The picture above was taken a few years ago by my wife when we made a visit to the American Writers Museum in Chicago. It’s kinda perfect…a “writer in words” as she described it…even down to the last detail where the name of Walt Whitman meets the top of my chest (his grave sits within walking distance of where we currently live). It popped in my FB memories on the very day I was responding to an interview request and it seemed perfect again to accompany my response.
The result was a virtual sit-down with Author Ivy Ngeow (whose novel Overboard is fantastic, by the way) at her cleverly titled blog Write Ngeow to discuss books, movies, writing, and life.
Above: the only picture of Buddy Bolden (top, second from the left)
Coming Through Slaughter, a piece of poetic historical fiction that attempts to channel the mysterious genius and insanity of jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden, was Michael Ondaatje’s first novel (published in 1976) though one must use the term novel loosely. I had the pleasure of seeing Michael Ondaatje speak at the Free Library of Philadelphia this month, and he touched briefly on Coming Through Slaughter, and how it was a bridge between his earlier poetry and his later more refined (though still free flowing and organic) novels.
Along with Toni Morrison, Michael Ondaatje is probably my favorite living novelist. Coming Through Slaughter shares some stylistic and thematic traits with Morrison’s 1992 masterpiece Jazz (one of my favorite novels of all time). Both attempt to lyrically copy the cadence and spirit of the music in written form, but while Morrison’s work features many voices riffing on each other, Ondaatje’s is a singular voice that goes on a solo performance into madness. Morrison’s novel is slinkier, like forgotten notes from a dozen songs cat-pawing through a moonlit room whispering their spooky secrets. Ondaatje’s type of jazz is more gritty, virulent, like an unending trumpet blast ear-worming into the sweatiest, dirtiest, darkest spaces. Continue reading →
This is what director David Lynch told actor Russ Tamblyn while shooting a key scene for the original Twin Peaks in an attempt to get the right reaction. And it worked. I vividly recalled that scene, and man, Russ Tamblyn was all kinds of spooky looking, obviously thinking about ghosts.
It’s these great little tidbits that make Room to Dream such an enjoyable, and often weird, read for fans of surrealist extraordinaire David Lynch – a man who seems like he must have had a tragic, horrible upbringing to be able to tap into such pain and darkness, yet seemingly didn’t (by any account, his or another). Here is a man who had a Norman Rockwell upbringing only to obsess over the seamy underbelly of the white picket fence world he both loved and railed against.
The semi-autobiography has alternating mirrored chapters (it is eerily its own doppelgänger) about the same events – one from the point of view of David Lynch’s friends, family, and colleagues and then one from his point of view. It is long and rambling and very detailed. Though none of the back-stories on the productions of his films were previously unknown to me, someone who has studied and read about Lynch for decades, I especially enjoyed those walks down memory lane to Philadelphia and the Eraserhead days. The meat of the book is in those delicious little tidbits and the altered views of what happened…Lynch sometimes disagrees with (or doesn’t remember) what the others say happened. Continue reading →
David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon sounds like a rip-snorting true crime epic. The labyrinthine conspiracy that lead to the murders of numerous Osage Indians for their oil headrights and the botched FBI investigation that followed is rife with terror and tragedy, but although Grann attempts a few passages of ponderous heft, most of the book is a dry by-the-numbers procedural that presents far too many names and suspects to keep coherent track of, never allowing us to latch on to any one person, and leaving us lost in the immense scope of the dastardly deeds. The book is slated for a film adaptation to be directed by Martin Scorsese, and if there is anyone who can provide both focus and pep to the story, it’s probably him…though Eric “hit or miss” Roth is to pen screenplay, leaving me to worry the Osage might never get their due.
Well, I guess we were just in a New York State of Mind in 2017.
Trips to the Empire State included:
An extended “writer’s retreat” weekend in Cooperstown in April. It was my wife’s first time in one of my favorite places on earth. It was also our first time doing Air B&B. Despite coming home with a nail in my tire…it was a truly relaxing, lovely trip (and, yes, we both got some much-needed writing done).
