Sewanee Convenience Center Hours


As the hours are hard to find online elsewhere, here you go.

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The Fire at Rebel’s Rest


A sore back woke me up in the middle of the night and, looking at my iPhone for the time (“1:39″), I saw a post on Facebook of a fire with the caption “rebels rest dammit.”  It had been posted about 1 AM; shortly thereafter, another friend posted something similar. Now I was wide awake, and decided I would go up to University Ave to see what was going on.

The pungent odor of fire was faint in my neighborhood and covered by a far stronger smell of skunk which receded as a I got closer to the University. Mindful of my wife’s remark, You’ll just be in the way, I parked by the bookstore and walked up to Convocation Hall. The odor was stronger now. There were many flashing lights but, with all the sirens off, the scene was oddly quiet. Small groups of people were gathered on the sidewalk though few were talking.  The fire was over, but the firefighters were still pouring on water. The worst had passed.

My friend and former student Ryan was there with some other people, alumni now back for the Writers’ Conference.  Ryan works at the Inn and had just gotten off duty when he came up–he was still in his uniform. “If you had been here an hour ago,” he said, “you would have thought it was going down. They saved the first floor, and I guess some of the back.”  Some had photos on their phones, which I’ve posted below.

I milled around a little more.  The building had been undergoing renovation, and evidently the alarms were not on.  Someone said that a man walking his dog down University Ave around 11:20 had seen the glow from inside the building. The sprinklers were working, my friend Parker said, and eventually the firefighters had to turn them off when they got in. Chief Marie was there, her efficient and competent self, consulting with them. I saw the VC looking tired and sad.

For many faculty, Rebel’s Rest was the first place they ever stayed at Sewanee.  It had a grand old aura about it, a throwback in time. My friend Ted stayed there once and praised its antique feel “without any damn doilies.”  Under the wisteria on the front porch, I had had many a lively conversation and good laugh. I remember talking with my friend Jim about Thomas Merton’s Seven Storey Mountain very well. On the back porch, my student Sarah and I were at the bar set up for a Medieval Colloquium reception and when I asked for Chardonnay, she said, “Not you too!” like I’d just contracted smallpox. I recall driving Stanley Crouch up to the front door and much as he wanted to dislike anything with the word rebel in it, the wisteria was just too charming.  From this morning’s photos it looks like the wisteria might have survived.

I have myself given a talk or two in the living room, most recently on the emperor Nero, who knew something about fires himself, it occurred to me as I finally walked back to the car. My back was still sore, as was my heart. Some of Major Fairbanks’ old house has been saved, but it will not be the same. Goodbye, Rebel’s Rest, and may you rest in peace.

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Postscript. The following is from the August 7, 2014 edition of the Sewanee Mountain Messenger: Members of the Sewanee Volunteer Fire Department respond to the blaze at Rebel’s Rest late on July 23. Photo by Buck Butler/University of the South


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Along the Duck River

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Words for Wines and Other Important Things

There’s a fine piece in this week’s New Yorker (July 12, 2014) by Maria Konnikova entitled “What We Really Taste When We Drink Wine” that I think has some bearing on what we do in the Humanities.  I had begun reading the piece looking for some Emperor’s New Clothes-style skewering of pretension, and was not disappointed.  Many factors go into an individual’s evaluation of a particular wine, not least of which is the desire to agree with what has already been determined to be good.  As she writes, “More expensive wines are often rated higher on taste than cheaper ones—but only if tasters are told the price ahead of time.”

Aha!  I thought.  The charade exposed, and confirmed by this choice remark: “In one of the most prominent studies of how expectations can influence taste, Gil Morrot, a wine researcher at the National Institute for Agronomic Research in Montpellier, and his colleagues found that the simple act of adding an odorless red dye to a glass of white wine could fool a panel of tasters (fifty-four students in the University of Bordeaux’s Oenology program) into describing the wine as exhibiting the qualities associated with red wine.”

BUT THEN there is this: “Telling red wine from white is quite difficult for amateurs, it turns out. For experts, though, the story is different. In 1990, Gregg Solomon, a Harvard psychologist who wrote ‘Great Expectorations: The Psychology of Expert Wine Talk,’ found that amateurs can’t really distinguish different wines at all, but he also found that experts can indeed rank wines for sweetness, balance, and tannin at rates that far exceeded chance. Part of the reason isn’t just in the added experience. It’s in the ability to phrase and label that experience more precisely, a more developed sensory vocabulary that helps you to identify and remember what you experience. Indeed, when novices are trained, their discrimination ability improves.”

