7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

A couple of field trips this week -one documented here – to Moundville.  The other, yesterday, was to Horse Pens 40, just about 40 minutes away.  It’s a privately-held park, campground and event space high atop a mountain.  The great attraction is an excellent boulder field (others around here that we’ve enjoyed have been at Moss Creek Preserve and Cherokee Rock Village.) These formations have made the place a favored refuge for various groups and communities over the centuries.  The name?


    A young couple named John and Hattie Hyatt finally settled on this land during the late 1800’s. The story is that he came from Georgia with his ‘stolen wife’ (whatever that meant), a horse, and all his earthly possessions in a flour sack. Looking for a place of refuge, the Horse Pens was a natural choice. Years later, he filed on the property, referring to it as “the home 40, the farming 40, and the horse pens 40, each tract containing 40 acres of land”. This is how Horse Pens 40 got its name. This is one of the last homesteads filed in the state of Alabama. The land patent and original title was actually signed by the President of the United States. (Actually, the signatures of two U.S. presidents turned up on documents pertaining to the property during the title search)

No one around here actually “boulders” – yet.  But who knows…

— 2 —

Movies watched over the past week: The Road to Morocco, The Road to Utopia and The Man Who Knew Too Much.  (Remake of the latter – which Hitchcock himself said was better than the first version)

It had been years since I’d seen any of the Road movies, so I did (of course) research to see what The Internet told me would be the best to start with.  The general conclusion seemed to be that Morocco was best, followed closely by Utopia.  Well, I think Utopia was far better than the other – the premise wasn’t quite as lame, Hope and Crosby’s enjoyment of each other’s company is palpable and fun, and I thought the jokes were much sharper, although I had to pause the movie several times to explain 60-year old pop culture references, and that final visual joke, while hysterical and perfect, is…awkward.

The boys were totally absorbed by The Man Who Knew Too Much, perhaps in part because it involved a little boy in peril.  As for me, I was absolutely impressed by Doris Day’s performance – it’s very strong and warm – and that scene where she sits at the piano and starts belting out Que Sera Sera at the top of her lungs so her little boy, imprisoned somewhere in the embassy, would hear her…gosh, my contacts are bothering me. Give me a minute, will you?

— 3 —

A couple of excellent reads on education:

First, a match made in heaven: Andrew Ferguson writing about Common Core:

It has to do with the old rule that supply creates its own demand. Over the last two generations, as the problem became unignorable and as vast freshets of money poured from governments and nonprofit foundations, an army of experts emerged to fix America’s schools. From trade unions and think tanks they came, from graduate schools of education and nonprofit foundations, from state education departments and for-profit corporations, from legislative offices and university psych labs and model schools and experimental classrooms, trailing spreadsheets and PowerPoints and grant proposals; they found work as lobbyists, statisticians, developmental psychologists, neurological researchers, education theorists, entrepreneurs, administrators, marketers, think tank fellows, textbook writers—even teachers! So great a mass of specialists cannot be kept idle. If they find themselves with nothing to do, they will find something to do. 

From The New Republic, “Don’t Send Your Kid to the Ivy League.”   Even if that’s not an option or choice for you, the article is well worth a read as it dissects the thankless, soul-sucking and time-gobbling hamster wheel that high school and college have become for would be “high achievers” everywhere.


— 4 —

I usually find several podcasts from BBC radio worth listening to in the course of a week (although, tragically, In Our Time is on its summer hiatus until September…), and exceptional this week were:

Food Programme episode on food and opera.  It was less than thirty minutes long, but boy, did it pack a punch, employing the gifts of Fred Plotkin, opera-and-food-and-Italy writer.  I loved it.

Also the program on World War I: Cradle of Jazz might seem to waste our time, focusing on such a topic instead of the more serious aspects of World War I, but of course there is plenty of attention being given to the more fundamental aspects and will be over the next four years.  This program was actually quite absorbing, detailing the development of early jazz, the impact of the war and the   work of mostly African-American jazz musicians in Europe before and right after the War.


