Sunday, December 15, 2013

Morrissey's Best Song

Here's a picture that I took in a London market in Islington (near Camden).  It's here because I don't like blog posts with no pictures and because I liked these stamps.  (I bought three, then left them on a London bus. But that's another story).

Camden is a borough of London.  It has a famous market and a famous canal.  It's interesting, like all London neighborhoods.  Morrissey sings about it in "Come back to Camden," a somewhat obscure number in the Morrissey canon that first appeared on his 2004 album You Are The Quarry.  It was co-written by Boz Boorer.  (I looked Boorer up and he's famous, at least inside the music industry.)

I am a longtime Morrissey and Smiths fan but not an obsessive one.  I heard the song for the first time only about six months ago when it spun up on my Pandora playlist.  I  stopped what I was doing to listen. I  heard it again, made note of the title, and bought it on iTunes.  Then I bought it again when  iTunes told me that my computer wasn't authorized to play the track.  (I wondered if prickly Morrissey was requiring hyper-vigilance by Apple to make sure no one's cheating with his music).

I have since decided that "Come back to Camden" is Morrissey's greatest song. (Hold on, there's a link below to a fan-made video so you can listen after I've shut up). I admire the song for the way Morrissey and Boorer invoke the real Camden, with poetry that stands inside the circle of W.H. Auden - e.g.:

Drinking tea with the taste of the Thames, 
sullenly on a chair on the pavement; 
here you'll find my thoughts and I,
 and here is the very last plea from my heart. 
My heart.  
For evermore. 

Where taxi drivers never stop talking, under slate grey Victorian sky, 
Here you'll find despair and I, and here I am 

every last inch of me is yours...YOURS...For evermore. 

That physical Camden is thus summoned economically and powerfully, as is the damaged survivor of a broken love affair:

Your leg came to rest against mine, then you lounged with knees up 
and apart, and me and my heart - we knew... We just knew...

What makes the song truly great, however, is that "Camden" is also a metaphor: a garden of Eden where love bloomed until the shocking eviction.  The hopeless plea at the end of the song,

Come back to Camden and I'll be good, I'll be good!

is delivered with elemental desperation, as heart rending as the screams of a confused child in a hospital.  It is made more searing by our certain knowledge that there is no getting back to that Garden.

In his autobiography (which I am reading now and which is surprising and not surprising all at once - more on that in another post), Morrissey said: "The magical properties of recorded noise had trapped me from 1965 onwards [note, that Morrissey was six in 1965]. Song made a difference to everything, and permitted expressions that otherwise had no way through."(emphasis added).  When I read that, my thoughts flew to "Come back to Camden:" which conveys this world of meaning in its tidy, listenable four minutes and fourteen seconds, thanks to the singing.

All songs are more than the sum of their parts but this song: words, music, and that voice, carry a payload all out or proportion to the apparently modest package.  I hope you will like it as much as I do.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Last Night I Dreamt of New York City...

I dreamt that my fifteen-year-old daughter had rented a nice one-bedroom apartment in a high-rise somewhere in mid-town.  I was impressed. How had she managed this at fifteen? I wondered in my dream.  I have been underestimating her, I thought, as I noted that the three rooms were all decent-sized.  I was also worried, however, because there was something menacing about the crepuscular streets below.  Also, though her roommates had not yet arrived, a lot of people had left skis and snowboards in her living room. I was worried these ski owners were taking advantage of her and apartment in Manhattan - and then I woke up.

I know dreams are among the dullest topics of conversation but indulge me. I'm struggling here.  I am trying to stay awake until a grown-up's bedtime.  I am blaming my dream-filled morning for my fatigue.  That and work.  My daughter recently got her first job and she's showing a certain terrifying initiative.  Manhattan is down there waiting. Apparently, I have things on my mind.

OK.  So it is now just past 9 PM and I think I can retire without being  positively geriatric.  Actually, one bit of excitement remains in this short evening. I just downloaded Morrissey's autobiography to my iPad and I'm going to read it as soon as I get my teeth brushed.  I'll report back here.  Here's what they're saying about it over on Goodreads.  What kind of dreams might Morrissey's life story trigger?

Good night.  Thanks for bearing with me.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Great Free Stuff

Do you see that banner?  (The Swan up there?)  I love it so much I may have to go and lie down.  And, (are you sitting down?) a high quality download of the image was free to me (and to us all) from the collection of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.  They are inviting people to get into their art, download images, make stuff.  Doesn't it give you hope for humanity?

I got this there tonight:

I would wallpaper a room with this cat.  Have  I mentioned about my Dutch ancestors?

And this.

Let's talk about this bourgeois skating owls who are wearing their (poor) lunch for a moment.  What could this possibly be about? Somebody write a story about it please.

While we're on the subject of FREE and stories, I have to mention that my ebook is free to download on your Kindle or with your Kindle app all weekend.  Here's the link.

I wish it were as wonderful as those owls.  Happy weekend.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

An Open Letter to Fred Armisen - Vermont Calling!

Dear Fred,

We were all so excited here in Vermont to see you last night at the Unitarian Church in Burlington (of all places!).  
 Really, your show was excellent and (I'll say it),  I was a bit thrilled that I got to ask you a question during the Q&A.  
Sorry if I took liberties, like, where you didn't actually call on me, but you made eye contact while my hand was up so...   
My question, by the way, was whether you "should maybe move to Vermont." (Awkward phrasing.  Sorry).  But it was a real question, not an applause line (or not just an applause line).
About your answer... You said something about how with your personal ban on sugar you couldn't face the ice cream situation here   
It was the second time you brought up your sugar restriction during the show.   My friends and I were commenting after the show, BTW, that you were looking very well, if thin in that (celebrity) way associated with people who have restricted diets and can get expensive (vegan, usually) food.  I chalked your answer up to the fact that you are perseverating about the sugar thing and that, expert though you are at improvisation, some things just require a little thought.  
Now that you have had a night to think it over, and have actually woken up, at least once, in Vermont, I expect that you have been pondering my question.  (I hope it didn't keep you up or give you trouble unwinding last night. I would hate that!)  A couple things I felt I should pass on to you as you reflect on your Vermont situation, or current lack thereof.
1.   Lots of famous people live in Vermont,  E.g. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (he's dead now, but he lived here for a long time), Julia Roberts (not sure if she actually lived here, but she visited a lot for a while, or so I have heard), David Mamet (he wrote something once about how he got help on his Vermont taxes, not sure what he's up to these days), Harvey Keitel (I think he's got a house around here. I heard once that he used to go to this restaurant that I like in Stowe), Michael J. Fox (I don't think he's still around, but he definitely did live here for awhile). You get the picture.  Soviet dissidents, playwrights, international film stars. At home in Vermont. Also, Phish.  (I met one of the guys from the band once and he was super nice). Also, either Ben or Jerry.  I can't remember which one left for Arizona.
2.     It's easy to get from VT to NYC.  You can take Jetblue, at least if you don't have a private jet timeshare or whatever.  Maybe you don't want to be, or become, the kind of person who has a private jet timeshare.  While I'm here giving you advice, I'll add that. 
For my part, I like to go to New York now and again and this has been made a lot easier by Megabus service from Burlington.  Megabus, if you didn't know, is a place to see some real This American Life stuff, including drug dealers on a budget.  I actually prefer to drive down to the train station in Albany, New York and ride Megabus into NYC then take the train back up (both leave from the Rensselaer station).  One tip. Don't lean against the headrests on Megabus.   
While we're on the subject of drugs, do not be misled by the person who shouted out last night that we "smoke a lot of weed!" here.  Nonsense. Opiates have become more popular.  Also, we ski. (If you're a skiing type of person [read, "middle class" who hasn't squandered money on drug]s).  Other orders snowmobile and ice fish.] 
3.     If you like Portland, You'll Love Vermont.  You didn't want to compare Burlington to Portland but kind of got stuck there last night, didn't you? I hope you would agree that one of the best things abut "Portlandia" is that it is not a "real" place altogether, but a stand-in for a lot of real places/emotional states.  E.g., "Chinatown" (like, from the movie), The Hotel California, Your Own Private Idaho, Margaritaville, etc.  I don't mean that "Portlandia" is like those places, of course, only that it is also partly metaphorical.  (I was in London visiting friends in September and met people who were trying to bring back organic agriculture on canal boats in the Thames - like, container gardening on these skinny boats. "Londonia?"  I think so).
4.     The License Plates. A pleasant green, no nonsense. 
   In short, I think once you have had some time to let the seed that I so cleverly planted germinate to reflect, you will see that you have a future here in Vermont, like other sensible, occasionally brilliant, famous people before you.  I actually wouldn't recommend downtown Burlington because part of living here in Vermont is keeping it real and Burlington it is just getting to be too much like Burlingtonia. Of course, it is a nice place to visit, as you have now seen. 
Really, we all loved the show and we're so glad you came. Hoping to catch you at grocery store around here sometime soon.
          Your fan,


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Snow Giddiness

I was surprised when I parted the curtains just after six this morning to find snow all over everything. It looked like this:

My son is twelve and I am pleased to report he had the appropriate enthusiasm for the first grass-covering snow of the season.  We pulled out the sled and the next thing you know I was throwing church to the wind and making a movie trailer.  I am lucky that my son has a sense of humor.  The value-added part of this is that it's almost like a real movie trailer (and I thought it was funny).

Sunday, October 27, 2013

I've Been Away...

Mentally, mostly, but also in the flesh.  After that whole London whirlwind at the end of September I felt like I should get down to her sister city and so went last weekend for an overnight in New York with my daughter.   Fun, but one of those "let's not waste any of our 29 hours here" trips.  New York can really take the mickey out of me.  Here's a picture of my first-born being all atmospheric at a window at the Museum of Modern Art.

A quiet corner in a crazy busy city
And yes, before you ask, we did make it down to Big Gay Ice Cream in the East Village and yes, the ice cream was as good and as expensive as you might expect.  Here's the same teenager eating her American Glob.

Dressed for a photo safari - camo works in the East Village too.

My son decided after a few trips to the big cities that he does not like big cities.  People smoke on the streets.  There are homeless individuals. There is garbage and graffiti.  Vermont has done its work on him, at least for now.  Anyway, though I didn't take him along to New York, I did take him to the McDonald's in Morrisville, VT today.  He noticed that there was a big McDonald's flag waving alongside the US and the State flags:

"I can't believe McDonald's has a flag. What is it? Like the 51th [sic.] nation? Where the poor people live?"  

I corrected him to "51st state" and also noted that McDonald's is too expensive for really poor people, like the ones he has been avoiding...  

Going to toss another log on the fire now. I hope everyone has a good week.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Way They Are...

Today's banner is actually the view from behind a London commuter, a week ago today.

Natives visiting the British Museum
Travel is so broadening.  In one sense, I can't be safely broadened any further.  I am too big already, and especially for England, a country of narrow spaces.  (Don't start me on the women's bathroom stalls in one particular jewel of modern English architecture).  In the more important sense, however, of course I need all I can get.

I loved my trip, which ended yesterday when I touched down in (blessedly sunny and bright) Boston.  I traveled alone, but I stayed with friends   I was handed around from one host to another by one particularly kind, cultivated and generally excellent family.  I was shown various corners of London and a few other places in the country by them, very well fed by them (see reference to broadening, above).  I went to see these friends and to see some of the English places that I had fictionalized or by which I had been inspired - from a distance - when I was writing that book (you know the one, see the sidebar ====>).

I did see those people and places and not one disappointment in the lot.  In fact, things were better and more magic than I had any reason or right to expect. Thanks to my native guides, who brought me into the homes of several of their friends, I also got a real look at life in modern Britain. It was fascinating and I'll be thinking about it all and processing it for some time.  Just stopping in here this morning, taking advantage of the time shift to get a ridiculously early start, and to say a little something before the glow wears off altogether.

I am not on the payroll of the British Tourist Board, but I could be.  I don't know anyone who wouldn't like to visit the UK and I am here to say do it if you can.  You won't be sorry.
Castle ruin, just lying around, spotted on a walk...

I'll add before I use up the last the minutes of this found early morning hour that driving home through New Hampshire and Vermont yesterday I also got, for at least the length of the drive, to see our bit of the US through English eyes.  It was so beautiful it could break any heart.  Mine just held on.

More eventually.  Having set my reset button, I'm off for a bike ride.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

A Deaf Ear

If you have to lose an input, I suppose there are worse ones than the hearing in your right ear.

I speak from experience.  But, when I am lying down and speaking with a book cover positioned over the left side of my face, I can't hear myself.  Fortunately, it's a not a position I am in very often these days, now that bedtime stories have passed from our scene.

My bad right ear has gone from a nuisance to something close to a handicap, but considering the other possibilities, I am not complaining too much.

I had a colleague years ago, an older woman whose pedigree showed in her name and her bone structure.  She was the daughter in one of those families that have one son, one daughter, and a railroad concern.  The mother drank and was prone to rages.  I always wondered if that had something to do with the loss of my colleague's right eye.  I never learned how it had happened, or why she wore an eye patch rather than a glass eye (I had another friend with a glass eye and I always had trouble figuring out which one it was).  The eye patch, of course, became her defining characteristic.  She told me once (with a smile) that she hoped my children wouldn't be afraid when they met her, and tapped the patch. (They weren't. Patch or no patch, she was obviously a friendly creature).

I think of this sometimes as I am leaning in to some soft spoken person, asking her to repeat herself, or moving walking companions over to my left side.  My bad ear is a bother but the ear still looks OK, and shallow being that I am, I am grateful for that.  Also, one can get by with a bad ear.  Ask Stephen Colbert.

The trouble, as is the usual the case, is on the inside.  Those tiny bones in my right ear that are supposed to move around in response to the sound waves are stuck.  There is an operation: they actually replace the little piston type bone with a new one. I have inquired about this a couple of times.  Both times, the surgeon said it was unclear whether it would help me much, given the range of my hearing loss.  I don't quite understand this, though he tried to explain it and I was close enough to hear it all clearly.  There is also the risk that the little bit of hearing I have left (like when I turn my hair dryer into that ear, or brush the teeth on that side of my head with a power toothbrush) might be lost forever, so on I go with stuck ear bones.

Hearing aids, BTW, have proven of limited use. Someone once described hearing aids like having a flashlight in the dark.  Better than nothing, but nothing like daylight.  I have tried them, lost them, and been disappointed.  I guess I'm ready for another round now.  I don't mind being seen in a hearing aid.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Like I Said - Free Kindle Download for Labor Day

It's Friday, August 30 so let's get that long Labor Day Weekend started.

Here's the link to that BOOK that you can get until Tuesday for free on your kindle or iPad with a kindle app.  Tell your friends.  Thanks.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

And Now For Something Completely Different - You Be the Critic

Did I tell you that I wrote a book?  (That's a joke.  I'm Woolfoot-One-Note these days, and the note is THE BOOK).

Anyway, for once I will shut up about that - or will in a minute.  Up, Back, and Away took my about six years to write and I did it more or less in secret so that no one would 1.)  ask me how it was going or 2. laugh at me.

Now that it's done, however, I am like that formerly shy girl in the locker room who's now running off to bra fittings and co-ed saunas with the best of them. (Not really, but you know what I mean).

The point is that I have started another book  Thing is, I need a little push on this one and a some early response might be good too.  I like the idea of writing a thing serially - lots of better writers than me have done it to good effect so, I'll give it whirl.  The first two chapters are below.  Maybe some of you  good people will read them.  Maybe you won't and I'll give this a rethink.  I am not sure a blog format could work long term, if long term is what we're talking about here. I'll figure that out later.  In the meantime, here's the first few chapters of the next book, laid bare in its infancy.

Somerset Maugham wrote, "people ask for criticism but they only want praise."  He was right  about that as he was about so many things, bless Somerset Maugham.  I'm happy to find that anyone has the least bit of interest so all non-troll thoughts and opinions are welcomed.

Two more chapters will be posted here next week and we'll see how it's going.  Thanks for coming by and for your kind attention.  Please leave a comment or send me an email if you are so inclined.

A Daughter of the Country

May 23, 2073
My Very Dearest York,

     Since you surprised me at the groundbreaking last month with your question about the true origins of Sanctis  – actually, let’s not say “true.” The version in the annual report every year is accurate enough, and so not untrue, although I grant that it is ludicrously incomplete. Anyway, since you asked, I have been pondering what answer to give, if any.   
     Coming as it did at my time of life (at eighty two, one is unwise not to be prepared for one’s latter end), and because Sanctis, bag and baggage, will go down to you when that end comes, your question presented me with a real conundrum. I have thought for weeks about whether it is right to tell the full version – it may upset many apple carts - for me, but also for you.  But, turn as I might I come back to the fact that you have asked, and you deserve an answer, and only a true one will do.  This letter, if that is the right wor for it, is so thick because the truth is complex and it requires a full telling if it’s to be told at all.
     A key proviso, however, is that you are not to share it with anyone while I am still living – nor to use it to have me locked up! (I’m not actually joking.  You’ll see what I mean presently).
     I am in this way appointing you trustee for the things that you will learn here. They are precious things – and I don’t mean the formulae for the potions (I always preferred that term to “drugs”) that are still under patent to Sanctis. 
     All right.  Enough preamble.  I will start at the very beginning.  As the old song says, that’s a very good place to start.   I hope you know that you have all my love, and my trust.  Now, buckle on your helmet, fasten your safetybelt, turn the page and get all of my story.
Grammy Clair
P.S. And for goodness’ sake, or my sake, don’t leave this lying about for prying eyes!


