arthur ashe: an appreciation

Every July and August, I get nostalgic for the tennis of yesteryear. And heroes. Arthur Ashe is one of those for me. The Wimbledon men’s singles final in 1975 in which he swiftly vanquishes Jimmy Connors is the stuff tennis dreams are made of.At the beginning of the third set (and after smoking Connors in the first two sets, 6-1, 6-1), Ashe eyes Connors squarely and with determination.AsheTo watch Ashe compete is pretty breathtaking. He was a master tactician; he had fantastic skill at the net; and he knew how to uncork his opponent with a backhand slice or well-timed lob. And uncork Connors he did.A few years ago UK writer Paul Newman parsed the drama and context of this championship in an article for The Independent:

Before they contested the 1975 Wimbledon final, Connors had beaten Ashe in all three of their meetings. The tensions between the two men had been heightened earlier in the year. While the United States were losing to Mexico in a Davis Cup tie, the country’s best player, Connors, was in Las Vegas, where he won $100,000 by beating Rod Laver in a much-hyped exhibition match.

Ashe, a future Davis Cup captain, said that Connors was ‘seemingly unpatriotic’ in repeatedly refusing to play for the United States. Connors filed a libel suit, demanding millions in damages, which he dropped only after losing the Wimbledon final.

The 1975 Wimbledon men’s singles final was Ashe’s last Grand Slam, sadly. In 1979 he suffered two heart attacks and experienced surgeries over the following years. One of the surgeries exposed him to HIV. His illnesses and compromised immune system did not diminish his fiery capacity for advocating for civil rights, community health, and health equity. Just two months before he passed away in 1993, he founded the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health. What a legacy, what a lasting impact.

different (better) here

I was in Colorado last weekend catching up with friends who asked me what the food is like in #Mississippi. For starters, the fried chicken, the biscuits, the vegetables (all vegetables), they’re just different (better) here. Things I could eat every day: Butter beans and black-eyed peas. The butter beans are typically served with ham, which is sliced and mixed in. Serve butter beans with a side of black-eyed peas and you kind of have a meal.

Mississippi doesn’t have the reputation for BBQ that Tennessee or the Carolinas do, but I love myself some Pig & Pint in Jackson’s #Fondren neighborhood. They have a smoked chicken BBQ sandwich I order every time. So. Darn. Good.

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In Greenwood, there’s a place called the Crystal Grill, which is a stone’s throw from the train station. If you visit Mississippi, you need to get yourself there. Trust me on this one, order the fried catfish. The catfish is Mississippi raised; Belzoni (pronounced Bel-zone-uh), Mississippi, is the catfish capitol of the state. And maybe the country. And leave room for dessert (pie). THE PIE. Enough said.As for biscuits, which I prefer with butter (salted) and strawberry jam, which I’m sure is heresy, there is Primo’s in Jackson. Primo’s is a Greek family-run diner that serves all manner of Southern staple foods and dishes. I love everything there and especially the biscuits. Must love biscuits.

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the language of flowers

A year ago the thought of working on the flower beds at my house seemed a daunting proposition. Surely I would screw it up. Surely I couldn’t tell if my efforts were successful. Well I could not be more incorrect. Two months and who knows how many pairs of gardening gloves later, this flower bed/gardening thing is actually a fun adventure. And plants and flowers will tell you pretty quickly if they like their new home. They have their own language, if that makes sense.My backyard is mostly shade so tried a haphazard mix of Boston ferns, hydrangea, impatiens, and ornamental grasses. The impatiens really took off. I water this part of my backyard every morning and am smitten with this hydrangea. So pretty.

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The flower bed in my front yard is a bit more slow going, growth wise. It also gets more sun than the back yard so some of the plants are taking a beating with the heat of central Mississippi. I laid down a bed of pine straw to keep the flowers and plants from scorching and so far, so good. After I water the front yard flower bed, the leaves of the crotons stand upright as if to shout, “Hey thanks! I’ll have some more.”

ladies room: mad men S1E2

I find myself falling headlong into the first season of Mad Men a second time. The writing, the ensemble cast, the quiet score–it’s a melancholy, subversive meditation on relationships, the workplace, secrets. The second episode–Ladies Room–so good.

Peggy Olson, the new girl: I find myself rooting for her. And concerned for her.

Mad Men Ladies Room Peggy

She navigates (uncomfortably) being preyed on, in the above scene by Paul Kinsey. (I rue her decision to get involved with Pete Campbell. Sigh.)

Betty Draper. Who is anxious. Trying to fulfill the demands of maintaining a family and a relationship with a man (her husband) she essentially does not not know.

Mad Men Ladies Room Betty Draper

And then, well, there’s Don. The husband and ad exec who is paid to understand consumers’ desires and motivations but doesn’t have a clue about women, really. Here he is with Midge Daniels: “I can’t decide if you have everything. Or nothing.”

Mad Men Ladies Room Don Draper

the blue skies of meridian

Took a quick impromptu trip yesterday to #Meridian, Mississippi, which might be one of my favorite cities to visit. I don’t know what it is about Mississippi, but this state generates some of the bluest skies ever.IMG-4789The Queen City happens to be home to the oldest restaurant in the state. And let me be the first to tell you, if you think you need to go to Katz’s in New York City for great Jewish food, you’d be missing out. The food at Weidmann’s is phenomenal. I had the best smoked salmon and then chicken salad on rye sandwich in my life there. Highly recommend.IMG-4788Meridian is also home to many relic buildings and signs, like this one. Who wouldn’t want space age shirt finishing when you take your finest to Perfection for dry cleaning?IMG-4780

bang the loom

Do you have a relative you never met but wished you did? I do. Her name is Hilma, and she was my great grandmother from Sverige (Sweden).

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When Grandpa would talk about his mom, his eyes would well with affection and sometimes tears. Hilma came to the States in 1903 to marry a Swede, and together they raised eight children on an 80-acre parcel of land about 25 miles north of Eveleth, Minnesota.

And then her husband, my great grandfather, died unexpectedly in 1928. She had eight children to care for and no formal education. To feed her family, she wove and sold rag rugs, washed butcher aprons for the local meat markets, and did laundry for a local recreational hall. She had no car to sell her rugs so she had to walk door to door, family to family, in the towns of Eveleth, Gilbert, and Virginia, and other parts of the Mesabi Range.

Grandpa’s youngest sister Elsie wrote an appreciation of Hilma, and this might be one of my favorite parts:

Mom prided herself in her excellent rag rugs. She had strength to really bang her loom so that the warp tightened against the strip of rag. Mom had complete faith in people, believing that no one would harm or cheat her. If someone would forget to pay her, she’d say that they didn’t mean to do it. Such trust can only come from her strong faith, which was Apostolic Lutheran.

I remember the Apostolic Lutheran faith as a very simple religion based on direct forgiveness. We all know about God’s forgiveness, and I’m sure we ask it of Him many times, but when you hurt or wrong someone–it is their forgiveness that we need.

Here’s to banging looms–whatever you do that is your strong suit and a source of pride–and the faith of direct forgiveness.

away with the pixies

I am probably a bit biased, but I think the 1990s generated a bumper crop of great music that is commonly categorized as alternative music. I’m not really a fan of the term alternative music, per se, but I really like the artists who were active in this decade. Liz Phair’s Exile in Guyville (1993)? Freaking brilliant. I’ve been listening to it for 25 years now, and I have yet to become bored with this album. Low’s The Curtain Hits the Cast (1996) and Hayden’s Everything I Long For (1995) are two of my other all-time favorite albums. Great music is a gift, honestly.

The last couple months I’ve been uncovering some other older favorites from the 90s–PJ Harvey’s To Bring You My Love (1995), Sonic Youth’s Goo (1990), and Ben Lee’s Grandpaw Would (1995). I forgot how much I enjoyed this album from Ben Lee and the track “Away with the Pixies” in particular. Liz Phair is a guest vocalist, and it’s an awfully pretty song.

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