A weekend getaway to NYC in June to hit up some old haunts (with a jaunt out to Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Museum).
A family vacation in August renting a house on Lake Seneca (first time in the Finger Lakes region) from which we watched the solar eclipse. The vacation also included day-tripping to Watkins Glen and the Canadian side of Niagara Falls (a long overdue first time there!) The Niagara experience inspired a short-story I’m currently polishing up.
What stories do these wild Colonial Spanish horses (clearly plotting something) and ghost crab (what are you running from?) have to tell?
It’s the last day of 2016, so it’s time for the Spin to look back on travel throughout the year for our annual “Random Places I Have Been” series. Apart from holidays in New Orleans and Montreal (featured in blog posts earlier in the year), 2016 brought me to some unique local events including a Chinese Lantern Festival and the opening of a new Mormon Temple in Philadelphia, as well as family vacations to Massachusetts (where we soaked up some history in Concord and on Walden Pond) and the Outer Banks of North Carolina (where we saw wild horses on the beach, the Wright Brothers’ Memorial and took in as many sunrises, sunsets and lighthouses as the waning summer week would allow).
Work also brought me to Jacksonville, Florida (my first time in Florida!); Auburn, ME (my first time in Maine!); and Greenville, South Carolina (a homecoming of sorts, as I had interviewed for a job there nearly 15 years ago, but this was my first time back, and both the town and I have changed soooo much…for the better). However, the top-secret nature of those trips prevented me from taking any pictures (just kidding…about the top-secret stuff…not about the absence of pictures though).
The Outer Banks (and those wild horses and ghost crabs in particular) also brought about the genesis of a potential new novel, a grand over-the-top Southern gothic melodrama, one that will be a joint effort between my wife and I. If you ever do time in the Outer Banks, definitely sign up for the Corolla Wild Horse Fund guided tour…it was truly inspirational. I already wrote the first chapter shortly after our return home. Now it’s my wife’s turn…not that I’m putting any pressure on her or anything…
Can’t get to France this fall? No worries…get the best of France and North America in one shot in Montreal, and at a fraction of the cost! We enjoyed a long holiday weekend there (Columbus Day for the Yanks, Thanksgiving for the Canucks) and took in some great fall foliage, architecture, art and music. Highlights included:
A Robert Maplethorpe exhibit (Isabella Rossellini, unlike for David Letterman on one famous occasion, was-a-show…or, well, at least a famous portrait of her was) at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which has to be one of the most confusing museums to navigate
A Postmodern Jukebox concert at the Place des Arts where three numbers brought down the house (Casey Abrams’s wacko-bluesy slow-down of Sweet Child O’ Mine, Morgan James soulful tear-inducing rendition of Take Me to Church, and Maiya Sykes sassy cover of Creep)
A hike up Mount Royal for some killer leaf-porn and skyscraping views
Local tip: check out great views of Old Montreal (and the Notre Dame Basilica) from atop Hotel Nelligan’s rooftop bar and terrace (the terrace season closed on Monday). It’s also a totally chill and cozy place to just hang out in the lobby bar/restaurant on a rainy day.
Are you a foodie? Do you believe that fine dining is an art form? Are some of your most treasured memories of being in a certain place at a certain time with your favorite people having that special meal? Well, I would answer a resounding yes to all three questions, and here I share with you some of my most memorable dining experiences eating my way through cities abroad and my own backyard of Philadelphia.
The Best Italian Restaurants…Where You Least Expect Them:
Il Piccolino – Paris, France (8th arrondissment). Ah, Paris, it truly is a movable feast. But who knew, on our last night in the city (in September of 2015) the month before our wedding (we honeymooned before, because that’s how we roll), desperate for something other than the overload of French food we had been eating, and upon the recommendation from the concierge at our hotel (who secured a last minute reservation), we would stumble into the best Italian restaurant we ever experienced? There were probably about ten tables inside (all reserved) and a kitchen in full view (that looked like a kitchen in somebody’s house). From the little old man who provided colorful service, to the fresh veggies they walked across the street to the market to procure as you ordered them, to the hand-made sage ravioli with truffle oil drizzle, to the cutesy-translated deserts “in their honey shirts” – this was quite possibly the best dining experience of our lives.
