Monday, July 22, 2013

Highway Hexes

I commute to work three days a week on I 89 - Vermont's main east-west artery.  It has not been a good summer for trying to drive on I 89 - washouts, accidents, and paving projects have made it a misery - it made me wonder if there wasn't something more going on...

Ottanta Sette threw a pinch of powdered oak bark into the teapot, gave it a swirl, and dropped the whole business with a rattle onto her sister’s kitchen table.  Overhead another 18-wheeler passed, causing the bunches of dried herbs tied to rafters to sway.
“Oh God,” Sette said as she collapsed into a kitchen chair.  “You know Nove, It’s not as relaxing in Vermont as advertised. I mean, that calendar you sent me for winter solstice? It’s all autumn leaves and cows on green hills, then you get here and it’s all the same old traffic. I might as well have stayed in New York.  Between my stomach and my tooth… I am at my limit.  I mean the limit.”
            Ottanta Nove furrowed her brow as she poured the potion. The note of exasperation in her big sister’s voice was new, and alarming.  “I could arrange an accident,” she suggested brightly. “You’ve always enjoyed those, and it would quiet things down for awhile.” 
Nove’s den, like that of all her sister Interstate witches, was magically hidden just beneath an overpass on the highway to which she had been assigned and for which she had been named.  (The great Strega di Autostrada had deplored English as dull and unromantic.  She had decreed that all her followers must have Italian names). “How’s about another Jack-knifed tractor trailer?”
            Sette waved her gnarled hand dismissively. “I’m not in the mood.”
            What was this?
For Sette to lose enthusiasm for car crashes was like losing the moon from the sky.  Nove tried again. “Maybe some more rain? A good deluge might just knock out some bridge pilings.” She hopped up from the table and grabbed the apothecary jar marked “PLUVIA”. Even in the murk, she could see that it was nearly empty.
“Uhm. You didn’t bring some Pluvia along by any chance?”
            Sette gazed at her younger sister in disbelief. The girl had never been the brightest torch in the forest and she was not improving with age. “I’m on vacation, Nove? Remember. I’m supposed to be on my Vermont vacation.”
            The note of disgust in Sette’s voice stung. Nove had been having one of the most brilliant seasons of her career. OK. Maybe she’d been a little free with the Pluvia.  But look at the results!  Nothing short of mayhem. Accidents, tie-ups, Vermont driver vexation unsurpassed in half a generation. Nove had expected praise and enthusiasm from her famous older sister. Instead, Sette was a picture of unutterable weariness.
“Honestly – and this is not to get back to headquarters, you understand?” Sette continued, “but closed lanes don’t do for me what they once did.”
            Nove practically stumbled. “You don’t mean that.”
            “I do.”
            “Why, you were the one who taught me the late merging spell - even before I knew the alphabet! The snarls you caused on I 87! Even Boston Coven...”
            “I said this wasn’t to get back to headquarters!” Sette banged the table, and then rubbed her forehead in a gesture of exhaustion.
            Nove made a motion to indicate that she was zipping her lips. She’d heard of this, witches losing their edge.  But Sette? What could it mean?
            As the question skittered across Nove’s mind, Re-tread, her raven and familiar, banged three times, urgently, on his hemlock perch by the chimney.  Nove caught his beady brown eye and read his meaning. Opportunity knocking?
            Even Boston had taken notice of Nove’s successes this summer.  If Sette were really headed for retirement?  I 87 had New York City drivers at its south end and the Adirondacks in the north. Oh, the opportunities for accidents! Oh the freezing rain!  She blew across the top of her cup and pondered.  She didn’t want to leave Vermont, but maybe she wouldn’t have to.  Maybe she was strong enough now… Hadn’t she shown what she could do?

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Harriet Gilbert for President

Harriet Gilbert.  I may swoon.

If you are looking for a restful way to occupy yourself in the one air-conditioned room in your house (fellow Vermonters?), I'm here with a couple G-rated suggestions.  Namely, a link to a podcast that I love.

My discovery of the archive of the BBC World Book Club has been the high point of this hot, gremlin-laced week (before coffee this morning my bed and my dryer both broke down).

The host of the show, Harriet Gilbert, is almost too good to be true: a real BBC announcer lady - an archetypal English woman of excellent taste, diamond-cut diction (emailers from around the world send questions and she navigates their names, Bulgarian, Indian, Russian, French, perfectly with never a stumble).   She interviews A-list authors, directs their readings - as in, "read this section now," and corrals the discussions in a way that keeps the show moving along briskly.  Even the audience members are clever and out of the ordinary.

I found the podcast archive while searching for interviews of David Mitchell, most famously the author of Cloud Atlas.  The show was fascinating on many levels (how did he do it? what does it mean?).  As an aside, David Mitchell's lovely voice and manners swept me right off my feet -  lucky that I was lying down while I listened.

Last night, flipping around on my poor (as yet unbroken) bed and fighting insomnia I went back to the World Book Club and listened to Harriet's interviews with P.D. James, A.S. Byatt and Philip Pullman.  I could have picked Annie Proulx, Zadie Smith, an appreciation of Dickens or any of thirty or so other shows.  Of course, I'll be back.

Harriet Gilbert is English, of course, and not a politician. Those are likely barriers that stand between her and the presidency here in the United States, but she would get my vote in a heartbeat.

In other bookish news...

I was gratified during my podcast listening to be interrupted by the little chirp that my iPod uses to tell me I have a new email.  The email in question was to let me know that the Teatime Reader, a book blogger and children's librarian, to whom I had sent my book several months ago, had actually read it, "loved it" (her words) and had reviewed it.  

I know the book isn't for everyone, but I was confident that at least some people would like it and there is nothing more gratifying to me than hearing that someone actually did like it.  Here's the link to the review. 

These things do help one through, as Harriet Gilbert might say.

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Land That I Love

Fourth of July Parade, 2013, Moscow, Vt (He's reaching for candy to throw to kids too little to drive a lawnmower)

Hi team.  Just stopping in to say happy Glorious Fourth to all my countrymen.

I have been away in Western New York for a few days catching up, at last, with many of my favorite relatives at the ol' family farm (settled by our crew 60 years ago this year).  Eating potato salad with them in my uncle's garage (repurposed into a kind of church hall for the reunion), general visiting, walking through the woods and fields at the old farm, admiring how beautifully the young people have grown, and how beautifully the older ones have aged, had me feeling pretty good about life in this country already.

Then, this morning I kicked off the Fourth by attending the parade in Moscow, VT, a hamlet within the town of Stowe.  Nothing fancy - the usual fire trucks, a horse who features in every town event, some old cars etc., but also displaying a real sense of humor.

In addition to the lawnmower parade (see above), we got the Moscow Ladies' Lawnchair Brigade (women carrying lawnchairs) and the Moscow Mens' Radio Band (talented wearers of t-shirts printed with the band name and carriers of portable radios).  Someone had been to UPS and printed up a banner announcing that Moscow was offering asylum to Edward Snowden.  The banner was followed by a crowd and I think someone in the group was supposed to represent Snowden - he was trailed by G-men in suits, sunglasses, and earpieces. (I was too slow with my camera phone to get a picture, sorry).

I got quite teary about it as I walked the half mile down the dirt road where I'd had to park my car.  The thing that people often miss about the true greatness of this country is the general decency, the openness, and the kindness of our people.  It shines out at me most at times when no one is trying to make any kind of  a point.  So easy to miss it in all the debate that we seem to go in for and the general braying of the news but as prevalent and real as the air we breathe.  Happy Independence Day!  What a country it is.