This unusual novel features identical twin sisters, inseparable as children, living in a small town in rural Louisiana. The town’s founder, a light skinned Black man, insisted on maintaining a certain character for the town–only light skinned Black people should live there. At sixteen the sisters run away to New Orleans where they ultimately choose diametrically opposed lives, one passing as white, marrying a wealthy white man who knows nothing of her true past. In spite of the deception and lies, years later their lives become intertwined in unexpected ways. The novel not only addresses themes of race but also sexual identity and who we are as individuals and a country.
One Book a Week-7: “Memorial Drive, A Daughter’s Memoir” by Natasha Trethewey
Published in 2020, and a must read for anyone who cares about abused women, their rights, and how law enforcement often fails them, this book by Trethewey, 2007 Pulitzer Poetry Price winner for “Native Guard”, voices her struggle to deal with her mother’s untimely death. When Trethewey was nineteen and in college, her mother was shot and killed by her step-father after the police officer assigned to protect her mother left his post early. Additionally, the memoir details the effects of the racism she experienced as the child of a white father and black mother (married when it was illegal where they lived) in Mississippi and later in Atlanta in the 1970s and 80s before her mother’s murder in 1985. The book gets its title from the street on which her mother lived when she was murdered. Through this memoir Trethewey discusses how her parent’s divorce, her mother’s remarriage to an angry, abusive man, and her mother’s murder has informed her life and affected the enduring love she holds for her mother.
One Book a Week-5: The Importance of Paris by Cynthia F. Davidson
This memoir take place when the author decides to move to Paris in order to address certain “issues” related to her childhood and young adult years. She grew up in Saudi Arabia before the oil boom and went to high school and lived in Beirut when it was considered one of the best cities in the world. She had to leave when Lebanon became war torn, her dad was kidnapped, and her sister shot. Her return to the US proved traumatizing even though she is not genetically of Middle Eastern descent. Paris was filled with Lebanese refugees so she moves there in an attempt to understand what happened to her beloved Lebanon and why.
This is not an ordinary memoir. I could not stop reading it; I wanted to know what happens next and why. It includes a graphic honesty not found in most memoirs I’ve read. In addition, it contains political and historical explanations for the events that transpired during the time period of the book.
Want to learn more about the background to current events in the Middle East? Want to read about a remarkable life? Then read this memoir.
One Book a Week-4: FINDING THE MOTHER TREE: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest
When it first came out in 2018, I read The Overstory by Richard Powell. Finding the Mother Tree: Discovering the Wisdom of the Forest by Suzanne Simard appears to contain the endless years of detailed research and life story behind one of the characters in Powell’s novel. In fact, in her Acknowledgements, Simard thanks Powell for helping to make her life’s research more accessible to the general populace.
Simard’s book is part memoir, part detailed scientific explanations of her research and how a forest works and lives, and part how difficult it is to be taken seriously in the science world if you are female and your research contradicts the norm. She grew up in Canada. Her family made a living cutting down trees. Her family and life was and is intricately interwoven with nature. Even as a child, she was obsessed with tree roots, crawled around on the forest floor to see what lived there. A specific fascination was all the types and colors of fungi that grew just under the surface. Why were they there? What purpose did they serve? Later this became her life’s work, leading her to discover how trees of varying species use these fungi to communicate with and nurture each other. Of special significance are the “mother trees”, older, larger trees who provide nurturance to all the younger trees around them, recognize their kin, favoring them as they nurture all the other trees as well.
Traditionally, loggers and timber companies clear cut, then replanted with seedlings of all the same species of evergreen. It took Simard decades of research to convince them that it was not only the poorest way to grow new trees but also the least economical. For decades they saw her as some nutty woman, laughed at her research, laughed at her, even using epithets to her face. Ultimately, however, her work led to changes in how forestry is practiced.
This book relates her long struggle to save the forests. For those who are science minded, the final pages of the book contain 32 pages of Critical Sources. If you are interest in learning more about “mother trees”, go to http://mothertreeproject.org. It defines the term “mother tree” and explains how trees communicate. It also contains videos.
