Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder

I’m not sure how many people are familiar with absinthe. It’s not a very popular or common drink these days, especially since it was illegal to produce for most of the 20th century (the ban was lifted in recent years). For those of you who have never heard of it, I will explain.

Absinthe is a spirit made from the herbs anise, fennel and wormwood. It is usually green in color, altho there are clear versions. It has a bitter, black liquorice flavor due to the anise and fennel. It has a very high alcohol content, usually between 60% and 80%, and is diluted with water before drinking. The water is poured over a sugar cube to help combat the bitterness. It was originally created as a health elixir in Switzerland, but became very popular with the art and literary crowd in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It was nicknamed “The Green Fairy” and was considered an inspirational muse of sorts. Absinthe was thought to cause hallucinations and was blamed for many cases of insanity, death and violence.

Being the big fan that I am of 19th and early 20th century literature, I was fairly familiar with it. I’ve read about it in books, seen it in period films, found information about it on the internet. A few years ago we were on vacation in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, and I saw it for sale in a liquor store. I very much wanted to try it, but it was expensive and not knowing if I would even like it, I didn’t want to risk spending the money. But, last weekend, we were out there for a weekend getaway, and at one of the restaurants we went to they had absinthe listed on their drink menu. As you can imagine I was thrilled. Not only as a fan of the time period, but as a writer, this is something I’ve waited years, decades even, to get a chance to try.

So the owner of the restaurant, who is an absinthe connoisseur, came over to our table with the glass, the sugar cube, the absinthe spoon (a slotted spoon designed to sit on the rim of the glass) and a small pitcher of ice water. She puts the spoon on the glass and the sugar cube on the spoon and shows me how to dribble the water very slowly over the sugar to dissolve it without using too much water and diluting the absinthe too much. She warned me never to use regular sugar cubes from the grocery store. They’re too hard and take too much water to dissolve. She advised going to a gourmet food store and getting softer sugar cubes imported from Africa. You can also find special “absinthe” sugar cubes at a specialty bar supply or liquor store.

It’s a very aromatic drink. As the water is mixing with it, the scent of the herbs are released and are very pleasant. The flavor is quite unique in comparison to other forms of alcohol. It still does retain some of its bitterness even with the sugar, it’s not sweet at all, but you can definitely taste that black liquorice flavor. Like most spirits with a high alcohol content, you feel the burn as it goes down.

Needless to say, I went to the liquor store and bought the bottle before we went home.

At Last

So, I finally have my home office set back up. I have it in my oldest son’s old bedroom now that he has moved out. It’s nice to have a space of my own again. All my books are out on their shelves for the first time in over a year. I forgot how many damn books I have. It took me almost twelve hours to sort them and organize them and put them on the shelves. But it was worth it. I was even able to part with alot of books that I know I will never read. They will go to the Salvation Army and hopefully find homes with people who will enjoy them.

I believe that personal space is very important to a person’s emotional well-being. I know that human beings are social animals that need frequent contact with other human beings, but time alone is important too. I spoze its more important for some people than others. I, for example, am happy being alone most of the time. I am perfectly content not seeing or talking to anyone one else for days at a time. My boyfriend, on the other hand, loves socializing and being the center of attention. Talking is like breathing to him. He would die if he stopped.

So for me, having personal space is very important. Someplace I can go and close the door when I can’t handle being in a room with other people anymore. Where all my stuff is, where no one else is allowed to go or touch things. And, hopefully, a place where I can focus on my writing. As Virginia Woolf once said, “a woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction…” I have the room, now I just need the money. Unlike Woolf, I don’t have an inheritance.

Death Of The Bookstore?

I just finished reading a book about bookstores and booksellers and their history, called The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. Near the end he talks about online book buying, thru such websites as Amazon, and whether or not it will bring about the demise of the physical bookstore.

