Tag Archives: books

Arts and Letters – A Day in New York City

20 Jul

I recently took a sojourn to the greatest city in the country (New York City, if that needs clarification, which it should not). A living cliche, I admit that “I love NY” – the city moves, a shifting sea of sight and sound. Around every corner there’s a different energy and possibility, someone or thing new, infinite microcosms swirling within the whole. But hell, people have been waxing poetical about Gotham since practically forever. Jacob Steendam is the earliest example I know of, a Dutch poet who in the mid 17th century arrived in New Amsterdam (as NYC was called before it was NYC) to seek his fortune as a landowner. There he wrote plaintive poems with titles like “Complaint of New Amsterdam, in New Netherlands, to her Mother, of her Beginning, Growth, and Present Condition” – proving that even since its inception, the City has always inspired a love/hate sentiment.

At least that’s how I feel about it. I’ve lived in Brooklyn off and on throughout my life, and it gets to you. Or at least it gets to me. The constant bombardment of energy creates this sort of permanent mental/emotional/spiritual defense. But that’s the trade-off for sharing such a small geographic area with such a humongous and endlessly diverse population, and all the commerce and culture and chaos and cacophony it brings. The upshot, I love NY, always will, but I don’t mind relegating myself these days to visitor status rather than inhabitant. Blasphemy to many, I know.

So anyway. Whenever I fly solo on a trip into the city, I try to strike this balance between new and old, action and contentment. You want to feel that comforting familiarity of your favorite spots, but you also want to soak in some of the new. You want to pack as much into the day as you can, but you don’t want to be so stressed out that the experiences are flying by you without adequate appreciation. To this end, as I came up from the train at Penn Station, I headed first to the West Village, with my mind set on A: breakfast, and B: getting out of midtown as quickly as possible.

On my way to breakfast, I passed BookBook on Bleecker Street – a bookstore I had previously and indifferently brushed off, mostly for its hiply redundant name (sorry guys), but have now discovered to be a sweet spot manned by friendly book lovers and stocked with an interesting and well-priced selection. It’s a mixed of new and used, including a “Bargain Poetry” shelf – two words you don’t see together nearly often enough. I scored a hardcover of Chabon’s essay collection Maps and Legends, a PKD novel (been getting into him recently), and a book of collected writings of Isabelle Eberhardt, which I was quite surprised to find, since I already have two books of her writings in translation, and had thought that was all there was to be had. Happiness!

Following Bleeker swept me down near Mamoun’s, my favorite falafel joint in New York, mostly for being cheap (although the prices inevitably seem higher every time) as well as fast, and good. It’s the perfect eat-and-run option, nibbling your sandwich as you continue to walk the pulsing veins of lower Manhattan. Licking tahini off my fingers, I headed to Generation Records, another inevitable spot for me, and one of the last bastions of the glorious days of the punk record shop. There I picked up a shirt from Ukranian black metal band Drudkh. It’s true, I enjoy the occasional black metal, for me though the lyrics are half the battle. I generally need interesting/creative/intelligent lyrics in my music, or I just can’t dig it. Drudkh are interesting because their lyrical themes include Slavic mythology and regional poetry – notably, they crib the work of the poet Taras Shevchenko. Also… it’s pretty metal.

Next came a visit to Mercer Street Books, a landmark for media whores like myself, always great selection. I can’t visit this place without finding an item to squeal about. On this trip, I grabbed Charles Simic’s collection Charon’s Cosmology, along with The Blue Fox by a beautiful and surreal Icelandic writer known only as Sjón, known for, among other things, his collaborations with Björk. Also scored some D.F. Wallace nonfiction and a hardcover of the essay collection Convergences from Octavio Paz. Paz does not get enough love for his excellent nonfiction, I think.

