Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Surprise! It's Me!

Well, Melody, who has fallen into such a deep rut or never going anywhere or doing anything, went somewhere and did something. On Sunday I drove down to the southwestern corner of Connecticut to visit my brother Bob and his family. Hadn't seen them since May of 2009, when I stopped by their house on my way back from watching my god-daughter graduate from Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. Two years of not seeing each other, when we live a 5 1/2 hour drive apart. Seems incredible, until you examine our busy lives (theirs especially, with their two very active sons), the fact that I hate driving through Connecticut (very heavy, fast-moving traffic), and the fact that none of us ever has any money!

One Sunday a month Bob and Gwen throw a Vegan Artists' Brunch at their house. I'm neither vegan nor an artist (not in the visual arts sense, which most of their artist friends are), but I decided it would be the perfect occasion to show up unannounced. It was not easy, forcing myself to make the effort to do this thing I wanted to do, but Sunday morning actually found me on the road, my small cooler on the seat beside me full of the necessary snacks to get me through 5 1/2 hours of driving, the large cooler containing two bottles of champagne on ice. I went online to get some recommendations for decent champagne that was not wildly expensive. Two sites recommended Barefoot Bubbly Brut Cuvee, and several recommended Roederer Estate Brut. My local supermarket had the former (in Maine we do not have liquor stores; you buy your liquor at the grocery store), but not the latter; so I did something I've long wanted to do: stop at the New Hampshire State Liquor Store that is right at the border with Massachusetts. NH liquor stores are very popular with residents of Maine, Vermont and Mass., because NH has no sales tax on liquor, whereas said tax is quite high in the other states. I personally have no objection to being soundly taxed for my consumption of alcohol (I think things like candy bars, cookies and ice cream should also be taxed, instead of being treated as food), but I've just been curious about that big red barn of a place beside the highway where, presumably, they should have a decent selection of champagne.

Which they did, and that's where I got the Roederer. When I got to Bob's and Gwen's I tried some of each, and actually preferred the less-expensive Barefoot Bubbly. As the reviews I had read said it's lighter and "less complex," but has lots of bubbles. It's surprisingly dry, which I prefer to sweet, whether we're talking champagne, or any other kind of wine. The Roederer was, indeed, more "full-bodied," which I think could also be interpreted as "heavy." Had a good flavor, but was heavy, that's how I would describe it.

Getting to drink champagne was one of the perks of this trip for me. You simply cannot buy a bottle of champagne for one person. Wine will keep for a while, can be consumed over a period of time, but not champagne. You open it, you drink it, and I'm never up to consuming a whole bottle of champagne by myself, in one sitting.

Bob and Gwen were both properly amazed (and delighted) to see me on their doorstep, and it was good to spend some time with them and their boys, who came home later in the day. I also spent some time chatting with various artist types. I'm sure I was the most conventional person, and quite possibly, in many ways, the most conservative person there, which didn't bother me at all. I ate lots of healthy, mysterious food, and got to see a real live fox trotting around their back yard the next morning (Brookfield, where they live, is very rural).

I could only stay the one night, as I had a dentist appointment Not-To-Be-Missed on Tuesday morning, but that was o.k. I had actually made myself do something I'd been wanting to do for some time, and it proved pleasurable for all concerned.

I had gone down the most direct way, which involved traveling on three "hairy" highways: Route 495, from the Mass./NH line to Worcester, MA (in about the middle of the state), then the Mass. Turnpike, which is always incredibly busy, and always involves a drastic slow-down at some point, during which you're creeping along at 25 miles an hour for 10 minutes or so...and you never see a reason for the slowdown, just all of a sudden the traffic whips back up to 75 miles an hour. And then there was Highway 84, which cuts diagonally down through Connecticut, taking you through the capital, Hartford. None of this is fun driving.

So on my drive back I decided to take the "scenic route," going up Route 8 from Waterbury (about halfway between Hartford and Brookfield), in an effort to avoid having to go around or through Hartford. At first this seemed to be a really good idea because up until the small town of Winsted it's this excellent four-lane highway with beautiful scenery all around -- showing just how lovely parts of Connec-ticut are, with all the tree-covered hills -- and so little traffic (especially when compared with Highway 84!) that one is actually able to enjoy the scenery. Even after Winsted it wasn't bad, though it was now a 2-lane highway, and at one point I had to wend my way through the middle of a town (which may, in fact, have been Winsted). I turned off 8 just over the Massachusetts line, onto Route 57, which would take me due east to get to Highway 202, which in turn would take me a short distance north to connect me to the Mass. Pike.

