Summer in the South

It may be too early for this list to be definitive, especially as it’s not yet summer, but here are a few things I’ve learned:

1. It IS the humidity.

2. There is nearly always a hazardous weather warning for my area.

3. Hydroplaning is a lot more common south of the Mason-Dixon line.

4. After a while, jasmine smells kind of overripe.


Primary Season down South

Disclaimer:  If you’re expecting any serious discussion of my electoral choices as a resident of Alabama, forget it.

Lifelongnewyorker hasn’t has time to figure out who’s who or what they stand for, but she sure has noticed the lawn signs. They’re everywhere, sprouting in advance of June’s primaries–the ones she will most likely not vote in, because she has yet to register.

(Lifelongnewyorker promises that she will register in time for the general election.  She intended to register in time for the primaries, but then realized that she could not provide any ID with her new address on it, as she has not quite gotten around to getting an Alabama drivers license either.  She doesn’t know what MrNYer’s excuse is.)

And anyway, no Alabama election will be as colorful as the congressional election in Staten Island is shaping up to be.  Lifelongnewyorker is pleased to report that the latest news shows that the local Republican committee rejected the two people seeking the nod in favor of the former congressman who resigned after his DUI arrest and the ensuing revelations about his personal life (messy).

If I had registered in time here in Alabama, I learned recently that, once at the polling place, I may choose which primary in which to vote, regardless of my party affiliation.  I love federalism, and how it means that the rules change from state to state.  In New York City, where Democrats traditionally win most of the offices (Staten Island the notable exception), the only primary that counts is the Democratic one, and you have to be a register Dem to participate.  Which explains why, some years back, I decided not to register as an independent.

But here, you can develop a far more sophisticated primary strategy.  You can choose to vote in the primary of the party you favor and select the candidate you truly favor.  Or you can choose to vote in the primary of the party you don’t want to win in the general election and pick the one you see as the weakest.

Maybe that’s what happened in Tennessee with Rand Paul.

I’ve already seen other marvellous examples of federalism at work here in Alabama (reminder to former students:  federalism refers to the division of powers between the national and state governments, and thus to the fact that the laws regarding voting, marriage, driving and liquor are among those powers left to the states.  Except, of course, as limited by the Constitution or one of its amendments.)

Here in Alabama we can make a left turn on red–under certain circumstances.  And, as long as your county or town is “wet,” you can buy wine in supermarkets, at World Market and at Costco.  And in that respect, Alabama is a lot more civilized and cosmopolitan than New York.

But I digress.  Primary season has caught my attention only because of the profusion of lawn signs, and they have caught my attention because of what they say.

There must be a rule about naming, or not naming, the party on the signs, because they seem to all follow the same format: name of candidate followed by the office being sought.

Which is how I learned today, while taking a Sunday drive, that in some places the coroner is elected.  I also learned that a person named Twinkle is running for PSC president.  I’m going out on a limb here, I know, but I think Twinkle is a woman and, for that reason alone, I’m rooting for her.  Actually, now that I think of it, if Twinkle is a man, I’m rooting for him twice as hard.

I love the names.  They are so not-New York names.  Young Boozer is running for Treasurer.  Luther Strange hopes to be Attorney General.  Thad McClammy hopes to become a representative in the state legislature.  And Jesse ‘J-Mac’ McDaniel is running too.  We wonder if he’s any relation to “Pappy McDaniel,” the beleaguered governor in “Oh, Brother Where Are Thou?” whose advisers thought what they needed was some of that RE-form.

Summer Reading in Montgomery

Most of our books are still in boxes.  I’ve been getting by catching up on back issues of the New Yorker, but it’s summer (95 degrees tomorrow) and I’m thirsting for iced tea and novels.

Mr. NYer picked up a copy of The Help at Costco just before I took off for a three-day trip to Washington.  Today, my first day back, I finished it, looked around and thought, “OK, what’s next?”

As I mentioned, the books are in boxes, and anyway, I’ve read most of them.  I wanted to roam the aisles of a bookstore and come back with a stack. 