After that I paid a visit to two old friends – one a person, which involved hopping over to Brooklyn for a while, and the other the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which involved going uptown, ugh. But how can you not? It’s the Met! I spent a few hours with old favorites – Picasso, Gérôme, Gauguin, and the ancient Near Eastern section, which houses some of my favorite things in the museum, like the palace of Ashurnasirpal II. Then explored an area I don’t get to often, the Asian Art wing, with its fantastic Buddhist sculptures. Sadly the museum began to close, so to top off the day, I grabbed some dinner at a nearby Belgium place (I guess this is a thing now?) called Brasserie Magritte. The specialty here is mussels and a wide selection of Belgium beer, both things that I have a deep appreciation for. And it was oh so very glorious. PEI mussels served one of four ways (I opted for “northern style”, which the waiter said was best) along with crispy Belgium fries and a delicious ketchup. In the interest of novelty, I went for a “house” beer, their Magritte Witte, which is brewed off-site exclusively for them. It was light but good, perfect for summer. Next time though I intend to delve deeper into their esoteric bottle list. And there will be a next time.


So, that was my day. Sorry for the lack of pictures – I am hopefully upgrading my phone soon, so I’ll have a decent camera on hand in the future. It never occurs to me to bring my actual camera when I go exploring for some reason. Oh well.


How to Read: Thoughts for Fledgling Book Worms

10 Nov

Today, someone new to the act (art?) of reading books asked about how to become a reader, and whether he should start with the classics.  It’s an interesting question, I think.  And in my morning haze, I mentally smushed together this response, which I thought was worth sharing (as I’ve been woefully neglectful of this blog):

Reading is a spectrum of skill and intent that condenses and refines organically with time and experience.

On one end of this spectrum you have reading purely for pleasure, on the other, purpose.  The more you read, the shorter the spectrum becomes, until the two points are comfortably side-by-side. A well-practiced reader effortlessly and naturally combines the two.  I think it’s tempting for newish readers to reach immediately for the “heavy” classics, because they want to “be” that well-read person as quickly as possible. So they go for the books people talk about, the ones that sound so impressive when mentioned in conversation:

“So, what have you been reading?”

“Ah, I’ve been working on Swann’s Way by Proust, such an important work of literature, you know.”

Cue impressed raising of eyebrows. And, of course, it is inarguably an important work of literature, and I believe such things are important to experience.  But for a new reader, that’s like trying to learn piano by poring over Rachmaninoff’s concertos.  Much better to start at the beginning.  Reading well is a product of practice, and a new reader should begin by reading for pleasure first.  Find what it is you love, and lose yourself in some books that fit that attraction.  Don’t worry if they are “great” books, or even good ones.  The first step is training your reading “muscles”, and associating the practice with pure enjoyment.  Then you’ll naturally want to graduate to “heavier” books that catch your interest.  And you’ll be better equipped to approach them successfully.

Reading “critically” is another big facet of this, and we usually learn it in school (perhaps just enough to pass our classes).  But as a life-skill, it can really enrich any reading experience.  Often I hear readers become worried about what they might be “missing” from important works, as though understanding the “greats” is a privilege reserved for some esoteric literary realm somewhere far above them.  However, all it really takes to explore what we call “higher” art (in any medium) is curiosity.  It’s a damn shame, really, that much of civilization’s greatest achievements have been given this air of inaccessibility, when really, the very definition of great art includes universality – a relevance beyond time or place.

I’ll leave off with this quote by Nietzche regarding philology, which is a critical-reading approach that readers and scholars apply to historically-important texts.  I think it applies well to the art of reading deeply and with purpose:

“Philology is that venerable art which demands of its votaries one thing above all – to go aside, to take time, to become still, to become slow. It is a goldsmith’s art and connoisseurship of the word which has nothing but delicate, cautious work to do and achieves nothing if it does not achieve it slowly. But for precisely this reason it is more necessary than ever today, by precisely this means does it entice and enchant us the most, in the midst of an age of work, that is to say, of hurry, of indecent and perspiring haste, which wants to get everything done at once, including every old or new book. This art does not easily get anything done, it teaches to read well, that is to say to read slowly, deeply, looking cautiously before and aft, with reservations, with doors left open, with delicate fingers and eyes.” *

* This quote shamelessly borrowed from a lecture by classicist Gregory Nagy

So, by way of a summary: step one is to dive into the art of reading with a glutton’s enthusiasm. Read widely and often. Then, when you get to a book that you feel has deeper layers worth exploring; slow down, savor, probe, research, wonder. You’ll be well-rewarded, and – as with most things – the more you do it, the more you’ll be able to do.