It’s that sentence I’ve highlighted–on giving novices a useful vocabulary with which to secure their experience–that made what I thought was going to be an exercise in low pleasure (“ha ha, wine snobs are phonies!”) into a far more profound one.  This is fact what we do at a liberal arts college–give students the terminology for their experiences, both lived and literary, so that they can understand and make sense of them.  Our job as educators is to provide novices in the field the language they need to come to terms as they will with what they encounter. What we have loved, Wordsworth writes in The Prelude (Book XIV), Others will love, and we will teach them how.  

Postscript, July 18, 2014. I wrote to Maria Konnikova to tell her much of what I say above. Her gracious reply:

Dear Christopher,  Many thanks for such a thoughtful note. I really appreciate hearing from readers, especially when the content is as insightful as yours. Thank you for reading and getting in touch.  And what a wonderful Wordsworth quote.  All the best,  Maria


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Exiting Buggy Top

We hiked to Buggy Top Cave yesterday, just south of Sewanee off the Sherwood Road.   This is a phenomenal cave to visit, with an eighty foot mouth and a creek running through it. Buggy Top was closed for a while, due to white nose syndrome, but is apparently now open again. Even those in good physical shape–one of whom I am not–despair of the hike out, but it’s all worth it. “The world just seems so much brighter once you get out,” one of my sons said to me.  “The greens just kinda glow.”

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Many know the famous Allegory of the Cave, from Plato’s Republic Book 7 (Jowett translation):  Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

Of course, Socrates says, occasionally one of them will think to turn around, and seeing that all he has known is but a series of shadows, will try to make his way out– perhaps with some instructor’s help.  The experience is an unpleasant one for him, at first:  And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he ‘s forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

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Teeny Weeny Circus

Dogwood Festival, Winchester (TN), 2012.  Right after I took this picture, a woman walked by with a dog on a leash. Pandemonium ensued. The clown tried to get his dogs to stop barking, without success. It was so much more fun to watch than the tricks they were doing before, though those were pretty good, too.


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Shoes of the Fisherman

football boots

So, according to a story in yesterday’s Moscow Times (and picked up by Jezebel, Huffington Post, and many other sites), an Orthodox priest bloggged that the World Cup Tournament was a “homosexual abomination,” that players who wear green, yellow, pink or blue shoes helped promote the “gay rainbow,” and they “might as well wear women’s panties or a bra.”  Yeah well, haters gonna hate, I guess. Author Alexander Shumsky should skype Anne Coulter and have themselves a good cry about moral decay and futboll.

10625-pope-francis-hat-jms-1441_da8c0af821b8981ae6686206a074df8a.nbcnews-ux-1360-900I would advise them to leave Pope Francis out of it, though, for a couple of reason. First of all, the Pope is an Argentinian who likes soccer a lot–here he is holding an Albiceleste jersey.  And  has a sense of humor about it, too–note the tweeted cartoon from the Vatican about the Argentina-Switzerland match:

f0000279ixt1But most importantly, the crack about colorful footwear will fall on deaf ears at St. Peter’s.  According to long-hallowed tradition, it is a right appertaining to the Pope to wear the specially-embroidered sandals with liturgical stockings called caligae.  These special shoes have provoked no end of merriment in the press–“Does the Pope Wear Prada?” asked the Wall Street Journal of Pope Benedict– but in fact the custom goes back to antiquity.

paul_viThe Catholic Encyclopedia notes, ” The privilege of wearing the sandals and caligæ belongs only to bishops. They may be worn by abbots and other prelates only by special privilege from the pope and only so far as this privilege grants. The pontifical foot-wear is used only at pontifical solemn Mass and at functions performed during the same, as ordination, but not on other occasions, as, for example, Confirmation, solemn Vespers, etc. It is therefore in the most exact sense of the word a vestment worn during the Mass. The liturgical colour for the day decides the colour of the sandals and caligæ.”  It is further noted, “Sandals and stockings are only customary in the Latin Rite and are unknown in the Oriental Rites.” Perhaps the Orthodox hierarchy would like to get themselves some fancy shoes and trade in their Russian jersey for an Argentinian one?


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