Friday, June 17, 2011

Second Home

Country Road

Last month I bought a combination film and photo scanner. For the price, it does a pretty good job with negatives, its technical abilities in reproduction of old photographs being just slightly better than taking new pictures of these pictures with my digital camera, my previous method. If my aim were to restore and conserve historical documents or images in the best possible condition for posterity, I’d be in big trouble. Fortunately, I am an artist, not an archivist, and my stake in the preservation of historical materials is highly personal and more concerned with authenticity of content than accuracy of presentation. Also, I tend to look upon technical flaws as happy accidents adding character to the appearance of an image, and enabling new possibilities for the meanings it might convey to the viewer.

 Country Road : A Second Life

Today I am preparing for a weekend away in the place I consider my second home, Vermont.  Followers of this space, new and old, will know that I grip my loyalty to my native New York City with the tenacity and passion of a street dog with a juicy bone.  I have been tempted by many other cities, here in the United States and overseas, and none has compelled me to let go this loyalty. I am a city girl, and the look and feel and life of cities will always quicken my pulse. But the Green Mountain state has always been there throughout my life to soothe and restore me, slow me down, and set me on the right path whenever I lose my way, and for that, Vermont will always have my heart, and make me wonder if perhaps in another life I was a country girl.

 Manhattan Slugger (Gabriella at 10)

Vermont was there for me in the 1970s when my family spent summers at the Bread Loaf School of English, a program connected to Middlebury College, where my father taught literature for many years. I can still recall the sensation of driving north in June, leaving behind the faces and places of the school year in Manhattan, watching the landscape slowly turn from shades of gray to greens so varied and deep they seemed unreal. As the landscape opened, so did my senses; as the tall buildings were replaced by even taller mountains I would find myself feeling both smaller and larger, put into perspective as a mere human dwarfed by such majesty, and yet absorbing it and being enlarged by it, as if the whole universe and all its secrets could now be understood and held in my heart and mind. Then there were weeks of running barefoot through grass, hiking on mountain trails, fishing in streams, or simply sitting on a porch after sunset in an Adirondack chair watching shadows lengthen across a lawn while the insects sang their night songs.  

 Porch  View (Gabriella at 14)

Always too soon, we were driving back south to the city in August, and the reverse would happen. Color drained away; everything appeared crowded, gray, confined, the tension returning to my body, and my eyes narrowing as my heart shrank a little inside my chest. Back to the city, back to school, goodbye joys of summer.  And after the last summer when my father stopped teaching at Bread Loaf, it took 16 years for me to visit again, this time as a student at the Bread Loaf Writers Conference. Those intervening years had not been happy ones, seeing me through a difficult college experience and a long confused search for whatever it was I was supposed to be and do as an adult in the working world. My frustrations with my desk job and my desire to do something closer to who I really was, an artist, a poet, led to my investigating nearby writers’ conferences, and Bread Loaf seemed the obvious choice, the only choice. It was 1993 and I was not a kid anymore. But one of the reasons I love Vermont, is that the day I set foot on the same campus I had last haunted as a kid, 16 years vanished as if they had never happened, and I knew I was home. 

 Vanishing Act

It should not have surprised me that 7 years later, the next time I found myself sitting in an office wondering what I was doing with my life, Vermont should come to the rescue again. This time, I had applied to two graduate programs in New York, studying for and doing remarkably well on the required standardized tests that meant overcoming my lifelong aversion to anything involving testing, requirements or standards.  I submitted what I thought was a pretty impressive application with a resume full of past publications, a well-written essay, recommendations from some prestigious poets, and good new work. I was convinced that not one but both schools would surely accept me, but instead, both turned me down. I was almost 40 at the time, and didn’t even consider that my age and experience might work against me, until I researched the faculty and student demographics of both these institutions and discovered that I would have not only been older than most of my classmates but quite a few of the professors and administrators as well.  I can now see why they would not have wanted someone like me, but at the time it was a shock, like hitting rapids when all you expected was smooth sailing ahead. What next?

 Troubled Waters

Vermont to the rescue. Within days of my double rejection, I was applying to the writing program at Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier, and for the next two years, twice a year, I rode north and experienced that same sensation of the world getting more colorful, more open, more serene and expansive. Being engaged in a graduate program saved my life, and it could not have happened anywhere but in Vermont.  Vermont was where I learned that being a shy awkward kid was okay, because it gave me more time to appreciate the world around me as only a solitary introvert can. It was where I first learned that I could call myself a poet and work and play side by side with other poets of all ages, backgrounds and abilities and feel I was finally where I belonged. But Vermont had one more surprise in store for me. 

The Long View

In the summer of 2009, I was once again on a Vermont Transit bus, this time bound for Burlington, to visit Brian for the first time. Two years later, after relocating him down here to Boston, we often wonder why I did not move up to Vermont instead to join him! He has known many cities and still declares Vermont is the most beautiful place he has ever lived. This weekend we are going together to our favorite place for a much needed break from what have lately been some very challenging, but on the whole happy, times both personally and professionally. I know the second we cross the state border, and the billboards disappear from the side of the road (it’s the law in Vermont), and the cows begin to outnumber the people, and the air starts to smell like perfume, it will feel like home. Who knows that Vermont may not have some future surprises in store? Stay tuned. 

 Green Light

With the exception of the panorama landscape, all photos in this blog post were scanned from my old original photographs, ca. 1973 - 1993 and presented with minimal correction. I’m bringing my cameras with me this weekend, so the next photographs you see here of Vermont will be all new!

