Portrait of the artist

OK, exhale! The literary world, as well as the less literate crowd drawn to these semi-literate ramblings, all of you, you’ve all been waiting with bated breath to hear who had the best comments to make about the psychedelic photo I added to my ABOUT THE AUTHOR page.

Go ahead. Click on it. It’s still there. Enjoy one more laugh, one last laugh, before I make the photo — taken with a cellphone camera, then manipulated with Photo Shop — disappear.

A few weeks back, I asked for comments — Like it? Hate it? Don’t care? Get a face transplant? — and promised to pick a winning comment fpr special mention in “World of Wonders.”

Some of you — not to name names, but we’re talking about my writer friends Steve Hart and Christian Bauman — offered literary comments that sailed right over my head.

Steve’s offering:
You know how damned lifelike Pickman’s paintings were — how we all wondered where he got those faces.
Well — that paper wasn’t a photograph of any background, after all. What it showed was simply the monstrous being he was painting on that awful canvas. It was the model he was using — and its background was merely the wall of the cellar studio in minute detail. But by God, Eliot, it was a photograph from life!

H.P. Lovecraft, “Pickman’s Model”

Bauman got literary, too:
You have talked so often of going to the dogs—and, well, here are the dogs, and you have reached them.
George Orwell, “Down and Out in Paris and London”

Daughter Laura, who was raised to be honest and blunt, went for the honest and blunt approach:
The photo of you on your Web site is extremely scary. It makes you look old and sad.
She went on to kindly suggest that maybe her artist/photographer sister might be able to take a better photo of me.

Friend Lynn, who knew me in high school, offered this interesting insight:
Can’t say that I like it. It doesn’t define your finer qualities nor could you be identified by it in case of an emergency. That said it does shows a slightly out of focus wild side of you.
Lynn scores some points here, by suggesting that it might be impossible for any photo to capture my, ahem, “finer qualities,” and she also racks up big-time bonus points with the reference to my “wild side!”

Friend Adrienne went for the clever and funny but supportive approach:
An artist is somebody who produces things that people don’t need to have.” -Andy Warhol
Need I say more? Ok. How about “I had a lot of dates but I decided to stay home and dye my eyebrows.” -Andy Warhol Just kidding! You are looking a bit Warholesque in this photo.
However the most fitting in describing you would be: “I lived to write, and wrote to live.” -Samuel Rogers

Friend Keith Strunk, my co-conspirator in staging the annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, also went for tactful, but with a clear message, basically suggesting that the wacky Warholesque portrait doesn’t at all match my warm and friendly personality — and that the photo in question would not enable people to recognize me as they passed me on the street — not unless my head was blue and green and red and all psychedelic swirls.

Former workmate Chuck Pizar scores humor points by suggesting that photo makes me look like a combination of Max Headroom:

and Flattop from the “Dick Tracy” comics and movies.

But another former workmate, Laura Evans, wins induction into the World of Wonders Hall of Fame for this:
You know I never realized you bear a resemblance to The Hoff aka David Hasselhoff of Knight Rider and Baywatch fame.

And to prove her point Laura included this link:

The best response of all, I won’t describe in detail, except to say that the instructions for taking a true author photo of me included the suggestion that the shot be snapped with “a backdrop of nature – stark winter nature. (Bare trees with either gray or blue sky.)”

This thought was on my mind when son Matthew and I scaled a mountainside in southern Vermont a few weeks back, nearly killed ourselves on our way down the icy slopes, and he took this picture — on a cellphone camera, after our adventure, just to document that I had survived — scraped, sweaty, slightly out of breath (and, in case anyone’s getting the wrong idea, this description also applied to 20-year-old Matthew) — our wilderness adventure. So here’s something closer to the real me —

Is that really a photo of David Hasselhoff mountain-climbing in Vermont?


Sarah Palin, Bob Dylan and the Federation of Light (and, oh, did I mention the Apocalypse?)

