Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Visit to the Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars, Morgan Library and Museum Exhibit

The first cool weekend of fall provided the ideal opportunity to visit the ‘Ernest Hemingway: Between Two Wars’ exhibition which recently opened at the Morgan Library and Museum in midtown Manhattan.

Laid out chronologically, beginning with Hemingway’s high school years, the exhibits include letters, draft manuscripts and excerpts from published work providing a fascinating insight into Hemingway’s writing process and personality.

He wrote his first drafts by hand maintaining that this way he had at least three chances to work over what he had written: one when he wrote it out, the second when he typed it up and the third when he proofread the hard copy. He also claimed that he took a great deal of care with his writing, stating in one quote that if he didn’t take as much care he could easily turn out two novels a year! I couldn’t help wondering what he would have thought of the current suggestion that authors should put out multiple novels a year to please their readers.

My favorite pieces were:

1.       A letter from Hemingway to his parents expressing his disappointment that they obviously did not like his work given they had returned the copies of his books.

2.       A letter from Bill Horne, a friend whom he’d met in Italy, consoling Hemingway following the breakup of his relationship with the nurse who had cared for him while he was in hospital after being wounded while working as an ambulance driver for the Red Cross and whom he’d hoped to marry. (Part of this experience became the basis for Farewell to Arms.)

3.       Pages of Hemingway’s work drafted on Western Union Telegraph paper – presumably the only thing available to him to write on at the time of inspiration.

4.       Two handwritten pages of an edit of ‘A Farewell to Arms’ by Scott Fitzgerald.  The whole document was apparently ten pages long and much of it was praise for the writing rather than outright criticism or suggestions for change, but across the bottom of the last page Hemingway had written “Kiss my Ass”!

5.       One of Hemingway’s books which he had been asked to dedicate. However the book had been bought second hand from a book collector for the owner’s home library and Hemingway knew this so he wrote a sarcastic comment about how the author wouldn’t see any royalties from the sale of the book he was being asked to dedicate.

Maybe because I like to write my first drafts by hand I enjoyed the chance to see Hemingway’s versions complete with insertions, deletions and, in one case, three false starts on the opening paragraph, a reminder that no-one writes perfect first drafts. True, Hemingway’s writing is not always easy to read, but the exhibit labels provide the gist of the documents for those having problems deciphering his script.

The exhibition runs until January 31st, 2016. If you get a chance to go, I’d highly recommend it.  

Thursday, October 1, 2015

PJ Boox - The Indie Author Bookstore

Photo: Patti Brassard Jefferson
It's not easy for indie authors to get their books into bookstores and often if you do the book will be placed spine out on the shelf in the appropriate alphabetical section for your genre making it almost impossible for it to be discovered amongst the mass of others. As of today, 1st October 2015, there is now an alternative.

PJ Boox is a bookstore for indie authors, whether self-published or small press. The store, in Fort Myers, Florida, offers authors the opportunity to rent a shelf for four months to display up to 3 different titles for browsing. The store will hold a stock of up to 10 of the books for sale at any one time. There will also be an option for readers outside the area to purchase online from the bookstore website with PJ Boox handling both orders and shipping. 

The store owner, Patti Brassard Jefferson,  has already had success with another smaller bookstore that she opened for local authors. She had so many requests from authors outside the catchment area that she decided to open this second store but with no limits on where the author resides. 

I, for one, couldn't resist this opportunity - as they say, nothing ventured, nothing gained - and it's quite a thrill to see my books on the shelves in the above picture (third shelf down on the right nearest the corner). I may have to visit Florida again soon!

For more info on the store: http://www.pjboox.com

Monday, September 28, 2015

Kindle Countdown - Ulterior Motives

Just wanted to let you know that Ulterior Motives is on sale until October 4th. $0.99 in the U.S. and 99p in the UK.  

Alternatively, if you subscribe to Kindle Unlimited you can read it for free not only in the U.S. and U.K. but also in Canada, Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, France, India and Mexico.

Click here for link to local Amazon site. 

What reviewers had to say about Ulterior Motives:

"A methodical thriller bristling with interpersonal intrigue and compelling characters.
A slow-paced story of captivity with an emotional center that will keep readers engaged." - Kirkus Reviews

"An American businessman kidnapped in the Philippines after storming out on his wife--Parish draws the reader in with a compelling, challenging plot. What keeps the pages turning, however, is Parish's careful development of character. Told from the perspective of the kidnappee, Jake, the reader is taken through the ups and downs of an emotional roller coaster as Jake's worst nightmare becomes increasingly darker. Rather than leaving the novel at that, Parish creates a truly engaging story through her full development of the kidnappers." - John Walters 

"Parish does an excellent job of developing the character of Cornish and the kidnappers, and slowly but surely reveals the motives of each party involved. Jake's feelings toward his captors (and their feelings toward Jake) have their ups and downs, and you can never quite guess whats going to happen in the next chapter. On a larger scale, Parish touches on issues of distributive justice, gender roles, and the definition of success and happiness in the modern world. Ultimately, Ulterior Motives is a story about family, and Parish leaves readers thinking about what family truly means." - Hunter Goodman

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Charming Small Towns - Rhinebeck, New York

Rhinebeck in Dutchess County, New York has been on my list of places to visit since reading about it in AAA's Car and Travel Magazine earlier this year. Just under two hours from us via the Taconic State Parkway - one of my favorite roads to drive - it seemed like a perfect place for a day trip. 

Founded by the Dutch in 1686, the area became a popular place for the wealthy to build their riverfront homes, so much so that today there is a nearby historic district of thirty estates established between the eighteenth and early twentieth century, some of which are now open to the public. Our first stop was at one of these, the Wilderstein Historic Site, which is just over two miles south of the town center.  

The house was built in the 19th century for Thomas Suckley, with grounds designed by landscape architect Calvert Vaux (co-designer of Central Park in New York). The original house was relatively small, having only two stories, but when Thomas' son inherited it he added a third floor, a five story tower, a huge veranda around three sides of the house (including a glassed in section so that it could be used in all weather) and a port cochere. 

Trails wind around the forty-acre grounds past formal gardens, across meadows and through wooded parkland. We followed one trail to this sitting area which provided a pleasant if slightly overgrown view of the Hudson River. 

The train tracks, part of the line from New York to Albany used by Amtrak and CSX, run through the estate along the east bank of the Hudson river.  

The gazebo 
Dog houses

Nearer the house there is a gazebo which the family liked to use for reading on a summer's day and, beside the back entrance, two cute dog houses. 

Behind the house there is a huge carriage house. It was in such a bad condition that half a million dollars had to be raised to reinforce the external structure to save it from being demolished. Now that the structure is deemed safe, once the interior work has been finished the plan is to use it for for educational activities, exhibitions and weddings. 

The grounds are open to the public most days while the house can only be visited on a tour. We were a little disappointed to discover that the tour only covered the ground floor of the house as the remaining floors were still undergoing restoration. We saw pictures taken before restoration began which showed just how bad a condition the house was in. The outside had not been painted for over seventy years! They also gave us an idea of why we were not yet able to see the other floors of the house. Most had not been used for decades.

Until her death in 1991 Thomas's granddaughter Margaret Suckley lived in the house. Known as Daisy, she was a distant cousin of Franklin D. Roosevelt and became a close friend and confidante to the President. She spent time at the White House, often traveled with him around the country, and was with him when he died.

In her later years (she was almost one hundred when she died) she used only the ground floor rooms. It's hard to imagine what it must have been like living somewhere so big and dilapidated alone, but I guess when it's been the family home for generations, it is hard to give up.  In the 1980's when the property was finally put into a trust it was with the proviso that she would be able to live there for the rest of her life. 

After the tour it was time to head into the town center for a late lunch. Rhinebeck has an attractive main street, Market Street, lined with one-of-a-kind shops and a wide variety of restaurants and cafes. 

An alleyway off E. Market St leads to The Courtyard, a small square of eateries with outdoor seating and live music. 

Being history buffs we couldn't resist a visit to the  Beekman Arms which claims to be America's oldest continuously operating inn. The inn offers several dining options but we settled for the old world atmosphere of the Tavern with its wood beams and low ceilings. The food was excellent, the menu offering variations on classics such as Crab Cake Benedict, my choice, which was delicious, and Vegetable Quiche with seafood Hollandaise which looked equally delectable.   

After lunch it was time for some exercise in the form of walking up Burger Hill, a 550 foot peak, in Drayton Grant Park. It is a well-maintained, smooth slope to the top (reputed to provide excellent sledding in winter) and well worth a visit for the views of the Catskill Mountains and Hudson River. You really can see for miles and miles. 

After all that exertion it was time to relax in the shade and have one more drink before heading back home. We chose Gigi, an Italian trattoria with a very pleasant outdoor area and an enticing range of desserts. Their Tiramisu portion was so large it probably undid all the good of that walk up the hill!  

Verdict: Well worth a visit and would make a great base for a weekend getaway. 

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Walking in the City - The Bowery and Mulberry Street, New York

If I've learned anything from all my walks in Manhattan, it's how big the city actually is. You can walk for several hours and think you've explored a decent sized area, but when you trace it out on a map, you discover you've barely begun to cover it. So it was on Saturday when, inspired by Edward Rutherford's fascinating historical fiction 'New York', my daughter and I decided to explore the area south of East Houston Street which incorporates the Lower East Side, Chinatown and Little Italy.

We started off walking south on Bowery which used to be one of the main thoroughfares on the island of Manhattan. It's almost hard to believe it now but in the 17th century the area was north of what was then classed as the heart of the city and was the location of many large farms, hence its name which derives from the Dutch word for farm (bouwerij).

