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.

What’s a Literary Tourist to do in Hawaii?

Ihad pretty well resigned myself to lounging by the pool with a good book and a cold Heineken, before I decided to check the Internet. Hawaii, I assumed, was going to be a Literary Tourist wasteland, a jungle of non-literary vegetation.

But I was wrong. Here we were in the middle of what seemed like nowhere (the town of Kona on the Big Island), and I find this great big warehouse of a used bookstore right around the corner. Kona Bay Books offers two miles worth of books. Not first editions, but a good selection of readable novels and non-fiction, many perfect for the beach. Plus there’s a sister store, Hilo Bay Books, on the opposite side of the island.

So off we went on a scenic two hour drive to see how the other half lives, and of course, to check out the books. Along the way we encounter purple flowering Jacaronda trees

next to the complementarily coloured mock orange, nestled, as they are, between these cool cone-shaped mounds (known as Puu Oo)

and fields of dark, healthy-looking lava.

Continue reading “What’s a Literary Tourist to do in Hawaii?”

“Purchases are wrapped in brown paper and tied with string”

The next time you’re in Oamaru, New Zealand you should drop in here:

“Established in 1995, Slightly Foxed Secondhand Books sells good quality books on all subjects including New Zealand local history, modern first editions, fishing, hunting, mountaineering, literature and fiction, history, military, craft and biography.

The shop is located in an Oamaru stone building providing a Victorian style atmosphere with stone walls, wooden floor, sash windows, sofas, tables and chairs and a pot belly stove.

Prices range from $3 to $1500, and the books from recently published to antiquarian, from common-place to rare and collectible.

The proprietors, Jenny Lynch-Blosse and Kahren Thompson, wear Victorian clothing and sales are entered into a spring-back ledger with a fountain pen. Purchases are wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.”

Once you’ve roped up your books, you might want to stroll several doors down for a chat with

Michael O’Brien, If you hit if off you can stay at his place, or take a bookbinding workshop. As he puts it, “I offer a small self-contained studio, adjacent to main house. Separate kitchen and bathroom. Beautifully restored, cosy and warm. French doors open out to a small garden with a fire pit. Main garden is based on permaculture design, with two chickens providing fresh eggs. Private and quiet. I am not always at home, and there is one pussycat onsite. This is ideal for a couple who wish to come to one of my weekend workshops.”

For details on how to flesh out your visit, click here.

Carve and Print your own Japanese woodblock in Tokyo

Literary Tourist in Tokyo:

Once you’ve nerded out at the bookstores in the Jimbocho neighbourhood of Tokyo, you’ll want to go to Asakusa (浅草). It’s the centre of Tokyo’s shitamachi (literally “low city”), where a bustling atmosphere of old Tokyo survives. Asakusa’s main attraction is Sensoji, a very popular Buddhist temple,

built in the 7th century. The temple is approached via the Nakamise, a shopping street that’s been providing temple visitors with traditional, local snacks and tourist souvenirs for centuries, if you’re hungry, there are tonnes of cool little open air restaurants lining the surrounding streets.

You’ll also find another major attraction here, one especially designed for literary tourists: Dave Bull’s Mokuhankan studio.

Stroll over, join a ‘print party, and make yourself some woodblock prints! While producing a print to take home – with the assistance of the young Mokuhankan printing staff – is the main activity at a Print Party, it’s not the only thing to do: at the other end of the building there’s a printer’s workroom that you can visit and watch the work in progress. Not all the people working here speak great English, but those who can are happy to talk about their work (don’t bother them too much though – this is how they make their living!). And you’re not limited to just one shot at the Print Party bench – nearly all Continue reading “Carve and Print your own Japanese woodblock in Tokyo”