“And where are you from?”

On our way out of church this morning, the priest asked me, “And where are you from?”

He may merely have been asking where I was from in the U.K. It wasn’t our “regular” church. Nonetheless, I was startled.

I thought: Gee, do I look like I’m not from here? I’m sure, to some extent, I don’t.

As we shook hands, I replied, “I’m from New York originally.”

The look on his face indicated that answer was a surprise. I suppose he had indeed figured I was going to say Bristol or something.

But I often don’t know how to answer that question. I was born in New York City, and when asked where I’m from that’s my initial answer. I grew up on Long Island, in Suffolk County; but most Europeans haven’t a clue where Suffolk County is, and they usually associate “Long Island” either with the Hamptons or The Great Gatsby. And, here in England, there is a Suffolk county too – the “original” Suffolk, of course.

US Embassy London on Google. It's closed today, Sunday.
US Embassy London on Google. It’s closed today, Sunday.

I’ve also spent much more of my adult life outside of the U.S. than inside of it. But I always feel American, and like a New Yorker. And I even still feel like a Long Islander – even though I have for years had no ties to Long Island whatsoever.

I don’t think I’ll ever not feel that way. We can move wherever in the world, but is where we are born and reared imprinted on us for life? Seems so.

Just a little “quiet reflection.” Hope you’re having a good Sunday. :-)

On Location: Long Island And The Catskills

It’s finally back here in Britain. Last night, we watched the second episode of Revenge for 2014-2015. (We saw the opener last week.) I’ve written about that escapist show before, although not in this context.

The program does accurately reflect aspects of the incredible wealth (often “weekend wealth”) seen on Suffolk County’s “South Fork” – in east end towns such as Southampton and East Hampton. But when I write of “Long Island” in the novels, it’s about the “middle class” island. In one exchange in Passports between Uncle Bill and Joanne (James’s mother), I decided to slip in this reference to the dramatic difference in lifestyles:

As her brother gave her a long look, Joanne added caustically, “You know, we were always imagining Lake Ronkonkoma as the sublime setting.”

“Really? What? Not East Hampton?” he joked.

“Oh, yeh, us Brookhaven billionaires,” she smirked.

Brookhaven is a large town (that would probably be better described as a “township” – encompassing many hamlets and villages) in central Suffolk that runs the width of the island from north shore to south shore.

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Merry Christmas

It’s almost upon us. If you celebrate, I hope you have a Merry Christmas. If you don’t observe it, I’d like to offer you best wishes for the coming year.

I almost forgot. You have to see it. Hey, you like our tree? The tree stand is doing its job well:

Oh, Christmas tree. Oh, Christmas tree. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Oh, Christmas tree. Oh, Christmas tree. [Photo by me, 2014.]
We spent yesterday in Bath doing last-minute shopping. It is one of the most attractive city centers in England. One of the possible reasons: some of the shops. For example, it seemed everything in the Hilfiger store started at £100 and only went up from there.

Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit. Still, by comparison, £60 shirts at the shop in Bath would’ve probably gone for $45 at the Woodbury Common Outlets Hilfiger in upstate New York. Yep, they don’t call Britain “treasure island” for nothing.

In some ways it has been a very mixed year. Yes, I got Frontiers finished. And my Dad survived heart failure. Those are certainly positives.

On the heavily negative side, we lost someone who is utterly irreplaceable. An emptiness that will never be refilled will stay with us forever. This is the first Christmas without her and I’ve been trying not to think about that. Instead, when her absence crosses my mind (as it is now), I’ve tried to imagine that, come mid-January, she’ll just suddenly appear via a text or a phone message, saying she’d just got back from Rome, or Dubai, or Chicago, and her parents also introduced her to yet another man she’s not really interested in, and she wants to meet up for lunch at a brand new restaurant she’s been wanting to try. But I know that won’t happen of course.

There’s no law written anywhere that says a next year has to be better than the last. Sometimes it’s definitely not. But let’s be optimists anyway, not only about our own lives, but about the wider world as well that 2015 will be better for all of us.

We have some fun here too as you may know if you stop by regularly. We have to laugh now and then. I just wanted to use this short post also to thank you again for reading and following my modest, novel-writing site. :-)

On The New York Subway

My father – he’s feeling excellent now, post-surgery; the implant is working well – sent me these photos that were supposedly taken on the New York City Subway. They’re obviously making the rounds. Some appear to be from other mass transit sources, but most do appear to be from New York.

I have no idea who owns them, and reproduce them here only for a laugh. (We all no doubt sure could use one given ugly events of late in my birth city.) As you scroll down (click on them to make them larger), smile and enjoy:

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At The 68th Floor

Did you see this yesterday? Wherever we are in the world, because of the net we all see most everything now. CBS 2 TV in New York was one of the mass of global media covering this, which fortunately ended well:

Two window washers, who became trapped on a scaffold near the 68th floor of One World Trade Center, were rescued and brought to safety Wednesday afternoon….

….The incident began at around 12:45 p.m. on the south side of the building — about 820 feet off the ground at the 68th floor. Initial reports suggested the washers were done cleaning the windows and were about to ascend to the top of the tower when the cable that pulls the scaffold up became loose….

I’ve seen chatter on Twitter wondering how much they get paid. It’s a reasonable question. However, frankly, you couldn’t pay me *enough* to do that job.

1 World Trade Center, photographed from safely behind the fencing on the Empire State Building, summer 2013. [Photo by me, 2013.]
1 World Trade Center, photographed from safely behind the fencing on the Empire State Building, summer 2013. [Photo by me, 2013.]