— 5 —

Today I thought we might go to Tuskegee, to the Tuskegee Airmen Museum and the George Washington Carver Museum, but then I realized it was 2 hours away and I was sort of done with driving around Alabama for the week, so after I finished writing my Living Faith Lent devotion assignment that was due today, we moseyed out to the new big Latino-food centered supermarket called Mi Pueblo.  It’s enormous – as large as or larger than the Publix down the street.  According to the linked article, it’s the largest Hispanic grocery store in Alabama, the second in the area (the first is way down in a community south of here called Pelham) and a third is planned.  It’s a great store.  A huge variety of foods, quite inexpensive produce, amazing meat counter(including goat, pig and cow heads if you like), in-house tortilleria, a counter offering fruit concoctions, a bakery and a restaurant, where we ate a great lunch from the buffet.  None of the meats on the buffet were labeled, so that was probably a good thing – they ate pretty bravely in Mexico, but still they weren’t given pause by the possibility of eating goat or pig cheeks.  It’s not near my house, but it is on the route for some activities, so it will definitely become a regular stop.

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And then the rest of the afternoon at the pool, which I realized we hadn’t been to in a while, not only because of travels but because one of the boys had a bout of swimmer’s ear about a month ago – the first any of my kids have ever had.

— 6 —

Oh, I finally sold – as in closed and signed off on – the other house.  I was sad to see the bungalow go, even though I haven’t lived in it for a year and  I really love my not-quite-mod but still mid century place, its yard, and on behalf of the boys, the basketball goal.  Someday, I’ll live the Bungalow Life again.  Just not now.

— 7 —

Just a few more weeks and Adventures in Assisi will be published – look for more on that soon!


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Time to check this one off the list:

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It’s Moundville – and that really is the name of the small town where this archaeological site is located, this site full of…mounds.

It’s about 15 miles south of Tuscaloosa, which, in turn, is about 50 miles southwest of Birmingham.  It’s been on my to-go list for a while, but even so, I was surprised by how extensive it is.

So no, it’s not that far away and I’d heard of it, but this visit was kicked up the list a couple of days ago when I Michael found a coffee table book on “Mysteries of Ancient America” or something at an estate sale and I dug deep for the three bucks to get it for him.  He leafed through it and murmured, “This will be very useful.”  (He’s nine).

At some point he showed me a page with a photograph of a structure that caught his fancy – a mound with steps – always a plus when you can climb the archaeology. I said, “Where’s that?”  He shrugged and we looked at the caption which didn’t mention a country or state but did say, “On the Black Warrior River” and I said…”Wait – that’s Moundville!”

To discover that this awesome spot was an hour from his house and he had been allowed to be ignorant of this fact was too much.

This settlement of a Mississippian Indians was last inhabited over 800 years ago.  Its flourishing followed that of Cahokia, in Illinois, so archaeologists posit that at some point, this Alabama settlement was the largest city north of Mexico.


You can climb on two of the mounds, including this, the largest.


The associated museum is small but quite good, having undergone a recent renovation.  The exhibits are very attractively displayed and clearly explained.  Even the two videos we saw are far beyond the lame level of the 1989-era videos one usually sees at historical parks.



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The back of the museum, viewed from atop one of the mounds.

As per usual, I found the modern history of the site just as (if not a bit more…) interesting as the ancient story.  Amateur archaeologists first explored and wrote about the site the mid-19th century, followed by more intensive work at the beginning of the 20th century by one C.B. Moore:

C. B. Moore was a wealthy man born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and educated at Harvard University. At the age of 40, Moore puchased a flat bottomed steamship, named theGopher, and navigated the Florida rivers during the summer. Concentrating on the shell middens and sand burial mounds along the rivers of Florida, year after year, C.B. Moore carefully excavated sites along the waterways. While Moore reserved the warmer months for traveling along the southeastern waterways and excavationg sites, the winter months were spent analyzing his findings and writing reports that were published by the Journal of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia.

In 1899, Moore ventured into Alabama traveling up the Alabama River. Then, in 1905, Moore traveled up the Black Warrior River where he spent most of his time excavating two mounds and surveying Moundville, a Native American center with over 20 mounds. Impressed by the size of the site and by the elaborate artifacts Moore uncovered, he returned the following summer to continue excavations. Moore was one of the first archaeologists to explore Moundville and document his findings, and, although his methods were not as sound as Jefferson’s, he nevertheless provided modern archaeologists with a wealth of information that might otherwise have been lost.

Then, a few decades later came Dr. Walter Jones (for whom the museum is named)

In the 1920s, several local citizens and state geologistDr. Walter B. Jones led efforts to turn the site into a park. Jones mortgaged his house to fund the purchase of the site, and Mound State Park (later renamed Mound State Monument) was established in 1933.

