Wednesday, October 10, 2007

N.C. Vacation + Philip Roth + Heartbreaking Gators Loss

Scribe Life has been on hiatus recently because the Scribe Life family has been on vacation. We left Tampa on Tuesday, and returned Sunday night. Thanks to a wounded A/C system, the temperature inside our house was 102 degrees upon our return.

We took another fall trip to the mountains of Western North Carolina, a place so overrun with Floridians that that phenomenon is a running joke. Guess it's in my genes -- when I was a kid, our most popular family vacation destinations were 1)Anna Maria Island, back when it was a cheap enough destination for even the family of a public-school teacher/administrator and a nurse; and 2)Western North Carolina.

This time, my wife and I, and our son and daughter went online and booked a great vacation cabin located in the Cedar Mountain area, about equidistant between Hendersonville and Brevard, N.C. The place was just large enough for a family of four, with a bedroom downstairs and an upstairs loft with two beds for the kids. The small living room has a fireplace and cathedral ceilings, and adjoins to the open dining/kitchen area. Nicely done with wood floors, and -- get this -- it's a prefab home. Comfy enough, although not sure how well it would hold up in a Florida-style storm.

The vacation cabin and the owners' home are located on an umpteen-acre lot with a trout pond -- we caught two trouts, about 4 lbs each, and two small perch. We cooked and ate the trout; great tasting, and as fresh as it gets. The kids and I (but not mom) took a LONG trail hike on the property -- the path led to some great views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and, finally, a little bridge across a small creek. Dad was huffing and puffing on the way back, and mom was a little freaked out that the hike took us more than two hours -- hey, you can't hurry nature ... or human nature.

During our trip, we also visited Dupont State Forest, and took trails to two beautiful falls -- Hooker Falls and Triple Falls. I knew that we would be a little bit too early for the peak leaf-peeping experience, but the timing worked well last week, so we went. The leaves were just beginning to turn, with a few reds, oranges and yellows mixed in with the green foliage. The previous week, the temps dropped down to the 40s, but when we were there, the lows were in the 60s, highs in the 70s -- not the blast of cool air that I was expecting but still a nice break from the never-ending 80s in Florida.

More? We went to Asheville, which strikes me as a VERY livable N.C. city. while there, we went to the Farmer's Market, and wandered around the downtown stores. We did the same in a couple other, much smaller mountain towns -- Brevard, where it as hard to pull the kids out of the large and crammed-to-the-gills O.P. Taylor's toy store; and Hendersonville, where the Mast General Store was a highlight.

On our last day there (the day of that long hike), we stayed put on the property, just hanging out. I read Philip Roth's recently published Everyman, a beautifully written (of course) but phenomenally depressing novel by one of America's greatest living writers, a category I'd also reserve for Norman Mailer,* John Updike, Toni Morrison and possibly Joyce Carol Oates.

*(So sad that illness forced the cancellation of Mailer's planned visit to the Tampa area this month; consolation prize is that the first Mailer journal is being launched by the USF English department in association with the Norman Mailer Society. The editor is one of my English profs at USF, Phillip Sipiora, and he's being assisted by my former classmates Ray Vince and Constance Holmes.)

Back to Everyman: It takes the form of a memoir, opening with the funeral of a once-powerful NY advertising executive and then taking readers of a guided tour of the health-related indignities and painful regrets he experiences during the latter part of his life, with lots of detours for flashbacks. Despite the lively, often profound writing, it's something of an extended bummer, with the protagonist describing (and attempting to justify) the pain and suffering he brought to loved ones -- abandoned wives and children -- essentially due to his own self-centeredness. I found one passage hard to remove from my brain: "Old age isn't a battle, it's a massacre," referring to the multiple ways by which your body betrays you as you age. It's the absolute truth, I think.

Roth's goal with the book, as he said during an interview for Spiegel magazine: "To tell the story of a man's life through his illness -- through the physical threats to his life. The narrative line would be dictated by the history of his illnesses. I thought of other books about illness. You might imagine there'd be a lot. There aren't. There's the famous "Magic Mountain" by Thomas Mann, there's "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" by Tolstoy, and Solzhenitsyn's "Cancer Ward", which is a wonderful book. Beyond that, there are very few that I know of where illness is the central subject."

After the reading, the long hike and dinner (a second evening's meal of trout), we caught some college football - nice to see FSU's team starting to turn around (even though, you know, natural law requires me to hate the 'Noles), but HEARTBREAKING for this lifelong Gator to deal with the so-close loss to LSU. I never thought we had the game in the bag, but for almost the entire game it looked like the ninth-ranked Gators were going to knock off the top-ranked Tigers, and would actually have a shot at a repeat national championship. But ... not gonna happen: The Tigers, I must say, are extraordinarily well-coached, and I would bet cash that they will play in the BCS title game this year. Two near-misses, and two losses, two weeks in a row, for the Gators. I agree with Urban Meyer -- this Gator team, so dominated by sophomores and freshman, is gonna be back and smokin', if not season then certainly next year. And Tebow is bound to get a Heisman before it's all over.

As for USF -- really great to see my hometown college team, and the place where I received my English M.A., get some long overdue national attention. But No. 5? I'd call that a strong team that also got very lucky, in terms of all the higher-ranked teams unexpectedly crashing and burning over the last two weeks. But, hey, wanna talk strength of schedule? Here's hoping they keep winning, and that the other top 15 teams (except, of course, my Gators) keep getting knocked off.

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