Letters and Books

Letters and Books

“The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society” is a book about the bonding powers of letters and books. The story: writer Juliet Ashton is contacted by Dawsey Adams of The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society asking for information about the author Charles Lamb. This marks the beginning of an exchange of letters between Juliet and other members of the Literary Club.

The club began during the German occupation of Guersney Island. Tragically, one of its members, Elizabeth, was sent to Ravensbruck where she was executed. Juliet would like to write about Elizabeth as well as the experiences of other members of the group during the occupation.

The book is about how people and books can help one survive even the most difficult of situations.

The author, Mary Ann Shaffer, was an American librarian and editor who’d been encouraged by members of her writing group to write a novel even though she was already in her late 60s.

Mary Ann had difficulties in being consistent with her writing. So her group often tried nagging her into action. To explain her inertia, she once wrote them a letter.

Her story, she wrote, was about “a group of unlikely friends who are thrown together because of the exigency of living under the German Occupation during World War II.” But Mary Ann was having problems creating characters she liked. Of the characters she’d created, “there is not one of them I have any desire to spend time with,” she wrote.

Since the book was based on letters, she tried developing characters by writing imaginary letters from them. But all the letters sounded alike. So she sought illumination from writing gurus who suggested going around eavesdropping on people then writing down what they said in little notebooks. But the people she listened to all sounded alike as well. She also read Annie Lamott who said that every character must have a unique passion. But on the island of Guernsey during the German Occupation, everyone had the same passion—finding food.

In the end, we are all alike.

 “The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society” was published posthumously, a few months after Mary Ann’s death. It was the only book Mary Ann ever published. Pity she wasn’t around to see that it was a bestseller and transformed into a successful film.

“The Guersney Literary Club and Potato Peel Society” by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows is available on Archive HERE.

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Feeling Groovy

Feeling Groovy

Do you want to feel groovy? Then take the advice of Simon and Garfunkel and “Slow down, you move too fast, you got to make the morning last.” In the age of consumption where we’re all hyped up to consume and be consumed, our biorhythms are easily syncopated. That’s why French philosopher Pierre Sansot wrote an entire book about la lenteur, slowness. He said that a good way to slow down is by walking at such a pace that you synchronize yourself with yourself.

Walking also presents a means of creating intimacy with our own being. The rhythmical movement of a walk can have a hypnotic effect on self-perception facilitating a dialogue between “me & I”.

More than a walk, we’re talking about a stroll. A stroll takes its time and doesn’t rush. It gives us the chance to look at the world around us and see the details. Without those details, our life becomes little more than a big blur.

In “Wanderlust”, Rebecca Solnit says that walking not only provides physical exercise but also “allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them.” She writes about famous walkers such as Henry Thoreau, John Muir, Aristotle, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Charles Baudelaire who saw walking as a form of contemplation. And there are those like Saint Jerome who saw walking as a spiritual practice (as do those who walk the Camino de Santiago and other pilgrimage trails).

When walking, you will always be somewhere, somewhere specific. That makes it easier to find yourself.

You can read Rebecca Solnit’s WANDERLUST on Archive (for free).

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Martha & Ernie

Martha & Ernie

One of the things I enjoy about using Archive.org is that I can have access to a book for free. And, after several pages, if I find that I don’t like the book, I just stop reading it and go on to another book as my list is very long and it’s pointless to spend time on something that doesn’t interest me. Or, as Marie Kondo would say, doesn’t spark joy. One such book was that of Travels with Myself and Another by Martha Gellhorn. I read about Martha several years ago and was intrigued by her personality. However, she was primarily a war correspondent and reading about war makes me uncomfortable. But there were some sparks of joy in what little I read. For example, she referred to Ernest Hemingway (at the time her husband) as U.C.—Unwilling Companion. Although U.C. enjoyed lighting firecrackers in the bedroom, apparently that was the only kind of joy he could spark there. Martha said that her “whole memory of sex with Ernest is the invention of excuses, and failing that, the hope that it would soon be over.” Moral of the story: being a successful writer doesn’t mean you’re good in bed. (And, most of all, drinking too much booze makes you a lousy lover.)

Martha was born in St. Louis, a town she wanted to escape from. And, as for many other travellers, it’s probably that need to leave a place that inspired her to travel.

Three things I learned from Martha: (1) Experience is useless without memory. (2) Endurance is the secret Chinese weapon. (3) No matter how successful a woman is, she will always be in the shadow of a man. Martha resented the fact that, after her involvement with Hemingway, she was often treated as “a footnote in someone else’s life” despite the fact that she was an avant-garde war correspondent way before meeting Ernie.

At the age of 89 and in bad health, Martha committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide capsule.

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My Favorite Place

My Favorite Place

La Sussurrata Terrace, Paros

More than a Room of One’s Own, it’s magical to have a terrace of one’s own. Because here you can have contact with nature while staying at home. Our terrace on Paros is where I am happiest.

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Villa Albani

Villa Albani

Situated in between via Salaria and viale Regina Margherita is Villa Albani. It’s not visible from these streets save for a brief flash from Regina Margherita.

Villa Albani was built in the 1700s and was the home for many prestigious antiquities. And for this reason was of special interest to the art historian Johann Winckelmann, expert in Neoclassicism, who spent much time here.

Also of interest, it was at Villa Albani that, in 1870, the treaty with the Vatican following the Capture of Rome was signed here. The event marked the beginning of the unification of Italy, a process that took many years and many lives.

When I walk to my studio, I often pass this peek-a-boo sighting of Villa Albani. Walking around is the best way to make such discoveries.

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