9:00 AM, 57th Street
5:00 PM, 57th Street
The Medium is the Message
MONDAY: BREAKFAST AT BROOKTON’S
Monday morning meant breakfast at Brookton’s Market. No need to drive. The Rosebarb’s alerted us to a shortcut running through the woods not far from the farm. A steep downward trek on a one-lane incline (so steep, it’s closed in winter) brought us just yards away from Brookton’s.
As soon as we walked inside we fell in love with Brookton’s. We ordered two scrambled eggs sandwiches with Pepperjack cheese on onion bagels. We sat at a small table up front. Willie Nelson’s voice, relaxing and heartfelt, singing acoustic covers of Kris Kristofferson songs, streamed out of a “boom box” on the counter.
The nostalgia-inducing songs provided an easy segue into conversation with a woman stocking shelves. She seemed not old enough to know Kristofferson’s songs. But she said loved them and hummed along to the classic “Sunday Morning Coming Down.”
Paintings by local artists hung on the walls. If I’d had an extra $250, I would have purchased the painting in the black frame, a glowing river snaking through a surreal forest.
We watched local people come and go. An electrician setting out on the road for work left with coffee and an egg sandwich; a lady farmer, plaited silvery hair hanging down her back, dressed in baggy jeans, fisherman knit sweater and handmade Tyrolean-style hat that rose to a point on top of her head. Helping herself to donut from a tray by the coffee carafes, she was tickled to discover the donut was free (fresh baked, yesterday).
When Mr. NinthHouse asked for a photo of the two women working behind the counter, the cook said, “Sure, so long as you don’t use a flash. I don’t like those bright lights.” Her younger assistant added, “Watch, this’ll probably wind up on a blog!”
Directly across the road from Brookton’s was this picturesque stream. We crossed the road to take in the view.
An elderly resident who spotted us taking photos walked over. Six miles down that way, she told us, pointing, we would find the source of the creek. She suggested we hike to it. When we told her where we were from, she said she didn’t think she would ever visit NYC. She had no reason to and, anyway, it might be just too much for her.
(Ditto the hike, for us, without the proper shoes. Later on, we’d get in the car and drive to the mouth of the river).
And when we did, this is what we would see tacked to a shed:
Leaving the creek behind, we took a leisurely stroll back to Rosebarb Farm. Our last full day, we decided, would be all about the farm. Looking down at our feet, we saw dozens of fuzzy black and copper colored caterpillars inching their way all over the empty road.
Ultimately, the Wooly Bear metamorphoses into a Tiger Moth:
Man-made can be wonderful, too. For instance, I’ve read that a boater can depart from Ithaca and cruise the Erie Canal system all the way to New York City and as far as the Atlantic Ocean. Going west, the canal leads boaters into the Great Lakes, Mississippi River and as far as the Gulf of Mexico.
As we neared the farm, the horses were out grazing near the barn. We trekked up the hill through the high grass to greet them.
The biggest, most massive horse (a Quarter horse) I have ever seen, just a sweetheart of an animal:
And Mick’s pals, Grace and Brinny:
I knew enough to pet them on the soft part right above their nostrils because I recently learned that watching a movie!
We also said, “Hey,” to the turkeys. Turkeys are so social and friendly. Too dumb to come out of the rain is what I’ve always heard about turkeys. Alert and jovial, they don’t seem to fit that description at all.
Heading for the chicken coop, I spotted this bird flying by:
I didn’t know it’s name. However, a short time after, while walking with Rita toward the cottage, I would see a painted image of that very same bird on the Rosebarb’s mailbox. I would say, “I just saw that bird. Do you know its name?” And Rita would answer, “It’s a Nuthatch!” excited for me that I saw a live one fly by.
At 3:00 p.m. the farrier arrived to trim the horses hooves. We were invited to watch!
Basically, it’s a horse pedicure. A hoof, as it was explained to us by Don Barber (Mr. Rosebarb Farm), is essentially a very large toenail. To groom the hoof, the farrier grabs the horse’s leg, gets into a semi-squat and holds the hoof securely between his shins. It is arduous work. With the utmost care, he gouges out the area beneath the hoof. Once that is done, he uses a trimmer (a large set of pliers, but sharp) and cuts away the edge of the hoof. Much like cutting the nails of a pet dog, if you’ve ever done that, it must be done right. If you cut too deep, it causes bleeding and hurts the animal.
