Thanksgiving wine: I’ll take the (Beaujolais) Morgon over the moron

In the fall of 2012, an older white man in a pick-up truck pulled into the parking lot of the post office in the Austin, Texas-area middle-class neighborhood where my wife Tracie and I used to live with our two young daughters.

In the back window of his cab, he had fastened a bumper sticker that read: “I’ll take the Mormon over the moron.” Taking advantage of his all-American liberty of expression, he was sharing his desire that Mitt Romney win the 2012 presidential election.

Yesterday, I read a Houston Chronicle (the city’s paper of record) account of a Houston-area sheriff who pulled over a Houston-area resident because she had a “Fuck Trump and fuck you for voting for him” bumper sticker affixed to the window of her truck’s cab. He ended up arresting her on an unrelated charge. But, according to the Chronicle report, the woman and her husband — who live not far from where Tracie and I now live in southwest Houston with our children — had already been pulled over more than once by law officers, who were unable to concoct sufficient grounds for arrest.

These parallel though incongruous episodes were on my mind when I woke up this morning to find hate email in my inbox from a Houston Press reader.

In reference to Thanksgiving wine recommendations I published one year ago today on the Houston Press website, Teddy S. wrote me to keep my politics to myself.

It was remarkable to re-read the piece this morning.

If I only knew then what I know now! But that was before the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville this year, where Trump supporters gathered to chant “Jews will not replace us” and the president responded by noting that there were “some very fine people” among them.

I stand by my wine recommendations and my politics from November 17, 2016 — as I did then, as I do now.

I’d only like to add that (cru) Beaujolais Morgon is a wonderful wine to serve for the holiday as well: I’ll take the Morgon over the moron (available at the Houston Wine Merchant). I’m having the bumper stickers printed as I write this and I should have them in time for the holiday. I just hope my wife, daughters, and I don’t get pulled over by my local sheriff on the way to our family gathering.

“We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion,” wrote Republican and Christian conservative Michael Gerson, one of President George W. Bush’s former chief speechwriters, in an op-ed yesterday.

A Thanksgiving pairing of morality, religion, and right-wing politics. Now wouldn’t that be something? It would be something else…

Happy holiday, everyone. Politics aside, please drink Sonoma and Napa wines this Thanksgiving to help in wine country’s recovery from the devastating October wildfires.

LA Times coverage of the Confederate memorial in Orange, Texas

Last night, someone texted me asking about the Los Angeles Times article “As monuments to the Confederacy are removed from public squares, new ones are quietly being erected,” which was published yesterday in the paper and appears today on the homepage of its website.

As the title reveals, the piece examines communities in the U.S. where new Confederate monuments are currently being erected, even as the controversy over the removal of memorials — mostly from the 1910s and 1920s — continues to rivet the nation.

The centerpiece of the story is the Confederate Memorial of the Wind in Orange Texas, where my wife Tracie grew up and where most of her family still resides. Over the nearly nine years that I’ve lived in Texas, I’ve visited Orange countless times. I took the above photo of the memorial in November of last year, not long after the presidential election.

Anecdotally, I can tell you that most Orange residents (at least among those I interact with) just shrug about it when asked. When I’ve brought it up, nearly everyone concedes that it’s an unfortunate eyesore. But everyone I’ve talked to points out that there’s nothing that can be done about it because it sits on private land. I’ve never met anyone in Orange who has spoken out against it publicly or done anything to have it removed.

The men behind the memorial claim that it’s a homage to their heritage as descendants of Confederate soldiers. I don’t know any of them personally but they have spoken with a number of media outlets (including, and even before, the Times coverage).

Their narrative may be partly genuine. But after nine years in Texas and nearly 10 months into the Trump presidency, I can tell you that these men know exactly what they are doing. They know full well the fear that their memorial instills in the blacks, Mexicans, Asians, Jews (like me), and Middle Easterners that live or pass through Orange. As the author of the article points out, the memorial is “visible from the interstate and loom[s] over Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.” What she doesn’t note is the fact that a church stands just down the road from it.

The overwhelming majority of people who live in Orange are self-defined Christian conservatives. Regardless of denomination, churches in the South have had a far-reaching legacy of complacency when it comes to the intimidation of minorities through the display of symbols, icons, language, and gestures. The Confederate flag is the most recognizable of these but there are many others. I used to ascribe it to ignorance. But with the advent of Trump, I’ve come to realize that it’s not stupidity. In fact, the people who live there are not stupid at all. The majority of residents in Orange have embraced Trump despite his lack of Christian values — from his assaults on women to his abusive attitude toward people who aren’t white.

With his claims that there plenty of “nice people” among the champions of Confederate memorials, Trump has laid to bare not just their complacence but their willful acceptance of a segregationist ideology whose advocates use hateful symbols to intimidate and stoke fear. The residents of Orange can ruefully shrug and say there’s nothing they can do about it. But in Trump America, it’s now painfully and tragically obvious that their interests align with the authors of the memorial.

Today, too many conversations there start with “I’m not a racist but…” or “I have no problem with the Jews but…” It simply doesn’t matter to them that blacks may have a problem with the memorial or that Jews may have a problem with the memorial. Why should it? That’s not what’s important — at least to them — in Trump America. But then again, Christ and His teachings were swiftly tossed aside by those who support Trump. The common good (as espoused by Christ’s disciples, at least in the Book I’ve read) is trumped by the good that the president is doing for our country (at least for the white people in our country). Trump supporters can’t claim ignorance anymore. They know exactly what they are doing.

The deep-seated racism that thrives there is on the rise again, just like the flags being flown over Interstate 10. And evidently, the Christians who live there are okay with that.

In fairness to the residents of Orange, I have to point out that the author of the Times piece was wrong to mock, however subtly, the city’s motto — “Small town charm, world class culture.” As hard as some may find it believe, there is world-class culture there. The Stark family campus of museum collections and botanical gardens are wonderful cultural resources. When I worked as a bibliographer at the Getty Museum (nearly two decades before I met Tracie), I catalogued scores and scores of photographs of painted Medieval and Renaissance painted books that are conserved in the museum there.

I wonder if I might bump into the authors of the Confederate Memorial of the Wind the next time I visit. Wouldn’t that be something?

Where to donate to Houston relief efforts…

Above: Houston restaurateur Giancarlo Ferrara preparing lasagne for first responders.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites for donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Thanks, everyone, for all the notes, wishes, prayers, and solidarity. It’s going to be a long, long road to recovery. But we’ll get there together. #HoustonStrong

Orange, Texas disaster update: our families safe and dry but towns still underwater

I grabbed the above photo this morning from family friend Glynis’ Facebook.

That’s her house on the left (flooded) and Aunt Ida’s house (not flooded, miraculously) in an image snapped above Bridge City (one town over from Orange) using a drone yesterday.

Reverend and Jane Branch (my in-laws) got some water in their house — for the first time ever. But they are okay and still in their home with another family friend whose house flooded and memaw (Tracie’s grandmother) who is in her 90s.

The Parzen/Branch/Johnson family has been extremely lucky throughout the disaster. But our communities have been (literally) devastated. Most of Orange and the towns that make up the Golden Triangle are still completely underwater and nearly all of the towns north of I-10 have been under mandatory evacuation orders.

Thanks for all the wishes and the prayers. They went to good use. Now it’s time to take care of those who haven’t been as fortunate as we have.
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Please say a prayer for Orange and Southeast Texas: waters rising, residents trapped (including our family)

I came across the above photo this morning as I was scanning Instagram hoping to find images of my in-laws’ neighborhood in Orange, Texas on the Louisiana border (Google map).

Isn’t it beautiful, with the blue sky and clouds reflected in the floodwaters? The famous Shangri La Botanical Gardens (where our daughters often play) lie just beyond those trees on the right.

“It’s a beautiful day to save lives,” wrote the Instagram user, redbeard_mark, who took the photo yesterday. He’s a veteran who’s helping with rescue efforts.

Right now, as the Sabine River continues to rise and overflow into the surrounding towns, including Orange, Tracie’s parents are trapped by flooded roadways that offer no way out. And the floodwaters are only expected to rise through Sunday morning as the river level continues to get higher and higher.

We are watching the situation closely and I’ll post updates here and on social media.

But the nightmare of Harvey is far from over, I’m sad to say.
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Best ways to donate to #Houston #Harvey relief efforts…

Ever since we were able to travel beyond our block, Tracie and I have been working as hard as we can this week to aid our neighbors and fellow Houstonians: helping with clean-up and gutting houses, babysitting someone’s kids as they deal with insurance, washing flooded families’ laundry, gathering used clothing and purchased goods for shelters and relief distribution centers, etc.

