This article first appeared as a guest post at Mars Hill, Paul Burgin’s excellent blog.
Although I’m British now, I was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, in the American South, and I lived there until I went off to college in 1984.
Raleigh wasn’t a bad place to grow up, at least for someone like me. Still a slightly sleepy, genteel place then, its wide streets shaded by mature trees and, downtown at least, blessed with plenty of handsome antebellum houses, the old-fashioned southern charm was constantly undercut, before it had the chance to grow cloying, by more bracing influences: three first-rate universities all within a short distance of each other, for instance, and the presence of something called the Research Triangle Park, home to forward-looking enterprises such as IBM and various pharmaceutical companies. As a result, the Raleigh of my childhood attracted intelligent, hard-working people not only from around the USA, but also much further afield. My tiny, Episcopal Church-run school placed me side by side with children whose parents had come from Egypt, Iran, Vietnam. Although it was a church school, I grew up with Muslims, Jews, Catholics, protestants of every possible persuasion and even the odd out-and-proud atheist. The universities also ensured that we had more than our fair share of high culture: a very good art museum, as well as concerts and theatre performances from world-famous groups. A thriving farmers’ market co-existed with shops where it was possible to buy Thai shrimp paste.
The reason I am spelling this out is that I don’t want you to get the notion that the Raleigh of the 1970s and early 80s was some sort of redneck backwater wherein good ole boys sat around pickin’ their banjos and swilling moonshine on the front porch all day. In our household, anyway, a recording of Shostakovich’s 7th Symphony and a glass of reasonable chablis would have been more like it. And we didn’t even have a proper front porch. Read the rest of this entry »