Wednesday, August 30, 2017

WHAT I DID ON SUMMER VACATION



I thought I would give a little recap of my recent trip to New England.

Many people were extraordinarily kind.

As I walked down Main St. in Northampton, MA, for example, a young lad named Jack came abreast and offered me two ears of corn. I accepted them with alacrity and my sister Little Meddy shucked and cooked them later that afternoon. They were delicious.

I continued my pattern of the previous few months of losing things. In my Hardwick, VT, airbnb, a moment of madness upon arriving led me to stick a few items of clothing in the top drawer of the dresser (as opposed to leaving everything in my suitcase: much safer). Of course I left them behind, not realizing my mistake till the next day in western Massachusetts. One of the items was a pair of black pants, my only "good" article of clothing (i.e.not a T-shirt or some variation of jeans) in my entire suitcase. These I had meant to don for two little talks I was giving, one to an afternoon retreat at St. Theresa's in Tiverton, RI, and one after Sunday afternoon Vespers at St. Stanislaus in Fall River, MA.

After I texted that evening, Sara, the airbnb lady, found the pants (along with one of my favorite black shirts, a pair of black leggings, a dark gray T-shirt and two pairs of black underwear), asked if I'd like her to mail them back to LA, and when I said, "Yes, please, I can paypal you the postage!" replied--"No problem. No charge." So if you ever find yourself in Hardwick, do stay at the Jeudevine Mansion Studio Apartment, and tell Sara I said hi.

FYI, If you walk to your right up the hill from the studio, you'll come upon the high school behind which is a whole series of interconnected trails through the woods. I had a couple of lovely hikes up there, one in the rain, all the while on the lookout for deer ticks I saw a couple of brooks, many robins, and an elaborate system of tubing strung across a wide swath of maple trees that what with my deep knowledge of the New England outdoors I took to be for the purpose of collecting sap.

Vermont features "food co-ops," often with a swami-type behind the counter who looks as if he had been smoking pot steadily for the last 40 years and where a sponge such as I could find a 3-pack of in my local 99-cent store runs $6.75. Cherries at one I visited were $5.99 a pound.  There looked to be a wide divide between the people who lived in trailers and the snowbirds who I imagined had bigger spreads and could afford to spend a few hundred bucks on a weekend's worth of groceries, but the scenery, rivers, woods, trees and birds are available to all. I can only imagine the splendid fall foliage. I attended Mass for the Assumption at Hardwick's St. Norbert's, which I was able to walk to, and glad of it, as Vermont towns are spaced quite far apart.


THE MONTAGUE (MA) BOOKMILL
"BOOKS YOU DON'T NEED IN A PLACE
YOU CAN'T FIND"

From Hardwick, I also took a little day trip to Glover, VT, which was the main reason, besides my friend Altoon, more below, I'd come to the Northeast Kingdom at all. My destinations were two: The Bread and Puppet Theater, and the Museum of Everyday Life. I visited both on a gloomy Tuesday afternoon, very atmospheric. I posted lots of pix of the Bread and Puppet last week and the Museum of E.L. is a labor of love that I strongly urge you to visit if you're ever in the area.

I'm always thinking, God, I wish I could just be alone all the time but I think I may have met my match in Vermont where there are so few people that being truly alone, for any length of time, would actually be scary. In mid-August, winter seemed already to be closing in. The trees had started to turn, the faintest chill varnished the morning and night air, and I could understand how such activities as quilting and baked-bean-cooking came to be.

Throughout the two weeks, I reverted to mild to moderate food hoarding. This is a compulsive form of control I like to exercise when frightened or anxious (which by definition covers all travel). For example, I have an extreme aversion to spending any money at all in an airport or plane. The food is a ripoff! Also the whole air travel experience is so unpleasant and constricting I, along with I feel many other people, descend into a kind of larval, hibernating state, and why spend money on overpriced or really any food when you won't have a god time eating it?

Anyway, so for the coast-to-coast flight I usually bring my own plastic bag of assorted odds and ends from my fridge that I don't want to go bad while I'm gone, which is supplemented with the minuscule bags of pretzels and faux-waffle chemical cookies they give you on United.

Upon arrival, I then gather my supplies and hold them close. I hauled a single quart of half and half from Northampton to Tiverton, RI, e.g., reluctantly leaving the last quarter cup in the fridge of the friend's friends where I was staying the day I left only because I couldn't bring liquids on the plane. I ferried a wedge of St. Andre cheese from the Trader Joes in Newington NH to Portland ME to Hardwick VT to Northampton MA to Tiverton and then back to LA in my carry-on bag. What's left is in my fridge as we speak flattened into a kind of Saran-wrapped disc that I will get to soon.  Perfectly good food! St. Andre, in case you don't know, is basically butter in cheese form. I am not wasting so much as a bite of that, no way.

Anyhoo, so I panicked briefly when I realized I'd left the black pants behind as I had nothing else presentable to wear and another thing I have a kind of phobia about while traveling is doing any kind of "errand" beyond the absolutely essential: for example buying half-and-half and light groceries. Intentional clothes shopping, i.e. for a particular item, is a chore and thus a definite no (though I may come across a scarf or bag or pair of earrings by chance).

