Posts Tagged ‘books’

World’s End is the third novel by T. Coraghessan (now T.C.) Boyle, published in 1987. The title refers to a point on the Hudson River just above West Point, which we passed on our trip last July. Very briefly (because it’s hard to do justice to the plot in a short space) it’s the story of three families — the Van Brunts, the Van Warts, and the Mohonks — in the late 1600s, 1949, and 1968. Most of the action takes place in the Hudson Valley, near the fictitious town of Peterskill (which bears a remarkable resemblance to the actual town of Peekskill). Boyle assembled his book non-chronologically, jumping back and forth in history, which allows us to experience New York when it was a Dutch (and then English) colony, to be there for the riots at the Paul Robeson concert, and to enjoy the parallel histories the characters experience.

There’s just enough magic (or magical, if you prefer) realism to make you grin when you come across it (if you like that kind of stuff), but not so much that you groan and wonder if you’re reading Gabriel García Márquez by accident. I don’t want to call World’s End a sprawling epic, because I don’t want to frighten potential readers, but it is a sprawling epic (well, epic in scope, not in size). It has everything: the weight of history, fate and destiny, familial expectations and obligations, murky moral choices, tragedy, and even a literary version of the Hudson River sloop Clearwater.

Let the first sentence be your invitation:

On the day he lost his right foot, Walter Van Brunt had been haunted, however haphazardly, by ghosts of the past.

Open the door and enter this world that is both familiar and exotic.

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The most interesting thing about the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park is the large number of old buildings that have been moved into the park from their original locations. These are not small wood shacks, but rather entire buildings of stone or brick. On one street, most of the buildings came from somewhere else. Much of this relocation is due to the efforts of WHALE (Waterfront Historic Area LeaguE), which has an impressive record of historic preservation.

One building which has not been moved is the New Bedford Custom House:


It was completed in 1836 and is the oldest continuously operating custom house in the United States. The New York Times had an interesting article about the custom house:


New Bedford is also home to the Seamen’s Bethel:


Herman Melville wrote about the bethel in chapter VII of Moby Dick:

In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot.

He also described the cenotaphs (from the Greek for empty tomb) that adorn the bethel’s walls. Here’s one:


Melville wrote of the chapel’s pulpit:

Its panelled front was in the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on a projecting piece of scroll work, fashioned after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.

Here’s how Rockwell Kent illustrated it:


And here’s Orson Welles preaching from the pulpit in the 1956 movie:


The only problem was that the real Seamen’s Bethel did not have a pulpit like that—at least not until throngs of tourists arrived there asking to see the pulpit. Now it has one:


New Bedford’s working waterfront is alive with all sorts of fishing boats. Fortunately for us we were there on a Sunday—there was not much work happening, but there were tons of boats at the docks:



There was also a most-interesting fountain of a Greek god standing atop all sorts of sea creatures:


New Bedford is also home to the schooner Ernestina, ex-Effie M. Morrisey. For some reason there are no booms or gaffs on the masts of this 115-year-old boat (perhaps due to current restoration work?), so this is the most nautical shot I could get:


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On August 1 Karen and I made a triumphal (okay, maybe it wasn’t triumphal) return to Governors Island, this time with the kids in tow. Unfortunately, we were not able to take Puffin, so we joined the huddled masses on the ferry from the Battery Maritime Building, all yearning to breathe free on the lawns and promenade of the island.

In 1809 Washington Irving, in A History of New-York, from the Beginning of the World to the End of the Dutch Dynasty; Containing, among Many Surprising and Curious Matters, the Unutterable Ponderings of Walter the Doubter, the Disastrous Projects of William the Testy, and the Chivalric Achievements of Peter the Headstrong—The Three Dutch Governors of New Amsterdam: Being the Only Authentic History of the Times that Ever Hath Been or Ever Will Be Published, bemoaned the fact that Governors Island, “once a smiling garden . . . was now covered with fortifications” so that it “resembled a fierce little warrior in a big cocked hat, breathing gunpowder and defiance to the world!”

I’m happy to report that, although the fortifications remain, the gunpowder and defiance seem to be gone.


The island is aswarm with peaceful New Yorkers and visitors who roam everywhere by foot, bike, scooter, and other human-powered wheeled transport. In fact, it was the bicycles that lured us to Governors Island this time. We were hoping to rent one of Bike and Roll‘s quadcycles, but we were much too late, and there weren’t any available. Instead, we each got a bicycle—mountain bikes for the kids, and fancy, orange Dutch bikes for Karen and me.


Riding the complete perimeter of the island is easy due to the lack of hills and the lovely breezes off the water.


There are plenty of places to stop and lots of grass to rest on. If you go on Fridays, you can get a bike for an hour for free, and Bike and Roll has just added 50 more bicycles to its fleet. (Here’s a question, though: How come they get to charge for the orange bikes? They were donated to New York City by the Dutch government.)

At any rate, it was another thoroughly enjoyable afternoon on Governors Island. Next time we’ll bring our own bikes, though.

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Here’s a pictorial review of City of Water Day.

This is the tug Pegasus, heading toward Erie Basin or Gowanus Bay on a tour:


Karen got this dramatic shot of the Mary A. Whalen and one of American Stevedoring‘s gantry cranes:


They’re one of the companies keeping the working waterfront working.

Here’s another shot of Puffin, secure at Pier 101. That’s Karen standing in the stern:


There was an exhibit on Governors Island discussing the role of the oyster in the ecological and commercial history of New York City. It also explained the efforts to bring the oyster back to New York Harbor. Accompanying the exhibit was a small oyster shell midden:


To learn more about oysters and New York City I highly recommend Mark Kurlansky‘s The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell. (Yes, I know. That’s the second time I’ve recommended a Kurlansky book. I’m not on his payroll; I just really like his stuff.)

The scene at the boat landing:


This plaque commemorates the purchase of Governors Island by Wouter van Twiller in 1637. The remarkable thing about the plaque is that it mentions the names of the two Manahatas from whom the island was purchased:


Here’s good old Wouter (second from left, I’m guessing):


I wonder what “two axe heads, a string of beads and a handful of nails” would buy today.

The tug Cornell passes the Brooklyn waterfront:


Governors Island is also hosting various art installations. This is one—made up of light and smoke—inside the chapel:


For a lot more information about Governors Island, and particularly for some fantastic historic maps and images (including one of Wilbur Wright taking off), go to the Web site of the Governors Island Preservation and Education Corporation (GIPEC).

And if you, like us, would like docking for recreational boaters to be part of Governors Island’s future, please let GIPEC know.

For more pictures from me and Karen, visit my web gallery.

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So I just finished reading Mark Kurlansky‘s The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America’s Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town. Before I go any further: I highly recommend it.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that Sebastian Junger‘s The Perfect Storm made me want to visit Gloucester. With Kurlansky added to the mix the urge to visit is yet stronger. Adding even more to the desire to go to Gloucester was the coincidence that the prologue of The Last Fish Tale is all about the pole walkers of Gloucester—participants in a competition that takes place during the Saint Peter’s Fiesta, and the festival took place last weekend, right after I started reading the book.

This morning I was reading SOUNDBOUNDER, and I was intrigued by one of the comments, which was made by someone in Gloucester. Clicking the commenter’s profile brought me to his blog—Shooting My Universe—where I found fantastic pictures of Gloucester, including several of the pole walkers at last week’s Saint Peter’s Fiesta. I’m going to call this not-quite-so random alignment of Web and non-Web worlds a “webincidence.”

Following a link from Shooting My Universe—simply because I liked the name—brought me to Living in Brooklyn-Longing for Maine, where I found more photos of Cape Ann and Gloucester.  Another webincidence.

Go figure…

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