Shop-Sitting Adventures!

My new go-to accessory…the cat scarf.

In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines…Wait! That’s not quite right.
In an old house in Big Stone Gap, VA that is covered with books and kittens… That’s more like it.

Hello all! I’m the “shop-sitter”, Deanna. I’m holding down the fort while Jack and Wendy gallivant around Scotland. I drove out here from Kansas City, Missouri (NOT Kansas!) The Missouri is quite important, as my KC friends understand, on a summertime adventure. I needed to come to the mountains. Needed to.

This book selling life is not for the faint of heart. This morning I began the day by moving a kitten out my bed, feeding medication to dogs, straightening bookstore shelves, scooping litter boxes, trying to locate books for online sales, feeding a kitten gravy from a spoon, and running to the post office across the street. Whew! I thought I was gonna be able to just read all day while looking up intermittently at the mountains.

So far I’m a pretty decent bookseller. I think my trick, totally discovered by accident, is my growing mountain (see what I did there?) of books that I’m planning to take back home. It is source of conversation and I’ve managed to sell multiples to other book-lovers. I even had to give one to a customer from my personal stack. I’m learning about the sacrifices booksellers have to make. It’s easier to sacrifice when you’re in the mountains.

At the end of the day, I’ll take myself on a little drive throughout the mountains in my little convertible, weather permitting. It’s a bit misty today and the mountains look a bit “smoky”. I’ll finish the day with a glass of wine, a book and bath in the big cast iron tub upstairs. Oh yeah, there’s a view of the mountains from it.

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On the Road Again – –

Jack’s Wednesday guest post is on Thursday again – yawn – – –

One of the highlights of the tour I organize on odd-numbered years is the visit to Ballyeman Barn in Beautiful Antrim and the home of our old friend Liz Weir. Despite the fact that she’d only just returned from the US the day before we arrived, she was the perfect host as usual.

liz 1

Liz always cooks us a superb dinner before opening up the room for an old fashioned ceilidh with stories, songs and music. She always invites some of her local friends to join us and the entertainment and ‘craic’ is mighty (as they say in Ireland).

liz 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I wasn’t prepared for this time was the arrival of an old colleague from my teaching career in Dunfermline. I vaguely knew that John O’Connor was Irish but I didn’t know that he was from Cushendall and that he’d returned there when he retired. Just down the road from Liz’s place.

liz 4

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Filed under between books, folklore and ethnography, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch

The Tuesday Book Sculptures

Sorry about yesterday, everyone. Traveling in rural areas of Scotland makes for spotty Internet. But all shall be forgiven, because I have now seen, in person, the Edinburgh Book Sculptures!

If anyone doesn’t know, I am a fanatic for these things. The backstory is best told on a different site, so I’ll just give you the basics here. In 2011, a mysterious little paper cut statue of a tree growing out of a book appeared in the Scottish Poetry Library. It was titled “Poetree” and had a tag honoring books, ideas, and words, thanking the library for existing.

Everyone thought that was nice, and then shortly a second statue appeared. And soon they were everywhere: the National Library, the Storytelling Centre, the Writer’s Museum, the Filmhouse, the Central lending library for Edinburgh, and the National Museum. Always celebrating words and ideas and thanking the institution (all of whom had free admission) for being there.

The sculptures gathered enough attention to have a book put out: GIFTED. And the best part is, once the sculptures gained international attention, it didn’t take the media long to figure out who had made the statues. And at her request, they withheld her name. So very British.

The other fun part about the sculptures is the books they are made from: the dinosaur from AC Doyle’s Lost World, the Hyde street scene from Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. And most of the rest from Ian Rankin novels (a great crime writer based in Edinburgh).

This is a random sampling of some of the statues, which I have now finally seen in person. Some of the venues were rather startled by my ardent worship, but I am a happy person.

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A Walled Garden

19206160_1634797773197947_1339798747_nIn the city, space is a commodity. I’ve always thought of cities as incongruous lonely spaces – so many people, so little humanity interacting.

