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August 10, 2013

Summertime in Chattanooga 2013

At the end of our month-long eastern road trip, we enjoyed two months in our new home in Chattanooga.

The weather was mild, only a few days did the temperature rise much above 90 degrees F. There was more rain than usual, but typically only for part of the day. I ran a mile or so around the neighborhood park every other day and was rained out only once.

Having a wider choice in restaurants has been nice. There are two good Indian restaurants, though we have to remember to ask them to make the food spicy. Boccaccia LLC serves tasty Italian food, and unlike typical slightly-high-priced restaurants, the portions are generous. We dined there when Terry’s sister Becky and brother-in-law Gordon visited and again to celebrate Terry’s birthday. The most interesting new discovery was Sluggo’s North, an all-vegan restaurant north of the river. Like Chinese Buddhist restaurants, Sluggo’s (which has a “South” branch in Alabama) lists “meat” dishes on the menu, but they are all made with non-meat ingredients. We discovered the restaurant by accident, when we went there at 9:30 one Friday evening at the beginning of a music-filled weekend. We wanted to hear a hip-hop performance, headlined by the local group Natural Habitz and advertised as beginning at 10:00. (I teach African American History & Culture and have spent much of the summer trying to overcome a deficiency in knowledge of the contemporary period.) Because of technical delays, the program had not begun by 11:15, so we reluctantly reported that it was past our bedtime and requested a refund. During our initial wait over a beer, though, we were enticed by the menu, and when we returned a couple of weeks later, we were not disappointed. Saturday afternoon, we listened to the spirited Knoxville-based klezmer group, Tennessee Schmaltz, and Sunday we went to a weekly outdoor market to hear a couple of bluegrass groups.

We are gradually becoming familiar with our neighborhood. We’ve causally met people in the Highland Park Neighborhood Association and others on the street. We’re a little hesitant about becoming known to too many people until we are here permanently. A waiter at Sluggo’s lives nearby and told us about Mary’s Lounge, an “over-30” blues bar in the neighborhood, but I guess we will not make it there until next summer. I shopped and got a discount card at the Rite-Aid pharmacy a few blocks away. For future reference, a dental clinic, a physical therapy clinic, and a couple of florists are within a few blocks – all near Wally’s restaurant. A barber shop, too, but it seems to be closed a lot of the time and may cater more to women. My first local hair-cutting experience was with a $16 downtown barber. My second, more satisfactory one was at the Live and Let Live Barbershop and Laundromat, about a mile from home, not too far from the university. There is a branch post office a few blocks away, but we have to travel at least a mile and a half to get to a branch of our bank. As in Joplin, we ended up doing most of our grocery shopping at Wal-mart, 3-4 miles away. Oh, and there is a great bus system. When we return in December, I will be eligible for a senior pass, which lowers the fare from $1.50 to 75 cents.

I put in about 30 (relaxed) hours a week preparing for fall classes. By the time I retire, I will finally have all my syllabi in perfect shape for effortless teaching. I also continued networking with local schools. Chattanooga State, the local community college, wants me to call in December about possible part-time teaching. I made a little progress on two research projects, trying to answer the respective questions: 1) Why did the federal government pick George Washington Carver as the first non-white and non-president to honor with a National Park Service historic site? 2) Why did Folkways’ 1975 recording of Ossie Davis reading Frederick Douglass’s Fourth of July speech omit the crucial, concluding “Constitution” section? After I got my book published (first review, in China Quarterly, is more favorable than not), I told Terry I was not interested in doing any more research. What I have come to realize is that I was simply not inspired to do more research on Sino-U.S. relations.

I made several trips (a pleasant mile-and-a-half walk) to the Lupton Library at the University of Tennessee Chattanooga. Besides consulting books for classes, research, and general interest, I looked at several decades of the Tennessee Historical Quarterly. The state’s history is quite interesting – Jacksonian radical Francis Wright established a colony for emancipated slaves near Nashville, pro-Union and pro-Confederacy forces fought it out before, during, and after the Civil War, there was a Ruskin utopian colony, a Gilded Age Supreme Court monopoly case on sugar rates, etc., etc.