24 comments:

  1. Just beautiful in both words and images. I am not surprised that Vermont is a second home and a healing place for you. Have a truly wonderful restorative weekend.

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  2. Many thanks EC! Let the healing begin! You have a wonderful weekend too, my friend.

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  3. I am really glad you "have" Vermont. Thanks for your kind words. Even thought I have had tons of work this week I am still very exited about the whole thing. Flag is still out in the front of the house!

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  4. Thanks for stopping by, Luis - I'm glad you are still enjoying your proud moment! There is so much news about what is wrong with this country, we often forget what a lucky thing it is to be here compared to some other places. Sometimes it takes a new citizen to give us that perspective!

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  5. yes this post is just beautifull, the meaning and the feelings! Your photos are so great gabriella, the "troubles water" speek to me really very much, remaind me an the nord cost Europa where the painter Emil Nolde are living for a time, and he paint the see in the same way you have done the photo... great, the one with the tree is beautifull too and you are really in your expression so pretty, I can see your italian blood that make me happy

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  6. Thank you dear Laura! I'm so happy you recognize the spirit of Italy in how I express myself! I can't help it! Happy also that you thought of Emil Nolde and the sea! But Troubled Waters is a portrait of a small old river that runs in Vermont, very far from the European North, very far from the coast! The river may be small, but it thinks it is as powerful as an ocean, and after many many centuries has actually cut a very deep gorge between the mountains, (a big tourist attraction!) - so this is a lesson about what can be done with patience! Perhaps we too are little rivers with great powers that will be seen after years of hard work? All the best to you.

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  7. Hi G - I hope you had a weekend that soothed, healed and restored you. It sounds like my kind of place. We feel the same as we climb the mountain to our home - leaving freeways and city lights behind; the roads narrow; the cars disappear; it's us and the cows on the last stretch home. Its very special to have a connection to a place like that - may it continue to nurture and support you. Go well!

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  8. Thank you so much, Fiona. The weekend is coming to an end as I write this in a hotel room in Vermont! It is indeed a healing place up here, even for just a few days, and I'm happy you understand why, and can experience the same feeling all the time! All the best to you and B.

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  9. Wish you a good "stretching out" and coming back
    as a refreshed person (to the city)...
    Love your photographs.There is much of art in them!!!
    Many hugs from me...

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  10. Dear Monika - many thanks for your kindness! I am now back in the city after my wonderful but too-brief two days away, and I do feel refreshed, but I already miss the country! Have a great week, my friend.

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  11. sound like a wonderful place, glad you had a good break g

    xt

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  12. T, it is a wonderful place to visit - I am sad to be back. Perhaps one day I will be living more as you do, with nature all around me and much further off the grid! All the best to you.

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  13. hmm yes i'm a bit late,just noticed i missed this post. I do hope Vermont surprised you again and that you had a good time and lots of great photos.

    Although i'm not living in a big city,i get the same feeling driving to France, the hills and open spaces, large fields, lakes and forests are bringing me in a special state of mind, very peaceful and 'zen'. Here in Belgium there are beautiful places, but it is a rather full built country, you drive from one village into another and into towns and cities(these places are often lovely and beautiful, no doubt) but now and then i miss those grand views with no building, no car, no living soul in sight.
    xx

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  14. Greetings, Renilde - always good to see you here, better late than never! It is strange, no matter how beautiful a city or even a small town is, it is "built" as you say, and manmade structures will never open our hearts and bring us inner peace the way the creations of nature can. In fact, it is the green spaces and waterways in cities that are always my favorite places to visit - but in the country they seem to have no limits. No living soul in sight for miles is a grand view indeed! Many thanks for your comment, dear friend.

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  15. Two fascinating places you occupy, lucky you! I look forward to your Vermont pictures.

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  16. Thanks so much TB - as you well know, there is a real urge among photographers to capture things that say "home" to them, whether it is the actual surroundings they occupy, or something elsewhere or otherwise that reaches into a deeper sense of kinship or belonging. As your work proves again and again, your eyes are always open to the familiar in the strange, and the strange in the familiar. I think that's a great part of our mission as artists of this particular medium.

    Vermont pictures coming soon!

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  17. Vermont is gorgeous!! Loved the post and the pics!! I'm happy that you and Brian had a wonderful visit!! : )))

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  18. Hey girl! Thanks for stopping by - we did indeed have a wonderful visit, but as Brian said on his post, wish it could have lasted A LOT longer! Take care, you.

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  19. TT - as F indicated some places nurture us and are our energy centres. I don't know Vermont but from your post and B's post and links it does seem to be a special place. May you return to your current home with a sense of reassurance and confidence. The photo of bend in the road was a great image with a quite message about it. Go well. B

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  20. Hi Barry - a special place indeed, worth returning to as a subject and as a second home - perhaps primary home before the end of the year! And many thanks for sensing the message in the road photo! All the best to you.

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  21. Enjoy your time in Vermont....food for the soul and spirit! Cheers!

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  22. I did! And it was! Many thanks!

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  23. Gabriella
    very emotional to know these stages of your life path; illustrated with photos so sensitive!
    that's it, dear - we are like a mosaic made ​​of little pieces that fit perfectly, and sometimes polished, some rough edges ... here and there
    but remain fixed on a base!

    I wish the best to you!
    bacione

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  24. Denise, it please me to think you feel the emotion of my path in all its stages! It is true, the pieces sometimes seem to have rough edges, but they do fit together in a whole picture just like a mosaic! All the best to you too, my dear friend!

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