Bottle Trees Forever

Bottle Tree Table
(one of our bottle trees)
Last week, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran an article about bottle trees, and my friend Stephanie Dwyer (who makes *the* most wonderful forms) was quoted.  Bottle trees have been around forever, and most of us have learned that the custom came from west Africa, but Felder Rushing — who I also love — mentions:

Since hollow-glass vessels began appearing in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 1600 B.C., he says, most ancient cultures have believed that bad spirits – imps and genies, for example – could be captured in bottles placed around entryways, where they would be destroyed by morning’s light.

One place that Stephanie has her bottle trees is at the Shack Up Inn — these are a couple of the pics I’ve taken there before:

At the Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale MS

Old Police Car, Shack Up Inn, Clarksdale MS

Bill Talbot, who is one of the owners, says of his “B&B or beer and breakfast,” that:

…bottle trees “have been here all my life, part of the African American superstitions.

“We had so many haints on the compound, we had to try and control them,” he says.

Haints are lost souls, angry ancestral spirits, and it’s conceivable there are more than a few around Talbot’s inn, which is on an old plantation. He rents out rooms and refurbished sharecroppers’ shacks to visitors.

Dwyer’s trees feature what he describes as “green, blue, red, clear, purple ones, whiskey bottles, Coke, Mountain Dew, medicine bottles, all kinds of weird bottles.”

“The haints get up in those bottles and don’t get out,” Talbot says.

Montgomery Zoo & Bug Tussle Bill

I’ve never been a huge fan of zoos — we’re members at our local zoo and we usually get there 3-4 times a month, but it’s just not something I have ever been able to truly, truly enjoy.  I imagine that it’s that guilty feeling of seeing animals that might otherwise have lives with more freedom, more space…but I also know that some of the animals are there because through a myriad of circumstances, and it’s the best and safest place for them to be.  That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.  I know a lot of you feel the same way.

Well, last month, we went to the Montgomery Zoo and it was nice.  Most of the animals were in more spacious accommodations and it didn’t seem so zoo-like.  Another big plus was a large playground that the boys enjoyed.

Montgomery Zoo, Montgomery AL

We paid extra for each boy to be able to feed the giraffes.  Shugie *loved* this part and when the giraffe held out his tongue, Shugie did too!

Montgomery Zoo, Montgomery AL

Groundhog Day is this coming week.  The local news crews always go to the zoo and see whether there’s a shadow or not, but last year I heard that my hometown was celebrating ‘Possum Day‘ in August to see if “Bug Tussle Bill” feels a breeze (if he does, fall is coming early).  I think I like the idea of Possum Day even better.

House Flower

This past Sunday, a television station in Idaho ran a piece about a unique canoe sculpture that’s being built there.  It’s by Christopher Fennell, who is originally from Florida and then Georgia, but now lives here in Alabama — it wasn’t until today that I realized we have seen other pieces by him.  This temporary one was at the Magic City Art Connection in 2009:

Art by Christopher Fennell

This is in the western side of B’ham (Cotton Ave & 9th St SW).  He made it from wood and tin roofing of a 100-year-old home in Nectar.  House flower:

Art by Christopher Fennell

Art by Christopher Fennell

Every time I hear something about Nectar, I think about the covered bridge they used to have there (1932 – 1993) that was 385′ long and the seventh-longest covered bridge in the world.  Here’s how the site looked when we were passing through there in 2007.  You can still see the three pillars:

Supports for Nectar Covered Bridge, Nectar AL
There are three covered bridges left in Blount County (Nectar is there): Easley, Swann, and Horton.  All three are closed right now but there’s hope to have them open again sometime in 2012.  Hope so.
Pics of the Blount County covered bridges are in my Flickr stream here.

Act Of Faith

The BBC ran a wonderful piece about Don Justo, 85, a former novice monk who was expelled from his monastery when he contracted TB around fifty years ago.  Since that time, he has spent his inheritance building a church that is 131 feet tall and is partly modeled on St. Peter’s at the Vatican.

What’s really interesting is that it’s built of items he has recycled — rejected bricks and broken tiles from factories, oil drums, etc.  Not an architect or bricklayer, Don Justo’s background is in farming.

All the pics interspersed here are used courtesy Gustavo Marin on Flickr under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic.  Thank you!

Don Justo:
cuentos I
La catedral de Don Justo
El patio
Growing towers
Capilla descapotable
Take a sit
Bad brick, good brick
The BBC feature reads in part:
“I do it for faith. That’s clear, no?” the energetic octogenarian wonders, pausing to warm himself by an open fire.

His church has no planning permission or formal architectural plans. All the details, Justo says, are “in my head”.

Partly modeled on St Peter’s in the Vatican, Justo claims his construction also borrows from the White House, various castles and other Madrid churches. It’s an eclectic mix.

The vast central dome took 20 years to erect and there are two dozen more incomplete cupolas around the building.

There are cloisters, a sacristy, even a cavernous crypt. Sections of several walls have been painted gaudily to depict scenes from the Bible.

“Realising my ideal spurs me on. People today are very passive, they don’t value anything. They’re slaves to worldly things.”

But Justo is well aware his extraordinary ideal may never be fully realised.

As well as finishing the windows, the central dome still has no cover and the floor is bare; spiral staircases curl up towards the heavens and end in mid-air.

Scrawled on the wall in chalk are urgent appeals to visitors to donate funds for the church’s completion.

So far, the town council has tolerated the illicit structure, which lures a steady trickle of visitors to the nondescript suburb. Some suspect the chaotically-constructed church will not outlast its creator.

…the eccentric edifice as an icon of the town now, unlikely to be torn down.

Justo has bequeathed his building to the local bishopric in the hope it can eventually serve as a fully functional parish church. That’s his ideal, though he’s pragmatic.

“Who knows what he’ll do. It’s up to him,” he shrugs. But as Don Justo rushes back to yet another urgent task, he says he has no regrets.

“If I lived my life again, I’d build this church again, only bigger. Twice the size,” he smiles, his elderly eyes sparkling.

“Because for me, this is an act of faith.”

Ooooh.  I like him.  Growing up in Cullman and visiting Ave Maria Grotto so much, I think that’s what gave me an appreciation of art environments and the people that create them, especially.  These pics are ones I’ve taken there myself:

Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman AL

The idea that Brother Joseph Zoettl took things that no one had any use for — old cold cream jars, shells/rocks/tiles/marbles…people used to mail him all kinds of things to incorporate into his works…

Statue of Liberty Tribute at Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman AL

Hansl and Gretl Visit the Castle of the Fairies, Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman AL

…which people have enjoyed for years and years…

The Temple in Miniature at Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman AL

Thank goodness for people who do wonderful things by faith alone.

Hi Egg-Lovers!

Hi to everyone coming to Deep Fried Kudzu lately from the Publix Supermarket magazine!  I was so tickled to find myself being quoted on the inside front cover of the spring issue that just came in the mail!
It was really exciting to get a call from a writer who had seen my naturally dyed Easter eggs on DFK that wanted to feature them in the magazine.  When he asked me about my own kids and I explained that we’re Jewish but I make them for children in shelters so that when they wake up Easter morning they will have beautiful eggs, I could tell that he was excited too.  
If you’re interested in doing this for shelters in your area, call a couple or three weeks before Easter and get an idea from them of how many young guests they expect for the holiday, then make a few extra just in case so no one gets left out.  I usually make up a basket with colorful long-strip shredded paper (just put pretty double-sided scrapbook paper through an old-style paper shredder that makes long strips and you have gorgeous ‘grass’) and fill the basket with naturally dyed eggs and some candies and chocolates.  I usually get some little stuffed animals for girls’ baskets and Hot Wheels for boys’ baskets so they get a couple of toys also.  
I get the very best feeling waking up that Sunday (after delivering them that Saturday evening) knowing that the children in that shelter will also wake up knowing that the Easter bunny knew exactly where they were and that he did not forget them.

If you’re here from the magazine and are looking for directions for the naturally-dyed eggs, that link is here.  For swirled, waxed, glittered, and painted (pink & green polka-dots!), that link is here.

My friend Amy is the Egg Queen of North Mississippi (really, they even ask her to come to schools and do exhibits) and I’ll post some of her tips soon.

The Publix Supermarket magazine, Publix Family Style, is published four times a year.  You can request to receive it (it’s free, even!) here.


Lunch was so delicious today I couldn’t *not* post it. Leslie and I had lunch at Bottega, one of our favorites.  If you keep up with James Beard winners, this is one of the three restaurants in B’ham that Frank Stitt owns (the others are Highlands and Chez FonFon, which I also love).

Leslie had the grilled chicken paillard – she said it was great:

Lunch at Bottega, Birmingham

I tried something totally different – the Persian piadine with feta, walnuts, and herbs:

Lunch at Bottega, Birmingham

After we left, I wondered if this is in Frank’s Bottega Favorita cookbook, and it is — on page 80.  This was so good — and I could only eat half — that I’ve been thinking about talking Av into lunch next week here just so I can have it again soon.

We shared dessert which was what I think was the strawberry mousse cake.  It just felt so wrong to be eating strawberries in January, but since it was on the menu and you can almost never go wrong at Bottega…well…

Lunch at Bottega, Birmingham