F. Scott Fitzgerald: Asheville

Anyone having an affinity for writing a novel should read, The Great Gatsby, one of the greatest American novels written by F. Scott Fitzgerald. My journey as a novelist included reading every novel and most of the short stories published by Fitzgerald and then traveling to Asheville where he spent his final years with Zelda, his wife and muse. They had one child a girl named Scottie. F. Scott was born to an aristocratic father who lacked ambition and never achieved the status  F. Scott admired. All of the novels weaved a theme of affluent socialites, social elitism and the descent into addiction. Fitzgerald died in 1940 at age 44 from heart failure after years of alcohol abuse.

I was joined on my adventure in Asheville by William R. Forstchen who is a novelist and co-author on my first novel. Bill is a resident of Asheville, North Carolina.

On an extended trip to Asheville to view where F. Scott Fitzgerald  made his final attempt to beat his addictions in 1935 and again 1936 I was able to walk the paths he walked at the Grove Point Inn and see the sight where he committed Zelda to a mental institution. She was predeceased by Fitzgerald eight years earlier and actually died in a fire in the Highland Hospital near Asheville where he left her as he made his way to California for a new life. The Grove Park Inn has an elevator to the rooms used by Fitzgerald which are kept as he left them in memory of the great author. By all accounts Scott, as Zelda called him, would take her out of the mental institution and have her join him for lunch at the Grove Park Inn on the terrace. I enjoyed all of my meals on the visit on that very same terrace area of the restaurant.

The Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC.

In 1935 Fitzgerald  felt he had one more chance to write and visited the Grove Park Inn with its magnificent views of the Blue Ridge Mountains, clean air and luxury accommodations to tame his insatiable desire for alcohol and write a new novel. He decided if only he could omit gin he would cure himself and switched to a case of beer a day. He also decided his wife was unresponsive to his need for her literary expertise and he flirted a great deal while in Asheville with other women perhaps to recapture or add to the long line of women who functioned to inspire him. Zelda once accused him of plagiarism when she noticed some of his novel taken directly from her diary. They agreed that the semi- autobiographical nature of his work should be a combined effort and joined forces to improve his career.

Mr. Fitzgerald was named for his relative Francis Scott Key who of course gave America the Star Spangled Banner. Francis Scott Fitzgerald  spent his early years in Minnesota born to an upper middle class family he also went to private schools eventually made his way to New Jersey to attend Newman High School a Catholic prep school in Hackensack. After graduating he stayed in New Jersey and enrolled in Princeton. As a matriculated Princeton student he met, fell into deep infatuation with Ginevra King who he dated and lost and eventually caused him to  flunk out of Princeton University before graduating. Yes, attachments according to the Buddha cause suffering, a concept probably not entertained by Fitzgerald. Since WWI was raging he enlisted but it was toward the end of the war, so he never deployed out of the United States.

Fitzgerald’s typewriter at the Grove Park Inn.

Fitzgerald’s first novel was published in 1920, he called it This Side Of Paradise taking the title from Tiare Tahiti a poem by Brooke. It told his semi autobiographical story of being a Princeton student at the lower end of the social economic status, love lost, greed and status seeking. This was followed by three more novels, Beautiful and the Damned in 1922 this time about an affluent Harvard culture. In 1925 he wrote what many consider to be his masterpiece if not one of the greatest American novels ever written, The Great Gatsby detailing social climbing ambition, greed, and unrequited love during the party days of heavy drinking in the Jazz Age. Tender Is the Night published in 1934 detailing the marriage and the psychological intervention set in France. The Last Tycoon written in 1940 was not completed by Fitzgerald as he died from a heart attack and complications of alcohol addiction that year.

The Jazz Age, a phrase F. Scott Fitzgerald made famous complete with bathtubs filled with gin, drugs on the party coffee tables and yes dancing the Charleston Gatsby style are sights that remain with the reader forever. Hollywood has created two amazing movies of the The Great Gatsby further immortalizing that era. The Grove Park Inn has a September 24th celebration of F. Scott Fitzgerald when they open Rooms #441 and #443 to the public and finish the celebration with dancing the Charleston. In is an adventure that by today’s standards actually seems tame. It is also inspirational for future authors as they put pen to paper as Fitzgerald was known to do or they are writing into a computer program that spell checks, corrects syntax and formats the 21st Century novel!

