Monday, October 30, 2006

New York Times discovers N.C. writers

OK, that's a little bit of hyberole. But this Sunday's New York Times book section did feature reviews on three books written by North Carolinians -- three very different North Carolinians.

Perhaps one of the most anticipated new books is Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier (of Cold Mountain fame.)

"Frazier’s first novel, 'Cold Mountain,' distilled the Civil War into the alternating stories of a lone Confederate deserter, making his slow and dangerous way home through the mountains of western North Carolina, and the young woman awaiting his return," writes the newspaper. "That 1997 book won both critical acclaim, including a National Book Award, and huge popular success, with more than four million copies now in print in the United States and a film adaptation that has grossed more than $160 million worldwide. Readers and critics (including Alfred Kazin, in one of his last published reviews) embraced the novel as an American epic, much as a previous generation had embraced another book that set doomed love against a Civil War backdrop: 'Gone With the Wind.'

"Almost a decade later, Frazier revisits the same mountains to evoke another epic 19th-century journey: the forced expulsion (then referred to as the Cherokee Removal) of some 17,000 Native Americans, who set off on what came to be known as the Trail of Tears. But, as their titles should suggest, while 'Cold Mountain' was a trip across the physical landscape, 'Thirteen Moons' is more of a passage through time. When we first encounter its narrator, Will Cooper, it’s the early 20th century and he’s in his 90’s, surviving incongruously amid a world of automobiles, telephones and moving pictures."

"Kudzu" cartoonist Doug Marlette has quite the reputation as a "tell it like it is" Southern storyteller when it comes to his tomes; he pulls no punches. Marlette is back with Magic Time.

Writes the Times: "Doug Marlette, a self-aware Southern journalist and a promiscuous position-taker ... doesn’t turn tail and doesn’t have much respect for those who do. Styling himself an 'equal opportunity offender,' he’s spent decades attacking hypocrites and blowhards with his Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoons, in his 'Kudzu' comic strip and most recently in fiction. 'My talent is like a pit bull on a very long leash, and each day when I take it out for a stroll I hold on for dear life,' said the cartoonist-protagonist of Marlette’s first novel, 'The Bridge' (2001). There’s no question Marlette was talking about himself.

"In 'Magic Time,' Marlette’s second novel, he’s trying to put that dog on the scent of something big: his own vision of the South and Southerners, and, indeed, of America. Marlette wants to hunt out and attack the seminal issues — race, history, shame .... So he walks the trail back to the same moment, the early 1960’s, in a place, Mississippi, where choices were stark and, yes, very much required, yet many Southerners tried like hell not to make them."

And then there's Amy Sedaris. For quite some time she's held the title of "David Sedaris' sister." Well, after some great acting roles (both on TV, movies and on stage), Sedaris, who grew up in Raleigh, takes on the book world with I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence.

"Amy Sedaris has written a book on entertaining. To my mind, the most entertaining thing this writer-actress ever did was to perform Off Broadway (in plays she wrote with her brother David) in roles for which she would tape the tip of her nose up against her face. The effect was porcine. Moreover, the elongation of Miss Sedaris’s nostrils, combined with the actress’s feral energy and freshets of filthy dialogue, was comedically intoxicating: I laughed so hard that I tasted my own bile," writes the Times.

"Sedaris’s wonderfully dizzy new book has a less galvanizing effect, but to hold anything up to her former nasal-comedic heights is only to make it look saggy and distended by comparison — less Amy Sedaris’s nose and more Nora Ephron’s neck. No, the more apt comparison is the interior designer Dorothy Draper’s 1941 classic, 'Entertaining Is Fun!' As Draper did, Sedaris starts out by telling us what her book is not, and also by acknowledging that parties don’t need to be formal or extravagant. On the first subject, Sedaris writes, 'This is not a joke cookbook.' On the second: 'Don’t think of pony kegs and loud Southern rock or cigarillos and businesswomen. Don’t think of pools and diving for loose change. Don’t think about cockfights — even though it’s hard not to.' Instead, she urges us to 'think simplicity. Because if there is one thing that I am, it’s clinically simple.'"

Thursday, October 26, 2006

You're studying what?

