The Berry Center, New Castle, KY

On the way home from a refreshing and revitalizing writers retreat with four friends (yes, I have friends), I took a small detour off I-71 to accomplish a cherished goal: a visit to the Berry Center, home to a foundation that exists to counter the effects of our "industrial agriculture system" and bring about a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities. It is part of the legacy of author Wendell Berry, his father (lawyer and farmer John M. Berry, Sr.), and his brother (state senator and lawyer, John M. Berry, Jr.). It is also something of a repository for Wendell Berry's papers and books.
Upon entering, I admitted the building in New Castle, Kentucky, wasn't what I expected. When I told the young woman who graciously offered to show me around that I had thought the center might be located on the grounds of the family farm or something like that, she answered that her grandparents (Wendell and Tanya Berry) wouldn't allow such a thing. That's right, my guide was their granddaughter, Virginia Berry Aguilar (I look like I'm frowning in that selfie, above, because it was my second attempt, and neither turned out well).
I couldn't have asked for a kinder, more hospitable reception. She showed me (above) the collection of her grandfather's books in the Berry Center offices. Among the many questions I asked (and which she patiently answered) was when she first realized that her grandfather was "Wendell Berry." She remembered a trip she took with him to California when he was being interviewed on the radio and people called in and said many worshipful things about him. One lady repeated, "You're awesome." Later on that trip (perhaps even that same day), Wendell took his granddaughter to Muir Woods and, as they walked among the towering trees, told her, "This is awesome," emphasizing that he wanted to be sure she understood the real meaning of the word. Great story.

Next, my host took me next door to the bookstore of the Berry Center, in an eighteenth-century cabin (one of three still standing within eyeshot of each other on Main Street in New Castle).
As we stood in the beautiful two-room first story, I pointed to what may be my favorite Berry novel, Jayber Crow and asked if I could tell her a story about the book. She agreed, so I told her of the time I was listening to the audiobook on my phone with headphones as I pushed our lawnmower around the yard. I probably shouldn't spoil things for those who haven't yet read the book, but a running device in the book is the men of Port William including Jayber in their gatherings in the woods as they sit on logs and pass around a jug of moonshine; as they do, he describes each man's consumption with the onomatopoeic syllable, "good." Some men's drinking sounded like "good" or "good-good," as they gulped the moonshine. That device recurs several times and perfectly sets up Jayber's words toward the book's end:
I am a man who has hoped, in time, that his life, when poured out at the end, would say, "Good-good-good-good-good!" like a gallon jug of the prime local spirit.
Well, that line stopped me in my tracks as I was mowing, not only because it beautifully brought that device full circle but also because it is such a great picture of my own prayer, my own hope. And, in telling it to my host, I choked up and teared up, embarrassingly. She seemed to tear up too, and indulged my emotion. We laughed together and talked a while longer, exchanged cards, and I took a handful of pamphlets and bookmarks with me.

I hope I didn't overstay my welcome. But even if I did, I'm so glad I made the visit, and so grateful for Virginia's kindness, and her grandfather's legacy.

The Berry Center is located at 111 S. Main Street in New Castle, Kentucky.


J. Gumbo's, Louisville, KY

I didn't know that our lunch spot for the last stop on our little writer's retreat this past week was part of a chain. Usually, when I travel, I try to eat at unique, locally-owned restaurants. But although the Cajun-style J. Gumbo's restaurant has locations in ten states, it began in Louisville, and I'm really glad I ate there with my friends.
The Frankfort Avenue location in Louisville sits way back from the road, so it's easy to miss (my friends Torry and David both passed it right by). And the restaurant's exterior doesn't look all that inviting. But in this case, appearances are deceiving.
I had the Bumblebee Stew, after telling the staff member at the counter that I don't eat hot stuff and being offered a taste. It wasn't hot at all and I ate the "bowl as big as the bayou" down to the very last bite. Absolutely delicious.

The J. Gumbo's we ate at is located at 2109 Frankfort Avenue in the Clifton district of Louisville, Kentucky.

Carmichael's Bookstore, Louisville, KY

One of the many highlights of this past week's little writer's retreat in Louisville, Kentucky, was a visit (all too short) to Carmichael's Bookstore at 2720 Frankfort Avenue (there are two other locations in Louisville, both on Bardstown Road).
I know I've mentioned it before (here, for example), but I love locally-run independent bookstores, and Carmichael's is that. It was opened in April 1978 at 1582 Bardstown Road by Carol Besse and Michael Boggs (the store name is a combination of their first names), and has been owned and operated by them ever since. It is a family business in the best tradition. As the business grew, so did the number of family members involved, and the staff now includes a second generation. The location we visited at the corner of Frankfort and Bayly opened in 2003. The store isn't large, but is clearly a beloved gathering place, hosting frequent author signings and many autographed books.
The children's section (above) is likewise small but well and wisely stocked. The staff was pleasant, attentive, and knowledgeable.
Since I knew that Carmichael's has a close relationship with one of my favorite authors--Wendell Berry (see here)--I bought three of his books, all signed. I wasted no time beginning them all.

