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If T.S. Eliot had lived down here with the rest of us, he would have written:  “April is the cruelest month, breeding dung beetles out of dead numbers.”  But Eliot had moved to England, where intellectuals don’t deal with such mundane issues as income taxes.  Taxes always send me into a funk.  I find the language baffling and the work paralyzing.  Tax prep triggers procrastination of the highest order, and procrastination simply prolongs the pain.

March is actually the worst month.  In March you must assemble the numbers that will go off to the accountant to be fleshed into a dead tree of a document that will go to the IRS.  Unless you live in Australia, of course.  Australians do most everything at odds with the rest of the world, including creating their own tax year– June 30 – July 1.  Taxes are due at the end of October.

I’m happy to say that the task is behind me.  I can enjoy the onset of Spring, the beautiful white blossoms and the greening of the city without the tax cloud overhead.  Although I have become accustomed to our nomadic life, sometimes I really miss Melbourne.  Two weeks ago there was an event that I would love to have witnessed, although I may not have gathered up the courage to actually participate– a nude cycle.  Melbourne’s turnout of 130 was small compared to London’s gathering of two thousand, but it is a respectable showing for a somewhat prudish country

A couple of newlyweds were on hand for a memorable wedding album.  “Looking down Bourke Street there was no doubt about the cause of the commotion: a wall of cyclists was headed their way, most wearing nothing more than helmet, shoes and body paint. This was the Melbourne leg of the World Naked Bike Ride, an annual bring-your-own-cause protest to raise awareness about issues as diverse as body image, pacifism, genetically modified food and carbon reduction.”

“It’s sort of an all-encompassing green, hippie, sun-loving attitude,” said event organiser Heidi Hill. Ms Hill said that in recent years the main message of the event has been taken over by “biketivists” — cycling activists — whose aim is to raise awareness about the dangers of cycling. As the message on one rider’s back read: “Now you can bloody see us.”

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William Preston Few, who began his academic career as an English professor in 1896 and climbed the ladder to its highest rung, must have thought he had died and gone to heaven.  The cigarette king, James Buchanan Duke, had decided to give his tiny college forty million dollars.  The year was 1924.  Trinity College would soon be Duke University.

One April day in 1925, the two went for a walk in hopes of finding a suitable site for the new construction that would be possible with such an endowment.  Ambling along a plateau full of pines, gums, hickories and oaks, “Buck” Duke paused and said:  “Here’s where it ought to be.”  He had selected the site for the chapel, a gothic building that would dominate all the surrounding buildings.

Five years in the planning and two years in construction, the ecumenical Christian chapel would be the last of the original buildings to be completed on the West campus.  The cornerstone was laid on October 22, 1930.  It was first used at the commencement ceremony of 1932.  Inspired by English gothic, the designer selected for the project was Julian Abele, America’s first African-American architect of note.

The Dukes were Methodists, but Buck envisioned the chapel as the center of religion for all the students who would be attending the growing school.  He told his friend Few that “the edifice would be bound to have a profound influence on the spiritual life of the young men and women who come here.”  The “great towering church” was one of the last great collegiate gothic projects in this country.  It was completed at a cost of 2.3 million dollars.

The stats are impressive.  At 210 feet (64 meters) the Duke Chapel is still one of the tallest buildings in Durham country. It seats 1,800 people, has a fifty-bell carillon and three pipe organs. It is mainly constructed of local stone quarried from Hillsborough, not far from Durham.  Following the typical Duke fashion of vertical integration that he pioneered in the tobacco business, Duke bought the quarry in order to insure a good supply of stone at the right price.

Like many churches, the Chapel is a cruciform, with a nave that measures 291 feet (89m) 63 feet wide (19m) and 73 feet (22m) high.  There are 77 stained-glass windows designed and constructed from over a million pieces of glass, much of it imported from England, France and Belgium.  There are at least eight hundred figures represented in scenes from the Old and New Testaments.  Check out the rest of my photos by clicking any picture running alongside this text, or do your own search of Duke Memorial Chapel on Flickr.

We were fortunate enough to hear one of the organs during our visit.  William Preston Few and James Buchanan Duke are buried in the crypt, together with Washington Duke and Buck’s brother, Benjamin.  Two other Presidents of the University are interred there as well.  Terry Sanford, who was the sixth President of Duke, a US Senator and Governor of North Carolina, may be the most illustrious citizen of the pantheon.

It is a beautiful church, a stunning memorial to the Duke family and a testament of their concern for the religious education of the students.  It is too bad that it was built on the backs of farmers who worked tobacco fields and the millions of young men and women who took up smoking and ended their lives with nicotine-stained fingers.


I know it is unlikely that you will read this, Mr. Smash and Grab Man, but I have no other avenue of communication.  You may not be able to read at all.  Perhaps that is the reason you broke the window of my car and snatched my GPS while I was fast asleep.  You were looking for someone who could talk, give directions, do blindingly quick calculations on the spur of the moment.  You didn’t realize what a fallible creature she is.

I, too, have been lost in the middle of the night, desperate to find my way from A to B.  In Hong Kong, my wife and I went in circles for two hours trying to reach the Ladies Recreation Club for some event or other.  I finally parked the car in Central and we took a taxi.  The first time I tried to find Dorval airport in Montreal I got so frustrated I nearly cried.  I could see the planes landing, but I could not see a way to get to the airport.

