Sunday, October 25, 2009

Goodbye Ukrop's

I made my last weekly stop at Ukrop's Friday, my shopping colored as it has been for the past month by the melancholy that accompanied the announcement of the store's October closing.

That closing took place yesterday afternoon.

Now the rhythms of my weekly trips to Roanoke will change, and I'll miss the cheerfulness and sheer pleasantness of Ukrop's. I've never enjoyed a grocery store more.

The ppostmortems exploring the store's failure have tended to focus on the chain's Sunday closings and lack of alcohol sales. Maybe so.

But what's been missing from most of those postmortems in the papers and on TV, has been the enjoyment that so many of Ukrop's customers felt when shopping there. Clearly there weren't enough customers, but those did shop at Ukrop's took pleasure in it.

Some of that was the quality of the store's food; prepared foods, meats, and produce especially stood out.

Some of it, though, was the sense I got in conversations with other customers that we wanted to be there. Many of us went out of our way to trade with Ukrop's, and for some items paid a little more (though less of a markup than at some specialty stores still in business).

I got the sense as well that the store's employees wanted to be there too. Glad to have jobs in this economy, they seemed particularly glad to have these particular jobs with this particular company.

The ambiance of the Ivy Market store played its part as well. Layout and especially lighting were warm and welcoming, softer and at the same time more illuminating than is typical of grocery stores.

That illumination shined with sadness on Friday -- so many of the shelves were already bare, and would not be re-stocked.

Over the past two years, I felt good when I entered Ukrop's and was generally smiling when, after shopping and, more often than not, enjoying a conversation with store employees and other shoppers, was smiling broadly when I left.

Except for this past Friday, when I didn't have a smile in me as I left Ukrop's for the last time.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Straight To Hot

Not even a chance
To more than glance
At gentle Spring
Before Summer Heat
Settled in.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

E-Trash Elimination

Up early and out with 20 years' worth of electronic accumulation, now happily delivered for recycling:

11 computers (9 desktop, 2 laptop)

5 printers

18 phones and 11 answering machines (the farm was prey to power surges when we first moved here)

1 stereo

3 boom boxes

1 scanner

4 VCRs

14 keyboards (occupational hazard)

7 remote controls

1 DVD player

3 USB hubs

2 ZIP drives and an external CD-ROM drive (2x! A speed demon!)

all now deposited at our county's first (of many, one hopes) e-trash collection day.

Felt good.

Electronics are lighter today than most of boat-anchors I hauled to the recycling station.

And now my house is lighter than it was just yesterday.

A bit lighter, anyway.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

No Stopping That Man Dan

Dan Smith is at it again, and we're the better for it.

Having gone on at some length about his sterling qualities as writer, editor, and man (qualities absolutely undetectable at first and maybe even second glance at his... time-honored features) I'll spare the personal praise now, and say simply that if you're not reading his blog, fromtheeditr, you are missing one of the liveliest soapboxes around.

Dan's always a good writer, but I think he's as surprised as anyone at what a natural blogger he's turned out to be.

Actually, I'm not all that surprised: Blogs are just right for holding forth, and work best when you've got something to hold forth with (and do so forthwith!)

Dan's got plenty of somethings: experience, attitude, insight, opinion (and how!) and a well-developed sense of both justice and service.

He's also funny as hell.

Check out Dan Smith's fromtheeditr when you get the chance. You'll enjoy yourself and you'll make Dan's blog a regular stopping-place.

And don't miss Valley Business Front, the business (and much more) magazine that Dan and Tom Field started a few months back, and which has gone, in those same few months, from being an ambitious approach to regional business (and more) publication to being a must-read ambitious regional magazine.

There's no stopping Dan Smith, and it's fun to watch the irritation experienced by those who've tried.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Beginning Bellow

As the great generation of post World War II American novelists inevitably and inexorably dwindles, the opportunity to consider careers in toto exerts its own inexorable and (for me anyway) probably inevitable appeal.

And the appeal for me at the moment is to view those careers from the inside, by starting at the beginning and working my way, book-by-book through works first read long ago, and almost undoubtedly read out of sequence of publication.

This winter I turned to Saul Bellow, and began where, in print at least, his novelistic career did, with Dangling Man.

With Bellow, the begin-at-the-beginning reader is fortunate to have the first couple of decades of his career in two Library of America volumes. Beautifully printed and bound, conveniently sized, the volumes also reflect Library of America's commitment to producing the most accurate versions of the books themselves.

With the first of its (so far, but only so far, one hopes) Saul Bellow volumes, Novels 1944-1953, I was reminded by the volume title itself that while Bellow is (rightly) considered one of the half dozen or so key American postwar novelists, his career began while the war was still being waged.

That beginning, Dangling Man, is set in the United Sates (Chicago, of course) during the war. During, in fact, the narrator's wait for induction into the army: The arc of the novel is that wait; the novel is written in the form of diary entries.

It's an effective form both for the philosophical explorations Bellow pursued throughout his career -- the narrator, Joseph, is well-read; books, their promise and their limitations (as well as Joseph's), inform many of the entries -- and for propelling a narrative that isn't driven by plot. The book is essentially plotless (like life).

Casting the novel as a diary frees Bellow from building a cohesively plotted architecture of incidents and scenes (though there are plenty of each, some memorable) and enables the focus of the book to be Joseph's exploration of his identity, personally and philosophically.

The approach works well, though some entries demand some lenience of disbelief from the reader: though Joseph is not a novelist some entries run for several pages, complete with dialogue (in a party scene, dialogue from a fairly large number of characters) and novelistic descriptions.

Re-reading Dangling Man forty years after my first (and previously only) time with it offers certain pleasures of perspective. When I first read it, late in the Sixties, Bellow's most recent novel was Herzog (1964). At least two other major novels, Mr. Sammler's Planet (1970) and Humboldt's Gift (1975) and several close to major novels, not to mention nonfiction, stories and novellas and a Nobel Prize lay ahead.

That first reading of this first novel, though, came when the only other Bellow I knew was Herzog. Seize The Day (1957) and Henderson The Rain King (1959). The Adventures of Augie March (1953) and The Victim (1947) lay in my future, as they had in Bellow's when writing Dangling Man.

But even then and knowing only a few of his works I could see, nascent, many of Bellow's preoccupations, themes, and tones: Isolation, dialogues with the past and with one's self, troubles with women, engagement with and rejection of classical literature and philosophy, the costs (on many levels) of urban life, and others (though not Bellow's lively comic side: Dangling Man is, like its diarist/narrator, essentially humorless).

Looking at the book now, almost four years after Bellow's death, I find Dangling Man to be more compelling than I recalled, the diarist's wait -- not quite anticipation -- for induction and his emergence (sic) into a larger world giving a sense, wholly exclusive of the novel itself, of Bellow's own steady, day-by-day, page-by-page wait for his own emergence.

That emergence came with Augie March close to a decade after Dangling Man, and the third novel in the Library of America's first volume of Bellow. If I stick to my plan of reading may way through Bellow I will get to Augie...

Sometime. Rereading an author's work, all of it, in order of composition, is itself the work of a fair amount of a lifetime, and there are other writers I wish to approach the same way.

For now, though, I've begun Bellow, and recommend Dangling Man and its author to you, as well.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Woods, Snow, Silence, Love

It's been years since our last real snow here, but the wait was worth it. I don't know that I've ever seen a prettier snow.

Three days later and the ground remains covered, though tomorrow's temperatures will see to that. Until then, though, it's lovely, and enough snow remains to muffle even the sounds of its falling from the trees.

The drive, steep and shaded, remains covered as well, which means the car remains parked at the top of the ridge that runs along the edge of the farm

Walking to and from it through the woods that cover the slope of the ridge reminds me, every time, of just how much I love these woods, this land, and just how deeply that love can be renewed by seeing the land and the forest through new eyes.

Eyes squinting, just a bit, against the glare rising from the snow.