LETTER FROM ITHACA

March 12th, 2005

It Gets Cold Here!

It has been a long winter here in the Finger Lakes region, and a cold one. One of the dimensions of living here, which I evidently forgot during the nearly three decades that lapsed between the time I originally left Ithaca and Cornell and my return, two years ago, to become an artist-in-residence, is winter. I think I was partly in denial of it when I was ensconced at “Risley Castle,” as the great, crenellated Risley College, where I was formerly based, is called.

Anyway, now that I am living on my own in a house off in the nearby sticks, rest assured that I am no longer in denial. My new digs, which I wrote you about in my last letter, are located only three blocks away from campus and my “advance creative headquarters” at the Fine Arts Library of Sibley Hall, where I do most of my work — a seven-minute walk when the weather is clement, less than half that when I take my bicycle.

When the weather is clement. When it is snowing and freezing, as it has been nearly continuously (or at least so it seems) for the past three months, that idyllic seven-minute walk over the suspension bridge spanning scenic Fall Creek can stretch into closer to 15 or 20 minutes, after a final dash up the back stairs of my icicle-encrusted house. And when I am brave (or foolhardy) enough to take my bicycle to campus, the return trip, while faster, can be, shall we say, somewhat dicey, to the tune of skidding around puddles and crevices while trying to see through a hailstorm of driving icewater.

Then there was the night of January 21st, when the thermometer dropped below zero for the third or fourth night in a row — and kept dropping until it reached an incredible minus 17 degrees below. That’s a wet 17 degrees below, because of Cornell’s location on Lake Cayuga. As it happens, I had my bicycle. I shan’t soon forget the experience of bicycling home that night through the deserted streets of Cayuga Heights: because it was the weekend before classes, most of the students who reside in the fraternities and sororities nearby were still away. Every molecule in the world, it seemed — plant, mineral, and the rest — was frozen. And so was I, face beet-red, ears about to fall off, literally crying in pain, by the time I reached my door.

Like I said, it gets cold here. I do love it up here. But next year I am resolved to break up Ithaca’s Endless Winter by spending at least a month Down South.

I just looked out the window of the Fine Arts Library, which overlooks the Arts quad here. You guessed it: it’s snowing.

Now I know why I never moved to Finland.

And the beat goes on.

MAIL CALL!

Here’s letter I would like to share with you.

One of the things that has kept me going through this long, frigid winter is my mail — both the cyber and old-fashioned kind. I don’t have a phone line at my apartment (helps enhance that isolated, mountain man feeling), so I have to go to campus to read my email. Gives me a reason to trudge through the snow. Never know what I am going to find — or, what with this site on the Web, who I am going to hear from.

There was the morning a few weeks ago when I turned on my email and learned that “The Frank Family That Survived” had been sold to Brazil. Brazil? I wasn’t even aware that the book was being considered for acquisition there.

Anyway, pleased to report: fans of the book can look forward to both a Dutch translation, due out in September (which I look forward to celebrating in person with my mother), and a Portuguese version scheduled for early next year. It’s being brought out by the respected Brazilian publisher, Jorge Zahar. So, looks like I will be flying down to Rio about this time next year.

Made my day. To think–Brazil. Must be doing something right. (And so, I might add, is the foreign rights person at my London agency, Curtis Brown Ltd., Kate Cooper, who, along with my agent, Anthea Morten-Saner, have done a splendid job of representing my interests overseas).

A moment later, a student who was walking around the library passing out party invites dropped one off at my computer. And what was the party for? “Cornell Students–Celebrate Carnivale.” Talk about weird coincidences.

Then, one fine slushy day here in Ithaca, there was the email waiting for me from my long lost friend, Lakshman, with whom I used to hang in the back room of Dorrian’s Red Hand on the Upper East Side, parsing the eternal verities while surrounded, somewhat incongruously, by a passel of blotto preppies. Now a musician living in Sri Lanka (and with a wife and two children, to boot!), he’d had gone Web-surfing in search of a violin company named Sander and happened upon this site. Now, we are back in touch and discussing a possible visit and reading from “The Frank Family” in Colombo in the fall.

Then there was the Google alert that “The Frank Family” got in The Statesman of — what? — India? Okay! I’ll take it! Today Rio, tomorrow Calcutta. Next thing, I expect, my agent will be informing me that someone had purchased the rights to publish in Tagalog.