All of the blog photos were taken at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC:

Review of “Multicultural Mindfulness”

By Maria Bohle

Keeping our calm in the storm.

These are stressful times. There is always life drama, politics and deadlines, we are bombarded by mass media, slick marketing and peer pressure twenty-four hours a day. What is real? Who are we? Who am I? How do we function under the stress of our times? Nora’s book Multicultural Mindfulness makes us understand that what we need is within us – if only we chose to look. This book is a beacon in a dark night, a guide to the eye of the storm where calm and answers prevail. This is not a ‘how to’ book – but it is full of answers.

Guided imagery moves us through basic concepts and bridges any perceived gap of geography, culture and beliefs. We become one with nature, the universe, and our place on this beautiful planet. The wisdom that has survived the test of time, distance, and people, we are just tapping into what exists in each of us, without expectation, we can breath a sigh of relief and steep in the calm and serenity of our existence.

Multicultural Mindfulness has but one message – “What you are seeking is within you, it is within each of us, this is how it is done. Timeless wisdom as seen through the lense of life, through the eyes of many people, many cultures and many ages. We learn through short vignettes that peace is within reach and can be accessed at all times and in all places whenever we choose”.

This is a book to enjoy…

This is a book to savor…

A meditative guide that transforms us through simple message – look inside for the key to your peace and contentment.

This book occupies a place on my bedside table right next to my bible and my daily book of meditations. This is a book that opens the doors to endless possibilities as only a good book can do. Common to us all, the peace within can be tapped on command. Nora shows us how it can be done through the eyes of the do-ers.

The Most Haunted Bridge in America… Sachs Bridge

The Sachs Bridge in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is the most haunted bridge in America! The Civil War Confederate retreat bridge exit went south over the Marsh Creek using the bridge to get home to the Confederate southern states. The bridge and creek provided water, shelter from the rain and was a make-shift hospital during the Battle of Gettysburg. Hundreds of men died on or near the bridge after being wounded during the July 3-4, 1863 battle between the North and South. That dramatic loss of life could account for the structure being haunted. However, three Confederate soldiers also dressed up as Union army and were caught as traitors. It’s hard to know if they were spies or deserters but they were hung from the wooden support beams and it is said their ghosts remain there.

The bridge was constructed as a truss covered bridge, inexpensive but ok for light travel. On July 1, 1863 two brigades of Union soldiers crossed the bridge heading town the inevitable battle. It was used again by Robert E. Lee’s army retreating over the bridge and heading South after the Union defeated the Confederates during the Battle of Gettysburg. The ability to provide water for all of the soldiers was also important so the Marsh Creek under the bridge was a strategic location.

 A few years back, William R. Forstchen and I visited the Gettysburg battlefield where I had the opportunity to interview him. As we sat in the equally haunted Farnsworth House eating our game pie Bill told me of the Sachs bridge ghost stories and promised to bring my family to visit it later that night. The interview is vividly descriptive of what we experienced first-hand at midnight. The energy was that of the horrors of all wars and the horrific loss of life. I felt their inevitable questions about the insanity of brother fighting against brother and civil war within a nation. Mostly, I sensed the energetic cries of pain from the wounds both physical and mental from all soldiers who crossed the Sachs Bridge as I walked alone across the bridge in the dark. Our group sent healing energy and prayers.

Guest Blog by William R. Forstchen, Ph.D. 
New York Times Bestselling Author 

There are two sites in Pennsylvania that everyone must put on their “Bucket List”. . .Gettysburg and just off the battlefield national Park, the  Sachs Bridge, Gettysburg. As Joshua Chamberlain, who received the Medal of Honor for his gallant stand on the second day of the battle, said of that storied field, “it is the vision place of souls.” But there is another vision place just a few minutes from the battlefield. Sachs Bridge.

If you drive from the center of town southward, you’ll pass straight through the middle of ground where Pickett’s division charged towards their doomed “high water mark.” Head down another mile to where Emmitsburg road comes to an intersection at the “Peach Orchard, where Union general Dan Sickles men fell by the thousands, and turn right. Go about a mile or two, slow down, cross over a concrete bridge and you will see Sachs Covered Bridge on your left.

