Monthly Archives: June 2015

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Workshops and Sanctuaries

“Buona sera, good evening,” he said what seemed to me a trace of a Swedish accent, “My name is Helge. It’s a manly name, a Viking name.” In fact, it is a holy name, related as it is to the German heilige, as in Heilige Geist (“Holy Ghost”). Thus, while the Vikings no doubt used this word as a perfectly “manly” name, it has connotatiVilla of San Micheleons, as does many a name, well beyond even the immediate context of a Viking village, let alone the cocktail reception for a musical recital at the Villa San Michele on Capri, where I first met Helge Antoni.
There he was with his lovely wife, Marisa, and the three of us along with a number of other interlocutors who dropped in and out of our conversation chatted in multiple languages—German, English, French, mostly Italian—about music, art, literature and the intoxication that Anacapri provided through its breathtaking vistas and villas, soul-charming alleys and ambulatories witape-on-the-roadh various twists and turns. Indeed, virtually no one drives in Anacapri, unless one has a very small vehicle such as a scooter or a “bee” (in Italian, ape, entirely unrelated, of course, to its false English cognate “ape”).

As I walked home from that evening’s lovely concert it dawned on me that I had met a world-class and quite famous musician, and in Marisa, his athletic wife, quite a fine Pilates expert. Little did I know, however, that I would enjoy much more than a mere conversation, that our friendship would blossom, that Helge would become like a brother to me. That such a circumstance could possibly arise was soon enough apparent to me from his and Marisa’s warm invitation to join them for drinks the following evening at the nearby mountain villa where they were staying.

And so it came to pass, in our evolving friendship, Helge, en route to a concert a year later, would come to visit me in the States, on which occasion I was reminded afresh of something I already knew but had, I suppose, forgotten or had at least not brought to the front of my mind for quite some time. Yet I had known it well, as I had so many other important things, already when I was a child.

That thing that I had known was the idea of a sanctuary. I am thinking in this case of the small workshop of my grandfather, Harry Jakes. It was anything but fancy, more or less just a workbench in the basement of my grandparents’ home on Rutter Avenue in Kingston, Pennsylvania. My mother, Elaine Jakes, lived with her parents for three years or so after her divorce and during those years my grandparents in many ways played the role of Wilkes Uparents for me while my mother finished her college education at Wilkes College (now Wilkes University). There Elaine, having enrolled for a second time after a scandalous dismissal which you may already know from The Curious Autobiography, studied English literature and history and was a makeup artist for the Cue ‘n’ Curtain theater troupe. Had she not had a young child, she might have been an actor in that troupe, but that, I think, is the stuff of another blog.

Photo by Brian Smithson.
Photo by Brian Smithson.

To return to my grandfather’s workshop: it was a magical place, truly glorious, where the sound of his old electric drill provided Scipionic music of the spheres. There it was a privilege to enter and to spend time simply listening to and watching the master craftsman at work. Of course, he was not a real “master.” He was merely a man then nigh unto his retirement years who was handy around the house. If it were broken, chances are Harry could have fixed it. If something needed a slight adjustment, he would use his creative powers to adjust it. If a unique dohicky had to be designed for a specific purpose, Harry would invent it. He was one of those rare people who could look at something broken and envision it in a fully repaired state—a mystical healer of humdrum objects. Owing to that particular trait, I, my cousins, and anyone who might enter that house on Rutter Avenue, which had once been the house of the family’s childless matriarch Aunt Jemima, all marveled at him.

Harry found in his workshop, it seemed to me, a kind of sanctuary, for it provided him with a respite from, almost a kind of therapy for, the worries of this world for him to work with his hands repairing things. Perhaps it was the metaphor of healing, after all, that offered him a powerful solace. But I also think that there was something about the attitude that was required to enter the place, that workshop that provided sanctuary a word that implies both that the place is a safe place and holy. The word itself, though it means “holy” comes to mean a place of refuge, a place of asylum, just as Helge means holy but becomes, to use Helge’s words, “a manly name, a Viking name.”

As I grew up and especially after my grandfather’s death I had to find other workshops, other sanctuaries. One of these I had stumbled upon before his passing, for as a teenager in New Hope I would often frequent the office of a local writer, John Pfeiffer, who wrote anthropological treatises for the popular market. He did a good deal of research for each of his books, and allowed me to visit him to pick his brain about writing and about the possibility of having a career as a writer.

Photo by Wally Gobetz.
Logan Inn. Photo by Wally Gobetz.