 Jones, assisted by David L. DeJarnette, began the first scientific excavations at the park in 1929. From 1933 to 1941, at the height of the Great Depression, the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) restored the mounds, built roads, and constructed a museum. Jones, DeJarnette, and others at the Alabama Museum of Natural History directed the force, excavating 500,000 square feet of the site, and more than 2,000 burials, 75 house remains, and thousands of artifacts

One of the placards at the museum said that this excavation work was the largest ever in the United States – and still only 14 percent of the site has been excavated.

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The Black Warrior River

The museum is the only concrete building constructed by the CCC in Alabama (the others being stone/wood of course).

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(As I have said before, I find the history of the history fascinating and always have.  I blame, first of all, my 9th grade World History class which was excellent and based completely on interpretation of primary sources. Then I blame the honors history program at UT which had a hardcore focus on historiography, and then my favorite class at Vanderbilt, which was on historiography and for which I wrote a paper on the uses of historical evidence in the debate over women deacons in Early Christianity….I guess what interests me is the human response to the surrounding world and how we discover, understand and interpret that whether that be via art, historical work, religion, literature or just…living.)

No, it’s not Chicen Itza or Uxmal, but that’s okay.  We (and I mean we ) learned a lot and found the whole experience quite absorbing.  Hopefully we can make it back for the festival in October.

And believe me, it doesn’t matter if it wasn’t Uxmal.  We might as well have been back down there because all the day the air around us was filled with chatter from our resident archaeologist/herpetologist/musician as he recalled every detail of our visit to Mexico and reminded me – repeatedly – of places yet unseen…of Palenque and Coban and….

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Uxmal, earlier this year.





She was, after the Blessed Virgin herself, the most widely-venerated saint of the Medieval period, and July 22 is her feast day.

As Pope St. Gregory the Great said of her (as is quoted in the Office of Readings today)

 We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, "amy welborn"and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.
  At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.
  Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.
  Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognised when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognise me as I recognise you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognises who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher,because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.
I wrote a book about St. Mary Magdalene, rather horrendously titled De-Coding Mary Magdalene (an allusion to the previous DVC-related book…I argued against it, but…lost)…but I did enjoy researching and writing the book – the history of MM’s cultus is quite revealing about both Western and Eastern Christianity. The Da Vinci Code moment has mercifully past, but I hope St. Mary Magdalene’s hasn’t.

I’ll Fly Away

I’m down one child this weekend, so today, the 9-year old and I took a day trip.

(Although it seems as if the other’s weekend will be cut short – a rafting trip to North Carolina where, this weekend, the highs are in the 60’s, it’s raining, and the water temp is 38 degrees. I think they’re coming back a day early….)

I had a sketch of a plan. It involved first making our way down to a spot a couple of hours south of here and then working our way back up.  I had hoped the “working our way back up” would be more nature-y than it turned out – I threw bathing suits, towels and extra clothes in the back of the car – but the weather was sketchy here as well, so there was no hiking or spur-of-the-moment swimming.

What there was:

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McClelland’s Critters, which is around Troy which is, in turn, south of Montgomery.  I stumbled upon this place last night and did some research, not wanting to give any support to a facility that mistreats or exploits wild animals.  It seemed okay on paper (or on screen), and while it’s certainly not lush, the animals do seem well taken care of and are certainly loved.   I’m still not totally sold on the concept, but I’ve never been totally sold on the concept of zoos anyway.  Those Twilight Zone/Planet of the Apes ghosts are always afoot, it seems.

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The most interesting part of the place had nothing to do with exotic animals, but with the blasted mountain goats.  You know those videos featuring goats sounding like people that are floating around? And how you’re sort of convinced they’re fake?  Well, they might be, or might not…because today, I heard a bunch of goats out and out saying “BAAA!” in croaky old man voices, repeatedly.  It was hysterical.

The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies' Daring Plan


We caught the tail end of a tour, but later, after we’d wandered about by ourselves a bit,  Michael said, “I’m going to ask to hold a snake” – and just at that moment, the owner strode up to us, an armful of peacock feathers, saying, “Would you like to hold a snake?”

So, yes.

The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies' Daring Plan

Not Rocky.

There was a large reticulated python in one corner of a cage, a white bunny in the other.  I said to the owner, “So the python will be eating the rabbit?”  He said, “He’s had four already today. It’ll be his fifth.”

Come on, Rocky…EAT!

I had checked Roadside America, and was prepared to go where it led, but the rooster made of car bumpers was in the opposite direction of home, and since it was indeed looking rainy by that time and Blue Springs State Park, which had been sketched into the plan and also in that direction, was being crossed off the plan…we slowly headed back north.

