Sunday, April 29, 2012

Let the River Run

I just got back from a quick, but absolutely spectacular trip to New York City.  Two wonderful writers and human beings, Kaylie Jones, author of the memoir Lies My Mother Never Told Me, and Nina Solomon, author of Single Wife, threw a party for The Rebel Wife (and me and Clovis, of course).  Two great books, too, that you should check out.  It was an amazing night that brought together people from so many different phases of my life.  Thanks to everyone who was there.  It is a night that I will remember for the rest of my life.

Here are some grainy, unfocused, underexposed pictures of it!

And here are some long overdue shots of Clovis, most from this wonderful New York weekend.

A sound woke him from his slumber, but he is always on the alert.
Yes, he is becoming concerned.  There is something out there!
He loves to have his picture taken, but is nervous about me dropping the camera on him.
Ears at Attention!
Very happily sandwiched between two pillows.
On watch!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Southern Ghosts

While I was in Alabama, I had a free day to do some exploring.  What a day it turned out to be.  

I headed toward Selma, following in reverse the route that the Voting Rights Marchers of 1965 took from Selma to Montgomery.  It all began here, at the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama Rivera at Selma.  On March 7, 1965, several hundred African-Americans began a march to Montgomery to demand voting rights in the wake of the killing of a young black boy in nearby Marion, Jimmie Lee Jackson.  On the other side of the bridge they were met by armed and mounted police who used whips, rubber tubing wrapped in barbed wire and tear gas.  The scene was caught on film and broadcast nationwide.  After another peaceful crossing of the bridge, the final march began on March 21, 1965.  By the time they reached the Alabama Statehouse on March 25th, they numbered some 25,000 people, black and white, from all over the country.  These events spurred President Lyndon Johnson and the U.S. Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which still is law today.

The town of Selma sits on bluffs over the river and in the heart of the Black Belt cotton-growing region of Alabama.

Artesian wells are everywhere in the region.  Here is a beautiful one in downtown Selma.

Another view of the 1940 Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River.  Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and Ada's Rules, spoke at the Alabama Book Festival in Montgomery about her Alabama roots, including kinship with Confederate General Pettus.

Here is the Last Supper painted on a window.

From Selma, I drove a little way west to the site of Cahaba, or now called Old Cahawba, the first permanent capital of the state of Alabama (from 1820-1826).  Today, it is a ghost town.  It was one of the most marvelous places I have ever visited.  Some of the streets have been cleared and some old town lots are mowed.  There are still structures, abandoned, and remnants of the city's former life.  Most important towns in the early 19th century were located along rivers for ease of transportation.  Cahaba was sited at the confluence of the Alabama and Cahaba Rivers.  The spot is lush and almost tropical.  After the capital was moved to Tuscaloosa (and finally Montgomery), Cahaba languished until the railroad came in 1859.  After the Civil War, the county courthouse was relocated to Selma and Cahaba was abandoned by whites.  There was still a thriving community of Freedmen here, though, who were politically organized.  By the end of the century, there were only a few farmers left.  The town's buildings were demolished and the brick sold.  There are just a few remnants left, but they are gothic and mysterious.  Cahaba is famed for its ghosts, too, as memorialized by Alabama folklorist Kathryn Tucker Windham.

From near the old center of town, the Alabama River.
A lone chimney where a prison that held 3,000 Union soldiers once stood.
Brick columns, all that is left of a grand mansion that overlooked the river.
The confluence of the Cahaba and Alabama Rivers
The grave of Mealy Starke in the African-American burial ground, a haunting spot.
One of the abandoned homes, originally built in the 1840s. 
All that is left of the substantial brick Methodist Church, built c. 1854.
An artesian well still flows into its elaborate brick basin. 
The only thing that's full here is the cemetery--in a beautiful ruin.
The old iron fences, from the 1850's, still stand around many family plots.
A beautiful monument, a broken column, a Victorian trope, covered in vines.
A row of family plots.
A broken obelisk.
A beautiful tree in a prairie in the midst of Old Cahawba. 
A fancy wellhead shaped like a face, dated 1852.
The beautiful prairies of Central Alabama.
After spending several hours wandering Old Cahawba, I wanted to take a look at Gee's Bend, too.  Famous for its long-established and innovative quilting community.

The landing for the car ferry.  You can take a ride on the river for $3.00.
The community/quilting center--this is where it happens.
The streets of the village have these large pictorials of the beautiful, abstract quilts.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Southern Swing

Steamboat tours on the Alabama River
I had an action-packed weekend doing a little mini-tour through the South.  First stop was at the wonderful Litchfield Books in Pawley's Island, South Carolina.  A beautiful place and a beautiful bookstore. They organized a lunch at a local restaurant, Nosh, and I got to speak to over fifty people about The Rebel Wife.  The food was delicious and the company even better.  Big thanks to Linda, Tom and Carol and everyone else at Nosh and Litchfield Books!!

