Tag Archives: Imagination

Pittsburgh is my Paris (A Bibliophile’s Dream)

by Kate

I have never been to Paris in the flesh. Like any self respecting reader, though, I have lived in the Paris of the imagination, transported by the pages of hundreds of books. And so in the midst of a long walk on a cold, grey autumn day I knew that was exactly where I was. It was the Paris of my imagination on a Pittsburgh afternoon.

First we came upon a flower vendor, selling roses in the rain.

Before I moved to Pittsburgh, I had a great deal of trouble reconciling the fact that flower venders in literature had such a low social standing. It was hard for me to accept the fact that Eliza Doolittle was so very declasse. I lifted my nose out of the book and puzzled over it several times. I could not personally imagine a more pleasant prospect than to be surrounded by masses of flowers on the streets of a great city. Then I arrived in the city. I was fascinated to note the flowersellers standing on streetcorners in the burning sun and driving sleet, doggedly offering bunches of roses and clenching cigarettes in their teeth, many of which were missing. The portrayal of flower venders in fiction began to make much more sense.

Beyond the flower man is a long, high stone wall. I loved the way this picture captured the texture of the weathered stone set against Christina’s cable knit sweater and angora beret.

The wall leads to a castle like tower and gatehouse for the Allegheny Cemetery.

Storm clouds were rolling in, which made for some dramatic scenes through the stone arches at the gates.

I think this is the most beautiful ironwork I have ever seen. It reminds me not of Paris, but of Trinity by Leon Uris. I love that book.

Christina is a librarian and a dreamy medieavalist and Europhile. She looked entirely at home under these low stone arches.

The Allegheny Cemetery is beautiful, particularly in the autumn.

In keeping with our Parisian theme, I took a picture of this tall and dignified edifice against the gloomy sky. Take a close look at the name on the tomb.

Back on the city streets, Olympia’s attention was completely captured at this shop window.

Olympia loves this store because there are cats curled up in the window. It is impossibly alluring.

Christina and I loved the store because it is that rarest of things, a new Independent Bookstore.

We entered the store and found a beautiful space for the imagination…

There were lots of appealing nooks and crannies.

And a unique and lovely sense of aesthetics- even if I secretly want the painting in this picture without the head of a cat painted onto the woman in a red gown. You’ll just have to use your imagination.

The lovely aesthetic seems to stem from a studio of some sort, glimpsed through the back of the bookstore.

Evidently the shop is run by a couple of artists with great taste. Very Parisian of them, in my opinion.

Wouldn’t you like to buy one of these books and curl up under this window on a rainy autumn afternoon?

If you are in Pittsburgh (or planning to visit) I highly encourage you to check out Awesome Books at 5111 Penn Ave in Garfield. While you’re there, pick up a copy of local author Brian O’Neill’s book The Paris of Appalachia. It’s on my list- if you beat me to it, let me know how it is.

Canterbury Castle in the Sky

by Kate

 I read too much. I know the current emphasis is all on coaxing and bribing kids to read more, as though reading is an unalloyed virtue in and of itself. It isn’t. There are lots of trashy and downright awful books out there along with the good ones, and then there are the reams of  pure fluff. Sometimes I compare and contrast the current vogue for praising any and all reading with the stern Victorian admonitions against novels and wonder which school of thought is more realistic.  In any case, reading is an incredibly effective escapist past-time, which comes in really handy when you are growing up in a howling mob of nine children. My father, who never attends a sports event without a stack of magazines and library books, can attest to this.

The exorbitant amount of time that I spent reading while growing up fed an equally extravagent imagination.  I ran through the woods in torn silk remnents of bridesmaids dresses which caught on brambles and burrs but didn’t deter me from the palace grounds of my imagination. When I was 15, I became enamoured of donning a long thick cloak and wafting about the ridgetops in the mist, singing little ballads and pretending I was in Ireland. My brothers, who milked cows and had actual social interactions with our neighbors, were deeply humiliated and begged me to stop.

Luckily for me, I have been able to take this penchant for bringing the drama of novels into ordinary life and channel it into my work as a harpist. When I play the harp in public I make sure to dress the part. Voluminous ballgowns, pearls, hair flowing down the middle of my back- it adds much more depth to the performance, in my opinion, and also makes up for my rather mediocre skills and repertoire. I really think it works. I may not be a virtouso, but I am confident that I bring joy to the audiences I play for. These audiences are often made up of senior citizens, at retirement homes. Many of them are partially deaf. In that case the costume is more than half of the performance.

Recently I have begun playing often at Canterbury Place, a huge rambling stone and glass structure at the top of the steep hill running up my street. The original building was an Episcopal Church Home built 150 years ago as a home for orphans and elderly women living in genteel poverty. In the 1980’s, a massive addition was completed, with a glass walled aerie six floors up overlooking the city of Pittsburgh.

The only picture that I have that shows the size of the whole building is this one, with Canterbury Place in the background.

Yesterday, I was asked to play for the cocktail hour preceding a candlelight dinner for the residents. My harp was already there, tucked in a corner of the tiny historic 150 year old chapel, so I threw on a (wrinkled) hot pink 1940’s style ballgown and billowed up the street. I took the elevator up to the sixth floor, somehow managing to cart my harp, music stand, two large bags, and a camera.

I set the harp up in a large room with a fireplace, plate glass windows, and an ice sculpture.

I set the harp next to a massive antique grand piano, towering potted plant, and fantastic view. I apologize for the low quality of the pictoral evidence, as I was busy playing the harp and negotiating the swirling folds of my dress.

After playing, I wandered through the library.

And looked out the windows, trying and failing to capture the beauty of the view.

Here is a little story for you. A few years ago I worked in an office. At night, I curled up in an old armchair and drank wine and read the entire works of Jane Austen. I’d only read Pride and Prejudice growing up, and due to an unfortunate Christmas present that you can ask Colleen about, I happened to possess several of the rest of her novels. I spent a full month or two wandering through the mansions of Austen’s world, and at work I would stare past my computer and into space, dreaming about living in a huge rambling old mansion, wandering through the corridors into the library, reading and playing the harp, having genteel conversations and taking walks in the rain. (Here I go again with the walking in the rain. I blame the books entirely.) I couldn’t imagine an existence wherein those were my only responsibilities. I still can’t, although I have been startled in the past couple years by how often the pattern of my life has taken those rough forms, much more than it resembles my time in an office. However, I am thrilled by the fact that by dint of my side job as a harpist at a genteel senior citizens community, I regularly wander through unknown corriders into libraries with sweeping views of the city, play upon the harp in salons with large chandeliers, and perhaps best of all sweep down the staircase in a trailing ballgown. Even if it is wrinkled.

I am constantly amazed and amused by the manner in which dreams turn to reality.

Blue Haired Belle of the Ball (Diamond)

by Kate

Mary arrived bearing not only boxing gloves but also a strapless peach colored ballgown with a puffed and billowing skirt. She found the dress at a sidewalk sale at Bonnie’s Bridal in Viroqua, WI.  Since I was in high school, the occasional sidewalk sales at Bonnie’s boutique have formed the backbone of the Slattery sister collection of formal dresses. I firmly believe it is important to keep a few ballgowns in your closet. You just never know when you might need to attend a ball. More likely though, you never know when it is time to head over to the ball diamond at twilight for an impromptu sisterly photo shoot.

Of course, it is also helpful to happen to have a blue wig and a large hat collection to pick from, and a civil war era cannon across the street from your house. Doesn’t Mary look stunning in that blue bob? I could have used a wig myself to be honest. I was a bit of a wild-haired mess, in desperate need of henna. In fact there is a pot bubbling on the stove right now. Of course I was also wrangling a wriggling baby. You can never start them too young.

But this evening, Mary was really the blue haired belle of the ball…..diamond, in this case.

The sun was setting over the mossy grey stone steps, imparting a mysterious fairytale quality to the scene.

I am so grateful for sisters, the freedom to keep dreaming and playing even though I am a grown woman, blue bob wigs, ballgowns, and Bonnie’s Wedding Center in Viroqua, Wisconsin. I am pretty sure my neighbors are all grateful for these things too. At least I think that is what they were thinking about when they all simultaneously headed out to start mowing lawns and clipping hedges at dusk.