Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Thomas M. Gales House

The sun is shining here for the first time in a couple of weeks, so I thought it high time to take advantage of the better weather and go revisit DC's Embassy Row.  Currently home to the Embassy of Myanmar, this house carries its own unique history.

It was designed in 1902 by Appleton P. Clark, Jr. for Thomas M. Gales, whose realty firm developed much of the Kalorama Heights area (Paul Kelsey Williams in Historical Research of LeBourget; presidential avenue.com).  Clark (1865-1955) was known as
...one of the most prominent architects practicing in Washington at the beginning of the 20th century. (David Maloney, 1994, in the nomination form for one of Clark's bank buildings)
His typical residential designs were in the Georgian Revival style, including
...two massive red-brick mansions in Kalorama...the Thomas Gales house at 2300 S Street (1905)...(Maloney) 
Herbert Hoover purchased the house and lived in it from 1921-1929, and again in 1933-1944.  The house was built in the grand style of the era when entertaining in large elegant rooms was the norm in Washington politics and society.  Hoover sold the 22 room mansion in 1944.

Myanmar established diplomatic relations with the United States in 1947, and a few years later, purchased the Gales house for use as an embassy.  Although the front has been painted white at some point, the sides of the house still reflect the original red brick.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Another Boxing Day has come and gone

 For some reason, I was thinking about Boxing Day on Boxing Day--the day after Christmas.  Tradition in Europe, England, Scotland, Canada, & New Zealand (perhaps others, but I don't know), there are several stories as to its origins.  They are all similar, involving boxing up gifts, food, money, to be given to the poor and needy.  Interesting that giving to those in need occurs after the gifts, food, and celebrations of the "givers."  The English twist on it involved the day after Christmas as the servants had to wait on their employers (the "servees") on Christmas, so were given the day off following Christmas so they could be with their families.  Gifts, and leftover food, was provided as a thanks for the year's service.
 Something about thinking about those with wealth, or at least sufficient enough resources to employ servants on Christmas, demonstrating such 'largesse' as giving left-over foods for a left-over holiday just stuck in my craw.  I recall an incident that I have never forgotten, from when I was a teenager.  My mother worked in public welfare, and folks often donated items to the department to be used for clients in need.  My grandmother had taken a box of clothing, and had wrapped some red beads in a Christmas paper.  It was an old necklace that she no longer wanted, and I recall her saying something to the effect of wanting the woman to have a present to unwrap.  My grandmother was not a wealthy woman; she worked hard doing manual labor for every thing she ever had, which was not much.  I have no doubt she meant it as a kind gesture.  Still, it is rather like Boxing Day--or for that matter, Thanksgiving baskets or Christmas baskets where we collect something for one time out of the year to show our charity and caring for others.  I have often wondered what that woman thought when she opened the "gift" and found some old beads--clearly, a hand-me-down no longer wanted.
 I am not criticizing giving nor charity--I am a believer in giving away what you don't want and need to someone who does want and need it, as long it is useful, clean, and serviceable.  I just don't think we ought to consider it a present, and dress it up in pseudo generosity.  I went into Goodwill last week, looking for a small table, as I had been unable to find what I wanted in any of the antique stores.  When I saw all the folks in there shopping, it took me aback.  I know poverty is here--we tend to keep it hidden in Oxford, out on the county roads--but it's here.  It was amazing to me to see so many people shopping Goodwill like people shop Wal-Mart--most of them obviously doing "Christmas shopping."  It made me recall the incident with my grandmother and the beads, and wonder what people would be thinking when they opened their Goodwill presents later in the week.
 I think those thoughts and emotions have something to do with my discomfort around the holidays.  I always tend to feel a warring of the emotions at the incongruence of everything.  In truth, it is probably not much more incongruent than the rest of life these days.  We accumulate stuff, have to get stuff in which to keep our stuff, and get rid of stuff so we can have room for different stuff.
 I took advantage of the relatively nice weather yesterday to clean the porch, so as to be able to get to the new toilet that has been boxed on the porch for well over a year now.  The plumber is due next week to re-do the plumbing and install the new toilet, and I deemed it helpful to be able to get to it.  To "get to it" involved moving and removing a lot of stuff.  When I was done, I had two bags of trash, and an amazing amount of space on the porch.  I found something for which I spent all last week looking, trying to remember where I put it.  Now, if that doesn't tell me I have too much stuff, I don't know what does.
 Still, I always feel a sense of accomplishment when I have a day like that--throwing away what is not needed nor useful to me or anyone else, and setting aside what can be put on the side of the road for others to take if they want.
When I first moved to Mississippi, a neighbor told me about the "tradition" of placing items on the road for anyone wanting them.  I have met some interesting people, who on occasion, come up the hill to ask about an item on the road, though apparently, most folks know if it is on the side of the road, it's there for the taking.  And, as soon as it stops raining, the wind stops blowing, and it is a bit warmer, I am way overdue for a trip down the hill.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Joy of Christmas Present

