Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hill Billy Confessions

I can't remember what it was, but something this afternoon reminded me of an old television show from my childhood. It's one of those things that I'm almost loathe to admit because I have spent most of my life trying to dodge that awful hill billy label, but any potential embarassment is out weighed by how sweet my memories of it are.

When I was little one of my favorite television shows was Hee Haw, a sort of backwoods variety show that pandered to all the worst stereotypes of Southern life. Many was the summer evening that I spent curled up with my Granpa in his old recliner giggling through Hee Haw. We'd each have a big glass of Granny's sweet tea, which was so loaded with sugar that there was a syrup sludge in the bottom of the glass that when slurped over ice cubes was better than any snow cone on the planet. Papa always smelled of chewing tobacco and Irish Spring soap and I can remember him laughing so hard that his eyes would disappear in wrinkles of sun weathered skin.

Miss Minnie Pearl was one of my favorites and I swear that she is the reason I have such a fascination with hats. She'd always greet the audience with a huge, "Howdy!" dressed in a frilly dress and a straw hat with the price tag hanging off the brim.

It was cheesey and hokey, but I just loved it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Point of View

By some strange coincidence I have seen several movies recently that are set in or about the time of World War II: Gosford Park, Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, Notorious, and Casablanca. I have always been interested in WW II, how it started, who were the key players, how it effected society, art, people. So much of what we are taught about the war here is very one sided, but I have been fortunate to have a couple of chances to chat with people who experienced the war from the other side.

Friede is a long time friend of my husband's family. She has lived next door to them since B was a boy. Friede is in her 90's but you would never know it to see her playing with my niece and nephews. Whenever we visit B's family I sneak over to Friede's as often as good manners will allow and spend hours chatting with her. She is just about the feistiest person I have ever known and I admire her immensely.

Friede was born near Frankfurt, Germany. Her mother was a very devout Catholic who somehow ended up married to a very irreverent Protestant. Her father once swept up the straw, laid out for the towns Passover procession, and fed it to his animals. Friede's mother insisted that she be sent to the nuns for school but, maybe because of her father's bad influence, she spent a lot of time in trouble. There was the time the Mother Superior discovered that Friede and her friends had been eating holiday cookies during the year so that there were none to sell at Christmas. She had to stay late and help bake cookies to make up for her pilfering. Or there was time she started selling holy water door-to-door until her mother found out and made her return all the money.

Later she went to dance school in Frankfurt, and was good enough that she was invited to teach despite the fact that her instructor used to call her a cow. She danced in the ballet at the Frankfurt opera house and was known for playing pranks. During a run of Aida she was cast as a fan bearer. She "fell asleep" during one of the performances and "accidentally" hit the diva in the head. Evidently, the diva wasn't very popular with the rest of the cast.

Friede's family must have been very talented artistically because her brother was a musician. In the years leading up to the war many of the theatres and music halls were closed by the government and he had trouble finding work. Eventually the only job available to him was playing in the military band and he joined the army. It didn't last long though. They eventually trained him to fly planes.

During the Nazi years, the opera was only allowed to perform political pieces. There was a play where a this "heroic" character with an iron fist would hit a table and the edge would fall off. The table had been pre-cut to so that when the actor slammed his fist the table would break on cue. She and the ballet turned the table around so that when he hit it , the wrong edge fell to the floor. She said the audience roared with laughter.

The opera was later closed and she was forced into the service. She said the first night in the barracks she was so eaten by bed bugs that she chose to sleep in a chair instead. She was shipped to a post near the Russian front. Upon arrival she received a telegram informing her that her brother's plane had been shot down over Russia and that he was dead. She said she was so shocked that she just sat down on her suitcase in the middle of the road, not knowing what to do. She remembered that a local woman seeing her distress brought her out a glass of water and how touched she was by the woman's kindness. She has never talked to me much about being in the Army. I'd like to think that Friede kept up her rebellious tendencies and continued to cause trouble where she could.
I can't help but wonder what her life would have been like if the war had never happened. Would she have continued dancing? As far as I know, she never dance professionally again although her ballet slippers have pride of place amongst her belongings.

