John Lewis is my hero


And he has been for a long time. Today’s New Yorker article by David Remnick testifies to some of the reasons why.

The link above should take you to Remnick’s essay. Meanwhile:

John Lewis came to the military college in my small hometown here almost two years ago to accept a civil rights award. Many of us townsfolk went to Virginia Military Institute’s big sports arena to witness the event, so proud that even in this Southern mountain town, we have come a ways.

Not far enough yet, as Lewis himself has made clear. But on Saturday, about 700 people marched peacefully through our town in memory of Martin Luther King’s message to the nation, and in an expression of  community and inclusiveness. It was that, and more. The next evening — last night — several hundred of us were privileged to hear Diane Nash give the MLK Day address at our other college, Washington & Lee University.

There’s irony here — Robert E. Lee is buried on the W&L campus — but we want to get past that. Ms. Nash — who as a college sophomore decades ago was a chief organizer of the Freedom Rides — spoke about her life,  about Dr. King and her association with him, and about how the civil rights movement in her view was created and carried out by people who refused to accept oppression. She spoke of “agapic energy,” the energy that enables you to get past hating your opponent and to target the institutions and beliefs that keep oppression in place.

This was just one day after both  the CARE Initiative march honoring King and the by now customary showing of Confederate flags were captured by the New York Times in a video — That didn’t faze Ms. Nash, who is entirely equal to facing down a flag and much more.  But for us who remain behind, it was a reminder that we’re not in that “place just right”  — not just yet.

And so, John Lewis. Once again this man who has walked so many miles for freedom and justice — who has walked with the wind and against it and has never faltered — once again this man, in the fullness of his years, is talking with his feet. He is not attending the inauguration of a man who has mocked the disabled, women, and people of all races other than his own.

Here’s an excerpt from Remnick, quoting Lewis:

Testifying at Sessions’s confirmation hearing, Lewis said, “Those who are committed to equal justice in our society wonder whether Senator Sessions’s call for law and order will mean today what it meant in Alabama when I was coming up back then.”

“We’ve made progress, but we are not there yet,” he continued. “There are forces that want to take us back to another place. We don’t want to go back. We want to go forward. As the late A. Philip Randolph, who was the dean of the March on Washington, in 1963, often said, ‘Maybe our forefathers and our foremothers all came to this great land in different ships, but we’re all in the same boat now.’ It doesn’t matter how Senator Sessions may smile, how friendly he may be, how he may speak to you, but we need someone who’s going to stand up and speak up and speak out for the people that need help, for people who are being discriminated against.”

So we still have work to do.  And Ms. Nash has the recipe, which she shared last night with students, professors and townspeople: Investigate. Make your plan. Hit the streets. Keep at it.   And love your enemy, because the energy of love is the most powerful and the only reliable force we have going for us. Agapic energy. Onward.




1 January 2017

Ah,  the power. The power and constraint of a New Year,  a convention laid upon us — smack in the middle of sun and moon cycles, the natural measures of our time on Earth — by the arbitrary forces of empire. First the Romans, their calendar hopelessly convoluted. Then the church, whose holy and secular empires superimposed religious holidays over all the old pagan ones. Finally, as European powers began to conquer the world, a kind of proto-bureaucratic realignment that sought a return to reality. Earthly reality, that is — the original calendar of the Earth’s circuit around the sun, the moon’s orbit around earth. Proto-bureaucratic because the purely human and artificial solution was to lop off a quarter of a day three years of every four, and add a day in the fourth. Ooh la la.

And so we start another year — however that lands for you and me and everyone else on the planet — regardless of what your religion, nationality, persuasion or reality might be. Just the outward and visible sign of the manifold inward conflicts we carry with us — and which burst forth in the ugliest and most unexpected ways, even as we sail forth into this New Year. Where will the next outbreak explode? Who will guide us through it? We are so weary of these questions already and the year is not yet one day old.