We all know that some colleges have historically "created" curriculums designed for, well, the "student athletes." You know the ones; those are typically the majors that make you go "really? You can get a degree in that?" when flashed below a basketball player's name on TV.

But here's the thing: Apparently there are other people who actually want to take some of those quirky classes.

North Carolina magazine, in its October issue, has an article entitled, "Unique and Unusual Courses Abound," about the "dazzling array" of courses offered at N.C. schools of higher learning. They either sound really cool ... or really made-up.

Among the offerings?
Canadian Studies -- Duke University
Boating Skills and Seamanship -- East Carolina
Witchcraft and Magic in European History -- UNC-Greensboro
Legal Issues in Film and Entertainment Law -- UNC-Wilmington (naturally)
Presidential Rhetoric -- Wake Forest
White Collar Crime -- Wake Forest
Forensic Anthropology -- Western Carolina University

And the best of all? My alma mater, of course: The Dinosaurian World -- North Carolina State University.

Go Pack! Or, rather, Go T-Rex!

'Oh, (N.C.) Christmas Tree'

Gauging by the decorations already up at local malls, it's clear that the retail industry doesn't think it's too early to begin looking ahead to Christmas, so neither do I.

That being said, it's also never too early to start thinking about your Christmas tree. (After all, Halloween is almost here ... and then Thanksgiving.) We tend to get ours from the N.C. Farmers Market in Raleigh, though we would love to eventually make the trip to the mountains -- saw in hand -- and choose and cut our own. Someday ... someday.

Nonetheless, the N.C. Christmas Tree Association offers an online guide to choosing the right tree for you. The association's website also offers folks the chance to find growers and sellers in your area.

Happy hunting!

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Update: Fall colors hitting peak

This weekend (not last) is predicted to be the best for viewing peak fall colors in the North Carolina mountains.

The Asheville Citizen-Times has a great article (and photo gallery) about the various ways to best see the tremendous colors. You can do so by horse, foot, bike or even raft.

"Why would you want to suck exhaust fumes on the parkway when you can float peacefully down the river?" "French Broad Rafting Expeditions owner Michael Hampton asked the paper.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

ECU dental school a good idea

From a purely philosophical and social perspective (and without getting into the financial implications), the thought of a dental school at East Carolina University is a noble one -- and the right one. The region would be well-served with a teaching facility for dentists -- dentists that may very likely remain in Eastern N.C. to practice.

But, of course, there is backlash. And just like when ECU was trying to establish a medical school, that backlash is coming from Chapel Hill (or those associated with that school there).

"Some say dentists in the state -- most of whom trained at UNC-Chapel Hill's School of Dentistry -- may not want to see an upstart challenge their alma mater for students, faculty and scarce state resources," writes the News & Observer.

"There also appears to be a more practical reason for the lack of enthusiasm: A new dental school would eventually pump as many as 50 new dentists a year into the existing market, creating competition for patients and, over time, making it harder to earn a good living."

Harder to make a good living? With the exception of a few, most dentists I know only work four days a week and do very well. And my assumption is that those that are concerned are worried about a glut of new dentists into the Triangle (where people are pouring into the area) and not ENC (where the dentists are needed). So what if there are more dentists in the urban areas? They are needed there as well. But not nearly as much as they are needed in the east.

Dr. Rex Card, a Raleigh dentist who is president of the N.C. Dental Society, told the N&O that the dental school could be a bad thing.

Card "said when he started practicing in the early 1980s, North Carolina and many states had an oversupply of dentists. Many did not have enough patients and left the state, he said.

"Card said some dental society members are concerned a new ECU dental program could bring back those conditions, even though it wouldn't admit its first class until 2010 or 2011, under the most optimistic timeline.

" 'For the first few years it might be a good thing,' said Card. 'But after that we might be producing too many.'"

Are Duke, UNC, Wake Forest and ECU producing too many doctors? (Oh, no! There's no such thing!)

It should surprise no one that the dental society supports expanding UNC's program. But that's not the real issue.

"There's little argument that residents of the state's poor and rural areas have a difficult time getting dental care. Ann Lamm, 64, can't remember the last time she had her teeth examined, cleaned or otherwise tended, but it has been years. She can't afford a dentist and none work at the free health clinic in the Halifax County town of Roanoke Rapids where she gets medical care.