As luck would have it, Little Meddy was able to unearth a pair of black Banana Republic pants that were only a couple of sizes too large and when hitched up with a belt and covered with the weird gray duster-like hooded shroud I wear tied around my waist morning, noon, and night, looked "fine." So that was another little godsend and there were many such. A bathroom, a packet of sugar, a binder clip, a tea bag: such "small" items, when one is traveling, assume gargantuan significance. I did have to baste up the hems of the pants and don't think I wasn't delighted to produce from the caverns of my suitcase a tiny complimentary sewing kit from some long-ago speaking-engagement hotel.

The Maronite Sisters of Dartmouth, Massachusetts (technically Maronite Sisters of Christ the Light) had me over for Vespers and Saturday dinner! They filled me on the fact that the Maronites are an Eastern rite Catholic church, very much under Rome, and on their mission of offering their spiritual motherhood, especially to young folk. Then they thoughtfully stationed their novice Sr. Natalie beside me at Vespers to shepherd me through. They have a lovely I believe 5-acre spread and grow many of their own vegetables. We had among other items grilled chicken, lamb and beef, homemade tabbouleh, hummus, tomatoes, delicious bread, sweets and coffee. The sisters were joyful, vibrant and warm. Thank you Sr. Marla Marie. Sister Therese and Sister Natalie! Let's continue to pray for each other.

High point of trip: the Polish hymns at St. Stanislaus for the Vespers of the annual Mass for Our Lady of Częstochowa. I tried to look for something similar on youtube and found nothing that even remotely approximated the heart-rending, soul-shaking beauty. You could not hear two bars without spontaneously weeping.  They handed out a song sheet in Polish which I deeply wish I'd kept because I'd at least have the names of the songs. It was some of the most gorgeous music I have ever heard, from these "ordinary" parish ladies. So gorgeous that maybe it is not to be repeated, or maybe to be heard only once a year for those willing to travel to or lucky enough to be at St. Stanislaus. Fall River, like so much of New England, and in fact the whole country, has been decimated by opioid use. I felt beyond humbled to give a little talk afterward and would have much preferred to hear the ladies sing some more traditional Polish hymns. Thank you, Fr. Andrew Johnson, the sainted pastor.

NEAR THE GREENHOUSES
SMITH COLLEGE CAMPUS, NORTHAMPTON, MA

I know I'm jumping around a bit, but bear with me.

Oh, my visit with Altoon. Altoon is a visual artist, gardener, photographer, reader, cook, and general quester who maintains her own farmstead, also in northern Vermont. She grows raspberries, hydrangeas, tulips, and all manner of other vegetables, fruits and flowers. She made a stupendous lunch that included a zucchini fritatta, a beet salad, home-made pita, and raspberry pound cake. Then we took a short walk through the adjacent woods and she identified jewel-weed, many kinds of moss, ferns, and mushrooms. We even came upon a stand or two of Indian pipes! That was a thrill.

I had long admired her blog, "Studio and Garden" (which she maintained assiduously for years and has more recently but back on, but you can still spend many happy hours trolling the archives), and had visited her once before. So this is one of those rare (to me anyway) serendipitous friendships that begin online and end by meeting in the flesh and the meetings are all the more precious for being so necessarily rare. We started talking the second I alit from my car and didn't stop for close to three hours.  Thank you, Altoon, and bless you. Our two afternoons are enshrined in memory and I fervently hope to be able to visit again.

Oh, here's another travel adventure: the HORRIBLE state of Massachusetts has instituted a diabolical toll system whereby the turnpikes and highways have NO CASH LANE. Everybody, including visitors and car renters, is forced to purchase the hideously misnomered "EZ Pass." So get this: for a mere $12.99 a day, you can purchase a pass from your rental car dealer--and it must be purchased for every day of the rental! (And according to the rental car lady, can be purchased NOWHERE ELSE, which is actually kind of true unless you know to buy the thing online in advance). So since I had rented a car for two weeks, I would have had to pay $181.86 to travel once or twice on the Mass Pike and to take the Callahan or Ted Williams or whatever it is Tunnel from Providence into Logan. Of course you can just breeze through without a pass but you get something like a $25 fine per incident AND the rental car company (E-Z in my case) also adds on some unspecified administrative fee. Needless to say, I would have none of it.

I learned you can go to Settings on Google Maps and specify "No Tolls," so that was useful. I also learned that it is possible to reach Boston's Logan Airport from the south without using a bridge or tunnel but do not forget to take your opioids first. Actually I probably would have been relatively okay going all the tortuous way north through Boston on 93 to some Everett or Somerville cutoff and then wending my way past chop shops, Mafia-front garages, and pizza joints to the Revere Beach Expressway, EXCEPT for the fact that just before the airport I had to gas up (because God forbid I should leave the tank only three-quarters full and be gouged for rental car fuel prices).

