October 22, 2012

Traveling to Venice in Comfort


This year summer clung to Seattle like a shy toddler, refusing to relinquish its hold. In ten days November will arrive and only now is it 37° outside. Fortunately, I rescued the last of my rosebuds two days ago and brought them into my warm kitchen where they could bloom. Today I have resurrected my socks; I am wearing my winter slacks and an extra layer under my shirt.

I sit in my centrally-heated office writing about my Venetian women and I imagine them in wintertime. How many layers would they have worn to keep warm? How had the temperature of the room shifted as they stepped away from the wall that contained the fireplace? How early in the season would they have been deprived of flowers?

The Seattle Times this morning verified that the rainy season has finally arrived and reported that local officials are asking citizens to help the wastewater system by clearing debris from our neighborhood drains. I imagine the water rising through the paved areas of Venice, lifting water so high under the bridges that a gondolier must bend over to pass under. Were my women even more confined than usual? Could they smell the garbage that washed back towards their homes? Did the walls of their rooms exude dampness?

The change of the seasons, so dramatic for us on Puget Sound this year, transports my mind back to earlier days in another part of the world. I travel there in my imagination, grateful that my body lives in the present time, warm, dry and smelling the last of the roses.

October 10, 2012

WENCHES AND HISTORY


     History is not what happens around us. It is the things remembered by those who write it down. While reading Wench by Dolen Perkins-Valdez, this fact struck me full force once again. This novel, about the relationships between slaves, is set in the free state of Ohio, at a resort called Tawawa House, near the city of Xenia (pronounced like the flower). The summer vacation spot flowed with healing waters and attracted both Northerners and Southerners. Because the Southerners brought their slaves, even sharing cabins with their slave mistresses, it became uncomfortable for the Northern guests and the resort closed after four years of operation.  

     I lived in Yellow Springs, Ohio for seven years, only 9.2 miles away from Xenia (11 minutes according to Google) and I never heard this piece of history. I did hear that there were resorts in former times because many believed the water had healing powers. Benefits from the waters were hard to imagine in modern times since the water smelled acrid and ruined the pipes in our houses. I traveled to Xenia weekly for errands but never knew if its connection to slavery.

     Today Wilberforce University, self-described as an African Methodist Episcopal Church University, is on the site. An online search led me to a copy of the Ohio Historical Marker whose text explains how the land came to be owned by the University. (See: http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=14058 for more information.) I feel connected to the history because I am connected to the place, but it took a novel to tell me its history.