“In House” is a weekly column featuring trawlings and reflections from our editors.
Two hundred years and one month ago, Swiss adventurer-scholar Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the ancient Nabatean city of Petra, forgotten about by Westerners since the Crusades. Described in an 1845 poem by Brit John William Burgon as the “rose-red city half as old as time,” Petra was a gloriously wealthy city with an ingenious water system whose 1,000-year history and acres of archeological treasures are being excavated by a crack team at Brown University. A profile of the city in Smithsonian magazine convinces that Petra deserves its place as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, alongside Machu Picchu and the Great Wall of China.
These days, you arrive in a new place from a great height. Brief glimpse of patterned land, sometimes sea, then trundling along skyways until finding your way down to the ground and the transport available there. Eventually, you make your way to the heart of the place, where you can approach it from eye level.
A family friend, one of AP’s first female photojournalists, used to cover news in Florida. One day there was a kidnapping. She had a hunch that she could catch a crucial part of the action at the girl’s parents’ house, so she staked it out, waiting in the car, until the parents emerged. She captured them on film, then chased the car in which the FBI whisked them away. When her hatchback couldn’t keep up with government issue, she quit while ahead and drove to a motel, where she developed her prints in the bathtub.
In May of 1945, legendary Scribner editor Maxwell Perkins wrote to a young soldier serving overseas. The enlisted man had sent Perkins a short story and asked for advice about pursuing a writing career. Perkins was gently encouraging, urging the young man to take his time distilling his war experiences into fiction. By way of instruction and inspiration, he tells of visiting his author and friend Ernest Hemingway in Key West. “We went fishing every day in those many-colored waters, and then also in the deep-blue Gulf Stream. It was all completely new to me, and wonderfully interesting—there was so much to know that nobody would ever have suspected, about even fishing. I said to Hemingway, ‘Why don’t you write about all this?’”
Hemingway replied, “I will in time, but I couldn’t do it yet.” Pointing to a pelican Perkins recalls as “clumsily flapping along,” the author added, “See that pelican? I don’t know yet what his part is in the scheme of things.”
Portrait of Charles-Désiré Norry (1796-1818), 1817
Signed, inscribed, and dated at lower left, Ingres à Mr. Norry / Pere. / rome / 1817
Purchased as the gift of Mr. and Mrs. Claus von Bülow, 1977
Photography by Graham Haber, 2011
From September 9 to November 27, 2011, The Morgan Library & Museum presents seventeen exquisite drawings and some letters by French master Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres. In this interview, editor Jennifer Acker talks with curator Esther Bell about these drawings and the artist’s refined sense of place.
This summer, for the first time in my life of weather, I walked through a rainstorm: entered, endured, exited. All within one hundred yards of a smooth country road.
Other firsts: bearing out tornado warnings in the basement of Frost Library (twice); a moment of queasy lilting I assumed was in my head but turned out to be a Virginia-originated earthquake; battening hatches (drawing water, securing heavy items in the backyard) against a hurricane. To be truthful, I have experienced earthquakes and hurricanes before, but the former was in Guatemala, where such things are expected; the latter was in the foreign country of childhood in which parents are responsible for taping the windows, and I was allowed to dance in the driveway in my bathing suit in the warm wet eye of the storm.
Deb Olin Unferth likes to change it up. Her first book was the story collection Minor Robberies, then came the novel Vacation, and this winter she published a memoir. Revolution: The Year I Fell in Love and Went to Join the War, like much of her other work in other forms, tells a daring story rife with humor and touched with melancholy, desire, and regret.
Let’s Talk About Revolution: a Conversation Between Deb Olin Unferth and Jennifer Acker
When someone tells me a story, even a newspaper headline, I ask, “Where was that? Where did that happen?” From the context—the who, the where, and the when—I construct meaning. I believe I’m not alone. We have a fundamental desire to understand our environments, to understand how they affect who we are and what we care about.