1.        Surprise Pond

     It began on August sixteenth, Bennington Battle Day, a holiday recognized only in Vermont, that summer when I was fifteen.  
     BBD did not then, and does not now, have anything fun attached to it – no parades, no festivals, not even any good sales.  Apparently the American victory over the British in the battle of Bennington during the Revolutionary War may be sufficiently honored by giving a day off work to Vermont’s public employees.  (Odd that the fighting actually occurred over the border in New York, given its place in the Vermont calendar, but never mind about that).  It meant only two things to me that year: the town library was closed and Goof (a/k/a “Geoff” – my mother’s unspeakable live-in boyfriend) had a day off from his job at the correctional facility. My mother’s employer at the time - Dunkin Donuts, as I recalll – had no unionized employees and so did not honor Bennington Battle Day. Jillian wasn’t much of a shield from Goof, but she could sporadically rise to the occasion.  She had told me, forewarned me in point of fact, that she would be gone from six in the morning until at least three in the afternoon.
     Making matters worse, on August fifteenth, my brother Perry had left for his second year at college. I was, predictably, bereft.
     So I was in need that day of some activity that would  keep me out of the presence of Goof for the duration and perhaps bind my bleeding heart.  I had no money for a movie or other entertainment and, as you know – you’ve seen the house where we grew up - we lived miles from any shopping district.  I settled pretty quickly on hiking up to Surprise Pond on Ashburton Mountain. My father had taken Perry and I there many times before he died and after that Perry and I went when we could – whenever Perry had a day off from whatever job he was working and the summer weather permitted a swim. It was our “happy place” as people used to say back in the teens.
     Soon after sunrise on Bennington Battle Day, I made my silent preparations. I found my father’s saggy old canvas backpack, packed it with two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, a plastic water bottle, the last of the granola bars Perry had bought for me, and the compass that they had given us at Girl Scouts in sixth grade. 
     I wasn’t planning to use the compass.  I knew just where I was going, but our troop leader, a leathery woman with ugly sandals and the survival skills of a Green Beret, had warned us always to have a compass when we were in the woods.  She also terrified us into learning to use it properly.  (As you will see, this turned out to be a very good thing, though probably not for the reasons you are thinking). 
     I also packed my bathing suit, the least-threadbare beach towel I could find, a pair of pink flip flops, and a paperback copy of  Fifth Business by a writer called Robertson Davies. I had bought the book for a quarter at the library book sale that summer. Six hours is a long time to kill and I was counting on the book to fill some of that time. (It came to the rescue in quite a different way, but more on that later).  I gathered those few items,  jotted “gone for a picnic” on a note that I stuck to the fridge with a kitchen magent, and then rode my bicycle as quietly as possible down our rocky driveway.
     Surprise Pond, as you may recall, is about halfway up Ashburton Mountain.  It’s location on the side of the mountain is the “Surprise.” I took you there once when you were in the fourth grade, though I didn’t give you any hint of its significance at the time.  Do you remember?  We went early on a summer morning and you complained that the dew made your sneakers wet.  When we got to the pond you had a nice swim. I thought of it as a kind of baptism, though of course I said nothing about  it at the time.
     In case you don’t remember, there’s a waterfall on the east face of Ashburton.  It drops from a cliff onto a kind of shelf.  The falling water has scooped out a goodish sized pond on the plateau.
     It was eight miles from our house in AshburtonVillage to Ashburton Mountain Lodge, and uphill all the way. At fifteen, I hadn’t even gotten my learner’s permit and the ride up to the ski resort on my cheap ten-speed and wearing Perry’s heavy hand-me-down hiking boots was an exhausting and slow business.  The chain slipped off with every bump in the road. If I hadn’t needed to kill the whole day, I would have called it quits when I finally reached the big resort parking lot.  I actually thought of doing that that.  (Wouldn’t everything have been different then?)  But at home… Goof lurked. 
     So, after I got to the parking lot, I ate a sandwich and a granola bar, locked my bike to “no parking” sign by the ski shop (closed for the summer), and started up the broad ski trail that would take me eventually to the pond.
     The climb, as you may recall, is not terribly challenging.  Even a child can do it with a little effort, but it is steep in places and I’d already been riding my bike for more than an hour.  The sun was growing stronger with every step, and by the time I got to the footpath that led from the broad ski trail up to the pond, I was desperate for a swim. 
     The water was at its late summer best, cool, but not too cold. I swam in and out of the waterfall.   I lingered in the pond until I my blood temperature seemed to have pulled even with the water temperature.  Then I went dripping to the broad flat rock, warm from the sun, where I had spread my towel. I flopped onto it and was promptly lulled to sleep by the sound of falling water.
