A big thank you to editor Carol Andregg who has published my prose poem “Liminality” in the new issue of the well-known journal, Cider Press Review.
“Liminality” is a poem about my father. The poem begins this way:
Hell’s bells my father rolled off his tongue when frustrated or not pleased with the current situation. They weren’t the angry words when his temper swelled and overpowered his vulnerable body. Being only human, those other words . . . .
You can follow the link to the full poem, as well as an audio recording of me reading the poem:
For years, whenever I traveled on the 202 freeway loop and saw a strange wedding cake shaped structure in the distance I wondered about it. Then the gardener saw a program on TV where the place was identified as Tovrea Castle at Carraro Heights. I googled the castle and discovered that there were tours of the property. When we decided we wanted to go check it out, I found that I needed to book the tour many months in advance. So about nine months ago I bought the $15 tickets for two. In the amount of time it takes to develop a full human baby, the gardener and I finally were allowed to visit and learn about Tovrea Castle.
Our tour group traveled across the property and up to the castle in two golf carts driven by our two orange-attired docents, each named Nancy. I’m not sure if the tour guides have to be called Nancy or if it was a coincidence they were both named Nancy. (OK, I’m kidding).
The castle and acreage are now in the middle of the city with industrial and commercial zoning all around. It’s not far from Sky Harbor Airport either, and I saw several planes overhead. Other people on my tour saw roadrunners, squirrels, and a jackrabbit with big ears, but I didn’t catch a glimpse of anything with a heartbeat outside of our tour.
What looked like a castle from afar actually wasn’t that large up close. The entire building is about 5,000 square feet, and that includes the basement, which is the largest floor. The second and third floors have small hotel rooms. We were not allowed to go up there, but were told that there is only one bathroom per floor. On a 360 degree iPad tour, the rooms looked quite nice and ready for move in. I might call the architectural style cheesy, but maybe I just don’t appreciate it properly. The light fixtures and other accessories were all in the art deco style, which is definitely a style I like very much.
The castle is painted in its original colors. The front door was remarkable for its plainness. From every floor of the building it is possible to get a 360 degree view of Phoenix.
The bannister is made of terrazo and the columns marble. Terrazo is a compound of granite and concrete.
Before the castle was ever built, F.L. and Lizzie Warner established a homestead on 160 acres in 1907. They built their house (no longer in existence) on a rocky knoll, overlooking . . . desert. Scrub is what I call it. Eventually they added to their property and when Lizzie (after F.L. died) sold the property to Alessio Carraro in 1928 there was a total of 277 acres.
Carraro was an Italian immigrant who made a fortune in the sheet metal business in San Francisco. In 1928 he moved to Arizona, wanting to develop a desert resort and luxury housing subdivision. The “castle” was built as a hotel and completed in 1930. Because of the Great Depression, Carraro had to sell the property in 1931 at a great loss to get cash. Maybe he also sold because his wife refused to move to the desert. Or maybe it was another reason . . . .
While Carraro owned the property, a lot of construction was completed. He hired a Russian gardener, called Mokta, who built an enormous cactus garden. The garden still exists, in a way, but some of the sahuaros (the sentinels of the Sonoran Desert) are dead or dying, and it does not look as rich and thickly planted as shown in the old photographs. What my gardener noticed (that was not mentioned by the tour guides) was that in the old days the property was completely irrigated, whereas today it is not. Even sahuaros need some water, I guess.
Mokta, Carraro, and Carraro’s son Leo planted over 500 species of cactus and lined the property with white river rock from the Salt River. They also created two concrete-lined pools, a horseshoe area, and a game court (for a game that was a combination of bocce and pool).
At this point, the history of Carraro and the “castle” meets the history of the Tovrea family.
Edward Ambrose (“E.A.”) Tovrea was born in Illinois in 1861 and moved to Kansas at the age of 10 where he worked on a cattle ranch. He started a freight company that transported goods between western states and eventually settled in Arizona where he built and owned butcher shops throughout the state, founding the Arizona Packing Company, later known as the Tovrea Packing Company.
