Changing seasons


February is drawing to a close.  Each day there is more light.  Spring is in the air.  Today I ordered seeds from Territorial Seed in Oregon.  My first draft of federal Income tax is completed.  We’re looking to reserve our first get away in March or April, maybe to Virginia, Williamsburg area.

It’s been a dull winter so far.  Too many cloudy, rainy days.  Cold but not one good snowfall (although there is still time).  I’ve endured because of the woodstove and books.  Mornings are spent in daily routines, frequently a walk, maybe a little project.  But by early afternoon on most days I have a fire keeping me entertained and warm.


I’ve read a mixed selection of books since Christmas.  Dickens “A Christmas Carol” was the first.  I treasure a 1938 Garden City edition, illustrated by Everett Shinn from our years in Boston.  It was delightful.  Before the holiday, as we do every year, we watched Albert Finney in “Scrooge.”  Then the read.  Next up was a gift from our Taylor friends,  “Kitchen Yarns: notes on life, love and food,” by Ann Hood.  Another good food memoir.  Hood learned the basics from her mother and although she’s become a more adventurous cook, she consistently returns to Gogo’s meatballs and chicken salad.  Each chapter ends with recipes.  I’ll try some.


I  decided to read a novel I’d given Diane, “Rattle of the Looms,” by Paul Lavalee.  We’d read about it in September when we explored several mill towns in central Massachuttes where Diane had relatives.  It traces the lives of several generations of French Canadians who move to the area to work in the mills.  Unfortunately there is a minimal about mill life; reads more like a soap opera.  It may have been sel-published. There are probably better books about the area.



Like food books, there is always another book about books.  I’ve read many.  I had ordered “ A Passion for Books: a book lover’s treasury”  by Harold Rabinowitz.  It’s a collection of essays, poems, even cartoons about books, bibliophiles, and libraries.  I’ve written about my personal “passion” for books, so easy to collect, so hard to part with them.  I am not alone, although many of the collectors described in “Passion” dealt in rare books, first editions, special collections.  Rosenbach from Philadelphia was featured.  How do you store and organize your collection?  Do you lend books? Have you read every book you own?  Throughout the read, I heard Diane, “You need to get rid of all those books.”  (I’ve started, but slowly).


A reread was “On the Rez” by Ian Frazier.  I may have been drawn to it after the Washington D.C. confrontation between the High School student and the Native American activist.  Much of the story is the friendship of author Frazier with an an Oglala Sioux, Le who is usually broke, borrowing money, sometimes drunk, into crazy schemes.  The Rez is Pine Ridge in South Dakota, poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, car accidents are common.   We learn a little about Crazy Horse and Black Elk (famous Oglala) and modern Native American activism in the 70s.  Frazier attempts to understand the culture.


As a follow up I read James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans.”  A classic that I thought I’d read but maybe not.  Diane had bought the copy due to the New York State setting but didn’t get too far. It is a difficult read, flowery language, unusual vocabulary, multiple names for people and places and natives who frequently speak in metaphors and parables.  But I persevered.  The plot is the capture of two British officer’s daughters (Cora and Alice) by the French allied Hurons. The Scout, Hawkeye (in other books Natty Bumpoo) his Native friends and an officer in love with one of the girls attempt a rescue.  If the Hurons are pro-French, the Mohicans are pro-British and the Delawares seem to sit the fence.  There is a lot of killing, slaughter, scalping, and the feisty daughter Cora and the son of the Scout’s friend, Unas are killed in the end.  It was a surprising read but I’m glad I did.  Need to rewatch the recent movie.


I don’t know the source of my next read but it was a disappointment.  Several times I was ready to give up but didn’t.  “How the Irish Saved Civilization: the untold story of Ireland’s heroic role from the fall of Rome to the rise of medevial Europe” by Thomas Cahill.  He writes about the fall of Rome ( speculations about the cause) and  the invasion of the barbarians.  A  threat to the classical world heritage.  But finally to the rescue, along come the Irish (actually Irish monks), monasteries, reading, copying, and preserving the classics of Greece and Rome.  They spread this learning throughout the emerging Europe.  Interesting but not a very good read.


My eight book since Christmas was “Catfish and the Delta: confederate fish farming in the Mississippi Delta” by Richard Schweid.  The author lived in the Delta for months, meeting people, learning about the culture but focused on the catfish industry in the 1990s.  One of many books I’ve read about a particular food.  Of course I’ll be looking for catfish to fry in the coming weeks.  Schweid has a reporter’s style, similar to John McPhee who I wrote about recently.  He explores every aspect of the industry which replaced cotton as a primary Delta product.  From financing, raising, harvesting, processing, marketing he explores every aspect of the catfish industry including it’s ups and downs.  Lots of interesting details like how you can get cut handling the fish.  Race is another theme.  White farmers own the catfish  ponds and processing plants; Blacks work at low paying jobs that produce the catfish.  Ironically Blacks also eat a lot of catfish.  Schweid explores housing, the segregated educational system (private academies for Whites after “Brown”), the blues,  B.B. King and others (which sometimes brings the races together), mosquitoes, Delta pride and self-sufficiency but a declining, mostly poor population.  Schweid can the catfish save the Delta?

I know it’s days, weeks until Spring.  It’s warm today but 3 o’clock.  Time for a fire, new book, and glass of wine.  I’ll finish taxes tomorrow or the next day.







