Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Hey-Ho I'm Going To Idaho

Icebergs near Palmer Station, Antarctica - photo by Kelly Jacques, National Science Foundation, used with permission via

In the span of three hours on Saturday, this happened:

  • Reading the preface, I discover the book was written as an accompaniment to a museum exhibit called Race to the End of the Earth.
  • An exhibit?! Ooh, I wonder if it's still open.
  • I Google the exhibit and find that it started in New York and received wonderful reviews.
  • I breeze through the exhibit photographs, details and YouTube walkthrough.
  • I Google where the exhibit is now and find that is at the Museum of Idaho in Idaho Falls.
  • Idaho?! Sweet.
  • I realize the exhibit ends Sept. 1 and recognize there probably isn't enough time to get there before then.
  • I call the Museum of Idaho to find out where it is going next; the operator tells me, "I think it's going to France."
  • I go outside to tell Ray that there is an exhibit on the race to the the Sole Pole featuring Scott and Amundson and depending on where in France, we should maybe go see it when we go to Paris in October.
  • "Wouldn't it be easier to go to Idaho," he wants to know. I tell him about the time crunch.
    (Ray was mowing the lawn; our tiny lawn looks like a very tiny golf course when he's done.)
  • I go back inside and email the author of the book and curator of the exhibit, Dr. Ross MacPhee, of the American Museum of National History, to ask where - exactly - the exhibit is going in France.
  • I look at a map of Idaho Falls and notice the exhibit is currently driving distance from Yellowstone.
  • Ooh… I've never been to Yellowstone.
  • I Google "how much are flights to Idaho Falls."
  • Those prices seem reasonable, I think.
  • I go back outside to show Ray calendar dates of when we could make this trip to Idaho work. Then I tell him how much flights are to Idaho Falls.
  • I casually remind him that we didn't go on vacation this summer.
  • "No way. That's too expensive," he says.
  • [Ray is covered in sweat from mowing and he's wearing his little clear safety glasses that he got so that he doesn't get a stick in his eye. He looks adorable in those glasses.]

    I push aside my feelings of his adorableness and respond firmly:
  • "It's not that expensive because it's all the way across the country. It seems like a pretty reasonable price for a flight to IDAHO."
  • I tell him there are only four flights left at that price. "And Yellowstone is right there."
  • "You in or out? Come on, let's go… We'll see the Scott and Amundson exhibit and go to Yellowstone!"
  • That's in three weeks and it's peak vacation season, he reminds me.
  • "Oh my god, you're right, I'll go book it right now!"
  • "At least call a travel agent," he says. "Everything will be booked in Yellowstone. We'll get out there and have to camp, and I'm not camping unless it's at a Marriott."  
  • I call a travel agent who tells me that National Park Service bookings go through Xanterra.
    "Go to their website and see if there is anything left. Call me back if you can't get anything in Yellowstone and we'll try to get you somewhere nearby. Good luck!" the lady says.
  • I call the National Park Service and say we need hotel rooms in Yellowstone in three weeks. The guy actually laughs at me. When he's done he offers to look to see if there are any cancellations. They have one room available for each date, but the rooms are in different spots each night.
  • "Great! I'll reserve them."
  • "There are 38 other agents on the system looking at rooms," he tells me.
  • "We've got to hurry then!"
  • We bond over our winning the race to the rooms and he tells me he went to some training at Milacron way back in the day in Cincinnati. 
  • He emails me the confirmation and I tell him, "I guess I better book the flights now, eh." He says, "Probably."
  • I go outside and tell Ray that I reserved us some rooms at Yellowstone and that they have a fun looking bus that will drive you around to the big sights.
  • "Oh, and by the way," I add this as if it's such a non-event it's hardly worth mentioning, "the rooms in Yellowstone do not have Internet, radios, telephones, TVs or air conditioning."
  • So basically, it's not like the Marriott at all. (But I don't say that.)
  • Ray is painting a portion of the privacy fence in the back and says, "Well, it's a National Park. What can you expect. I'm sure it's fine. Plus, we've never been to Yellowstone."
  • Hmm... don't even know who this person is who just said this to me, but I'm running with it.
  • By 8 pm I've booked the rooms, the flights, a rental car and researched and planned our entire itinerary, complete with must-sees, hikes and an excursion through Grand Teton National Park.

In sum: That beautiful, $20 book cost us about $2,000 by the time we go to Idaho for the exhibit and go on to Yellowstone.

But! This is actually much cheaper than the cruises I was originally looking into at Antarctica itself, which between flights to Buenos Aires to get to the boat plus the cruise itself, the price was astronomical.