But we are staying with friends in downtown Edinburgh, not a mile off Princess Street (downtown) and they have a walled garden…..

I love walled gardens. Your own little bit of marked off territory for just sitting, thinking, being quiet and contemplative with a book and a cup of tea, or loud and boisterous with instruments and a bottle of wine and a handful of mates.

In the middle of the city, you can find the greenery and the fountains and the people who actually live in the cities, whose lives are rooted like the gardens they plant in their little secret places.

Perhaps my fondness for gardens stems back to the day after Jack’s mum died, and I was away from home in Ayrshire, in Wigtown, Scotland’s book city, and had nowhere to go to be by myself and have a good cry. And I spilled my guts to say as much to one of the bookshop owners, at Ceridwin’s Cauldron, and she took me back to her garden and brought me tea and told me to stay as long as I wanted. I spent an hour back there composing myself and being nothing but alone. Ever since then, walled gardens have been a special space.

The garden here at Barbara and Oliver’s has been a jolly place, shared for music and reminiscences and politics and the mystery of the noise coming from somewhere nearby. (Jack cracked that; it was a two-note sound not unlike the CLOSE ENCOUNTERS alien five-note theme, and he found the sewer pipe in the apartment next door was letting off gas, one note opening, the other closing. A farting building, in essence.)

Walled gardens are lovely, and every city has such little tucked-away spaces. Explore them when you can, with friends when you can. They are the heartbeat of humanity.

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Who knows where the time goes –

Once again Jack misses his deadline and the Wednesday guest post appears on Thursday –

This is the title of a great song by Sandy Denny, who died far too young after falling down stairs once too often.

I find myself humming it over and over, here in Edinburgh once again, at the age of 75, after not falling down stairs very much at all—or at least not hurting myself when I did.

Edinburgh gives me a funny feeling, one I imagine must be felt by anyone of advancing years who experiences a less and less familiar place over a lifetime.

edinburgh

I first came here as a teenager to attend a jazz club on Tuesday nights–a 30-minute train journey on a pal’s “borrowed” student pass. It was glamorous and hippy. Outside of the August arts festival the place was mostly gloomy back in the Fifties, and if you missed the last train back you were stuck. Later I could borrow my dad’s car and the road bridge over the Forth opened – much more convenient and by then the folk scene had started. Gloom moved from buildings to music, one might say.

howff

The entrance to the jazz club is still the same (later the Howff folk-club)

The weird mix of nostalgia and alienation are exacerbated because Wendy and I are staying with my old singing partner of that folk scene. Barbara Dickson and I are both originally from Dunfermline, on the other side of the river Forth. We traveled that road to the big city morning, noon, and night to do gigs of every description, and every time I cross it, I remember something else from those fun, silly, earnest times.

And yet, as I return each year now leading a Scottish tour, the place seems more and more alien. The traffic is terrible, the good shops have gone, ghost tours and pub crawls advertised everywhere, every tiny corner has been turned into yet another marketing opportunity. Not that I can complain about marketing leading a tour, but a part of me longs to show Americans the way it was when it was a proud city bent on being rather than selling itself.

For all the tartan tat, Edinburgh manages to retain a certain grandeur – I’m really not sure how it does it. The 16th Century John Knox’s house in the old High Street is surrounded by awful opportunistic chain outlets – ‘kilt outfits for 100 pounds’ etc. (I wouldn’t advise buying one, or washing it if you do). That ancient house seems to just draw in its skirts and shrug them off, like many other historic buildings in the area.

Maybe we’re all destined to become curmudgeons as we age, lauding a golden past that never was. Or perhaps we all understand that commerce is driving the world now, not history, culture, tradition. Not that those ever did. If people remembered history we wouldn’t keep circling in the same paths.

So despite my curmudgeonly misgivings, Edinburgh retains a dignity and an allure beneath the shouts of tour leaders and vendors. There is more to Scotland than buying a plush Nessie in the High Street. Always has been, always will be.