In 1931, E.A. and his second wife, Della, purchased the castle with 44 acres from Alessio Carraro. Now this is not part of the official story, but I found it online and maybe it’s the real reason Carrara had to sell the property:
Carraro’s dream of a resort hotel and a subdivision of fine homes ended a few months later. For some time, Carraro had tried unsuccessfully to buy 40 acres adjacent to his land that would serve as an important buffer between his property and a stockyard and meat packing plant. When the acreage finally was sold, it went not to Carraro, but to the owner of the nearby packing company E. A. Tovrea.
Tovrea promptly put up sheep pens on the land. That was it for Carraro, who figured few people would be interested in buying a nice home next to a flock of sheep. In June, 1931, Carraro accepted an offer from a real estate agent for the hotel and much of the property. Unknown to him was that the buyer was Della Tovrea.
What rotten luck. I’ve seen photos of the descendents of Carrara and Tovrea together in a friendly manner, but this must have been such a blow to Carrara.
That stockyard came to be part of the Tovrea Stockyards. Can you imagine the smell in the heat of the summer?
E.A. passed away within a year, leaving behind a son who took over the family businesses. Della Tovrea resided in the castle until her death in 1969. During the time the property was owned by the Tovreas, features added to the gardens include a large concrete patio just east of the castle, a rose garden, an aviary, and a reflecting pool. The pool reflected an enormous sahuaro. The sahuaro is now a skeleton only 1/3 its original height.
There are a lot of small outbuildings on the property, but most are completely falling apart. The well house is one of the few that still stands. You can see it below.
Near the well house is the dovecote which is completely fallen apart. The dovecote was to keep pigeons to feed the many workers.
Another outbuilding was a little kennel for the dogs. It was just a large free-standing cage. The guide explained that this was built for the protection of the dogs because of the dangerous predators in the area. Hello! So the dogs are inside this cage the size of a small bathroom and the bobcats, mountain lions, javelina, coyotes, and God knows what else, are LUNGING at them from the outside. How many dogs ended up with heart attacks?!
Della Tovrea was a very important person in the Arizona Democratic Party and the only woman representative for Arizona at the 1936 convention. In her later years, she began sleeping in the kitchen. I have no idea why she slept in the kitchen. She had developed a fear of being locked in her huge bank-type vault in the basement by burglars and had had the lock disabled. One night while she slept just feet away from her beautiful blue kitchen sink two burglars did break in and force her to take them around the house pointing out the valuables. There are two different stories about how a bullet hole was made in the kitchen ceiling that night. In one version, a burglar shot his gun. In another version, it was Della herself and her old Colt. When the men left in their pink Cadillac (no relation to Mary Kay or Elvis, to my knowledge), she had no way (in 1969!) to contact the police or the caretakers who lived in a cottage on the grounds and had to make her way to their house in the pouring rain. She died two months later, possibly of pneumonia.
The cast of characters in the story of Tovrea Castle would make for a picaresque novel, to be sure, and I think Della was the greatest piece of work of all. I have a soft spot, though, for Carrara who was a dreamer who repurposed creatively (the blue sink might have come from elsewhere, as did the maple floors and other features of the building and grounds). He took risks and couldn’t withstand the machinations of “bottom line Tovrea,” as I like to think of him.
Today the basement is a tiny museum of Carraro Heights. The ceiling is the bird’s nest style (with hidden eggs throughout). And there are tunnels leading outside.
The Boy Scouts made and installed green ladder stairs around the property. These are views far away and up close.
In 1993, the Castle and the 44 acre Cactus Gardens were purchased from the Tovrea Family Estate by the City of Phoenix which now maintains the National Register of Historic Places property and runs the tours. But at some point somebody else must have run tours here because in the basement there is an old sign.
When I asked why it’s necessary to buy tickets so many months in advance, the tour guides explained to me that they don’t have enough docents. I’d almost swear the one lady looked at me pointedly and hopefully at that moment.
