You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Novel Destinations’ tag.

Appearing on the cover of the July 14th issue of Time magazine is Mark Twain. Several articles explore Twain’s literary legacy and how a century ago he addressed still-familiar issues like race, religion, and war — and why it’s especially fitting to remember his acerbic honesty and deadly wit during an election year.

In a piece titled “The Seriously Funny Man,” Richard Lacayo writes that by the late 19th century Twain was “the first writer to enjoy the kind of fame reserved until then for Presidents, generals and barn-burning preachers.” Lacayo then goes on to explain why today’s political humorists owe a nod to Twain: “Not quite a century after his death, in 1910, we get a lot of our news from people like him — funnymen (and -women) who talk about things that are not otherwise funny at all. This is an election year in which some of the most closely followed commentators are comedians like Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Stephen Colbert and the cast of Saturday Night Live. All of them are descended from that man in the white suit.”

The issue also includes a two-page spread highlighting Twain’s success as a travel writer. A map traces his voyages around the world and listed are his travel narratives, which include The Innocents Abroad (his first full-length book and the bestselling of his works during his lifetime), Roughing It (his adventures in the American West and Hawaii), Life on the Mississippi (his tenure as a riverboat pilot, a profession he claimed to love “far better than any I have followed since”), and Following the Equator (a record of the round-the-world lecture tour he undertook to pay off his debts).

Briefly mentioned in the article “Mark Twain: Our Original Superstar” by Roy Blount Jr. is the fact that Twain’s mansion in Hartford, Connecticut, is facing foreclosure due to financial difficulties. It’s shameful that a place where people can go to learn about the life of “our original superstar” might no longer exist. It’s certainly no laughing matter. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

It wasn’t difficult for me to decide which book to take along on vacation last week. Mark Twain’s Roughing It seemed fitting reading for the adventure my husband, Brian, and I undertook: rafting some 240 miles down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.

In his travelogue Twain recounts some colorful escapades, among them working as a reporter in Carson City, Nevada, where he began using his famous pseudonym (he was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens) and visiting the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) where he stayed at a hotel perched on the edge of a volcano on the Big Island.

Twain also recalls a 200-mile trek on foot through Nevada to prospect for silver, and he writes, “We all confess to a gratified thrill at the thought of ‘camping out.’” My own adventure included camping out for six nights — most of which were spent sleeping under the stars — and traversing some of the biggest white water in North America. The trip was one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done and quite a feat for two people who had never before been rafting or camping.

Twain’s spirit of adventure was prevalent throughout the trip, from rafting down the river to making camp on a different stretch of beach each night to taking in the dramatic and varied canyon scenery. Our group of twenty-seven passengers (a terrific bunch!) voyaged with Canyoneers, and the excellent crew not only knew how to navigate the waters but how to make delicious prime rib and homemade brownies in such a rustic setting.

And somehow I think intrepid traveler Mark Twain would approve of our guide Brandon’s motto for riding the rapids: Go big or go home. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Along with visiting the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum and sampling the Hemingway-inspired Papa Dobles cocktail at Sloppy Joe’s while we were in Key West, my husband and I explored a connection to another literary legend.

Poet Robert Frost was a frequent visitor to the island in the 1930s and 1940s, often staying in a garden cottage (left) at the home of fifth-generation Key Wester, avid preservationist, and legendary hostess Jessie Porter. Porter’s Caribbean Colonial house — where playwrights Thornton Wilder and Tennessee Williams also visited — was built in the 1830s and is now the Key West Heritage House Museum and Robert Frost Cottage. The beautiful tropical garden has more than 200 varieties of orchids.

