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Another week of sad, heartbreaking, awful, terrible news.

I was sitting on my patio.  It was 86 degrees at 7:30 am. The air was  numbingly still, suffocatingly hot (week long heat wave: not good) . I was already exhausted by the weather, the news, and the future.

My head drooped, my eyes barely focused on the bricks on our patio.

That’s where I found my sanity.

Do you see it?

That’s because it’s a tiny bit camouflaged, lying in wait (being aerodynamically designed to land up-side down). Raisons d’etre tend to fall into your life that way.

Let me turn it over for you:

It’s a Blue Jay tail feather, the center tail feather — the one around which the bird’s symmetry is arrayed.

 

No scientist would have the nerve to invent such a thing, the way its form and pattern meshes so effortlessly.

No artist would dare invent such a color, a cool steel-blue that shimmers hot turquoise like a flash of lightning.

This is the kind of miracle that you only get in nature, as a gift, just for paying attention,on this planet that seems determined to kill itself with sorrow.

In the quantity of joy this Blue Jay feather brought me on the morning that I found it under the rhododendron tree, this little little occasion of beauty and surprise, the world was redeemed. At least for the day.

Well, at least for the rest of the morning.

 

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Some of us think Summer is the time to slack off.

Some of us think it’s a great time to go to an air-conditioned thrift shop!

Today I took a trek into the village to check out the Junior League Thrift Shop. I live in a fancy town. IThere might be an unnoticed Dior or St. Laurent hanging here.

Or not.

But I can’t resist old LPs. I have a weakness for great album cover art of the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

(Those records are a mobile hanging from the ceiling, made of one 45, one 75, and one 33 RPM piece of plastic. Cool, huh? )

And I think I discovered here the Most Boring Album Cover in the World:

Some Big Band recorded a live album in Puerto Rico in the 1950s. LPs cost 25 cents each…I actually debated about whether or not I should buy this. I don’t know what gets into me sometimes. I bought it.

I loved these chairs, though, but I didn’t buy them.

I almost didn’t go look at the books because  lordy, I Do Not Need More Books.

Especially a book that looks a dull as this one:

My first impression of this book, judging it by its cover, was that this was an old guide book from the early 1980s to some Eastern European country. It looks totally un-enticing and I would have let it remain in the Bargain Bin of 20 cent hardback books…but I noticed that there was a little Union Jack flag on the bottom corner , meaning that this had an English translation inside.

The title of this book is: A Dream Journey Through Sweden.

Dromresan. Means Dream Journey in Swedish.

Good to know.

So I picked up the book and flipped through it. And a card fell out.

BTW, that’s a European butterfly hovering over that weird green cake, called a Peacock, le Paon-du-jour (Peacock of the Day) in French. Now that you know it’s name, you’ll see it in a lot of it in European art.

It’s been a long time since something spiffy fell out of a book for me. And a Swedish Birthday Card is what I call a JACKPOT.

Thank you, Universe; Thank you.

 

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One thing I liked about Seattle is that it shares my feelings about the magnitude of a good cup of tea (left) in relation to a cup of coffee (right). Here’s what  tea-drinking heaven looks like:

You never know, in Seattle, where the perfect gustatory experience will reveal itself. Top Cat and I walked all over our University Park area on our first morning of the Great Pacific Great Northwest Tour and we could not find one single cute quaint achingly chic hipster-Seattle breakfast experience. Hunger got the better of us so we stopped in at (what I thought was) a one-off neighborhood establishment called Burger Master. (Turns out it’s a local chain.)

The place was clean, well-lighted, and full of regulars that looked like truck driving college professors. And the best thing was that if you order tea, they give you a choice of half a dozen black, green, and herbal teas. AND THEN THEY GIVE YOU A BACK UP TEA BAG.

Burger Master is the ONLY PLACE ON EARTH where that happens.

“We’re coming here every morning,” I told Top Cat.

And we did.

Here’s what the best breakfast place in all of Seattle looks like.

Although Burger Master is totally 100% my kind of place, you know that Top Cat, like most grown-ups, is much more demanding when it comes to cuisine. So he dragged me to a couple of fine dining experiences.

First, there was Elliot’s on the warf there, underneath the Pike Place Market.

The Copper River salmon had just that morning arrived from Alaska, an event that is as ballyhoo’d in Seattle as the Nouveau Beaujolais is in France.

This (above)  is what a $35 piece of fish looks like at Elliot’s. Top Cat said it was worth every farthing. ( had a $6 Caesar salad and couldn’t wait until it would be time for breakfast again.