Time magazine recently published a profile of John McPhee. He is one of, maybe my favorite writer.  First published in the New Yorker in 1963;  87 years old.  The Time interview takes place on the 4th floor of Guyot Hall, the geosciences building on the campus of Princeton University.  McPhee is reviewing applications for his Sophomore writing class. He’s taught at Princeton for decades.  Years ago I wrote him asking if I could audit  a class.  He responded that Princeton did not allow audits of his classes but he was giving a public lecture.  I went but was disappointed; I thought his writing was much better than his speaking.

I don’t think I realized McPhee’s childhood was in Princeton. From Time:

While growing up in Princeton, where his father was a sports-medicine physician at the university, Albert Einstein–leonine white hair and all–would watch McPhee and his buddies play ragtag football on the lawn of the Institute for Advanced Study, Einstein’s workplace. “He would stand there and contemplate us,” McPhee says. In high school he had a gig killing fruit flies and washing centrifuge tubes stained with beef blood for the university’s biology department, in the very building where his office now sits.“

I  enjoyed some of the personal stories.

“To keep sharp, McPhee tries to ride a bicycle 15 miles every other day in and around Princeton, where he’s lived all his life. During these treks, McPhee shares with his riding partners stories about the history of local landmarks, his journalistic adventures, his family. (McPhee dedicates The Patch to his 10 grandchildren.) One friend describes him as the world’s nicest know-it-all.”


I think “The Pine Barrens” (1968) was probably my first exposure to McPhee.  “The Survival of the Birch Bark Canoe” (1982) was second.  Both of them were on a reading list I had for a junior English course at Holy Ghost Prep. McPhee’s New Yorker, magazine style combining history, science and personal observation had me hooked.

I began to read anything he published in book form.  Oranges (1975),   Encounters with the Archdruid (1977), Levels of the Game (1979), Pieces of the Frame (1979), A Roomful of Hovings (1979), Basin and Range (1982), The Control of Nature (1990), Coming into the Country (1991), Looking For a Ship (1991),  The Crofter and Laird (1992), The Headmaster: Frank L Bowden of Deerfield (1992),  The Curve of Binding Energy (1994), The Ranson of Russian Art (1998), Irons in the Fire (1998), A Sense of Where You Are: Bill Bradley at Princeton (1999),  Assembling California (1994), La Place de la Concord Suisse (1994), The Founding Fish (2003).  I’ve missed a few.

I have strong memories of many.  The geology books were not favorites but I was always intrigued by how McPhee made them interesting, especially Assembling California.  The more I learn about his life; it explained his books.  He went to Deerfield Academy after high school, before Princeton.  In Silk Parachutes (2011) which I just read, he writes about Deerfield and Lacrosse.  Diane and I have visited the historic town and taken open hearth cooking classes there several times.  I remember his fishing in the Delaware River near Trenton in Founding Fish; Bill Bradley; both Princeton connections.

Decades ago I wrote to McPhee asking if I could audit a class at Princeton, a day, a semester.  He responded saying the University did not allowbaudits of his classes but he was giving a public lecture that I could attend. I did.  Unfortunately I didn’t find McPhee the speaker as fluid or engaging as McPhee the writer.


Last year I read Draft No. 4: the writing process (2017).    I was surprised when I recently found several McPhee books that I hadn’t read.  Heirs of General Practice     (1986) and Silk Parachutes (2011). I ordered and read both.  Still on my Amazon buy list is The Patch (2018).  This is a shelf in my library devoted to McPhee.  Most books are Farrah, Straus and Giroux paperbacks.  Somewhere there should be a hardback edition of the Pine Barrens with photographs by Bill Curtsinger.  Bill, a National Geographic photographer illustrated a magazine Pine Barrens article and later contributed to the  book.  He told a story of being high when he shot the National Geographic cover image.

Like many things in my life, it’s time to revisit, reread, reexperience John McPhee.  Maybe Princeton allows audits or I could apply for his writing class.  Dreams.


A Gentleman in Moscow


What would it be like to live in a hotel for a month, a year, decades.  Not just any run of the mill hotel, but the best.  The Bellevue in Philadelphia; Copley Plaza in Boston; The Plaza in New York City.  Remember Eloise?  Count Alexander Rostov shares his experience with us. For decades, under house arrest, he lived in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow.  “The Gentleman of Moscow,” by Amor Towles is a novel but reads as non fiction. You feel like you are in the Hotel with Count Rostov.


During the revolution Rostov was in Paris but he was determined to return to the motherland.  In 1922 he is back but he is an aristocrat and is convicted of writing subversive poetry (ironically much later we learn the poem was written by a close friend).  At the time of his arrest, the Count was occupying a large, elegant suite on the third floor of the Metropol, the finest hotel in the city.  Instead of banishment to Siberia, the authorities decided a life confined to the hotel would be a suitable punishment for an unrepentent aristocratic, enemy of the people.

Sasha (as he is sometimes called, a nickname for Alexander) accepts the move to a sixth floor small, cramped attic room.  He must leave behind many of the expensive personal furnishings in his suite but moves a family desk, a portrait of his sister Helena and a few other treasures.  We will learn that the hollowed out legs of the desk are filled with gold coins.

The Count settles into a routine; a delivered breakfast; morning newspapers in the Lobby; meals in the Boyarsky (restaurant) or the more formal Piazza;  drinks in the Shalyapin; reading while leaning back in his chair (he was a lover of books and brought many to his attic room); interactions with the staff, a fantastic ensemble of characters, an evening aperitif, usually just one.  The life of a “gentleman.”

