Any doomsayers lamenting the demise of the printed word are not keeping up with Nashville resident Ann Patchett.
The hugely successful author just penned her seventh novel, Commonwealth, which spans fifty years and sprawls from California to Virginia, telling the story of a blended family marked by tragedy. Like her other acclaimed books—The Patron Saint of Liars, The Magician’s Assistant, Bel Canto, State of Wonder—it is big, chewy, and thought-provoking.
“I think I always write the same novel,” says Patchett, who has received England’s Orange Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award. “A group of strangers are thrown together by chance and form a society. This one is just set a little closer to home than the rest.”
While Commonwealth is available to download, Patchett remains blessedly old-school in her attachment to bound paper. Mention the word Kindle to her, and she bristles. “I don’t use those,” she says.
Patchett does, after all, own Parnassus Books, a Nashville-based bookstore that’s one of the country’s most successful. Open since 2011, it’s a bookworm’s utopia, and Patchett is more than just its public face. As her business partner Karen Hayes says, “She really pitches in to help out during our busy times.”
Patchett’s retail specialty? Giftwrapping.
“That’s no joke,” Patchett says. “I love to wrap. I had no idea how much fun running the store would be. I deeply love the people who work here. We’re like a sitcom.”
Their hard work and humor are paying off. Parnassus, located in an unassuming strip mall on Hillsboro Pike opposite the Mall at Green Hills, recently announced plans to double its size by taking over a 2,500-square-foot space next door. It also bought a van to serve as a bookmobile, venturing out to parks, farmers markets, and other public plazas. “No one goes into bookselling to get rich,” Patchett says, “but we are not losing money. We are doing just fine.”
Patchett has become a de facto spokeswoman for indie booksellers everywhere, pitching their virtues on NPR, Oprah, and the finale of The Colbert Report. In 2012, Time magazine named her one of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. “I’m going on the assumption that the printed word is not going anywhere,” says Patchett, who launched Parnassus after her hometown’s other bookstores closed. “It’s a place where people come and sit and read. I don’t want to live in a city without a bookstore.”
Which is why she opened Parnassus in the first place—she certainly wasn’t going to move. Patchett was born in California, but her family relocated to the country music capital when she was a child. “I love Nashville because I know where everything is,” she says. “I know the plants. I know the people. I’m very comfortable here. My sense of place doesn’t inform my work insofar as I’m not writing about Nashville, but Nashville is home. It’s where I get things done, so I’m sure it informs me in a million small ways.”
She may be a resolute “homebody,” but Patchett tries to avoid regional labels in her writing. “I don’t really consider myself a Southerner, though I guess I am,” she says. “I don’t think about it. I believe Philip Roth in Sacramento would still be Philip Roth and Ann Patchett in Maine would still be Ann Patchett. We pick up details from our environment, but the place doesn’t make you a writer or a greater writer or a lesser writer.”
A place does, however, determine the kind of bookstore that thrives there, and fans say Parnassus—with its open-for-playing piano, five resident dogs, and sizable selection of music-oriented books—is quintessentially Nashville. Frequent shopper Robin Littlefield agrees. “I love Parnassus in the same way I love record stores that doggedly refuse to concede that the efficiency of Amazonian digital is better,” he says. “I want to touch the leaves of the book and meet the local author who wrote it in the same way that I want to run a needle through an LP. It’s edifying to buy a real book from people who love it as much as you do.”
Parnassus takes this community engagement seriously. “We have endless author events,” Patchett says. “We have storytime for kids and jazz workshops and book clubs. Nashville has always been very supportive of all things independent.”
And, too, she adds, “We just love it when Brenda Lee comes in to browse. Who else can say that?”
Patchett recommends Where would Ann Patchett take a first-time visitor to Nashville? To Centennial Park, where they’d discover a forty-two-foot-tall statue of Athena, blindingly gilded with more than eight pounds of gold leaf. “You just have to see it for yourself,” she says. The statue is located inside a full-scale replica of the Parthenon (Nashville is known as the “Athens of the South”). Besides Athena, this Parthenon houses an art gallery featuring nineteenth- and twentieth-century American paintings and an exhibition on the grand turn-of-the-century fair for which the structure was built: the 1897 Tennessee Centennial and International Exposition.
Ernest Hemingway Home & Museum Key West, Florida Something about balmy Key West inspired Ernest Hemingway to enter the most prolific phase of his career. In 1931, he purchased this Spanish Colonial house, where he lived with his family until 1940. Tour his studio decorated with big game trophies and patrolled by forty polydactyl, or six-toed cats, descended from the pet a sea captain gave the author. hemingwayhome.com
Thomas Wolfe Memorial Asheville, North Carolina
Larger-than-life in stature and genius, Thomas Wolfe’s personality looms over the site of the Old Kentucky Home boardinghouse once operated by his mother. (It was depicted as “Dixieland” in his 1929 novel Look Homeward, Angel). It’s also the starting point for the self-guided walking tour of Wolfe’s Asheville, which includes many structures mentioned in his books. wolfememorial.com
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings Historic State Park Hawthorne, Florida This “cracker”-style homestead, where Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings penned The Yearling and where fellow writer Zora Neale Hurston paid her a visit, has been restored with frontier authenticity. Docents offer tours in 1930s costume, and chickens and roosters still roam the orange tree–shaded yard. floridastateparks.org/park/Marjorie-Kinnan-Rawlings
Alex Haley House Museum and Interpretive Center Henning, Tennessee Tour Alex Haley’s boyhood home and view a full-sized replica of a slave ship. You can also watch an eighteen-minute documentary about the consciousness-raising phenomenon of Roots. Genealogy sessions assist visitors in tracing their own family trees, and a gift shop offers copies of Haley’s books. alexhaleymuseum.org
Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site Flat Rock, North Carolina This bucolic site in the mountains of western North Carolina preserves “Connemara,” the poet’s sprawling home and pastureland. His wife, Lillian, raised prize-winning dairy goats here, and you can still see her three breeds in the dairy barn. Visit on November 26 or December 17 for holiday storytelling and musical performances. nps.gov/carl/
A goat chomping on nacho chips makes a highly distinctive sound.
