Tuesday, November 23, 2010

50 State Television Shows

One thing I didn't try for this project was watching a television show from each state, but apparently I could have. This entry from the "Thinking Psuedogeographically" blog shows one show for each state.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

North Carolina Musings

(This is my auxiliary North Carolina post. Be sure to read Pam's official post for North Carolina Day.)

My family is not from Cold Mountain, North Carolina, nor had the book or film been thought of during the many summer days I spent on what I called the "family mountain" on the edges of the Smoky Mountains. Our mountain -- known in the family as Scorpion Knob and to the U.S. Geological Survey as Poison Cove Top -- is located in the rural outskirts of Canton, North Carolina, just two miles across the East Fork of the Pigeon River from the now-famous mountain to the south.

View Larger Map

I never lived on Scorpion Knob, nor did my mother. Both of us were born in Washington, DC and grew up in Northern Virginia. But whenever she uses the word "Home," we all know that she is referring to this slope on Old Michael Road, between Canton and Crusoe, in the midst of Pisgah National Forest. I grew up slightly confused, thinking that it had been my grandmother's home, but that was not quite true either; only the youngest of the thirteen children in her family had lived in the place I visited as a child. Still, it was a place to which I have a strong connection, though I've only been a few times as an adult.

The last time was for the birthday of my aunt who now lives on the site where the old house burned down a number of years ago. I remember when that previous house first got indoor plumbing, which means I am just old enough to know what a chamber pot is for. By the time I was growing up, tobacco farming was no longer the mainstay of the family, though it had been, despite my great-grandmother's allergy to the stuff, even in its raw form. I grew up in a part of northern Virginia that I thought of as suburban, perhaps because I knew that "Home" was rural. The fact that my street was named "Owls Nest Road" after a hunting lodge and that part of the road was unpaved did not compare to the rural life further south.

Most of the time we spent in North Carolina was in the western mountains, not only on the old family property itself, but also in other towns around Asheville. I associated the area -- correctly, I think -- with deeply conservative religion, and though I only ever saw Billy Graham in big arenas in Baltimore and Kansas City, I always knew that I was in his territory when I visited. At the time, this was comforting, though in later years I came to associate that brand of Christianity with intolerance, and ultimately with brief but clear glimpses of a racism that was never far from the surface.

It is against that backdrop that recent visits have revealed so much change. In 2000, we passed through the area on the way back from Brazil (we had flown from Miami) and in 2008, we attended a birthday party for the only surviving sibling of my grandmother. By that 2008 visit, I noticed two things about the settlement patterns in the immediate area of the family mountain. First, we were much closer to town than I had ever realized, a ten-minute drive from the sizable town of Waynesville. Second, a very low-density form of suburban sprawl was overtaking the area. I am a happy to see from satellite imagery (below) that the scarring of the land by ranchettes, McMansions, and (gadzooks!) country clubs seems to be limited to the main road, but the visual impact was nonetheless jarring.

During the 2000 visit, we stayed with grad-school friends who were working at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, 20 miles ESE of Cold Mountain. Although they loved the home they had built on the forest-covered mountainside just out of town, they were already preparing to move to Asheville, because they found the religious climate stifling. As Jews, they were worn down by the fact that most introductions included the question, "Where do you go to church?" meaning "Where do you go to Baptist church?"

This, sadly, did not surprise me very much, but their solution did. They had decided to move to Asheville, a town that I did not think would be any more diverse or tolerant. Little did I know that in the generation that had passed since I spent any serious time in the region, things had really changed. We learned that by 2000 Asheville had become artsy. We even went to a Cuban restaurant there. I could not jibe this with the Asheville of my youth. During our 2008 visit, we learned that the whole area had somehow become trendy, leading me to add an entire North Carolina section to my page on coffee shops.

Before closing this long ramble -- I could go on for days -- I should comment on a couple of things that Pam mentioned in her post. The first is the movie Junebug, which I enjoyed tremendously. It was a movie that was focused not on its plot, but rather on its rich assortment of characters. Like Pam, I found it interesting that none of the characters really developed. Unlike Pam, I felt like I knew many of these people, and I knew one of the hymns they sang in church. (Common cinematic experience at our house: rural southern movie includes obscure gospel music; James sings along.) Of all the characters, I liked Amy Adams' "Ashley" the best. Tthough she is the kind of naive religious person I have tried so hard not to be, her faith is sincere (if severely blind) and her love for everyone -- including her loser husband and city-slicker sister-in-law -- is rooted in that faith. From her performance in Julie & Julia, we know that Adams is a terrific actress, but her own Mormon upbringing seems to have enhanced  her work in this role.