The way I see it, I just saved us about $15,000. (I'm not kidding.) I mean, just the coats and boots and thick socks you'd have to buy to make it through the cruise and not freeze to death would probably be $2,000. 

Meanwhile, Ray has essentially been widowed the entire summer because I am gripped by the book The Worst Journey in the World, by Apsley Cherry-Gerrard, which is what started this whole preoccupation with Antarctica in the first place, and how I ended up ordering Race to the End.

I've spent the last several months completely transfixed by Cherry-Gerrard's account of the Scott expedition to the South Pole - the men, their science, the horrible conditions, the penguins, the fate of the ponies, the dogs, the entire exploration team.

Adélie penguins, Antarctica  - photo by Sean Bonnette, National Science Foundation, used with permission via

I recount details of the book to Ray as though it just happened, and the journey ended in 1913. I make these "news announcements" while he's trying to fall asleep, or when he's painting a fence, or making dinner.

(I would help do these things but... I'm reading.)

"Ray, are you awake? Two of the ponies fell off of an ice floe and they couldn't get it back onto the ice; they had to shoot them. I'm sorry to tell you this."

"Ray, the dog sledge team fell into a crevasse. They were able to rescue 8 of the dogs with an Alpine rope and the other two Scott fished out of the crevasse after being lowered 60 feet down. Only two of the dogs died, so that's good news. But a few of them probably have internal injuries from hanging for over an hour in their harnesses into a crevasse. It's very sad."

"Oh. No... Ray, you're not going to believe this... The depot crew woke up with their tent having broken away from the ice barrier, so now they are floating out to the sea on an ice floe and killer orcas are surrounding them and conniving to eat them."

"Hey, what are you cooking? Is it pemmican? Just fyi, the Winter Journey to the penguin rookery is bad, really bad… the temperature is -60º and the tent just blew away in a horrific blizzard. They're singing hymns to stay awake and trying to not freeze to death. They're pretty certain they're going to die. Things are grim in Antarctica right now."

I even cried got a little upset the night they had to shoot the two ponies who fell into the Ross Sea.

When I'm not reading the book I'm marveling at the photography of the expedition's photographer, Herbert Ponting. (You can see all of his photographs of the journey thanks to the Scott Polar Research Institute's website.) And I spend my free time absorbed with more books about Captain Scott, his rival Amundson, Antarctica, Emperor and Adélie penguins and ice floes. 

If you haven't read The Worst Journey in the World, start on it immediately. We can live the summer of 2014 in Antarctica together. It's truly riveting and deserves it's status as National Geographic's best adventure book of all time. And I cannot wait to see the exhibit.

[I am still waiting to hear back from the exhibit curator and author to see where it is actually going after Idaho. If he tells me Greater Cincinnati, I'm just going to keep that information to myself.]

UPDATE: Dr. MacPhee (author, curator, professor) wrote back thanking me for my charming note and stated: "The show goes next to Lyons, France, for an October opening at the Musee des Confluences. There are, sadly, no other venues on the horizon at the moment."

So basically, we've all got until September 1 to get to Idaho!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

It's a Grass Farm

There is this sod farm on the way to the Newtown Dairy Corner, which we go to a few times a week occasionally. When we had our front yard redone last month I asked Ray where the sod comes from. 

"A sod farm," he said.

I thought he was joking. 

"A sod farm? That's ridiculous. It's grass. It's comes from grass farm?!"

Umm, yes, and we pass it all the time, apparently. The last time we drove by Ray pointed out the sign that says "Sod Farm." 

I still think it's hilarious. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

An Ephemeral Feast

There is a chapter in A Moveable Feast in which F. Scott Fitzgerald invites Ernest Hemingway to lunch and tells him, over a cherry tart:
"You know I never slept with anyone except Zelda... Zelda said that the way I was built I could never make any woman happy and that was what upset her originally. She said it was a matter of measurements. I have never felt the same since she said that and I have to know truly.”
The title of the chapter is "A Matter of Measurements," and what Fitzgerald wants to know - truly - is if he has a small penis, like Zelda says.

And this, my friends, is exactly why I don't like to know too much beforehand about the books I read - because they spoil the fun of being surprised by a scene like this. I read this exchange with my eyes and mouth wide-open in stunned amazement and amusement. 

Oh my gosh, Zelda told Scott he had a small penis!
Oh my gosh, Fitzgerald told Hemingway he had a small penis!

To tell him 'truly' about his measurement, Hemingway leads the author of The Great Gatsby to the men's room and checks out his goods.