As we approached Montgomery, I sighed    asked, “Do you want to go to the zoo again?”  Because it was only the two of us, we had a membership discount, and I’m with Mr. Nature, so of course the answer was yes.

We stopped for lunch for him at Chick-fil-a, unfortunately without the time to spend at one of the several Korean restaurants nearby (there’s a Hyundai plant in Montgomery, one which I intend to tour once a spot opens up…), and then headed back up to the zoo.  A soft rain was falling, and it was late afternoon, so this means we almost had the place to ourselves.  There wasn’t anything new to see (we’d been there before a couple of months ago), but we did a get closer look at the anteaters, several of the birds, and we toured the quirky adjacent natural history museum.

As we headed out, I started explaining to Michael about Hank Williams, and who he was and where and how he died, and that his grave was on the way home, so let’s stop. 



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A lovely setting.



Audrey and Hank’s grave certainly dominates the scene, but not in a tacky way.

But I have to say what interested me most was something I hadn’t noticed on my last visit here, which was probably 16 years ago.  When I got home, this led me (naturally) on a most fascinating rabbit hole. Directly next to the Williams plot:


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They are the neat, beautifully kept graves of French and British military men from World War II, mostly airmen, who died while training in the United States:

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Beginning in 1941, thousands of RAF crew members were trained at Maxwell and Gunter Fields, as well as at auxiliary airfields in the area. The dangers of learning to fly combat aircraft were such that some did not survive. One example comes from the book “Montgomery Aviation” by Billy J. Singleton (Arcadia Publishing, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7385-5259-0), page 49: “Cross-country flights at night could prove to be challenging and occasionally dangerous. In May 1942, a flight of 35 aircraft flown by United Kingdom students departed Gunter Field on a navigation training flight to Crestview and Mobile. Returning from Mobile on the last leg of the flight, the formation encountered heavy haze and rain showers. Twelve of the training aircraft crashed, resulting in the loss of seven pilots.”

The plaque and the cross are part the memorial. Each grave has a headstone with the information on the individual and some additional words. One example reads: “If I should die — some corner of a foreign field is a piece forever England”


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There are numerous cemeteries throughout the USA containing the graves of Allied air force and naval airmen who died whilst undertaking flying training during W.W.2.  The RAF graves in the Montgomery Annexe commemorate the RAF airmen who died whilst undertaking Basic or Advanced training as part of the Arnold Scheme.  RAF Arnold Scheme airmen who lost there lives during Primary training are buried in Commonwealth War Graves in communities close to their training base.  There are are similar CWGC plots in towns close to where the six RAF British Flying Training Schools were located and others where Royal Navy and RAF pilots were trained as part of the Towers Scheme.
During W.W.2 the U.S.A. hosted and sponsored the flying training of many Allies – British, French, Dutch, Chinese, Mexican, Brazilian and other Latin-American nations.  Concise details and graduate numbers can be found in “The Army Air Forces in World War II – Volume VI”, (Craven and Cate).  These programs must have involved some fatal accidents and those airmen may also be be buried far from their homes and family.
During W.W.1, particularly the winter months of 1917 Canadian airmen where trained for the Royal Flying Corps at locations in Texas and I believe some of these men perished and are buried in the USA.
The Cemetery at Montgomery, Alabama has another annexe containing the graves and the names of French personnel who died in the USA whilst undertaking aircrew training.  



There’s a book about the project, here:  The Arnold Scheme: British Pilots, the American South, and the Allies’ Daring Plan. 


On the way back, we stopped at Peach Park in  Clanton, Alabama Peach Central.  Several years ago, when he was still in school, Joseph’s class took a field trip down that way.  The focus was some water education facility, followed by a visit to Peach Park.  His description of the peach visit was subdued and uninterested, and I remember mildly castigating him because this place certainly sounded like an Interactive Fruit Wonderland and surely he had not taken advantage of the opportunity to really appreciate it.  I probably said, “as usual,” too.

Well, after today’s 5-minute stop at the rather poorly kept and messy outdoor cafe (didn’t eat),  foodstuffs with the ominous label indicated that what was within had been “packaged for” this facility and a few creaky swings…

…I hope he’ll accept my belated apology….






7 Quick Takes

— 1 —

We returned home from running errands and dinner, and we could have hunkered down for the evening inside, doors closed, air conditioning humming, but instead we drifted outside.  For our trouble we saw huge lovely woodpeckers and a slew of bats sweeping overhead and I heard a steady stream of most interesting information on members of the animal kingdom who dwell from the deepest points of the ocean to the most arid desert.

