Montgomery Pilgrimage

I made a visit to the Deep South in 2007, when I participated in the “Sojourn to the Past,” a bus tour of Civil Rights landmarks for high school students. We visited museums and monuments in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee. We met and heard from leaders like the Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, Congressman John Lewis, members of the Little Rock Nine, and investigative journalist Jerry Mitchell. While walking around downtown Atlanta near the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Park, it came to me how little I knew about that part of the country, and I resolved to spend time living and working there. I'm so glad to have followed through with that resolution.

Wayne & I have revisited a number of the museums and sites I had seen on the Sojourn trip: Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham, the National Voting Rights Museum in Selma, the Southern Poverty Law Center in Montgomery, the graves of Martin Luther King and Coretta Scott King in Atlanta. New educational opportunities have emerged since my first visit: Whitney Plantation near New Orleans, the Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, the Tubman Museum in Macon. I included photos from many of these places in previous blog posts. With every visit, my understanding of our country's history deepened. Just before I left last spring, the Equal Justice Initiative officially opened a new opportunity for growth and learning, one that promises to transform awareness of our history in powerful and challenging ways. It was a great blessing for me to be present for some of the opening events, and I encourage everyone who has the means to make a pilgrimage to Montgomery.

The Legacy Museum, “From Enslavement to Mass Incarceration,” is housed in a building formerly used to warehouse enslaved Black people, near the dock and railway station where they were trafficked throughout the nineteenth century. Photos are not permitted inside, where exhibits include jars of soil collected for known sites of lynchings throughout the country. Visitors also listen to recorded messages from incarcerated people as though on a telephone call.

We found the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, about a mile away from the Museum, profoundly moving. It honors victims of racial terror from all over the country, with steel columns representing individual counties. Names are included of victims documented in at least two sources—it seems clear that countless others have gone undocumented.

The six-acre site features monuments for each county where lynchings took place, engraved with the names of victims like those within the memorial structure. The EJI invites communities to claim these monuments and create their own local memorials. As the monuments are distributed throughout the country, may the rising awareness of this cruel and tragic history bring new and greater urgency to the work for social and cultural changes we long for and so desperately need.

This poem, which she wrote for the occasion, was read by Elizabeth Alexander at the opening ceremony, and is posted at the Memorial:

The wind brings your names.

We will never dissever your names

nor your shadows beneath each branch and tree.

The truth comes in on the wind, is carried by water.

There is such a thing as the truth. Tell us

how you got over. Say, Soul look back in wonder.


Your names were never lost,

each name a holy word.

The rocks cry out—


call out each name to sanctify this place.

Sounds in human voices, silver or soil,

a moan, a sorrow song,


a keen, a cackle, harmony,

a hymnal, handbook, chart,

a sacred text, a stomp, an exhortation.


Ancestors, you will find us still in cages,

despised and disciplined.

You will find us still mis-named.


Here you will find us despite.

You will not find us extinct.

You will find us here memoried and storied.


You will find us here mighty.

You will find us here divine.

You will find us where you left us, but not as you left us.


Here you endure and are luminous.

You are not lost to us.

The wind carries sorrows, sighs, and shouts.

The wind brings everything. Nothing is lost.


Elizabeth Alexander

 The opening ceremony at the Montgomery convention center included many members of “Civil Rights royalty,” as Bryan Stevenson called them.

The opening ceremony at the Montgomery convention center included many members of “Civil Rights royalty,” as Bryan Stevenson called them.

 Just a couple of blocks from the Legacy Museum

Just a couple of blocks from the Legacy Museum

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 Outside wall of the Legacy Museum

Outside wall of the Legacy Museum

 As we walked up to the Memorial, we found this sculpture representing family separation disturbingly relevant to current events.

As we walked up to the Memorial, we found this sculpture representing family separation disturbingly relevant to current events.

 The experience of walking among the columns bearing victims’ names is beyond words.

The experience of walking among the columns bearing victims’ names is beyond words.

 Selma’s Civil Rights Memorial Park at the Montgomery end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge

Selma’s Civil Rights Memorial Park at the Montgomery end of the Edmund Pettus Bridge

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Exploration and Discovery

I receive promotional emails from “Wales Cottage Holidays,” with seasonal graphics and a greeting in Welsh. It made me nostalgic for the time Wayne & I spent there in the early 1970s, when he had a job with a large architectural firm with an office in a small seaside resort town on the south coast. Since then, we've been back several times to visit, to introduce our children to the landscape, the language, and the culture. It was a formative period of our young adulthood, and will always have a place in our hearts.

One day recently as I drove to Auburn for a Fellowship social event, it occurred to me that when I return home to California in June, our experience here will also hold a cherished place in our memory. Since I became an Alabama voter to participate in the special senate election in December, I feel even more at home. So dedicated and hardworking are the Alabama citizens I have come to know, that remembering them will help sustain my hopes for our country. As Birmingham colleague Jennifer Sanders posted on Facebook on election night, “...everywhere all over Alabama, little blue dots erupted with hope and joy.” I will now always think of the South as festooned with blue dots, blooming and growing.

