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So I went camping. I camped. I have been a camper. I now understand the mysterious world of camping–sort of. Jewish Friend and I took to the woods with a moderate amount of success, and strangely, I would do it again.
We arrived in New Paltz, NY around 9pm. It was darkish–enough to necessitate the headlamps we brought. Seriously, for this rather low-key affair, I purchased what seems like an exorbitant amount of “gear,” but justified these purchases by telling myself that now I can camp at will. Think of all the money I’ll save in the long run!
The campsites we were staying at were of the no-frills/free variety. No toilets, no showers, no well-marked trail, just a small triangle sign and a patch of cleared space. The idea is, come, pitch a tent, clean up after yourself, which is exactly what we planned to do. The three campsites are big enough for four tents, and people are supposed to share. Jewish Friend told me that typically this campsite is full of rock climbers, who go to bed early, get up early, and make little to no noise.
After climbing the steepest hill in the world, we arrived at the campsite. There were some kids spread out next to the fire pit, and a couple in their mid-twenties a little ways away from them. “Do you mind if we put our tent back there?” Jewish Friend asked indicating a spot just behind the couple’s tent.
The guy glanced at the spot, and said, “yeah, we kind of do mind.”
Strike one for camper courtesy, but these people were clearly planning on trysting romantically, and with all of the outdoor sex acts I’ve seen this summer, I’m happy to walk away from the chance for more.
So we walked over to the kids, and asked if we could put up our tent near them. There were about eight of them, they were playing a guitar and having a quiet conversation–seemed pretty chill. They told us of course we could put our tent there, and then marveled to each other about how awesome our headlamps were.
My heart started warming toward these teenagers, but dimmed a bit after they started playing not one, but three Third-Eye blind songs. Who the hell knows more than one? How are they even different?
We set up our tent and went into town for late dinner and a beer, getting back to the campsite around 11pm. By this point, the teenagers were still just sitting around, their fire was dying, and (I thought) they were getting ready for bed. Jewish Friend and I put on our jammies, played some cards, and decided to call it an early night in preparation for the full day ahead of us.
“Do you think they’re going to be up late?” Jewish Friend asked me. “If they are, I won’t be able to sleep, I can’t sleep if there’s noise. Do you think we should move the tent?”
“There’s nowhere to move the tent, and besides, how late can they possibly stay up? It will be fine.” This was the first of so many things I was wrong about that night.
Not only were these kids staying up, but at 3am, they called for reinforcements. Two boys showed up with a cooler full of beer and a cord of firewood, and got the party going again. By this point, Jewish Friend and I had our ears stuffed full of cotton balls, I was thinking about draping my clothes over my ears, and she was considering going and sleeping in the car.
One of the new boys noticed our tent and asked, “Holy shit, are there people in there? Should we be quiet?”
Maggie, the loudest girl ever born, reassured him, “Yeah, it’s two girls, but we asked if we were too loud and they said it was fine.”
This is a lie.
“Actually,” Jewish Friend spoke up, “We would really appreciate it if you could keep your voices down.”
And they did–all of them by Maggie. Her other friends had climbed into their tents by this point, though I can’t imagine they were sleeping. She then spent the next three hours talking about herself in the loudest voice possible, and desperately trying to get one or both of the boys to have sex with her.
“My mother says I was born beautiful, she tells me that all the time…If I want to get a tattoo, that’s like my body, that’s my business. I mean she can tell me not to drink or do drugs, but like a tattoo, that’s my body… I’m not drunk, I’m completely sober, I haven’t done any drugs, I don’t do drugs…The people that camp around here are all rock climbers who go to bed early, so we can totally stay up and party, they’re all sleeping…At the Indian restaurant. Have you been there? They have this bread, it’s called naan…There’s no room in the tent, so we can just fucking dogpile, whatever….I’m going to go to college, and I’m going to like, live my life…The lobster roll sandwich at Panera Bread is like, fucking 16 dollars of, like, processed, gross, lobster, fucking processed, fucking cheese. I mean for like 3 more dollars I could go to a real restaurant, I mean, why the hell would anyone want…
Finally, at 6am, Jewish Friend (after hours of shushing Maggie and asking her to keep her voice down) said, “I’m sure the Lobster Roll sandwich at Panera Bread is grossly overpriced, however, it is now 6am. I would like to get at least one hour of sleep tonight.”