Two events alter his settled life.  He discovers a door in a closet that leads to an adjacent room.  He empties the room, there is a lot of storage in the attic, and creates a sitting room for himself, entry through the closet.  When visitors show up he guides them through the closet into the sitting room.  The second event is his meeting and eventual friendship with the precocious Nina Kulikova, a young girl who also lives in the hotel.

Nina had secured a pass key and guides the Count through the hotel.  They hide in a balcony, watch and listen to party committee meetings.  They visit the Count’s former suite, still furnished with his family heirlooms and there are the cellars, that area devoted to wine is of particular interest to the Count. They dine together and have all kinds of experiences.


The years pass, Stalin dies, who will take over?  Towles provides just enough local color and history to root his story in Russia, the Revolution, later World War II and the Post War period.  To keep busy and be purposeful, the Count becomes the hotel’s  headwaiter.  Nina grows up, leaves the hotel and becomes associated with the party.  Traveling, she leaves her daughter, Sophia, in the Count’s care and the young girl, even more than her mother, becomes his constant companion and is often called his daughter. Like her mother, she is talented, clever, a delightful child.

Count Rostav becomes part of a Hotel Triumvirate with chef Emile and Andrey, the maitre d.  They meet regularly to plan menus, seating arrangements and any other important restaurant matters.  Ocassionally they must foil the attempts at control by the Bishop, a party functionary, appointed manager, who does not understand or believe in class.  One on the Bishops first actions (to Rostov’s horror) is to strip all labels from wine bottles.  Order white or red; no class pretensions.  The “three” however resist his leveling, and in one conspiracy, collect ingredients (some difficult to obtain) and create a magnificent bouillabaisse which they share in a two hour euphoric meal.

There are many other characters and subplots in the 30 years the Count lives in the Metropol. There are hotel staff including  Audrius, the bartender, Marina, the seamstress, and Victor Stepanovich Skadovsky, the orchestra conductor in the Piazza.  All play a role in the Count’s life; most have long Russian names.    Anna Urbanov, a former actress comes and goes and eventually becomes a lover.  Mishka, an old friend visits and it’s revealed that he wrote the poem that was the immediate cause of the Count’s arrest and confinement. There are years of activity as Sophia grows into a young lady.

There is a climatic “happy” ending, references to “Casablanca,” Sophia on a concert tour in Paris, and Count Rostav escaping the confines of the Metropol.  I recommend you get a copy of  “A Gentleman in Moscow,” and read more for yourself.

Diane originally got the book for a discussion group.  It’s not something I would typically read.  But reading is my escape to different times and different places.  I meet people not in my 2018, American, east coast orbit.  “A Gentleman in Moscow” was all those things.  Again, get a copy.




Books: the Facebook seven


I’ve become careful about what “games” I play on Facebook.  This quiz will tell you how old you are; another your level of education or favorite food.  Then there are posting competitions. The craziest was the “ice bucket challenge” a few years ago.  More recently was the movie challenge, post a photograph from so many days that influenced your life.  No commentary.  I did respond however to posting seven days of favorite books.  It was an interesting exercise.


Day one I posted Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle.  For many years a copy of one or other Sherlock book would be on my night stand.  Evening after evening I’d read a short story or chapter in a novel.  I thought I was in London, in 221 B Baker Street with all the atmosphere Doyle created.  I enjoyed the Holmes Watson relationship.  And I reveled in the chase, guided by the science of deduction, observation, details, facts before theories.  In my bedroom closet is a collection of Holmesian related books and magazines.  A bit of an obsession.



Day, book two.  “Beautiful Swimmers: waterman, crabs and the Chesapeake Bay,” by William Warner.  I clearly remember finding this book on a rack in John Wanamaker’s.  The cover looked so interesting; maybe you could judge a book by . . . I’d never been to the Chesapeake and rarely if ever had blue crabs.  But I was captivated.  Specifically I wanted to try soft shell crabs.  At Holy Ghost Prep I asked one of the Giordano boys (Ninth Street Italian market), “Can you get me soft shells.?”  They weren’t in season. My first taste was in Cape May, visiting Jerry and Kate Alonzo.  It was a stand or food truck, Jerry and I bought soft shell sandwiches.  They’ve been a favorite ever since.  This year on a week trip to the Eastern Shore, I had soft shells three times.  The best actually were several weeks later in Cape May.  Some books don’t let go.



Book three was “Walden,” by Henry David Thoreau.  I think  I discovered it while attending Boston College, not far from his Concord home.  I was drawn to the economy of words and economy of life.  Living away from it all, listening to the wild, the trees, growing beans, reflecting and writing.  Henry was my type of guy.  Amazing but I never visited Walden Pond until several years ago when we stayed in Concord for several days.  We made the pilgrimage to the reconstructed cottage, statue and the original site.


IMG_2902Book four.  “The Sun Also Rises,” by Ernest Hemingway.  I discovered modern American literature in a summer course I took at Council Rock after my sophomore year.  I was searching for identity and signed up as Paul Profy (Paul is a middle name), an alter ego.  There was Vince and there was Paul.  When the instructor called out my name I didn’t respond, a girl next to me said, “Is that you.”  I responded  “Oh, yes.”   Rainy and I would date for the rest of High School.  But more significantly was my exposure to Hemingway.  Later I was an English major at BC — how strange that meant English Literature major, British and American.  For my first paper, I read Hemingway.  All of Hemingway, short stories, novels, poems.  I read every piece of criticism in the BC library and visited other university libraries.  I even read doctoral dissertations.   I recall one, “The insect symbolism in the Nick Adams stories.”  Give me a break, I thought.  What can I write about.  My instructor, John McCarthy, suggested, why not compare Nick Adams (young man in many short stories) and Huckleberry Finn.  I did.  A year later a Hemingway critic, Carlos Baker, published a book with the comparison.  Did McCarthy know?  Of all the Hemingway canon, I chose “The Sun” with its lost generation, expatriates, hanging out in Paris and Spain, a world of drinking, bull fights, writers, artists and lovers.  It could have been other Hemingway; I liked them all.