On 57 I was in the depths of the Berkshire Moun-tains of western Mass., up and down steep hills along a very narrow, rough country road, passing through little hamlets with just a few big old houses and the requisite little white New England church, wondering where on earth these people did their shopping! Finally reached 202 and turned north toward the Mass. Pike, and that's when it got ugly. 202 proved to be a heavily commercialized, heavily traveled street, with lights, road repair, confusing signs -- I managed to take a wrong turn at the Westfield town center, which is all torn up with construction, and had to stop in a shopping center and ask a passer-by for directions, losing about 15 minutes in the process. I was very relieved to finally reach 90, and decided this was definitely not a viable alternative route for traveling between my house and the southwest corner of CT. But I'm glad I saw the scenery I saw, before the going got unpleasant. So much of travel by car is strictly functional, getting to wherever you're going by the fastest route, having to concentrate on the inevitable concomitant traffic to get there safely.

Once on the Mass. Pike it was smooth sailing, though I did manage to lose my turnpike ticket, so had to pay a dollar more than I should have, when it was time to exit. I found the ticket on the floor when I unpacked the car, which points up one of the many disadvantages of traveling alone: no way you can frantically search for a dropped turnpike ticket and drive, too.

In the end my trip back was an hour and a quarter longer than my trip down, and I was very tired when I got home. But...mission accomplished. And now I know a good, cheap champagne to get whenever the occasion calls for champagne!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Little things

People are always saying it's the little things that matter. I don't really buy that. If the big things in your life are out of whack, all the terrific little things can't really make up for that. The biggest big thing that can be wrong, or bad, is your health, and when that's bad, you may appreciate a beautiful flower blooming in your garden, or getting a real, live letter through the mail, or devouring a delicious, ripe peach. But your appreciation lasts only a few moments, and the big, bad thing is always there, hovering in the back-ground, coloring your whole life.

Not having a job, or having a job that you hate, or one that doesn't pay nearly enough, so that living is a constant, stressful struggle to make ends meet... these are also big things that pretty much negate all the beautiful sunsets or pleasurable walks through the neighborhood. Having a seriously disabled child, whose care drains you, would be another.

However, I'm here to talk about a couple of little things. They don't make up for the big bad things in my life, but they have given me pleasure many times over the years.

The first is a sewing basket. It is very old-fashioned looking: not very big, oval-shaped, covered all over, including on the handle that arches over the top, with a black tufted fabric that is printed with two types of flowers -- pink roses with green leaves, and little bouquets of pink/yellow/blue... phlox? That's what they look like, though I don't know that I've ever seen yellow phlox. There's a white satin bow at each end of the handle, where it meets the basket, and another on the front edge of the lid. Inside, the basket is lined with black fake-satin.

Mind you, I'm not this big seamstress. In fact, unlike every other female in my family, I'm no seamstress at all. What this basket gets used for is the sewing back on of the occasional button, or the reinstate-ment of a section of hem that I've pulled out with the heel of my shoe, or a section of seam that too big a reach has pulled loose. I also keep iron-on patches in there.

No, it's not that this basket is an indispensible item in my life, it's that I love its sweet, old-fashioned prettiness. And it gives me pleasure to remember that my Aunt Carleen gave it to me. We were in a drugstore together once, years ago, and she was saying how she wanted to get me something for my birthday (I think it was my birthday!), and I saw this little display of sewing baskets and said, "This is it, this is what I'd like!" She was very surprised, no doubt at least partly because I was not famous in the family for my sewing. But it didn't cost much -- think they may have been on sale -- so she bought it for me. And it's gone with me in all my many, many moves since then. And always sits, looking fetching, on my white dresser.

Then there's the little travel clock I bought when visiting my English friends in High Wycombe several years ago. I had left my travel alarm somewhere or other, which was a drag, since sometimes catching the necessary train requires rising at some ungodly hour. Ann, John and I had done a little tour of the town, and stopped at a kind of flower/gift shop. I saw this very little clock, saw that it was an alarm clock, saw that it didn't cost much at all, and bought it on the spot. And not only has that clock served me faithfully on my travels ever since, it has served me in my home. Indeed, except for the digital clocks on the microwave and the electric range that are always going on the blink when we have a power outage, it's the only clock I have. It's piping little alarm is what wakes me, on those mornings when I can't just sleep until I awake naturally, and it's quiet, steady tick has proved a comforting sound, when I've been lying in my bed. And I am endlessly amazed that such an inexpensive little thing has proved so durable, and reliable (I think I've had to change the batteries only once!)

With both of these "little things" the fact that I acquired them in the company of, and indeed be-cause of, people I care for adds to the pleasure I take in them. And they are much less fleeting than a sunset.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The importance of things

Well, I just accidentally watched a PBS program having to do with 9/11. I don't normally watch T.V. during the daytime -- makes me feel guilty, as in: you should be getting things accomplished -- but I switched on the television when the tedious task of putting photos in an album began to pall. The program that was just starting was called Objects and Memory, and it turned out to be not so much about the terrible events of that day, as the importance of objects, things in connecting people to those who died.

I cried several times during the program. As for example when the woman was talking about how a newsman had gone to Ground Zero, and saw some of the thousands of pieces of paper that filled the air that day, adhering to the grill of an emergency vehicle. He gathered a few of them up. One of them was the personnel review of the woman's husband, who had worked in one of the Twin Towers. The newsman tracked the woman down, and gave her that piece of paper that had her husband's signature on it, that he had held, touched. And it meant the world to her.

I understood exactly how she felt, how the others felt who spoke along similar lines, when similar "miracles" brought them some little something connected to their lost loved one, months, in one case even a couple of years, after 9/11. I said this a long time ago in one of my newsletters, when I was waxing rapturous about some ancient stone wall or other that I'd encountered in my travels: things make the past real to us. And it doesn't really matter what the item is, how insignificant. What is important is that it was there. As they said on this program, physical things forge a bridge between us and the past, a bridge that is stronger than just our memory of the past; indeed, they reinforce our memories.

I still have a couple of old shirts of my husband Micheal's, a Japanese-style robe I gave him at some point, one of his old hats, the velvet drawing of a dragon that a friend had given him for his last birthday, that he was busy coloring with colored pencils up until the day of his death (and which I finished after he died)...all of these things have meaning for me because they were his, touched him, were touched by him. They connect me to him.

The one time I felt a real pang during the massive "garage" sale (it actually ended up being a whole house sale) that I had four months after Micheal's death, was when I saw someone carrying the little drop-front desk he had had since he was a boy, out of the house to the "cashier" (my mother) on the front lawn. The desk had been cheaply made, and was not in very good shape, but I knew it had meant a lot to Micheal, because it connected him to his past, his youth. So in a way I was saying good-by to two connections to the past: mine to Micheal, and Micheal's to his youth. There were good, practical reasons for including the desk with all the other things being sold, but I still feel a small regret that I did not hang onto it, as I did to the hat, the shirts, the robe.

There was another aspect of the importance of things examined by the PBS program (which was really very well-done). Everywhere that New Yorkers set up impromptu memorials to the fallen, in the days following 9/11, people brought things and left them. Flowers, flags, teddy bears, poems, pictures drawn by children. The same thing happened following the Oklahoma City terrorist attack in 1995: people spontaneously brought things to leave for the people who had died. They did the same thing when Princess Diana died. In such cases the things are not serving as a link between separated loved ones, but as an acknowl-edgment that the missing were here. The message that is being sent: "I may not have known you personally, but I honor the fact of your life with this token." And people feel compelled to do this! This to me is both wonderful, and fascinating. We want, we need, a physical manifestation of how we feel about the death of someone, a physical affirmation that someone cares.

Friday, September 9, 2011

I don't want to go there

O.K., for the past few days everything has been about 9/11, and about how we are approaching the 10th anniversary of same. The television, newspapers, news magazines, the Internet, everywhere you turn, that's the major news. People who lost loved ones at the World Trade Center being interviewed. New Yorkers who were trauma-tized by the events of the day, but ultimately decided to stick it out in New York, rather than fleeing elsewhere, being interviewed. Interviews of American Muslims who feel America has become much more suspicious of them since 9/11 (not surprisingly!), and who wish those suspicious Americans would understand that they (the Muslims) are as appalled by what happened as the rest of America, who wish Americans better understood what Islam is really about.

Am I the only person who would prefer not to be reminded of that terrible day, who would prefer we not have this revisiting and rehashing? Who thinks it would have been wiser to have quiet memorial services, without a lot of leading-up-to brouhaha? Now we're hearing that there is a serious possibility that there will be some kind of terrorist attack, on or around the 11th. Surprise, surprise! What could be a more perfect time to stage another attack, than the 10th anniversary of the original attack? Especially when there are all these big memorial services planned.

I certainly don't need to be reminded of anything I saw that day. I actually came to the events of the day late -- like one in the afternoon, when I was leaving for work at the Gray Public Library here in Maine. Hadn't had the radio or T.V. on during the morning, when I was getting ready for work, so knew nothing until I started the car. The radio came on automatically and a newsman was saying that all commercial flights had been grounded. What?! I listened for a couple of minutes, trying to understand what was hap-pening, then went back inside and turned on the T.V. A picture (that they had undoubtedly been replaying incessantly since 9 o'clock that morning) of a plane flying into one of the World Trade Center buildings was on the screen, and across the bottom was a wide red stripe with the words in white: American under attack. For a couple of minutes I really couldn't take it in, couldn't believe this was real. I was truly befuddled that I was watching an airplane seemingly fly into a building, but I didn't see it fly out. And then I yelled, "Micheal, Micheal, come quick; something terrible's happened!" Micheal worked nights at the time, and was probably in the third stage of sleep by then, but he came stumbling out of the bedroom, stark naked, brought by the urgency in my voice. We both sat on the couch, staring at the television, unable to believe what we were seeing and hearing. And when they showed the South Tower beginning to fall, I was as upset as the ladies on the sidewalk a few blocks away who were watching it happen right before them -- you could hear them crying out Oh, my God, Oh, my God. And that is just what I was thinking.

I finally realized I was going to be late for work, and went to the phone to call the library. I didn't at that time know that all of this had happened over four hours before, so thought I was relaying breaking news. I went on in to work, and worked my regular shift, but that was the beginning of days of seeing those same images over and over again on the T.V. I don't want to see them anymore.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

All right, some news, such as it is

O.K., I acknowledge it's a lousy hostess who invites a bunch of people to her blog, and then has nothing to serve them for over a month. What can I say? I haven't done a damn thing of interest in ages. I did live through the dregs of Hurricane Irene, which by the time it reached this neck of the woods was just a "tropical storm." While Vermont got pounded, because the storm had turned inland, here in central Maine we had some heavy rain in the morning of Sunday, Aug. 28th, then the wind arrived at 1:30 in the afternoon, continuing for several hours with no accom-panying rain. At 2 p.m. here in Gardiner the power went off, and for most of us remained off until the next morning. That was the biggest impact the storm had on this area.

I had made ice for my two coolers, as I planned to put food from the refrigerator in them if the power went off (and it always does). I left stuff in the refrigerator for about three hours -- hoping against hope that the power would come on soon -- then moved it to the coolers. I spent the afternoon taping photos into a photo album -- getting my pictures into albums is a long-term project I've been working on for some time -- as that was something I could do at the front window, where the light remained fair until about 6 p.m. (everywhere else in the house it was depressingly dim, since of course it was overcast out). I have an old waist-high chest there on which I keep framed photos of family and friends; I cleared off those pictures so I could spread out the photo album and work away.

My getting bored with the task at hand and the fading of the light occurred at about the same time. I was now sure we wouldn't be getting power back until the wee small hours, if then. I called one of my staff who lives in Hallowell, to see if she had power. And of course she did. Hallowell never loses power. I don't understand the difference; we're something like three miles apart. I've asked myself: whom are they paying what in Hallowell, to insure that their electric service is maintained, come what may?

At any rate, I decided to take my food to the refrigerator at the library. I did not want to be losing a lot of food, as I did the last time we had an extended power outage. While I was talking to Barb she invited me to dinner, which was welcome since I had no way of cooking. She mentioned that she had only two meatballs (giant ones), and funnily enough, I just happened to have a leftover turkey meatball in the refrigerator (or rather, in the cooler). So I took that as my contribution to the meal, packed up the car in the warm wind, and took off for Hallowell.

When I got home it was only 9:30 but I went to bed. Read-ing by candlelight is not easy, besides which I find sitting in candlelight by myself to be depressing. Because what it mainly is is dark, with only this bit of flickering light to keep you company. It has occurred to me that the purchase of an oil lantern might not be amiss, though I don't know how much that would help.

Still had no power when I left for work the next morning at 10 a.m., but when I got home at 2:30 that afternoon, the blinking clock on the electric range told me (after I'd done a little adding and subtracting), that the power had been restored a little after 10:30 a.m. Eighteen and a half hours. But of course there were people without power days later, so yes, I have to count my blessings. I'm better off than they, the folks who live in Hallowell are better off than I. There's always someone better off, someone worse.

But whenever this sort of thing happens I wonder: how on earth did they manage back in the bad old, pre-electricity days? How did they keep food from spoiling? I know they drank milk at cow temperature, I know they smoked and otherwise cured meat. But how did they keep leftovers? Or did they just never have leftovers, or feed 'em all to the hogs? I would have made such a terrible pioneer.