of my teacher [about whom the novel was written].

I teared up as I read these words on the very last page of the book, in the “About the Author” section:

Clark is currently collaborating with Pat Conroy on his oral biography, also forthcoming from the University of South Carolina Press.

I wonder if they finished the interviews.

Before I share a few thoughts about the book itself, I’ll share some of what might be Pat Conroy’s last published words, from the Foreword:

All cities have their secret venues known only to insiders or the native born.

[Note: This reminds me so much of the opening line in my favorite novel of Pat’s, The Prince of Tides: “Geography is my wound.”]

Every Southern City has its own splendid enclave of privilege where the very rich build their mansions in earthly paradises that block most intrusions from the rowdiness and havoc of the outside world. Katherine Clark grew up in the magical kingdom of Mountain Brook, a forested chapel of ease that looks like God’s own dream of a suburb. It is Alabama’s answer to the Garden District in New Orleans, or Atlanta’s Buckhead or Charleston’s South of Broad.

Katherine ClarkHaving visited all three of those storied neighborhoods recently, I can embrace the sense of place these authors have mastered. Conroy goes on to describe the setting for Clark’s book—a private school, which is blessed with an amazing teacher (and later headmaster) who changes his students’ lives by introducing them to art and culture, makes them look honestly at history, and loves them as they are. His Foreword ends with these words:

Katherine Clark will write her name in the book of great Alabama writers, and she will long be remembered as the creator of Norman Laney, the greatest portrait of an American teacher I have ever read, immortalized, as I believe he richly deserves, by one of his gold girls, one of his darlings. Here’s how good this book is—for the rest of my life I will also be one of Norman Laney’s darlings.

Wow, right?

I’m not going to write an actually review of the book. If you’d like to read one, I recommend Don Noble’s review at Alabama Public Radio and author Patti Callahan Henry’s interview with Katherine Clark in Deep South Magazine. All you need to hear from me is that I’m a slow reader but I finished the book in less than week, most of which time I was in New Orleans, where there were plenty of other things to do! (But since Katherine Clark taught college for thirteen years in New Orleans, I did feel a connection with her while I was there.)

Clark’s voice, as well as her finely tuned sense of place, reminded me of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help. Because The Help was written about my hometown (Jackson, Mississippi) I could identify closely with much of the setting and the story. I’ve only visited the Birmingham area briefly once or twice, so the Mountain Brook society wasn’t familiar to me before reading the book. But by the end of the last chapter, I felt I had lived there. The setting becomes another character, as equally delicious as headmaster Norman Laney and each of his “darlings” and their parents.

I’m hooked now. Looking forward to reading Clark’s next novel in the Mountain Brook Series, All the Govenor’s Men, and its sequel, The Harvard Bride. Kudos to the University of South Carolina Press for these new offerings of Southern literary.

Mental Health Monday: I’ll Fly Away

Someone on Facebook wrote a poignant post yesterday about the mass shooting in Orlando. Her point was that when the attack happened in Paris last year, it was all over Facebook, with Americans showing solidarity with Paris through their posts, and yet the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history happens and Facebook seems quiet, merely full of everyone’s happy posts about their vacations and celebrations, which is certainly what I’m guilty of. This person’s words were sobering and caused me to stop and think about how we respond to such a tragedy. Have these events become so common place that we are numb to them?

WWII MuseumThose thoughts were on my mind yesterday afternoon when I went to the World War II Museum here in New Orleans. We watched a terrific film before touring the museum, and the sheer numbers of deaths in so many countries was mind boggling. So what’s the relationship between a mass shooting and World War II? What struck me was this: evil.

How did the Orlando shooter, with his known history of mental instability and vocal messages of hate go unchecked? What can be done BEFORE someone like this has reached his boiling point and killed 50 people? What could have been done to check Hitler and prevent him from creating an army to carry out his hateful agenda, which eventually cost the world millions of lives to stop his crusade?

I don’t have any answers, but I pray for our leaders who might be in a position to do something about this culture of hate that has become so pervasive in our country, and all over the world.

Bill Jon Carrie SusanAnd about those vacations and celebrations…. My husband and I didn’t cancel our trip to Paris last month in the wake of the terrorist attacks there, and we are celebrating our 46th wedding anniversary (today) here in New Orleans, where we’ve enjoyed dining at terrific restaurants, museums, shopping, and site-seeing in a city that knows how to celebrate life.

Yesterday at brunch at Commander’s Palace, our son (who lives here) asked the band to play “I’ll Fly Away” when they stopped at our table, and I thought about my mother who “flew away” to Heaven a couple of weeks ago, and about everyone who embraces a spiritual path that includes the hope of a better life after death. I wondered if the victims in the night club in Orlando had time to hope, to embrace the possibility of an eternity beyond the terror and evil of the moment. I imagine that most of them did not have that time, with the killings happening so quickly. One text message to family that was shared on the news indicated that the victim was hiding in the restroom and the killer was in there and he was about to die. I hope that in his final moment he was able to grab hold of hope. I hope that he was able to fly away.

My entree? Duck and poached eggs on blueberry pancakes!

My entree? Duck and poached eggs on blueberry pancakes!

Meanwhile, we continue to celebrate, refusing to let evil and hate rule our lives. Today is our last day in NOLA, and we’re looking forward to our final anniversary dinner tonight before driving home tomorrow. Thank you, New Orleans, for a wonderful time!

