Sunday, March 31, 2013

Lawrence Coates and Eric LeMay: Ohio Writers Take Up Wine and Cheese

I am an admirer of many Ohio writers, and that list just got a bit longer with two very fine and recommendable books. In The Garden of the World, Lawrence Coates uses spare, poetic prose to walk a contemporary Easterner through early 20th century California vineyards. The land and processes are described in incredible, yet fascinating, detail, intertwined with the lives of this patriarchal immigrant family. The crushing pressures of the outside world are expertly woven in: racism, WWI, the Spanish flu, prohibition. From the believable characters come exquisite dialog. The writing is emotionally restrained, yet disappointment, bitterness, hope, and tenderness evoke a sympathetic response. With excellent pacing, plot twists are a complicated blend of choices and circumstances beyond control.

The impressive detail of life in this time and place includes baseball equipment, dry goods store, riding a bike on a country road, a chatty teenage girl telling her girlfriends what she’s learned about sex from her older sisters (her purse full of sheaths). The close-up scenes are a marvel, including a walk in thick dawn mist down rows of grapevines with the sulfuring machine called the Hurdy Gurdy. The sentient description includes the way the family/household/car smells depending on the father’s work: dairy farmer, printer, vintner. The third person point of view is used to give access – we circle around events to see how each character takes in the small, every day gestures that lead us to our conclusions. The writing never gets carried away with itself – it remains restrained, with a unified voice. The fact that it’s fiction, that these individuals are created in Coates’s imagination and then situated so convincingly in a time and place far from here, makes this a book writers will love, but non-writers will appreciate it, as well.

There’s a family story about my grandfather and me when I was about two. He loved Gouda cheese, slicing creamy yellowness through its red casing with that small, wooden handled knife. As the story goes, I stood beneath him and said, “She likes cheese,” until he handed down a piece. I can't imagine anyone would find this story interesting unless you knew my grandfather, but my point here is that family histories are riddled with cheese.

And when I got older, I rediscovered that I do like cheese, just not the Americanized, factory version. I didn’t get further than that until I read Eric LeMay’s Immortal Milk: Adventures in Cheese. I nodded through his observation that “America eats around nine billion pounds of cheese a year, but most of it amounts to the tasteless, rubberized fat that Domino’s and Taco Bell slather on gummy nachos and greasy dough.”  Now I am an armchair cheese lover, and I can’t wait to go sampling.

This is a delightful read. I was drawn in from the opening quotes. LeMay’s prose is bright and witty. By page eleven, I had laughed out loud six times – not just LOL. By the end of the second chapter I had recommended the book to a friend who is a cheese connoisseur and also an Anglophile, since some of the cheeses LeMay tracks down are in the British Isles.

A book about cheese has a few pitfalls to avoid. One is the snob effect. If, on page twenty-three, you’re going to dis something Americans eat nine billion pounds of, that’s a lot of Americans who won’t buy your book. But LeMay keeps it real with his gentle wit, walking us through the quirky, and often stinky, world of traditional cheese. His humor is often endearingly self-deprecating. Nor does he let the storytelling get bogged down with encyclopedic pedanticisms. It’s packed with specifics, but they’re handed off with captivating stories about farmers, mud, the heartbreak of limited choices, festivals, enthusiasts and misadventures of LeMay and his sensitive female companion, Chuck.

This book is timely, riding the wave away from a homogenized household landscape, the idea that it’s better to have a small amount of something made by an artisan than a refrigerator drawer full of scientifically manipulated food substance your grandfather wouldn’t recognize. This is a great book for all these reasons, but mostly because it’s just so fun.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Headlands Bound

I am excited, honored and so grateful to the Ohio Arts Council for a residency at Headlands Center for the Arts at the wild foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. I’m looking forward to uninterrupted time to write and write, read, write, and think about writing while walking the trails (in fog, I’m told), seeking out raptors and seals. My daughter asked me (a bit concerned), “What are you going to do all day, just write?” Yes. Yes.

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Why I Landed a Helicopther in My Grandmother's Hair

As the name implies, quickly is a nimble journal out of Kent, Ohio, full of energy, going somewhere, all sneakers and kites. White lettering on a dark background is a bit dizzying, and I think that's what they want from us. Thanks to the editors for including my poem "Quiet Study Lounge." 

I'll tell you the truth. It's autobiographical. I know! You never saw that coming. But in case you are the woman with the shock of pink hair, I know I'm exaggerating. A little. And to my grandmother, I am sorry for landing my brother's remote control helicopter in your hair. 

It was kind of spontaneous. I was surprised he was giving me a turn to fly it in the first place. I mean, that must have been his favorite Christmas present. I think that was the year you crocheted me a gold, red and royal blue cape, a kind of dress-up poncho sweater cape, that I loved so much. I remember twirling around to make it billow.

So I was flying the helicopter around, probably wearing my cape, and in those days remote control meant it was still tethered to a thin cable. It was airborne, and then you walked in, and I imagined how fun it would be to just touch down on your head and then fly off again. This is why they don't let children fly real helicopters. And of course your hair was all teased up, probably specially styled for the holiday, and didn't the feet of that little whirly machine try to spin up your hair like cotton candy. I switched it off and watched in open-mouth horror, preparing to die. Or something like that.

But you were quite gracious, and acted like it was a mistake, and I didn't correct you. So this poem is dedicated to the patience of grandmothers.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Youngstown Cash Mob Heads to Struthers

The Youngstown Cash Mob is gearing up for our Saturday visit to Pretty & Plus clothing consignment in Struthers. This shop carries plus sized clothing for women and men, as well as purses, jewelry, shoes, and soaps, bath balms and skin and hair products. Stop by the cash mob table for a free raffle ticket for a gift card from The Beat Coffee House on Lincoln Ave. near YSU.

Youngstown Cash Mob
Sat. 16 March, noon – 6:00 p.m.
8 State St., Struthers
Plus Size Clothing for Women and Men, Accessories

The Cash Mob’s first birthday celebration at Santa Fe Café on Mahoning Ave. was a great success. Owner Jamie Szmara said it was the best single day her restaurant has had since opening a few months ago in the former home of Paprika Café.  


Thank you! Thank you! 
to WFMJ, WKBN and the Vindicator for giving us press time, to Clarencedale Cake for a two-tiered lemon extravaganza with a fondant YOUNGSTOWN CASH MOB sign, and to you for joining us for burritos, quesadillas and a celebration of hometown businesses. 

After a close race, Walrus Subs pulled off a win for the April Cash Mob. We’ll visit this restaurant known for its Philly steak sandwiches and gyros on Sat. April 27.

Our May cash mob will take us out of our usual range, into Mahoning or Trumbull County, outside of the city of Youngstown and adjoining communities. Ohio is lovely in May – a great time for a road trip! and a chance to talk up some businesses we don’t usually hear about in our cash mob chatter. Nominations for this cash mob will be on Sun. April 7 on our Facebook page. Join the group to post on the wall, nominate, and vote.

Congratulations to the Shenango Valley Cash Mob for a successful first event at Wholesome Fare on Pine Hollow Blvd. The air was filled with excitement, and plans are under way for a second event. I just opened my all natural peanut butter from Wholesome Fare this morning.

Spreading peanut butter and spreading the word about local businesses, that’s what we’re all about.
Hope to see you there.