Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sounds in the South

Although the weather has been delightful and the scenery picturesque, I think that the most noticeable difference in coming to the deep South are the noises.

Evan as I write this, the serene quiet of the place is striking.  A few bird calls, an occasional rustle of palmetto fronds in the light breeze, but otherwise silence.

Even the cities have an almost eerie silence.  Walking around the historic centers, reading the plaques and peeking into hidden gardens, the traffic noise, dogs, sirens, street work, conversations, are completely absent.  People are immediately friendly, greeting as they pass on the street or on entering stores, but there’s not the constant rumble of sidewalk conversations and commercial chatter.  Joggers pad by, the occasional tour trolley and taxis, but it’s otherwise pretty contemplative.

The change comes in the evenings, when all manner of grunts, croaks, and rasps fill the swamps and marshes.  Sitting outside the hotel rooms, it’s impossible to pinpoint a source or direction: like a well-crafted symphony hall,the sound just envelops you.

By morning, nothing: just the hiss of ocean waves, quiet murmurs from early risers out for a walk and, distant thumps as trucks replenish the restaurants.

I normally have the buds pretty deep into my ears, but I’ve limited them to the car since I arrived.  The quiet is really infusing my soul this week, its an almost spiritual presence everywhere I‘ve traveled.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Warm days among the magnolias

I’m in the southeastern US his week, enjoying the warmth and hospitality of the “other” Low Country.  This seashore is rich with rivers, mud, and marshlands; barrier islands, beaches, and abundant birds and wildlife – I expect that the deltas of the grote rivieren were similar before the land was drained and made habitable by the Dutch.

The weather is picture-perfect, 75 deg F sunny days, cool nights, a bit of breeze, no humidity.  People are friendly everywhere; the regional food is excellent.  Since it’s off-season (pre-SpringBreak) bargains on lodging are everywhere so it’s possible to just hopscotch with the wind and whim day by day.

I attended university at Vanderbilt and became accustomed to springs’ arrival on March 1.  The sun would come out, the weather would warm, and the magnolias would bloom.  I never got used to losing that when I moved back north for grad school.  This week, it all came rushing back – there is no question that this is where I belong at winter’s end.

I did plant a magnolia in the back yard for my 40th birthday, and it bravely brings huge white flowers every April.  But it struggles with the winter and the lack of sunlight in the forests of Seattle.  In 17 years, branches have collapsed under the snow, and it’s branches have straggled trying to find their light.  Here, there are magnificent trees everywhere, and, while the blooms are dogwood and cherry at the moment, the sense is still of the seasons turning a page from winter.

With daily movements and full schedules, computer time has been (blissfully) scarce.  ‘lots of things that I want to catch up with though, spilling lines of car-jiggled text across my notebook for now.  And there’s news and progress (and one setback) to share, so I feel like I’m falling behind here.

But, for now, the evening light is still glowing through the Spanish moss and the music of frogs and crickets are filling the evening air.  There’s something about having the time and the inclination to just sit and soak in it.

There’s (still) something splendid about the antebellum Old South.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Stumbling into Atlanta

The nine hour flight from London (eleven counting the National Express bus) was uneventful but tiring.  As always, I accomplished less than I’d planned, tidying receipts and catching up on e-mails instead of reading a novel or writing a paper. 

Economy doesn’t leave much room for spreading out and getting down to work, and periodic food and drink service means that things need to be picked up and put away every couple of hours.

Lots of good movies were available, though: I caught up with The King’s Speech, Red, and Money Never Sleeps (even though I did).

The plane landed on-time at 6:30 pm, and the fun began.

  • Atlanta has an armed border patrol agent check that you have a passport before you get to passport check.  It’s not clear why they expect anyone to arrive ready for battle, considering the level of search and security elsewhere, nor how anyone could have gotten this far without a passport.  But there they were.
  • Atlanta requires security clearance to get out of the airport.  This requires a full shoes and belt off screening, liquids to be put into bags so they can be re-checked through x-rays elsewhere, and the whole-body scanner for selected customers.  This is totally incomprehensible.
  • The bags, once x-rayed, took an hour and a half to appear on the secondary baggage belt.  It’s now 8:30 and I’ve been avoiding eating on the plane so that I can eat once out of the airport.
  • My Hotwired car rental reservation was re-keyed by the computer to an old number, rather than using the card number I put in.  We chase the reservation for a while before settling on a 15% deposit for a pre-paid car rental. This seems calibrated to be useless to the car company, but annoying to have to track on and off the credit card statements.
  • The Sheraton assures me that if I get on 85 North and go two exits, I’ll see the hotel.  A catalog of hotels appears, every size and color, no Sheraton.  I go one exit further, then start working back.  One exit south of the airport, the hotel appears.
  • 9:30 pm, and there is a five person line for one check-in clerk.
  • The clerk tells me that my prepaid Hotwire reservation means I don’t get credit for the stay.  They will, however, give me hotel points for the $9 parking fee.
  • And for the 6.95 fee for 30 minutes of “internet-lite” access.
  • My two room keys don’t work.  The desk clerk suggests that they were nullified by a text message on my phone, if it was held within inches of the cards.

Perseverance is everything, though, and I am in the room and making the difficult dinner – bed choice (food is past it’s prime after 9 pm, I know…).

I think the pillow will win out: it’s been a long day.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Lazy Saturday

The weather finally warmed up for the first time: the sun came out and temperatures rose to about 60 degrees.  The trees started to bud and the daffodils came out.  ‘Middle of March, and it was finally looking a bit like spring in Cambridge.

It was really too nice to stay in: I’ve been working all week and Saturday would get swallowed up if I gave clients and task lists the chance.  So, off to town in search of adventures.


The various colleges plant gardens, ranging from plantings along the walkways at Wolfson to large formal gardens at Clare.  Things are just starting to come up around town and the planting and Pimms are not yet in swing.  But the flowers are starting to dot the riverbanks and trees with blue, yellow, white, and pink highlights, and joggers and cyclists are becoming a more common sight along the paths.  Punters (people poling boats, not taking bets) are filling the Cam along the Backs; unskilled after a winter away from the water, but game to parade their boats and impress their dates.


The Fitzwilliam Museum has just opened an exhibit of their Italian Drawings.  I am not a fan of early Italian paintings, finding them flat and repetitive in their religious iconography, but I think that the drawings are endlessly fascinating.  These experiments with line and wash, perspective and facial expression, show all the energy of a work in progress.  There are partially erased lines, repeated sketches of the same object trying to get it right, and studies of faces and hands that mirror my own struggles in life drawing classes.  There is lots to learn from: the only frustration is the absolute prohibition on pictures, unusual for a teaching museum.


A charity Quiz Night to benefit the local choir was held in Orwell towards evening.  Our team quickly rose to second place and held the position round after round before being knocked to fifth on the last round.  I blame the emphasis on British Monarchal History and Old County Geography: I really only did well at Maths, Science, and (ironically) Religious Education questions.  Normally I count on American Pop Culture and States Geography to justify my participation.  No such luck last night.