Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Adventures in Spoonerland

Posted Tuesday: There's a story here, but I'm too exhausted right now to write about it. Stay tuned. Meantime, look at the Flickr page for pix of our Holyoke Canal and Chesterwood adventures.
Updated Wednesday: I've now had a day of R&R, including swimming, lounging and cocktails, so I'm ready to tell the tale of Spooner's last day in the Tofu Valley.

We took his laptop, with the new airport card, down to the Haymarket so that he could get online and find a rental car. The car places in town wouldn't rent one way, with drop-off at Logan, so he reserved a car at Hertz in West Springfield for pickup that afternoon. While we were online, we set up a Flickr account for him (screen name = exspatula).

That done, we did various errands in Noho. We went to the hardware store where he purchased two cans of Zud. Apparently this cleanser is uniquely powerful enough to tackle the lime scale that adheres to any surface touched by tap water in the UK. When Molly and I went to London to visit Spooner two years ago, we each had to take a can of Zud in our carry-on bag. The expressions on the faces of the two baggage inspector women as they looked at the Zud, at each other, then at us, were priceless.

Next stop was the storage facility at the Industrial Park. I love watching Spooner open the door and set his eyes on some crap that he hasn't seen in the past year. "Look, it's my _________!" Even though he threatens repeatedly to take a match to the whole pile, he always finds something that he just can't live without and must take back to the UK with him. Last year it was pots and pans and a kitchen scale. This time, the first thing he spied was his Webber grill. He pulled it out from under some old boots and picture frames and said he could really use it in London.

"What? They don't have grills in the UK? Can't you buy one there?" I asked.

"Yes, but not like this one. And I already own this one."

Sanity prevailed and the grill went back into the storage unit. But the carpenter's level and the vintage tin Rainbo Bread sign went into the MINI.

Back at my house, the packing commenced. Spooner rounded up all his stuff from upstairs and added it to the pile in the living room. Not only did he have the things he flew over with -- laptop, external drive, camera, books, clothing -- but he now had the things he had acquired at the factory outlets and the crap -- er, I mean precious stuff -- that he had pulled from various storage spots around Massachusetts: the John Lennon-esque portrait of himself done by a former student, some photo albums, and a salad spinner.

"What? They don't have salad spinners in the UK? Can't you buy one there?"

"Yes, but not like this one. And I already own this one."

The photo albums and the salad spinner disappeared into my cellar where they joined his other precious possessions, packed three years ago into boxes labeled "Treasures" and "For Future Antiques Roadshows." The other stuff, including the portrait, carpenter's level, Rainbo Bread sign, his new Randy Deihl painting and 3 bottles of some nasty Magner's cider, went into the MINI. We headed off to West Springfield so that he could pick up the car. That's when the nightmare began. Long story short: Hertz wouldn't let him put the car on his debit/credit card because they said it was a debit card even though it is both debit and credit. I could rent the car and put him on as the second driver, but he'd have to pay for insurance and that would bring the cost (highway robbery) up to $400+ for 3 days. Fuck that.

We activated Plan B, which involved him taking the Peter Pan bus to Newton where his friend Jen would pick him up and drive him to pal Steve's in Billerica. In the parking lot of the bus station in Springfield, we pulled all the stuff out of the car and consolidated. It was quite amazing to watch the bottles of cider, can of smoked almonds, books and whatnot disappear into his suitcase and backpack. When it was all done, three things were coming back to Northampton with me: the Rainbo Bread sign, the carpenter's level, and the portrait of himself.

That's the story.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Over the Andes to Peru

I should have handed him the keys to the MINI. Instead, when Spooner suggested that we drive back to Northampton via a different route, I gave him the book of maps of western Mass.

The drive to the Berkshires had been normal -- a gentle uphill climb on the Mass Pike, exiting at Lee to hit the factory outlets, then an easy cruise through Stockbridge, ending up at Chesterwood where we saw the contemporary sculpture exhibit. We had fun pretending to be all artsy-fartsy with our cameras. There weren't many people on the sculpture walk in the woods, so no one looked at us like we were crackers.

It was the return trip that quickly got hairy. Spooner thought it would be good to go through Becket to Washington. He navigated, and I turned left onto Summit Hill Road and suddenly found myself driving up a very steep hill, like a 50 or 60 degree angle.

"You didn't tell me we were going over a fucking MOUNTAIN. How long are we on this road? The sign said 'Summit.' Are we at the summit yet?"

"Stop your bellyaching. Do you want me to drive?"

"No. That would mean I'd have to stop. I'm not stopping on this hill. No way."

We went through Washington, turned onto Washington Road and crossed the line into Peru.

"Is this the Andes? Where's the continental divide? When is it downhill to Northampton?"

"You're perseverating. It's the Berkshires -- you know, the Berkshire Mountains. Just keep driving."

We were on East Washington Road for a while and then turned onto Smith Road, for no good reason other than that Spooner's last name is Smith. It was a gravel road, the steepest road yet, wide enough for the MINI but that's about it.