Neil Gaiman Is Doing It Right

18 Jul

Mr. Gaiman is having a very good year. In the UK, a new adaptation of his radio play Neverwhere kicked off in March to rave reviews on BBC Radio 4. He wrote his second episode of the long-running sci-fi institution Doctor Who, which aired in May, also to high acclaim. He is writing scripts for an HBO adaptation to his masterpiece novel American Gods, reportedly planned for six seasons with a respectable budget of $40 million per season. He has written his first video game, a gothic, cartoony mystery called Wayward Manor, due out in the fall. And 2013 saw three book releases for Neil: two children’s books, Chu’s Day and Fortunately, the Milk (forthcoming), as well as his first novel in eight years, The Ocean at the End of the Lane – centerpiece of a massive summer tour.

The tour for Ocean is particularly significant because it’s the last major U.S. tour Neil Gaiman plans to do. Ever. There are reasons for this, as I would soon learn for myself. But with that in mind, I really had no choice – if I ever wanted to meet the guy, this was probably my chance. So, I pre-ordered two tickets for the event in Saratoga Springs, orchestrated by Northshire Books in anticipation of their new store opening, and I planned a long Adirondack weekend for my lady and I. A book event, some camping, some beer stops, and a visit to my cousin in nearby Albany – it all seemed to fit together easily. I tuned the car up and made sure our tent had no holes in it. I ordered a couple of books online to get signed (first edition of Smoke & Mirrors, and a copy of American Gods for a friend in South Korea). All systems go!

Saratoga Springs is a tiny town with some cool (but higher-end) stores. There’s a spice and hot sauce shop, a bookstore with a lovely collection of fine books (teasingly out of my price range), fashionable boutiques, a store that sells nothing but olive oils and balsamic vinegars (all of which you can taste for free) – you get the idea. We meandered a bit, had a decent Asian lunch at Phila Fusion, then went to the Gaiman event at the new City Center, which I liked right away for its large free and centrally located parking lot.


Much waiting and carousing with fans. Much shifting of butts in seats. And then Neil came on stage and he was funny and endearing and relaxed and a joy to listen to. He read from the new book and answered some questions. It was a good interview, conducted by Joe Donahue for WAMC Northeast Public Radio. You can hear the audio of the interview here.


Then Neil Gaiman left the stage, applause resounding throughout the monstrous room, spirits high, smiles all around. And next, unbeknownst and unexpected, and through no fault of Mr. Gaiman, a tedious crucible began.

It was time for the book signing portion of the evening. Now, there were 1500 people at this thing. And nearly all of them were eager to meet Neil and get a book signed. How do you organize 1500 fans? Well, the coordinators decided to use a random letter system – everyone was assigned a letter with their copy of the book, and the groups would take turns alphabetically. All the A group, then all the B, etc. We were group F, and I think it only went up to G. I knew these sorts of events could go well past midnight, so it seemed that we had some time on our hands before we’d get to meet Neil. After watching the process for a while to get a sense of how fast things were moving, we decided to go get some Chinese food and come back, figuring we’d get back well before they called the F’s. Well. That apparently was a huge mistake. While we were gone, the coordinators had decided to completely abandon the alphabet system and make it a free-for-all instead. Everyone in the place had made a mad dash to get in line, and by the time we returned, we found ourselves at the very end of that line. This line now stretched all the way around the auditorium, down the hall, and then snaked through another conference room. It became clear that the rest of our night was now spoken for.

I don’t want to seem bitter, and I know orchestrating this event must have been challenging. Overall, Northshire did a fantastic job. But boy were we steamed at the time. We could have been out of there in a couple of hours if they hadn’t changed the line system. Instead, it was a little after midnight by the time we actually made it to the signing table. The reading had been at 6:00, and I had been saving our seats since 4:30. So all told, I spent about eight hours in that event hall, four of it standing in line. Not awesome.

But after all of these annoyances and all of that waiting, I finally did get to meet Neil Gaiman. He signed my books and we had the briefest but nicest chat. I thanked him for sharing his wonderful brain with the world and for being committed enough to his fans to endure this absurd marathon of publicity. And he smiled a goofy, worn-out smile and thanked me for the same. There were so many questions I would have asked this prolific and multi-talented writer, but I wasn’t sure he’d be up for it, and I was a zombie myself by that point. I said take care and have a good tour, and he said “You too. Take care I mean. Not the tour part…” And we both sort of chuckled in exhaustion and that was that.