The photo gallery below begins with our drive to New Orleans via Mobile last June. For Wayne's most recent visit in February, we planned a short road trip to Selma, to the Rural Studio, and to downtown Birmingham. We enjoyed Mexican food in Greensboro, barbecue in Marion, and urban gourmet cuisine at the Birmingham Museum of Art cafe. The airbnb ante-bellum mansion where we stayed featured a Victorian furniture collection which was not at all comfortable, but the bed was decent and the screened porch had wicker chairs more conducive to relaxing with the twilight birdsong.

I'm sure we won't have exhausted the opportunities for pilgrimage and exploration in this region before I move back to California, but we're doing our best!

 Washington Square across from our lodging in Mobile's historic Oakleigh neighborhood

Washington Square across from our lodging in Mobile's historic Oakleigh neighborhood

 Downtown Mobile streetscape features several murals.

Downtown Mobile streetscape features several murals.

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 Dauphin Street

Dauphin Street

 Brunch at "Five," whose menu has just five entrees for each meal

Brunch at "Five," whose menu has just five entrees for each meal

 Stuff to read while waiting in line for the restroom at Wintzell's Oyster House, where we had dinner on Father's Day

Stuff to read while waiting in line for the restroom at Wintzell's Oyster House, where we had dinner on Father's Day

 We took a guided tour of Mobile's Carnival Museum—their tradition predates New Orleans' Mardi Gras.

We took a guided tour of Mobile's Carnival Museum—their tradition predates New Orleans' Mardi Gras.

 Logo of the History Museum of Mobile is based on this metalwork.

Logo of the History Museum of Mobile is based on this metalwork.

 The museum's permanent collection features the "Friedman Miniature House Gallery."

The museum's permanent collection features the "Friedman Miniature House Gallery."

 The collection includes this replica of a house in my Opelika neighborhood...

The collection includes this replica of a house in my Opelika neighborhood...

 ...just three blocks away!

...just three blocks away!

 Whitney Plantation, west of New Orleans, gives visitors an idea of the experience of enslaved people. This wall is engraved with text of oral histories gathered as part of a WPA project, when survivors of the system were still around to tell their stories.

Whitney Plantation, west of New Orleans, gives visitors an idea of the experience of enslaved people. This wall is engraved with text of oral histories gathered as part of a WPA project, when survivors of the system were still around to tell their stories.

 Art installation representing the terrible consequences of attempted escape

Art installation representing the terrible consequences of attempted escape

 Waiting in line for the rest room at Napoleon House, New Orleans

Waiting in line for the rest room at Napoleon House, New Orleans

 These fist-sized carcasses were not what I was expecting when the menu said "chilled shrimp" (Grand Isle Restaurant and Oyster Bar).

These fist-sized carcasses were not what I was expecting when the menu said "chilled shrimp" (Grand Isle Restaurant and Oyster Bar).

 Demonstrating in support of immigrants at Heritage Park

Demonstrating in support of immigrants at Heritage Park

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 Exhibit Hall mural at General Assembly

Exhibit Hall mural at General Assembly

 I stopped to rest (and talk on the phone) inside the "Red Tent" between the Women and Religion and UU Women's Federation booths.

I stopped to rest (and talk on the phone) inside the "Red Tent" between the Women and Religion and UU Women's Federation booths.

 Solar eclipse on the Green at Auburn University, August 21st

Solar eclipse on the Green at Auburn University, August 21st

 Pretty close to totality

Pretty close to totality

 Someone had had these made and passed them around, just for fun.

Someone had had these made and passed them around, just for fun.

 For sale at "Angel's Antiques and Flea Mall"

For sale at "Angel's Antiques and Flea Mall"

 Football season tourism is a mainstay of Auburn's economy.

Football season tourism is a mainstay of Auburn's economy.

 Local businesses cater to fans of both rivals

Local businesses cater to fans of both rivals

 Sultry late summer sky

Sultry late summer sky

 Symposium and field trip with AU historians to Pasaquan ("visionary art environment"),  in Buena Vista. GA

Symposium and field trip with AU historians to Pasaquan ("visionary art environment"),  in Buena Vista. GA

 Catered picnic, southern cuisine

Catered picnic, southern cuisine

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 The house across the street

The house across the street

 Dogwood, in the fall...

Dogwood, in the fall...

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 Leaves will fall, buds stay on bare branches through the winter...

Leaves will fall, buds stay on bare branches through the winter...

 see? and they survived unusually low temperatures this season.

see? and they survived unusually low temperatures this season.

 Art installation over people mover at Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport

Art installation over people mover at Hartfield-Jackson Atlanta Airport

 Parts of it had animated images—magical!

Parts of it had animated images—magical!