It was fascinating to observe. Much like stepping back in time, when you realize trimming hooves been done this way for ages. Horse “shoes” are needed, I learned, only if the horse will be spending time on man-made surfaces, like concrete and asphalt, which can prove injurious to their hooves.
In keeping with the barter system much in evidence in this farm country, the farrier was paid for his work in bales of hay (his family has a horse farm), which was grown and harvested on Rosebarb Farm.
Our last evening was spent with one more run to Brookton’s Market to bring back something for dinner. With regret, we would be leaving for home the next morning — to return to jobs awaiting us and our so-called “real life.” We will miss Rosebarb Farm.
I’d like give to a nod to N.Y. Governor Andy Cuomo, whose TV ads extolling the beauty of upstate New York provided the initial spark for us to make a trip north.
We also delighted in what we are convinced was Governor Cuomo’s brainstorm, to “re-brand,” if you will, the “rest stops” on the New York State thruways by updating the signs:
And another nod must go to the exceedingly accomplished and ever so modest, Don Barber (Mr. Rosebarb Farm). I do hope the best man HAS won this election…
…and that he will be continue his thus far successful, untiring efforts to prevent FRACKING by keeping gas and oil companies vultures out of Tompkins County. The unspoiled beauty and tranquility of upstate New York must be preserved.
If it is not, we have too much to lose. As city dwellers, we know very well where our drinking water comes from. Upstate New York is our wellspring.
SUNDAY — ROSEBARB FARM, Caroline, New York
What a joy to finally settle in to our homey cottage.
Downstairs: living room/small kitchen/sofa (pullout)/futon/small table and chairs/windows galore/bathroom.
Upstairs: bedroom/bathroom/another sofa/3 walls with windows and views.
Beneath a large picture window in the bedroom, with a panoramic view of grassy fields, rolling hills and the sunrise every morning, was a vintage wood desk. What a perfect spot to write.
A delicious breakfast prepared by our hosts, Rita and Don (the Rosenberg and Barber of “Rosebarb” Farm), in the protected warmth of their delightfully cluttered country kitchen, jumpstarted our first day at the farm. We sat around a large island in the center of the kitchen chatting and drinking our coffee and tea as Rita busily placed before us a bowl of fresh-picked fruit (Don had gotten up early — well, he always gets up early; they both do — to pick raspberries for the fruit medley); pumpkin muffins, made by Rita from scratch; and a tasty baked egg dish, courtesy of Don — and the chickens, of course.
The Rosebarb’s massive antique, gun-metal gray iron wood stove was a marvel. Stoked by Don, and in which Rita baked the delectable butternut-molasses casserole — the surprise dish that capped off our wonderful meal — the stove’s radiating heat kept us warm the chilly morning air.
Equally, the friendliness and warmth of Rita and Don, their interesting life stories, which they shared freely, made for continual lively conversation. They are two of the nicest people on you’d ever want to meet.
You might be wondering what brought us up to the Ithaca, NY area in the first place. Well, we’ve always wanted to eat at the famous Moosewood Restaurant — which is in downtown Ithaca.
Shortly after our arrival, we picked up the keys from Rita (they were on their way to see a Cornell hockey game), we dropped off our suitcase and headed into downtown Ithaca.
Not long ago, I’d come across an article on the Moosewood in a “new age” publication. Often, it is the only place you will find a feature article on a primarily vegetarian restaurant (which also happens to serve a daily fish special — perfectly okay with me). Reading the article, I thought it would be fun to build our vacation around the Moosewood.
We didn’t want to wall ourselves up in an apartment-style hotel in Ithaca. Googling, I discovered several “cottage” rentals online on the outskirts of Ithaca (one was actually a yurt — intriguing, but, no thank you — I like a nice bathroom). And then, Rosebarb Farm popped up on the iPad.
I searched a bit longer, but kept coming back to Rosebarb Farm. The planets were most definitely in alignment. The only weekend available in October on Rosebarb’s reservations calendar was very same extended weekend we’d set aside for our vacation. The rest of October at Rosebarb Farm was totally booked. We lucked out.
Following up a sightseeing tip from Rita and Don, our first stop after breakfast was the Farmer’s Market. Outdoors, under the protective covering of a peaked wood canopy, a vast array of vendors were selling fresh from the farm vegetables, eggs, baked goods, artisan products and so much more. All LOCALLY made. Not local, as in N.Y. State local – but local, as in the next -town-over local.