Was it worth it? Absolutely. I have nothing but admiration for this guy, as an artist and now as a human being. He is known to endure long nights on tour, refusing to leave if even one person is still in line, and I’ve now seen the cost of that dedication. And that’s why I understand the reason this is his last one. However exhausting it was for me, I know it was a thousand times more for him. Connecting with your readers is an important thing – Gaiman has over 1.8 million twitter followers, for good reason. He gets it, and we know he gets it, and we love him for it. But when it stops being fun and starts being a test of physical and mental endurance, I can understand backing off a bit. Besides, I’d really rather he stayed home to write more and more awesome things. I’m just selfish that way.

So how is the new book, anyway? It’s a beautiful little book, only 56k words – quite short for a novel. But he makes every word count, and there are moments of beauty that I would argue can match some of literature’s greatest approaches to the human condition. The narrative is unique in content and tone, blending a sort of child-like frankness with the sobering profundity of life’s dangers and uncertainty. It’s very Gaiman, the mythical woven into the real world, and the subtle humor. There’s nostalgia, but it has an interesting layer of philosophy beneath it. How our memories shape (and trick) us, how our desires can create danger, and what it means to be loyal to the people we care about. Such a short book, but enchanting, surreal, and deeper than it seems.


60 Second Review – Mira Grant’s FEED

28 May

Feed (Newsflesh Trilogy, #1)Feed by Mira Grant
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book.

I don’t just mean great for zombie-philes or horror buffs, though they’ll surely find satisfaction here. If you have a penchant for flesh-eaters and catastrophic scenarios, this book will scratch that itch. But Feed is also just a great book period. It is very well-written, both in its language and structure. Mira Grant capably executes the suspension of disbelief while walking a self-made line between post-apocalypse horror, sci-fi, and political thriller. She makes some narrative decisions (no spoilers) that would have been disastrous in lesser-hands, but she pulls it off well. The exposition of the technology, society, and bureaucracy of this near-future was interesting and never felt forced. I enjoyed the way each chapter closed with a blog excerpt, reinforcing the story and atmosphere while further immersing us into the world. And I felt for the characters and cared about what happened to them, which, to me, is the number one victory for a work of fiction.

The headline of this book might read: Scrappy and Audacious Bloggers Tackle High-level Conspiracy and the Restless Undead. There is action and tragedy, a bit of humor and a bit of hope. The author’s attention to detail is impressive. The medical details are realistic for the genre, and the settings are logically thought out. Unable to eradicate the zombie epidemic, society adapts to live with it. It’s an America that has grown disconnected and fearful while clinging as much as possible to its past, with standardized blood-testing, gated communities, and a vigilant security culture. At the same time, it’s an America that is easy to recognize – ideological extremists make waves, while (literally) die-hard journalists who still believe in the value of truth fight for it with their very lives.

In short, Feed was a fun, interesting, and original read. Looking forward to the rest of the trilogy.

View all my reviews

Pirates and Book Piles

6 May

It’s been a particularly bookish weekend. I recently received an ARC of the novel Greenbeard by one Richard James Bentley, and it looks like a rollicking swashbuckler of a good time. Looking forward to reading and reviewing it tonight, with the auditory aid of epic metal-pirates Alestorm in the background, and the libatious aid of Pyrat XO Reserve. Both heartily recommended.

Aw yesh.

Aw yesh.

Saturday marked the first day of the spring Friends of the Library book sale, a bi-annual event during which I buy absurd quantities of lovely books and then promise my lovely lady that I will buy another bookcase so that they aren’t cluttering the floors. It’s one of our little traditions. This weekend’s haul included a lot of great fantasy stuff that I’ve been meaning to check out – Glen Cook, Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks – as well as some literary stuff from Calvino, Gorky, and Robert Walser. The prize was a thick edition of Icelandic sagas and a two-volume set of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber! Yes, book sale month is my favorite time of the year.

The glory.

The glory.