I don’t think bookstores will every completely disappear. I do think that the discounts available thru websites and big bookstore chains, who can order their stock in bulk, will make it more difficult for independent bookstores to open or stay open. And then there are e-books, which small indie bookstores don’t even have the ability to sell at all. But I’ll be the first to admit that I do the majority of my book buying at a big chain bookstore, namely Barnes & Noble. I also order books online thru Barnes & Noble’s website. And I have an iPad with the Nook and iBooks apps.

I like going to bookstores tho. I don’t enjoy shopping online for books. Most of the experience of book shopping isn’t the actual purchase. There are many times when I go to a bookstore that I don’t even buy anything. I just enjoy being there. I like wandering the aisles, seeing what cover image or title or author name catches my eye. I like sitting down with a stack of books in a comfortable chair, or even on the floor, and flipping thru pages, pausing to read a paragraph or two here and there. I like the way the books smell as you rustle the paper. I like bookstores with inviting sitting areas, that make you want to relax and enjoy your coffee or tea or hot chocolate. I like bookstores that offers a place where your writing group or book club can gather.

I know Barnes & Noble is one of the big chain stores, which is considered the enemy to small, independent store owners. But when it comes to the B&N in Holyoke where I shop, I always think of it as my bookstore. I’ve been shopping at that one store for over fifteen years now. I’m just comfortable there. It’s like a second home to me. I also go to the Odyssey, which is an independent store, and Raven Used Books, but not very often because they are farther away. When I lived little farther east of here I used to love this used book store called The Book Bear. I recently got a brochure listing all the used books stores in Massachusetts. When I get a chance I want to check out the ones that are around here. I like used books. They have character to them.

Another thing that I think will change bookselling as we have known it is the changes going on in the publishing world. With the invention self publishing and print on demand, traditional publishing houses and bookstores are no longer the only path to being a published author. Writers can self publish their books and sell them thru their own websites. With e-books there is no physical book to put on a shelf. As far as e-books go, I can definitely say I do not like reading them as much as I like reading a real printed book. That said, I do believe that switching to electronic publications would have a large environmental impact, both in reducing paper waste and reducing the cutting of trees.

But, if every single book, magazine and newspaper were e-formated, there would no longer be a need for bookstores. A world without bookstores would be a sad world indeed.

The Almost Empty Nest

So I am down to one child left living at home. My 9 year old. I still have another child that’s only 15 but she lives with my ex husband. But as of April 27, my  third child is an adult. He moved out this past weekend to live with his cousin. A few days before that, my daughter, her boyfriend and their baby moved into their own apartment. And my oldest has been married and living in Texas with her husband and her children for several years now.

So the house has been very quiet and empty. Not that it’s a bad thing. Its kinda nice. We have already started putting plans for the empty rooms into action. The one my daughter was using was originally a dining room. Years ago we walled it off from the living room and hung a door in the doorway to the kitchen and used it as a bedroom, then an office for me and then a bedroom again, and back and forth a few times. This weekend we tore the wall down and took off the door and have returned it to a dining room again. We ate dinner in there Saturday night for the first time in about 5 or 6 years.

My son’s old bedroom I have claimed for my own. It is the smallest bedroom in the house and the only one located on the first floor. It’s too small to put in anything larger than a twin bed so really its too small for a proper guest room. And we don’t ever have guests overnight anyways. I used the room for my office once before when my son went to live with his father temporarily. It’s a much cozier and warmer room then the dining room, and I liked it better.

I’m looking forward to having a space of my own again. My boyfriend already moved my secretary and file cabinet and all my bookshelves in, now I just have to bring all my boxes of books up from the basement and unpack them. Which is no small task let me tall ya. I have alot of books. Oh, and my chair, which is buried in the storage room in the basement. It will be fun digging that out.

I’m hoping that now that I will have a place to go where I can shut the door and block out the noise and distractions of the house that maybe I can get back to some serious work on my book and my short stories. I always work better when I can be completely alone. Put on some music, light some incense or scented candles, pop open one of them bright blue Calypso Colada wine cooler I love so much (hey I never claimed to have any class) and I’ll be all set. Really get into the zone in a way I can’t when I’m trying to write in the living room, with people around and the tv on and all sorts of things competing for my attention.