Alas, there is no Barnes & Noble in Montgomery, nor a Borders.  What we have instead is a Books-A-Million. 

It’s actually better than any New York Barnes & Noble–if you’re looking for Christian fiction.  There’s an entire aisle devoted to this genre, whose existence I hadn’t even imagined before tonight.

Although my reading preferences in summer tend to fiction, I wanted to check out a book about the 1927 Mississippi flood, so I headed over to the history aisle, where I found more sections devoted to military history than to all other U.S. history.  There’s a special section on the Civil War War Between the State War of Southern Independence events of 1860-1865. 

I can’t remember the author’s name nor the name of the book, but I know I’m looking for a book about a flood in 1927.  It will be amongst books on regional history or, chronologically, between those on World War I and those on the Great Depression. 

And that’s when I realize that the history books are arranged alphabetically by author.  It’s OK, I find the book I’m looking for — in a condition suggesting it’s been sitting on a sunny shelf for about seven years — but who arranges non-fiction by author?

The other really odd thing is the preponderance of pocket paperbacks, something you just don’t see a lot anymore in New York.  I felt transported back 30 or 40 years, not just because of the paperbacks, but as much because of the covers and titles.  There was the same edition–with the same cover–of  The Scarlet Letter I read in 8th grade.  I cringed when I saw Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth, one of the books on my summer reading list going into high school.  Same cover as well.  How I hated that book, but not as much as Mrs. Mike, the story of a young woman who marries a Canadian Mounty posted to the Northwest Territories. 

That book I did not see, but I did spy–again, in the same exact covers they had when I had to read them–A  Separate Peace, To Kill a Mockingbird, (along with five different new 50th anniversary editions), Lord of the Flies (of course), and Animal Farm.  Many of them had a special tag denoting that they were included on local school reading lists for summer.

Welcome to 1967.

Pictures are Hung (and shown)

Once most of the boxes were unpacked, or at least tucked away, we noticed that the house had a kind of empty, echoey feel.  In fact, phone calls to the house sounded like Mr. NYer was standing in a cave.

The oak floors, high ceilings and bare walls were bouncing sound around like  crazy.  Clearly we had to begin hanging some art if for no other reason than to create aural baffles. 

To give ourselves and incentive, and to christen the house in a manner of speaking, we scheduled a housewarming and invited about 30 people, mainly my co-workers.  Now we HAD to hang the art, which we did the night before the party.  Not all of it, but at least in the living room. 

We’d sent one piece, a pastel we acquired from an artist friend (you know who you are, Bill) over 30 years ago, out to be lined (with archival and non-acid liner) and reframed, and didn’t want to hang anything else until that was ready.  And then, fortuitously, it was ready on Friday. 

The party itself showed that while some things are the same everywhere, some behaviors differ sharply from New York to Montgomery.  The same:  everyone loves smoked salmon.  The differences:  We said the party would start at 7:30.  By that time our first guest had already arrived; by 7:40 there were at least 10 people in the house.  Do I actually have to say how this differs from New York?

Here’s a slide show of the be-arted living room.  Bill — that thing that looks like a shadow of the Eiffel tower is just the reflection of the chandelier. 

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Mr. NYer Goes for a Swim

We live in a community built upon the grounds of Montgomery’s former Jewish Country Club.

Some of my colleagues belonged to the club, and miss it dearly.  The tale they tell is of a director who a small time embezzler and a big time philanderer whose tastes ran to the members’ wives.  He was succeeded by a director who was simply a big time embezzler.

Ours is an uncrowded community, formed just as the bubble was about to burst.  Lots were sold and a handful of large and tasteful houses built.  Many lots sit empty, and some are for sale.  One end of the enclave was reserved for 24 townhouses.  Six have been built, and two have been sold.  We consider ourselves fortunate to look our upon the wide open fields.

There is a Homeowner’s Association and some perks, including four ponds (three with fish), two tennis courts (no lights), a small workout room, and a pool. 