The next night we drove across the West Seattle Bridge across the Puget Sound to go to Alkai Beach, to Salty’s restaurant, where we could dine while gazing at the Seattle skyline. Also, out in the middle of the bay there’s a float on which huge fat sea lions pile and bark their constant complaints that there are too many huge fat sea lion asses on this damn float.

This (above) is what a $50 piece of Copper River salmon looks like at Salty’s. Top Cat said it was worth every half-farthing.

My fish-n-chips were pretty good too.

The next day we headed to Edmunds.

Edmonds is a lovely town, as we walked around and poked into a few other book shops and Top Cat discovered that the wine shop there stocks a little-known Bordeaux that we discovered in the Cotes de Castillon— Chateau Robin — and he also found out that the wine we paid $40 for at Salty’s costs $14 out in the real world. It’s called 14 Hands and you will not regret spending $40 on it if you have to.

So we got a bottle of 14 Hands and drove to have a look at the coastal town of Mukilteo.

We had heard that Mulkiteo is a fine place to watch the sunset.

It was a tiny bit chilly, slightly colder than usual for May, and windy, and we had an open bottle of wine, so we sat in the car and opened a small bag of pretzels that Top Cat had been carrying in his jacket pocket for four days, and I opened the doggy-bag (Styrofoam box) that I’d got for the half sandwich I couldn’t finish at lunch, and we hunkered down for the view.

The light got dimmer, the wind got colder, it began to rain, the seagulls called one another, and we kept toasting our luck in being together in a rented car with left overs on the edge of the beautiful Puget Sound.

Here’s what a priceless dining experience in the Great Pacific Northwest looks like.

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Overheard at the Commerce Bank

the scene:  A mother and her teenage daughter were on their way out.

The daughter , wearing very short cut off jeans,  had long glossy hair like you only get with an expensive hair salon blow out.

She was scowling at what looked like a deposit, or a withdrawal slip.

The mother looked exasperated, and as they passed me I heard the mother say to the girl (in a half-lecturing, half-annoyed tone of voice, clearly rebutting something the daughter had said shortly before):

“We are not poor.”

I let my eyes follow them out to the parking lot,  to see what kind of ride the “poor” kid had.

It was a white Mercedes SUV.

Then I went home and called to  order the Long Island Iced Tea Appreciation Society.

Although I was not drinking iced tea. It was just  a gin and tonic — but it was in a tea cup.

OK.

When I was a kid, it took me a long time  to figure out whether I was born rich, or not. Doesn’t every kid, at one point, ask their parents, “Are we rich?”

I know what answer I got. It was something along the lines, “We’re not rich and we’re not poor. Son’t worry about it.”

It didn’t take me long to figure out that my parents were smoothing over the fact that we were well on the poor side of a Mercedes SUV.

But I can honestly say that today, I am awfully rich. This is a picture of me, proof of how very rich I am these days.

And that’s only the 25% of it.

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I schlepped into Manhattan late last Thursday afternoon to deliver the finished manuscript of my Damn France Book.

I took a train into Manhattan, and a taxi to the Flatiron Building, and when I got to my editor’s office I took a photo of the Damn France Book sitting in her guest chair:

One of the reason I hand-deliver my manuscripts is because I get such a charge out of hanging out in my publisher’s offices, because my publisher is Bloomsbury, and Bloomsbury’s offices are in the historic Flatiron Building in New York City. You know the Flatiron:

Built in 1902, it’s been famous since it was erected on a peculiar triangle-shaped bit of land on 23rd Street in lower Manhattan.

In 1903, the artist Alfred Stieglitz made the first iconinc image of the Flatiron in a snow storm using that new fangled technology: photography.

In 1904, the artist Edward Steichen paid homage to Alfred with his iconic image of the Flatiron, using that new fangled technology: color photography.

The Flatiron is situated at the heart of lower Manhattan, where Broadway (an old Indian trail that slashes its age-old way diagonally down the isle of Manhattan) crosses Fifth Avenue.

See how the Flatiron is built like a triangle? Like a flatiron of yore? (Photo of a flatiron of yore to follow.)

On this visit to Bloomsbury, I was on a mission: I wanted to penetrate the inner sanctum, get to the heart of this publishing culture. I wanted to get here:

I wanted to get to the head office.

Well, they are very nice people at Bloomsbury. My editor, Kathy Belden, was more than happy to take me down into the pointy part of the building. Turns out that the Publisher of Bloomsbury, George Gibson, has his office in Bloomsbury’s front wedge of the Flatiron, on the third floor.

This is what a distinguished literary Publisher’s office looks like:

This is George’s desk, in the cradle of the Flatiron Building.

