Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Parson's Book Store.Parsons, late 1984 or early 1985.

This is a re-post from a previous blog of mine. It occurred to me to do this after receiving an email from Brendan Lynch, the author of Parsons Bookshop: At the Heart of Bohemian Dublin, 1949-1989. Mr. Lynch had read my piece after a friend of his had shown it to him. I highly recommend his wonderful book to anyone interested in the Dublin literary scene of that era.

I know where and when I bought Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds because for some reason I decided to inscribe the first blank page in the book:
Purchased from the old ladies at Parsons bookstore, where the bridge crosses the canal at Baggot Street, Dublin, 15 April 1983.
I have no idea what inspired me to write those words. To my recollection, I have not inscribed a book before or since.

When I read it now, "old ladies" strikes me as demeaning. I'm sure I didn't mean to be callous. I probably thought that the white-haired, soft-spoken women who ran the shop were quaint. At twenty-one, I often viewed people and situations, especially in Ireland, as subjects for my amusement. What I didn't know then was that these remarkable women -- Mary King, May O’Flaherty, and their assistants -- had actually known Flan O'Brien (real name Brian O'Nolan), and that he and one of my other literary heroes, Patrick Kavanagh, had been regular visitors to the shop during the heights of their careers in the 1950s and 60s.

I certainly did know of the significance of Parsons bookstore, and the role that its proprietors played in Irish literary history, when I returned to Dublin in late 1984. I had a small flat on Herbert Place, just down the canal from the shop, and I would drop by every morning. I liked the idea that I was walking the same ground as O'Nolan, Kavanagh, and other famous writers like Brendan Behan, and exchanging pleasantries with their old friends.

But if the women ever thought of me at all, it would only have been as the shy American who came in every morning and bought a copy of the Irish Times and a Cadbury bar. In the six months that I visited their shop, I never engaged them in any meaningful conversation. “Good morning,” “Thank you,” and comments about the weather were as far as I got.

I don't know why I didn't ask them about the old days, or divulge my passion for the work of Kavanagh and O'Nolan. I suppose that I had some silly notion that my dignity would be compromised, that I would appear to them like a typical American tourist. What a shame. They were gracious and kind, and likely would have given me anecdotes that don't exist in any of the biographies. Who knows, I might have learned something interesting or important I could share here. But that opportunity is long gone. So is Parsons, and so are those venerable women.

I learned of Mary King's death on June 25, 1995 -- ten years later and three thousand miles away from Parsons. I was in another bookstore, the Borders in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Philadelphia, near where I now live. I must have been feeling nostalgic for my time in Dublin, and purchased a copy of the Irish Times. Her death notice was the first thing I saw when I turned the front page. It read in part:
Queen of books dies aged 83
A landmark of Dublin's literary world has passed away with the sudden death of Mary King. Aged 83 she ran Parsons book shop in the city for 38 years and her knowledge of books was unsurpassed.
I clipped the notice out of the paper and it has been stuck inside my copy of At Swim-Two-Birds ever since.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Sunset, Walnut Lane Bridge

Sun setting from Walnut Lane Bridge.A few weeks age, before the tulip poplar's leaves began to change.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Osage orange

Osage orange. We used to come down Germantown Avenue from the PA Turnpike to get into the city twenty-eight years ago when I was a Freshman at Temple University. Around where we crossed the line from Montgomery County into the city limits, we would see Osage oranges strewn along the sides of the road. A connection between the life I was leaving, and the new life I was going to.

Osage oranges grew along the banks of the Davidsburg Run where it ran through the lower meadow of our farm when I was growing up. As kids, my cousin Steve and I would drop them into the water and race them down the current, a competition to see whose would be the first to bob under the fence into the neighbor's field.

Today Donna and I rode our bikes up Andorra Road, near where I used to see the Osage oranges years ago, and found this specimen.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Happy Birthday Abe!

Korean mums in bloom.Korean mums off the front porch.

I don't usually post on weekends, but then I found out that it's Abe Lincoln's birthday.

Happy Birthday Abe!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Jack's p.o.v.

