Musings on Place, Travel, Books, Literature, Poetry, Literary Criticism, Collecting, Media, Life and the Arts
November 6th, 2014 • Posted in Cuba

Hemingway’s Cuba house – Finca Vigia

Ten miles east of Havana is Hemingway’s Cuba house – Finca Vigia, meaning “lookout house”.

Finca Vigia is located in the small, working-class town of San Francisco de Paula. Cubans have always respected the famous writer’s choice to live in a modest town, among the people he fished with.

Hemingway liked to type standing up

Built in 1886 by a Spanish Architect Miguel Pascual y Baguer, Finca Vigia was purchased by Hemingway in 1940 at a cost of $12,500. Here he wrote two of his most celebrated novels: For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. A Movable Feast was also written here.

After Hemingway’s death in 1961, the Cuban government took ownership of the property.

View of Havana from the tower on the property, atop which Hemingway had another study.

Learn more here

November 6th, 2014 • Posted in England

Hadrian´s Wall and Literature

By Angela Youngman

Standing on top of Hadrian’s Wall in Northumbria, it is easy to see how it has influenced writers.  It stretches out for miles in either direction, snaking across the countryside.  All around are heather covered moors, hills dotted with sheep, and great crags rising out of the landscape.  The Wall just goes up and over crags or any obstacles in its way.

It is a bleak landscape in which mists can rise quickly and in winter, the weather can be cruel.  For the Roman soldiers stationed here, it must have been a shock.  Emperor Hadrian gave a simple order – build a stone wall up to 20 feet, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the North Sea marking the northern most boundary of his empire.

Much of it still remains and it is possible to track the route all the way. At places like Steel Rig and Housesteads, a head for heights is essential as you have to scramble up pathways over rocks and boulders.

The influence on literature has been immense. Rudyard Kipling’s Puck of Pook’s Hill refers to a Wall acting as a barrier between the Romans and the native European tribes. Crossing the Wall results in a world that is transformed.  A similar idea was followed in Neil Gaiman’s Stardust.

Garth Nix, the Australian author of the Old Kingdom fantasy series said “I saw a photo of Hadrian’s Wall that had a green field on the southern side and snowy hills on the other. It looked like one side was summer and the other winter, and that’s where the Wall and the division of Ancelstierre from the Old Kingdom came from.’

By far the most well known is George RR Martin.  He visited Hadrian’s Wall late one afternoon when there were few people around.  It was a lonely, bleak setting. A fort in ruins, and a wall built to hold back a different cultural group. It was an image that stayed with him – and led to his creation of The Wall in Game of Thrones.

The best place to appreciate Hadrian’s Wall is at Housesteads. It contains the remains of one of the largest Forts along the Wall and is built sloping down from the outside of the Wall.  On the other side is a massive escarpment falling almost vertically for many feet.  On either side of Housesteads, the Wall just continues on and on.  Within only minutes of leaving the fort, you quickly become nothing more than a dot on the landscape.

November 5th, 2014 • Posted in Jamaica

Noel Coward´s Blue Harbour

Blue Harbour is an idyllic seven-acre estate with three private vacation villas built by famed British playwright-actor-songwriter-raconteur Noel Coward. The inn is located in Saint Mary’s province on Jamaica’s north coast, east of Ocho Rios and just before Port Maria. Coward called Blue Harbour his ´bolt hole,´ a place to go to when life became too frustrating.Eventually, because of the many celebs who visited, Coward built another bolt hole to get away from his bolt hole. Located a thousand feet above Blue Harbour, this second home is called ´Firefly´.

Coward once wrote that Jamaica is, “where my heart is.” He explained why a letter he wrote in the 1950s:  

“Last Night we took a thermos of cocktails up … and sat and watched the sun set and the lights come up over the town and it really was magical. The sky changed from deep blue to yellow and pale green and then all the colour went and out came the stars and fireflies…The view is really staggering, particularly when the light begins to go and the far mountains become purple against a pale lemon sky.” 

Visit the website, here.

November 5th, 2014 • Posted in Jamaica

Ian Fleming in Jamaica

Source: Banjoman1

Goldeneye was the name given by Ian Fleming to his estate in Oracabessa, on the northern coast of Jamaica. In 1946 he purchased the land and built his house on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a private beach and the Caribbean Sea. The original house, constructed from a sketch by Fleming, was a modest structure, windowed with wooden jalousies, consisting of three bedrooms and a swimming pool. It now operates as Goldeneye Hotel and Resort, an upscale hotel consisting of Fleming’s main house and several cottages.

Fleming claimed a number of origins for the name of the estate including Carson McCullers‘s Reflections in a Golden Eye and Operation Goldeneye, a contingency plan Fleming developed during the Second World War in case of a Nazi invasion of Gibraltar through Spain. 

Fleming negotiated a contract with his employers, The Times, whereby he could spend January and February of each year at Goldeneye; and on 17 February 1952 James Bond first appeared in Casino Royale. It was during these two months, each year, for the next fourteen years that he wrote all of his James Bond novels. A number of the Bond movies, including Dr. No and Live and Let Die, were filmed near the estate. In 1956 British Prime Minister Sir Anthony Eden and his wife Clarissa spent a month at Goldeneye after Eden’s health collapsed in the wake of the Suez Crisis. The attendant publicity helped to boost Fleming’s writing career.

In 1976, 12 years after Ian Fleming’s death, the property was sold to reggae musician Bob Marley. Marley sold the estate in 1977 to Island Records founder Chris Blackwell. Eighteen years later, the estate’s name would be the title of the seventeenth James Bond film, and the first to star Pierce Brosnan as James Bond.

Goldeneye is located in the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, which was established in 2011 to protect Oracabessa’s marine ecosystem. It is adjacent to James Bond Beach.

Check out the Fleming Villa here.

Source: adapted from Wikipedia.

October 30th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Oscar Wilde and Jian Ghomeshi

There are some interesting parallels between the circumstances surrounding the trials of Oscar Wilde and the situation that Jian Ghomeshi now finds himself in. 

Oscar, after learning that a defamatory card had been delivered to his club by the Marquis of Queensberry (father to one of Wilde’s lovers, Lord Alfred Douglas), decided to sue. On the card were the words ‘Oscar Wilde  posing  (as a) Sodomite’ (there is some uncertainty about the exact wording). Nonetheless, Oscar sued for libel. Queensberry subsequently rounded up a number of young men who were known to sell their favours, to testify against Oscar, contesting his claim that he was not a sodomite. In fact, they had been paid generously by Wilde to engage in homosexual acts. 

The result was that Oscar lost his case. He had to pay court costs, and, if I recall correctly, had to declare bankruptcy, due to the fact that Queensberry called in some debts. Anyhow, because of the evidence presented in the first trial, Oscar was prosecuted by the Crown on charges of gross indecency.  This is where the phrase ‘The love that dare not speak its name’ gained currency. It is from the poem “Two Loves” by Lord Alfred Douglas, published in 1894 and was commonly interpreted as a euphemism for homosexuality. By Wilde’s definition “ [..] it repeatedly exists between an older and a younger man, when the older man has intellect, and the younger man has all the joy, hope and glamour of life before him.” No matter. The jury found him guilty as charged and he was sentenced to two years hard labour. He came out a broken man, living out the rest of his tragically short life in France,  in poverty and in poor health. He died in a seedy Parisian hotel from a form of encephalitis. 

In today’s scandal the CBC is playing Queensberry to Ghomeshi’s Wilde. Suing the CBC is a doomed cause. Apparently members of a union (as Ghomeshi is) cannot sue their employers, and these same employers have the right to fire anyone whose private lives might diminish or besmirch their ‘brand’ or reputation. Meanwhile, witnesses are now coming forth to tell their BDSM sex stories to CBC audiences, complete with allegations of having been beaten by Ghomeshi, and corroborating the Toronto Star stories of Ghomeshi having had non-consensual, violent sex with multiple partners. 

Homosexuality at the time of Oscar’s trial (despite being practiced discreetly by many, including Queensberry’s eldest son) was as shocking as violent non-consensual sex is today. There is however one important difference between the cases. Unlike homosexuality, violence against women will never be accepted by societyIn fact it is an insult to Oscar Wilde to equate what he did, to what Ghomeshi has done. Nonetheless, if the comparison between these two situations is to hold, then, once Ghomeshi’s suit against the CBC has been thrown out, the Crown will press charges against him for assault, and other related illegal activities. 


October 23rd, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Where the Mind is Without Fear

In light of yesterday’s tragic events in Ottawa, and in tribute to Cpl. Nathan Cirillo, this poem:


 Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.

- Rabindranath Tagore

October 22nd, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Five Things You May Not Know About Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

New York, New York — October, 2014 – Marymount Manhattan College (MMC), a private liberal arts college on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is pleased to welcome author Tina Santi Flaherty on Sunday, October 26 at 2:00 p.m. Celebrating the commemorative edition of her book, What Jackie Taught Us, Mrs. Flaherty, a neighbor of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, will discuss “Five Things You May Not Know About Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.”

Here’s the press release:
Described as a “must read” by the Miami Herald, and raved about by critics and fans, What Jackie Taught Us: Lessons from the Remarkable Life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis offers readers insight into the life of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis as well as her lessons about how to live with grace, style, and strength.

Marymount Manhattan College has a rich tradition of cultivating female leaders in business, politics, and the arts. These include Geraldine Anne Ferraro ’56, the first female vice presidential candidate from a major political party; Adele DeCruz ’73, an art conservationist instrumental in developing cutting-edge lasers; and Rachel Lloyd ’02, founder of GEMS, an organization that supports women involved with human trafficking. In the spirit of applauding women in history, MMC is proud to host Tina Santi Flaherty for her book talk about an American icon. “We are thrilled to be welcoming an award-winning author to our campus during homecoming weekend,” explained MMC President, Judson R. Shaver, Ph.D. “Our entire college community, friends throughout NYC, and book lovers alike, are all eager to discover more about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and meet author Tina Santi Flaherty.

**This event is FREE and open to the public. Reservations are required. T reserve contact Caitlin Kirklin at 212-517-0471 or 
October 21st, 2014 • Posted in Nigel Beale's Biblio File Interviews

Audio: Glenn Dixon: Musical Tourist

Glenn Dixon has published two books. Pilgrim in the Palace of Words: a journey through the 6000 language of Earth was published in 2009 to rave reviews.  His second, Tripping the World Fantastic: a journey through the music of our planet just came out in April of 2013.  He has also published travel articles and cultural pieces in major publications such as National Geographic Magazine, the New York Post, the Walrus Magazine, the Globe and Mail and even Psychology Today.  He’s traveled through seventy countries now and worked on documentary films in Egypt, Tibet, Russia, Peru, Ecuador, Turkey and many others.

Dixon is a full time author, musician and documentary film maker.  He has three degrees including a Masters degree in socio-linguistics.  He lives and works in Calgary, Canada.

Please listen to our conversation about Tripping the World Fantastic here:


October 20th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

Beautiful new presentation of Dylan Thomas’s poetry

Dylan Thomas: Selected Poems book

2014 marks the centenary of Dylan Thomas’s birth. In celebration of this, The Folio Society has issued a new selection of his poems, notable, I’d say, not for the poetry which is well known, but for its deft presentation.

Black and white it is. And appropriately so, as these contrasting colours, if they may be called such, feature large in Thomas’s poetry. Most memorably, ” Bible-black”, but also “crow-black”, “tar-black”, “bat-black”. 

Pull the volume from its slipcase and the first thing you see on the front board is a striking black and white photograph of Dylan lighting a cigarette. The image is strongly reminiscent of one I recall seeing of John Lennon, another bard of sorts, another rock star – for Dylan was as popular as a rock star, something unheard of at the time for a poet. In fact, it is after him that Bob Dylan chose to name himself. 