OK. I admit it. My name is Nicholas D. and I am addicted to continually checking to see how many daily, weekly and monthly visits have been recorded by the ever-increasing legion of fans who faithfully read World of Wonders.

OK. I’m indulging in a bit of hyperbole. “Legion” might be a stretch and “fans” might be overstating my case. But I started this blog and this Web site just about three months ago, and all I can say is I’ll be damned — hundreds and hundreds of people have found this site and taken the time to read my writing, and the number (and this I’m not exaggerating) of visitors has ALREADY DOUBLED for the month of October.

Doubled? Doubled! How did that happen? I’d like to think it has something to do with a spreading public perception that I’m a provocative, witty, entertaining and shockingly under-published writer of essays and fiction.

But I also know that whenever I write about certain topics, search-engine generated visits soar. A lot of people google various terms and expressions and topics related to death, for example. A decent number of people have found my site when they looking for information about my old hometown of Yonkers, N.Y.  A lot of “hits” have resulted when I wrote about the great singer and activist Pete Seeger or when I’ve described my travels in the great state of Vermont.

But four topics have proven to be the hottest topics of all: Bob Dylan, UFO visits by the Federation of Light, Sarah Palin and the Book of Revelation’s description of the Apocalypse. Anytime I mention one of those topics, I generate hundreds more visits to my Web site.

So that’s why it’s incredibly fortunate that I just happened be browsing the Web and found this news report that I’m sure everyone’s already talking about:

Sarah Palin has announced that she’s left Todd Palin, and is moving out of their home in Alaska, and is moving to Malibu to live with her new boyfriend Bob Dylan. What’s more, when Bob Dylan and Sarah Palin held a joint conference this morning in Alabama, where Dylan was performing and Palin was campaigning, they also announced that Palin had been appointed ruler “of Alaska and Russia and all of the rest of those other countries that I know are out there” by the leaders of our great alien masters, the Federation of Light, and that Dylan had been give the job of writing the new world anthem.  Palin also added, and I quote,”Thanks to the great folks with the Federation of Light, and I’d specifically like to mention Andy the Alien and Eddie the E.T. and Ray the Ray Gun Operator, those great alien mavericks, we’ve also managed to postpone what would have been the Apocalypse if we hadn’t complied with our alien friends of the Federation of Light!”

Don’t believe me? Can thousands of readers of Nicholas DiGiovanni’s World of Wonders be wrong?

Say “Cheese!”

Got a few nice emails from the person who handles the blog on the Web site for the largest employer and only industry in Cabot, Vermont  — asking for permission to post the essay I wrote here recently titled “Curds and Whey.”  I guess this proves the old saying “Where there’s a will, there’s a whey…” Anyway, check in about a week at www.cabotblog.com and you should find my essay about touring the Cabot creamery!

And miles to go…

Whose woods these were I already knew — they surrounded the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in South Shaftsbury, Vermont, just north of Bennington.

Here’s a photo of the house:

The place is located on Route 7A, which must have been a dirt road when Frost and his family lived there in the 1920s but is now a two-lane, paved 50 mph roadway. And there’s not much in the house that actually belonged to Frost — just a sofa and a couple of bedroom dressers from OTHER houses Frost lived in.

But the place has a nice, informative display, filling the walls of two rooms, with photos, historical information, commentaries on Frost’s poetry, Frost’s own cagy comments on the commentaries, audio interviews with Frost — and, best of all, the news  that right there in the house’s dining room was where Frost sat down at the dining room table and wrote a poem you may have heard of:

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

In the above photo of the front of Frost’s house, those two windows at the right — one now partially blocked by the tree — are where Frost looked out from the dining room and across the road to a field, also now blocked about 90 years later by a row of trees, as he wrote his poem.

As the museum exhibit makes very clear, Frost mocked critics who read too much into his poems. On the other side of the spectrum from those critics are people who think of Frost as American poetry’s answer to Grandma Moses — an updated John Greenleaf Whittier.