I’m starting to get alot of anxiety surrounding my book. About not working on it. About it not being finished. About whether or not I’ll be able to get it published once it is finished. If I end up having to self publish how I’ll get it marketed so people will buy it. I’m almost 40 years old and I’ve done nothing yet as a professional writer. I just feel like the time is running out on me if I want a career as a writer. Especially with the health problems I have. I’m afraid I’m gonna die before I accomplish anything.

Midnight In Paris

Was there a golden age for artists and writers? Much like Owen Wilson’s character in Midnight in Paris, I have a highly romanticized idea of 1920’s Paris as a glamorous paradise full of writers and painters and musicians and dancers, gathering in cafes and parlors and clubs, drinking and dancing  and creating from dusk til dawn. I feel like if I could somehow slip back in time and space to that era, I could tap into that same bottomless creative well they all seemed to have access to, and create literary masterpieces.

But I know that in reality it was a time of poor hygiene, little indoor plumbing and electricity, writing by hand with messy ink bottles, where diseases like tuberculosis and syphilis ran rampant thru a population that was promiscuous, addicted to opium and morphine, drank too much, smoked too much, ate poorly, slept little and lived in damp, drafty rooms with little or no heat. Many of them died from illness, substance abuse or suicide far too young.

There was no magic font of creativity that bestowed creative super powers on the people who lived there. There were just alot of already talented people who happened to congregate in a place where they could escape prohibition and censorship.

Even with that logical knowledge, I cant help but sigh nostalgically.

But I would definitely recommend Midnight in Paris if you like Woody Allen movies, or Owen Wilson, or the 1920’s Paris art scene. We watched it last night and it was great. Corey Stoll as Ernest Hemingway really stole the show. He was like an Old Spice commercial. And Adrien Brody as Salvador Dali was hilarious.

Another movie I like, set in that era in Paris, is Henry and June, about writers Anais Nin and Henry Miller and Henry’s wife June. Taking place during the time that Miller was writing Tropic of Cancer, it centers around his affair with Nin and how it effected their writing, their lives and their marriages. It is rated NC-17 due to its sexuality so be warned if your sensitive to that sort of thing.

And Hemingway’s book, A Moveable Feast! I thought it was endlessly fascinating to read about the way he and his fellow writers and artists lived during that time. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough!

So was it a golden age? To us, looking back from our own time, it may seem so. But an age never seems golden when its the present, only when it becomes the past.

Book Store & Library Etiquette

Yes, bookstores and libraries are comfy cozy places to hang out and lounge around and enjoy your leisure time. That does not mean you are at home. You are not in your living room or your bedroom. Thus certain things are not acceptable.

~My biggest peeve is shoes. PLEASE KEEP YOUR SHOES AND SOCKS ON!!!! If your shoes are so uncomfortable that you can’t stand having them on, then perhaps you should invest in different shoes. Nobody wants your nasty sweaty socks or bare feet all over everything. This weekend I was at B&N and one lady had her sock feet up on a coffee table. Another lady had her bare feet up on the upholstered arm-chair, while she was picking the skin from between her toes and flicking the pieces who knows where. I don’t want to sit in a chair that you just finished rubbing your athlete’s foot all over. And don’t put your feet on a table that other people put their food and drinks on. These are the types of things that make me want to be a recluse.

~Cellphone use. Yes, we all have them, for the most part. And, yes, the point of them is so that people can reach us when we are away from home. But that does not mean that you should go to a place where people typically engage in quiet activities, such as reading, studying and browsing books, and spend long intervals of time TALKING ON YOUR PHONE AT THE TOP OF YOUR LUNGS. Especially about highly personal and inapropriate topics or using vulgar language that may be unsuitable for everyone present to hear. You are not in a sound proof booth. We can all hear you. Also if your phone plays music thru its speaker, realize that not everybody shares your taste in music. Dont walk around with your phone clipped to your belt blasting music like its your own private night club.