The last development of this weekend was an idea to compile and possibly self-publish a humble cookbook. My S.O. and I are often asked about some of the recipes we have created and/or improvised, and I thought it might be a fun joint project for us. We have both always been very conscious of our food choices, and as such we have developed an interesting repertoire of dishes that are healthful and scrumptious. So I look forward to sharing that, and I think it could also be a good experimental toe-dip into the realm of DIY e-publishing. There is certainly a lot to learn there, and I always learn best by doing! Advice always welcome.

Peddling My Passion: Dream of an Aspiring Bookseller

20 Mar

People who know me know I have an unyielding, unreasonable, possibly unhealthy love of books. My personal library is over a thousand volumes strong, and they tend to come in a lot more than they go out. It’s a passion I’ve grown into naturally throughout my life, but recently it occurred to me that this passion may have another dimension to it. A profitable dimension!

I’ve talked to many booksellers over the years, always with a sort of wistful envy that they get to devote their energy to the buying and selling of these great treasures. Then, while recently attending a ridiculously huge and amazing book sale, I met a seller who reminded me an awful lot of myself. Similar age, similar back-story, and now he was making money dealing books out of his house with his girlfriend. Livin’ the dream, as far as I’m concerned. This got me to thinking: I know books. I know the internet. I’ve sold things. I could make a neat side business with this, add “book-slinger” to my many epithets. I’ve always liked to have multiple hats.

So, at the next ridiculously huge and amazing book sale, I bought some extra stuff, with the intent of selling rather than collecting. Then I culled some of the more valuable books from my own collection. This gave me a tidy little stock, enough to get started with. Today I am working on researching values and making a database. I’ve also been thinking a lot about the philosophy of selling books, and how it involves knowledge and trust and research and community. And the more I think about it, the more I realize: I can do this! I can have fun doing this!

Stay tuned, book-lovers. Stay tuned.


Awesome Project Plug: Book Crossing

6 Mar

Books are amazing things. They are like spider silk connecting us to a web that stretches through time and space. And one thing I love is the magic of stumbling randomly upon a book that ends up really changing you. Sure, the digital-age affords us undreamed-of choices and access, with everything we imagine we want only a click away. But there is much to be said for old-fashioned serendipity, the chance encounters that alter our course out in the real world. Finding an unexpected book is a lot like forging an unexpected friendship. You weren’t looking for it, but now that you have it – what happiness! Each experience forges us anew, and sometimes we don’t know what we love until we find it.

Who knows why we pick the books we pick. Maybe a title triggers something in your mind. Maybe the author is familiar. Maybe the cover attracts you. Or maybe you find a worn paperback on a park bench and just start reading. When I was on the road a lot, I would leave my finished paperbacks in strategic spots to be enjoyed by the next random wayfarer. And I still love to give books away, and have them given to me. There is nothing like an unexpected book gifted by a friend, or a complete stranger.

What I like about used books particularly is how they can travel. When I hold one, I like to imagine the “life” of it, how it ended up in my hands. Which brings us, at last, to the point. There is a project called Book Crossing where you can print a special label for a book and “release” it out into the world, following its journey with the website. People who find the book can enter the ID# on the site and talk about how they found out, what they think of it, and where it is now. I think this is pretty damn neat, and I’d love to see it catch on!

Read and Release at BookCrossing.com...

The Weight of Greatness: The “Classics” and Intellectual Insecurity

22 Feb

So a question was posed recently of whether one should feel “guilty” about not reading the great classics of literature. It’s a distressing question, because it gives these important and amazing works a flavor of burden, as though they are unpleasant responsibilities that fulfill some sort of cultural requisite. It’s easy to see how this came to be – whenever we institutionalize an art and make a whole industry of its criticism and analysis, things start to get esoteric, detached, insulated. This easily turns off people who feel like they are on the outside of that field. It’s a trapping of the sciences, too. Delve far enough into any science and you hit the point where they are speaking a language utterly foreign to the lay-person, virtually existing in a separate world.

Many people feel this way about great literature, and I think that’s a damn shame. They find it intimidating, or assume it’s dry and irrelevant. It reminds them of the tedium of the classroom, the stuffy murk of academia. But here’s the thing: learning is the absolute most natural impulse of humanity. We are born curious sponges, and this thirst only dries up through our convoluted approaches to learning. We turn it into a responsibility, so that even as adults we come to associate it with duty and un-fun-ness. Sure, learning is work, of a sort, but it’s the best kind of work, the kind that foments growth and leaves you feeling happily spent and accomplished.