Carl Lutz’ workshop was the kitchen of the Logan Inn, the original inn of New Hope (the borough once called Wells Ferry) which, in the early eighteenth century, the town’s founder John Wells owned and operated even before New Hope was called Coryell’s Ferry, which it was after it was called Wells Ferry; all this is the stuff of another, in fact a previous blog. For Carl, who would later become the mayor of New Hope, the busy kitchen of the Logan Inn provided him with a kind of refuge from the business of running the Inn and, eventually, the whole town.

I should mention two other places that served as (and three other mentors who ensured) workshops and sanctuaries for me. One of these was Professor Phil Lockhart of Dickinson College, another Tom Corey, pastor of one of Philadelphia’s truly urban churches; the third, Mrs. Zinaida Sprowles, self-described peripatetic pedagogue, who bore workshop and sanctuary within, demonstrating that such a place need neither longitude nor latitude. Each of these provided refuge away from the stresses of life, and with them one did not merely learn what it meant to be an apprentice in an art, such as writing or cooking, but in life. With them I found myself often puzzling about bigger questions regarding meaning and significance, about what words meant, not merely how to craft them. Each of them showed how to read and, based on what was read, offered insights about what to write. In their sanctuaries where I pondered how to function as a human being, how to walk, indeed to see, in this dark world and wide, and how not to allow that one talent, which is death hide, to stay lodged, useless. But I wax poetic. Suffice it to say that in those sanctuaries I pondered the questions that would give me pause, that would compel me to understand that to be a proper human being requires participating in humanity’s pain and, eventually, would place a pen in my hand for that very purpose.

Helge Antoni, pianist
Helge Antoni, pianist

“Have them sit down,” Helge said, as he bestrode the piano in the college chapel, spacious enough for the master class that he offered to the assortment of musically trained college students assembled there. I watched and listened as they played in this makeshift workshop, a sanctuary in more than one sense, for Helge had lived up to his name, creating a sanctuary, whose walls were forged from notes and whose roof was made of wafting chords, supported by occasional applause and masterful instructions to a true master’s students in a master class. There I experienced sanctuary again, in a workshop that was no workshop, for it normally was a place of faith—not works, lest anyone should boast. And I realized again, as I sat there watching the love he had for those students and their warm responses to his gentle admonitions and corrections, that here learning could happen afresh, in a sanctuary. I remembered the teachers of my sanctuaries, from Harry to John to Carl to Zinaida to Phil to Tom, and back again to Capri, where I had met Helge.

“Heavenly,” the appropriately named master thundered after one of the students had played her piece, “just heavenly …” adding, after a decorous pause, “Wasn’t that glorious?”

“Indeed,” I thought, “it was.” But I was thinking of something much larger than the fine piece that the student had played. I was thinking of sanctuary and the sound of an old electric drill when I replied, “Truly, Helge, it was.”

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: A Space for Hope

Hope is the word most often searched on Google by those feeling desperate. One wants very badly to find a space or at least a place, virtual or otherwise, where hope may not glibly “spring eternal” but rather may be as it were a part of a landscape, mortar holding the brick of a garden wall that one feels a sense of security there. That is the place where someone will say and actually mean, “It’s okay. You’re safe now. You still have a future. There is—this is—a place of hope.” To get to that place, to appreciate it, most often one must go through some frightening and sobering moments, to have faced some tough times, times in which hope was nearly in full eclipse. I know the darkness of such an eclipse well, for my grandfather, Harry Reed Jakes, passed away when I had just finished my sophomore year in college. For a season I lost hope.

Salon of 1874, Painting. - The Trojan Horse, by Motte, vintage engraved illustration. Magasin Pittoresque 1875.
Salon of 1874, Painting. – The Trojan Horse, by Motte, vintage engraved illustration. Magasin Pittoresque 1875.

Thus do I recall: I was reading Homer’s Odyssey not as a class assignment, for the school year had then ended. Rather, it was book envy, plain and simple, as I had not had it on the syllabus of my section of Western World Literature. For whatever reason, Professor Culp had not put the Odyssey on her syllabus, choosing instead the Iliad—an interesting introduction to college,for that thoroughly violent epic was the first thing I read at Dickinson, that gentle autumn season not so many

Vietnam helicopter

years removed from the last troops coming home from Vietnam.