Then, we heard the most glorious sound ever coming from the other tent, “Yeah, shut the fuck up, Maggie! She’s asked you like 10 times and you’ve been talking all night.”
Maggie disregarded this in the way that bossy girls who are never wrong do, but her friends quickly rebounded with, “Seriously, Maggie, shut the fuck up. What is wrong with you?”
We managed to grab about two hours sleep after the mutiny shut Maggie up for good. As we were taking down the tent, the four girls were rather sheepishly cleaning up their space. After listening to Maggie talk about how beautiful she was all night long, I expected to see a homecoming queen-type rolling up the tent. Apparently, Maggie is quite plain and rather chubby, which may be why she gets so many compliments only from her mother.
We spent the following night in a hotel.
One of my favorite authors of all time is Judy Blume, and one of my most-beloved books by her is Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great. I have no idea how many times I’ve read and loved this book, and I plan to re-read it again just as soon as the copy I requested arrives at my local library branch. In this book, Sheila Tubman (nemesis of Peter Hatcher of Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing and Superfudge fame), and her family leave NYC for the summer and go to Tarrytown, NY. She meets a girl who lives in Washington Irving’s old house. The house is full of secret passages, low doorways, and rambling hallways that fascinated me when I was younger.
I had heard of Washington Irving, read some of his stories, and seen the Disney cartoon of Legend of Sleepy Hollow, but the fact that someone lived in his house just blew my mind. When I moved to Providence, I saw a flyer for Halloween festivities in the Historic Hudson Valley, which included Sunnyside, Washington Irving’s estate. Since the Hudson Valley is beautiful in the fall, and there’s that Sleepy Hollow connection, this makes sense. My long-dormant fascination re awoke, and I began scheming ways to get me to Washington Irving’s house.
Jewish Friend loves a superfunliterary adventure AND she went to college in the Historic Hudson Valley, so we packed up the car and took to the highway. Of course, Sheila Tubman’s friend doesn’t really live at Sunnyside–it’s a tourist attraction purchased and restored by John D. Rockefeller in 1945 and opened to the public in 1947, but I’m not mad at Judy Blume for leading me astray. I could never be mad at her .*
Upon arriving at Sunnyside, I saw a Halloween-colored cat wandering in the parking lot. It had tags, looked completely at home, and when I indicated it should let me pet it, it graciously wandered over and spent equal time with me and Jewish Friend. After a few more cars arrived, it scuttled under the fence and wandered in the garden.
We followed a long downhill path to the house and found another cat hanging out on the low stone wall. As we were petting this one, two ladies came down the hill and one exclaimed “Oh! There’s Eloise!” Apparently, these two cats live at the house and wander around greeting guests and hanging out with the groundskeepers–nice life.
Sunnyside is a guided tour, and they only allow ten people at one time because the hallways and stairways are so narrow. There were two other people on our tour, which was actually perfect because we they seemed to be (almost) equally enthusiastic about literary tourism, and had had a really good tour when they went to The House of the Seven Gables (which means Jewish Friend and I should probably try again). Bethany, the tour guide, wore a hoop skirt and told us that she had been working there for thirteen years. This girl knew her stuff, which was awesome, and she encouraged us to ask lots of questions even saying at one point, “This is your tour, so please, ask me anything you like.” I don’t know why, but just hearing her say that, made me really happy. She seemed to really enjoy her work, and our asking questions, which made the whole experience that much more fun.
Washington Irving never married, but he loved being around people. Sunnyside, was originally 28 acres (now 10), and Irving along with a few friends designed it to be a romantic, flawless destination where a person could commune with nature. He encouraged the people of the town to stop by to visit, or just walk the grounds. He constructed a road that came up practically to his front door and fans would stop by and ask for autographs.
The house itself, was designed by Irving, and was originally a groundskeepers cottage which he expanded. Since the original structure was so small, and he had so many visitors, there are six tiny rooms sort of jammed in, narrow hallways, and small passages. He lived in the house with his brother, and five nieces, but always had friends come to stay, and served formal dinners from 3-8pm daily. It’s rather amazing he found time to write anything.
It’s hard to pick favorites among sites of literary significance, but Sunnyside is very high on the list. I would go back there tomorrow, and possibly again the following day. I would also pack a picnic lunch as guests are encouraged to picnic, wander the grounds, and enjoy the garden–sigh.