The other is the breakfast. I associate homemade biscuits with my Aunt Ruby, who was married to my Uncle Brad and with whom we stayed on most of our visits. Brad was an overnight truck driver for Overnite (the company name used to be quite literal -- their trucks were rarely seen in the daytime, and he drove the equivalent of the moon and back on the same mountain roads for decades, all at night). He was a day sleeper, and weekend breakfast was a big deal, especially when there were visitors. When I read of a  table straining under the weight of a feast, I think of breakfast in their house, and with the perfect biscuits being prepared, almost as an afterthought, just as the rest of the meal was coming together. I remember the aromas, the coffee (I wish any coffee actually tasted like that percolated Maxwell House smelled), and the room, but the only actual food I remember is the biscuits and the homemade preserves that went with them. The breakfast I prepared this morning was a pale comparison.

In the view below, Cold Mountain occupies the southern 2/3 of the image, with "our" mountain on the north side of Cruso Road.

View Larger Map

North Carolina - November 21, 1789

When my mother-in-law talks of "going home" she means western North Carolina, although she actually never lived there. She grew up in Virginia, but spent a lot of time in North Carolina with her mother's large family. James, Paloma and I occasionally make it down there to visit the few surviving "Holcombe" aunts and uncles. The first time I met his uncle Charles he asked James why he married a "yankee girl", when I pointed out that Maryland was south of the Mason-Dixon line he informed me that "aroun' hera we draw 'r own lines." More about his family can be found on James' North Carolina county map page.

Sugar Queen by Sarah Addison Allen
I pulled this from Maxwell Library's small "leisure reading" collection. I figured it would be a quick read, and I was right. The story wasn't too deep, and I didn't have to think to hard, and I liked it. It tells the story of twenty-seven year old Josey Cirrini, who is still living down the reputation she earned as a small child of being a spoiled brat. She has spent almost two decades repenting, through service to her overbearing mother. She finds escape from her mother through romance novels and candy. When a waitress from a local greasy spoon sets up housekeeping in Josey's closet, Josey begins a journey of self-discovery and starts a romanceof her own, meanwhile, she learns about some skeletons in her own family's closet. The book is full of magic realism, especially as it relates to books! One of the characters, Chloe Finley, has a collection of hundreds of books which just appeared to her. Each one's theme was relevant to her life at the time. Libraries are mentioned several times, both private and public, as favorite places to be.  Perhaps my favorite book and movie of all time is Like Water for Chocolate, and this book reminded me of it in several ways - first was the magic that is part of the universe of both stories, and the other is the theme of young women expected to sacrifice their own happiness in order to take care of a family member. There are no naked young women riding away on horseback with revolutionaries in this one though. For more about the Mexican Revoluation and Like water for Chocolate see James' "Viva Mexico" post. If you have not yet seen the movie or read the book you should do so now.

Back to Sugar Queen, it did have a few surprises for me, even as I figured out some of the plot points. A good, fun, book in the tradition of southern literature.

The Netflix description of Junebug reads "[w]hen Madeleine (Embeth Davidtz), a big-city art dealer from Chicago, makes a trip to North Carolina with her new husband, George (Alessandro Nivola), he finally allows her to meet his small-town Southern family, which breeds more problems than either of them planned for". What I expected from this was a comedy of errors (espcially since it is listed as a comedy) with a dose of down-home southern hospitality. I was way off. In contrast to the book I read, this movie is really a "thought piece", and one must think about a lot. We were never clear on what made any of these characters tick. We see a deep rift between George and his brother Johnny, but never learn where it came from. The only aspect of Johnny's life that seems to satisfy him is his work as a shipping clerk. His pregnant wife, Ashley (played magnificently by Amy Adams) is an annoyance to him, and his work toward his GED makes him angry. Try as Madeleine might, her husband's family rebuffs her compassion, all except Ashley. As the relationship between the sisters-in-law begins to form crisis intervenes, and is then completely thwarted. The relationship between Madeleine and George seems to be based only on sex. For instance, Madeleine is stunned to learn that her husband has a beautiful singing voice, and that he likes mayonnaise. There is certainly no "small town hospitality sure beats big city living" theme here - mostly angry characters in a slice of life is what we see in this one. James and I talked about why we liked this movie, that really had no character development. Some of it was the quirkiness of the characters, but we also realized that while the characters weren't developed, per se, they chearly had dimension. We saw something to like and dislike about them all.