Day five I turned to children’s books.  And there are many.  “Nobody’s Boy,” by  Hector Malot was a gift from Aunt Lucy.  My father read it over and over when I was quite young.  I loved the story of the orphan who eventually found his mother.  But with a recent re-read, it didn’t hold up.  Another early favorite was “Uncle Wiggley,” by Howard Garis.  A collection of short stories about Mr. Longears, involving some danger escaped, help from Nurse Jane, and an ending that promised the next story. For the FB posts I chose two, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” by Margery Williams.  I read it to Jenny, night after night.  Her teddy Durgin (Boston born) talked to her just like the  the rabbit that was real when loved.  And I included  A.A. Milne’s “Winne the Pooh.”  Such a delight; characters, adventures, serendipity, messages.  I could read it again and again.




Book Six.  “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” by Mark Twain.  Hemingway said, “All American literature come s from Huckleberry Finn.”  I read it as a kid, a college student and as an adult.  It is certainly all American, characters and themes.  Huck rebels against civilization, convention, American hypocrisy.  I get so annoyed when it is banned for racial language.




Concluding this exercise wasn’t easy.  For my final book, number seven, I chose “The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.”  My love for local history, a memoir and an amazing character that takes center stage.  Franklin in well Franklin.  They broke the mold.  Who can forget his arrival in Philadelphia, two rolls under his arms, encountering his future wife.  Or his twelve step program for overcoming vices. Great autobiography.

This is one FB game I enjoyed.  Interesting choosing books.  I should re-read all of them.





In the Library


From the children’s collection, “Library Lion ” by Michelle Knudsen, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes.  Published in 2006, it was a New York Times bestseller.  Everyone knows that you must be quiet and there is no running in a library.  But what will happen when a lion has the audacity to enter Mrs. Merriweather’s  library.  When her assistant, Mr. McBee came running down the hall, Mrs. Merriweather, called, “No running.”  “But there is a lion,” said Mr. McBee, “in the library.”  But he wasn’t “breaking any rules” so Mrs. Merriweather said,  “Then leave him be.”

Can you picture Mr. McBee and Mrs. Merriweather.  He is wearing plaid pants, a yellow suit coat, poka dot bow tie, close cropped hair and large glasses.  She is wearing a blue-gray frock, with lots of buttons and a belt, sensible shoes, a bun hairdo and oval glasses that she wears on the end of her nose.

After exploring the card catalog and stacks, the lion settles down for story hour.  But when the story hour ends, the lion roars, raahhhrrrr!  Corrected, he promises not to roar and Mrs. Merriweather says he can return tomorrow.  The lion begins to do all kinds of library chores, dusting encyclopedias, licking envelopes with overdue notices, helping children get books.  He always laid down with the children for story hour.


One day Mrs. Merriweather “stretches a little far for a book on the top shelf.  She falls.  The lion runs down the hall and roars at Mr.McBee.  McBee gasped, “Your breaking the rules.”  The lion knew what that meant and left the library.  McBee finds Mrs. Merriweather on the floor and calls the doctor.


Days pass. The lion does not return.  He was missed.  McBee decides to search the neighborhood; he eventually finds the lion and brings him back to the library.  Mrs. Merriweather runs to greet him.  “No running” Mr. McBee says. Everyone learns a lesson.   “But sometimes there was good reason to break the rules. Even in the library.”


Lions in front of the New York Public Library

I was in early elementary school when my father first took me to the Dorrance (Campbell soup family) street library in Bristol.  It was an old wood frame building; the librarian resembled Mrs. Merriweather, but had gray hair.  I was soon checking out books myself.  One strong image is finding that there was more than one “Wizard of Oz” book.  And the library’s copies were beautifully illustrated, first editions I believe.   I worked my way through the Hardy Boys, then Tom Swift, and other “boys” series.  I even tried a few Nancy Drew and Bobbsey Twins books.

I also remember the librarian guiding me in late elementary to a new area labeled Junior classics.  There were Jules Verne books, “Robinson Crusoe,” “The Swiss Family Robinson,” “Huckleberry Finn,”  and “Tom Sawyer,”‘ possible some Dickens.  New worlds to explore.

The old Bristol Free Library was replaced by the Grundy Library on Radcliffe Street in the early 1960s.

Privately funded, it is probably one of the best libraries in the County.  I used it when it first opened, and when I first started teaching, off and on since then.  They had a great selection of LPs (many of historic interest) that I would check out for classroom use.  For years I borrowed a 20 plus set of blue bound,  facsimile books in early new world history to teach about primary sources (some were in Latin or languages other than English languages).  In the 1980s the librarian contacted me.  Since I wás the only one who used the books, would I like them. They are now part of the HGP collection. I’m sure they are checked out regularly.

