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From "Within the Wardrobes"
By W.S. Merwin


No one who was not born and brought up in them really knows of the life in the clothing drawers, and very few of those who did grow up there are willing to divulge any details of that ancient existence so close to our own, or as we like to say within our own, and yet so unfamiliar. No, they answer, everything has been taken from us from the beginning and you have given us only what you chose to, with no concern for us. What essentials remain to us, the secrets of our life, we will keep to ourselves. If our way of life is doomed as a result of yours, its secrets will die with it, and its meaning. We will not lend those to you for your masquerades.

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Another from Michael Dirda's review of Merwin's The Book of Fables in Sunday's Washington Post Book World. "Merwin -- one of our most distinguished living American poets -- tantalizes rather than moralizes," explains Dirda. "Consider Within the Wardrobes'...some readers might respond to [the first] sentence with a simple 'Huh?' and start looking around for the latest issue of Newsweek. But if you find appeal in that touch of humor, the tinge of mystery, the mock-scholarly tone and the sheer bizarrerie, keep reading...at its most lyrical The Book of Fables might be likened to Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, that catalogue of the odd and marvel-filled dwelling places in the kingdom of Kubla Khan."

We spent Friday in Hershey and Ronks, Pennsylvania. We started at Zoo America on the grounds of Hersheypark, a zoo containing animals exclusively from North America, where we had a quick lunch, saw a reptile show and walked through exhibits on desert animals, the plains, bear habitats and river life (a stream that powers the Hershey chocolate plant flows through the zoo). From there we went to the free central attraction of Hershey's Chocolate World, a Willie Wonka-type overview of the history of the town and the chocolate factory...very Disney, you'd never know slaves ever worked on cocoa plantations and the singing cows are rather "It's a Small World"-derivative, but it's entirely free to park and ride and everyone gets free chocolate samples at the end, when visitors are let out into an enormous candy and dessert emporium complete with waterfalls and exotic trees.

From there we went to a place the kids have visited several times with my in-laws but we've never seen: The Outhouse, a lunatic store in the middle of a respectable shopping district specializing in Amish furniture, quilts and handcrafts, with lots of ridiculous gag gifts and store features requiring quarters to see the "Amish Hooters calendar" (involves owls) "terrifying man-eating chicken" (involves an overweight person with KFC) and other attractions. It's mostly bathroom humor, as the name implies, making it the perfect place to take prepubescent boys. It's also around the corner from Dienner's Country Restaurant, less famous than nearby Miller's but also much less expensive and with smorgasbord just as good, including many, many varieties of pie.


Bison live near the stream at Zoo America that flows past the Hershey factory and this storage facility that reportedly holds cocoa beans.


The entrance to Hershey's Chocolate World, home of the Great American Chocolate Tour -- not the actual factory, but a recreation with singing cows.


Elvis is everywhere, Elvis is everything.


Most of the surrounding countryside consists of private homes, craft stores and sedate farms like this one...


...but Ronks is not above a bit of shameless tourist appeal...


...and the Outhouse is not above any low humor! This sign is on the porch near the "tailgate toilet." Inside are many other bathroom jokes, from a fake old lady inside a fake outhouse to a squirting Buddha.


This "horse-powered Mennonite Missile" for instance supposedly contains manure.


Whether this is authentic regional humor, I couldn't say. The nearby craft store that we stopped in, staffed by unsmiling Amish women who made beautiful quilts and wall hangings, did not have any toilet jokes.


Am full to exploding from chocolate and smorgasbord, barely stayed awake on the drive back (reading Kate Mosse's Labyrinth -- on a Cathar fiction kick again). Tomorrow, Boyd's Bears, then [livejournal.com profile] apaulled and I are coming home and the kids are staying with their grandparents for a couple of days of bonding!
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