Lake & Island Notes                       January 2016

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Bayfield couple travels to Cuba on agricultural research visas

Featured Title

House of the Rising Sun
by James Lee Burke

In his latest Hackberry Holland novel Burke takes the reader on a wild ride across Texas, Mexico and the war trenches of France during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Hack is an aging Texas Ranger burdened with guilt, a desire for revenge and a propensity for violent mayhem, John Wayne and Clint Eastwood would have been good role models for Hack as he dominates and controls the narrative in this story of love, hate, greed and redemption. Burke’s other characters add much to the story, either as friends, or antagonists. The female characters are all beautiful, bawdy, brilliant and able to drive Hack to incoherent mumbling without breaking a sweat. His escape from them is the nearest saloon where more trouble always awaits. This is a good book to take for a ride.  

Featured Title

Detroit Hustle: A Memoir of Love, Life, and Home
by Amy Haimerl

COMING IN MAY 2016! Who would want to move to Detroit? A bankrupt city with an infrastructure on the verge of total collapse and thousands of abandoned homes? That is exactly what Amy and her husband Karl decided to do in 2013 by purchasing a completely trashed, foreclosed, 1914 Georgian Revival home for $35,000. Quite a change from a comfortable life in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. This is not just a story about turning an empty shell of a house into a home, it also tells the struggle to bring new life back to a neighborhood where those who stayed are demoralized and suspicious of these “new” people. Haimerl’s folksy narrative is filled with strong emotions, steadfast commitment and plenty of humorous interludes. When they purchase the old place they give it the name Matilda and Haimerl paints a lovely picture with words describing Matilda’s transformation into a comfortable and glorious home.

Featured Title

The Wonderful Things You Will Be
by Emily Winfield Martin

From brave and bold to creative and clever, the rhythmic rhyme expresses all the loving things parents think of when they look at their children. With beautiful, and sometimes humorous, illustrations, and a clever fold-out illustration in the end with kids in costumes, this is a book grown-ups will love reading over and over to kids--both young and old.
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Bayfield, Wisconsin
Book Market in Plaza de Armas, Havana


We are just back from an eye-opening visit to the Republic of Cuba. We traveled on our own, stayed in private homes, and ate in the emerging sector of small, private restaurants.  Our purpose was to explore the island’s extensive and enormously successful small-scale, organic farming initiative (especially urban agriculture) that has developed in response to the crisis following the collapse of the Soviet Union. We visited large inner-city farms surrounded by apartment blocks, enjoyed lengthy discussions with agronomists, and browsed in a variety of markets – state as well as private and cooperative.

Not surprisingly, we also visited a number of bookstores and book markets. None were particularly impressive. The shops seemed to have limited inventory and mostly bored, desultory staffs. The sprawling book market in the Plaza de Armas is largely oriented to the tourist trade with numerous souvenir titles by the revolutionary icons Fidel Castro – History Will Absolve Me – and Che Guevara – Bolivian Diary. We were disappointed to be unable to find books by Cuban poet and novelist Reinaldo Arenas who clashed with the Castro regime, was imprisoned, and ultimately fled the island in 1980. His autobiography – Before Night Falls – was on the New York Times list of the ten best books of the year 1993, but not a single copy in Spanish or English was to be had in either Havana or Santa Clara. 

Our general impressions were largely positive – 99.7 literacy rate, 78-year life expectancy and a 4.76 infant mortality rate (figures that equal or better our own). We enjoyed a hearty welcome, safe streets and vibrant, ubiquitous music. A few days at the beach took the edge off the northwoods winter. For the first time in sixty years we were able to identify most of the cars on the street by make, model and year! A large percentage of the cars are 30’s, 40’s and 50’s American cars that have been nursed along for well over half a century. Many have been lovingly restored and are hot tourist attractions, most are held together with baling wire and serve the usual quotidian functions.

While we are not Cuba experts, in any sense of the word, we have been invited to give a presentation on our exploration of Cuban urban agriculture at Northland College in Ashland. The event will take place on at 7:00pm on February 17th at the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute on the Northland campus. All are invited.

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Upcoming event... 

Railways of the Harbor City 
Presentation by Robert Nelson
Sunday, January 31st at 2pm 
Bayfield Heritage Association 
30 North Broad Street, Bayfield

Bob Nelson is a lifelong Bayfield resident and his family has been here for generations back. He is passionate about preserving the amazing history of our region. Bob will present a series of slides and readings regarding the railroad history during the late 19th century in Bayfield. There will be guest readers representing several historical figures. 

Bob is the author of two books; Apostle Islanders (should be back in stock by end of May 2016) and Harbor City Chronicles Volume One. We are looking forward to much more from Bob in the future. In the meantime, we look foward to seeing you on the 31st. 

What we're reading...

Ordinary Heroes 
by Scott Turow

Our previous exposure to Scott Turow has been through his legal thrillers and mysteries. This robust war story is a revelation. The narrator, retired reporter Stewart Dubinsky, stitches together a harrowing WWII tale from letters, notes, and journals left to him by his late father. The characters are richly drawn and deeply layered. The moral conflicts are complex and disquieting. The love story is urgent and sensitive. The bloody experience of warfare is starkly rendered. This is gripping fiction that reads like non-fiction.
Hunters in the Dark 
by Lawrence Osborne 

This one has been compared to Graham Greene, Patricia Highsmith, Paul Bowles, Evelyn Waugh, and Ian McEwan. That’s pretty good company by our lights and this powerful novel delivers. A late-20’s Sussex teacher heads for Thailand ostensibly for a break from his seemingly dead-end life. He crosses the border into Cambodia and wins a bit of a bundle in a casino, intersects with a number of Khmer characters, is befriended by a calculating American, and falls in with a Khmer woman. The slow and languid plot unfolds almost as a meditation (with periodic eruptions) and flows like the dreamy, winding Mekong River that provides the setting. This one of the best new novels of the year.
My Name is Lucy Barton 
by Elizabeth Strout 

Pulitzer Prize winner and widely admired author Elizabeth Strout, whose previous books including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys have been runaway bestsellers, has a new and extraordinary novel. Lucy Barton is recovering from complications of a simple operation when her estranged mother comes to visit. Small talk opens a reconnection between them and then things deepen into the pathos of Lucy’s life – her painful childhood and her escape from it; her efforts to become a writer; her marriage; and, her daughters. Lucy’s voice – or is it Strout’s?-is deeply observant and expresses both the tenderness and longing of the mother/daughter relationship.

Final Thoughts...

Urban farmer in the heart of Havana

The problem will be to maintain balance between large-scale food production and the small-scale, organic production that we rely upon now. When relations are restored with the United States, the temptation will be great to revert to high-input, industrial farms and imports. The question is whether cheaper and more efficient will win out over healthiness and better environmental practices.
~ Greco Cid, Cuban Agronomist

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