Friday, August 22, 2008

We Have Been to Vermont, Day 1

The landscape changes suddenly out of the Albany/Schenectady corridor into southwest Vermont. Route 9 changes to Route 7, billboards and traffic vanish. Suddenly an obelisk towers (I want to veer onto the side road and touch it, but my thumbs and politics are already opposable) over the valley in which Bennington nestles, famed for its writing workshop, and, according to Wyn Cooper, a place I'm more likely to run into John Gardner's ghost, since he spent much time there. I stop in town for coffee and a walk up and down the main drag, festooned with statues of people very much like an Americana statue I recall from Santa Barbara of a guy washing a window, kid sitting on his shoulders. He's here, too, or his brother, along with numerous others by the same artist. It makes me think of State Street, but it's only three blocks long, no Museum of Art or Anthropologie or Restoration Hardware or Saks. It's quiet and cute, and I don't see a chain anything, so I get a cappuccino at the non-Starbucks and head east over the Green Mountains toward Brattleboro, toward Wyn and Shawna's place in the mountains above Marlboro.

I nearly missed the turn off of Route 7, but slammed on the brakes, thankfully no one behind me. The pavement vanished and I was on back roads into the low mountains, ultimately along the Green River until I found Wyn and Shawna's driveway--steep gravel up to a lovely home with a large deck. Wyn and Shawna were there with open arms and smiles, but Shawna had work and rehearsal, so I wouldn't see her much till later. I felt immediately welcome. Their house is gorgeous, filled with art and broadsides and books, ensconced in maple and pine forest just up the hill from the Green River. After catching up about the drive, etc., Wyn readied to take me to the "swimming hole" at an old wood damn beside a covered bridge about ten minutes from his house. I suspected immediately that this would be a lovely place to look for mushrooms and, while he was getting ready, I stepped outside and found a chanterelle in the woods just steps from the back of his house. When he came out, we jumped in his sweet '63 MG and headed into the village down the river a bit. He swam while I balanced on the rocks. I was ambivalent about getting in. I'd have to undress. Wyn explained that nudity was legal in Vermont unless a community passed a specific law against it. Still, there was a couple there from NYC and, more importantly, the water was chilly, so I just stayed with the rocks and the river music and enjoyed the scenery and the sweet air. We chatted briefly with the NY couple before we headed back to the house, then into Brattleboro to shop for provisions--by provisions, think wine--to go along with the Memphis barbecue Wyn planned to pick up for dinner after Shawna's rehearsal.

We went into town and it happened to be a first friday artwalk evening, and we walked through several very cool galleries and Wyn introduced me to a few of the area artists and gallery owners. We stopped at a local brewpub for a beer, and Wyn knew everybody, it seemed, so he had to make a few rounds around the room. I sipped my beer and enjoyed the atmosphere. Wyn sat down and we enjoyed our pints. The server was also a friend who had acted with Shawna, and Wyn explained that she would soon be off to Guatemala, plans unspecified. She recognized my Califone T-shirt and we talked a little about the music before her next round was up and she had to leave. Life in Brattleboro is good. I have finally been to Vermont and I can retire the first poem I ever published ("Lunchtime in Vermont"), which was, to be kind to it, an exercise in line breaks and immature mindfuck postmodernism, as I understood it at twenty.

Later, we picked up the barbecue, supped late, and drank later--excellent barbecue washed down with big wines, including a lovely Italian Aglianico Rubrato and a Turley Moore Earthquake, both gorgeous wines with barbecue. Good wine and good food don't matter, though, if the company isn't up to the sensual pleasures. Wyn and Shawna, on the other hand, as we all love fine foods and grand vins, would make peasant bread and a jug of dago red a royal meal. We talked late, too late, about Shawna's impending performance, friends, poetry, music, art, politics, love, and who knows what else? I was there and it was a perfect evening. All I can say is thanks for my good fortune, my good friends. I hope I can return the favor one day.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Toward New England with hot plate.

Wednesday, July 30th at the crack of 10 a.m., I crawled into the Hyundai with cds and a few bottles of wine and much to think about, and set off north to see Wyn and Shawna in Brattleboro and Amy in Woodstock. While driving can be a kind of emotional peristalsis, I'll focus on the more mundane, the gourmandish kind. Instead of fast food or Shoney's or truck stop fare along the way (in great contrast to my friend at Imnotonetoblogbut's Parisian gastronomic orgy), I picked up a 10-buck hotplate at Big Lots and threw some utensils and olive oil in a bag, along with a cooler full of stuff that I'd have to throw away (bananas, organic eggs, cheese, salad fixins, juice) if I didn't take it, along with a bag of pasta shells and a can of sauce. The first night in Roanoke, VA was simple. I got there around 8ish and found a grocery story across the street to augment my simple pasta shells and sauce dinner with a full salad (nothing special, but healthier than the Waffle House and McDonald's within walking distance of my curry-scented [I'd love to have knocked on the door and held out a bowl] Travelodge). A spiced egg with a little balsamic vinegar sunnyside up on toast (roasted gingerly pinched with a fork and a spoon over the open burner) made a simple and filling breakfast the next morning before I headed north again.

