Archive for August, 2009

A potent Intervention we could all use

August 30, 2009
Buddha was the main character on stage in 2006

Buddha was the main character on stage in Paperhand Puppet's 2006 show

For 15 years I lived in Boston, and for 15 years I ignored Bread & Puppet‘s  “cheap art and political theater in Vermont.” I was stupid and thought myself too cool to hang with the crunchies. I have found salvation from my sins here in North Carolina: Paperhand Puppet Intervention. (Plus, with age, I seem to have become a bit crunchie myself.)

When I first heard about Paperhand, my eyes glazed over. Puppets? Not my cup of chamomile.  But after enough People I Trust told me it was the coolest thing ever, I succumbed. My review: Coolest Thing Ever. I want to take everyone there, but since I can’t, I’ll just tell y’all about it. And, please, if you ever visit our neck of the woods, try to catch a show by one of the most creative artistic groups you’ll find anywhere in the world. To whet your appetite, check out their videos and photos online. If you need a ride, let me know.

Mother Earth fills the stage in 2008

Mother Earth filled the stage in 2008

First, the “puppets.” They’re huge, breathtaking, soulful, gorgeous. Also onstage at various times: giant masks, stilt dancing, rod puppets, shadow puppets and more. And a wonderful live band accompanies them. The puppets live at Paperhand’s home (secured this year!) in Saxapahaw, a former mill town being reborn by creative types.

Story about fisher family and a rapidly transforming world

A tale about a fishing family in a rapidly transforming world debuted in 2007

Second, the stories. They often start with an epic myth (this time the Babylonian creation epic) played out violently and then transforming into scenes of  peace, love, social justice, etc.  Yes, the audience is hit over the head with this stuff, but it’s OK because it’s all true and real and wonderful and you just want to have a giant group hug by the end.

Stilt dancers in the 2008 show

Stilt dancers in the 2008 show

Third, the people. Paperhand was formed in 1998 by co-creators Jan Burger and Donovan Zimmerman. You know they and their co-conspirators are not getting rich doing this, so you already have to love them for pouring their hearts, souls, energy, and savings accounts (as if) into carrying forth a mighty mission. From their website: “Our vision is inspired by our love for the earth and its creatures (including humans) as well as our belief in justice, equality, and peace.” And this: “Paperhand’s mission is to make work that inspires people, promotes social change, and is deeply satisfying for everyone involved.”

There are always (I think) four acts. The third ends with the biggest puppet/creature (carried forth by several people) going up into the audience to be touched by adoring children in the crowd. The first year we went, in 2006, the star was a heart-achingly beautiful 20-foot Buddha. This year it was a lion. But it was so much more than that.

Children touch the lion during the traditional walk thorugh the audience

Children rush to touch the lion as it lumbers through the crowd

This year’s 10th anniversary show,  “The Living Sea of Memory” (in the area through Sept. 12), is  dedicated to Kevin Brock, the band’s drummer and dear friend, who died last year at the very early age 37.  There has been a huge outpouring of love for this man who illuminated many people’s universes. The lion in the performance is Kevin. It comes through the crowd after the act called “Memory,” in which family stories (from the cast) are shared through the puppets. I think I would have cried anyway, but after losing my mom this year, those stories tore me up.  When the lion came lumbering up the stairs of the wonderful Forest Theatre amphitheater, children rushed up, hands reaching out to touch him. Pure magic.

Standing ovation for another magnificent show

In 2009, the usual standing ovation for another magnificent show

I read today that several of the shows on this current tour have been rained out, which means less money for the troupe.  I don’t expect you to read this and send in a little tax-deductible donation to help cover Paperhand’s rent, but you’re certainly welcome to.  And please try to see these amazing artists and activists.  They are the change they wish to see.


The kindness (and cooking) of strangers

August 25, 2009
Good Samaritans Steve and Diane of Concord, NC

Good Samaritans and awesome cooks, Steve and Diane of The Ibis in Concord

It was bound to happen. I’m in and out of my car at least a dozen times a day, sometimes double that, while researching my farm-travel guidebook to North Carolina. In a series of events not worth explaining, with only my cell phone in my hand, I locked my keys in the car. ARGH…. I called Better World Club (better version of AAA) and waited for help.

