I would love to go to Paris but unfortunately I suspect I won’t make it. Maybe thinking about going will push me to say, “why not?” My condition is manageable. On library online I found “A Guide to Hemingway’s Paris” by John Leland. The author scours the fiction and nonfiction, books and letters, even interviews people to come up with places real and invented. “The Sun Also Rises” (fiction) and “ A Moveable Feast” (nonfiction) are both loaded with specific references. Some on the Left Bank (south of the Seine); some on the Right Bank (north of the Seine). Montparnasse and Latin Quarter or Montmartre. Both have draws.
It’s amazing how many of the cafes, hotels and restaurants Hemingway frequented are still there. Some places have had name charges. Leland quotes Hemingway’s description and relates how each place fits into his life. He explores the addresses of Hemingway apartments and places where Fitzgerald, Joyce and others lived.
Unfortunately I’ve gotten rid of my photography books. I had Henri Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Atget, and Brassai. But their photos are available online and there are other French guidebooks I could read. Maybe virtual can turn into real.
The summer after my junior year in high school, John Paglione and I took an enrichment American literature course at Neshaminy High School. It was my first exposure to twentieth century American literature. It was there I first read Ernest Hemingway. I was blown away. I’m not sure exactly what I read, probably some short stories, maybe “The Old Man and the Sea.” My English course at Holy Ghost Prep in senior year with Fr. Dave Marshall had a similar focus, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, the muckrakers, and other twentieth century American writers. The two courses were probably responsible for my decision to major in English.
I had conversations with another English teacher, Fr. Francis Meenham. He advised me that to become a writer, I should start writing daily, keep a journal. Now over 50 years later I still write daily in a journal. Just haven’t published my first novel. Meenham also recommended Boston College. He said that had a good growing English department. He was right. BC was expanding and recruiting new teaching talent. My freshman year English course was writing with John McCarthy. Early on he assigned a research paper on an American author. I chose Hemingway. My academic style was to become absorbed in a topic, sometimes ignoring other courses. I read all of Hemingway, the short stories, novels (good and bad), fiction and nonfiction, magazine articles, even poetry. I read all the criticism available in BCs classic Bapst Library, a regular hangout for me. Then I traveled to other campus libraries. I read dissertations as well as published criticism. I recall one dissertation title, “The Insect Symbolism in the Nick Adams Stories of Ernest Hemingway.
I sat down to write, summarizing what I had read (would be curious to reread what I wrote then). But what was my thesis? My main idea. I despaired. Everything had been written about Hemingway. I had nothing new. I went to McCarthy and explained my writer’s block. He sympathized and then suggested, “Have you considered similarities between Nick Adams and Huckleberry Finn?” How easy. What a great thesis for my paper. I recall that my final paper was over 20-25 pages, about 2 or 3 devoted to the Nick Adams, Huckleberry Finn connection.
At some point I found the quote from Hemingway that, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Even more interesting, the discovered that other critics had written about the Adams-Finn connection. I think it was mentioned in “Papa Hemingway” by A. E. Hotchner published in 1966. Also published in 1966 was Philip Young’s “Ernest Hemingway: A Reconsideration.” I believe he has a chapter related to the comparison. Oh well, so much for an original thesis.
Karsh wrote about the Hemingway portrait,
“I expected to meet in the author a composite of the heroes of his novels. Instead, in 1957, at his home Finca Vigía, near Havana, I found a man of peculiar gentleness, the shyest man I ever photographed – a man cruelly battered by life, but seemingly invincible. He was still suffering from the effects of a plane accident that occurred during his fourth safari to Africa. I had gone the evening before to La Floridita, Hemingway’s favorite bar, to do my ‘homework’ and sample his favorite concoction, the daiquiri. But one can be overprepared! When, at nine the next morning, Hemingway called from the kitchen, ‘What will you have to drink?’ my reply was, I thought, letter-perfect: ‘Daiquiri, sir.’ ‘Good God, Karsh,’ Hemingway remonstrated, ‘at this hour of the day!’” (1957)
I hadn’t read or thought much about Hemingway for years but then this April Ken Burns and Lynn Novick premiered “Hemingway” on PBS. within days I watched the three part, six hour series. Like one of the author’s Marlin or Tuna catches off the coast of Cuba, I was hooked. Before I had processed the series, I was reading “Everybody Behaves Badly: the true story behind Hemingway’s masterpiece “The Sun Also Rises,” by Lesley M. M. Blume (2016). It was sometimes difficult to separate fiction (Hemingway’s “Sun”) from fact (Blume’s commentary on his life in the 1920s). “The Sun” was probably my favorite Hemingway novel. As a college Literature major, I dreamed of travel, adventure and writing.
Hemingway in the 1920s. Paris. In Gertrude Stein’s words, “part of a lost generation.” Accurate or just clever, “The Sun Also Rises” became the portrait of post-war generation. Sherwood Anderson (the first of many writers who would see promise, yes even greatness in Hemingway) urged him to go to Paris with his new wife Hadley. Sherwood provided intros to Sylvia Beach (Shakespeare and Company bookstore) and Gertrude Stein whose salon hosted the avant-garde — intellectuals, painters and writers. Welcome James Joyce. Welcome Pablo Picasso. There Hemingway took lessons from Ezra Pound, “strip language down.” Hemingway had a style that flowed from his years as a reporter and a belief that a writer’s job was to tell the story straightforward, with clarity, honesty. He knew he was a great writer but his only publication to date was in newspapers and magazines. He had to write a novel.