The critics, of course, are much, much closer to the truth, although on one level Frost was certainly a nature poet. But Frost’s poems have a somber side, both in tone and theme, and their simple beauty and plain talk often mask something disconcerting… and dark…and deep. Frost denied it, but tell me “Stopping By Woods…” isn’t (possibly) about suicide and (certainly) about death. 

I recently discussed Frost’s beautiful “The Oven Bird” with a colleague and told him I thought the poem was deep down an existential, almost Zenlike contemplation on the moment in time and point in space that’s exactly between then and now, here and there, living and dying.  

Anyway, I will never forget the feeling of knowing I was standing in the very room where Robert Frost wrote that great poem. It was the same feeling as visiting Emily Dickinson’s home in Amherst, and looking up at the window where she once looked out at the world, and imaging catching a glimpse of that odd and reclusive genius flitting past the pane in her long white dress.

Here’s a link to the Frost museum’s Web site, which is Frosty enough to quench the thirst of even the most devout devotee of the great poet: http://www.frostfriends.org/

You can even buy an apple-tree seedling grown from an apple tree planted by Frost himself! And so, in conclusion, not his famous poem “After Apple-Picking,” but another Frost poem inspired by apples:

A scent of ripeness from over a wall.
And come to leave the routine road
And look for what has made me stall,
There sure enough was an apple tree
That had eased itself of its summer load,
And of all but its trivial foliage free,
Now breathed as light as a lady’s fan.
For there had been an apple fall
As complete as the apple had given man.
The ground was one circle of solid red.

May something go always unharvested!
May much stay out of our stated plan,
Apples or something forgotten and left,
So smelling their sweetness would be no theft.

Priorities and the priory

It’s a nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there.

I’m referring to the Weston Priory, a Benedictine monastery in southern Vermont in the vicinity of Manchester, Londonderry, Peru and, obviously, Weston, southeast of Rutland.

Here’s a nice photo of the pond, where I’ve spent some pleasant hours just sort of sitting there, closing my eyes and shifting into relaxation mode, sometimes opening my eyes to admire the surrounding mountains or watch herons land in the pond, sometimes strolling around the grounds and checking out the brothers’ vegetable garden, their small barnyard and even the community burial ground tucked into a hillside near the woods on the opposite side of the pond.


Beautiful place. And because of my friendship with the late poet Robert Lax, I became an admirer of the writings of the most famous monk of 20th century, Thomas Merton. So I’ll find myself sometimes thinking that living at Weston Priory — living a simple life of contemplation in such a beautiful place — wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

But consider the daily schedule at the place:

4:45: Rising
5:00: Morning Vigil Prayer
5:30- 6:00: Common Sitting Meditation Reflective Reading of Scripture
6:00- 7:30: Personal Prayer, Pick-up Breakfast in Silence
7:30: House Chores
8:00: Personal Study Time
9:00-11:55: Work with Brothers
12:15: Lunch (Main Meal)
1:30: Midday Prayer
1:45- 4:30: Optional Work With Brothers, Personal Time, or Value Discussions
5:15: Evening Prayer, Eucharist
6:15: Supper (Lighter Meal)
7:00: Recreational Gathering
8:00: Compline (Night Prayer)

Then add in the fact that I happen to like interactions with women and actually married a very beautiful one, who was actually with me when I visited Weston Priory.

Throw in the little problem that I think organized religion, or at least the organizers of it, tap into three basic human failings: Ignorance, fear and arrogance.

Those are all very good reasons why I could never become a monk and live at Weston Priory. But here’s the main reason: When I was there a few weeks ago, I encountered one of the brothers. He was walking toward me, lost in thought, his head bowed in contemplation and prayer. I thought I heard music coming from somewhere in the distance, and I commented: “Do you hear that? Is someone playing music?” And he replied: “That’s Brother ____. He’s sitting in the woods playing his recorder.”

I could probably live the life of a sort-of-a[-hermit like my friend Lax, who lived quietly and simply in a little house on the Greek island of Patmos, spending almost all of his time just writing and thinking and silently reveling in the basic beauty of life.

But I know Bob Lax would have laughed just at the thought of Brother ____ spending his afternoon sitting in the woods playing his recorder, probably sitting by a babbling brook and happy little birds were fluttering around and landing on his shoulders and singing along to the blissful brother’s music.

Nice place to visit and I’m sure I’ll visit again. No way I could live there — I’d get to the point where the goddamn recorder music would finally get to me and I’d end up breaking every single one of St. Benedict’s rules.


Rock of ages

Sometimes I feel this need to write about something for no other reason than to get it in writing, to put it into words, to somehow “memorialize” it, to enter it into the record — into the transcript of my life. This is one of those occasions — I feel this need to scribble down a few facts and a few thoughts about one of my favorite places — the Dorset Inn and the town of Dorset, Vermont.

The Dorset Inn’s just a great place. Wonderful food. A great, comfortable, throwback sort of elegance — my favorite things are to just sit out on the porch with a cup of coffee in the summertime or to just sit in front of one of the old fireplaces during the winter — warming drink of some sort in one hand and a good book in the other. Here’s a link to the Dorset Inn’s Web site: www.dorsetinn.com.

And here’s a photo of what the place looked like at the turn-of-the-century. It still looks very much like this but the dirt roads are now paved:

Anyway, here’s the thing about Dorset. First time I ever stayed there, it was simply happenstance. I was looking for a nice bed-and-breakfast inn to stay at during a trip to Vermont, checked all the usual print and online sources like Fodor’s and Mobil and travelocity.com, and just happened to choose the Dorset Inn.

Dorset is quite the affluent town, and that affluence traces back at least in part to the fact that the town once did a booming business in high-quality marble mined from several quarries within the municipality’s boundaries. Just down the road from the Dorset Inn is one of the old quarries, now filled with water and a popular swimming hole. 

From those Dorset quarries, it turns out, came the marble for two American landmarks. Blocks of marble from Dorset were used to build the glorious main branch of the New York Public Library, the one at Bryant Park and 42nd Street in Manhattan. the one with the granite lions standing guard at the gates of knowledge. And slabs of marble from Dorset were used as the gravestones for more than 5,000 of the soldiers buried at Gettysburg.

Gettysburg, of course, inspired Abraham Lincoln to his greatest moral and oratorical heights. And Dr. Charles Leale, the physician who was the first to treat the mortally wounded Lincoln,  happens to be buried at Oakland Cemetery in Yonkers, where many of my relatives on my mother’s side, the Crooks and Nash families, are buried. That’s the sort of cosmic convergence that prompted me to dub this site “World of Wonders.”

And it all reminds me of “To the Stone-Cutters,” the great poem by Robinson Jeffers:

    Stone-cutters fighting time with marble, you fore-defeated
    Challengers of oblivion
    Eat cynical earnings, knowing rock splits, records fall down,
    The square-limbed Roman letters
    Scale in the thaws, wear in the rain. The poet as well
    Builds his monument mockingly:
    For man will be blotted out, the blithe earth dies, the brave sun
    Die blind, his heart blackening:
    Yet stones have stood for a thousand years, and pained thoughts found
    The honey peace in old poems.

Moose hunting


Many people have asked if I managed to spot any moose during my recent sojourn in the Northeast Kingdom region of Vermont, way up north where many of the roadsides have these signs that say MOOSE CROSSING.

 Well, truth is, that whole week in Vermont I spotted only one moose, which was standing along the side of a dirt road near the Quebec border, apparently begging for food. I had been told not to stop for moose, because  these very large animals can be very dangerous, especially when they’re hungry. But I did manage to quickly snap this single photo:

Yes, I thought the same thing — the photo’s of surprising good quality considering that I snapped it from a moving car with a disposable camera. And no, I will not disclose the exact location of my moose sighting, just in case Sarah Palin decides to make a campaign stop in Vermont.