We’ve both been to the tennis courts.  Mr. NYer’s rule is that he will humor me there, but only if there are no witnesses.  The other facilities have mainly been enjoyed by Mr. NYer, since he’s the one with the ample spare time (did I mention that he’s retired?).

He rides his bike over to the workout room to lift weights, and then circles the ponds.  He reports sighting some substantial bass, but is not tempted to catch them. 

Today he tells me he went for a swim.  When he got there, he encountered a woman lounging poolside who warned him that there was a snake in the chlorine dispenser.  A maintenance person had been told, and the woman felt sure the snake was dead.  She added that when she arrived she had grabbed the net and scooped a few frogs out of the pool before taking her own dip.

Mr. NYer felt relatively safe from reptiles and amphibians, and swam several laps.  He encountered only one frog, which he helped out of the pool.

Today’s Special: Corn Dogs

Months ago, when I contemplated living in Montgomery, I worried about the food I’d find.  Or not find.  Olive oil, good bread, Italian sausage, just to name three items on my worry list.

The good news is that I don’t feel deprived.  The produce is fine, and varied.  Between Publix and Fresh Market, one can find most things one might crave.  Within reason, of course.  You can get “fresh” mozzarella, but it’s the kind of fresh you get in Costco, not the fresh you get in Pastosa.  In other words, it wasn’t made this morning and kept until an hour ago in its watery birthing waters.  But, hey, at least I’m not in Minnesota, where my nephew and his wife report the food outlook is grim.

Speaking of Pastosa, I wouldn’t mind some of those grilled artichokes, or the roasted olives, or the stuffed manicotti. 

On the other hand, the South has its own comfort food.  It’s fat.  In the form of bacon, cheese, mayo, butter.  And its in just about everything. 

One of the best places to experience this is during lunch at the Commerce Cafeteria, also know as the Montgomery Catering Company.   The lunchroom is in the Alabama State Commerce Building, conveniently located right across the street from my office.  Other places for lunch are at least three blocks distant, so this one is the default lunch stop.

There’s a sandwich and salad counter,  a grill counter, a hot food table, and two soups daily.  Brunetta presides over the sandwiches and salads, and apparently prepares many of the special salads too.  On Friday I succumbed to her crunchy/crispy chicken salad–chicken salad with a mayo dressing and cheddar cheese mixed in, served with strips of bacon lying on top.  I went for the lean version and asked for it on top of salad greens.  Other people have it as a sandwich, often grilled so that the cheese melts and binds it together more firmly.

On Fridays, the hot table has deep-fried catfish, which is hard to resist, especially with that tartar sauce they serve with it.  The catfish comes with hush puppies and two sides.  So I got greens–cooked with bacon, of course–and fried okra.

Yesterday, the grill featured corn dogs.  There are depths to which I will not stoop.

Sometimes I long for variety and accompany colleagues to one of the many handful of lunch places downtown.  These are, literally, lunch places.  They are not open for dinner, and few are open for breakfast.  Since Montgomery begins eating lunch at 11:30 and finishes by 1:00, I have yet to figure out how these places make any money.

One, called Mama’s Sack Lunches, offers sandwiches either “sacked” or not.   Sacked brings them in a paper bag with a bag of chips.   By sandwiches, we’re not talking NYC choices:  no Le Pain Quotidien, or Cafe Europa or even, alas, Pax.  No buffalo or santa fe chicken wraps.  No fresh mozz with vine ripened tomatoes and basil on a half french loaf.  No grilled veggies on ciabiatta bread. 

No, Montgomery sandwiches are exotic if they include smoked turkey.  In fact, they remind me of the plain sandwiches my mother made when I was in 5th grade.  For some reason, I think of all circa-1965 sandwiches as plain like these.  Most Montgomery lunch places offer a choice of bread — white, wheat, even sour dough.  Excited by the prospect of a taste of San Francisco, I ordered a smoked turkey and cheese sandwich on sour dough.  What appeared was a perfectly square sandwich on soft bread that looked very white.  Who knew Wonder made sour dough?