Monday, July 02, 2012

One Vacation Down...

Dave and I enjoyed a wonderful week of vacation last week. I think Hypatia and Darwin enjoyed it too, but they seemed to spend a lot of time being very careful not to lose their people; in other words, they were pretty clingy all week. Having said that, they traveled very well in the RV and generally got along well with the other dogs and campers we met along the way.

During our stay in Kentucky, we met friends for dinner one night (a writer and his artist wife), and then met Dotti, Steve, Krista, Adam and Campbell for dinner another night. Campbell extracted a promise from me to email pictures from Paris this fall, particularly of and from the Eiffel Tower. It seems her current dream is to see Paris and the tower. If she could get away with it, she'd probably stow away in my suitcase and take her own pictures. But her daddy would probably miss her if he didn't see her at the breakfast table for eight days, so she'll just have to rely on me (Dave will be my backup photographer). The dinner with the writer and artist friends lasted several hours and was thoroughly enjoyable, and they don't care whether I send them pictures from anywhere. The dinner with the family was shorter, yet every bit as enjoyable as the other one, but it left me with a promise to fulfill.

When we moved on to Ohio, we visited with Joshua for a bit, at which time we dropped off such essential supplies as gatorade, cheez-its and a toothbrush. Had I seen Joshua beforehand, I would have added a razor to the list.... Our visit with him was nice, and we enjoyed watching the Crossmen perform in the evening. They have a good show this year, and the horn line is the strongest it's been since Joshua began marching with them in 2007. They may have a shot at making finals this year.

After we finished eating with people in Kentucky, and replenishing Joshua's stores in Ohio, we spent a few days in the beautiful Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania. This area is located in the southwest corner of Pennsylvania, within just a few miles of the West Virginia and Maryland state lines. It was so isolated that we had no cell phone or Internet reception for three days. (Oh,my! The horrors of withdrawal! I still can't think about it without getting clammy and shaky; just take my word that it's a nasty experience.) The highlight of our stay in the boondocks was enduring the double whammy of a power outage precipitated by high demands for electricity in scorching heat, and a severe rainstorm that scared the dickens out of the dogs. After the storm cleared, and shortly after we began our journey home, I received a text message from Jonathan informing me that our home had lost electricity in the storm. Fortunately, by the time we arrived power had been restored and we were able to get the temperature to a reasonable level within a couple of hours.

In between eating and shopping and cooking and dishwashing and dog-walking, I managed to read several books. Early in the trip I finished reading Christopher Hitchens' book, The Missionary Position, a critical look at Mother Teresa's Missionaries of Charity. He raised important questions about Mother Teresa's theology of suffering (it seems she believed more strongly in letting people suffer in order to allow them to draw closer to Jesus than in alleviating pain in his name, even though she had ample resources to do so), and about her associations with some shady characters who happened to make large donations to her charity. Grim reading. I wonder how Mother Teresa's confessions of severe doubt and spiritual isolation would have affected Hitchens' view of her had they been available before he wrote his book? I guess we'll never know now.

After reading Hitchens' book, I turned to some lighter fare and read Ernest Hemingway's A Moveable Feast, in preparation for our upcoming trip to Paris. His account of living in Paris as a young, struggling writer in the mid-1920s is a great read. I especially appreciated his insights and compassion for his alcoholic friend, F. Scott Fitzgerald. The book isn't very long, and can be finished in less than a day, if you're interested in reading it (unless you've already beaten me to it).

Another book I read in preparation for our Paris trip was Murder in the Marais, by Cara Black. This is the first book of Black's Aimee LeDuc mystery series, and the second one I've read. The book is set in the Jewish quarter of Paris and uses the plot device of tensions between neo-Nazi skinheads and Jewish survivors of World War II to explore some interesting sociopolitical and historical questions about Parisian society. The series is enjoyable, but I think Donna Leon's Inspector Brunetti series (which is set in Venice) is superior for both character development and scene-setting. Perhaps I'll feel differently after visiting Paris. I know my appreciation of Leon's series is enhanced by my recollections of Venice, so maybe I'll feel more positive about Black's series after I've seen the City of Light for myself. But Aimee LeDuc hasn't been, thus far, as engaging and complex a character as Guido Brunetti. I'll have to see if she grows as the series develops.

Having read a couple of books set in Paris, I turned my attention homeward and read Gail Collins' recently released, As Texas Goes. In this book, Collins examines the outsized influence Texas politicians and policies have had on the USA over the past several decades. Collins explores Texas' influence on American education through

a) its longstanding textbook adoption policies,
b) President George W. Bush's No Child Left Behind initiative, which was based on Texas' attempts to reform its school system during his tenure as governor, and
c) sex education, or should I say miseducation, policies, which have contributed to serious issues with high teen pregnancy rates and an alarming spread of sexually transmitted diseases. Since a fervor for abstinence-only sex education is spreading among American conservatives, this issue is not simply a local or regional one; it's increasingly becoming a national matter for concern and sociopolitical conflict.

Collins also examines the disproportionate influence of the Texas oil industry on American energy policies, including opposition to the notion of global warming, and explains how Texas' extreme pro-business/anti-government/anti-regulation attitude led to various economic disasters of the past couple of decades, including the Wall Street meltdown of 2008. And last but certainly not least, Collins discusses connections between Texas' extreme libertarian attitude and the Tea Party that has arisen nationally in the past few years.

Collins book is well-researched, well-written, exhaustively documented in endnotes and bibliography, and well worth reading.

For the sake of completeness, I'll note that I also read a little novella called Exposed during the rainstorm, which was entertaining but not worth more than a passing mention. Consider it both passed and mentioned now.

Now, I'm back home for two weeks, and then we'll be heading to Annapolis for another week's vacation in mid-July. I'll rest for a day or two, then start planning that week's menu and reading list.

1 comment:

Dotti said...

Haven't read any Cara Black. I did just finish reading one of Ruth Rendell's "The Vault", one of her Inspector Wexford series. It's the first of her works that I've read. It was interesting, well, if pedantically written, but doesn't hold a candle to Donna Leon or Martha Grimes, or even Elizabeth George, for that matter.