George Waterson, our hero, stands up on a cold, frozen beach, wet and shaky all through himself, and looks around. Something tells him that his luck has finally turned against him, as he realizes that after his boat, the Lucy, has broken up in the waves behind him, that all he can do now is to go on up to the old Hales’ house, on what is known locally as “Haunted Ground.” As he trudges up the long hill ahead of him, he can clearly hear his heart beating like thunder, and very slowly. He feels tired and worn out.
As he looks up to the house above him, he sees lighted windows, and thinks to himself that the woman for whom he has an unrequited love, Sue, will be laid out in one of the rooms. Her death is recent: a burglar came into the old house, the first burglar in the little town in twenty years, and shot her. Her mother Mrs. Hale is also said to be sick from the shock of the incident, according to the callous village gossip.
George as he’s climbing begins to remember the many times he, Sue, and his friend John did things together growing up: they had snowball fights with hydrangeas, he gave Sue rides on his pony while the envious John trailed along behind. But the thing he remembers most is the grief he felt when Sue told him that she was engaged to John. Still, there was more to it. He remembers his shock and shame when he felt triumph at John’s being lost in his boat off Brenton’s reef, as George pretended to comfort Sue whole-heartedly. Sue had said then: ‘”Anyway, living in Haunted Ground, I’ll see him again when I’m old, the way Granny used to do.”‘
He keeps climbing, but has a nagging feeling that he left something of importance on the beach behind him with the wrecked bits of his boat. His clothes feel dry already in the cold wind. He continues to feel grief not only because Sue is dead, but because he believe that in time he might have won her away from her memories of John, to be his own wife.
Finally, he reaches the house and knocks. No one answers. Possibly in fright, his heart seems to beat even more loudly. Again he knocks, fighting off the feeling that there is something vital left on the beach behind; surely there was nothing left from the wreck that he would have had with him? Still, no one answers. He reaches out and opens the door, entering where the sitting-room door is open and lets welcome warmth into the hall. He sees Sue’s coffin in the center of the sitting-room. Mrs. Hale is waking it sitting in a rocker in the room. He thinks it is really unusual not to see her knitting or sewing.
He apologizes to the old lady, whose mind seems to be overcome with grief as well. She answers, ‘”That’s all right, George; if I’d known what you were I’d have let you in. Sit down.”‘ She seems vague and exhausted. He goes toward the coffin to view Sue, but weirdly, Mrs. Hale warns him not to “disturb” her. The old lady continues,”‘I figured she was tired, and she’s laid out so pretty I’m just letting her rest awhile. She’s to be buried Thursday.'” George is now seriously worried that the old lady has become unhinged, and as he gazes searchingly at “the girl’s uncovered face, the rich gold-brown hair, long lashes making shadows on the cheeks, delicate, warm mouth,” his heart beats even more loudly, and he thinks naggingly again of something down on the beach, though he can’t understand why his mind insists on being in two places at once when he is grieving Sue so profoundly.
Mrs. Hale asks him how he got there, and he says that when he heard about Sue, he didn’t want to live anymore, and so he went out in his boat in the midst of the storm. He was sorry that he had washed ashore on their beach, because it reminded him of his loss, but he says he’s glad he came up now. She responds, “‘It’s hard for you, George. She’ll be seeing John after church on Thursday.'” This strikes him as an odd way to talk about Sue’s potential afterlife. She keeps talking to him, but her voice fades out, as if she’s barely able to enunciate. He figures they are both suffering from shock, and he hears the knocking of his heart even more, as if his ears have been damaged by being cast adrift in the surf.
He tells the old lady gently that they both seem to be suffering from shock, though she says she feels better now that things are over. He tries to tell her about how her voice fades out from time to time as she’s talking, and she seems not quite to believe him. Then he says that he can hear his heart beating overloudly in his ears, and he’s been so battered by the storm that it feels as if someone or something is pulling at his shoulder. The old woman responds with a sort of hysterical cry and tells him to “‘Get back to the beach, get back to the beach, you still have time!'”