" 'I need my teeth looked after just like anyone else,'" Lamm told the N&O, "noting that older people who don't qualify for Medicaid or who aren't old enough for Medicare are especially vulnerable. Children, too, have had trouble getting care."

Friday, October 13, 2006

Spectacular colors on tap for Western N.C.

A good number of my good friends are going camping in the North Carolina mountains this weekend, and I am unbelievably jealous. Not only will they have a good ol' time, the fall colors should be as spectacular as ever.

"They would be looking at some particularly vibrant yellows and rich maroon reds," Crae Morton, the president of Grandfather Mountain, told the Winston-Salem Journal. "The berries of the mountain ash are gorgeous this year; it's a very rich red that really stands out on a lot of trees. I'm noting a lot of apple-colored reds and some really bright yellows with just a hint of orange in them. It's just a real pretty leaf season."

Gary Walker, a biology professor at Appalachian State University, said that a cold and dry spell in September helped create particularly good colors.

"That's good because it stresses the trees to shut down early before all the sugars are transported out (of the leaves)," Walker said.

Cool weather now will help lock in the colors, he said, while pushing those leaves that are still green to move into their colors.

So, you can see why I'm jealous. Perhaps this last comment, however, will put my mind at ease.

"Forecasts even call for possible snow flurries at the highest elevations today. The National Weather Service predicts lows in the mid-30s tonight in Boone and a low of about 30 on Friday."

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

The scenic subtext of the Blue Ridge

A great piece on CNN's Travel page (written by the Associated Press) details writer Anne Mitchell Whisnant's work on the "scenic subtext" of the Blue Ridge Mountains and the frontier-like atmosphere of its inhabitants.

"On a postcard-perfect Saturday at the Heffner Gap Overlook, Anne Mitchell Whisnant reads from one of the scores of informational signs -- known as 'gun boards' for their frontier rifle logos -- posted along the 470 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway," says the article.

" 'There were few homegrown products more useful to the mountain farmer than apples,' she reads. 'Cuttings from favorite trees were often taken from place to place when the family moved or children left home. Today, old apple trees often indicate the location of a beloved but abandoned mountain homestead.'

"The gun board's evocation of a simple, pre-industrial mountain lifestyle is part of the grand, immensely popular illusion created by the National Park Service, Whisnant writes in her new book 'Super-Scenic Motorway: A Blue Ridge Parkway History.' The book strips away decades of such myth-making fostered by tourism officials and the park service, and details the social, economic and political battles that shaped a two-lane road that's the most visited place managed by the park service. ...

" 'The park service loves to talk about the landscape architects and their vision and the design,' Whisnant said during a recent drive along a 40-mile stretch of the road, from Julian Price Park south of Blowing Rock to Little Switzerland. 'What there hasn't been attention to are these other forces -- historical, cultural, social ... political -- that also shaped the way the thing looks.' ..."

Click here for the rest of the intriguing story.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Sylvan Heights could be a cultural, economic boom to NE N.C.

I had the pleasure recently to visit the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Center in Scotland Neck. It is the world's largest waterfowl sanctuary, with birds representing the entire world. Quite simply, it's a gem in our own backyard.

Sylvan Heights will soon be open to the public; leaders hope it will be a tourist destination for thousands. And it should be.

"On Saturday, the nonprofit conservation organization will host a day of ceremonies to commemorate the grand opening of the Sylvan Heights Waterfowl Park & Eco-Center, a 9-acre zoo that will exhibit the many species of birds previously kept behind the scenes," said the Rocky Mount Telegram.

" 'It's a unique facility,' said Mike Lubbock, executive director of Sylvan Heights. 'There's probably not another one in the world quite like it, and certainly not one in North America.'

"Out back, they can walk around a series of netted aviaries holding 200 different species of birds from every continent except Antarctica. Park administrators said the center is a way to give the public a glance at the organization's efforts.

" 'People started hearing there was this great center here for birds and they wanted to see it,' said Jocelyn Wright, the park's operations assistant. 'This place was too special to keep a secret any longer.' ..."