My High School library at Holy Ghost Prep was a disappointment.  Father Curtin, later Brother Dominic served as librarian. Someone was buying easy to read series– biographies, books about saints or books about states.  I checked out a lot of books but also bought many paperbacks because I knew the school library offerings were not great or challenging reading.  In the summer of my sophomore year I took an American literature course at Neshaminy HS.  In my senior year, Father Dave Marshall taught a good literature course.  I began to read Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Twain, and other American authors.

I loved the Bapst Library at Boston College Library.

Although required reading books were usually purchased, library  books were used for research papers.  The subject of my first paper was Hemingway.  I read every book of criticism and biography in Bapst, even doctoral dissertations.  I then traveled to Boston University to supplement BC offerings.  No question I was a library person, a book person.  Bapst with its antique furnishings, low lights, long tables was also my favorite study venue. Footnote: after reading so much Hemingway criticism, I felt everything had been written.  Fortunately my professor, John McCarthy, helped me develop a topic —  “Huckleberry Finn and the Nick Adams stories.”  A well-known Hemingway critic stole the idea a year or so later?

When we moved to Yardley, the “Old Library on Lake Alton” became a special place.

It had been started as a private subscription library in the mid 1800s.  By the 1970s it was part of the County system.  It was small.  Books were two deep on the shelves.  But it was always an exciting place to visit.  They were purchasing new titles but also had a lot of older volumes — sometimes dusty.  The librarians were pretty typical.  But there was nothing better than walking to the library on a snowy evening for a good winter read.  When the County built a new local library in Lower Makefield township, the “Old Library” became the home of the Yardley Historical Association.  For many years I was active with the Association and presented quite a few slide programs on Yardley history.  It’s probably one of the most painted and photographed buildings in Bucks County.

In 1974 I was hired by Headmaster Francis Hanley as librarian at Holy Ghost Prep.  A Spiritan brother, Dominic Reardon, was the librarian. The library had been moved from a room on the third floor in my student days to the former first floor gym.  It was a good size room, nicely furnished but most of the books were not labeled with clear call numbers, there were few, if any, new purchases.  Donations were accepted from other libraries, even donated card catalog cards.  I disposed of thousands.    I don’t think many books were checked out.  The library pretty much served as a study hall for classes. (Ironically, since I’ve retired some faculty tell me the library is again a silent study hall.)

Hanley wanted me to run a more open library.  Let in the lion. Sometimes it roared.   I began taking courses for a MA degree in educational media.  Libraries were becoming labeled media centers.  I established a music center (problematic as kids would talk loud with earphones); a room for AV equipment and the software (film strips, tapes, slide programs) was set up for faculty. I established a relationship with the BCIU to borrow 16 mm films.  Sometimes I would feature a film  in the library.  I also managed several other small rooms — one as an audio lab, a darkroom and eventually a video room for taping.

I served as HGP’s librarian (always taught 3 courses, so it was not full time) for several years but was appointed Assistant Headmaster in the late 1970s.  For several years the library was managed by volunteer mothers until we hired a librarian, Jan Showler.  I went on to serve as Assistant Headmaster for over ten years but was destined to return to the library.

In 1989-90 I took a sabbatical to research and write my dissertation for an Ed.D program in educational leadership. When I returned I was offered the position of librarian. Since I was writing my dissertation (another story),  it was a good fit.  Several years later the HGP library moved to the first floor of a new building, Founder’s Hall.  Arlene Buettler was hired as a part-time assistant and I would continue to teach 2, sometimes 3 classes.

The new Holy Ghost Prep library was an extremely pleasant environment.  I was teaching several courses at LaSalle and Holy Family in the evenings and I continued to teach several courses at HGP.  What I enjoyed most was exposing students to a new book, a new idea, a new question.

For me a library has always been a special place, a space to think, to read, to write, to explore new worlds. There were rules but also reasons to break the rules.  It was good to let the lion into the library.    I would finish my education career as a librarian and part time classroom teacher.


New worlds, new ideas, even a bit of magic — all found in libraries.  You just need to look, listen, and read.                                              “Old Library on Lake Afton” Yardley.






Here dwell together still two men of note
Who never lived and so can never die:
How very near they seem, yet how remote
That age before the world went all awry.
But still the game’s afoot for those with ears
Attuned to catch the distant view-halloo:
England is England yet, for all our fears—
Only those things the heart believes are true.

A yellow fog swirls past the window-pane
As night descends upon this fabled street:
A lonely hansom splashes through the rain,
The ghostly gas lamps fail at twenty feet.
Here, though the world explode, these two survive,
And it is always eighteen ninety-five.

Vincent Starrett



Sherlock Holmes is never far away. I think my addiction started in the 1970s. There was always some copy of Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories on my night stand. Frequently a facsimile of the Strand with Sidney Piaget illustrations. For several years I was a member of The Baker Street Irregulars and received their journal. I have dozens of books dating from this period, various editions of the Conan Doyle stories and novels, the largest being “The Annotated Sherlock Holme;” imitations, pastiche style works; the films of; the art of; a cookbook, Victorian crime; the rivals of; the possibility of  new Holmes books seems endless. Some are serious criticism by scholars of the canon; others are best sellers.


I recently watched “The Seven Percent Solution,” (1976) based on the best selling book by Nicholas Meyer. Holmes, in a solid performance by Nicol Williamson, has not had a case to occupy his racing brain. A seven percent solution of cocaine has filled the void but results in all to real and fearful hallucinations. Loyal Doctor Watson (Robert Duvall) with Mycroft’s help leads Holmes to Vienna and Sigmund Freud (Alan Atkin) for a cure. Hyponosis helps. Holmes then involves Watson and Freud in an international kidnapping case, Lola Devereaux (Vanessa Redgrave); and of course a bit of  Professor Moriarity (Laurence Olivier). It’s a fast paced twist on elements from Doyle’s writing. Still enjoyable after 40 years.