The thing is that while the combination of history and garden and architecture was great fun for both the gardener and me, the desert leaves me cold (you know what I mean). I can’t blame Carrara’s wife for not budging from San Francisco. Are you KIDDING me? What was he thinking? We probably lucked out and got the last beautiful weather for the next three months or so. From now on it will be HOT.
On the other hand, plenty of people love the desert. Identify yourself right now!
And, like Tevye (I like musical theatre references), I can always repeat on the other hand: have you ever seen a bluer sky than ours?
While we were in Louisville we visited the Frazier Historical Museum. It was particularly interesting for its history of Prohibition and bootlegging. They also had an exhibition of contemporary art by Louisville artist Julius Friedman. Not sure how that is historical, but it certainly was pretty.
I loved the glass cubes on a bed of glass shards.
This piece struck me as particularly liminal:
This weekend I discovered that PBS was going through the entire Downton Abbey series, and since I had never had time to watch it before and needed a break from work, I thought I would try to keep up with the help of my DVR. All was well until yesterday morning when my water heater caught on fire. So glad we were home!!! All is ok once it gets replaced–except perhaps for the odor which has permeated our clothes since the water heater is in our closet. This week it has to be replaced.
When I smelled the fire in the cabinet, I yelled for my husband and went in search of my 5 cats. I wanted them rounded up in case we had to vacate. The fire was caught in time, but the cats had adventures camping in the laundry room and half bath.
Still, I am well into season 3 and enjoying the show. Such great acting! Old news to most, I guess, but not to me ;). I know that Maggie Smith’s character is “everyone’s” favorite, but who else do you like best? I love Hugh Bonneville (who looks so like my uncle), Joanne Froggatt (Anna), well, I can’t keep listing because they are all so great.
The history of the show is fascinating because it is also quite liminal–that period between the “old day” and “modern day” captures the imagination. What a time to have lived.
I really do intend to get back to writing, but it has not happened yet. Still hanging out in that liminal space, I guess.
This prolonged heat spell is making me feel as if I am in a liminal state. Between living and dead. Even in the air conditioning I feel drained and sweaty and as if my body continues to swell. What if it never stops and just gets larger and larger?
Liminality is a positive place to be if you are open-minded and ready, but it can lead to negative consequences. The photo is from a HuffPo article about the green tunnel in the Poison Garden at Alnwick Gardens in Northumberland. Click on the photo, and it will lead you to the article. Needless to say, there are poisonous plants in the poison garden, so you have to be open-minded to the experience and prepared.
United Kingdom, England, Northumberland, Alnwick, The Alnwick Garden, The Poison Garden, Tunnel. (Photo by Jeffrey Greenberg/UIG via Getty Images)
I’ve never been to this garden before, so I can’t help but wonder how animals and birds are protected from so much poison in one place. Maybe most of them know better, but they don’t all know better.
Back to the heat: I haven’t been working on the play. I can hardly get the bare minimum of work-work accomplished.
The good news is that Slupe is out and roaming with all the cats, but she paces around restlessly and doesn’t lie down unless she is hanging around the periphery of where the other cats congregate. She is in a liminal space, I guess, waiting to become a full-fledged resident and adopted from the shelter (instead of a foster cat).
Here she is hanging out in the cupboard with my computer printer. Her thought bubble: I hope nobody knows I’m in here. I’m in my liminal space.
Actually Slupe’s liminal space is stressful, not just magical. But maybe there is some anxiety associated with all liminal spaces. What do you think?
On the subject of liminality, I found something I theorized about liminality and poetry when I was up on subjects like liminal space (this was before I had cats):
When a poem is written, creative identity is performed by the poet. This performance always exists in the liminal phase. Imagine a two-dimensional diagram with a point on the left signifying the familiar everyday experience and a point on the right signifying the familiar everyday experience. The straight line connecting the two points is the liminal passage or threshold in which all is unfamiliar. Importantly, the diagram is not circular because the two familiar points are not the same point. The threshold allows the individual to adjust to the new point of familiarity.
