Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Hvar

Hvar was probably my favorite stop on our Eastern European adventure. Lavender fields (which we did not actually get to see, but we picked up plenty of soap and sachets to bring home), azure sea, perfect weather, atmospheric old town...

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Hvar is going to be the highlight of our trip, I just know it. We arrived on the ferry from Split last night (at 6pm, still plenty light out) and found a guy who brought us back to an adorable little apartment with an ivy-draped terrace for only 80 kuna per person per night. That’s about $15. (Most hostels cost more than that!)

I’m sitting at the table on this terrace and a little lizard just darted across the rough stone wall. I’m drinking Earl Grey, waiting for K&E to return from shopping for breakfast and feeling content. We got pasta, bread, and white wine and ate out here last night—more satisfying than many of our dining-out experiences here. When it got dark we lit a pillar candle and listened to the strains of the music festival down in the town square—there was some sort of choir performing (it sounded more like a barbershop quartet, with more than four), and cheesy pop and U2 and Sting playing at break-times. There were ten-year-old ballerinas (all in pink, of course) hanging around outside the supermarket—free food and red balloons.

There is a very eloquent little sparrow sitting on a wire nearby…

(That's Kate's underwear on the line right over Elliot's head, by the way.)

Next post: Split!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Yaddo in Pictures, part 2

The stairs at West House; two views of my study; reading on the back porch on a sunny afternoon; a walk in the woods.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Yaddo in Pictures, part 1

A neo-gothic pile; the gardens (which are open to the public); Katrina's room; another view of the mansion; one of the gargoyles in the dining room (gosh, that sounds familiar...)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Dubrovnik

Again, photographs of a beautiful place render description rather unnecessary. Dubrovnik is touristy and therefore everything is relatively expensive, and the walkable old town wall doesn't seem quite so marvelous when you realize it was recently reconstructed...but my, what a lovely place! After we walked the walls we went to the nearest beach and had ourselves a soak.

You'd walk around more than once, of course, which meant you'd be passing the same tourists two or three times. I remember walking by a couple of middle-aged English ladies in sensible shoes, and smiling every time I caught a snatch of their conversation—they were SO happy to be there. Everything was a delight to them. Man, I love people like that.

“Mosquito bites all over, including my face…Kate’s all bitten too—we joked we have the plague…Been sniping them, and when I do there’s a smear of blood on my palm. My own blood—the little bastards! One just dive-bombed onto my thigh. Smack! Serves you right.”

(Detail of a fountain just inside the old town entrance.)

We'd arrived late in the day, and while we walked a quiet street right by the city wall we spotted a sign for a bar. We passed through the wall, and found this outdoor spot literally perched on the cliff. It was touristy, of course, but over drinks we enjoyed one of the most beautiful sunsets of my life.

Next installment: Hvar Island.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

84 Charing Cross Road

I never knew a book could be such a joy to the touch.

While we were in London Deirdre was saying what a wonderful book (and film) 84 Charing Cross Road is, and how sad it is that a Pizza Hut is on the site of that venerable old bookstore. Then when we were back in Galway she surprised me with a copy of the book, which my mother seized and devoured as soon as I got home. It took me a couple months to get around to it, but wow—what a great book it is!

Thank you again for the beautiful book, I shall try very hard not to get gin and ashes all over it, it's really much too fine for the likes of me.

A vivacious New York writer, Helene Hanff, sends a letter in 1949 to a secondhand bookshop in London asking for help locating a few obscure titles, initiating a correspondence that lasts almost twenty years. The book is by turns hilarious and poignant; Helene is quick with the zingers (I don't want to give too many away here), but when she hears that meat and eggs are still severely rationed in post-war England, she orders a food basket to be delivered to the staff at Marks & Co. for the holidays. Her primary pen-pal, Frank Doel, is all stereotypical British reserve at first, but it's clear just how much he comes to treasure her friendship. Your heart aches every time he asks when Helene will finally make that long-awaited trip to London.

From where I sit, London's a lot closer than 17th Street.

My edition contains both 84 and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, the diary Helene kept during her sojourn in London in the summer of 1971. (Ordinarily I refer to authors by their surnames, but Helene is too much a kindred spirit for that. Reading this book is like making a new friend.) I got a heady feeling when she visited The George, that great old pub I told you about back in January, because I was there with Deirdre. What can I say, I get a kick out of little connections like that.

Another connection that really floored me: while Helene is in London, Leo Marks introduces himself as the bookshop owner's son, invites her out to dinner, and his wife later paints her portrait in Russell Square. LEO MARKS! Codemaster for the Special Operations Executive! How awesome is that? (See page 299 of Petty Magic; or just click here).
'Tell me,' said Leo. 'You've written a beautiful book. Why haven't we heard of you before? What was wrong with your earlier work? Too good or not good enough?'

'Not good enough,' I said. And he nodded and went on to something else, and I think that's when we became soul mates.
Part of the reason why 84 Charing Cross Road and The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street (and all her other books, too, no doubt) have resonated with so many readers is this marvelous feeling of kinship across time and space. Helene felt it for Donne and Pepys and John Henry Newman, and we feel it for her.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Montenegro

This is going to be one of those posts where the pictures speak for themselves. Kotor was really, really beautiful, and the hike up to the fortress was good exercise and very rewarding. As I recall, the food was pretty meh, but with views like these, who cares?

Next up: Dubrovnik.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Welcome to Babyville, part 3

Think of all the people we'll love who haven't been born yet: Kate said that, and I appropriated it. Now one of them has—on March 9th, Ailbhe and Christian had a healthy baby boy! (He's big, too: 8 pounds, 3 ounces.) When I packed this up I addressed it to the baby, which tickled me to no end:

I have to make another one of these dinosaurs for my nephew. So cute, and a lot easier than I thought it would be—I'm much more confident with a crochet hook after finishing this. Ailbhe was particularly excited about it one because Christian had a plush dinosaur as a child and really wanted to find something similar. (Pattern here, raveled here.)

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Eastern Europe retroblog: Belgrade

We were only in Belgrade for a day—but what a day! We visited the Tesla museum and hung out in the fortress-slash-park; and while we were having dinner in a very charming old part of the city, it started to pour like crazy. Our table was outside under an awning, so the whole thing was rather dramatic from where we were seated.

(Isn't this the loveliest wrought ironwork you've ever seen? It's the front door of the Tesla museum.)

(I don't remember the name of this church, if I ever knew it.)

Next installment: Kotor, Montenegro.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Happy Easter!

Here's a postcard I found at the Christkindlesmarkt in Nuremberg (seasonally appropriate, I know. The Christmas ones are even cuter). On the back:

221 Osterkarte, um 1900

@Verlag L. Däbritz, München
Alleinvertrieb ART H. Hilscher
Printed in Germany.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Quick Dispatch

1. This place is AMAZING. The people are lovely, the place is lovely, and I'm getting a load of work done.

2. New rule re social networking: I'm only logging in to accept friend requests and follow people back. I can justify this because I don't want to lose track of new friends.

3. Silly Mealey. Nobody gives a crap if you check your email in the middle of the day.

4. Not that I'm checking my email in the middle of the day. Because I'm not.

5. I will admit to a nap though. And I wrote 400 words afterward, so even the nap was productive.