Friday, October 12, 2007
How I Spent My Autumn Vacation
Sandie and I returned on October 9th from our mad-dash, whirlwind tour of New England, ranging the rocky coasts and the Green/White Mountains, on the trail of red lobsters and reddening leaves.
We flew in to JFK, which was handy to our starting point--meaning eastern Long Island, the North Fork rather than the Hamptons, where my wife spent many summers as a girl, growing up among loving relatives of several generations, and where a few still reside today. Two nights and a day there, getting a lazy start (reminiscing with the kinfolk and revisiting her old haunts in our rented car), and then we were off, first by ferry to New London, and then driving on through Mystic, Conn., past Newport, R.I., hustling on to Cape Cod, Mass., for two nights.
The sightseeing day in-between took us from Provincetown, up-Cape, which was surprisingly quiet and somewhat chilly on the morning we visited (with scarcely an arty character to be seen), down through Truro and Wellfleet and Eastham; did find a fine gallery along the way specializing in the work of Cape artists and children's illustrators like Tomie de Paola, where I bought a major catalog-quasi-raisonne devoted to Leonard Baskin and Gehenna Press. We finished up the tour further around the Cape's "Elbow" in Yarmouth at the Eighties home of the late, but weird and wonderful, modern-day-Victorian Edward Gorey. The house, the fat cat meandering inside, the original illustrations displayed in all rooms (particularly various versions of Gorey's famous book The Doubtful Guest), even the man and woman hosting and overseeing the place, were all perfectly VicGoreyan themselves!
The next day took us quickly on up the Massachusetts coast (no Boston this trip) to Newburyport, which was amazingly lovely for an old seaport--wide streets, inner-harbor parks (not to mention free parking), grand old brick buildings and small-scale mansions everywhere, including the old Clark Currier Inn we stayed in overnight.
Then came Maine, the best part of the trip in my estimation. We slept two nights at Boothbay in a lovely harbor-view b&b called The Admiral's Quarters, and had a most excellent day in between visiting Rockland and the handsome, sea-shaped Pemaquid Peninsula and environs. Rockland hosts the small but world-class Farnsworth Museum, home of Maine artists galore--Rockwell Kent to George Bellows, Marsden Hartley to John Marin, Louise Nevelson to early Edward Hopper, but most especially the several generations of Wyeths. Scores of originals by N.C., Andrew, and Jamie, and a few other offshoots as well.
We marveled at originals from the Scribner books N.C. illustrated as well as a most uncommon Maine seascape he painted that shows the clear influence of Picasso and Russian prismatic Modernism. N.C.'s son and his son were wonderfully present too; the main show celebrated "Andrew Wyeth at 90," and clearly he is still going strong. Andrew's watercolors and drybrush and tempura paintings are still rather bleached-out and sometimes slightly edgy, while Jamie exhibits much more color and even humor in his subject matter. But all are remarkable.
After that we drove out to the actual and fragile farmhouse owned by the no-longer-living Olsens, Christina and Alvaro, made famous by Andrew's painting of Christina's World and many others. An amazing spot and a truly haunted, moving experience...
And then we lucked onto a Maine country store partly devoted to Wyeth family prints in vast numbers, where we spent a couple of hours marvelling and circling back and forth, and finally plopped down too much money to take away a few favorites for framing back home.
The rest of the trip actually proved a bit anticlimactic. We drove inland from Maine up into New Hampshire for a night and then over the Kankamagus Highway into Vermont for two more. Sadly, the leaves this year are slow to turn, due to a particularly dry summer that left the trees deprived of much-needed moisture. We saw lovely part-reds and other looked-for tints here and there, but the typical explosions of God's full palette of colors were absent, and maybe not coming this year at all.
The inns and b&bs everywhere fed and housed us well, the people were friendly and the meals were overwhelming and generally excellent, but Sandie and I were gradually tiring, wearing down from so much driving and looking and dining out... (Never thought I'd admit to that!) And the "Leaf Season" prices did prove hugely daunting.
Still, we had miles to go before we slept... In the latter days we visited Vermont-quaint towns, enjoyed rolling farmlands and architecturally historic buildings, saw old-time mills and new-fangled Ben & Jerry's machines pumping out the pints, dashed southward to catch a bit of the Berkshires, took quick ganders at Jacob's Pillow Dance and Tanglewood Music expanses, spent a cheery hour at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, moved on into the Hudson Valley to marvel at the Vanderbilt and Franklin Roosevelt and other New York mansions (but not the too-popular Rockefeller, sold out ahead of our visit)...
And finally crashed for a last, nearly elegant night in White Plains, Westchester County, at Soundview Manor, a private home gradually being turned into an inn by our hostess Doris, resident owner for almost 30 years and a feminist lawyer of the Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem generation, who regaled us with slightly confusing stories of those major movement days and the dwindling present. (Doris's daughter was recently jailed for six months by the Bush-league Justice Department for questioning, somehow, Alberto Gonzalez's authority.)
Then we hung out in Airportland awaiting our flight home--which actually took off on time and flew faster than expected, landing at Sea-Tac 15 minutes early! The pilot announced our ahead-of-time arrival and asked all us passengers to remember the event fondly the next time we flew and, unstated but implied, faced the usual delays and cattle-car treatment of airline travel today.
So a good (but expensive) time was had by, er, both of us. Yet there's no place like this home, on our funky island in the mild-climate, book-reading, arts-friendly, socially-progressive, anti-Bush world of Western Washington. Only Maine could tempt me East again.