Hopefully Sylvan Heights will not remain a secret, and visitors will make the trek to Halifax County to enjoy what the center has to offer.

Fayetteville museum opens 'Hall of Giants'

On Wednesday, the Special Operations Forces Exhibit at the Airborne & Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville was dedicated. The exhibit highlights key special operations events and missions since 1980.

"The new displays include 29 figures, full-scale dioramas and audiovisual presentations about Special Forces, Rangers, civil affairs, psychological operations and special operations aviation," said the Fayetteville Observer.

"Among guests Wednesday were Brig. Gen. John Mulholland and Col. Dave Fox, who relied on close-air support while leading forces during early operations in Afghanistan."

Kurt Muse on Wednesday had a chance to critique a display that shows his 1989 rescue from a Panamanian prison by U.S. special operations soldiers.

“It’s very, very real, except that it’s compressed because of space requirements,” Muse said. “But the wall was like that. The cupola was like that. ... That’s how the operators dressed that evening when they came in to rescue me.” ...

Muse was jailed in April 1989 for activities against the Panamanian regime of Manuel Noriega. The rescue took place during the U.S. invasion of Panama in December.

“When you walk in there, you walk into a hall of giants,” Muse said. “Americans risked their life to give me life.”

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Frazier's back with 'Thirteen Moons'

My title as a native North Carolinian may be stripped, but I'm just going to go ahead and say it, damn the torpedoes.


I didn't like Cold Mountain.

Actually, I must rephrase that: I didn't finish Cold Mountain. Heck, I couldn't get past the first dozen pages or so. There's only so much I can read about a fly buzzing around war victims.

Having said that, there's no doubt that Cold Mountain by North Carolina's Charles Frazier is one of the most important books of the past 20 years or so.

"I thought if Cold Mountain was ever published, 10,000 people in the South or the Appalachians might be interested in it,” Frazier told the Asheville Citizen-Times.

"Four million copies later, with translations into 30 foreign languages, a National Book Award and a slew of literary prizes and the inspiration for an Oscar-nominated movie, Frazier had created a phenomenon," says the article.

" 'I tried to make it as local and true to Western North Carolina as I could, but it seemed to touch something universal,' admitted the Asheville native who grew up in Andrews."

Frazier has taken his time working on his follow up, which is called Thirteen Moons.

"It seems blasphemous to even consider the possibility of a sophomore slump for a writer as hugely talented and important as Frazier," writes USA Today. "But comparisons are inevitable, in no small part because Frazier invites them.

"Like Cold Mountain, Thirteen Moons is set in 19th-century North Carolina. Like Cold Mountain, it's a love story — although the love object is a lot more slippery than Ada Monroe. And like Cold Mountain, it's about a changing America, an elegy to the loss of a beloved way of life. Even the dust jackets, with their misty images of distant mountains, are similar.

"But there are also significant differences, which give Thirteen Moons its own distinct and sometimes magical life.

"Gone is the omniscient narrator of Cold Mountain, who like a hawk followed the riveting, dangerous journey of Inman back to his true love. In its place is the first-person voice of orphaned Will Cooper, who as Thirteen Moons opens is an old man baffled by a new invention (the telephone) who has decided it's time to tell the story of his life. ..." (Click here to read the rest of the review.)

Frazier's lastest is once again linked with the Tar Heel State -- perhaps even moreso than his first offering.

"Turning his meticulous research and elegant style from the Civil War setting of Cold Mountain, Frazier found inspiration for Thirteen Moons in the rich heritage and often tragic history of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians," says the Citizen-Times.

" 'The Eastern Band is very pleased that such a notable author as Charles Frazier has undertaken the daunting task of conveying intricate stories typical of our Removal Era history,' said Principal Chief Michell Hicks in the tribe’s official statement on the book. ...

"If Frazier’s first book is any indication, Cherokee can expect a boom in business. More than a book, Cold Mountain became a kind of travel guide to many fans. Many have tried to trace the physical route of Frazier’s hero, Inman, as he walked from Raleigh to Haywood County. The community of Cold Mountain itself existed only in Frazier’s imagination, but the novel’s name came from the lonely 6,030-foot peak visible from the Blue Ridge Parkway. ..."