I fell for the GPS crutch when we moved to Melbourne. I was tired of getting lost on my infrequent forays into the city and it seemed like the eyes in the sky would extricate me from the geographical challenges of driving on the wrong side of the road in a new city.  When we came to North America at Christmas, I succumbed again.  They were going cheap, and I did have the excuse of the upcoming trip to North Carolina.  But the tri-city area threw the GPS for a loop.  I had almost given up on its directions, guessing my way from here to there with the limited navigational sense I possess.

Perhaps you have pawned it or sold it on the street for a fraction of its value.  That’s what happens to most of them, from what I understand. That is what the cop told me.  These are hard times, and they are the bling of the auto world.

I do resent the assault on the car.  She is an elderly beast, fifteen now, whatever that is in car years. We bought her in the Philippines.  An Australian had ordered it from the Volvo factory in Denmark, believing he could have the steering shifted to the right side before he returned home.  His miscalculation allowed us to snap up a good car at an excellent price.

We took it up to see the rice terraces of Banaue and down to Puerta Galera for snorkeling, and threw a kayak on top to boat on Lake Taal. One arduous trip it took twelve hours to go two hundred kilometers.  One road was so bad we had to get out and walk behind the Volvo.  Our driver was pleased. He didn’t often get to kick us out of our car.

We had it shipped when we moved back to North America. They coated it with cheap wax and secured to the deck of a ship.  It survived heat, humidity, awful roads, fierce cold, salt and ice, filthy dogs, sick cats, and a teenage driver, not to mention the potholes. It carried us from DC down to Florida, back up to Nova Scotia and down the East coast once again. Despite some problems, it has been a good car.  It didn’t deserve that smashed window.

Maybe you kept the GPS, maybe not.  She’s bossy, you know, and her constant recalculating can get on your nerves. It is never too late to get some new directions.  Otherwise, sooner or later, your sense of orientation may lead directly to prison with no “get out of jail free” card.

If you ever feel like apologizing, I’m around.  Aunt Gerry will know where to find me.  Just tell her to go “home.”



Most North American cities have been decimated by the surrender of public space to the automobile, the rise of suburbs and the spread of the big box stores.  Durham,  North Carolina is no exception.  You can walk the downtown in the middle of a working day and wonder if the city is inhabited.  There are no people in the streets.  Then you spot a restaurant with patrons inside and it dawns on you that all is not as it seems.  There are signs of life, signs of urban renewal.  There are condo conversions in the works and people are moving back to the city’s core.  Thanks to the tobacco business, Durham was always a blue collar town, but those jobs have all moved on.  Ironically, the spectacular redevelopment called the “American Tobacco Campus” doesn’t allow smoking.

To learn a little more about this revival and sample some of offerings of the restaurants that have sprouted in the city in recent years, we signed up for a Taste of Carolina walking tour of Durham.  Joe and his partner, Lesley, are unabashed food junkies who are enthusiastic about the restaurants, farm markets and food makers in the tri-cities area.  On this particular Saturday, they are assisted by Dean, director of training for a wine distributor.  We meet nine other foodies from North Carolina and elsewhere outside the old Bull Durham building, adjacent to the new Performing Arts Center and the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.

We are soon on our way to “Toast,” a cosy, Italian inspired sandwich place.  It’s packed on this Saturday afternoon.  We squeeze around a handful of empty tables and are soon enjoying our first repast, a spicy lentil dish and goat cheese on toast.  It is delicious.  Our next stop is a spacious, combination gourmet food store/ cafe called “Parker and Otis,” jam- packed with foodstuffs and wine.

It is not far from Brightleaf Square, the first successful renovation of a tobacco warehouse complex in the area.  From there, we make our way down to a lovely restaurant near the farm market called “Piedmont”, named after this particular part of North Carolina.  Shrimp and minced clam on the half shell arrive at our tables, an introduction to their Mediterranean-inspired menu.

“LocoPops” is an intriguing start-up, launched four years ago by a Southern girl named Summer looking to escape from the corporate world.  She was inspired by two women in a Mexican craft shop to go south of the border, where she learned to make popsicles.  That was the beginning of a gourmet popsicle business, which has expanded rapidly, now boasting five locations in the tri-city area.  The popsicles come in water-base and cream-base flavors, and mind-bending combinations.  Wasabi and chocolate chip would seem to collide, but when you allow your taste buds to override the critical left brain, it is amazing what flavors can work together.

The next-to-last stop was one of the pioneers in the new wave of Durham’s downtown restaurants, “Rue Cler”.  It was inspired by the street in Paris bearing the same name, a market street not far from the Eiffel Tower.  We enjoy a respite from walking, our first glass of wine and a delicious salad.  When we leave, our group threads its way through one of the huge parking garages that litters the city and we gradually make our way back to where we started.

“Tyler’s Taproom” is located in the American Tobacco Campus complex.  Its specialty is tap beer from small, craft producers.  There are sixty to choose from, so a lot of the fun is reading through the extensive menu.  Joe is generous to a fault, and I enjoy a full glass of Belgian beer after the sample glass included as part of the tour.

In our afternoon of wandering, we have skipped over some of the city’s renowned restaurants, but it has been an eclectic introduction graced with southern hospitality.  If it takes restaurants to revive a city, I’ll do my best to help them out. Whenever and wherever I can, I’ll walk or take my bike.

How else can you work up an appetite?


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