*Upon re-reading OKASTG, it turns out that her friend didn’t live in WI’s old house, just in one where he slept. Judy Blume did not lead me astray–I remembered it wrong! All is right with the world.
I was answering KGB questions a while ago, and someone asked a very specific question about an episode of the Food Network show Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. Since I haven’t had cable in years, I had never heard of the show, but since Rhode Island is the home of the diner I was eager to see where all they had been.
At that time, the only place in Rhode Island they had visited was Grey’s Ice Cream, which is certainly not a diner, nor is it a dive, but I guess it qualifies as a drive-in since you stand outside to order. I was seriously outraged and told everyone I could think of how stupid this show was for dissing Little Rhody (Also, the host is one of those morning radio DJ types with the shock of bleached blonde hair–I really hate that). I mentally composed a strongly-worded email half a dozen times, but never actually wrote anything down.
Yesterday I read this, which says that one of my favorite diners will be forced to close abruptly along with 1,200 other small businesses in RI who are being levied a tax bill because the state is in trouble financially. I wasn’t able to go support them yesterday, but this morning when Jewish Friend called me and asked if I wanted to go there for breakfast, I was eager to try to do my part (if it was still open).
Not only was it open, but there was a giant stand in front of the place that said “Read Before Entering.” What it said was that the Food Network was inside and entering the building meant you agree to be on their show. I wonder would have happened if the place was forced to close down yesterday…
So, Jewish Friend and I may be on an upcoming episode of the show. We tried to sit in the dining room, but it was full of equipment, so we sat at the counter and tried to act like casual brunchers without a care in the world. Then our meals were delivered, but we were not allowed to start eating until the photographer had gotten a good shot of the food being brought out and placed on the counter.
I ate granola and yogurt on camera, which was nerve-racking and extremely awkward; we answered some rather inane questions in a rather inane way, and sweated under massive kleig lights with me wishing all the while that I had showered.
In the five years I worked in television, I was never on television. I even refused to tape a staff Christmas Greeting, now I’m going to (possibly) be on a cable show that I’ve been trash-talking for weeks.
When I was in High School, I went to a Rolling Stones concert in Winnipeg and was interviewed for the Winnipeg Free Press. I assume they picked me becuase I was 18 and everyone else there was 45. When I read the article the following day, I was horrified to find that the way they quoted me made me sound like an absolute moron, and they put down that I had “giggled.” I’m naturally apprehensive to see what a trainwreck this could become, but it is an interesting way to spend a morning.
The teeny-tiny Minnesota town that I grew up in was 30 minutes from the Canadian border. Every summer there would be a mass influx of Canadian campers who would roost in the campgrounds right by the city pool. They would stare at us, we would stare at them, they would speak French and then laugh loudly in a way that made me certain they were making fun of me.
I loved growing up in that town and spending all day every day at that swimming pool, but even at that young age I had seen enough of the world to know that it wasn’t a superrad vacation destination. There were some bike trails– I mentioned the pool (very nice for such a small town), a river that I guess people could fish in… I really don’t know what else would draw so many people to these campgrounds–or why it was almost exclusively Canadians.
When I was 12, we moved to another teeny-tiny town, this one in North Dakota, and there was a lovely state park about 30 minutes away. This place had it all–woods, trails, a lake, beach–everything that I though proper camping should include. Yet my friends who were of the camping persuasion, would go out there, spend the night in a pimped-out camper with almost all the comforts of home, and then spend the day either back at their parent’s house on the couch, or hanging out with me–not enjoying (what I thought was) the appeal of camping.
My parents never took me camping– which is probably pretty clear, because they didn’t get it either. We took day trips to state parks, picnicked, swam, hiked, but then drove back home so we wouldn’t have to wrestle with putting up a tent, or what to do when it gets dark at 9:30pm and you’re really not hungry and have nothing left to say to each other.
Jewish Friend has been trying to shanghai me into going camping with her since I met her. She went to college in an idyllic town in upstate New York and spent her time there hiking and wearing flannel (from what I understand of it). I have now relented and agreed to camp with her in exchange for a visit to Washington Irving’s Estate, and possibly the mountain that Rip Van Winkle fell asleep on.