After giving him an inspection he pronounces Fitzgerald "perfectly fine," adding that the only thing wrong with him is that he's married to Zelda.

"Forget what Zelda said. Zelda is crazy. There’s nothing wrong with you. … Zelda just wants to destroy you,” Hemingway says.
Fitzgerald is unconvinced, so Papa Hemingway walks him around the Louvre to size-up the naked statues. 

I don't happen to know what male nude sculptures the Louvre displayed in the 1920s when Hemingway and Fitzgerald went on their beefcake tour, but if I could go back to any moment in history, I would opt to go back to this moment, when these two literary giants went walking around the Louvre to size-up what the ancient Greek and Roman antiquities were packin.'

That's right. I'd chose this moment over dinosaurs, the dawn of life, Elvis on the Ed Sullivan show, pyramids, Roman gladiators, all of it.

The possibility that these two novelists were roaming around discussing Fitzgerald's "measurements" is so fantastic and otherworldly that it's nearly magical.

And if tidbits like this exist in a brief book about Hemingway's first years in Paris with his first wife, then what similarly amazing stories are buried in other lesser-known memoirs?

It's too rich to imagine.

We will all have to read very single memoir ever written, examine every scratched-up notebook and decipher every penciled book margin lest we miss some marvelous story like this.

Zelda and F. Scott, 1919, via

But anyway, back to A Moveable Feast.

Published posthumously in 1964, it is Hemingway's memoir of when he lived in Paris in the early to mid-1920s with his first wife, Hadley. 

He's in his early 20s in the book. He is young, he is in love and he is experimenting with his craft.

The Paris expatriate luminaries are all here too, in all their strange glory: Gertrude Stein, Fitzgerald, Ford Maddox Ford, Ezra Pound and Sylvia Beach and her Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

Hemingway's interactions with Fitzgerald are marvels of insight and also possible jealousy. He paints him as a drunk who can't hold his liquor, who pines for Zelda and who overall behaves strangely. But there are some tender moments here too.

Hemingway on reading The Great Gatsby for the first time:

"When I had finished the book [The Great Gatsby] I knew that no matter what Scott did, nor how preposterously he behaved, I must know it was like a sickness and be of any help I could to him and try to be a good friend. …   If he could write a book as fine as The Great Gatsby I was sure that he could write an even better one. I did not know Zelda yet, and so I did not know the terrible odds that were against him."
I'm not sure if that last statement resonates because it is such a harsh indictment of Zelda or if it's because Hemingway, in his look back at those early years, feels genuine sympathy for Fitzgerald.

(Hemingway is writing this memoir 40-years after the fact, likely remembering that The Great Gatsby sold poorly and received mixed reviews when it was published. Fitzgerald died in 1940 believing his book was a failure. It's revival and popularity didn't happen until after World War II.) (Fun/sad fact for cocktail party conversations: Fitzgerald's funeral was attended by only about 30 people.)

A Moveable Feast is filled with all kinds of wistful, sad retrospection like this.

Hemingway tells us: ”… this is how Paris was in the early days when we were very poor and very happy.” 

Ernest and Hadley, 1922, via

Looking back on his first marriage 40 years later, Hemingway paints his second wife, Pauline, as a homewrecker who set out after him by first befriending his wife Hadley. He blames Pauline almost entirely for his failed marriage, and he is writing about it four decades later with such guilt and sorrow that you can't help but feel bad for the man.

"Then, instead of two of them and their child, there are three of them. First it is wonderful and fun and it goes on that way for a while… You love both and you lie and you hate it and it destroys you… Everything is split inside of you and you love two people now instead of one.

"...When I saw my wife again standing by the tracks as the train came in by the piled logs at the stadium, I wished I had died before I ever loved anyone but her."
Death over love for anyone but Hadley. Damn Ernest, you poor bastard.

But remember, Hemingway had four wives, each left for the next after a miserable love triangle. So he can't feel that sorry. (Or maybe he just never learned from his mistakes.)

But still, it's a deeply sad chapter. You realize that while his life had gone the way he chartered it, the remorse tortured him. 

But don't cry for Hadley. She went on to have a lasting marriage to Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Paul Mowrer.

Hadley was 73 years old when the book came out in 1964. Here is a wonderful audio clip of Hadley's response to A Moveable Feast. 

Hemingway had been dead for three years and yet, here was this detailed, loving tribute to their time together, the cafés where they ate and drank, the streets they walked. It must have been other-worldly to read such a personal account of a part of your life, and yet so long ago it must have seemed a past lifetime or to have happened to another person.

And that is the other character in this book, Paris. 

The details are wonderful. The stories, the famous friends, the glimpses into the cafés where he wrote. Some of the cafés are still standing, and his notes are so specific you can trace his steps along the Left Bank. This page and this page even maps them out for you. 

It's been over 90 years since Ernest and Scott and Hadley and Zelda roamed those Paris streets, but isn't it wonderful to think about what streets and coffee shops people will look back on 90 years from now and navigate in the footsteps of a famous author.

I loved A Moveable Feast. It is a fantastic snapshot of a life as it was remembered, and that's always a little bittersweet, isn't it?

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

There's Only One Love, Yours And Mine

It was actually raining when Lionel Richie was singing You Are last Sunday night. We had pavilion seats at the show, but the storm that rolled through brought with it a nice wind, so it rained on us even in section 400.

As he sang "You are the sun, you are the rain," I watched the fine, sideways mist catch in the stage lights and thought, I am standing in the rain... with Lionel Richie! 

Fans scattered and squeezed toward the center of the pavilion as it got wetter, which only added to the ambience if you ask me.

We were all damp, singing and happy. Or at least, I was.

Dear Lionel: I'll stand in the rain for you. I don't mind and I don't miiiiiiiind... xxox, Gina

I was completely star struck by Lionel, I'll admit. I looked up at the stage in awe, my hands clasped together like a fangirl, and I belted out the hits along with him.

And so did the woman next to me. She was from Mississippi and had come to the Tri-State with her friend who wanted to visit all 50 states before she turned 50. They were able to cross Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky off of their list while the woman next to me got see Lionel in the process.

She was the perfect seat mate. We were both super thrilled to be there, and I had a companion in singing and dancing... all night long. When she kamaru'd left, I kamaru'd left. When I fiesta'd right, she fiesta'd right. We were sisters in Lionel.  

And Lionel, what I can I say. He hasn't lost an ounce of range or soul in his voice. He was as smooth sounding on stage at 65 as he was in videos I danced to in my living room decades ago. (Who I am kidding, I was dancing to his videos in my living room last week!)

And he was just as fit. Obviously ol' Lionel has made a deal with the devil because neither his face nor his body have any signs of aging. Good on him. (Yo, Devil, I'm interested in a deal, call me.)

He was such an affable entertainer too, telling funny stories and bantering about song origins. He looked and acted as though there was no where else he'd rather be than on stage in Cincinnati, Ohio, burning through his hits. And true to the tour's name, All the Hits, All Night Long, he played nearly two hours of solo and Commodore's hits. You've got to give it to an artist who can play nearly two hours of songs everyone knows the lyrics to.

"We've been through a lot together!" he told us. "When you were in love, I was in love! When you fell out of love, I fell out of love! It was a disaster, then it got worse! So you got your albums, your 8 tracks, your cassettes.... And who'd you turn to? Lionel Richie!"

And then he played Still, Oh No and finally Stuck On You in succession.

That was the bad, the worse and disaster of love, apparently. And I believed him. I felt like I had been transported to every breakup I've ever had and lived it all over again, only this time better, and with more feeling, because it was with Lionel!

By the end the three song 'love disaster' trifecta, when he asked us who we would turn to in our new hardships and love affairs - with our CDs, our cassettes, our digital music - everyone yelled, "Lionel Richie!"

"Damn right, you will," he said, as keyed the opening notes to Stuck on You.

He really was a funny and charming storyteller. I left the show feeling like I had been through things with Lionel Richie.

The crowd of course loved All Night Long and Hello, enjoyable but weaker songs in my opinion. (It would have been better if there was a fake blind woman on stage molding a bust of his head from a hunk of clay. Hello!)

But he really shined with his other hits, and by the end we were all swaying and singing together, united by our love of Lionel Richie.

My favorite moment, other than singing "You are the sun, you are the rain" in the rain to Lionel, was the stunningly beautiful My Love. When he hit the chorus I felt faint. I grabbed Ray and looked at him like, We are going to have a moment right here, right now, whether you like it or not.

I sang to Ray like I wrote the lyrics from the deepest recesses of my heart, serenading him with the love that Lionel Richie once had for his wife. (But not anymore, because they're divorced.)

I think Ray was into it.

But even with nearly two hours of music there were still plenty of hits we didn't hear. While not one of his bigger commercial hits, Do It To Me is one my favorite Lionel jams, but it didn't make the All the Hits, All Night Long cut.

Lionel and I are going to have work through this, just like we did all of our other highs and lows.

Dear Lionel: Let's work this out. I love you. xxox Gina