If you step carefully over George’s lateral filing system on the floor, and look out his window (which faces uptown, north, towards streets that number 24 – 220th, the highest street number on the island of Manhattan, by the way; anything higher is in the damn Bronx), this is the view:

 

And then I was out on the pavement, heading up to 29th street to check out the latest hipster haven in Manhattan, passing through the Fifth Avenue plaza at 23rd street:

My destination was The Ace Hotel at Broadway and 29th street.

The Ace is the anchor to Manhattan’s newest (and some say, last) new neighborhood — NoMad.

NoMad was the only stretch of un-named real estate left in Manhattan, a dreary stretch of streets north of 23rd and south of 34th that are full of discount perfume stores. The area is north of Madison Square Park = NoMad.

I wanted to see the Ace Hotel because the Ace chain (of four hotels in America so far) was founded by Portlander Alex Calderwood for Portland-ish travelers — cultural travelers— who travel to see film, design, art, literature, food, and music.

The sidewalk evergreens  have fetching little blue lights in them.

Inside the hotel it’s very dark and word is, there’s a hip bar scene going on in there.

It was so very dark in there that I didn’t take photos, but I wasn’t there for the bar scene. I was there for the Stumptown Coffee bar.

Stumptown Coffee is famous in Portland , Oregon — a strictly hometown institution, full of Portland ethos and style and insider jokes (Stumptown is an old nickname for Portland, from when it was a pioneer town and the developers were cutting down trees and the locals, already showing signs of their peculiar brand of Portland tribalism, decided to come up with the least catchiest town moniker ever).

So there I was, standing in the middle of the Stumptown coffee bar in the Ace Hotel,  and I start shooting pictures, and this is what the barista does:

That is sooooo Portland, soooo Stumptown coffee.

And yes, all the baristas wear hats.

One last picture, not related to this post at all: I walked to Penn Station on 34th Street, passing the Hotel Pennsylvania on my way to Penn Station to catch the LIRR home to Long Island. And on the sidewalk was the cabin crew for Air India, waiting for their bus to JFK airport:

I just loved the sari -ish uniforms — in turquoise!

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Just one last thing to do to get Le Road Trip manuscript ready for publishing.

I have to out my original art work and original hand-set type into a format that can be turned into a book-shaped object.

Heres how I do it (on my dining room table):

Top left: binder containing original manuscript.

Bottom right: 11-inch by 14-inch sheets sent to me by my publisher Bloomsbury with position marks for each page, numbered from 1 – 215.

Center: paper cutter to trim these out-sized sheets down to a more manageable 11-inch by 11-inch square .

Bottom left: pile of already-trimmed sheets.

Next:

This is my light box, on which I have taped (Scotch tape is crucial to the whole process) a guide that represents the true dimensions of the final trim of the book, with lines and markings to show me where the center lines of the page are, both vertically and horizontally.

I have to place every single page of my manuscript onto this guide and position it so that all the art work and text is straight, aligned, and mounted with the proper margins for top and bottom AND with extra allowances for the “gutter”…that is, the edge that is going to be bound.

Yes, I have to do this manually for each and every  page, all 208 of them.

Got that?

For reasons that have to due with the fact that during this scrutiny I still find stuff that three editors missed and rectifying it takes research and materials i.e. glue, scissors, tape, white-out, mucho cursing. I also have to keep all these loose, mounted pages in order and, well, it gets messy.

I got the bright idea to tape pages onto the walls of my dining room so they could dry — remember, I am gluing the art work, and taping the text into place.

This is true: I sprained my left hand with repetitive motion somewhere around page 135 and had to tape up my favorite index and middle finger to prevent further injury which meant that I was, for all accounts and purposes, left totally right-handed … and still I had to keep turning out pages, and pages, and pages…

Today I am happy to announce that I have finished all the mounting, the last-minute editing, the last-last-minute patching up, and the last-last-last-minute re-writes/re-paints (yes, I did re-paint two whole pages)/re-edits.

From now, until pub date May 2012,  it’s Bloomsbury’s baby.

 

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Because Real Life is so cool.

I journeyed to upstate New York this weekend, to attend  the East Meredith Presbyterian Church for the Third Annual Pie Auction to raise money for the East Meredith Historical Society.

All the pies are home-made by local pie-making geniuses.

The bidding started at $10. (The highest-priced pie was a Lemon Meringue that went for $65.00.)

The auctioneer was a profesional — he knew how to keep the action fun, but truth to tell: people knew this was a fund-raiser and they were ready to spend money. I love these people.  (I’m related to that lady in the apron, by the way.)