Now, in the quest to scare up some camping gear, I find out that more of my friends than I could possibly thought have a deep affection for camping. Sassy Redhead, one of my most refined chums, owns a sub-zero sleeping bag and told me, “I chipped ice from a frozen river to make tea.” Always classy, even in the woods.
This is similar to the bafflement I felt when I left the Midwest–Heartland of America, land of farmers– to come to the liberal Northeast and discover that all of these hipsters I was meeting also were or wanted to be farmers. That’s an exaggeration, but it was perplexing.
I’m down with nature, I think it’s great and try to preserve it, I prevent forest fires, but I also like showers and comfortable sleeping surfaces. Oh well, it’s an adventure.
I had a friend, when I was an undergrad, who made his living doing scientific studies. There was an institution in town that tested name-brand medications versus prescription, and they were always looking for willing volunteers. He made a lot of money doing this, and was apparently beloved since I moved into his apartment after he moved and fielded call after call from the place until I finally said that he had moved to California and I wasn’t sure if he’d be back. The woman I told this to sounded devastated.
Aldous Huxley has an extra essay following his work The Doors of Perception, where he takes a lot of mescaline and stares into a strobe light. Apparently, the reason that strobe lights give a lot of people seizures, is because you can still see colors even if you look at one with your eyes closed. He was trying to determine what decides the colors, and the effect of mood-altering drugs on that.
I also tried to do the medical experiments that my friend made a living at, but my vegetarianism, and the fact that my veins are so small and ladylike I can barely fill a vial made me an unsuitable candidate. What I can do is get drunk for science. I’m currently testing a medical device that reads blood alcohol level through the skin. For this, I must get drunk at 9am after having fasted since midnight the night before. I drank a horrifying concoction of cranberry juice and some super alcohol, the level of which was determined by my height, weight, and waist size; and now I am drunk, in an exam room, at 10:18am.
It’s bizarre, but that goes without saying.
After this, I had to record every single bit of alcohol that passes my lips and hand that in after seven days. While I do not necessarily agree with the implications of what this device may be used for, I am happy to help. It’s just very bizarre to get drunk in the morning, after dinking something that I would never happily consume, and then have to hang out in a 6×12 room with a broken clock on the wall for seven hours.
They come in to take breathalyzer readings every ten minutes, and I can’t leave until I’ve been at 0.00 for one hour—I’m currently at .086.
I have to say, as freaked out as I am about my career goals and financial future—I’m rather enjoying this summer. I don’t love that I have to hustle for every dollar, but I do like coming up with schemes. I feel like it keeps me more creative. I’m currently doing things I never thought I’d do, and feeling a bit more like a writer again for the first time in a long time.
My worry was that in my underemployment, I’d lack for wacky adventures to write about, and I feel I have a bit, but I’m starting to find some, and getting a feel for the adventure.
10:30—breathalyzer .0802, going down, and I’m fascinated by how pretty the undersides of my shoes are. This room is where people come expecting to spend 6-8 hours, and all they have is a small stack of magazines (People January 19, 2009, Redbook August, 2008 etc.), and 10 VHS tapes with hand-written labels—A Chorus Line, A New Life, except for Dying Young (starring Julia Roberts and Campbell Scott—not exactly the most appropriate movie for a hospital, I feel).
11:00—I’m dropping fast. I’m already at .0643, which is kind of cool. I used to talk with friends about how interesting it would be to drink and then take continuous breathalyzers just to see how if feels to become increasingly intoxicated. Now I’m kind of doing it in reverse.
11:45—I actually get take-out for lunch instead of the cold cafeteria sandwich I was expecting. I will be having a cheese sandwich, coke, and salad. My back hurts.
12:55– .028 There’s a rather large spider in the room making the rounds. It was initially on the table with the TV and magazines, now it’s been lapping the floor since morning. I probably won’t kill it, but it’s funny to find a pest in a hospital. I’ve moved from the exam table to the chair, which is significantly more comfortable. I wonder what other people in this same study are like when they get drunk. I was asked a lot of questions about whether I get violent, but not much else. Do some people just fall asleep, do they get really chatty? Do they get do into watching A Chorus Line that they get annoyed with the breathalyzers every ten minutes?