With help from friends at the synagogue, Terry found a teacher for the dobro she bought several years ago. She took weekly lessons and has made splendid progress. She is amazed that I don’t tire of listening to “Wabash Cannonball,” but it is one of my favorite songs. I have been pretty good about studying Chinese every day. Besides working on the film script for Zhang Yimou’s movie To Live I have used correspondence with a couple of Chinese friends as learning texts.

We made a few small upgrades to the house, like re-hanging the door to the laundry room and having a fancy new (old) chandelier installed in the dining room. We thought that putting down a new floor on the enclosed upstairs back porch would be a modest project, but it evolved into a fairly substantial one. It turned out that water coming in through the screens-only windows had been ruining not just the porch flooring but a structural 4x4 that (formerly) supported one corner of the house. Our terrific construction guy, Adrian, fixed everything, installed windows, and raised the porch by about a third of the 4 inches it had sunk over the years. The latter had the unanticipated consequence of pushing an old square-headed nail up from a floor board in the adjacent bathroom one evening, which provoked quite a gusher of blood when I stepped on it. Fortunately, I had had a recent tetanus shot.

Perhaps the biggest success of the summer was the mundane act of installing a new mail box. The house came equipped with a rural mail box on a post, just inside the sidewalk. When I stated my intentions of putting a new mailbox on the porch, our neighbor Richard explained the local rule, at least for our neighborhood, that no mailboxes can be moved from the curb or sidewalk to the house. Homes that already have a box on the house are grandfathered in, but new occupants are supposed to move their boxes to the street. The intent is to make it possible for letter carriers to deliver mail without leaving their vehicles. Well, my intent was to forestall decades of having to walk to the sidewalk, often in the rain, in order to pick up my mail. Fortune smiled on us. One day I was on the front porch when our carrier came by. I asked him about the rule. He confirmed it and suggested I asked someone at the neighborhood post office for permission to move the box. He also said that he was only a temporary carrier for our route, until a permanent one replaced the one who had recently retired – and that the location of the mailbox would not matter to him. He further observed that a carrier could not deliver to our current box without leaving his or her vehicle, in any case. We decided – without further consultation – to install the new box on the house and a flower pot in place of the old box. When the new, permanent carrier appeared on the scene a week later, he probably assumed that the box had always been on the house.

-- Norty

August 08, 2013

Summer 2013 East Coast Trip

We're off on another U.S. road trip.

May 16-17
Drove from Chattanooga summer residence to Staunton, Virginia. Stayed at Staunton Choral Gardens B&B. Woodrow Wilson was born in Staunton (pronounced “Stanton,” as we learned). Though his parents moved to Augusta, Georgia, two years later (where his Presbyterian minister father had a better job offer), Staunton claims him as a favorite son. In the morning, we visited the Wilson home and the Presidential Museum. The latter is modest as Presidential museums go, but the backyard garden is attractive and has won awards. We spent the afternoon wandering through antique stores. We ate at several good restaurants during our stay, leaving others to sample in the future.

May 18-19
Drove to Leesburg, Virginia, where we spent a joyful day and a half with grandson Elliot and granddaughter Allison – and their parents.

May 20
Took a series of busses and trains to Manhattan, where we settled into our quaint under-$200/night accommodations at the Chelsea Lodge in the neighborhood of Chelsea. The room is big enough for a full-sized bed but not a queen. It includes a sink, a shower, and a laptop-size flat-screen television. The toilet room down the hall has a “vacant/occupied” sign, like an airplane toilet. It is clean, so no problem. We took a pleasant walk along the fairly new High Line, which was once an active then a decaying rail line and is now an artsy, flowering urban scene. We met friends Marty and Nao for an Ethiopian dinner and lively discourse about literature, politics, etc.