That’s why Tunewelders, a boutique music creation and audio production company, recorded an actual goat—stage name Moose, of Decatur—chowing down on chips when putting together an entry in a competition to create a Doritos commercial that would air during the 2013 Super Bowl.
The Atlanta-based agency, working with local director Ben Callner and Decatur production company Pogo Pictures, won the coveted spot by crafting the wildly popular “Goat 4 Sale” ad. Tunewelders synchronized the crunching audio with the goat’s moving mouth, inserted the sound of chirping crickets to evoke nighttime, and used a ticking grandfather clock to suggest the passage of time. The overall effect—a witty, surreal portrayal of an aggressive ruminant gone crazy for nachos—earned the spot a number one ranking for advertising effectiveness from Nielsen. “Once you’ve done a Super Bowl ad, that’s a pretty big signifier,” says Ben Holst, the company’s co-founder. “It’s opening the door for other projects.”
This process of adding the fillips of background noise to a recording—a creaking stair, throat-clearing, the purring of an air conditioner—is called sound design, and it’s just one of the services offered by Tunewelders, a group of four sonic wizards who compose, produce, and play music for ad agencies, film, live theater, and television. Holst is a composer, while partner Jeremy Gilbertson acts as executive producer, overseeing the business side. Vic Stafford is an engineer and drummer, and Jason Shannon serves as the tech-savvy composer. Collegial guys in their 30s, they are multi-instrumentalists with collective expertise in just about every genre of music, and all play in several bands on the side.
“We’re all on equal footing in the company, but each of us has his own thing,” says Shannon, who also plays in ensembles for bluegrass, jazz, and baroque classical music.
Other businesses in Atlanta offer similar services, but most of them specialize in a niche, such as music for video games. “We can compose music for any project,” says Shannon. “Most companies subscribe to a library of canned music, but we customize original music we make ourselves.”
Working out of studios in the Old Fourth Ward and near Cheshire Bridge Road, Tunewelders has a client list that includes Ford, Southern Company, CNN, Krystal, Baskin-Robbins, HoneyBaked Ham, Full Throttle Energy Drinks, and the Atlanta Braves. They produced the music for 2012’s “This Is Why We Chop” television campaign, which won an Addy award and was nominated for a regional Emmy. They also did this year’s “Here’s to Braves Country,” which uses soaring, original arias written for Timothy Miller of the Atlanta Opera.
“We can take just about any concept from a nonmusical client, talk it through for a minute, and translate it into a piece of music,” says Gilbertson.
What typically happens, Shannon says, is an intensive in-studio collaboration to match music with visuals. “A client will have the project 95 percent complete and then come to us,” he says. “We set up whatever instruments are needed, from a guitar to a marimba, and start improvising ideas. We might write a string section or get together a bunch of drums for heavier percussion. Then we do a cut here and there before mixing the music and dialogue.”
Ultimately, Holst says, “there are three layers involved: the music, sound design, and voiceovers. We try to make the audio bouncier and sweeten it up, removing the sound of breath intakes, which can be tedious.”
Sometimes a sprawling project evolves from just a few catchy notes.
“All I did was hum a short melody into my iPhone,” says their client Mike Schatz of Blue Sky Agency. “The next thing I knew, Ben had what sounded like a 30-piece orchestra behind my humming.” That little riff evolved into King of Pops: The Post-Apocalyptic Musical, staged last year by Dad’s Garage, which serves as something of a quirky creative partner for Tunewelders.
“That was the first time we did an entire score for a project like that,” says Shannon. “We got paid for it, but with all the hours we put into it, it really was just a labor of love.”
Holst, who specializes in “inspirational Americana,” and Gilbertson used to play in a band together in Connecticut. They stayed in touch, and both settled in Georgia, where they studied marketing and advertising. They teamed up in 2008, just as the economy tanked, but found enough work to sustain their creative enterprise. Eventually they brought on Shannon and Stafford, who both attended Berklee College of Music.
“We all were buddies, and we had built this mutual trust with each other, which helped us transition into business partners,” Holst says. “I always wondered who did the music for car commercials. Now I am that dude.”
What’s next for Tunewelders? “We want to score more episodic TV and feature-length films,” Gilbertson says. “We want to build up an ecosystem with more filmmakers. The technology has evolved in a way that will enable us to collaborate with projects based in Los Angeles.”
And who knows? Moose may be ready for another close-up, in exchange for a bag of Doritos.
This article originally appeared in our July 2016 issue.
Roy Blount Jr. pays crusty tribute to his favorite dessert in Save Room for Pie: Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations, which sets the groaning board with a bellyful of puns, ditties, and other playful lore about what we eat. “Pie is the highest form of food,” he writes, “One’s room for pie is like one’s capacity for love in this sense: few life-affirming people underestimate their own.” Blount, a Decatur native who now lives in Massachusetts, took a break between bites to talk about his 24th book.
Can you elaborate on what your book title means?