It’s amazing to see the small world. During these years Hemingway meets and has relationships with Ford Maddox Ford, F Scott Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Lincoln Steffens, others previously mentioned and many names we do not recognize today. While in Paris, he wrote, he drank, and fraternized. I’ve never been to Paris but recognize the names of cafes he and other expatriates patronized — Les Deux Magots, Dingo, Rotonde, La Dome.
It is during the Paris years that Hemingway becomes a lover of Spanish culture and bullfighting aficionado. For several years he gathered a band of “friends” to participate in the annual Pamplona fiesta, including the running of the bulls. His companions on these trips are the characters (names changed) in “The Sun.” If you’ve read it you haven’t forgotten Lady Brett Ashley (the real Lady Duff Twysden), Robert Cohen is the fictional, sometimes annoying Jew based on Harold Loeb. Donald Ogden Stewart becomes Bill Gordon; Patrick Guthrie is the real Mike Campbell. Hemingway is the character Jake Barnes. Hadley makes the trip but not the book (Hemingway would soon have a second wife, Pauline Pfeiffer).
Prior to Pamplona, some of the group go fishing. So typical Hemingway. Tensions takes seed, and will grow and blossom in the mud and blood fueled by alcohol at the fiesta. In my view there are no good guys and bad guys; no heroes or villains. All are in for the ride. Lady Duff acts as a spark. One wonders how this group stays together. The face of the lost generation.
I’ve only been to one bullfight during our Peace Corps years training in Mexico. I can honestly say for me It didn’t become part of a glorious tradition, a ballet, an intriguing dance with death. Words like dreary, dismal come to mind. Diane left after the first bull and sat outside the arena under a tree talking to young Mexican kids. I remember thinking, she had such a better experience. But my infatuation with Hemingway had lead me to read about bull fighting and watch video.
I highly recommend, “Everybody Behaves Badly.” It’s well researched, well written, and filled with insights about Hemingway. Life in the Parish years. He is always concerned about writing. Hadley will lose much of his writing on a train trip. Including short stories and the beginning of a novel. Years of work. He will eventual put together several short stories and poems, “In Our Times.” He finds an American publisher, Liveright. But when “The Sun” is ready Fitzgerald has introduced him to Maxwell Perkins at Scribners. Hemingway wants the new publisher. He writes a parody “The Torrents of Spring” sticking a knife in Sherwood Anderson (published by Liveright). He is immediately freed from the Liveright contract and “The Sun Also Rises” is published by Scribners. There was controversy. Hemingway’s content, the drinking, sex, and disillusionment in “The Sun” was disturbing to the more Puritan Scribner house. But it was also his style. Gone was the flourish of the Victorians; intro twentieth century minimalism. Short, hard clear, declaratory sentences. No adjectives allowed. Hemingway was transforming literature.
I got a copy of “The Sun Also Rises” from the library. I’m not sure when I’ve read it last. Probably in the 1970s when I taught Literature at Holy Ghost Prep. I think I may have even catalogued my Hemingway book collection in the Library. As I read the characters and text were so familiar. The content far from shocking by today’s standards. But the language, a reporter, declarative, straightforward, crisp, clean. The vocabulary basic. When I thought about writing in college, I wanted to write like Hemingway (not alone there). I also dreamed about the bohemian, expat, living in Paris. Freedom, love, good food and drink, cafes, the Seine, artists . . . And I still have never been to Paris. I liked the detached, independent nature of Jake Barnes. He may have wanted Brett but accepted that there was competition. Fishing, bullfighting, writing, drinking, would get him through. I identified with Hemingway and somehow I put aside his many negatives.
I also just read “The Short Stories.” I had strong memories of many. I enjoyed re-reading about Nick Adams. Collectively there is a lot of violence, boxing, killers, war, bullfighting, big game hunting, and death. And there is controversy including abortion. Many of the stories are snapshots. We meet some characters in a situation. Events unfold. Ends. No real conclusions. I liked “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber” and “The Snows of Kilimanjaro.” Both about life changing, endings. Both written later in Hemingway’s life. Who could forget “The Big Two Hearted River,” escape fishing in Northern Michigan, healing after the war or the shock of “Indian Camp.” I almost want to read many of them again. Maybe.
This renewed interest in Hemingway was initiated by the Burns and Novick three part documentary, “Hemingway.” I’ve actually watched it twice. The Burns style of historic photographs and film footage, with contemporary interviews, and ongoing commentary has always captivated me. The first episode is “The Writer (1899-1929). Growing up middle class in Michigan, Hemingway yearned for adventure? He volunteers in the Red Cross during World War 1. In June 1918 he was wounded. He falls in love with a slightly older nurse, Agnes but she eventually breaks away from him. In 1920 he met Elizabeth Hadley Richardson. They married in a year. Much of the episode focuses on Hadley, their first child and their life in Paris. Hemingway tries to write completing some poetry and short stories but a novel evades him until “The Sun.” Hadley is slowly replaces by Pauline. This episode follows closely the story in “Everybody Behaves Badly.”