Our next stop was Taughannock Falls near lake Cayuga. Talk about breathtaking:
We gazed for a long time at this mesmerizing waterfall.
Our next adventure was a drive up Rte. 153, which runs alongside the Lake Cayuga, east of Rte. 89. On the way, we passed by lovely Sunrise Hill Vineyard:
We followed the river up to Trumansburg, where we dropped in at the local T-Burg Shur Save supermarket to use the facilities (to which we were kindly directed by a cashier) and pick up a bottle of water. When I first entered the store, I noticed a sign that said: THANK YOU FOR NOT SMOKING WHILE SHOPPING
People actually smoke while pushing their shopping carts around a supermarket? LOL
We looped back and headed into downtown Ithaca to have lunch. Ithaca is a college town with all the smarts and liveliness you’d expect to encounter in the vicinity of Cornell University. We stopped for a “DeWitt Melt” sandwich in the Ithaca Bakery. Lots of laptops on tables, heads swathed in beanies, tattooed people and coffee mugs filled to the brim.
We browsed around the village for a while. Ithaca is smallish and charming with a wealth of lovely Victorian homes. We stopped at Buffalo Street Books, the local independent bookshop located in the DeWitt Mall (also home of The Moosewood). The DeWitt Mall, the eponymous “Melt,” as well as a park and a school also have incorporated DeWitt into their name, in honor of the town’s founder, Simeon DeWitt.
The slogan on the bookstore’s website is: “Hundreds of Owners. Thousands of Books. One great bookstore.” The store stocks dozens of local authors (in keeping it “local,” like most Ithacans) and is cooperatively owned and operated with hundreds of owners in the Ithaca community and beyond. I could not leave such a worthy establishment without buying something. So I picked up T.C. Boyle’s latest, San Miguel.
On the way back to the parking garage, we passed this sign on the sidewalk (these signs are ubiquitous downtown):
Back in the car, we headed to the campus of Cornell University, perched high on a small mountain overlooking downtown. Following the suggested must-sees of Rita and Don, on our list were:
1) the Johnson Museum ofArt, adjacent to Cornell’s “Arts Quad”:
…with its eclectic collection of Asian art and spectacular views of the Ithaca valley:
and the visually stunning 2) Sage Chapel:
Definitely worth seeing. Cornell’s campus is just beautiful. My boss attended Cornell. Lucky guy.
I look forward to returning in Spring to visit Cornell’s botanical garden, waterfall (yes, they have their own) and ornithology center. Since it was Sunday, it was easy to park on campus (although limited visitor parking is available on site during the week).
The clouds had rolled in and it was starting to rain. We were getting hungry. Rather than return to The Moosewood (and thereby wear out the newness of its appeal), we decided to head back downtown for a veggie burrito in a Mexican place. Okay, not as good Los Angeles Mexican (the best Mexican food anywhere, much better then New York), but we were hungry and the burrito fit the bill.
Stay tuned for Day 3: Soaking up the Local Color….
Part road trip, part chill out on a farm, at long last we were on vacation.
After a relatively painless exit from NYC (including the initial escape over the Triboro Bridge and traverse through the South Bronx), we reached Suffern in good time, segued to Route 17 and exited at Bethel, NY.
Bethel…? I said to myself. Bethel….why is the name so familiar? Hunger (and curiosity) lured us into the parking lot of Janet Planet’s Kozmic Kitchen. Then, I remembered. The Woodstock festival was actually held in Bethel, NY. Not in Woodstock. Rendering it, to my mind, tourist-free and pure.
“Did you hang out at the mall?” she said, dipping her question in irony.
Eating veggie burgers to the tunes of Janis Joplin, Canned Heat and Santana, brought us back. It was fun. Janet, who is also the chef, suggested we take Route 97 to Route 17B, instead of Route 17, on our way up to outskirts of Ithaca, for an off-the-beaten-track, unspoiled adventure. Happily, we took her advice.
Before saying goodbye, Mr. Ninth House took the photo of Janet & Co., above. Outside, we paused to check out the lawn sculpture in back of the restaurant.
We headed for scenic route 17B. Before we had landed on on Janet’s Planet, we passed through many little towns. One example is Bloomingburg, a seemingly peaceable village, landscaped with Victorian homes and green lawns. But there were some weird roadside protestors, all middle-aged females, waving signs as we drove through. “Hi y’all Kiryas Denzll” or No sh’tetls in the ‘Burg,” read the signs. Not far from Bloomingburg is Kiryas Joel, a hamlet I had read about in the newspaper, which is exclusively inhabited by Hasidic jews.
