Monday, June 30, 2008

Portland, Oregon, rose city by the river. A wedding, a birthday celebration, hints of scrabble games, and time to visit friends in Corvallis, Dallas, and Portland, brought us south from Spokane for a week of house-hopping. Last night we went to Andina, a Peruvian restaurant in the Pearl, and were welcomed by long-time friend Doris Platt, owner. What a thrill to see her again after so many years, charmed as we were by the music (Cuban Jessie Marquez and guitarist Mike Denny) and an an old family recipe for lamb shank slow-cooked in Northern Peruvian style with cilantro and black beer. We dipped our bread in a spicy mango puree and simply relaxed, back home on the west coast.

Doris explained that some of the unique flavors of Peruvian cooking were first brought to Spain by Moorish cooks, perhaps women servants after the expulsion of Islam from Spain in 1492, later again carried to the New World. The resulting fusion is tantalizing, prepared with such love of culture and family, almost recognizable, and nicely balanced with a sweet sangria. Ah! City living.

Upcoming event: October 25 at Tommy Mac's jazz club in Portland for a concert with lyrical singer Jessie Marquez and Mike Denny.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Spokane. A city on hills. Our home for the next two months. I'm settled in, my office is set up, and the writing goes well. Each morning I work from about 6:30 to about 8 in the morning, and then the day begins, filled with the commonplaces that I hestiate to write about. Except that yesterday we began walking again. Spokane is hilly. We live perched on the lower side of Hatch Hill, and the view above is the view out our front door. Spokane, I learned, was settled by Protestants in the late 1800s), and its name comes from the Native American word Spokan (Sun People), as indigenous peoples favored the falls here to fish for salmon and had done so for thousands of years.

Yesterday we passed old mansions, I'll learn more about them in time, and I didn't bring my camera. I also wondered about how to keep the blog current when not much happens in everyday life. Yet this is where we truly live, in the ordinary. We bought a loaf of home-made fresh rosemary/garlic bread from the Perry Street Farmer's Market, a tiny farmer's market of about 10 booths open only on Thursdays from 8 am until 2 pm. Rachel introduced me to Value Village, an immense and unique kind of recycling store that carries everything at Salvation Army prices. I found a night light, a whimsical teapot made of delicate china and decorated with flowers for 99 cents, something to banish shadows.

Last night, a friend called from Portland to protest the violence in Zimbabwe. The election frenzy seems quieter now, with vice presidential recruiting going on behind the scenes. These seem far from Spokane Valley, far from Portland or Seattle, though I notice a slight inferiority complex in the local newspaper as an article now and then will tout "Just as good as Portland"! We may go to the downtown library today and see the very full Spokane Falls. And this time I will take my camera. For now, here's a pic of my new office, a little sparse but with a view of the valley stretching out, a sight as restoring as simply being here.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

We're finally in Spokane, after a hectic cross-country drive. Rachel found us a lovely unfurnished apartment, surrounded by trees and with a fine view out every window, cluding a little office for me. We move in today and will "camp out" for this week, with next week in Corvallis at a wedding, perhaps Scrabble, and then back for two months in one place. Whoopee!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Tornados in Minnesota? Dark clouds filled the sky. We stopped in a MacDonald's for a quick coffee in Wadena and the town sirens went off and a U.S. National Guardsman told us a tornado was headed our way. The staff at MacDonald's herded all of us into the ice box. That's past the french fry stand, past where the hamburgers are cooked. About 20 people stood shivering and waiting for the siren to stop for 10 minutes, the longest 10 minutes of the trip so far!

We got the all-clear, and I had the most delicious chocolate shake to go as we wanted to get past the storm. The sky looked clear, so we began driving north to Fargo, North Dakota, only to see this ahead of us. Allen kept saying, that's not really a bad storm. Then the radio kicked on with a severe thunderstorm warning. This time, we drove right through it. This picture is taken right out our front window; the storm filled the sky. Heavy rain, lightning, bits of hail, clouds so dark we couldn't see the horizon, and a constant threat of tornados kept us focused on our driving for the next 20 minutes as we made our way (along with a few other commuters) to Moorhead. And that's as close as I want to get to a tornado!

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Greetings from Mackinaw Island in Michigan. We drove here yesterday, up through the rolling farmland of Michigan, past the turn off for Travers City, and noting how small towns dominate here, the largest being about 3,000 people. We're in Mackinaw now over night after spending the day biking on the Island (no cars are allowed). We took the winding bike path up the hill to Arch Rock and saw lots of white and pink trillium and these lovely yellow ladies slippers along the way.

We're still headed west, through the Upper Peninsula of Michigan tomorrow, then on to Wisconsin and Minnesota. Gas prices here are averaging $4.04 with lots of rain predicted for Friday, Saturday and Sunday; my heart goes out to those in the midwest now fighting floods. We're skirting the top of the bad weather AND only 1800 miles to Spokane!

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

We left Great Falls at 8:30 am yesterday and covered 400 miles, crossing from Virginia through Maryland and Pennsylvania, over two turnpikes to Ohio, past rolling fields, smack into a thundertorm which spread over several states and which has now thankfully passed on, leaving our car very, very clean. We were at the very edge of the storm, near Lake Erie, and the clouds were beautiful, with opposing winds pushing them in large circles, reminding me of the dragon paintings by Daoist monk and painter, Chen Rong, who lived in China in the 13th Century. His works are not often exhibited in the U.S. and I only discovered him several years ago online. His most famous work is Nine Dragons, a 50 foot long hand scroll painted in 1244. It is said the master painted while deliberately drunk, but the dragons float on clouds that shimmer with life.

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Gettysburg. A Civil War battle site where Confederate troops met Union troops over three days in July 1863, and Robert E. Lee's drive north was stopped. We spent 5 hours touring the different aspects of this three-day battle in these hot, humid, rolling hills, fully a month before the actual battle occurred. At first the plans on both sides of attack and retreat were balanced, but Union troops withdrew to high ground, and with the Confederate troops' last attack over Pickett Field: some 12,000 men advanced in a line nearly a mile wide, with no cover, into canon and rifle fire. Lee's frontal strategy failed. Some 5,000 men were lost in one hour, 51,000 died over the three days.

The Gettysburg National Park tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from both sides, with monuments dotting the landscape. A Visitor's Center took us three hours to view the many artifacts, letters, and commentary. The fields are peaceful, and a solemn air pervades as we drove through the 24-mile auto-tour, coming to know the physical reality of McPherson Ridge, Pitzer Woods, Spangler's Spring, and the High Water Mark, all places where individual acts of great courage took place. Major General Meade devised a fish-hook strategy that put his troops on high ground and that allowed him to move men as needed quickly inside the fish-hook. The attacking Confederate forces were on the outside of the fish-hook, on low ground, with a wider perimeter to move troops.

Here in November, 1863, Lincoln spoke his 227-word iconic Gettysburg Address to heal the nation, following a two-hour oration by a prominent politician. His words, taking just a few minutes, were mocked by some but have lasted and still reverberate.

The many monuments large and small, several by 20th Century sculptor Gutzon Borglum, of Mount Rushmore fame, capture the sense of dedication, sacrifice and loss, as Borglum's memorial to North Carolina does.

What I will remember most from this now peaceful national park, with fields and forest edged with wooden fences, is a time of great effort and sacrifice, to affirm, as Lincoln said, "the proposition that all men are created equal." Like today, hidden economic interests in the north and south propelled us to war, but both sides were driven by ideals and a sense that government should be "by the people, for the people." What this means today is that no matter how large our country, we should all have a say in the decisions that are made, politically, economically, socially, and strategically.