Where in world...?

An old friend phoned the other day. He never phones. But this time he just had to know: "What are you doing living in Florence?"
He thought I was in Florence, Italy. I told him it was Florence, Massachusetts.
Here are some answers -- my occasional wanderings through Florence, MA and the surrounding Pioneer Valley.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Guess Florentina's New Fave Hangout

Can you guess where this is?
I was in a bookstore in downtown Northampton this morning while Joey was at the dog spa, and I overheard the newest gossip. A regular customer was chatting with the salesclerk about the newest cafe and who was running it. It's all modern looking, and serves all those fancy coffees, she said. It's also only the second day of operations. I paid for my book, The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam (Europa Editions, 2009), and wandered out.

Because of the lengthy wait for Joey, I had a lot of time on my hands. I had reading and knitting to occupy myself, and needed something along the lines of a coffee and muffin. So I made my way to this new cafe and strode in confidently.

It was very quiet, and the staff were ready to help out. A french press coffee of the day, and an excellent blueberry muffin quickly made their way out to me, and we went to sit at a window seat together. From my window seat I could see this in the cafe.

This moment is specially aimed at El Señor, my friend who called me up to ask why I was living in Florence, Italy. El Señor presently lives in a place where he claims there aren't many places where they put plates of food in front of you according to your whims, and give you a special feeling while doing so. El Señor and I, along with Joey's dad, all went to graduate school in Madison, Wisconsin, where Florentina spent a lot of time in a cafe that had this same look. Finding this special place today really marked a high point, a kind of return to the land of the lotus eaters.

If you can guess the name of this place, I will buy you the drink and snack of your choice. If you're the winner, you may redeem the reward at your leisure. I'll be watching the comments to see who wins! (El Señor is eligible to play.)

Some extra hints:

  • Joey's license was obtained across the street in a building that looks like a castle.
  • The cafe's name refers to something related to consumption.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Tropical Storms and Desert Dreams

Now living in a drawer.
The unused candles on the right pretty much say it all when it comes to Florentina's experience with Hurricane, er, Tropical Storm Irene. Late Saturday morning I stopped in at Florence Hardware and found quite a crowd. I had half-heartedly decided that I should do something proactive about preparing for this impending disaster, since I didn't really treat the last one very seriously [see previous blog posting: "Napping through the Apocalypse (almost)"]. Candles would be the thing, so I was presented with a variety of useful candles to complement the very girly fragrant versions that might not last through a proper blackout. These five-inch candles were 49 cents each, and I thought they would do nicely for reading, knitting, petting the dog, etc. I have had them sitting on this little decorative plate since then, and it is a lucky thing there's been no real cause to light them. Truthfully, Florentina's biggest issue with this hurricane/tropical storm has been Joey's understandable reluctance to do his business outdoors, as the doggy toilet suddenly became really inhospitable for a number of hours. We have approximately eight inches of rainwater in our rivers, with Joey's grandparents in Leeds receiving an evacuation notice that they have chosen to ignore. (The Mill River near their house is currently on watch but has not done real damage.) 

Marsden 1913 edition
The Baldwin Project

Joey and I were rather damp for much of Sunday, and being so soggy makes me wish for a big desert sponge to suck all the water up, especially if it continues drizzly for a while. My thoughts turned to Eothen, or Traces of Travel brought home from the East by Alexander William Kinglake, first published 1844 anonymously by the author. It was a bestseller, despite  a skeptical John Murray who avoided publishing the work at first. Murray quickly changed his mind, I'm sure, after seeing how popular this work became. By the time of the 1913 edition shown at left, there had been at least a dozen or more editions published. It has never been out of print since its original publication.

The narrative is bookended by the specter of plague in Constantinople, his journey's start and end. When he reaches Cairo, his turnaround point, the plague is also ascendant there. Plague in its three different forms can kill 50% of those who contract it if there is no treatment; these days it is treated by antibiotics. While this may account for some of the narrative's fascination, it is also the description of desert travel that attracts attention, especially for those of us who live in moister climes. Kinglake writes:

Alexander Wm. Kinglake
(National Portrait Gallery,
London, npg.org)
He fell from a dromedary.