C’mon, Bloomingburg. That’s not very nice.
In Monticello, another town we detoured through — which is a few souls minus a ghost town — a shopping mall, circa 1969, named for the eponymous space mission, stood rusted, derelict and abandoned. We ascertained its namesake from two spindly “rockets” — listing warily from their plumb line, aiming tentatively skyward and shedding paint like dandruff. We found them planted side by side in an empty and forgotten section of the lot.
Down on Main St., businesses and shops in Monticello were either: 1) closed because it was Saturday (Heimish Bakery and Glatt Air Technologies, to name two that were not boarded up) ; or 2) boarded up. With the exception of a single bagel store with a shiny-ish new sign, which was both neither boarded up nor closed nor crowded. Apollo, we have a problem…
We didn’t stick around there long. It was creepy. We headed back to Route 97 toward Route 17B. ”Uh oh,” was our reaction when a John Deere combine (I’m guessing that’s what this vehicle is) pulled onto the road ahead of us.
It was the first real “Farm” moment of our vacation retreat. We chilled out and slowed our pace. After all, we could have been back in the city trailing behind an MTA bus or, worse, standing face to face with a coughing passenger on a packed F train. But, we weren’t. We were upstate New York!
The sky overcast and autumn leaves ablaze, we continued on through the towns of Hancock and Callicoon, which overlooked Kenosha Lake.
Shortly after we reached Route 67, we arrived in a place called Long Eddy. Route 67 is a snaky, unpaved, narrow road that twists and turns alongside the Delaware River, cutting through woods and grassy fields. This lovely, out of the way road brought us directly to Kellams Bridge. A bridge the width of one car. We climbed out of the car, stood on the bridge and gazed out over the river.
It was so quiet.
We drove over Kellams Bridge and exited onto Bridge Rd. 40, made a U-turn and drove back over the bridge again. In the village of Long Eddy, we encountered this quaint little cemetery.
It began to rain. Great cemetery weather! But it was nearly 5:00 PM. We couldn’t linger. We had promised our hosts, Rita and Don (the Rosenberg and Barber of Rosebarb Farm), we would arrive by 5:30 PM to pick up the keys to our rental cottage. They had tickets to a hockey game at Cornell University and had to leave at 5:30 PM.
We motored on. But then we had to stop again because an authentic “Muffler Man” was peeking/peaking over the bushes alongside of the road:
We love Muffler Men.
Picking up our speed once again, we soon reached Landon Road, which would lead us to Rosebarb Farm. But then the Wat Lao Samakhitham Inc. Buddhist Temple (2040 Rt. 11) came into view. Curiosity was killing us. Mr. Ninth House wanted to stop. We squelched the urge and moved on. By this time, it was pouring rain. We needed to get to the farm. Besides, I’m leery of any religious temple with INC. in it’s name.
At 5:20 PM, we arrived at the beautiful, peaceful, scenic refuge that is Rosebarb Farm in Caroline, New York. Our retreat had officially begun.
Stay tuned for Day 2: SUNDAY at Rosebarb Farm…
Exactly, Mr. Rooster.
So we got in the car on Saturday morning and headed north to Connecticut. One too many ambulance sirens, blaring car stereos, fire truck horns, car alarms, bleeping police cars, idling bus engines and we just had to get away. Put our feet on some dirt and grass, instead of concrete.
Up we went to visit dear friends J & R. Sat around their kitchen table watching the bees invade the hummingbird feeder through the kitchen window. Noshed on McCoun apples, cheese, lemon scones, muffins, the ripest strawberries I’ve tasted since August. Drank coffee and petted Libby, the best dog in the world.
And just like that, all the planets fell into alignment.
With the oranges, reds and yellows intensifying under the diffused light of an overcast sky, a cool breeze rustling the leaves, lush green grass blanketing the meadows, the smell of cut wood and fresh, fresh air, we piled into the car and drove ourselves to The Scoop Barnyard.
Barns everywhere, scattered along the roadsides. Originally-built, listing to one side, missing-door barns. Also in evidence: restored barns, chicken coops, hay bales, grazing horses and goats. Sheep on the meadow. Cows in the barn.
First, we went inside The Scoop’s cafe/shop for a taste of homemade ice cream. Homemade ice cream atop a square of pumpkin brownie. Unbelievably good.