Truth be told, it may have been the first entire book I had read for a class in quite a long time, as in high school, at least until I had taken Mrs. Sprowles senior English class, I was the master of partial preparation, pioneering then what seems to have become an art form among many precollegiate and even college students today. Yet I did know when I walked through that gate of Dickinson College that I was passing through what I would later, thanks to another text in that same class of Professor Culp, recognize as a Dantean-style gate, perhaps still adorning the Benjamin Rush campus today, with cast iron letters mounted upon an uninviting arch that read Lasciate ogne speranza (di pratica cattiva del liceo), voi ch’ intrate, which in English means “Behave yourself and study!”

Photo by Doug Kerr
Photo by Doug Kerr

And so it came to pass that well before we entered the hyperborean swath of that academic year, I encountered warriors battling along the banks of the Simois, Sarpedon’s fate hanging in the balance, brave Andromache handing baby Astyanax to her husband, Hector, as they forebodingly bade farewell, until a kingly father would beg a proud warrior for the body of his fallen son for another type of goodbye scene. That son, the selfsame Hector, would in a ghostlike apparition soon charge his comrade Aeneas to save the Trojan remnant and sail for Hesperia—yet that in what I then thought a lesser text in that selfsame class.

While I enjoyed many of these stories, the other classes, I jealously grumbled, had one better, for they were reading the Odyssey, and of this aspect of their syllabus I was more than just a bit jealous. Besides, I was learning Greek with the legendary Professor Lockhart, a professor who taught much more than merely Greek; he taught life, and expounded upon why books such as the Odyssey are important. “They’re not simply the classics,” he said, “they are the air we breathe, the water we drink; they are food for our souls.” It took me a few years to grasp this statement in any full sense, and I suppose I am still doing so.

Harry Jakes with his grandson

And so it was owing to “epic envy” alone and to no other reason—for I did not yet know what an important tale the Odyssey would tell me, never having read it—that I took that book along when I went to visit my grandfather, Harry Jakes, in the hospital for what would be the last time. It was two score less four years ago this month; he died on Father’s Day. This was particularly poignant to me, for he had played an important role in my life, as I had never known my father. He was a good father to Elaine Jakes, perhaps even a better father figure to me. Thus, when Harry died I felt without hope, lost, and had there been Google then, I’m sure I would have tried to Google “hope.”

But I would not have found it, not alone at any rate, for I have learned that hope is only one strand of three, like three fates or three graces, as the Greeks and Romans believed that such ideas (and deities) came in threes. For example, there were three aspects of Diana: the goddess associated with the hunt, with childbirth, and the moon. The Graces (Charites) came in three, too: Aglaia, “radiance,” Euphrosyne, “joy,” and Thalia, “bounteous bloom.” But as joyously, radiantly, blooming bounteous as these are, together they do not form the kind of cord of which I suggest hope is but a slender, yet nonetheless strong part. The second part of that cord, the largest and most vigorous part, is Love.

Now Love is something that nearly everyone can agree about or at least say something positive about. Even in these staunchly secular times, rarely will one meet a person who says, “Love’s just an emotion,” or “You know, it’s strictly a chemical reaction of the brain,” or “What is love, anyway?” or even rarer, “Love is always self-interested, when you get right down to it.” Now I admit I have met such people, usually a dour bunch, with pursed lips and supercilious eyebrows that move up and down seemingly independently. In contrast to that small minority, I think that most folks would agree that “Love is vital” or “human” or maybe, if they like music, they would go so far as to say (or sing) “Love is all you need,” with an upbeat and in-tune pitch of voice, rendering the listener an optimistic alternative to the prune-mouthed, odd-browed realists. Even the less than musical might at least say prosaically, “Well, love’s really important.”

But that’s not what the Odyssey is about, of course, not quite. Or if it is about “love,” it’s a different kind of love. Perhaps it’s the kind that is spelled with a funny combination of letters, three vowels, three m’s, one c and two t’s. Unlike “love,” that word is not very popular, and has often delayed an engagement or two for well more than a year—though it held Penelope and Odysseus together for twenty. Yes, those of you good at word puzzles have already deduced that this kind of love is commitment, admittedly to some a word that is pedestrian, even flat-sounding, but certainly really a bit more “real” than the kind that the “we’re-all-just-a-bunch-of-chemicals” crowd objects to.