Best to pull in and stop there at night because you are about to enter one of the most haunted spots in America. During the day it is a picturesque place, a covered bridge built in 1852, a good spot to take the family, kids love playing around inside it. But once darkness falls, leave the kids home or back at the motel because you might very well enter the Twilight Zone.

During the Battle of Gettysburg, thousands of wounded Confederate soldiers were carried back to the small stream under the bridge, temporarily turning it into a vast hospital area. The day after the battle, it poured buckets of rain while Robert E. Lee’s shattered army prepared to evacuate the stricken field and retreat back towards Maryland and Virginia. Every wagon they could lay their hands on, most all springless, were loaded up for the agonizing journey home. As the night of July 4th fell, thousands of wounded were evacuated, across the Sachs Bridge. Eyewitness accounts told how the bridge floor was soon soaked in blood from wounded and dying men.

Their hellish night still echoes nearly a 160 years later. The first time I went there, I had heard the stories, wanted to check it out, I got out of the car, several people were hanging around with cameras and what could be called “ghost hunting” equipment. A Gettysburg police officer came up causing parking concern, but instead he got out of his car, was friendly enough and asked if I had seen anything that evening. That was interesting coming from a policeman. He then said we were okay visiting the site but “just be careful,” and he wasn’t talking about falling into the creek. He was talking about spirits of the dead.

He told us a few stories of his own encounters including one where he was crossing the concrete bridge next to Sachs Bridge and it was glowing red. He thought it was on fire, he punched his lights on and started to call the fire department, but as he raced up to the west end of the bridge he saw. . . a red pulsing glow inside, but no flame and suddenly it just winked off. He cancelled the call to the fire department, and said that talking later with a couple of firemen they said that he wasn’t the first to call in that the bridge was burning but there was no flame and then the glow just “winked out.”

Well the challenge was on. I actually do believe in ghosts but not the type that would make a bridge look like it was on fire. And then it started. I guess I would say it was a feeling of dread, of sadness, of loss, but also that my presence was not alone.

It is hard to describe. I have felt a strange connection to that long distant struggle since I was a child of five. Growing up I read voraciously, played with my huge army of Civil War soldiers and in my backyard lead charge after charge with my neighbor and first and still best friend Nora D’Ecclesis. Maybe I was therefore “attuned” to that place.

And then it happened. I turned around to snap a flash photo which instantly came up on the screen. I was saying it to those lost souls in the bridge as well. The image revealed a coiling cloud of something smoke like behind me and the feeling of a sad painful death and dying surrounded me.

I’ve been back at least half a dozen times since, the last time with Nora Lee in tow. We went at midnight and well Nora will tell her story. What I find now at that bridge is sadness, infinite sadness. Thousands of men, many of them still boys, torn, bleeding dying at they took that journey from the field of lost glory. If they lived but another hour, or died abed seventy years hence, that night stayed with them and in turn they left something of themselves there as well.

Sach’s Bridge … “it is the vision place of souls.”

Margherita Pizza

The Hygge of Italian cuisine centers around family, food and old fashioned fun… it’s the pizza party! The making and eating of pizza is a group social activity all over the world. The pizza itself is made fresh with the hands of the pizza chef or Pizzaiolo/Pizzaioli, the ingredients arranged with respect for traditional artistic placement of tomatoes, cheese,  olive oil and basil. The first pizza was probably white with just and oil and cheese on top of the crust, but Columbus brought back tomatoes from the new world and the rest is love for this wonderful food. Let’s explore the history of the Margherita pizza which comes from the area of Naples, Italy.

The Italian unification bringing together the city states into the Kingdom of Italy, or the Risorgimento was promoted under the King Umberto I who was married to Queen Margherita of Savoy. Margherita was a popular Queen Consort and so she suggested a tour of the cities during the unification campaign in 1889. In advance of the King and Queen traveling to Naples the Queen requested traditional Italian food and asked the Chef for pizza. Chef Raffaele Esposito  arranged for a special meal in honor of the unification and made a marvelous pizza with the toppings of tomato (red) mozzarella ( white) and basil ( green) to reflect and honor the colors of Unified Italy! Chef named it Margherita Pizza which continues to this day in any country where those toppings and style market a Margherita pizza. It’s only fair to say many towns, villages mountain peaks and art museums where also named for the Queen… not so much for her husband as Umberto was assassinated in 1900. They managed to produce a son and heirs who carried on the royal government until the Italian Republic was formed in 1946.