"'Road Closed.' Did you see that sign? What are we going to do? I can't turn around."

"That's only in the winter. We're almost to Peru Center. Just keep driving."

In Peru Center, we got onto Route 143, a proper state road with lane lines. Next came Worthington, which looked like a real town, and Chesterfield with a traffic light! And at last we were going downhill.

"Where's the sandwich shop? You promised me a sandwich shop in Washington. I still haven't seen one."

"We're almost to Williamsburg. You'll know the way from there. Just keep driving."

We finally got to Burgy, and I did indeed know the way but there was still no sandwich shop. We stopped instead at Mad House Minis to look at all the old Astin and Morris Minis that they're restoring. My MINI had been very brave on this mad adventure, braver than I. From now on, I'm hiding the map book.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Spooner Has Landed

My pal Spooner has been stateside for a week now, mostly in VT taking a course, and has dropped in a couple of times. Tonight I'm to drive to Ashburnham and fetch him and then we will have four days of adventures. We're thinking of going to the Berkshires one day to look at sculpture at Chesterwood and to shop for bargains at the factory outlets in Lee. I'm sure that we'll have to go to several of his storage spots so that he can visit his things and see what crap he needs to take back to England with him. He still hasn't located his prized Madonna and Barbara Streisand CDs anywhere, and I know that this is cause for high anxiety on his part. We'll also be doing some photo shoots, so watch for new things on my Flickr page. So far, Spooner hasn't broken anything and the cats don't seem too traumatized. Whew! Stay tuned for further updates.

Friday, July 14, 2006

The (Quarter-Baked) London Plan

...no matter how long you stay in London, London will wear you down and wear you out. London is intractable, insuperable, inexhaustible; the tourist is hapless, cowed, puny, and ultimately penniless. -- Joe Queenan, Queenan Country

I'm starting to plan my fall trip to London. It will be the third time I've been there. The first was a one-day lightning-round on a double-decker tour bus. I got off a couple of times to see a few sights and some less-popular (i.e. no queues) museums -- The Museum of London and the Design Museum. I discovered Postman's Park all on my own, WAY before anyone had seen Closer or heard of Alice Ayres. On my second trip, I was there for a week and saw a combination of tourist traps (Windsor Castle, the Cabinet War Rooms, the National Portrait Gallery) and low-cost, no-cost oddities like the Museum of Tea and Coffee, John Soanes Museum, the Geffrye Museum (housed in an old alms house), and took a trip to the end of the Victoria Line to see the William Morris Gallery and an old workhouse museum in Walthamstow.

The Queenan book is the first thing I'm reading as I begin my research for the upcoming trip. It's rather funny, but the thick overlay of crankiness that he's trowelled over everything is a bit much. He recounts his day trip to Liverpool, where a cabbie drives him around to see various houses and clubs associated with the Beatles, while avoiding anything to do with Sir Paul who both Queenan and the cabbie agree is overrated, treacly and full of himself. The cabbie tells Queenan of his friendship with John Lennon who was his best man at his wedding. Queenan has a fabulous time, but his bubble is burst when he returns to London and learns from a friend that the cabbie's stories couldn't possibly hold water. Quickly recovering from the disappointment, Queenan realizes that, truth or no, it was still a great day with marvelous company. The lesson here is this: England is a land of a thousand tales, many of them contradictory, apocryphal, or downright lies. This doesn't matter, however. Tourists need only find the stories they love, then immerse themselves and savor the experience. Who cares if it's shite!

Here's what I'm thinking of including in my itinerary:

For further research, I'm planning to order a couple of books of walking tours, and I've joined the London-alt Flickr group (lots of interesting pix there). I'm open to all suggestions, tips, advice, etc. Leave them in the comments, okay?

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Mass MoCA

ST was visiting from Philly this past weekend, and we drove to Mass MoCA in North Adams. (Sorry, Spooner. I went without you this time. But we can go again when you are stateside in a few weeks.)

Any trip to Mass MoCA must include a stop in the basement bathroom, a spiffed-up version of the Sprague Electric Company (Mass MoCA's previous incarnation) employee's washroom.

The main exhibit right now is Ahistoric, in which artists take historic material and refashion it or create anachronistic juxtapositions that have new meaning. More info on Mass MoCA's website.

In the gigantic space in Building 5 is Carsten Hoeller's Amusement Park, an eerie recreation of a broken-down amusement park. The space is dark and quiet, and the five rides periodically light up and begin to come to life with slow, jerky movements. The exhibit description says that the speed changes daily, and I think we must have been there on a very slow day. It's supposed to give you an altered sense of time and space. I've put pix of the Twister and the Gravitron Thriller on my Flickr page.

Another installation is a whole bunch of mirrored doors, at different angles and assembled in a circle so you can walk completely around it. It reminded me of the fitting rooms in old-fashioned department stores. There's a photo of that on the Flickr page as well.

Before we left the complex, we wandered around in back of one of the buildings and found lots of rusty relics of Mass MoCA's industrial past.