Saturday, June 30, 2018

Playing tourist in our own backyard

The S.O. and I went wandering around Arvon Township yesterday. I needed some photos for a display I'm slowly putting together at the museum and figured we could combine getting a shot of the Arvon Township School and other sites with getting a burger at the Finn's for the evening meal. It was interesting.

Killer jungle gym of everyone's 1950's childhoods turned into a grape arbor on the school grounds. The schools I attended had these, all set in hard pavement. 
Like much of the U.P. Arvon Township has done a decent job of rewilding. The pioneers who farmed there 100 years would be rolling in their graves if they knew that the fields they so laboriously cleared of stumps and turned into hay fields and orchards have totally reverted to woodland. There are still a few open areas, but not many. It's hard to tell where most of the historic farms and houses were because so much is now fairly dense mixed hardwood forest. 
Big Eric's. 
Drove out to Big Eric's bridge and falls and discovered the campground there was totally empty, which astounded me. The end of June and no campers? Granted, it is a "primitive" park (no hook-ups and pit privies) but it's lovely. Nice, level shady sites and the Huron River for fishing just a few feet away. And no cell service. When the S.O. checked his phone he had zero bars. Sounds great to me.

In contrast, the campground at Witz's Marina was looking pretty full. Understandable, I guess. Right on the Lake and with cold beverages for sale in the store. And if you're interested in getting out on Lake Superior more than you are fishing in inland waters? Witz's is perfect. 
Looking across to the harbor entrance. The crane visible is the one used 50 years ago to dredge the channel and create the marina. 

The crane close up I was amused to see that people on campsites close to it have stacked firewood on the track to keep the wood dry.
I'm kind of counting the days (years?) until Witz's hits the magic number for National Register eligibility. It's about 8 years shy now -- the store part of the building wasn't done until 1976, and unless something is of such obvious transcendent value that you don't need to wait 50 years it's hard to get a SHPO to agree to an early nomination. The house is older, but given that the significance would be primarily Criterion A for the marina's place in the development of recreation (pleasure boating) in the area it would be an easier case to make to be able to include everything. 

My photos don't really do the buildings justice. The house and store are faced with slate that's stacked in a definitely unconventional way. It's one of the niftier examples of vernacular architecture that I have seen. 

Last stop before hitting the Finn's for food was the Arvon Township Hall. It is a National Register structure. Oddly enough, though, there is no plaque or book on a stick commemorating that fact. Instead, there is a nice wayside about the Arvon slate quarry, a place that operated for only a few years and is of no real significance other than the fact that quarry contributed to the name of the township. The company mining the slate named the area after a region in Wales famous for its slate, Caernarfon, which naturally got shortened and Anglicized into Arvon. The quarry did well for a number of years, there was a decent sized company town, but it faded into obscurity pretty quickly. Slate was a popular choice for roofing buildings because it's fire proof, but fell out of favor as metal roofing became widely available in the late 19th century. I have never been to the slate quarry, which I hear basically just looks like a pond now as it did what abandoned quarries are wont to do: fill with water.
Arvon Township Hall
As for the Finn's. . . holy wah, the acoustics are horrible. Way too many hard surfaces on the interior of that place. It was busy, but not unusually so. Only a couple tables were occupied and there were empty stools at the bar, but the noise level? It was unreal. You could not have a normal conversation in there. How bad was it, you ask? Well, if we'd just stopped for a quick cold beverage we'd probably have left without finishing the drinks. As it was, given a choice between the air-conditioned but noisier than hell interior and venturing out into the 90+ degree heat with humidity to match, we told the server to bring our food outside. I guess the S.O. and I don't venture out into public enough because we could not handle those noise levels. 

Oh well.  At least the food was good. 

(And, yes, I will edit the photos before slapping prints on to poster board at the museum.)

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Pulitzer Project: A Confederacy of Dunces

A Confederacy of Dunces is an odd book. The author died nine years before it was published. His mother found the manuscript after John Kennedy Toole committed suicide and then devoted her life to making sure it found its way into print. The novel's rejection by multiple publishers was apparently one of the things that drove Toole to kill himself, which I'll confess strikes me as an odd reason to voluntarily check out. Authors get rejected all the time.

The novel's initial rejection doesn't surprise me. The novel is set in New Orleans in what seems to be the early 1960's. The various reviews and cover blurbs I've read all use phrases like "comic" and "rollicking masterpiece." I guess once it was actually in print no one wanted to use more accurate terms, like "weird" or "inchoate." This is another novel that reads more like a preliminary draft, maybe pass two or three the planned novel, but still a work in progress that's begging for a good copy editor. The various pieces are reasonably well written, there are flashes of whatever the equivalent of slapstick on paper might be, but it's uneven. The reader goes from being intrigued and amused to repelled and back again to amusement with fair amounts of befuddlement interspersed. There is a narrative thread, but it has some definite knots in it.

A Confederacy of Dunces follows the misadventures of a creature that is now familiar to us all, the man-child who refuses to grow up and apparently intends to sponge off an aging parent forever. The hero, such as he is, is one Ignatius Reilly, a character best described as a fat neurotic slob. Reilly is apparently really, really smart in one narrow area of expertise and a complete screw-up when it comes to life in general. H survived college, apparently even managed to acquire a Master's in something (history?), and then blew it when he had a chance to land a teaching job in Baton Rouge. He had a panic attack on the Greyhound, decided he could not survive outside New Orleans, and has spent several years doing the equivalent of living in a basement and eating Cheetos. He cultivates the air of an eccentric genius, but is absolutely lost when it comes to living in the real world. He also comes across as thoroughly physically repellent (morbidly obese, wears funny clothes, totally self-centered) so the fact he has an actual girlfriend, a bohemian New Yorker with money, seems more than a tad unbelievable.

But then, so is everything else in this novel, which is one of the reasons it qualifies as "rollicking" and "comic" instead of just odd. There's a police officer who keeps getting sent out dressed in very strange costumes so he can work undercover. A clothing factory that manages to keep muddling along despite the fact none of the employees seem to have a clue as to what they're doing or why. A bar owner who's making most of her money by selling pornographic photographs to high school students. Ignatius's alcoholic mother, who against all odds manages to snag a fiance.

In short, this is a novel that today might be described as "magical realism." Back when it was published I'm not sure what they called it, although the publishers managed to round up a slew of well-known authors and scholars to praise it. I will say that Toole manages to capture the seedy, slightly tawdry atmosphere one associates with New Orleans, especially the New Orleans of 60 years ago, really well. New Orleans always strikes me as being a city that has seen better days even when it was what qualified as "better days." It never was a shining city on a hill -- it's also one of those rare places where having seen it one time I have no desire to ever go there again. But I digress.

Where would I rank this book in the overall scheme of things for Pulitzer winners? I'm not sure. It might be unquantifiable. No number for it because in some ways it's up on the high end and in others it's down on the low side of the scale. You know, interesting lyrics but you can't dance. Would I recommend it to other readers? Again, I'm not sure. If you're the type of reader who likes a nice clean narrative and having everything make sense as you go along, this is not the book for you. Do you like a little eccentricity tossed in? Then maybe you'll like A Confederacy of Dunces. It's not a particularly easy read, but it's also not hard, just a tad choppy. I've read worse.

Next up on the list: Rabbit is Rich by John Updike. I probably won't get to it until sometime in the Fall when Interlibrary Loan resumes with the new school year. The L'Anse Public Library has several of Updike's novels, including one in the Rabbit series, but not the one I need.