Afterwards, we walked around the grounds to pet some animals.
This was a great animal therapy experience. I would like to own a “therapy” dwarf pony of my own. We even saw a baby Corgi. It was so small! It barked incessantly at the dwarf pony.
No wonder signs are posted all over the grounds say: NO DOGS
It was hard, after saturating ourselves in nature, to return to the city. On the ride home, Mr. NinthHouse, who lived in CT for many years, wondered why a lot of the towns in CT have the “bury” attached to their names — Waterbury, Simsbury, etc. I didn’t know, so I looked that up when I got home.
A few Connecticut facts:
CT state was founded in the early 1600s. The state’s name originated from the Indian word “Quinnehtukqut” (it means “beside the long tidal river”). Cool.
“New Haven” was named because it is located on the coast, an ideal place for trade between Boston and New Amsterdam; thus, the word “haven.”
“Bury” is derived from the English, “borough,” what the English call (or called) a town.
I’ve always regarded CT as a rather conservative state. Well, compared to New York, that is. However, this road sign seems a bit radical for a “conservative” state:
Big Bird was sitting on my favorite lunchtime-reading bench the other day so I had to keep walking.
I didn’t want to sit down next to him. I thought: What if Big Bird starts talking to me.
You never know what kind of lunatic might be residing inside those feathers.
Instead, I circled around the bend to my second favorite bench. Farther away from the Bird — and the hordes of people clogging other parts of the park.
The view from my second favorite bench is the waterfall:
So it was on my second favorite bench that I finished the novel, Orkney by Amy Sackville, a work of such haunting, atmospheric, literary beauty that I continued thinking about it long after I had turned the final page (or “thumbed” the final e-page). The writing and the story left me mesmerized.
Ostensibly, the novel is about a 60-something professor of literature, taking his sabbatical with the intention of working on his book of enchantment narratives, who falls in love with and marries his intellectually precocious 20-something student. She asks him to take her to the sea for their honeymoon. Thinking himself the luckiest man on earth, he will, of course, do anything for her. He leases a small cottage on Orkney. The two of them nestle into its protective warmth, seemingly, at first, content to sit and watch the inclement weather through their window. Yet, gradually, his mysterious young wife is driven to spend less and less time with him and more time on the cold, misty beach gazing longingly into the turbulent sea.
In the course of my reading, I learned exactly what a “selkie” was (a word which, theretofore, I’d recognized only as the name of an English folk singing group from the 1960s). A selkie (or silkie) is a mythical creature that looks like a seal in water but assumes human form on land…
If that doesn’t whet your appetite to pick up this novel, have a listen to the intro to “Song of the Silkie” by the Scottish folk group, The Corries:
Finally, here are a few lovely writing samples from Sackville’s novel, vis a vis the setting:
“…The wide-winged grey-white birds all about us, soaring over, rising on the air and rounding, crying and dipping for a flash of silver, the bright, crisp sunshine, the shush of the waves, and our blanket between us and the scoured grass.”
“…The sea-mist was thickening, it was getting dark, and cold with the dampness; the masked sun was already setting, casting a squeamish, greenish light through the pewter clouds.”
“…An overcast, lowering sky this morning; the clouds have clotted through the night. Something gathering, brooding, out on the sea. A darkness spreading. The edges of my wife blue against the sky.”
The isles of Scotland (in particular, the Orkneys and the Hebrides) have held me in their thrall for a very long time. As far back as high school, when I listened regularly to the music of singer/songwriter Donovan.
One song of his, Isle of Islay (in the Hebrides), is a favorite of mine. In my imagination, it perfectly captures the essence of the place:
As it happens, Donovan named his daughter, actress Iona Skye, after two isles in the Hebrides. Lucky her!
On the map below, the Orkneys are colored “red” above the northern coast of Scotland, between the Atlantic Ocean and North Sea. The Hebrides are located midway down the west coast, slightly south of the one-short and one-long blue “dashes” of lake dividing the mainland.
It is the remote natural beauty of the Scottish isles that captures my fancy. Reading Sackville’s novel, I was right THERE with her characters. I got to take the much longed-for vacation I’ve dreamed about.
I would wager, if you loved the John Sayles’ film, The Secret of Roan Inish, as I did, you will likely love this novel.
I am now looking forward to reading Sackville’s first novel, The Still Point. She is a writer I intend to follow. A new literary discovery is just so exciting.