Every poem is written somewhere along that line between the familiar points and exists in liminality in a relation to one or both of the points. Some poems may be performed by the poets more in the center of the line, thus farthest away from the points of familiarity–others may be much closer to the familiar. Therefore, from the standpoint of the writer, all poems are liminal, although some are more so than others.
And not just for writers, but for readers, too. What I like about this is how I discovered through studying liminal spaces and anthropology that poetry exists in a liminal space. That’s why it’s so special. When we read a poem we get to visit a liminal space, full of anxiety and magic.
And now back to cat patrol. It’s time for all five of them to eat. Odds are, out of five, somebody is going to throw up their food with or without a hairball. There’s nothing liminal about cat puke.
This week’s liminal photo has a name. Haha, pretentious, considering the quality of my photography? Much. But it still has a name: “Stairway to Heaven.”
I like this photo because a perfectly liminal space is that between life and death, earth and heaven.
Have you been watching for #liminality? What have you found?
Here is a poem by H.D. that I thought of because of the record heat wave in Arizona this week. Hilda Doolittle is a poet whose poems I worked with for my dissertation. Ultimately, I dropped her as one of my subjects, choosing to focus on Jorie Graham, Sylvia Plath, Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, and Linda Hogan, for the most part. Her work was so precise and crystalline and so focused on her classical allusions, that it wasn’t warm enough for me (sorry for the pun). But this poem perfectly captures the heavy hot air. The air that makes it difficult for the lungs to expand.
O wind, rend open the heat,
cut apart the heat,
rend it to tatters.
Fruit cannot drop
through this thick air--
fruit cannot fall into heat
that presses up and blunts
the points of pears
and rounds the grapes.
Cut the heat--
plough through it,
turning it on either side
of your path.
Last week I posted about liminality, defined as a space between or on/in a sensory threshold. A transitional state. You can read more about it here.
When I traveled to my home state in October 2014, I had not visited Michigan for quite some time, and it was a very intense, emotional trip for me. Although I’d spent a lot of time with my parents out west, I hadn’t been to see them on the land where I grew up.
There is a way that I could think of that visit as a liminal space because it was the threshold that led into my father’s illness and eventual death in May 2015. It was the last time I saw my father before his illnesses, although he might have already been sick at the time–and nobody realized it. Our relationship began to change after this trip.
I found a photo from that visit that I find to be symbolic of liminality: the dock at my parents’ home. The dock is a passageway between land and water. If you walk off the dock into the water, you had better know how to swim or be wearing a life jacket.
I wasn’t prepared for walking off the dock that fall, but luckily I had had swimming lessons as a kid.
By the way, that wire across the top of the photo? I thought about cropping it out, but it seems important somehow.
I’ve always had a thing for liminality. Yup, liminality. Doesn’t it feel good on your tongue? According to Merriam-Webster (remember her?):
Definition of liminal
1: of or relating to a sensory threshold
2: barely perceptible
3: of, relating to, or being an intermediate state, phase, or condition :in-between, transitional<in the liminal state between life and death — Deborah Jowitt>
I love that in between space there. You know, anywhere. Passageways like cupboards and rabbit holes and wardrobes. The place of process, like focusing on the process of art instead of the finished product. The place of change where you are different at one end than you were at the other.
I thought I’d let my camera start searching for some of those liminal spaces. If you find any, please share!!!
This one is at the Virginia Dare office and shopping center in Rancho Cucamonga, California.
On Monday I have such a deal coming for you! Watch for it!
In the meantime, life with Slupe is sweet.
Did you think I’ve forgotten about Kana and Tiger (and Pear and Felix)? Nope. I think I have mentioned that Tiger has a little window seat that is all hers. It’s her happy place. I put an X of double faced tape so that Kana can’t lie there and annoy her. She has an ice cube tray with toys so that I can hide treats under the toys. And I placed a mini litter box behind my antique trunk in case Kana blocks her from the ones in the laundry room. Lots of quail and bunnies and lizards for Tiger to watch.
Tiger has a little squeak like a mouse and runs from Kana which prompts Kana to chase her. Sigh. I guess it’s all that liminal space ;).