— 2 —

The boys watched Napoleon Dynamite for the first time  a couple of weeks ago.  I hadn’t seen it in years, and of course it lost none of its oddness during that time.

Nor had it lost any of its quotability.  Every day, I hear at least one ND callback:

Make yourself a dang kay-sa-dilla, Napoleon!


How long did it take you to grow that mustache? About 2 days. 

They don’t, however, quote my favorites, which are:

Do the chickens have large talons?


I caught you a delicious bass. 


— 3 —

As I mentioned on Twitter, we watched North by Northwesthe other night and I’d forgotten how racy it is.  Awkward!  Love the Van Damme house in all its Mid Century glory.

Not complaining about Cary Grant in that towel, either.

Aside from the greatness of the film itself, what I found fascinating was the snapshot of American style, from New York westward, in the late 50’s.

But the greatest, most mesmerizing scene has nothing to do with constructed style – it’s those minutes in the midwestern (actually California) cornfield – and not just the iconic Cary Grant-chasing-crop duster.  From the moment the bus drops him off..watch the whole scene.  A human being alone, without any of the resources his position and status might afford him.  He’s dressed, but he’s stripped and he’s alone in that expanse, in the world.

What will he do? What can he do?



— 4 —

While I was in New York, I saw A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which one the Tony for Best Musical this year, and is based on the same early 20th century novel as the Alec Guinness classic, Kind Hearts and Coronets.  For copyright reasons, they can’t make any sort of connection between play and film explicit though.

It was enjoyable – if nihilistic, but of course, we can’t blame that on the 21st century because it’s in the source material.  The main attraction, as it was in the film, is the fact that a single actor plays all the murder victims, in this case, the amazing Jefferson Mays, who was quite entertaining to watch.  If we are going to compare film and play, well…the play wins for having a far more compelling actor to play the murderer, but the film wins for the ending, which I much preferred. In both productions, the villain, it’s clear, will not get away with his crimes, but in the film it’s a subtler and grabbier, if that’s a word, which it isn’t, but too bad.  I was told, however, that in order to make the distinction between play and film quite clear (again, for copyright reasons), the endings couldn’t be the same.

— 5 —

Hmmm…about that novel.  It’s called Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal and what intrigues me is that is seems to be, in part, a satire of Edwardian anti-Semitism.  Looks like I may have to add it to the list…..

If I EVER finish No Name.   It’s FREAKING ENDLESS.  But  – I must say..I am enjoying it immensely.  It’s definitely a page-turner, and I will report when finished.  So set your calendars for March 2015.

— 6 —

Last Thursday morning, in my NYC wanderings, I wandered Chelsea.

My hotel was on west 37th – just a couple of blocks from Penn Station – and for some reason I had it in my head that Chelsea was down in Lower Manhattan – even though I’ve walked the High Line before and done some gallery strolling with Ann.  But when I was trying to figure out how to structure that day, I finally came to some comprehension of basic Manhattan Geography, and saw that I could do some Chelsea wandering, return to my hotel, check out, check my luggage with them, and then go down to lower Manhattan for the rest of the day, and make it work.

I had done a bit of research as to what was happening in the Chelsea galleries and saw that the installations at the Pace Gallery might be interesting.

They were.

Tara Donovan is the artist. 

Now, first.

I am interested in all sorts of art, from any and every era and perspective, because I’m mostly interested in human beings and the world.  I’m interested in what the world really is and how human beings live in that world, perceive it and navigate it.  Art is an expression of that, and it is what it is.  We who live out of a spiritual context might look at much of contemporary (the last century or so) art and scoff because it seems so shallow to us, so superficial.  And perhaps it is (or isn’t).  That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt to understand it or we should close ourselves off from.  On the contrary. If this is how people think, so be it, and we have to understand it – or at least try.

All that is to say…if you make it, I’ll look at it, and try to understand it, and perhaps take a shot and understanding you in the process.

So that Thursday morning, I walked into the Pace, greeted the Straight-From-Central-Casting-Gallery-Vassar-Grads in their black shift dresses, then walked into the first gallery:





I was mesmerized.  They are constructed of note cards, they are supposed to make me ponder issues of accumulation, and they did, but they also reminded me, quite strongly, of the tent rocks and hoodoos of New Mexico. 

And then you turn the corner into the next gallery and:







It was the most astonishing sight.  The sculpture is made of thousands of acrylic rods, but the effect is…fuzzy.  Isn’t it?