Alas, on my way back to work, I spotted a forlorn-looking Big Bird on a gray brick road to nowhere, his break time over and back on the job.
Now that everything is quiet and relatively stress free on the Day Job front and the DODO BIRD coworker of mine is located a football field length away from me, at lunchtime I am throughly comfortable sitting at my desk and catching up on my reading.
That is, until this sticky and disgusting heatwave grinds to a halt. With fall just around the corner (hurray!!), and today being the first day of September, I am so much looking forward to resuming reading in Central Park:
Or at Lincoln Center Plaza, below (and partaking of the special seating seemingly designed for introverts and New Yorkers desperately in need of a little personal space):
Currently, I’m reading 3 books at once, all on my iPhone with the Kindle app. Not unusual for me to read several books at once when the subject matter is non-fiction. The option of choosing to read what suits my present mood pleases me the most.
My head is always hungry. I try to feed it daily.
Novels hook me in a different and deeper way than non-fiction. Fiction reading for me is a one-book-at-at-a-time experience. And when a story is that good, I bury myself in it.
I’m finishing up Quiet – the power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking” by Susan Cain. I’m understanding quite a bit about myself from this book and from others who share a temperament similar to mine. Introverts, it seems, have a heightened sensitivity to their environment. I’ve learned that introverts possess a more reactive, excitable amygdala — which is the fight or flight response center of the brain. The emotions.
According to Cain, studies show that unfamiliar, new and stimulating experiences in the environment increase the introvert’s: 1) heart rate; 2) dilation of the eyes; 3) tightening of the vocal cords; and 4) the production of cortisol (stress hormone) in their saliva. Incredible stuff.
Franz Kafka, a purported introvert, had a temperament that “couldn’t bear to be near even his adoring fiancee while he worked.”
These are Kafka’s words on the subject of solitude and its importance during the creative process (excerpted from the book):
“You once said that you would like to sit beside me while I write. Listen, in that case I could not write at all. For writing means revealing oneself to excess; that utmost of self-revelation and surrender, in which a human being, when involved with others, would feel he was losing himself, and from which, therefore, he will always shrink as long as he is in his right mind.
…That is why one can never be alone enough when one writes, why there can never be enough silence around one when one writes, why even night is not night enough.”
I can relate, Franz.
I’m also finishing up: “Why Birds Sing: A Journey Into the Mystery of Bird Song” by David Rothenberg. Admittedly, I’ve been skipping passages here and there that don’t interest me, but have gleaned a lot from this book. The following is from a section on songbirds:
“…the ability to create music happens on the same side of the brain that creates language, but the ability to listen to and love it is retained somewhere else.”
Which might suggest that the appreciation of music uses the right side of the brain while making music requires the left.
From my own personal experience, I’ve noticed that words do flow from me more easily if I have been keeping up with my fiddle practice. Words don’t flow as easily if I haven’t plinked the piano in a while.
Of course, words flow best of all if you write every day. But listening to music you love (which I do most days) has no real bearing on the creation of language — but it does make me feel wonderful. And it’s good for my amygdala!
The third book I’m reading is “Joseph Anton: A Memoir” by Salman Rushdie.
Joseph Anton is the pseudonym used by Rushdie when the Ayatollah Khomeini issued the fatwa on him after “The Satanic Verses” was published back in 1988 (I can’t believe it was that long ago). The fatwa forced him into hiding.
His ordeal of constantly having to move to different dwellings; threats on his life and the lives of his family; the support vs. non-support of the writing community; bombing of bookstores by the zealots; abandonment of him by publishers; the courage of other publishers to persevere in spite of the threats; the pressure on Rushdie to “apologize” to the Ayatollah (he would not apologize for being innocent of trumped up charges).
The fact that his troubles began when an irresponsible media individual issued a manufactured, incendiary comment regarding his book, something to the effect of: “oh, there are certain people that are going to be very upset by this book” designed to rile up the fanatics (I wish I could remember who Rushdie cited, but I don’t) — based on nothing that was true. Based on probably not even reading the book. Those (with no minds of their own) who decreed the fatwa against Rushdie had latched onto that media person’s throwaway comment and everything snowballed from there.
Interwoven throughout the memoir is the backstory of Rushdie’s educational path (though not a religious person by any common standards, Rushdie is a religious scholar in his own right ). In The S.V. he explores the plight of his (Pakistani) countrymen, the disorientation of the immigrants, their Islamic faith and difficulty in assimilating themselves and it in Britain. He also writes about his own personal life, which I knew little of before reading this book. How he struggled with his conscience over the ethics and integrity of his writing, which he puts forth succinctly by quoting Yeats:
“The intellect of man is forced to choose / Perfection of the life or of the work.”
