Another Decade

Zafora Lunch: Vinsanto

Vinsanto at Santorini.

Friday, March 24

It is 4 a.m. I think. Early Wednesday morning, I had been confused by my clocks. The “atomic” clock on my nightstand told me it was 2 a.m. Muscle memory allows me to reach for it and press the button on its top. That causes a light to be emitted from it. The light shines upon the white ceiling with the digits clearly defined cast in soft red. I rolled over and tried to return to sleep. At some point, I reached for my phone. The little screen lit up at my touch. Suddenly, it was much later. I couldn’t have dozed that long. Confused, I didn’t dwell on it. I was too tired, too exhausted, too sleep deprived to be curious. Also, in the middle of the night, the time doesn’t really matter. The “wee hours” are all pretty much the same.

I’m up because I’ve been up very early all week. I think my body might be stuck on Greek time—6 hours earlier. This morning, I need to get this week’s story done now. The upcoming morning at work is mostly shot. I agreed to an emergency house call down in Montgomery County. I’d been exchanging emails with a stranger about his collection. He had some very good books. His email dropped in Monday afternoon:

20th C First Ed literature; art books etc.

Good morning and I hope this email finds you well. I have inherited a large library of books that include a number of antiquarian or other potential titles of interest (in addition to the several hundred modern hardcovers.)

Highlights include a first edition, first issue of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s All the Sad Young Men with a pristine dust jacket; a number of first editions of Sir Richard Francis Burton’s works including Zanzibar, Goa and Gold Coast. All told, there are probably 50-60 titles that fall into this category; there are another 100 or so art titles published by Taschen, Rizzoli, Prestel, etc. And then there are approximately 50 titles of interest to the serious/expert art and antiques collector/dealer and finally about 600-700 titles of modern hardcovers including science fiction and fantasy, history, mystery, and biography.

I would be interested in selling the collection as a whole rather than attempting to auction off the best titles individually.

Thanks for your potential interest!

He seemed to be in a rush. I had another big house call booked Tuesday. I’d been away almost two weeks and had a LOT of things to catch up on. I assumed he just wanted a review. And why couldn’t it wait? After 8 exchanges with scheduling problems:

Hi! Next week is more problematic unfortunately. I’m moving on March 29th and had a (admittedly longshot) hope of being able to dispose of the library in total by then; in lieu of that, likely to separate the modern titles and take the collectible ones to sell individually once my relocation is complete.

If you’d like to come over the weekend that’s ok with me but understand—very sympathetically!—having a work/life balance.

But Monday 3/27 is when I will need to donate or sell the modern titles as I have help for packing and transport.

Well, that’s different. I don’t want to see good books donated. So, I pulled the plug on Friday morning, dropped all my plans and set up a call at 10 a.m.

That puts pressure on writing this. So I am up at 4, or is it 3? Well, now I know it is 4.

I checked, and there was a time change when I was in Greece, which explains my confusion Wednesday. The “atomic” clock had failed to reset itself via the ether as it is supposed to do. I never trust the clock on the stove or in my vehicles, anyway.

I thought they were getting rid of Daylight Savings Time.

Two house calls in one week. That’s very unusual. Tuesday, I headed down to Bethesda for the collection I wrote about a few weeks ago. The Jim Pipkin collection. There weren’t that many books. Maybe 2000. It was hard to estimate, as the books were spread throughout the four-story townhouse. There would be lots of steps involved, so I decided to take two vans. Clif and I would drive. Riding shotgun would be two young helpers. Clif and I would pack. The young guys would do the steps.

The only real exciting books I’d seen were a clutch of signed Ansel Adams books. Mr. Pipkin had studied under him in his second career as a photographer. He lived many lives. His office walls were covered with signed pictures of Supreme Court justices, presidents, etc. There was a closet stuffed with maybe 700 copies of his own work—published photography books we’d agreed to take.

It was a beautiful day. March 21st. Spring!

We carried empty boxes in and down to the bottom level, where one wall was covered with a built-in bookcase. While Clif and I packed, Steve and Andrew began hauling out the remaining copies of Pipkin’s new books. They were still in their original cartons or shrink wrap, so they didn’t need to be packed.

“Do you want to use the elevator?” his widow asked.


I hadn’t noticed on my first visit. The doors looked like closet doors.

“Wow. That’ll help a lot!”