It’s a Zen koan of sorts that can mean different things. For example, if you are stuffing your face with a whole lot of mashed potatoes, you might think to yourself: You dumbhead! Stop eating so much! But you would be kinder to yourself to suggest that you might want to ease up on the taters to save room for pie.
What is your favorite pie?
When I’m asked my “favorite” anything, I tend to rebel. Much depends on circumstances. For Thanksgiving, I love pumpkin pie, and mincemeat pie is another good one, and who could resist an apple pie? Eudora Welty, in her story Kin, celebrates the perfect ending to a pleasant day: “wonderful black, bitter, moist chocolate pie under mountains of meringue.” And Ralph Waldo Emerson would have pie for breakfast. He once offered his guests a piece, and they all declined. Emerson thrust his knife beneath the piece of pie and said, “But…what is pie for?” There you are. That rhetorical question extended across a broad spectrum of good food that gives pleasure. Apple and pumpkin and mince and black bottom/I’ll come to your place every day if you’ve got ‘em.
The subtitle of the book is “Food Songs and Chewy Ruminations.” Can you talk about the connection between food and music?
Well, they’re both bodily and oral. Good music makes you want to move your body, and good food makes you feel your body. You can’t sing and eat at the same time, but, still, food goes better with music than, say, filling out your tax returns.
What is your first food memory?
Oh, homemade, hand-churned peach ice cream. (Note: He says this tenderly and clearly savors the recollection.)
The book contains a number of poems and limericks. What was your most challenging rhyme?
Definitely coming up with a rhyme for okra. So I had this: Mm is how discerning folks re-/
Spond when they are served some okra
What is the weirdest, most exotic thing you’ve ever eaten?
I had chicken sashimi in Japan—thin slices of raw chicken. Most things are compared in their taste with chicken. In this case, I used a lot of plum sauce. I’ve also eaten armadillo, of course.
What food do you actively dislike?
Well, there aren’t many. But, going back to Japan, they use red beans a lot in their desserts, like ice cream. Not a fan of red beans in this context. I can also eschew with enthusiasm. Nondairy creamer will never pass my lips. Nor Hostess Twinkies, nor Hot Pockets. By the same token, I can also acquire a taste for something. I’m old enough to remember how pizza was marketed first as “pizza pie,” and I didn’t think much of it the first time I ate it, but it grew on me.
What would your last meal on earth be?
Whatever would make the firing squad feel the most guilty.
What Southern foods do you miss up North?
Here’s the thing. Southern food has become so trendy that New York magazines do pieces about the 10 best pimento cheese dishes in the city. You can get collards, fried okra, and deviled eggs in Brooklyn now. I used to miss fried chicken, but I no longer have to.
Where do you like to eat when you return to Atlanta?
Well, when I was growing up there were really no restaurants to speak of in my hometown of Decatur, but it has long since outstripped me in terms of coolness and sophistication. It’s a strange feeling to know your little hometown is suddenly much cooler than you are. Last time, I ate at the Iberian Pig and thought it was wonderful. And, of course, I always, always go to the Varsity. It’s my touchstone.
Bless your heartburn.
Roy Blount Jr. signs his latest book, Save Room For Pie, on Monday, March 21 at Decatur High School. Click here for tickets.
A dutiful hometown girl, Jamie Barton sang “Tender Shepherd” from Peter Pan in a benefit for the city’s venerable DeSoto Theatre. The song holds sentimental, full-circle meaning for Barton, who had trilled it decades earlier in a first-grade talent show—the first time she ever performed onstage for the public. Barton, 34, has been singing for increasingly cosmopolitan and exacting audiences ever since, and the local Glee aspirants who turned out for this show cheered her wildly because her meteoric example gives them hope. They knew that Barton’s next gig would take her back to the celebrated Metropolitan Opera in New York, where her mezzo-soprano has established her as a must-see regular.
“Every time Jamie is onstage, we have learned to wait for several minutes before we come on because the ovations for her always last so long,” says Timothy Breese Miller, a chorus member at the Met, where Barton most recently played the role of Jane Seymour in Anna Bolena. “It’s extraordinary that she has come so far, so fast. This kind of acclaim and following is usually reserved for older, more seasoned artists.”
Barton may have earned this status precisely because she sounds so richly experienced, so old-school, with a coloratura that is pure Technicolor, in arias that evoke some sort of empyrean birdsong in a three-octave range. The New Yorker has lauded her “once-in-a-generation talent,” and other reviews have joined the chorus of praise.
In November the prodigy performed at Lincoln Center for a program televised on PBS, and this month she plays Cornelia in Giulio Cesare in Frankfurt. Then it’s on to Iceland, Moscow, and Washington before returning to the Met for the juicy part of the witch in Dvorak’s Rusalka. “The travel is the hardest part of being an opera singer,” says Barton, who hangs her hat in a Reynoldstown loft between shows. “I miss my cat and my family.”
She grew up in Rome—Georgia, not Italy—where she was exposed to the sounds of the Grand Ole Opry more than La Scala.
“I got into opera basically because I wanted to be in musical theater,” she says, “but I couldn’t dance. My family plays bluegrass—mandolin, fiddle, and banjo—but I could never play a stringed instrument. Still, my Georgia roots influenced and created me. I’ve always loved performing at the DeSoto.”
Barton studied music at nearby Shorter College and then Indiana University. To build her repertory, she started the Met’s National Council of Auditions process and became one of the winners in 2007.
“I’ll never forget hearing her rehearse a Brahms rhapsody to be performed at Spivey Hall,” says Martha Shaw, who was Shorter’s director of choral activities at the time. “Even then, it was this enormous, otherworldly instrument full of presence. But like an old pro, she had an innate sense of just when to rein it in. All we could do was marvel.”