That said, I confess that I tried reading his novel Midnight’s Children years ago but wound up abandoning it midway. For me, it was a style issue. I found the writing too dense. Too much like a fable. Excessively cluttered with details. To my taste, anyway. The book is 670+ pages. I knew I would never make it to the end, but not because of the length. Because of the style.
His non-fiction writing I’m finding more readable. Still, I detect an air of entitlement in Rushdie’s personality, which makes me uncomfortable. The British government, and, hence, the British police force, protected him for years, providing personal body guards; specially assigned cars to move him to new ground whenever danger threatened — which was quite often; transportation for his wife and child; picked his child up from school and more…all so he could remain living in London.
Rushdie could have hidden away safely in Scotland, for example, and relocated near the coast (residences were offered to him) — but, as he is a self-proclaimed urbanite, he declined the offers. He insisted on remaining in London. At the cost of the British people, which, eventually, caused resentment.
You can’t blame them. Doesn’t Britain has enough on their plate having to support the royal family?
Anyway, I’m about half way through the book. I’m beginning to doubt — perhaps because I already know Rushdie has made it through the fatwa alive and am questioning if I care to read about more of his real estate problems — if I will make through to the end of the book.
Besides, I am missing fiction. When (and if) I finish Joseph Anton, next on my list is: Orkney by Amy Sackville. I’ve read the first 57 pages for free on Amazon’s “LOOK INSIDE” feature. I’d like to read the rest of it.
I’m also curious about reading the memoir: Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill (a writer who is in her 90′s).
So many books. My head will never starve!
Date of Incident: August 6, 2013
Place of Incident: The Worst Section of the Office
The Principles: The DODO BIRD and the CANARY
Extras: The RED HEN; (Florence) NIGHTINGALE
ACT ONE / SCENE ONE:
The Actors: (Due to a scheduling conflict, avians of similar stripe from Central Casting play the DODO BIRD, CANARY and RED HEN in this scene).
The DODO BIRD, CANARY and RED HEN, encaged and frustrated, fall victim to the DODO’s foul mood. A dark cloud hovers above, threatening rain.
The CANARY asks the DODO BIRD about the whereabouts of a file. The DODO BIRD withholds information from the CANARY. The CANARY takes exception.
The DODO BIRD flies from her office chair and squawks loudly and directly in the beak of the CANARY. Feathers rustle violently.
The wary RED HEN shrinks to the sidelines, lamely hopping to and fro, unable to intervene, favoring as she is wont to do, her missing left foot.
The DODO BIRD flaps her leaden wings and storms out of the confined area of the office, heading down the hall. The length of her extinction has robbed the DODO BIRD of all empathy. She will not engage.
The CANARY flees to the bird bath in the upper regions of the company to drink from the cool waters and try to calm down.
ACT ONE / SCENE TWO:
THE CANARY SINGS
(Florence) NIGHTINGALE, head of HR, invites the CANARY into her office. She latches the door.
The CANARY’s voice, missing for years, returns. Hers is a plaintive lament. A tune not sung during her the 3 years of imprisonment with the DODO BIRD and the RED HEN.
(Florence) NIGHTINGALE, a likeminded songbird with abundant EQ, listens quietly from her perch in the fragrant woodland of her office.
The CANARY breaks into fully-fledged singing.
ACT ONE / SCENE THREE:
(Florence) NIGHTINGALE wants to help the CANARY. Oh, rejoice!
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
In ancient days by emperor and clown:
- from Ode to the Nightingale by John Keats
(Florence) NIGHTINGALE spreads her wings and soars above the office, as is her right.
She works her magic. She arranges to release the CANARY from her cruel and unjust confinement with the DODO BIRD.
(Honoring her request for anonymity, in this scene, the part of the CANARY is played by the COCKATOO)
On August 7th, the CANARY is released from prison. Released into the vast open field on the far side of the office, light years away from the unrelenting wrath of the DODO BIRD.
’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
But being too happy in thine happiness,
That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
In some melodious plot
Of beechen green, and shadows numberless,
Singest of summer in full-throated ease.
- from Ode to the Nightingale by John Keats
The CANARY will be forever grateful to the Lady Bird with the Lamp.