Lately I have been devouring Arthur Phillips' "Prague." It's set in Budapest. While I was only physically there for two days, I've written two plays set there, so my mind was living there for a good two years. Phillips' expats (mostly American, though there's one Canadian) are fascinating to me. And I think I'm probably a little jealous I didn't run over to Eastern Europe for a few years after the Wall fell. It's very hard to put down, which I don't say about much contemporary fiction.
One of the great treats of living in New York City is our neighbors' generosity with their libraries. Someone in my apartment building, with remarkably similar literary tastes, got rid of a carton of books yesterday. I managed to come home with eleven of them, which will hold me for subway reading for awhile. So that's a good day right there.
Last night I finished watching the four-part British TV series about Benjamin Disraeli. It's a little slow-moving, and dated, but Ian McShane really gives an amazing performance. (Not to mention the fact that in his youth, he's cute as a button and wears as many gold chains as any self-respecting rapper) He goes from the young Ben the novelist to the elder statesman who Queen Victoria sends flowers from her Windsor garden. It was made by the BBC in 1978, and it's on Netflix.
A few days ago, I was thinking about someone I went to college with. He was a poet, and grew up in Traverse City, Michigan. We were friendly our first year (maybe we were in a class together), but lost track of each other after that. I hadn't thought of him in years. And then this morning, when I was reading yesterday's New York Times' Book Review, I saw his name. His new book about soldiers in Afghanistan, "Horse Soldiers," was reviewed on the cover. Good for you, Doug Stanton! The illustration is from the Times' review.
In last week's New Yorker, there was a Talk of the Town piece by David Owen about City Island (City Island Postcard: At Sea). It mentions its proximity to Hart Island, where the City's potter's field is. I knew that Hart Island was somewhere in the East River, but I didn't know where. Nor did I know exactly what's buried there: "still-born infants, unclaimed and indigent people of all ages, and amputated limbs." The gravediggers are prisoners from Rikers. What I did not realize is that buried among the indigent is the novelist Dawn Powell. I knew that she didn't die well off, but I didn't realize it was quite so bad as all that. One gets to Hart Island on a ferry from City Island. It served as a prisoner-of-war camp during the Civil War. When I was a child, our family visited an island in Lake Erie (near Sandusky) that served as a Civil War prisoner-of-war camp. So many grave markers- they went on and on. I had dreams about it for years. The graves, and the causeway from the mainland that was so narrow two cars couldn't pass each other.
My friend James got me my first job when I moved to New York. It was stage managing a play he was in at Theatre for the New City called "Title: Nietzsche," written and directed by Dr. Larry Myers. Larry and I went on to become friends, and I studied playwriting with him after his show closed- it was his way of paying me for the work I'd done. Many years later, we are still in touch. Larry has two shows coming up. The first is "Car Sleepers & Tent City Folk," based on interviews he conducted with homeless people in Los Angeles (we've seen the people living in the cliffs along the Pacific Coast Highway way- it's really strange to us), San Diego, Venice and St. Petersburg, Florida. It will premiere at Theatre for the New City (First Avenue at Tenth Street) for three days this summer (no dates yet). Larry is playing All the roles. He then (as actor, playwright and director) tours to San Francisco, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Columbus (Ohio) and Ocean Grove (New Jersey). As if that isn't enough (it's exhausting for me just to write about it), his long-aborning play about Lily Dale (where the mediums congregate upstate) is being staged in Lily Dale the first week of August. It features an "all-medium cast" playing Mae West, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Harry Houndini (aka Erich Weiss of East 90th Street- he lived across the street from the Marx Brothers), Susan B. Anthony and Abraham Lincoln. Dr. Myers teaches at St. John's University. In his free time, he's writing an authorized book about Edward F. Albee.