Following John McPhee to Florida.
McPhee’s book about oranges in the age of concentrate production is not a screed against industrial food or agribusiness priorities. There’s no scolding chapter explaining which oranges to buy at the grocery store. For that matter, there’s no hand-holding “what will happen in this book” chapter or really even much in the way of plot or main character, aside from the regular presence of our reporter guide. In that way, it doesn’t much resemble the books published about food today.
The artist works in a style he calls “romantic realism.” In his paintings people are twenty pounds thinner and twenty years younger, often surrounded by heavenly light, riding exotic animals, or framed by mountain ranges. This willingness to flout the laws of space and time and his largely unflappable good nature have allowed Cowan to form relationships with the kind of people who will pay for a portrait of themselves with a lion, at the mast of a ship, or gliding through a Venetian dreamscape.
The village of Ludowici, in the deep piney lowlands of southeast Georgia, got its name from a German fellow who came there in 1904 to manufacture clay roof tiles. But it was not his accomplishments that made the town famous. Rather, it took thousands of inhospitable acts toward thousands of out-of-town visitors to put Ludowici on the map—to give it a national reputation as one of the most venomous of a particular breed of Southern hamlet. In short: Ludowici was a classic speed trap.