Barton may be an artistic throwback in some ways, but she does not adhere to its accompanying stereotype: She’s no diva.
“Jamie is very much an unassuming, thoughtful, down-home girl who is very supportive of other artists,” Shaw says. “She doesn’t expect to be treated differently or for people even to recognize her name. Instead, she’s the life of the party, with an uproarious sense of humor.”
When she is not getting trussed and cantilevered into Tudor bodices, Barton likes to unwind in Grateful Dead T-shirts, flip-flops, and a nose ring, while cooking, reading, and watching cat videos.
“I think that’s Jamie’s secret,” Shaw says. “That underneath her dazzling technique, there is this very real, unpretentious, genuine person who is reaching out with humility. The sincerity of her emotions is what moves an audience.”
Plus, Barton finds a sense of entitlement annoying.
“The diva mentality is very antiquated and has no place in modern opera,” she says. “It’s a distance that’s selfish to your colleagues and your audience members. I prefer to think of us as a big community, a family of people, and you don’t hold your family at arm’s length.”
Last year she won the Richard Tucker Award, which is often called the “Heisman Trophy” of opera and is recognized for anointing an American singer on the threshold of a major international career.
At this stage, Barton has nothing to prove but everything to offer. The next time she sings at the DeSoto, try to hear her while you can.
This article originally appeared in our March 2016 issue under the headline “From Banjos to Bizet”
It may be the Realtor’s face that you see smiling alongside a real estate listing, but when selling a home priced at seven or eight figures, it takes a village.
1 The home manager
Typically hired by an owner who has already relocated, the home manager, who lives temporarily on the grounds of a home for sale, adds an extra layer of security to a property that would otherwise sit vacant. Patricia Tinsley of Charmed Home flits from one luxury residence to another in Atlanta’s priciest zip codes, acting as “a combination of homemaker, docent, feng shui coordinator, and ghost whisperer,” she says. She addresses odors, spotty paint jobs, pests, or cracks in a sidewalk—any picayune deficiency that might make a dent in what must be a pristine impression, and all paid for out of her fee, which can be as high as $10,000.
2 The videographer
In an era when homes can have their own websites and social media pages, it’s not enough to have video. To stand out from the competition, you need Hollywood quality. The VSI Group, an independent video production company that often works with real estate agents, has six drones of different sizes at the ready for indoor and outdoor shoots. One of their recent creations: a video for Tyler Perry’s estate at 4110 Paces Ferry Road, a French Provençal mansion that sits on a 17-acre tract by the Chattahoochee River. In the film, the drones majestically swoop over the custom-built fountain in its lushly manicured landscaping, a gazebo overlooking Atlanta’s skyline, and an infinity pool. The cost: $15,000.
3 The caterer
Tony Conway owns Legendary Events, which caters 1,200 events a year, including real estate showings and agent caravans. “The first thing we do is assess the house,” he says, to create a menu that complements the property. “For a Southern home, we might do fried chicken, but if the home is modern, we might bring in a sushi bar.” And then there’s the event decor. Conway once put 1,200 red roses in an entrance to draw attention to the home’s contemporary art; on another occasion, he commissioned an art gallery to hang a temporary installation. He even provides valet parking.
4 The Realtor
“The psychological aspect can be best described as ‘perception is reality,’” says Jenny Doyle, of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby’s International Realty, who has helped Braves pitchers and Top Chef contestants select their lairs. “It’s not just about selling the home; it’s about selling a lifestyle, a story.” Even the listing language must be tailored to an ultra-wealthy clientele. For example, “You don’t use the word house; you use estate. You’ve got to talk about privacy from neighbors, security and surveillance, a gated entrance, extra garages, ease of airport access.” She also works with Sotheby’s 11-person in-house marketing team in Atlanta, which creates bound, book-like brochures for select homes; the company’s website translates into 18 languages and 50 currencies.
5 The stager
“It takes most people six seconds to form an opinion of a room,” says Barbara Heil-Sonneck of Design2Sell, who works with Realtors to stage and style multimillion-dollar homes. “We try to create excitement and emotional connection.” For high-end properties, that could mean spending thousands on furniture, art pieces, and paint jobs. Heil-Sonneck recalls one home that had been on the market for more than two and a half years. “We redid the entire kitchen, upgraded the bathroom fixtures, and installed new carpeting,” among other enhancements. “That was a $65,000 investment, but afterwards the home sold within three months.”
6 The photographer
To create lush images worthy of a luxury ad or magazine spread, Realtors turn to people like Joshua Vensel of Venvisio LLC, who has been shooting homes since 2006. “I use very deliberate lighting to highlight the most attractive features of a room, as well as multiple cameras to produce images for both print and digital.” He usually spends at least two hours shooting and then another few hours in post-production “making sure the perspective is right, the exposure is good.” The most opulent home he has photographed: Big Poppa’s House from The Real Housewives of Atlanta on West Paces Ferry. “The outdoor entertaining area was fantastic.”
7 The model
Nick Hoback has worked in print and commercial modeling, but his video for the sprawling Tanners Mill Estate in Gainesville was a first. Priced at $17.5 million, the property features a home theater, along with rolling pastures, a mill, and natural waterfalls. “I wanted to use models to accentuate the kind of family lifestyle you would have [here],” says Realtor Chase Mizell, of Sotheby’s International, so he called on Hoback, who was shot munching popcorn in the theater and fishing in the lake with his fictional daughter. “I dream of living in a place like that,” says Hoback, “and it was an aspirational experience to portray the kind of person who actually does.”
