Shithouse rat

I'm a bipolar writer in the Naked City. I'm not playing with a full deck. I don't have all my dots on the dice. My cheese is sliding off my cracker. I don't have both oars in the water. I'm a bubble off plum. In other words, I'm crazier than a shithouse rat. These are my stories. Comments--short or long, nasty or nice--always welcome!

Monday, December 25, 2006

Poe's Christmas bells

Poe cottage, Bronx, NY
Originally uploaded by Elvira Black.
"Hear the sledges with the bells -
Silver bells!
What a world of merriment their melody foretells!
How they tinkle, tinkle, tinkle,
In the icy air of night!
While the stars that oversprinkle
All the heavens, seem to twinkle
With a crystalline delight;
Keeping time, time, time,
In a sort of Runic rhyme,
To the tintinnabulation that so musically wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells -
From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells."

From "The Bells," Edgar Allen Poe, 1849

Eight years ago, my boyfriend BG left Manhattan for a small studio apartment in the Bronx. Being a tad on the paranoid side, he does not like to keep all his windows wide open, and the apartment can get rather dark. However, the one room in the place with a great view is the bathroom, and the window is left unshaded for the entertainment of BG's cat, who can observe the pigeons who love to vex her from the safety of the outside windowsill. Here, the sun streams in all day, and looking out one can see some of the buildings of Fordam University in the distance-- including, I believe, the spires of its church. Since most buildings here are no higher than six stories, I've often remarked to BG that looking out the window and seeing the low rooftops makes me feel like I might be in a garret in Paris.

Near BG's apartment lies Poe Park. Within it sits Poe Cottage, where Edgar Allen Poe lived from 1846-1849. Poe moved there with his ailing wife in an attempt to escape the crowded city for the then-bucolic atmosphere and fresh air of the Bronx.

During these years, one of the poems Poe composed was "The Bells." In 1845 the University Church--located within what is now known as Fordham University--was constructed. It is possible that the chiming of these church bells inspired this famous poem. At least, I like to think so.

I believe it was last Christmas when I first heard the bells that I assume were originating from Fordham's church--it seemed as if the University had decided to bring them back into play. In addition to chiming the hour, they pealed out the Star Spangled Banner and Christmas songs. I thought about the fact that in the days before everyone had a Rolex or even a humble Timex, the church bells might have been the only way for the common man to keep track of the hours.

So on this Christmas day, it seems appropriate to hear the chiming of the church bells through the window of BG's humble abode, and to feel the spirit of Poe still present, somehow, from his former humble cottage down the road.

Merry Christmas everyone!


At 2:02 PM, Anonymous al said...

Nice post, EB! And, from your great new "home town" too.

That word "tintinnabulation", from Poe's poem, never failed to tickle me as a kid. Thanks for taking me back there today. How'd you know that's what I wanted for Christmas?

At 6:19 PM, Anonymous pia said...

Merry Christmas!
Poe's house never fails to amaze me, but the Bronx has the most amount of parkland in the city (40%) and some amazing houses.

Make's it special because it is in the Bronx

At 10:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I know so little of the Bronx, but I do know there are still some great places there. Wonderful post, Pia linked over to it so I hopped on by.

Merry and a Happy.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger g.m.s. said...

if you want to hear a fantastic musical rendition of that poem, the folk musician Phil Ochs sings a gorgeous version. my mother used to play it for me when I couldn't sleep.

At 4:16 AM, Blogger elvira black said...

Thanks guys...I've been inside the cottage once and it is very cool. The rooms look so tiny though--almost as cramped as a regular NYC apartment house!

At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow, I love Phil Ochs and glad I checked back in to see that name as a reminder.

At 11:39 AM, Anonymous greg said...

While fordham has brought back bells, i think they are electronic, as are the bells you actually hear -- not from fordham but from nearby Our Lady Of Refuge Parish on 196th and Bainbridge. They're the ones that play the Star Spangled Banner at noon.

Interesting stuff you wrote about gentrification in the Bronx and all. Still, most of the people moving to the Northwest Bronx are low income immigrants.

At 5:48 AM, Blogger elvira black said...


I'm hearing the Twilight Zone theme in my head obviously know the area well. Do you live/work here?

Oy burst my little bell bubble but good! LOL...

Yes, the area is predominantly low income, but very cool people. And everything's cheaper here, which is great if you're a New Yorker on a limited budget. Those Manhattan prices will kill ya.

At 4:10 PM, Anonymous greg said...

indeed... live and work here. walking to work is a luxury we should all have!

so, i say it's mad cool to have a blog coming out of the neighborhood, unless... wait -- is this another sign of gentrification?

thinking about your piece on take-out food, a great new place has opened up on Mosholu Parkway and Jerome -- Urban Wrap (read more at ) that serves some nice healthy food and smoothies. it's definitely worth checking out.

At 6:49 PM, Blogger elvira black said...


Ah, the internet is truly a beautiful we are neighbors and all (or will be soon, since I'm moving here in March!) Drop me an e-mail sometime.

My ex/boyfriend (we're now selling the Lower East Side coop we co-own) has just discovered, a website that a lot of Manhattan restaurants evidently now hook up with. It's great because you just do your ordering online and you get a discount too. Now that the Lower East Side is so gentrified (comparatively speaking), there are tons of restaurants of all types to order from. When we first moved there in '91, there was nothing but...yes...bad Chinese food and the local pizza place.

I told him that in BG's part of the Bronx, the only delivery options are still bad Chinese food and pizza. He didn't believe me and punched up BG's address to see what eateries would list. The answer, of course, was zero.

That wrap place sounds great. The only other good places I know about in the area are Montezuma's on Kingsbridge and of course Little Italy. Otherwise for the most part I guess you have to go up to Riverdale, so I still get my sushi fix in Manhattan.

There was a brief time awhile ago when I thought the Bronx Chinese takeout was getting better, but I was pretty much mistaken. Probably the worst of the bunch is the one on Kingsbridge that actually has bullet proof glass. I wondered about that until the day I saw some irate customer bring back his food because there was a roach in it. People have killed over less.

Anyway, I don't think my ex-b/f would survive here, but as for me, it's all good. I can't wait to get my new place and cook up a storm! And maybe Urban Wrap is the start of something good.


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