That's present as in "right now" not a gift.  But then, it is a gift to be able to live in the present, isn't it?  It is a cold, raining and thundering Christmas afternoon here, but an afternoon to be savored, like the ham baking in the oven that will be enjoyed later this evening.  Joy is sometimes in the edge of the shadows, just waiting to slip out when one least expects it.

 Then, there it is, staring you full in the face, sort of saying "I am always here if you will just look for me."

This morning when I went out to feed the cats, it was foggy and misty, but the tree and the feeders were covered in cardinals--pure joy to see them.  One last blossom from the summer flowers, just like an early Christmas present with a burst of red shivered in the breeze--more unexpected joy.
They have been at the feeders all day, throughout the rain, as if they know it is going to freeze tonight and they need to stock up.  Every time I pass a window today, it's been a moment of joy, making me smile.
I came in to play with Abby for a while since it's cold and raining and she can't play in the yard.  I was trying to get her to sit for a picture, but she was more interested in the treat in my hand.  After an hour of chasing her ball and chewing on her toys, she is napping over on her spot, her head resting on top of her toys.  Another moment of joy, making me smile.
We did not anticipate getting another dog, and with 4 of them already, we did not really need to add to the family...but here she is anyway--unexpected joy.
I was inspired by the Christmas tree I found in Amory a couple of weeks ago, and said I was going to build one.  Yesterday was a beautiful December Christmas Eve, pleasant and sunny.  I had saved the pieces from a chest that was in Randy's family for many years.  We found it in the barn on the farm, and brought it home.  His Auntie said her daughter-in-law had already asked for it, so I took it over.  They left it out in the rain to ruin, and then moved into a different house and left it there.  We rescued it yet a second time, and I did my best to salvage it.  After two moves in Abilene and two in Mississippi though, it finally just gave up.  I saved the pieces, intending to do something with them when I could figure out what.  More joy, in an unexpected place.  There are 5 birds on the tree, each representing a special event.
The bird of happiness was given to me by Ora, with whom I worked for several years.
Last year, Jane sent me this little bird--a wish nest wren.  You are supposed to fill the nest with wishes. I think of her and our friendship every day when I see it, hanging from a shelf in my room.  Right now, it's on my tree, symbolic of people who matter in my life.
I bought this ornament in Cape Town, South Africa, from the Original T-Bag Company, a cooperative of women who opened a business to make a better life for themselves and their children.  I met Jill, the originator of the idea and company, back in 2004, and toured the little workshop where they had just begun the enterprise.  Today, they sell online as well as in a shop and I continue to support them by buying from them on every trip to South Africa.  That gives me joy, knowing that someone nurtures the creative spirit of women, and that because of that, they are able to do better for their children in trying to undo the terrible effects of apartheid.
Hope...so necessary in our lives from the time of our infancy, when it helps us to believe that the world is a safe place and that our needs will be met....clearly, in the aftermath of not only the past few weeks, but the past years, there are far too many people out there who do not have a sense of hope.  I can only imagine that a lack of hope that one's life will ever feel worth living leads someone to such a place of despair.  So also are the painful and horrible events committed in wars that are sanctioned by governments, and often supported by people who might feel the greatest grief if the event occurred outside of "war"  while the end result is very much the same: stealing joy, stealing lives, stealing people's sense of peace.  Surely, we can find other ways to live together.
Nurture people.  Give them hope.  Create joy wherever you go.  Live in peace, be at peace.  For the joy of the present, and all the people in my life who give me hope and joy, peace be unto you as we join each other in believing that another world is possible, and necessary.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Aberdeen Mississippi Blues

 The Aberdeen Blues Trail marker honors Booker "Bukka" T. Washington White, who lived in Aberdeen during the 1920s and 1930s.  The mural, painted by Senatobia artist Cristen Barnard (Jeff Clark, Monroe Journal), also features Chester Arthur "Howlin' Wolf" Burnett and Albert King, who claimed Aberdeen as their birthplace (Bukkawhitefestival.com).  White was born in nearby Houston, and moved to Aberdeen.  While there, he became involved in a shooting and spent three years in Parchman, apparently remaining in the Delta for some time (Steve Cheseborough, 2009, Blues Traveling: The Holy Sites of the Delta Blues).  White was a cousin to B. B. King, even giving B. B. his first guitar (Bukkawhitefestival.com).