Great literature from the likes of Cervantes, Tolstoy, Poe, Goethe, Nabokov, Dickens, Fitzgerald, Camus… it does more than tell a story. It expands our inner lives. It connects us to our human legacy, each a vital link in the literary chain. It asks questions that we are still asking, probes our heights and depths. And though these books seem grand and imposing in this light, they were written to be read by regular old people like you and me, read widely and deeply and often. They are not sacrosanct relics, but rather inexhaustible, accessible treasures with a value that grows with age.

Now I didn’t care for much “serious literature” when I was in school, even though I’ve always loved reading. I’d read the assigned books and write the papers, and I’d do well, but they seldom stuck with me. It wasn’t until I was out on my own that I began to really self-educate, seeking out new experiences and understanding. I’d go to thrift stores to get cheap paperbacks of the classics, devour them, let them digest in my brain for months. The trick was to ween myself out of the mindset of “learning = work”. I then found that I wanted to read these great books even if they were difficult or alien. I wanted to learn why they were great, why they mattered in the world, why the other authors that I loved loved them. Even if a classic didn’t become a personal favorite, I was always glad to have read it, because it gave me new perspectives and knowledge to draw from. New understanding.

Point is, no one should feel guilty about reading or not reading the literary heavyweights – we (probably) only get one life apiece, and we should fill it as we want. We should always go with what excites us, be it space operas or dead Russians, beat poetry or vampire romances. The thing is to realize that all literature is an awaiting experience, and the greatest of our writers have given us some amazing gifts. Those literary masterpieces that taunt us from their pedestals, those sacred tomes of the learned, those papery self-improvement projects that we keep putting off – they can easily become “wants” rather than “shoulds” with a little tweaking of perspective. Don’t view a classic as a responsibility, something to get around to, like a diet or oiling a squeaky door. Test it out, explore, let it pull you in naturally. Dive into the richness of the world, and you will emerge the gladder for it. Guaranteed.

Destination: Cleveland! Pt. 2 – Cuyahoga Valley, Loganberry Books, Happy Dog!

1 Aug

Pardon my insidious slackertude.  Discipline – that’s the thing I’m still wrestling with.  Fortunately I’ve been getting work done with my fiction, but I haven’t done enough with the blog.  So then, where was I?

Ohio-Erie Canal & Towpath Trail

Cleveland!  Right.  Hell of a town.  The lady friend and I were thus far impressed with this unsung destination.  But before exploring the city further, we wanted to experience some of the green and the wild of surrounding O-hi-o.  So we headed over to the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, which runs north and south between Cleveland and Akron, covering some 30,000 acres.  The Canal Visitor Center happened to be right down the road from our hotel in Independence, perfect place to start.  We chatted with a ranger about the history of the Ohio-Erie Canal, conservation efforts, and local fauna.  Within the Center’s large 19th c. building one finds numerous exhibits on the history of the canal area, a history I’d say is pretty underrated.  Us upstate New Yorkers are aware of how monumental the canal boon of the Transportation Revolution was.  The construction of our own Erie Canal, bisecting New York from Albany to Buffalo, connected the Great Lakes with the Atlantic, enabling an explosion of industry and commerce that spread across the northeast.  New York state would not have become what it is without it.

What I didn’t know was that Ohio owes a similar debt of gratitude to man-made waterways.  In the 19th century, there were two major canals in Ohio running north to Lake Erie, and we had stumbled upon the largest, the Ohio-Erie Canal.  It ran from Portsmouth in the south up to Cleveland, connecting interior Ohio to the Ohio River and the Erie Canal, and thus to the trade and industry of the rest of the country.  No small thing for a nation in the midst of an industrial revolution.  These days, the canal is a source of regional historic pride, and the axis of northeast Ohio’s outdoor recreational opportunities.