Since North Carolina was especially near and dear to James' heart he decided to make a down-home southern breakfast in the tradition of his Aunt Ruby. He said we would need hominy, and that he wasn't sure where to buy it, I asked if we couldn't just make it from scratch. Isn't it made from corn after all? "No", he replied, "you must buy it in a can". "How did the first hominy get made then?", I wondered. He didn't know but showed me the "hominy recpies" website he found which explains "most  hominy recipes are simple, calling for the use of canned hominy". We did find some at the Stop 'n Shop in Brockton. After all that we discovered that we didn't like it anyway. Paloma completely lost her appetite for them when James told her "they're soaked in lye...the same stuff we clear our bathroom drain with." Her comment that "they taste like soggy popcorn" couldn't have been more accurate. However, to go with our hominy James cooked up some biscuits (from scratch), some Jimmy Dean sausage patties with gravy, and scrambled eggs. It was a fine meal, but he said the table was hardly as laden as Ruby's ever was. If he had done it right the table would have strained under the weight of the food.

We topped off our evening with a bottle of Chardonnay from the Bilmore Estate. It was a bit sweeter than we usually expect from a Chard, but quite good. Our friend Anna, who lived in NC for 10 years joined us for a glass.

A recent North Carolina Library story http://www.technicianonline.com/news/police-find-man-naked-wrecking-bookshelves-1.2403168

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Oklahoma - November 16, 1907

I have been to Oklahoma twice. The first time I flew there, to Lawton, somewhere in the middle of the state, in May of 1985 to visit a boyfriend who was stationed at Ft. Sill. It was very hot and humid during my three-day visit.  I asked him why there was no air conditioning in his dorm. He told me that the army wouldn't turn it on until there were three days in a row of 90 degree heat combined with 90 percent humidity, and then he set me up in an air conditioned hotel, since he wasn't supposed to have guests in his dorm anyway. We escaped some of the heat by driving up to Mt. Scott, one of two mountains in the area, the other, a bit smaller was called Scott's boy. When I returned to Maryland my boyfriend told me they turned on the air conditioning right after I left, and I realized I was there for the three days in a row of 90 degree heat combined with 90 percent humidity. It was also on that trip that I learned that bartenders do not know about, or care about, your attainment day. You will not be served alcohol before midnight of your 21st birthday.

Mt. Scott

My only other trip to Oklahoma was driving through the panhandle on my way to moving to Arizona from Ohio.

An Oklahoma I had Never Seen Before by Davis D. Joyce
This collection of essays was inspired by Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States and explores some aspects of Oklahoma history that some might prefer to forget, or perhaps not think about at all. An exploration of Oklahoma's commonalities with southern states focus, not on a gentile lifestyle, but rather a look at racial segregation. Racism against American Indians also ran deep. Other themes include pacifism, domestic abuse, abortion, the gay liberation movement and unions. I was especially intrigued with the deep socialist history of the state, which several of the essays treated, including "The Road Once Taken: Socialist Medicine in Southwestern Oklahoma" by Alana Hughes. Where we see the roots of of the American Medical Association's campaign against "socialized medicine". We know that everytime there is any mention of health care reform the AMA will drag the same old argument out, and convince the general population that we just can't have it.

Some of the essays in this book were more personal, others were written by history scholars. I found the former to be much more "readable" and interesting. The one "library" reference I noticed came in the very last essay: "Even Among the Sooners, There Are More Important Things than Football" by Alan Ehrenhalt. Ehrenhalt explores the history of public higher education in Oklahoma. The "Sooner" state created a very large network of colleges and universities with virtually no admission standards, and low tuition, in order that all could have a chance to go to college. While OU's football team became a source of state pride academic standards languished causing Representative Carolyn Thompson to say "[w]e prioritized where we finished in football, and we never cared where we finished in libraries."

