One Thousand White Women, The Journals of May Dodd

Jim Fergus
St. Martins Griffin, 1998

UnknownFergus took an obscure historical event, played with it, and wrote fictional imaginative history. It is true that in 1854 a Cheyenne chief proposed an unprecedented exchange to U.S. army officers. Cheyenne culture was matrilineal where all children belonged to the mother’s tribe, so the chief’s offer to accept one thousand white women who would marry Cheyenne men and have children who were considered white was considered a peace offering. In exchange the tribe would give one thousand horses, but of course the army officers were appalled and refused.

The historical footnote gave Fergus an intriguing springboard to suggest what could have happened. He invented May Dodd who told the first person story of a group of women who voluntarily joined with the Cheyenne to produce children through her journal and letters. Oh my.

Author Jim Fergus

Author Jim Fergus

There are so many ways this story could be told to plead for the moral rightness of the settlers and pioneers or cast the Cheyennes as victims overrun in their ancestral lands. To his credit, Fergus takes a middle ground of letting May Dodd, who fortuitously is singled out to to marry the Cheyenne Chief, tell a story with a more nuanced cultural eye that observes the strengths and weaknesses on both sides. He neatly ties it up with the only real villain as half Indian and half white.

During the train ride west to begin the adventure Dodd introduces the colorful collection of misfits who did not meet the rigid standards of proper female behavior of the mid 1800s. Among them is the enthusiastic, talented ornithologist whose paintings rivaled Audubon, the disgraced Southern Belle who lost her value when her father lost his money, the orphan Irish twins prone to trickery and thievery to survive, the outspoken, overlooked and too strong for her time in history Gretchen, and of course, May.

In case you are interested, this book is an excellent resource about how hard to handle or poor women were put in asylums in the U.S. in the not too distant past.

In case you are interested, this book is an excellent resource about how hard-to-handle or poor women were put in asylums in the U.S. in the not too distant past.

The heroine May was among the volunteers from a women’s mental asylum which were so popular at the time for women who went against the wishes or dictates of their parents or husband. Rather than waste away in a cell where her father put her because she humiliated him by running off with a man beneath her social position and having two children, May journeys to Wyoming to marry a sight unseen “savage.” Fergus upped the story possibilities and tension by having May fall into the arms of an army captain charged with overseeing the exchange with the Cheyenne.

The writing is good, and usually flows smoothly, but did the phrase “coyote ugly” really exist in the 1850s? There were only few missteps, and they were a small price to pay for enjoying Fergus’s more intriguing philosophical questions. Who should “own” the land, how do you choose a side when no one is fully blameless or without merit, and how do you know when it is best to fight and when to submit?

Cheyenne Warriors painted by Edward S. Curtis.

Cheyenne Warriors painted by Edward S. Curtis.

It is a blend of love story and an interesting look at life on the American frontier. And while I complain of coyote ugly, Fergus writes evocative and beautiful descriptions of the prairie through May and her life with the Cheyenne that she finishes with, “How extraordinarily fortunate I am.”

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Italy Amalfi Coast

After a two+ weeks vacation in Italy there is everything to say. It is beautiful. Historical. Fun. None of the words I can think of at the moment will bring it alive as it deserves. We were with 22 other people on a tour where we had an excellent guide, interesting local guides, our own bus driver, I didn’t have to cook, everything was new and wonderful and all I had to do was enjoy. I am currently feeling the withdrawal I did after a first luxury cruise.  I’m going to skip trying to sound poetic and get to the pictures.

Three mornings we woke up to this view outside our window. Then we went upstairs to have chocolate croissants, espresso, and a whole table of wonderful food.
Three mornings we woke up to this view outside our window. Then we went upstairs to have chocolate croissants, espresso, and a whole table of wonderful food.

After a tour of a centuries old paper making factory we rested at a restaurant and took this photo of Ravello's plaza.

After a tour of a centuries old paper making factory we rested at a restaurant and took this photo of Ravello’s plaza.

Where was this photo taken? I'm not sure except that it was along the Amalfi Coast in one of the small towns.

Where was this photo taken? I’m not sure except that it was along the Amalfi Coast in one of the small towns.

A view from the bus.

A view from the bus.

A side trip was to Montecassino Abbey on a hilltop.

A side trip was to Montecassino Abbey on a hilltop.

St. Benedicto XIII founded the Abbey about 529 and it took until World War II when it was destroyed and is now rebuilt.

St. Benedicto XIII founded the Abbey about 529 and it took until World War II when it was destroyed and is now rebuilt.

Benedicto's sister is St. Scholastica. Her feast day is February 10.

Benedicto’s sister is St. Scholastica. Her feast day is February 10.

Tile floors in Italy are always an art. Astounding when I first saw it, Italy has so much more this one fell to average.

Tile floors in Italy are always an art. Astounding when I first saw it, Italy has so much more this one fell to average.

Then there were the ceilings. I wish my camera could show better detail.

Then there were the ceilings. I wish my camera could show better detail.

It's always interesting how much mythical and earlier symbols are incorporated.

It’s always interesting how much mythical and earlier symbols are incorporated.

Enough of architecture. See what fine stitching this is in a time before precise machines. I've read many went blind working on fine fabrics for the rich--wait! That's probably happening today, too.

Enough of architecture. See what fine stitching this is in a time before precise machines. I’ve read many went blind working on fine fabrics for the rich–wait! That’s probably happening today, too. I was not into the picture taking mode yet since I was a bit off center because it took three days into the tour before our luggage arrived. Ah, well, a small glitch and it really didn’t get in the way of a wonderful time and the beginning of meeting an eclectic, intelligent, fun group of fellow travelers.