I don’t much care for Ralph Waldo Emerson, but I appreciate his contribution to literature and philosophy, so we went to his house. One thing that was interesting about this tour was that they do continuous tours, which I’ve never seen before. What that means is, you ring the doorbell like you’re coming to dinner with Ralph, and then you join a tour already in progress. This is nice because it eliminated all of the milling around in the giftshop waiting for the tour to start. This was bad because we began the tour upstairs, and did not get all of the background on who all lived in the house. Then the tour guide would say things like “so and so’s room” without explaining who so and so was, and we did not understand the significance at all.
Upstairs girl was the better of the two, but they were both rather awkward. Upstairs, she mostly indicated at paintings and told us who was in them. She said um a lot, and seemed like she was rushing a bit. A couple people asked questions, and she said “I don’t know, but the lady downstairs does. We can ask her.” at least she didn’t try to make something up.
Downstairs girl was similar to the girl we had at the House of the Seven Gables. She was awkward, and very hard to understand. The situation was made more awkward by the fact that when we were on her part of the tour, we were the only two people. She stared at the ceiling and orated on the life of Ralph Waldo, while we scanned the walls trying to understand her. I think that there’s a trend among tour guides in New England to not only have a regional accent, but also a speech impediment and a penchant for mumbling– I’m kind of over it.
Fun facts about Ralph Waldo Emerson: In his later years, he was always late to church, and he blamed it on the fact that he could never find his gloves. Thoreau built a special drawer into Emerson’s chair, so he would always have a place to keep them, but he was still late all the time anyway. He had also been a minister for years when he was younger– must have been sick of church.
The best part of the tour was the end when we went downstairs and had a lovely conversation with the woman manning the gift shop. She was a librarian as well, so we complained about the lack of jobs, and made fun of library school. I kind of want to go back just to hang out with her.
I honestly do not know how many times I’ve read Little Women. It must be getting close to ten times, and I’m currently listening to an audio version in my car, which is also very good. I’ve read Invincible Lousia— a Newbery award-winning biography of Louisa May; Little Men; Big Guy, Little Women, which is a rather amusing book about a girl who is obsessed with Little Women, and then four girls move in next door to her who are almost identical to the characters; and I attempted to read A Modern Mephistopheles— Louisa May’s take on the Faust story after she claimed she was sick of writing “Moral pap for the young.”
The Alcott family moved around a lot. Bronson Alcott was a noted transcendentalist and educational reformer, neither of which paid any money at all, so it fell on the women to earn as much as they could. He started the Concord School of Philosophy in the backyard of Orchard House, and it still stands today. We tried to go in, but Skidmore College has reserved it for the day to host a lecture on the Great War. After we asked, we were told that we could stay for the lecture if we wanted. We opted out, but Jewish Friend snagged a nice leather bookmark of which she was inordinately proud.
The tour of Orchard House was top notch. Our tour guide spoke in a clear resonant tone and knew her stuff. She answered questions thoroughly, was approachable, and engaged us as tour participants rather than just talking at us. The tour begins with a video of an actress pretending to be Louisa May, which I thought would be really lame and stupid. It honestly wasn’t that bad. She provided a biographical sketch that wouldn’t have fit into the house tour very well, and didn’t do that stupid faux English accent that so many people do when they’re imitating 1800s folk.
This same actress, or a different one, may also make appearances at the Colonial Inn, just down the road. The bartender told us that some chick pretending to be Louisa May shows up there from 12-5 on Sundays and parades around offering answers to questions and posing for photographs. We didn’t see her, but I’m intrigued by this notion, and I think it would be hilarious if they had a second person there pretending to be Thoreau reading in the parlor, and then he and Louisa May had strident showy conversations.
I can dream.
The Alcott women were just as fascinating as the men, well, man. They were all very similar to their characters from the book. May Alcott “Amy” was a success full artist, and her drawings can be found all over the walls of the house. She was also six feet tall and married a man 15 years younger than she– well done, May. Beth was so painfully shy that she would knit mittens for the neighborhood children, but was too scared to actually hand them out. Instead she left them on the front steps. Anna Alcott “Meg”, was the pretty one, just like the book, and never actually lived in Orchard House, though she was married in the parlor.
I love Orchard House. I want to go back.
The House of the Seven Gables is adorable, as is pretty much everything in Salem, MA. Hawthorne never lived in the House, but he speculated about it and wrote his collection of short stories about it. The property that the House is on also now has Nathaniel Hawthorne’s boyhood home– the historical society bought it, sawed it in half, and moved it over for historical tourism convenience.
