Lest anyone think I haven’t read any books lately, here’s one I wanted to like more than I did.
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
This might be the first novel by Allende I’ve read or possibly the second. It brings together an unlikely trio to deal with an out-of-the-ordinary surprise. Fussy, academic Richard Bowmaster rents his basement apartment to Lucia Maraz, a professor from Chile who also teaches at NYU. He is intrigued by her and attracted to her, but has done nothing about it. She is lonely and would like to further her acquaintance with him beyond their professional relationship. None of this is likely to happen until, undocumented nanny, Evelyn Ortega, shows up on his Brooklyn doorstep on a bitterly cold winter night after a snowstorm.
Evelyn’s car, her employer’s, was hit by Richard in an accident and she seeks his help. But the help goes beyond just the damage to the car as there is a body in the trunk. How this ill prepared threesome handles this fact and journeys upstate to deal with the dead person makes up the crux of the novel. We learn how Richard and Lucia’s relationship develops and we get the back story of each of these individuals before they came together and, in the process, learn about recent history in Chile and Argentina.
I liked the premise of this novel and the way that Richard, and especially Lucia, rise to the challenge of helping Evelyn, but much of the action takes place as straight narrative with almost no dialogue. It is a static novel which tells more than shows. Interesting, but not as engaging as I expected. (~JW Farrington)
NORTH CAROLINA WITH FAMILY
The Chief Penguin and I spent an activity-filled week in North Carolina over Thanksgiving visiting my sisters and their families. We sampled the delights of Greensboro (shops, parks and a favorite restaurant), ventured to Asheboro for lunch and wildlife, explored downtown Raleigh and the Ravenscroft School campus with my niece, and then decamped for Thanksgiving Day in Chapel Hill and several brisk chilly walks, a new restaurant, and a long bookstore browse. Here are some of the specifics:
This cozy bookstore cum café in downtown Greensboro has a nicely chosen selection of both new and used books. Scuppernong is a type of muscadine grape native to the area, a word that might be hard to spell, but is certainly memorable! I was especially pleased with their children’s section and had an informative chat with the woman who buys their children’s books.
On this visit, I was impressed with the work of the Greensboro Parks & Recreation Department. My sister and I walked in the Bog Garden, close to their home which we’ve visited many times, and also checked out the Tanger Family Bicentennial Garden and the David Caldwell Historic Park. The bog garden has a raised boardwalk and is wilder and less manicured than one might expect of a garden. In partnership with several Audubon members, the park is engaged in removing invasive plants and putting in native plants in their place.
Adjacent to the Proximity Hotel, this restaurant is always good, be it for breakfast or dinner. The dining room is large with high ceilings, but is sectioned off with floor-to-ceiling billowing fabric drapes and upholstery-covered chairs which provide overall softening. I would call the menu sophisticated comfort food, and it ranges from items such as local trout and mussels to a shrimp risotto, meatloaf or chicken schnitzel. Breakfast fare includes the standard eggs and bacon, but also duck confit hash and a bacon and Brussels sprouts quiche.
After a good lunch of salads and sandwiches at The Table , we continued down the road to the North Carolina Zoo. Some folks are not enamored of zoos in general, but this one is exceptional. It’s located in the center of the state and has many hundreds of acres with lots of room for the animals in each habitat to roam. You get around to key points by tram and within the North American and African Habitats there are meandering paved paths that take you to the various animal sites.
Signage is good and, being in a woodsy environment as you wander, makes it a most pleasant experience. I especially liked seeing all the tropical birds in The Aviary and having an almost nose-to-nose encounter with a chimp.
Lunch at this Indian/Asian restaurant in downtown Raleigh was perfect for our group of seven. We liked the beef and noodle salad, tofu salad, and the vegetarian daily special. Portions were a generous size and fortified us for several hours of shopping and walking.
CHAPEL HILL AREA
Friends who know me well know that I seldom pass up an opportunity to visit a bookstore, particularly an independent one. I’ve patronized McIntyre’s at Fearrington Village for many years and it’s always a pleasure to spend an hour here. With the holidays soon upon us, the shelves and tables were overflowing with stock and notes of staff recommendations. It was very easy to find gifts for family as well as a paperback for myself!
A new restaurant in Carrboro recommended by my sister and brother-in-law who’d dined there once before, Venable was a great place for the day after Thanksgiving. Casual with wood flooring and bare wood tables, family groups and couples were scattered around the dining room. Two of us tucked into the chipotle glazed salmon on a bed of spinach with sinfully rich whipped potatoes while the men enjoyed fried chicken (really a breaded chicken paillard with arugula) and North Carolina trout topped with bok choy. Very good “elevated comfort food” as the restaurant calls it!
Photos by JWFarrington.