Category Archives: folklore and ethnography

The Monday Book: TIME WAS SOFT THERE by Jeremy Mercer

“In a place like Paris, the air is so thick with dreams they clog the streets and take all the good tables at the cafés. Poets and writers, models and designers, painters and sculptors, actors and directors, lovers and escapists, they flock to the City of Lights. That night at Polly’s, the table spilled over with the rapture of pilgrims who have found their temple. That night, among new friends and safe at Shakespeare and Company, I felt it too. Hope is a most beautiful drug.”

mercerJack and I got the idea for using shopsitters at our place – people who receive free room and board in return for living there – from Shakespeare and Co. This is a famous bookstore across from Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

On a listserv of bookshop owners, talk turned to books about bookstores. (I received ego strokes, and then we went on.) Mercer stayed at the shop for some time, watching the ebb and flow of people who ranged from down and outs to up and comings. He also spent significant time with George, the shop owner (although not its founder – Sylvia Beach did that) and some of the regulars.

Mercer’s book is in many ways journalistic, showing his roots as a true crime writer. Yet he portrays the under humanity so simply with his “this is what happened” prose. One of the blurbs on the back calls the book a romanticized version of the bum’s life, but I don’t agree. The book is far less romantic than wistful.

Among the things Mercer does is get George’s daughter to visit, and ultimately secure the shop’s future. It has a fascinating history: closed during the Nazi Era, considered a hothouse of sedition in the 1960s student riots, monitored by the CIA in the 1990s if George is to be believed.

There are a couple of startling moments: an ethnic hate crime results in murder and Mercer is less concerned about the murder than the police sniffing around a bookstore full of people with improper visas to be in France. He seems more concerned when the 84-year-old George gets engaged to 20-year-old shop worker Eva. That kind of thing. It all just sails past, along with the adorable moments of scorn for “30 minute tourists” who just want to stick their head in the door because the place is famous, having no understanding of or interest in its true ethos.

And there’s a very funny cynicism to the scheme three residents come up with, to sit and write in front of the tourists and sell the pages, story by short story. The description of this was, quite frankly, laugh out loud funny.

This isn’t a story about books, but about the bookstore itself, its inhabitants, and its purpose. Mercer’s final paragraph is a good summation: “In the end, yes, it is a famous bookstore and, yes, it is of no small literary importance. But more than anything, Shakespeare and Company is a refuge, like the church across the river. A place where the owner allows everyone to take what they need and give what they can.”  

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book repair, book reviews, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, shopsitting, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

SI ME REN: Santiago to Valpariaso

Si Me Ren is a children’s Christmas song in Spanish. It roughly translates to “if you see me walking by.” And that’s what we’ve done a lot of since arriving in Chile: walking.

More words later, but here in photos are the things we’ve been seeing and doing.

We started our morning with a visit to Castille Hidalgo, in downtown Santiago. Here’s my friend Cami (we are traveling with Cami and her husband Bill). But take a look over Cami’s shoulder for the ultimate photobomb. You couldn’t pay me enough money to do that.

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This is a statue commemorating the Mapuche people.chile 005

chile 012The circle garden at the palace, and below, Jack in the market. That’s mosaic made of broken tiles and glass.

chile 019Stray dogs are everywhere in Chile, for the most part looked after in a kind of benevolent neglect by the people. This one was working the palace grounds. chile 002

It took me about five minutes to find a cat at the marketplace. Cats tend not to be strays. This one’s name was Sol, and he worked at a jewelry booth.chile 023

It took me about three minutes to find wool at the market. On the bus ride out of Santiago to Valparaiso, I took advantage of the purchase.chile 025

We booked a place to stay via Air B&B, and it turned out to be absolutely lovely, in a quirky, Bohemian area of this seaside town. We ate pizzas out of that oven, made by the guy who did those murals.

chile pizza

And here are the pizzas, as beautiful as his artwork.chile pizzas

This is what the area looks like. Note the creepy baby that is the view from one of our windows. The nice seaside pic is out the other window. The blond kid Jack is talking to is from Switzerland. He’s been woofing in Chile for a few months.

valparaiso chile concrete fish chile chile 028 chile 026chile artist

This was actually on the drive up from Santiago, a bit out of order, but there you go. Chile isn’t about order and schedules much. :] More photos later, and we need to tell you the stories that go with some of them, but for now, these pictures will have to offer 1,000 words each. :]chile countryside

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap

The Monday Book: THE SILVER TATTOO by Laura Treacy Bentley

tattooDark literary thrillers are not my thing; I got this book in the post from the author who requested consideration for the Monday Book. We like to support regional authors (and she’s in WV) so while prepared to be optimistic, I worried I’d not have much to say about it.