Signature turtle soup - yum!

Signature turtle soup – yum! And a delicious French 75 cocktail, infused with basil. Amazing!

The City of Lights

FullSizeRenderThis is day 3 of our visit to Paris, the “City of Lights.” I’m learning so much—didn’t know that Paris was the first city with street lamps (17th century) which is why it’s called the City of Lights. It’s also the first city with a sewer system that really works.  So full of history, incredible architecture and natural beauty. It’s the most popular destination in the world, with over 80 million people visiting it yearly.

Paris is only 1/15th the size of London, and yet it’s also the city that invented people-watching, because it has 10-12 million people, making it the most densely populated city in Europe. Its 1860 boundaries are still in place, holding it to its geographic size for over a century.  Most of the outdoor cafes have the chairs turned towards the street, where you can sit side-by-side with your companion and watch the people go by. Like this fascinating guy on his bicycle in the Le Marais district, which we toured on Sunday.

IMG_9856One of the first Celtic tribes who settled on what is now the Island of Notre Dame in between 300 and 400 BC (there’s no evidence of this, but much speculation) was called “Paris.” The first architectural evidence of civilization here are Roman artifacts from around 27 BC.

In the 1950s Paris—and especially Bercy Village, the area where we are staying—was the largest wine distribution center in the world. There are many interesting renovated wine warehouses that have been turned into shops and restaurants near our apartment. I’m enjoying the wine, but not on the scale of the early Parisians, who drank an average of 4-5 liters of wine a day in the 19th century.

Paris is a wheat-growing region with a reputation for excellent bread from quality wheat (which is higher in gluten than most wheat). Every year a “Best Baguette in Paris” award is given to a bakery, which then has the honor of supplying the French president with bread for the following year.

Bouquinistes (booksellers) have kiosks along the Seine

Bouquinistes (booksellers) have kiosks along the Seine

Our wonderful tour guide gave a terrific talk on the history of Paris yesterday, hence these gems I’m sharing today. He included lots of information about the political and academic life here, as well as why Paris became a haven for writers and artists seeking freedom of expression after the Enlightenment. The Beat Generation flocked here in the 1950s, but since the ‘70s lots of young people have chosen Berlin, since it’s cheaper. Today we’re touring the Latin Quarter, where lots of those young people lived fifty years ago, where they actually spoke Latin to each other! Today the University of Paris has over 250 thousand students on 20 campuses. I loved the book-sellers set up in kiosks along the Seine, known as bouquinistes.

This morning we toured the Latin Quarter and learned about the French Revolution. Fascinating walking tour (British guide was terrific) including the oldest café in Paris, stories about Danton and the radical Cordeliers, the guillotine and the death of Marat. And here’s a hat Napoleon left as an offering at a café when he couldn’t pay the Tab.

This is an “immersion” trip, so we stay in an apartment in a small district away from the center of Paris. Every day we have a short lecture before heading out on a tour, or a guided tour with lecture as we go. So far our daily guides have been great – one from the U.S. (who has lived in Paris since 1994) and one from England. Our group includes folks from Alabama, Tennessee and Iowa, and a terrific Parisian tour guide overseeing the whole trip. Kudos to AHI Travel for great organization.  We’re enjoying everyone so much. My only complaint so far is that my feet are killing me, since we walk between 6 and 12 miles/day on concrete and cobblestone. But it’s worth it! Off to Versailles tomorrow. I’m having problems downloading pictures on my blog, but More photos are on Facebook. Au revoir!

Faith on Friday: NO FEAR on Bright Friday! (Nous allons à Paris!)

act-in-faith-not-fearWe’re off to Paris this morning! What a way to end Bright Week! (We celebrated Pascha/Easter this past Sunday, May 1.) We’ve been planning this trip for over a year, so when the terrorist attacks happened, several people asked if we were still going. We never hesitated (although we did get trip insurance in case something happens). This article in the April 6 Wall Street Journal says that “Paris tourism, hit hard by the November attacks, has rebounded significantly” in spite of those terrorist attacks. (The article also talks about trip insurance, which we researched carefully before purchasing.) So, as my friend Sarah says, if you’re not safe in a church in Charleston, South Carolina, you’re not really “safe” anywhere. You live carefully, but not in fear. 

One other thing is challenging my faith as we leave today… the fear that my mother might die while we’re gone. She was a little more diminished on my last visit to her in the nursing home in Mississippi a couple of weeks ago, and I realized that I’ve been asking Jesus when can she go home and be with my father for a couple of years now. I am often delusional enough to think that I’m in control of things, when of course I’m not. I recently asked Him to please let her live until we get home from Paris. Asking for a convenient time for my mother’s death? That’s pretty messed up, right? As the French say, que pouvez-vous fiaire

Saint John Climacus, a sixth century monk who wrote The Ladder of Divine Ascent, an instruction book for monks, says this about fear:

Cowardice is a falling away from faith that comes of expecting the unexpected. 
Fear is a loss of conviction.
Expecting the unexpected. Like the possibility that my mother might die while we're in 
Paris. I've been praying all week that I will quite dwelling on that and dwell instead on
the assurance of things hoped for, which is one definition of faith. And so we leave for 
Paris without fear, but with great anticipation of the joy we'll share as we take in the 
history, the art, the people, the landscapes, the food the wine.... Watch for pictures 
on Facebook and maybe a blog post eventually.

Au revoir!
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