     I’m not sure how long I slept, but when I woke I was warm, too warm really. I remember wondering if I should read for a bit before I went back in for another swim. Fifth Business was in good shape and I wanted to keep it that way by not holding it with wet hands.  As I was considered my next move, however, something caught my eye in the sky above me. I blinked the sleep and sun from eyes as I thought they must be deceiving me.
     But no.
     There was a person dangling from a kite, an enormous three-tiered crimson and black thing with gold edges. This kite was turning in circles, which got smaller and tighter as I watched.  
     As startling as the kite was, its pilot was even more bizarre. As he descended, I could see that he was wearing a kind of vest or bodice, the word “doublet” leapt to mind (though I wasn’t sure at the time and am still not completely sure just what a “doublet” is).  It was the same dark red as the kite. His sleeves were puffy from shoulder to elbow. He was wearing tights, yes, tights, with a diamond pattern in red and black.  At his waist hung, I won’t call it skirt – it was more like a series of black handkerchiefs, with their pointed ends down. His black shoes were slightly pointed and tied at his ankles with wide, red ribbons. He wore a red cap, with the brim turned up. It was perched at a jaunty angle over his left eye. There was a puff of dark blue downy feathers over his right ear.
     I was so startled by this apparition that I forgot for the few first few moments to be afraid.  My initial worry was about where he would land. It would either have to be on the pond or on the small ledge where I had been sunning myself.  There was no place else for him to go. The woods came right to the edge of the pond.  That thought was chased out of my head by the realization that a madman was about to land from the sky right next to me and that I was all alone halfway up a wooded mountain.
     I belatedly scrambled to my feet, slid my feet into my flip-flops, and began shoving the rest of my belongings frantically into my backpack.
     In my efforts to jam them all in the pack at once, I was clumsy. I dropped the book and the hiking boots wouldn’t seem to fit.  I had just got one stubborn boot in the bag when those be-ribboned black shoes spun into my field of vision and the wooden heels clicked down on the rock, not three feet from where I stood in a half crouch.
     “Oh. Hi,” I said. (The brilliance of my opening haunts me to this day).
     “Hello,” the kite flyer replied, very cordially though he was clearly straining to keep his kite aloft.  There were silver bells sewn at the tips of the black handkerchiefs and these tinkled as he struggled to keep his place on the rock. He controlled the kite by means of two handles, and it was, apparently, not an easy task. He looked away from the sky and into my eyes long enough to say,  “Please don’t be afraid.”
     “Oh. I’m not afraid.” 
     I was terrified, of course. But I had heard somewhere that you should not show fear I think that advice was to do with facing down black bears or vicious dogs. I simply, without thinking, applied ot to jesters from the sky.
     He had to be a jester, of course. I worked that out from the outfit. He looked just like the joker in a deck of cards, although his hat was different – no sticky-outy things with bells at the end – just that red velvet cap with the blue feathers.  Also, he was not smirking.  He was struggling with the kite as though it were three pterodactyls rather than three sail cloths and the end of the guidelines.
     “Are they making a movie or something?” I asked, hoping to be able to dodge around him and make my getaway.
     “No. I don’t think so.”  He tried to smile in my direction while keeping an eye on his kite.  It was turning increasingly wobbly circles aloft. 
     Of course my instinct was to get away, but the ledge we occupied was too narrow.  If I had tried to push past him, he would have gone into the pond and he was bobbing from side to side in an acrobatic effort to control the kite.  As I looked around him,  I noticed then that there was another string dangling down from the kite that was tied to a bar behind his knees, like the kind you lean against on those old-fashioned rope-tow ski lifts.   He was also wearing a kind of pack on his back, made of the same red velvet as his coat.  
     I couldn’t help myself from then from staring at his jacket. It was gorgeous velvet, embroidered in gold with an elaborate “A” and “R” on either side of his chest, just above a scooping gold braid.  It was fastened with two gold bands buttoned on either side of his chest with bright gold buttons.  A white silk shirt collar showed beneath the larger red velvet collar of the coat. Now that he was so close, I could see that hundreds of tiny blue feathers had also been embroidered on the velvet.  He took a big step toward me as he wrestled the kite.  The bells at his waist jangled again.
     “I crave pardon, lady, but I have an presssing need to which I must attend,” he said. “Would you hold my lines? Only for a moment?”
     He held the handles of his kite in my direction. Beads of sweat sood out on his broad, creased forehead.  He was blinking sweat out of his eyes. His discomfort was palpable.