But for some — I have a friend who is one — this is actually a birthday, a real one. That is not insignificant.

And so I gather up my hopes, I say my prayers, I set my course. Let this be the first day of the rest of my life. Let me spend it well and make a difference for the good. Let me take care of the earthly vehicle that is my body, and make time to appreciate the beauty of the world around me. Let my spirit grow and rejoice, with laughter and in tranquillity, with friends and in solitude, in harmony with the soul of our planet and the truth and unity of our humanity. There will be an answer.  Let it be.

Food for thought: Balancing Act

One of the enduring ideas about how to achieve and maintain good health is the acid-alkaline balance theory. Nutrition researchers have lots to say about that balance, and I must add, when you look at where so many of our common foods fall on their scale, it makes sense.

Briefly, the typical American diet is too acidic. Alkaline is what we’re looking for. “Acidosis” is blamed for inflammation, arthritis, and everything from fatigue to immune dysfunction.

Take it for what it’s worth, but as you might suspect, villains include refined carbs and sugar, alcohol, and most highly processed foods. Likewise foods high in protein, including meat and dairy … while a thumbs-up goes to fresh fruits and veggies, of course. Surprisingly, things like rice, beans, and chicken and fish – which I think of as innocuous, at least – are also deemed mildly acid forming.

So what to do? In general (as everyone’s been telling us), eat more fresh produce. Grains, not so much, though quinoa gets high marks. Beans are just so-so, ditto white rice, but brown rice is better, wild rice very good, and lentils are highly recommended. So are beets (not a fave for me), including borscht.

Nutritionist Susan E. Brown (THE ACID-ALKALINE FOOD GUIDE) offers these tips:

  • Start the day with juice of a half lemon or lime in 8 oz. water.
  • Make lentils, winter squash, and root crops including sweet potatoes into staples.
  • Eat a cup of greens daily. Endive and crucifers (all cabbage family members including kale, mustard greens, collards and turnip greens) are good.
  • Add miso and seaweeds judiciously to soups and stews.
  • Best grains are quinoa, wild rice, and organic oats.
  • Fresh-squeezed fruit and veggie juices are good; ditto spring water and mineral waters.
  • Eat high-protein foods sparingly.

Fave recipe:

Rice-Lentil salad

This can be a main dish, served with a baked winter squash and a simple green salad.

2 c. cooked lentils (cook with several peppercorns, chopped garlic; add 1 T. tamari near end of cooking)

2 c. cooked rice (look in the supermarket for a mix of wild, brown, red and white rice)

½ medium carrot, julienned

¼ c. chopped green and red peppers

¼ c, chopped onion if desired

¼ c. chopped walnuts or pecans

¼ c. olive oil

2 T. balsamic vinegar

Pinch cayenne if desired

Tamari to taste if needed

Allow rice and lentils to cool to room temperature after cooking. Combine ingredients. Makes 4-6 servings.

NOTE: I bake an acorn or butternut squash whole at 350 degrees, after puncturing the skin to release steam, for about a half hour. Then split and clean it, brush with butter or oil, dust with cinnamon, and put it under the broiler for five minutes.

Salad: Mix up the greens, including kale or shredded cabbage with lettuce or mesclun. Include spinach, radicchio, endive, escarole, whatever suits you. Sprinkle with dried cranberries and roasted sesame seed if desired, but keep it simple. Just plain greens are fine. Dress with good quality olive oil, and lemon juice.

FOR ALL DISHES, add salt or tamari sparingly to taste. Ditto pepper.

And about West Virginia …

OK, I promise this is the last time you’ll hear from me about the severe disconnect in this country, at least until after Nov. 8.

I voted for President Obama twice and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I hope he goes down in history as the smart, courageous, compassionate human being he is, and for all he has accomplished.

It turns out, in the latest New Yorker, that a big chunk of West Virginia voted for him too. That was a surprise, to me at least.