This makes his hair stand on end, as she tries to tell him something in her nearly inaudible voice. Finally, in a last-ditch effort to make him understand, she jumps up and throws the bedroom door open. “‘Look,'” she says. There her body lies, “serene and pale,” on the counterpane. Mrs. Hale shouts, “‘They’ve found you on the beach, that’s what you hear, what’s shaking your shoulder. Your heart’s still beating. You’ve got time to go back, to live, to find someone else than Sue. Sue’s meeting John on Thursday. Go back to the beach.” He realizes then the thing of importance that he’s left on the shore, and he feels “panic and black horror.” Then, as he turns to go towards the door, he runs up against Sue’s coffin. He asks if Sue is “in there,” and Mrs. Hale affirms it, but warns him not to wake her, and tells him to hurry. George thinks carefully. The last paragraph of the story reads:
“‘You know, Mrs. Hale, John was my best friend.’ He sat down. ‘Those heartbeats are very slow; they’ll be over in a minute.'”
This story is a bit dated, perhaps, but maybe the twists and turns of the tale as I have retold it aren’t too old and tattered to give you just a bit of a chill down your spine. To all of my faithful readers and to any new friends I might have found along the way, have a Happy and Scary Halloween, and I’ll be posting again next week sometime!
Today, I tried to do a post. I managed it, but for the last 1/2 hour or so, I was typing only about 12 short words a minute, and having to wait in between my letters for quite some time. This is very frustrating; I was already used to some of the weird features of the changes that WordPress.com put into effect about two or three months ago, but not to be able to finish my post without waiting for aeons seems ridiculous. I clicked on the line which offered a “new posting experience,” and I hope that now my problems are over, though the typing still can’t keep up with my speed. I guess we’ll find out in the next lengthy post! For now, I’ve just finished a post today, and it’s time for a late lunch (and therefore, time to face a different challenge and make eggplant hummus–a cross between baba ghannouj and regular hummus). See you next time, I hope, and one can only hope the posting will work sufficiently well that I don’t go bald from excessive hair wrenching! Shadowoperator
In the play Hamlet, Hamlet’s father’s ghost tells the young prince “But that I am forbid/To tell the secrets of my prison-house,/I could a tale unfold whose lightest word/Would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood,/Make thy two eyes like stars start from their spheres,/Thy knotted and combined locks to part,/And each particular hair to stand an end,/Like quills upon the fearful porpentine.” This is, of course, what every good Halloween story tries to do, and so today I’m going to put before you, readers, a supposititious summary of a tale and see if you think you might like to read it. If so, then I can tell you where to find it. Here goes:
Picture a tale in which the characters range from extreme youth to old age, and in which a highly imaginative and susceptible child is sometimes treated like a mere encumbrance and even worse, locked up in fearsome places by itself without food or water, where a ghost is thought to roam. Feature strange lights coming and going in this place, which the child cannot translate into any portion of its known experience. Imagine next that this child tries to escape this punishing system, only to be put in another wherein children are treated as a matter of course in somewhat the same way by some adults, receiving random kindnesses from other adults, but with no asssurance that this kindness will be available when most necessary, due to the interference of more powerful adults who are mean and petty. Next, figure to yourself (as the French say) that the child’s best friend dies of a lingering and contagious illness, and that many of the other children around are stricken with another illness due to bad sanitation and poor victuals. But if the central child of the tale died at this point, the story couldn’t continue, so you must allow in your imagination for the child’s survival.
Say that we are given some improvements to the main character’s state to up the ante, and then the character begins again to experience more mysterious events, such as hearing dragging sounds, animals snarls, and strange unholy laughter in the nighttime as she is trying to sleep. The child is now a young adult, and is sharing an old and seemingly haunted manor house with another child, servants who are friendly but keep close-mouthed about the nighttime disturbances, and a saturnine, ironical, and equally mysterious male owner, who deceives her about the sum total of the house’s occupants.
