Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Ravishing of New England

I prefer nature at its darkest, elemental fury and grand mal thuderclouds and tree-shattering lightning and all of that -- so I can stand in a cemetery or other roadside attraction, shaking my fist at the heavens and shouting defiance at a pitiless universe. Mrs. Bleak, who is sane, prefers subtler, if more blandly picturesque, manifestations of nature, and seems to have certain concerns about what "others" might think. Nor does she care to get soaked to the skin, even though her clothing is perfectly washable. She also likes for some reason to take photographic pictures, though not of things that interest me (disembowelled animals, underdressed young ladies, the security systems of "low-risk" banks, clouds that look like Hollywood stars of the 1930s, etc.) This is fine with me, considering that recent technological advances have done away with tripods, flash powder, and all sorts of things that I'd have had to drag from place to place; but, really, if you've seen one floral garden, or sunset, or valley from a mountaintop, or in-law, you've pretty much seen them all, to my way of thinking.

Our recent motor trip was, unfortunately, all sunny and green, nature's banal equivalent of "On the Good Ship Lollipop," with a random chorus of "Dont Worry, Be Happy" thrown in for good measure. I half expected smile faces to start appearing in corners of the landscape, and flowers to start dancing. This is just the sort of thing calculated to put me into a very ill temper indeed, and I'm likely to pull a Charles Sumner on hotel clerks and the like as a result. Fortunately, we did get to visit a cemetery, so I got to wander about reading random tombstone inscriptions while Mrs. Bleak visited some old family gravesites.

Northampton, Massachusetts is the home of Smith College, lately gone from being a distinguished school for young ladies to, according to reports, a sort of all-purpose workshop for training in the arts of shouting and resentment. In a not unrelated development, Northampton has in recent years become, again according to reports, the Lesbian capital of the nation. Despite the inevitable counterculture gentrification, it remains quite pleasant and unassuming on the surface (which one might not be able to say of equivalent male capitals.) Many of the books in the shops tend to ideological hysteria and gynecological nagging, but not significantly more so than in other college towns. Rather too many copies of Das Kapital and such, but that was true thirty and forty years ago, when doddering professors were expected to assign it (they're eccentric, you know), and students were expected to ignore it. A larger contingent of sulking younger persons seem interested in this book which is a century and a half out of date, possibly because they are drawn to monumental irrelevance, decaying prose, and a narrative pace unmatched outside of the Congressional record.

We went to an antiques shop, satisfyingly dusty, where my wife failed to buy a stone gargoyle that took my fancy. An SUV parked on the rather seedy side street was covered with loud stickers decrying violence against women. I suppose this was one of those single-issue voters about whom one hears so much, although it has never been clear to me who precisely is in favor of violence against women. I guess the owner of the car would have been pleased to instruct me in this arcane matter, but she -- somehow I assumed it was a "she," although this may have been very, very wrong of me -- was not around for consultation. She was, according to her car, also unequivocally opposed to child abuse. Most of these notices and slogans did not penetrate my intellectual filtering system. But one sticker stood out: "Violence against women IS child abuse." I found this a bit puzzling, though not so puzzling as to be interesting for more than a moment. The operative assumption might be that women are children, although I somehow expect not. That all women have been children is unarguable. But that (another possible implication) all children are female, is, I would venture, arguable, and on a number of grounds. Thus, I am not sure what is being contended here, although it is being contended in BOLD LETTERS, which conveys a certain gravity, along with little in the way of equivocation. A mystery, I suppose. (For the record, I will mention that I am opposed to violence against women, child abuse, and other bad things. Further, I will assert that I am very much in favor of good things, one of which is cars without stickers. )

Our hotel stop was quite pleasant. I find that any slight wavering I may have in the area of cable television -- we don't have anything at home beyond broadcast television, or "welfare TV," as I like to call it, despite gasps of horror from visitors -- is eliminated by a brief hotel stay. And so it was here. I clicked sedulously through a hundred channels before settling, after due consideration, on a rerun of Cops on a broadcast channel. At length, I retired to the bathroom, there to admire the basketful of tiny containers of various products, which I like to imagine as having been produced for little people. Finally, to the bedroom, to listen on headphones to some CDs by the Willem Breuker Kollektief. (I had recently been reminded of them by browsing the Hatemonger's blogsite, which sent me frantically scrambling for as many of their recordings as I could find before my departure from home. This parenthetical aside has no special relevance, but sometimes I just want to work things in somehow.)

During the drive home, I occupied myself by imagining the lives of drivers reflected in the rearview mirror. I had lots of time to do this while exiting the Massachusetts Turnpike.