Or the email I received last week from a woman who came upon my article about defunct Eisenhower College, one of my first post-Cornell freelance assignments, while searching for an alumnus from that defunct institution, and whose parents used to have a cottage next to Rod Serling, the subject of my first book, “Serling,” and who was moved to buy a copy of it.

That was pretty cool, too.

Nevertheless, the communiqué that really made my day this winter arrived a few days ago on the little wooden table at the bottom of the stairs in my house, where the five tenants of 514 Wyckoff Road periodically go fishing for our real mail. The letter, from Martha Walker, the Fine Arts Librarian, was a thank you note for the gift I recently made to the library of several of the photographs that hung in my 1998 “My America: 1965-1998″ exhibit, as well as a copy of “The Frank Family.” Least I could do, I felt, for the hard-working staff who toil under the magical Sibley Dome, whose stacks I first perused when I entered Cornell as an Architecture student thirty seven years ago this September. And, I must say, I was flattered that my work passed muster with the discriminating Fine Arts library staff.

That said, I still was overwhelmed by Martha’s note, which, I hope and trust, she won’t mind my sharing with you. To wit:

March 7, 2005

Dear Gordon,

I am writing to thank you for your generous gift of several photographs, framed and ready for display, to the Fine Arts Library at Cornell University–Thank you also for helping me choose the correct location to place these photos. I feel certain that we made the right decisions. I have already received numerous comments about how comfortable these photographs seem in our setting, enhancing our space for our users.

I also want to formally thank you for a copy of your book “The Frank Family That Survived,” published in 2004. I have spent some time with this volume and feel honored that you have given a copy to the library. I am glad that you find our library a comfortable place to research and write. I wish you many more productive hours and years in our stacks and study spaces.

I’m taking the liberty of speaking for the entire staff of the Fine Arts Library: we all enjoy working with you and we wish you the best in your artistic and literary endeavors. Thank you for sharing so much of yourself with us. On a personal note — I find your contributions to society and culture an inspiration.

Sincerely yours,

Martha Walker
Fine Arts Librarian

For my friends and family who wonder why I have decided to stay in Ithaca, you need look no further than the aforementioned.

Thank you, Martha! And thank you, Cornell, for giving your prodigal son a home again.

SITEWISE (AND OTHERWISE)

Six months after opening for business, The Sander Zone, which continues to draw an increasing number of visitors, is approaching completion, or something close to it. If you scroll around the site, you’ll notice new essays I wrote especially for the site; thus far I have written something on the order of 20,000 words especially for Sander Media, making it, in effect, latest literary work.

Meantime, thanks to the collective efforts of my two cyber-associates, David Schoonover and Nicole Shostak, there’s a lot more stuff for you to browse, including nearly 200 photographs, making the Photography section the closest thing to a full retrospective I have ever had; as well as several dozen articles, including the longest piece I have ever published, “Sweden: After the Fall,” the epic, 11,000 word profile of Sweden I wrote for The Wilson Quarterly, back when my Baltic fetish was just kicking in. Meanwhile, those of you are interested in sampling “Serling” will find two chapters from the book archived herein.

Yup, this thing is finally coming together.

You’ll also note that most of the textual sections now also have their own frontispieces, as selected from my (5000 plus) slide and negative files with the aid of my–.staff.

Additionally, you’ll also note that the latest half dozen installments of my novel-in-progress and current labor of love (at least until it gets warm enough to take photos again) C-Town Blues, which The Cornell Daily Sun, in its grace and wisdom, is continuing to serialize through mid-spring — when I hope to complete the thing before peeling off and returning to non-fictive terrain with my anticipated next work of history (and ultimate product of my Baltic fetish, you might say), about the 1939-40 Fenno-Soviet Winter War (tentatively entitled “What Free Men Can Do: The Winter War”).

What else is on tap this spring? Well, there’s the launch of the Arrow paperback version of “The Frank Family That Survived” in May — very excited about that.

My staff and I will do our best to keep you abreast of all these diverse developments in The Sander Zone right here, at www.sandermedia.com, the coolest address on the Net (if we don’t say so ourselves).

Thank you, David! Thank you, Nicole! And thanks again for visiting…The Sander Zone.

Take care! Beware! And keep those emails coming in!

Always,

Gordon

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