I keep waiting for time to slow down so that I’ll have time to update my blog, but first it’s one thing, then another and whole weeks have passed. Time is moving so quickly here it’s starting to scare me. This week, we had the last of our presentations and fellow-prepared dinners. Tuesday was a very lengthy day of presentations. I missed the 4 o’clock one as I’d been off at a local elementary school working one-on-one with some fifth graders on their personal narrative essays for an 826 anthology. It was a pretty neat experience and I was surprised at how varied the children were in their levels of writing and their interest in creating stories through plot and narrative.
We then had three Fellow presentations back at Wallace House, as a computer glitch had caused the Titheringtons to delay their presentation from the week before. Thus, in rapid succession, we learned about the lives of Vanessa, Jamie and then Steve and Sarah. If I haven’t mentioned before how terribly fond I am of Vanessa, consider it stated here. (Any more and I’ll start blushing.) She’s terribly beautiful in every sense of the word and wears her passion and romanticism – for writing and Cuba and all the things she loves deeply – bravely on her sleeve. My favorite thing about Vanessa is that, when she’s talking to someone, she leans into them and listens completely and intently to them. Only in observing this in her, and the inherent kindness and generosity she brings to the mere act of listening, did I realize what a rarity it is.
Her presentation wove her story from her native Puerto Rico – a place near and dear to my own heart – to her last post, spending four years in Cuba working for the Florida Sun-Sentinel. I don’t suppose I can say I’m truly surprised that it turns out that she’s a talented photographer too, with a keen sense of composition and style. It’s as though she pays the same close attention to her subjects, leaning in to them, eschewing frills and capturing images that somehow express her own genuineness.
Jamie Butters was next, detailing his own journey from Chris’ home state of Iowa to his current position as the auto writer for the Detroit Free Press. I kind of expected to hear more about his career focus and, while there was plenty of that, there was also a really delightful focus on family – the members whose names (and attributes) influenced the monikers attached to his three young daughters.
Chris and I were commenting not too long ago that it’s both interesting and telling to see what people choose to focus on in their presentations. What it means to them to talk about their life, their accomplishments, etc. It’s been a really interesting mix of approaches and I have come to expect nothing less from this group.
The Titheringtons went next with a grand – if rushed – presentation of their own lives and Steve’s serendipitous rocket to editor of the newsroom at the BBC World Service. It was all tinged with a bit of bittersweet, though, as we’ve grown so unbelievably fond of them and they’re heading back to London while we’re in Argentina. Seems the BBC can only spare Steve for one semester and, frankly, I don’t blame them. I think I’d want him back too.
(In fact, we’ll lose more fellows at the mid-year mark. Semiha and Sedat will return to Turkey after the trip to Argentina, although we at least have the consolation of seeing them when we visit Istanbul in February. And El Guapo, Luis Vinker, will stay in Argentina, his home town, when we all head back mid-December. I can’t tell you how much this will change the dynamics of the group and, quite frankly, just don’t really want to think about it right now.)
The presentations took us quite late into the evening, so we were all a bit starved by the time we sat down to eat. Rainey, Graham and Thomas had prepared a meal themed “three friends, three stews, three haikus.” Fortunately, like all good stews, they were none worse for the wear for their delayed service. There was a pasta y fagioli, representing Graham’s upbringing; a tangy New Brunswick stew from Rainey’s NC past; and a thick, peanuty Rwandan stew which no one could really say was or wasn’t authentic. But they were all delicious for sure. And the fact that I don’t remember the haikus should tell you just how hungry we were.
The piece de resistance, however, was Rainey’s famous Strawberry Wooing Pie, a secret family recipe she declined to share. It was the pie she made for Graham on their very first date. It worked. It worked on us, too, which is good since she spent the day slaving over five of them, including making a strawberry glaze by straining berries through cheesecloth. They featured a graham cracker crust (coincidence?), a lovely creamy middle layer (perhaps somewhat cheesecake-y?) and was topped with whole fresh strawberries and said glaze.
Next thing we knew it was Thursday, and Charles Clover and Chris were in the hot seat. Clover kicked things off with a truly fascinating glimpse at his eclectic career, including plenty of slides (okay, a slightly ambitious 251 of them) of his time spent embedded with the troops in Afghanistan. Then he wowed us with a clip of himself being interviewed on Russian television. In Russian. And he looked as suave and cool as a cucumber doing it. Enough so that I’ve started wondering if we’ve got a “No Way Out” situation on our hands….
Perhaps best of all, though, was his presentation of a clip of his acting debut in college in an Arabic language production of Sheherezad. Although we understood none of the dialog, the way he swept his cape around the stage, his raw emotions shone through. What a thespian!
Truly, though, this is one of the things that I love about Charles. He’s an unbelievably intelligent man, capable of conversing about the most cerebral and intricate matters of philosophy and history – in Russian or Arabic, should you so desire. He’s incredibly devoted to his work, an inspiration in terms of writing discipline. And he’s so quiet sometimes, staring off to space in a way that makes you wonder, as another Fellow put it, whether or not he’s “solving fractal equations.” But then he can pull out something so self-effacing, so funny and so…personal at the same time. That’s the good stuff, my friends.
Chris and I went next. I’d like to say it was mostly about him but, in truth, I was the one who mastered Power Point for the presentation so there was plenty about me, too. At first, you think you can’t possibly fill your allotted 30 minutes, but it’s surprising how quickly it flies – especially with questions from the peanut gallery – and so we were actually a bit rushed to wrap things up.
I realize I’m biased, but I thought Chris’ presentation was outstanding. He’s so honest, so apparently passionate about his work, so open and humble about his life’s circumstances. Telling his real story seemed both brave and yet unremarkable for him and I think I value most of all that it got people to see some of the parts of him he holds in reserve in larger groups of people. I’m really, really proud to be married to this man, to be his partner and to be at his side. And I’m not just writing that in case, you know, he’s reading this.
We followed our presentation with yet another giant meal, this time courtesy of Drew and Sally Lindsey and Min-Ah Kim. We started off with a lovely salad and some Korean sushi-type rolls that Min-Ah had rolled with her friends. Truly beautiful little wheels, filled with rice and avocado and crab meat. We followed up with a hearty chili, with big chunks of carrot, peppers and tomatoes and rectangles of corn bread with honey. Then, Min-Ah produced giant bowls of Korean beef, sliced thin and prepared in a slightly sweet marinade. Dessert was a selection of sweets, including home made cupcakes topped with decadent butter cream frosting and a generous sprinkling of stark white coconut.
Thank god those dinners are over because we’ll all be so fat by the end of the year, we’d need to be air lifted from the house…