winter days

This post is made possible by two friends: Jodi Paloni took these photos of the Days’ Cottages this winter, and Darrelyn Saloom recently taught me how to insert a slideshow into a blog post. Many thanks.

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Click on behind the photo for the story behind the photo at the top of this blog. And click on photos to see more of the cottages, and more of Truro and Provincetown.

stoneham, andover, tewkesbury

I was just reading over the upcoming November 1 How We Spend Our Days post by Mari Strachan (which is wonderful).

In her post, Mari recites the names of some Welsh towns, each one of which sounds magical. Her list reminded me of a list I had jotted down in June on my way to Vermont.

I flew into Boston and was driving on 93 N to Montpelier, Vermont. The signs announced the towns:

Stoneham
Andover
Tewkesbury
Lowell
Manchester
Concord
Plymouth
Portsmith

Is it just my love of the northeast that transforms the names of these towns into music? Or is it the fact that the names are unfamiliar to me–in the sense that I’m not usually driving by these towns?

Yesterday, I was driving from Columbus to Birmingham. I passed signs for Opelika, Auburn, Alexander City, Sylacauga, Pelham. I didn’t make any notes.

Perhaps I’m being unfair to the Alabama towns not to list them vertically.

VCFA visuals #5: a river really does run through it

downtown Montpelier

I have this thing for the ocean. But in a pinch, a pond, a creek, a river will do.

The Winooski River flows through Montpelier, Vermont. From the balcony of the old Victorian, we could actually see the river.

And when I was out running, I discovered the cool bridge below:

the cool bridge

Look one way, and this is what you see.

Look the other, and this is what you see.

it pulls me and grounds me

After seeing my photos of the ocean, a friend wrote that she could tell the ocean pulls me and grounds me at the same time. What an amazing thing to know from a photo.

Seven days the first week of April–spring break–in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida, in a house right on the beach–days I can’t seem to stop thinking or writing about.

Seeing, hearing, smelling, living the ocean–I just felt great. Each moment was wider than normal. Each day had a rhythm and an arc.

I’ve never been one to appreciate or mark the beginning of the day. I’m not much in the morning. But at the end of each one of these,
 I paused to watch the sun disappear into the o c e a n.

oh the ocean

It’s so quiet now, without the waves pounding in the background. The first week in April we had our own wonderful steps to the beach. I went to the grocery before I left, and after I arrived on Friday, the first, I did not set foot in a car until we pulled out of the driveway Friday, the eighth, to come home. I wish I could say I woke with the sun, but I slept late, I walked, I read, read, read… All activities interrupted by a few steps to the ship-size deck for hefty doses of sea air. I wrote, wrote, wrote…with the door open and the sound and view of the ocean. And after it was dark, just for fun, I downloaded the series Damages and watched in solo-size on my iPhone. I ate more pizza than I would have thought possible because it was the only place that delivered. Even pizza for breakfast one day. When I write, the hours turn to minutes and before I know it, the day is done. But one day, Sunday I think, I just read all day–different books. With a midday walk down the beach. And the day felt l u x u r i o u s l y long.

new york march 2011

In New York last weekend, Cal and I saw Memphis, the 2010 Tony Award Winner for Best Musical. It was GREAT!

Saturday, we ate breakfast outside (despite the cold weather) at Sarabeth’s on the park.

At The Museum of Modern Art, we saw:

  • Picasso Guitars 1912-1914,
  • Andy Warhol Motion Pictures–12 or 14 giant screens, showing facial close-ups,
  • and an exhibit on Abstract Expressionist New York, featuring Jackson Pollack.

In striking contrast to Picasso’s assurance was Pollack’s self-doubt. About the metal sculpture Picasso made of a guitar, people asked, “What is it, painting or sculpture?” Picasso answered, “It’s nothing, it’s el guitare!” On the other hand, “once, after completing a new piece, Pollack asked his wife, Lee Krasner, ‘Is this a painting?'”

Saturday night was the revival of Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, which I was glad to see but which was somewhat tedious, both in dialogue and acting. Also, the actors whose performances I enjoyed most were the ones with whom the critics found the most fault.

Sunday was a 3-hour walk from Times Square to Soho and then brunch at Commerce, a wonderful little restaurant tucked into a residential neighborhood in Greenwich Village, large murals by David Joel. I highly recommend the doughnuts.

Monday morning was a blur of rain and umbrellas as I headed for the airport, full of inspiration and good food.

Tied with Memphis for my favorite part of the trip was seeing Picasso’s obsession with guitars and seeing how each expression was different from, and fed on or off of, the others. A digital version of his sketchbook was available.

