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Tuesday
Nov142006

Ears need feeding too

In the midst of these indecisive November days, the urge to write long essays full of pathos diminishes, and I want to do nothing but make lists. Like storing nuts. Once winter in earnest roles around, I'm sure I will become more introspective and productive. For now, though, lists.

Things to listen to on Tuesday nights and Wednesday mornings:

Monday
Nov132006

Lists of Five

Another challenge, this one from Overdue Books, via So Many Books (whose site I was browsing via Syntax of Things...)

From the Stacks Book Challenge

The object is to read 5 books between now and January 30th which you currently own and have been meaning to get to for a while. I have a slight advantage here, seeing as I own literally dozens of books I have been "meaning to get to." So there is much to choose from. Still, I have managed to go into two bookstores recently and come out empty-handed, and while I've eyed both Claire Messud's The Emperor's Children and Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, the guilt of unread books at home has been hanging over for me for a while. So perhaps the door has finally opened for me to give the sweet little orphans some precious brain space (in that cozy space right between extension numbers from the place where I worked nine years ago and the names of the 50 states in alphabetical order).

A list of the possible five (certain to be changed with every passing whim and fancy in my dizzy little head):

1. The Road Through The Wall - Shirley Jackson
I spent $5 for this old Ace Lion Books paperback back in August, and it has been sitting on my bedside table ever since. Shirley Jackson is a sure thing for me lately, so she goes to the top of the list.

2.The Last Thing He Wanted - Joan Didion
I know I'll crack at some point and want to round out my year with a bit of Joan Didion. My ownership of this unread book is the result of my embarrassing habit of falling in love with an author, and acquiring every book he or she ever wrote, whether I am going to read them over the next four weeks or over the next four years.

3. Mrs. Parkington - Louis Bromfield, or Colorado
Revisiting Pleasant Valley made me look up the other Bromfield books I have sitting around the apartment, and Mrs. Parkington - an old leather-bound and gold-stamped copy purchased used, one volume of a set - was staring me down. For further temptation, I'll refer back to the 1944 New York Times review of the movie based on Bromfield's book. It is a little daunting, though, and so I include Colorado as a substitute.

4. Everything You Need - AL Kennedy
One of the books on the list, I think this one has been on my shelf since it came out in paperback in 2002. Goodness me, I am sure it has gathered some dust.

5. Mason & Dixon - Thomas Pynchon
Hahaha, no I'm totally kidding. Have you seen the size of that thing? (But it is on my bookshelf.)

Instead, I'll leave the 5th slot empty for now. I need some time to go back to my shelves and mull it over.

And speaking of lists of five... Which five comedies would you want to take with you if you were stranded alone on a desert island? (My choices: 1. The Jerk, 2. Shaun of the Dead, 3. This Is Spinal Tap, 4. Annie Hall, 5. The Party)

Sunday
Nov122006

Sunday Zen

Saturday
Nov112006

No chance of an upgrade, then?

On a completely different note...

Q: What can be worse than getting a $14 passport photo taken and realizing that in the picture you look like someone is about to attack you?

A: Spending $11 to get your picture re-taken by a different photographer and realizing that you just look like that naturally.

Saturday
Nov112006

Pleasant Valley

As the car came down out of the hills and turned off the Pinhook Road the whole of the valley, covered in snow, lay spread out before us with the ice-blue creek wandering through it between the two high sandstone ridges where the trees, black and bare, rose against the winter sky. And suddenly I knew where I was. I had come home!
Louis Bromfield, Pleasant Valley

Louis Bromfield was a Columbia-educated Pulitzer Prize winning author and screenwriter, who, just before the onset of World War II, decided to pluck his family from the approaching march of danger and move them to the valley where he grew up in Ohio. He bought acres of land in Pleasant Valley, at the heart of the lush rolling landscape between Columbus and Cleveland. He was primarily interested in soil conservation, a hot topic after aggressive farming practices had destroyed the topsoil, desiccating lands all across the country, and ultimately causing the economic and environmental tragedy of the Dust Bowl. And more than anything, he wanted to get his hands back in the soil, a lifestyle he had learned while growing up on his grandfather's farm.

 

On a recent trip back to Ohio, we took a tour of Malabar Farm. We walked through Bromfield's office, where he lived the dual life of farm owner and author. We saw the hall where Lauren Bacall married Humphrey Bogart, and the bedroom of Bromfield's literary manager, modeled after his favorite hotel room in New York. We admired the furniture imported by Mrs. Bromfield from their pre-war Parisian home. Malabar Farm was a realization of my dream: at the crossroads of Hollywood, Europe, New York, and rural Ohio. But it was beyond the walls of the farmhouse, in the land described in Pleasant Valley, where the romance really came to life for me.

My dad grew up in the area around Pleasant Valley, and the story of Bromfield is wrapped up in my mind with the story of my dad. As I read the Bromfield book, I would mention locations to him, and he'd tell me stories. About the motorcycle boys in the sixties who used to ride along Pinhook Road, about the motorcycle my dad bought to join them. About the hush that crept through the town when Bromfield died. I even discovered the story of my grandparents' first encounter while reading Bromfield: it was the wife of Bromfield's farm manager, Max Drake, who invited my grandmother to the 4H dance where she first laid eyes on my grandfather.

Bromfield's story is also somewhat my own. My childhood was filled with tastes of the lifestyle of the Ohio farmer. We did chores: helped the farmhand Lum change the hay in the stalls, feed the horses. It was on the farm that I first tasted real mint, plucked from the ground by my grandmother as we looked for weeds along the fences. My grandparents took us to ag conferences across the country; they took me to North Carolina, and while my grandfather attended lectures on farm management, I made a lamp out of a mason jar. The things that a farm kid might do, or so it seemed to me.

It was the visual beauty of the farm that made it so romantic to me, both then and now. The bales of hay rising to the top of the barn. The brand new kittens in a dark corner, eyes still close after birth. The thunder that never ended, rolling over hill after hill as it crossed the countryside. The first Christmas I brought my husband (when he was still just a boyfriend) to the farm to meet my grandmother, we went to see my cousin's high school basketball game up the road. When we left the game to head back to the farm, the massive sky was pink, on the verge of a snow storm. As we pulled into my grandmother's house, a flash of white bolted across the drive. The horses had escaped from the barn. My dad directed me and my husband into triangular positions, surroundings the horses, and slowly we guided them back into the corral and latched the fence. It was my equivalent to Bromfield's hands in the dirt, and I thought of nothing else on the drive back to New York.

It is something I still think about, but I have a dose of realism keeping me grounded in my own urban landscape. That side of my family is full of farmers and ag workers. At a recent family reunion, I told my dad's cousin how I envied his life, and he looked at me like I was crazy. "It's not an easy life." And I told him I was under no illusions: I wouldn't last a week as a farmer. I love the idea, based on smidgens of memory: The dirt under the fingernails, the early morning silhouette of the barn. The farmstead in winter, with jars of preserves in the pantry. My grandfather in the distance, high on his tractor, mowing the lower field across the road. But I find it hard to imagine the lazy bones in this body doing the work it takes to have that life. And I wonder if, once in it, I would appreciate it in the same way, or if the romance would disappear like the morning mist over the hills.

I think my own Pleasant Valley is little more than a sentimental daydream.

(Watch a video about Bromfield and Malabar Farm at OurOhio.org.)