Monday, October 31, 2022

Ghosts of Halloweens Past

 Annamaria on Monday

Antescript: I wrote this post before the news broke of those poor young people in South Korea who perished during a Halloween celebration gone haywire.  My sympathies are with their families and their nation.  Of all the plagues facing our poor beleaguer planet, no one seems to worrying much about the dangerous combination of youth and alcohol.  It's a subject that bears discussion.  I will save that for another day.  And go ahead for now with what I had prepared for my post on Halloween 2022.

Kerry Ann and me, before moving in, but working on our
 West Village look in 1972

This is a tale of life in Greenwich Village NYC in the 1970s.  It was a fascinating place to be - one of the epicenters of the counter culture.  I moved here in 1973 to be in the district for PS 3, where I enrolled my five-year-old daughter.  Also in that school district were Westbeth and the artist-occupied lofts further downtown (long before the zone was renamed Soho and became the precinct of lawyers and their billionaire clients.) Westbeth was a group of buildings, formerly Bell Labs, then given over to artists of all sorts - painters, dancers, musicians.  The heroes of this story are the puppet-makers who lived there.

Kerry Ann trying to look scary in her PS 3 t-shirt

I wanted PS 3 for my daughter because of its progressive philosophy.  Kids were not lock-stepped into grade levels by age, but grouped with kids of different ages--K-1, K-1-2, 1-2-3, etc. based on their learning levels.  Here is what the NYC Public School website says about its history:

The PS 3... came into being through a community workshop process known as a ‘charrette,’ at which parents and other community members, teachers, administrators, public officials, social planners and educational consultants arrived at a vision of child-centered learning in open multi-age classrooms, with a nonhierarchical structure, active parent involvement and an emphasis on the arts. John Melser, an educator from New Zealand, served as the school’s first leader.

PS 3, one of th oldest and most beautiful NYC Public School buildings

The student body came from all sorts of homes: well-known writers, artists from Westbeth and those loft that were barely more than cleaned up abandoned factory floors. In 1974, when Kerry Ann was just starting first grade, the puppeteer and mask maker, Ralph Lee had the wonderful idea of a Halloween Parade, featuring his huge and gorgeous puppets and including the school children.

The neighborhood at the time was a welcoming enclave for gay people, who also joined in the fun.

In those first few years, the Westbeth artists and the parents of PS 3 were the major organizers.  An NYPD officer on a motorcycle led the marchers along the narrow local streets, lined with townhouses and apartment buildings of no more than five or six stories.  

People inside the apartments often dressed up in their own costumes and participated from the fire escapes outside their windows.  I wish I had a photo of the group who dressed up as the cast of the then Broadway hit Evita, all looking incredibly authentic and lip-synching to the cast album blaring from their phonograph.

The parade ended in Washington Square Park where prizes were offered to children with the best costumes and candy treats for all.

Our family loved the event so much that each year we had a dinner party that began with hors d'oeuvres before the march and the main course and dessert afterwards. As word of the lovely parade got out, the crowd grew in the following years, but the event remained a neighborhood party.

Eventually, though, it got taken over.  Promoters from outside the neib saw dollar signs, secured the parade permit ahead of those who had normally gotten it.  Alacazam!  It suddenly became a televised extravaganza, with lots of commercials - an event too big for the local streets.

Wherever you are in the world, you can probably see it on TV tonight, filling up broad Sixth Avenue, and garnering profits.  It still does one of the things the neighborhood parade did from the beginning - demonstrating in the costumes and tableaus the creativity of ordinary people.

As for me, I am really happy that I and mine were there for the oh so sweet beginning.

Celebrating Halloween as it looks in the Village in 2022


Sunday, October 30, 2022

Sheppard Craige’s Italian garden

Il Bosco della Ragnaia, San Giovanni d’Asso, Italy


Zoë Sharp


On the outskirts of San Giovanni d’Asso, not far from Siena, in Tuscany, I was taken to see the remarkable work of art that is Bosco della Ragnaia.


It is difficult to categorise this ten-acre woodland park and garden, into which has been woven images, sculptures, and words. Or perhaps the art is the cornerstone, and the garden has been formed around it?

This huge project was started in 1996 by American landscape artist, Sheppard Craige. He’s been working on it ever since, although when I met him in September, he declared his masterpiece was done.


“I’m trying to design ways it could be maintained, but nothing’s more fragile than a garden. It changes all the time. It changes every five minutes. There’s always decay. Things are dying, things are growing.”


It seems almost ironic that Sheppard has chosen to concentrate most on the land, when his art is particularly known for its depictions of clouds and sky. He reckons that being a painter was an ideal grounding for his work creating the garden.


“Sometimes when you’re painting you do things that you think, maybe it’s not right, but let’s do it anyway, or maybe you don’t have a real purpose—you’re just experimenting—and it was the same thing here.”

The lack of formal layout—sometimes of formal meaning—is part of what makes Bosco della Ragnaia so fascinating. As well as the straight lines, foliage, water and geometric patterns, there are odd words and phrases that seem placed only in order to make you think.


“I only have one rule—I try not to put in words that actually describe the place itself. They’re just things that occur to me, phrases or just three or four words together.”


Unlike landscape gardeners, who often mould the entire surface of a garden to meet their own design, Sheppard says he left the contours of the land undisturbed, and that this is the difference between land art and garden art. But he does like to play with perspective as well as perception.


“I didn’t know what it was going to be. I just started drawing lines on the ground, and then I started to make it. And as it got made, it changed itself.”


Sheppard is married to fellow artist, Frances Lansing, whose clay sculptures are also to be found throughout the park. You never quite know what you’re going to come across next—a quote from one of my favourite poems, to a David Mackie metal sculpture ‘Etruscan Chariot’. The addition of the fallen leaves only seemed to enhance it.


Much like a novel, Sheppard’s garden is telling you a story, even if you don’t entirely grasp what that story is. Nevertheless, it stays in the mind long after you’ve closed the pages, and makes you want to go back to it on a regular basis, just to see how everything has changed.


The good news for others hooked by Sheppard Craige’s garden is that it is free to enter and enjoy. Go take a stroll that’s a workout for the imagination.

Just watch those mosquitoes…


This week’s Word of the Week is shilly-shallya contraction of shall I, shall I not. To shilly-shally is to hesitate, to vacillate, a state of mind familiar to writers everywhere when they procrastinate. Its close cousin is dilly-dally, which suggests physical dawdling rather than indecisiveness. 

Saturday, October 29, 2022

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life



I’ve sadly come to agree with the quote often attributed to Joseph Stalin, “A single death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.”  My post last Saturday is an example of the former, and each day’s media offers fresh examples of the latter.


No matter the cause--hunger, war, disease, natural or man-made catastrophes, you name it--the larger the toll, the more detached the reaction. It’s always been that way it seems, on every continent.


So, what do we do about it?  I honestly don’t know. I wish I did.


Better yet, I wish those with whom we’ve made social compacts, ceding authority to them to govern us in exchange for their assuring us a peaceful life, would think more about us and less about accruing and retaining power and riches for themselves.


But that will never happen.


It seems the world has gone mad. Perhaps it has.   


That’s why today I’m suggesting we follow the sentiment expressed by Monty Python in their iconic song: “Always look on the bright side of life.”




And for those of us into the writing life, here are some cartoons that keep the bright side shining for me.


Plus, of course,  



Jeff’s Upcoming Book Events 

Friday, November 18, 2002 @10am


Reykjavik, Iceland

Where is My Mind? Madness and Obsession
AUTHORS:  Louise Mangos, Paul Cleave, Jeff Siger, Thomas Fecchio
MODERATOR: Ewa Sherman

Friday, October 28, 2022

The William A Irvin; Guest Blog by A Stewart

I'm elsewhere today, more of that next week. Here's a guest blogger to fill the spot!

As part of the Bouchercon trip we stayed a few days in Duluth up to the north of Minneapolis by Lake Superior. Lake Superior is the largest of the great lakes, and from our hotel we could sit and watch the ships coming into Duluth harbour under the famous lift bridge.

I visited one of the old iron carrying ships the William A Irvin which is a permanent feature of the harbour. The ship was built in 1937 and was used by US Steel to carry iron ore between various destinations on the lakes. 


Its now classified as a museum and you can go on a guided tour throughout the vessel. My visit started at the engine room at the rear of the ship.


                                                                        Engine Room

It was one of the first ships to have electric steering. The crew apparently were not initially particularly keen on this particular innovation, they never quite trusted it.


                                                                         Electric steering

From there up into the crew’s quarters and kitchen.


                                                                            Crew's kitchen


                                                                            Crew's Quarters

The ship carried the ore in large silos carrying up to 13,600 tones of the ore in total at a stretch.


                                                                            Iron Ore Storage Compartment

As you move to the front of the ship there is an unusual three tiered bow cabin structure where guests could travel with the ship to the various destinations. The guests did not pay but rather were either US Steel dignatories and their families or, prospective clients that were treated to these cruises. The lived and dined in comfort with the cabins sporting oak paneling and walnut veneer with brass handrailings.

                                                                            Guest kitchen


                                                                               Guest stateroom

Moving on to the top of the show you can see the wheelhouse and the duty officers cabin that sits just behind it.


                                                                    The Wheelhouse


                                                                        Duty officer's cabin

These ships were not without their dangers. The last major loss was the Edumund Fitzgerald lost at sea with all souls in 1975. It's not entirely clear what happened to the ship. There are various theories around water coming in with ineffective internal doors to stop it. Whatever happened, happened quickly, as there were no survivors.

As a consequence of this safety legislation was brought in that stipulated that crew members should have access to survival suits and that water tight doors being mandatory. In the early days of these ships it was said that a hole the size of one’s fist could sink even a large ship as there was no way of effectively stopping the water coming in. Today ships can sail half way around the globe with holes the size of cars as incoming water is contained in water tight compartments. 

The other distinguishing feature of the Irvin was that it was possible to walk the whole length of the ship without ever being subject to the weather. This small passage ran the whole length of the ship which was considered an innovation of the time.


You can see now that one of the silos has been converted into a gift shop and the passage that tranversed the ship is now a storage area. As a 'tight' Scotsman I however managed to resist the urge to actually purchase anything.


All in all it was an interesting morning's excursion - thoroughly recommended.