The Outsiders, a gritty story of rival gangs, by S.E. Hinton, was among my favorite books when I was in Junior High. I don't know how many times I read it, but I do know I had the opening paragraph memorized at one point, and that when my daughter read it for a school assignment last year I was able to help her with it without opening the book again myself. The film adaptation, directed by Frances Ford Coppola follows the story pretty accurately (although it leaves out a section at the end of the story) but I remember being disappointed in it when I watched it many years ago, and my mind was not changed by watching it again. I am not sure what it is that I didn't like about the movie. I was impressed that much of the scenery was so close to what I pictured in my mind's eye, indicating that Hinton must have described things very well, and that Coppola paid attention to what she wrote. I think the movie just didn't have the depth that the book did. The story takes place in Tulsa in what appears to be the late 1950s, although the book was first published in 1967 and it really could be set anywhere. The only indications in the movie that it is Oklahoma are an abandoned building with a company using Oklahoma as part of its name, and a shot of a black-and-white television set with a test pattern (remember those?) that says "First in Tusla".

There were no libraries in this movie, but this librarian, who likes to stay through credits, was rewarded for doing so with this golden egg:

"This film is dedicated to the people who first suggested that it be made...Librarian Jo Ellen Misakian and the students to Lone Star School in Fresno, California."

Although Oklahoma actually has an entire Official State Meal I did not have the ambition to prepare it. There are so many other state celebrations coming up and the holidays fast approaching. So picked my favorite thing from the state meal, cornbread, and made it. Cornbread should only be made in a cast iron skillet. Anyone who does differently is doing it wrong. Perhaps next year I will attempt the state meal.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Washington - November 11, 1889

My first trip to Washington was as a vendor at a library conference in Tacoma. I was working for Hispanic Books Distributors in Tucson and it was the first time they'd sent me to work a booth solo. I brought my two Mexican-embroidered dresses to wear during the two-day conference thinking that I would make myself part of the display. I remember nearby there was a booth hawking "clean books" - they had no profanity or sex - and noticing that the woman who ran it wore a conservative pin-striped suit, and had a very severe bun in her hair. The woman in the booth next to mine was selling children's books and she had on a fun, colorful apron. I realized that coming "in costume" was something others had thought of as well. In those days (early 1990s) round trip plane tickets were cheaper if you stayed over Saturday night and flew back on Sunday. My cheapskate boss made me stay over on Saturday even though the conference ended on Friday afternoon. Luckily, I had a friend in Seattle who picked me up on Saturday afternoon so we could have lunch together and see the city. My most recent trip to Washington was to the University of Washington in Seattle to attend a library conference, but this time I was simply an attendee. It was early August of 2008 and the weather was absolutely gorgeous. The conference organizers demonstrated how they had checked the weather over the past 20 years to determine that the first week in August was the least likely to have rain.

In Washington, its all about the vampires.
The Brief Second Life of Bree Tanner: An Eclipse Novella by Stephenie Meyer
I read the four Twilight series novels, each over 700 pages long in about a two week period of time. (Mind candy? You betcha!) This short work though, I really had to work at. It took me about a week to get through this under-200-page volume. I had read that this book had  no section breaks, or chapter breaks, so I assumed that it perhaps took place in "real time" - giving a blow-by-blow of Bree's vampire life - but indeed, I was wrong. it begins when Bree is already about 3 months old (as a vampire) and takes place over several weeks time. I also knew that it was based on a character who was briefly introduced in the third novel, but try as I might I could not remember her, in fact, as I thought about it, I realized I didn't remember the third novel at all. I do remember the basic plot lines of the first, second, and fourth books, but have been waiting for the DVD of the Eclipse movie to come out so I could refresh my memory of that one. Fans of the Twilight series will probably want to give this a read, but will not find it nearly as sexy as the others. For those who have not read the rest of the series and thought perhaps reading this short book would give them some idea what all the fuss was about, don't bother.

Watching Singles again after 18 years made me feel old. I didn't really remember the movie much, but I remember feeling that I was somehow "simpatico" with the characters, who live in grunge-era Seattle. The actors (Matt Dillon, Kyra Sedgwick, Campbell Scott, Bridget Fonda, Shelia Kelly, et.al.) were of my generation - born in the early '60s. And even though I was a married graduate student in Tucson, Arizona at the time, I still felt some connection to them. After all, I did know people who had real jobs, and dated. Watching it this time around I felt no connection with the characters at all. Going out to clubs, dating drama, and working in cubicles just aren't things I even think about any more. I don't even have friends who put up with that crap any more. Ahh... I do enjoy being 46. This movie has a lot of sub plots, but ultimately it is a boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back movie (x2).