I segregated the Adams books. They were the only ones that spoke to me on my preliminary visit. While I packed, none of the other books called out. But I imagine some are inscribed.

Also, the house was very cluttered. Things had been pulled out for auctioneers to inspect, I was told.

Sigh… so I wouldn’t be buying the Native American things or other cool objects. And, no, the wine collection—in a converted spare bedroom, climate controlled and filled with floor-to-ceiling racks—wouldn’t be part of my future. He was quite a connoisseur. Noted, in fact. He was the wine master at the iconic Metropolitan Club. There was a photo of a group in fancy dress. His wife told me it was called the “Chevalier… something or other.” Sandra Day O’Connor was a member.

Wine Master


I asked if there was a ladder we could use for the upper shelves. The ceilings were 10 feet high or more.

When I was stretching for an upper shelf, Clif asked, “Have you ever heard of the Flying Wallendas?”

“Yeah. Why?”

“They all fell and died.”

Chuck on House Call

Eventually, we got everything into one of the tall Transit vans. We had to leave about half of the new books in the closet. I promised to return for them and anything else that might be left by the auctioneers.

“Don’t throw anything out!” I cautioned.

I had planned to take the second van to the Gaithersburg store. It is on the way back. But I had bought four book carts, and they pretty much filled the other van’s floor. I hadn’t noticed them on the first visit. They’d been camouflaged—covered with books.

Three were nice vintage wooden ones. Very solid. But not practical for our warehouse. I’ll come up with a good use for them, or we might sell them.

Wooden Book Carts and Supreme Court Photo

Oh! We got the signed Supreme Court photo as well.

I was exhausted when we got back, but I had so much to do. Carts of books were backed up awaiting my attention.

At the end of the day, I drove around to the new warehouses we are building. The contractors were all gone. Most of the walls in the first building were now up. (As of Friday, the first building is completely walled, and another giant crane is lifting ceiling joists in.) It is amazing how the walls transformed the project.

These walls are over 30 feet high.

Wonder Book did this? The people who have worked there over the decades. And the books, of course. And I’ve had a role in it.

I sighed and thought, ‘Why am I doing this?’

I guess because it is “there”; and a new challenge.

At home, the contractor returned this week to continue the conversion of the attic space into a loft or garret. So my home continues to be torn up.

Loft Project

Deal with it.

The gardens on the mountain are stunning. The daffodils will peak over the next few weeks. I have planted hundreds or thousands each of the twelve years I’ve lived here. It is a joy just to walk around. A solitary joy. No one comes up anymore. But I’ll have some company this weekend. They’ll come out for drinks and a garden tour, and then we will go down to the valley for dinner. The house is too torn up to consider making dinner.

Then there was a huge Books by the Foot subject order.

BBTF Order

I enjoy these. It is very therapeutic to cull duplicates and poor sellers from the stores. Therapeutic for the shops and for me. I sent Ernest to Hagerstown and myself to the Frederick store on Wednesday. It is hard physical work. To do it properly, you must cull from the top and bottom shelves as well as those in between. I was exhausted by day’s end. My arms were sore—just like the day before. But I drove onto the construction site and picked up a bunch of jagged rocks to build another garden wall. Those stones will have context—for me anyway—and the thought that they’d been buried for millions of years until the excavators dug and broke them up is evocative—to me, anyway.

Thursday, I spent most of the day on carts. That is physical as well as mental labor. By day’s end, I was exhausted and sore. Maybe I’m just out of practice, out of shape. I blame Greece.

But I did find a clutch of 17th century tomes. Milton! Or Miltoni. The first collected edition of his Latin poems.

Miltoni Opera

The Milton is a first issue of his Latin works. 1698.

This job continues to take my breath away—and not just when I’m doing hard work.

Well, it is spring. When I got home Thursday early evening, it was raining. No yard work today. I was rewarded with a huge rainbow.


I don’t recall ever seeing one like this up here. That doesn’t seem possible, though.

The phone isn’t predicting any freezes for the next 10 days. That gets us into April. The last average freeze date is in late April. Then I can take out the 80 or so potted plants cluttering my house. It will be nice to reclaim that living space. Maybe I can get the place back into order and invite people up—if they would come. COVID still has people acting… differently.

April will also be the second anniversary of my brother Tony’s death. My last of three brothers. He was a dozen years older. I predicted then I had twelve good years left. His last years hadn’t been good. Dreadful at times. I hope I’m underestimating. But if I’m down to a good decade remaining, well, I’m going to continue the struggle. Go places. Do things. Write. Rescue even more books.