From there I zipped down to Montgomery for the Alabama Book Festival on Saturday.  Another fantastic group of people and writers.  Thanks to Gail and Jim, Julia and Nancy, and everyone involved with the festival for letting me be a part of the fun!

There were amazing screen printers, many bottle trees and old-time music bands.

These are from Kennedy Prints--they make great stuff!
This bottle tree was in Old Town Alabama
This one was at Old Cahawba, more on that later
Fantastic old-time music!
I got to meet these amazing ladies--Michelle, Christina and the wonderful Vanessa Davis Griggs, author most recently of Ray of Hope.  Check out her website here!  I also had the thrill of meeting Alice Randall, author of The Wind Done Gone and her newest, Ada's Rules, which everyone should check out!
Michelle, Christina and Vanessa
Me and the fabulous Michelle, my escort at the Festival!
Me and Vanessa showing off our stuff!
And from there, I went to Woodstock, Georgia for an event at the beautiful bookstore, FoxTale Book Shoppe. I got to speak with a great group of ladies. I had such a warm and wonderful time there and look forward to the chance to go back.  Thank you, ladies!!

Karen, Ellen, me, Jackie and Carol--I could feel the love!!
While I was in Montgomery, there was a run for breast cancer awareness.  The runners were greeted by  this amazing gospel choir on Court Square just down from the statehouse.

Up Dexter Avenue is the church where Martin Luther King, Jr. was pastor from 1954-1960, during which time he worked on the Montgomery bus boycott.

And just a few blocks more, you are at the Alabama Statehouse, where Jefferson Davis took the oath of office as President of the Confederate States of America in 1861.

And here's a memorial remembering Jeff Davis and those fateful events.

A compelling juxtaposition of historic places and events, and all part of the same larger story.  I would have gone to the Alabama Archives on Monday, but they were closed for a state holiday.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Hanging Out

I had a great time last Thursday at the Brown University Bookstore in Providence.  It was really great to hang out there, talk about the book and even do a little signing.

The next morning, I left early for my dad's near DC.  We got up even earlier on Saturday to do a tour that focused on a different type of hanging.  The Surratt Society and some great historians and Civil War enthusiasts organize a bus tour a few times a year that follows the trail of John Wilkes Booth from his assassination of President Abraham Lincoln on the evening of April 14th until his capture and death on a tobacco farm outside of Port Royal, Virginia on April 26th.

The President's box at Ford's Theater.  Booth leapt from the railing, twelve feet,
and broke his leg when he landed, but the theatrical Booth still managed to blazon
his bloody dagger and shout "Sic simper tyrannis!" or something very like it.
The John Wilkes Booth Escape Route Tour was a truly amazing experience.  It was long, so it is not for the faint of heart; we started around 7am and were dropped off at 7pm; but during those twelve hours you truly enter into the world of 1865.  Bob Allen and Joan Chaconas guide you through an incredible amount of detail, narrative, personal histories and landscape from an early morning private tour of Ford's Theater to Booth's defiant and fiery end on a spot that was then a tobacco farm but is now a highway median.  They do it with great humor, cheer and authenticity.  Thanks to them, Lindsey, Darwin and everyone else who made it such a great tour.

The Surratt Tavern in Clinton, Maryland, where Booth and an accomplice stopped first that fateful night.  Mary Surratt was the first woman to be executed (by hanging) by the U.S. government.

One of the wonderful interpreters at the Dr. Samuel Mudd House in Waldorf, Maryland.

Dr. Mudd's house-Booth had his broken leg set here before being force to continue his southward odyssey. 

Cleydael in King George County, Virginia.  Booth was turned away here, as he was many places.  The new owners are doing a careful restoration that you can see here on their website!

And the final act...

This was the site of a tobacco farm.  Booth was cornered in a barn where he held off a cavalry unit until finally being shot.  He died from the wound a few hours later.  This is now a median on a highway.
Four conspirators were hanged as a result of the assassination.  Others were imprisoned and a few were pardoned by President Andrew Johnson before he left office in 1869.

To keep with the theme of hanging, we went to Harper's Ferry, the site of John Brown's October 1859 raid on the arsenal there.

Called John Brown's Fort, this was where Brown and his "raiders" holed up before finally being captured by the Marines under Robert E. Lee.

The site of the "Fort" on the edge of picturesque and historic Harper's Ferry

The Charles Town, West Virginia courthouse (still in use) where John Brown was tried.

And finally, the site in Charles Town where John Brown was hanged.  The interpretive panel in the rear of the picture states "Many Northerners viewed Brown as a martyr."
It was quite a whirlwind.  I also managed to jump over to the National Gallery for the Ito Jakuchu exhibit, called Colorful Realm.  EVERYONE should see this exhibit (and we are still on the hanging theme, although pictures get hung, not hanged).  It is a complete set of 18th century oil paintings on silk panels that are absolutely staggering in their detail and beauty.  They are only on loan for the month of April.  At the very least, check out the site, here, and take a look at them.

And finally, back to Providence, where the Taco Camper is back on Parade Street.  Summer must be close!