Loving these lambent days

Savannah Morning News column, Sunday, April 27, 2014



Let’s start with the bad news and I’m not just talking about the rain though there is nothing more glorious than walking the dogs after the rain has stopped and the sky is blue and everyone – I mean everyone – on the street feels like a million bucks and no where is there a better time to understand the meaning of the word lambent, as in glowing or flickering with a soft radiance, as in the morning after four days of menacing and interminable rain.

No, the bad news I’m talking is the oleanders. They’re back. Drat. I thought the cold temperatures got them for sure. That is one hardy tree.

Back to the good news  – the fruit trees. I think the cold weather sharpened them up. They seem to be returning in spades. I’m waiting for the day we can see an abundance of local fruit at the farmers’ markets – pomegranates, oranges, tangerines, grapefruit, blueberries, grapes, figs and pears, so much fruit we won’t know what to do with it all and farmers will have to give it away.

Maybe  Savannah Park and Tree can plant some for us. This venerable governmental entity sure hit the ball out of the park (time for a baseball metaphor) with all the Chinese fringe trees planted along Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Those snowy white surreal trees are showstoppers. Go Park and Tree! Maybe you can keep the ball rolling and help us out with a decent bee ordinance so we can all be harvesting some homegrown honey and helping bees do their pollination thing or are we going to just have to continue keeping bees in secret and begging forgiveness instead of asking permission?

And go Chatham County Mosquito Control! Not for the $700,000 it spends each year to dredge containment areas for those dizzying little devils, but for the gambusia or mosquito eating fish, the perfect antidote to a malfunctioning pump or a waterless garden, such as mine on Boundary Street that has to rely on an old canoe – talk about hardy – to capture water. The fish are free for the asking. You just have to call ahead so “Bobby” can retrieve his handheld mesh fishing net, walk out to the pond on the well-manicured property and scoop a bunch out of the pond. It’s amazing how few people avail themselves of this thoughtful and generous offering from the normally parsimonious and cantankerous county coffers. About a dozen a year, I am told. Let’s keep “Bobby” busy.

The building is on Billy Hair drive, near the classy Gulfstream campus and our impressive international airport. (In my part of the world government types wait for people to die before naming streets after them; otherwise it seems a little, well, unseemly, kind of like jumping the gun, but go Billy Hair, who always seems to be running for some office or another).

If you were looking for an optimistic time of year to paw through a motley collection of bags of seeds, to scratch the earth and do a little broadcasting, this would be it. That packet of miniature prairie sunflower seeds? In the ground. Those borage seeds from a thousand years ago? Bingo. The scarlet runner beans? How can they fail they are so big, not unlike a kidney bean. Four precious moonflower seeds someone carefully packed up and deliberately labeled for the plant swap? Sure enough, I soaked them overnight, found a spot where they could climb and poked them in the ground. Even Bob Ketai’s zinnia seeds from Detroit found a spot.

A word of caution: don’t be bamboozled by a rogue squash plant – unless you have an acre or so of land. It’s robust. And unless you know how to bonsai the thing best to move it where it can sprawl and take over some real estate.

Right now the tops of the onions are starting to teeter (which means they’re ready for pulling); the sugar snap peas are finally starting to flower, so the peas are mere days away; the mallow-like leaves of the sorrel seed I planted last week are popping up; the broccoli is still putting out (despite a heck of a year with aphids); the top half of the potatoes are looking good; the amaryllis are going bananas; the precious milkweed is taking hold, and the spiderwort, well, you can’t stop the spiderwort.

Now all I have to do is tend to a “notice to correct conditions” issued by the city’s property maintenance department. The notice said the “littered premises” had to be corrected by Easter Sunday. Here’s hoping they give me a few more days.


Music: the great elixir

Savannah Morning News column

April 13, 2014


The other day a friend sent me a short video of her niece, a ball girl, dropping to her knees to snag a sinking line drive foul in the seventh inning of a San Diego Padres baseball game.  Then, her blond hair peeping out of the team’s blue hardhat, she flips it casually to someone in the stands. I think it was to the same man who ducked when the first ball headed his way.

I always wanted to be a ball girl. The closest I got was going to see the Detroit Tigers with my dad, my mitt on my left hand, in case a fly ball came my way.  That sounds so nerdy now, but that’s what my friend Jane Jospey and I did: we brought our mitts and we recorded each out on our scorecards, you know, “k” for strikeout, “bb” for base on balls” and  “dp” for double play.

I always wanted to be a papergirl, too, someone who rides a bike, reaches back to grab a folded newspaper from the stack and flings it to the front porch of a paying customer. The closest I got was learning how to fold the paper so it wouldn’t fly open before it hit the concrete. I was helping our neighbor Paul, who was a real paperboy.            I always wanted to play an instrument, to match voice with emotion, to substitute sounds for words.

Is it too late?

This happens every year during the Savannah Music Festival. I get music talent envy. They might be lying fools up there on stage, but it just looks as if they are having so much darn fun, separately and collectively. What could be a better combination?

And they’re not youngsters – at least the ones I saw. The great Puerto Rican pianist and bandleader Eddie Palmieri, this year’s selection for the Latin dance segment? Seventy-eight. But if you can’t play an instrument, if you can’t sing, you dance, which is what we did to Palmieri’s band, except there were some pretty polished dancers out there this year and truth to tell it was kind of intimidating. The ante has been upped. Still, who cares? You shake and tap and swing around and shake some more.

I once watched Marian McPartland interview Palmieri on her “Piano Jazz” radio show in a New York City recording studio, a series, by the way, produced by the South Carolina NPR station (c’mon GPB, get it together). Such joy. They were kids again. McPartland, who just died, must have been in her middle-80s.

I missed Savannah’s music teacher Julie Wilde’s student recital (next year!) last week and I still haven’t been to June Millington’s Rock ‘n Roll Camp for Girls in Goshen, Mass., (soon!), but I did see, compliments of the Music Festival, the great Taj Mahal, born Henry St. Clair Fredericks, Jr. Seventy-two. Taj was large and in charge. It was sold out but I snagged a couple tickets via Facebook, trading cash for tickets in a random parking lot in what sort of felt like a drug deal. Never miss a chance to see Taj. I smiled the whole concert. My face hurt when I went home. Whatever you call it, reggae or blues, jazz or zedeco, the man is an original. Self-taught, too – or so I read – so maybe it’s not too late.

That same week I went to an early Saturday morning music class for bitty people, aka toddlers, rug rats, bambinos, small fry at Ms. Amy’s School of Music in Baldwin Park. They sit in a circle, Ms. Amy with her ukulele, the kids on their mom’s laps (no dads that day). They play triangles and drums. They clap. They try to snap their fingers (maybe next year). They bounce. They ring bells. They each get a chance to play the musical instrument of the day. This particular Saturday it was the trombone.

They sing all the old favorites – “The Itsy Bitsy Spider,” “You Are My Sunshine,” “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” – the ones you remember all your life, the songs my mother, in her dotage, still sang. The kids, so low to the ground, waddle, bend, drum and laugh.

“Get your instruments,” said Ms. Amy, who knew in the 8th grade she wanted to be a music teacher. “Let’s make some noise.”

Let’s make some music.

Is there anything better?

“If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands,” said Ms. Amy.

That I can do.