I remember buying a bottle of Washington wine sometime in the past few weeks, but since I apparently did not put it in the "save for state day" department of our wine rack (yes, we really do have such a place) I guess we drank it. No matter Red Apple Martinis to the rescue. The recipe comes from a Washington bar. Tasty.

I had my doubts about Seattle Cream Cheese Dogs but decided to make them anyway. The recipe says the sauerkraut is optional, so we did opt out of that. Otherwise these were actually pretty good. I have always liked my hot dogs with mustard, the cooked onions gave it a bit of sweetness, and the cream cheese, was, well, creamy. James ate two.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Montana & the High Country of the Mind

It is probably a good thing I do not live in Montana, for if I did, I would have this earworm in my head all the time: Movin' to Montana soon ... gonna be a dental floss tycoon, by the incomparable Frank Zappa, who did for Montana what Tim Curry did for Transylvania.

I have actually visited Montana -- once in real life and countless times in my imagination, with the help of Robert Pirsig's hippy classic Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig himself was probably no hippy, but generations of radical seekers have found both challenge and refuge in his autobiographical road story. Much of what I know about writing came from this book -- and only in part because I read it myself so many times. I eventually figured out that one of the two teachers who had really taught me how to write had been devoted to Pirsig. When I read Pirsig's descriptions of composition assignments he gave as an instructor at the University of Montana, I suddenly understood my own ninth-grade English teacher much better! Those who want to explore the geography of Pirsig's journey through Montana and the rest of the West will enjoy Mark Richardson's Zen and Now. I find that Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones captures the spirit of his thoughts on writing, though I do not know whether the connection is intentional.

As I've already mentioned in my Wyoming post, that brief foray into Montana was part of a cross-country drive in which my buddy -- and fellow geographer -- Mike and I did not stop for much. Even in Bozeman, I have to admit that I did not get much beyond McDonald's, where I remember Mike and I first started to think seriously about how to ration out the rest of our cash. We had about $600 for an 8,500-mile journey, with no plastic money of any kind, and we were down to a thin stack of dollars with a couple thousand miles to go. Not that we cared much; in fact, Mike has perfected this mode of travel into an art form in more than 50 countries, sharing a $2 room, for example, in Bombay.

Our drive through western Montana (which is the relatively populous part) took us through what might have been the longest stretch of Interstate highway without all-night gas stations. Running very close to "E" in a 1960 VW with no real gas gage, we wasted a few miles searching for stations off the main road. We finally got gas before dawn at a station we had decided would be our last hope -- we were going to simply park there and wait if it had not been open.

Montana - November 8, 1889

Montana - Alas, yet another state I have not been to. I am pretty sure I knew someone in library school who was from there, though. I have this feeling that I might like the "big sky" and the wide spaces. James has been there and will write a separate post about his trip, as well as some Montana pop-culture references that are near and dear to his heart.

Montana Justice: Power, Punishment & the Penitentiary by Keith Edgerton appealed to me mostly because it was slim, and I only had to go up one flight of stairs from my office to get it since it was available in "my library". This history of prisons in Montana begins with the stories of J.A. Slade and George Dixon. Slade was the victim of early vigilatism in the Montana territory - lynched for not much more than public drunkeness. Dixon, a freed slave, became one of the first inmates of the federal penitentiary in Deer Lodge on a trumped up murder charge. He narrowly escaped a lynching, ironcially, by confessing to a crime he did not commit. The book tells the story of the Deer Lodge peniteniary, its prisoners, staff and wardens. Once the need for the penitentiary was clear, it was built, but not funded, for staff. Anecdotes tell of inmates chained to the sheriff's bed at night because there was no place to house them. Cover pictures show a turreted building, and a before and after picture of an inmate - one in street clothes with a thick head of hair, the other in sterotypical striped prison garb and a shaved head. One can almost believe from the position of the inmate that one is a "photoshopped" version of the other. One chapter of the book profiles warden Frank Conley whose corrupt practices would be the envy of some of today's politicians. Corruption sure is nothing new. The final chapter is a "tough on crime" chapter with history of the 20th century through the present.  The depictions of solitary confinement, substandard food, and straw bed furnishings do a superb job leading up to the final chapter. It is true, though, that even here in east coast, pointy-headed intellectual New England no sheriff can get elected without a "tough on crime" stance. This book includes one mention of a prison library!

A River Runs Through It
I watched this movie for the third time. This is the truly magnificent story of brothers Norman and Paul Maclean growing up in Montana with their mother and minister father. Norman is down-to-earth, and rather cerebral, while Paul, the younger brother, is more of a rebel. A love of fly fishing is what binds the brothers together. James and I are especially drawn to this movie because it reminds us so much of James and his brother - preachers kids who grew up in rural Virginia, one of whom (James) left home to become a professor, and the other (Bob) staying close to home. The music and scenery in this movie are both majestic and soothing. The sheer perfection of this film made me cry.

After watching the film, I couldn't resist this Montana Trout recipe, although I wasn't at all sure I would be able to get trout. James took the request to a local fish market Fresh Catch and the fishmonger assured him that Steelhead Salmon was somehow related to trout. According to sources I found it appears to be a rainbow trout. Anyway, the meal turned out to be sublime. I do love salmon - such a rich flavor. It felt like a holiday, but I guess it is!

Thursday, November 4, 2010

South Dakota Dessert

Our oven mended we were able to enjoy our South Dakota fare.
I used this recipe for my kuchen, and used fresh apples rather than canned peaches. The recipe calls for use of a springform pan, so I dug mine out and followed the directions to "spread dough with hands over the bottom and 1 inch up the sides of prepared springform pan". There was not enough dough to go up the sides, so I only covered the bottom. I think I could have accomplished the same result with a regular cake pan, or even better still, my indespensible cast-iron skillet. The dough was quite dense, but nevertheless formed a rather thin layer, so I was surprised that it did take 40 minutes in a 350 degree oven to cook, just as the instructions said. This warm dessert was most welcome on chilly fall evening. It is more cookie like than cake like and best eaten immediately. I tried microwaving some of the leftover for lunch today. Rather unsatisfying.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

South Dakota & North Dakota - November 2, 1889

Although November and December represent only 1/6 of the year, we are left with 1/3 of the states still to celebrate! I normally do not write about two states in the same post, but since North and South Dakota became states on the same date from the same territory, since they are states that I have on my "yet to visit list", I decided to make an exception. James, however, has been to South Dakota.

South Dakota's state fossil is the Triceratops - my favorite dinosaur!

Since I have so much reading to do before the end of the year, I worked on it during the long hiatus between California day and Nevada day. I attempted to read a young-adult novel about South Dakota, A Year Without Rain by D. Anne Love, figuring, since it was short, it would help me keep up, but I didn't get very far before I put it down and started looking for something else. It seemed that most of the action actually took place in Georgia, rather than South Dakota. Fortunately, this NPR story clued me in to The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber. Set in the Badlands in 1917 (the "year without rain") readers learn about the especially harsh life the homesteaders faced that year. The DuPrees, one of very few "Negro" families to homestead, watch as their crops wither, their animals die and, their well runs dry. Meanwhile Rachel's memories of her previous life as a cook in a Chicago boardinghouse, and before that as a girl in Louisiana are jogged. Rachel faces her own prejudices against the "agency Indians", and begins to question her husband's loyalty to the land, and desiring a better life for her four daughters than an arranged marriage, she makes a difficult decision. Weisgarber describes some extremely cruel life experiences for these homesteaders, nevertheless, I couldn't help but feel a little bit jealous of Rachel's life - a hermit...with benefits.

As always, any mention of a library gets special recognition in my blog. In the case of Rachel DuPree the library passage couldn't have been more dear to the Hayes-Bohanan hearts. In a one-page passage Weisgarber manages to weave coffee, geography and libraries all into the narrative. "Every morning, Samuel, the delivery boy brought two five-pound sacks of dark beans to the kitchen door. Those beans...had traveled all they way from South America. I tried to picture South America from my geography lessons, but I couldn't place it...I took the streetcar and went to the free library. There I rounded up my courage and asked the white man behind the counter if he could tell me where South America was...He stopped at a table where there was a big globe of the world..."

The title The Plague of Doves (my North Dakota choice) piqued my interest because my daughter's name (Paloma) is Spanish for dove. It turns out that the "doves" to which the title refers, however, "were surely the passenger pigeons of truth and legend". Louise Erdrich's story has many narrators, which I sometimes could not keep straight, and the story jumped around in time, which also sometimes confused me. There were some "magic realism" moments that reminded me of some of the Latin American literature I've read. The narrators included members of the Ojibwe tribe, anglos, and those of mixed blood, giving the reader a sense of the variety of experiences. Ultimately, I was able to sort out the story and there is some resolution at the end.