May 21
Breakfast at The Dish, an old-fashioned Greek immigrant-run diner around the corner from our hotel. Eggs, etc. We spent most of day at the Museum of Natural History. It would be best to visit this museum over a period of several days, in order to see and digest everything. We saw perhaps half of the museum – exhibits of modern animals, prehistoric animals, and the origin of the universe and earth. One of many interesting items was a desert jack rabbit that can hop along at 44 miles per hour. We navigated the subway system back to our room in time to freshen up and dress for the annual Members Meeting of the National Committee on United States-China Relations. This is the event that actually brought us to New York. After the half-hour meeting, Admiral Samuel Loclear, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, spoke and (intelligently) answered questions. We then socialized for a while (inter alia, we met the head of Hershey’s international operations) and eventually returned to Chelsea and had a delicious dinner at Lasagna Ristorante.

May 22
Breakfast at The Dish. Today we tried and enjoyed the French toast. Our first stop was the African Burial Ground. When the General Services Administration began construction of the Ted Weiss Federal Building in 1991, they discovered that there was a graveyard below street level. Historians and archaeologists came into play – the former to establish (from old maps and documents) that this was where African slaves had been buried in the 17th and 18th centuries, the latter to analyze the bones and accompanying artifacts. Next, people from the community mounted protests. Ultimately, a compromise emerged. Part of the area would be preserved as a National Park Service memorial, the new federal building would house a museum showcasing the burial ground, and archaeologists from Howard University would study the remains. The exhibit and memorial are fascinating for what they reveal about African American history, American history, and the process of historical research. Almost as interesting as the museum and exhibit was a school tour that we inadvertently joined. About two dozen upper-level grade school students (probably fifth grade) from Brooklyn PS251 were in the film room, where the park ranger had just begun giving them background information about the site. After this introduction, he invited questions, and about a third of the students asked intelligent questions. Afterward, I told him and the teacher that I wished my undergraduate students were equally engaged. What makes this scene even more fascinating is a school profile on InsideSchools.org that characterizes PS251 as mediocre. We spent the remainder of the day crisscrossing Chinatown by foot. The Museum of Chinese in America and the Original Chinatown Ice Cream Factory were among the highlights. At the latter, we had green tea and red bean ice cream. At one of the many shops, we purchased a colorful little statue of Sun Wukong, the monkey hero of the classic Chinese novel and television series Journey to the West. We had delicious food – lunch at one of several vegetarian restaurants we saw and dinner at the fabulous Buddha Bodai Restaurant, which we had identified in advance and which caters to the kosher-keeping Jewish community, as well as to Chinese and vegetarian diners.

May 23
Another tasty day-starting breakfast at The Dish – raisin bran muffins and fresh fruit. We spent the morning and early afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Between us, we took in the American Art collection, the Asian Art collection, and special exhibits on Civil War photography and the modernist reception of African art in the United States in the early 20th century. All exhibits were excellent. They generally stopped early in the 20th century, so we hope that the Museum of Modern Art will pick up at that point. We also found (and bought) a nice set of earrings for Terry. A stroll in the rain up Museum Mile took us to the Jewish Museum. The permanent exhibits were great, including interesting paintings, a scaled-down replica of an ancient Syrian synagogue (which proves that early Judaism did not prohibit artistic representations of humans), and – most surprisingly – a beautiful arc from an early orthodox synagogue in Sioux City, Iowa. We ended the day meeting cousins Mike and Dalia for a delicious dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant. Dalia, an archivist at the Ford Foundation, promised a tour of the foundation the next time we visit. On the way to the restaurant, we saw a mother duck escorting 8-10 ducklings along the sidewalk. There was quite a spectacle, as several people stopped traffic to enable the ducks to safely cross the street. No driver complained, not a single honk. I attempted a photo just before the traffic-stopping episode, but apparently I did not push the camera button hard enough.