I stayed for a while, me and the two chatty security guards, but I could have stayed longer, thinking about why spend so much time, piling up tiny bits of life in order to make something else, and how beautiful those things can be.

Why indeed.

— 7 —

My daughter is living and working  in southern Germany for a while.  She bought a drindl because, as she says, you see them everywhere.  She sees women wear them to Mass and at the festivals (which are frequent), not wearing one pretty clearly marks you as a tourist..and we can’t have that!


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

As you know, last week, I went up to New York City. 

The boys were down in Florida. So for a few days, Rocky was alone.  This is okay, and actually one of the reasons why, after years (decades) of being hounded about a pet, I finally gave in to this particular animal.  You can leave him and not have to pay people to take care of him.

So I returned from NYC  early afternoon on Friday, and Rocky was, indeed, still alive.  Go, Rocky. Later that evening, I changed his water, said good-night and went to bed. I had Saturday to do things and then would be heading down to get the boys on Sunday.

Saturday morning, I got out of bed, got ready to go exercise,  peaked in the front room to check on the snake…and saw….the door to his cage opened wide.

Rocky had had enough, apparently, and run away.

What happened?  I must have been careless and not secured the latch properly, and in his nighttime strolls around his tank, Rocky made the tremendous discovery of a loose door and naturally made the most of it.

So yes, I panicked.

I didn’t care two hoots about a snake around the house.  I’ve learned over the past weeks that these ball pythons are gentle creatures who don’t do much more than slide, wrap themselves around your arm, and stare.

No, what upset me was the prospect of telling Rocky’s 9-year old owner the next day that his PET WAS MISSING AND IT WAS MY FAULT.

I mean, the second part of that is bad as is the Worst Mother 2014 award, but of course, not nearly as awful as the first.  The thought of the sadness upon receiving this news was just too much.

So I took a quick look, foolishly hoping that would do the trick.  He’d just turn up or come when I called.

They are called “ball” pythons because they like to, well, curl up in balls.  During the day, or when stressed, they get in a dark, warm place and wrap themselves up to stay.  So, sez The Internet, when your ball python escapes, look behind books and bookcases, in drawers, in clothes baskets…all of which I did for a while.

I don’t have a cluttered house and really, when it comes to the main level, the hiding places are limited.  What I was worried about was the prospect of Rocky traveling down into the basement, which is finished , with two large rooms and a double garage.  That’s not too cluttered either, but there I do have one room with quite a few large plastic bins stacked up, and I thought…well, I’m going to have to move them all.   I was also concerned that if he got down there, he would find a way outside, and then the game would really be up.

So I was peaking and moving, sort of randomly, increasingly sick as I imagined the conversation the next day and Michael’s tears.  Then I decided, I’m going to stop imagining that conversation because that conversation is NOT going to happen because I am GOING TO FIND THE SNAKE.   I had almost 24 hours.   I was GOING  TO FIND THE SNAKE.

It was time to get methodical.  I needed to clean house anyway.  I started in the front room, where the tank is, and which also happens to be the school room.  I removed the books from every bookshelf, dusted, and returned the books, shoving them all the way back so that if did find his way there, he couldn’t get behind them and I wouldn’t have to repeat the process.  I moved said bookshelves, took out every cushion, cleaned out the art materials.

No snake.

Move on to the dining room, which has hardly any hiding places, then the boys’ rooms, which have more, the bathrooms and the living room.  No snake.  I was feeling sick again and by that time convinced he had gone downstairs.  I returned to The Internet which assured me that these snakes rarely go further than 10-15 feet from their enclosure when they escape.  Okay.  Maybe he wouldn’t have gone downstairs.  Time to search the kitchen.

Again, not too many places for Rocky there.  All the cabinet doors had been closed.  There is one small bookcase which I searched, cleaned and moved.  One small cube-storage unit.  Same procedure.  No snake.  Scooch out the refrigerator, which stands across a corner.  No snake in the corner. Bend down, peek into the exposed innards of the fridge.


I poked him. He moved.


Do you know how happy I was?  Any clue?

In retrospect, that was actually the first place I should have looked, because all of the ‘HELP MY SNAKE ESCAPED discussions seem to lead off with “behind and inside the fridge” as a popular python destination.

