Sunday, August 31, 2008

Romantic Germany

Lately I've been preoccupied with the new novel and spending QT with the fambly before I head back to Galway (tomorrow, weeeeeee!) Thrift-shopping has become an increasingly frequent family activity, and look what ten-dollar treasure I found at the Moorestown Friends' Thrift Shop yesterday:

It was originally $20, but all books were half price this weekend, and my mom got it for me as an early birthday present. (Thanks, Ma!)

Just look at the dedication!:

I guess this makes me a bonafide book nerd, but I love when a book has initial letters, the more ornate the better.

I may have neglected to mention that Kelly and I are heading to Germany in mid-September, which is part of why I was attracted to this fascinating old book. We're spending a few days in Berlin and a few days in the Harz mountains, about three hours' train ride west of the capital. The Grimms got most of their fairy tales from the villages of the Harz, and the region is steeped in witchy legends. Peeeeeerfect. One of the highlights will be a trip here.)

And here:

The first castle is in Wernigerode, the second (the Kaiserhaus) in Goslar (2 hours west by train). Funny how I would've most likely overlooked Goslar and all its attractions were it not for this book:
You appreciate the half-timbered dwellings so much that your appetite is whetted for better ones. If you are persistent you find them at the head of the Markt-Strasse. Crescit indulgens! The taste grows upon you. Presently, unless you are very reserved or blasé, you give a cry of pleasure. You have discovered the Brusttuch, a crooked late-Gothic gildhouse named after an indispensible part of the local peasant's costume. It has an amazingly sharp, high ridge. Its lowest story is of picturesque rough stone; its second is half-timbered and filled with such homely, humorous carvings as riot along the streets of Brunswick. Among them are reliefs of convivial monkeys and of witches riding their broomsticks to the Brocken...
I love the florid descriptions in these old books! It'll be interesting to see how much (or little?) the place has changed in 99 years; it's a little eerie reading about these places as yet untouched by the Third Reich and all its horrors. (By the way, the V-2 factory was located in a subterranean factory in the Harz. Parts of it are open to the public, or so I hear, though I think we'd need a car to get there.)

Anyway, expect a load of pictures here when I get back to Galway in late September...

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

The Book of Spies

"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."

Those are the last words of Nathan Hale, possibly the first American spy, seconds before he was hanged by the British in 1776. Hale, a young Yale-educated schoolmaster, was hired by Washington and betrayed by a loyalist relative. The British military official who condemned him to death allowed him to write farewell letters to his mother, sisters, and fiancé, and then tore them up once the noose was put around Hale's neck.

Right now I'm reading a wonderful "profusely illustrated" history of espionage, Brian Innes' The Book of Spies, published in 1966. I was reading this book in bed the other night, and (as I tend to do) I fell asleep with the light on. My sister came into my room to turn the light off, and while she was in the room I bolted upright in bed and started...well, 'screaming' isn't the word, they were more like little yelping shrieks. (That wimpy noise was in itself embarrassing--I like to think if there really was an intruder I'd be able to scream properly.) Anyway, I'm pretty sure I was having a dream, a scary dream with spies in it, and for those few seconds before I woke up Kate became part of it.

Scared the bejeezus out of my poor mother!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Mysterious Stranger

My latest Librivox "read" is Mark Twain's The Mysterious Stranger. Theodore, the young narrator, lives in a small village in Austria in the 16th century. One afternoon while playing in the woods with a few friends, he meets an attractive young man named Satan (nephew of that Satan—angels have family trees too, apparently), who pulls exotic fruits from his pocket, renders himself invisible, makes little men out of clay and animates them, conjures money out of thin air, and performs lots of other tricks for the boys' amusement. In several conversations over the following months, Satan takes pains to tell Theodore and his friends that humanity, to him and his fellow "angels," is as cosmically significant as fleas on an elephant's back. (If that's so, you'd expect he wouldn't bother associating with these base humans at all, but it's all for the sake of the story, right?) His arrival sparks accusations of theft and witchcraft that leave the claustrophobic community in chaos.

Anyway, the following passage totally creeped me out:
"There has never been a just one, never an honorable one--on the part of the instigator of the war. I can see a million years ahead, and this rule will never change in so many as half a dozen instances. The loud little handful--as usual--will shout for the war. The pulpit will--warily and cautiously--object--at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.' Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will outshout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity. Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers--as earlier--but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation--pulpit and all--will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open. Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
A great writer is often a great prophet as well, no?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Ghosts of Mount Holly

My uncle Dan recently lent me Jan Bastien's Ghosts of Mount Holly, which is the most entertaining book of ghost stories I've read in ages. Mount Holly is the Burlington county seat, a 20-minute drive from where I live in southern New Jersey. Given its rich colonial history, it's not surprising that there are ghost stories attached to the local jail (now a museum, it was designed by Robert Mills, who also designed the Washington Monument), the library (a Georgian mansion), and firehouse (with the oldest continually operating fire company in the country), as well as several restaurants and private homes. There are "Haunted Holly" ghost tours every Friday the 13th, and there's also a Sleepy Holly street party (formerly known as the Witches' Ball) around Halloween-time.

The Mount Holly shopping district has undergone a revival in recent years, and a few of these shops are said to be haunted as well. Mill Race Village is a delight—all locally owned stores selling unusual items (stained glass jewelry, quilting supplies, and so forth) in historic buildings. My mom and I have gone shopping here a few times in the last year. One of the most memorable shops is Spirit of Christmas, located in a charming brick house built by Quakers before the Revolutionary War. I've never seen so many Christmas ornaments in all my life (and this is really saying something, considering that my grandmother's collection of snowman effigies easily tops a thousand). It's a sensory overload with all those holiday trimmings crammed into a few smallish ground-floor rooms, so just think how overwhelmed I would have been had I known the building is haunted! Another haunted place is the Robin's Nest, a restaurant and bakery cozily decorated with Victorian paintings and furniture. The food is really good and reasonably priced, and the ghosts usually wait until the place is closed before they start terrorizing the waitresses.

True, I love this book partly because I've been to a lot of the places mentioned in it, but it's worth reading even if you have no ties to the area. Many of the stories are seriously spooky, and some are even a bit humorous (like the Hessian soldier who exudes either flatulence or general body odor, the book doesn't specify, and who stomps around in his heavy army boots and tickles the feet of sleeping girls). Actually, one of the creepiest bits of all is the dedication:

To my little ones on the other side; may you forever haunt me.
I'll see you at the Rainbow Bridge.

I hope the author is referring to beloved pets; otherwise that's pretty darn morbid...

Friday, August 1, 2008

Rabbit Island

From anywhere along the Salthill promenade you can see a rather dramatic headland in the distance to the west (very picturesque at sunset), and I'd been wanting to walk out there for years but never got around to it until recently. This headland is called Rabbit Island because it's an island (though barely) at very high tide; haven't seen any rabbits on it though. Here's a view from the prom, with the Blackrock diving platform in the middle distance:

And the next couple photos are on the approach to Rabbit Island. You walk to the end of the prom and then climb over the stone wall into the caravan park, and after that the way is pretty clear.

The view from midway up the hill:

And the view from one of the lookout/make-out spots along the cliff:

(The second time we came up here, last Saturday, we stumbled upon a couple in an advanced state of deshabille...on her part, at least. Durty, durty. This place is not all that secluded, especially in broad daylight.)

Tee hee!