In the second episode, “The Avatar (1929-1944) we follow Hemingway’s rise. His fame in the literary world is fed by his own need for celebrity. During the Spanish Civil War he serves as a war correspondent. An experience he would turn into “For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway will settle into Key West with Pauline. Her uncle Gus provides money for the house and financed an extravagant African safari. He would also purchase the Pilar, Hemingway’s fishing boat. In many ways Hemingway is forced to live up to his legend. He travels to Spain with another correspondent, Martha Gelhorn who he marries in 1940. They will end up in Italy together but Hemingway becomes annoyed at her career demands.
Episode 3, is titled “The Blank Slate (1944-1961). In the last years of the war, Hemingway lives in Cuba, begins a relationship with Mary Welsh and she becomes his fourth wife. He deep sea fishes, travels to Europe, African safari, buys a house in Ketchum Idaho. He struggles with writing and with Mary. In 1952 he publishes “The Old Man and the Sea.” In 1954 he is awarded the Nobel prize for literature. I was always fascinated with this period in Hemingway’s life. An accomplished, successful writer, he traveled, hung out with friends. His signature drinking continued, even giving his name to drinks including a unsweetened daiquiri. I might try to make one. But despite success, Hemingway starts a decline. His health and mental condition deteriorated. He was hospitalized. On July 2, 1961 he shot himself in Ketchum. It was suicide.
I decided to read “A Moveable Feast,” published after his death. The edition I got from the library contains material that Hemingway cut. It’s the Paris years but through Hemingway’s lens. “If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.” I enjoyed his voice. Much of the material was familiar. I was surprised that he did not write about bullfighting or Pamplona. He does describe skiing at Schruns in Austria. There are chapters on Shakespeare and Company where he borrowed books (the Russians, for instance) from Sylvia Beach; on Ford Maddox Ford; Ezra Pound; and Scott Fitzgerald. He quickly tired of Zelda. “A Moveable Feast” is a good memoir.
On the shelf in the library next to “A MoveableFeast” was “Hemingway in Love: his own story” by A. E. Hotchner. I’ll read just one more Hemingway book I thought.
“Aaron Hotchner, who was still writing up to his death earlier this year at the age of 103, was one of the great personal chroniclers of Hemingway’s life, having known the novelist from 1948 until his death in 1961, and the last in a line of memoirists who had played an important part in Hemingway’s life and work after World War II, bringing him back into the limelight by promoting his work to a wider and newer audience through his TV adaptations of some of Hemingway’s short stories, and, by becoming an inner member of Hemingway’s so called cuadrilla, an observer of the great literary stylist. But, unlike some in that group, Hotchner also became something of an agent for Hemingway, but more importantly a caring and supportive friend. There is no doubt in my mind that A. E. Hotchner was, like the literary historian, Van Wyck Brooks, who reminded Americans of their literary past, a genuine saviour of Ernest Hemingway, and his work.” (Steve Newman Writer, 2020)
In an article, “A. E. Hotchner— Papa Hemingway, a memoir,” Steve Newman Writer wrote:
“Hotchner’s book, Papa Hemingway, came into my life in 1967, care of The Readers Union, and was, for me, a life changer. I’d read most of Hemingway by then, including Hemingway’s own posthumous memoir, A Moveable Feast, and although that gave something of a limited view of the writer’s life back in the Paris of the 1920s, it would be Hotchner’s account of the last creative, yet troubled, period of Hemingway’s life, a period much closer to my own, that not only gave a vivid account of the man that was Hemingway, but the man that was Hotchner, and what a damned good writer, and man, he was too. I liked him, and could sympathies with his nervousness at meeting Hemingway, and his self doubt, and his determination to persuade Hemingway to write a piece for Cosmopolitan magazine about the future of literature, which he sort of managed before flying back to the US in an alcoholic fog and smelling of fish.” I read “Papa Hemingway” around the same time and my recollection echoes Steve Newman Writer.
“Hemingway in Love” is a good way to end this Hemingway festival. It is a very personal account of how Hotchner supported and promoted Hemingway. Can you imagine deep sea fishing, hanging out in Cuba, trips to Paris, Spain and Italy. It was quite an adventure. Hotchner was also there at the end. I might need to reread his “Papa Hemingway.” Let the fiesta go on.
Do you like Hemingway’s work? Have you read any recently?
Yesterday I met with my nutritionist, Amy. It’s all pretty standard after several years. She urges I cut down on pasta, white potatoes, dry cereal and sweets. And always more vegetables. We are more aware and have increased some like avocados, yams. She encourages my vegetable-fruit-yogurt smoothies (2 or 3 a week). With the garden, we have lots of greens. We buy some healthier staples that she has recommended (chickpea pasta for instance or almond flour). She concludes each session by my setting goals. Recently I’ve been interested in using more herbs and spices, nuts and seeds, to increase taste and variety especially in salads and vegetable dishes. My motivation flows from several places.
I recently discovered an online source of spices, Burlap & Barrel. I bought three types of pepper and Black Urfa Chili (Turkey); Purple Stripe Garlic (Vietnam) and Cured Sumac (Turkey). All three can be used on meat/fish, salads, dips. I’ve used the Sumac and Chili when I roast pepitas or sunflower seeds in olive oil for salads. I’ve also been buying bleach and pickled garlic.
