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Ever the dutiful Canadians, we returned to Nova Scotia for the Canadian Thanksgiving holiday this year.  If you haven’t read any of the posts I have written of late, you can read about why and when the holiday is celebrated in the great white North in “First Frost.”

It is very different down here in Durham.  There are great piles of golden leaves scattered across the lawns, but there are colorful leaves still clinging to the trees.  Fall is a beautiful time of year here and it seems to last forever. American Thanksgiving has come upon us like a Macy’s parade, with much fanfare and advance publicity.

The day after Thanksgiving triggers the frenzy of Christmas shopping, of course, but Thanksgiving itself celebrates family gathering and food.  We seem to think the holiday is a license to stuff ourselves after we have stuffed the turkey. In the days when our Nova Scotia house was built, the holiday itself would have required a great deal of food gathering. Those days are long gone and the entire holiday season can now be weighted with the freight of gourmand guilt.

The turkey is an indigenous animal, although the wild turkey is so wary and elusive it seems like a distant relative to the huge birds in the supermarket.  Barbara Kingsolver spent months trying to interest her young turkeys in sex.  The miracle referred to in “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” is the natural insemination and hatching of a handful of chicks. Now that artificial insemination has become the norm, the species seems to have lost all interest in sex.  The male who showed the most interested in reproduction imprinted on her husband’s leg. I have never eaten a wild turkey, but we did have one that was capable of walking in the farmyard.  They are not such a rarity in Nova Scotia.

For the last few weeks here in Durham, the temperature has been fluctuating a fair bit, but yesterday it hovered around 60 degrees F in the afternoon (15.5 degrees C).  I’m going to risk the wrath of my Canadian readers by admitting to a luxurious indulgence that will be hard to come by up North.  My wife and I went swimming– in an outdoor pool. The water temperature was 80 degrees F (about 26.6 C).  The Duke Faculty Club lap pool open stays open until the middle of next week, so if any of you are desperate…..

The long Fall here in North Carolina is absolutely lovely, but the days are getting short and we are running out of our allotted time.  The blog should pick up steam again in January.  We’re heading for a place I haven’t been in forty years, back when bell bottoms were in fashion, the Beatles were breaking up and the Rolling Stones did free concerts.

Stay tuned for your ever faithful reporter, writing from London.


One of the pleasures and plagues of academic life is a plethora of conferences (how’s that for alliteration.)  Like  food pictures in gourmet magazines, these gatherings inevitably promise more than they deliver.  But when my wife asked me if I would drive her to Washington, DC for yet another conference, I didn’t put up much of a protest.

We had friends who had offered to accommodate us  and even have dinner on the table when we arrived.  I could see my old physician, get together with a friend I haven’t seen in six years, and revisit old haunts.  Our sabbatical rental here in Durham includes an ancient little Toyota, but I hesitated to take that on the road for a journey that would take at least eight hours.  DC is the Eastern equivalent of Los Angeles.  Traffic can turn nasty while you are tuning in the radio.

The rental agent had just the thing for the trip, the automotive equal of a cabin cruiser, a Mercury Grand Marquis.  It was a Sunday afternoon and everything was going smoothly until about an hour outside of DC.  Then all those cars congealed, like fat coming off a sausage.  Half an hour later we crept passed the fender bender that had triggered it all.

In between Manila and Gainesville, we lived in Washington DC for three and a half years.  I look upon it as a transition between the exotic aspects of Asia and the laid back, kooky state of Florida.  We followed that up with the big move down under, which combines the exotic with the kooky in a way that can only be Australian.

For reasons that have little to do with the city itself, I do not remember our sojourn in DC with fondness.  We enjoyed living in the Village of Chevy Chase, and we reveled in the long walks we took along the Potomac.  But it was a difficult time for our family.

Our home base for this visit was Bethesda, a chic mecca for beltway denizens looking for a large choice of restaurants in a small area.  Bethesda is a pleasant place to walk, which makes it very attractive to people who spend hours commuting from home to work.  The town core must have more restaurants than any other city, including New York and San Francisco.  Unfortunately, Washingtonians have a high tolerance for mediocrity, and not just in politicians.

At the suggestion of our host, I wandered down to the Mall to see a new exhibit at the Museum of Natural History on the evolution of man.  You can check it out on-line at:  http://humanorigins.si.edu/  It was interesting, but hardly comparable with the rooms in the vast museum dedicated to the exploration of the ocean.

The Mall is quiet this time of year, and you can see what a grand notion it was to create an urban space on such a scale. Up near the White House, I stumbled across some wonderful wood sculpture at the Renwick Gallery.  On a previous stopover in the Spring, I had spent a good part of a day at the National Gallery.  The pics are from both trips.

On September 11, 2001, my wife and I were both at our respective workplaces, each within a few blocks of the White House.  I remember noticing my co-workers slow down as word spread of the attacks.  Someone found a T.V. and turned it on.  We all stared at the images, horrified and transfixed.  It wasn’t long before the Pentagon plane shattered whatever notion of distance that we thought we had from these events.  The Pentagon was only a few miles away.  What next?

The subway had stopped working.  When the CEO gathered us together for a talk, it seemed more baffling than anything else.  He had a condo nearby and offered to put people up who were stuck without any way to get home.  I looked around at the three hundred faces and thought:  too bad I didn’t bring my walking shoes. Amazingly, I was able to call my wife and our Metro line did start up again.  Maybe 9/11 is why the exhibit on evolution didn’t grab me.  The words “human evolution” don’t seem to belong together anymore.

Our Bethesda friends cooked up a wonderful meal and we caught up with our old friend from Capitol Hill and I passed my physical with flying colors.  We sailed back to Durham in record time.  It may be true that you can’t go home again, but you can visit. And that may be just what the doctor ordered.

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