The empty hours stretched ahead of her…. A walk would be good. A walk to the falls, which felt wonderful once she was out there on the road, the breeze rippling her blouse, the pavement solid under her feet. She should walk every day. She had loved walking in Paris—along the river and up over the Pont Neuf to wander through the Île de la Cité and the Île Saint-Louis.
Sometimes you needed to look up from your work, from yourself, blink your eyes—there was a sky up there, a vast expanse of air to breathe.
My fictional town of Cascade, in my novel of the same name, faces drowning. What’s not fiction is that flooded towns happened everywhere, all over this country—Florida, California, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas. And they happened all over the world. There’s a lake in Italy, Lago di Vagli, that is actually a hydroelectric dam. In the forties, water authorities flooded a stone village, and every ten years, when the lake is emptied for maintenance, the village emerges from the water like a ghost.
So much in life happens because one person has a vision, and the will to realize that vision no matter how impossible it may seem.
The recreated Globe Shakespeare Theatre in London exists today because actor Sam Wanamaker had a vision. From the Globe’s website: “In 1970 Sam founded the Shakespeare Globe Trust….the final attempt to build a faithful recreation of Shakespeare’s Globe close to its original Bankside, Southwark location…. While many had said that the Globe reconstruction was impossible to achieve, he had persevered for over twenty years, overcoming a series of monumental obstacles.”
Wanamaker died before the theater was finished, as Henry Folger died before his dream, The Folger Shakespeare Library, was complete.
One of the best parts about writing Cascade was doing all the research, especially the New York City research. Here’s the NYPL 90 years ago.
The library recently ended an exhibit celebrating 100 years of existence. The show was full of fascinating treasure: Jack Kerouac’s notebook, his pipe, Virginia Woolf’s 1941 diary, her walking stick, my May 19 birthday buddy Malcolm X’s battered suitcase, and the notebook he kept full of notes for self-improvement. I went on a rainy day and stayed, mesmerized, for hours.
Ernest Hemingway is ‘current’ again, the way Shakespeare was for awhile. There’s the success of Paula McLain’s “The Paris Wife,” and the lovely, forthcoming “Hemingway’s Girl,” by Erika Robuck. The JFK Library has released previously unpublished correspondence that reveals the writer’s softer side. We’re all taking a second look.
I grew up with a mother who considered Hemingway larger than life. I learned to revere him long before I was old enough to read him. When I arrived in Key West a few days ago, I went straight to his house.
There, among the Life magazine covers and photos of hunting trophies and fish-fighting chairs, you can see how powerfully the Hemingway image played out. But there, too, is his kitchen: a still life now, preserved behind a museum rope; there is the bathroom corner sink, with its opposing taps, where he would have washed his face, brushed his teeth, checked himself in the mirror.
I’ve always been a little obsessed, a little bit undone, when I find myself in preserved spaces. As my character, Dez, in Cascade, thinks: We people take up space and then when we’re gone, there is just the space left. And sometimes you can’t comprehend how that can happen.
When the JFK Library released the new letters, the Ernest Hemingway curator, Susan Wrynn, said, “We think of him as a hunter or as machismo image. But in the letters, we see a warmer side.”
But are we really surprised by a softer side? I can’t look at this postcard photo of him, patting that scraggly little cat, without choking up. He was a man who liked cats, a man who killed himself. Painful stuff.
This brief piece, via Sundance Digital Shorts, about George Whitman’s daughter Sylvia, who has taken over his Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris, is lovely, magical: Sylvia Whitman, Shakespeare & Company, Paris
And their website: ShakespeareAndCompany