But I totally loved Bentley’s writing. She has a great way with details and scene-setting. Her characters are not driving the plot; the plot drives the plot, specifically the psychotic weirdness of the stalker after her protagonist Leah. Bentley paints the slow, steady suspenseful rise with increasing depictions of violence or madness that pretty much verge on poetic. In the background hover tributes to Irish folklore that add nice atmosphere.

Bentley’s writing reminds me of two fantasy authorities: Ray Bradbury (one of her writing heroes, so it stands to reason) and Stephen King. She has that playful sense of poetry that Bradbury has, and like King she eschews explanation and too-obvious depictions of what’s going on inside the person’s head– a la King’s “he did it because he did it” writing.

This is a scene-by-scene book, and some of the scenes are quite intense. If you like plots that are less twist-and-turn than finely drawn, if you like to figure out for yourself why someone is behaving as they are,  or if you like Irish mythology, you’re going to love The Silver Tattoo.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, book reviews, folklore and ethnography, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, publishing, reading, Scotland, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch, writing, YA fiction

A Sad Cautionary Tail–er, Tale…..

Be as careful of the books you read, as of the company you keep; for your habits and character will be as much influenced by the former as by the latter. –Paxton Hood

This guest blog was written by some of Wendy’s close friends, who appeal to all of you out there for help.

You all know that Wendy and Jack rescue cats in their bookstore. And most of you who read the blog regularly or keep up with Tales of the Lonesome Pine/Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap on Facebook will know that they recently passed 100 cat adoptions from their fine facility.

Yes. Huzzah. In fact, they are now up to 108, because last week brought an unprecedented six adoptions. Double huzzah.

But amidst the celebration we who love them must pause to consider the wisdom of the quotation above–and that all that time spent with the feline population has had an effect on Wendy. As her friends, we are …. concerned. Wendy has always been a big crocheter, so when she turned her needle art to the purpose of paying for feral and foster spays and neuters, we thought it an excellent plan.

Now, we’re not so sure….. see for yourself.

wendy cat scarf

We just worry that maybe, somewhere, things have gotten the wee bit out of hand? What can we do to help her?

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, humor, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, reading

Should Old Acquaintance be forgot – –

Jack’s guest post this week is all about friendship

Wendy blogged about our friend Barbara Dickson and her husband Oliver last week, but I wanted to say something about their visit too.

Barbara and I sang together as a ‘folk-duo’ in Scotland back in the 1960s, and although we’ve stayed in touch over the years – – – -

It’s often the case that people we think of as good friends we don’t actually see very often and in the case of Barbara, we haven’t spent any personal time together in almost fifty years. So I imagine she was as nervous as I was at committing to two weeks of living cheek-by-jowl here in our house/bookstore. I had no idea if she and Oliver would get along with our dogs and cats or how they’d feel about sharing the floor that the guest room is on with our cafe, cafe manager or cafe manager’s frequently visiting family (also known as our second family).

Barbara is a world ranking singer and actor who’s recording and performing career far outstrips mine, so another concern was how she’d react when, inevitably, our curious local friends would ask to hear us singing again together.

In the event we needn’t have worried!

Barbara and Oliver have become surrogate aunt and uncle to the cafe kids, she carries our latest foster-kitten Small-Fry around on her shoulder, they’ve made space for themselves and we’ve shared our part of Appalachia with them, to their obvious delight.

And the singing? We ended up discovering we still had some songs in common and we were able to re-create the kind of intimate setting that neither of us had experienced for a very long time and share that with our friends here – and we had a ball!

They got to see Carter Fold, The Museum of Country Music and Dollywood, but not all the other places they might have, so already we’re making plans for the return visit, when they will see all the stuff there wasn’t time for this year.

 

 

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Filed under animal rescue, Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, VA

We Had some Rantin’ Rovin’ Fun

DSCN1013Big Stone Celtic is now a host of sore leg muscles and happy memories. For its organizers, we’re already busy making lists of stuff for next year. For its attendees, we hope the music lingers in your head as long as the smile stays in your heart.

Enjoy these photos, and hop on over to Big Stone Celtic Day. You’ll find videos of the sheepdogs in action, the dancers in step, and the pipers mid-tune.

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We Be SWAMPED – Big Stone Celtic Starts Tonight!

sheepWe’re kinda in a mad dash to the finish line here at the bookstore, headquarters for Big Stone Celtic. Our headliner is in residence, our signs are up, our theatre seats are out and ready… and we can’t get much of a blog post up today. But come visit the site Sunday, and we’ll have all sorts of photos and fun for you about the weekend. Meanwhile, if you can join us, the schedule is at www.bigstoneceltic.com, and on Facebook you can visit Big Stone Celtic Day. Sheepdogs, singing, and food, oh my!

Come awa’ ben! (the Scots equivalent of “Y’all come!”)

 

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