Mountaineers Are Always Free: My Introduction to Roger May

When I travel I always endeavor to find something interesting to do other than the usual tourist attraction. This is especially true in places I’ve visited before.

Sometimes this involves music, like the time I happened upon a Billy Joe Shaver concert at an art opening in Houston. It was such a small event we were able to have a good long visit with Billy Joe (a national treasure). Other times it’s a museum exhibit. That is how I got to see the history of dresses (or something like that) at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.

This week I was reminded of one of these experiences I had in Durham, North Carolina.

I was in Chapel Hill to see a friend and in a Google search prior to the trip I found an exhibit at a letterpress, graphic design, and print shop called Horse & Buggy Press. I had never heard of Horse & Buggy, and had no reason to, but was immediately drawn in by the name of the exhibit. It was called Testify: A Visual Love Letter to Appalachia by Roger May.

My childhood friend and I arrived at the print shop thinking this was as much an art gallery as a print shop. Not so much, but what we found was beautiful. While the majority of the first floor was a print shop there was a small lobby near the door that served as the gallery. Horse & Buggy printed Mr. May’s Testify, a limited edition, two-volume set of books featuring 50 photographs of Southern West Virginia and Eastern Kentucky. Some of the photographs from the books were displayed in frames on the shop’s walls near the front entrance.

Testify

Mr. May’s photographs were stunning and moving. Many of his photographs in Testify were taken less than an hour away from my childhood home. He captured with great care scenes from Central Appalachia as it is and has been for most of my life. I immediately bought the books and currently display them on my living room coffee table. I see them every day.

I recently showed the books to my father, a life-long resident of Central Appalachia, who was a bit flippant about looking at them. I imagine he was thinking that I was forcing him to appreciate some silly art or weird music (he knows his child). That changed when he realized what he was looking at and then he slowed down, his face softened and he looked with interest and more care. He saw something he knew. He said “I drove by this last month.” It is an amazing thing to see the things and places that you love captured in beautiful and respectful ways. That is what Mr. May did in Testify and does in his work. He displays the truth and beauty of Central Appalachia, including its idiosyncrasies and flaws, in a caring and respectful way.

Mr. May’s description of Testify and its meaning is as lovely as the photographs –

This is my testimony of how I came to see the importance of home and my connection to place. After moving away as a teenager, I’ve struggled to return, to latch on to something from my memory. These images are a vignette into my working through the problem of the construction of memory versus reality. My work embraces the raw beauty of the mountains while keeping at arms length the stereotypical images that have tried to define Appalachia for decades.

Mr. May’s first run of Testify went on to sell out. Currently, there are not plans for a second edition (although I bet if Horse & Buggy gets enough requests they might just do one).

I had never heard of Mr. May until I stumbled upon Horse & Buggy. He describes himself as an Appalachian American photographer and is most recently well-known for his work on the Looking at Appalachia project. You can read about it in National Geographic and the New York Times blog. He has a fun Instagram feed (@walkyourcamera) and a giant tattoo on his chest that reads Montani Semper Liberi – Mountaineers are always free, the West Virginia state motto. He is serious about Appalachian and I love that.

This week on Instagram Mr. May announced that he is selling his personal copies of Testify on a first come first serve basis. That post reminded me of what a treasure I found in an unlikely place on a random afternoon in Durham.

I am grateful for Mr. May and his work and love for Appalachia. I am also grateful for adventures that lead me to wonderful new people and things.

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Summer Sunsets

I can’t deny it any longer.

Last week I turned off the air conditioning and haven’t turned on the heat. I do my very best to delay turning on the heat. I am not yet sure whether that is stubbornness, denial or both. But today there is a chill in the air inside the house.

Suddenly, every Saturday morning I regret my choice to not have cable. It is that one time a year when I miss ESPN, or maybe it’s just Kirk Herbstreit.

My white shoes, linen blazer and seersucker suits are dry cleaned and packed away, sadly, for months.

As I type, it is 42 degrees in Fort Wayne. Today’s high is 46 degrees.

It is fall.

In an effort to further my stubbornness and/or denial, I want so share my best of the summer sunsets.

There is not much better than a warm/hot/sweltering walk in the glow of the setting sun in bare legs and short sleeves. I am afraid that there won’t be any more of those until spring.

Indiana Sunsets:

Alaska, Arizona and Washington Sunsets:

The Polar Vortex of 2014

I came to Fort Wayne for the first time in November 2010 for an interview. On the drive to town I became convinced that it was too far from home, too weirdly flat and not easily accessed. The weather was chilly but sunny. There was talk about what the weather would be like but in this two-day visit I fell in love with the academic community and small college campus I was going to join. I left Fort Wayne trying to decide how I was going to explain this move to my family and friends.

I returned in February 2011 to find a place to live. I flew this time and found myself in the midst of the Groundhog Day blizzard. It was cold, roads were snow-covered and at some point prior to my arrival there had been a travel warning prohibiting non-emergency travel. During that visit it all seemed manageable. My realtor drive me around in her minivan. I drove myself around in a rented Ford Explorer. It was an adventure and surely would not happen all the time.

My assessment of the Indiana winter weather was true for the first two winters I was here. The winter of 2011-2012 was barely existent. It kind of snowed once. The winter of 2012-2013 was a bit more serious, it snowed twice and I learned how to shovel (there are strategies and techniques for shoveling snow). That was manageable and I learned something.

Now we have the winter of 2013-2014. This one is not like the others.

Since December it has snowed over a 12 inches. In the last week we have lived in the snow globe that was early January 2014. Thanks, polar vortex. This has been an unwelcome introduction to the other extreme of Indiana winters. On day one of the storm I shoveled 5 times to keep up with the snowfall.

A state of emergency was declared, the National Guard was called out and a non-emergency travel was prohibited. On day two the temperature and windchill was frightening. The temperature was around -20 with windchills as low as -40 and wind speeds of 20 mph. I did not venture out that day.

IMG_6041On day three the temperature got up to 5 but the roads remained nasty with snow drifts and layers of ice. On day 7 we got a break, it reached nearly 40 but it rained (yes, that is nearly a 60 degree change in 3 days).

Now roads, yards and fields are slush-filled ponds. Yesterday on a dog walk I stepped into an area with shin-deep slush on the sidewalk.

I’ve never seen anything like it. It is only January.

I’m told that this kind of weather builds character and stamina. I appreciate that and while I’d prefer to do that voluntarily and in the sun it is rewarding to know that I can handle it – I can live in an extreme weather event by myself (I was in the house for 3 days without any face to face human contact). One day when I live or am vacationing somewhere very warm I’ll say something like “I remember the Blizzard/Polar Vortex of 2014 and it was a mess, but Scout and I had fun.”

Also, snow in large quantities is pretty.

Why Everyone Loves Notre Dame

One of the things that has always been a mystery to me is the University Notre Dame’s (“ND”) and its fan base. Growing up in the mountains of Virginia most people cheered for one of three college football programs – Virginia Tech, Virginia, or Tennessee. Many people were fans because they or their family members attended those schools (I am a proud Cavalier Volunteer) and others because of their proximity to those schools. The proximity fans I can understand, it makes sense, they love the sport and they pick a Division I team that is nearby. Fair enough.

ND Stadium

What I don’t understand is the large number of ND fans that exist in the world. All over the country. Seriously? How does a Catholic school in South Bend, Indiana become the favored team of people everywhere? And when I say favored I mean these people are tattooing the leprechaun on their bodies, flying flags on their cars, and doing all manner of crazy, committed-fan-things. It’s confusing especially when my conversations with these people go something like this:

Me: Did you go to Notre Dame?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Are you from Indiana?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Are you Catholic?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Are you Irish?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Have you been to South Bend?

ND Fan: No.

Me: Then why Notre Dame?

The answer to that last one ranges from “I just do” to talk of “traditions” that the fan has never experienced themselves or something related to the fact that they are always on television. I don’t understand it and I cannot deny that this odd loyalty to ND has, along with the fact that they are constantly on television and over-rated, caused me to dislike ND. I am not a fan.

But, because I pride myself on being fair and trying something before I say I don’t like it, I took myself to South Bend to watch the Fighting Irish play Michigan State. I committed myself to doing it right – seeing all the monuments, experiencing the traditions, and being open-minded about it all. This also allowed me to check another Big Ten stadium off my “to visit” list.

The game was a hot mess. There was not one sustained drive until Michigan State started the second half. The Irish won, but not impressively.

The experience, however, was far more impressive than the game. The ND fans are friendly, passionate, and interesting. For example, my neighbors by my seat were super friendly people. To my left was a Catholic couple who went to Michigan State, were cheering on the Irish because their son teaches there. The sweet wife immediately struck up a conversation and about religion in which she educated me on how the Catholic church marginalizes women and how Pope Francis’s admonishment of the church’s wrongs was too little too late. To my left was a large man who loves ND. He did not attend ND and he’s not Catholic or Irish, but he lives in Northeast Indiana so he gets a proximity pass. He loves ND so much that he has 5 tattoos celebrating his team, including a giant Leprechaun tattooed on his back (luckily, I did not see this but I believe him) and the college’s logo on his ankle (which I saw).