The seven gables tour is rad because it has secret passages (yay for secret passages!), narrow, winding secret passages behind concealed doors, but it is less rad because it really has very little to do with Nathaniel Hawthorne. It mostly deals with the Turner family, who lived there for three generations, and then the philanthropic woman who paid to have the house restored for touristic purposes. The tour of the Seven Gables House is guided, unfortunately, our guide was woefully sub-par. The tour of Hawthorne’s boyhood home is self-guided, but much more interesting.
I read Young Goodman Brown and The Scarlet Letter in school and there was a little discussion about Hawthorne’s life, but I didn’t realize what a reclusive and rather strange man he was. At the age of about 10-years-old, he suffered a minor injury, which should have had no lasting consequences. He then lived as an invalid for the next ten years even though physicians could find nothing wrong with him. I re-read his Wikipedia article recently, and noticed that the first 20 years of his life are just glossed over.
There were a couple of ancient women whose job it is to sit in the boyhood home and answer questions. I asked one about his period of seclusion, and she just scoffed and said, “yeah, he was kind of a wuss.”
Hawthorne also waited until he was 36 to get married, and married a woman who was 32. Neither had been married before, and knew each other for five years before making it official. So Hawthorne was a plodding, meditative man– not one to rush into anything.
Also in Salem is the Custom House, where Hawthorne worked, and the inspiration for his story– The Custom House, which usually serves as an introduction to The House of the Seven Gables.
I mentioned a while ago, that Jewish Friend and I went superfunadventuring to Salem for a trip to the House of the Seven Gables. More recently, we made a daytrip to Concord, MA to visit Orchard House, and Ralph Waldo Emerson’s estate. The plan is to embrace this summer of underemployment and use this deluge of time wisely– fill it with learning. The response to my photos from the Concord trip was almost overwhelming, and many people commented on how much fun it seemed to be (and it was!). It occurs to me that maybe people who are interested in this kind of thing, don’t know what all we have at our disposal here in the Northeast.
Since I’m a nerd, and have a lot of time on my hands, I made a list– what I think is the definitive list of literary tourism in this part of the country. I’m going to hit as many places as I can, and do a little write-up of each. Since I’ve eaten almost all of the mac and cheese Providence has to offer, I have to have opinions about something.
Here’s the list:
Orchard House— house where Louisa May Alcott wrote Little Women and lived for many years.
Ralph Waldo Emerson House— self-explanatory.
Walden Pond— Pond where H.D. Thoreau camped out and wrote smug essays.
Wayside— Another home occupied by the Alcott family, and the only home that Nathaniel Hawthorne lived in outside of Salem.
The Old Manse— Place where R.W. Emerson lived before settling in his later estate. Also, Mosses from an Old Manse by Hawthorne…
Emily Dickinson Museum— Self explanatory
Lizzie Borden Bed and Breakfast— Not exactly literary, but a lot of books have been written about Lizzie. If you stay there overnight, which is grossly overpriced, you must vacate your room at 11, 1, and 3 so the proprietors can run tours through it, but they serve you a breakfast similar to the one the Borden’s consumed on that fateful day– hilarious.
Melville’s Arrowhead-– You can find Melville stuff all over this area, plus there are two annual marathon readings of Moby Dick, one of which allows you to stay on an actual whaling ship (if you book early). Arrowhead is the estate where Melville and his family settled and lived for 13 years, during which time he wrote extensively.
Harriet Beecher Stowe Center— I really don’t care for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and I have no idea what else Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote, but what better way to learn?
Mark Twain House and Museum— My parents have find memories of Twaining in Hannibal, MO, but all they have there is his boyhood stuff. In Connecticut, you get Twain as adult, and can view his beautiful 19-room Victorian estate.
The Mount–Edith Warton’s country estate– huge, beautiful, designed by Edith Warton. Sassy Redhead has visited this place already, and seems very happy in pictures.
The Longfellow House–occupied by H.W. Longfellow from 1837 to 1882.
