Monday, August 13, 2007

Writing on the Road

In Mexico I paid five pesos for a half-hour's use of the internet-equipped computer in our hotel. With any luck, there wasn't a line of guests waiting to use the same computer at the 8 am starting time. Most days, luck was on my side, so I had 30 minutes to write a post for the blog

Here in Maine, I brought my laptop because the town library in Freeport (just up the road from L.L. Bean) is equiped with a wireless router. Better still, the wireless reaches outside the library building, so I could type away at the crack of dawn--even when the library itself was still dark--sitting at a picnic table on the grounds. Then it was off to the grocery to shop for breakfast.

If this sounds like a bit of a rush, and not the best conditions for composing thoughtful blog posts, you may be right. I'm not making any excuses. Anyone driven to write on a daily basis has to be prepared to deal with the conditions that present themselves. In my youth, while studying in France, I spent three months touring the country on bicycle. Foolishly, I thought I would not survive the trip without my portable Hermes typewriter. I carried it in a large backpack, along with a tent, bedroll, kerosene lantern and sundry other equipment, all of it actually making it as far as a farm house near the Loire valley, where the kind farmer agreed to let me stash the stuff in an unused bedroom for a month, when I returned in a rental car to retrieve it after finishing my tour.

I have spent the last couple of days trying to correct all the typos, unfinished words and grammatical errors I left in those blogs that were written in such a rush, beginning in Mexico. A vacation always leaves you with a changed perspective on things, and now I see that I am typically in a rush to write these posts on a daily basis. Which raises the question, why then write on a daily basis? And I suppose the only logical answer is, because otherwise I would forget what I want to write. So the blog really is a sort of diary, a diary for all the world to see, and a way of sharing--one hopes--some useful information, even when the writing isn't every bit as good as one might desire and full of typos and unfinished words and grammatical errors.

And maybe not written from the same perspective on food as one had the day before.

I come away from Maine thinking we have, in our daily lives, become so detached from the food we eat and the meaning of it to us as humans. On vacation in Maine, food was clearly about memories and how our meals there--such as steamed lobsters and all that entails, and taking Italians out on the boat, and blueberry pancakes in the morning--knits us together in our common humanity in ways that we carry in our memories long afterwards. A few simple things--the sound of ice being replaced in the coolers, or baking Indian pudding in a broken oven, or having to secure the refrigerator door with a bungee cord-- become touchstones that we refer to in our collective associations ever after, binding us up in powerful and lasting friendships.

We make great stories around food, and the stories tell us who we are.

An image that stays with me is the one of our 7-year-old daughter and her friend Alice walking barefoot around the mud flats at low tide, looking for clams. There were a number of professional clammers out that day, raking through the mud and tossing bivalves in their plastic buckets. A medieval scene, almost, the men hunched over in the most awkward position, drawing their forked tools through the mud, proving that even in a digital world there are only so many ways to collect clams.

From my spot on the beach, I watched the two girls approach one of the clammers, saw the clammer stop his work, stand up and speak to them in a low voice. He dropped a few clams in the small bucket my daughter was carrying and later she came to me--her hands and legs and clothing smeared with gray mud--holding out her bucket. "Look, Daddy! Look at all the clams we found!"

She will have that memory forever, and I could not help thinking, this is exactly where a 7-year-old girl should be at this particular moment, exactly what a girl her age should be doing on a lovely summer day in Maine. You want to reach out and stop the clock...

But of course you cannot stop the clock, and I was jolted back to reality somewhere on the New Jersey turnpike where the Saturday morning beach traffic had reduced I-95 to a slow crawl on our journey back to the District of Columbia. Eventually we could endure it no longer and we pulled into the Molly Pitcher "rest area" where there was actually a line of cars trying to enter the parking lot. The scene was absolute madness, automobiles everywhere jockeying for position closest to the food pavilion. A crush of humanity, like you might see at a big sporting event. Long rows of gas-hungry SUVs stuffed with luggage and vacation gear. The lines waiting for fast food were absolutely beyond comprehension. And I could not help thinking, there is no hope.

Yet here we are, back in the District of Columbia and our garden that is now barely distinguishable from the yard (meaning weeds). There's been a tremendous heat wave while we were gone. Friends have kept the plants watered and I am collecting more and more cucumbers for pickling. The tomatoes are climbing their cages--I seem to have acquired a Roma plant I didn't know I had. The yellow cherry tomatoes are golden ripe and in great profusion. It is time to harvest the Italian kale, which has endured a mighty scorching.

And lordy, lordy, look at this. Karl Rove resigns. Only seven years too late...


farmingfriends said...

I enjoyed reading about your daughter searching for clams - what a lovely story and a great memory to have. Now thats what I call getting touch with where your food comes from. Sara from farmingfriends

Joanna said...

Keep on writing daily - your blog is much the better for it, even if there are typos and you contradict yourself the next day. That makes it journalism as much as a diary (isn't the essence of a diary privacy at least at the time of writing, even if the aim is eventual publication?). If you wrote it less often, you really might forget the story about your daughter, and the one about the line for fast food - or at the very least that you once thought they had some kind of connection. As a "first draft" - even with typos - your viewpoint is well worth hearing daily.

And, yes, shame he had to become the architect in the first place.


bs said...

this is an excellent post. i feel like we are losing something in this country, and you've hit upon it in a big way. i guess i just feel a synchronicity with an interview at 10 zen monkeys that was sort of about the monetization of burning man. i just thought you might be interested, because it seems the same as the lack of care and mindfulness that you describe in our attitudes toward food....

LH...It's a spiritual proposition. You know, goods don't come instilled with meaning. That's the illusion that advertising creates. "You've got the lifestyle; you've got a life." I'm sorry. It's not true.

If you buy something in the marketplace, take it out to x, and then use it for a creative purpose, you have instilled that with meaning.

DB: A different meaning than perhaps was originally intended.

LH: Exactly. Years of consumerism have just made people passive — and yet bitter. It's a terrible combination. The instilling process doesn't mean anything to them. They've spent their lives consuming.

it's the same process as what you describe when you went clamming with your daughter. we are losing our ability to appreciate. we expect everything but value nothing.

Ed Bruske said...

bs, that's exactly right. The garden, the blog--all of it is an exploration, a search for ways to re-connect with the rhythms of the planet, with our most basic needs as human beings. And, yes, I think we have lost something in our mad rush to have more, more, more. What we probably need is much less, but better.