Refilling the Well

So here we go again: my fourth round of strep. For some reason, this particular bug has taken up residence in my body and won’t let go. After taking penicillin/amoxycillin the last few bouts, I’m hoping the Z-pack I’m on now will kill it for good. I’ve been going to the CVS clinic for treatment, but it’s due time I call my primary care physician and ask her the insightful medical question: What the hell is my problem?

Anyway, I feel it’s a good time for me to take a small break on the blog, just a couple of weeks, to get better (and hopefully stay better), clean my house (I feel contaminated), cook some soups (nourish my body). I’m beta-reading a book for a writer friend, and I want to wrap that up and get some good feedback to her. And I’ll write, of course. I have some ideas I want to kick around for a few essays. Maybe they’ll end up here when I come back.

I’ll still check in here on WordPress and read and comment on other blogs. It’s just part of my day now. But as for my own, the well needs to be refilled. See you then!

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Anna Karenina

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Ever since I read Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina years ago, I’ve been a fan of the lavish Imperial Russian romance. In my twenties, I found Anna and Vronsky’s doomed, passionate love affair extremely romantic, and Levin’s story a bit of a bore. In my thirties, I couldn’t forgive Anna for leaving her cherished son for a mere man, and took more interest in Levin’s philosophical musings. Now, I find it a perfectly balanced view on the many forms of love that we human beings can experience; Anna is merely a woman who falls desperately in love under the wrong circumstances, while Levin seems to find the right balance between love and duty.

I’ve read the book quite a few times, and have sought out the many movie adaptations of the story over the years. I’ve seen the 1947 version with Vivien Leigh and Kieran Moore, the 1985 version with Jacqueline Bisset and Christopher Reeve, the 1997 version with Sophie Marceau and Sean Bean, and a 2000 BBC version with Helen McCrory and Kevin McKidd. It seemed about the right time for a new version, so I finally watched the 2012 film  with Keira Knightly and Aaron Johnson.

At first, the setting of the film as an ever-changing stage scene felt strange and contrived; and there was an air of quirkiness that didn’t seem right to me, considering the thematic weight of the story. But after a while I got used to it, and the story settled into familiar Anna Karenina territory.

Keira Knightly won my heart in Pride and Prejudice as Elizabeth Bennet (no easy feat), and I liked her here as Anna. Though she always seems so young to me (who doesn’t these days?), in truth she’s probably a little older than the age Anna is supposed to be in the book, and I believed in her tortured portrayal as Anna.

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Keira Knightly as Anna

When I first heard of the film and cast, I thought Jude Law was playing the dashing Count Vronsky, forgetting he’s now 43 and too old for the role. Here he’s Anna’s dispassionate, regimented husband, Karenin. He does a fine job showing us Karenin’s distance, as well as his complete puzzlement at Anna’s portrayal.

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Jude Law as Karenin

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is perhaps the prettiest Vronsky I’ve ever seen on film, and is probably the closest to what Vronsky is supposed to be: young, dazzling, entitled, with the world as his oyster. Alicia Vikander is luminous as the sweet, innocent Kitty; and Domhnall Gleason (fast becoming my favorite character actor) pulls off Levin’s seriousness without turning him into the utter bore I saw in him all those years ago. Knightly’s costar in P&P as Mr. Darcy, Matthew Macfadyen, plays Anna’s morally challenged brother Steva with apparent glee.

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Vronsky
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Domhnall Gleason as Levin
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Alicia Vikander as Kitty

All in all, a young and glittering cast, gorgeous costumes (though perhaps not historically accurate), and a stirring soundtrack won me over despite my initial misgivings. If you’re a passionate fan of Anna Karenina, you owe it to yourself to watch this film and give it a chance. It might even be my new favorite, beating out the 1997 version with the Bean. Okay, let’s not get crazy!

 

 

 

Black Rabbit Hall

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Our book club just read Black Rabbit Hall, by Eve Chase. This page-turner chronicles the troubles of the Alton family in 1968-69 Cornwall. Fifteen year old twins Toby and Amber, 5 year old Barney, and 3 year old Kitty leave London for the summer holiday to their family estate of Pencraw, affectionately called Black Rabbit Hall for the black rabbits that appear on the lawn at dusk.