Zeppoli’s – Collingswood, New Jersey, USA. Less than a mile from our new house is this gem of “a hole in the wall” we indulged in just last week after a multitude of rave reviews from friends and coworkers. There’s maybe a dozen tables inside. Reservations must be made weeks in advance. Upon entering it’s all a bit gentrified-rustic-hipster-is-this-a-dump-or-is-this-chic and unassuming. But WOW! The food (which is Sicilian and far removed from the typical Italian fare you find In NJ-PA-NY) was out of this world and full of flavors my taste buds didn’t know existed. The service was both casual and spot-on where the highly competent wait staff tag-teams the tables and walks around as if they are serving family at their house – never missing a beat or a half-filled water-glass. The chef offers up complimentary after dinner drinks (while the place is otherwise BYOB).
Trattoria Toto da Lucia – Amsterdam, Netherlands (near Vondel Park). Was the food here really that good? I don’t know. It was my last night in the city (in October of 2013), this was right around the corner from my friend’s flat off the Overtoom. The atmosphere was comforting. The wine was flowing. The conversation was bountiful. The food was fresh and made from scratch. I think I had a risotto? It’s a place where I’ll never forget the feeling…of being happy where I was in life at that moment…wrapping up my first trip to Europe, sharing my experiences and my hopes for a travel-filled future with a good friend, and feeling like the world was now my oyster.
“It was the best of times…it was the worst of times.”
New Orleans has always been a city of extremes, and our recent visit proved that in spades. It’s a place of both high-class Southern charm and “9th Ring of Dante’s Hell” style debauchery. For me, it was a second visit to the fabled city that has been both blessed and cursed, and for my wife it was her first time. She was greeted on the first night with a Carnivale parade – who knew the season was so raucous even with Mardi Gras still weeks away? We erroneously stayed on the main parade drag on St. Charles Ave at an otherwise nice hotel where Murphy’s Law ruled the roost. The next evening, my wife was paid a visit by yee olde food poisoning courtesy of a French Quarter Jazz Club that was otherwise lovely (tip: drink, don’t eat, at a jazz club). Meanwhile, I was suffering from a head cold that started a few days earlier during a work trip to Jacksonsville, Florida.
Buuuut…once we survived all that and spread our wings to more relaxed environs (the Garden District, City Park, a tour of some of the grand River Road plantations, and Algiers)…it couldn’t have been nicer. Continue reading →
*** Actual dialogue and “how this all went down” dramatized here for effect.
*** Bonus Points if you correctly guess the source of the literary quote used for the title of this post! (Wedding Guests are Disqualified)
This October, I…we… got hitched…right there in Philadelphia’s Wissahickon Park amidst the autumnal splendor. The weather, the company, the location, the colors…it couldn’t have gone better.
Knowing the fleeting nature of fall’s fickle resplendence, we returned to the scene of the crime the following week (on the last day of October) to enjoy the natural beauty sans the marital hubbub before all the leaves fell and winter set in (alas we live not in a world of Game of Thrones where winter’s coming takes…forever).
For those faithful readers who have keenly noted/questioned the decrease in frequency of film reviews in 2015 (note: I’ve been going to the movies just about the same amount as other years, it’s just too many of the films have failed to inspire me to write…I mean, The Martian? What a snore…next!) or have wondered when the next short story might be coming down the pike (who knows?)…I sincerely thank you…and now you know I’ve been busy writing another kind of story with a co-author, one of the best kind of stories – a living story that has evolved into a novel, that will now be serialized and open-ended. Through these pictures I hope you enjoy the magnificence of Wissahickon Park as much as we have over the past year and a half and hope to continue to do so until we are old and gray. Until I see you again, dear readers…at the movies. Continue reading →