Monday, December 14, 2009

Wandering Educator's Badge

As some you know, I write from time to time for a fantastic site called Wandering Educators. In fact, I am their literary travels editor and just posted a story about California's Route 1. So, if you look to the right of this post, you will see a cool new badge on my site marking me as a Wandering Educators editor. Go ahead, click on it, see where it takes you. It will be some cool destination someplace on this earth.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Academic Ambassadors update

Hi Friends,

This past spring, I wrote about a great service I stumbled across called Academic Ambassadors. Well,I wanted to check back in with Adam Siegle, the brain behind the surface, and I though I would share his response with you:

I recently got back from a hotel scouting trip (doubling as an exhausting family vacation) and wanted to report back that AcAmb has been enhanced with some smashing new offerings.

Upon the recommendation of a member from Harvey Mudd College, I checked out (and into) the Hotel Roger Williams in NYC. Wow! From the moment we walked in, this place felt right. It's colorful without being startlingly and offputtingly chic. The rooms are so bright and cheerful (and not at all tiny a la Manhattan), the public spaces are very inviting, and the breakfast tremendously tasty!.

Moving southward, we hit the just-opened Hotel Monaco in Baltimore, and it's grand. Carved into a cathedral of 19th century big business, it's now an epic boutique hotel (oxymoron?) with soaring public spaces and huge rooms. Plus, it has all the Kimpton magic: (comp) wine hour, coffee hours, fitness and business centers...

Last stop was DC, where I needed to submerge my kids in the Palomar pool, cooling hot tempers while mom and dad chilled for (brief shining) moments. I hadn't been there before and have been showcasing the more intimate and trendy Topaz and Rouge on the site, but I loved the place and its location--so close to lively Dupont Circle.

Hmmm...what else? Oh yeah, I worked out a deal with Enterprise/Budget Rent-a-Car. We now get an additional 5% off their already discounted rates. I know that's not blockbuster savings, but imagine if we all access that; it will mean (in the aggregate) tens of thousands more available for our worthy causes.

Ever scouting for new hotels in yet covered cities, we're picking up a new haven in, uh, New Haven. It's boxy, glassy and classy, and it's called The Study. Continuing is my infinite search in London (suggestions, please!). Also, I'd like to add more to our Florida territory, especially as the warmth up here (New England) wanes.

Lastly, and maybe most importantly to you, Kimpton has extended for us its 20% discount off their Best Available Rates until the end of March (we had been getting 10% off). So, from Seattle to Atlanta (new) and from Aspen to Chicago, we can drink their free wine (4-6 most of their hotels) and luxuriate in their tiger-print robes (grrr), with the piece of mind knowing that our decadence is affordable. Enjoy!

Wishing you a stimulating and productive fall,

appreciatively yours,


PS. Thanks, as ever, for passing word of AcAmb on--it's still very much a word-of-mouth endeavor!

Thursday, September 24, 2009

A Satisfactory Conclusion

The editor who used my idea and sources without my consent has agreed to pay me a consulting fee -- reasonable and responsible conclusion.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Editorial Ethics and Respecting Respect - Part II

Here is the update on the story for those who are interested. I never heard a reply to my email from the editor and so invoiced him this morning for a consulting fee at my usual hourly rate for editorial work. In the end, I felt an hour fee was the most fair. He doesn't have a lot of money in his budget, and I am more concerned about protecting my colleagues than using this as a money making event.

Thanks again for all the feedback and support. I don't want other writers to change how they interact with editors...unless this story gives them support if they they've been wronged. As writers, our ideas and time our our prime assets.

I will keep you all updated as this story continues to unfold.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Editorial Ethics and Respecting Respect

So here is the story:

After returning from a trip, I was talking on the phone with the editor of a magazine for which I occasionally write. We chatted about a number of ideas for his magazine, including one we both thought was interesting. I followed up with an email, to which he replied that the magazine was seriously considering the story idea we had discussed. He then asked me for more information.

I did my research and put out a HARO on the idea. I forwarded the relevant emails to him and reiterated my interest in doing the story. I heard nothing for a while. Then, yesterday, I opened the most recent issue of the magazine to find the exact same story idea written by the editor and based on the sources I had provided.

I emailed him and heard back this morning. His explanation was that another story fell through and he wrote the story quickly. He apologized and told me that since his magazine is a small niche market, I shouldn't have any trouble reselling the idea.

What do you suggest I do?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Talking the Walk

Okay - I'm jumping off into the world of multimedia by recording an audio tour of Transcendentalist Concord. I will be recording narration for the North Bridge, the Old Manse, Walden Pond, Bush House, the Concord Museum, the Wayside, the Orchard House, and Sleepy Hollow Cemetery. Each stop along the tour is about 5 minutes.

I am doing it on my freshly-delivered iMac with Garageband. Is that the best option? What all do you use? Suggestions? Who has had success? Share your links to podcasts, mp3s and whatnot, and I'll check 'em out.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Tours to Go

I am becoming increasingly interested in audio tours that can be downloaded and brought with on an iPod, cell phone, or GPS unit. I remember one my dad had of the section of I80 from Auburn to Truckee in California. It was fantastic and we listed to it repeatedly. Here are some of the more recent ones I've found.