When life takes a turn for the dramatic, anyone can feel like the star of their own movie. Most people, though, will not go to the lengths Bill Lundy did to translate their experiences to the big screen. Lundy, a 57-year-old lawyer in northwest Georgia, spent $200,000 of his own money to write, direct, and star in what might be termed an “autobiopic” with flourishes of cinema verité. It’s a feature film titled A Larger Life. “I’m just playing myself,” he says. “I wouldn’t be able to play Nelson Mandela or an astronaut.”
The movie, filmed in Lundy’s home of Cedartown, relates the true story of a woman with cerebral palsy who died of starvation at a nursing home. Her weight dropped to 38 pounds, and she was covered with bedsores. Lundy won a lawsuit against the institution, resulting in the largest monetary damages—just under $10 million—awarded in Georgia in 2011. “This case brought attention to the mistreatment of the elderly and infirm,” Lundy says. “It was a story I needed to tell.”
The movie also showcases the gentle verities of small-town life. Lundy clearly loves his hometown, where one of his clients pays him with apple pies. “We all know each other, which keeps us honest, and we look after our eccentrics,” he says. A subplot celebrates the children’s theater program that Lundy started in Cedartown, where every kid is treated like a star—especially the ones who can’t carry a tune. “A film is a way to capture time,” Lundy says. “I want my descendants to be able to watch this movie and know what life was like for us: how we lived, how we fought, how we loved.”
A Larger Life, which takes its title from a Bible verse, also conveys how much scut work is required in the practice of law, the hours spent poring over dusty court records, the sharky machinations inside and outside the courtroom. “I wanted to present a jury trial the way it really is,” he says, “not the John Grisham way.”
The movie premiered last April at Midtown Art Cinema. “It’s the most accurate portrayal of a jury trial I’ve ever seen,” says attorney Linley Jones. “And the integrity that comes across from Bill is genuine. He’s given us another Atticus Finch.”
Yes, that is a mockingbird you hear. Lundy sets his film in the fictional town of Harper, Alabama, in homage to his favorite novel. The cast is an endearing mix of Lundy’s entire family and local yokels, playing themselves with hammy gusto, and a few professionals. Lundy also recruited Law & Order veteran Fred Thompson, a former U.S. senator who once practiced law. “I got a call and heard this deep voice say, ‘I don’t know where Cedartown, Georgia, is, but I’m coming there to make your movie,’” Lundy says. (The project turned out to be one of the last performances by Thompson, who died in November.)
Lundy also put out a casting call for a “28-year-old, Yankee-talking, Caucasian actor” and received 2,000 headshots. That brought him to New York, where he met with Todd Litzinger, who has appeared in 30 Rock. “When Bill pitched the story to me, he had so much passion, which sold me,” says Litzinger, who had never visited the South. When Lundy took him to a meat-and-three and filmed him eating Southern-style pinto beans for the first time, he captured a spontaneous reaction.
Lundy has never taken a film class, but he has worked as an extra in five movies and television shows filmed in Georgia. “I paid close attention to the set lights, the camera angles, the booms,” he says. “I would ask, ‘Why did you dolly backward, and what does “pull focus” mean?’ You can be the biggest sponge in the world if you love something.”
Lundy ended up with 25 hours of footage, which he spent a year editing. The result is a heartfelt and astonishingly polished testimony. “Bill really has an innate knack for filmmaking,” Litzinger says. “When we needed something, he could pull some strings to get it because he knows everybody in the town, in some cases has represented them, and they love him. He created real movie magic. I hope he keeps filming.”
Between trials, Lundy is working on three more scripts. “I don’t play golf,” he says. “What else am I going to do?”
This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue under the headline “Lead Attorney.”
When Lujendra “Luju” Ojha was growing up in Nepal, he didn’t own a telescope, frequent a planetarium, or devour science fiction. He did, however, gaze up at the stars and ponder big questions. “I had this sense of wonderment,” he says, “and wasn’t content with the theological answers I was getting about where we come from.”
About two years after relocating to the United States, he found himself at the University of Arizona, studying under Alfred McEwen. The professor is also the principal investigator of HiRISE, the powerful camera attached to the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which circles and spies on the Red Planet. Together the scientists pored over photographs of the surface of Mars, and in 2010 Ojha noticed a curious feature: dark streaks on a crater that seemed to ebb and then intensify with the warmth of the seasons. The images are beautifully desolate. Other research had determined that Mars was once sopping wet with seas and rivers, and it still has polar ice caps, but the temperature—zero degrees Fahrenheit on a hot day—was thought to be much too cold for pure water, much less liquid that would trickle downhill. So the mutability of these markings stood out.
“Honestly, I didn’t know what in the hell those streaks were,” he says. “We weren’t looking for them.”
Ojha resumed other projects related to geophysics and seismology before enrolling in grad school at Georgia Tech, which boasts one of the largest aerospace engineering programs in the country. In the meantime, the enigmatic streaks—referred to as “recurring slope lineae”—were scanned by the Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars, or CRISM, an instrument on the Mars orbiter that analyzes the chemicals on the planet’s surface by studying the different bands of reflected colors. In 2012 NASA also announced that the rover Opportunity (at one point, there were no fewer than seven functioning spacecraft orbiting or on Mars) had found clay deposits that typically form in wet environments favorable for life, and HiRISE found evidence of ancient hot springs. Some of the light-toned Martian rocks, too, have been associated with hydrated minerals like sulfates and clay. In fact, much of the surface of Mars is covered by a thick mantle of ice and dust. So many factors were pointing to the presence of water, but a high-powered and more conclusive divining rod was needed to detect a current, active rivulet.