But to get back to the Odyssey: it points us homeward. It’s the story, as you likely know, of a war hero finding his way home and cleaning up the problems that accrued while he was away. It’s a text that has a timeless message, even if it is one that is cast against the backdrop of mostly outdated ideas of revenge (though even those values are, sadly, often still found in action movies). Odysseus must come home; such a journey in Greek called a “nostos.” I could not see it then, but my grandfather strongly believed that he was about to make his nostos, not to a home or a house where one can find a hope for life, but to another Home where one finds such hope realized. The commitment that he had shown throughout his life that was reflected, in part, in his love for me and my cousins, Eric and Mark—that was the second strand of the cord, the cord that, if all three strands remain, seems unbreakable to the casual observer, which I confess I was then.

cordBut what about the third strand? Well, as that’s a matter of faith, I prefer to leave it aside for now. Perhaps I’ll come back to it in a future blog. For the time being, suffice it to say that two of the three strands are Love and Hope, and hope only can make sense if one believes that there is such a thing as unfailing love, a.k.a. commitment. Yet who am I to say all this? Well, I’m just a “might-not-have-been,” as I said in my first blog, one who happens to be a writer, who normally writes about elfin hobs or ghosts. And I, dear reader, next week, will tell you another story more along the lines of a hob or a ghost, or perhaps something entirely different but no less entertaining than a lesson in Greek literature, like this one, that involves and expounds on an archaic term such as “nostos.” Yet perhaps the Odyssey’s nostos is an adventure worth having, whether you discover it in a book or, better yet, in your life.


Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: Angels and Headstones

As the title of this blog implies, angels turn up in surprising places. One might not expect to come upon an angel in a store that sells grave markers; that frankly is the last thing one might expect. Truth be told, one rather infrequently enters a grave marker store, normally known as “So-and-so’s Memorials.” Usually such a store’s modestly sized parking lot is far from teaming with customers and, if one does venture within, rarely, if ever, does one learn that that store is out of a certain type of headstone, or that they have a particular marker on “backorder.” And, of course, it would be gauche to suggest putting anything on layaway, as that would be driving the nail a bit too close to the thumb, so to say.

Indeed, the very word memorial is itself already driving that nail rather close, for the term is either a benign euphemism or an apt appellation. I prefer the latter, as I believe in memory, not that it may merely serve to be an ephemeral record of a life well (or otherwise) lived but also as a mental imprint that serves to preserve a record of meaning. It is a mirror image of the hope that can inform one’s future.

Kingston welcome signBut to return to angels and gravestones. I entered that gravestone store, located on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston, Pennsylvania in the spring of 2012 with my uncle Ed Johnson, a retired professor of the school once called Wilkes College, to buy Elaine Jakes’ memorial marker. That place of business is one that I have fortunately had few opportunities to visit; but that cold March day, with its crisp, biting wind, Ed and I were on just such a gloomy errand. Though Elaine had passed away a few months earlier, it was now time to put her ashes in the ground at Fern Knoll Burial Park. We needed, and indeed wanted, a simple memorial, something to put over the place where Elaine’s ashes would rest. I had no idea that I would that day encounter an angel.

Gingerbreak manNow I had only once before encountered someone I thought could be an angel. I was 21 years old and was involved in a very strange fisticuffs. My close friend Tim Hoy and I, then a college senior, were walking home from a fine dining establishment and even better bar known as the Gingerbread Man in Carlisle, Pennsylvania . We had spent a few hours in that bar chatting, Tim drinking beer, I Perrier because at the time I had mononucleosis, a disease during which one is told to refrain entirely from alcoholic beverages. Besides, Perrier was cheaper and quite refreshing, particularly with a twist of lime. I felt, frankly, somewhat sophisticated. We spent a few hours chatting about C. S. Lewis, the Baltimore Orioles (baltimore oriole capTim’s favorite team and, coincidentally, my favorite bird) and, by metonymic association, Cookie, the myna bird that taught me how to talk in a manner comparable to the way that a bear taught Elaine Jakes how to drive.

When it was time to walk home we took a less than circuitous course back to our admittedly shabby apartment, en route to which we encountered some ruffians—eight that I could count—who proceeded to engage us in a fisticuffs. Needless to say, they outmanned us. Tim’s jaw was broken on nearly the first punch. I fortunately did not rupture my then delicate spleen, to protect which I kept my arms over my belly, allowing my face to be knocked about at will, no doubt to the delight of the assailants.