After the war, Friede married an American soldier and moved to the U.S. They never had children of their own but she must have hundreds of children in her community to whom she has been surrogate grandma. At church on Sunday's, I have seen her sneaking M&M's to all the little kids who come and tell her good morning.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fabulous Friday

I love the movement in this portrait of Diane Sackville, Viscountess Crosbie. I get the impression that she must have had a very spritely personality.

So, earlier this evening Officer B comes upstairs and finds me with a very distressed look on my face. "What's wrong?" he asks as he kisses me on the forehead. I shake myself from my stupor and reply, "Oh, I was just watching the news. I think I'm stupider because of it."

This isn't a new complaint of mine. It is horrifying what watered down pap passes for news these days. I flipped between four channels and heard reports on inner-ear infection causing obesity, University of Florida research that proves beer goggles exist, and a woman suggesting healthy snack options for students who sounded as though she didn't think your kids would be any more interested in celery than you do. Ridiculous. Yet further justification for why I read the news (Some of my favorites:BBC News, The Washington Post, NPR, The Guardian, The Age, Google News and then for a laugh (or a cry), CNN.)

In other randomness, I spent most of my afternoon writing on my new laptop. Officer B sold one of his rifles and bought me a laptop. Isn't he a sweety? I couldn't ask for a better husband. I can't tell you how cool it was to be able to curl up on the sofa and write.
I hope you all have a good weekend!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Gone to ground.

Hi all! I am feeling very well and doing great. Thanks for the kind wishes. I got back home and just fell into a funk. I've got a huge stubborn streak and the more I felt pressured to communicate with the outside world the deeper I dig in my heels and refused. People mean well, I know, and I'm not claiming that my way is the right way, but over the years I have come to discover that right or wrong it is a character trait that is very central to who I am. I don't like to be pushed. In fact pushing me is a sure way to get me to do the opposite of what you want. So, like any good fox, I went to ground and absolutely refused to surface until I was darn good and ready.

Thank you all so much for your kind comments on the story. I've worked along time on it and the characters are like my own children. So it is nice to see them so well received. I will definitely be posting more in the future.

I've been re-reading an old fantasy series that is a favorite of mine (David Edding's The Belgariad) and enjoying rediscovering old literary friends. If you want an excellent example of strong character development, Eddings is one to look at.

I've also been watching lots of the Olympics and have been amazed by both the skill and good sportsmanship of all involved. Now if only we could get the media to adopt some of those good manners. I dream. I dream. The opening ceremonies left me completely awed. Words actually escape me - the artistry, sophistication, taste - all exemplar.

So, that's me.

Sunday, July 27, 2008


I will be away for four days, but wanted to leave you with some entertainment. Please remember that this is my original creative work and offer it hear for your reading enjoyment.

The Jewel of Seven Stars
A Nemesis Jones Adventure

(giant scarab, British Museum)


In the cool darkness beneath the museum a rat scampered along a row of shelves. A network of footprints in the dust was proof of many similar expeditions by fellow explorers into the neglected storage room. The museum’s patrons were gone and the creatures that inhabited the massive building were free to roam. The rodent slipped between the loose planks of a crate and into the thick packing material that surrounded the desiccated remains of a once great queen of Egypt. Deemed to be of no historic significance by long-dead curators, the mummy had been stashed beneath a shelf amongst the thousands of artifacts preserved there, and forgotten.
Had the mummy been alive, the rat’s claws skittering up her thin, bandaged leg might have caused her to bolt from her bed with a shriek, but the Egyptian queen was long past caring about such indignities. The thief moved his whiskers from side to side searching for a tasty morsel to take back to his extended family living within the walls of the museum. He tugged tentatively at a finger and squeaked with surprise when rat and hand tumbled to the bottom of crate. He examined his prize carefully, fearing that it might move again, but it remained motionless. Working with all his might, the rat wiggled the hand out of the crate and began dragging it back to his home. Halfway down the main aisle the lights suddenly flared to life and heavy footsteps echoed in the vastness of the storeroom. The rat scuttled beneath a shelf, hoping that the human would quickly find what it was looking for and leave.