In Pennsylvania, today is my Dad’s 3 month heart assessment which will determine if he has an ongoing condition that requires a permanent, surgical implant. He says he feels fine and his cardiologist is pleased he has not had any further “events”; but he’s still wearing the life vest. We are naturally hoping he has recovered from his summer heart failure and won’t need the implant. [Prayers.]

The window washers’ near disaster led me to recall how my Dad had worked in construction. He had many a time been in the frame of unfinished Manhattan skyscrapers, and occasionally walked across steel girders in the open. Although he didn’t do so on structures anywhere near as high as 1 World Trade Center, they were nevertheless still on buildings us ordinary mortals would no doubt have considered more than, uh, *high enough.*

“The view is great,” I remember him once telling me.

“I don’t want to know what the hell he’s doing all day,” my mother also used to say to me.

And I’ve actually been complaining on here recently about some self-assembly furniture? All that rather puts matters into proper perspective. (By the way, I’m making progress!) Have a good day! :-)

New Authors, Take Heart

Politics on the Hudson blogged this on Wednesday:

After selling 945 copies in its first week of publication, sales of [New York Governor Andrew] Cuomo’s memoir dropped to 535 during the second week, according to The New York Times, which cited figures from Neilsen BookScan.

An imprint of HarperCollins released Cuomo’s book, “All Things Possible: Setbacks and Success in Politics and Life,” on Oct. 14, and it has sold poorly….

I tweeted the opening line of that blog post:

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So we new authors are not alone. Even someone with a huge book deal and endless free media coverage doesn’t always sell masses of books. Indeed, the New York governor’s sales situation is perhaps even more discouraging – for his publisher – for this reason:

….The Wall Street Journal reported in July that HarperCollins had ordered an initial printing of 200,000 copies of the book….

Uh, it looks like they really should have considered using print-on-demand, Createspace. ;-)

Always A Bit Of The Outsider

It’s a perennial issue. How does one best fit in when you are not from where you are? We all attack the matter in our own ways.

I try to go about my business without making a spectacle of myself. Still, one does have to open one’s mouth. The other day, when we were walking the hound, a woman fellow dog walker we’d bumped into and chatted briefly with several times recently, apparently felt confident enough to ask me where my accent was from.

On Facebook a few years ago, I posted a short video I had shot of my wife having a laugh chasing our dog around our house in Christchurch. Our hound loved to steal newly delivered mail off the floor after the letter carrier had been pushed it through the letterbox. My voice was naturally all over it.

Hearing me in the background, one of my cousins, who lived in New Jersey and whom I had not seen since I was a teenager (but with whom I had become Facebook friends), commented that I had sounded “so English.”

I commented back to her that that would have been news to my wife. “When I start speaking fast,” I joked, “she says I start to sound like Jerry Seinfeld.”

In turn my cousin came back roaring laughing – insofar as anyone can laugh loudly via Facebook, of course.

One thing I’ve learned is that most people speak “softer” here than in most of the U.S. – especially compared to New York – and I have always tried to “mimic” that. But don’t kid yourself. If you are not from somewhere originally, you will never 100 percent “fit in.”

My overall take is always to appreciate that as long as I accept I will never entirely “fit in,” that it doesn’t matter. I aim simply to try to be respectful of how others live, and not to try to impose my own standards on someone else. However they do “it” back “at home” is irrelevant: I’m not “back at home.”

Another thing to do is always to try to enjoy varied, local beverages :-)

Old Jamaica Ginger Beer. [Photo by me, 2014.]
Old Jamaica Ginger Beer. [Photo by me, 2014.]

So you know, there is NO alcohol in that, okay. It’s a pleasant soft drink that I haven’t found on a supermarket shelf in the U.S.; at least not in New York. Great to sip while writing. :-)

Have a good Tuesday, wherever you are….

The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]
Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Soooouper Geeeeenius

We’ve had three mice infestations during the last year. They love the inside of our boiler, which is down in our crawl space. Typical Catskills. Typically rural.

They slip inside it through the outside fresh air intake, which is about 12 inches off the ground and only a few inches above a naked pipe, from which we suspect they can easily reach up to get to the intake. After the first time, I put a window screen mesh over the intake; but they nibbled through that. After the second, I jammed steel mesh into the intake opening; and they wiggled around that.

After the third, the other day, the propane company technician who cleared them out suggested dryly, “Ya need a cat.”

The in-laws' cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]
The in-laws’ cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

Now there’s a high-tech solution for you. Except we can’t have a cat. We are in the U.K. a lot, and my mother detests cats and would never visit us.

“Maybe we should get a cat,” my wife joked.

The mice have done no major damage thus far, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. So I’ve finally had enough. No mice are going outsmart Wile E. Nello.

I’ve constructed a multilayer defensive system. Please don’t call it my personal Maginot Line. Just don’t:

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]
My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Its basis is two layers of 1/4 inch gap steel mesh tacked to the house around the entire intake/out vent. (The opening you see is the out vent; the fresh air intake opens on the reverse side.) I jammed layers of gorilla tape into all gaps (no matter how small) between the mesh and the house siding (which is not flat of course). A board below blocks a horizontal pipe that the critters may use as a “step up.” I even placed a blocking piece of metal next to another pipe, to the left, from which they might be able to jump across.

When my wife saw the finished product – which took me a couple of hours to construct – she declared, “You’re wasted writing books!”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied, “and at some point an anvil will probably come down on my head.” 😏

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:

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In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.