For several miles beyond Gaza the land, freshened by the rains of the last week, was covered with rich verdure, and thickly jeweled with meadow flowers so bright and fragrant that I began to grow almost uneasy -- to fancy that the very desert was receding before me, and that the long-desired adventure of passing its "burning sands" was to end in a mere ride across a field. But as I advanced, the true character of the country began to display itself with sufficient clearness to dispel my apprehensions, and before the close of my first day's journey I had the gratification of finding that I was surrounded on all sides by a tract of real sand, and had nothing at all to complain of, except that there peeped forth at intervals a few isolated blades of grass, and many of those stunted shrubs which are the accustomed food of the camel. (Kinglake 141)
Ah, that sounds nice and dry to some of us waterlogged New Englanders.  Kinglake gets a little cocky about his ability to handle the desert, manifesting in a funny kind of desert fever that causes him to overestimate and overvalue his refreshment by the sands:
"For several hours I urged forward my beast at a rapid though unsteady pace, but at length the pangs of thirst began to torment me. I did not relax my pace, however, and I had not suffered long when a moving object appeared in the distance before me" (189).  
He hails a pair of traveling Bedouins, and without a word, dismounts his dromedary, snatches a Bedouin's water flask, and drinks from it. Returning it without a word, he keeps going toward Suez.
"Suez, I found, was still three hours distant, and the sun going down in the west warned me that I must find some other guide to keep me straight. This guide I found in the most fickle and uncertain of the elements. For some hours the wind had been freshening, and it now blew a violent gale (191)..."
Cover of Eothen(Marsden 1913 ed.)
from The Baldwin Project
Just when he seems to achieve a heroic end to his dash across the desert, impatient at his retainers' slow pace, his magnificent steed has had enough.
"It happened that my dromedary veered rather suddenly from her onward course. . . . I had nothing but a halter in my hand. The expected resistance failed, for the halter was hanging upon that side of the dromedary's neck towards which I was slightly leaning. I toppled over, head foremost, and then went falling through air till my crown came whang! against the ground; and the ground, too, was perfectly hard (compacted sand); but my thickly wadded head-gear (this I wore for protection against the sun) now stood me in good part and saved my life" (192).
It's a good thing Kinglake went back to England and passed the bar, practicing law for nearly twenty years before he stood for MP of Bridgwater, later determined to be a rotten borough. Who knows what he would have turned out to be from more dromedary accidents, had he stayed on in the East.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hail that Black Cab!

When I was a little girl living in New York City, taxis were all big yellow checker cabs. The trim was a black and white checkerboard, and the yellow belonged only to cabbies. To this day, whenever I still see a car sporting a bright yellow paint job, I always ask myself, "who would ever want to have their car painted taxicab yellow?" Even Joni Mitchell thinks cabs are all yellow, as she sings about the big yellow taxi that comes to take away her man, to convince him to turn paradise into a parking lot. This toy version captures what I remember about how those cabs looked. Note the roundedness of the body -- this version is a little slimmer than the even rounder versions in my memory.
From Wikipedia.
There is an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest cab ride from New York City to the West Coast, but there are three guys from England -- Johno, Leigh, and Paul -- who aim to set a new record in a black cab by driving from London to Sydney. At least they hope to raise £20,000 for the British Red Cross through their project, It's On the Meter. They are currently in China, having traveled through India and Tibet, and have raised close to 40% of their goal.

The cab named Hannah formerly ferried passengers through London streets for sixteen years, and has been retrofitted for this trip of a lifetime. I wonder if Hannah turns into a hydrofoil because the map of their route has the party traveling through the Indonesian Archipelago to get to Australia. I suppose if Hannah survived the rough and tumble of London, it can make it anywhere. Anyone who's taken a black cab will know that awfully secure feeling in the back seat, a feeling reinforced by the hugeness of that back seat. New York cabs today can only dream about being this muscular.
From It's On the Meter.com.