Water is the fundamental component of life as we know it. If liquid water were found to be on Mars, there could be life underground. And, when it comes to the prospect of a manned mission to Mars, water would mean humans could, conceivably, live off the land there.
Enter Georgia Tech with its own spectrometer; at seven pounds, it fits into a backpack for fieldwork. Last January, Dr. James Wray, an assistant professor and planetary scientist, was looking to test the new device. Ojha and three other doctoral candidates brought in random materials to sample against readings from CRISM images. Wray himself brought pieces from a meteorite and some rocks from out West, where the formations are believed to be similar in composition to those on other worlds. One student specializing in volcanology brought igneous rocks. Another, Mary Beth Wilhelm, who also works for NASA, remembered that the Curiosity rover had found perchlorate—a kind of salt containing chlorine—on Mars, so she brought some samples. The scientists wondered if the salts were the residue left behind by evaporating or freezing water. “The randomness of our sampling on that particular day was due to the fact that the spectrometer had just arrived, so we weren’t really trying to do any formal hypothesis tests yet,” Wray says. “Mainly I just wanted to figure out how to use the software, and check that everything worked.”
The spectrometer has a feature that looks somewhat like a pistol—you point and pull the trigger, and the resulting graph parses the colors of the rainbow reflected from the target in a graph form. For sampling purposes, the researchers pointed their instrument at pure water, which caused the oxygen molecule to do a jiggly “dance.” It was similar, but not identical to the CRISM photo from Mars, so Wilhelm hypothesized that maybe the Martian water was mixed with perchlorate. When they tested that with their spectrometer, they couldn’t believe their eyes—it matched the Martian reading. Nobody yelled “Eureka!,” but everyone in the small lab was thinking it.
Using all of this “spectral evidence,” which Wray likens to a “fingerprint, signature, or a criminal’s calling card,” the researchers discovered something sure to usher in a momentous new Space Age: flowing water on Mars. The perchlorate was keeping it from freezing, acting like salt on an icy sidewalk. Mars apparently was weeping salty tears, some a meter wide. You might be able to make mud pies in them, but you wouldn’t want to drink from those brooks, at least not in their current saline form. Moreover, perchlorate has another useful and fateful-sounding feature: It can function as rocket propellant. Says Wray, “I honestly don’t know if this is good news or bad news for the idea of supporting life, but it was certainly news.”
Wray had to be certain about what he was seeing. That night he stayed up until 3 a.m., analyzing squiggly graphs and other out-of-this-world images to rule out other possible explanations for the striations of Martian canyons in at least four places. None seemed to fit. “It’s the holy grail that everyone has been looking for,” Wilhelm says. “Water is the key ingredient of life. The next step will be to look for biosignatures of organic compounds, of the building blocks of life.”
Still, nobody knows exactly where the water is coming from, or if it does indeed support some thirsty microorganisms. You might think NASA would immediately send its rover to gather more samples. But no: Any authoritative research on Martian life first will have to rule out our own contamination; believe it or not, even our space vehicles pick up certain cellular hitchhikers hardy enough to survive the radiation of outer space. What are we tracking in to Mars, and how do we shake it off enough to do meaningful research?
“I think the atmosphere must play a role in redistributing the water over extensive slopes, but where it comes from before going into the air is still a mystery,” says McEwen, the HiRISE operator working with Ojha. “An important question is whether these features indicate habitable environments near Mars’s surface, important to future explorations to prevent contamination by Earth microbes. An even more important question is where is there life near the surface of Mars today, which we really need to know before sending people to the surface. If there is extant life, that means we can actually understand an alien biology.”
The discovery, in other words, effectively raised more questions than it answered.
The resulting article in Nature Geoscience, with Ojha as lead writer, made international news. “When we saw the headlines about how a Mars mystery had been ‘solved,’ we all cringed a little,” Wray says, “because we still have so many questions. There are places that are wet on Mars, but where is it coming from? How is the perchlorate being made on Mars? We still don’t know.”
In a case of fortuitous timing, the movie The Martian, which celebrates the cagey survival skills of an astronaut stranded on the Red Planet, opened that same week. The film’s publicity team tweeted a video of its star, Matt Damon, toasting the researchers’ discovery with a glass of life-sustaining water. Suddenly, for the first time since NASA’s budget started shrinking and since the two space shuttle disasters muted the public’s enthusiasm for space travel, everyone was talking giddily about Mars as the next go-to destination.
“Future astronauts might not have to bring water with them,” Ojha says. “We will eventually figure out a way to drink this water we’ve found.” Sensing the moment, NASA issued one of its rare invitations for astronaut applications.
“It’s an exciting time for all of us who have this interest because we’re getting ready to do space exploration again, for real,” says Wray, 32. “That’s only the second time in my lifetime that NASA has put out the call for astronauts. I didn’t apply the last time because I didn’t think there was a chance of going to Mars then. Now, though, it’s different. I could go to Mars in my early 50s.”
Georgia is no stranger to space exploration. The southeastern part of the state was NASA’s second choice for a launch facility, but the agency went with Cape Canaveral instead. Still, an isolated stretch of pineywoods near the Georgia coast in Camden County figures in aerospace history. During the mid-1960s, the world’s most powerful rocket motor—3.25 million pounds of thrust—was fired from a facility there. The rocket was manufactured by Thiokol Chemical Corporation, which built solid-propellant rocket motors and a booster for the Apollo program. Eventually the property changed hands and functioned as an industrial site for chemicals and munitions; then it sat empty. In 2006, though, state economic boosters started noticing the growth in the commercial space exploration market. Andrew Nelson, an executive in the space industry and an engineer who has worked with satellites and the first GPS receivers, spotted the old airstrip on a map while helping Georgia explore its options. Now Camden County is attempting to become a commercial spaceport—sort of a garage for rockets.