The Altons are a happy family, until their loving, free-spirited American mother is thrown from a horse while searching for Barney during a storm. Her tragic death begins the unraveling of the family, as their grieving father Hugo emotionally disconnects, Barney refuses to talk about the accident and is never quite the same, and Toby becomes increasingly wild and paranoid. It’s left to Amber to hold the family together; but her fortitude is tested when her father remarries the cold and rigid Caroline Shawcross.

Amber’s point of view is alternated with that of Lorna, a young woman looking for a wedding venue, in the present day. She is irresistibly drawn to Black Rabbit Hall, but puzzled at its hold over her. She meets Mrs. Alton-now an old woman, alone in the house with only her housekeeper, a young woman named Endellion, for company.

Lorna remembers photos of her and her mother in front of the drive to Black Rabbit Hall when she was a child, and is determined to discover her connection to the old, crumbling estate-even if it means jeopardizing her relationship to her fiance, Jon.

The book is full of secrets and revelations, twists and turns that kept me guessing and obsessed; I haven’t been this enthralled with a book since The Girl On The Train. If you’re looking for an entertaining, fully satisfying read to keep you up into the wee hours, take a trip to mysterious Black Rabbit Hall.

May is Short Story Month

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Lilacs and short stories in May.

May is short story month, so I’ve put together a list of my five favorites. I’ve read many wonderful short stories, but these are all particularly memorable for one reason or another (in chronological order of publication):

  1. The Story of an Hour, by Kate Chopin (1897). I love Chopin’s short stories (as well as her novel The Awakening), and this one about a woman who deals with her husband’s sudden death has stuck with me over the years.
  2. The Ice Palace, by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1920). This story about a southern girl engaged to a northern “Yankee” highlights the differences between the two cultures.
  3. A Clean, Well Lighted Place, by Ernest Hemingway (1933). I remember reading this story in my youth, and just like the young waiter in the story, I didn’t understand it, really. Now, I’m more like the older waiter, who better understands the old man’s need for a clean, well lighted place to bring order out of nothingness.
  4. All Summer in a Day, by Ray Bradbury (1954). In this story, it’s always raining on Venus, but every seven years the sun comes out for just two hours. How this scenario plays out with the children living on the planet is a story I’ve never been able to forget.
  5. The Raft, by Stephen King (1982). I’ve always enjoyed Stephen King’s short stories more than his novels; his most recent collection, Full Dark No Stars, is brilliant. But it’s this older story, about a group of teens who swim out to a raft and are terrorized by a monstrous patch of sludge, that will haunt me forever!

 

What are your favorite short stories? Leave a comment and we’ll talk about it!

 

 

A Bridge and a Grieving Ghost

Continuing my theme this week of the local history of my hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts, I offer a ghost story.

In my last post, I wrote of a local poet who inspired a tower to be built on a hill overlooking the town. This time, the story involves a bridge and the ghost who is purported to haunt it.

On February 29, 1704, 300 warriors from the French Army and their allies from the Abenaki and Mohawk tribes attacked the sleepy village of Deerfield and slaughtered 56 residents. One hundred and twelve people were captured and forced to make the journey north to Canada in the freezing winter cold.

Among those captured were the reverend John Williams, five of his seven children (the two youngest having been killed in the attack), and his wife, Eunice. Eunice had just given birth days earlier to the infant child that had been killed, and was in no shape to make the arduous trek north. While crossing the Green River, she collapsed; the warriors were instructed to strike down those who could not keep up, and she was killed by a tomahawk not far from her horrified family.

Eventually, John and 4 of the 5 children reunited and returned to the area, but the youngest girl, Eunice (named after her mother) chose to stay with the natives. This child-renamed Marguerite Kanenstenhawi, married a native man and spent the rest of her life with the tribe. She was converted to Catholicism and abandoned her English language. Even after repeated attempts by her father and brothers to convince her to come back home, she refused.

The Eunice Williams Covered bridge spans the Green River in Greenfield, not far from where she was killed. Some say she haunts the bridge as a result of her violent death. Others say she is haunted by the fate of her daughter, her namesake, who abandoned her family and Puritan faith for the natives that so savagely attacked her family and town.

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This is a beautiful photo of the bridge in autumn. It was destroyed by the flooding of Hurricane Irene in 2011, and has since been rebuilt. Photo by John Burk.

Some claim to have seen Eunice near the waters under the bridge, or floating around the dam nearby. Legend holds that if you drive onto the bridge on a clear, moonless night and honk your horn once, she’ll appear to you. I’ve never done this. I don’t think I want to. I’ve happily walked or biked over the bridge during daylight hours, but I’m not too keen on calling up the ghost of the murdered Eunice. What can I say? I’m a coward.

I remember when I was a kid I read “The Boy Captive of Old Deerfield,” by Mary P. Wells Smith, written in 1904. It tells the story of the Deerfield Massacre and the trek to Canada from Stephen Williams’ point of view, Eunice’s ten year old son. I enjoyed the book, but hadn’t remembered the bit about his sister who stayed on with the natives. I find that story even more fascinating, in a Dances With Wolves kind of way.

At any rate, if you’re passing through Greenfield’s back roads and come to Eunice Williams Covered Bridge (near what we call “The Pumping Station”), stop and enjoy the lovely view of the river; but imagine, if you will, its bloody history and the human tragedy that took place there. If you dare, come back on a moonless night and summon the grieving ghost of Eunice Williams.

Our Local (Almost Famous) Poet

In my hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts, there is a sandstone structure called Poet’s Seat Tower atop a hill overlooking the town. I had climbed this hill and stood on top of the windblown tower many times in my life before I actually understood the origins and history of the structure.

It was built in 1912, replacing a wooden structure erected in 1879.

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Poet’s Seat Tower

The spot was so named because poets have long been inspired by its lovely view, in particular, the Romantic poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. Tuckerman was born in 1821 to a prominent Boston family, studied law at Harvard, but moved to Greenfield while still in his mid-twenties where he devoted himself to the subjects he loved: literature, botany, and astronomy. That same year, 1847, he married Hannah Lucinda Jones. She died ten years later, after giving birth to their third child.

Tuckerman had always been of a reclusive nature, but after Hannah’s death, his solitude intensified. Strangely, he was a contemporary of another reclusive western Massachusetts poet, Emily Dickinson. Though Dickinson seemed to be acquainted with Tuckerman’s brother Edward, who taught botany at Amherst College, and also Tuckerman’s son and his son’s wife, she apparently knew nothing of Tuckerman himself and his poetry.

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Frederick Goddard Tuckerman

 

Though Tuckerman preferred to isolate himself in the country, he did travel abroad, and met Alfred, Lord Tennyson. He communicated with several prominent poets and writers of the time, namely Emerson, Hawthorne, and Longfellow. He published a volume of poetry in 1860. This seemed to be the high point of his career, and afterward returned to his seclusion. He continued to write poetry, but never again exposed himself to the world.

There was a revival of interest in Tuckerman in the early part of the twentieth century, and several of his poems appear in anthologies, but he remains relatively unknown. He died in Greenfield on May 9, 1873. I’m not sure if he’s buried here in Greenfield or was sent back to his family in Boston, but I’d like to investigate and find out.

Tuckerman was a Romantic poet, and so wrote sonnets about nature and the emotions. There’s a mournful, haunting quality to his poems that I find fitting to the reclusive, grieving man and the moody New England landscape. Here’s a sample:

 

An upper chamber in a darkened house,

Where, ere his footsteps reached ripe manhood’s brink,

Terror and anguish were his cup to drink;-

I cannot rid the thought, nor hold it close;

But dimly dream upon that man alone;-

Now though the autumn clouds most softly pass;

The cricket chides beneath the doorstep stone,

And greener than the season grows the grass.

Nor can I drop my lids, nor shade my brows,

But there he stands beside the lifted sash;

And with a swooning of the heart, I think

Where the black shingles slope to meet the boughs,

And-shattered on the roof like smallest snows-

The tiny petals of the mountain ash.

 

Kind of sad and creepy. You can find more of his sonnets here.

My interest in Tuckerman came about because of a writing prompt I came across, calling for a story combining a local landmark and a special (maybe magical) stone. I immediately thought of Poet’s Seat Tower, and learned more about this structure that’s overlooked our town for a hundred years but I knew nothing about. I never did figure out how to link the tower with a special stone (and an almost famous local poet) in  a story, but it’s composting in my brain for now, and maybe I will write it someday. For now, every time I go up to the tower, I’ll imagine Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, sitting upon the lip of the rock, composing his odes to nature, his grief, and the universe itself.

Hometown Homage

I’ve lived in my hometown of Greenfield, Massachusetts, for close to 45 years now. When I was in my teens and early twenties, like most young people I couldn’t wait to leave it. The world was out there, waiting with new experiences, people, and adventures! But somehow, it never happened. I lingered, giving in to my fear of leaving my comfort zone. And then I met my husband, who had children from other relationships here. I became bound to the area. Part of me was relieved. Family obligations let me off the hook of going “out there” and doing something impressive with my life. Instead, I built a life here. For the most part, a good and happy life.

Truth be told, I don’t regret it. Maybe the writer part in me wonders how I can be a writer if I’ve never ventured past my front door (I have gone a bit further than that). The challenge is, how to see home with fresh eyes?

In tenth grade Spanish class, our teacher was a Frenchwoman named Ms. Zewinski. I loved her french accent, her blonde wig, and the circle of orange lip liner around her pale lips. She waxed rhapsodic about our little town of Greenfield, MA. “Oh, eet’s zo beautiful!” We students stared at her, dumbfounded. Or laughed in ridicule. Greenfield, beautiful? It’s just our dumb town. We’d grown up here, and so were blind to it being anything but boring and predictable. We dreamed of “out there”.

Over the years, I did come to see how beautiful it is here in western Massachusetts, and in New England in general. It really hit home when I traveled with a friend to visit her family in Kansas (see, I have been somewhere). I was stunned at the flat, uninteresting landscape (sorry, Kansas, but really). Miles and miles of nothing but flat land, cows, and the occasional gas station. Manhattan, Kansas, where her parents lived, was a tiny, dusty town in the middle of nowhere. The most interesting thing I can remember was a water tower with a big red apple on top (“The Little Apple”, get it?). I couldn’t imagine living there. I had a good time with my friend and her family, but was glad to get back home. On arrival, I was floored by how lush, green, and hilly everything was in comparison. It’s true that only by going away from home can you truly come to appreciate it, even love it.

Lately I’ve been interested in the history of my town, and I’m just starting to dig into it. I’ve learned bits and pieces over the years, and there really are some fascinating people and events that have populated it. In the next two blog posts, I’m going to share two of the more interesting figures in our town’s history, at least in my opinion. Until then, I have a few fun facts and some photos concerning Greenfield:

  • I think the  most famous person from Greenfield may be Penn Jillette, from the comedic magician duo Penn and Teller.
  • Peter Bergeron was a baseball player who played in the Major Leagues with the Montreal Expos in the late 1990’s and early 00’s.
  • Theodore Judah was a civil engineer who played a big part in the first transcontinental railroad. He was born in Bridgeport, CT, but married Anna Pierce, from Greenfield, in 1847. He died of yellow fever while in Panama. Anna brought him back to Greenfield, where he’s buried in the Federal Street Cemetery:

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This is the cemetery Judah is buried in, but not in this crypt. I’ve looked at this crypt all my life, and now I want to know, who IS buried here?

 

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Judah and Anna Pierce were married here, in the St. James Episcopal Church. We have so many lovely churches, I want to photograph them all and make a study of them.

 

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This is a mural in the Veteran’s Mall depicting some local landmarks: the inside of the old Garden Theater, Poet’s Seat Tower, Eunice Williams Bridge. It’s on the side of the Borofsky building. The budding local historian in me wants to know: why is it called the Borofsky building?
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The sign outside of our public library (the Leavitt-Hovey House) about Asher Benjamin.
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The Greenfield Public Library, one of my favorite haunts. The statue commemorates those who served in the Spanish American War.

I took several more pictures as I wandered around my  hometown, trying to see the buildings and landmarks that have always been there with new eyes. People have lived, loved, fought, and died here since 1686. I want to know them, learn their stories, appreciate the contributions they made to this town, my home.