The photograph’s whites beautifully capture the sheen of Dylan’s Lord Fauntleroy curls, the shine of his silk scarf, the flame of his match, the texture of his sweater. 

Opening the book you see the poet at work, in his own hand, text scattered across the end papers, complete with scratch outs and replacement words. Across from the title page, there’s a contact sheet, on glossy paper, that features six images of Dylan in various poses. Similar evocative photos of family and place illustrate and demark the collections from which these poems have been selected. 

The title page displays its text in a san serif font, upper and lower case, set beneath Thomas’s distinctive signature, complete with its little twirl on the “D”. Each poem in the book receives a bold san serif title, coupled with serifed text. 

The pages of the book provide ample ‘thumbage’ space, lending the type a stark, beautiful legibility against bright white paper. The book has an informative introduction by Owen Sheers, one of Wales’s leading authors, and a helpful, lengthy notes section at the back. 

Here’s how Sheers concludes his introduction:

Because, whatever his faults and excesses, he is a poet who we need to have in our lives. A reminder of the nature of the human condition, stripped bare of intellectual masking. A reminder of the natural world given voice with suitable drama and strange wonder. And a reminder that poetry has its roots in music, and always will.

While Thomas’s poems are well known, those chosen here are judiciously selected, and beautifully presented. 

Order your copy here.


October 19th, 2014 • Posted in Authors and Books

The strangely similar deaths of Oscar Wilde and Edgar Allan Poe

Okay, after having recently read Ellmann’s biography of Oscar Wilde, and just finished Kenneth Silverman’s biography of Edgar Allan Poe, I’m getting a little tired of authors who die miserably, in extremely squalid circumstances. Oscar died poverty-stricken in a seedy Parisian hotel – Edgar broke, in hospital, after having been rescued from a dive bar, drunk or stoned/medicated out of his tree, wearing someone else’s clothing. Oscar was diagnosed with encephalitic meningitis, probably brought on by syphilis contracted as a young man. Here’s Ellmann:

“At 5.30a.m., to the consternation of Ross and Turner, a loud, strong death rattle began, like the turning of a crank. Foam and blood came from his mouth during the morning, at ten minutes to two in the afternoon Wilde died…He had scarcely breathed his last breath when the body exploded with fluids from the ear, nose, mouth and other orifices The debris was appalling.”

As Ellmann puts it in the epilogue:

“It was ostracism – more or less – by two groups, those who could not bear his homosexuality and those who could not bear his requests for money.” “English law had misdone him by punishment, and English society finished him off by ostracism”

According to Joseph Evans Snodgrass, the Baltimore editor and physician who rescued Poe from Gunner’s Hall tavern in Baltimore, “Poe was sitting in an armchair surrounded by onlookers”. Silverman continues “Poe had a look of “vacant stupidity.” He wore neither vest nor tie, his dingy trousers fit badly, his shirt was crumpled, his cheap hat soiled. Snodgrass thought he must be wearing castoff clothing, having been robbed or cheated of his own.” A Dr. John J. Moran at the Washington Medical College hospital, to which Poe was driven, “diagnosed Poe’s condition as encephalitis, a brain inflammation, brought on by “exposure.” This explanation is consistent with the prematurely wintry weather at the time, with Snodgrass’s account of Poe’s partly clad condition, and with Elmira Shelton [a love interest]‘s recollection that on leaving Richmond Poe already had a fever. Both explanations may have been correct: Poe may have become too drunk to care about protecting himself against the wind and rain. Whatever the cause, the poet who above all others worshipped Poe also keenly sensed how much his death at the age of forty was demanded of him. “This death was almost a suicide,” Charles Baudelaire remarked, ” a suicide prepared for a long time.” Both Oscar and Edgar were buried with fewer than 15 people attending each of their funerals. Today both graves receive the attention of thousands of literary pilgrims. I’m hoping the subject of the next literary biography I read wont end quite so tragically.  Here’s the Literary Tourist list of all things Edgar Allan Poe.