house guest from Quebec
Sunday, April 7 2013
location: Williamstown Motel, Williamstown, Massachusetts
Johnny invited Gretchen and me over to the house in North Adams back behind MassMOCA that he and his family were staying in while here for Johnny's opening. The house had been loaned to him by the museum free of charge, though it had no æsthetic or artistic charms whatsoever. I don't know what made it drearier, the vinyl siding on the outside, the 70s-era wood paneling on the interior, or the Disney-trademark-violating murals on a concrete retaining wall in back. But it had lots of rooms, which was handy because Johnny has lots of family. Johnny had promised bagels and coffee, though by the time we arrived there was only one plain bagel left and not very much coffee. Gretchen and I had stopped at Wild Oats on the way to get vegan creamer, vegan cream cheese, and other things one might bring to a situation where non-vegan options are all that is available. In the end we didn't actually eat anything at all at Johnny's borrowed house. Gretchen spent most of her time chatting with Johnny's ten year old daughter (who had actually been at our wedding as a tiny baby), while I talked to Johnny's wife's mother (mostly about languages and travel). Meanwhile, Johnny and the others were mostly packing up and preparing to go. It wasn't, suffice it to say, the ideal situation for socializing.
After we'd said goodbye to all those people, Gretchen and I returned to the Spiceroot Indian restaurant in Williamstown for lunch. Gretchen had had such a good experience there last night that she wanted to do the buffet. It didn't disappoint.
I finally got a proper cup of coffee at Tunnel City Coffee and a variety of gifts and trinkets at a store that sold such things, we went to the Williams College Museum of Art, which we'd visited in the past and which Gretchen loves. It's a smallish but very well-endowed museum. The big unusual exhibit we saw there today was a series of recently-commissioned paintings inspired by paintings in various novels (for example, The Picture of Dorian Gray). The resulting paintings, however, were neither remarkable nor particularly faithful to what the respective novels had described. Instead, most of them had gone off on wankerish tangents, the kind that can only be described in meaningless glossary-free art-speak. My favorite works at the Williams College Museum are the large cuneiform reliefs and the one painting by Charles E. Burchfield (the latter of which was sadly not on exhibit today).
The route we took home today was south from Williamstown through the Berkshire highlands through Lanesborough (which its teens surely call "Lamesborough") to Great Barrington, and then east to US 9, south to Redhook, and then over the Hudson at Rhinecliff.
During the drive and particularly once we'd made it home, I found myself feeling increasing levels of discomfort from the problem I've referred to in the past as "esophageal clamping," which has bothered me once every two or three years since 2004. This "clamping" feels as though a sphincter at the top of my stomach is squeezing shut with uncomfortable and even distracting amounts of force. It's the opposite of my usual problem in this area, when that same sphincter relaxes too much and lets stomach acids leak into the esophagus, where they cause heart burn. But at least hear burn is easily solved by ingesting a half teaspoon of baking soda. There is no lasting relief available for esophageal clamping, although I can experience moments of relief by swallowing (the moment the peristaltic wave reaches the affected area there is a moment of relaxation that soon passes). I should mention that I've had a few particularly bad bouts of acid reflux of late (including last night, when I didn't have any baking soda available to neutralize it — though conjuring up a bowel movement helped), so it's possible that esophageal clamping is a sort of overcompensation undertaken by the automatic processes that happen within my body.
Back at the house, Gretchen prepared a delicious polenta bake. And then Joseph, the farm animal sanctuary intern who will be staying with us for the next five weeks, arrived. Also with him were his mother, father, and several screen-obsessed siblings in a back seat. Since Joseph was bringing his own car, they'd arrived in a two-car convoy, ultimately coming from a part of Quebec just across the border from New York. His mother looked to be about our age. We moved Joseph into his room, his parents left, we showed him around the house, and then Gretchen fed him some of her delicious polenta bake. He's a very ernest slow-talking 20 year old kid who has been vegan for about a year. After the obligatory "how did you become vegan?" conversation, the topic shifted to more interesting material, such as what Canadians do for health care when bad things happen south of the border. There doesn't seem to be a simple answer for that one; when he was younger Joseph broke his arm in New York State and the most basic first aid cost him $500. So if something bad happens this time he'll probably hope he's well enough to drive north.
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