Thursday, July 30, 2009

Dusty Tomes

In the autumn of the year, in the Brandywine Valley, Chester County, Pennsylvania , when red and gold leaves pile in corners and blow across bare, newly-harvested fields, there is a chill in the air with a hint of the faint smell of wood-burning stoves. It is a reminder to me that this is the time of the year that I like to visit my favorite book store. It is a rare treasure in the Brandywine Valley and it is called Baldwin's Book Barn. The barn part of the name comes from the fact that it is housed in a five-story structure that used to be a dairy barn that was built in 1822 by a family called Darlington. It was acquired by the Baldwin family in 1946 and they turned it into a bookstore.

This isn't an advertisement, but a book lover's tribute to the originality and creativity of the concept. Unique hardly seems to be an adequate adjective to describe this establishment. It is five floors that are stacked from floor to ceiling with thousands of used, rare books, maps, paintings and a lot of interesting stuff. I have often searched there when I couldn't find an out-of-print book. Sometimes I reserve hours and browse the many,many shelves of used books in this bookstore/museum. I've been a lifelong bibliophile since the days that my mother would sit in her rocking chair and read aloud the library books that my older brother brought home from the school library while my two brothers and I crowded around her shoulders. Therefore, I like to haunt libraries and old, unique bookstores. I always bring tissues because it can be dusty, but that is part of its charm. Dusty tomes.

Baldwin's Book Barn is wood throughout and the floors echo as you walk through and up the tiny staircases. Corners have rocking chairs and wood-burning stoves. That is why I like it in the fall when leaves are burning in back yards, and pumpkins and cornstalks sit on porches. The Book Barn has online book sales available, but a visit to this clever piece of nostalgia shouldn't be missed by anyone within fifty miles. Their website has a great C-SPAN interview with the owner, the manager, and the rare books curator. If you don't live in our region, I recommend visiting their website and clicking on every possible link to get a hint of the charm of this wonderful place of the past. Such a feast for the eyes and the mind. It is incredible any time of the year, but October is my favorite time to visit.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ideal Vacation

Probably the best vacation I have experienced was an unplanned, spur-of-the-moment day trip. We always had "staycations" in the post WWII years. When I was a teenager, we visited relatives who lived a few miles away. I went with my cousin, her cousin from another side of her family, and the cousin's teenage boyfriend on an afternoon excursion. His family owned a motorboat which we were allowed to use. Today, as a mom, I'm thinking red flags, four teenagers on a motorboat? It was a different era--maybe 1960. We went out in the boat on a lazy, summer afternoon. It was a clear, sunny day in Florida with a light breeze on the bay. We roamed about in the boat looking at the scenery and talking. With no particular destination in mind, we stopped at a small sand dune and walked about wading in the shallow water. We wore Bermuda shorts, but hadn't planned the trip and had no swim suits. We didn't have life jackets either, but we could swim and didn't worry about stuff like that as teenagers. We had no sunscreen, or hats and the only protection we each had was a pair of sunglasses.

During the course of the afternoon, we slowly motored around the huge aircraft carrier that was docked at the local navy base. We waved at the sailors and no one pointed guns at us or blew ship's horns, or used loud speakers to warn us away from a military vessel. It was the most enormous ship I had ever seen--the ship itself was very intimidating in its size and painted a steel gray color. We weren't the only small craft cruising around it. We were all sightseeing on a Sunday afternoon.Everyone waved at each other and it was a very friendly atmosphere. It was very much an in-the-moment feeling--no stress, no worries. It was everything one could want in an experience because it was stress-free time, away from daily thoughts that tend to dominate our lives. It was a new experience for me and sensory overload was like an out-of-body day. I had a new appreciation for hot, wet sand between my toes and screaming seagulls. I didn't care about the salt water smell in my hair or the wet blouse from sprays of passing boats. It dries quickly in a Florida sun. Whether on a vacation or a day trip, sand, sun, and surf still appeal to me.

After the boat trip, we stopped at the typical drive-in ice cream stand of the Sixties and had chocolate milkshakes. It was the most inexpensive, but most valuable vacation experience, as well as one of the most enjoyable. It set the stage for what I now like in vacations. I treasure looking for the unexpected, and sea shell collecting fits the bill as a requirement for any trip to the beach. Every vacation should provide that "ah ha" moment and the quest for a feeling of suspended time. I love that expression "no worries". That's what an ideal vacation is for me.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


Winding through chateau country (as people sometimes call it) in southeastern Pennsylvania flows a river/creek with the beautiful name of Brandywine. The origins of the name Brandywine has many stories and much speculation. The name is liberally used throughout the region of what is known as the Brandywine Valley in
southeastern Pennsylvania and northern Delaware. We have the Brandywine Battlefield (Revolutionary War,1777), Brandywine River Museum (home of Wyeth art collections) and a lengthy list of Brandywine-named establishments listed in the Yellow Pages.

The Hagley Museum sits on the banks of the Brandywine in this region which is also known as DuPont country because the du Pont family settled from France on the Brandywine River in 1802 and built their gun powder mills that later became the DuPont Company (in French, du Pont). The early success of the company resulted in some fabulous estates owned by the family members, thus the name "chateau country".

Many estates have become museums such as Nemours(shares its grounds with world-renouned Alfred I.duPont Hospital for children), Winterthur, Rockwood, Longwood Gardens, Bellevue,and others. Many are still private estates. One such estate can be seen on a hilltop overlooking the Brandywine River, as well as one of the many Brandywine Bridges on a road called Smith's Bridge Road as it crosses into Delaware. You guessed it--this lovely bridge is called Smith's Bridge. It has changed appearances several times in its history, but this is my favorite version. I've lived in this region over forty years and it was always easy to see the potential of this bridge.

Thankfully, this 2002 restoration is much appreciated, photographed, and painted by many residents and visitors. Not only is the exterior very picturesque, the woodwork interior is extraordinary. It is a one-lane bridge so motorists on Smith's Bridge Road must sometimes wait for oncoming traffic to clear before driving across it. Form and function work well in this bridge because it is a much-needed, east-west route across the Brandywine. To take an alternate route, one must drive miles to the next bridge to cross the Brandywine.

The restoration was a joint Delaware State and grassroots effort to maintain a rustic, historic character of the bridge. Delaware also maintains several other beautiful covered bridges. No matter where a person lives, it is rewarding to appreciate the diamonds in our own back yards. There is much to enjoy in the Brandywine Valley.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Face of Evil

The city of Venice, Italy is a fabulous city of great beauty, but at the Hall of the Compass (Sala della Bussola), this structure in the wall is called the "mouth for secret accusations." During the history of the Venetian Republic, a single, anonymous accusation slipped into the open mouth of this imperious face, could lead to an arrest and imprisonment in the Doge's Palace jails. Trials were held in secret and attended only by The Council of Ten (Consiglio dei dieci), who voted on guilt or innocence. Only written statements from the accuser and the accused were read and the tribunal voted. Supposedly false accusations resulted in the accuser receiving the punishment for the crime. If it was an anonymous accusation, how was that enforced?

This is Justice? When I viewed the structure with slots in the wall and heard its history, it gave me chills to look at the carving and wonder how many lives had been destroyed in power struggles of the powerful Republic of Venice (late seventh century until the late eighteenth century). It's not surprising that Napoleon closed them, and was his methods an improvement?

It was the longest republican type system of government, but one has to wonder how far we've come in systems of justice. Even today, a prisoner can testify against another person and help send them to prison in exchange for leniency in his own case. Rewards are offered for anonymous information about crimes in today's systems of justice. The eternal truth seeking. Good luck with that, Diogenes (412 BC-323 BC).

From the Doge's Palace, there is another chilling structure that echoes with human tragedies. The Bridge of Sighs (Ponte dei Sospiri), is a passage built in the 17th century that links the Doge's Palace jails with the newer prisons. That bridge was crossed by offenders on their way to prison and possibly execution. It has openings with a last view of the Grand Canal and freedom. I had to wonder if anyone was ever exonerated from the charges. Did accusation automatically equal conviction?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009



--A movie of fearless, bold, reckless courage
--Action adventure
--Alpha male with "skills"
--High body count
--Justified cause
--Sanitized violence
--Fear factor
--Vulnerable families
--Stark realism views the seedy side of life
--Language not objectionably crude
--High suspense level
--Suitable conclusion

Friday, July 3, 2009

To Channel Music

I have learned to "channel" music, thanks to the albums of Yanni. Stifle that groan! Gone are the moustache and flying locks of the nineties, replaced by a trimmed, more conservative look, thank goodness. I'll forgive the theatrics, which were a bit over the top, after all, he is Greek and loves his music. Along with the new music comes an older, wiser mentor/conductor who has launched some spectacular new voices. The two male vocalists are very dramatic in their own way and the ladies make us jealous. Yanni calls Chloe "fearless" and who wouldn't be with her looks and talent? Wish I could move like that.

My favorite remains in the instrumentals of the earlier albums, especially "Live at the Acropolis". It is at the top of my playlist for the gym. It gets me through four miles of fast walking with a lot of energy that I didn't feel when I walked into the gym. The instruments seem to flow through the listener with such energy and pep that you just want to dance on a treadmill. If that doesn't get the laziest person moving, nothing will. I greatly enjoy the videos of his orchestras in concert on YouTube. The instrumental performers are absolute experts with those instruments. The violins are extraordinary and the rhythm of percussion is inspiring. So Yanni gets my vote and I don't give a hoot about how he looks, or what is in his personal life. I just channel his music. Bring it on! It's all about the music!