Kudos to Bowles

UNC System President Erskine Bowles has proposed a plan that would "create a way to predict tuition and fee increases over four years" for UNC schools, accoding to the Winston-Salem Journal.

"The plan would be tied to new funds from the General Assembly and would cap in-state undergraduate tuition and fee increases at 6.5 percent a year if the legislature appropriates at least a 6 percent increase a year."

Said Bowles: "It is a ceiling, not a floor."

If this was the only thing Bowles accomplished during his tenure as UNC president, then it would be enough. North Carolina has long been lauded for its affordable higher education; in recent years that reputation has taken a hit. Something needs to be done, and Bowles deserves kudos for attempting to do something.

More from the Journal:

For every 1 percent more the legislature hands out, campuses would have to decrease their tuition increases by 1 percent. For example, if the General Assembly gave the UNC system 7 percent more in financing, campuses would have to limit their tuition increases to 5.5 percent.

A 6.5 percent annual increase could put Winston-Salem State University's tuition and fees at a maximum of $4,019 by 2010-11. They are now $3,108. The N.C. School of the Arts could increase from $4,679 to $5,962.

Campuses would have to use much of the additional money for financial aid and faculty salaries, UNC officials said yesterday. They would also be able to appeal for larger tuition increases but would have to prove extreme hardship to get them.

Bowles said that the cap comes from the average tuition increase since 1972, the year the UNC system was created by merging the state's public campuses. But for many years, tuition increases have been all over the map, from none to as high as 24.7 percent.

He said that a four-year plan would give students and the UNC system predictability but maintain revenue to deal with inflation. "These chancellors aren't particularly happy with me," he said. "I don't think you'll find any of them (who) think I'm a hero today.

"I am a low-tuition man. I admit that readily. But low tuition without high quality is no bargain for anybody."

Monday, October 02, 2006

Quick hit: Elizabethan Gardens a showplace

From the Washington Daily News ...
"Where early colonists once strived to make a new lives, a living memorial of flowers and towering live oak trees now draws visitors to this majestic spot on Roanoke Island.

"The Elizabethan Gardens, created by the Garden Clubs of North Carolina, along with the adjacent Fort Raleigh National Historic Site and Waterside Theatre, home of “The Lost Colony” outdoor drama, pay tribute to those first English settlers in the New World, who journeyed here as part of Sir Walter Raleigh’s Roanoke Voyages of 1584-1590.

"Construction on this 16th century-inspired garden began June 2, 1953, the day Elizabeth II was crowned queen of England. But it was the inspiration several years earlier of a group of philanthropists, including noted North Carolina author and historian Inglis Fletcher, who felt that such a garden would be the perfect complement to Fort Raleigh.

"The proposal was presented to the garden clubs in 1951 and the organization, comprised of thousands of women from across the state, set a modest goal of erecting a 2- acre garden budgeted at $10,000. However, the gift of priceless statuaries, bird baths, stone steps and benches, and a fountain from the Georgia estate of John Hay Whitney, ambassador to the Court of St. James, resulted in the more elaborate gardens that can be viewed today.

"The Elizabethan Gardens formally opened on August 18, 1960, which was the 373rd anniversary of the birth of Virginia Dare, the first child born in the New World to English parents. Since then the attraction has expanded and is considered a “must see” for gardening enthusiasts who visit the area each year."

New Morton book of photos available

A new book of photos by the late great Hugh Morton will soon be available to purchase.

"Before his death June 1," says the Wilmington Star-News, Morton was "working on a second coffee-table-sized album of his photographs, a follow-up to his 2003 book, Hugh Morton's North Carolina.

"That second book, Hugh Morton, North Carolina Photographer, is now out from the University of North Carolina Press. It will officially be released Oct. 12 ($30).

"This volume focuses primarily on the Tar Heel State's natural wonders. Many of the color prints were taken near Morton's home at Linville or around his beloved Grandfather Mountain. Included, however, are striking images of a nesting osprey on Orton Pond in Brunswick County, a flock of pelicans nesting on a spoil island in the Cape Fear River and one of Orton Plantation's spectacular live oaks."