We asked the ranger where a first-time visitor should go to spot wildlife and were recommended Beaver Marsh at the southern end of the Valley, which also afforded an opportunity to drive through most of the park’s length.  We arrived at a parking area south of Everett where we could pick up the Towpath Trail, running alongside the canal (this is the path donkeys would use while pulling barges along the canal).  This segment of the trail would take us through Beaver Marsh, a thriving ecosystem designated by Audubon as an IBA (important bird area).  The marsh itself has a bit of history, having once been a dairy farm, and then later a field where used car parts were dumped.  Some time in the 1980s, the area was totally cleaned up, which attracted the beavers, who then reshaped the landscape into a waterscape with their industrious labor.  It was amazing to see just what beavers could accomplish!  They had turned a 70 acre  field into a 70 acre marsh.  We walked along the boardwalk, looking down into the water at massive carp gaping their mouths up at us, and glimpsed a huge snapping turtle swimming by.  But the biggest stars of the marsh were the Great Blue Herons.  As we arrived, a group had gathered to watch one perched and preening on a dead tree poking from the water.  As we walked on, we had another heron swoop low right over us, it’s large wings flapping slowly, an audible “whoosh!  whoosh!” -unforgettable.  We later saw another heron standing at the edge, being pestered by a little ol’ blackbird of all things.  It kept dive-bombing the big heron, which, despite its size, seemed at a total loss.  Eventually it flapped laboriously away, clearly confused and annoyed.  Who knew blackbirds could be so fresh?

Great Blue Heron

The Beaver Marsh was great, and we wished we could go there every morning.  The only annoyance is that the Towpath Trail is used heavily by bicyclists, and when one is not a bicyclist, the traffic gets irksome, bikes zooming by next to you, startling birds, threatening collision or a soggy tumble.  Like all National Parks, it’s good to go in as early as you can.  There were other activities at Cuyahoga that we passed up – a waterfall, a train ride, guided walks, so on.  The park region contains a bunch of small farms and quaint eateries, little villages and lots of trails.  It’s a nice thing for Cleveland, to have such a great green area right outside the city.

After the marsh we decided to head back into Cleveland proper.  For the unaware, I’ll mention that I happen to have a serious used book addiction.  Thus it wasn’t long before I discovered the existence of Loganberry Books in the Shaker Heights neighborhood, an “up-and-coming” (as they say) area with lots of shops and a walkable vibe.  I was just looking for my book fix, you know?  Maybe a little paperback or something on the history of the area.  But Loganberry turned out to be a very impressive shop, much larger than it looked from the outside.  They seem very involved with the community, and there was a steady flow of visitors.  Loganberry had some interesting collectibles (passed up a lovely illustrated antique volume of Russian folk tales), and a decent poetry section.  Grabbed some Seamus Heaney, the complete works of Percy Shelley, and an over-sized edition of Coleridge’s Rime of the Ancient Mariner, solely because it included large prints of the Gustave Dore illustrations.  I could have spent the rest of the day there, but we were getting hungry and headed downtown to hunt down dinner.

Downtown Cleveland was… not my kind of scene.  There were a lot of restaurants, many that looked very good, but the atmosphere was a jarring blend of tourism and urban hustlin’.  We trekked all over, meticulously looking over menus and meticulously not-looking at the sketchy oddballs who loped around the city with strange looks in their eyes.  Maybe it was a full moon that night, I don’t remember.  Normally I love sketchy oddballs, but there was an unsavory vibe.  It didn’t help that we had a hell of a time deciding where to eat – everything seemed gimicky or over-priced or was already jam-packed.  We gave up and committed ourselves sight-unseen to the next place we came to, which turned out to be an Irish joint called Flannery’s Pub, where I had passable fish and chips and a draft of Old Speckled Hen.  They have an extensive Irish and English beer list, so if that’s your thing, this might be your spot.

Happy Dog!

Our dining experiences took an upswing on the next day, when we went to the acclaimed Happy Dog for an early lunch.  Now this place is awesome.  You can get either a quality hotdog or a vegan “sausage”, and smother it in as many of their fifty (FIFTY!) toppings as you can stomach.  I had the vegan sausage with black truffle mustard (yes, seriously), marinated mushrooms, onions, relish, and garlicky escarole.  Sounds like a hodgepodge, but somehow it all worked beautifully.  Most delicious dog of my life, hands down.  The staff is laid back and the beer selection is extensive, lots of craft brews on tap and bottled.  If I lived in Cleveland, I’d be here every week.

The main event of the day came next – the Cleveland Museum of Art.  That, along with Lake Erie and the West Side Market, coming up in the next post!