Operti's Tropical Garden (and Moira Moody's Scrapbook)

Sunday, February 17, 2008

It's been a few years now since my alma mater called and asked if I'd be willing to mentor a University of Pennsylvania writer—to give him or her a preview of the writing life to come. I had my choice of three students and one Moira Moody immediately intrigued me—I liked the way she answered the questions that I'd asked (not easy questions, they never are); I liked her apparent love of rousing ghosts from graveyards and scrapbooks. For an entire semester Moira and I worked together—sometimes on digging up a few of the historic gems that became integral to FLOW (most spectacularly the story of a dockside riot), sometimes on finding context for a history that I was writing for a corporate client, sometimes on shaping and placing poems.

We had fun, and we remained friends; not only that, but (because it just seemed so necessary, so right) Moira became the name of our most brave and perennially reasonable heroine in the corporate fable, ZENOBIA.

Long way of introducing Moira and her junior fellow project—something she calls Scrapbook. Moira's been inviting Philadelphians to help her build a website that pairs city artifacts with stories, responses, poems—all with a focus on encouraging Philadelphians to "imagine the city's past."

Which gets us to the photo up above. Though it has been suggested by one kind reviewer that I must be at least 700 years old, I will confess that I am not in fact old enough to have snapped this George Eastman House photo, which I discovered here: http://www.geh.org/ar/strip49/htmlsrc/m198322470035_ful.html#topofimage.

I'd been in the midst of researching a former Philadelphia establishment known as Operti's Tropical Garden when I happened upon this waterlogged marvel. I already had in mind what the place must have looked like, smelled like. I had in mind a certain sound. And then here was this image, here were the facts, here was another point of view.

Operti's Tropical Garden is featured in my novel in progress. It's also now featured on Moira's site, which I invite you to visit here: http://writing.upenn.edu/wh/juniorfellow/scrapbook/


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