In Italy… An interview with Gina…

I could smell “home” but where was it coming from?  Although I was just aimlessly walking around Rome’s back streets after touring the Vatican, there it was, less than fifty feet away a pizza storefront!  It smelled just like my mother’s made from scratch Neapolitan heritage pizza!  Using my broken Italian, somehow, I was able to order a Margherita pizza and a drink.  Excitedly I walked to the counter to get the treats.  To my surprise, the large paper plate held a generous square piece of pizza which the counter person weighed.  He told me the grams, as the pie was sold by weight, and added the beverage and gave me total Lire cost.  Biting the crisp crust was so reminiscent of my mother’s pie.  However, the mozzarella seemed milkier and just stretched around my mouth swirling around the delectable sauce with tomato chunks perfectly seasoned with fresh basil.  The crust, airy like clouds.  Blowing to cool the sizzling hot square, a definite must before taking the initial heavenly bite.  The savory morsel conjectured visions of ancestors luxuriously reclining on their patrician eating furniture in the atriums of their Pompeiian homes.  What a fabulous way to “break bread” with friends—a delectable/delicious over the top upgrade truly fit for the ancient Roman Senate and People, SPQR.  

In America… Margherita Pizza in New Jersey…

Much to my surprise my dear cousin, Ernest Trunzo was starting his career as a Pizzaiolo in our home state of New Jersey. I was returning from living in L.A. California craving a pizza and hoagie that tasted more like home. He made the Marguerita pizza better than any I have tasted around the world. “Ernie” was loved by all and generous as the owner of an Italian hoagie/pizza shop because anyone who needed or wanted great food could find it. We teased him that maybe he would allow Sophia Loren to be his pizzaiola near his ovens but he did it his way and mostly by himself. Raising my glass of Chianti, Ernie, forever in our hearts and loved dearly by all passed last year may he rest in peace. I dedicate this blog to Ernest E. Trunzo as one spectacular human being. 

Anachronism: The Handshake

An anachronism is a thing belonging or appropriate to a period other than that in which it exists, especially a thing that is conspicuously old-fashioned. In Medieval Europe the Knights would shake hands to dislodge weapons being carried in the clothing. It was not uncommon to find daggers falling out in the process. In 5th Century BC in Greece it was simply a way to show no weapons in the hand and that men came in peace. The right hand was always used as more hygienic as the cultural and religions restrictions dictated.

Many cultures were horrified by a strong grip handshake, but not in America. After the 19th Century American men were taught the handshake needed to be firm to indicate enthusiasm that they were really pleased to be meeting the guy on the other end of the shake. The left hand was never held in the left pocket according to the etiquette of that era. The American female seldom engaged in the handshake until the gals entered corporate American mid to late 20th Century and then only to lightly touch so as not to cause pain to the women. In fact, the Girl Scouts taught that girls should shake with their left hands and raise the right hand in the Girl Scout sign, it was explained to them that the left hand was closer to the heart.

Perhaps, during the current COVID 19 pandemic it is time to eradicate the handshake as something that served its purpose but no longer does and in fact transmits disease. My mindfulness practice has served me well for almost three decades. I was reflecting last night on the benefits as I completed my new book on mindfulness. It seems I have been training as a mindful meditator my entire life for a lifestyle that includes so many techniques for quality and quantity of life but three stand out during these days of the 2020 pandemic virus:

  1. The use of the namaste greeting at ten feet without touching but sending energetic love and compassion as the best way to greet people.
  2. During zazen  let the itch on the nose  come and go without scratching it or touching our faces.
  3. Mindfulness style includes intense cleanliness and single tasking.

“Taylor Ham” Eggs & Cheese

In 1856 John Taylor of NJ developed a new sandwich food which he called “Taylor’s Prepared Ham.” It is a tasty if not amazingly healthy breakfast meat by today’s standards. Taylor Ham was a hit and seen in many homes for breakfast as well as for lunch with eggs and cheese. After many years of great success and many sales, other competitors started to duplicate or imitate his process making an equally delicious treat. This continued until food labeling regulations required that it must be designated and properly labelled as a pork roll product similar to the new competitors. The Food and Drug act of 1906 created the requirements but litigation in 1910 ruled that words like pork roll could not be trademarked, so Taylor obeyed the law. IMG_7544

My dad used to put it on the grill in an attempt to diminish the fat content. The added grilled flavor has kept my interest focused on this Holiday breakfast treat. In 2016, NJ Assemblyman Tim Eustace presented an act making ‘Taylor Ham and Egg’ the NJ State Sandwich. President Obama got into the mix at a Rutgers University speech, saying he would settle the Taylor Ham or pork roll debate in his final year in office then smiled and said no way… not even the president would not enter this controversy! LOL

Social media occasionally puts up the question whether it is pork roll or Taylor Ham — and now I am going to answer that as a Northern New Jersey gal, which is where it all began. It is colloquially called Taylor Ham in my home and hometown because after almost 175 years of tradition and respect for the founder.  Keep in mind much the same way we all say may I have a coke, when we enter a NJ diner, that colloquialism exists because Coke was the first, Xerox was the first and many times we say xerox it to mean run a copy and Taylor Ham was most definitely first. One final note I eat all brands of pork roll!

-Northern New Jersey Gal Nora D’Ecclesis

Hygge

To be in the present and enjoy the moment is the intention. Danish Hygge (Hew-Guh) offers a path toward the comfort and joy of staying in the present which is a way of life in Danish culture. Hygge is a serene retreat into enjoying the simplicity of a cozy and warm environment devoid of the autopilot rushing so common in most cultures.

In Copenhagen, where most of the population joyfully ride their bikes to work and social events, there are bike paths everywhere. During the snow days the bikes paths are plowed first! The major commerce is spread out over the many kilometers of the waterfront city to avoid traffic congestion. The harbor is peacefully shared by their neighboring country, Sweden. The Danes think of themselves as the happiest on earth and with reason when one explores how to Hygge. 16 hours of darkness a day in the winter and cold temperatures create the perfect environment to come in out of the cold to a warm cozy tradition.

Hygge started in Norway around the 19th Century but strongly caught on in Denmark becoming entrinsically entwined with their cultural goals. It has recently become a popular word in the British and American lexicons.

Taking time throughout the day to go into a state of relaxation, rest, calm and happiness reminds our body that there is more than one way to be. The goal is to turn the momentum in the other direction away from stress. Hygge makes calm our baseline, the norm to which the body should always return.  It also pumps up seratonin and norepinehrine. The simplicity of the Hygge activity is what makes it even more wonderful and it doesn’t invlove any of the usual materialistic purchases of similar practices.

Hygge, in a word, is mindfulness, being in the present… living a life of being open and and in a state of equanimity. Hygge is… a safe haven of enjoying the simple things in life with either alone time or socializing. It’s a daily experience during all seasons. In the winter it is the time to come in out of the cold, snuggle with your warm puppy in the sherpa blankets and settle in with friends and family to enjoy the well being of the moment. The shared glass of wine or tea with viennoiserie pastries and the flickering of the candles in subdued yellow tones set the mood. The additional warming slippers and fireplace heat omits the mental disquietude and allows for the comfortable socialization of respectful conversation.

More than just part of the daily Dane cultural practice Hygge is the Dane identity… socialization, compassion, respect for all other practices and an awareness that taking that bike out in the morning is, in addition to the environmental benefits, a sound practice toward better quality and quantity of human life.

Watching a small group of millenials place a blanket down on the park lawn and pull out the Dane beer “pilsner” and cheese for a Hygge while the sun is out is a joy and comforting for the observer. An actual sunny day is rare with less than four hours of sun a day and a great deal of precipitation.

Imagine Hygge in Central Park on a sunny day or the Poconos in February. The joy of a cozy and comfortable conversation with people who respect the diversity of opinions and create a safe environment to simply stay in the moment. Hygge is a way of life in Denmark, the sharing of foods and drink and relaxing alone or in small groups. Light a candle, kick off your boots, build a fire in your wood burning stove and visualize our global neighbors in Copenhagen.