May 24
Another day-starting breakfast at The Dish. Then, it's off to the Museum of Modern Art (a.k.a. MOMA). The exhibits of late-19th and early-20th century expressionist, impressionist, futurist, and modernist art were great. The exhibits of later work were uneven; i.e., the art itself was less inspiring to us. We both particularly enjoyed seeing the original of Picasso's "Three Musicians." From the MOMA, we embarked on our most arduous travel so far on the trip. A series of trains took us across the river to Queens, where the Louis Armstrong Home Museum is located. The weather grew colder, wetter (drizzle), and windier. We ended up walking at least a mile, because of a miscalculation by us, incomplete directions from the Museum, poor street planning by the city, an incompetent GPS, or some combination of the foregoing. The tour, fortunately, turned out to be worth the effort. Like the Harry Truman house in Independence, Missouri, (and, no doubt, a few others around the country and the world), the house is pretty much as it was when Armstrong died in 1971. His widow, Lucille, made a few upgrades after that. Our guide, Ben, is a graduate student in the Jazz Studies program at Queens College. He did an excellent job of narrating the objects in the house as well as key episodes in Armstrong's life and career. Ben particularly emphasized Armstrong's modesty and generosity, symbolized by the fact that he remained in this blue-collar neighborhood, where he was an uncle-figure to many children, long after he could have afforded the most luxurious housing New York had to offer. Next, we took at taxi to meet, dine as guests of, and visit with some never-before-met relatives, Reuven and Zahava Schanzer, their son Ayall, and his wife and daughter (Angelica and Brianna). Cousin Fruman recently sent me a copy of a memoir that Reuven published several years ago, which incorporates genealogy into a harrowing tale of escape from Nazi Germany, settlement in Palestine (then Israel), and eventual immigration to Queens. Reuven's grandmother Sarah Stutinksly was the sister of my great grandfather Samuel Jacobson. Getting acquainted with the Schanzers was delightful. We treated ourselves to a taxi ride back to the Chelsea Lodge.

May 25
Exhausted from the previous day's (and week's) activities, we slept late and started our day with lunch at Murray's Bagels. The bagels (naturally, this is New York) were deliciously chewy. We had bought tickets for a Harlem Renaissance walking tour, to be followed by a tour of Alexander Hamilton's nearby home. Since the weather was still cold, wet, and windy, though, we arranged for a credit and plan to take these tours the next time we come to New York. (We will probably do that in a year or two, the next time we attend a National Committee Members Meeting.) Instead, we took a taxi to the Museum of Sex. It was quite interesting, focusing mostly on human sexual activity, but there was also an exhibit on sex in the animal kingdom. Our interest, of course, was strictly academic. On the way back to our room, we noticed the Dil-e Punjab Deli just a couple of blocks away. The reviews on Yelp describe it as a hole-in-the-wall that is also vegetarian paradise – and inexpensive. We decided to try it out and agreed with the reviewers. For $7 each, we got more tasty food than we could eat. The only thing we did not read the reviews carefully enough to discover was that this is not a sit-down restaurant, so we brought the food back to our room and ate it there. Still, we were pleased with our choice. This place is nearly identical to an Indian take-out restaurant at which I ate a couple of times several years ago when I was in Manhattan doing research on the National Committee.

May 26
After a leisurely final breakfast at The Dish, we checked out and reversed the logistics that brought us to Manhattan – except that: a) there is no weekend shuttle from the Falls Church West subway station to Janelia Farm (where Travis works), so that Travis had to pick us up at the subway station; b) several subway stops were closed for repair, so that we had to switch to a shuttle bus for the penultimate leg of our trip. We were included in a small 40th birthday dinner celebration for Travis and Karen’s rabbi.

May 27
Memorial Day entailed a combination of lounging around the house and assisting Travis (household repairs) and Karen (gardening) with projects. Cousins Richard and Shugar Kronick drove in from Christchurch, Virginia, where he has been teaching Chinese to K-12 students for several years. They are in transition back to China, specifically Hainan Island, for at least a year of teaching English there. Dinner at Sichuan-style China King’s Restaurant was up to Chinese standards.