 As election day approached, I saw more and more Doug Jones lawn signs on my walks around town.

As election day approached, I saw more and more Doug Jones lawn signs on my walks around town.

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 Winter sunlight in the afternoon

Winter sunlight in the afternoon

 The Fellowship hosted a vigil remembering the victims of Sandy Hook, five years ago Dec. 14. 

The Fellowship hosted a vigil remembering the victims of Sandy Hook, five years ago Dec. 14. 

 Sunday afternoon at Uncle Roy's. He's an artist, and also part of a band, the "Electric Rangers."

Sunday afternoon at Uncle Roy's. He's an artist, and also part of a band, the "Electric Rangers."

 "Yes we can"

"Yes we can"

 Family in town for Christmas—a visit to the new Center for Civil and Human Rights, then the gift shop at the Coca Cola Museum, Atlanta

Family in town for Christmas—a visit to the new Center for Civil and Human Rights, then the gift shop at the Coca Cola Museum, Atlanta

 Walk at Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve, Auburn University

Walk at Louise Kreher Forest Ecology Preserve, Auburn University

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 Gold leaves in the undergrowth glowed in the bright overcast light.

Gold leaves in the undergrowth glowed in the bright overcast light.

 Jane led the Gingerbread Oak Alley project.

Jane led the Gingerbread Oak Alley project.

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 Montgomery, Civil Rights Memorial by Maya Lin—it was so cold, they had had to turn the fountain off.

Montgomery, Civil Rights Memorial by Maya Lin—it was so cold, they had had to turn the fountain off.

 House across the street, January 17:  everything  stops here on a snow day.

House across the street, January 17: everything stops here on a snow day.

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 Sunlight magically captured by AUUF's steeple

Sunlight magically captured by AUUF's steeple

 "Festival of Lights," annual tradition in St. Augustine

"Festival of Lights," annual tradition in St. Augustine

 Castillo de San Marcos

Castillo de San Marcos

 Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College

Ponce de Leon Hotel, now Flagler College

 On the grounds of Fort Mosé Historic State Park and National Historic Landmark outside of St. Augustine: under Spanish rule, a haven for refugees from slavery in the British colonies

On the grounds of Fort Mosé Historic State Park and National Historic Landmark outside of St. Augustine: under Spanish rule, a haven for refugees from slavery in the British colonies

 St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum

St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum

 Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg—excellent docent-led tour

Salvador Dali Museum in St. Petersburg—excellent docent-led tour

 Reception area of the Retina Specialists of Alabama in Birmingham

Reception area of the Retina Specialists of Alabama in Birmingham

 We hosted another vigil on February 16 for the victims at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. The Fellowship has strong connections with the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

We hosted another vigil on February 16 for the victims at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. The Fellowship has strong connections with the Alabama chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.

 FDR's "Little White House" in Warm Springs, GA

FDR's "Little White House" in Warm Springs, GA

 Calloway Gardens

Calloway Gardens

 National Park Service Lowndes Interpretive Center—halfway between Selma and Montgomery

National Park Service Lowndes Interpretive Center—halfway between Selma and Montgomery

 Brown Chapel AME Church

Brown Chapel AME Church

 Edmund Pettus Bridge, heading toward downtown Selma

Edmund Pettus Bridge, heading toward downtown Selma

 National Voting Rights Museum, Selma

National Voting Rights Museum, Selma

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 Office, farm, and greenhouse of the Rural Studio are across the road from these design-build projects. Students built it all, including window frames and furniture.

Office, farm, and greenhouse of the Rural Studio are across the road from these design-build projects. Students built it all, including window frames and furniture.

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 We got a tour of projects in Newbern from staff member Natalie, along with another visitor.

We got a tour of projects in Newbern from staff member Natalie, along with another visitor.

 Antioch Baptist Church outside of Greensboro

Antioch Baptist Church outside of Greensboro

 Perry Lakes Park features a number of Rural Studio projects.

Perry Lakes Park features a number of Rural Studio projects.

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 Birdwatching tower

Birdwatching tower

 Martin Luther King was taken to this house in Greensboro when his life was threatened in Selma (a short drive away). Rural Studio designed its adaptation to history museum.

Martin Luther King was taken to this house in Greensboro when his life was threatened in Selma (a short drive away). Rural Studio designed its adaptation to history museum.

 Lions Park playscape created from metal barrels given to Rural Studio by a large company that would otherwise have paid to dispose of them in landfill. Students also used them to create a passive solar heat storage system for their greenhouse.

Lions Park playscape created from metal barrels given to Rural Studio by a large company that would otherwise have paid to dispose of them in landfill. Students also used them to create a passive solar heat storage system for their greenhouse.