Meanwhile, I was starving. I was surrounded by food, most of it raw, as I’d just arrived at the farmers’ market on the NC Research Campus in Kannapolis (there’s a whole other story to that). But one table really caught my eye, or should I say nose — take-out Caribbean-influenced dishes. I told the woman there, Diane, that I’d be back as soon as I could get my wallet out of my car.

The Farmers' Market in Kannapolis is open May 7 - October 29, Thursday evenings 4-7 pm

The Farmers' Market in Kannapolis; open May 7 - Oct 29, Thursday evenings 4-7 pm

The market closed before my car was opened. I was so sad. Until Steve, Diane’s husband/partner walked over and said “what do you want to eat?” They gave me two containers full of amazing food — herbed chicken breast with crunchy veggies in a curry sauce, and a bean and meat dish. They refused to let me later send them a check. They said they had had a restaurant in Concord, NC, called The Ibis but that now they were only catering. If you’re in the area, hire them, or visit them at the farmers’ market.

200908_35_Concord_The IbisThank you, Steve and Diane. If I’m back at the market, I’m *buying* your awesome meals to go and giving you a big, big tip. But I know what you really want me to do is pay it forward, and so I shall.

Just out: the perfect break-up gift

August 22, 2009

Love is a Four-Letter Word

On my bookshelf, from my relationship-writing days at the Boston Globe, is a book called “Make Up, Don’t Break Up.” But let’s face it, more often the more useful advice is  “Break Up, Don’t Make Up.”

When you do, whether it’s your choice or not, there’s a book for that. Hot off the press is the anthology “Love is a Four-Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships, and Broken Hearts” (Plume, $16). It was edited by my friend Michael Taeckens (say TAKE-ins), who lives here in Durham, NC, and is publicist for Algonquin Books in Chapel Hill, one of the best and coolest book publishers in the world.

Michael Taeckens captivates his adoring audience at Durham's favorite bookstore

Michael Taeckens captivates his adoring audience at Durham's favorite bookstore

What does that mean, “edited by”? In this case, it means Michael came up with the idea, sought out a bevy of bodacious writers (no small feat), worked with them on their stories, wrote his own hilarious and bittersweet essay for the book, and then hashed it all out with his editors to complete the book of 23 entries. Now he’s on the publicity trail, and I’m here to help any way I can.

Like all essay collections, contributions vary wildly, in this case a little more so because Lynda Barry and Emily Flake contributed graphic stories (for you international readers: that’s like a comic strip) and they’re in color, no less! And when Michael saw his pal Patty Van Norman’s childhood breakup notes, he rightfully had to publish those. The most inspired: “Dear Fatso. You are fat and ugly and dumb. You do not love me at all.”

Margaret Sartor reads from the book

Margaret Sartor reads her break-up story

Last night (I’m so current!), we went to a reading by Michael, Patty (hers was quick!), and two other contributors, Margaret Sartor and Wendy Brenner. Margaret‘s “The First Time” sweetly chronicled her first heartbreak, as a teenager. I chuckled during the part about her being “saved,” and moving in Jesus circles for a while. As I told her, I still have my Bible from my own period of salvation, at age 11 or so. My heartbreak came later.

Wendy read from “I Love You in Twelve Languages,“ a wrenching piece about the lover, muse, and fiance she could and could not be with. He died from alcoholism in 2007.  This, from the story (not the reading), sums up the sadness: “It is 2008 and Jim is dead. He laughs into my ear, close as ever, far away as ever.”

Michael had us laughing with excerpts from his piece in the collection, “The Book of Love and Transformation,” about his first real love, a visiting professor in college. Misbehaving Theo’s parting gift to Michael?  “After our good-byes the next morning, I didn’t hear from him again. … A few days later I couldn’t stop scratching.” (More pics from the reading, emceed by beloved Algonquin editor Chuck Adams, and apres-soiree may be viewed here.)