An Afternoon at The Getty Center
Yesterday my daughter and I drove to The Getty Center to wander around, look at the art, eat at the restaurant, enjoy the views which are quite spectacular.
Two views of the Pacific Ocean from different vantage points. The Getty Center is on top of a hill with spectacular views in almost every direction.
Looking in the opposite direction is a view of a lot of Los Angeles.
In the distance loom the snow capped mountains close to where I live in the San Gabriel Valley.
Across the 405 freeway are large houses and vineyards.
Currently, one entire section of The Getty Center features a Mayan codex, a few pages of one of the oldest ever found.
The view from where I took several photos back through an open area. The Getty Center is huge, made mostly out of limestone.
Much of the art currently on view is about the Virgin of Guadalupe and religious paintings related to the birth of Jesus.
The Murals at Mendez High School
Every Wednesday I visit Mendez High School in Boyle Heights near downtown LA. I volunteer as a college counselor for College Match LA. The school is named after the couple who, in 1946, sued for equal education for Mexican children and won.
View of downtown from in front of the College Center area where students go to get help with college applications, learn from presentations by admissions officers from different colleges, and work on college and financial aid applications.
Thanks to the two guys sitting here chatting for giving me permission to take this photo.
An Afternoon at Laguna Beach
Every year Laguna Beach has a Garden Tour. We decided to take a look and celebrate Mother’s Day one day early–my daughter, grandson, his girlfriend, and I. To be honest the tour was a bit disappointing but Laguna Beach itself definitely was not. We enjoyed ourselves immensely and will return.
We decided to do the cardio tour–yes, that is what they called it. The shuttle drops everyone off at Garden 1, you follow a map, and walk the rest of the tour. The option is to take the shuttle just about everywhere. We did not do that. Here are a few photos I took along the way.
A door I loved in an alley along the way.
The final street of the tour was the street closet to the ocean.
The Huntington–Gardens, Part One
Where have I been? Entertaining my son whom I had not seen in more than two years. One of the things he wanted to do was visit The Huntington in Pasadena after seeing some photos I took on a visit in January. Unless you get there as soon as they open and stay all day, it is impossible to see everything in one day. I have been there four times and only seen the gardens. The library and art gallery await for another time. Here are the photos from the first excursion with my son, Erik.
In many place in the gardens you can see the San Gabriel Mountains in the background.
Easy Vegetarian Chili Dinner
I had some Soyrizo in the refrigerator–chorizo made from soybeans–and decided to try making chili with it. I sautéed one finely chopped onion in olive oil and added the Soyrizo after removing it from the casing and breaking it up into small pieces. After the onion was translucent, I added one deseeded and chopped red bell pepper and a deseeded and chopped poblano pepper. To this mixture I added one can undrained black beans and 1 small can chopped tomatoes. I let this mixture cook on low for several hours before serving. The Soyrizo makes it a little bit spicy, but if you want more spice add berbere, chili powder, etc. to your taste. I like thick chili but if you want it more like the consistency of soup, just add some broth or water.
The salad was made with a mixture of greens, chopped red bell peppers, dried bing cherries, and sliced leeks broken up so you can see the circles. These bowls have been in my family for decades. They were the everyday dishes my mom used when I was growing up.
Note: For those out there who question, and rightfully, some of the ingredients in meat substitutes, I do get it. However, once in a while I like to jazz up the food a bit.
An Old Bowl and the Silver Spoon
My Aunt Julia, Mom’s sister, lived to 94. She loved fine antique china, linens, and French furniture. The ordinary bowl in this photo defies those inclinations, its origins a mystery. How did she acquire such a plain bowl and why? I will never know. In spite of its age, cracks, dull finish, I have used it every morning for decades. It is my breakfast bowl, filled with yogurt or cottage cheese with dried blueberries and a handful of walnuts, or, occasionally, oatmeal.
The spoon, on the other hand, is not ordinary, but rather good silver from the set Dad gave Mom on their first wedding anniversary. Unlike Mom, who saved her good silver for holidays and special occasions, I use these spoons daily and think of her unconditional love, strong will, determination, and love for beauty.