But I really wanted the Lemon Cloud pie and I was sure that the winning $55.00 bid was with me (as we used to say at Christie’s, when I was in the Faberge auction biz) but when the hammer came down it turned out that the winning $55.00 bid was with someone else. Bummer.

The guy in the green shirt is my own Top Cat.

Top Cat bagged an Apple-Plum pie for us, for $45.00.

All told, the pie auction of 40 pies raised $1,155.00 for the Historical Society. That’s what I call baking!

Well, fast forward to Sunday, when we took a walk in the country. We had a good old DoG named Malcolm with us, a rescue DoG from the Heart of the Catskills Animal Shelter.

Malcom was all DoG joy leaps and bounds, soaring in happiness. It’s  a good day to be a DoG! It’s always a good day to be a DoG!!

I waded into the swamp marsh that is, for the moment, high and dry. In a month this will all be overgrown and hidden, so I had to take advantage: I was looking for birds’ nests.

I found two beautifully preserved nests in the thicket. One was so very, very delicately woven onto its perch on a low bush (above). The other one was smaller, and perfectly balanced in a teeny tiny sapling. It looks like just a random clump of dead mush…

…but on a closer look, you can see how marvellously it’s been engineered:

And then it was time to head back to Long Island. But we had to make a pit stop: to the local Dutch (from Holland Dutch) general store to buy  home-made almond cookies.

I bought all the cookies our Mr. Dutchman had . And then he kindly showed us some more Dutch specialties that he had on the shelves:

It seems that the Dutch are very fond of licorice — there are several different kinds for sale in the worm/bait/Dutch Deli in Meridale, NY.

I would like to sit here one day, with a Dutch almond cookie and a cup of tea, and watch life inMeridale come and go. (The wife brought the oil-cloth all the way from Holland. So: Holland people like table cloths that look like Delft tiles, with pictures of Dutch scenes on them! Nice!)

And this is my haul of Dutch treats:

No doubt about it. I have a facsinating life.

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How was your first week of Spring?

On Monday, we couldn’t believe our eyes. Color in the landscape!

On Tuesday, here at Chateau du Chat, we dared to feel a little enlivened by the sun, even a little spiffy.

On Wednesday, the temperature soared into the high 60’s. Made us feel frisky.

Made us want to get all toesy.

Made us want to shake of Winter’s hoary pall.

 

Made us want to cloak ourselves in the meadow’s joyous abundance and stuff.

And then it was Thursday, and we said the hell with it.

 

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My visit last week to the Morgan Library in mid-town Manhattan reminded me that I made one of my most meaningful connections in the old gift shop there.

To be precise, it was September 21, 1998 and I was browsing through the post cards when my fancy was caught by a fetching blank book. It was a paperback, 8-inch square, and the size just  delighted me.

I bought the one that was for sale, and then tracked down the manufacturer in Connecticut and persuaded them to sell me a dozen more.

It’s been my Commonplace Book of Choice ever since.

A “Commonplace” is a translation of the Latin term locus communis which means “a theme or argument of general application”, such as a statement of proverbial wisdom. Such books were essentially scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: medical recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas.

Commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and humanists as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts they had learned. Each commonplace book was unique to its creator’s particular interests.

I’ve been keeping Commonplace Books since I was 19 years old.

And, ever since 1998, these 8″ x 8″ notebooks have been my dear Commonplace books.

This is from my collection of Thrift Shop Book Dust Covers With Fabulous Author Photos!

Another great Author Photo from the past — Mary Stewart, above, pictured in Edinburgh with her cat. On the facing page are my notes from Stephen King’s great book about writing, On Writing: Write what you love to read. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationship, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do.

Looking good, Mr. Theroux, on the back cover of World’s End. (Ah, those were the days, when an Author Photo took up the whole back cover.)

In 2003 I saw this ad for shirts, and I kept it thinking that I’d be able to use it some day, for something or other. I haven’t yet, but it still inspires me.

A lot of my Commonplace books are filled with notes from great books I’ve read.

I love these notebooks so much that I designed my first book, When Wanderers Cease to Roam, in their exact size — 8 inches by 8 inches. But because I didn’t leave enough room on the margins for the printing process the book had to be done in a 9-inch by 8-inch format.

I have two brand new notebooks to give away today, because I love these books and I’m pretty fond of the readers of this blog, too.

All you have to do is leave a Comment and be either the 1,545th Commentor orthe 1,560th Commentor (East Coast! West Coast! Overseas! This is your chance!), and I’ll send you your new Commonplace Book with my fondest wishes for many happy hours of readin’ and writin’.

 

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