There was one mention of a college library from the narrator named Evelina Harp who claimed to spend most of her time there.

Dances with Wolves (a rather long film!)
At just under four hours long, this one took us three nights to watch. We had seen it before, probably 20 years ago, but had forgotten most of it. Kevin Costner plays Lieutenant John Dunbar (a.k.a. Dances with Wolves - his Sioux name). When Dunbar is sent to a fort the Dakota territory during the Civil War he finds the post abandoned. He eventually befriends the Sioux tribe living nearby, and discovers that there is a young "white" woman, called Stands with a Fist, (played by Mary McDonnell) living with them. Through her, he is able to communicate with his neighbors.

This movie had me thinking a lot about the concept of "the other" and how the government and the media manipulate the way people feel about others. In the case of this movie, we are made to feel sympathy for the Sioux tribe, and as James points out, as anglos we found ourselves in the postion of rooting for the Sioux and against the U.S. governement. It is only recently that I have heard the word "genocide" applied to the elimination the Native Americans during the 19th century, but it is accurate. The idea of "the other" in the film was evident in two interesting ways: one was that we felt no empathy for the U.S. soldiers - they were portrayed as bullying, illiterate idiots who didn't know enough to bring paper with them to wipe their asses; the second "other" we saw in the film was the Pawnee tribe who were only seen as violent. Whereas the Sioux were portayed more multi-dimensionally, anglos and Pawnees are seen as evil. We see the Sioux mourn their loved ones, making love, and watch as the women cry as their warriors take leave. While we can assume the whites and the Pawnees expressed some of these same emotions, they are absent from the film.

I did like the film, it gave me a lot to think about, the scenery was beautiful, and that Kevin Costner sure isn't hard to look at.

Jesus Camp
Becky Fischer is a children's pastor who runs an evangelical camp for kids in Devil's Lake, North Dakota. This documentary follows Pastor Becky as she works to create a Christian Army of children, some as young as six years old. She does not deny that she is "indoctrinating" the children, rather she defends it by saying that our "enemies" (other religions) are doing the same. She is trying to save America from itself. Footage from inside the camp shows dozens of children driven to tears when confronted with their own sins. I was especilly disturbed by the discussion of abortion with children so young. The film follows a few of the children closely. Levi, a 12-year old boy, is being groomed for the ministry by the adults around him. He is clearly charismatic. The film also goes to Colorado Springs to visit Ted Haggard's "mega-church". This film came out in 2006, just before allegations that Haggard had paid a male prostitute for sex. The allegations proved to be true, which make his comments in the film against homosexuality all the more troubling.

North Dakota "short"
Evidently, I have a lot of company among those who have not yet been to North Dakota. Back in the 1990s Michael Moore (of Roger & Me fame, see my Michigan post) had a television show called TV Nation. In which he explored some quirky things. In one segment he questions why North Dakota is the least visited state in the country. Watch this YouTube video to find out. I am surprised that there are not more people going to visit Rugby, North Dakota, which has the honor of being the geographical center of the country. I will definitely be going!

I imagine the Bauernmomlett (Farmer's Omlet), our North Dakota meal made with potatoes and bacon, was never intended to be made with "fake-in", but in deference to our vegetarian daughter we made the substitution. It was pretty good, and simple to make, and our oven, which has been malfunctioning regularly of late, behaved long enough for me to put the broiler on in order to cook the top of the omelet. If you don't have a cast-iron skillet, I recommend buying one immediately. They are essential for making fluffy, non-burnt omelets. I cook the omlet, covered, on low heat for about 7 minutes, until it is mostly set, then put it under the broiler for one to two minutes. Perfect every time. We also enjoyed nice cold glasses of milk - the North Dakota state beverage!

Unfortunately, because of the aforementioned oven malfunction we have to defer our South Dakota food choice until tomorrow, when, hopefully we will have it fixed. We will be preparing kuchen - the official South Dakota state dessert. We will write a supplemental post, and James will write about his trip to South Dakota as well. He is among the ranks of the many who have not been to North Dakota. We can't wait to become some of the few!

An interesting article about North Dakota agriculture from the New York Times:  North Dakota cattle get a new home. http://www.nytimes.com/2010/10/13/us/13cows.html

North Dakota's press release on the occasion of its 121st birthday!