Think next about what the main character experiences when the male owner seems to be responsible for a frightening fire in the middle of the night, and when bedroom doors must be locked at night to prevent strange and unknown dangers from approaching. And of course we have a seemingly happy interlude to take us off our guard: guests come to the house, there is festivity and enjoyment, and we unwisely relax and think things are improving. But then, an ancient and gnarled Gypsy woman appears, who, though she predicts eventual happiness for the central character, is not equally as generous in her predictions towards all the party. And that very same night, there are blood-curdling screams in the night, animal growls, and one of the guests is stabbed; it would seem to be time for the house’s owner, something like an animal himself in some particulars of appearance, to be more forthcoming with the protagonist, yet his responses to what has happened are still dark and quizzical, and he only is able to satisfy her fears and curiosity in part.
Now participate in the vision of the protagonist agreeing to marry the owner, only to find at the inception of her new relationship that her own clothes have been vandalized by a hideous vision who wakes her in the night, having somehow gained entrance to her sleeping chamber. The owner tells her that she must have imagined it, or that it is a servant, and yet this only temporarily solves the manifold problems, one of which is that for some time past, all the frightening incidents in the night and mysteries in the day have caused the main character to have nightmares about crying infants whom it’s impossible to soothe. With short surcease for joy, the prospective marital pair approach the altar, where the ceremony is stopped and the protagonist finds out that a madwoman locked in the attic of the old manor is not only the source of all the chaos in the house, but that the lunatic is also the homicidal first wife of the erstwhile bridegroom, and is still living!
Is this sounding strangely familiar? By now it should–it’s the story, re-told with a slight emphasis on its fantastical and seemingly supernatural side, of Charlotte Brontë’s famous novel Jane Eyre. The rest of the novel focuses, as you may already know, on the year Jane spends apart from her male lead, Mr. Rochester, her receipt of another proposal from someone she cannot bring herself to love, and her eventual return to the old manor house, Thornfield, when she learns that the mad wife is dead, having burned the house to the ground and incidentally maimed Mr. Rochester in the process. There is only one real supernatural feature of this portion of the novel, and that occurs just before Jane returns, when she is thinking about whether or not to marry “the other guy,” and has a sort of auditory hallucination of Mr. Rochester calling out to her in grief and misery. It is later when she sees him again that she hears from his own lips that he was in fact calling out to her that very night at that time. And then, of course, we have our requisite moderately happy ending, charming and no doubt satisfying to Charlotte Brontë in its moral aspects (which I have largely suppressed in order to make the point that this novel resembles a standard Gothic in many of its characteristics).
So there you have it: a good, suspenseful read for Halloween, which neither neglects the necessary chill in the blood nor disallows that a woman may love a man whom both the more squeamish moralist and the self-appointed judge of male beauty might scorn, a sort of precursor to the love of “monsters” in contemporary horror cult classics. Why did I deceive you and say “picture this tale”? Because this novel first reached me (when I was nine or ten) in the Classics Illustrated comic book edition, my generation’s version of the graphic novel. This post represents my third time through the “real thing.” Now, it’s your turn to have another look at this “bootiful” novel.
Hello, readers! It’s not that I’m getting lazy, just that I have been busy with many other things, including reading things to post about. I will be back when I have something else read, I hope another post for Halloween. Until then, feel free to browse back posts if they interest or motivate you–I’ll be glad to hear from you.
When I was young, my family owned a small-town bookstore. It was at the center of town, and was not only a favorite spot for people to pick up their periodicals and bestsellers, but was as well the best source of literary novels and authors which students in the local schools and colleges were being asked to read for class. We lived in a community which was fairly literate, but even so, we still had many odd encounters and requests for books that were strange and peculiar. So is it any wonder that when I encountered Jen Campbell’s book Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores that I felt an immediate sense of kinship, and laughed my fool head off while reading from cover to cover?