It’s what I do. It’s what I am. It’s all I can do. If I’m not driven, I might just sink… into some morass.

Last week’s story ended with the ship pulling into the crater of Santorini island. Santorini, also known as the classical island of Thera, blew up around 1500 B.C. Some theories point to it as a source of the legend of Atlantis. The tidal waves created by the explosion swamped many islands—as far away as Crete. Who knows, maybe it is a source for Noah’s flood as well.

Some say it is one of the most beautiful places on earth. I’d agree. Our ship was the only one there.


In high season, there can be as many as eight. Those crowds would not be fun. Those who wanted the special tour were transported to the tiny port at the south end of the main island. There, we boarded a bus. The road zigzagged up and up the steep cliff. Hairpin turn after hairpin turn. The first stop was at the northernmost city of Oia (pronounced ee-ah.) It is a stunning place, clinging to the cliff edge. Most of the island’s population live along the edge of the volcano’s caldera with views down into the Aegean filled crater. One of the most photographed scenes in the world is there.


You usually have to wait a long time to get a shot of the blue domes.

I passed a sign for a bookshop that had been robbed.

Atlantis Books Robbed

Seemed strange for such a tiny place in the off season to have a book crime, of all things. We were the first tour group of the year. But if there’s a sign, there must be a bookshop nearby. I sniffed it out.

Atlantis Books Storefront

Charming. But closed. I walked and walked, taking dozens of photos. Why? Who will look at them? I don’t know. I just felt compelled. Then the group rendezvoused, and we were driven to the main city of Fira. After the guided tour ended, we were let loose. Some returned to the ship for lunch.

‘Are you crazy?’ I thought. ‘A free average lunch versus something like this?’

I headed to Zafora Restaurant. I started with hummus and Mythos beer.

Zafora Lunch: Hummus and Mythos Beer

Then I had grilled swordfish. It was amazing.

Zafora Lunch: Grilled Swordfish

I finished my meal with a glass of vinsanto—a Santorini specialty. It’s kind of like port.

Zafora Lunch: Vinsanto

After lunch, I wandered amongst the shops and found a bottle to bring home. Then I boarded the cable car down to the sea. A launch took me back to the ship.

The ship sailed back to the mainland overnight. We disembarked as a group. It was rainy and very blowy.

“Hold on top your hats!” the steward told us as we stepped from the ship to the gangplank.

We went back to the Stanley in Athens, but only to pick up our land guide, the amazing Marisa, and bid farewell to the island guide, Antonis, who did an amazing job.

This day was to be our whirlwind tour of Athens. The bus got us to the Acropolis early. The crowd was very light. Marisa explained this and that. She pointed to a large outcropping at the base.

“That stone is the Areopagus, where the Apostle Paul delivered a sermon to the Greeks. ‘The Unknown God.'”

Then she led us up to the Parthenon.


She let us go to explore the temples and views. I eventually made my way down and climbed the Areopagus. It is… moving… to follow in the footsteps of just about every Greek philosopher and writer—ancient and modern. Surely, everyone had made the trek to the Acropolis.

We met the bus at the appointed time and were driven around the city. There had been a general strike the day before, and people were busy removing or covering all the Antifa symbols spray painted everywhere in Athens.

The day ended with an optional dinner overlooking the Billionaires Marina in the port of Piraeus. Piraeus where Homer said the Greeks launched their ships to Troy.

That was the last I saw of most of the group. There were a few at breakfast on Saturday morning, but most had left for early morning flights for connections back to the states. I had opted for an extra day to explore Athens on my own and to unwind from the whirlwind tour.

I walked and walked and walked. 25,000 steps. I went through the enormous covered central market. There were long rows of seafood and meat. They use every part of the animals. Piles of sheep’s heads, bloody and bony, were displayed on counters or behind glass.

Then to the sprawling Agora.

The Temple of Hephaestus stunned me, and I sat on a bench and contemplated and wrote about it. There are two library sites there. Hadrian’s and Library of Pantainos. They discovered a stone inscription in the Pantainos ruins that reads:

“No book shall be taken out, since we have sworn it. It will be open from the first hour to the sixth.”

Library rules 3000 years old.

I searched for that stone but couldn’t find it. Perhaps it is on the upper level of the enormous restored Stoa. That building might have 100 columns.