Discovery Audio: they seem to offer a wide array of downloadable tours. I'm not sure about production values.

Audyssey Guides: I bought their CD on Boston to research my Walking Boston book and loved the high quality and interesting narration.

Walk Talk Guides: these are mostly in Europe and provide an interesting business model.

Visual Travel Tours: Multimedia tours for the iPod.

Have you used any of these? Do you know of any others that are great? What about cell phone tours or tours specific to museums or other places of interest? What do you look for in an audio tour?

Please jump into the conversation below. I know there are a number of readers interested in your thoughts on this one, and I'll be monitoring this closely all week.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Book Expo Recap


For those outside the book publishing world, Book Expo of America (BEA) is the annual gathering of book publishers, book sellers, librarians, authors, editors, and hangers-on. It’s where deals are struck, buzz is created, and the schmoozing oozes. As you can imagine, this year’s version was a bit subdued compared to previous years.

As I wandered the rows of publisher booths at the show on Friday, I noticed a few things. First, I did not see very many new books. I had been hearing rumors of publishers shelving almost entire seasons of new releases until the economy gets better, but it really struck me here. In the past, many booths had stacks and stacks of pre-release books and galleys. This year, it was easy to navigate my way through the crowds without bumping into books.

Secondly, and I fully applaud this move, there were three stages right on the expo floor, where authors and influencers gave interviews, talks, and presentations. Much of this was about how to use Twitter and social networks to promote content. Not necessarily books, but content.

This brings me to my final observation. It seemed to me that everyone at the show was waiting to exhale – waiting to see what comes next. I firmly believe that there will be a need for good content: wonderful stories, engaging nonfiction, thrilling poetry. And I think everyone recognizes that the book as we know it is quickly evolving to other, more electronic forms. The big question is what this will do to our reading and writing styles? I look to the music industry where the notion of an album is evolving in the face of iTunes. Audiences are getting used to only paying for the content they want.

What do you see happening? What are you willing to pay for?

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Hit the Road With Academic Ambassadors

Academic Ambassadors
Academic Ambassadors is a wonderful service for academics and non-profit traveling professionals. For more information, read this article at Wandering Educators

Academic Ambassadors President, Adam Siegel

Monday, May 11, 2009

The Best of Baseball

Ahh, the best of local baseball: extra innings, a late game-winning dinger, and an all-team conference on the mound:

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sustainable Travel and Wandering Educators

Wandering Educators has posted my review of Code Green. Check it out for my thoughts on sustainable travel:

Monday, April 20, 2009

Wandering Educators Celebrates a Year!

It is remarkably appropriate that I am writing this post from an eco-lodge in Costa Rica, for this is exactly the type of cultural and educational travel endorsed by Wandering Educators, who are celebrating their first anniversary today with lots of new features (including my review of Otalo, the vacation home rental supersite) and wonderful giveaways. Hint, hint, look for all the Roaring Forties Press titles, including both of mine. Comment throughout the day and you'll be sure to come up with something fantastic.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Looking for good Costa Rican literature

I am thrilled to be headed to Costa Rica next week to explore sustainable and meaningful travel (I'm also writing a book review of Lonely Planet's Code Green -- stay tuned at, and am looking for suggestions on Costa Rican literature to bring. I am interested in novels, poetry, drama - engaging nonfiction -- you name it!

Thanks -- I'll send you a postcard!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

Twitter / Home

Twitter / Home: "NewUrbanismGood mag,@streetsblog show a livable street emerge before your very eyes.More contexts needed, contest will generate them."

About the Precipice

On the eve of my fortieth birthday, I am thinking about the path I want to take for the next forty years. I am crossing my fingers for the wonderful luck, love, and happiness that I've enjoyed for the first forty (minus that haircut in 7th grade and the time I backed into my girlfriend's car while trying sneak her out of her house).

Monday, March 30, 2009

Watching Spring come in...slowly

I'm looking out at the backyard ice rink, which, like many of our glaciers, has lost about a third of its ice. But unlike with global warming, I'm not that sorry to see the ice go.

On the other hand, there is free skiing this Wednesday at Okemo if you bring three non-perishable items of food. Maybe King Winter can hold out for another week or two. Snow in the first two weeks of April is not out of the question.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Budget Traveler's Best of Ireland photos

Wonder of all wonders, I clicked on Budget Travels "Best of Ireland" photos link and was hit with this photo in the number one slot:

I doubt it is based on quality, but it is nice to be first in line. Check out the rest of the show at Budget Travel

Friday, March 06, 2009

Check out the Photoshelter Page

For more information on my photographic services, check out my Photoshelter page by clicking on the image below.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

lecture at All Souls Church -- Feburary 26, 2009

First, thank you all for coming out on a Thursday night. I’d also like to thank Carlos Martinez for setting up this event, and Jim Yacopino for the introduction. It is a thrill to be here. In preparation, I was reading a bit on your congregation and the Emerson Circle. Besides being a little humbling, it was wonderful to read about the variety of voices and perspectives you’ve had come speak here. It’s an exciting honor to add mine to such distinguished company.