I hit Binghamton, NY, in the early evening with plenty of time to walk around downtown and along the river, and to look for a decent restaurant and the ghost of John Gardner, but finding Binghamton generally abandoned, and arriving the day before Spiedie fest (one-handed grilled sandwiches suitable for Grendal), my choices were limited. Instead, I headed to the grocery store near the hotel, picked up some live clams and local Italian sausage and bread, and decided to busy myself for the long evening steaming clams in dark beer, cooking pasta and sausage, and enjoying these with bread and salad and a decent red. It's a serial process, but given the lack of nightlife thereabouts, it made the evening pass simply and deliciously, though I'd have loved to stick around and sample the full variety of spiedie's. After a breakfast of another egg, quesadilla, and a banana, I headed to Vermont for finer and more fulfilling culinary experiences.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Congratulations, Jason Lezak

He touched the wall first, sprinting from behind to wash all the mots from the trash-talking and heavily favored French team. Everybody saw it. You saw it. Michael Phelps saw it and his joy was the image the media loved, but, athletically, Jason's performance was among the finest perfomances in the history of Olympic swimming, and definitely the finest in relays. His swim was a celebration of will.

I loved it most because I didn't know Jason was on this year's team until he took his turn. I hadn't been paying much attention to the Olympics. Phelps lead off and I watched, went to the kitchen to get a glass of water, and listened to the progress. I was excited to hear the announcer call Jason's name, because he was one of my business writing students at UCSB, and we used to talk about swimming and basketball (my sport) and his plans. He was serious about improving and making nationals, talking possibilities, angles that would make him better. He was committed.

What impressed me most was that he thought about swimming long-term. He talked about the work he needed to do, his faults, the demands of the sport, his desire, all the realities of the swimming world. He was very good, tall, broad-shouldered, and slim, and he knew it, but he wasn't any kind of physical freak. Yet he excelled, and I remember being surprised to read that he'd won a gold in the relay in Sydney, and then medalled again in Athens. I figured he was done, had had a great career--it's a sport for the young, after all.

Not this year. Dana Torres couldn't be my daughter, and Jason--younger than her by several years--couldn't be my son. He demonstrated what work and commitment and long term devotion can do. He's an exceptional athlete, though more for his work ethic and determination than his simple physical ability. Congratulations, Jason. You definitely earned it.

Update: Jason helped Michael Phelps pick up his 8th with another superb relay anchor, plus he picked up his first individual Olympics medal (bronze) in the 100 m. freestyle.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Just the facts

Back from Vermont and New York, and here are a few random facts. Narratives to come.

Miles I schlepped: 2600+

" per gallon: 35, freeway

Highest priced gas: $4.07 9 (Woodstock)

Cheapest gas: $3.379 (Southern Maryland)

Folks visited: Wyn and Shawna in Vermont, Amy at the KTD monastery, Woodstock.

Most beautiful scenery: Devil's Kitchen cataract from the cliff edge with Amy. (Hike to firetower above 100-mile viewpoint, VT with Wyn and Shawna was an excellent second).

Best wine: You'll have to wait. There were many and they were excellent.

Best meal: Shawna's (menu to come).

Scariest moment: Sudden downpour on 81 that washed the windshield opaque.

Museum visited: Mass MOCA.

Play attended: Olleana (starring Shawna).

The Wackness.

Subtle surprise: Server at the pub in Brattleboro (and friend of my hosts) recognized my Califone t-shirt. Hope she likes Guatemala.

Mushrooms foraged and enjoyed: Chanterelles and boletus bicolor in VT; bb and black trumpets in NY.

Worst road name: Beaver Ruin Road (north of ATL).

Best Hotel: Lakeview outside Bennington for $35, cash only and a plastic shower exactly like the one I ripped from my bathroom.

Best new custom: Motel hotplate cooking (recipes to follow?).

What I missed at home: Ninja Gun CD release party and a shed show.

Best Bread. Bread Alone's SF Organic Whole Grain Levain.

Best moment: Looking in Amy's eyes again and finding her happy in Woodstock.