I therefore found myself in the center of a nightmarishly convoluted, under-construction downtown in which I actually began to think it was impossible either to get to what seemed to be the sole gas station or even to get out of, period. If Siri said one more time, "Turn right on Pearl, Turn left on Congress," I swear I would have screamed. Plus I had to use the restroom something terrible and was also deeply excited to have completed my trip without major mishap and to be going home at last. I can't believe I wasn't stopped for drunk driving so jerkily and uncertainly did I REPEATEDLY circumnavigate this little downtown! With my St. Andre cheese and trail mix neatly tucked away for the flight home.

Anyway, I finally made it to the airport, dropped off the car, and seldom have I been so glad to be in an airport, plus by the way Logan is excellent! They have outlets beneath every chair to charge your phone and big banks of semi-deserted desk-like areas where if need be you could actually spread out your laptop and get some work done. Personally I was content to sit and catch up on my New Yorkers. I slept through some of the flight home, splurged on an uber (as opposed to the Flyaway bus, then uber), and arrived home to my cozy Pasadena apartment around 11. A quick check of the plants on the balcony--everything looked okay! (Thank you, Nora, for watering). What fun to unpack, open the mail (thank you Lindsie, for collecting), refrigerate my hunk of gypsy cheese!

It was around midnight when I thought to check my phone: a tottering on its last legs but still trusty 5s.  Except the phone was nowhere to be found. Yep. I'd left the damn thing in the uber. I'd been saying a rosary the whole way home and I must have forgotten it was in my lap and in my excitement at having made it home safely, dropped it to the floor. Or the street. Or the driveway. Or the balcony. Or...after retracing my steps several times, I went to my laptop and discovered 1) I  couldn't sign on to uber to get the name and number of the driver because uber sends an authentication code to your phone and 2) the find your iphone app only works if the wifi is on which I happened to know it wasn't. I won't describe the couple of hours of ensuing panic (of course my phone isn't locked; I'm too impatient to punch in a code or swipe my finger every time), but suffice it to say that uber driver Suzanne, another sainted individual, hand-delivered the phone to my door the next day. That is, after my sainted friend Julia Gibson ran interference.

All I can say is It takes a village to travel.

And that is not even counting the lunch at Ten Ten Pié in Portland, now one of my all-time favorite restaurants with my dear friend Ellen M., my visit with old grade school chum Bonnie Blythe and her husband Daniel, also in downtown Portland at the annual St. Peter's Fest, my three days in Tiverton with treasured friend and benefactor Dr. Tim Flanigan and his family and friends, my visit with Abbot Matthew Stark and the wonderful monks at Portsmouth Abbey, and my visit with my beloved brother Tim and cousin Dickie in Rye Beach, NH, Not to mention getting to hang out with Joe Dionne, one of my dearest, most cherished friends from grade and high school.

So full was my heart that on my last night I lay in bed and simply pulsated with love for my family, friends, and New England. My body and soul were way too small to contain such multitudes.

Other news from LA: the coral trees are beginning to bloom. The pomegranates are ripening. The camellias that will flower in January are starting to bud. I've been accepted for reading privileges as an "independent scholar" (of what? you might ask) at the Huntington Library and Gardens.

And the U.S. Open is on.


FAREWELL, EAST COAST, TILL NEXT TIME! 


14 comments:

  1. What a trip! I don't travel much anymore but I definitely understand what you went through. By the way, there's a Great Blue Heron in your picture, "Near the Greenhouses".

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    1. It's a metal sculpture, but yes, Michael! I have got to post some pix of my garden soon--you'll appreciate. Maybe...

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  2. What a lovely, funny, grateful, marvelous post. I hope all is now calm, with no more lost items, now that you're at home. Your friends back east treasure your visits.

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  3. Great, great post! Loved reading it. Thank you.

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  4. Welcome home!!!! Sounds like a perfect summer ramble.

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  5. Thanks, everybody. How lucky I am to have such beautiful friends, to be able to travel a bit, and to have a home to come back to. Before I leave one more time for one of my other "homes"...safe travels, inner and outer, to all!

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  6. Reading about your travel adventures was a real treat. A number of years ago, I made my 8 day retreat at the monastery of the Maronite Monks of Adoration somewhere in Massachusetts. It's good to know there are Maronite sisters there too. Hope you've settled in well at home.

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    1. Thank you, Fr. Jack! The Maronite Sisters were just wonderful. After arriving home, these people who welcome and feed us pilgrims seem ever more precious...I have hit the ground running--wishing you a lovely autumn...

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  7. Love love loved seeing you, Heath. In your dear old New England. xo

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    1. Back atcha, treasured NE sister! Till next time at Coffee by Design...xo

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  8. Visited Bread & Puppet in August, 2012... glad you got there too!
    Cousin Kirk

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    1. Oh that's grand, Kirk, that we were both moved to visit the same place! I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Bread and Puppet, and in all of Vermont...

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  9. Ahaha! I have read your posts for years and I don't think any made me laugh aloud as much as this one. Thanks for that!

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    1. Thanks, Erin, I could have written a book for each day of my trip, so rich was the experience. I sort of dashed off the post in a mad effort to "process" as I transitioned back to life in LA...nothing makes me happier than making people laugh...

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