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 Oscar's at the Museum—excellent lunch

Oscar's at the Museum—excellent lunch

 Ceiling installation over our table at the cafe: Untitled (Styrofoam Cups) by Tara Donovan

Ceiling installation over our table at the cafe: Untitled (Styrofoam Cups) by Tara Donovan

 Dale Chihuly, "Persian Wall"

Dale Chihuly, "Persian Wall"

 Sushi sauce dishes in the museum gift shop

Sushi sauce dishes in the museum gift shop

 Bodhisattva of Great Compassion

Bodhisattva of Great Compassion

 Rural Studio installation

Rural Studio installation

 "The children of Birmingham made an impact on the world": banners throughout the downtown area commemorate the Civil Rights movement.

"The children of Birmingham made an impact on the world": banners throughout the downtown area commemorate the Civil Rights movement.

 Azalea buds on my back porch

Azalea buds on my back porch

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 AUUF's campus from across the parking lot, toward East Thach

AUUF's campus from across the parking lot, toward East Thach

At Home in Opelika

A month ago I rode with a colleague to the South East Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association (SEUUMA) retreat at “The Mountain” in North Carolina. It was a long half-day drive with much pleasant conversation and a stop at a “Waffle House” for lunch. I had been curious about that chain since I got here, as I remembered hanging out at one with friends on the “Sojourn to the Past” trip ten years ago. When I looked it up online, I had found a very meat-laden lunch and dinner menu and had not returned. It happens that the breakfast menu option for hash browns with your choice of toppings suited me perfectly: I brought half of my “scattered, covered, & capped” hash browns home for supper.

As our talk turned to music, Mandy recommended a documentary to me that I had heard about several times before: Muscle Shoals. It is about a place in north-western Alabama famous for hosting many celebrity bands back in the day. As I enjoyed my leftover potatoes, cheese, & mushrooms, I sat back and cued it up on Netflix. I found myself surprised at the sense of familiarity I felt—with the music, certainly (“Brown Sugar” was recorded there, for example), but also with the place. I haven't visited that part of the state, but the landscape and culture in the film resonate with my experience here in the southeast corner. I feel the same kind of connection watching movies set in other places I've lived over the years: Wales, Normandy, Paris, Washington D.C.

When I decided to do this blog, I planned to reflect on things that are different from what I'm used to. Here are a few of them:

  • Ordering iced tea requires that you specify “sweetened or unsweetened.”
  • Most retail businesses have public restrooms—including thrift stores and supermarkets.
  • When I walk out the front door, squirrels and birds skitter for cover.
  • Children are raised to say “yes ma'am”; “no ma'am.”

  

I also want to share my appreciation for the opportunity to stretch my mind and heart, yet again, by making my home in a new place. I'm grateful for the chance to deconstruct the prejudice I had coming from somewhere else to live in the South. I've come to believe that the history of this region belongs to all Americans. It is certainly not what sit-coms of the 50s and 60s depicted. I find myself feeling offended by the mainstream contempt for Deep South culture and language. Late-night talk shows have been especially vicious recently about southerners, as though their regional accent denotes stupidity and wrongheadedness. I have found many who speak that way to be intelligent, kind, generous, responsible people, whose company I enjoy.

A few photo highlights below, from around town and from our road trips the past few months exploring the area. Still so much to see and learn!

 This area features many public parks to walk in. This is at the Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

This area features many public parks to walk in. This is at the Donald E. Davis Arboretum at Auburn University.

 Here I am at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham for the Women's March.

Here I am at Kelly Ingram Park in Birmingham for the Women's March.

 There were several people there from the fellowship I serve, and other UUs also in yellow shirts from the congregations in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

There were several people there from the fellowship I serve, and other UUs also in yellow shirts from the congregations in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

 She was part of the carpool caravan of Auburn University and Auburn UU Fellowship folks.

She was part of the carpool caravan of Auburn University and Auburn UU Fellowship folks.

 Group photos and lines for the porta-potties after the rally in the park and a march around the downtown. Crowd estimate around 5000.

Group photos and lines for the porta-potties after the rally in the park and a march around the downtown. Crowd estimate around 5000.

 Auburn Kroger's parking lot

Auburn Kroger's parking lot

 River Street, Savannah Peace Pole

River Street, Savannah Peace Pole

 Savannah is a very walkable city...

Savannah is a very walkable city...

 Colonial Period cemetery near our VRBO apartment.

Colonial Period cemetery near our VRBO apartment.

 The city is laid out with green spaces every few blocks. The park bench scene in  Forrest Gump  was filmed in one of them.

The city is laid out with green spaces every few blocks. The park bench scene in Forrest Gump was filmed in one of them.

 Some of the squares feature special monuments.

Some of the squares feature special monuments.

 A glimpse across the square of an installation called "Hot Pink" in the atrium lobby of the Jepson Center for the Arts, one of the Telfair Museums.

A glimpse across the square of an installation called "Hot Pink" in the atrium lobby of the Jepson Center for the Arts, one of the Telfair Museums.

 An example of "tabby," concrete with shells mixed in—we saw it everywhere.

An example of "tabby," concrete with shells mixed in—we saw it everywhere.

 Entrance to A-J's Dockside Restaurant on Tybee Island

Entrance to A-J's Dockside Restaurant on Tybee Island

 I'm sure we'd have dined outdoors if it hadn't been raining.

I'm sure we'd have dined outdoors if it hadn't been raining.

 Stopped on the way home in Macon to visit the Tubman Museum.

Stopped on the way home in Macon to visit the Tubman Museum.

 Souvenir from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike

Souvenir from the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike

 Part of a large mural

Part of a large mural

 Late afternoon walk at Town Creek Park in Auburn

Late afternoon walk at Town Creek Park in Auburn

 On a neighborhood walk in Opelika

On a neighborhood walk in Opelika

 Dogwoods everywhere!

Dogwoods everywhere!

 Chapel at Calloway Gardens

Chapel at Calloway Gardens

 The region is known for its azaleas.

The region is known for its azaleas.

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 Pond at the Arboretum

Pond at the Arboretum

 Interior of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

Interior of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta

 For some reason, I find dogwoods highly photogenic.

For some reason, I find dogwoods highly photogenic.

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 Here's one blooming in front of my apartment.

Here's one blooming in front of my apartment.

 Annual event hosted by the International Women for Peace and Understanding, a multicultural interfaith group founded after 911 by members of AUUF and others. Members provided a variety of home-cooked traditional dishes.

Annual event hosted by the International Women for Peace and Understanding, a multicultural interfaith group founded after 911 by members of AUUF and others. Members provided a variety of home-cooked traditional dishes.

 "Meditation Rock" at "The Mountain Retreat & Conference Center"—an ever-changing, always breathtaking view. The woods here are full of rhododendrons growing wild—none yet blooming.

"Meditation Rock" at "The Mountain Retreat & Conference Center"—an ever-changing, always breathtaking view. The woods here are full of rhododendrons growing wild—none yet blooming.

 Back yard of the duplex very pleasant for Wayne's May visit

Back yard of the duplex very pleasant for Wayne's May visit

 When the dogwoods finish blooming, there are plenty of other things to brighten the landscape.

When the dogwoods finish blooming, there are plenty of other things to brighten the landscape.

 Gardenias sweeten the Fellowship's parking lot.

Gardenias sweeten the Fellowship's parking lot.

 Calloway Gardens Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Trail

Calloway Gardens Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Trail

 Parked near our VRBO apartment in Charleston

Parked near our VRBO apartment in Charleston

 Visitors assist with ceremonial flag-raising at Fort Sumter, on a manmade island built on a sand bar in Charleston Harbor after the War of 1812. The ranger gave an inspiring homily lifting up American values and honoring the contributions of immigrants.

Visitors assist with ceremonial flag-raising at Fort Sumter, on a manmade island built on a sand bar in Charleston Harbor after the War of 1812. The ranger gave an inspiring homily lifting up American values and honoring the contributions of immigrants.

 Eggplant fritters at "Five Loaves." 

Eggplant fritters at "Five Loaves." 

 At the entrance to the grounds of Drayton Hall—we were told people sometimes don't know better than to have their children pose for photos next to an alligator. "They eat children!"

At the entrance to the grounds of Drayton Hall—we were told people sometimes don't know better than to have their children pose for photos next to an alligator. "They eat children!"

 Fascinating tour of an old building being "stabilized" rather than restored: a different approach to historic preservation. The docent was excellent—a retired history teacher.

Fascinating tour of an old building being "stabilized" rather than restored: a different approach to historic preservation. The docent was excellent—a retired history teacher.

 Ground level basement, which housed the kitchen and some of the enslaved laborers 

Ground level basement, which housed the kitchen and some of the enslaved laborers 

 When we walked past it on the way back to our apartment, one of the kitties ran up to the window and greeted us. I think they must be lonesome when the cafe is closed.

When we walked past it on the way back to our apartment, one of the kitties ran up to the window and greeted us. I think they must be lonesome when the cafe is closed.

 Trying out the "joggling board" in front of Hyman's Seafood

Trying out the "joggling board" in front of Hyman's Seafood

 A moment of silence on the quiet street in front of Mother Emanuel AME Church 

A moment of silence on the quiet street in front of Mother Emanuel AME Church 

 Who can say no to ice cream "created in fellowship"?

Who can say no to ice cream "created in fellowship"?

 Outside kitchen entrance to AUUF—made me laugh aloud!

Outside kitchen entrance to AUUF—made me laugh aloud!

 One magnolia blossom among many in my neighborhood

One magnolia blossom among many in my neighborhood

 Opelika walk sunset

Opelika walk sunset

Cuba

I spent an hour in the supermarket yesterday, and was struck again by the contrast with what we saw in Cuba. As I sipped an early afternoon cup of milky Starbucks coffee, it felt warm and cozy to be roaming the aisles, perusing the cold wall of yogurt selections, the stacks of canned goods, the rows of spices and condiments, the festival of colors in the produce section. The familiar environment and routine of grocery shopping helped numb the waves of distress I've been feeling since the election.

When we first arrived in Camagüey, our bus was stuck behind a truck unloading bags of sugar for a provechos (provisions) shop in a very narrow street. This gave our guide, Yanet, an opportunity to tell us about food distribution as we watched and waited.The system in Cuba is so different from ours, I'm not sure I've completely grasped how it works. Each neighborhood is supplied with basic goods according to the needs of the population: from the perspective of our commerce-based system, we would call it “rationing.” Healthy adults, for example, have less milk assigned to them so that children and pregnant women will get as much as they need.

One shop provides chicken, fish, dairy, and eggs (it has refrigeration); another has sugar, beans, rice, bread, spaghetti, and cooking oil. Provechos distributors are government run, and the people who work there receive salaries. There are also street vendors offering fruits and vegetables they have bought at a central market where farmers bring their produce. These are not assigned, and the sellers earn profits from them.

Education and health care are high priorities in Cuba. All Cubans are entitled to the health care they need and as much education as their abilities warrant. Despite the country's relatively low standard of living, these systems compare favorably with those in “developed” nations such as our own.

Those who attend university pay for it by spending two or three years in community service roles after they graduate. Sports (especially baseball) and the arts receive government support. The cost of attending games and performances is minimal, since players and artists receive salaries. In the short time we were there, we saw three dance companies in rehearsal, toured a music conservatory (high-school), visited numerous private galleries, and enjoyed live music at nearly every meal (well, except breakfast).

People in Cuba live more simply than we do; of course, the tropical climate helps. Also, being there raised my awareness of the cultural conditioning we have here to always want more. “Consumer confidence”counts as a measure of success in the context of the American economic system. Now it seems to me a euphemism for acquisitiveness. Because so many Americans are one health crisis away from losing everything, it makes sense that we would feel anxious about “stocking up.”

Yanet gave a little homily toward the end of our trip about how Cubans don't worry so much about what they don't have, but appreciate what they do have. I try to imagine what it must be like not to worry about health care, education, or shelter (all managed and distributed by the government). And I try to imagine how it could free my spirit to be relieved of wanting, saving, getting, and spending. If this kind of liberation is possible, I would much prefer it to the emotional numbness and fleeting pleasure of shopping!

 On our first morning, we were transported in a fleet of "bici-taxis" decorated by local artists to visit several galleries.

On our first morning, we were transported in a fleet of "bici-taxis" decorated by local artists to visit several galleries.

 There was one of Jiménez's sculptures in our hotel lobby, "Santa Maria," and we saw many other works by her around town.

There was one of Jiménez's sculptures in our hotel lobby, "Santa Maria," and we saw many other works by her around town.

 Conservatory of music housed in former leper hospital. Sounds of practicing, and there was a performance for us on strange bamboo instruments from Indonesia.

Conservatory of music housed in former leper hospital. Sounds of practicing, and there was a performance for us on strange bamboo instruments from Indonesia.

 A family of artists. Their home is also a gallery, not unusual.

A family of artists. Their home is also a gallery, not unusual.

 The hotel has an elevator :-)

The hotel has an elevator :-)

 Patriarch of the Casanova family of painters and potters, demonstrating his work on the wheel. Their home/studio has a courtyard chapel open to the community. Our host gave a little homily on the importance of love.

Patriarch of the Casanova family of painters and potters, demonstrating his work on the wheel. Their home/studio has a courtyard chapel open to the community. Our host gave a little homily on the importance of love.

 Casanovas' pet turtles sunning themselves under a tree

Casanovas' pet turtles sunning themselves under a tree

 We sang "Oklahoma" while riding in our carriage

We sang "Oklahoma" while riding in our carriage

 We paid a visit to the cottage of a retired worker, where we were served cane juice, cookies, & coffee

We paid a visit to the cottage of a retired worker, where we were served cane juice, cookies, & coffee

 Primary school across the way

Primary school across the way

 Breakfast room of our Camagūey hotel had stained glass featuring scenes of the city

Breakfast room of our Camagūey hotel had stained glass featuring scenes of the city

 Arriving at the hotel for her quinceañera (15th birthday party)

Arriving at the hotel for her quinceañera (15th birthday party)

 Rubik's cube of cucumber, watermelon, and cheese

Rubik's cube of cucumber, watermelon, and cheese

 Two Remedios neighborhoods compete during Las Parrandas festival, Christmas Eve. The artist we were visiting is a partisan of the rooster neighborhood (San Salvador), but has been engaged by the hawks (El Carmen) to design their light displays and floats this year. We were sworn to secrecy when we visited the warehouse where construction was happening.