This past April I had the chance to tour the Robert Frost Farm in Derry, New Hampshire, which is where he lived as a struggling writer before moving to England and launching his career as a poet. It was interesting to learn more about Frost during my Key West visit, this time focusing on his later years. During one stay on the isle, Frost wrote the poem “The Gift Outright,” which he recited at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

Like Hemingway and Frost, I found Key West alluring. It’s hard to resist a place that has a nightly sunset celebration at Mallory Square (said to have been inspired by island regular Tennessee Williams) and such a laid-back, quirky vibe. Three days in Key West was not nearly enough, and someday I’ll be back to visit the cats at the Hemingway House and indulge in another Papa Dobles at Sloppy Joe’s. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

Novel Destinations features a chapter about Ernest Hemingway’s days in Key West in the 1930s, which Joni researched and wrote. After reading her descriptions of Hemingway’s haunts on the island, I was inspired to visit and recently had the chance to do so. On the plane ride there from New York I read Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, which uses Key West and Cuba as its backdrops, and is his only novel set in the U.S.

The highlight in Key West was the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum, a two-story Spanish colonial-style house at 907 Whitehead Street. The rough-and-tumble charm of the U.S.’s southernmost city appealed to the writer, and it became his first home on U.S. soil after spending most of his adult life abroad. Located behind the house is Hemingway’s writing studio, where he worked on his semi-autobiographical novel A Farewell to Arms and other works.

The literary connection was enough to lure me to the Hemingway Home, but there was also another draw: the 50 or so cats that live on the property. Legend has it that a ship’s captain gave Hemingway a six-toed cat and the ones that live there today are its descendants. The cats have the run of the gorgeous grounds and the house, and the orange-colored Archibald even sleeps in Hemingway’s bed. That’s Archibald in the photo on the right at the cats’ drinking fountain; the bottom portion of the fountain is a urinal from a bar Hemingway frequented, Sloppy Joe’s.

Speaking of Sloppy Joe’s, my husband and I paid two visits to the raucous bar that has Hemingway’s photo and other memorabilia scattered throughout the place. I sampled the Papa Dobles, a cocktail invented for Hemingway and named for him. (If you’re flying in at night, the red neon “Sloppy Joe’s” sign is visible from the air.)

On the dining front, there was Blue Heaven (right), which serves up Caribbean-inspired food and has live music. Before the space was a restaurant, the courtyard that now serves as the dining area was the site of boxing matches occasionally refereed by Hemingway. Another restaurant recommendation is Santiago’s Bodega. Sadly there is no literary connection, but the tapas are excellent.

Look for Part 2 on my Key West adventures — and information about another famous literary figure who spent time on the island — next week…

–Shannon McKenna Schmidt

This week marks the centenary of Ian Fleming, the man who gave us the world’s most famous secret agent. The first stop for 007 fans should be London’s Imperial War Museum, which is hosting a major exhibition, illuminating both Fleming’s life and that of his famed spy, whose worlds were more intertwined than one might imagine. Admittedly, my husband had to drag me to the exhibit (payback, perhaps, for last year’s trip to Brontë Country) but I came away glad that I went, despite having only ever seen one Bond movie.

Much of the material on display is on view for the first time ever, including Fleming’s writing desk, a military jacket he wore while serving as a Commander in the British Naval Intelligence Unit, and the manuscript for his children’s book, Chitty Chitty Bang (who knew this multi-faceted military man, journalist and adventurer was also the imaginative force behind this children’s classic?!)

Film buffs like my husband will appreciate all of the exhibit’s movie memorabilia, like Daniel Craig’s bloodstained shirt from Casino Royale, Halle Berry’s bikini from Die Another Day and Goldfinger’s golf shoes. After leaving the museum, head across the river to swanky Dukes Bar in Mayfair, a one-time haunt of Fleming and home to the best martinis in London, which are served tableside and interestingly enough, are neither shaken nor stirred.

Hardcore fans should also make the 90-minute trip south of London to the National Motor Museum, which is home to many of the vehicles used on-set in the Bond films, like the Lotus Submarine Car from The Spy Who Loved Me and the Jaguar roadster from Die Another Day.