But this time they’re voting for Trump. And “Trump Country” explains why. An excerpt:

Trump seemed … to treat West Virginia like family, and he had noticed that many West Virginians in return treated Trump like family, brushing off the things he said that sounded nuts or that they didn’t agree with. “In Iraq, I listened to David Petraeus speak every day about how we had to rebuild Iraq’s oil infrastructure and protect it,” Richard Ojeda says. “But, if we’re going to go to trillions of dollars in debt over Iraq, why can’t we go billions of dollars in debt and make every single coal-producing plant clean in West Virginia? Don’t we deserve a hand? We built this country with the steel that came out of our coal, and we protected this country with our soldiers, and nobody cares. We’re more willing to give millions of dollars to people in other countries who’d just as soon put a bullet in the back of our heads. That’s why West Virginia is going to vote for Trump.”

The thing is, it really doesn’t matter whether we agree with, like, or admire each other at this point. If we don’t resolve our differences in some way, we’re pretty much doomed. Of course that includes differences with people we may have been taught to disregard, disrespect, even despise. My sister says the core Trump constituency is made up of people who know they’ve pretty much been written off, personally and economically. I think she’s right.

I’m seeking to start with understanding, hoping for discourse.

The link:

“From heres” and “come heres” ~ Rockbridge County ctd.


Do I know you?

The way her eyes narrow says it all. She’s walking toward me as I drive across Myers Street and raise my hand in the customary (hereabouts) greeting-in-passing.

Her face bears the stamp of our mountain country: weathered skin, strong bones, creases at the corners of those pale blue eyes that traveled across the North Atlantic a couple of centuries ago, the creases proof of years of outdoor work.

Her gray hair is neat and nondescript and she is wearing a purple sweatsuit, a nice one.  She is clearly not someone who steps out for a trip to the post office or a walk around the block without some forethought.

What’s it to you,  I hear her thinking as I put my hand back on the wheel. Not for her this Johnny-come-lately habit of waving at strangers. Back in the day, you only greeted people you actually knew, from church or school or perhaps the grocery store, and that’s good enough for her. None of this raising a hand or doing the two-finger waggle now popular on our narrow county roads as two vehicles weave past each other.

I stand reproved. She is right. I’m not from here, even though I was born in this very town more than sixty years ago. I am not a “from-here.” My family were outlanders, “come heres,” and from the North to boot, which sometimes still matters here.

She is not. She is from here, and these mountains are truly her home, their shifting patterns of light and shadow ingrained in her being from so far before birth that she has to stop and count the generations. And count them she can. They are buried in a family cemetery somewhere in the county, or in old church cemeteries with names like Ebenezer or New Providence.

I want to protest. I grew  up here. I too know the light and the shadow, and I see – or rather hear, coming back from the flatlands where I spent most of my adulthood – how in the mountains, the sound only travels from one end of the hollow to the other. It does not travel miles, the way it does over flat land, so that you might hear the noise of a highway five miles distant if the wind is blowing your way.

Not here. Here, you will only hear what the mountains let you hear. You will not hear the dog or the child or the highway from the other side of the ridge line.

And I want to tell her that I too see how their colors change, these mountains, how right now they wait for fall’s flaming brilliance but will soon  lie brown and sleeping in the winter sun. How the spines of their leafless trees stand up like prickly fur. How they will turn pale green in spring, darker in summer, flame bright again in autumn. How we can walk their trails and listen to the birds call.

But we won’t have that conversation, she and I. There are many divisions besides ridgelines in these mountains. She is of the tribe J.D. Vance calls his “hill people,” and I know it is a term of hard-earned and well-deserved respect. But we won’t have that conversation either. Her purple sweatsuit recedes in my rearview mirror, and we go on into our respective days.

Photo caption:  Looking across Rockbridge County to the Blue Ridge from the top of the road where I live … this is her ancestral land. I’m just a “come here,” but it is my land too.