Chad Kimball sings “Memphis Lives in Me:”

roswell reads

Roswell, Georgia, a small city rich in history on the north side of Atlanta, chose Robin Oliveira’s first novel, My Name is Mary Sutter, as their Sixth Annual Roswell Reads Selection. At a reception for Robin Friday night, which included delicious gluten-free cupcakes and lots of conversation about reading, committee members told me they had wanted to choose a book by a woman and also one that touched on the Civil War, this year being the 150th anniversary of its beginning.

The read began in February and all sort of events took place around it, including civil war reenactments, “Follow Your Dream” photography contests, and weekend discussions. Previous selections included Kim Edwards’ The Memory Keeper’s Daughter and Terry Kay’s The Valley of Light.

The Archibald Smith Plantation, the location of the reception, was built around 1845 and is in wonderful condition, the rooms filled with Civil War trunks, slave-made baskets, corn-husk dolls, and two of the first TVs. And more… Apparently there is some value in never getting rid of anything. When the last of the family members died, the house was bequeathed to the housekeeper, Mamie Cotton, who lived in it until she died. True to the period, I had to go outside to the bathroom.

At her talk at a Literary Luncheon on Saturday to over a hundred people, Robin received a standing ovation.

Schenectady County, New York, also chose Robin’s book for their community read, which takes place in April. Robin will speak there on April 9th.

as i was saying

Friday night I settled into my bed at The Whetstone Inn with the latest issue of Hunger Mountain. I wanted to read Robin MacArthur’s essay, “Abandoned Landscapes.” Robin lives in Marlboro only minutes from where I was at the moment. What fun to read that essay when I was in the grips of her landscape, I thought.

I could hear Robin’s voice as I read. Last summer, she delivered this essay as her graduating lecture at Vermont College of Fine Arts. She wrote:

I was born amidst three hundred acres of land in Southern Vermont that my family has owned for three generations, on a road that carries my name. I grew up throwing hay bales, tapping sugar maples, building forts in the woods… This landscape is how I know the world and myself in it, and, undeniably, part of who I am.

Robin’s essay discusses the fiction of Willa Cather, Flannery O’Connor, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway. It’s one of the best essays on landscape I’ve ever read. Order a copy of Hunger Mountain today and let me know what you think. In my next post, yet another reason to order a copy of this issue of Hunger Mountain.

I’ll close with Robin’s words:

Our obsessions are the keys to our art; if we pay enough attention to them, we will find ourselves on the road to originality, resonance, truth.

what it’s like living here

I wrote a guest post for Doug Glover’s blog, Numéro Cinq, in the series he’s doing on what it’s like to live in various places. Here’s the first paragraph:

In Columbus, Georgia, the seasons change, but they take their sweet time about it. First summer doesn’t want to let go, and then the leaves cling to the trees. Not until late October do the golds, oranges, and reds sprinkle this over-green world with color.

To read more…

the wake of forgiveness

The Wake of Forgiveness, the debut novel by Bruce Machart–officially out as of yesterday from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt–has a big storyteller narrator who knows how to describe sweeping panoramas and then move seamlessly in for a close-up. We follow an owl for three paragraphs, then zoom down to a man trying to extricate himself from a fence. On the next page, a rider on horseback notices the man by the fence.

The Wake of Forgiveness has a beautiful, symmetrical structure:

  1. A Winter Harvest: February 1895 (Karel being born)
  2. Turning the Earth: March 1910 (horse race)
  3. A Breeding of Nettles; December 1924 (Karel and Sophie and the baby)
  4. A Sacrament of Animals: March 1910 (Karel and Graciela)
  5. Meander Scars: May 1898 (the photo of their mother lost)
  6. The Blind Janus: December 1924 (the baby and the 2 brothers the conflict escalates and the fire)
  7. Testaments to Seed: March 1910 (Karel and Graciela)
  8. A Reaping of Smoke and Water: December 1924 (it all comes together)
  9. A New, Warm Offering: February 1895 (the wet nurse arriving)

But what was most amazing were the sentences–both long:

Alive in Karel’s mind is only a whisper of suspicion, one muted by the astonishing beauty of what he’s seen, and he smiles at the fortune of having borne witness to something so graceful and yet so capable and strong, to a girl turned woman before his eyes, to that woman flashing her white teeth at him, smiling because, for her, as for Karel, there is nothing quite so thrilling as a race run on horseback, nothing filled more with wonder, nothing so able to convince you that you are flesh and blood and alive in the world that offers so few joys other than this running.

and short:

The rain needles his good eye, and the sky is dark enough to suggest that the moon has orphaned the heavens.

I heard Bruce read from The Wake of Forgiveness last March in Italy (he was the Sirenland Fellow). On Saturday, he’ll be reading at Cornerstone Books in Salem, MA. The rest of his author tour is online. If you’re in the area, go out and make Bruce welcome. I highly recommend this first novel.

See also this Sunday’s review in the L.A. Times.