Morgan Library video montage

Addendum to last week’s post about the Morgan Library:  I’ve created a short video, now uploaded to the YouTube channel.

View it here.


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A voyage through time

IMG_4534Blood red walls.  Long, deep crimson curtains draped from high above. Vintage portraits IMG_4540 of subjects in severe poses. Black alabaster statues of Grecian figures. Spot-lit corners.

Sounds like it could be a Gothic castle in the hinterlands of eastern Europe.

Instead, it’s the library of J.P. Morgan at 37th & Madison in New York City.

Yesterday, I visited the home of this impressive collection of rare books, manuscripts, and what the museum’s Wikipedia entry says was once known as “incunabula” — pamphlets and other printed materials printed before the year 1501 (the Gutenberg Bible is a well known example).

The library has three wings filled with books, manuscripts (including some original IMG_4566music manuscripts from notable composers like Puccini, seen here, at right), and some artifacts, all part of a massive collection by the banker and financier John Pierpont Morgan.

There are a lot of Holy Bibles, many many many Bibles — a Quaker Bible, a Gladstone Bible, Bibles spelled “Byble,” and Holy spelled “Holie,” some Bibles published in the 16th century — and a Koran and a Talmud.


I was there during a “free Friday” evening at the Morgan, which means there was a lot of visitor activity and hubbub surrounding these shelves and cages and glass cases, but none of this took away from the feeling of being enveloped by hundreds of years of published words in rich and beautiful bindings.

Accompanying this permanent collection was the museum’s current exhibit of paintings associated with the writer Henry James, including portraits of the writer, as well as a special exhibit on Henry David Thoreau and his famous journals.

Overall, well worth a visit, on a free Friday night or for the twenty dollar admission fee on any other day of the week.

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About 18 years ago, I felt inspired to write a strange little essay about Sam Shepard.  I don’t recall now why I composed it or what I had planned to do with it, if anything.  Ultimately, I did nothing with it, aside from file it away in some online folder.

It starts like this:

“Blame Sam Shepard for my love affair with tragedy.

His words affected me before his cowboy looks did.  It started when I was just 16, when I saw Buried Child at a public theater in Pennsylvania.

Lights slowly fade in on 16-year-old girl, sitting in theater-in-the-round, leaning forward in seat, elbows on knees, eyes fixed on stage, intently watching the final scene of Buried Child.”

Much has been written about how his plays represent the disaffected, the isolated, America’s ignored and misbegotten products of an American dream.  How they capture the violence of rootless characters’ collective psyche, characters who hold on precariously to the promise of a way out.  There wasn’t and isn’t much I could add.  I do remember this:  That when the last line of Buried Child was read and the lights faded to black, a jolt of energy passed from the stage through the floor to my feet and all the way through me like an electric current.

And I didn’t even yet know the face behind the words.

samShepardSam Shepard once said, on finality and endings:  ”The temptation toward resolution … wrapping up the package, seems to me a terrible trap … The most authentic endings are the ones which are already evolving towards another beginning.”

As much as he left as a legacy, still how much more might he have left in our country’s current intellectual vacuum?

RIP Sam Shepard.


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Cemetery hearts

“Behold and See as you Pass By

As you are Now so Once was I

As I am Now you soon will Be

Prepare for Death and Follow Me.”


On the grounds of St. Paul’s Chapel in lower Manhattan, New York City, is a tombstone that stands upright in the earth of the chapel’s cemetery with the above inscription.  The Episcopal chapel dates back to the 1700s.

So recently as I was returning home from a dentist appointment, I stopped in to linger briefly in the old cemetery at St. Paul’s Chapel, one of my favorites, to admire the old headstones, with their antique font, archaic verbiage, and then to imagine the lives of the people who once walked around right where I was standing, and all of the layers of lives that have traversed these grounds since.

Though the church itself dates back to the 1700s, many of the headstones look much older than they are; most of the dates I read were from the 1800s.

I’ve written here before about how much I love cemeteries, though how different these IMG_3927are from the ones I viewed from afar in Africa!  These graves are in the middle of a metropolis and just steps away from the World Trade Center site (now One World Observatory).

With all this activity, I wonder, can these souls rest in peace, especially when they overlay an underground system of active trains that rumble night and day beneath them?

About a mile north of lower Manhattan’s St. Paul’s Chapel cemetery is another extremely tiny cemetery, tucked away behind a brick wall and bars in a triangular plot on West 11th Street in Greenwich Village.  The plaque outside reads “The Second Cemetery of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue.”  (Two others are hidden away elsewhere in Manhattan, one in Chinatown and the other on West 21st Street.)

I couldn’t get close enough to see the dates on any of the headstones in this small enclosed burial ground, but I doubt they compare to how old the graves are at the first cemetery in Salem, MassDCP_2978., known as “The Burying Point,” many of which date back to the 1600s.

Like the one of this young soul who, it says here, lived a mere “nineteen winters in this world.”

More on this one come Halloween.

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Vintagio* mini-films

A few years ago I got really into making little mini-movies with an app I was playing around with at the time called Vintagio*.  I would find something of interest to shoot with my iPhone camera, record a few minutes of it, and then set the whole thing to music.

When I tried to upload them to this blog, I learned that I’d have to upgrade to a considerably higher-cost plan, so I’ve decided to post a link here to my YouTube channel that contains (so far) three of these mini-films.  While you’re there, feel free to subscribe.

One (titled Monks Shearwater Snow Leopard) is from a rainy afternoon in early September 2011, near the ten-year anniversary of 9/11.  That would explain the monks meditating outside the World Trade Center site. (The WTC is not visible in this video, but the monks are.)  I set this video to the song “Snow Leopard” by Shearwater.

Another is one that I made going through a car wash in my old hometown.  This is a car wash that my dad named through a naming contest back when I was a kid.  The “Tunnel o’ Suds.”  Now it’s been re-named, but that name stuck for a good 30+ years.  This video is set to Rose Royce’s song “Car Wash,” for obvious reasons.

A third is one I made sitting inside a Starbucks on 7th Avenue in Manhattan a few years ago while I watched the window cleaner do his thing.  It’s set to a Tom Petty song I don’t know the title of.  (Tom, if you are reading this, don’t sue me. Just contact me by email. We’ll talk.)

One thing I never did figure out was how to do a nice fade-out so that it doesn’t end so abruptly.  I’ll work on that.

There are more of these, but I need to find them on a missing-in-action external hard drive.  For now, these, for your viewing and listening pleasure.

* Correction:  The title of this post originally referred to the video editing app as Magisto (which I have also used and is legitimately good in its own right), but in fact, the videos in the above links were edited and produced using an app called Vintagio.



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Babysitting by Willard

One of my favorite posts on the entire Internet takes me hilariously back to the long-gone good-and-bad old days of the 1970s.  I’m somewhat of a nostalgia addict, so posts like this just tear me up and take me down thought avenues that can last for days.

I never imagined my childhood was how Victoria Fedden describes growing up with a 70s mom in the above post… UNTIL TODAY, when, while watching the movie Willard, I was hit with the distinct memory of seeing it for the first time as a kid at a movie theatre.  Yes, a kid.

The memory goes like this:  I somehow heard of this movie Willard, about an Willard posterawkward guy who makes friends with rats and trains them to do his bidding.  The movie poster said something about how it’s the one movie you should not see alone.  It featured a tall lanky blond boy actor and showed images of one particularly creepy scary rat with glowing threatening eyes.  Naturally, this movie seems like it would be irresistible for any kid.  Okay, maybe not.

The poster says you should not see it alone.  It doesn’t say you shouldn’t see it without your parents.  I don’t remember how it went down, but somehow it turned into an opportunity for my parents to drop the kids off at the Willard poster 2theater to see Willard while they killed a couple hours at my aunt’s house a short drive from the cinema.