Edward Albee, The Zoo Story, And The Rest Of Us

I was 16 the spring that Edward Albee came to Lexington, Virginia. Lexington at that point was a rural county seat still unconnected by interstates to the greater world. But it was home to two colleges and the crossroads of two old Indian trails turned two-lane U.S. highways, over which tractor-trailers labored endlessly en route from, say, Richmond, Virginia to Richmond, Indiana or wherever.

It was 1962. Albee, who died last week, came to Lexington at the behest of a theatrical genius named Cecil Jones, who happened to be the director of the local university’s rather humble theatre. Based in an old shoe factory at the edge of campus, the theatre was home to the Washington & Lee Troubadours, a proud but ragtag group who performed everything from Shakespeare to Giradoux in a space that had a catwalk for a lighting booth, no wing space, a costume loft that doubled as a unisex dressing room, tattered folding seats for the audience, precious little heat in winter and stifling temperatures the rest of the year.

Albee was an emerging leader of the avant-garde theatre of the absurd in New York, intriguing critics and baffling the public. He came to W&L as a guest artist/professor for 10 days, gave one public lecture, and sat in one of the Troubs’ fraying seats as two young men took the stage – juniors, and already veterans who’d played Iago and Roderigo just two months earlier on that same stage. They launched bravely, or perhaps even a bit casually, into their first reading as Peter (John Dunnell) and Jerry (Tim Morton) on The Zoo Story’s park bench.

Albee immediately stopped them. Gave instructions. And again.  And again. The stopping and starting  went on for what seemed like an agonizing half hour or more – it’s a one-act play – and Albee wouldn’t budge beyond the opening lines till they had it to his satisfaction, while the rest of us out in the house squirmed in empathetic agony.

There were no women at W&L in those days, so townswomen, professors’ wives and high school students took the Troubs’ female roles. I was by then more or less a regular, and as it turned out, I would end up understudying the role of Grandma in The American Dream, Albee’s sendup of post-WW II American domestic life, and also a one-act, paired with The Zoo Story.

We didn’t even GET to a reading of The American Dream that night, as I recall, or maybe I’d gone home by then to do my high school homework – but from that production of Dream hangs a tale.

Here it is: Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf opened at the Billy Rose Theater in New York that fall – some six months after his stay in Lexington – and it centered, of course, on the dysfunctional life of a small college town.

As it happens, Woolf’s four characters are the savagely bored alcoholic academic couple George and Martha, and the newly arrived young prof Nick and his wife, Honey. By then, Albee had already done at least one stint as a college professor, so he’d seen the backstage of academic life. But as it also happens, the lead male role in our American Dream was a devastatingly handsome young man named – in real life – Nick; his mother was played by a faculty wife named Martha; and another faculty wife, also associated with the production, often turned her smooth Southern accent upon  her husband, addressing him with affectionate exasperation as “HonnnnEEYYYY,” when he’d return from the supermarket or hardware store without some crucial item.

Coincidence? If so, such an intriguingly close one. Only George – Richard Burton in the film – is unaccounted for. My theory: Albee had the play all but written. Perhaps he’d already named the George and Martha characters after our nation’s First Couple, and the rest fell into place. Or maybe that trope suggested itself  in the wake of Lexington. It’s the stuff of myth.

As for me, I spent the spring trying vainly to memorize Grandma’s role, when it turned out that the elderly frat-house mom who’d been cast in the part couldn’t keep the endlessly repetitive dialogue straight. Neither could I. In the end she got it, and was her usual wickedly clever self on stage. By then, Albee was gone, to continue streaking across New York’s artistic sky, a theatrical meteor – fixed in my 16-year-old memory, based on that first night, as a cosmic jerk. But then, he was so young then too – just 33, a raw and edgy troubadour himself, who had already penned these lines for posterity:

Sometimes it’s necessary to go a long distance out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.