I recently wrote about Marcus Samuelsson’s PBS series, “No Passport Required,” that explores ethnic cuisine in American cities and has ignited my interest in exploring different ethnic cuisines. This may involve a restaurant; we recently ordered Japanese from a local Ginger Wok (Japanese and Chinese). Or it can involve cooking new things or familiar things in new ways. I also have written about Samuelsson’s memoir, “Yes Chef” and then locating our copy of his cookbook, “Acquivit.” (check out my blog Marcus Samuelsson). We’ve been having more smoked fish and also trying some different types. Last week combined smoked salmon on avacado toast.
I also just finished reading Samuelsson’s most recent book, “The Rise: black cooks and the soul of American food, a cookbook.” His purpose is to explore and bring to the table African and African American cuisine. He features brief biographies of dozens of Black chefs, home cooks, historians and social activists. Their story is followed by several recipes. I came away with a broader understanding of ingredients that have become standard in African (American) cooking. They go beyond the traditional fried chicken, grits, yams, cornbread, collards, and watermelon — i.e. Soul Food.
In the back of the book is a pantry. A few observations. I was familiar with many of the vegetables and spices. A few were new to me. There were many I don’t use regularly. I was surprised that many of the spice blends with exotic names were made from things we already have in our spice cabinet. A list if things that caught my attention — okra, plantain, cassava, yams, cocoa beans, vanilla beans, harissa, sumac, cardamom, masala, za’tar, grains of Paradise seed, tahini, tamarind paste, fermented shrimp paste, coconut, couscous, bulgur, chickpea and almond flour, many types of beans. There were various spice blends. Shito, a spicy Chile sauce from Ghana, Yakima blend for meats from West Africa contains peanuts, ginger, paprika, garlic, onion, salt and pepper. Chermoula blend from North Africa contained 13 familiar spices. Kelewele was salt, ginger, turmeric, smoked paprika, nutmeg, pepper. Dukkkah was an Egyptian blend of sesame, coriander, hazel nuts, salt and pepper. All there blends can be used on seafood, meats and vegetables.
The last section of “The Rise” are sources for ingredients. Some were online; other were markets. I’m not sure yet how I will incorporate any of this into my cooking or eating. There is nothing I need to specifically buy now unless I want to try a recipe. But now I am much more aware of ingredients common in African cuisine and want to continue to explore. Maybe there is a market in Philadelphia, similar to the Markets I’ve been to in Chinatown.
Another thread in my herbs, spices, tastes thread is “High on the Hog: a culinary journey from Africa to America.” It is a 2012 book by Jessica B. Harris. I want to read the book but have just finished the four episode Netflix series based on the book, hosted by Stephen Satterfield, “High on the Hog.” The first episode is “Roots,” which takes Satterfield to Benin, Africa with the author Harris. The second is “The Rice Kingdom,” featuring the Carolinas and Gullah. I’ve watched “Our Founding Chefs,” twice. It’s primarily the story of Hercules, George Washington’s chef and James Hemings, Thomas Jefferson’s French trained chef. Two shorter segments introduce us to Philadelphia oyster man, Benjamin “Moody” Harley and one of the city’s catering families, started by Albert E. Dutrieuille. Both fed my local history interest. The last episode, “Freedom,” features Juneteenth feasts, barbecue and African American cowboys. The more I watched, the more I liked Satterfield. He and others in the series are featured in Samuelsson’s book, “The Rise.” In today’s e-mail, Mark Bittman writes about Satterfield. Small world.
So much of what we cook and eat is standard, traditional. I think of how we ate in the 1950s. It’s Tuesday it must be . . . lettuce means iceberg, Chicken Chow Mein was exotic Chinese. Although our current cuisine is much more varied and inclusive, I think we’re still missing out on a lot. So my goal is to continue to explore. I need to search out some different ethnic restaurants. R. E. Remembering as Stanley Tucci showed in the CNN travel series, “Searching for Italy,” there is even a lot a variety in Italian cuisine. But I’m also thinking more African, Asian, Middle Eastern, South American. And then there is shopping and cooking. Are there good ethnic markets. This Father’s Day a new Jewish deli, “The Borscht Belt,” opened in Stockton. We’ve only recently put Altemonte’s Italian market on our regular shop there list. We haven’t been to the Garden Farm Market in Morrisville in many years. They carried some different products. Cooking obviously follows shopping. And I realize now it may not be a new ingredient but a new way to use it. A new combination.
Let me know if you have favorite ethnic restaurants, markets, recipes, herbs, spices, tastes. What adds to culinary diversity to your life? Bon Appétit.
On Saturday, December 18, 2004 Diane and I went to New York City with Jenny and Rob. We took the train but I’m not sure if we spent the night. Jen and Rob had only been married several months. We went to MOMA and in my journal I recorded that “Water Lilies” was lost in a new huge room. The main reason of the trip, however, was dinner at Aquavit. I’m not sure where or when we became intrigued with Marcus Samuelsson but Jenny and Rob had gifted us a copy of his cookbook, “Aquavit,” several years earlier and then a gift certificate to the restaurant. My food journal documents our meal. We tried Aquavits, a flavor infused vodka like drink. The meal was a 3 course price fixe. We had herring or oysters. Entries were seafood stew, venison, tuna and char. You guess who got what. There were several very excellent sweet desserts. Whales Tail ale from Nantucket was available. It was expensive for us, $400 plus tip, but I rated it five star except for the decor which I found a bit dark. “Exquisite food; relaxing evening.”
An added treat: Marcus was in the bar area.
Recently I watched Samuelsson on his PBS series, “No Passports Required.” Marcus takes us on an explore of 12 American cities. What’s unique is how he focuses on a specific ethnic group that has a presence in the city. Usually not a group you might expect. Filipinos in Seattle; Armenians in Los Angeles; Nigerians in Houston; Italians in Philadelphia; Chinese in Los Vegas; Middle Eastern in Detroit; Vietnamese in Chicago; Haitian in Miami; and Ethiopian in Washington DC. You get the idea. Samuelsson’s focus has always been on flavor and taste. He genuinely explores ethnic cuisine. I totally enjoyed and was amazed at his interactions with chefs in restaurants and home cooks; young and old; rich and poor. He always attempts to prep or cook with the local. He also dresses in colorful shirts, hats and scarves. Although these are cooking shows, Samuelsson is aware of social issues. Each episode features about five segments, a restaurant or two; maybe shopping; a home cooked meal. Food is prepared and tasted.
I recently decided to borrow a book from the Bucks County Library’s cloud library. My first choice was “Yes Chef: a memoir,” (2012) by Marcus Samuelsson. 1 also checked out “The Red Rooster Cookbook: the story of goof and hustle in Harlem (2016); one of his his current restaurants.
Marcus was born in Ethiopia. His sister and he were adopted by a Swedish family. It transformed opportunities in his life. His first cooking was with his grandmother Helga. He learned the basics of Swedish country cooking which became the foundation of his style and taste. He worked in a fish market; took some classes; got a job in one of Sweden’s top restaurants (French food); another in Switzerland (again French). But he moved up the kitchen ladder quickly. In New York City he landed a job in Aquavit, created and owned by Hakan Swahn as a taste of Scandinavia on West 54th street. This is where we ate. Part of Samuelsson’s success was his determination; he was willing to wait for the best offer and he believed he could be an innovative chef. At Aquavit, in 1995, the chef died and Hakan took a chance on Samuelsson, appointing him head chef. He was about 24 years old. It was here he connected his name to a Swedish cuisine transformed with new tastes. In order to leave Aquavit, Samuelsson, recently married, had to use all his savings to buy out his name. Quite amazing but his lawyers advised it was necessary. In 2005 Aquavit moved to new quarters 65 East 55th street. It’s there today and the current menu reflects Marcus Samuelsson.
Marcus didn’t retire, in the early 2000s, he was working to open his dream the Red Rooster in Harlem; doing TV (chef celebraties ); chef for Obama administration state dinner in 2009. There were some failed restaurants but for the most part a trajectory that fulfilled his ambition, to be a great chef.
Today I paged through the original gift cookbook from Jen and Rob, “ Aquavit: and the new Scandinavian cuisine,” (2003), by Marcus Samuelsson. I’m not sure if we cooked many recipes. But I found many of interest. First off was gravalux, pickled salmon with dill. Actually I’ve made it several times. There are other pickled fish, tuna, herring. And lots of fish recipes. Root vegetables are a staple, lots of potato recipes to try. And many pickled vegetables, some only a few hours — cucumbers, beets, cabbage, beans, garlic. Some breads; some sweets.
In the coming months I want to use the Aquavit cookbook. I’d love to go to the Red Rooster in Harlem, they have lunch. And the bar at the newly renovated Aquavit opens before noon some days. Into NYC and out. I’ll also check out and read other Samuelsson cookbooks. He even has video of Harlem. Recently I’ve also been interested in exploring new flavors, new seasonings, and attempting to combine foods I think go together. This is the Samuelsson style.
Almost 40 years ago, I read John McPhee’s “The Survival of the Bark Canoe” (1982). I believe it was my first McPhee. Since then I’ve read them all, some more than once. I assigned the “Bark Canoe” to my English class. A few of my high school juniors were drawn to it; most were not. Personally I fell in love with McPhee’s New Yorker magazine style. How he interacted with characters, in this case Henri Vaillancourt, the Greenville, New Hampshire birch bark canoe builder. How he combined science, history, and current events into a personal adventure story. With Vaillencourt McPhee traces Henry David Thoreau’s canoe trip in Maine (read “The Maine Woods” ).
Today in Yankee Magazine, I discovered another maker of birch bark canoes, Steve Cayard from Wellington, Maine. on his website, Steve writes:
“I am building birchbark canoes in the traditional style of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, and Maliseet builders of Maine and New Brunswick from the early- to mid-1800’s. My information has been garnered from research on old canoes in museums, old photos, and written accounts. My building experience has given me an understanding of the construction details of the old canoes, which are then incorporated into my canoes. It has been my goal to contribute all that I can to the revival of the traditional canoe style of this area, in which there have been few if any birchbark canoe builders since the 1920’s, that is, until recently. The acceptance of my canoes as traditional by present-day tribal members is the ultimate compliment to my efforts. It has been my privilege to complete the circle by offering the results of my research to the people from whose culture these beautiful canoes arose.”
