Living in the North Country

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I recently left my cozy writer’s pad in Iowa City and moved up to the North Country.  Where’s that, you ask? I could say “upstate New York,” but to some folks, that indicates anything north of the Bronx. No, my friends: the North Country is north of the Catskills, north of the Adirondacks, north of Syracuse, even. The only thing we’re south of is Canada (and that’s just 20 miles away). It is the most isolated corner of the Empire State, a starkly beautiful region of rolling hills and glimmering lakes and pine trees you can breathe.

So what is it like living in a town of 6,000—nearly half of whom are undergrads? Well, I hadn’t been here a week when I opened my back door one morning to find an armload of tomatoes, cucumbers, and onions piled atop the mat. Whoever left it wrote no note; it would be a month before a colleague mentioned it was her husband. “We just wanted to welcome you to the neighborhood,” she said. Indeed. There is …

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Count On Me

I am so proud to announce the release of COUNT ON ME: Tales of Sisterhoods and Fierce Friendships, by the amazing Latina networking organization Las Comadres. Editor Adriana Lopez gathered some top-notch Latina writers–including Esmeralda Santiago, Lorraine Lopez, Sofia Quintero, Reyna Grande, Michelle Herrera Mulligan, and our beloved compadre Luis Alberto Urrea–and asked them to write a tribute to their closest friend (or comadre). The result is a deeply moving anthology of a dozen essays that officially goes on sale September 4!

Here is a taste of my own contribution to the anthology, “Road Sisters.”

We were hungry, we were tired, and we were lost. Daphne was in the driver’s seat; I was navigating (and failing). We had been driving for three hours by that point, searching for Chilchinbito – a village so tiny, it didn’t appear on our Arizona atlas. We had been told that the Cowboy family might host us for the night, but they had no phone to confirm this. And so, we were relying on faith, blind faith. Faith …

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48 Hours: Twin Cities

With one month left of Midwest residency, I’m scrambling to see as much as I can. Last weekend, a friend and I hit the Twin Cities—a bucket list destination for me, as Minnesota was the second-to-last state I had yet to explore (Hawaii being the final 50th). We spent weeks plotting the trip, prioritizing food and art. Here’s the skinny:

ST. PAUL 

F. Scott Fitzgerald is St. Paul’s sacred son, so our first quest was tracing his route to literary fame through one of the city’s prized neighborhoods. (This helpful site provided the deets.) The historic homes here were beautiful: Queen Annes with scalloped woodwork and wrap-around porches alongside Romanesque brownstones draped in ivy. I especially liked the snippets of prose engraved in the sidewalk, including this poem by Carlee Tressel called “Second Love”:

He kissed the girl in the ballerina skirt. It was a long one— like the kiss— drenching her sneakers in tulle.

Most of the sites were scattered along Summit Avenue, which Fitzgerald famously (and drunkenly) ran up and …

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Spain & Lisboa: Let’s Go-a!

Friends: I have returned from one of the most restorative viajes I’ve taken in a long, long time: two weeks in Spain and Portugal (well, Lisbon anyway). The impetus was the 8th International Conference on Chicano Literature in Toledo, where my good friend Santiago landed us a slot on a panel, and an invitation to speak at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona. But really, who needs a reason to roam around Southern Europe? You pack your Don Quijote and Pessoa and you go-a.

I arrived to Madrid on a 7:30 a.m. flight and, without having slept in 22 hours, raced off to see my friend/former student Tomas, who lives in a fabulous apartment owned by Penelope Cruz’s agent in the Malasana district. Much rejoicing ensued as we hit the cobblestone streets. Two prized finds: Ojala, a most excellent boutique where every item is designed and hand-stitched by Paloma del Pozo  (and where sleep-deprivation almost induced me to buy a 285 Euro flaming red raincoat that would have required the …

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Life on Refinery Row

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am currently writing a book about social justice issues in South Texas. Earth Island Journal just published a chapter of it concerning Dona Park, a community on the outskirts of Corpus Christi that has long suffered the effects of living in close quarters to the city’s petrochemical industry. Here is a taste (with photos by Carrie Robertson of Third Coast Photo):

For three generations the Foster family has worked for the petrochemical refineries of Corpus Christi, Texas. They’ve lived there too, smack in the middle of Refinery Row—a 15-mile stretch of industrial development that is one of the thickest concentrations of refineries in the nation. Citgo, Valero, and Flint Hills Resources (formerly known as Koch) run two sites apiece, with a gas processing unit, tank farms, and a slew of chemical manufacturers shuffled in between. For three quarters of a century, this futuristic forest of pipe and steel has not only been the landscape of the Fosters’ lives but the source of their livelihood …

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El Gran Midwest Viaje

In less than two months, I’ll be leaving Iowa City, my home of three years. Due to my lack of (car) wheels, my knowledge of this city consists of a one-mile radius, and I know even less of the state. So I was thrilled when two dear friends from Washington DC swept me up for a three-day road trip.

Our first stop: the Herbert Hoover Presidential Museum and Library. (Did I mention these friends were from DC? Yes indeed: one is a political biographer and the other works for the Obama campaign, so presidential libraries are their thing.) As it turns out, this man Hoover was orphaned in West Branch, Iowa at the age of 10, educated at Stanford, honeymooned in China during the Boxer Rebellion, became a wildly popular president without ever having run for political office before (and then became a dreadfully unpopular one after the Great Depression), and then retired at the swanky Waldorf Astoria in NYC. After getting our history fix, we romped around Main Street, which consists of …

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