If you’re not in Houston and want to help out with relief efforts, here are our recommended sites to send donations:

Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund
(established by Mayor Sylvester Turner)

Houston Food Bank

Based on our research, these are the best resources for contributing directly. As Tracie pointed out this morning, the Houston Food Bank can stretch a dollar a lot farther than we can by simply going to the grocery store and dropping off food we purchase. And by giving to Mayor Turner’s fund, you can be confident that the money will go directly to local relief efforts.
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Parzen family #Houston #Harvey update: helping our neighbors and praying for Tracie’s family on the Louisiana border

Just a quick update today to let everyone know that we are doing fine. Thanks for all the notes of solidarity and concern. The thoughts, wishes, and prayers really made and make a difference. They really do. Thank you…

We were finally able to leave our house yesterday and we began helping our neighbors with recovery.

That’s just one image of a thousand I could have shot yesterday as I was finally able to move around beyond our block and see some of the damage.
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Miraculously, Parzen family safe and dry. So many of our fellow Houstonians flooded and stranded. #Harvey

From the solar eclipse “path of [partial] totality” to Hurricane Harvey’s “cone of uncertainty” in less than a week. It’s felt a little bit like the end of times here in Houston.

According to what I’ve read online and the television news we’ve followed, 30,000 people are displaced in our city right now and flooding isn’t expected to subside anytime soon: Harvey is expected to make landfall on the Texas coast at around 1 p.m. today after it moved back out over the Gulf of Mexico.

The good news for us is that it seems like the worst is over in our little corner of southwest Houston. That’s a screenshot of the radar tracking, above, on Sunday morning when things got really dicey for us. If you look carefully, you can see Houston’s inner “loop” (Interstate 610). We are just outside the lower lower corner.

On Sunday morning, we could see that the main thoroughfare closest to us was already under a foot of water and it was creeping up our street. At the same time, water was splashing up against our sliding-door window in the back.

We thought the house was going to flood then and so we packed up to get out. It was one of the scariest things that’s ever happened to us as a family. After about five hours huddled in the living room as we watched the water rise in the backyard, it finally stopped raining and the water began to subside.
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The quiet before the storm: Parzen family hunkered down for Hurricane Harvey

It’s been drizzling on and off this morning since Lila Jane, age 4, woke us up at around 5 a.m.

She crawled in bed with us and told us that she didn’t like thunder.

At 8:20 a.m. the drizzle has already turned to a steady but light rain. You can only hear distant, intermittent thunder at the moment but even little Lila Jane knows that it’s heading our way.

As we await the arrival of Hurricane Harvey here in southwest Houston, Parzen family is hunkered down with plenty of water, canned food, batteries, flash lights, a first-aid kit, gassed-up cars, fully charged phones, and even a whistle (see the check list for hurricane preparedness here).
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Spirit of the Confederacy still stands in Houston, a dispatch from a Jewish son-in-law of Southeast Texas

Could there be a more apt allegory for America’s damaged psyche than a dark-as-the-thick-of-night, hundred-mile-wide shadow that will literally slice the nation in half today at midday?

The breathtaking (and scream-inducing) path of totality carved by today’s eclipse will stretch from coast-to-coast spreading (or reflecting?) our umbra at 1,800 miles per hour.

(Read Annie Dillard’s classic 1982 essay “Total Eclipse” where she recounts the transcendental experience of viewing the 1979 total solar eclipse in Washington State.)

On Saturday, just a week after torch-bearing white supremacists and Nazis marched in Charlottesville, killing a young woman and garnering the approval of the President of the United States of America (who noted that many of the racist activists were “fine people”), the Houston chapter of Black Lives Matter held a rally calling for the dismantling of “the Spirit of the Confederacy” sculpture in Sam Houston Park in the city’s downtown.

That’s the monument, above, photographed early Sunday morning.

My wife Tracie and I have attended Black Lives Matter rallies here in Houston in the past. We even took our children to one of the marches.

But in the wake of the violence in Virginia, we decided it was too dangerous to attend Saturday’s gathering. Luckily, no one was hurt. According to a report by my colleague Meagan Flynn at the Houston Press, only a handful of Confederate-flag-bearing counter protesters were on hand.

The Spirit of the Confederacy monument by Italian sculptor Luigi Amateis (aka Louis Amateis, an immigrant to the U.S.) was erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in the first decade of the last century, when Jim Crow was the law of the land in Southeast Texas.

Like countless similar memorials erected between 1895 and World War I to “serve as testimony to the Daughters’ aggressive agenda to vindicate the Confederacy,” the installation in Houston was “part of a campaign to paint the Southern cause in the Civil War as just and slavery as a benevolent institution,” wrote University of North Carolina history professor Karen Cox last week (Washington Post).
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