“ I have roamed the woods for many years, starting in the hills of West Virginia where I grew up. It was there that my German mother and grandmother taught me to love nature, and there that my Texan father taught me to work with my hands. I first moved to Maine in 1973, where the woods still felt like home, just a little further up the Appalachian chain. I roamed a while longer, until I met and married fellow West Virginian Angela Derosa, and together we settled on a backwoods homestead in Wellington, Maine in 1987. It is thanks to her strength and tenacity that we have been here ever since.”
Agwiden is a movie by D’Arcy Marsh about Steve and building birch bard canoes. I watched it this afternoon.
“AGWIDEN follows the building of a Wabanaki Birch Bark Canoe from the harvesting of the birch bark, the cedar logs (which are split and carved into ribs and gunwales), and the black spruce roots (which are used to sew the bark) all the way through to the launching of a completed canoe. For 80 years the Penobscot Indian Nation had stopped building birch bark canoes. Then Chief Barry Dana invited Steve Cayard (a white man) to help him and the Penobscots, along with members of the Passamaquoddy and Maliseet nations, to bring back the ancient craft and tradition of birch bark canoe building, which is the heart and soul of Wabanaki culture. The Wabanaki Nation is made up of the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Mi’kmaq tribes.”
It’s an amazing movie, available on Vimeo (https://vimeo.com/77745115). I was amazed how Steve and his companion students peeled a ten foot strip of birch bark from a tree, rolled it up and soaked it in water while they crafted the ribs. Craftsmanship, heritage, and respect for the environment.
As I watched the crew constructing the canoe, I was reminded of the week, five years ago, when John Paglione and I worked with a crew reconstructing a slave cabin on James Madison’s estate, Montpelier. Also in recent memory is a visit to a kayak makers shop in Washington where my sister had one of her hand-made wooden ocean kayaks built. What a work of beauty. How I would love to go to a class in canoe or other boat building. Since I don’t think it will happen soon, I’ll go find my copy of “The Survival of the Bark Canoe.” Or could I attend a boat building class?
Books are an escape to other times, other worlds. Many books are from my library, re-reads; some are new purchases. They cover many genres, but mostly nonfiction, a lot of history.
“The Disaffected: Britain’s occupation of Philadelphia during the American Revolution” by Aaron Sullivan was an interesting read. I like when a history book covers familiar ground with a fresh outlook or thesis. I’ve read, even taught about the British occupation of Philadelphia many times but I never considered the extent that a significant portion of the population were neither typical patriots or typical loyalists. They were “disaffected” not interested in the war, wanted it to end. There were several reasons.
There were many Quakers in Philadelphia and the surrounding countryside. Even if they disliked British policy they were not going to take up arms in rebellion. Some had close business relations with Great Britain. The Patriots attempted to coerce their loyalty to the rebellion. Some who refused like Henry Drinker were taken into custody and removed to Virginia before the British occupation of Philadelphia. Henry’s wife Elizabeth who remains in the city becomes a focus of someone caught in the occupation.
During the almost nine month occupation, Washington in Valley Forge, the citizens of Philadelphia and the British army all need food. Farmers from the countryside may not have been Patriots or Loyalists. But they wanted to sell their product. They disliked colonial dollars and they tried to avoid Washington’s patrols, gain the city and get paid in British currency. In my study of Bucks County history I recall this activity. “The Disaffected” also has a lot of interesting detail about life in Philadelphia. Always a personal interest. In the end, the British withdraw and the Patriots reclaimed the city.
I also finished reading Doris Kearns Godwin’s “The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the golden age of journalism.”
A long 500 page read but loaded with fascinating detail. I wonder how anyone could learn what sometimes seems like so many private thoughts and private actions. But then I look at the number of footnotes.
I had some knowledge of Roosevelt, Rough Rider, President, wilderness man, hunter, Sagamore Hill, Oyster Bay, reformer, trust buster. Knew nothing about Taft.
Roosevelt became President after the assassination of McKinley. He was a progressive or reform Republican. Wildly popular with the people, I can make out an image of his waving his hat to a cheering crowd, he is on horseback. Taft would ride a car.
Interestingly Roosevelt aligned himself with the muckrakers of S.S. McClure’s magazine; Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker, Lincoln Steffens and William Allen White. With them he went after the railroads, monopolies, Standard Oil , and the meatpackers. Remember “The Jungle.” He fought the robber barons, corrupt politicians and corporate exploiters of natural resources. But he also could go more middle to the road when necessary. Is Biden doing this?
Roosevelt supported Taft (who served in his cabinet) for the Presidency after his second term. They had become close friends. Taft really wanted the Supreme Court but turned down an offer because of his position in the Philippines. Taft was not as wild as Roosevelt, but was married to a fascinating woman, Nellie. He became President, initially following the Roosevelt agenda. But he drifted away and he and Teddy would become rivals in the 1912 election. Roosevelt who said he wouldn’t run again, did. They both lost to The Democrat Woodrow Wilson. Taft did get appointed to the Supreme Court.
I enjoyed the chapters on McClure’s having read about the muckrakers in Literature classes. Comparing then to now was also fascinating. The President’s relationship with the press, big business, tariffs, political in fighting, corruption. I also enjoyed Roosevelt campaigning from a train, his long vacations out West or on Safari in Africa.
Escape to another time. Share your reading escapes.