Margaret Sartor (left), Patty Van Norman, and Michael sign books

Margaret Sartor (left), Patty Van Norman, and Michael sign books after the reading

Other “Love” contributors  (most are youngish, like Michael) you may have heard of include Junot Diaz, Wendy McClure, Dan Kennedy, Jennifer Finney Boylan, and Maud Newton. While writing this, I was looking over a few reviews, and each reviewer mentioned his/her favorite pieces and writers, and, true to human nature,  every list was different. So I’m leaving it up to you to choose your own. For sure, you’ll connect with some of the stories, and they will make you feel better about your own sorrow, breakup, heartache because we’re all just one big loving, hurting, wonderful mass of humanity. Thanks, Michael and contributors, for reminding us of that.

A brrrrthday to remember

August 18, 2009

If you’re melting in the heat of August, as we are in North Carolina, here’s a lovely story to cool you down.

(”Where they Went,” published June 14, 2009, Boston Globe)

Mary Kae Marinac (right), with her mother Barbara Marinac

Mary Kae Marinac (right), with her mother, Barbara Marinac

WHO: Mary Kae Marinac, 50, husband Paul Quirnbach, 49, their children, Jenn, 17, twins Will and Jeff, 15, of Andover; and her mother, Barbara Marinac, 75, of Bethel Park, Pa.

WHERE: New Hampshire

WHEN: A weekend in December

WHY: To celebrate Marinac’s 50th birthday

A snowshoe trek was meant to be

Have snowshoes, will travel

IDEAS AFOOT: “We were driving home from a particularly great hike last summer and the moon was coming out. I thought, wouldn’t it be great to do a full-moon hike? We love hiking and snowshoeing, and it’s one of the physical activities my autistic boys can participate in,” Mary Kae Marinac said. “Then I thought about my 50th birthday and looked it up and discovered there was a full moon that day, Dec. 12. I literally cried. It was a gift from the heavens. I knew a snowshoe trek was meant to be.”

Husband Paul Quirnbach and Mary Kae helping mother Barbara don her snowshoes

Husband Paul Quirnbach and Mary Kae helping mother Barbara don her snowshoes

MORE PARTYGOERS: “I spread the word, not expecting much interest,” she said. “I was amazed that my mother said she would come, though she kept mentioning how a cruise would have been nicer.” In time, siblings from Cleveland and Atlanta signed on, along with a friend from South Carolina, and others closer by. “In the end we had 20 people, ages 8 to 75.” Marinac settled on Lincoln Woods Trails in Lincoln, off the Kancamagus Highway. “The trails were basically flat along an 1870s logging road, and there was a huge parking lot where we could meet, and restrooms.”

Bridge across the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River in Lincoln

Bridge across the East Branch of the Pemigewasset River in Lincoln

GETTING INTO HOT WATER: An après-snowshoe party and overnight stay were planned at Indian Head Resort in Lincoln. “It has a year-round heated outdoor pool, and the kids love it.” As it turned out, the resort had electricity when many places did not, as Marinac’s birthday coincided with the ice storm. “We lost power at our house, as did most partygoers. I thought people might not come, but some said, “Oh, my god, I get to take a hot shower.”

Barbara Marinac (righ) with granddaughter my daughter Jenn Quirnbach

Jenn Quirnbach with her grandmother

MOONLIT MAGIC: The group convened at the hotel and caravanned from there. “I prepared a care package for each guest. Jeff painted little Shaker boxes and inside were headlamps, snacks, and a local tourist map. When we got to the trail it was like a party atmosphere, everyone with headlights on, teaching people to put snowshoes on, with the younger people helping the older ones.” They walked a little over 3 miles, and everyone loved it, Marinac said. “Just before we started, around 6 p.m., the moon broke through the clouds. On top of the full moon, it was a time when it was closer to Earth, so it was bigger and brighter. I have this image of looking at the full moon from the suspension bridge across the Pemigewasset River as it swayed, filled with all the people I love.”

Salida’s secret is out by now

August 13, 2009

I wrote this story for the Boston Globe in 2006. While I wouldn’t say that Salida is a household word, its secret is out.  So, now, I can tell the world!