You can hear Bukka White sing Aberdeen Mississippi Blues:

The blues mural is painted on the side of the 1940s Kroger grocery building, which is now home to Sherwin-Williams paint and a barbershop.  Plans are under way for the 2013 Bukka White Festival.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

On the road to Aberdeen: City Hall

 Architect William Drago designed the 1912 Beaux Arts/Neoclassical City Hall in Aberdeen (Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Historic Resources Inventory database).  Susan M. Enzweiler (1987, Nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places) said it:
...ranks as one of the finest early twentieth-centur city halls in Mississippi.
Aberdeen's city hall is one of eight Neoclassical or Neoclassical/Beaux Arts styled city halls constructed between 1902-1923 in Mississippi (Enzweiler).
Beaux Arts architecture was an adaptation of Neoclassical and popular in the United States from around 1902 until the 1920s.  Beaux Arts
...depended on sculptural decoration along conservative modern lines...(Klein & Fogle, 1986, Clues to American Architecture)
It included such characteristics as arched windows, classical details including balustrades, pilasters, garlands, and cartouches.

 The Aberdeen building is
...dominated by a projecting Ionic tetrastyle portico.
French doors occupy each end, and the center is wooden with glass panes.  The lower half of the center doors are the original paneled door with an X-motif, but the upper panel is glass replacement.  Visible are the cartouche accenting the parapet above the portico, metal balustrades on the arched upper windows, and a semicircular stuccoed area accented by a wreath-like garland (Enzweiler).  A cartouche is an oval or oblong design with a slightly convex surface for a painted or bas relief design, and is edged with ornamental scrollwork (Ching, 1995, A Visual Dictionary of Architecture).
You can see two interior photographs at Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Houston Murals

What's wrong with this picture?  It's a mural on the side of Pearson's Rexall Drug Store in Houston, Mississippi.  It depicts the front of the building, as the "driver" is approaching the corner, and the drug store sits across the street from the courthouse (not visible) and the post office.  Assuming the presence of the horse and buggy represents pre-automobile days, that would place the time of the town at least prior to 1927 or so when gasoline powered automobiles became more common.  The Houston post office depicted in the mural was built in 1939-40.

"Rush Hour" traffic in Houston was unbelievable.  I was parked in front of the post office, a block further up this street.  Traffic was literally bumper-to-bumper, and I sat there trying to back out for well over 10 minutes.  There was no let up in the traffic.  I finally just inched out a bit at a time and took a brief lull of 3 seconds between cars to begin my immersion into the traffic.  I don't think the person behind me was very happy that he had to stop, but I was pretty convinced by then that no one intended to enable me to move.  I, on the other hand, stopped to permit two vehicles attempting to back out to merge into the traffic.  I am a believer in traffic karma--give generously--it usually comes back.

Unfortunately, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History database, on which I heavily depend, does not identify many Houston buildings, and even fewer by address.  The Coca-Cola mural appears on the side of a building on the Courthouse square, which I would guess dates from the late 1800s.  Just be advised that if you plan on doing your holiday shopping in Houston, don't park on the square in front of the stores.  You'll be there for a while.

Monday, December 17, 2012


Jake Adam York died this weekend.  He was 40, a poet, and a professor of English at the University of Colorado.  He was in Oxford earlier this year for the Southern Foodways Alliance conference and read several of his poems.  He said on introducing his reading,
We need poems like we need barbecue, as occasions to invite grace into our lives.
On reading his poem, Grace, this morning, I felt the first sense of peace in a solemn week.  Go, read it. Or, listen to his own words as he reads.  It's worth the time it will take.  Grace is the final poem, beginning at marker 9:21.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Oh, Christmas tree...

