Category: Travel

Bad juju, daguerrotypes, ghostly nuns, and other matters.

I was in Oxford last week to attend a series of workshops as part of my Masters in Creative Writing. I arrived a day earlier in order to ready myself before the headlong dive into workshops. One of my favourite things to do when I have some time to myself is to look at antiques. There’s a lovely antiques store called Antiques On High (Broad Street, Oxford) not far from the Sheldonian Theatre. I’ve picked up some Wedgwood pieces there for next to nothing in the past. This is a wonderful warren-like store to browse, with trinkets and fossils and artworks and books and art deco jewellery and etchings and everything you can imagine. They also have a small selection of daguerrotypes. According to daguerrobase.org, a daguerrotype was “…the first commercially successful photographic process (1839-1860) in the history of photography. Named after the inventor, Louis Jacques Mandé Daguerre, each daguerreotype is a unique image on a silvered copper plate. In contrast to photographic paper, a daguerreotype is not flexible and is rather heavy.The daguerreotype is accurate, detailed and sharp. It has a mirror-like surface and is very fragile…Numerous portrait studio’s opened their doors from 1840 onward. Daguerreotypes were very expensive, so only the wealthy could afford to have their portrait taken. Even though the portrait was the most popular subject, the daguerreotype was used to record many other images such as topographic and documentary subjects, antiquities, still lives, natural phenomena and remarkable events.” Fascinating!

I was immediately drawn to this very striking and unnerving portrait of a mother and son. The cost of the daguerrotype was a mere 35 pounds. I thought to myself, “I have to have it.” I sought permission to photograph the daguerrotype and I WhatsApp’d (I guess this is a verb now) the photograph to both my husband and a close friend. I was looking for their approval to go ahead with the purchase, something I don’t normally do. The daguerrotype was so exhilarating to look at, but there was something so alive about it too. The sullen portraits appeared to be full of energy. I wondered where I might keep such a precious historic item. Under the bed? Framed on the wall? In a box? And there was the small issue of ‘juju’. My husband and friend hinted at their reservation. Who were these people? Where did the daguerrotype come from? What’s its history? And isn’t this daguerrotype a little too creepy to keep in your house? In spite of my initial glee at coming across such an unusual artefact, I left Oxford without the daguerrotype. And I’m still thinking about it. I like its subtle creepiness. I suppose there’s still time to phone the shop and buy it. Would you?

 

 

I also climbed Oxford’s Carfax Tower on Sunday morning. It was a sunny one and I got this great picture. I think it was worth the claustrophobic winding stair lung-busting clamber to the top.

 

 

 

 

Oh, and…there’s a viral video doing the rounds. It features my old school, Mount St. Michael’s in Claremorris, Co. Mayo. The convent was home to many, many nuns in its history, and the bulk of the convent building has recently been demolished. Watch the video and see if you can locate the silhouette of a nun in an upper window! I’m close to certain that this is a hoax, but it’s fun to see my old school hitting the headlines.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.” Buy it now!

Why I paid $1.80 for three photographs of total strangers

strangersLook at these old photographs. They’re the kinds of photographs you can imagine adorning a mantelpiece or bedside locker. They’re the kind of photographs that people keep in memory boxes, or tucked into wallets.

A stern looking couple by a lakeside, I’m guessing 1930’s or earlier.

An adoring daddy with his cute chubby-cheeked son, I’m guessing late 1940’s or 1950’s.

An attentive mother with her daughter, playing in the grass in summertime, I’m guessing late 1950’s or early 1960’s.

 

These people are all strangers to me. I don’t know their names, or where they lived, or what they did. I found these photographs in a bin in an antiques store in Brooklyn, and bought them for about 60c apiece. The bin was crammed with thousands and thousands of photographs just like these. Photographs taken at Christmas, in nightclubs, around the dinner table, and on the first day of school.

Admittedly, it’s weird to pay money for the photographs of total strangers. But I felt a connection to these photographs, compelled to take them with me. They serve as a reminder of the transience of our lives, lives that are made up of thousands of moments just like these. Moments that mattered in the lives of these people.

One day, we will all move on. And one day, your photographs might find their way into a bin in an antiques store. Shiver.

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.Buy it now!

Review: ‘Sleep No More’, experiential theatre in New York City

img_4275I’ve been fortunate enough to have visited New York several times, and have ticked off many popular tourist experiences on my travel itinerary. In planning a recent trip, I decided to shake it up and pursue a trip that was more alternative than any I’ve had in the past. I’m a person who gets a kick out of being ever-so-slightly frightened, and is interested in unusual, strange experiences (I love to be purposely vague), and so I booked tickets for me and my friend Kam to visit the McKittrick Hotel in Chelsea for Sleep No More, an immersive theatre show produced by Punchdrunk Theatre.

It was sensational.

Sleep No More is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, set in the 1930’s, and without dialogue. It’s a style of theatre known as ‘promenade theatre’ that allows the attendees to wander about at their own pace. I don’t want to give too much away, because I very much urge all of you to go and see it for yourselves, but here’s a little about what I experienced.

Upon checking in to the vintage “hotel”, attendees were required to don white beaked masks, instructed that we were not to speak to one another, and were shuffled into an old elevator. The elevator stopped at the first floor, and my friend Kam was pushed out, whereupon the elevator doors closed and everyone else, myself included, was taken to another floor! I thought Ah shit, assuming that it wouldn’t be as much fun without my friend. Much as Kam is awesome, it was a more immersive and stimulating experience spent alone. Upon exiting the elevator, the masked audience members scatter away, each embarking on their own individual psychological trip. The surreality of the set-pieces, combined with the eeriest, most unsettling music and sounds that reverberated throughout the building (much of it Hitchock-ian), generated a delicious anxiety and foreboding! I found myself walking through a graveyard at night, a lunatic asylum, an old-fashioned detective’s agency, a sinister undertaker’s, in addition to other nightmarish rooms and freakish landscapes. Audience members may choose to follow specific actors if they so wish – each actor has a compelling role to play across several locations – or you may choose to wander the floors of the McKittrick Hotel by yourself (if this is your preference, you will still encounter many ghastly and compelling people and places). Suddenly – a bar room brawl. Suddenly – a man in a white vest storms into a room with blood smeared up to his elbows. Suddenly – an elegant, delicate ballroom performance. Everywhere you turn there are curious incidents, dalliances, and passionate (silent) performances. A woman in a glamorous red dress snarls and sweeps out of the room, the masked audience runs after her to see what she’s going to do next.

It’s an entrancing, dream-like experience. You feel that you are an invisible presence in the lives of real people. Your fellow audience members become shadow-like. It’s the feeling akin to I just woke up from the weirdest dream, and it felt so real (and that’s a cool feeling – or is it just me?)

I honestly lost all sense of time. I thought I’d spent an hour and half in the McKittrick Hotel, but in reality I had spent two and a half hours inside, just exploring and watching. My friend Kam and I found one another three hours after our separation, whereupon I was half-hysterical and drinking absinthe in the Manderley Bar. And that’s sort of out of character. I was buzzing and exhilarated and it was worth every cent.

Tips:

  1. This is not for the faint of heart. If you can’t make it through the opening credits of a horror movie, this experience is not for you.
  2. Don’t drink too much of any kind of liquid before you enter into the hotel. You don’t want to have to try and find a restroom in the middle of the experience.
  3. You will not be talking to your friends once the experience commences, and will likely exit the show by yourself, so make plans to reassemble in the bar or somewhere close to the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. Your face will sweat underneath the mask, so don’t wear too much makeup.
  5. Wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking up and down lots of stairwells, wandering on some uneven surfaces, and it’s pretty dark, so leave your high heels at home. You can also check in any coats or bags at the entrance.

You can purchase tickets for Sleep No More at SleepNoMore.com

I’m feeling rather sociable. Let’s connect on Goodreads!

PLUS: Why not read my terrifying novella, The Diary of Natalya Zlota, now available on Amazon!

People are saying, “The author captures you by letting you find things to identify with, and she unfolds details in perfect time…Smooth and disciplined, a pleasure to read! Perfect for a journey. I would love to read more.Buy it now!