Just to give you a few examples, under the chapter “Literary Pursuits,” Jen lists this gem: “Where’s your true fiction section?” Or this one: “This Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter book has to be the most historically accurate fiction book I’ve read.” Under “What Was That Title Again?” Jen quotes this: “I’m looking for some books on my kid’s summer reading list. Do you have Tequila Mockingbird?” Or, “Do you have Fiddler on a Hot Tin Roof?” Under “Parents and Kids”: “Customer: These books are really stupid, aren’t they? Bookseller: Which ones? Customer: You know, the ones where animals, such as cats and mice, are best friends. Bookseller: I suppose they’re not very realistic, but then that’s fiction. Customer: They’re more than unrealistic; they’re really stupid. Bookseller: Well, writers use that kind of thing to teach kids about accepting people different to themselves, you know? Customer: Yeah, well, books shouldn’t pretend that different people get on like that, and that everything is “la de da” and wonderful, should they? Kids should learn that life’s a bitch, and the sooner the better.” Under “You Want What?”: “Customer: Didn’t this place used to be a camera store? Bookseller: Yes, it did, but we bought the place a year ago. Customer: And now you’re a… Bookseller: …a bookstore. Customer: Right. Yes. So, where do you keep the cameras?” Under “Customers Behaving Badly”: “Customer: I’d like a refund on this book please. Bookseller: What seems to be the problem? Customer: I barely touched it. It’s ridiculous! Bookseller: What do you mean? Customer: I mean all I did was drop it in the bath by accident. And now, I mean, just look at it: the thing’s unreadable!” Under “Isn’t It Obvious?”: Customer: Excuse me, do you have any signed copies of Shakespeare plays? Bookseller: Er…do you mean signed by the people who performed the play? Customer: No, I mean signed by William Shakespeare. Bookseller: …” Under “Books for Kindling”: Customer: Do you guys sell used e-books? Bookseller (laughing): No… Customer (angrily): Why not?” Under “The Adult Section”: “Customer: Hi, do you have that sperm cookbook? Bookseller: No. Customer: That’s a shame. I really wanted to try it. Have you tried it? Bookseller: I have not.” Under “Higher Powers”: “Customer: Do you have a book that interprets life? Bookseller: I’m not sure I know what you mean. Customer: Well, I was out hiking the other day, and I saw a wolf. I want to know what that meant.” Under “Out of Print: “Customer: What kind of bookstore is this? Bookseller: We’re an antiquarian bookstore. Customer: Oh, so you sell books about fish.” And these I’ve blurbed about are only the beginning: for the small price of $15.00 in the U.S. (in Canada it’s $16.00), you can read many, many more and longer exchanges, even more fraught with those sources of constant comedy and commiseration, human intellectual frailty and sometimes sheer thoughtlessness.
To give a bit about the history of this book, here’s Jen Campbell (a native of the U.K. where she currently works in a bookstore). In the introduction about her work at the bookstore Ripping Yarns in London (the bookstore named after Monty Pythoners Terry Jones and Michael Palin), she says: “After a particularly strange day about a year ago in which I was asked if books were edible, I started putting some choice ‘Weird Things Customers Say…’ quotes up on my blog (jen-campbell.blogspot.com). The intent wasn’t to mock or antagonize our customers. Far from it. Most of the people I meet everyday are amazing, an integral part of our north London neighborhood and the lifeblood of our business in a tough time for booksellers. But, as anyone who works in retail probably knows, there are some encounters that simply leave you speechless.”
Other bookstores and book fiends quoted Jen Campbell on Twitter, Neil Gaiman blogged about them, and Jen was finally asked to publish a book of them by a book publishing company in the U.K. Booksellers from many different states of the union and provinces in Canada joined in the fun and contributed their favorite quotes to the book, and their stores and general locations are identified (though no individuals are named) in the coda of each quote. For a great light read and a real hoot of an experience with how one may oneself come across to strangers on days when one isn’t at one’s best, perhaps, you could do a lot worse than to pick up this book for yourself and your friends. One thing’s for sure: you can’t imagine many people trying to return this one!
