Salem Massachusetts Before and After

Literary Tourist in Salem

This is a before and after story. Before: We’d first visited Salem some years ago primarily to check out The House of Seven Gables. It’s New England’s oldest wooden mansion, and inspired

.

Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1851 novel of the same name. Hawthorne’s cousin, Susanna Ingersol, had inherited the property from her wealthy sea captain father in 1804, the year Hawthorne was born. Later on, Nathaniel used to visit the house frequently between 1845-1849 when he was a surveyor at the nearby Custom House. During this time he wrote his first critically acclaimed and best known work, The Scarlet letter.

We learned all of this, and a lot more, from our tour guide. She was terrific, and made all the difference. I’m kind of ambivalent when it comes to writers’ houses. Many of them can seem fake and contrived. Tourist traps. If, however, the guide is informative, animated, and funny, the experience can be really enjoyable. This, as I say, was the case with ours.

Gift shops are always fun. And this place has a dandy. It sells lots of funky literary stuff, including this tea pot

Salem is also home to an evocative cemetery

where Nathaniel’s ancestor John Hathorne is buried. And yes, Nate changed the spelling of his name to avoid any connection with the old judge, the only one involved in the Salem witch trials who never repented of his actions; plus there are some truly beautiful old ships docked here,

beside which you can

Anyhow, getting back to before: when we were first in Salem I took great pleasure in browsing through the Derby Square Bookstore.

It’s one of the most overstuffed floor-to-ceiling shops I’ve ever visited. Not that the stock was all that interesting. It wasn’t. And even if it was, there’s little chance of being able to pull much out, without taking down the entire stack.

Hard even to see who you were paying your money to.

For presentation alone however: Most memorable!

Now, however, after, when we visited last month, the store is much changed.

Bookshop, Salem

I was pleased to see that the building was still occupied by a bookshop, but it’s nowhere near as remarkable.

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While my companions followed the scarlet brick road (okay line) around town – no double inspired by Hester Prynne’s walk of shame – I decided to do some writing/surfing at this fine local, dog-friendly,

dog motiffed

coffeehouse. The service was spirited

as was the coffee. Lots of electrical outlets, wooden floors, good music, artisan beer – the perfect writers’ hangout. As for the name,

Gulu, Gulu, romantically, “Marie Feldmannova and her husband, Steve Feldmann, named their quirky place for the cafe in Prague where they met.”

For advice on what to do and when to do it – Halloween and witches cast a spell over the place in October – check out Salem Tourism’s website here.

The day didn’t start off with a bang

Literary Tourist in New York: 

The day didn’t start off with a bang. Quite the contrary. The early morning meeting I’d set up had been cancelled. I was stranded down at 5th and 14th with several empty hours yawning in front of me. I decided to stroll up 5th Avenue towards Times Square to see what I could see.

This was a good start

After passing a sign of the times,

I hit Broadway where I re-encountered Rizzoli Bookstore at it’s newish location. It was for years on 57th Street in an elegant six story townhouse, here it continues to specialize in illustrated books on architecture, interior design, fashion, photography, cookery, and the fine and applied arts, as well as literature, and foreign language books; the store also carries European magazines and newspapers and a delightful selection of note cards and stationery.

Further along Broadway I came across this appealing combination: free books and free music

This walk along Broadway reminded me of my first visit to NYC back in the eighties with my friends Pat Grew and Ann Stoner. It was late at night. We had the street to ourselves. Starting right at the bottom of Manhattan we walked all the way up to and past The Lincoln Center. It was hot and Ann’s shoes were bothering her, so she took them off and went barefoot. You should have seen the colour of the soles of her feet by the time we got to our destination. Soot black they were. No idea how long it took to get them back to normal. Months I’m sure.

It began to rain, so I decided to hop on the subway (I’m likin’ some of the art

that decorates the walls) with my convenient three-day pass, and check out one of the places where writers must hang out in New York: the lobby of the Ace Hotel at 20W 29th Street, just off Broadway.

All the seats in the pit were Continue reading “The day didn’t start off with a bang”

It started at the New York Public Library

Literary Tourist in New York: 

We decided to park the car at the hotel, stay overnight in Poughkeepsie N.Y., and take the one hour train ride into Manhattan the next morning; not however, before visiting the Bocuse Restaurant at the American Culinary Institute that evening. It’s recognized as ‘the world’s premier culinary college’, and is beautifully situated in what was once the St. Andrew-on-Hudson Jesuit novitiate in nearby Hyde Park. Though nothing about our meal really stood out, the food was uniformly good, the price was reasonable and the setting, as I say, was very impressive. Well worth a look at the $45 fixed menu.

Next morning the train took a bit of a milk route; it wasn’t full, so we gathered deep breaths, stretched out, and enjoyed the Hudson Valley scenery. The train went right to Grand Central station. This

reminded me a bit of the famed Platform 9 3/4 at King’s Cross Station in London, although here you don’t have to run into a wall to catch the right train.

First stop on the big apple literary itinerary was the New York Public Library at 42nd St and Fifth Avenue.

It’s pretty well impossible to tell Patience

from Fortitude. These are the names Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia gave the library lions back in the 1930s. They were the qualities he felt New Yorkers needed in order to survive the Great Depression.

Inside I was greeted by this punchy quote

perfect slogan for the book podcast I host called The Biblio File.

One of the things I love about the bookstore at the NYPL is that it sells ex-library and donated books, cheap.

NYPL Bookstore, ex library

If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other fun, bookish accessories to go round. For example, you might want to adopt this Justin Trudeau ‘library look’

Down the hall there’s always something interesting going on in the special exhibition space. Today it was a sixties revolution exhibit

filled with powerful images of protest and complaint (Napalm was manufactured in the U.S. by the Dupont Chemical Company – 388,000 tons of the disgusting stuff was dropped on Vietnam between 1963 -1973).

This is the main – Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – branch of the NYPL

(Schwarzman is an etched in stone billionaire friend of Donald Trump’s, but let’s not hold that against him), here you’ll also find a Rare Books room, the Berg Collection of English and American Literature, and a Children’s Center, home to the original stuffed bear Winnie-the-Pooh and his four closest friends: Eeyore, Piglet, Kanga, and Tigger; plus, LIVE from the NYPL a regular conversation session with ‘notable writers, artists, and leaders’, hosted by Paul Holdengräber.

On a nice day it’s worth venturing around to the back of the building. It opens up onto a lovely square, called Bryant Park. Here you’ll find a large patio where you can read your new/ex book acquisitions and enjoy a refreshing squeezed orange juice, or something.

To be continued.

Book, cat and dog lovers’ paradise in Tokyo

Literary Tourist in Tokyo:

Did you know that Tokyo has it’s own Times Square? It’s called Shibuya Crossing, near the Metro station of the same name, and it’s chock full of huge video screens, bright lights, brand-name stores,

and hordes of orderly people crossing a broad, orderly intersection (hard to tell that this is one of the busiest in the world). There are also lottery tickets if that’s your thing,

and a resident faithful dog beside which thousands get their photos taken every day.

At the end of each day, so the story goes, Hachiko would wait for his master at the train station to greet him after work. One day, in 1925, the master failed to show up. He’d died of a heart attack. Nobody told Hachiko, who continued to go to the station every evening for nine straight years until he himself finally died.

Away from Hachiko, the noisy tourists, and the blaring billboards, along a small car-lined side-street, the book-lover will find tranquility. Book Off is a popular Continue reading “Book, cat and dog lovers’ paradise in Tokyo”