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The Monday Book: FAREWELL SUMMER by Ray Bradbury

farewell-summer-ray-bradburyBradbury is one of my all-time favorite authors, even though he breaks all the rules of what I normally like to read.

He isn’t about character development or plot, and one of the reasons people have a hard time adapting his books to TV or Movies or Stage Plays (witness The Martian Chronicles and Something Wicked This Way Comes) is that not much happens. What does happen is subtle. I mean, think about it, humans land on Mars and the theme of Chronicles is how it makes humans feel and act to have done that.

When the wind blows in Bradbury’s books, it is action, event, and plot development. His winds don’t blow, they dance, sprinkle the dust of mummies into towns, awaken strangeness, extend foggy hands to pull you into graveyards and make you explore your dark side. They might even slap you off a cliff, but they never just blow. And yet, that’s all that happens for three chapters: Bradbury describes the effect of the wind on people – mostly young boys and those who would force them to return to school at the end of summer: the Evil Old Ones who battle for control of the clocks.

I don’t know any other authors who can write such mundane clichés with so much beauty and elegance, you go back and reread the sentences for the joy of them.

Farewell Summer is actually the sequel to a book I didn’t get into all that much of Bradbury’s, mostly because it was written so much from a boy’s perspective that it left no room for a girl to say “Hey, me too! I want more childhood and to be grown-up at the same time, too!”

But that’s fair enough. How can anyone stay feminist-annoyed at an author who writes such incredible openings as this one in Chapter 19:

Grandpa’s library was a fine dark place bricked with books, so anything could happen there and always did. All you had to do was pull a book from the shelf and open it and suddenly the dark was not so dark anymore.

Yes, okay, just give me some more sentences and let me slide under the spell of his poetry where nothing happens except the wind blows and school lets out for summer. It’s lovely.

 

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Checklist for going to Scotland…

stressJack and I are two days out from going to Scotland for his annual tour. This is the first year I’ve been able to go with him. So I’ve been getting my to-do-before-leaving list together, and thought you might like to see it:

  1. Crochet breast (a friend who had breast cancer discovered that a crocheted knocker could go swimming, and asked me to make her one. It’s taken a long time to get her measured for size, but I am determined this will be with her before I depart.)
  2. Sign house papers (we are selling our cabin in the Tennessee woods, and of course the papers arrived and had to be notarized)
  3. Scrub away that suspicious yellow stain behind the toilet (casting no aspersions on male bookstore guests, but if the plane goes down I don’t want people making snide comments about my housekeeping)
  4. Clean out the Prius (we were going to trade it in when we got back, and then a friend was looking for a car for his daughter, so what better time to sell your car than 48 hours before an international flight?) – Oh, and arrange transport to the airport.
  5. Make unicorn hair (my niece asked for a unicorn scarf for Christmas, and mailing it while in Scotland will be a lot cheaper, but I haven’t get the mane finished)
  6. Find a place to hold a conference for 96 doctors that includes enough hotel rooms, wifi, child-friendly activities, and gourmet level food (Oh curse you state park that lost our reservation made LAST SEPTEMBER- although it’s not all bad; they gave us a significant discount for next year. A VERY significant discount.)
  7. Tie up tomato plants (only six heirlooms remain of the 14 I planted, due to blackberry winter, dogwood spring, indian summer, tomato-killing fall–whatever you call that weather we had)
  8. Stop solving cat rescue problems (the other members of Appalachian Feline Friends have stepped forward to afford me this time away; I need to stop saying “if it were me, I’d” and thank them for the gift of awayness)
  9. Weed the front garden (oh who am I kidding? I don’t sodding care if we have crabgrass)
  10. Ignore pile of clean laundry (it will be here when I get back, and given the other stuff, it isn’t a priority. I have unicorn hair and a crocheted breast to finish.

We leave Sunday afternoon. A friend asked me “what are you looking forward to the most in Scotland” and I had to lie, because my first response was, “Not having any cell phone service.” Truth. Go by, mad world. Without me, please.

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Filed under Big Stone Gap, bookstore management, humor, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch