Archive for November, 2019

Letter from the Vineyard 21 November 2019 Reflections from islands…

November 21, 2019

It is evening as my fingers dance across the keyboard, a soft clicking sound rising to my aging ears which, for some reason, made me think of the thunk our Royal typewriter made when I struck the keys, in a day when auto-correct was a fantasy and the mother of Mike Nesmith of The Monkees made a fortune inventing “White Out.”

Freshly returned from a trip to Ireland, my mind is full of things, wonders seen in a land where, as my friend Mike O’Rourke said, “The green is greener there.”  And it is.  Arriving a day early at the god forsaken hour of 4:45 AM, I decided, on an absolute whim, to go to Belfast for the Titanic Museum, one of those happy caprices resulting in cherished memories.  If you get to Ireland, go to Belfast, see the museum, edges as sharp as the prow of the ship, rippled to remind us of the iceberg that sank it, thorough, respectful, multi-leveled, figures from the time, speaking directly to you, almost but not quite, holograms.



Before returning to Dublin, I took a Black Taxi Tour, an overview of “The Troubles;” my friend Nick Stuart them covered for the BBC.  The multi-layered, nuanced reasons, old as Ireland and its first interactions with England, boggle the mind, leaving a sense of sorrowful regret lacking a center.  To this day, which I did not know, there is a wall dividing Protestant and Catholic Belfast.  At night, gates are closed, dividing the town, even as it ascends to being one of the safest places in Europe, enjoying a prosperity unknown for a very long time.

On that wall, with a Sharpie, I wrote:



In Dublin, I reunited, briefly, with friends, Lionel and Pierre, spending the weekend celebrating my birthday, dinners at lovely restaurants, days of sightseeing, several museums.

Some food and drink suggestions:  in Belfast, visit The Crown, possibly the oldest working pub in Ireland.  In Dublin, The Green Hen, a delightful place, a mix of Irish and French, Hugo’s where I had an inspired lunch, The Winding Stair, above a bookstore, deeply delicious, and let us not forget Pichet, another wonderful dinner, duck so succulent…

Museums have become hard, showing great beauty created while reminding also of the horrible ways we murder each other.  On view at the Irish Museum of Archeology are corpses, brutally killed for unknown reasons, then tossed into the bogs, which have preserved them for us to “enjoy” now.

As a result, I am almost becoming museum adverse, torn by balancing beauty and brutality.

Having left the island of Martha’s Vineyard for the Irish island, I continued to feel disconnected from events “back in America,” a blessing as those events become increasingly bizarre.

The current impeachment hearings feel Nixonian and a disgraceful mess.

It surprises many who know me, but I was raised in a good “cloth coat” wearing Republican family, as Nixon called us in his Checker’s Speech, and it also surprises many I am an Independent voter.  GASP! I have even voted for Republicans.

That said, I no longer know or own this Republican Party.  It has nothing to do with the Republican Party I once knew.

My father died when I was twelve; his older brother, my Uncle Joe, became a central figure in my life, as steadfast a Republican as you would ever find.  One day, I knew Richard Nixon was done because Uncle Joe had removed the medal received from the very badly named Committee to Re-elect the President, “CREEP.”   If Nixon had lost Uncle Joe, he had lost it all.  Not long after, he resigned.

As this current Impeachment Inquiry goes on, I have asked myself what Uncle Joe would think?  A deeply moral man, he would have been appalled, I believe, from the moment Trump descended that escalator to initiate this debacle.


Letter From the Vineyard 11.11.2019 Life lived with grace…

November 11, 2019


             Sundays have taken on a rhythm, waking around seven, brewing a cup of strong English Breakfast tea, reading a little of the NY Times, the Washington Post, a summation of news from the Wall Street Journal, a few emails and then off to St. Andrew’s, the petite church at the intersection of Winter and Summer Streets, an apt location, it occurs to me, for a church, at the intersection of seasons.

There were a few minutes at the Parish House for coffee and then I drove out to West Tisbury to pick up some books from Shirley Mayhew, who, having now met her, I realize is one of the island’s living treasures, a teacher to multi-generations of children on the island, grand mere to multiple generations, as interesting as anyone I have met along the ricocheting roads of my life, reminding me in many ways of my now long gone friend, Joseph J. O’Donohue IV, a bon vivant from the time he finished his German schooling in pre-Hitler Germany to his death, nearly twenty years ago.  Listening to the Joes and the Shirleys of the world is to have a glimpse into a world we will not ever know, ever understand, but can have, through their words, a glimpse of what has been and touch, through their memories, the worlds we will never know, a past now history to us but, for them, the foundation of their memories.

That’s why she writes, to share for other generations, what she’s seen, experienced, in several books, including the wonderfully titled, “Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly.”

The woman I met today is living life with the grace of a butterfly, a thing not easily done, accomplished only when one is infused with generosity of spirit.  Joe had that quality, also, though I could never quite find the words to describe it before.

Leaving her to return to the shop, I dawdled, wandering back roads, taking a long path back to Edgartown so I could savor our introduction before surrendering myself to whatever bustle would fill the rest of the day.

It was busy-ish, a young gentleman came in toward the end of the day; we discussed Hemingway and Fitzgerald, both agreeing, of Hemingway’s oeuvre, we both loved “The Sun Also Rises” best.

Children scurried in an unusual number through the store today, two ladies scoured shelves for the next read for one’s book club.  I was reminded this week sees the first new edition in a long time of “The Joy of Cooking,” a bible for the culinary inclined, the one book I always returned to when something in the kitchen seemed unclear.

The weather reports are being watched closely; not wishing to be stranded on the island when my plane departs for Dublin out of Boston on Wednesday.  There, I’ll celebrate another birthday, another marking of the journey called life, moving closer and closer to Joe and Shirley, where my life’s memories are mostly history being taught to those infinitely younger.

It’s my hope, I will not be derided by some millennial, finding my actions ante-diluvian, accosted by the meme: “OK Boomer!”  The youth of the world are looking at us, of grandparental age, as generational failures, worthy of disrespect for our oh so many deficiencies, particularly in fighting climate change.  “OK Boomer,” was the riposte of a twenty-something New Zealander to a senior legislative colleague in Parliament as she was delivering a speech on climate change, with which he found umbrage.  “OK Boomer.”

Jazz plays, I write, savoring the joys of a simple though very rich day, probably not lived with the grace of a butterfly but enjoyed, nevertheless, playing now with words and looking forward to sifting through, “Living Life with the Grace of a Butterfly.”


It is now Monday, November 11th, Veteran’s Day.  A long, deep bow to all Veterans, a holiday started as Armistice Day, to mark the end of World War I, when, at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, the guns of the war to end all wars, were to fall silent.  If only it had been the war to end all wars…



Letter from the Vineyard 4 November 2019 Autumnal Dreams…

November 4, 2019




Three perfect fall days, fulfilling wishes for such autumn days, with the light sharp and focused, drawing perfect shadows on the ground of trees still surrendering leaves; occasional fierce winds scattering fallen leaves, an autumnal dream when there are no bad things, and nothing wicked this way comes.

So, it has been here on Martha’s Vineyard, called by author Susan Branch, “Isle of Dreams,” after several lashings from storms and days so drear it almost felt as we were all living in Narnia, when it was always winter but never Christmas.  Then came these glorious days, banishing the drear and raising the spirits of everyone from visitors to residents.

Sitting at the desk at Edgartown Books, there has been a slow but steady stream of folks who visit the island now, specifically this time of year, because it is quiet, the crowds are gone, the air is crisp, enough restaurants open, hotel rates down, and islanders relieved of August stress.

Today, is the first day people announced they were Christmas shopping, a grandmother buying gift certificates for each grandson, another woman buying books by Cynthia Riggs to give as presents to her mother.  I’ve put leaf lights around the store to give it a fall festive feel, featuring some cookbooks on the center table, with other “fall-ish” items.  We have most of the current bestsellers on our shelves.  While I am here, I tend to play jazz with a gentleman yesterday declaring: there is nothing like big band jazz.

At my side is “On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous,” which I am currently reading, by Ocean Vuong, a poet’s first novel, worth the read. When I am dust in the wind, he’ll be a Nobel Laureate if he keeps writing like this.

Next week, I’ll be off to Dublin to celebrate my birthday with Lionel and Pierre; Lionel has already made dinner reservations at some of his favorite places.  Today they leave for Delhi, which is worrisome as the air there is so, so bad, as if you were smoking two packs of cigarettes a day.  Not joking, I told them to wear gas masks.

Settling in, I have joined St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, pastored by Father Chip, which made me think he was from a long line of preppy people but, in fact, he is Canadian – though preppy might well be a thing there.

Preppy has been on my mind since Lisa Birnbach was in the store, co-author of the 1980 bestseller, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” having met her in that long-ago, when she was interviewed by Gary Owens for his show on KMPC Radio, where I worked.  We were nostalgic over him.

Two other customers, island natives, were in, chatting about the books on our “Great Reads” shelves and discussing what was “happening back in America,” as if ‘there “was a different country from “here.”

It is what being on an island does, separates you from “there,” wherever there is from here.  People come here to escape, rest from the turmoil of whatever there they are from, devouring our local newspapers as they are filled with stories of the Vineyard Derby, a month long fishing contest won this year by a ten year old, six years away from being able to drive the Grand Prize, a new Subaru.

Those kinds of things feel more real, more tangible than all the confusing who-ha that is coming from almost every other place, seeping into the soul like the noxious fumes of Delhi air.

There are upsides and downsides to island life; I am sure I will discover them all but here I am, on Susan’s “Isle of Dreams,” doing what several friends have told me is their dream – to be on the Vineyard and in a bookstore.