Take a look at their website for their incredible photos and stories, and to support Johno, Leigh, and Paul:  http://www.itsonthemeter.com/. Next time you take a cab and feel as though it's taking forever, remember these three guys and Hannah.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Napping Through the Apocalypse (almost)

Depending on where you turn for news, the East Coast had a 5.8 or 5.9 earthquake this afternoon just past 2pm EST. It was rather inconvenient, as I was in the middle of a nap. I really don't take naps because whenever I have to take them, I'm really worn out from things so that my regular nighttime sleep isn't doing the job, and then waking up from a nap REALLY messes me up because I'm always disoriented. Well, I might never take a nap again after today, since I woke up to the sound of Joey barking, and my apartment shaking. I live in a converted carriage house, so my whole little late nineteenth-century building rocked like a boat.

Joey: Bark! Bark! (What is going on? Wake up!)
Florentina: [eyes closed, ignoring the rocking of the loveseat sofa she's napping on, and the construction vehicles at the nearby building]
Joey: Bark!!! Barkbarkbark!! (Mom! We have to get out of here!! How can you sleep through this?)
Florentina: [noticing the rocking is quite pleasant] Joey, it's just the workers outside. [Tries to go back to sleep.]
Joey: Bark! Bark! [You don't get it, do you, Mom?]
Florentina: [finally awake, and sitting up in her boat, er, loveseat sofa] Wow, those construction vehicles really make the building shake. Workers, Joey, nothing to worry about.

Boy was I wrong. When it all stopped, I could hear my neighbors outside, and at the same time, Joey's dad called to let me know they had just had an earthquake in New York City. He was astounded to hear that we could feel it all the way in Florence. I think he was even more astonished that I sounded sleepy.

Unfortunately, I have been known to sleep through other earthquakes. Once when I was younger, an minor earthquake hit Connecticut, and I didn't feel a thing. But I learned to fear the moving earth later on. When I moved to San Francisco, I was woken up one night out of a sound sleep by a tremor. Those were frequent enough and scary enough because of the collective memory out in earthquake country. But who expected one to hit Florence, and that it would make such a pleasant rocking motion of my loveseat sofa?

555 California Street, the former BofA Building. (Wikipedia)
I know it's terrible of me to say that, knowing as I do how much scarier it is when I've felt the shaking in tall buildings. A long time ago, when I worked in the Bank of America Building in downtown San Francisco, the building's earthquake rollers would cause swaying in the floors above. Working on the twenty-fifth floor meant that we would feel a little motion sick sometimes on windy days. Pencils were said to roll on desks, and people nervously watched the weather for dry, sunny days that they called "earthquake weather."

Best wishes to everyone out there who felt this earthquake, and hope everyone is safe this afternoon.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Guilt and Tomatoes

New York Times, Sun. 8/21/11
The New York Times came to Florence last Wednesday and I missed it! The Sunday edition has an article about farmers' markets and how they are suffering from a drop in sales.


This change comes less from the recession, which makes no mention in this aspect of consumerism, but in the glut of farmers' markets, according to reporter Katie Zezima. She does a good job with her feature articles about New England. But I wonder if Ms. Zezima has overlooked a growing factor in changing consumer patterns, one that I have already blogged about earlier this month. The Community Supported Agriculture phenomenon has much support, and from my own experience, the quantity of produce provided by the share portion that comes to me is large enough to make me hesitate whenever I see a produce section in a market.

It may be useful to consider how the recession has played a role in this consumer change. How many folks have taken the plunge and started a vegetable plot in their backyard, or joined a Community Garden to start their new gardening lives? How many have also had to cut back on certain items and must make do with home gardens and whatever is on sale at the local supermarket? The farmers' markets frequently accept SNAP benefits as a way to help those who are on assistance and are working to maintain good eating habits. While the farmers are engaged in entrepreneurism, they are also interested in feeding communities well in many ways, and we all benefit from participating in this connection.