I recently finished reading a biography “Florynce ‘Flo’ Kennedy: the life of a black feminist radical,” by Sherie M. Randolph. It was published in 2015, University of North Carolina Press. I had never heard of “Flo.” And I don’t remember how I came to order the book. I read several book reviews and sometimes add selections to my Amazon wish list. Whatever the reason I’m glad I read it.
I always enjoy discovering some new historical figure. Kennedy was a fierce civil rights activist. Growing up in Kansas City, her parents taught her “not to take any shit.” Fight for your rights. She was also an extremely vocal feminist. Throughout her life Kennedy attempted to unite civil rights for blacks, feminism and anti-imperialism (Viet Nam).
In 1948, Kennedy applied to Columbia Law School. She was rejected, black and a woman. She threatened legal action and was admitted. When she graduated however, no major NYC firm would hire her, so she went into private practice. Had a partner for a while. In 1950 there were 6,271 women lawyers in the country; 83 were African American. Interestingly Leonard Cohen was a Columbia classmate who raised money for her office rent and hospital bills. Kennedy developed a circle of friends; entertainers, artists and writers. Although she had an unconventional view of marriage in 1957 she married Charlie Dye (in Cohen’s apartment). She was 41. The marriage soon collapsed; Charlie was an abusive alcoholic.
One of her clients was Billy Holiday, who she defended on drug charges. Kennedy had been drawn to Holiday and her political involvement characterized by Holiday’s song “Strange Fruit” which Flo first heard at a 1955 benefit performance in honor of Emmett Till. I think a biography of Billy Holliday would be an interesting read. Kennedy became the attorney for Holiday’s and Charlie Parker’s estates. She fought for royalties often denied musicians.
In the 1960s Kennedy was increasingly active in the Civil Rights movement. In 1965 in a story that sounds like today, Kennedy encountered police brutality. Returning home to her apartment in the tony East Forties, she was stopped by the police from passing a barricade. White men were ushered past. Kennedy was furious and spoke out and was eventually charged with resisting arrest and obstruction of justice.
Kennedy was drawn to the Black Power movement, including the Black Panthers. I enjoyed reading about this period of Civil Rights activism, Adam Clayton Powell, Stokley Carmichael, H Rap Brown, Martin Luther King Jr., Roy Wilkins. Names I remember. Around the same time Kennedy became active in the growing feminist movement, NOW. She would not however be accepted by all white feminists. Kennedy wanted to unite black activism, black power and feminists. United they should resist the war. Flo became close friends and a speaking partner with Gloria Steinem. She also became vocal, supporting legal abortion. In 1972 she supported the presidential candidate Shirley Chisholm. I didn’t remember Chisholm running. She also defended the Black Panthers including Angela Davis.
I wonder how Flo Kennedy would be viewed today. She was loud, outspoken, determined, she didn’t take any shit. I love her activism and her hats.
Cold weather, several snow days. My afternoons are patterned, build a fire and read.
Recently I finished two very different novels. The first was “Rules of Civility” by Amor Towles, best known for the fantastic “Gentleman in Moscow.” Towles has a captivating way with words. “Rules” is set in New York City, mainly in the 1930s. The protagonist is Katey Kontent who meets a handsome banker, Tinker Grey in a Greenwich Village jazz bar. Katey and her best friend Eve both fall for Tinker. But it’s Eve that ends up living and traveling with him. I totally enjoy when a writer can transport you to another time and place. We travel with Katey as she explores life in NYC. I may reread “Gentleman.”
I enter a totally different world reading, “The Judas Field: a novel of the Civil War,” by Howard Bahr. Our guide is Cass Wakefield, a veteran who returns to his hometown in Mississippi, only to accompany a childhood friend, Alison twenty years later on a quest to find the bodies of her father and brother who served with Cass and died in a battle at a cotton gin in Franklin, Tennessee. Roger Lewellyn who served with Cass go with them. The trip becomes a series of flash backs between Cass and Roger as they relive the horrors of war. Camp life and waiting are interesting but Bahr’s description of the fears, blood, confusion, pain and dying are riveting. I don’t recall reading any description of battle so horrific. Another traveler with them is Lucian, a runaway orphan who wandered into Cass’s unit. Cass adopted the young teen and sees that he is accepted into the unit. During the war Lucien fights beside Cass. Roger is injured and Lucien is shot and dies when they explore a house near the old battlefield. Cass and Alison return home.
I seem to be reading more novels than usual. Maybe it’s a need to escape. Since COVID and with my medical issues, it’s hard to travel. I escape to different times and different worlds through books. Currently i’m traveling with Harry Potter, book 3.
Instead of counting sheep, I often daydream. The best are good memories from the past. The past few nights my topic has been Christmas. Here are some random memories.
My father’s birthday is December 23. So he got two gifts, birthday and Christmas. For many years, tobacco, pouch or can, was a standard. He liked Cherry. When I had more money, I’d get him a new pipe.
We always set up and decorated the tree on Christmas Eve. Not sure why. Although Diane recalls at least one year, the tree was used in Cis’s Sport Shop before being brought to our apartment.
In the 1970s I began to buy live trees. Several were planted in Bristol, then New Hope and Yardley. We actually transplanted several trees when we moved to Yardley. Several trees died and 4 came down in storms. A few survive.