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Pasta With Garbanzo Beans Soup

Small Plates, Appetizers as Meals
Marguerite Marceau Henderson
Gibbs Smith, 2006

Soup GarbanzoSimple. Satisfying, Beautiful. Inventive. Traditional. These are the words I use to describe the recipes developed and/or refined by Marguerite Marceau Henderson. She is the only cookbook author that has intrigued me enough to buy a second book.

I met Ms. Henderson years ago when we both released books about the same time and we were guests at the Women’s Literary Club. She was the hit of the day and I understood why.Unknown-1

The simplicity and flavors of this traditional soup make it a favorite and the ingredients make it healthy and satisfying. It is a good meal when I’ve spent the day in self-chosen solitary confinement and not given a thought to what’s for dinner. It’s even better when the weather is a little cool and the body wants comfort.

Unknown-2But looking at it and now thumbing through her book splattered with smudges and notes, I will have to share a few other recipes in the future. She is especially creative with interesting snaps of flavor the home cook can have trouble mastering. I think you will enjoy them. At least I know my husband does and so have guests.

Ingredients

2 T olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 ribs celery, sliced
2 carrots peeled and sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced (here I cheat with one, ah well)
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1 can (14 oz.) chopped tomatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
2 cups water (or what I want)
1 can (15 oz.) garbanzo beans with liquid (Ick, I rinse them)
1 cup dry small pasta (ditalini, shells, farfallini, orzo)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 T chopped, fresh rosemary
1 T chopped, fresh basil
4-5 C fresh spinach leaves
1 C grated Romano or Parmesan cheese

In a medium saucepan heat oil and sauté onion, celery, and carrots for 3 to 5 minutes over low heat, stirring often. Add garlic and red pepper flakes; sauté 1 minute. Add tomatoes, north, and water; cover and simmer for 10 minutes. Add beans, pasta, and salt. Cook uncovered for 10 minutes until pasta is cooked through. Stir in rosemary, basil, and spinach; cook on hot heat until spinach is just wilted. Serve at once with cheese on top. Makes 4 servings.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Guaymas Chronicles, La Mandadera

David E. Stuart
University of New Mexico Press, 2003

booksFollowing an anthropologist through a study can be a surprising treat or a boring exercise with many skipped sentences in search of what you’re trying to glean. I brought this book home only because it was about the Mexican state of Sonora and available at my local library.

It begins with the back story of Stuart leaving an unhappy time in 1970s Ecuador. He returns to Empalme, Mexico to reunite with his betrothed and the story slowly dances along with a bit of background here and there, an introduction to her family, and a tidy description of his days. Unfortunately, his betrothed is pregnant and after emotional misgivings and much pleading, it is decided he will wait for her in Guaymas for four months while she leaves on obscure family business. This anthropologist is not going to be too tidy about things.

David E. Stuart, Provost Emeritus and the University of New Mexico

David E. Stuart, Provost Emeritus and the University of New Mexico

Half-way down page 38 the story began. A Mexican friend asked if he still planned on marrying a woman visibly pregnant by another. When he shrugged undecided and said he felt like a fool the friend replied, “We are all fools. We are born fools, we live fools, we die fools,” and then added the difference is how gracefully we behave as fools. At last. Mexican character and heart shining through anthropologist notes and personal story.

On that same page Lupita is first mentioned. She is introduced by name as Stuart’s shoe shine boy’s patron. The person who looks after him.

Sonora is in the northwest of Mexico and borders Arizona.

Sonora is in the northwest of Mexico and borders Arizona.

Stuart begins immersing himself as an anthropologist into the daily life of middle class Guaymas, but his reputation as the man whose woman was pregnant by another preceded him in all his contacts. Perhaps at first blush not the best way for a theoretically neutral anthropologist to record, but it certainly cut through some layers of formality that otherwise may never have been touched.

Lupita turns out to be a wily, intelligent street orphan assumed to be ten with no one to fend for her. She convinces Stuart to hire her as his agent, La Mandadera, to run errands, take his laundry, and soon she is arranging his trip into Tucson to buy small appliances and new tires. She becomes his middleman when he reluctantly agrees to help a widowed American find a Mexican wife.
Her understanding of percentages, her cut of the deal, and her constant monitoring of his life’s activities are both amazing and a little frightful as she makes herself indispensable and awkwardly visible in his life.

Ignacio Pesqueira, governor of Sonora in the 1860s and a ferocious fighter against Americanos to the north who would not stay out and wanted to annex Sonora for the U.S.

Ignacio Pesqueira, governor of Sonora in the 1860s and a ferocious fighter against Americanos to the north who would not stay out and wanted to annex Sonora for the U.S.

Through the summer Stuart describes many local people and gains lifetime men friends. An anthropologist’s notes record the activities in working-class nightclubs well past midnight, the menus in restaurants, the idioms of language. As El Güero (Whitey) he also travels through several social layers, occasionally taking the time to explain his view of how manners and customs are different in the U.S. and Mexico. But the story that grows to prominence is around Lupita who submerges him into the life of a street child.

Guaymas Chronicles had a surprising emotional appeal with the spirit of Lupita who after years still watched nightly for her mother to appear where she was last seen while daily she watched after the younger shoe shine boy. Recordings of human life naturally weave a story and the story of Lupita, La Mandadera, is a wrenching experience through street life of a child reflected against the local middle and upper class.

Posted in A Book Stream Review, The Street View | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments