>When in Rome

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I had never heard of Rome, Georgia until a few months ago when Jennifer Horne and Wendy Reed, editors of All Out of Faith: Southern Women on Spirituality,encouraged me to submit an essay to the Southern Women’s Writers Conference at Berry College… in Rome, Georgia. Jennifer and Wendy are the editors who have accepted my essay, “Jesus Freaks, Belly Dancers and Nuns,” for their second anthology of All Out of Faith, and I had met them at the Southern Festival of Books in 2006 and again at Southern Writers Reading in Fairhope, Alabama, in 2008. Did anyone notice that the word, “Southern,” appeared 5 times in this paragraph? There’s a theme here….

My essay—“Are These My People?”—was accepted for the SWWC and here I am, reading on a panel Thursday morning and moderating another panel tomorrow afternoon. And looking forward to hooking up with Phyllis Nobles of Oxford, whom I met at a Creative Nonfiction Conference
in March of 2008. Phyllis is reading a creative nonfiction piece on the panel I’m moderating tomorrow afternoon.

So, this morning I started driving from Memphis, in the rain, but the closer I got to Georgia, the more beautiful the scenery got… mountains and lakes and rivers and green everywhere. And then I saw it… around 5 p.m. I drove over a little bridge into the quaint, historic town of Rome, Georgia, and checked into the Hawthorne Suites at River Crossing and found the perfect marriage of old and new. The architecture of the old warehouses and storefronts have been preserved and converted into cute shops and restaurants, and in the case of the Hawthorne Suites, a classy little boutique hotel. My suite has exterior brick walls on two sides, extra wide 24-pane windows, and a view of the river from the bedroom. Downstairs the “lobby” is really part of a lovely indoor mall, with art galleries and shops, which I can’t wait to explore in the next few days!

A half block away is Broad Street, where I ate dinner at Harvest Moon Café tonight and met Helen Silverstein, Managing Editor of a new online literary journal, Southern Women’s Review. They’re looking for creative nonfiction submissions, so you can bet I’ll be sending an essay their way soon.

Just behind the hotel is the Coosa River, where the Etowah and Oostanaula Rivers converge. This is the site where travelers settled the town in 1834, although some believe that Hernando De Soto came here in the 1500s. Anyway, it’s beautiful on the bridge.

And looking back at the fountain in the plaza behind the main street, where children run and play in the water.

The people of Rome are proud of their little town, which was given the distinction of “The Most Livable Small Town in the Southeast” by the New Rating Guide to Life in America’s Small Cities in 1997. It received a Great American Main Street Award in 2003 from the National Trust for Historic Preservation. I think I could live in this suite. The living/dining room, kitchen and (huge) bath are on one level, and the bedroom is up three steps to enhance the view from the windows which line two sides of the room. Yep, I’m happy here.

I stopped by Berry College (3 miles from the hotel) to register and the campus is also beautiful. It reminds me of Rhodes College (in Memphis) with the stone castle-like buildings, but on rolling hills.

Driving up I was welcomed by this sign…

And then these boys, who must be the Berry College Track Team. (Reminds me of a poem by Beth Ann Fennelly, who teaches at the University of Mississippi, about the time she first saw the young male students at Ole Miss out jogging…. ) When I told my hubby about seeing them today, he reminded me that he competed on the Berry College Campus back in the 1960s when he ran cross country track for Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. The campus was the sight for regional cross country meets. I can see why—it’s beautiful.

In the morning I’ll pick up a Latte around the corner at The Nest Coffee shop, which gives 100% of its profits back to the community. Yes. It’s a 501c3 non profit corporation, and has about 53 volunteers who work there. How’s that for a shot in the arm for the economy? I’ll be stopping by the Nest as often as possible for the next few days. When in Rome….

Check back in a couple of days for a post about my experiences at the Southern Women Writers Conference.

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