All Things Southwest

It is no secret that many Texans love the American southwest, and GFT is no exception. A recent conversation with random friends and co-workers about projected summer plans produced "Colorado or New Mexico" as a response 100% of the time to the question, "What is your favorite summertime destination? " The desert southwest, especially the Four Corners area, has long been a popular destination spot for Texans. I spent nearly every childhood summer camping with my family in the mountains near Durango, or occasionally, Ruidoso. Continued the tradition as a young adult taking myself and numerous girlfriends on shopping trips to Sante Fe. One of the little known commonalities I share with the hubster is the fact that his family lived in White Sands for three years when he was a teen, and he has a deep affection for the place and the culture, as well. Yet another frightening similarity between myself and my mother-in-law is our love of all things southwestern, cuisine, decor, and especially jewelry and arts and craft collectibles.

I keep trying to make my home as cheerful, pleasant, and funky as the adobe places I love.....it's an on-going process. Each spring I plant a garden ( which withers under the Texas heat). Not sure if the neighbors would appreciate some of the more vibrant colors, I keep them indoors rather than out.

I'm looking forward to a little trip in that direction in a few weeks : plan to take my mom to shop and sample the restaurants we love so much.

One of my fave books of all times is Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop, and the lessons from that novel are applicable not only when I am in this beautiful place, but when I return to the (rather ugly) place that I live. The archbishop is sent to the wilderness of New Mexico to establish a diocese there, and views this mission almost as punishment, like being banished. Years pass, he dreams of the beauty of his homeland in Spain, builds buildings and plants trees. He eventually dies, failing to see the beauty he has created all around him. I hope each of us remember to notice and appreciate the beauty that lies around us, or that we are creating in our lives.

Summer Reads Pt I

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver. Ok, I have a confession to make : I was given this book when it first came out, by my brother and sister-in-law, who normally have excellent taste in literature and know that I generally love anything Barbara Kingsolver writes. But for some reason, I just could not get "into" it at that time. Kept starting it and stopping. Put it on the shelf where it languished for years. People kept telling me "you've got to read this book, it's about missionaries in the Congo" - as if that would help. It actually deterred me further. Then I went to a writing conference this summer where excerpts from this novel were used for a wide variety of teaching /writing activities, and reading little snippets intrigued me and pulled me into the text. Once I read it, I realized why saying "it's about missionaries in the Congo" is a complete misnomer. That statement, to me, implies somehow that these missionaries are going to be good guys and their motives noble and that's a lot of cultural bias I just can't stomach most days. (I live in the buckle of the Bible belt and am completely surrounded by mindless people spouting sententious religious pap all the time. It's a subtle form of brain washing that irritates the heck out of me.) But I should have trusted Ms Kingsolver, for she always looks at the world from an out-of-the-norm almost anthropological perspective. This isn't just a story about missionaries in the Congo; it's about how the archetypal continent of Africa is an earth mother goddess who is a force both powerful and destructive, changing all who encounter her. The Poisonwood Bible tells the stories of various family members of a zealous narrow-minded crazed missionary, who all get dragged along with him on his self-destructive quest for absolution through the jungle of the Congo, and how that experience with Africa, earth mother personified, shapes each family member in a uniquely different yet powerful way. The wife and 4 daughters of the crazed missionary are really just symbolic stand-ins for the various types of western colonial experiences in Africa : one is completely destroyed, one sells herself out, one joins the local cause, one escapes and remakes herself somewhere else, one flees because this is not her cause. A powerful tale, The Posionwood Bible was every bit as lush and gripping as my previous favorite novel by Ms Kingsolver, Prodigal Summer. I should have read it sooner ; but maybe the time just wasn't right for me to appreciate it as much as I do now.

Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood by Alexandra Fuller. You are going to think I am on some sort of "Africa" story binge but truly I am not. I keep a running list of titles I want to read, drawn from New York Times book reviews, NPR reviews, other news sources, book catalogs, recommendations from friends, co-workers, etc. Like my Netflix queue, I just buy a few each month from the list, with no real appreciation of what order they will pop up, and sometimes look at something that arrives and say to myself, "What?" I probably put this book on my list because I was intrigued by the title and generally will read anything set in an interesting foreign locale. I do have several childhood friends who grew up in Africa, (Liberia and Tanzania) and have always enjoyed hearing their stories. I forget about why I specifically added this book to my list; however, when I started reading it, I quite enjoyed it. Ms Fuller recounts a variety of well drawn moments from her childhood spent growing up in Rhodesia that are alternately funny, sad, suspenseful, and dangerous. Her parents struggle to earn a living as British-born ranchers during the period when Rhodesia was throwing off colonial domination and asserting itself as an independent nation. Full of larger-than-life characters that are Hemingway-esque, this was a fascinating story that is well-written and provides a powerful snapshot into a brief historical moment.


Ft Worth Opera Fest Rocks on

Fort Worth Opera happens in the beautiful of Bass Hall, a venue with incredible sweetness of sound and few "dead spots" (where listening is muddled or dulled)

It has quickly become an annual treat to attend the Fort Worth Opera festival with one of my oldest and dearest friends, a boy whose contagious enthusiasm for the genre sparked my own interest in this art form way back in 1975. We began our opera going lives with "Siege of Corinth" starring Beverly Sills and Shirley Verrett - not a bad way to begin this life-long adventure, with famous stars and a world class performance from the Dallas Civic Opera. Soon we added Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde" (we still joke about the wisdom or weirdness of teens choosing to spend 5 hours enduring a minimalist production of Wagner) and another iconic Beverly Sills performance in "La Traviata" - all before we graduated from high school. Here we are, some 30+ years later, still enjoying opera together, and this year's addition to the roster of performances seen together has proven a refreshing delight.

"It's not over till the FIT lady sings !

It must be noted that the Fort Worth Opera Fest typically puts on three or four productions a year, and has recently evolved into a compact season with an intense series of full (2 or 3 shows, each differing performances) weekends that run through May and June. Hectic end-of-school year scheduling often prohibits me from attending more than one show a year; my childhood friend, now a noted opera critic, flies in from France to experience as many performances as he can. We have recently been joined by a young friend and enthusiast whose charm and education in this and many areas adds vibrancy to our intermission conversations. This small slice of operatic heaven provides such fun that it carries me for weeks.
The opera I saw last year, "Dead Man Walking" (written by Jake Heggie) was a modern style opera written/sung in English and was so moving and beautiful that the ancient Greek concept of catharsis (i.e., great art should produce in the viewer emotional release) was achieved and my friends and I sobbed the entire time.
This year my schedule permitted me to attend a lighter, more comedic (in the true Shakespearean sense, that is, a romance with comedic moments) opera, "The Elixir of Love" ("L'elisir d'amore")by Gaetano Donizetti. The show was staged with a pre WWI setting in small town America, much like "The Music Man" or "Carousel". While no major headliners sang this year with the Fort Worth Opera Fest, the local singers did quite nicely. This bel canto style opera was sung with great skill and dexterity by Ava Pine, Michael Fabiano, and Rod Nelman. The beauty of the trilling notes and vocalizations felt like coming home to me, with moments recalling some of the vocal dexterity of Beverly Sills at her greatest.