Now my challenge was to get him out.  I hadn’t moved the refrigerator far enough to actually get my whole body back there, and the way he was positioned, I was afraid that if I did move it, he would be crushed.  So I did my best to reach him, but, naturally, he reacted by….slithering in the other direction, completely out of sight.  I had no idea where he’d gone – I couldn’t see any glint of his body, I couldn’t discern any opening…for a while I was afraid he’d found a way into the refrigerator or freezer from behind and was freezing to death, but then I reasoned that he wouldn’t move toward cold.

Well, at least I knew where he was.   It was late afternoon and I needed to go to Mass, and I could actually go with a bit lighter heart, knowing the snake wasn’t on the loose downstairs or, even worse, outside. I closed off the kitchen and went off, so relieved.

When I returned (a little more than 12 hours to go in this operation! We can do this! ), I looked, but still couldn’t see him, nor could I for most of the evening, as I periodically tried to search him out.  Here was the thing:  I knew at night he would come out…if he was alive.  I was just afraid that he wasn’t, you know, alive.  That I had, indeed squished him, or that he had frozen to death.   So instead of having the “Rocky escaped and it’s my fault and I’m SO sorry” conversation, I would have the “Rocky might be stuck and/or dead somewhere in the refrigerator” conversation.

But then, around 11…glory be.  Amid the dusty metal and tubing, a beautiful pattern of tan and black.  Still in those innards, but in a different spot than before, and moving..clearly readying himself for his nocturnal prowling.

In other words: Not dead.

So it was time do to what they tell you to do when you’ve got the snake cornered, but you can’t reach him.

You wait.

With one door to the kitchen closed, and the other blocked with some posterboard, I put out his water dish in the middle of the floor,  turned out the lights in the kitchen, pulled up my chair just beyond the barricade, took out my Kindle, and did just that.

It only took about fifteen minutes.  I glanced up, and there he was, stretched out in all his Rockyish glory, gliding across the floor.

never imagined I would be elated to see a snake on my kitchen floor.

No, I wouldn’t have to have that conversation.

Sorry Rocky,  Independence Day is over.   I picked him up, put him in the tank , closed and latched the door…

… with a particularly hefty hole punch on top of it.  Just in case someone got any ideas.

"amy welborn"

Sorry, Rocky. This is where you live now, not in the refrigerator.


— 1 —

Almost back from NYC – perhaps by the time you read this, I will be safely back in Alabama.

Speaking of Alabama, it occurred to me today in walking around Manhattan that, even taking it proportionally, the number of men I’ve seen walking around shirtless in the middle of Alabama towns pales to the number I’ve seen in Manhattan. Today.

— 2 —

I would post a map of my walking over the past three days, but it would be nothing but a blur of blue lines over a map of the island.  I try to walk five miles a day back home for part of my exercise, and I don’t think I’ve failed to meet my quota this week.

— 3 —

The boys haven’t been with me. They have been with their Florida family.  I have been of two minds about this all week.  It’s been pleasant to be able to eat what I want without concerns about the more selective palates of other members of my family, and it’s also been good to just..wander on my own. Not going to lie about that.

But I realized early on that I missed them.  Not only did I miss them just because I missed them, but I guess I am so deep in my Travel Guide/Educator/Facilitator mode at this point in my life that I actually found it a bit difficult to adapt to solo sightseeing.  What is there to see when I don’t have someone else to show things to? It was quite revealing to me, and gave me much to think about regarding my own instincts and motivations.  I need very much to see life on my own, but also to tell others about it and help them see as well…and then more time alone to process it all.  Then it’s a complete experience.

— 4 –

Museum highlights:

The New York Historical Society. Interesting exhibits all around, but of special interest is their Bemelmans/Madeline exhibit – very sweet, in one respect, and inspiring in another.  I love to learn about the creative process, whether the creators be artists, writers, scientists or builders.  I find the dynamic of inspiration and creativity endlessly fascinating.  The exhibit on the European-born but ultimately New York-based Bemelmans took three rooms in the museum, with a generous selection of original artwork, manuscripts and some of his earlier work, and much about his life in New York – most of which concerned hotels for one reason or another.  As a person who grew up with Madeline and who has read it aloud so many times over the past thirty years that she has most of the first book memorized, this was a lovely treat.

Related – the New York Pubic Library’s exhibit on children’s books.  Well done with some omissions.  Of course, not a religiously-oriented book in sight (lest you think I’m being picky, they did feature various educational books for children, and what books have educated more children up to the 20th century that religious, mostly Bible-related books?) and, I realized after I left, no mention of N. C. Wyeth.  I responded to myself that, well, this mostly about picture books, and Wyeth illustrated mostly novels for older children and teens,  but I have to say that there was one wall – pictured below – dedicated to Edward Stratemeyer, the originator of the syndicate that produced the vast majority of super popular series books for children and teens from Nancy Drew to Tom Swift – look at the number of series (each square represents one).