     Now, I can guess what you are thinking. I am thinking it myself. The wise answer, the only proper answer, of course, would have been “no.” I was a fifteen year old girl alone in the woods with a kook! A kook gorgeously dressed yes, but a kook for certain, and quite possibly dangerous to me.
     As I expect you have learned for yourself at this stage, however, there are times in life when one must make critical decisions in a heartbeat. The man’s face was kind, he was very civil, and the note of urgency in his voice was real. I hesitated for, perhaps, the space of a breath, then I shoved the stray boot into my pack, fitted the pack straps over my shoulders, and seized those warm wooden handles.
     And with that gesture, my dear grandson, my fate (and yours, among many others), was sealed.

2.         A Strange Trip
     It was very awkward for a moment we had then. Of course, I assumed the poor man had to pee, and when I took those lines I hoped he would do so promptly ( and well away from me). Instead, he slipped the velvet pack from his own shoulders and had it opened in a twinkling. With another fluid motion, he shook out a length of fabric and cunning arrangement of thin ropes. 
     “What are you doing?” The kite tugged furiously at me with the insistence of a living thing, desperate to be away. I pulled back with all my might. “I’m going to have to let this go!” I shouted.
     “Don’t!” He spoke with such command that I dared not disobey.
    With another graceful motion, and not another word, the Jester shook the ropes out and the length of fabric that he had pulled from his pack blossomed over the pond.  It was another kite, just like the one in the sky above us. It filled with a wind that had come out of nowhere, and joined its twin above us.
     “You’ll never make the whole trip if you don’t get the bar behind your legs.” He bent and pulled the bar that dangled from my kite behind my knees, as it had been for him. Just as quickly, he pulled a similar bar from the his kite and deftly placed it behind his own knees.
     “What!? What trip?” The kite yanked me and I felt the bar come up under my bum as my feet left the rock.
     “Stay close. Not so close that you tangle our lines, mind. You may be cold for a bit, but that can’t be helped and it won’t last long. At least I hope not.”
     And that was it.  Up I went. It happened so swiftly that by the time I realized that I was no longer in control I was above the trees – too high to let go. I was startled into speechlessness. The Jester swung up next to me, easily as if he had mounted up an escalator. I could only look at him in open-mouthed astonishment. I was wearing my bathing suit (it had the one advantage of being a one-piece) and a pair of supermarket flip flops.
     “Sorry about that!” he said as he pulled even with me. It sounded like a real apology. “But I’m afraid we have no time to waste. The corridor is never stationary nor open for long and we must get back through while it is still to be found and before it closes.”   
     “What’s happening?!” I screamed in his direction though it was quite peaceful in the sky at that momen. As I yelled, I inadvertantly tugged at the right handle and my kite lurched toward the Jester. We nearly collided.
     The Jester yanked his own right handle and slipped down and away. The bar on which I sat scraped at his puffy sleeve and tore it a little. He quickly came eye-level with me again.
     “Please don’t do that. The kite is very responsive, but it doesn’t need to be guided. It knows the way!”
     “The way to what?”
     I followed the Jester’s gaze was to a bank of tall clouds, tinged with purple. “The Corridor,” he said, sounding worried. “Blast, where has the damn thing gone?”
     I looked down and saw my white feet in their pink flip flops against a the background of dark green clumps of trees, far below. Strips of clouds whooshed beneath me, obscuring the view for a moment, then melting out of sight. This isn’t really happening, I thought.  I have fallen asleep on that warm rock after swimming and I am having a dream. I closed my eyes and tried to relax. Doing so almost cost me a flip flop. I felt it slip and clenched my foot. I saved the shoe, but lost my comforting illusion. This was no dream. I was flying over Vermont on a bewitched kite and being led on by a clown who was kidnapping me. I started pulling widly on the lines, trying for the ground. The kite made an ominous flapping sound and the Jester was immediately at my side.
     “What are you doing? Do you want to crash?”
     “But… You are required!”
     I didn’t answer, I kept pulling.  His emphasis on that last word doubled my terror for some reason. My flailing soon caused the kite to buckle and I dropped with sickening speed. The Jester was instantly at my side again. He somehow managed, though we were both spinning like tops, to rearrange my lines that my kite could again hold air. I was snapped back skyward.  The Jester came even with me again.
     “Lady, please, you must not! There can be no failure now.”
     “Where are you taking me? I want to go home!” I started to cry and then, though you will not believe it possible, something even stranger happened.
     I realized that, in fact, I did not want to go home.
     It was a moment of perfect clarity, and it stunned me. Could that be right? That I wanted to fly away with this bizarre creature to God only knew where. Could it be? I closed my eyes again and tried to make some sense of my heart. I felt myself being hauled upward then with great speed. It was like dreams I’d had of flying. I didn’t open my eyes. I thought only about my breathing. As I breathed in and out, very slowly, a picture seemed to gather on the back of my closed eyelids.
     The darkness took on a second dimension and I felt I was looking at a wall, brownish red.  I stared and saw, dimly, that in the center of the wall there was a narrow window – if the wall had been made of bricks, it was as if two of the bricks in the center of the wall had been removed.  Though the opening was slight, it allowed me a glimpse of a skyline crowded with spires and domes. It was oddly drained of color, all in tones of  brown and red, and reminded me of some sketchs by Leonardo da Vinci I had seen during our unit on the Rennaissance in Geo Civ.
    People were always talking about “signs.” I had never seen a sign before. But I felt sure that had just changed.
     I opened my eyes and turned to the Jester. He was looking at me with a worried expression.
      “Where are you taking me?” I asked again, quite calmly this time.
     He sighed. “To the place from whence I came and to which I must return - and at which you are required.”
      “Does this place have a name?”
      “Do not ask me to speak it on this side of the Corridor.  In fact, silence will aid us.
     “I’m freezing,” I said.
     “It shouldn’t be long now, Lady. It will be warmer on the other side of the passage. If you will only be quiet, and look ahead.”
      I found it strange, of course, that he was addressing me as “Lady,” but he was clearly anxious about this corridor business so I didn’t ask for any explanation.  We were both faced now with towering, billowing thunderheads just before us. The sight was not conducive to conversation. The great cloudbank that was all contours and curves in the varying shadesof a bad bruise. I felt the lines of the kite begin to shiver. The wind seemed to be blowing in every direction at once.  The kite dropped like a stone then jerked upward again. When it steadied again, I saw one of the dark curves on the face of the cloud change from a crescent into a full, black circle. The circle then lengthened into a tunnel, like a great, horrible throat. Purple-black clouds swirled on its walls and it was lit up and down its incredible length by flashes of lightning.
     The Jester  flew up even with me again. I felt myself swing forward on my bar,  as though I was being pulled toward the tube. “We must pass through,” he said in an urgent half whisper.
    My mouth was dry. “It’s not as bad as it looks, right?” I croaked.
    The Jester smiled consolingly.  “No, Lady. No it’s not.  Your kite will keep you in the center of the passage if you will let it. I recommend that you let it. Do not pull the strings. Be as still as possible, and as quiet, until we are through.”
     “Can I close my eyes?”
     “If it helps. The important thing is to be still, keep your mind quiet if you can and hold fast to your grips. Do not pull on the leads and do not let go. Do not let go, no matter what and we will be through before you know it. Are you ready?”
     I nodded. I wasn’t ready, of course, how could I have been? But it was clear to me that a point of no return had been passed and there was simply nothing else to do. The Jester slowed his forward momentum with a deft pull on his lines and swung in behind me, like a tail rider for a kid who is learning to ski. 
     Then, though the vortex was a picture of violence, the wind stopped blowing. We were drawn inward with an eerie slowness and all was silence, as if sound itself had been sucked away by the swirling clouds. This silence was somehow worse than the howling wind.  I felt a sickening dread, one that has recurred to me in nightmares in the years since. It was like the anticipation you feel when you are being pulled up the first hill of a roller coaster, multiplied by several factors of ten. I was waiting for the roar of wind and crash of thunder as I was pulled into the tube, but there was nothing.
     Our flight continued in this way for a time that I cannot now measure. At one point I was put in mind of Alice on her way to Wonderland. I remembered thinking about how Alice had fallen so slowly down the rabbit hole that she had time to take a jar of marmelade off one of the shelf  and then to return it to a shelf lower down. Of course, our tube was no friendly Victorian pantry. It was full of violence and anger. Why it didn’t seem to touch us, I could not understand. Perhaps, I thought, it was all an illusion.
     Shortly after that thought about Alice occurred to me, however, I sensed a change. I looked down the tube and saw a girl’s face take shape in the clouds on the right side of the tunnel.  The face was simply enormous, like as the back end of ocean liner. “Alice” I thought, because Alice had been on my mind and because the cloud face looked like the illustrations of Alice I had seen over the years: long hair pulled back with a head band from a young and beautiful face with a pert nose and narrow chin.  It was colorless, or rather, the color of cloud, but it was as sharply defined as if it had been carved in stone.
     I looked at it with amazement that quickly turned to dread. Alice’s eyelids were closed,  and just as I determined to look away, they snapped opened and peered, it seemed, right into furthest recesses of my soul. The irises were swirling purple cloud and the pupils were black and contained their own mini vortexes. There was a flash from them that blinded me. “Lightning!” I screamed and, without realizing, tugged my kite far to the right.    
     I thought I heard the Jester yelling behind me, but it was as hard to understand as underwater screaming. I tried to look behind me but couldn’t see anything. I’d been blinded.  I somehow managed to keep hold of the handles of the kite while I rubbed my dazzled eyes but the rubbing motion set the kite bobbing in a way that felt dangerously unsteady.  When I next dared open my eyes, my vision had cleared sufficiently for me to see  little. I turned to check on the Jester. It was as though his face had been melted and stretched, and his mouth was frozen in a big “O.” I screamed in that same strange underwater way and in doing so lurched to the right. The kite veered so that my foot dragged across Alice’s chin. I felt nothing on my foot, but Alice’s mouth opened a black, noiseless scream and her features twisted into a vision of hatred and anger before melting back into the swirling wall of the tunnel.
     The face disappeared, but the little section where my foot had dragged across the cloud opened into a black gash. The edges of the gash curled back and in the dark center, where my big toe must have penetrated the cloud wall, I saw some skittering motion. I watched with horror as from the foggy innards an insect emerged. It was a wasp, larger than any I had ever seen, it was about the size of a lump of charcoal and nearly as dark.
     I’ve always had a terror of wasps, as you know. One of my first memories is of standing one summer day behind the house where we lived for a time when I was about three years old. I remember looking at the door into the garage and wondering if I dared walk through. Wasps had built a big, papery nest in the upper right corner of the door frame. I watched them crawling in and out as I considered whether I could go through. Finally, I tried to go through at a run, but the door had been locked, or perhaps had swollen shut. The jolt was enough to send them into a frenzy. I was stung half a dozen times before Perry, who was seven at the time, came to my rescue. He had seen what was happening and came out with the blanket we kept on the couch. Luckily I didn’t have an allergy, or that would have been the end. Still, I have had a phobia of wasps ever since.
     The mammoth creature that emerged from the gash in the clouds flew around my head with a terrible buzzing. I felt it dangling legs catch in my hair. I almost let go of the handle, but remembered the Jester’s warning just in time. I couldn’t stop myself swinging at it, though, and as I wheeled my arms, my kite went careening around the tube. Even with all my wild motion and the crazy swinging of the kite, the thing managed to land on my right arm, just below my shoulder. It poised it’s stinger at that same spot where nurses always seemed to aim their needles. I tried to wipe it away while keeping a hold on the handle but the sensitive kite swirled, then crumpled again. I dropped sickeningly.  I had one very clear moment, in which I felt very sorry for Perry, since I would be dead and he would always wonder what had happened to me, but in the next instant the Jester was back beside me. He managed to grab my right hand and handle with his left and the crazy motion stopped.
     His face was not distorted now, but his mouth moved in slow motion and his voice was like a record played at a horribly slow speed. I could decipher that he was shaking his head, and closing his eyes in a way that I came to understand he wanted me to imitate. When I closed my eyes, something like calm was restored. The Jester kept his hand on mine, his fingers enclosing my hand and kite handle as well as his own. I could feel its warmth in the strange stillness and it comforted me.
     Was it wicked little wasp’s feet against the skin of my arm? I couldn’t tell, but I found that not looking helped. It occurred to me that the wasp might not have been real, maybe just some sort of horrid illusion. I was not stung, I knew that much. 
     We floated on this way for some period of time I could not calculate, then or now. I was beginning to wonder when it might end when a noise, like the wind we had heard at the approach to the vortex, began to grow. The whooshing and wild swinging came back. I looked ahead into a maelstrom of swirling cloud and flashing lightning as the very breath was sucked from my lungs.
     “Hold fast!” the Jester shouted, his voice restored to normal. I squeezed his hand for all I was worth, and then all was darkness.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Forget Laboring on Labor Day - Free Reading! News of England and Top Tips