William Gaddis’s monumental book “The Recognitions”–Faith, fraud, belief, and “cross questions and silly answers”
Finally, I have finished reading William Gaddis’s 956 page novel The Recognitions and have to report that it, like David Foster Wallace’s book Infinite Jest (which is even longer) is another satiric group of novels-within-a-novel. There are several sets of characters cross-relating and interacting in Gaddis’s novel, but even though the ends are more neatly tied up than in Wallace’s book, there’s the same tendency to switch from protagonist to protagonist (and even to the occasional anti-hero) and back again.
The main protagonist for much of the book is Wyatt Gwyon, whose father is a Protestant minister of a strict sect. But unlike most such ministers, Reverend Gwyon has a wide and varied education about other religions and especially seems to prefer those considered pagan by most Christians. As time goes on, he becomes more and more wound up in such subjects as animal and human sacrifice, and as a sort of side note to all the other things going on in the novel, ends his days in an asylum. His son is another case. Wyatt is an accomplished artist from early on, but his Aunt May has shamed him about “taking the Lord’s works in vain” by presuming to copy them artistically to such an extent that it has affected his sanity too, to satirical and humorous ends. Here’s an early section of the novel in which Aunt May, his only living female relative, expounds upon her beliefs and scolds him:
“–Don’t you love our Lord Jesus, after all? He said he did. –Then why do you try to take His place? Our Lord is the only true creator, and only sinful people try to emulate Him, she went on, her voice sinking to that patient tone it assumed when it promised most danger. –Do you remember Lucifer? who Lucifer is? –Lucifer is the morning star, he began hopefully, –Father says… –Father says!…her voice cut him through. –Lucifer was the archangel who refused to serve Our Lord. To sin is to falsify something in the Divine Order, and that is what Lucifer did. His name means Bringer of Light but he was not satisfied to bring the light of Our Lord to man, he tried to steal the power of Our Lord and to bring his own light to man. He tried to become original, she pronounced malignantly, shaping that word round the whole structure of damnation, repeating it, crumpling the drawing of the robin in her hand, –original, to steal Our Lord’s authority, to command his own destiny, to bear his own light! That is why Satan is the Fallen Angel, for he rebelled when he tried to emulate Our Lord Jesus. And he won his own dominion, didn’t he. Didn’t he! And his own light is the light of the fires of Hell! Is that what you want? Is that what you want? Is that what you want? There may have been, by now, many things that Wyatt wanted to do to Jesus: emulate was not one of them.”
The punctuation is a trifle difficult to follow, since Gaddis uses dashes and not quotation marks, and often runs sentences into each other which rightly belong in separate paragraphs. Still, I think it’s easy to grasp the dark satiric humor of Aunt May’s homily and its reaction on the timid though artistically gifted boy Wyatt, as he grows up. He matures convinced that he is damned, but still unable to stop drawing. The upshot of it all, however, is that he is very inept at completing his own original pictures, but instead only feels at home when creating fradulent pictures. He is original in spite of himself, however: he doesn’t facsimilate already existing pictures and sell these fake copies. Instead, he paints “new” and “original” pictures never before seen and passes them off as the works of famous artists which have only recently “surfaced.” Thus, his psyche manages to have it both ways.
From the topic of Wyatt, the topic switches to all sorts of social and societal frauds going on in his immediate circle of friends, a real bohemian crowd with no actual artistic pretentions to support or excuse their lifestyles. There is the further question of spiritual belief as it affects a man named Stanley, a devout man who wants to lead to God a worldly woman called Agnes Deigh (a pun on “Agnes Dei,” “Lamb of God”). His continual misadventures with her as they discuss their beliefs back and forth and he gets her to go on a pilgrimage with him to Europe to see the canonization of a young female saint are fraught with a different set of religious traditions and questions, as Stanley is a Catholic. But one very funny element in all this is the presence of a Mister Sinisterra, a forger who also regards himself as an artist. In a very amusing crosstalk act of “cross questions and silly answers” which happens as a matter of mistaken identity when he passes forged notes for distribution to a man named Otto, an acquaintance of Wyatt’s, he gets involved in going to Europe as well, and tries to “forge” a mummy out of Wyatt’s mother Camilla’s bones (which ironically and highly coincidentally were interred next to those of the young female saint aforementioned, in San Zwingli, Spain). Instead, he causes the mother’s bones to get mistaken by the celebrants of the canonization as the young girl’s, and he himself drags the young girl’s corpse around all over the place disguised as an old woman in heavy dress and a mantilla. Much comedy ensues, though of a highly equivocal nature.
There are several other cases of mistaken identity or mistaken intent in the book, and the slowest portions are in fact those about the lurid parties of the group of Wyatt’s one-time associates, as they party across New York City and other world cities. Wyatt dies well before the end of the book, so it’s not a book tied to one protagonist. The book in fact ends with Stanley’s demise, as he finally achieves his ambition of playing his organ works on a famous old organ in Italy. But due to the fact that he is unable to understand Italian, he doesn’t understand what the sacristan of the church has tried to tell him, which is to leave out the bass notes, as the building is too old to stand up under the reverberations of the bass as well as treble. After the sacristan leaves, Stanley performs his of course genuine works (in opposition to all the fake things and people there have been in the book), complete of course with the bass notes. The building falls on him, supplying the ironic ending: faking is a way of contemptuously or wryly or in some state of disbelief withstanding the world; the genuine and sincere end up getting the short end of the stick.
There are many, many incidents in the book and not a few characters that I haven’t described, but the book is so rich and so long that I fear I will have to leave you to read it for yourself. It’s another one of those books that you may find you want to read slowly and live with for a while; you’ll find many a dark and sardonic laugh inside, I can guarantee you that much. Also, I at least found many passages, such as the incidents when characters were mistaking someone else’s identity and no one discovered the mistake until much later, which just tickled my funny bone enough to make me laugh aloud, repeatedly. I hope you too will find this book to your liking, and I recommend it highly, though again wanting to point out that Gaddis’s form of notating his conversations and enclosing paragraphs is irregular, and so will probably provide a challenge. No matter, though: at least no one can say it isn’t genuine and original!
Well, folks, I’ve recently returned from a trip with my immediate family to my and my brother’s undergraduate institution for fun, merriment, and one of those notable trips down Memory Lane, and though we had a great time going there, I have to report that Cornell University and the environs have changed considerably. A lot of businesses which one thought would be there forever are no longer, and ones which remain have changed almost out of recognition, though sometimes for the better. We eschewed the formal reunions and the organized trips and went where we remembered things being the best, the most interesting, or sometimes the most grueling (because of course since we had my young nephew with us, we had to impress him with tales of just how horrific things could be, as well as reassuring him that should he go there later, he would be able to surmount difficulties as well). We started out the trip with breakfast near the beginning of our trip, and then met a good friend in another town later for lunch at a Belgian restaurant, which was a new cuisine for us. Suffice it to say, it was excellent. Then, we headed straight for Ithaca. We got to our motel, and then went to an exceptional Thai restaurant down on The Commons (what the level ground is called downtown, which is not on one of the two mountainsides where Cornell University and Ithaca College are respectively located). It was called Thai Basil, and was one of the best restaurants around of any kind. Not only did they make special room for us on a very crowded night when we somewhat inconsiderately came by without a reservation, but the food and the ambience were outstanding. The waitstaff was accomodating and very polite, coming by the table quite frequently to see what else we needed even though they were filled to capacity and clearly expecting many more. It was a happy, happy time to end the first leg of our trip.
The next morning and day were the heart of our trip, as we toured around the campus and saw what had changed. After taking the car around to show my nephew all the places my brother and I had lived (he came through 6 years after me), we parked it (though so booming and hearty, Ithaca is still a city where even up around the university it’s possible to find parking fairly quickly). Then, I went (like a city dweller) to sit on the corner of College Ave. at Collegetown Bagels. This is a place with a rich history, and one of the places that has changed much since our first exposure to it. In the old days, there was no seating; you went into a large room and up to a counter where there were bins of numerous different kinds of bagels, and the man or woman behind the counter took your order and slathered whatever you’d chosen onto your bagel. Someone rang you up at the register and you left. Because I didn’t come from a bagel-conscious area, and I got to Ithaca back in the 1970’s, before bagels were popular all over the U.S., I’d never tasted one before; it was a real novelty, one which I hastened to introduce my family to when they came up to visit. When my mother first tasted them years ago, she wasn’t impressed, being used to the softer bread products of our own hometown. But in about six months or so, she was strangely longing to have one again. And thus another cuisine touched our family. Still, Collegetown Bagels has vastly expanded its operations in the time since even my brother was there after me. The whole corner of College Ave. is now Collegetown Bagels, and they have tons of outdoor seating. As well, the counter space is totally new (at least to me) with a complicated “filing-past” procedure of ordering, and beer choices, and a very innovative and ornate menu of items, as well as additional food and juice items of every sort that you could want. So, I chose to sit and take in the pedestrian traffic and watch the crowds (and incidentally, save a table) for my mother, brother, and nephew, who were planning to hike down one of the several gorges–the motto? “Ithaca is Gorges”–before having a late breakfast. I had chosen a plain whole wheat bagel with butter, a bit of yoghurt, and a juice to wait for them with, and soon got into conversation with someone who’d been there when I was and had been in the town since. He was able to tell me that sadly, some campus traditions no longer prevailed. For example, dogs are no longer allowed to roam free on the Cornell campus (into the classrooms and etc., where before they were always good for a diversion from our studies); students no longer “borrow” lunch trays from the main dining halls to slide down the steep slope behind Uris Library in the snow anymore; and other such sad passings. But when I queried as to why there were now such big nets underneath the bridges, he was able to reassure me that at least one unenviable tradition had changed for the better: despairing students have been prevented from “gorging out” (jumping into the gorges in mostly successful and regrettable suicide attempts). As well, when my family rejoined me for a late breakfast (and like a hobbit, I had a little something else to help fill up the spaces), they had to report that the gorge they had hiked up was perhaps a bit less scenic than before, because it had had to be paved along the side and reinforced due to a recent flood, which had washed some trees away. We ate then moved on to tour the campus.
There were people waving to us from the bell tower of the library as the carillon concert began. As if just to please my nephew (who had at his first sight of the campus up on the hill from a distance said that it reminded him of Harry Potter’s school Hogwarts), students were playing a non-levitational form of quidditch when we got to the Arts Quad. We watched for a while, and then went round looking at the old buildings, noticing as well places where new constructions had been added (nothing’s ever totally the same way you left it, and I suppose that’s as it should be). Nevertheless, I was dismayed to learn that the coffeehouse “The Temple of Zeus” in the English building of Goldwin Smith Hall is no longer there or perhaps not what it was, and I saw no happy outpouring of students from “The Green Dragon” in the Architecture and Fine Arts building of Sibley Hall, though that’s not to say they weren’t there at least lurking in spirit somewhere. I was nostalgic for this area because it’s where I spent most of my time, as an English major in Goldwin Smith and as a dual Theatre major in Lincoln Hall. But I have to be happy for the English majors that they are getting a new Humanities Building right next door, and the Theatre students now have a grand new performing arts center in Schwarz, which I saw when I was sitting having breakfast in the morning, as it was centrally located.
Next, we went to show my nephew where my brother and I had lived in our respective dorms on North Campus, and the North Campus Union, and other sights. I, of course, was mournful to observe that the Pancake House–scene of many an early and riotous breakfast after a night of heavy carousing for me and my undergraduate friends–was no longer above the power house along another waterway, but we were rewarded with the sight of a baby blue egret perched on the dam fishing, so it wasn’t all bad. Finally, we went back to the car and once again my nephew was rewarded in his hopes and ambitions: earlier, when we had been driving past a sign on the road that said “Deer Crossing,” he had hoped to be able to see a deer. Now, however, as we were parked just by someone’s backyard in hillside Ithaca, we saw a deer, an older female, standing quietly feeding on someone’s flower bed. My brother pointed out the tumor which had unfortunately formed on her back knee joint. She was not really afraid of us, but just kept a watchful eye out as we quietly started the car and pulled out. We had our last group touring session of the day by going down to Lake Cayuga and sitting there in Stewart Park, under the willows. It was very warm and yet breezy in a pleasant way; we in fact had good weather the entire weekend. Next, my brother wanted to take my mother to see the falls at Taughhannock Park, so we went there. I, however, had worn my weary legs out, so while the three of them hiked five miles in and five miles back out, I sat in the car park under a shade tree and watched all the young families and their kids and dogs coming to enjoy the lawns and water. Finally, it was time to go out to dinner again, and man! were we ready for it this day!
My brother found us a wonderful Indian restaurant up on the hill on Eddy St., where though I was very sad to see that the magnificent Cabbagetown Café of vegetarian fame and excellence was no longer on a corner, I was amply requited with a fine Indian dinner. I wish I could remember the exact name of the restaurant, but there were two Indian restaurants side by side, and my brother left us to choose one, and as they both looked very inviting and hospitable, I cannot recall which one we visited. But both had a five-star rating, so if you happen to be visiting, we went to the one a little further down the hill of Eddy Street toward Martin Luther King St., and if you can’t find room there, maybe the one a little further just up the hill will have room for you. Again, we were welcomed without a reservation, which was excellent, and the dinner moreover was absolutely first-rate. We ended the evening by driving downtown to Purity Ice Cream, a favorite haunt of my brother’s in the old days, and my nephew was rendered replete with good fare and happy memories.
The next morning, we had to go, but we started out in a leisurely fashion and went to see some more falls at the bottom of another gorge (my brother is clearly training my nephew to be a vigorous fellow). Then, we went to another fine restaurant (I know, it sounds like all we did was walk and eat!). We had our breakfast at the Sunset Grill, which was up on one of the high hills of Ithaca, and from which we could see Cornell University sitting on another mountaintop at a distance. It was several notches up from the average diner food, everything was pristine and clean and bright and cheery, they had an “endless cup of coffee,” and we got to eat out on their porch area, in the gorgeous morning air. Now, it really was time to go. We gassed up the car and headed back, stopping in the evening to have dinner at a restaurant just an hour from my brother’s house, where we were not let down either from all the fine fare we had already been served. It was a “country style” restaurant, but though I’d had premonitions of everything being covered in cheap gravy and being served overboiled vegetables, that’s not what it was about at all. It was instead just as fine a dining experience as all the rest, and concluded our trip in a perfect manner.
We drove to my brother’s house full of our experiences and adventures, and busy discussing the traditions which still seemed to be observed, and the things that had changed for the better or worse. One thing is certain: as one might expect (though older people like us never quite seem to get the gist of this the first time they encounter it, and need repeated exposures to this awareness to “get the picture”), the torch has been passed to a new generation, and they are happy with what they have in the main, just as we were happy with what we had, mostly. And that’s all as it should be! Heaven only knows what my nephew will see if and when he goes to Ithaca. Or maybe he will break tradition and go somewhere else, where he will likely discover his own favorite things to expose his family to. Only time will tell! In the meantime, we had a great family outing, and yet another good experience of family bonding. And after all, that’s what it was all about!