My most recent Sherlock Holmes read was “The Great Detective: the amazing rise and immortal life of Sherlock Holmes,” by Zach Dundas. As a kid, Dundas read and reread the Holmes stories. He asks, “why has Holmes taken a 125 year grip on popular culture?” Scholarly analysis, pastiche writings, movies, tv, theatre, the arts, comics and advertisements — Holmes’ is everywhere. Dundas even explores more “porn” like blogs on the internet.


He writes about Gillette, Rathbone, Irons, Cumberbach, Downey — each has left an imprint on Sherlock. Illustrator Sidney Paget, for instance, branded Holmes with a deerstalker and Inverness cape. William Gillette added the curve calabash pipe on the NY stage.


Visit London and then visit the Holmes rooms — 221b Baker Street — at the Sherlock Holmes Pub on Northumberland Avenue, near London’s Charing Cross Station. On my last trip to London, I wanted to take the Sherlock Holmes tour but didn’t have the time. The appeal of Sherlock Holmes is in part due to this world Doyle created. The Victorian rooms, detailed, eccentric, mysterious. And the city, London, the mist, rain, Hanson cabs, trains, alley ways, and wharves. We are seduced.

Holmes is not himself without Watson. He is a friend, foil, and sidekick, we see Holmes through Watson’s eyes.

Dundas analysis is rich, sometimes new, but often familiar, a place we’ve been, a place we will visit again.

Last night I was looking for a movie to watch on my I-pad. “Mr. Holmes.” (2015) Why not? Holmes (Ian McKellen) has retired, suffers from dementia, raises bees, travels to Japan to get jelly made from the prickly ash, befriends Roger, the son of his housekeeper, is trying to write a final story. It’s an engaging movie.

As Vincent Starrett wrote “two men of note who never lived so can never die.” The Holmes story continues, grows, and twists. I’m hooked.



Going Native


Several years ago we were having dinner at Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville.  In conversation we learned that Jeff Hamilton, the owner’s son,  had committed suicide.  In the 1970s, we rented a house with John and Barbara Paglione on Old York Road, outside of downtown New Hope.  Around the corner on Sugan Road was the “ruins” or  “the old mill.”  Built in 1813 by William Maris, the cotton and weaving mill was/is a local landmark.  Hamiltons lived in  the mill.

We knew that Jim Hamilton, a NYC set designer, his French wife and children lived in the mill. There were annual gala parties at the mill but we were not quite part of that New Hope social scene. I think some of our friends/acquaintances were invited.    We were aware that there were Hamilton kids, a bit younger than us.   And we were interested when Jim opened Hamilton’s Grill in Lambertville.


The Grill has become one of our favorite restaurants.  We go there for anniversaries, special ocassions, and when the spirit strikes.  For  several years we have enjoyed their Jersey dinners and Oyster nights.  Several times we’ve gone to Jim’s “cooking classes” — usually demonstration dinners in an apartment studio near the restaurant.


We’ve bought several of Melissa Hamilton’s “Canal House” cookbooks — small and seasonal.  We’ve also followed the career of Gabrielle,  In the late 1990s, with no experience in the restaurant business, she opened “Prune” in the East Village.  In 2012 she published, “Blood, Bones, & Butter the inadvertent education of a reluctant chef.”


There were some surprising admissions of drugs and thefts — but also the amazing rise of her career.  She is one of the most well know female chefs in the country. Two years ago with Paglions, we ate at Prune.  Not disappointed. Jen and Rob followed us, several months later and Jen got to meet Gabrielle.  In another small town event, our former Tinicum friends, David and Judy hosted Melissa and her partner, Christopher Hirscheimer for dinner.

But back to Jeff Hamilton.  When he was nineteen, Jeff went to Zaire to live with the Mbuti pygmies.  He had become interested in anthropology finding arrowheads on the Banks of the Delaware river.  In the prologue of “Going Native” his account of his adventures in Africa he wrote, “I began to wonder so intensely about what the life of the people who’d chipped these beautiful stone objects had been like, that I fell happy and melancholic at the same time. . . I dreamt then of the day I would live with people who are still living in remote areas of the world by hunting and gathering.”

While taking courses at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1975, Jeff met Colin Turnbull, a British anthropologist, known for his books “The Forest People” and “The Mountain People.” Turnbull had lived with pygmies in the Ituri forest then in the Belgium Congo, later Zaire.  Jeff would follow in his footsteps.

Like Jeff I found arrowheads along the Banks of the Delaware.  We both lived in river side small towns — New Hope and Bristol.  We both attended prep schools — Solebury for Jeff; Holy Ghost Prep for  me.  I may have even read “The Forest People” (1961) in college. I dreamed of traveling in Africa.  When Diane and I signed up in the Peace Corps in 1969 we were interested in sub-Saharan Africa. We were offered Arab Libya in North Africa instead.  Seven years later Jeff was living with the forest people; I was teaching, driven partially by the draft exemption.  I’m intrigued. Jeff had the independence, risk taking, sense of adventure spirit, to go to Africa alone.  That was not me.  I suspect family backgrounds had an influence.  The sub title for “Going Native” is “A young man’s  quest for his identity leads him to an African forest and it’s people.”  It was published in 1989, ten year after the experience under the name J.J. Bones.


