Sunday, November 1, 2009


Recently when my husband got an invitation from Italian colleagues to give a mathematical talk at their home university, he invited me to go along. Italy in the fall - what could be better?

It turns out, however, that not all Italians live in Italy. Some - but not many - live in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Like Professor Dr. von Igelfeld, the hero of Alexander McCall Smith's very funny book, "The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs," I had not envisioned spending time in Fayetteville. The good professor, renowned among his German colleagues for his academic tome, Portuguese Irregular Verbs, had anticipated an invitation to New York or California. In a bureaucratic mix up, he is sent instead to Fayetteville. There he finds to his delight, as I did, "a charming college town nestling in the Ozark Mountains, seat of the University of Arkansas..."

Scientifically speaking, the Ozarks are not mountains, but rather a high inland plateau, eroded by time, weather and the action of its many rivers. Fayetteville, a quintessential college town, is in one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the country. Nonetheless, it's just a 20-minute car ride from the busy, student-filled town to the solitude of the countryside. Professor Dr. von Igelfeld's experience describes it perfectly:

They drove out of town, following a road that wound up into the hills. It was a gentle landscape - limestone hills which had been softened by the action of the rain; meandering valleys dotted with farmhouses under shady oak trees. Von Igelfeld had not thought of America as being at all like this; there were no dry plains, no glittering Dallas in the distance, no leafy suburbia with neat white houses. This could have been Bavaria, or even Austria.

Our drive took us to nearby Devil's Den State Park. Filled with natural bridges, waterfalls, caves and more than 20 miles of hiking trails, Devil's Den is also one of the best preserved Civilian Conservation Corps projects in the country. In the 1930s, the CCC built the park's first hiking trails, a stone dam, offices, a restaurant, and campgrounds with cabins made of native stone and logs.

The next day while my professor was pushing back the frontiers of mathematical science up the hill at the University of Arkansas, I took a walking tour of Fayetteville. According to the town brochure, "Fayetteville is the center of everything that happens in Northwest Arkansas." It is a nice town with lots of trees, arts and crafts style houses, parks, walking paths, good book stores, a performing arts center and, of course, the University.

There are also, I've been told, restaurants that specialize in good southern-style cooking. Perhaps we'll try one of them on our next visit to Fayetteville. This time around, we ate at the best place in town - our friends' house.

Fayetteville may be in Arkansas and the countryside may look like Bavaria or even Austria, but sitting around our friends' dinner table eating their delicious home-cooked Italian food, Fayetteville sure felt a lot like Italy.

"From his seat on the aeroplane, von Igelfeld looked down at the Ozarks as they became smaller and smaller beneath him. It was a good place, America, and Arkansas was a good state."
(For more photos, click here.)


Photos by Geraldine Calisti Kaylor

All quotations are from the book

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs
by Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor Books, 2005

1 comment:

  1. It looks like a pleasant place--I've read about it, but for all the colleges and universities I visit, it's one I haven't seen! People always ask me if there are places I'd like to move to, since I see so much of the US--I have come to conclude that while I love where I am now, if I do ever move, it will have to at least be near a college or university--they're always great towns. Great photos!


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