Two Remedios neighborhoods compete during Las Parrandas festival, Christmas Eve. The artist we were visiting is a partisan of the rooster neighborhood (San Salvador), but has been engaged by the hawks (El Carmen) to design their light displays and floats this year. We were sworn to secrecy when we visited the warehouse where construction was happening.

 Our hotel front door marks the border between the two rival neighborhoods

Our hotel front door marks the border between the two rival neighborhoods

 "Finca Luna"—farm lodging & restaurant

"Finca Luna"—farm lodging & restaurant

 Their cat, Felix

Their cat, Felix

 Musicians always welcomed guest participation

Musicians always welcomed guest participation

 Our guide, Yanet, on the bus

Our guide, Yanet, on the bus

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  We visited the home of a Santería priestess.  Urns, perhaps

We visited the home of a Santería priestess. Urns, perhaps

 Ceiling

Ceiling

 Holocaust museum in the foyer

Holocaust museum in the foyer

 Synagogue, also dance rehearsal space

Synagogue, also dance rehearsal space

  Lynn had many opportunities to play along with the acc  ordio  n she had brought with her to Cuba

Lynn had many opportunities to play along with the accordion she had brought with her to Cuba

 Staghorn ferns obviously like the Cuban climate 

Staghorn ferns obviously like the Cuban climate 

 View from our Hotel Nacional room

View from our Hotel Nacional room

 Public art in Old Havana—the barbers' neighborhood

Public art in Old Havana—the barbers' neighborhood

 An elders' day center

An elders' day center

 Carlos, relaxing on a play structure at the Barber's Park, said his mother gave him the shirt

Carlos, relaxing on a play structure at the Barber's Park, said his mother gave him the shirt

 Yanet telling us a story about this sculpture

Yanet telling us a story about this sculpture

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 We were asked not to take photos in the studio of Martha Jiménez, but in the courtyard she had a friendly cockatiel. 

We were asked not to take photos in the studio of Martha Jiménez, but in the courtyard she had a friendly cockatiel. 

 All the pieces in this studio were made of leather—tobacco leaf shapes with faces on them, sea-horses, humidors for cigars...

All the pieces in this studio were made of leather—tobacco leaf shapes with faces on them, sea-horses, humidors for cigars...

 These reminded us of the "Green Man"

These reminded us of the "Green Man"

 We saw this artist's cat faces in more than one mural (see below)

We saw this artist's cat faces in more than one mural (see below)

 They were proud of the 18th-century wall between them and their neighbor.

They were proud of the 18th-century wall between them and their neighbor.

 This is a "Tinajón de Camagūey," symbol of the town and the province—used to collect rain water draining off the roof

This is a "Tinajón de Camagūey," symbol of the town and the province—used to collect rain water draining off the roof

 Representing the living fence posts seen along the rural roads everywhere

Representing the living fence posts seen along the rural roads everywhere

 Jorge drove our conveyance at the King Ranch wearing a Millennium Falcon t-shirt 

Jorge drove our conveyance at the King Ranch wearing a Millennium Falcon t-shirt 

 Residents of the workers' village used to gather here to watch TV. Now, they have TVs in their homes.

Residents of the workers' village used to gather here to watch TV. Now, they have TVs in their homes.

 Her bathroom

Her bathroom

 Hens apparently like cane husks

Hens apparently like cane husks

 King Ranch Bed & Breakfast wing

King Ranch Bed & Breakfast wing

 A roadside rest stop

A roadside rest stop

 Artist's studio in Remedios

Artist's studio in Remedios

 Just a beautiful wall

Just a beautiful wall

 Visit to the "Driver's Cafe," where they did not have enough glassware to serve all of us, but we got rides in these amazing cars!

Visit to the "Driver's Cafe," where they did not have enough glassware to serve all of us, but we got rides in these amazing cars!

 Another roadside rest—some had ice cream, some had mojitos

Another roadside rest—some had ice cream, some had mojitos

 "The party exists only for the people and by the people."

"The party exists only for the people and by the people."

 Another family of artist-farmer-musician-entrepreneurs

Another family of artist-farmer-musician-entrepreneurs

 Coffee plants, a small zoo, sculptures, tropical landscape

Coffee plants, a small zoo, sculptures, tropical landscape

 One of a number of peafowl and a tinajón—though not in Camagūey

One of a number of peafowl and a tinajón—though not in Camagūey

 A very old baseball stadium, with young players at practice

A very old baseball stadium, with young players at practice

 View from resort hotel

View from resort hotel

 Havana

Havana

 Lunch in a lovely modernist courtyard, followed by music, dancing, and a game of dominoes 

Lunch in a lovely modernist courtyard, followed by music, dancing, and a game of dominoes 

 Beautiful stainless steel flatware

Beautiful stainless steel flatware

 More modernist architecture in this neighborhood

More modernist architecture in this neighborhood

 Aquarium in a Havana restaurant

Aquarium in a Havana restaurant

 Not everyone has a cell phone

Not everyone has a cell phone

 Dominoes in the middle of the street

Dominoes in the middle of the street

 Singing "Guantanamera" with the folks at the day center accompanied by Lynn on her accordion 

Singing "Guantanamera" with the folks at the day center accompanied by Lynn on her accordion 

 Very old city wall monument

Very old city wall monument

 Tall buildings close together provide shade 

Tall buildings close together provide shade 

 Wise women set up to offer advice on the plaza

Wise women set up to offer advice on the plaza

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 Campaign against domestic violence

Campaign against domestic violence

 Havana skyline, from the bus

Havana skyline, from the bus

 Saturday seems to be laundry day.

Saturday seems to be laundry day.

 Spent some time in the flea market on our last day in Havana

Spent some time in the flea market on our last day in Havana

 Just resting

Just resting

 Hotel Nacional lobby

Hotel Nacional lobby

 Hotel meeting room ceiling

Hotel meeting room ceiling

 Foyer of our farewell dinner restaurant

Foyer of our farewell dinner restaurant

 More lovely flatware

More lovely flatware

 Some of our new riends listening to the restaurant owner's story

Some of our new riends listening to the restaurant owner's story

 Very early call time the next morning for our flight back to Miami

Very early call time the next morning for our flight back to Miami

Settling in...

I've been here over a month now, and I miss my California home, friends and family! My project this week has been to furnish the guest room, and I hope it will be used often—please come!

People here say that the weather has been unusual for the region, and that there should be more rain. It's rained only once since I arrived, and had not rained for several weeks before. Folks here experience this as a “drought.” News lately has reported a number of wildfires around the state due to unusually dry conditions.

I've been spending a lot of time shopping for my home in Opelika. So far I've visited three different Goodwill stores in Atlanta, and one in Opelika several times. It is next door to an Asian grocery store, serving a population of immigrant families who, I'm told, come to work in nearby factories such as the Kia factory just over the Georgia state line.

Opelika has a charming historic downtown, which looks to be enjoying a period of economic growth. It is a short walk from my home—a mid-century duplex unit—to the downtown shops and restaurants. Taking any route, you find either a church or a historic mansion on just about every corner. Most of the churches occupy large properties with several buildings and electronic signboards. The neighborhood is blessedly quiet at night, except for trains passing through in the distance every few hours.

The Fellowship I serve has been extremely gracious and welcoming, and I'm very much appreciating that it is part of my job to sit and chat with each and every person. I've also enjoyed meeting people outside of the congregation, including members of the Auburn Clergy Association, my landlord, and a local realtor I got acquainted with during my housing search. Her husband happens to be an architect, and she told me about Frank Lloyd Wright's “Inn at Price Tower” in Bartlesville, OK, where Wayne & I stayed one night on our way here.

My expectations were murky at best, and I have been surprised by a number of things I've discovered about this part of the world. Auburn is a relatively small city, but as a university town it has many of the cultural amenities I'm used to enjoying in the Bay Area. Being spoiled by our Hetch Hetchy water supply, I did not expect the tap water to taste as good as it does here. The two Kroger's supermarkets and the Target store look pretty much like their California counterparts, so I'm not in danger of lacking any familiar commodities. The clientele at the Trader Joe's in Atlanta look exactly like folks you could meet in the Emeryville store (until you hear them speak), and it's located in a upscale neighborhood near a beautiful green space. There are bike lanes. There is birdsong. There is fresh-roasted coffee. Craft beer pubs are quite popular.

So these are some initial impressions. I look forward to digging a little deeper and learning more—heck, I haven't even explored the historic downtown in Auburn!

 Photo from welcome party

Photo from welcome party

 Morning shadows

Morning shadows

 Courthouse Square commemorates Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Courthouse Square commemorates Breast Cancer Awareness Month

 Visit from a (well fed) neighbor

Visit from a (well fed) neighbor

Alabama Bound!

As I prepare to relocate across the country to serve a congregation in Auburn, Alabama, I wanted to create a space to stay in touch with friends and family, and especially to reflect on experiences of being in a new (to me) place. This road trip marks the beginning of what I hope will be a several-years-long career in transitional ministry, moving every couple of years or so to serve a Unitarian Universalist congregation as it works through the tasks of adapting to changes in leadership. 

The blog name, "Taking off Shoes," is inspired by the Max Warren quote at the bottom of the page, epigraph for an essay on cultural borrowing in the UU World by the late Rev. Marjorie Bowens-Wheatly. The banner photo, taken by Wayne outside of the jumpy-house at our recent neighborhood block party, offers a sweet metaphorical frame for cultural humility in an unfamiliar context: we do our best to avoid injuring our fellow travelers as we hop and cavort and leap and learn how gravity operates with norms different from what we're used to.

Feel free to sing along!

Our first task in approaching another people, another culture is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we find ourselves treading on another’s dream. More serious still, we may forget, that God was there before our arrival. ~Max Warren, British Missionary Statesman