“Going Native” was particularly interesting because of the Hamilton connection. It’s not particularly well written, and often repetitive.  Jeff lives in a village much of the time but eventually gets permission to live in the forest with the pygmies.  No photographs were allowed; although someone eventually takes a few.  He is presumably doing research for college but is usually consumed with daily life, little time is spent writing research notes.

In both village and forest, he feels the people are always taking advantage of him.  Hands always looking for a gift; sometimes stealing.  Jeff is constantly plagued with medical issues, malaria, awful skin diseases, parasites.  Not pleasant.  Life is slow; he writes a lot about boredom.  Local men spending much time sitting around, smoking, sometimes marijuana, drinking palm wine from the raffia tree.  And there are other forms of local alcohol. Jeff seems to adapt to a lot of strange foods — from termites and grubs to antelope and elephant.  At times his diet is very vegetarian; other times there is a fair amount of game available.

There are missionaries in the village but Jeff wants limited contact with them.  He also becomes annoyed with a few white tourists who passing through, stop and stay with him.  He develops a few relationships, at times has a woman cook and clean, but frequently seems lonely.  His doubts about his produtivity and the value of his research are constant.  He thinks about leaving several times but sticks it out for about 2 years.

In a strange way I was reminded of Henry David Thoreau spending two years, basically alone, in solitude, finding himself on Walden Pond.   So different but maybe not.

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff returned to New Hope become another town character.  After his death a friend wrote of him as the Marquis of Debris.  He cleaned out houses, saving treasures in an old barn until his annual auction.  Jim Hamilton, said, “I spent $80,000 on his education.  What does he do?  Collects junk.”

Jeff’s story intrigues me.  How we become who we are.  The influences on our lives.  Where we live.  Our family.  Our education.  Travel and othe special experiences. People we meet.   Why some of us become home bodies; others world adventurers and risk takers.

Our youth; our old age; our continual search for identity.




Film books

For years, I taught a film course at Holy Ghost Prep.  Of course I bought film books.  It’s amazing but when I took several film courses at Boston College in the 1960s, there were few film books available.  A decade later, film was art, taught in colleges, scholarship and film books proliferated.  But now it’s time to sell my film book collection.  But as I did with my photography collection, I will reread before I sell.


“American Cinema: 1950s; themes and variations,” edited by Murray Pomerance was the the first book I reread.  There is a chapter for each decade, with a historical overview, and a short review of major films, followed by analysis of films that represent the decade.

As I read, I list films on Netflix — some I’ve never seen; some I think I should see again.  Films of the 50s bridge the traditional Hollywood studio films of the 1940s with the more open 1960s. Male roles were changing — Montgomery Cliff, Marlon Brando, and James Dean were not your typical Hollywood male star.  They were hard but also soft; they were nonconformists.   Women ranged from Doris Day to Marilyn Monroe. Movies competed with television, so widescreen processes like CinemaScope and VistaVision were developed.  There was more location shootings; and rear projection brought locations into the studio. The films and the industry were poised for change.


Films then as now were influenced by current events like the growing black-white tensions of the Civil Rights movement and the Cold War with the Soviet Union, Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-communism crusade, HUAC (House Un-American Activities Committee) hearings that blacklisted movie people — all found a way into the movies. As mentioned above, there was no film scholarship and criticism — university programs, film journals, film as art would come in the 1960s.  Filmmakers, like  Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, Howard Hawkes, Douglas Sirk or Nicholas Ray were not lionized as film auteurs. Not yet.  The Hollywood Studio star system was still cranking out “movies.”  The Production Code continued to put limits on what could be shown.

“American Cinema of the 1950s” is a collection of essays.  Representative of film scholarship some of the writing is overly academic, too pedantic for me.  But it’s interesting to review the films made during the decade. From 1950, “All About Eve,” “Harvey'” and “King Soloman’s Mines” caught my attention. “Sunset Blvd” a Hollywood story demands attention.

In 1951 there was “An American in Paris” (Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron dancing and searching for love in post-war Paris.    We recently saw the play produced at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.  The DVD is currently in the mail from Netflix.   “A Place in the Sun” (Montgomery Cliff and Elizabeth Taylor)  and “A Streetcar Names Desire” (Brando, masculine issues, Production Code) are both on my list to view again.  The year also had Bogart and Hepburn in “African Queen.” The only semester I lived in a campus dorm room at Boston College, I shared it with a Bogart fan.  We watched all Bogart’s through the night.


The classic Gary Cooper western, “High Noon” was made in 1952.  Who can forget the shoot out. The big movie in 1953  was “From Here to Eternity.”  WWII, Hawaii, Pearl Harbor, intrigue, love and passio, the classic Deborah Kerr and Burt Lancaster beach scene.  Also in ’53 was “Roman Holiday.”  It was written by Dalton Trumbo (on the blacklist) so an Oscar was given to Ian McLellan Hunter.  Trumbo was finally awarded an Oscar in 1993.  “Trumbo” (2015) tells the story.

The ground breaking movie in 1954 was Marlon Brando in Elia Kazan’s “On the Waterfront.” Dockworker Terry Malloy (Brando) was an up and coming boxer. But Mob-union Dock boss Johnny Friendly (Lee J. Cobb) has Terry throw a fight, and then tries to get him to not testify about Friendly’s control of the waterfront and his responsibility for the death of a longshoreman. The dead man’s sister Edie (Eva Marie Saint) and a local priest, Father Barry (Karl Malden), convince Terry to testify against the Mob. Terry squeals, he is a “stool pigeon.” This is the 1950s, Kazan had testified before the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). And Kazan had named names. Critics have written many pages about “On the Waterfront,” Terry, Kazan, and HUAC — you can decide, front page news and how it influenced a film story.

“Marty” (1955) was a romantic drama I remember liking. Marty (Ernest Borgnine) was a mother’s boy, socially awkward, Bronx butcher who falls for Clara (Betsy Blair) at the Stardust ballroom. Marty is forced to chose between Clara and a family that wants to keep him for themselves. It’s Hollywood, Marty chooses Clara. I remember being touched by this movie which won several academy awards. Probably saw it on television.

I did see “Around the World in 80 Days”(1956) in the Bristol Theatre on Radcliffe street. Around the same time, as a 9 years old, I would have been reading Jules Verne novels. Here was one on the big screen — Technicolor, Todd-AO 70 mm cinematography. Hollywood was fighting TV for an audience.

Another feel good film in 1956 was “The King and I.” An adaptation of a Rogers and Hammerstein musical, but also a real story. Anna Loenowens (Deborah Kerr) travels to Siam (Thailand) to teach the children (dozens of them) of King Mongkut (Yul Brynner). The King was determined to westernize his country, but Anna was a bit too liberated, too much. They frequently clashed but of course developed a loving relationship. In real life and in the film it was a love not to be fulfilled. The King would die and Anna would return to England. Last month we saw, “The King and I” at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia. It was a great production but I knew the strutting, majestic, arrogance, of Yul Brynner as the King could not be matched.  So I watched the movie.  Somewhere we have a vinyl recording of the original cast — I need to find it. The music has been swirling in my mind — “You Whistle a Happy Tune,” “My Lord, My Master,” ” Hello, Young Lovers,” “Getting to Know You,” “I have Dreamed,” “Shall We Dance, “and “Something Wonderful,”

1956 also brought us George Stevens’s “Giant.” Nick Benedict (Rock Hudson) — the past — tangles with Jett Rink (James Dean) — the future — over Leslie (Elizabeth Taylor) and the Benedict family fortune and legacy. This is not typical Hollywood like “The King and I.”

They are whistling. It’s a prisioner of war camp. 1957. It’s “The Bridge on the River Kwai.” It’s British and American pride, a spirit to win. Another film of the period that I saw in the theatre; another academy best picture. A tune and film you can’t forget.


1958 saw “Gigi” and “The Defiant Ones.” I have a good memory of “Gigi” directed by Vincent Minnelli. Paris, love, a bit of intrigue, Lerner & Loewe music, “Thank Heaven for Little Girls” — and then Louis Jourdan, Leslie Caron and the hard to forget Maurice Chevalier. It was another Academy winner for best picture and considered by some to be MGMs last great musical. You can read the plot summary on line.

The same year brought us Stanley Kubrick’s “The Defiant Ones.” It’s the 1950s, in the South. Members of a chain gang escape when their truck crashes. John “Joker” Jackson (Tony Curtis) and Noah Cullen (Sidney Poitier) are chained together; Jackson is white, Cullen is black. Their distrust and hate turns to friendship as they flee across the country. Ten years later Kramer would direct Poitier and Katherine Hepburn in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.” Black-White friendship, interracial marriage, films were exploring new territory.

William Wyler’s “Ben Hur” with Carlton Heston was MGMs block buster for the year. I only saw it once in the theatre but scenes are etched in my memory. Who could forget the chariot races?  Smaller scale but an important story was George Steven’s “The Diary of Anne Frank.” This may have been my first introduction to the Holocaust. I would see the movie and read the book. And then in contrast there was “Pillow Talk,” a cute romantic comedy with Rock Hudson (didn’t know he was gay then) and Doris Day. I didn’t like either Hudson or Day, would have thought the film silly which it was. But I can enjoy it today in its historical context.

I added about 15 movies from the decade to my Netflix account. Some I’ve seen; others will be a new experience. The first to arrive was “King Solomon’s Mines.” I thought I saw it but had no memory as I watched.  It was adapted from a book by Henry Rider Haggard. At times it looked like a National Geographic special — amazing photography of the African landscape, safari wildlife, tribal villages and native dances. Elizabeth Curtis (Deborah Kerr) hires an experienced, maybe legendary hunter and guide,  Allan Quatermain (Stewart Granger) to find her brother lost in the African interior while searching fot a diamond mine.

Skeptical of a journey with a woman into unfamiliar territory, inhabitated by a savage tribe, Allan agrees because of a huge salary that will help him send his son to school in England. They endure all the hardships Africa can offer, wild animals, snakes, deserts and mountains, and of course, unfriendly natives. Conrad’s Heart of Darkness?”  Their bearers desert them; they fall in love. They met a wandering Watusi who turns out to be a King traveling to reclaim his homeland. Close to the mines they meet a renegade Englishman, living with a canabalistic tribe. Shades of Brando’s Kurtz in the jungles of Vietnam, check out  “Apocalypse Now (1979). They escape and find the tribe, diamonds, the mine, and skeleton of Curtis, but briefly they are trapped in the mine. Think Indiana Jones and ” Raiders of the Lost Ark”(1981). I’m pretty certain Spielberg was familiar with “King Solomon’s Mines.” King Umbopa regains control of the tribe and helps our explorers on the road home. But did they get to take some diamonds, get married, settle down, or keep exploring?

Lot of great films from the 1950s; lots of film books to reread.  It’s a good thing I’m retired.



“From Here to Eternity,” 1953