This might seem pretty lax now, what with “helicopter parenting” and over-scheduled, over-protected and heavily-monitored children, but it didn’t seem even remotely weird then.  Besides, it had a “GP” rating (remember “GP ratings”?)  So kids got breaks from their parents as much as the other way around, and we were no worse for it (on second thought, I can’t make that assertion with 100 percent certainty, but let’s just say…).  I do know at least one person who was permanently scarred by the scene where Socrates breaks Willard’s heart.

The point is, as is the point of most nostalgic reminiscence, that it seemed like a simpler time when parents had no idea what the hell their kids were doing while they were “out playing,” or it was not unusual to leave your un-chaperoned, underage kids to be babysat by Willard Stiles at a suburban movie theater without being reported for negligence. There may have been no fewer threats to kids at that time, just maybe different ones than we have now.  Evil rats notwithstanding.

In many ways, the 70s were a frightening time.  We were immersed in a culture of Pop Tarts, roller skates, turquoise appliances, the-exorcist-posterconjunction junction, station wagons, and 2001, the disco.  Besides conjunction junction — which is its own category of Awesome and not scary at all but must be mentioned — that’s some pretty scary stuff.

And remember, we were still two years away from the release of  The Exorcist.

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Small towns

On a recent drive along Route 78 East in Pennsylvania, I passed a roadside attraction I’d driven past a million times before without stopping.  It’s called Roadside America Miniature Village. It’s a museum of miniatures built over decades by a man named Laurence Gieringer in the mid-1930s.

The appeal of miniatures for me goes back to my dollhouse and Barbie days. The Twilight Zone episode where it turns out at the end that everybody in the episode is actually a doll being moved around by a massive human girl who occasionally sticks her hand into the scene to ruin their little doll lives.  This museum I went to when I was visiting Denver in March 2016:  the Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys.  Even those little miniature models of MINI Coopers they have at MINI dealerships.


I hadn’t stopped at Roadside America before mainly because there had always been some reason not to — I didn’t want to leave the dog in the car alone for too long; I was in a hurry to get to my destination; it was closed — but this time circumstances worked in Roadside America’s and my favor.  It was near closing time; I was making good time to my destination; and it just felt right.

So this time I went for it.  This is a much more grand, much more massive “village” than I expected.  Apparently, it is over 7,000 square feet of moving trains, trolleys, cable cars, windmills, steel mills, coal mines, department stores, houses, farms, people, horses, dogs, birds, planes, cars, old time gas stations, a cemetery, a cathedral, and a hotel.  It is, quite frankly, a remarkable feat and clearly a labor of love that went beyond a simple hobby for Mr. Gieringer.

IMG_3350There were many private houses, and weaving in and out of those were inns, streams, ponds, and “paved” roads.  IMG_3358

There was also a covered bridge, and, quite unexpectedly, a small Native American teepee village.

The entry fee was $8.00, and it took about 45 minutes to go through.  Toward the end of a half-hour, they direct visitors to one end of the room where there are bleacher-like rows of seats for the “night show.”  The lights go down, and the town goes through a fast-motion sundown, overnight, and sunrise, against a soundtrack of patriotic American anthems (including the national anthem and God Bless America) and a backdrop of a painting of the Statue of Liberty and the American flag.


A new day dawns over Roadside America Miniature Village.

Roadside America indeed.

Small replicas of large mundane objects are irresistible in their charm.  Maybe it evokes a circular symmetry that distracts from humdrum everyday life or adds a level of what I’ve always referred to as “magic” to an experience.

Or maybe it’s just that Twilight Zone thing where perhaps our whole reality is just somebody’s plaything, and we are dolls playing in a dollhouse where we can be scooped up by a big hand at any moment.  But until then, we get to keep playing obliviously in our miniature world.

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