Where the Show Still Goes On

In retrospect, it seems fitting that Barnum and Bailey circus rider Josephine DeMott Robinson presided over the naming of the baby giraffe.

Working in tandem with acrobat Zella Florence, Josie already had encouraged an assortment of female animal trainers, wire walkers, hand balancers, dancers, and strong women (including Katie Sandwina, the “female Hercules”) to hold a suffrage rally at Madison Square Garden. Barnum & Bailey’s presentation of an elaborate, Cleopatra-themed show during its 1912 season seemed a perfect opportunity to introduce the world to its first circus suffrage society, not to mention the giraffe, soon to be named “Miss Suffrage.” (more…)

Real News for Real People

Finding a current issue of any magazine never was easy during my years in Liberia. In the 1970s, finding even an aging copy of The New Yorker was nearly impossible.

Living in the interior, I did my shopping  in open air markets and Lebanese stores that specialized in canned mackerel, Russian toilet paper, the occasional Heineken, and Chinese tomato paste. In those places, browsing the newsstand wasn’t an option.

Occasionally, I cadged a copy from expatriates with connections to the embassies or international agencies in Monrovia. Now and then, a Peace Corps volunteer would  have an issue to share, and there always was the possibility someone would step off PanAm 1 onto the Roberts Field tarmac with a copy tucked under one arm. (more…)

Published in: on August 2, 2014 at 7:42 pm  Comments (83)  
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The Threshold of Imagination

Given an opportunity to read Graham Greene on the veranda of the City Hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, I found it impossible to resist. What better place to take up a battered, second-hand copy of The Heart of the Matter and indulge in a bit of literary romanticism?

Greene, who spent time in Freetown both as a traveler and as a British intelligence officer during WWII, drew on his experiences at the hotel in a variety of ways. In Journey Without Maps, an account of his month-long foot trek through Liberia in 1935, he described a place and a way of life still recognizable forty years later.
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Traveling Light

Grain Elevator in Floydada, Texas
Some readers will remember this story. It’s sweet and quirky, and so amusing I occasionally re-read it just for the smiles it brings. I hope this re-post brings you a smile, too. If anyone has a better travel story at the end of the summer, I’d surely love to hear it.

Floydada, Texas is cotton country, though it’s known for pumpkins, too, and likes to bill itself as the Pumpkin Capital of the US.

It’s a flat and expansive land, a land of impossibly distant horizons and days barely distinguished one from another. Strangers develop a habit of looking around, as if to orient themselves. Even those who’ve grown up with the wind, the dust, and the storms say it aloud now and then: “This place will run you nuts if you let it.” (more…)

The Hauntings of History

Born to a land his great-grandparents settled in the 1870s, Ken McClintock is bound by blood and affection to Council Grove, Kansas. Shaped by the town’s history, perhaps even obsessed by it, he and his wife Shirley have reshaped a piece of that history into a treasure for us all.

The story of their accomplishment begins long before McClintock’s birth — long even before the births of his parents and grandparents — and stretches back to the time when Abraham and Mary Rowlinson, immigrants from England, built a home in Council Grove.  They began construction in 1860, when Kansas still was a territory. By the time Kansas had been admitted to the Union in 1861, the house was complete.

Seen from the road, its native limestone walls were sturdy and attractive. Inside, light filtered through windows dressed as beautifully as any in Kansas City. In certain seasons, the walnut staircases and trim were warmed by the setting sun, and entire rooms became infused with the same shimmering, golden light that colored the surrounding prairie. (more…)

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