Digression: Happy Spring 2018 (waiting for the 4th Nor’Easter, March 2018)

Happy Spring!
We’re getting there…
Hoping for the best with this next/upcoming storm,
per the sorry state of our seawall.
Enclosed is a poem by
William Carlos Williams
The May sun–whom 
all things imitate– 

that glues small leaves to 

the wooden trees 

shone from the sky 

through bluegauze clouds 

upon the ground. 

Under the leafy trees 

where the suburban streets 

lay crossed, 

with houses on each corner, 

tangled shadows had begun 

to join 

the roadway and the lawns. 

With excellent precision 

the tulip bed 

inside the iron fence 

upreared its gaudy 

yellow, white and red, 

rimmed round with grass, 


Literary Digression: Bookstore Memories-Barnes & Noble, Washington St., Boston, MA, US (Downtown Crossing).

Awhile ago, a colleague told me that he: “Grew up in a law firm.”  Which upon reflection was I thought, one of the saddest things anyone’s really ever said to me.  The phrase still rattles in my brain and modified remains with me, because if I were to borrow and tweak the expression, into how I  “grew up” in a bookstore, it was at the Barnes & Noble on Washington Street in Boston.

Downtown Crossing is a shopping district over the last decade or so, going through a transition into a full city neighborhood.  But during my youth, when you said you were going “into town,” that meant the city (Boston), and State Street (formerly King St.), into Washington Street leading into Downtown Crossing, the intersections of Summer and Winter Streets up to Tremont Street.

First ventured into the city with my junior high school friends, we as early teenagers, left the safe confines of Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, which back in the 1980’s was still diverse as part of an urban development, was a growing tourist destination and slowly transforming into a gentrified mall, although there were still small boutiques and vendors which were different, often local and interesting.

Had to walk quite a few blocks away to find Downtown Crossing, full of shoe stores, clothing stores (local and national chains), and our two (2) main department stores, Filene’s (the original location of the popular, discount Filene’s Basement) and Jordan Marsh.  Nearby was also Lauriet’s a local, beloved bookstore, but I didn’t discover it until my 20’s (and saving it for another post).

Barnes & Nobles (B&N) was located a few doors down from Strawberries a music store chain, which was usually our primary destination.  In those days, the early-to mid 1980’s you had to check your bags.  Clearly I remember checking our bags and things at Strawberries, (and the scowls of whoever had to work the security desk in their bright red vests) but not so much B&N.

Vast with a ground floor filled with tables piled with books.  Years later I would find and get to know, the well-worn rhythms and patterns of book promotions — books being set up to lead you back to others, and books being discounted and then cleared away.  Back then — not so much.  Just was an immense maze — novels, poetry and authors that I would browse in wonder.

My best memory of the main floor is crowded, they had a large amount of floor space walled off for the classical music section which had a security doorway.  There was also a large information desk added years later.  Once, I went to pick up my friend Clive’s book I pre-ordered at the desk, and later another colleague told me he stopped by to pick up a book.  And they gave him Clive’s in error, which was kind of a joke because our mail was often mixed up at reception too.  But he brought Clive’s book back to the desk and alerted them, and I was able to pick it up later.

There was a large escalator that lead you up to the second floor which was non-fiction.  Here I’m pretty sure, is one location where I purchased all kinds of college/university study guides for the required U.S. testing, the SATs, and the GRE’s.  Later on, as a 20-something trying to find work post university and deciding about graduate studies, I remember often being in a bewildered slash overwhelmed daze, flipping through the popular “For Dummies” guides with their bright yellow covers.

For years, spent a lot of time browsing the discount tables by the escalators.  Honestly probably was my favorite part of the store.  Even after a large Border’s opened a few blocks away at the corner of Washington and School Streets — B&N continued to be busy in an old school way — it wasn’t as tricked out as the newer B&N Superstores out in the suburbs.  There was no cafe and oddly have no memories of attending any author readings there.

For a short time, during the late 90’s into the 00’s — in Downtown Crossing there were two (2) large chains B&N and Border’s, which made gift/book shopping easy.  To paraphrase, Nora Ephron in her film You’ve Got Mail, if one bookstore didn’t have it (the book you were looking for), the other probably did.  And I do recall searching for and purchasing many children’s books for gifts at this B&N for younger cousins and children of friends — although I cannot exactly recall if the children’s department, was originally located on the main floor and then moved upstairs or not, but I think it was moved at some point.

Something had to give I suppose, with the advent e-readers and rising rents both contributed to the collapse of the mega chain bookstores in the US.  In 2007 and 2008, I took a dance classes and a rotating schedule, and met a Harry Potter loving reader/bookseller that worked in the Downtown Crossing B&N.  Eventually she told me of the stores’ struggles and very sadly it closed within the year or so. And I was worried about her job but she was transferred to a newer outlet/superstore in the Prudential Center complex, a mall in the Copley Square area of Boston.

The former B&N storefront still remains empty to this day.  My dream is they will re-open and bring a bookstore back to Downtown Crossing.