I was also the happy beneficiary of help with campus navigation by friendly ND fans and ND staff. There were lots of smiles and hellos all day.

The stadium, however, is not as nice as the fans. It seems that there isn’t a bad view in the stadium, but the bleachers aren’t much to sit on. The stadium bleachers are wooden 2x6s bolted to the risers. Not comfortable, not wide enough, and they have crammed too many “seats” into a row. I was shocked and disappointed to say the least. My high school’s bleachers are more comfortable. My other issue with the stadium is the score board. ND doesn’t have a jumbotron. Seriously? Can you really consider yourself a world-class Division I program without a jumbotron? I need to be able to watch replays. I am a spoiled UVA and Tennessee fan, both have jumbotrons. The athletic department, donors, and administration at ND need to step it up here and join the 21st century.

ND Bleachers

Then there is the matter of Touchdown Jesus. I have to say I was not fully comfortable with it. It is a beautiful piece of artwork, definitely, but calling it Touchdown Jesus doesn’t seem right. I mentioned this to my neighbor in the stadium, the Catholic feminist to my right, and she quickly responded “well it is no different then calling a pass a Hail Mary.” True, and I had not thought of that (I am very Protestant), but still, it seems somehow disrespectful coming from a religious school.

The library

The ND band was definitely a high point. The band is only one fire baton short of being fabulous. Really. In the South the marching bands have fire batons and that is my standard for greatness, so, the Irish just missed it. The band’s performance was great. However, I was most intrigued by the Irish Guards. I had no idea theses guys existed in the world. I enjoyed their inspection drill and their halftime marching performance. Very neat. I also loved that the band sits on the field. Initially, I thought this was awful, because it appeared that they had to stand the entire game, but when I realized they could sit down I found the proximity better for hearing and somehow more collegiate than having them in the stands. I do love a marching bad.

The grand traditions are also worth loving. Visiting the dome, the basilica and the grotto were alone worth the trip. It must be lovely to have such grandeur on your campus, although I imagine more than one 20-year-old has taken it for granted. I watched the band concert and the march to the stadium. No detail is ignored at ND it seems. The reverence and respect paid by ND to its traditions and buildings is something worth experiencing. It is also very Southern. The South loves and is often hyper-focus on tradition and pomp and circumstance and there is definitely an air of that at ND. It is grand and I enjoyed it very much. I even bought a shirt (gasp!).

All in all, it was a good experience. The campus is beautiful, the people are nice (and if not, they are at least entertaining), and the tradition is a lovely and grand one.

But, make no mistake, I did not leave South Bend a fan. I still think they are the media’s pet and annually overrated, but I do understand a little better now why they are beloved by the masses.

Four Days in L.A.

The summer’s end arrived early and was anti-climatic. One minute it was July and I was recovering from my summer vacation in London and the next it was August and I was teaching again. So, after two months of a new semester and 7 lectures it was time for another trip. One thing I have learned after 2 years and 8 months or so in Fort Wayne is that I require frequent breaks from Northeast Indiana.

Where to then? The short list was Portland, Los Angeles, or home. I spent Labor Day at home so that left Portland and L.A. Portland in October did not sound all that attractive. If I want gray and rainy I can get that in Fort Wayne. So, L.A. won easily.

I set up temporary housekeeping in Santa Monica at The Viceroy, which was fantastic. Some will tell you that the place to stay in Santa Monica is Shutters on the Beach (just in front of The Viceroy). While Shutters is nice and you may run into a celebrity or two there (if you care for that kind of thing) it seems to be more of a family spot – lots of little ones. If you are traveling alone and can bear to walk a block to the beach then The Viceroy (or one of the other boutique hotels in Santa Monica) is probably better suited for you – fewer children and traditional vacationers. If you go please give my best to John and Andrew who work the front door.

It was a near perfect vacation. No work, no writing, no drama. I took long walks on the beach, bought a shirt at Amoeba Music, had a chauffeured tour (note: the chauffeur is a friend, but still) through Beverly Hills and Hollywood, got to the Griffith Observatory on a reasonably clear day, walked Zuma Beach, cruised up PCH, wandered through Malibu, dreamed of working at Pepperdine, socialized with some lovely friends, saw the Endeavor, and watched three near-perfect sunsets.

Even better, every meal was a great gluten-free experience. I dined on lamb belly at Michael Voltaggio’s ink., then had octopus salad and rock fish at Son of a Gun, drank a juice blend called Bright Eyes with my huevos rancheros at True Food Kitchen, had ceviche at Border Grill, and finished up the trip with curry at Rock Sugar. It was fabulous eating. Traveling gluten-free in L.A. is so easy.