The purposeful footsteps drew closer and then skidded to a surprised halt. There was a mummy’s hand lying in the middle of the aisle, looking for all the world as though it had been trying to crawl away on boney fingers! The human slowly approached the strange object. He had been working late and the immense silence of the empty museum often left him feeling jumpy. It certainly didn’t help to find disembodied hands casually lying in one’s path. His instincts suggested he find a long stick to poke it with, but his rational mind sneered at such superstitious nonsense. Kneeling down, he gingerly picked the hand up off the floor and fell back in surprise when a loud “clink” pierced the silence. His heart beat wildly with fright. Something had fallen from the mummy’s dead grasp. Straightening his glasses he reached under the nearby shelf where the item had fallen but quickly retracted it when he felt the rat’s whiskers brush his knuckles. Peering beneath the shelf he saw the rodent’s pink tail disappear into the darkness and there, having lain for years in neglected obscurity, was a large ruby scarab!


Nemesis Jones lay on the floor of her mother’s library feeling sorry for her self. Her two best friends, her only friends, were gone on summer vacation and she was bored. Liza Madison’s mother had insisted that the family spend the summer at a yoga retreat. Nemesis had helped Liza fill half of her suitcase with junk food, knowing that there would be only organic, vegetarian fare for the rest of the summer. Abbey Claudel’s family was touring the Wild West in a Winnebago. Nemesis toyed with the post card she had received in the morning mail. It was from Tombstone, Arizona and had a picture of three coyotes and the phrase “Having a Howling Good Time.” On the back were two words: ‘hot’ and ‘tumbleweeds.’ Knowing how much Abbey hated being at the mercy of the elements, Nemesis shook her head in sympathy. She sighed heavily examining the botanical prints and Victorian curiosities that decorated the emerald walls of the library. The room was like her mother, eccentrically beautiful and full of odd ideas. Nemesis was supposed to be picking three books for her summer reading. Professor Delilah Jones taught Victorian Literature at the local college and required that both her daughters were proficient readers. Nemesis had been staring at the shelves for hours but nothing really sparked her interest. She wanted a good, juicy mystery but the room was full of dusty old classics.
“Are you coming?!” Her seven-year-old sister, Jealousy, a.k.a. Jelly, was standing in the door dressed in her red soccer uniform, tapping her cleats impatiently. Jelly’s sandy blond hair was pulled back in a utilitarian pony tail with a thin red elastic band keeping her bangs out of her face. She believed herself to be a soccer prodigy, the next Mia Hamm. Nemesis rolled her eyes.
“No, I’m not coming”
Jelly dropped her bag in disgust. “You haven’t been to a single game all year! This is the last game of the season!” She adjusted her shin guards impatiently.
Nemesis shrugged and went back to staring at the ceiling. “I don’t ask you to watch me read.”
Jelly’s arms went ridged and her face flushed a deep red. The little girl had a temper and her sister knew how to light the fuse. She grabbed her bag with a roar and slammed the heavy oak door behind her. The vibration shook the stained glass windows and something toppled off the shelf above, hitting Nemesis in the forehead. “Ouch!” She yelped, searching blindly for the offending object. It was a paperback with a garish cover entitled The Jewel of Seven Stars written by Bram Stoker. “I didn’t know he had written anything other than Dracula?!” She mused to the collection of animal skulls to her left. She proceeded to read in her usual avaricious manner, conveniently failing to identify her other summer books. She read even when Winston Churchill, the family’s Labrador retriever, hopefully brought her a ball - only to be disappointed when she failed to throw it. She was still reading when her father, retired Sergeant Major Kevin Jones, returned with Jelly from the soccer game. Her attention never faltered despite Jelly glowering at her for 15 minutes, the championship trophy clinched in her fist. She remained there until her mother returned at 7:00 PM and wearily placed a huge stack of papers on the desk. Nemesis, engrossed in her book, made no response. Professor Jones smiled knowingly at her eldest daughter.
“Have you eaten anything other than words today, Sisi?” Professor Jones asked, calling Nemesis by her nickname.
“Uh-um,” came the guttural negative.
“Would you like to?”
Usually, the topic of food was as enticing to her daughter as books, but at this moment it seemed to be a no-contest.
“What have you found?” her mother asked.
Nemesis sprang up and began to enthusiastically regale her mother with the details of the wondrous book she had discovered.
“ . . . and there is this cat, which is obviously possessed by a spirit, and there is a mummy, and a queen . . .”
“Where on earth did you find that?” her mother interrupted, reaching for the paperback.
“It fell off the shelf.”
Professor Jones inspected the book carefully, raising her eyebrows at the badly illustrated cover and quickly scanning a few pages.
“Dearest, I have never seen this book before in my life.”
The child stared at her mother in shock. The library was her mother’s private sanctuary. The books that made it into this room were tried and true favorites. It was inconceivable that there could be a book on those shelves that her mother hadn’t read at least three times and deemed essential to her private collection.
Sensing, Nemesis’ consternation, her mother added, “I’m as surprised as you.”
“Mother, you’ve read all these books.” Nemesis swept her arms around the book-stuffed room.
“Nemesis, I haven’t read them all.” Her mother chuckled, amused that her daughter thought so highly of her literary prowess.
“Yes, you have!” Inexplicable panic strangled Nemesis voice.
“I’ve read most of them.” Her mother compromised, more than a little perplexed at her daughter’s agitation. “I think you’ve done enough reading today,” she said laying the book on her desk. “It’s time you got some food in your system.” She eyed her eldest daughter with concern and shepherded her out of the library.

