In the New Yorker this week there’s part of a never-finished memoir by Joseph Mitchell, the great writer of urban personalities. The excerpt is titled Street Life, and it’s a recollection of Mitchell’s predilection for walking the streets and neighborhoods and districts and edges of New York City. Simply put, the essay is masterful. (It is available online to subscribers, but worth the $7.99 for the entire print issue.)
Here’s a part I particularly enjoyed:
As I said, I am strongly drawn to old churches. I am also strongly drawn to old hotels. I am also strongly drawn to old restaurants, old saloons, old tenement houses, old police stations, old courthouses, old newspaper plants, old banks, and old skyscrapers. I am also strongly drawn to old piers and old ferryhouses and to the waterfront in general. I am also strongly drawn to old markets and most strongly to Fulton Fish Market. I am also strongly drawn to a dozen or so old buildings, most of them on lower Broadway or on Fifth and Sixth Avenues in the Twenties and Thirties, that once were department-store buildings and then became loft buildings or warehouses when the stores, some famous and greatly respected and even loved in their time and now almost completely forgotten, either went out of business or moved into new buildings farther uptown.
After reading this, I wanted to get up and walk.
My Grandpa Sisco walked, early every morning through the streets of DeKalb, Illinois. In rain or bitter cold or summer heat beginning to build, he’d make his circuit through downtown picking up loose change, over to the new post office to deposit his correspondence, past St. Mary Catholic Church with a prayer or two, by the Ellwood House already thinking about the game of golf he’d be soon be playing, and then up the few steps to the apartment on First Street. He lived to be 96.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently searched my attic for my old clips and chronicles from Frank the Beachcomber. I also hoped to find Grandpa Sisco’s typed diaries, the day-by-day record of what he wanted to share with my mother 2,000 miles away. Sure enough, in the last of the boxes I found a stack of his papers, and I’ve been rereading them, marveling at the mundane details that he recorded: the day’s temperatures, which of my cousins stayed the night, how the NIU football team lost in the last minute of a game, why a week of rain couldn’t stop the Sisco Picnic from happening.
I mentioned these diaries in the Blogging for the Long Haul session at ScienceOnline2013 (video available in a week or two). As I regularly remind myself, I’m a blogger because of my grandparents, and it’s amazing to find myself in my grandpa’s diary in 1979:
Received a nice note from Anton. He sure writes beautiful and told me of the sale he went to and purchased his dad a tie. Gosh, I am so proud of him and then to have read 5000 pages during the summer is remarkable.
ScienceOnline2013 had a connection to walking. My friend, Scott Huler, led a group of our attendees (with cool scio-branded hard hats — the creative idea of Karyn Traphagen) on a tour of the Raleigh sewers and waterways, creatively captured in this video:
I think walking and blogging go hand in hand.
A few years back, when the Research Triangle Foundation (managers of the Research Triangle Park) was considering ways to make better use of social media, I proposed that they hire a ‘park ranger’ — someone whose job would be to roam the area and get to know the companies and buildings and people and activities and wildlife and botanical life as intimately as Mitchell got to know his city — and share it on social media. I also proposed something similar for Duke University, and Cara Rousseau as Duke’s social media manager is doing this even better than I imagined it, including leading people on a campus photo walk. A few of us are now working on ideas for how Duke Medicine can empower someone to walk the halls of the hospitals and clinics and research laboratories.
I take a daily walk myself — I’m not an early riser like my grandpa, so I get up from my desk around 2pm each day. I have my own circuit through the medical center and Duke’s campus, with variations that take me into the Duke Gardens or past the Duke Chapel. Reading Mitchell’s memoir of his walking, I’m now inspired to look even more closely at the buildings and at the trees and at the brick sidewalks and at the people going in and out and by and by.
Time to walk.
I went for my daily walk through the medical center yesterday: first into the new Trent Semans Center for Health Education, where I sat for a few minutes to read from Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic and then over to Bostock Library to retrieve Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus.
Spillover is the new book by science writer David Quammen. He’ll be a speaker at ScienceOnline2013, and his book is one of those to be featured in the big book giveaway. Another title on that list is A Planet of Viruses, by Carl Zimmer. I’m reading that e-book on my iPad.
As I was walking back through the Duke Medicine concourse, holding those two books and my iPad, I stopped to talk with Zubin Eapen, a cardiologist and digital native. He remarked that it was good to see me carrying books. That was nice validation for my lifelong habit of always having reading material at hand, or in hand.
One of the fun aspects of the ScienceOnline community is learning about what others are reading, or writing, or blogging about their reading and writing. I can’t wait to see the joy on the faces as their hands reach out for new books to read. (Kudos to Karyn for organizing such a great collection.)
Over the last few days, close friends have said some very nice things about me, either to me directly or to others in my presence. That made me feel good.
My boss told me, “Do more of what you’re doing.” Her confidence in me made me stand straighter.
This afternoon, as I was standing in line for coffee, a stranger — a visitor to the hospital, who looked exhausted and worried, and confused about what she wanted as sustenance at the moment — looked to me and asked about my eyeglasses. I told her I’d had to find just the right frames to satisfy Erin and her loving ridicule for all oversized frames I’ve selected in the past. “You chose well,” the woman said. That made me smile.
A few minutes later, when I was back at my desk, I felt a bit ashamed that I hadn’t used the fifty-dollar bill in my hand to buy the woman a drink of her choice.
And, because you are a sensitive, observant and caring person, I’m sure you’ll soon be framing your next compliment to a friend or stranger.
I don’t remember the first time I read the book. Maybe it was while I was swinging in a hammock in the South Pacific. Maybe earlier, in between day job and restaurant night job in Honolulu. Maybe even earlier, as a diversion from the more impenetrable novels of Latin American Dictators in Literature, a class I took at John Carroll University.
But, I did read One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez, and I loved it. A few years later, I read it again, sitting on a bench across from Arabica Cafe at Cleveland’s University Circle, this time a diversion from my editing duties at Northern Ohio Live.
I brought that beloved copy with me to North Carolina, read it again I’m sure, and then I was wandering the shelves of Durham’s Book Exchange in 2002, holding Anna Olivia in my arms, and a copy of Cien anos de soledad, in some magical, real way, was leading me to the register to exchange thirteen dollars and fifty-eight cents for the dream of reading the original Spanish chronicle of Macondo.
I’ll take both copies with me to the beach next month, and try to forget, before I open to the first page, about the remarkable tale ahead.
Aaron Bady’s Autumn of the Patriarch, Forgetting to Live is an insightful essay about the novel and the important theme of not remembering. It’s a fitting tribute to García Márquez, who is still with us, but losing his own memory.
For the moment, I’ll revel in my reminiscences of the many moments this book for the ages has enthralled me.
I came home from work this evening in time to shoot hoops with Anna and Malia — little Oliver, too, who I held up to dunk a small b-ball, and then he hung from the rim — but decided I needed to return to Duke to attend the Archive-sponsored reading by author Colum McCann.
I’m so glad I went back to campus tonight, because McCann was enthralling in his argument for finding and telling stories — there are so many stories to tell, he said, that they “spin in a Yeatsian gyre.” I’m in my decade of narrative, so this opportunity to hear from a great storyteller was an inspiration.
I bought a paperback copy of Let the Great World Spin because my hardcover copy, along with a copy of This Side of Brightness, is off with some friend or relative. Since those days in Vanuatu, when I pressed the advanced reader’s edition of Brightness into the hands of as many of my fellows PCVs as I could, I’ve been urging others to read McCann. You should, too.
While Erin and her parents were off at the cinema tonight watching The Blind Side — a very good movie I saw earlier in the week — I was home finishing the last pages of a very good novel, Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann. I highly recommend both.
I read last week in the NYTimes that Colum McCann, author of This Side of Brightness (I blogged about how much I enjoyed that novel here), has a new novel out, and it’s a finalist for the National Book Award. So, I snapped up a copy of Let the Great World Spin, and I’ve been reading it this weekend.
Today, after morning rains, afternoon pumpkin carving and a roasted chicken dinner, I set about cleaning the kitchen while Erin tried to coax Anna and Malia to eat the delicious stuffing she’d prepared for the meal. I’d shut off all the lights before dinner, and there were candles on the table. Evening was coming on.
In the groove, washing dishes almost contemplatively, I realized I was in a darkening home, and I felt a calm I’d not encountered since my time in Vanuatu 10 years ago. Those years on Paama Island, I lived by the cycles of the sun, earth and moon, rising early, living outside in the elements and brushed by vegetation and wind and sea, sleeping soon after darkness fell.
I’m struggling these days to return to a healthy balance, and today was a good day in which I put my work worries and conference planning aside to live a little more slowly, more sanely. And so I enjoyed the touch of the slippery insides of the pumpkins, basked in the sight of my beautiful wife and daughters, and melted in the peace of twilight.
I’ve been a fan of the Diagnosis column in the NYTimes Sunday Magazine for some time, and so when I heard that Lisa Sanders, the author, had a new book coming out, I shot her an email message to ask if she’d be coming through the Triangle on a book tour.
Turns out, she was indeed on her way down here for Grand Rounds talks at both UNC-CH and Duke. When I asked, she also agreed to meet up with the Science Communicators of North Carolina, so I’ve organized a happy hour for this Thursday, October 8 from 5:30pm to 7pm at the West End Wine Bar in Durham.
Dr. Sanders’s medical detective stories in the Diagnosis column inspired the creation of the hit T.V. series House, M.D. for which she serves as medical advisor. Before medical school, Dr. Sanders was an Emmy Award-winning producer at CBS News, where she covered medicine and health.
I’ve been reading and enjoying her new book, Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis. In this, she explores the physical exam, visual observation skills, high-tech medical tests and other trends in diagnostic medicine.
Dr. Sanders will read from her book at UNC on Wed, Oct 7th at 12 noon.
The North Carolina Literary Festival is all this weekend on the (still growing) campus of UNC-CH, so I stopped by this morning to listen to Kelly Alexander, Randall Kenan and Marcie Cohen Ferris talk about food writing.
At the same time as the food panel, my friends Wayne Sutton and Paul Jones were in the next building discussing Twitter as the newest tool for literature. I stopped by at the end, said hello to Wayne, met David B Thomas, then got a copy of Alexander’s book, Hometown Appetites: The story of Clementine Paddleford, the Forgotten Food Writer Who Chronicled How America Ate”:http://wunc.org/tsot/archive/sot1013abc08.mp3/view signed by her.
As I puttered around the house on Friday, it was quite nice to hear NPR’s annual reading of the text of the Declaration of Independence.
Soon after, as I unpacked boxes of books I’ve collected over the last 25 years, I came across my paperback copy of Lincoln at Gettysburg, by Garry Wills. That was a book I read when I lived in Hawaii 15 years ago and that inspired me to memorize Lincoln’s famously short speech.
So, it was another pleasant surprise when this afternoon at a potluck dinner at the home of Christopher and Tessa Perrien, we paused before the meal for a group reading of the Gettysburg Address.