~Which brings me to regular conversations with who ever it is that you are with. Please use a conversational tone. No need to scream when the person you’re talking to is two feet away. I understand that I am going to hear the conversations of people sitting or standing near me. If they are speaking quietly I can easily tune them out. I respect people’s privacy and will not intentionally eavesdrop on a conversation that I am not a part of. But if your shouting and squealing and making a spectacle of yourself, its hard to ignore.  And again with the language and subject matter.

~I didnt come to catch the live show…if you know what I mean. If you need to get it on that bad, stay home, get a room, go to the drive-in, whatever. I don’t need you dry humping next to me while I’m trying to read.

~Browsing in the same aisle or sitting in the same chair grouping does not make me your friend. If I wanted a companion I would have brought one. If there are two things that don’t mix, it’s talking and reading. If I have an open book in front of my face, I am doing the latter. Also, I tend to be a very solitary person and being approached by strangers generally makes me very uncomfortable. Unlike my boyfriend who feels the need to talk to every person within hearing range of his voice. Which is why I very rarely ever take him to the book store or library with me.

~People need to respect personal space when possible. Obviously in a crowded area we can’t all stay arm’s length away from each other. But that does not mean you need to be hovering over me like a vulture on a dead carcass. If I’m looking at a shelf of books and you want to see something on that shelf, don’t press up against my back, breathing down my neck like a pervert, trying to read over my shoulder. Either wait til I’m done or say “excuse me” and I’ll step aside. This also annoys me in the checkout line when the person behind me is standing so close that I can’t move without bumping into them. It also makes me paranoid that they are trying to steal my PIN number when I’m typing it into the keypad

~Personal hygiene is everybody’s friend. Please shower before going out. You may adore the smell of ass crack and armpits, but most of us do not. There is nothing worse than curling up in a comfortable chair with a good book and a cup of hot chocolate and settling in for a long, satisfying afternoon of reading, then having someone flop down in the chair next to you, with BO so strong it makes you gag. And if that person is also someone who likes to take their shoes off…well lets not even think about that.

~The other patrons are not there to be your babysitters. If you bring children with you it is your responsibility to watch them.You are not allowed to set them loose in the building and completely ignore them while they run, scream, climb, throw things, spill stuff, jump around and harass everybody else while you sit and read or talk on your phone. Also do not allow your children to bring along toys that are excessively noisy. Like remote control cars, toy fire trucks with sirens, drums, horns, whistles, bells or squeakers. If they bring a hand-held video game, give them ear buds or make them keep the volume down.

~If you bring your laptop with you, remember that what comes out of its speakers is not contained to your ears alone. Everyone around you is forced to hear to it as well. So be mindful that listening to you shoot lasers at androids for an hour in whatever ubergeek video game your trying to level up in is probly not gonna be an enjoyable experience for anybody else but you.

~Throw away your trash when you are done. This is more a problem at books stores than libraries because a lot of bookstores tend to have cafes in them these days. If you eat or drink anything, there are barrels provided to throw away your trash. And if you spill a drink or make a lot of crumbs, clean up your mess. Dont leave a filthy area for someone else to use. The cafe people will wipe down the tables and counters in the cafe area, but not the rest of the store. I always find empty coffee cups and crumpled up napkins and sandwich wrappers all over the place, including on the bookshelves. And I don’t like picking my book up off a table and having half the back cover ripped off cuz it glued to some sticky half-congealed splotch of frappucino that I didn’t notice. Libraries don’t have as much of a problem with food trash since there is usually no eating allowed there, but of course you always have those people who ignore the rules and bring in their McDonald’s or Taco Bell, and those are usually people who also don’t clean up after themselves.

So I guess that about covers it. A lot of people will probly think I’m quite unreasonable with my expectations of how people should act. And maybe I am. But I think a lot of people are quite unreasonable in what they expect people to put up with. But of course I know the people who will be the most offended by this list will be the people who are habitually guilty of committing many of these behaviors. Unfortunately with each passing generation our society becomes more ‘me, myself and I” centered, and people just do whatever they please and think they need never consider how their actions effect others.

“Oh, You Can’t Help That. We’re All Mad Here.”

