Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Maine and Beyond

Left Manhattan on the Megabus after an amazing week where I learned not only that I'd received the Lambda Lit Foundation's Dugger MidCareer Novelist prize, but also the Publishing Triangle's Ferro-Grumley Fiction Award for A Horse Named Sorrow. Feeling very grateful and encouraged to say the least. 

Pictured: Kneeling, left to right, Rachel Rose, Sarah Van Arsdale; Standing, left to right, Trent Duffy, John D'Emilio, Trebor Healey, Ira Silverberg, Carol Rosenfeld, Stephen Greco

Christopher Bram, pictured in an earlier blog, also won an award, but was teaching so got there afterward

Next morning, I schlepped to Megabus, which was an hour and half late, so there we were lined up on a sidewalk waiting on 34th and 11th St. because Megabus has left Penn Station for some reason...lost its lease? is saving money? needs more space? Whatever the case, I was lucky to meet a sweet kid, Ray, who grew up in Staten Island and now goes to med school in Santa Lucia.
We got the front top window and off we went to Boston, where I switched to another bus to Portland, ME, where my friend Daniel Kopyc lives...he's one of the people I dedicated the book to as he was one of my closest SF friends who inspired the story and the protagonist's loopy SF personality. That's his mom and dad on either side of him


His mom's very Maine house

The view from Danny's deck (he lives in a kind of artist's loft in the center of town)

We ate haddock and blueberry pie

That's us with the lobsterman on our night tour of central Portland

Danny always has interesting reading lying around...the horrors of American education still plague him into middle age. Thank goodness I didn't matriculate at a private college (Danny went to MIT)

fiddleheads from ferns...a perfect dish for a faun

that big rectangle is an old fort in the bay

Well put

Daniel and his Dad, who is now living in a home as he suffers from Parkinson's. He's a super spirited guy and we so enjoyed hanging out with him that we got a very late start for our trip up through Maine to Montreal....some of his comments: When I asked him how was it? in his airstream trailer during his Walden Pond phase, he answered: like you didn't want to be there, that's how it was. He then busted up (Maine humor, which is very Yankee dry)
Then there was the lobster joke. A bunch of lobstermen were out setting traps and this heavyset girl kept demanding to join them. Finally they let her, and of course, she fell overboard. Next day they were pulling up traps and they came upon her and pulled her up and she was covered in lobsters (they're into carrion). They looked at each other, thinking what to do. One finally said, "I know saying this isn't right, but shall we set her again?" Overboard she went

A good catholic joke Maine-style: A woman was touring Europe and visited a church that claimed to have the skull of St. Peter. Then in another church, the same claim was made by the local priest, but the skull was much larger there. When she asked how come Peter's skull was smaller in the other church, the priest said: that one was from when he was a child

We then consulted a map...finally. I saw Paris and asked Danny's dad if there were an Eiffel tower there. "Not yet" he answered, which is the Maine answer for pretty much anything that's possible...
Then it was on the road ... and Neil and Jack got nothing on Danny and me

We traveled slow and unorganized, with lots of stops, but laughed through it all, fueled by Maine's very own Moxie soda. When I went into a store to buy some, I asked a lady what it tasted like: "Gross, that's what it tastes like." And she laughed. Her friend chimed in: "like some kind of bad medicine." Well, the  stronger the opinion, the more I was driven to drink it...and did. It tastes like root beer, but yeah, I guess there is a slight medicinal flavor to it. I wouldn't go looking for it back home, but everyone can use a little moxie .... and sometimes I like a lot of it

And it wasn't just Paris, we also drove through Poland, Norway and Lisbon, and finally reached L-A. That's what they call stands for Lewiston-Auburn. It's a depressed former mill town, more or less deserted and rather depressing, plagued by drugs, obesity, and unemployment. In these small towns, you see the result of all the lost manufacturing jobs. 

planters made out of tires...the surly large man pumping gas next to me said: Why would you take a picture of that? I answered: "It's beautiful ....or not.." Both good reasons

And then it was into the mountains....


Wish I'd gotten a better shot...he crossed the road right in front of us...a rather mangy old moose...but still

This tree was standing vertical when I got there, but Danny took so long to take the pic that I bent it....and even though this wasn't a birch, there were lost of them around, which launched us into a Robert Frostathon....'one could do worse than be a swinger of birches'

We created a whole messed-up absurdist collage Frostwork:

Something there is
that doesn't love a bent birch
Oh, but they're lovely dark and deep
but I am through with apple-picking now
and fence-mending...that too!

Grafton State Park

This is wild can chew it...I love it when I get to the source of something I've known all my life but have no clue where it comes from..Maine!

Dixville Gap, New Hampshire, a resort town famous for the fact that the first ballots of every presidential election are cast here....whatever. Lake was frozen over with ice

Then into Vermont where Danny's family once did a 2-year detour into a 70s-era cult-like Christian community when he was 13. They're still here..the Twelve Tribes....I was a bit creeped out...for me, Christianity is often like demon possession (yes, the shadow is the light folks), esp. this hardcore Baptist-outgrowth variety. Danny said it was striking how easy it was to brainwash people by just isolating them a bit and telling them everything they hear on the news or from the outside world is demonic subterfuge. Jonestown happened while they were there and Danny's grandparents came to try to jump them out... but it all imploded for them soon enough anyway and they went back home to rebuild their lives. Danny said the best thing about the experience was the traditional Israeli dancing. Danny's always had a good sense for the magic in things and the virtue of art, even in a weird setting like that...he's a great dancer, an amazing poet, and has one of the openest imaginative minds of anyone I know. We always learn from each other. He's the more distracted dreamy one, and I'm the more impatient eye-on-the-prize full steam ahead one...well relative to him anyway! Because I'm a bit of a daydreamer too, so his dreaminess makes me look undreamy :) He teaches me patience and attention to detail and to see (really see) what a lot of people miss. I help him focus, I think, and set his priorities.

That's their cafe

The main house

And then it was over the border and into least they're catholic, I weirdly noted, as catholics are pretty immune to cults, or is it that theirs is just so large and well-established, we don't see it as such. It's pretty creepy too....when you think about all the fascist movements that have arisen out of the cultures it dominates. The Quebecois are like Europeans and moi though...they no longer go to church, though they are of course "of the culture"

We reached Quebec from a small highway, so there was no wait at the border..the guard with that distinctive Queboicois French accent...and immediately the landscape changed...way more prosperous. This must be due to the St. Lawrence River Valley...we could smell manure, and our first stop in the town of Coaticook was a far cry from the grim economic decline of Northern Maine, all the mills defunct. Farmer boys in baseball caps sat drinking wine and conversing in French, which was weird considering they looked like the kind of Americans who would never drink wine and certainly not spreak French. Other than them, everyone was tastefully dressed, almost urban looking, and we didn't see the predominance of overweight people in sweats, looking miserable as was evident in L-A and environs. Again, this might be prosperity, but from here on into Montreal, there was the marked change of people clearly having taste and a more European mode. I saw this in Buenos Aires as well. No matter the economic situation or class, there is a certain attention paid to style. To me, it's like just feel better when people look decent and pretty and the buildings are artful. What is it about Americans? Are we just the most depressed society on earth? Why do so many Americans pride themselves on and stubbornly defend bad taste? Or maybe they really are out of it. And why am I comparing the two countries? Perhaps that's in bad taste too.

 I tried to focus on compassion and felt a sad sort of loss about our dear republic, which on one level has been the best hope of the world, but on another seems to be a very dark, lost place full of anger, depression, ignorance, and apathy. Of course, one can't make such conclusions based on an hour in Quebec, which certainly has its own problems (keep reading), albeit they seem less dark and foreboding. I am still nourished by the wonderfulness of New York and its people. But then, New Yorkers aren't really very American...New York is a world city, in many ways a European city, and certainly a unique place that seems not at all in decline. It's when you leave the big cities that you sense the fraying fabric of American society...factory towns like these ones in Maine with fast food and Walmart, devoid of anything aesthetically nurturing. It's brutal and just a drag. Maybe I'm just bored of America

Thank you, Quebec. In America, all they ever have in restaurants is half & half or that fake hydrogenated crap. I've never understood why you can't get 2% milk in a diner....if we had it, we'd be one step closer to reducing obesity and heart disease. Yeah, you can get everything in they 

Trying out my French...look at that form

El chancho!

We reached Montreal--and only 5 hours after our ETA

French Architecture!



Olympic Stadium

And below: architecture from Expo 67: Habitat 67 by Israeli-Canadian architect Moshe Safdie, who attended McGill University


A truly amazingly beautiful and unique building...looks like something from mesa verde.....


Civilized European life, complete with rentable bikes that don't seem to get vandalized or stolen. They also provide arts grants up the wazoo--even to gay writers who don't pull any punches...but they don't have Southern Senators either. Later, Torontoans will tell me that Quebec is getting huge subsidies from the federal govt. which finances much of this largesse...all of it to mollify the separatist movement. I don't know, this is a big subject, and the Toronto vs. Montreal thing is like NY/LA or SF/LA. Montreal really is French, though about 60% are bilingual. Young people told it's generational at this point. The young are increasingly bilingual and global thinking and are not into the separatist thing. Yay, for took me 50 years to get to it, but it is so IMPORTANT and one of the things the younger generation is really 'getting' as far as I can tell

Now, those are bike lanes

An intelligent option for locking a bike. I have to look everywhere to find something that my lock will fit around in Amurika. Must be fear of socialism.
Subway is also fantastic here and well laid out. Though my one-day pass kept having problems, which led to some french barking from among the most annoyed class of people on the planet--public trans booth-ettes. A friend told me the papers were reporting a glitch in the electronic system, so my experience may have been an anomaly. The weirdest thing was the electronic sound for when the doors was the first 3 notes of Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds...I don't know whether this was intentional, but it caused me to have the tune in my head, and I began to wonder what affect does such a ubiquitous sound have on the people of this city...millions unconsciously humming a song in praise of psychedelics

This is a good idea for train platforms...reminding passengers that people need to get off before you can get on

Argentine comics in a French

More pho...Tonkinoise

The Cathedral of Notre Dame here is extraordinary..the detail in every nook and cranny is somewhat mind-blowing. I've never seen anything like it anywhere and I've seen a lot of Catholic Churches. It was designed by an Irish Protestant named O'Donnell who converted once it started to emerge....I'm guessing the beauty of it did that to him...spirituality and aesthetics go together....and are what?...a marriage made in heaven? The city was originally called Ville-Marie but later took on the name of the central hill, Mont Royal. I also didn't know that Montreal is in fact an island.

We went back for the organ recital which was impressive

Much great grafitti in Montreal:

More pho!

Faun sighting...

and centaur sighting

I guess that would prevent your fingers from getting greasy

Lots of parks...this one struck us as odd...all these people, sitting around, staring into a dried up lake

it's just weird

Ok, full disclosure...the schlepping was getting bad and I realized I needed a wheeled bag, which I've stubbornly avoided for years. While in Waterbury, CT, I secretly entered a Walmart and bought a Chinese dufflebag on wheels to throw my bag into...well, it got me through NY, and through Boston and to Portland...then a wheel snapped off as we arrived in Montreal...fortunately at the front door to our Airbnb rental ( Now that's week..well it was only $14.99 ($2/day). Serves me right for going into a Walmart. I proceeded to the nearest small business and purchased a sturdier solution:

Got this at this Greek lady's shop. She'd lived in Montreal for years, and she didn't support Quebec's independence. She said it would end up another Greece. She complained of the taxes (sales tax is 14%, not sure about the rest of them). I'm not sure what resources Quebec has to support itself, but apparently the French-only thing has driven a lot of business out and down to Toronto. Montreal did not strike us as booming...not that every place should be...but it felt a little quiet to us, like sluggish, like not enough vitality on some level...we kept trying to find the pulse of Montreal and it was always just a tad wanting..there was the typical stuff, streets with restaurants, hipsters in cafes, but that something extra that makes you perk up....?? Hard to put a finger on it, but when I got to Toronto, it was there (stay tuned for next blog). It's an energy, and you either feel or you don't. They kept telling us that Montreal is all about the summer, when there are festivals nearly every day. I'm not really a festival guy, so that wouldn't do it for me.

An overdesigned coffeeshop...very reminiscent of Buenos Aires

Danny went back home early as he got an interview offer, so my last day in Montreal alone was a little sad. Danny and I connected really well this trip and it was amazing to be together after so much water under the bridge. We've kept in touch and supported each other through many changes. He, like me, is a bit of a bird...he's lived in Virginia, Maine and Colorado since leaving SF, and he's likely going to be in either NYC or Boston soon. That trip through Maine will be remembered as one of the great road trips...I can't even go into all of it but trust me, what a blast and a sweet reunion with my good friend and brother, Danny. 

In the Gay Village: I don't need to translate this, do I?

I went out and met a couple of excellent writers I know who live here. We met down in the gay neighborhood for a drink, and since I failed to take a pic of us, I will post their head shots :)

Barry Webster

Peter Dube

Barry is from Toronto originally, and Peter is Montreal born and bred, and thanks to me, I ended up getting them going on the Toronto/Montreal thing...whoops
Sweet guys, both of whom I will see in New Orleans for Saints & Sinners Book Fair
They both had to go home to their boyfriends, so I wandered the gay village, missing Danny. Eating alone is always a little sad at night. I'm fine with eating breakfast and lunch alone as I travel solo usually, but it's nice to find someone to have dinner with or otherwise just cook at home. I didn't want to shop and do all that, so I ate at a diner that had a Hollywood theme, which made me think of LA. It's a beacon of fame and fortune to people everywhere, and an odd one. It really is unlike any other city. It's not a capital city at all really. It's sort of just an enormous crossroads of everything from somewhere else. It always feels somewhat impermanent to me. I'm glad I've lived there and I'm ready to go, but I don't know where. How will I find the excellent people I've connected with through my nonprofit work in LA in some other city? They are what keep me there. There are good people everywhere, of course, so maybe I'm being silly. Talking with Danny, I sort of made up my mind to find a way to live in New York finally..just for a year or so, not forever. It seems worthwhile to live there and explore it for a period. Then again, I'm in love with Spanish, and South America is always beckoning.

Next morning, I hopped on the train to Toronto (stay tuned for next blog). It was so quiet on the train, like a church or a library. I actually started laughing, it was so strange. Canadians are clearly well-mannered, civil and courteous. I commend them. What a pleasant ride, about the most pleasant trip on public trans in decades. My seatmate, Cathleen, was a great companion...we talked politics and languages, and Latin America...she's a landscape architect, very progressive and well-traveled, speaks French/English/Spanish/Italian. I hope to cross paths with her again one day! 

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