SALIDA, Colo. The threats came in before I even arrived in Denver.

The historic Palace Hotel on F Street

The historic Palace Hotel on F Street

“Tell her to bury that story,” advised a colleague of the friend I was planning to visit in the Mile High City and take along on a weekend getaway 145 miles to the southwest. When I met said colleague, the first words out of his mouth, only half-jokingly, were, “I’m part of that group asking you not to write about Salida.” Wow, I hadn’t known there was an entire posse trying to keep a lid on things. Perhaps they’d missed Outside magazine’s declaration two years ago that Salida is an “American Dream Town.” So let it be known that I am not the spoiler, or at least not the only one.

It is true, though, that there are still a good number of people who have never heard of Salida (pronounced suh-LIE-duh). Even many Coloradans pass by without stopping, though the town is only a short detour from the highway. They don’t know what they’re missing.

Kayaker in white water of Arkansas River

Whitewater aficionado tests the Arkansas River right in downtown Salida

The whitewater folks, however, are in the know. In the summer, when the Arkansas River is racing, more than a dozen rafting and kayaking operators spring to life in Chaffee County. And every June, about 10,000 visitors triple Salida’s population for the Blue Paddle FIBArk Whitewater Festival (“FIBArk” stands for First in Boating on the Arkansas River). Arguably the country’s top whitewater event, the fest draws the sport’s stars, who come to race and trick out on the rushing waters. Depending on when you visit, you can experience rapids from a nothing Class I to a menacing Class V. Salida is but one of the stops along the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, a 148-mile linear park of riverbanks and river.

Whitewater is center stage in the city-run kayakers’ “play park,” officially the Arkansas River Whitewater Park and Greenway, where from bleachers set up for spectators you can watch those maniacs play in the rapids, roll upside-down over and over, and get water up their noses. (You can’t tell me those plugs really work.)

Friend Kelley reaches the top during a ride outside Salida

Friend Kelley rejoices at the end of her mountain climb during a ride near Salida

Luckily one doesn’t have to be a paddler to enjoy Salida’s riches. My friend and I, who get white-knuckled even thinking about whitewater, merrily eliminated going down the stream. Instead, we cycled, strolled, shopped, dined, and generally made ourselves at home in this incredibly congenial town. We discovered that the abundance of friendly folks wasn’t a show for the sake of commerce. Even the locals talk about how friendly the locals are, and many compare unpretentious Salida with snootier Colorado towns.

“In Aspen and Vail people want you to know they know everyone and have been everywhere. Here, you just know they have, but they don’t need to tell you,” said Jeff Schweitzer, who with his chef wife, Margie Sohl, owns Laughing Ladies Restaurant, arguably the best dining in town. The night we ate in the small, cheery establishment, Schweitzer toured the room several times, chatting with diners he knew, which seemed to be half the room, while passersby would wave from the sidewalk to friends inside.

Buildings in dowtown dating from the heyday in the late 19th century

Most of downtown dates to the late 1800s

Modern-day Salida plays up its appeal to tourists and relocating retirees, but back in the 1880s, the city boomed for being top post on the main line of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad. The railroad left in 1950, but mining kept things going until the bust in the 1980s. Despite the recent influx of tourists and new residents, ranching and agriculture remain a mainstay. Signs of both worlds are charmingly evident on downtown streets, as old pickup trucks with ranch mutts barking from the back pass by SUVs sporting shiny bicycles and brightly colored kayaks on their roof racks.

The compact downtown is wonderfully down to earth, not yet having fallen victim to chain stores and developers. Virtually every building in the historic section is more than 100 years old and made of red brick, thanks to a town code that was enacted after fires in the late 1880s destroyed much of the city. We looked out for Victorian homes along side streets, and looked up inside every building we entered. Yep, we’d nod, another gorgeous tin ceiling.