Winston, despite being neglected earlier in the day, loyally followed Nemesis as she set out pasta bowls and warm garlic bread on the dinner table. Mr. Jones had prepared his world famous spaghetti for dinner and the dog was hopeful that his family would share.
“Mom!! Winston chewed up my cleats!” Jelly howled in the background.
“Good dog,” Nemesis cooed as she slipped him a piece of bread.
The dog happily gobbled up his prize.
“Dinner is served!” announced Mr. Jones as he delivered a large, bubbling pot of spaghetti to the table. Big, brown canine eyes watched as portions were served to each family member and then sparkled with joy as a ladle of sauce was added to his kibble. Everyone took their seats and conversation turned to Jealousy’s artistry on the soccer pitch that afternoon. After a detailed play-by-play of Jelly’s athletic brilliance, Professor Jones tapped the side of her water glass for quiet.
“Well, I have some news,” she announced with a conspiratorial wink at her husband, “How would you two like to go to London this summer?”
There was a brief incredulous silence before two very un-Jones-like squeals of delight pierced the parental eardrums. Pandemonium broke out. Jelly was bounced around the table, tugging at her father’s sleeve, “Dad, dad, can we go to a game! Can we go to a game! Please?! Manchester? Oh, please, we gotta! It would be so cool! Dad, we could see Rooney and . . . ”
Over this cacophony Sisi listed a multitude of historic sites she had to see “ . . . Windsor Castle – Do you think we’ll see the Queen. It would be so nice to see the Queen. - , and the Tower – I have to see the Crown Jewels - , and Trafalgar, and Cambridge, could we see Cambridge? Oh My Gosh!!! Oh My Gosh!! – The British Museum! Mom, we’ve got to go to the British Museum!!! ” - Then catching wind of Jelly’s pleading, “Hey, wait! I want to see Arsenal if Jelly gets to see Man. U.”
“Company halt!” barked Mr. Jones, trying not to laugh and still be heard over the din, “One. We’re only going to be there for a week so you’re both going to have to trim your wish lists. Two. Your mother is there to work so, again, scale it back a bit. Three. I am pretty sure soccer season will be over by then, but we will see what we can do.” There was a brief pause before the pandemonium resumed.

