Sunday, June 12, 2011

Moonshine in Kentucky - and Tehran

I’ve taken a hiatus from blogging, and with good reason. First there was the ten-day residency for the Spalding University MFA in Writing program in Louisville. I’m on the faculty there and mentor writing students in fiction, creative nonfiction and writing for children. My lecture this time was on the use of the comma for restrictive and nonrestrictive clauses. I tried to make it fun, but as with most things, you can’t please everyone. A few students found the lecture helpful. Others thought a grammar lesson was beneath them—this is grad school, after all. One student who complained about the elementary quality of the talk admitted that she did not get a perfect score on the final quiz.

I’ll post the quiz here. Check back later for the correct answers. The sentences come from children’s literature: E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, and Silas House’s Eli the Good. Place a comma where you think it should go.

1. Her hand zoomed out and grabbed hold of my wrist.

2. On one side of us was a small grocery and on the other side was a pay-by-the-week motel where a few old bachelors lived year-round.

3. She had found a small twig and pressed her thumbs together to spin it between them.

4. When the women came out Daddy and Charles Asher carried chairs down from the screen porch and sat them up in a circle near the clothesline.

5. “Templeton if I ever catch you poking-oking-oking your ugly nose around our goslings I’ll give you the worst pounding a rat ever took.”

6. Underneath her rather bold and cruel exterior she had a kind heart and she was to prove loyal and true to the very end.

7. Everything on the farm was dripping wet.

8. Charlotte, sleepy after her night’s excursions smiled as she watched.

9. The children answered their cheer and away went everybody to the Fair.

10. When the wind had died down and the barnyard was quiet and warm the grey goose led his seven goslings off the nest and out into the world.

The residency ended with a garden party at Tirbracken Farm in Goshen, Kentucky. Nana Lampton owns the estate and lives some of the time in the 18th century stone farmhouse with fields that roll down to the Ohio River. The food was very fine. The bar was stocked. The vistas were divine. The music was uplifting. But best of all, I gathered some stories for my latest writing project—moonshine.

Kentucky, which was once part of Virginia, has raked in a lot of money on moonshine. Seems everyone in KY has a moonshine story—either handed down from ancestors or a more recent run-in with white lightning. If you’ve got a moonshine story centered in VA, WVA or KY, let me know (and don't worry about getting the commas right).

Before I left Fern Forest, we entertained guests from New York City. Tania is the daughter of Greek immigrants, and her fiancé Damien is the son of an Iranian father and a Boston mom. His father died when he was young, but he visits family in Iran on occasion. In casual conversation, I learned that moonshine reaches its seductive hand all the way to the Middle East. Iran is a Muslim country, and drinking alcohol is forbidden. But many Muslims distill their own liquor—they call it arak—at home or in backrooms of warehouses. It’s fermented with raisins and “is really smooth,” Damien says. The potion he tasted had been distilled three times and run through a carbon filter.

A true Iranian experience is a supper of roasted liver and heart sliced and skewered on a kebab. When the meat is tender, the kebab is folded into a broad piece of flatbread held tightly while the kebab is extracted.

“Delicious,” Damien says, “especially chased with a drink of arak.”

A surprisingly large number of Muslims indulge in moonshine. “The way it was during American prohibition,” he says, “is the way it is in Iran today.” Public drunkenness is rare, and Muslims who drink moonshine do so in their homes. The penalty for being caught with illegal liquor is severe—sometimes death. In spite of the danger, those who imbibe do so with great enjoyment, Damien says.

I suspect that danger is part of the flavor. By the next post, be ready for the answers to the grammar quiz—and an update on my own moonshine making progress.

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