Pauline Brodeur in her art gallery on 151 West 1st Street

Paulette Brodeur in her eclectic art gallery

Salida is building a reputation for its artwork as much as for its outdoor play. Monthly receptions (second Saturdays) have brought the dozen galleries together, and a large three-day art festival among the shops has been held in June for the past 14 years. We were particularly fond of Culture Clash for its mix of works from regional artisans, The Bungled Jungle for its menagerie of crazy creatures, and Brodeur Art Gallery for its amazing mix of media all from one font of creativity, Paulette Brodeur. She had a great show up called “Adventures in Salida,” or, as she put it, “what makes Salida Salida,” with contemporary impressionist paintings of cyclists, kayakers, mountains, and more. Brodeur also decorates lampshades, makes jewelry, and paints funky pet portraits. She even turned her father’s old bomber jacket and her mother’s dilapidated fringe coat into sculptures.

“When I moved here 12 years ago Salida was a ghost town,” said Brodeur, who lives a ways east in rural Cotopaxi. “There wasn’t even a coffee shop. The growth has been gradual. I think this is going to be the year. I love being here and meeting all the people. But when it tips to what I don’t like, I’m outta here.”

If this isn’t “the year” for Salida, it could be 2009, the projected time for environmental artists Christo and Jeanne Claude’s next installation. The pair have a project in the works to hang dancing fabric over eight segments of the Arkansas River, for a total of 7 miles between Canon City and Salida. It’s still in the approval process, but, if it happens, the two-week exhibit is estimated to attract some 250,000 visitors.

But, as that posse from Denver would say, don’t tell anyone.

In the Smokies, a magical hike through time

August 10, 2009
Cook Cabin in the Cataloochee Valley

Cook Cabin in the Cataloochee Valley

A “step back in time” is such an overused phrase accompanying many a historic town or exhibit. But in the Cataloochee Valley of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, it’s truly possible.

The descendants of Cataloochee, who have their annual reunion every August, have a rare blessing and a curse. Remnants of their ancestors’ community are frozen in time, preserved as they were when the government in the 1930s-40s displaced more than 1,200 family farms to create the national park, uprooting some 7,000 people. Over the years, descendants have acknowledged that the land would likely have been developed if not for the park, but that is of little solace to the people directly affected.

Diane walks the Little Cataloochee trail

Diane walks the Little Cataloochee trail

For the visitor, Cataloochee, accessible only by foot, is a marvel. Wessel and I spent a few magical hours there last month. While nature has altered the landscape and buildings, those changes have been gentle, unlike those brought about by highways and bulldozers.

The drive to the trailhead requires some effort. We entered through Little Cataloochee (as opposed to Big Cataloochee) because reaching the buildings we wanted to see is easier at that end. But the road is rougher — about eight miles of winding dirt roads too narrow for two cars to pass. It was quite the adventure, but doable even in our low-slung 15-year-old Honda Civic.

Wessel at Cook Cabin

Wessel stands in front of Cook Cabin

Ours was the only car parked at the trailhead on a Sunday afternoon. Using the map in the Cataloochee pamphlet we’d bought from the park service, we headed up the main wooded trail, no doubt a main drag back in the day. We first passed Hannah Cabin, built in 1864 and occupied until national park days. Amazingly, the intact cabin has not been vandalized, at least not to our eyes. We also visited Cook Cabin and Messer Farm, which once housed the apple house for storing the apples that brought valley families much prosperity. (The apple house now stands at the park’s Mountain Farm Museum.)

The 1889 Baptist Church sit on top of a ridge

The 1889 church sits on top of a ridge

The most amazing building here is the Little Cataloochee Baptist Church, built in 1889 on a ridge top and painted white with a gingerbread trim. This is there the annual reunion is held. Cobblestone steps lead to a plain interior, painted white, and guests are welcome to poke around. A Bible at the front was opened to the Book of Daniel. Was this a sign for me? Visitors are allowed to ring the 400-pound bell in the belfry, which, of course, we did, the sound floating off through the woods.

Diane rings the church bells

Visitors are invited to ring the church bells

Next to the church is the cemetery, one of several scattered throughout the park and maintained by the park service. Of course the names Hannah and Messer appeared on some of the gravestones.

As we left the woods, we thanked the park service for tending to this sacred ground while sympathizing with the families displaced, as they have been here and during the creation of many other parks in our nation and beyond. Is their loss worth our gain?