Sunnyside— Home of Washington Irving. I’ve wanted to visit Tarrytown since I was about 9-years-old and first read Otherwise Known as Sheila The Great. In that particular book, Sheila Tubman, menace to Peter of Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing Fame, leaves NYC for a summer in Tarrytown. A friend of hers lives in Washington Irving’s old house (which is clearly not true, but really cool, I thought). This was the first time it dawned on me that you could go to places where authors had lived and wrote, and I’ve been desperate to go ever since. The fact that I’ve lived this close for a year and a half is something that I’m not very proud of, but it is what it is.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery--I’m not terrifically excited to go to a cemetery, but these old ones can be pretty cool. Also, you can’t do a literary tour without Sleepy Hollow– for reals.
Fenimore House--Just what it sounds like. Apparently, there’s a Cooper house in New Jersey too…
Naulakha (Kipling House)-– Rudyard Kipling wrote The Jungle Book while living in the mountains of Vermont.
Robert Frost Museum–Just what it sounds like. I don’t care much for Frost, which is why this is last on the list.
My father (actually, both my parents) have always had strange ideas of what I might do with my life. My mother, as I mentioned before, pushed plumbing on me with a ferocity that was alarming, and when even she had to admit I was overeducated for it, she started on the postal service.
My father focused on something entirely different– being a tour guide. Every time we would take a tour, he would launch into this grand vision of me giving organized tours to wide-eyed tourists, possible owning my own van or bus, and living somewhere like Hawaii. He would drive the van or bus, I would get on the microphone and point out flora, fauna, and local color. Partway into this elaborate description, he would get a faraway look in his eyes as he pictured father and daughter creating the kind of vacation experience you gush about to your friends afterward.
Of course, when this was at its peak, I was a sullen teenager and usually countered with a “Daaaaaaaaaaaad, nooooooooooooo, I don’t want to be a tour guide,” and he was left to bask in his dreams.
There was never any discussion as to how to make these dreams reality, rather, my father maintained (still does, really) a child-like innocence and wonder that says I can be anything he wants me to be (nevermind the fact that he’s quite unlikely to leave the Midwest, and people are not clamoring for tours…)
Because of my parent’s insistence on touring historical site and making vacations a priority, I really, really love touring historic sites. This is something we agree on, and I now drag my friends with me to places like Slater Mill, and the New Bedford Whaling Museum etc.
Jewish Friend loves touring historical sites as much as I do, and we have decided to spend part of our summer of underemployment making mini-pilgrimages to authors’ homes. First stop, The House of the Seven Gables in Historic Salem, MA.
We packed a picnic lunch and planned for a lovely day, which it was. The only wrinkle was the tour guide at the House of the Seven Gables, who was so odd that we spent most of the tour dissecting what was going on with her.
First off, she seemed terrified. She kept pulling on her sleeves and crossing her arms like she was trying to hide in her own shirt. Secondly, her manner of speaking was… odd. It was like she had an accent, but not really. She eliminated whole words, misused others, and was very hard to understand. What is now the historic site The House of the Seven Gables, used to be a private residence owned by the Turner family. The Turner family were shippers, and lived in the house for three generations until John Turner III lost the family fortune and the house with it.
She mispronounced the name Turner every time she said it.
Over the years, I’ve had good tour guides, mediocre tour guides, and bad tour guides (to date, Mistress Vicky from Slater Mill may just be the best ever), but I’ve never had tour guide be bad because I couldn’t understand her, or because she didn’t seem to even know what she was saying. I did have one, years ago, who pronounced the word tour as “ter,” I still get annoyed when I think about it.
As Jewish Friend put it, “It’s like she just memorized the script and delivers it in a singsong tourguide manner without knowing what she’s saying.”
I left the tour thinking, “I should work here, that would be totally awesome.”
Then I remembered my father, and his dreams of me being a tour guide, and I got a little squeamish. When I was working at the Redwood Library, we had tons of tourist traffic come through either on organized tours, or just wandering in (part of the reason is that in the Newport Tourism brochure, it’s listed as free), so we would tell them a little bit about why the library is important, and answer questions about everything from “Where are the Gilbert Stuarts?”, to “Is that the USS Constitution?” (Answers: most are in the Harrison room, which is all the way on the end, one is in the vault, and one is hanging over the large print fiction, and No, it’s not the USS Constitution, it does look like it, but has too many guns).
I loved telling people this stuff, especially when they would get all wide-eyed and say things like, “Wow, you really know your stuff. Is that the same painting that’s in the White House?”
I still think my father’s dream of him driving the bus while I give the information is unlikely to happen, but I doubt he remembers all this, so I’m certainly not going to tell him he may have been right.