I love Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It is absolutely my favorite childhood book, and even as an adult I love to read it. I can’t count how many times I’ve read it now.

I read so many good books as a child. Too many to count or even remember. Some I remember the stories but not the titles and have spent hours searching data bases and libraries for them, doing searches based on a character name or even just a genre or topic. And a lot of books are out of print and take a lot of searching to find copies of them for sale even if I do remember the names.

Books have been such an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents always made sure I had books to read, and books were always given to me for birthdays, Christmas or any other occasion that included gifts. I loved my books more than dolls or any other toys that I had. I tried so hard to interest all my children in reading. Out of five, only one, the daughter I just had the baby shower for, truly inherited my love of books and reading. Of the other four, two have a very few select books that they like and will read over and over again, one will only read books because they are assigned for school, and one wont read at all.

I have so many happy memories of a childhood spent reading. Pretty much the only happy memories in a childhood that was primarily lonely and friendless. I looked forward to the hours I could spend away from my real life and the bullies that humiliated me every day. Often I would take my books and hide in my closet in with a flashlight or under my bed so my parents couldn’t find me and bother me, or I would go into the woods behind my house. I also spent many weekends and summer days at the library, my home away from home.

As much as I loved to read as a child, however, I hated reading classes in school. I hated, hated, HATED writing book reports or having to read assigned chapters or a specific number of pages, or even being assigned a book not of my choosing. If anything is designed to make a child hate reading, its book reports. Theres nothing like taking something that is spozed to be enjoyable and making it into a tedious work assignment. Despite having a college level reading ability by the time I left elementary school, I consistently failed reading in school simply because I could not write a good book report, even if it was for a book I liked.

Fortunately, tho, I did read a few  books as school assignments that I really liked. Two that stick out in my memory are Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan in 6th grade and The Secret of the Seven Crows by Wylly Folk St. John in 5th grade. I remember reading Secret of the Seven Crows. The reading teacher would have us taking turns reading out loud from one chapter, then we would discuss it, then we would have to hand our books in at the end of class because she didn’t want us reading ahead. I fell in love with the book from the very first chapter and considering we only had reading once a week there was no way I was going to wait and read one chapter a week. So after school that day I went to the library and borrowed it and read the whole book that night. How any of the other kids managed to read this book in the way the teacher planned, I have no idea. By the time the week passed and it was time for reading class again, most of them had forgotten everything they had read in the previous chapter.

And while we are on the topic of having students reading out loud: Why? That is the worst thing ever. Having to sit there and follow along while some poor kid stutters and stumbles along an endless passage of words in a monotone with no attention paid to punctuation or paragraphs or quotation marks is just painful. Nobody wants to read out loud. Nobody wants to listen to anybody read out loud. Nobody reads well out loud. So, please, Teachers, stop torturing your students with this excercise in frustration and humiliation.

I did have a (very) few teachers that used books for enjoyment rather than just school work. When I was in 2nd grade my teacher would read us poems from Shel Silverstein’s Where the Sidewalk Ends in the afternoons if we had a good day. Santa Claus brought me that book for Christmas that year because I loved it so much. I still have it (missing its dust jacket and a little warped from water damage) over thirty years later. My daughter uses it to read poems to her unborn child.

And my 5th grade teacher (not the reading teacher, my regular teacher) who was one of the few teachers I ever really liked. He was a hippy back in the 60s (this was now the early 80s) and every Friday afternoon we would get our carpet squares and sit on the floor by the bookshelves and he would play guitar and sing folk songs or read to us. I wish I could remember the name of the book he read us that year. I can remember the story but not the title. *sigh*

Books were my companions, my best friends and I loved them all. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, The Witches’ Bridge, The Chronicles of Narnia, Pippi Longstocking, Oscar Lobster’s Fair Exchange, Bunnicula, Dorrie the Witch, The Runaway Squash, Gus was a Friendly Ghost, Green Eggs and Ham, and many, many more. And so many books I’ve yet to read.

More than I’ll ever have time for in a single life time.

A Pointless Drive

In two weeks I am having a baby shower for my daughter.

