Rain/Reading

 

It’s what we call the rainy season in Florida.  Many snowbirds have headed north.  The real birds have as well. When it rains here you can see fish in the street. It’s a fact. They come up through the drains.

dead wake

It’s time to read and possibly nap.  Yesterday I finished Dead Wake by Erik Larson.  I’m moving on, reading-wise, but first I wanted to congratulate Mr. Larson on clearing up a mystery.  His research into the lives of passengers on the Lusitania makes the story come to life.  I love narrative non-fiction, and he is a master. (ErikLarsonbooks.com)

Theodate Pope
            Theodate Pope

One of the survivors of the Lusitania’s torpedoing was named Theodate Pope. In her life, she had long struggled with depression. When she boarded the ship, Theodate was 48, wore a velvet turban and was a singular woman for her time.  She was born in 1867 and lived in Farmington, CT, where she went to Miss Porter’s school.  Since this is about me, as usual, it should be noted that one of my college roommates had attended the same school. I also take anti-depressants daily.

During one of her bouts with depression, Theo’s wealthy parents sent her to Philadelphia to be treated by Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, who treated women with so-called nervous difficulties with a “rest cure.” If you took his cure, you had to remain bed-ridden for weeks, sometimes up to two months.  Inactivity was supposed to cure the patient, who was not even allowed to get up to go to the bathroom! No sewing, reading or–god forbid–writing. Nothing but cleaning your teeth–again all this information researched by the wonderful, curious mind of Erik Larson.

wallpaper

Dr. Mitchell’s approach was later exposed in a popular short-story called “The Yellow Wallpaper” written by Charlotte Perkins Gilman. Gilman was a patient in 1887, a year before Theodate Pope. Gilman’s story is still taught by English teachers today.  I was one of them. In my high school we taught it along with Kate Chopin’s classic The Awakening.  Mystery solved. I always wondered what the hell that story was about.  I had a dim idea it was about a woman going nuts, but I was never sure.  Truth be told, I’m still puzzled by it, but now I know the relevant back story and can see the link to emerging feminist thought. (Here’s a link to the complete story. You can read it in about 10 minutes. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/1952/1952-h/1952-h.htm)

Reading can open closed doors!  But I hope it’s not to a room with yellow wallpaper.  Or a ship with four smoke stacks. Then again, we can read about them both on a rainy day in Florida. Next up, Sherman Alexie’s War Dances.

The Lusitania before she was torpedoed
    The Lusitania before she was torpedoed
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Historic Bread Towels

 

 

I have moved 15 times in 69 years. First, Wellsville, Leroy, Canandaigua, Jordan and Syracuse, all in New York State. In my peripatetic 20ties,  I also moved five times, all in Syracuse : Columbus Ave, Lancaster and Ackerman Avenues and finally the infamous Green Street.  Green Street deserves a blog all its own.

Towels encase the bread babies
   Bread babies in my towels

At 24,  I decamped for SE Washington DC, married at 27 and my husband and I bought a house in NW Washington’s Mount Pleasant neighborhood.  Finally, we moved to the Bannockburn neighborhood in Bethesda, MD, with a short year and a half in Overland Park, KS. Now, we live in Ft. Myers, Florida. About an average life, moving-wise, I think.

Homespun hole
             Homespun hole

The thing is, I have three dish towels that have moved with me for the past  40 years. They are the dish-drying kind, soft and finely woven. One is even reported to be homespun linen, and it has a square hole in the middle of it.

Holey calendar towel
             Holey calendar towel

Another is a calendar towel from my parents house, dated 1971. It also is holey (I am not a punning woman). My favorite, stained but still usable is my Jane Austen towel. On it, there is a depiction of her house Chawton,  and some quotes, including “I am  very sorry to hear, Miss Fairfax of your being out this morning in the rain.”  Me too.

Jane's towel
                    Jane’s towel

I use these towels only when I make bread.  I love sourdough bread because it tastes good, and my son taught me to make it, but recently I began to see the process in a new light. In the light of towels.

These are historic, meaningful towels, worn and stained as they are. When I put the sourdough to rise the last time, these towels are rubbed with a rice and wheat flour mixture to prevent the bread from sticking to them. I spread the towels over medium-sized round bowls, and tenderly place the dough in the middle. As if it were an infant in the sun, I cover each prospective loaf with the corners. And wait a few hours before baking.

I bake the bread in a Lodge cast iron dutch oven heated to 500 degrees. My towels have never stuck to the dough. My bread towels remind me of all the places I’ve been and the people who’ve gone before. And the bread knows it too.

Happy bread
           Happy bread