  • Jerry, in The Zoo Story

Food for Thought: What we eat and how we eat it

I spend a lot of time these days thinking about is where the heck our beloved country is heading at any given moment.  Are we pioneers or just plain crazy?

But I also think about material culture, and …. FOOD.

So I hope this  will be a bit of a palate cleanser for you in the midst of our current political mayhem – not to mention earthquakes in Italy, floods and hurricanes, and  the trials of dealing with technology.

Here’s Food for Thought about things we can actually DO something about: Some simple ideas about what we are eating these days — and a great ratatouille recipe. The tips come from a site called BioTrust Nutrition (they sell stuff, but I just removed their pitch and am passing along the interesting info). The ratatouille is mine.

Today’s tidbits — It’s not just what we eat, but how we eat it. BTN’s  nutrition expert notes that :

  • if you’re eating pre-sliced strawberries,  vitamin content can be compromised byf exposure to oxygen ( its job, after all, is to oxidize, and it does that to any foods it can –  a sliced berry is more exposed to oxygen than a whole one). So eat them whole, or don’t slice them till you are ready to eat them, and get the full benefit of their antioxidant vitamins A and C.
  • When you open your Greek yogurt, don’t discard the liquid on top. That’s whey, and it is packed with protein, vitamins, and calcium. Stir it back in, and enjoy.
  • While many if not most fruits and veggies are best consumed raw, so that their vitamin content is preserved, tomatoes are more useful nutritionally if cooked. That’s because the lycopene in tomatoes is concentrated with cooking. Studies show lycopene is a powerful antioxidant.  So roast or grill, make fresh tomato sauce, slice and add those ubiquitous cherry tomatoes to soups, ratatouille, stir fry – or just saute them and serve as a side dish.

The BioTrust website, despite hawking all kinds of alleged nutritional products, has good advice. You may want to check it out at – but it’s only fair to advise that you might also end up on their sometimes annoying email list.

You’re still with me? Then enjoy this super-quick way to make great ratatouille, devised and demystified  by my sis and myself. And by demystified, I refer to the always-problematic question of how to cook the eggplant and also make all the veggies come out looking beautiful and retaining their texture … So:


To serve 3-4 people, you’ll need one large or PREFERABLY 3-4 SMALL eggplants. The small ones are sweeter and less trouble to cook. Then, 1 zucchini, 1 yellow squash, 1 green pepper, a small onion, a clove or two of garlic, olive oil,  and about a pint of cherry tomatoes or 4 large tomatoes, plus assorted herbs (a half cup of fresh basil if available, oregano or marjoram, thyme).

Set the oven at 350.

Cut up the eggplant. If small ones, slice ‘em about an inch thick per slice. If large, cut into one-inch chunks. Place in a good-sized bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and coat the pieces of eggplant, tossing them with your hands. Cut up the yellow squash, into slices or chunks, and toss it with the eggplant. Spread both on a cookie sheet and place in oven.

Cut up the pepper, garlic, and onion. Slice the zucchini, and halve or chop up the tomatoes. In two separate skillets, start sautéing the pepper and garlic in one, while sautéing the zucchini and onion in the other. This is because the zucch is the most delicate of the veggies and will just dissolve into mush if you cook it very long. So turn it off as soon as the onions are translucent and let it sit.

Now add the tomatoes to the simmering pepper mixture, season with dried oregano and thyme (1 tsp. each) and a little salt if you wish,  and cook over low heat until well disintegrated. You will likely want to add about ¾ cup of water or wine to keep them from burning.

By now the eggplant and yellow squash should be roasted enough to finish cooking along with the tomato-pepper mixture. (The eggplant should be a muted, soft beige when removed from oven.) Add eggplant and yellow squash and simmer for 6-8 minutes. Add zucch mixture and simmer another 3 minutes. Add chopped basil, turn off heat, and let stand till ready to serve.

Ratatouille can be an entrée if served over angel hair (my fave), couscous, or rice. Serve with tossed salad and a good sourdough bread. And wine, of course!