“What makes Camden County work is that it’s close enough to the equator,” Nelson says. “When you’re launching a payload from the equator, you get some help from the spin of the earth—it gives you a little bump—so the latitude is good there. It’s also an area low in population.”
The Federal Aviation Administration is currently commissioning an environmental impact statement for the site, examining its suitability for liquid-fueled, medium-lift-class, orbital and suborbital vertical launch vehicles—including, maybe, in the distant future, a craft bound for Mars. The study is expected to be completed next year, and the county likely will apply for a license with the FAA. If all goes as planned, the site should be operational within four or five years.
“A spaceport would attract other high-tech industries for research and development and manufacturing, which would help generate jobs,” Nelson notes. “Even at this preliminary stage, the county is getting calls from businesses in Germany and other outfits that are interested in setting up shop near the spaceport. This would really diversify South Georgia’s economy.”
What excites Nelson most, though, is the wow factor among children. “I speak to a lot of groups of children, mostly middle schoolers,” he says, “and if you can hook ’em on science in sixth grade, you have them for life. A Camden County spaceport would inspire kids from Glynn County to Atlanta. It would have an immeasurable impact on their curiosity.”
A one-way manned voyage to Mars would take at least six months. What would astronauts do all that time? An Atlanta company, which is working closely with NASA, has one possible answer: Sleep.
SpaceWorks Enterprises is developing the technology for the Torpor Habitat Project. The initiative would induce a coma-like stasis using “therapeutic hypothermia” that would enable astronauts to hibernate like bears for all or parts of the voyage. Think Sigourney Weaver in Alien.
By inhaling cold air, the astronauts in their radiation-shielded capsules would have their bodies cooled down by 10 degrees, slowing metabolism and reducing the need for oxygen by 50 to 70 percent, says Dr. John E. Bradford, president and COO of SpaceWorks. Besides making the journey seem to go by quicker, the technology would also mean less food would be necessary for the voyage, which, in turn, would mean a ship with less mass—an inescapable mandate for any manned mission to Mars.
Would the astronauts snooze for the entire six months? Maybe, but not likely. They probably would have to take turns. “Ideally and to maximize the system impact,” Bradford says, “we would like to place the crew in stasis for the entire duration of the mission, but if we can’t achieve that medically, we have looked at an approach to cycle through the crew members undergoing stasis periods of 10 to 14 days followed by two days of being awake and active.” One member would be awake while others slept, and that active crew member would be responsible for waking the others before he or she settled into torpor.
Bradford concedes that the procedure “sounds science fiction-y,” but it already is used by the medical community in cases of traumatic brain injury.
“Current medical protocols call for administration of therapeutic hypothermia, or TH, for 24 to 72 hours,” Bradford says. In China, though, patients have been induced to sleep for two weeks.
How would such a procedure be tested beforehand? “Pigs make a fairly good surrogate for humans,” Bradford says, “but I get emails from people all the time volunteering for an experiment. We are working on obtaining private as well as government funding to initiate some near-term experimental work.”
In 2005, NASA initiated “Centennial Challenges,” which use cash prizes to solicit new technology development from the private sector, not supported by government funding. One of these bold blueprints—in competition for a $2.25 million prize—originates from the Westside. Project manager Caleb Williams, a local technology consultant and space enthusiast, is part of a seven-member team that is developing a 3-D printer that would melt Martian sand, which astronauts could use to construct a shelter once they’ve arrived and planted their flag. The outfit is called Solar Crafting.
“Mankind has long survived in hostile environments as long as the right tools were at hand,” Williams says, “so we thought: What if there’s a way to send a device that will build a house from the materials there, rather than trying to ship a whole house through space?”
In this project, a robot processor would crush Martian sand into a fine powder and then transfer it to a kind of 3-D “balloon” printer.
The inflatable balloon, which features a powerful lens, acts as a solar concentrator, focusing sunlight down to a small point to generate temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees Celsius—hot enough to melt most metals. “We’ll be able to melt the powder as it is being extruded into a form of resin, which is then deposited layer by layer to create our habitat exterior,” Williams says.
The vision for the resulting shelter sounds more like a centerfold from Architectural Digest than an adobe hut.
“The idea is for it to be a soothing retreat with separate areas for living and work,” Williams says, “with large light fixtures, rounded walls and rounded edges everywhere, and a palette of colors reminiscent of Earth because the astronauts will be forced to see so much red dust all the time. It’s designed to ward off that feeling of psychological isolation.”
When it is not in use as an apparatus of interplanetary imperialism, the printer could help erect housing for refugees in the developing world here on Earth, Williams says. “We’re about transforming this world and the next.”
This article originally appeared in our February 2016 issue under the headline “From the Red Clay to the Red Planet.”
They don’t make them like they used to, but some guys in North Georgia can restore them to their former glory.
Antique Appliances is one of the only companies in the country that refurbishes refrigerators and gas and electric stoves produced before 1960. If the kitchen is the heart of a home, with its remembered aromas and apron-ties to the past, imagine the nostalgic appeal of reinstating your grandmother’s fixtures or lending authentic period details to an old fixer-upper without sacrificing function. The company, based in Clayton, has restored ovens from the 1800s, so conceivably you could cook on the range your ancestor used.
