Real America Bowls Them Over

--"Many times my relatives told me, ‘New York is not America.’ Now I understand,” said Israeli poet Shmuel Shapira, one of a group of foreign poets and historians learning to distinguish the America of literature from reality on a monthlong tour of the United States. The trip is being sponsored by the U.S. Information Agency. Their sampling of Americana has thus far included a tour of Elvis Presley’s Graceland in Memphis and a visit with author Ken Kesey. They will also meet with former student radical Abbie Hoffman. On a three-day visit to Mississippi, they talked with Choctaw Indians, heard blues musician James (Son) Thomas, ate soul food and saw author William Faulkner’s home. Pietro Spinucci, an American literature professor from Italy, was struck by how green Mississippi is. “In William Faulkner’s novels I got the impression it was brown and dusty.” A dinner of catfish and hush puppies in a Lafayette County restaurant drew raves from the group. But what, they wanted to know, was the significance of the gold-plated statues that covered the walls? “Oh those,” said one of their hosts, University of Mississippi professor Bill Ferris. “Those are bowling trophies.”

--Former President Richard M. Nixon was a romantic who wooed his future wife, Pat, with love letters, nightclub tangos and a diamond ring hidden in a May basket, according to a book by their daughter, Julie Nixon Eisenhower. Her biography, entitled “Pat Nixon: The Untold Story,” also tells how her mother held hands with the President at the White House when she thought no one was watching. “I wanted to give a full picture of my parents together, because so many times they’ve been viewed from controversy,” Eisenhower told Time magazine. Nixon’s pardon by President Gerald M. Ford upset her more than his resignation, Mrs. Nixon told her daughter, since she believed fervently in his innocence. “Watergate is the only crisis that ever got me down,” Mrs. Nixon said. “He was always thinking about the country and not himself.”

--Rick DeFuria, a Sarasota County, Fla., judge, was so determined to become an actor that he gave up his $60,000-a-year job to pursue his lifelong dream. He said the decision was not difficult. “Frankly, I became bored,” he said. “I was trying to find something more stimulating.” DeFuria, 39, who will study acting at Florida State University, said his goal is not to do Shakespeare but to follow in “Moonlighting” star Bruce Willis’ footsteps. He’s philosophical about his chances of success, however. “I could be the biggest disaster in the world,” he said. “But to have gone through life and never tried would have been a tragedy. And if it doesn’t work, well, there’s always law.”