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I haven't read any fiction books since my indulgence in the works of Ishmael Reed almost two decades ago but your review of [Madison Smartt] Bell's MASTER OF THE CROSSROADS may change that. [New Books, Nov 16]
Further - and more importantly - the first two sentences of your piece are the most astute, concise analysis of those historic events I've seen.
The first two lines of Jeremy Jones' review read: "The Haitian revolution of 1791 is perhaps the most significant and the most ignored modern revolution. The slave revolts synthesized the goals of the American revolution and the French revolution, political independence and human rights, while taking the parameters of freedom a step further to include racial equality."
I clean up real nice and I don't spill at the table.
-Ernest T. Bass
Whenever somebody tells me there's no hope for downtown these days, I think about how wrong they are, and I think of my friend Gay as evidence for the case I'd prepare. For several reasons.
When I first met him, he was working on the committee that was busy preserving and restoring the Pope House over on Grosvenor (now known as the Latrobe Pope Villa).
Over the course of that winter, I was invited to his house on 2nd Street, for a party in honor of a departing committee member. I remember there was a Russian theme to the evening, related to the guest of honor, a history professor.
Now, I've been lucky enough to be a guest in some pretty swanky houses in this town, and I'm regularly awed by friends who have an incredible flair for design and architecture and style - but I had never been to any place like Gay's.
His is not the biggest or most elaborate house on the block. But there's not one square inch of it that hasn't benefited from his attention to detail. His taste in art? Perfection. The monumental array of books? Staggering, eclectic and diverse. The furnishings? Exquisite.
The menu? Well, given that the only food in the world that I refuse to eat is BEETS, it's quite a testament to his culinary skills that the borscht I ate that night was the centerpiece of one of the best meals I've ever had.
His ability to put together the best guest list in town? Unparalleled. Evidenced that evening by guests who drank their vodka and sang in Russian. (Though I abstained from both.)
His grace as a host? Beyond compare. I found THAT out when I attempted to take a seat on some incredibly elegant little chair and its legs slid out from under me, landing me in an unceremonious heap on the floor. My date was busy contemplating the ceiling and pretending he'd never seen me before, and I was almost in tears from embarrassment, feeling about like Ernest T. Bass in a china shop ("how.do.you.do. MissIZ.Wiley?"). But Gay just helped me up, dusted me off, swept up the ruins, and graciously insisted it was "only a reproduction" (which I doubt).
Miraculously, I've been invited back since, for other parties - winter solstice, 12th night, an authors' evening... - and I always told him, "you should do this professionally" (I meant all of it really: the food, the decor, the antiques, the art, the entertaining.... Though I wasn't really sure exactly what kind of profession would be big enough.)
And now he does.
A few weeks ago, I finally made it down to the tearoom/antique store joint venture that he and some friends recently partnered up on... and the one word that came to mind was "renascence."
Everything about the interior is absolutely right. The unstudied shade of ivory on the walls, for example, was (as it turns out) very studied. As he told us on one pass by our table, the shade that finally adorned the tearoom represented about the seventh try.
From the floral arrangements to the silver to the curtains right down to the decor of the powder room... not one flaw. How often do you get to say that?
Over the course of a perfect meal (soup, scones and marmalade with cream, hot turkey salad, tea sandwiches, and dessert), I soaked up the view of the historic neighborhood, the surroundings, and my friend Lissa's fashion proclamations ("monochrome equals class" and "pink," it turns out, "is a neutral"). She and I watched out the window as our friendly neighborhood state senator dragged a few giant tree limbs out to the curb, probably downed by that morning's blustery high wind.
Gay periodically stopped by our table to talk about the neighborhood and his hopes for the burgeoning arts district that lines this particular corridor.
Their new venture has become part of a vibrant and growing little section of downtown that exhibits every promise of becoming a thriving arts district (including the Opera House, multiple art galleries, restaurants, and theatres).
When I drive through downtown every morning and afternoon, it's incredibly easy to become unbearably frustrated with what's wrong with it (the Limestone construction and Short Street closure just to name two ongoing disasters), but by the time I made it to my second scone that day, I was filled with renewed hope for the place- along the lines of the same feeling I get at Farmers' Market on summer Saturdays.
The tearoom didn't just feed us. The meal wasn't just a respite from the storm. It was the sort of place that restores your soul. The English would probably say it was just the tea, but I don't think it was.
Our downtown isn't going to be "saved" by any bigtime overpriced outside consultants, not by any studies that gather dust on a shelf, and definitely not by politicians. It'll be saved by people like Gay - one brick, one building, one block, and one neighborhood at a time - by people with the courage of their convictions, backed up by vision, talent, taste, ambition, and of course, gumption.