As I said, our visit was too short (I blame each and every one of my friends). But it was so fun and rewarding.

Safai Coffee Shop, Louisville, KY

On my recent sojourn in Louisville with several writer friends, we checked out Safai Coffee Shop (named for owners Mike and Medora Safai). It is more than a coffee shop; there is also a Safai Foundation and a distributor of wholesale seed-to-cup coffee.
Safai offered a warm and inviting space for conversation, coffee, and various edibles (scones and crepes among them).
I had a cup of pour-over coffee (very smooth) with a crepe. I forget what the crepe was called but it had apples, walnuts, and a pretty helping of whipped cream. It was perfectly prepared and appreciatively consumed.

Safai is located at 1707 Bardstown Road in Louisville, Kentucky.

Game Restaurant, Louisville, KY

At our wonderful little writer's retreat this past Tuesday and Wednesday, I dined at Game, a unique restaurant in Louisville’s historic Irish Hill district, with my friends. Game specializes in wild (and mostly exotic) game sourced from local farmers. The menu offers kangaroo, bison, alpaca, and more, as well as vegetarian options.
I had a wild boar burger, topped with bleu cheese, tomato, and lettuce. I probably have an undiscerning palate but I didn't notice anything especially unique in the taste. But the cheese-sprinkled grilled corn on the cob was outstanding. And all the dishes were beautifully presented.
Our service was timely and capable, though I did get the impression we were an interruption or nuisance in our server's schedule. He may just have been having a crummy day. And though my friend Terry White is obviously an inexperienced selfie-taker, as the above image of our party shows, he did at least get us all in the frame.

Game is located at 2295 Lexington Road in Louisville. Keep those names straight; I don't know what you'll find if you go to 2295 Louisville Road in Lexington.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY

My lodgings this past Tuesday and Wednesday a "writer-friends retreat" I took with some--well, writer friends--was the beautiful Laws Lodge Conference Center on the campus of the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in (you guessed it) Louisville, Kentucky.
It was an economical and hospitable place to camp overnight while the other writer-type people and I roamed around, chatted up a storm, and ate way too much (more will follow in subsequent posts on this blog, because I know you're dying to know more. Be patient. All will be revealed).
Tuesday afternoon, several of us took a walk on the campus and were delighted by the beautiful Caldwell Chapel (above).
My friend Terry White played a few hymns on the piano and then we made our way to the choir loft, where (don't tell anyone) we located an organ key and enjoyed Terry's virtuosity on the impressive pipe organ. I think he liked my singing along, too, though he was too shy, I'm sure, to say so. 
Before returning to the lodge we ducked into the well-appointed campus library, and perused the rich store there of books and periodicals. No one shushed us, not even once (though some of the students eyed us suspiciously, probably trying to judge if we were old enough to be students ourselves). 
I couldn't have asked for a better place to sojourn (though, admittedly, the labyrinth was a disappointment).

Laws Lodge Conference Center and the Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary are located at 1044 Alta Vista Road in Louisville, Kentucky. Tell them Bob sent you.

Momma’s Mustard Pickles & BBQ, Louisville, KY

I spent yesterday and today in Louisville, Kentucky, with several friends (more on that in subsequent posts on this blog). Our first stop (actually where we met up to begin our whirlwind time together) was Momma’s Mustard Pickles & BBQ. No, seriously, that's what it's called. And there's a great story behind it. It starts with a horse. Literally. The owner took the winnings from a small share of a Derby horse and bought a food truck and a smoker. One thing led to another, and now, while there is still a food truck, there are also two restaurant locations in Louisville. We ate at the Bauer Avenue location.
The brisket could have been more moist for my taste, and boy was the potato salad mustardy. But that's to be expected from a place called Momma’s Mustard Pickles & BBQ. We also shared an appetizer of fried sweet pickles, which were great. And our server, Alana, was just wonderful. I hope the other guys tipped her well.

Momma’s Mustard Pickles & BBQ can be found at two locations in Louisville: 102 Bauer Avenue and 119 South Hurstborne Parkway.