“A lot of our business comes from people who inherit a home and find some ancient appliance stashed in the basement,” says owner John Jowers, estimating that 85 percent of his projects involve commissioned restoration. “The first question people always ask is: Where do you get the parts? Up until 1960, the components of appliances were designed to be maintained and repaired, so we work with the existing parts that are already in the appliances—scrubbing, refinishing, rewiring, replating the chrome, rebuilding the thermostat. Compare the process to lovingly restoring a vintage car.”
After 1960, he explains, “we became a throwaway society. You had to replace an appliance rather than repairing it, and that only intensified as manufacturing moved offshore in the 1990s.”
The products are retrofitted to be code compliant for safety but otherwise stay true to their periods in the way they function, with no modern bells and whistles. Customers become familiar with forgotten skills like defrosting a freezer or lighting gas burners with a match.
Jowers’s father founded the company in 1948 as a mom-and-pop radio shop, eventually expanding as a vendor of General Electric products until the 1990s, when Jowers began to think retro. Some of the company’s most popular items are the GE Monitor Top refrigerators, which were mass-produced from 1927 to 1937. “They cost $300 then, which was a lot of money, but still less than the $1,000 that Frigidaire charged,” he says. “We also have a lot of interest in gas stoves from the 1950s, which have lots of chrome, gadgets, and bling. The backsplash looks like the interior of an automobile.”
Prices vary depending on wear and tear, with finished pieces falling between $3,800 and $50,000, he says. Antique Appliances works with an international clientele—including customers in Singapore and Dubai. “One client had a 1903 stove on a farm in Mexico,” he says. “The stove hadn’t been used in 50 years, but we were able to refabricate its parts and get it working again.”
Antique Appliances, which uses white-glove service Vintage Transport for door-to-door domestic pickups and deliveries, typically has about 20 projects in the works at any given time, staying booked at least a year in advance. The company’s handiwork can be seen at the Swan House at the Atlanta History Center, and it furnished the 1896 oak icebox used in the Hunger Games series.
“Each project usually takes 10 to 12 weeks,” Jowers says. “Each one is a labor of love.”
Antique Appliances also offers a large inventory of restored and unrestored vintage appliances as well as retro-style reproductions by Elmira Stove Works. 706-782-3132,antiqueappliances.com
This article originally appeared in our Fall 2015 issue of Atlanta Magazine’s HOME.
What do you hear when you drop an accordion from a 10-story building?
“Applause,” quips Jack Brantley, one of the few artisans in the Southeast qualified to patch the long-suffering instrument back together and restore it to tunefulness. Brantley is among Atlanta’s longest-practicing accordion repairmen, a highly specialized vocation with little competition, owing to the complicated inner workings of perhaps the only instrument more maligned than banjos and bagpipes.
“Accordions are so uncool that they’re cool,” says Brantley, owner of Jax Music Shop near downtown Decatur. (Motto: “Subvert the dominant paradigm—play accordion.”) “People associate them with Lawrence Welk.”
Brantley, 62, has been tinkering with a variety of vintage instruments since his college days at UNC–Chapel Hill and his post-grad years in Marin County, where he counted Steve Miller, Elvin Bishop, and Sammy Hagar as customers. He began focusing on accordions in his Decatur workshop during the 1990s because he saw a need in the music market.
“We’re lucky that Jack is calm enough in temperament to fool with an accordion,” says client Bo Emerson, an AJC writer and part-time musician who has played at the White House Correspondents Jam. “If you open one up, the inside of it looks like one of those giant computers from the 1940s that took up an entire room.”
The instrument, the smallest relative of the organ family and also cousin to the harmonica, is more daunting and temperamental than it seems. As many as four sounds can come from one key, and the melody is played on one side while chords are determined by 100 or more buttons on the other. An accordion consists of more than 1,000 parts, including 450 steel reeds that are fastened with beeswax—subject to melt if left in a hot car. Each reed controls air flow with a leather flap, making them vulnerable to mold and deterioration. One sour note or internal flaw, and there goes any hope for a sprightly polka.
Nevertheless, there was a time when accordions outsold guitars, Brantley notes. “Up until the 1950s, when you took music lessons, you typically learned on a piano or an accordion,” he says. “So if you look at pictures from accordion clubs, the members usually look gray, paunchy, and happy because they’re from that generation, from before the time when Elvis and The Beatles came along and the guitar eclipsed everything else.”
Business remains steady at Jax, though, where Brantley typically works on half a dozen accordions at a time, charging between $500 and $1,000 for a complete tune-up to clients who come from all over the Southeast. “I love my accordion clientele because they’re all so quirky,” he says. “There’s a Haitian doctor who plays at nursing homes and a Macon rabbi who plays a fusion of klezmer and zydeco that he calls ‘Oy vey, etouffee.’”
Accordions also have enjoyed a small renaissance within the steampunk movement, says Jason Bush, of local act The Gin Rebellion. “It has a special presence in our music,” he says. “It is absolutely vital to the ominous, mysterious tone of some of our songs. We like Jack because he genuinely cares about the accordion.”
The appeal, Brantley says, lies in an elemental sound that evokes our own respiration and other heartfelt instincts. “They’re perfect for porch hymns because they’re so portable,” he says. “I like the fact that the accordion literally breathes, and you get this warbly, emotionally expressive sound by giving it a hug.”
This article originally appeared in our November 2015 issue under the headline “The Big Squeeze.”
Since 1961, Atlanta magazine, the city’s premier general interest publication, has served as the authority on Atlanta, providing its readers with a mix of long-form nonfiction, lively lifestyle coverage, in-depth service journalism, and literary essays, columns, and profiles.