As was mentioned in the introduction, I was an English teacher for 9 years before I became a writer. Well, I guess I was a writer all along, but it took a stroke of luck for me to become a book author. In the spring of 2004, after much deliberation, my wife and I decided it was time for me to take a break from teaching and chase my dream of the writing life. I submitted my resignation to the school where I worked and was prepared to spend a year trying to start a career as a freelance writer when, merely a week later and literally a month before school ended, a colleague emailed me. He wrote that a friend of his was starting a publishing company and was looking for a writer in New England willing to take on a book project. Did I know of any writers in New England who might be interested? I just so happened to be a writer in New England willing to take on a book project. When I found out that it was to be a literary travel guide, I could not believe my luck. Well, that turned out to be this book and I had so much fun doing this one that I decided to do one on Ireland’s Literary Revival, (which is here), and one on England’s Lake District Poets, (which is still in the works).

Before I go much further, let me take a moment to explain a little about the series. The ArtPlace series explores the interaction between art and place. The books look at the places where artists and thinkers lived and worked, and how those places affected them. It also examines how that artist's legacy affects and changes the very landscapes that helped sparked their creativity. The Transcendentalist book is the 3rd in a series of seven which includes Dorothy Parker's New York, John Steinbeck's California, Flaubert's Normandy, Matisse's South of France, Michelangelo's Rome, and my second book, the Ireland of the Irish Literary Revival.
Because I got involved with the series at the beginning, I was able to do two things: write the type of book I would buy and write the type of book that I would teach. Although this book makes no claims at academic or scholarly argument, it does provide a unique way in -- a way to explore Transcendentalism in a way that is accessible and hopefully engaging. And because you already have such a rich and detailed picture of Emerson, I’ll try to focus my remarks a bit more on those around Emerson. And, given your patience, I will also talk a little about my process in putting the book together.

I started my research process by looking around for a few concise definitions of Transcendentalism. One of the first definitions I found came from a minister named Father Taylor, who was a friend and colleague of the Transcendentalists. He defined Transcendentalism as “a seagull with long wings, lean body, poor feathers, and miserable meat.” Not very helpful.

The writer Rebecca Harding Davis characterized the followers of Transcendentalism in her book, Bits of Gossip, as “hordes of wild-eyed Harvard undergraduates and lean, underpaid working-women, each with a disease of the soul to be cured by the new healer.”

Even Nathaniel Hawthorne, got in on the act in his Mosses from the Old Manse, describing Concord as “a poor little country village infested with such a variety of queer, strangely-dressed, oddly-behaved mortals.” Sounds a bit like Amherst to me.

It’s not surprising that when the British novelist Charles Dickens came to Boston and inquired about Transcendentalism, he was told that “whatever is unintelligible would certainly be transcendental.” Clearly, these answers were not going to help me, so I went to the town of Concord, and to an old house by the river. The river is the Concord River (near the famous North Bridge of the Battle of Concord) and the house is now called, The Old Manse.

As many of you know, while Emerson lived at the Manse with his mother, he wrote Nature. The challenge with which Emerson opens the book is remarkable:

The forgoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should not we also enjoy an original relation to the universe? Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs?

Then follows an Emersonian, and therefore Transcendentalist solution: go spend time in nature, and see what new ideas this brings. They will surely be more powerful and enticing than ancient philosophy and dusty theology.

Embosomed for a season in nature, whose floods of life stream around and through us, and invite us, by the powers they supply to action proportioned to nature, why should we grope among the dry bones of the past?

It seems particularly telling that Emerson wrote these words, with their central metaphor of “the flood of life,” looking out at the river from the window of his study. As he states, however, “to go out into solitude [to achieve our ‘original relation’], a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.” Emerson made good on this premise by going out daily to walk the hills, forests, and meadows of his chosen town of Concord. He let neither the elements nor the demands of society keep him from his walks.

Emerson is also clear about the benefits of the move into nature:

In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, -- no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- a mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

It was in these passages from Nature that Transcendentalism first came alive for me, and I structured the book around what I view as Transcendentalism’s central quest: to forge an original relationship with the universe or, as Emerson puts it, to behold “God and nature face to face.”

So, what quickly became interesting to me was how this group of writers, philosophers, poets, activists and dreamers conducted their quests. Where did they go for that “face to face” interaction? How does one forge one’s own unique relationship with the universe? This idea became the central theme of my book: where did the Transcendentalists go in New England and what did they do there?

Obviously, they came here, to Concord. They came to visit and converse with Emerson. They came to walk the paths and trails around the town and draw inspiration from the trails. Or, as Hawthorne did, stare lovingly at his garden watching the melons grow. (No kidding, he wrote in American Notes): "I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had not taken part in the process of creation." It’s little surprise the practical, no-nonsense farmers of Concord wondered about him.

Hawthorne came to Concord after his marriage to Elizabeth Peabody’s younger sister, Sophia. By that time, Elizabeth was an ardent admirer of Emerson and an important Transcendentalist in her own right, but more on her later. The Hawthornes arrived in 1842 and moved into the very same house where Emerson wrote Nature. Emerson himself had bought another house on the other side of town seven years earlier. While at the Old Manse, Hawthorne wrote prolifically, took long walks in the woods, rowed on the river in a boat he bought from Thoreau, and, yes, stared mooningly at his garden.

Bronson Alcott also came to Concord…repeatedly. He came, with his wife and four daughters, and lived in a number of houses in Concord, including one he eventually sold to the Hawthornes, and another that still serves as an Alcott museum called The Orchard House. Alcott’s quest to behold Got and nature face to face was most successful in his educational endeavors, schools he started in Boston and on the grounds of The Orchard House. In Boston, Elizabeth Peabody’s bookstore on West Street was another place the Transcendentalists went to develop forge that relationship with the universe. They spent time here bouncing ideas of each other and searching for a better way before wandering up Tremont Street to School Street and the Old Corner Bookstore and the Parker House hotel. Among the ideas battered around the downstairs of Elizabeth Peabody’s bookstore was for a utopian society created out of Transcendental optimism and a utopian theory called Fourierism. Brook Farm, in the Boston suburb of West Roxbury, Although Brook Farm literally went up in flames after seven years, its promise of a more balanced, Transcendental agrarian life enticed the likes of Emerson, Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller, all of whom regularly visited. Hawthorne did join but quickly realized his unique relation to the universe did not include milking cows.

Perhaps the most well known method to forge an original relationship to the universe was to move to Walden Pond and attempt to “front only the essential facts of life” as Thoreau did from 1845 to 1847. His experiment in living the Transcendentalist quest, along with the record of it we know as Walden, has had perhaps the greatest impact of any of the Transcendentalist writings.

It is regularly quoted as the defining text for a wide variety of philosophical movements and radical thinkers...or just to sell t-shirts and yoga-tapes. I've even seen Walden quoted in a review of new electrical gadgets like cell phones and iPods.
But my favorite story of Thoreau’s influence is about a shy, lanky Irish boy whose father read Walden to him in the mornings before he trundled off to school. On summer vacation in the west of Ireland, this same boy then dreamed about moving to an island in the middle of a lake and living like Thoreau.

He even picked out the perfect island and spent a night reconnoitering it. As it turned out, the boy never lived out his dream, but he did write a poem about the island. The poem is called “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” and the boy is the Novel prize winning writer William Butler Yeats. As a side note, I will talk about that story and much more tomorrow night at the National Arts Club.

My central theme of a “quest” helped me through the writing of the book, but I also had to take the photographs that accompany the text. And in taking those pictures, I tried to be Emerson’s eyeball. I tried to see all and vanish into nothing. Not an easy trick standing on the Boston Common in the middle of a busy afternoon. But I tried.

And, after the book was published, and I was putting together an collection of photographs from the book for an exhibition at the Fruitlands Museum in Harvard, Massachusetts, I realized that Transcendentalism was more than just a quest to create that unique place for one’s self in the universe, it was also a way of seeing the universe -- not just looking, but truly seeing. The Transcendentalists were both unfailingly dedicated to the careful study of the natural world and unequivocal about the benefits. Again, from Emerson's Nature, I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me." And Henry David Thoreau challenges us, with his usual play on words, to go beyond looking to really seeing: "Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer."

It is perhaps no surprise to this crowd that the person who was met that challenge and was clearly much, much more than a student seemed to prefer more the journeys of the imagination. Like William Wordsworth and Emerson before her, Emily Dickinson was greatly inspired by what she had seen. As someone who actually had to travel to Cambridge for uncomfortable eye treatments (at which the doctor forbid her to write and even took her pen from her, forcing her to use a pencil she must have snuck in), vision is not something Dickinson takes lightly. Like her predecessor, the visionary British poet William Blake, When Dickinson does turn her eyes to something, she sees it as well as something else: From that "narrow fellow in the grass" to the trains she saw from her bedroom that

"lap the miles,/And lick the valleys up
And stop to feed itself at tanks;
And then, prodigious, step

Around a pile of mountains,
And, supercilious, peer
In shanties by the sides of roads;
And then a quarry pare

To fit its sides, and crawl between,
Complaining all the while
In horrid, hooting stanza;
Then chase itself down hill

And neigh like Boanerges;
Then, punctual as a star,
Stop – docile and omnipotent –
In fact, she recognizes the power of her imagination to create riches from what she sees:
‘Tis little I could care for pearls
Who own the ample sea;
Or brooches, when the Emperor
With Rubies pelteth me;

Or gold, who am the Prince of Mines;
Or diamonds, when I see
A Diadem to fit a dome
Continual crowning me

And even when her circumstances did not allow her to use the actual sight of something as a jumping off place, Dickinson is still satisfied (and rightly so), with seeing things in her mind.

I never saw a moor
I never saw the sea;
Yet know I how the heather looks,
And what a wave must be

I never spoke with God
Nor visited in heaven;
Yet certain am I of the spot
As if the chart were given

When Thoreau went to Walden, he said it was to "live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived." Although Dickinson never walked the shores of Walden Pond, or even went to Concord, she clearly lived deliberately, fronted the facts of life, and lived her life to the fullest. And even though she was never invited to one of the famous conversation groups Emerson held at his house, when Emerson extolled his audience, "to see God face to face," Dickinson knows the way. In fact, where others put their eyeballs (transparent or otherwise), Emily puts up her soul:

Before I got my eye put out,
I liked as well to see
As other creatures that have eyes,
And know no other way.

But were it told to me today,
That I might have the sky
For mine, I tell you that my heart
Would split, for the size of me.

The meadows mine, the mountains mine, --
All forests, stintless stars,
As much of noon as I could take
Between my finite eyes.

The motions of the dipping birds,
The lightning’s jointed road,
For mine to look at when I liked, --
The news would strike me dead!

So safe, guess, with just my soul
Upon the window-pane
Where other creatures put their eyes,
Incautious of the sun.

And perhaps that is the best place for us to end, with our souls upon the window pane." I believe it is the best way to create what Emerson called "an original relation with the universe" -- something that Dickinson, perhaps more than Emerson himself, or even Thoreau, was able to do through her vision, her imagination, and her poetry.

Thank you so much for your time and wonderful attention. I would certainly love to hear any questions or comments you might have, either now or later. I will be posting the text of this talk at as well as information about my upcoming events and books. I will turn on a slide show of photographs to run as I sign books.

Monday, March 02, 2009

lecture at the Yeats Society of the New York - February 27, 2009

First off, thank you to all of you who have come this evening. It’s so gratifying to know I’m not the only one who likes spending a Friday night talking about Yeats and poetry. I'd also like to extend a special thank you to Andy McGowan for setting up this event.

Before I go much further, let me take a moment to explain a little about the series and how I got involved. I was an English teacher for nine years before I became a writer. Well, I guess I was a writer all along, but it took a stroke of luck for me to become a book author. In the spring of 2004, after much deliberation, my wife and I decided it was time for me to take a break from teaching and chase my dream of the writing life. I submitted my resignation to the school where I worked and was prepared to spend a year trying to start a career as a freelance writer when, literally a month before school ended, a colleague emailed me. He wrote that a friend of his was starting a publishing company and was looking for a writer in New England willing to take on a book project. Did I know of any writers in New England who might be interested? I just so happened to be a writer in New England willing to take on a book project. When I found out that it was to be a literary travel guide, I could not believe my luck. Well, that turned out to be my first Roaring Forties Press ArtPlace book and I had so much fun doing that one that I immediately pitched another idea that was near and dear to me: Irish Literature.

The Art Place Series
The ArtPlace series explores the interaction between art and place. The books look at the places where artists and thinkers lived and worked, and how those places affected them. It also examines how that artist's legacy affects and changes the very landscapes that helped sparked their creativity. In my books, there is an additional layer of how members of the group interact with each other, and in the case of this book, there is one more layer of how the writers and thinkers dealt with a culture that had all but vanished when they first took up their pens.

The Irish Book was fifth in a series of seven which includes Dorothy Parker's New York, John Steinbeck's California, Flaubert's Normandy, Matisse's South of France, Michelangelo's Rome, and my book on the Transcendentalists’ New England

Because I got involved with the series at the beginning, I was able to do two things: write the type of book I would buy and write the type of book that I would teach. Although this book makes no claims at academic or scholarly argument, it does provide a unique way in -- a way to explore the Irish Literary revival in a way that is accessible and hopefully engaging. As a teacher, I often found that students were the most engaged and interested, not when we were talking about the grand scope of literature, or even about the big ideas, but when we focused on specific events, moments actually.

Moments of Place, Art, & Geography
So in this book, I really focused on special moments, moments when place, art, and geography collide. Like that moment two friends having tea on a wet and windy afternoon in County Galway decide that Ireland needs its own theater tradition and the Irish Theatre Movement is born. Or that moment when a young poet standing by a lake shore sees nine and fifty swans scatter wheeling into the sky above him and, from their flight, creates the poem “The Wild Swans at Coole.” This book is about that moment when a young man listens to a story told to him by an Aran Islander and finds in it a drama of lasting value. And finally, the book is about that moment when a play written by Irish authors and acted by Irish actors on an Irish stage inspires the tearful singing of patriotic songs and that moment a few years later when another Irish play in Dublin incites rioting and violence, in many cases by the same people.

Indeed, looking back, the Irish Literary Revival can be seen as a moment itself. Lasting only a short time from the early 1890’s through roughly 1926, the Irish Literary Revival was nothing more than a flowering of literature that sought to first glorify then critically examine, what it meant to be truly Irish. It was also nothing less than a profound shift in how the citizens of this country not much bigger than Maine identified themselves, both within their own counties and to the world.

While Irish history is long, complex, and mythological, it is important to know that Ireland was, for many hundreds of years, under English control. To help solidify this English rule, many British second sons, with no claim to land in England, colonized Ireland, displacing many Irish farmers. In some cases, these families eventually felt more Irish than the farmers whose lands their ancestors had taken centuries before. When England switched from Catholicism to the Protestant faith, religion became a dividing line and those who practiced Catholicism were systematically oppressed and denied access to land and power. By the time the potato blight of the mid-nineteenth century hit Ireland, most of the Irish Catholics had few options but to leave Ireland or die. Millions did both.

Therefore, it is not surprising that by the late nineteenth century, Britain was not just the main cultural influence in Irish cities like Dublin, Belfast, and Cork – it was the only option. The fields of music, literature, and art were dominated by British tastes, and when the Irish were represented, they were portrayed as drunk, stupid, or quick to anger…or all three.

Through a series of political events, which included failed insurrections, bungled political wrangling, and the fall and quick death of Ireland’s best political hope for independence from Britain, the Irish who wanted to create an Irish identity separate from England turned to Celtic sports, art, and literature to create a social movement where the political one had failed.

Into the Mix of Irish Literary Revival
Into this mix came a young poet, tall with unruly black hair. He was not Catholic, could not speak Gaelic, and did not even come from the land-owning Protestant ascendancy. But he could write beautifully of place and write he did. Yeats’ poems, beginning with his first poetry collection in 1889, so captured the essence of his childhood home of County Sligo in the west of Ireland, that he quickly became the center of the Irish Literary Revival.

Attracted by his poetic talent, and perhaps the dark unruly hair and piercing eyes, the widow Isabelle Augusta Gregory, made friends with Yeats and opened her Galway home to him. It became the western birthplace of the Revival, and many of the writers, painters, and poets came to visit with Lady Gregory and Yeats when he was in residence. J.M. Synge stopped by on his way back to Dublin after his trips to the Aran Islands. After the tremendous success of his play, The Plough and the Stars at the Abbey Theater, Sean O’Casey was introduced to polite society by Lady Gregory. George Bernard Shaw came often but remained aloof from the rest of the revival. The novelist George Moore came to collaborate with Yeats on their plays. James Joyce was invited but declined to come. But it was Yeats above all who was the featured guest.

At Coole Park

Yeats had a pretty cushy life there…literally. While Yeats was working in the best room in the house, Lady Gregory laid the thickest and softest rugs she had in the hallway outside his room so that footsteps wouldn’t disturb his thoughts. She brought him hot broth and tea to keep his strength up and offered the best port for after dinners. And all the while, she was collecting folk and fairy tales from the local tenant farmers first for Yeats to use in his own writing, and then eventually for her own books and plays. But, she stated that her first duty was to support her poet friend.

So it is little wonder that Yeats wanted to come back…and often. Nor is it surprising that when it came time for him to buy a summer house, he choose the nearby house and tower, which he named Thoor Ballyllee. It was literally a Norman fort which had in essence been abandoned and left to rot. But it was where Yeats wrote some of his finest poetry, as he describes in a letter written from Ballylee

Alas I have to return to Dublin in a couple of days. There one gets angry and writes prose, but here beside a little stream I write poetry and think of nothing else.

The poetry from his collection The Tower exemplifies the best of Yeats’ ability to simultaneously portray landscape and create symbols from it. Listen to this passage from his long poem, “Meditation in Time of Civil War," in which he takes stock of his surroundings:

An ancient bridge, and a more ancient tower,
A farmhouse that is sheltered by its wall
An acre of stony ground,
Where the symbolic rose can break in flower,
Old ragged elms, old thorns innumerable,
The sound of the rain or the sound
Of ever wind that blows;
The stilted water-hen
Crossing stream again
Scared by the splashing of a dozen cows

A winding stair, a chamber arched with stone,
A grey stone fireplace with an open hearth
A candle and written page

To the Aran Islands

So, if it was Yeats’ special gift to encapsulate moments of time where mountains, streams, lakes, and ancient forts become more symbol than scene, he also had the ability to inspire those moments in others…or at least set them on their way. It was his advice, spoken in an unguarded moment of criticism, to John Millington Synge, that helped shape that young writer’s career. Upon meeting Synge in Paris, Yeats told him:

Give up Paris. You will never create anything by reading Racine and Arthur Symons will always be a better critic of French literature. Go to the Aran Islands. Live there as if you were one of the people themselves; express a life that has never found expression

Although Synge was best known for his drama, one of his finest works is a small book called The Aran Islands. This slim volume narrates the events of Synge’s three consecutive visits to the Aran Islands, a group of three small, very rocky, and culturally isolated islands just off the west coast of Ireland. While he lived on the middle island of Inis Meain, Synge often sat on the stones just watching the weather change or observing the comings and goings of the people at work and play. He also collected stories from the elders.

One of the most interesting stories he hears and narrates in his book is actually one that Yeats had also heard a few years before on his visit to the Arans. It tells of a man who kills his maniacal and vicious father and then escapes to the Aran Islands. Rather than reacting with horror at harboring a murderer in their midst, the islanders hide the man from the authorities and help him eventually escape to America, following the story, Synge offers this thought:

The impulse to protect the criminal is universal in the west. It seems partly due to the association between justice and the hated English jurisdiction, but more directly to the primitive feelings of these people, who are never criminals yet always capable of crime, that a man will not do wrong unless he is under the influence of a passion which is as irresponsible as a storm on the sea. If a man has killed his father, and is already sick and broken with remorse, there can be no reason why he should be dragged away and hanged by the law.

Although he acknowledges that he most likely always remain an outsider on the island, Synge gives the reader many glimpses into the souls of the Aran Islanders. In the moments after British soldiers, serving as the local police, turn an island woman out of her home because of debt, Synge clearly sees just what his means:

For these people the outrage to the heart is the supreme catastrophe. They live here in a world of grey, where they are wild rains and mists every week in the year, and their warm chimney corners, filled with children and young girls, grow into consciousness of each family in a way it is not easy to understand in more civilized places

Synge’s talent was to illuminate the special moments in the daily lives of the some of the most interesting Irish, the Aran Islanders.

Moments I'll Never Forget

For me, doing this book was also made up of moments too, moments when I felt art, history, and geography collide. Like when I sat on the rock formation atop the cliffs of the island of Inis Meain in the rock formation called “Synge’s Chair” in honor of the playwright who arranged the rocks and often sat there, I looked across the ocean to the coast just as he did and felt the wind on my back and the ocean sprays drifting up. As I sat there, I could almost sense his presence and understood much better what his experience was like.

A similar moment happened on the top of the mountain Ben Bulben. Yeats often climbed Ben Bulben as a youngster and had written that he wanted to be buried in the small Drumcliffe churchyard at the foot of the mountain. It was alone at the top of this cliff that I felt the closest connection to Yeats.

But the most powerful moments for me were the stories, like the one I heard mere hours after I landed in Ireland for this research trip.

I was sitting with a group attending the Lady Gregory's Autumn Gathering. Among the scholars and attendees whose father's friend was the taxi man for the town of Gort. One night, after stowing his horse and buggy and battening down the hatches against an oncoming storm, he was awakened by a terrible pounding on front door, as if someone were trying to break it down. A little frightened, he opened the window of the second floor and looked down. "Who is it," asked his trembling wife. A moment later, he pulled his head in and turned to his wife, "ach, it's only that mad Yeats, looking for a ride home in the rain."

The most special moment came during lunch the next day at the Lady Gregory fall symposium. I was late for lunch, so I picked the only spot available, next to a white-haired gentleman telling a story. At first, I was focusing on my lunch and what I needed to photograph that afternoon, then I started to pay attention to the story the man was telling.

“He only found out he had won when Bertie Smyllie called with the news and he just asked “how much is it? How much?” It was then I realized that he was Michael Yeats talking about when his father won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1923. I nearly choked on my potatoes. Michael Yeats, who passed away just before the book was published, was a wonderfully generous and kind spirit who was tremendously supportive of me. I want to give him my thanks as well

So, in wrapping up, I’d certainly like to encourage all of you to get to Ireland (and of course use this book!), but also get out in search of your own moments. Climb Ben Bulben or sit in Synge's Chair. Walk down to the water’s edge at Lough Gill and look out across the water to the lake isle of Innisfree. Sit it in the audience for a play at the Abbey Theatre or listen to the story the white-haired gentleman next to you is telling. Ireland’s magic need only take a moment -- I thank you for the moments you’ve spent with me.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

back in Amherst

I;m thrilled to be back in Amherst after a great weekend in New York. I will be uploading the texts to both talks I gave in New York shortly, but first am getting the word out about my two talks this week.

Just in time for Saint Patrick’s day, I will be giving not one but two slide show presentations this Thursday. The first is at The Springfield Museum at 12:15 as part of their Museums A La Carte series. You get cookies if you come to this one; see the link for more information.

The second event is right here in Amherst, at the Jones Library at 7:00 pm. Although there are no official refreshments being offered, come on by and we’ll see what we can do.

I will be selling autographed books and photos (both framed and unframed) at both events. They might just make the perfect St. Patrick’s Day gift!

As always, thanks for all the great support.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Off to New York

I'm off this morning to New York for my talk tonight at the All Souls Church in Manhattan. Tomorrow night, I'll be at the National Arts Club. The book talks (two completely different ones) are on hard copy, backed up to a flash drive, and emailed to myself. Did I forget anything?

Check out the events calendar below for more information on the events. I hope to see you there.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

New Slide Shows

Check out the right side of the blog for the two new slide shows I put up. They are linked to my photoshelter account where you can check out the other galleries and even purchase photos for your very own use. Let me know what you think.

Monday, February 23, 2009

blogging for A Traveler's Library

Wander over soon to A Traveler's Library for a great source of information on travel literature and a guest appearance by your truly. YOu can also win a copy of Walking Boston if you leave a comment.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

500 Places to Add to the List

My review of Holly Hughes’ 500 Places to See Before They Disappear is up at Wandering Educators. I was thrilled to review the book and have a chance to talk with Holly. She’s got a great perspective on travel and a wonderful sense of humor. If you are interested in a copy of her book, you have a couple of options. Post a comment on the book or the review over at Wandering Educators and you are entered to win. Or…you can post your suggestion for a place to visit before it disappears here at Open Page, Open Road, and I will randomly pick a winner and send a copy of the book. Good luck!

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Presentation at All Souls Church in New York City

An Evening with R. Todd Felton on “A Journey into the Transcendentalists’ New England”

Thursday, February 26, 2009
Reidy Friendship Hall, 6:30 p.m. Reception (light refreshments), 7:00 p.m. Presentation

The Emerson Circle cordially invites you to an exquisite evening and audio-visual presentation by Robert Todd Felton, who will recreate through image and spoken word the picturesque towns around the city of Boston inhabited by Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emily Dickinson, and the other like-minded Transcendentalists who revolutionized American ideas about the artistic, spiritual, and natural worlds. His fascinating and beautiful narrative of his lush one volume work, “A Journey into the Transcendentalists’ New England,” will examine the intertwined lives of these remarkable men and women and explore the places that inspired them. His presentation will include displays of the lavish photos, paintings, and maps contained in the book which vividly recaptures nineteenth-century New England while discovering the Transcendentalists’ enduring legacy in Walden, Cambridge, Concord, Salem, Amherst, and Boston.

“This well-researched volume . . . contains a wealth of historical information. Some travelers might carry this volume along while sightseeing; others may wish to use it for travel research. Armchair travelers and even those without much wanderlust will want to read this for pure pleasure. Highly recommended.” The Library Journal.

Robert Todd Felton is a full-time freelance writer and photographer specializing in literary and cultural travel. His first two books, A Journey into the Transcendentalists' New England and A Journey into Ireland's Literary Revival, were published by Roaring Forties Press and have received favorable notices in the pages of Vanity Fair, The Boston Globe, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New England Watershed among other publications. His third book, Walking Boston, is a street level guide to the best walks in Beantown, and was published in the summer of 2008 by Wilderness Press. He has also written for National Geographic Traveler, Backpacker, Draft, and is currently the literary travel editor for Wandering Educators. See and for more information about his work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Bright, Sunny, and Meaningful

Bright, Sunny, and Meaningful
In addition to all the symbols and ceremony of today, I have been amazed by the variety of mediums through which I can and have experienced the inauguration. It began this morning with the images of the mall filling up on CNN supplemented by the commentary of NPR. As it noon got closer, I went down to my son elementary school to watch with them in the gym, where the school had set up a huge projection. The best part was hearing the kids chant “Obama, Obama, Obama” when the cameras caught their first glimpse. It was also easy to tap into the emotion of the teachers, many of them persons of color and visibly moved by what was happening. Afterwards, I came home to listen to NPR and scan Twitter, the blogs, CNN’s home page, and listen to a streaming radio and then a podcast. From the ringing sounds of children chanting to the pixilated reality of my monitor, this has been a day to remember.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A New Year, a New Thought or Two

Wherever you are and whatever you celebrate, I hope this time of year has brought relaxation, time with family and friends, and hope for the new year. In any case, best wishes to you and yours and I'm very happy to be back at the keyboard with an eye for the future. As I swing into the new year, here are a few things I think are important about my traveling life (let's not call them "resolutions" as that will damn them to obscurity and failure):

read up before I go
I like to read about the places I'm going. Sometimes, it's only the guidebook for the area. Best case, it is an eclectic range of nonfiction, poetry, and novels. Seeing the wild swans of Coole Park was made much more significant after having read "The Wild Swans of Coole." As I look forward to this year, I am reserving a book on the history of the Sierra Nevada mountains for our March trip to ski, guidebooks for our April trip to Costa Rica, and a re-read of Thoreau's Cape Cod for a summer trip. What will you bring and where?

take the photos I usually wished I had taken
Occasionally, I look at the photos that other people take on a trip and marvel at the things I missed. I am drawn to photographing architectural details -- clean lines, repeated patterns, weather-worn sculpture, interesting angles -- and so miss the human details. Other photographers focus on the people around them. Not just the ones on the trip with them, but the local residents. Their shots tell stories with a richness and sense of place that mine miss. I will try to include more people in their natural elements. But I want to avoid doing this in a voyeuristic, slanted way. I guess the key is to know as much about what and who I am shooting as is possible. Why do those men line up on that street corner? Is the woman sweeping out the restaurant the owner or hired help? Is the young couple in the wedding clothes who won't look at each other nervous or reluctant? Where will you point your camera this year?

don't be embarrassed to be a traveler
This one will help me with the one above. I am naturally a reserved person with strangers. I get a little embarrassed and am reluctant to engage people in strange situations, thinking they might judge me in one way or another. This can prohibit me from meeting and getting to know real people when I travel. When I do loosen up a bit and talk with those I meet, honestly trying to find out about them and their lives, I come away with a better understanding of where I am -- or at least singing Austrian drinking songs arm in arm with a room full of hearty Bavarians or listening to tremendous jazz in a crazy bar in the middle of Havana. What type of traveler are you? What's your best story of getting to know the local culture?

celebrate the inconveniences
I don't usually have much difficulty with this. I am not one who gets flustered and dejected by airport delays and sub-standard housing. Instead, I am willing to embrace the adventure and live with what I've got. I'm just thrilled to be on the road. However, this is a good one to remind ourselves of. And since the majority of my travel these days includes my whole family, it can be easier to lose that patience and serenity travel usually brings me. What new tips, strategies, technologies, or perspectives will you employ this year to make travel easier?

write, write, write
People hit the road for a variety of reasons; one of mine is to witness the great big world out there and try to bring back a slice of it for others to experience. So, when I go on a trip and then don't write about it, it's a little like keeping my big mouth shut when I know something special and won't tell you. It feels a little bit selfish. What are your reasons for hitting the road? What will get you out on the road this year?