Mr. & Mrs. Jones had been planning the trip since the middle of the spring term, but they had agreed that if they shared the news with the girls too soon grades might suffer and impatience was bound to make tempers fly. In the past year, sibling tempers had hair triggers in the Jones house. Professor Jones had received a grant to write a book about the rise of Orientalism in Victorian England and would be in London to do research. Husband and wife had been to England together in their younger days, but Nemesis and Jealousy had never been and both seemed old enough now to appreciate the trip. This consideration was reinforced by their present exuberance. In light of the reaction it seemed a wise decision to keep the trip a secret until now. With some effort, they managed to get everyone back in their chairs and forks in hands. Winston gladly gobbled up the noodles and bread that had gone flying during the outburst.

No one in the Jones family particularly enjoyed doing the dishes. There were some tasks, such as vacuuming, which Professor Jones loved, or taking out the trash, a favorite of Jelly’s, that were attended to by one family member. In this case though, the task was universally loathed and so the family tackled the dishes together, rotating duty stations each week. This evening Professor Jones washed, Nemesis rinsed, while Jelly dried and Mr. Jones put them away. In this way, no one person had to suffer alone and the task was accomplished quickly. Nemesis carefully rinsed the large pasta dish that had been given to her parents as a wedding gift.
“So, when do we leave for London?”
“We leave on July 11 and we get back on the 18th. Just a few weeks from now.”
“What about Winston? Who’s going to watch him?”
“Miss Jennie is going to take care of him while we are gone.”
Jennie was a good friend of her mother’s who ran a pet-sitting business. Many of the staff at the college had pets. Ms. Jennie adored animals and frequently volunteered to watch pets while folks were away on vacation. This grew into a business when she retired.
“Winston will like that. He loves Ms. Jennie.”
“It could be the cookies or the extra walks, but yes, he does like her.” Ms. Jones laughed, “I’m pretty fond of her myself.”
“She’s cool,” Nemesis agreed. Last Easter, Ms. Jennie had hidden eggs at her house and invited the Jones girls over for an Easter egg hunt and tea. Jelly hadn’t been very interested in the tea, but she loved all the chocolate.
“Mom, have you ever been to London?” Nemesis’s mind jumped from topic to topic.
“A couple of times before you were born. Your father and I visited friends there.”
“You have friends in London?!” Her mother was full of surprises today.
“You’ve met them. You remember the Harris’s. They were at Alice & Charles Martin’s party in Atlanta the summer before last.” Alice Martin was her mother’s best friend from high school. She had twin daughters that were a year younger than Nemesis and dreadfully good at Scrabble.
“Lola Harris went to high school with Alice and me.”
Nemesis shrugged. She vaguely remembered the party. Mostly she remembered how badly she lost at Scrabble. It had been so frustrating. She had spent the rest of that summer beefing up her vocabulary and improving her strategy. The next time she ran into the Martin twins things would be different.
“Actually, I think you would really like Lola. She’s a freelance journalist.”
“Really?!” Nemesis aspired to be a writer some day.
“You’ll have to make a list of questions to ask her about the biz.” Professor Jones wiped bubbles on the tip of Sisi’s nose.

Nemesis lay on her bed enjoying the last hour of reading before lights out. Her dad and Jelly were watching a documentary on the development of the tank. Professor Jones was in her library grading papers. Winston loyally lay nearby guarding the literature professor from marauders. It was at this hour that calm reigned in the home. At times Sisi’s family seemed like a circus gone awry. There were so many personalities and opinions whirling about that it was easy to feel overwhelmed. And yet, Nemesis wouldn’t want it any other way. She enjoyed her family immensely, the good and the bad.

Her mother often joked that if she had another daughter she would name her Neurosis. Professor Jones had strange ideas about naming children. The plethora of Patiences, Charitys, and Prudences, in the world ignited the satirical side of her personality. Thus, rather than virtues, her daughters were named after the traits she felt most of society truly valued. Professor Jones secretly hoped that if her daughters could accept responsibility for their worst qualities then their finest qualities would be unveiled. Mr. Jones, who also possessed a rather dark sense of humor, loved his wife most for her quirky ideas, so he went along with the naming scheme. She wasn’t sure how Jealousy felt about it, but Nemesis took her name as a mission. She considered herself the living incarnation of divine justice. This of course was a lot of responsibility at the age of twelve, not to mention the fact that it got her into a lot of trouble.
Her mother had never addressed where the book, The Jewel of Seven Stars, had come from and in all of the excitement Nemesis had forgotten to ask. She was completely enthralled with her discovery. The description of the artifacts and the eerie air of mystery sent her imagination soaring. She was having difficulty making progress in the book because every page spawned a hundred new questions about ancient Egypt. The air seemed laden with the acrid smell of ancient mummies. While she might not admit it to others, she was also drawn to the image of a queen, especially one that was a sorceress. The cat, Sylvio, made her think of the large Persian cat named Dmitri that belonged to one of her neighbors. Dmitri had mysteriously disappeared last winter when the Ivanov’s first arrived in town. Nemesis and her friends, Abbey and Liza, had helped find him. She mentioned this to her mother who came to tell her good night.
“Mom, do you think Dmitri has seven toes?”
“The Ivanov’s fat Persian?” Professor Jones laughed. “I doubt it. Why do you ask?”
“Well, the cat in this book is big with long gray hair and it has seven toes.”
“Is this the possessed cat you mentioned earlier?”
“I’m not so sure he’s possessed, but yes.”
“Ah.” Her mother’s tone indicated that she doubted the literary significance of Sisi’s reading material, which isn’t to say that she would discourage her daughter from reading it.
“Are you sure you’ve never seen this book before?” Nemesis was hopeful that her mother would remember its origins and be able to tell her more about it.
“Sorry, Sisi, I suppose I must have read it at some time, but I just don’t remember. It’s possible someone gave it to me to read and I never got around to it.”
Nemesis didn’t buy it and her facial expression conveyed this.
“Alright, let’s put the possessed cat on the shelf for now and go to bed.”
Her daughter grudgingly set the book and the argument aside. Her mother pulled her blankets snug and planted a kiss on her forehead.
“Yes, darling child.”
“I’m really excited about going to London.”
“I knew you would be.” Her mother smoothed the wrinkles from Sisi’s blanket.
“I wish we were staying longer.”
“I’m sure we’ll visit again sometime.”
“I hope we can go to the museum.” Nemesis, like her mother, was a devout anglophile and viewed the British Museum as a sort of personal Mecca.
“You know who used to research his books at the British Museum?” Professor Jones asked her daughter.

“No. Who?” Nemesis asked with interest.
“Your Mr. Bram Stoker of possessed cat fame.” Professor Jones pointed at the book which now had place of honor on Sisi’s bedside table.
“Really! Then I have to go! If I can only see one thing in all of London, it has to be the British Museum.”
“You can see more than one thing. There is plenty to see in Bloomsbury and we’ll have some time to be tourists. The museum isn’t far from our hotel. I’m sure your dad will be happy to take you.”
“Jealousy won’t want to go. She’ll complain the whole time and spoil it.”
“Sisi, don’t be that way about your sister.”
Like most sisters, the two Jones girls often fought. Jelly, who was no less intelligent than her sister, preferred to be outdoors and active, whereas Nemesis was a committed bookworm. Their divergent interests were reflected in their looks. Where Jelly was blonde and tan, Sisi was auburn haired and fair. Unsurprisingly, their priorities often conflicted during joint endeavors. Nemesis’ stared grouchily at the Einstein poster on the wall opposite her bed, imagining the whining her sister would employ to avoid the longed-for museum trip. As they got older, it seemed to Professor Jones that her daughters fought more and more. Having a younger sister of her own she understood some of the rivalries, but it didn’t make it any easier to watch the growing distance between them.
“Perhaps you can find a way to lure your sister to the museum,” her mother suggested as she rose to leave. Some common ground would do them both good.
Nemesis noticeably brightened. Jealousy was not without academic interests! There might be hope after all! Sisi wished her mother a good night, free of the overarching gloom of sibling angst.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Fabulous Friday