Nonetheless, I don’t think either one of us were frightened—perhaps we hadn’t had time to be frightened, as it all happened so fast—until I heard and then saw one of the hooligans open his switchbladeswitchblade.  For a moment, I thought all was lost. It was not. Just as he was approaching me, pinned as I was against the side of a car, a large man came from nowhere. He seemed, at the time, of superhuman size. Indeed, I doubt I have in the flesh ever seen anyone so large unless seeing an (American) football player, a lineman, at a distance during a football game were to count. But even such girth I am not certain would surpass that man’s—if he was a man. I had a feeling at the time that both the size and the rapidity of his appearance and then sudden disappearance could qualify him for angelic status. Admittedly, he did not sing; nor did he have a harp or a halo or wings. Yet even if he was not a capital ‘A’ angel, he was at the very least a lowercase ‘a’ angel. He came to announce to that entire group of ruffians that it was over and they should go home. And that they did, immediately, without asking questions or even tagging Tim or me with one last upper cut or left hook. They scattered. We were safe, and we stumbled home. And maybe that night, just maybe, we encountered a real live angel.

Harry and Blanche Jakes
Harry and Blanche Jakes

But that apparition was vastly different from the angel that Ed and I encountered in the memorial store on Wyoming Avenue in Kingston, for there we came upon a small, elderly woman who asked about Elaine Jakes. Was this Harry and Blanche’s daughter, she asked? Blythe Evans’ cousin? “Yes,” we said. Oh, she said, I knew Elaine—a bit of a free spirit, that Lainey. What a wonderful lady and what a fine family she came from. Blythe—well, everyone was proud of him, the district attorney. And, her sister—“My wife, Lee Ann,” Ed piped in—well, she was a marvelous person, raised two fine boys, didn’t she? “Yes,” Ed, added, “my sons, Mark and Eric.” Fine lads, the woman said; one became a doctor, the other, was it a professor? “Yes,” Ed and I concurred, adding a few details to round out the family portrait.

But Harry was special, she said. He was a wonderful human being. He bought his mother and his father’s memorials here, you know, and Jemima Jones’ and Lizzie Ann Evans’. Then afterwards he used to come by from time to time just to say hello, just to be friendly and keep us here in the store up with what was going on at his church, with the family and in his neighborhood. A good man, that Harry Jakes, she said. In parting, she gave Ed and me each a small gift; a small metallic medallion of an angel.

Angel medallion
Angel Medallion

Take these, she said, and be blessed. It’s an angel, she said, a small gift to remind you that there are real angels. Ed smiled and took it, as did I, expressing our thanks.

To write this blog, I used Google Earth to try to find that memorial store. I thought it must still be there—after all, it was just three years ago that I was visiting and I bought the headstone. But though I thrice virtually traversed of Wyoming Avenue and looked up and down for it, I could not find it. I could not find even the place where I recall that it was located. It would seem to have come and gone nearly as quickly as that angel, if he was an angel, who delivered Tim and me from the valley of the shadow of death in Carlisle all those years ago. No, I’m sure that that store is there and that I just missed it. And perhaps that woman was not a real angel. But I don’t doubt that she gave us an angelic blessing, and that that blessing is one that points to the angels we encounter in this life, whether they be humans or something or someone, somewhat otherworldly, in human form.

Commonplace Thoughts of a Residual Welshman: The Ghost of Sulmona

Madison I
Madison K. BEA booth

“Well, this is quite a booth,” I said when strolling the floor of the vast Book Expo of America Exhibit 2015 in May. “The colors are vivid and jump right out at you—pink and black. And the artwork is well done, so deftly thematized to your book.” All this I said when I first met Madison Kaplan, the namesake and, qua character, heroine of the book series that her talented mother, Nina, writes and illustrates. “She does all her own artwork,” Madison volunteered proudly. It was refreshing and frankly a bit surprising to see a young woman of twenty-three so proud of a parent.

I soon met Nina herself, the warm and friendly author of the popular Young Adult fictional work entitled Madison K. As Nina described it to me, the series tries to speak in a new and fresh way to girls becoming young women, encouraging them to think twice before making just any moral choice, before believing just any trendy way of thinking. I confess that I have not read much of this series whose target audience is obviously a demographic quite a bit different from myself. Kaplan complements her book series with a rich and various website (BLC; that speaks to young women about their appearance, focusing on something I am fairly unfamiliar with, makeup; but I shall return to that below. For the moment, suffice it to say that after my admittedly cursory perusal of one of the books in the series, I am honestly impressed. This series is doing something different than most YA fiction, and I am inclined to start my blog by warmly acknowledging that uniqueness; after all, Elaine Jakes taught me to embrace things that are perhaps a bit different and to be a bit wary of those ideas that are not.