Having been so taken in by our Bond adventures over the past weekend, this Saturday I’ve agreed to accompany my husband to Borders on Oxford Street, which is holding a James Bond Day to celebrate the publication of Devil May Care, the new Bond adventure commissioned by the Fleming Estate and written by bestselling author Sebastian Faulks. In addition to in-store roulette wheels and quizzes testing our 007 knowledge, James Bond abseilers dressed in tuxedos are reportedly going to be scaling the store’s facade. Should be interesting! — Joni Rendon

[Image courtesy of the Imperial War Museum] 

We recently had the opportunity to chat with Girlfriendology.com, a website dedicated to celebrating women’s friendships. Our own friendship certainly grew in new and interesting ways during the course of the intense year we spent working transatlantically on our book, Novel Destinations. In the interview, we talk about what inspired us to write it and share some behind-the-scenes stories of the many wonderful literary sites we’ve been able to visit during our travels. If you’d like to listen in on our podcast, click here. You can also enter a contest to win a copy of our book, which is published next week. Happy listening!

 

 

 

Edith Wharton’s Berkshires estate, The Mount, opened today for the 2008 season.

I plan to visit the house and Italianate-style gardens, both of which were designed by Wharton, this summer. And if ever there was a time for bibliophiles to pay a visit to a literary landmark, this is it. The Mount is facing foreclosure, and a fundraising campaign has been launched to save the property, a National Historic Landmark. A significant amount of money still needs to be raised by May 31st. To see pictures of the house and gardens or to make a pledge (which won’t be called in unless the monetary goal is reached), go to www.edithwharton.org.

The Berkshires area is a paradise for literary travelers. In addition to The Mount, Lenox is also home to the Shakespeare & Company ensemble, which stages productions of the Bard’s works from May through October. In nearby Pittsfield is Arrowhead, Herman Melville’s farmstead and where he wrote Moby-Dick, and the Herman Melville Memorial Room at the Berkshire Athenaeum, which houses the world’s largest collection of memorabilia related to the writer. One of the items on display is his passport signed by Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was Melville’s overseas sponsor while serving as U.S. Consul in Liverpool, England. And last but not least, the Hawthorne House is a small red cottage where the novelist penned his gothic tale The House of the Seven Gables. It’s located on the grounds of Tanglewood, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer performance venue, and although it’s not open to the public it can be viewed from the outside.

This summer will be my first trip to the Berkshires, and I’ve already started my itinerary to make sure I don’t miss any of these literary sites and events. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

The literary lodging was one of the highlights during a road trip my husband and I recently took to Massachusetts and New Hampshire. The New England adventure began in Concord, Massachusetts, where we stayed at the charming Hawthorne Inn. We slept in the “Alcott Room” with a canopied bed, a bay window, and a view of The Wayside, the former home of Little Women author Louisa May Alcott and her family. (Nathaniel Hawthorne lived there in later years.)

Concord boasts an array of literary riches, including Orchard House, where Louisa May Alcott lived and set her famous tale about the March sisters; the Ralph Waldo Emerson Memorial House; and a replica of Henry David Thoreau’s cabin at Walden Pond. We enjoyed trekking around Walden Pond (at left) in the gorgeous weather, but by far the biggest surprise was the grounds of the Old Manse. The Old Manse was a farmhouse once owned by Emerson’s grandfather. The philosopher lived there for a time, as did a newly wed Nathaniel Hawthorne.

From the front it looks like an interesting but rather nondescript property. Once I rounded the side of the house, though, I was in for a surprise. A vast lawn slopes down to the Concord River, and there’s a great view of the North Bridge, where the first shots of the Revolutionary War were fired. (It was Pariots Day weekend, and the next morning we watched a battle re-enactment.) Even with the trees still bare, it was an impressive site. The grounds of the Old Manse adjoin Minuteman National Historical Park.

After leaving Concord we headed to Derry, NH, and were given a tour of the Robert Frost Farm (at left) by the wonderful Laura Burnham. Frost lived at the farm for more than a decade, and during that time he raised poultry and wrote poetry. Some of his most famous verse, including “Mending Wall,” was inspired by his time in Derry.

