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Doris writes a weekly column for LaGaceta, the nation's only trilingual newspaper, which has pages in English, Spanish, and Italian.  Begun in 1922 for Tampa's immigrant community, it continues to thrive more than a century later.  Her column is titled "In Context," as it aims to put contemporary issues in the context of the past.

Summer of 1970

One of the first things I did after Hubby died was to re-read the diary I kept in the summer of 1970.  In our new travel trailer, we went from Massachusetts up to Canada, down to Minnesota, and across the Upper Plains and Rockies to California, where we made long visits in Sacramento, San Francisco and Los Angeles.  Then it was the Southwest, the Lower Midwest, Southeast, and back up the East Coast just before school started in September.  I took lots of photos that were developed into slides; I bought my own slide projector and movie screen; and then I enlivened my high-school American history classes with travel pictures.


I'm sure this was good for the kids, as I discovered that many New Englanders never have been out of that area.  Their vacations seemed to vary between beaches on Cape Cod or mountains in New Hampshire and Vermont.  The America beyond the Appalachians did not exist for them, and it still doesn't for many people in that region.  I know Bostonians and New Yorkers who never have been west of the Hudson – and are rather proud of it.  I think that in addition to Fulbrights and other scholarships that encourage travel abroad, we also may need grants for travel at home.




It makes me too lonely for Hubby to think about getting these fifty-year old slides out of the closet, but I'm quite sure that if I did, I could get the old projector to shine on them again:  Before the electric became the electronic, things worked, and the travel diary itself is not subject to malfunctioning.  I marked a couple of places in it that I want to discuss, and today is the day.  I'm so disheartened with the current scene that I'm going to take a break. 


So I'll begin with the diary in late June.  After a couple of nights in a woodsy Quebec camp with French-speakers, we moved on to Ontario.  We were glad to be among English-speakers when began to have car trouble in a rural area a little beyond Ottawa.  It was a Sunday, and we soon ascertained that no mechanics were going to be available.  Of course, this was long before GPS and cell phones, so on advice from the locals, we decided to stay.  I recorded:  "We fixed lunch and read the Saturday paper from the store.  The people there were very helpful – and surprised when we inquired about a Sunday paper.  They never had heard of such a thing."


The next day we discovered that there was a local custom of closed businesses on Mondays, and when we finally did get a mechanic, he needed a couple of days to obtain the part.  The upshot was that we spent most of a week there, but managed to get ourselves to a pleasant lakeside RV park.  We fished, read, talked with other travelers, and ended up enjoying ourselves.  Except no Sunday paper.  No television, and poor radio reception.  It was wonderful.  You can do it, too.  Just hit the "off" button.




The only other part of the diary that I marked for you was from July 30 in Cimarron, New Mexico.  It says:  "I asked the woman who ran the campground about the history of Cimarron, and she said the St. James Hotel was the best place to re-live the cowboy days.  It certainly was.  The halls of the hotel were covered with posters telling who had stayed in each room.  Almost everyone who was anyone in the Wild West was there – Bat Masterson, Wyatt Earp, Doc Holliday, John Wesley Hardin, the Dalton gang and many others.  In later days, Buffalo Bill and Annie Oakley stayed there, too.  Some 26 killings had been recorded in the hotel; no one knows how many went unrecorded."


The reason for including this is to point out that gun violence is not new.  Although it may seem that most reports about shootings today involve racial minorities, these shooters simply are following the age-old tradition of white America.  Formerly unarmed people finally have enough money and the legal right to buy weapons, and they are doing so.  The six-shooter that was a technological marvel back then, however, has been replaced by assault rifles that fire endless rounds, killing everyone whether targeted or not.  The most important puzzle:  Why are the vast majority of killers young men?  Raging male hormones, that's what we should be studying.




I shut the television off back in March, when I was trying to hide COVID from a hospitalized Hubby.  I had no desire to watch TV when I got home at night -- and still don't.  I get my news from a variety of online sources, and I read novels, especially mysteries, for distraction.  As far as I can tell from conversations with friends and family, I'm not missing much in TV Land.  So, a bit re books.  They are this magic thing, you know, with no internet interruption or platform problems.  All you have to do is turn pages.