It's raining here finally, though it was a beautiful sunny day until around 4.  Meanwhile, I have to figure out how to build a Christmas tree from the spare parts around here.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

December on the Taylor hillside

 Normally, I would have been done with work a week ago, after my grades were submitted for the semester.  But, then, nothing much anywhere is "normal" these days.  I pulled into the drive late and was greeted by the eerie sight of a tree full of hawks.  Believe, me, though this does not look eerie, as I had to clean it up so you could even see what it was, it was one of those "do I really want to stand here and take a picture of the Birds, or would I rather just go inside" moments.

 The cats were all meowing for supper, seeing no reason to delay gratification.  Another thing that is not common these days, eh?
Even Fanta was a little freaked out at the sight of all the hawks, perhaps wondering if she could have an early supper, or if she might end up an early supper.
I have one more day to go this week and am optimistic that I can actually finish everything needing to be done by tomorrow...and, the eerie was somewhere in between the first photo and the last photo. Isn't technology great...unless it is not?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

I saw the President...

 ...in Madame Tussauds window.  The former Woodward & Lothrop Department Store, known as the "Woodies Building," was built in 1887 in the Beaux-Arts style (Rachel Tepper, October 25, 2011, Huffington Post.)  The exterior was decorated with cast iron and leaded glass accents in 1902.  Photographs of the building details, following a new paint job, are available at the link.
 Although no one can get very close to the White House these days, I am pretty sure that I saw President Obama waving at me, so I just waved right on back at him.
 It was Veteran's Day, so there were a lot of veterans in the park across from the Mall, just hanging out in groups and talking.
On the loop back around, we came sort of close to the Capitol.  I wish I would have had more time--I would have liked to have stopped in to see the folks from here that don't respond to my letters and see if I could have gotten a better response in person.  While they dutifully "answer" my letters, it is a canned response, that never, ever, responds to the question I have asked, or the position I ask them to support and to tell me if they will or will not support it, and why they will or will not.

My best representative story ever, though, is the morning back in Texas when I answered the phone and a woman said, "Can you hold for Congressman Stenholm?"  Yes, ma'am, I sure can.  The Congressman came on the line, and personally responded to every question I had written, and asked, "What is it you want me to do?"  At the end of our conversation, he invited me to call him and ask to speak with him personally in the future, should I have concerns about his representation.

To paraphrase Larry the Cable Guy, "I don't care who you are folks, that there was representation."

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Ford's Theatre: "Where Lincoln's Legacy Lives"

 First Baptist Church of Washington, also known as Tenth Street Baptist, was constructed in 1833 and used as a church for 26 years before being abandoned for a larger building (Ford Theatre history).  Two years later, in 1861, a theatre manager from Baltimore, John T. Ford, leased the building, and sub-let it to George Christy, who named it the George Christy Opera House.  It retained its original church interior at that time.  A year later, Ford closed it to remodel the stage for theatrical productions, and reopened it as Ford's Athenaeum.  That same year, the exterior was destroyed by fire.  Apparently undaunted, Ford rebuilt and reopened and in 1863, President Lincoln attended a performance starring John Wilkes Booth.

Following Lincoln's assassination, the building was closed for a period of time, and then taken over by the government in 1865 when Ford was threatened with "burning it to the ground" if he reopened it as a theatre.  Congress converted the space to an office building, but the string of bad luck continued.  In 1893, a section of the building collapsed, killing 22 employees and injuring 65 more.  It was closed as an office, and used as a Lincoln museum for two years.  In 1933, the building was transferred to the National Park Service, who continue to manage it.  Photographs of the 1968 renovation are visible at the NPS website.  The building was reopened as a working theatre following the renovation.
 The theatre was again renovated and restored in 2007, and in 2012, the new Center for Education and Leadership was opened next door.  The Center has distance learning capability and provide classes nationwide.

Interior photographs are available at the Historic American Buildings Survey.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Cyprus Embassy

 The Embassy of Cyprus is located in the Kalorama district of Washington, DC, along the "Embassy Row."  According to the official website of Cyprus (cyprusembassy.net), the island has an extensive history, some of which I knew about.  I recall Dr. Martin Sundel, my systems professor during my graduate work, talking about his work on social systems in Cyprus, and the long conflict between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots.  The conflict between Turkey and Greece on Cyprus dates back hundreds of years.  The island has been conquered at various times by the Assyrians, Egyptians, Persians, Romans, British, and Ottomans.  In 1878, the Turks ceded Cyprus to Britain.  British rule lasted until August, 1960, and after a 4-year liberation struggle, independence was achieved and Cyprus declared a republic.