So yesterday I went shopping for her baby shower gifts. I bought some baby outfits and a little snuggly bunny. And of course, I bought books. Well I bought one, and I have one on hold down at that dreadful Barnes and Noble in CT that I will pick up when I am in Enfield tomorrow.

The book I bought at my regular Barnes and Noble is the complete collection of Winnie the Pooh by A. A. Milne, a beautiful hard cover with a blue satin ribbon marker and the original illustrations. The other, which they didn’t have but which the sales lady was nice enough to call around to area stores to look for, and reserve in Enfield for me, is a complete collection of Beatrix Potter. Judging by the price, I’m assuming it will be of similar quality to the Pooh book.

I chose to get these books because my daughter, like myself, is an avid reader and I know she will enjoy reading these books to my grand-daughter starting at a very early age. It’s never too early to start reading to a child.

But finding these book. Wow. The last place I really wanted to end up yesterday was Barnes and Noble. I like it there, but I go there on a fairly regular basis and I really wanted to shop for books someplace a little more interesting. So first I made the half hour trek north to, what was at one time, my favorite indie shopping haven. Northampton.

Now, once upon a time, I’d say maybe ten or fifteen years ago, Northampton was the place you could go to find anything you might be looking for, or even to find something you didn’t know you were looking for until you saw it. It was just block after block of independently owned bookstores, new age shops, consignment shops with some of the most interesting second-hand stuff imaginable, army surplus stores, handmade crafts and jewelry, music stores, *adult* shops, not to mention the restaurants. It was just an awesome place. You could park your car for the day and shop or sit on a bench and eat ice cream or enjoy a meal or even just walk around and enjoy the sights and sounds of a carefree and creative college town. Back in the 90s my friend and I would go up there several times a month and just have the best time.

But now, everything seems gone. I miss stores like Beyond Words, a bookstore which also sold crystals and oils and incense. It seems most of the stores now are expensive clothing boutiques where, if god forbid you’re not a size 2, you will never fit into anything. Other than that it’s mostly restaurants, pricey organic juice/coffee bars and a few art galleries, spas, fine jewelry stores, shoe and purse stores, and doctors and lawyers offices. It definitely seems to cater more towards the upscale crowd now. It’s lost a lot of the bohemian hippy vibe that I used to love. From what I hear it still has a pretty active club scene at night, but I’m not much into clubbing these days. My boyfriend and I go up there occasionally to eat at Fitzwilly’s or the Teapot and then we’ll walk around a little and maybe buy a couple of things if anything catches our eye. This is the first time I’ve gone up there strictly for shopping in a long time tho, and I think it will most likely be the last. I’ll still go up there to eat and I’ll go up there for Pride day. But I don’t enjoy shopping up there anymore.

Unless it’s at Raven Used Books.

I did stop in at Raven. I love that store. For those who have never been there, it’s a little used bookstore in the basement of a building near Thorne’s Marketplace. It’s just a couple of rooms with floor to ceiling book shelves packed with books, and books piled on top of the shelves, and books stacked on tables and chairs and on the floor, and its dim and narrow and cave-like. It’s just the awesomest place ever to creep around looking for something unusual or obscure. I resisted buying anything tho, cuz I needed to save my money for gift buying.

I also checked out Booklink inside Thorne’s. It’s a small but very nice two-level store with a coffee bar. I’d been in there before, last summer, to buy a book for my two grandchildren who were up from Texas at the time. They sell high quality children’s books and I thought they might have what I was looking for, but didn’t. And of course the children’s store, where a few years back Id originally seen the Beatrix Potter collection I was looking for, was unfortunately long gone. Theres another bookstore further up towards the college, but it was very cold and windy and snowing and I didn’t want to walk that far in the cold when the likelihood that they would have what I was looking for was close to zero.

So, after a fruitless search for non-existent book stores and paying too much money for a thimble sized cup of mint hot chocolate that tasted like toothpaste, I trudged back to my car thru a swirl of wind-blown snowflakes and made my way to my inevitable destination of Barnes and Noble.