Mysteries are my favorite form of distraction from today's terrible reality, and the best writers are women.  Cultural training makes women more attuned to nuance, subtlety, and observation – and guys such as Raymond Chandler, Earle Stanley Gardner, and Mickey Spillane never would see print in today's more sophisticated market.  British women are the best of all.  Agatha Christie, of course, still reigns supreme, but Hubby and I long since have read of all her books and watched every screen adaptation of them.  I could discourse a long time on Miss Marple and the actresses who have played her, but we'll move on.


Hundreds of mysteries by women that Hubby bought remain on our shelves, and I wish that I had read and discussed them when he was alive.  I began taking them from his study while he still was in the hospital, but he was in too much distress to focus on thoughtful conversion.  I started to read Elizabeth George then, but quit before I finished all of them.  She is a Californian, but her settings are British, and the unrestrained evil of some of her characters made me switch to the American scene.

American mystery writers generally are lighter – but also generally less thought provoking.  I read most of Amanda Cross, but her Ivy League settings, although nicely familiar to my youth, are pretentious and her endings often are disappointing.   I still have some of Diane Mott Davidson's books to read, but most -- "Catering to No One" and "The Grilling Season" – revolve around food, and reading them at bedtime makes me want to get up and head for the refrigerator. 


So I quit those and took up Donna Tartt.  I still have no idea why she won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize.  She certainly doesn't measure up to fellow Mississippians such as Faulkner and Welty.  Nor does she write about Mississippi; instead, she's all about New York, Vegas, and hopeless male adolescents.  So now I'm back to Brits.




Before she became known as (probably) the most eminent of Agatha's successors, many people assumed that P.D. James was a man.  She was most decidedly a woman, happily married for fifty years.  She died in 2014, after living her entire life in Oxford.  Her writing is so brilliant that I'm going to limit my quotes just one book, "Innocent Blood," which was published in 1980.  Each quote is a little pearl of distilled wisdom – but I'll bet the first one will remind you of people we both know who hang out at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.


"They were filled with the barely suppressed anger of those who have just grabbed for themselves sufficient privilege to know just how little privilege they would achieve.  They didn't want to be taught, having already decided they preferred to believe."


A professor speaking to young leftists:  "I've corrected some of the grammar and spelling.  This may seem bourgeois pedantry, but if you plan to organize a revolution, you'll have to convince the intelligent and educated as well as the gullible and ignorant.  It might be worthwhile to develop a prose style that isn't a mixture of sociological jargon and the standard expected of a C student."


And the most meaningful underlined sentence for me right now:  "Time didn't heal, but it most certainly anesthetized."




Although I admire James more, I find that I have more bookmarks in mysteries by Dorothy Sayers.  Many of them relate to differences between American English and English English, and I marked them to remind myself to research.  The first was at a mortuary, "where the coffin was unscrewed in the presence of the Fiscal."  I couldn't find this usage on the internet and dragged out Hubby's Oxford Compact dictionary, which is so compact that its two very fat volumes come with a magnifying glass for the very fine font.  Turns out "fiscal" back then meant "sheriff."


Another sentence said someone "went back for the Leger."  Because that is my goddaughter's married name, I was especially interested.  I had thought it was connected to "leisure" or maybe "ledger."  The internet had more definitions, none of which made sense in this context.  Old Oxford again and wrong again:  at least in London, it referred to someone who dealt in coal.


A "mare's nest" means an illusion, a hoax, something that appears plausible, but isn't – just as mares don't make nests, at least not in trees.  "Arnica" was used with "whiskey and soda," and it turns out to be a plant related to sunflowers.  Unlike sunflowers, it grows in the far north, especially Siberia.  WebMD advises using it only topically, as in rubbing on an injury while drinking whiskey. 


I have three more Sayers' books on my desk, but this quote will be the last.  It's from her "Five Red Herrings," is set in Scotland, and says:  "The dinner was cold meat sandwiches, baps…"  The internet has that as an organization of Hindus.  The old Oxford tells me is that baps are a small Scottish bread.   


Hubby would have enjoyed talking about these things.  He may have known some answers without research, but he would pull out the magnifying glass anyway to see what else might be discovered.  Musty though they may be, I'm not throwing out our old books any time soon. 



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