Restored Stoa

The upper level was closed. Probably COVID.

My odyssey home was lengthy, stressful and exhausting. Perhaps I have not yet recovered from it, and that’s why I’ve been tired and sore all week.

My wake-up call was at 3:30 a.m. Sunday. The transfer to the airport was at 4:30. The flight to Frankfurt was at 8. That leg was pretty easy, smooth and comfortable.

The flight back from Frankfurt was dreadful. Lufthansa has set a new standard for terrible legroom. My seat was 28A. Maybe that particular row was shortened—it was right behind an emergency exit row. I’ve been flying a lot since COVID loosened and now, perhaps, released its grip. I always fly coach. The plane was a double decker. B747-8—if that means anything. Frankfurt Airport was a mess. I don’t know if it is always a mess. This morning, there was a cramped line to clear customs (a second time) to get to the gates for US destinations. I had plenty of time. But there were calls for:

“Anyone for Houston? Your flight is leaving!”

“San Francisco…”

“St Louis…”

People would be hustled through the cramped lines—more like 6 clusters inching forward, sprawling together—to the front of the line. There, their boarding pass would be stamped. Why? Who knows. Then the people would be encouraged to run to their gates. Over and over, as I slowly percolated to the front to be stamped and passed through.

Why so many people had trouble making connections, I have no idea. It was Sunday morning.

It was all so dehumanizing.

There’s got to be a better way to treat humans.

I had three hours to kill before boarding. There was a German deli place. I ordered a liter of Franzikaner Weissbier and settled at a table and transposed a sheaf of old poems. More discoveries going back to the late 90s. It was strange to relive those moments.

One was the manuscript version of what I wrote when my brother Jim died in 2002. The words transported me to that time and place. Further, they transported me to my childhood when I had a fever and was a bit delirious. I saw fairies capering on the bedspread below my chin. My mom and Jim were sitting close to the bed, fretting about me.

“Can you see them?”

My mother dismissed my claim. Jimmie said something like, “To be sure! I see them too.”

Somehow, that reassurance gave me peace.

There were poems of joy and love and heartbreak. It was an interesting way to spend the time stuck behind the gates to fly to America.

(I’ll append the one about my brother’s last days at the end of this story.)

Finally, my flight started boarding. I got to my seat and dragged myself across the aisle and middle seats to the window. Eventually, a German guy occupied the aisle seat. The plane was fully boarded, I thought, but in about ten minutes, stragglers came down the aisles in twos and threes over about 15 minutes. I’m sure they were runners from other close connections. Finally, the captain announced we were finished boarding. Knowing there was still a lot of time until we began moving, I let the tray table down. It rested against my belly. I then noticed my knees were brushing the seat in front of me. It was then an attendant arrived with a woman.

“I am sorry. She needs to take that seat. There was a problem with the other one.”

I pulled my right elbow into my side to accommodate her.

It got worse. The woman seated in front of her pushed her seat back into full recline. The woman next to me spent much of the next 8 hours with her forehead on the seat in front of her—her tray table was useless.

It was an eight-hour flight.

I’d written a lot in the airport. I also wrote on the three-hour flight from Athens to Frankfurt. (Those seats had 8 more inches, I would guess.)

How to kill 8 hours when you’re tired and uncomfortable with no hope of relief?


The first was Cape Fear—the 1991 version. I’d forgotten how creepy that was.

Then Manhattan—Woody Allen’s ode to the city, and, well, very creepy by today’s standards. A 42-year-old and a 17-year-old. I remember I enjoyed it immensely in the theater in 1979. I was so young. Maybe it was the music and the black and white scenes of New York.

I finished up the only book I’d brought. (I still wouldn’t have a Kindle. Maybe it is a quasi-religious thing for me.)

It was difficult scrolling through the movie selections. The picture kept timing out and going back to the beginning screen. There were a lot of movies on the “T” screen. Why? Every movie whose title begins with “The” was alphabetized in the “T’s.”

Toward the end of the “The’s” I see The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry!

That was a great book. Very bookish. Very heartrending.

Somehow, it started about ten minutes into the running time. I tried and tried to rewind to the beginning, but to avail. I decided to watch it through and then try to restart it.

Well, I’m not going to give any plot away. But if you love books and bookstores, put it on your must see list—especially used bookstores.

I think I first read it in 2017. That was a tough time for me personally. It was so bad I decided to write these stories— This is #297. I haven’t missed a Friday yet. But it may be time to slow them down. I’m getting bored of my own voice.

(I SWEAR there’s a cat meowing behind me on the plane. It’s been going on for about ten minutes. I can’t imagine how that is possible on an international flight. Reminder: Google “cats on international flights.” Weird. I know people who are deathly allergic to cats. There’s less than an hour left to Dulles. Thank God! I hope my legs will work. I just want to get home now. It was an amazing trip. I had a wake up call at 3:30 Athens time to get my transfer from the hotel to the airport. If all goes well, I might get home by 8. That’s 21 hours, I think. We are approaching Manhattan. It will be good to walk again—in fresh air.)

(P.S. There was a cat. I saw it as we headed to customs. I don’t know if it had a passport.)

It is 7:48 a.m. Friday. This week’s story is finished.

It is raining. I took the woodstove ashes out and shook them onto a soaking garden bed.

It got up to 74 yesterday. No need for a fire last night.

Maybe tonight. It will be cold and damp. A low of 41.

There’s still a lot of deadfall firewood in the driveway I need to burn up.

Here’s the poem manuscript on faded yellow legal paper I rediscovered sorting old tubs of papers in my office. It is about my nearest brother, Jim’s, passing in 2002.

When I was a child
a fever gripped me
fantasies capered on the spread below my chin
“Surely you see them?”
“There’s nothing there,”
my mother fretted
“Sure. To be sure.
I see them too,” he said
And then I rested assured
that although two worlds coexist
either would hold a place for me
Now with a foot in each
my turn to embrace
the withered frame
and assure him
“I see it too.”
And I will bring him home
to be home again
until our father’s voice
calls him home for good
Time’s measure is a free fall
Limitless dreams
And horizons at each compass point
til the earth comes hurtling up
faster and faster
finality strikes too late
for the diver
It’s the lesson
to those of us still flying

Just a glimpse
as someone passes through
“I see it too.”
Dreams fulfilled are carried on
Those unfulfilled
are realized at once
as part of the plan

What can be
What should be
What must be

He wrote too few
but the rarest jewels
are the most desirable

12 Comments on Article

  1. Doug commented on

    Hey Chuck,

    Another great read. I am interested in one of the book carts if you are going to sell them.


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Doug!
      We never have enough book carts!
      I really appreciate you taking the time to write!

  2. David Holloway commented on

    I’m very moved by the poem. Lovely writing!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you David. That is very kind.

  3. Lauren Baker commented on

    I’ve been waiting for Greece! I think my first Michaels /Peters was Sea King’s daughter. Started searching for more after that. Please tell us more about the libraries with more pictures. Those plane rides and airports would send me over the edge so your trip’s are my travels. I hope one day we go to Japan and Australia. –
    PS. Great rainbow

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Lauren,
      The Athens libraries were just ruins – very ruined!
      There are pictures on my Instagrams – if you do that.
      I cant add too many pictures to the blogs I’m afraid
      accounts are:

      Thanks you two much for writing.

  4. Terry commented on

    What a beautiful rainbow! I have never seen on with colors so bright! Glad the trip went well. You will be back to Maryland time soon enough!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Tery!
      I’m still recovering!

  5. Ken Schultz commented on


    Every week I look forward to reading your blog on Saturday morning.

    This week I was touched by your poem for your brother Jim.

    Also, a couple of weeks ago my wife and I watched The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry on Hoopla through the Frederick County Public Library in our TV room in the big screen, a much better setting then the scrunched up conditions you had on your flight. It is a great, touching movie.

    And finally, I have a enjoyed your talk of planting all the bulbs and am going to follow you lead this fall. Can you recommend the mail order company you ordered them from?

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much Ken!
      It means so much to hear these things.
      Most of the bulbs I get from Van Engelen and Scheepers (same company)
      Request a free catalog form both.
      Van Engelen is like Costco – cheaper but larger qtys
      Scheepers catalogs have color images and more for smaller quantities.

  6. Gary Fowler commented on

    If you’re getting bored with your own voice in these weekly epistles, as you wrote, then maybe you need to slow down for you, and I respect and understand that; but reading these every Saturday is a treat for me.
    Best wishes always, unmet friend!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind Gary!
      Hearing that helps me feel I’m doing something useful.
      Thanks so much

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