So..yes..I think Wyeth should have been given a case!

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"


Finally, the Museum at Eldridge Street – a gorgeous Orthodox synagogue built in 1886, essentially abandoned by the 1950’s, rediscovered in the 1970’s and restored over the past twenty years.  It’s so deep in Chinatown that I kept walking and walking, convinced that Google Maps had done me wrong once again – but then there it was, standing tall between the noodle shops and foot massage services.  I was led on a mostly individualized tour by a sweet intern named Luna, who adjusted her talk down a notch when she learned I wasn’t Jewish, explaining to me what the Torah was, and such.  That was okay – I appreciated her enthusiasm.

She emphasized over and over again the poverty of most of the congregants who contributed to build this lovely place of worship and community – that it was an expression, not only of their devotion to the Lord, but also of their own strength and sense of community, as they worked hard to construct something beautiful and lasting.

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

One corner is left unfinished, not only to show the restoration process, but also as a reminder of the Temple.


"amy welborn"

The bimah, from which the Torah is read, faces the Ark, which holds the Torah scrolls. Faces east.

— 5 —

Speaking of such things, I made a particular effort to visit all three of the churches in the current controversy involving potential closures of certain NYC parishes: Holy Innocents, St. Francis and St. Michael’s.  I was at Holy Innocents Tuesday evening during Adoration, then today during the noon Mass, St. Francis yesterday and St. Michael’s today.  More on that tomorrow, when I’m not quite so tired.

"amy welborn"

St. Michael’s on 34th.

— 6 —

Also Old St. Patrick’s today:

"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"


"amy welborn"

— 7 —


Lunch Tuesday: Tapas at Boqueria

Dinner Tuesday: Hospitality hour at my hotel – they are working really hard because they just opened, and it was substantial!

Lunch Wednesday: Grazing at Broadway Bites: Arancini, Empanadas and summer rolls.

Dinner Wednesday: Gennaro’s

Breakfast Thursday: Pain au Raisin from Eric Kayser.  Eric Kayser is one of the more chi-chi bakeries in Paris.  I only went to one once, just to try the bread, which was said to be THE BEST – it was fine, but I was content to stick with one of the three normal, not-chi-chi but truly excellent bakeries on my block when we were in Paris.  BUT – I do adore Pain au Raisin – it was my favorite pastry during that month.  So of course, when I saw that Kayser had crossed the Atlantic, I had to go – and yes, it was just the same, and was wonderful.

Lunch Thursday: Fantastic Falafel at Taim, consumed a park across the street from the tiny restaurant, a park where children played on the climbing bars and in the water spraying from the ground, where a crew of old men played dominoes, where another man slept on a bench and a young woman, seated and wrapped in a proper salon cape, was getting her hair cut and styled by another young woman there under the trees.  An excellent slice of life. I thought, “Why don’t I live here?” But then I thought, “Because it costs a zillion dollars and they have winter.”

Thursday gelato – at the famed and trendy il laboratorio di gelato. It was nice, but nothing spectacular.  In particular the rosemary was so subtle as to be almost undetectable.  Yes, you would have to be careful, but I once made a rosemary lemon sorbet that was a knockout, with the rosemary coming through loud and clear, but still softly.

Dinner Thursday: Cafe Sabarsky with Ann.  \We did not see Yoko Ono, whom Ann had seen there at a previous visit a couple of months ago..

And after dinner, a stroll down Madison down to the Hotel Carlyle with, appropriately enough, a drink in the Bemelmans Bar – a charming (and expensive) place – the walls all painted by Bemelmans himself. It was really the perfect way to wind up the week.

One more food related take: One of the oddest things I saw over the past few days was today in Chinatown.   A woman at an outdoor food market was crouched in front of a tub of water, which was in turn, teeming with live eels.  Her purse and shopping bag next to her, she had a plastic bag sheathing her hand, with which she was reaching into the bin of eels.  She worked for several minutes, but in the time I stood there watching her – probably about five – she could never actually get one.  I thought at first she was simply being selective and trying to find the eel that was just right, but I don’t think that’s what it was – she just couldn’t grab one, proving that “slippery as an eel” is more than a metaphor.


For more Quick Takes, visit Conversion Diary!

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