Mea Culpa! I may be going to pick up the farm share tomorrow at Mountain View Farm. 

According to the New York Times, there are now twenty-three different farmers' markets right here in the Pioneer Valley. I'm ashamed to say that I only know of three of them, and I have not yet supported them. In fact, the CISA website listing local farmers and markets goes farther than Katie Zezima, presenting lots of other providers and markets, making twenty-three seem small in number.  I aim to visit the Florence Farmers' Market this Wednesday. It's right next to the Library and the Civic Center. You can see the Library in the first shot of the NYT slideshow.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Monster Mash

That big yellow mushroom from the other day sticks in my brain. We all have our favorite monsters (is that an oxymoron?) and as the Harry Potter films have shown us, some of those monsters arise from anxieties about things that have been granted huge importance. Who can forget that giant spider lumbering out of the armoire. The number of legs on that spider, to my bug-fearing brain, seems to be around a hundred, so I feel for poor Ron. The figment of his anxiety is deflated, brought down to a laughable level when Ron Weasley casts the Riddikulus spell, fitting out the spider with a zillion roller skates. What was out of proportion is literally made ridiculous.

The enormous spider, as well as the unnaturally large cobra that sprung upon another young wizard in the classroom exercise, highlights the definition of the word "monster" and how yesterday's Hen-of-the-Woods fits with it. When looking at what makes something monstrous, the object seen violates our sense of proportion cultivated through personal experiences and/or social expectations.

Gulliver Exhibited to the Brobdingnag Farmer by Richard Redgrave. Thanks to Wikipedia.
Comic book cover by Lilian Chesney. Thanks to Wikipedia.
The appearance of the giant mushroom and the Boggarts in our respective home environments somewhat  modulates our responses to the strangers, granting a measure of safety. But think of what happens when we encounter the monstrous on our travels. Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726) offers us Lemuel Gulliver's account of the incredible sights and creatures found on distant shores. Gulliver's encounter with the tiny inhabitants of Lilliput and the oversized ones in Brobdingnag show us how the idea of the monstrous can turn upon the viewer himself. Who is really out of proportion, when we consider the perspective of the viewer? Notice how these two populations come from two physical extremes, never quite allowing Gulliver to reaffirm his own sense of proportion as he had learned it. It's a wild kind of uniqueness, causing Gulliver to seem less human and allowing him to disregard the humanity of both the Lilliputions and the Brobdingnagians.

Of course, physical appearance plays only one part of a traveler's disorientation when encountering a new environment and its people. Behavior, speech, clothing, eating preferences, hygiene -- these are some of the other factors that contribute to the confusion and lack of reference points that can cause a traveler to sense as though he or she has landed in a land filled with monsters. I wonder if that mushroom felt the same when he or she arrived in Florence.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Hen-of-the-Woods, Ram's Head, or Sheep's Head

Yowza! I was walking little Joey yesterday morning and ran into three dudes looking at something really odd in the back of a truck. At 8am, my local restaurant, Side Street Cafe, often takes deliveries from ordinary-looking trucks. This time it was really a different story.
Unretouched photo!

I apologize to this man for not getting his permission to blog this photo, but the group of three guys did say it was okay to take the photo. I just had to get it!

I am embarrassed to say my first question was, "Is it real?"

Dude 2: "Yup. And I'm buying it."
Florentina: "What is it?"
Dude 1: "Hen of the Woods."
Florentina: "So you'd cook it with chicken?"
Dude 2: "Heck, it can take the place of chicken."
(I can't remember what Dude 3 was saying or doing; perhaps he was making friends with Joey.)

Doesn't it look like some gigantic turkey with its feathers all ruffled? I imagine this must look so beautiful out in the woods, where the foragers got it. Maybe this ought to be called Turkey-of-the-Woods.

I had no idea such things were growing around here.

For you public television food fanatics, this is the fluorescent version of the maitake mushroom that Ming Tsai often talks about and uses in his cooking show, "Simply Ming." He has promoted its healthful qualities to viewers, as well as how tasty it is. But his maitakes are seemingly ordinary mushroomy looking things like these more sedate fellows below.  On an overcast morning after nearly two rainy days, I don't think I would have been so very excited about seeing these guys, as I was to see the gigantic yellow things above.

From the Forager Press LLC (http://theforagerpress.com/fieldguide/octfd.htm)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Marguerite Roby and Disaster Tourism

Thinking about the new sights seen in the past week, I was struck by my accidental disaster tourism. Springfield and Monson were my destinations to reaffirm or start new relationships with others, but along the way I was reminded of the early summer tornado. When we look up a definition of disaster tourism we find it described as traveling to see a scene of devastation. Much like rubbernecking when there is an accident on the road, the premise of disaster tourism is to glimpse how chance has chosen someone else, while allowing us to continue along our way, with the wreckage as the memorial to caprice.

Some people are eager disaster tourists. Many years ago a co-worker of mine could not stop talking about how much she wanted to see earthquake aftermath and wreckage after the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake that shook the San Francisco Bay Area. We were there for a work-related matter, and unlike me, she had no relatives with frightening stories about how the tremors felt. It upset me to hear her giddy eagerness, but I never said a word because I was unsure about what made me uneasy. Seeing the attic room's roof ripped away in Springfield, leaving the contents of the room intact, unnerved me because chance is clearly on proud display there. The chair left standing reminded me of a chair in my parents' living room, making it even worse.

Awareness and self-reflection are useful in these cases. Strangely, I found myself remembering the travel narrative by Marguerite Roby, My Adventures in the Congo (1911). Let's just say that she suffered from the opposite of my own situation, and was a bit closer to my former co-worker's mindset. The narrative features this frontispiece, which sets the pace for how she chooses to view the post-Leopold II Belgian Congo:
Sheesh. It makes sense, then, that her narrative reaffirms white privilege. Her passage from Europe to Africa is secured by working as a children's maid, suggesting a reason for why her lowered status vis-a-vis other English speakers would be redeemed by her narrative's ongoing complaints and notice of her problematic black porters. According to The Dial review (June 1, 1912), Roby wilfully chooses to look away from the effects of King Leopold's Free Congo State atrocities. The reviewer writes, "She saw no mutilations in her short journey on the edge of the rubber district; she interviewed Belgian officials for her information, and attributes the mutilations to native customs (doubtless a contributory factor)" (432). If you are familiar with Roger Casement's exposé of King Leopold's exploitation of the Belgian Congo, this view will be difficult to endorse. I found it perplexing and almost laughable at times, as I recall.

Roby's endorsement of white privilege in the aftermath of King Leopold's excesses becomes problematic when we consider the fact she is a bicycling female. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, the bicycling female is a feminist, a critical thinker challenging white male privilege. While she is traveling under her own physical power, she still must have black porters to haul all her stuff, political and cosmetic. You don't see a tiny little pannier on the back of that bike, do you?

It's no wonder she couldn't see very clearly, in addition to the ongoing fever (and the perfect outfits) that must have blurred her judgment.

Many thanks to Googlebooks for these images.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society

Like Joey, a cockapoo.
(Original photo removed for safety.)
N.B. - I left out a word in the title and apologize for the neglectfulness! Also, the rest of this paragraph contains information that I have had to remove for confidentiality and safety. There is someone out there who is overeager about the dog.

At left is the reason I've been away from the blog -- my new little man, Joey.

Dakin operates a site in Springfield and in Leverett. Within the week I had seen the two very different facilities. Leverett is in a rustic setting, in a low-slung building surrounded by trees. Springfield's site is very urban, located on Union Street and surrounded by lots of old buildings. Unfortunately, some of these buildings are tornado damaged. Next to the Springfield building we could see an attic living space with the roof ripped away, exposing a living room like something from a doll house. I hadn't expected more disaster tourism so soon after visiting Monson, and it was a little shocking. Springfield is approximately 20 miles to the south of Florence, further reminding me of how close these disasters can come.