The trip was right on time in every way. I can’t even complain about the L.A. traffic, I did not experience any of the bad parts of the city. I’m not sure that I am west coast kind of girl, but 4 days in Santa Monica is really hard to beat. It made returning to the not very sunny Midwest painful. But I still have the pictures . . .

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Traveling: Things I Learned in London

Visiting London has been on my short list for at least three years. I needed to go, but I put it off. There are challenges that come with international travel when you are single. Well, mainly one for me, can I do an international trip alone? Should I?

I travel within North America alone regularly whether it’s a road trip to Canada, a weekend in Asheville, or a work trip to Seattle. But I have never traveled overseas by myself. I have a dear friend that I travel internationally with from time to time, but we haven’t been able to coordinate our destinations and timelines since our Ireland adventure in 2010. And she lived in London years ago and is not so hot to go there. As you have read here and elsewhere, many of my friends are married and have children. Therefore, their travel priorities and vacation time are often spoken for well in advance. My single friends, while willing are not always able. So, I was left to find another travel partner or go it alone.

I found another travel partner, sort of. Last fall I decided, Sister and my brother-in-law permitting, that I would take my oldest niece, The Princess, to London with me. She is sixteen, very smart, and has plenty of domestic travel under her belt, including 30+ trips to Disney World (true story). Also, I really feel blessed by what I have and want to share things that I enjoy with people I love. It is very charming isn’t it? Just like a movie – I am taking my niece on a trip of a lifetime so we can experience travel and a different place together. A time that will bring us back home changed for the better. Dramatic, yes, but it’s fitting or a 16-year-old.

I asked, she agreed and her parents acquiesced.

London was fabulous. We had decent weather, only a couple of days were rainy and cold. We worked the tourists experiences like they were a job: we took the Tube everywhere, saw the changing of the guard, visited Piccadilly Circus, British Museum, Parliament, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Tower of London, St. Paul’s Cathedral, Millennium Bridge, The Globe Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum, Hyde Park, Kensington Palace, Harrods, took walks through South Kensington, Chelsea, the West End, visited Bath, Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral, Dover, Leeds Castle, Canterbury Cathedral, had tea at Fortnum & Mason, ate fabulous meals at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay & The Ledbury, and a cruised up the Thames from Greenwich. We did not do it all, but we did a lot.

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Did we come back changed for the better?

I was told years ago, and still believe it, that we learn more from traveling than we do from anything else. So, while I cannot say that I am changed forever, I can say that I learned somethings.

I’m now tough like my parents were tough.

I remember traveling with my parents as a kid and thinking – wow, they are tough. Of course, I had good reason to think so. My parents are the kind of people who consider long-distance driving without stops or breaks a sport. My Mommy dragged, er, took Sister and I to Washington, D.C. alone and walked us like soldiers from monument to museum all day. They are the kind of people who drive from Iowa to the panhandle of Florida non-stop, just to say that they did it. I suspect my Mommy suggested stopping and my Daddy would have none of it, but either way, that is how they have always rolled. I would get tired and wonder how they continued to walk. I would get bored with the beach and wonder how my Mommy could stay out on the stand from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. (not an exaggeration). Age makes you wise and tough.

This trip reminded me of that – I spent the entire trip about three steps ahead of The Princess telling her to keep up or three steps behind making sure she got where she was going. I could not get tired, wimp out, or stay in (even if I was or wanted to) – I was in charge. I wanted her to get out of it everything she could. I became my Mommy. I get now that my parents were tough for our benefit. They were tough so we could learn, experience the world, and have fun. My enjoyment was their job. They walked longer than they wanted to so that we could see all the sights, stood up at the park all day so that we could ride all the rides, and stayed on the beach so we could swim and play for as long as it took to wear us out. I’ve haven’t given birth but I have become like my parents and for 7 days I felt like I was someone’s mama.

I am more practical than ever.

Everyday The Princess had a nicely coordinated and chic outfit to wear. She was perfectly layered, mismatched, and draped with just the right color scarf. Me, well, it wasn’t nearly as cute; I was most often wearing Keen sandals, a comfortable skirt, and a series of layered shirts that may or may not have matched. Seriously, I brought three skirts, two pairs of shoes, five shirts, and two jackets. I appreciate The Princess’s disregard for comfort, but when the limping started I was reminded that I am now old and wise – a solid color skirt, layered t-shirt/sweater, and comfortable shoes carry the day. I can be super cute at home.

I am no longer a mademoiselle.