Ha! I made it! My first Fabulous Friday post in what seems like ages. The lady to the left is Winifred Anna Cavendish-Bentinck (née Dallas-Yorke), 6th Duchess of Portland, painted 1912 by de Laszlo. I adore her magenta cape. Every girl needs one of those!

I have to tell you I'm more than a little relieved that I didn't anger anyone with my last post. A previous boss used to scold me for being idealistic, and while I understand that he worried I was being naive, I still feel that having ideals and striving for them is important. We are admonished to love God with all our strength and our neighbords as ourselves. God is easy to love; God is Love. That guy sitting next to you in traffic flashing vulgar hand signs and spewing venom at the elderly lady in front of him - he is harder to love.

I hope you all have wonderful weekends. The Good Doctor has ordered me back to the hospital on Monday for four more fun days with toxic cocktails (a.k.a. 2nd round of chemo). I've got to get my little bag of entertainment packed. I thought I would leave you, gentle readers, with a couple snippets of my own fiction so look for that to go up on Sunday. The really good news though: not a single evil nurse nightmare. That, ladies and jellyspoons, is called improvement.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Fear of Other

Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations is one of my favorite television shows. The idea being that you can learn a lot about other cultures by how and what they eat. This week the crew travelled to Saudi Arabia at the invitation of a viewer, a woman by the name of Danya Alhamrani. A show filmed in a country that places very strict limitations on the travel of women seemed doomed to failure, but quite the contrary it was a fascinating look into a rarely seen culture. Danya was an amazing hostess and did an excellent job of giving the audience a look into everyday life in Saudi Arabia.

Growing up, my parents both painted and there were National Geographics all over the house. I could barely wait for the new one to arrive in the mail. From a very early age I wanted to learn more about how people all over the world lived their lives. Heck for awhile I wanted to become a National Geographic photographer (until the realities of mosquitoes and limited bathing set in). That being said, I was born in one of the most xenophobic regions of the U.S.A. The Ozark Mountain region is notorious for not exactly welcoming outsiders with open arms. Even I, who was born but did not grow up in the Ozarks, must answer the ubiquitous "Whose your family?" question before thawing the chilly facade.

Since the attack on the World Trade Towers I have noticed a shift in the U. S. in how "others" are viewed that is much more like the attitudes in my hometown. We, as a nation, have become distrustful of people who do not look and sound like we do and ever more willing to marginalize their rights to make Us feel safer. You can see it in changing immigration policy and in the way we treat and talk about Others. You hear so many more comments about "Those people" and "Them" and the every growing list of racial and ethnic slurs. While I can sympathize with the fear from which these attitudes spring, I do not approve of the manifestations it has taken. Fear is never a wise position from which to make decisions.

Ironically, we are a nation of Other. The English, Irish, German, Italians, Russians, Africans, etc. - none of these are the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In fact, if there was ever a better case for xenophobia it would be in the treatment of the Maya, Navajo, Cherokee, Inuit, and hundreds of other tribes by European settlers on this continent. So this idea that somehow it's Us against Them is pretty ridiculous. We are, all of us, Them.

Am I offended that women in Saudi Arabia can't drive cars, can't vote, and must be completely covered in public? Sure I am. I'm also offended that the sport of bullfighting still continues in Spain and Mexico. I am offended that female infants are sometimes killed in India and China because male children are preferred. Nor do I wish to participate in the African Masai tribe's tradition of drinking cows' blood.

But here's the trick, you don't have to agree with every aspect of a culture to learn about it, appreciate it or maybe find beauty in it.