The most memorable tree was a live one I used in my Saint Michael’s classroom. I got sick and John Paglione had to move it to our house in Yardley. It eventually was planted in front of St. Mike’s. Several years ago when I was in Penn hospital, a male nurse visited. He had been a student in the class that planted the tree. He said that only recently it had been cut down.
Growing up in Bristol our tree was decorated in colored balls and multi-colored lights. Then silver tinsel finished it off. Mom was always demanding in how the tinsel was applied, no bunches. When Diane and I were having our own trees, small white lights soon became the thing.
In Bristol we may have bought trees at the corner of Otter and Bath. Diane and I initially bought them at Snipes Nursery in Morrisville. Then Jug Hill in Yardley. Several years we bought silver tipped fir from Oregon at Terrain. Very different. The past few years from Colavita in Yardley or some other local tree farm.
My parents bought Christmas decorations from Nichols Pools who sold Christmas stuff in winter. Ray Nichols, a close friend went to China annually to buy stock. For many years Diane and I bought things from Snipes Nursery’s Christmas Shop. They had very nice German imports. We still have a small music box with revolving scene, nativity set and several other pieces. In her later years Mom liked to go to the Winterthur Shop to buy Christmas gifts and decorations.
When I was in high school I would work in Profy’s Appliance Store. I featured myself in charge of small appliances. Every year it seemed GE electrified something new — a toothbrush, shoe polisher, hair curler . . .I sometimes went to Tabs Electric in Trenton to pick up Christmas inventory.
“The Store” was open evenings in the weeks after Thanksgiving. When suburban stores began to offer competition. Profy’s promised service. I remember a customer on Christmas Eve bringing in a small appliance that didn’t work asking for an exchange. My father said, “You didn’t buy it here.” The guy mentioned buying it at a big suburban store. My father said, “Well, try to return it there.”
Mill Street had a festive air. A tree was decorated with lights at the corner of Radcliffe. It still is every year. Christmas music played (a bit tacky). Store windows were decorated. Santa Claus arrived in a parade and held hours in the Businessmens Association building. I did most of my Shopping on the street.
Uncle Tom had a bottle of whiskey in the office. The Postman and good customers were invited back for a Christmas toast. Sometime before Christmas he dropped of a bottle of whiskey and bottles of soda at our house. It was one of the few times we had soda in the house.
At home we had a small manger scene. Christmas cards were hung on a knotty pine wall in the living room. At some point probably in the 1990s Father took the dimensions of the nativity scene in Saint Marks Church. He built a scaled down replica and purchased appropriately sized figures. Dehne’s inherited it.
An alter boy for many years I served at Midnight Mass. Some years the entire family attended. Saint Mark’s was beautifully decorated. Real trees surrounded the large nativity in front of a side alter. There were lots of poinsettias and greens. I think we had some breakfast after the Mass. When very young we left out milk and cookies.
Christmas morning we kids got up early. There were many wrapped gifts under the tree. It seemed that there was always one unwrapped gifts to occupy us while our parents slept. We had breakfast before opening the gifts Santa left and exchanging gifts we bought.
About 11 we headed across the street to visit the Profy grandparents. Uncle Tom and Uncle Frank’s families would show up. Grandmother Jenny put out Italian cookies from the Italian People’s Bakery in Trenton. I think the boys/ sons were given a box to take home. The adults were served Manhattans with the cherry. The kids got coke. We were also given an envelope with money. One year after Christmas my grandfather sent me to the house to get something. My sister Vicky was with me. We looked in the refrigerator, there was an open coke bottle. Vicky took it and took a big swig. Turned out to be extra Manhattan.
Everyone left grand pop’s and came to our house. Frequently as they were leaving my parents close friends, Ray and Mary Ellen Nichols stopped in. Then we left for a round of visits. Uncle Tom and Aunt Helen in Levittown. We would also stop to see Aunt Marie’s Family (my mother’s younger sister) on Swain Street. She always gave us a small gift. Unfortunately she died recently from Covid. Next stop Uncle Frank Profy’s on Radcliffe. I think he have us a few dollars gift. Christmas was about the only time we visited any of them.
The last and longest stop was Mignoni’s also on Radcliffe. We were closest to them. William and I were friends as well as cousins. Ellen and Maryjo matched up with my sisters. We did exchange gifts. Uncle Frank liked treats, pistachios for instance; maybe I would give Aunt Ellen some tea. Their gifts to us were usually clothes. When I reached drinking age it was a bottle of Canadian Club.
At home mid afternoon, Mom began dinner. Frequently ham since we had turkey at Thanksgiving. Lots of food and red wine. My Gallagher grandmother, Nanny, ate with us or Mignoni’s. Her spinster sister Aunt Lucy might be with us after her retirement. She was a delight.
After dinner we probably watched some Christmas related TV show.
Many years Uncle Albert, Aunt Carol and cousins Skippy and Paul visited after Christmas. Both were doctors; lived in Flushing, NY. At first they stayed in a local motel; later arrived in a motor home which they parked in the Mill Street parking lot. Kind of exotic for us. Aunt Carol always gave great gifts. My chemistry set, the Invisible Man, Science books, a camera. She was a photographer/film maker and model train builder. Opening her gift was always a surprise.
In the difficult times in 2020, it’s great to have such pleasant memories.
Until I dream again. Merry Christmas and Good Night.