Adriatic Coast
Adriatic Coast

Yet as the title of this blog implies, this is a ghost story that ostensibly is about a haunting of Sulmona, an Italian town, a small one, located on the edge of the Majella National Park near the Adriatic shore, forming a triangle with two nearby coastal cities, Pescara and Lanciana. It is far enough from them and from Rome that there is no chance that the ghost of Sulmona could wander in either direction. It stays confined to the arboreal park and only occasionally wanders into Sulmona’s center, always at night. And when it does, it makes a beeline for the main square where there is displayed prominently a fine statue of the town’s most famous poet, the long-dead Ovidius Naso, whose very shade, it is said, is this ghost.

Piazza in Sulmona Italy
Piazza in Sulmona with Bronze Statue of Ovid. Photo by Boblyp.

That ghost is as playful as Ovid was a poet. Ovid, you may know, was so playful, so bawdy, that he was banished by the emperor Augustus; to give a historical context, this is the very emperor who was reigning when Christ was born. So, Ovid and Christ were contemporaries, Christ the younger, as Ovid was born in 43 BC. Yet why Ovid’s shade, if it is Ovid’s, haunts Sulmona is a mystery. There is a rumor that it has to do with women.

Now it is not what you might be thinking; yes, if you recall your history, Ovid was known as a bit of a dandy not only because of his poetry but also owing to the unsubstantiated claim that he was spending far too much time of a romantic nature with Julia, the emperor’s daughter. While it may not be (and need not be true) that Ovid was carrying on with Julia, it is certainly true he had the gumption to write at least to two tomes of poetry explicitly for women and that he wrote much more than that about women. The facts are these: the third book of his Art of Love (Ars Amatoria) was addressed to women, to help them create rendezvous with men; his Love’s Remedies (Remedia Amoris) was for both women and men, so it does not count. He also wrote the Heroides, letters in the first person penned by famous heroines to their often less famous lovers—and Ovid donned the female voice to accomplish this; I say nothing, in passing, about my role in the composition of The Curious Autobiography.

Yet clearly Ovid’s boldest venture, his “I’m-treading-on-territory-that-should-perhaps-better-fall-to-the-too-little-known-Roman-poetess-Sulpicia” work that could have been perceived as sexist, was the less than catchily entitled Medicamina Faciei Feminae (On Makeup). This work never was among those great books, those Harvard classics that most people talk about when quipping dilettantishly about antiquity. This lesser known work is a book about makeup, much like Nina Kaplan’s lovely website.

The difference, however, between that website which appeals to young women who are just now learning to apply makeup correctly and to make good choices about that (and about life) and Ovid’s work is simply this: Nina Kaplan is a woman and thus can speak from experience. She knows her makeup and she knows what it feels like to be a young woman figuring out womanhood and this particular aspect of it—though admittedly makeup is not for everyone, of course. Elaine Jakes, for one, rarely wore it. Ovid’s transgression into the world of makeup was, from a netherworldly perspective, a much greater offense than the poet’s possible dating of Augustus’ daughter, or his recherché and erotic elegies, the content of which ostensibly bothered the emperor. So, while Augustus exiled Ovid to Tomis in his lifetime, it is said that in his after-lifetime, the shades of Roman women, like those who hounded Orpheus to death, called down an irrational curse on Ovid’s soul, a curse that compelled his shade to have no rest and ever to wander the (admittedly lovely) Majella forest, whence he cannot return to Rome but at least finds himself on Italian soil.

Parrozzo Cake
Parrozzo Cake

When he does come into town, pieces of Parrozzo (a soft cake characterized by a rich chocolate coating and almonds) left out for the ghost at the foot of Ovid’s statue in the town’s square by caring contemporary Italian women always is taken up, it seems, by the ghost, but never quite eaten. Rather, it finds itself strewn out in a line going back into the woods like a Sondheimian trail of breadcrumbs, as, of course, a ghost can’t really eat or drink, as it is made of spiritual matter.

I did not tell Nina Kaplan this story, as I did not want to frighten her or anyone at the Madison K. booth. In any case, I felt it did not befit so busy or august an event as the BEA. But I did warn her that Madison K. just might show up in a blog about a ghost. Is there a moral to this story in a blog that purports to affirm that life is worth living and books are worth reading? Well, of course there is, for the continuum, if an imperfect one, between Ovid, Madison K., and “BLC” remains unbroken, in a sense, and the warning to a man with too little knowledge of makeup, such as myself, not to interfere stands, lest he wind up in the doghouse or, in the case of Ovid’s ghost, experience something worse. And, more importantly than all of this, of course, is the notion that the past is ever with us, a repository of stories, within the context of which we are writing our own, which form a strand in yet a grander narrative, the Author of which will, perhaps, eventually be the topic of another blog.