For our second night’s lodging, we stayed at Longfellow’s Wayside Inn in Sudbury, Massachusetts. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow used the establishment, which opened in 1716 as a tavern and lodging place, as the backdrop for his poetry collection Tales of a Wayside Inn. The Inn is a destination in itself and even has a walking tour brochure for exploring its sprawling acreage, which includes a working grist mill (at left), a one-room schoolhouse, wooded paths, a pond, and the not-yet-in-bloom Longfellow Rose Garden. The grand finale of our literary weekend was dining at the inn and then having a nightcap in the rustic Old Bar Room, one of the Wayside’s two orginal rooms. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt

This Saturday marks the start of England’s week long celebrations honoring Shakespeare, who would have turned 444 on April 23. Since I can’t make it out to Stratford this year, I hope to join one of this weekend’s Sonnet Walks in London, which highlight the Tudor history of the city in the accompaniment of twelve sonneteers.  

I’m also excited about the 2008 theatre season kicking off at the Globe with Wednesday’s performance of King Lear.  If you haven’t already got your hands on tickets to the season’s sold-out inaugural show, you can still join in the pre-performance birthday celebrations alongside the Thames, where a miniature Elizabethan theatre will be floating down the river before docking in front of the Globe.

But the ideal place to celebrate the bard’s birth is his Warwickshire birthplace of Stratford upon Avon, where an annual parade sets off next Saturday morning from his birthplace (pictured above) and culminates with the laying of floral tributes on the dramatist’s grave in Holy Trinity Church. Throughout the weekend, the town takes on the atmosphere of a lively Elizabethan carnival as musicians and members of “Shakespeare Live” stroll the streets performing scenes from the Bard’s repertoire.

Even if you can’t visit during the celebrations, Stratford is a must-see at any time of year because of its amazingly well-preserved Tudor architecture and its four Shakespeare-related properties. My favorite is Anne Hathaway’s cottage, an enchanting thatch-roofed dwelling surrounded by hollyhocks and climbing roses. It was in this fairytale setting where the bard wooed his future wife.

img_0322.jpg“Behold us,” Rudyard Kipling enthused in 1902, “lawful owners of a grey stone lichened house–AD 1634 over the door–beamed, panelled, with old oak staircase, and all untouched and unfaked.” After years of transiency and travels, the Bombay-born author of The Jungle Book and other tales had found “a real house in which to settle down for keeps” in the English countryside. Kipling went on to live in the sprawling Jacobean manor, known as Bateman’s House, until the time of his death thirty years later. 

As my book club is in the midst of reading Kim, set in colonial India and considered to be his masterpiece, I thought it would be fitting to journey down to Sussex and report back to the group what I’d gleaned about the domestic life of the beloved English author. Although I’ve visited dozens of author houses while researching Novel Destinations, Kipling’s home immediately became one of my favorites, perhaps because of its sheer splendor and old age or the fact that its original Jacobean decor (stone doors, 17th century oak panelled walls and floors, Inglenook fireplaces, etc.) remains remarkably intact. Equally interesting were the house’s austere, medieval-era furnishings, which, I learned, earned the Kiplings a reputation for having an  “uncomfortable hard-chaired home.”  

img_0325.jpgBateman’s remains almost exactly as the Kiplings left it, and among the many items that fascinated me were the bronze plaster wall hangings depicting characters from The Jungle Book,  created by the author’s ceramicist father. Although it was a rainy, blustery day, my husband and I enjoyed a walk around the multi-acre grounds to see Kipling’s pristine 1928 Rolls Royce and take in the pond and rose garden he designed himself and paid for with his 1907 Nobel Prize winnings. 

Prior to residing at Bateman’s, Kipling and his American wife lived for a few years in Dummerston, VT, in a custom-built home they christened “Naulakha“, a Hindi word meaning “jewel beyond price.” Today, the house (which is chock-full of its original furnishings, including Kipling’s pool table), can be booked as a vacation rental.

For deep-pocketed Kipling fans visiting London, I recommend a stay at Brown’s Hotel, built in 1837 by Lord Byron’s valet. The author penned portions of The Jungle Book during stays at the luxe hotel, and sadly, the Kiplings were lodging at Brown’s when the writer suffered a hemorrhage and was rushed to the hospital. He died of a perforated ulcer six days later on January 18, 1936, the day of his forty-fourth wedding anniversary.–JR

novel-destinations-second-edition-cover writersF

Enter your email address to follow Novel Destinations and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Instagram @NovelDestinations

Follow Shannon on Twitter

%d bloggers like this: