Words on Books Visits the East Coast

Trip Start Nov 29, 2005
Trip End Dec 13, 2005

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Flag of United States  , California
Friday, December 16, 2005

WORDS ON BOOKS by Tony Miksak for KZYX&Z-FM, 90.7 Philo CA
Airs Sun. December 18, 2005 at 10:55 am, repeated Monday, Dec 19 at 8:30 am
Title: A Crocheted Christmas, For Sure

(MUSIC UP) This is Tony Miksak with a few Words on Books.

I think The Holiday, or was it Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanzaa, Pagan Solstice, whatever... I think the whole thing peaked last Thursday morning at about 11 a.m.

It's downhill from here, so you may as well take that nap you've been missing. It's already too late to get packages to the East Coast. The elves at Macy's are tired of smiling, and anyway, you're out of cash money.

You'll recall THIS was going to be the year you didn't spend money you don't have on presents they won't appreciate. Instead, you planned to craft darling crocheted things to wear. You've collected a killer selection of fall leaves and arranged them artfully in a yard sale dish. This year you'll donate to Marine Mammal Center instead of Target.

Or not. It's ineffably difficult to resist the pull of Commercial Christmas Past, those nostalgia-fired memories of shopping with your parents, touring Ghiradelli Square in the rain in San Francisco, shoplifting at Radio Shack... well, each to her own memory.

We're not stupid, of course. We sniff the Zeitgeist like dogs sniff trees. We know the culture's changing, yet where we are now, living through December, 2005, it's impossible to prepare for what we sense is pending. In the meantime, Amy Goodman reports the news from her firehouse in Manhattan. We maintain our traditions, the country has its war, whatever. Fill in the blanks and check out the sale goods.

It appears we lost an entire city down Louisiana way, and few yet have noticed. We're creating another lost generation of maimed and damaged soldiers and no one's dealing with that, either.

Amid all this, Joselyn and I spent the past couple of weeks on the East Coast.

I took along Philip Roth's frightening novel "The Plot Against America" and at a museum shop picked up a copy of Frederic Morton's "A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888 - 1889."

Either book would chill the holiday right out of a reader. Roth's plausible portrait of American anti-semitism is coldly horrifying. Morton's description of old Imperial Vienna lays out a suicidal society about to step into the abyss with Freud, Mahler, Herzl, Klimt, Wolf and Bruckner struggling to survive the fall. And in Upper Austria Klara Hitler is pregnant with a male child.

With these horrifying portrayals in mind, we traveled to Philadelphia, The City of Brotherly Love. It now takes a security check and a "free ticket," whatever that may be, to view the Liberty Bell in its hermitically sealed, security-enhanced, mummified place of honor.

Why the frisk, the metal detector, the bomb sniffing dogs? It's a bell, for Washington's sake. It's a ton of old bronze, and it's cracked, by the way. I almost fainted from the irony (and the freezing wind) as I watched police and Wackenhut Security Services thugs prevent pedestrians from crossing the street to view the outside - the outside only, mind you, of Independence Hall where Congress met to write our Constitution.

We walked away. Liberty ain't what it used to be.

In Manhattan, however, the old magic still works. The throngs striding south along Fifth Avenue were matched by the throngs marching north. They met at each intersection and, like magic, passed through each other on their way to the Christmas windows at Lord & Taylor's or the sparkling nuggets at Tiffany. Long coats and icy puddles, red noses dripping in the cold wind, the Salvation Army ringing bells.

We stayed in a relatively reasonable hotel on the West Side near Central Park. Within feet of our front door was Niko's, the neighborhood Greek restaurant open to midnight; a hamburger joint named Nick, the finest grocery store I've ever encountered, a locksmith, a shop run by Asians selling custom cream puffs (injected with trans-fats before your eyes), a Body Shop, a Papyrus card shop, a couple of banks, a bunch of high rise apartment buildings, and so much more.

In one building, we estimated, live 1600 people on 47 floors. That's one and a half Mendocinos, six elevators, two doormen, a Starbucks, an Italian restaurant and a pocket piazza, all together in one amazing city that's full of places like this, plus the open spaces of Central Park and more world-class museums and galleries than you can visit in a year.

Returning to Mendocino I walked out for lunch and worried that the one other person I could see, striding toward me a block away on the opposite sidewalk, might collide with my hot coffee.

Life is different here, and we recycle better. But hey, it's exciting away, too.

(MUSIC UP) You can subscribe to the email version of Words on Books by writing to amiksak@mcn.org. You always can reach me directly at (707) 937-2215.


"The Plot Against America: A Novel" by Philip Roth. Random House Knopf paperback $14.95. ISBN 1400079497.

"A Nervous Splendor: Vienna 1888 / 1889" by Frederic Morton. Penguin paperback $15.00. ISBN 014005667X.

As if WOB wasn't enough bother for you, I've got a blog going on our trip to NYC. You can catch it here, and if you visit, please leave me a note so I'll know you were there: http://www.travelpod.com/members/amiksak
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