When one comes back from a book festival, one’s arms are loaded with books. Mine were, along with a goodie bag full of chocolates, more books, and cloth bags. I also carried back a gallon of raw milk, and two large tubs of yogurt. Bliss. Of course I cut a comical scene with my bags slipping off each other every few paces, my arms threatening to fall off, but soon, I reached home, after one of the most invigorating and fun weekends I’d had in along while.
The Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival is offered up every two years, and this year was presented in two locations, in Edgartown, and in Chilmark. A heartfelt thank you to Suellen Lazarus and Bunch of Grapes Bookstore for organizing the events so seamlessly and so generously, and to Maggie Shipstead, Kitty Pilgrim, and J.Courtney Sullivan, plus our gracious tour-guide Howard for being such good company. And a shout-out to the lovely Joan Nathan who set the ball rolling.
Festivities for the authors included a number of receptions and breakfasts, including one in the very palatial yet discreet place that rumour has the Obamas staying at on their vacation. I sipped mineral water and wondered what it would be like to wake up with the ocean in one’s backyard.
You blink. It is hard to believe this bullet shaped body, green like a parrots, hovering in front you and beating its wings so fast, the sound is as thick as a bee hive. It wanted the lavender astilbe which finally decided to bloom, the specific bloom I was standing next to. It looked at the bloom, then at me. I f I reached out my hand just a little, I could try to touch it, but I stood still, thinking it would surely move on. We had a human to bird face-down, I waiting for it to move, and it for me. I spoke to it all the while, and maybe my voice kept it hovering. When it finally darted away, I stepped through the garden and turned from the stairs to watch. It perched on a tree, and only when the coast was clear, waded in. My metaphors are mixed because the hummingbird is a mix of a bird and bee to me. I will post the video from last year of the boy and his rescue of a hummingbird below.
Meanwhile, I attended two phenomenal literary events. One was the Wequassett Literary Luncheon, presented by the Where the Sidewalk Ends Bookstore on Cape Cod. Every summer,week by week, guests fill the banquet halls to lunch with old friends and hear various writers talk and read from their new books. I accompanied J.Courtney Sullivan, author of The Engagements, a book that is engaging from the first page, and Ann Hood, whose most recent book is The Obituary Writer. It was a lively event, with an audience who listened intently, loving books so much to spend a summer day inside. My table was filled by multi-generational members of a family tree and friends, with makes true the notion books create literal and figurative companions.
I trekked back to Sag Harbor, where I once had a home, to teach a workshop on imaginary geographies. The landscape flying past my train windows was very much real, a study in contrasts of lush marsh grass hosting a heron or two, to the power plants in the horizon. It was a new train in the LIRR fleet, and all was smooth, easy-going.
At Bridgehampton, I was picked up by a workshop participant, one of six lively women who gathered to write for four hours. In a close circle, we wrote through exercises about the place and self, beginning with settings of familiarity to those of the imagination. After a delicious lunch provided by the host bookstore, Canio’s, we drew imaginary cities and villages on portions of a map of Paris. One by one, the participants revealed their public markets, their factories, their slaughterhouses, and cafes.
We discussed using setting like character, using setting as plot. We spoke of how characters move through settings, and I wonder now if I mentioned that while in real life, what happens in Vegas might stay in Vegas, in fiction, it cannot.
Three days later, I sit at a cafe in the seaport in Boston, where I can glimpse planes taking off, their underbellies gleaming like whales. Melville mentioned Sag Harbor in Moby Dick, a port of trade and business. Here, all is tourism and relaxation, as the temperature climbs toward 95 F, and I wait for a ferry to take me home.
Should we have traveled or stayed at home? In the film, Reaching for the Moon, Elizabeth Bishop walks with Robert Lowell, struggling to compose “The Art of Losing.” Only by traveling into the interior, of a country and her heart, can she complete the poem.
There is a fierce need to complete poems, to complete acts of arts, and to travel, if only to return home, more capable of understanding ourselves and others.
On Thursday, I gave a reading at a lively event. It was at Anton’s at the Swan Hotel, housed in a building from 1870 furnished with curiosities and memorabilia, in New Jersey, where a once month, a dinner is given at once price, with one menu, to an enthusiastic crowd. The events are put together by the very graciously hostess, Miss Maxwell, and this one was suggested to her by my old friend Diane.
I read for my supper, and what a supper it was. Two long tables holding seventeen place settings were placed in a room covered with silks and chiffon from India. The tables held a long beguiling row of carefully potted marigold pots. In between the first (spinach and lentil soup garnished with a bright cucumber-tomato mix) and second course (baighan bartha, mango chutney, flat bread and basmati), prepared expertly (and deliciously, to the surprise of my family) by Chef Chris Connors,I read. After munching on cumin-seed shortbread and sipping strawberry lassi, I signed books, surrounded by family and friends, all under the painted gaze of British royalty.
I’d to return, to sip a martini or fauxtini, look for the John Cleese photo, as Diane suggests, and explore more of the Swan.
Returning from a near week of travel, I was happy to see the welcome committee of brave tulips at home;a scraggly bunch to be sure, but a welcome sight.
College Station, Texas has wildflowers in bloom, though I missed the best of the blue bonnets, I was told. It was a surprise, for I did not know what to expect in my first trip to Texas. I overheard a man ask another about his boots, and the conversation turned from admiration to a tale about cowhide. I passed up the opportunity to visit the George Bush Library, but I did see the terrific Women Call ForPeace : Global Vistas exhibit in the gorgeous art gallery at Texas A & M University, a beautiful collection of vivid imagery by Siona Benjamin; Helen Zughaib; Aminah Robinson; Faith Ringgold, Judy Chicago, and others. As the gallery notes, ” world-wide military spending is above $1.2 trillion annually; while the peace-keeping budget at the United Nations in 2009 was only $7.9 million.”
The professors of the South Asia Group, English, and Women Studies departments took extraordinarily good care of me, and I found myself dining on dosa, idlis, and laddoos, a true feasting, especially as my idea of dinner is often a grilled cheese these days. A well-attended reading, a large-group version of telling matriarchal ancestor stories, and good South Indian coffee rounded out a delightful weekend.
Boston was bittersweet, not because only because so much happened a week ago, but also because I gave my last classes. It is always difficult to say goodbye to a group of people I have seen regularly twice a week for sixteen weeks; we have written together and talked about fiction, and got to know one another a little. This is a special class, for it was the first that I shared my publishing story as it unfolded in real-time with a new book (so far, a kind of once in a blue mon event for me) and one in which they, but not I, were in a city-wide lockdown.
The small things always go together with the large, and if it were not for grammar (the infinite space a semi-colon provides , the rueful continuity of an ellipses) I know not what we would do. Thus, in Cambridge, I discovered a new cafe which encouraged a spate of writing, lusted after some vegan bags at a store, watched some dance on campus programs. I got charged twice as much for a cab ride to the station, but the day was too nice to complain. My bus arrived on time, only to have the driver tell some of us that it was full, and we needed to wait for the next one. Always an adventure on the bus, but I can’t help wondering: was it because I decided to catch the “next” bus instead of revisiting the vegan shoe and bag store as I intended?
Home, I returned local library books , only to realize I have a few more to return in Boston. The rent is paid, grades and bills are due, and the summer soon awaits. I hear that this is a funny time for Saturn, so maybe that accounts for restlessness. Still, a good time to concentrate on writing. Isn’t it always?