I was fortunate to be on two panels last week to talk about writing. The first was sponsored by the Worcester Women’s History Project, a wonderful group that provides great programs to teach us about the history of women in and around Worcester in all facets of life. Check out their web site for some of the intriguing lectures, films, gatherings, etc. that they hold. My panel was called Women in Print, and I was on the bill with Thea Aschkenase, and Stacy Amaral. Thea spoke on her memoir as a survivor of Nazi persecutions and life in a concentration camp, while Stacy shared with us on the rich blend voices singing from various immigrant ethnic communities in her book of interviews with Worcester citizens. I’m afraid, I was a bit humbled by their inspiring topics, but I think I could speak to the inspiration of earlier generations, on film and in real life, for people to open their minds and hearts. I was happy to pay special tribute to my parents, who taught me not only responsibility and respect for others, but to follow my dreams. And, yes, Yang did make the dress I’m wearing!
On Sunday, we took a lovely drive up to Arlington Vermont for me to join the Sisters in Crime New England panel, “The Modern Heroine.” The Martha Canfield Library is a lovely, cozy place, nestled in a valley and surrounded by beautiful Vermont mountains struggling toward green as the weather warms. As you can see, we still had some snow! The people at the library welcomed us and even provided a lovely cake to celebrate 30 years of Sisters in Crime. I joined forces with Ellen Berkeley Perry and Coralie Jensen. We had a wonderful group of people, of almost twenty, I think. They asked intelligent questions about writing and developing characters. Though my novel, set in the 1940s, might not have a, technically, modern heroine, I couldn’t help pointing out that the modern qualities of intelligence, wit, independence, determination, courage, and responsibility were strong, not only in the films of Joan Bennett, Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, and others but in the real, rather than reel, lives of women who worked in factories and offices, raised children, nursed on the battlefield, or ferried planes. It was a fun experience – and I even sold some books!
Last night, Yang and I had the magnificent thrill of seeing Mary Wilson perform her “Up Close and Personal” concert at Scullers Jazz Club. What a treat! Some time back, I was lucky enough to have heard from my friend Tom Ingrassia that Mary would be at Scullers, so Yang and immediately invested in tickets. I put on my best mini-diva outfit – I know I’m not in Mary’s league – and off we went for the evening. Wouldn’t you know that our table was right next to Tom and Barbara Ingrassia’s! We also met their friends Jay and Dennis – two nice guys! I’m just sorry we never got to take a picture with Tom and Barbara.
The concert was WONDERFUL! Mary has the perfect voice for dreamy ballads and swing and Latin styles, with her dark velvet vocals. Her combo backed her beautifully. She’s funny and warm and absolutely gorgeous! Not that I’m prejudiced. She did a soulful “Stormy Weather” and a version of “Both Sides Now” that is so thoughtful and feeling. She can also belt out songs with surging vibrancy or move you with soulful tenderness. Can you guess that I’m a big fan of Mary Wilson? Once you hear her perform, you’ll know why. I loved her in the Supremes, but now . . . sigh . . . The girl has arrived! I think it would be divine if she ever recorded an entire album of standards as Linda Ronstadt or Freda Payne or Sheena Easton have successfully done. Wouldn’t you love to hear what she could do with the soul-aching “I’ve Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good” and “It Never Entered My Mind” or the playful “Your Red Wagon”?
My friend Tom was kind enough to tip me off ahead of time to dash out right away to get in line for autographs. Tom was managing merchandise for Mary, but we had a chance to enthuse about the performance before Mme. Wilson joined us. Tom is an expert on all things Motown, has written intelligent and useful self-help books (as well as giving talks in both areas), and has a great radio program on WCUW 91.3FM, Motown Jukebox (Wednesday mornings). Check out his web site. Somehow, we didn’t get any pictures of Barbara, though!
Being a Gothic kind of a gal, I’ve been fascinated by the gargoyles I’ve found on churches in Worcester. There may be more than these three examples, but these churches caught my eye.
The first example is a single, friendly gargoyle that curves along a corner of the St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church on Southbridge Street. He gracefully curls his undercarriage toward you, his wings unfurl smoothly, and he seems to offer a friendly smile. Unlike traditional gargoyles, designed to scare away demons or to embody the sin and monstrosity lurking in the human soul, he almost seems to embody the thought that what we may judge monstrous, out of our own fears and prejudices, may actually be good and loving. An interesting thought, right?
All Saints’ Church has two gargoyle guardians on its tower. These fierce protectors are poised and ready take flight and dive bomb whatever demonic threats to the parish’s spiritual stability may lurk in the environs of Irving Street, Worcester, Ma. The church has played host to the Worcester State Chorale performances, and the acoustics for their exquisite singing was breath taking!