May 28
After getting Elliot off to school, the rest of us had a breakfast feast at Janelia Farm. Then, Allison skipped off to preschool (at Janelia), Travis and Karen went to work, and Richard, Shugar, Terry, and Norty went home to relax and visit until the Kronicks left in the late afternoon. We enjoyed being with Richard and Shugar and hearing about their plans to return to China for at least a year of (Richard) teaching English on Hainan Island, while Shugar is closer to her family in Macau and the Philippines.

May 29
After sending Richard and Shugar off, we picked Terry’s sister Karen up at the Dulles Airport and drove to Middleton, Maryland, where we had dinner with her other sister Becky and husband Gordon and with Lenore and Dave Bandler, sister and brother-in-law of Janet Rodgers, Terry’s stepmother of almost 50 years, who died this past spring.

May 30
We had a moving graveside ceremony, at which the ashes of Janet and of Terry’s father, Terry Rodgers, were interred. Becky and Terry sang, Lenore read one of her and Janet’s father’s favorite poems, and Karen read a beautiful sonnet that her father had written for Janet. The three sisters and two brothers-in-law had lunch, spent an hour in an antique mall (success: no purchases), and then parted. After dropping Karen back at Dulles, we returned to Leesburg for dinner.

May 31 – June 1
A couple days, in Leesburg, of relaxing on our own and with kids and grandkids. Travis and Norty took an interesting tour of the home in which George C. Marshall lived for about two decades.

June 2-3
Off to Hershey, Pennsylvania, with two grandkids. We spent the first day at Hershey World, where Elliot and Allison enjoyed a trolley tour of the city (and quickly figured out that a costume- and accent-changing character named Wilbur was the same person playing multiple roles) and a tour of a mock chocolate factory. We spent the next morning at Hershey Park, an amusement park. Water activities were particularly popular with the kids. We then made our way back to Leesburg, albeit (we thought) less my cell phone. I probably lost it on the Tilt-a-Whirl. The loss provides a good excuse to get a better TracFone with a Chattanooga number – for $20. [Update: The new phone was only $15. After purchasing it, I found the old phone in my backpack.]

June 4-7
Having unpacked and repacked the previous evening, we travelled by car, bus, subway, and foot to the “Melville, Whitman, and the Civil War” conference at George Washington University. (Later in the conference, we learned that one attendee had mistakenly booked a hotel room in nearby Fairfax, Virginia, where the George MASON University is located.) We spent three nights at a comfortable “Air B&B” – not sure what the “air” represents, but the meaning is that people in this network rent out a portion of their house, apartment, or condo to travelers. We saved several hundred dollars, compared to staying at any of the conference-recommended hotels in the Foggy Bottom neighborhood. We had breakfast each morning at a bagel restaurant a block away and had tasty salad, Chinese, Indian, and Middle Eastern meals for lunch and dinner. The exception was the last-night banquet, at which only one of us enjoyed the vegetarian meal that featured asparagus, portabella mushroom, and eggplant. There were many interesting papers and plenary presentations. We spent about half the time, though, either sleeping late or visiting the Frederick Douglass Home and the Library of Congress. (On future visits, we resolved to plan ahead for tours of the White House, the Supreme Court, the Treasury Department, and the Folger Library.) Besides seeing Beth Schulz from the University of Kansas, we renewed friend- and acquaintanceships from the 2009 Jerusalem conference and met a few new people. I picked up some research ideas for pending projects on Melville and on Frederick Douglass. En route back to Jenelia Farm, we learned that there are not one but two Bus Bay A’s at the West Falls Church Station. We waited for the 2:20 pm bus at what turned out to be the wrong one, but fortunately there was still a 3:25 bus that we could and did catch at the correct one. Friday evening (6/7), we enjoyed a kid-centric service at Travis and Karen’s synagogue.

June 8
A restful day – reading, football catch, watching Travis paint walls, listening to Karen play the piano, napping.

June 9-10
Pleasant drive back to Chattanooga.