Sunday, November 21, 2010

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

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