That book about which I have been blathering on about for the last year or more will be free for your Kindle (or Kindle app) over Labor Day Weekend.  To be more precise, it will be free to download  from midnight, Pacific time on August 30 to midnight September 2, 2013.

Here's a the link, for your linking convenience.


I bought a plane ticket yesterday BOS to LHR - or, for you non baggage handlers, that's Boston to London.  I'll be over in Blighty from September 15 to the 23.

This trip is a case of how a mighty oak (trip to England) may grow from a small acorn (a twitter post).
I know: Please to explain!

Sometime in July The Paris Review (which I don't read but which I do follow on Twitter) posted this picture:

I had to get a closer look at that, obviously.  

Turns out that William Gladstone left his very fabulous personal library in trust for the public.  That's it, in the picture.  The library (and his whole estate) is in Flintshire in north Wales and (are you sitting down?) you can stay there!  For not very much.  Read all about it here.

So, I booked a room the very night I ran across that twitter post.  The deposit was non refundable and I figured I would be forced thereby to actually go to England.  

Of course, my head cooled thereafter.  It's a hassle scheduling things at work and the kids (my son is away on a school trip to Maine that week), it's expensive blah blah.  But I got a shove over the Atlantic from our English friends who are visiting Vermont as we speak and who leaned on the family Chief Financial Officer (not me) to allow the visit. They held out promises of accommodations for the days when I am not in Wales, tours of Oxford, London bookshops etc. into the mix.  And so.... BOS to LHR it is.

Another big pull was exerted by the fact that G's Library is only about half an hour from Erddig Hall, in Wrexham, Wales.  Erdigg is the National Trust property on which I based the fictional Quarter Sessions in the above-mentioned book.  I spent years reading about Erddig as I was writing and I feel like I am making a kind of pilgrimage.

Here is a little bit of that magic place as well:

So, that's my big news.  I promise to report back.  


I like to provide the occasional top tip here.  My way of giving back because I am that kind of generous person.  I listen to Pandora these days when I am at my computer and have been introduced to a lot of music that I love and that I couldn't believe that I had missed (some of it is not new).

So, I am here to recommend to you Knuddlemaus by Ulrich Schnauss

(nothing to look at in this video, but you can hear the music)

and most especially, this Morrissey Song: Come Back to Camden.

This song has such a hold on me right now that I had to research it on Wikipedia.  It was written by Morrissey and Boz Boorer, (whom I probably saw when I went to that Morrissey concert in Burlington last fall though I had no idea at the time what a big deal he is, musically speaking).  I am wondering if one of them might be the reincarnation of W.H. Auden or something because this song is a work of genius.  (Thank you, Youtube fans, for posting...)

Monday, July 22, 2013

Highway Hexes

I commute to work three days a week on I 89 - Vermont's main east-west artery.  It has not been a good summer for trying to drive on I 89 - washouts, accidents, and paving projects have made it a misery - it made me wonder if there wasn't something more going on...

Ottanta Sette threw a pinch of powdered oak bark into the teapot, gave it a swirl, and dropped the whole business with a rattle onto her sister’s kitchen table.  Overhead another 18-wheeler passed, causing the bunches of dried herbs tied to rafters to sway.
“Oh God,” Sette said as she collapsed into a kitchen chair.  “You know Nove, It’s not as relaxing in Vermont as advertised. I mean, that calendar you sent me for winter solstice? It’s all autumn leaves and cows on green hills, then you get here and it’s all the same old traffic. I might as well have stayed in New York.  Between my stomach and my tooth… I am at my limit.  I mean the limit.”
            Ottanta Nove furrowed her brow as she poured the potion. The note of exasperation in her big sister’s voice was new, and alarming.  “I could arrange an accident,” she suggested brightly. “You’ve always enjoyed those, and it would quiet things down for awhile.” 
Nove’s den, like that of all her sister Interstate witches, was magically hidden just beneath an overpass on the highway to which she had been assigned and for which she had been named.  (The great Strega di Autostrada had deplored English as dull and unromantic.  She had decreed that all her followers must have Italian names). “How’s about another Jack-knifed tractor trailer?”
            Sette waved her gnarled hand dismissively. “I’m not in the mood.”
            What was this?
For Sette to lose enthusiasm for car crashes was like losing the moon from the sky.  Nove tried again. “Maybe some more rain? A good deluge might just knock out some bridge pilings.” She hopped up from the table and grabbed the apothecary jar marked “PLUVIA”. Even in the murk, she could see that it was nearly empty.
“Uhm. You didn’t bring some Pluvia along by any chance?”
            Sette gazed at her younger sister in disbelief. The girl had never been the brightest torch in the forest and she was not improving with age. “I’m on vacation, Nove? Remember. I’m supposed to be on my Vermont vacation.”
            The note of disgust in Sette’s voice stung. Nove had been having one of the most brilliant seasons of her career. OK. Maybe she’d been a little free with the Pluvia.  But look at the results!  Nothing short of mayhem. Accidents, tie-ups, Vermont driver vexation unsurpassed in half a generation. Nove had expected praise and enthusiasm from her famous older sister. Instead, Sette was a picture of unutterable weariness.
“Honestly – and this is not to get back to headquarters, you understand?” Sette continued, “but closed lanes don’t do for me what they once did.”
            Nove practically stumbled. “You don’t mean that.”
            “I do.”
            “Why, you were the one who taught me the late merging spell - even before I knew the alphabet! The snarls you caused on I 87! Even Boston Coven...”
            “I said this wasn’t to get back to headquarters!” Sette banged the table, and then rubbed her forehead in a gesture of exhaustion.
            Nove made a motion to indicate that she was zipping her lips. She’d heard of this, witches losing their edge.  But Sette? What could it mean?
            As the question skittered across Nove’s mind, Re-tread, her raven and familiar, banged three times, urgently, on his hemlock perch by the chimney.  Nove caught his beady brown eye and read his meaning. Opportunity knocking?
            Even Boston had taken notice of Nove’s successes this summer.  If Sette were really headed for retirement?  I 87 had New York City drivers at its south end and the Adirondacks in the north. Oh, the opportunities for accidents! Oh the freezing rain!  She blew across the top of her cup and pondered.  She didn’t want to leave Vermont, but maybe she wouldn’t have to.  Maybe she was strong enough now… Hadn’t she shown what she could do?