I'd only heard of the Bowery as a seedy, rundown area so I was surprised to learn that as the area became incorporated into the city in the early 18th century it became a coveted address for the wealthy. By the end of the century however, the area was home to the poor and homeless and rife with prostitution and gangs.

In 1880 the Bowery Mission opened, providing services to the poor and a place for homeless men to sleep. In 1909 it moved into a larger building further down the street and is still there today. Other buildings have been torn down to be replaced by sleek modern structures such as the New Museum  or the Wyndham Hotel,  but in recent years the Bowery has been classified as a Historic District in an effort to restore rather than demolish the old buildings as the area becomes ever more gentrified.

Cafe Standard
German bar 

In the last few years the street has become home to numerous restaurants, bars and cafes.

Judging from this old sign post, it's not just buildings that are being saved !

At Broome Street we headed east to Orchard Street which is considered the heart of the Lower East Side. The street is lined with low-rise buildings which have been home to immigrants since the 1800's.

Some of their stories are retold at the Tenement Museum on Orchard Street. Unfortunately the museum can only be visited on a guided tour, but there is a different tour per floor - as each apparently represents a different part of the immigrant experience - and each tour requires a separate admission charge of $25. Definitely not aimed at budget travelers - this has to be one of the most expensive museums I've come across.

We decided to make do with a walk along the street before we headed back towards the Bowery and our final destination - the site of Five Points, a once dangerous neighborhood mentioned frequently in 'New York'. It took its name from a crossroads where five streets intersected. Only one of the five streets, Mulberry Street, still exists with the same name and Five Points itself has been merged into what is now Chinatown and Little Italy.

The original intersection appears to have been replaced by Columbus Park, a definite slice of China in New York. The park was bustling with activity when we visited, Chinese dialects far more prevalent than English. At the north end of the park there is a plaza dotted with tables and benches where groups played mahjong and cards under the shade of their umbrellas. Others found shelter from the heat in a pavilion packed with players and onlookers alike.

In the middle of the plaza is a statue of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, Father of the Republic of China. According to the inscription, educated in both the east and west, he was inspired by the American Revolution and Independence to overthrow the Ching Dynasty and end 5000 years of Imperial rule in China.

Mulberry Street borders the park to the east. Going north to Canal Street it is in Chinatown, but after that becomes part of Little Italy. 

Maybe it was because it was a Saturday, but the street was closed to traffic and packed with people. Restaurants and bars lined either side, their outdoor seating taking up most of the sidewalk. It was such a pleasant atmosphere that we couldn't resist stopping for lunch.  

Casa Bella - our lunch stop

We rounded our day's excursion off with a visit to the Italian American Museum, a tiny but fascinating museum situated in an old bank building on the corner of Mulberry and Grand Street. Banca Stabile was founded in 1885 and continued in business until the depression acting not only as a bank to newly arrived Italians but almost as a community center. The museum contains not only original handwritten bank records and equipment but also objects such as shipping records and naturalization documents which document the experience of the Italian immigrant in America. Well worth a visit.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Bryant Park Reading Room

It never ceases to amaze me that no matter how well I think I know an area of Manhattan there always seems to be something new to discover - or at least new-to-me. I've been to Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan many times over the years, but it seems not during the summer months otherwise I surely would have already known about the Reading Room. 
From April to October a section at the north-east side of the park becomes a mini outdoor library with a tented space for workshops and talks and a more informal sitting area for reading. Every day, except Sunday, there is a lunchtime or evening session aimed at readers or writers, plus special programs for children. Most of the events take place between June and August so sadly I've missed most of this season's offerings.    
The original idea for the Reading Room was born in 1935 as a place for those out-of-work to have access to reading materials at no cost and without the need for identification or library cards, but by 1944 the economy had improved to the point where it was no longer deemed necessary. 
Bryant Park underwent extensive renovations in the early 1990's turning the park from what had become a no-go area into a popular spot for locals and visitors alike and in 2003 it was decided to re-open the Reading Room.

the classics

Now mobile carts offer readers a range of classic and contemporary books as well as newspapers and magazines, all donated by the publishers. 
contemporary novels
 And there's even a children's section too. 

What a wonderful way to encourage reading for all ages. A great place to while away a sunny hour or two. I can't believe it has taken me this long to discover it. And it makes me wonder whether other cities have a similar set-up. Are there any outdoor libraries in your city?

Monday, August 3, 2015

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - A Review

I love movies, but have always felt there’s something extra special about going to the theater. I’m in awe of people who can get up on stage and transport an audience to another place and/or time for two or three hours with no option of retakes, editing or action-packed scenes to distract the audience from humdrum performances.  On stage, being good-looking is not enough, there has to be talent too, whether in acting, singing or dancing or, in the case of plays like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, all three.