In 1963, the President proposed amendments to the constitution, the Turkish Cypriots rebelled, and the ministers withdrew from the cabinet and public servants discontinued work.  A July 15, 1974 military junta coup attempted to overthrow President Archbishop Makarios.  As a result, Turkey invaded and troops occupied 37% of the island. Over 40% of the Greek population was forced from the area, and many were missing.  The Turks continue to try to partition the island through military occupation and colonization.  UN intervention has been unsuccessful in resolving the issue.

Note: All information taken from cyprusembassy.net, the official Embassy of Cyprus website.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Old Post Office Building, Washington, DC

 Endangered even prior to completion in 1899, the "Old Post Office" is once again facing an uncertain future, at least in the minds of some.  In 1891, Willoughby J. Edbrooke, supervising architect of the Treasury, was appointed to finalize the design for the new federal building (Scott G. Shultz, America's Watchtower: Saving the Old Post Office, 1998).  Five different supervising architects worked on the design during the seven years of construction, and made varying degrees of alteration to Edbrooke's plan.  All were influenced, however, by Henry Hobson Richardson, "considered one of the greatest architects in the history of American architecture" (Shultz).  Every characteristic of Richardsonian Romanesque style was included in the design.  Richardsonian Romanesque architecture was
...characterized by heavy, rough stone construction, round arches framing windows and doors that are cavernous in design, squat columns, towers..
The building was the first government building to have its own electric power plant, and included a 99x184 foot glass-covered atrium.
 The Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893 introduced the neo-classical style, and the government quickly adopted the style for all new federal buildings, to produce uniformity and conformity (Shultz).  Plans for demolition of the new building began even prior to its completion.  Unfortunate as well, the new post office did not stimulate growth in the area, and in fewer than ten years, many began clamoring for the building to be torn down.  The absence of funds halted its razing during the Great Depression: there was simply no money to demolish it.
 Plans for demolition were approved in the 1960s, and scheduled to begin in 1971.  Locals began picketing under the banner "Don't Tear It Down" and attracted the interest of Nancy Hanks, then chairperson for the National Endowment for the Arts (nps.gov; gsa.gov).  She testified before Congress, saying
..to encourage people to dream about their cities...to consider the alternatives before they tear them down...
She also advised that it would cost $60 million to demolish the building, and only $30-40 to renovate it, and the decision was made to preserve the building.  Preservation began in 1978, under the design of architect Arthur Cotton Moore, and was completed in 1983.  With Ms. Hanks' leadership, the local group formed the DC Preservation League.  Legislation was passed, also influenced by Ms. Hanks, to create federal/private partnerships to allow private businesses to occupy the same space as federal agencies.  The Old Post Office became home to the Endowment, the League, several federal agencies, and businesses aimed at tourists.  Operated by the Park Service, visitors can still access the clock tower and its panoramic views of the city, for free...for now.
That's all the good news.  The building--on the National Register of Historic Places--loses about $6 million a year, and the federal government has decided to sell it (Jonathan O'Connell, Washington Post, 2012).  General Services Administration sought proposals to redevelop the site, and the winning bid was Donald Trump with a plan to turn the building into a luxury hotel (O'Connell).  As a nod to the building's history, Trump will include a "museum space" alongside the spa, restaurants, and luxury rooms.  How exactly will they preserve a building, whilst turning it into a luxury hotel?  That's what some other folks would like to know, too.

At completion, the New York Times described the new building as
...a cross between a cathedral and a cotton mill.  (Shultz)
Although the historic qualities of the building have become appreciated since then--for one, it was the last major example of Richardsonian Romanesque to be constructed in DC--there is still reason for concern.  I doubt anyone advocates continued operation of a project that loses six million dollars a year.  On the other hand, exactly how many more luxury hotels does the city need?  Currently, the building is open and available to the citizens and taxpayers who help to fund it, as well as home to businesses that pay rent.  Converted to a luxury hotel, it will be off-limits to most of us.  That does not seem like a good compromise for such a significant part of the history of our capital city.

While it still remains a national park, you can download the poster of the interior shown at the link above, and one of the exterior.  Better get it while it's still free, and before the Old Post Office sign is replaced with Trump.  Historic American Buildings Survey photographs are available at the link.