The final church has a veritable feast of gargoyles, although some have disappeared mysteriously since first I sighted them. Did they fly away? Don’t blink, then, Dr. Who fans! Originally, the Union Congregational Church but now the Presbyterian Church of Ghana, this building is magnificent. The church has been likened to a scaled down version of Notre Dame de Paris. Not as many gargoyles, but a respectable showing nonetheless. Apparently, the missing gargoyle did not fly off (no Mr. Norell around), but was removed and sold to clear debts (see WT&G story.) The gargoyles that remain are, indeed, something else. My husband and I took these photos early in January, when streams of frozen ice lent the creatures a special beauty. We see that this poor chap seems to be feeling the cold intensely. Perhaps he’s existing multi-dimensionally: here and on Dante’s ninth level of hell. Looks as if he has the satanic wings with which to create the freezing air. He’s clearly not enjoying himself.
Or maybe he’s just guarding the front entrance to the church against the incursion of demons with his pal here.
These are the only churches with gargoyles that I know of in Worcester. If you know of more, please let me know; I’d love to find them. I find it interesting that though the Protestant Reformation slammed the Catholic Church for superstitious, distracting, and gaudy decorations, none of these gargoyle-inhabited churches are Catholic. They’re all Protestant. Go figure – just don’t blink.
Many moons ago, back in grad school, my friend Andrea Rossi Reder told me about this wonderful museum of Medieval and Renaissance art, the Cloisters, that was constructed like a medieval cloistered monastery. It took me a few years to get there, but my husband and I visited one spring some time ago. It was a beautiful place, near Fort Tryon Park, overlooking the Hudson River. I not only enjoyed all the exquisite art and the ancient-styled construction, but loved wandering the herbal garden in the sun and warmth of spring. Last week, my husband proved is is indeed “goals” by taking me back there after another stretch of many years. This winter visit had charms of its own. I had forgotten just how much I enjoyed the museum.
After taking the A-train from the 125th St. station, we hopped the 100 Bus to St. Nicholas Street, then another subway, and we were right outside Fort Tryon Park. Crossing the park showed us the bleak beauty of winter, the red bar berry bushes, crimson hemlock berries, and the frosty-blue berries of another type evergreen. We even got to see a fluffy, black squirrel, rare in my neck of the woods. Then the Cloisters loomed through the trees against azure shading down to soft winter-blue skies .
These sculpture, likely not Medieval, greeted us as we made our way up the drive. We took turns guessing what the hell they were as we approached. I hit the jackpot with the conjecture of, “Pears?” For once, modern sculpture stuck in the middle of nature didn’t appear so terribly intrusive.
I like this shot of the arched entry way. Note the cobblestone drive way. We had to dodge a few not so Medieval buses dropping off passengers here. I’ll apologize in advance for not having pictures of Yang. We used his Ipad and I hate trying to take pictures with the darned thing.
After entering and moving through the great hall, we moved off to the side to the square surrounding the cloisters garden, now closed off from us by glass – allowing us to look out at the neatly mown ghost of the summer garden, while keeping the December cold outside. During the warmer months, this area is all open. When I visited Mont St. Michel and saw their cloister garden growing within the monastery, high atop the island mountain, I realized the inspiration for the Cloisters garden. Even with winter’s hand stilling the garden, the December sunshine filled the indoor court surrounding it with brightness and beauty. The carvings on the capitals of the columns were fascinating – humans, beasts (mythological and fanciful), gods – I could swear I saw C’thullu.
We went back into the building proper, then wandered from room to interconnected room, drinking in the sacred images culled from monasteries, churches, and castles – excited to find these treasures opened up to our experience, but, perhaps, a bit troubled that they had been stripped from their original homes. Still, here, they are restored, protected, and cherished. Towards the end of our meander, we came across this carved altar with the golden reliquaries of a saint and her attendants – I think St. Ursula.
Female and male martyrs of the early Church were honored in stained glass, wooden statuary, and paintings. There were tons of artwork of St. Margaret. However, in honor of my BFF Barbara, I have to include this statue of St. Barbara.
From the other side of the arch in the same chamber, here is one of my favorite statues of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. She is clothed in the sun and stands on the crescent moon. Just to the left, you can see a carving of St. Christopher bearing the child Jesus. These statues are more colorful than some of the others. I don’t remember if their paint had been restored. Most likely the case.
Here are some more particularly striking carvings of Virgin and Child. What must the colors have been like when this piece was even relatively new? The thought takes my breath away. If you can look closely at the folds of Mary’s robes and the strands of her hair, you’ll be filled with amazement at the workmanship. Truly, this work is a loving prayer.
So, Christmas noir? The opening of a lively chorus caroling and holiday cheering over Christmas cards displaying the credits evokes holiday spirit, except there’s always just the slightest manic edge to their liveliness creating a noir frisson. Then the chorus ends in a startled drop as the last card slips away to reveal a gun. Click here for a Silver/Ursini commentary on the opening.