Inside of a jack-o-lantern, looking out.Have a great weekend, whatever your perspective happens to be.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Pumpkin Pickin'

Jack-o-lanterns on a porch railing.Pumpkin Pickin', not unlike Festivus, is a made up holiday created in answer to the over commercialization of a traditional holiday -- in this case, Halloween.

Donna, my girlfriend, came up with the concept twenty years ago, or so, and it goes like this:
  1. You get a bunch of your friends together (especially, but not necessarily, if they have kids). For the last five years, we've gathered in a cabin in an undisclosed location in northern Bucks County.
  2. As a gang, you descend on a local and sincere pumpkin patch to search for the most jack-o-lantern-worthy pumpkins.
  3. As a gang, you return to the undisclosed location and create your masterpieces on the front porch, which requires the use of various and sundry implements of destruction, and the accumulation of mounds of pumpkin guts. When they are finished, you line them up on the porch railing.
  4. Then you bring your friends inside and give them liberal amounts of food and libation.
  5. After dark, they all get lit. (The pumpkins, that is.)
A line of lighted jack-o-lanterns at night.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Bad pumpkin!

Jack-o-lantern, next to a glass of beer, throwing up.Pumpkin Pickin', Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Halyomorpha Halys

Stink bug.That's Halyomorpha Halys. Or the brown marmorated stink bug, to you and me.

Until 1996, they were not native to Pennsylvania -- or the United States, for that matter. Somehow they sneaked in.

If you live in an old house in my neck of the woods, with woods being meant more or less literally, you most likely have run into these fellows. They tend to show up in droves as the weather gets cooler, seeking out warm places to hibernate until spring arrives.

The unnerving sound of their erratic flight, a sudden buzzing that almost always ends with an abrupt thwack, is as common as the sight of them. They don't so much land as crash into things -- walls, furniture, you. Probably the reason one finds a lot of them dead.

Whether dead or alive, be cautious in handling them. Their name is well earned. When threatened (or squashed), or insulted, they emit a very disagreeable odor -- like rancid almonds, I have read. So far I have not experienced this first hand. Having been forewarned, I am careful.

Pick them up in a tissue and flush them down the toilet, is my advice. Rehabilitation -- to borrow from Woody Allen -- is out of the question.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Family portraits

An astonishingly handsome middle aged man holding two cats.Tom, Dan, Colleen, October 2008.

Same pose and subject as previous photo, taken thirteen years earlier.December, 1995.

An earlier piece about Tom and Colleen.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Getting over the wall

People helping each other over a stone wall.A very passionate and articulate young man (he's only four months older than I am) who wants to be our next president held a rally in a park in my neighborhood on Saturday morning. We got up early and stood in line for hours with thousands of our neighbors to hear him speak.

In the twenty minutes or so that he was at the microphone he spoke on many important issues of the day, first and foremost, of course, being the economy, but also education, health care, energy, and the environment. He also spoke eloquently on the role of personal responsibility, stressing that government alone could not solve the massive problems facing the country.

He spoke to us, not at us. The crowd, which was truly a cross section of the culture ethnically and racially, was one, with him the way crowds are with rock stars or evangelist preachers, interrupting his discourse with whoops and hollers, chants, enthusiastic applause. He is, after all, one of the most powerful speakers of our time.

Afterwards, thousands had to figure their way out of the park. A large contingent of us surged toward the edge of a field that looked like a promising exit onto the street. When we got there, we found we were at the top of a wall, maybe five feet above the sidewalk. Not a problem. An ad hoc system was established. Those over the wall first turned and helped the strangers following them. Smiling faces, arms reaching up, words of encouragement for the unsure. We all made it. Amazing what we Americans can do when we work together.

Barack Obama.Barack Obama, Vernon park, Saturday morning.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Biff's new friend

Biff's hand strokes a big gray cat.Biff and cat (name unknown), Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008


Trees in the Wissahickon tinged with gold and red.Wissahickon Valley from Walnut lane Bridge


Hawthorne berries.Hawthorn berries, Johnson Street.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

I love this time of year

Autumn leaves and blue sky.Near Blue Stone Bridge, Sunday afternoon.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Autumn flowers

Orange and yellow flowers.Blue Bell Hill, Saturday evening.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The neighbors

Two cats, seen through a fence.
Saturday evening, Johnson Street.