Wednesday, September 16, 2015
Back From Vacation
It's nice to spend a week away from the Internet and my various current preoccupations, what with the religious freedom issue, the race relations, the whole Confederate Flag stuff and the business about immigration and migration of populations. So, I spent the last week in and around Harpers Ferry, WV, where John Brown made his stand, and where a patch of territory changed hands between Union and Confederacy a handful of times, and also visited the Antietam battlefield, the site of one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War.
Well, on the upside, I did get unplugged from Twitter and all television news programs. So my immersion in history was kind of pure, in the sense that I wasn't engaging with the news cycles. So I missed things like Rick Perry's withdrawal from the 2016 contest (I had a bit of thought he'd do better this time around, not being looped up on pain killers from the back surgery, but no. Once bitten, I guess supporters are twice shy.)
Instead of absorbing news and blogs and the 24/7 noise, I did a lot of walking around Harpers Ferry, Loudon Co,. VA and Jefferson Co., WV, and took in the historical offerings of the National Park Service, which has painstakingly kept history in this region alive. It is a hilly region, and everything, though in walking distance, was uphill both ways. I want to give a shout-out to The Light Horse, which is a brilliant area B&B and an excellent place to stay if you ever get the chance. It's very well situated and pleasantly appointed with tasteful and well-kept antique furnishings--and you get a damn good breakfast there. It happens to be walking distance (if you are a tolerable walker) to both the Bolivar Battlefield site and the Historic Harpers Ferry area. (There is also a liquor store like a block away, and a pizzeria two blocks past it). Also, out of six nights, we ate at the very good Canal House Café three times. They don't have a liquor license, but are BYOB. What kept us coming back? Brilliant food. "The General" is a generous slice of meatloaf with a delicious red sauce--very recommended. I also had the "Blue Ridge" and "Triple Crown"--very tasty variations on the ham and cheese and the BLT sandwiches, respectively. Their farm-to-table concept focuses on fresh ingredients and concentrates on the food being of great quality--and they deliver. For openers, be sure to have one of their soups (you can't miss) and order a side of bread. Even if you aren't a big bread fan, the bread is awesome, with honey and salt-added natural butter. It's just damn decadent. We ate indoors, but outdoor dining is also available. They have organic teas and some nice microbrewed sodas on offer.
I'm going to admit, I steered the husband towards West Virginia in just this area because where the Shenandoah and the Potomac face off on a riparian beauty contest, and the hills wreath themselves in a mist of glamour, is the one area I know puts out for gorgeousness in a fashion that competes with his Calabria. You can't walk through that part of the Appalachian Trail and not just gasp at how nature shows off there. I almost didn't mind how tracking over the landscape did in my usually cubicle-bound body. I got used to a way earlier bedtime--like 10 o'clock.
Now, me being me, I did peruse a handful of books in my otherwise unexercised hours. (I'm an inveterate speed-reader by nature, and just kill books like whev. )
I picked up Tom Wolf's Back to Blood on a Pathmark discount rack. That was what I read on the way down. Wolf is a relentlessly descriptive author. I have enjoyed The Electric Koolaid Acid Test and The Man in Full, and frankly think he was on his best form here, but I kind of think he sort of ended the novel before he wrapped up everything he thought he was going to. I wanted a little more--but this is probably a good sign for a character-driven novel.
The scholarly work The Warmth of Different Suns by Isabel Wilkerson was on the mantle in the room we stayed in, so I read that. It's about the northward migration of African-Americans who experienced the Jim Crow South and needed to break out of that life. It was a book that reinforced my feeling that, despite their ancestors being in North America for a great while, in some respects the African-American experience is that of being a migrant in one's own home country--unassimilated because of being prevented from assimilation in many ways. This is a thoughtful and careful study, and a book I would recommend for better understanding the Black Lives Matter situation today.
I picked up Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates in a local bookstore. Also I got John Steinbeck's Cannery Row from a free book pile, and also Starving the South : How the North Won the Civil War by Andrew F. Smith. The latter book was about how food economics, especially production and distribution, determined why General Lee was obliged to surrender ultimately--because the food supplies of the south were devastated by the North as a matter of strategy, but also, because the actual agricultural landscape of the South relied on non-edible cash crops like tobacco and cotton, and were slow to transition to more useful food supplies. And the South lacked the logistical infrastructure that the North had in the form of the railroads. It was very elucidating stuff.
I read a few other things, but these were like, the big-idea books that colored my thoughts. I think reading Cannery Row reminded me of how "scraping by" so many folks' lives were for so much of our history. It makes my middle class life seem luxurious by comparison. Reading about so much struggle, I just want to celebrate.
But none of my reading makes me want to take a thing for granted. I feel like I read about America as struggle, and want to go back to that fighting thinking again. I visited history--and it filled up my senses. Like a night in the forest. Like the mountains in springtime. Like a walk in the rain....
Erm. Also, a shout-out to The Vintage Lady. This store almost died in a fire a couple months ago, but is so robust and I recommend anyone in the area--go there! They have great products with local flavor, and if you are vacationing in the area, this is the ideal place to get gifts for your folks back home. I coveted all the jewelry they had and bought a few pair of lovely mismatched socks, and some earrings, and a necklace. If you visit, you will fall in love with something there.
This was a great vacation. I love West Virginia, and environs. It is my home away from home.