This was a sad revelation. I am the first to accept and admit my age. I’ve always been older. According to my mother I was “30 at 15.” It is who I am. So, I get that at my age I could biologically have a 16-year-old child. In fact, I have high school classmates who have 16-year-old children. It is possible. Knowing and understanding this reality, however, is not enough to prevent the shock when someone points it out. The very fabulous and cosmopolitan host at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay approached our table and looked first at The Princess and greeted her as “madamoiselle” and then turned to me, paused, and said “madame.” Really? Madame? Yes, really. Then, at the end of the meal one of the charming, young, and handsome wait staff kept The Princess company while I was in the restroom. He politely asked her if the jacket in the coat check was “her mum’s.” Oh, yes he did. That cute little fella immediately thought I was her mother. It still hurts a little.

There is a reason that parents want to hit teenagers.

“Keep up.”

“Sit up straight.”

“Have you thought about how _____ feels, or why they did that?”

“Don’t be so negative.”

“You should go to sleep.”

“Keep up.”

“Take off your sunglasses.”

“Do you know where we are?”

“You have to talk to people.”

“Keep up.”

“You look miserable.”

“Be polite.”

“Are you having fun?”

“Speak.”

“Keep up.”

What you just read is one-side of the daily conversation during my 6.5 days with The Princess. The other side of the conversation was much simpler. It consistently included the following: “okay,” “I don’t know,” and most often silence. So, there were a lot of one-way conversations.

The good news is that I did not hit The Princess. But, I now have a better appreciation for people who must live with unimpressed, too cool, self-absorbed, scared, confused children that look like adults (i.e. teenagers). You people have my deepest sympathy. I’m told that they grow out of it.

I can travel anywhere alone.

I satisfied myself that I could have easily made the London trip alone. If I can manage 6.5 days with a minor in my charge, I can do it alone. I’ve turned the last of the traveling alone corners. It is a nice bonus to fun trip with a cool kid.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway

I enjoy a racetrack.

A Panoramic from Victory Lane

I went to my very first car race when I was 13 in Bristol Tennessee, at the time it was the Bristol International Raceway. Now it is known as the Bristol Motor Speedway, or the “world’s fastest half mile,” or “racin’ the way it oughta be.” We sat on the back straight-away on the concrete stands. For those of you who aren’t familiar, if you are in the concrete stands you are very close to the track. Like feel the wind off the car and smell the rubber close. At the end of the race I was sunburned on half my face, I smelled of exhaust, and my hair, ears and nostrils were peppered with shards of rubber from the tires.

I loved it.

My Daddy and I attended many races after that one at other tracks and back at Bristol. We have watched from the cheap seats and the luxury skyboxes. I once sat through a two-hour rain delay huddled under a poncho that was split into with my Sister. I have met Richard Petty, Adam Petty, Kyle Petty, and Dale Earnhardt. I’ve also watched the F1 cars run at the Grand Prix from a balcony of Hotel de Paris (located in the casino turn) in Monte Carlo. Later that night I danced about 5 feet from Lewis Hamilton. In all these instances I had great fun and always met kind, fun, and/or interesting people. Race fans are, for the most part, nice people, or at least entertaining.

So, when I had to go to Indianapolis recently for work I checked out what was going on at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. You know, the home of the “greatest spectacle in racing.” How could I not – people have been racing there since 1909. More than a century. It was just my luck that on the day I showed up they were conducting Grounds Tours, which are only available on special dates throughout the year. The tour offers access to the museum and access to the grounds, including walking on the track at the start/finish and touring victory lane, the infield, the press area, the scoring and security suite, and the track’s owners’ suite at the top of the pagoda. I signed up.

The Museum Entrance

We hopped on a bus and did the tour with help from a young and excited tour guide. Like any group of race fans my touring partners were nice and friendly. There was a group of bus mechanics from Washington state, a guy in town on business who had been to races at Bristol, and some retirees enjoying an afternoon out. It was a fun time.

My highlight reel for the tour includes . . .

The Richard Petty car – the car on display in the museum was the actual car that he ran at Bristol during his retirement year (the Fan Appreciation Tour). I was in attendance at that race. Very cool.

Richard Petty's Car From Bristol

IMS is family owned and the current chair of the board and leader of the organization is a woman, Mari Hulman-George. and her three daughters are also heavily involved. I love it.

IMS Chairwoman

I did not kiss the bricks or drink any milk, but being on the track and having my picture taken at the brickyard start/finish line was very cool.

Start/Finish

It was a great time and I would recommend at tour of IMS to anyone who is interested in racing, sports history, or just a cool way to spend an hour or so.