Letter to Cassandra, Sat. 25–Mon. 27, October 1800.

This letter per the notes follows a missing letter, dated Sunday 23 June. Back at home in Steventon, Jane Austen is writing to her old sister Cassandra, who has traveled with their brother Edward and family to their estate Godmersham Park in Kent.

Apparently they stopped in London and sent a package to Steventon which Jane relayed was still en route: “I am not yet able to acknowledge the receipt of any parcel from London, which I suppose will not occasion you much surprise.”

Her wicked wit kicks right off, “You have had a very pleasant Journey of course & have found Elizabeth & all the Children very well on your arrival at Godmersham, & I congratulate you on it.  Edward is rejoicing this even I dare say to find himself once more at home, from which he fancies he has been absent a great while.”

Continues onto the weather, describing their recent neighborhood visits to Deane, Oakley Hall and Oakley and procuring seeds: “At Oakley Hall we did a great deal–eat some sandwiches all over mustard, admired Mr. Bramston Porter’s & Mrs. Bramston’s Transparencies, & gained a promise of two roots of hearts-ease, one all yellow & the other all purple for you.”

There is a large update of local news including recent purchases, visitors, visitations, plus acquisitions including a new Horse bought at the Winchester Fair, and passing along updates of one neighbor’s misfortune: “Our whole Neighborhood is at present very busy grieving over poor Mrs. Martin, who has totally failed in her business, & had very lately an execution in her house.”  Which to clarify sounds like more like a repossession of assets to prevent bankruptcy: “Her own brother & Mr. Rider are the principal creditors, & they have seized her effects in order to prevent other people’s doing it.”

Austen follows this with news about a forced auction, plus more teasing wit, “There has been the same affair going on, we are told at Wilson’s, & my hearing nothing of you makes me apprehensive that You, your fellow travellers & all your effects, might be seized by the Bailiffs when you stopt at the Crown & sold altogether for the benefit of the creditors.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)  The Crown  per the notes is a reference to a coaching inn, and Mr. Wilson was the landlord of that inn.

As the letter continues to Sunday, Austen notes she may be repeating herself on the subject of the fine weather or not having it, “This morning’s unpromising aspect makes it absolutely necessary for me to observe once more how peculiarly fortunate you have been in your weather, and then I will drop the subject for ever.–”

The subject shifts then to the preparation of seeds and planting, before the receipt of the package and her thanks for the contents: “I am now able to thank you for executing my Commissions so well.–I like the Gown very much & my Mother thinks it very ugly.–I like the Stockings also very much & greatly prefer having only two pairs of that quality, to three of an inferior sort.–The Combs are very pretty, & I am much obliged to you for your present; but am sorry you should make me so many.–The Pink Shoes are not particularly beautiful, but they fit me very well –the others are faultless.–I am glad that I have still my Cloak to expect.”  (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

The closing begins with Austen thanking Cassandra for writing when on a Regency Road Trip: “Among my other obligations, I must not omit to number your writing me so long a letter in a in a time of such hurry.  I am amused by your going to Milgate at last & glad that you have so charming a day for your Journey home.”

There is a bit of a back and forth at the end with another dose of wit, perhaps a little bit of a follow up discussion: “I am surprised Mrs. Marriot should not be taller–Surely You have made a mistake.–Did Mr. Roland make you look well?–” (Austen’s own spelling and punctuation.)

Austen adds a postscript, about Mr. Austen opinions on these purchases and or gifts sent by Cassandra: “My father approves his Stockings very highly–& finds no fault with any part of Mrs. Hancock’s bill except the charge of 3s 6d for the Packing box.–”

All cites to: Jane Austen’s Letters, Fourth Edition, Collected and Edited by Deirdre Le Faye, Oxford University Press, 2011.




Digression: My own — “Six inches deep in mud” — part two — March 4, 2018.

Facing a multiple day nor’easter (a storm that rages in from that direction) is never a good thing, especially if you live on the water and don’t have a seawall.

And so: “What would Jane Austen do?”

Not sure she could really fathom this — legal issues, red tape, and facing the dangerous combination of wind and water plus rising tides via Climate Change from Boston Harbor,* coupled with what suspect was her apparent general distaste toward Americans (just casually referencing Mansfield Park), not really sure what there would be to say.

Find it difficult myself.

Our next storm is forecasted to arrive in a few days.

*Our bay is part of Boston’s inner harbor across from a Logan Airport runway.

Monday 13 March 2018 at the Boston Public Library–Free talk/lecture with Ted Scheinan, author of–Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan.

To be held on 13 March, 2018, 6pm at the Boston Public Library, Central Branch, Boylston Street, Copley Square, in the Newsfeed Cafe — free talk/lecture with Ted Scheinan, author of the book: Camp Austen: My Life as an Accidental Jane Austen Superfan.  More info. via the link —http://www.bpl.org/programs/author_series.htm#/?i=

An excerpt of the book is also featured in The Paris Review.