Making good geographical sense

Summary: 

I have just spent a poignant afternoon browsing my correspondence with Peirce; hours sweet with nostalgia for an acquaintanceship that began when I joined the Penn State geography faculty in 1967 and grew into comradery; hours of sadness that his death brought that relationship to the definitive end.



 

I have just spent a poignant afternoon browsing my correspondence with Peirce; hours sweet with nostalgia for an acquaintanceship that began when I joined the Penn State geography faculty in 1967 and grew into comradery; hours of sadness that his death brought that relationship to the definitive end.
 

As this collection of recollections attests, Peirce was many things to many individuals, all of them wonderful, except for his driving when conducting field trips. Such was his exuberance for what he was seeing and explaining that he generally neglected to watch the road or other traffic. We soon developed elaborate conspiracies to keep the car keys out of his hands.  

In retrospect, among our many interactions as colleagues, neighbors, and friends, I am especially happy to have aroused a passion that dominated the last decades of his professional life—his love affair with New Orleans. In 1971 the AAG’s Comparative Metropolitan Analysis Project needed someone to write the vignette on New Orleans, one of the twenty metropolitan regions the project embraced. Nobody local could or would write it, a problem I mentioned to Peirce one day. He tentatively volunteered, saying that he had long wondered whether he could go to a new place cold and make good geographical sense of it. Project Director John S. Adams and I put the suggestion to the project’s Steering Committee (Brian J. L. Berry, John R. Borchert, Frank E. Horton, J. Warren Nystrom, James E. Vance, and David Ward) who, familiar with Peirce’s capabilities, approved. The resulting 1976 vignette New Orleans—The Making of an Urban Landscape (Ballinger Press), became an instant classic, to be followed after repeated requests in 2003 by an updated and expanded version with the same title (Center for American Places), that was subsequently reissued in 2010 and 2018 by the University of Virginia Press. Good geographical sense indeed! 

Among the many things I cherish about Peirce, foremost is the delightful yet erudite banter of most of his letters and emails over the years, as in this from 1999: 

Sorry to have missed you and Barbara at the Dean's bash, but the sweet Felicia and I were off tarryhooting around the West Country and Wales. I wish to discover where the poet Browning is buried so that I can go dance on his grave. We took his advice on being in England now that April's here, and the advice is bad—constant rain, and even some snow: we crossed Exmoor in a howling blizzard, although it may have been the hound that was howling. I later learned that Chaucer had some nice things to say about English Mays. So much for the romantics. 

But egad, sir, rural England remains SUCH a civilized place with SUCH nice people! And I may have discovered the best beverage in the United Kingdom: 

Ruddles Strong Ale. Comes in half-liter cans—sorry, tins, and my goodness . . .  

English food, alas, still suffers from the falling damps, despite propaganda to the contrary. I can't begin to imagine how the British population manages to ingest that volume of boiled potatoes. I supposed they produced the carbohydrate that fueled the Building of Empire. 

Btw, if you and Barbara haven't visited the north Welsh city of Conwy, with its Edward I castle and crenellated walls and a Telford cast-iron suspension bridge, run, do not walk . . .  And just to the south is Bodnant Garden, which is worth a trans-Atlantic trip just on its own. 

When are you coming next to the Happy Valley? F & I would like to slay a fatted calf for you and shew you our new Park Avenue digs. The azaleas are in bloom as I speak . . . 

 

Issue Number: 
171
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