This little guy has been nicknamed Giorgio by his Leeds grandparents, who are entranced by his sweet demeanor and his calmness. They said that because I live in Florence, the name would fit perfectly. We'll still keep calling him Joe, since the last syllable of "Giorgio" still works for the dog (Whew -- the dog still needs to respond to something close to his original name.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Day Trip to Monson, Massachusetts

Today I went to see an old friend who is recovering from an operation. I had never visited Monson before and decided to take the backroads to see her. From Florence, through Hadley, Belchertown, and Palmer, I finally reached Monson, a cute little town most hard hit by the  tornado that ripped through this area on June 1, 2011. The destruction I saw was a fraction of what had been there a few months before, and yet still does not take away from the overall beauty of this community.  I did not go to Monson intending to be a disaster tourist, but my friend says that I am witnessing a sad chapter in her town's history.

Yikes! This used to be a car garage below left.

 At right is the in-ground swimming pool for a house that no longer exists.

We decided to get lunch in Palmer, at the railroad station converted into a restaurant. The railroad runs right next to the dining room, and while we were finishing lunch, a freight train ran slowly past the building. Steaming Tender is housed in what was the third largest railroad station in Massachusetts.

With destruction, beauty lurks. I was struck by this juxtaposition when we reentered Monson, and looked at some of the more prominent buildings. Left is a mansion built during the town's busy days as a manufacturing center, damaged in the tornado. Right is the grand stained glass window inside the Unitarian Univeralist Parish of Monson.

Monson is thirty-five miles southeast of Florence, A tornado can be awfully precise in its landing, and devastating whenever it does land. I've decided never to ignore a tornado warning in the future after my visit today. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Thank Goodness for Florence Hardware

You may notice the images and photos so far are borrowed from other sites. I happen to own a camera, though I didn't have enough batteries. The things in my house that need batteries are getting rechargeable ones as I go through their replacements, leaving my camera without juice. So I knew I had to visit the local store for more rechargeable batteries to get photos going. After all, what kind of traveler goes without taking photos these days?

Here is the amazing Florence Hardware, located on Maple Street in Florence:
Lori and Todd, with their children and colleagues, run this terrific store. They have everything you need, and then some. They also have some cute pets to keep customers entertained if the local gossip isn't quite flowing... (I have never participated in the gossip sessions, but I hear about them all the time from my future father-in-law, a regular visitor.)

Monday, August 8, 2011

Collecting the Farm Share

Every week so far this summer I've been the designated runner for the CSA farm share at Mountain View Farm in Easthampton, MA. This is about five miles from my home in Florence, traveling through some exciting spots that sport "Caution: Bear Crossing" signs. (I'll be sure to take that photo for next time.)

It was a beautiful day to visit the farm, as it alternated between bright sunny skies and rainbursts. It was dry inside the share room where we pick up the bulk of the share:

Community Supported Agriculture allows individuals, couples, families, and/or friends to buy a share of the farm's produce for the season. Every week we are able to visit this farm and make our own choices from the selection provided, as seen above. Some CSA shares do not have such a close contact with the farm and its workers, so we're lucky at the award-winning Mountain Farm CSA.

We are also able to pick our own flowers, herbs, and other produce with our weekly share. The readiness of different crops changes every week, always making the visit exciting because we can wander into the fields. I often like to pick some fresh flowers -- a real luxury!

Thanks to the Mountain View CSA Facebook photo albums: http://www.facebook.com/MountainViewFarm?sk=photos

Florence, MA from USGS Map

Map data ©2011 Google - Terms of Use
1 km
1 mi


This map appears on http://massachusetts.hometownlocator.com/maps/bigmap,n,florence,fid,608742.cfm

The site is also able to give stats on other towns in Massachusetts, if you're curious.