Dear Farmer John

For Valentine’s Day I made dinner and invited friends over to watch the documentary The Real Dirt on Farmer John.  It’s the deeply personal story of John Peterson, a creative northern Illinois farmer who suffered from the near loss of his family farm and exclusion by his neighbors. The film narrates the history of the Peterson family and explains how John ended up running the farm at a young age.  During that time he was able to balance running the farm with going to college and enjoying his playful life. Then came the 1980’s and, like so many other farmers at the time, John was in financial trouble.

The film brilliantly conveys the emotional burdens that John bears after inheriting the family farm: the pride of three generations of farmers as well as the shame of having to make great sacrifices with his land. One of the most personal moments in the film is when John communicates his dread of having to tell his mother about the farm’s financial problems.  His expressive mother brings the family’s memories alive and becomes the reason for John’s persistence with organic agriculture.  Farmer John’s Angelic Organics is wildly successful now due in part to Community Supported Agriculture.  I loved The Real Dirt on Farmer John because it’s a story of small farm success in the age of corporate agriculture.

Leaving Deadwood

One thing I notice when watching some of the edgier television shows released on DVD for home viewing, is the excellent music selections that appear incidentally at the end or in the middle of a show, sort of audio riffs on some pragmatic theme. Whoever is choosing this music has a great ear for matching mood to sound.

Lately I’ve taken to following up and tracking down some great CD’s by finding a soundtrack compilation CD in the library collection, say music from the excellent HBO Shakespearean gone Western series Deadwood. Going through the list of performers on the CD leads me to these blues/folk/roots recordings in the library collection that I might otherwise have missed:

  • Press On by June Carter Cash, a Grammy award-winning recording issued late in her career
  • 1963 Isn’t 1962 by Bukka White, a terrific live recording of the blues great made after his “re-discovery” in 1963.
  • Animal Folk Songs for Children compiled and performed by Ruth Crawford Seeger, noted American Modernist and music scholar (no relation to Pete Seeger). She originally published this collection in 1948 for use in children’s music education

~posted by Kay K.

The Romans are here: are you ready?

Where would you stay if you were able to visit ancient Rome, say in 200 AD? What would you have for dinner? Where would you go for entertainment? What tips would help you survive on those mean, mean, streets?

Ancient Rome on Five Denarii a Day by Philip Matyszak purports to be a travel guide for back then, not for use in touring today’s Rome of ruins and broken monuments. Of course, it really does help us understand current Rome’s glorious past and fallen stones by providing context for this era’s readers. Full of travel advice for ancient tourists and loaded with chatty suggestions about local customs, this humorous guide is a fun way to learn about life in the ancient city, and should be an great read for history buffs and for fans of historical mysteries in the Steven Saylor or Lindsey Davis line. Fine illustrations, many in color, show views from that toga-clad world.

Working the same turf but in a much more straightforward and serious way is Rome from the Ground Up by James H. S. McGregor. This guide looks at the many historical versions of Rome that are layered on top of each other and form the basis for the current city. Chronologically examining each era’s city, beginning with the founding of the village by the Tiber and extending to modern times, the guide explains how the structures and landscapes came to be and how they influenced the next development in the same spaces. The well-chosen and frequent illustrations support a clear and understandable writing style, although I often wished for larger format images. Designed in a post-Internet style, the book’s images mimic thumbnail images on a web page, which can frustrate a reader trying to see the details of what is being discussed. An over dependence on white space and the small font cause the book to run long at 344 pages, and printed on heavy paper and weighing in at nearly 2 pounds, this undermines the author’s goal of having the guide used by travelers in the field. Still, this is a book that would be very useful upon a return from Rome, explaining the intriguing and mysterious buildings that are often missed by conventional travel guides.

The Seattle Art Museum is hosting a fabulous Roman exhibit opening February 22nd through May 11. Find out more about SAM’s Roman Art from the Louvre exhibit.

~posted by Carl