Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Long Good-by: See You Next Year, Camel's Hump

Now that the countdown to Jordan has officially begun, life is starting to feel like a series of goodbye's, purging of possessions and packing.  One consolation is that a surprising number of Saint Michael's alumni are in similar situations, having spent the summer in Burlington and now making tracks to jobs and graduation school in other locations. On Thursday one of them, Kate, and I decided to put our packing aside and do the Camel's Hump hike that she never quite got around to during her four years of college.

A view of the trail on the way back down.
Given the ominous look of the weather, we thought it best to sign in in case we got stuck in the mud somewhere.

Kate did the honors when it was time to sign out.

The whole idea felt very appropriate for a whole host of reasons.  First was the fact that it's pretty much a crime to do an entire degree at a Vermont college and never do a Camel's Hump hike, and Kate was determined to fix that before she left.  From my angle, Camel's Hump featured very heavily in my life (and on this blog) last year when I got to hike it with all kinds of people, in all seasons and during all hours of the day (and night). Yet in 2011 I hadn't hiked it even once, and the opportunities to do it before I head to the Middle East  were rapidly drawing to a close. And finally, as Kate pointed out, there is something incredibly cool about the fact that she and I (and Alexsis) did our first hike of the summer in Jordan at Petra, where I'm now headed for ten months, and our last hike of the summer at Camel's Hump, the quintessential hike of the state of Vermont, which we are now leaving.
It's hard to convey in a photo how much the wind was whipping around and how bad the visibility was up top.  But you can sort of tell from the pained look on Kate's face as she clings to the rock.

It wouldn't be Vermont if there weren't at least a little kink in the plans, and we were a little surprised at how uncrowded the parking lot was when we got to the trail head for the Burrows Trail.  Apparently, many lesser souls were deterred by the dark, overcast skies.  We marched upward however, and passed a few intrepid fellow travellers on their way down who accurately warned us that the top was extremely windy and foggy.  But as we all know, it's not the destination but the journey that counts. Through the rain, the wind and the fog we had a great hike and took the opportunity to say goodbye to an icon of the state we've both come to love.  In a little over a week I leave for Amman and in a few months Kate will leave for Columbia, and both of us will take up our teaching posts for the year, Kate teaching English with the Harvard affiliated program World Teach and me as a Fulbrighter at the University of Jordan.  But of course, we'll be back, and on the lookout for all our Vermont friends on the Camel's Hump trail.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Truly Vermont Summer New Thing: Bread and Puppet

As my time in Vermont winds down, I find myself more motivated than ever to both wring every ounce out of summer that I can AND to do as many things as possibly that are quintessentially Vermont.  Last Sunday Paul who is always thinking of cool Vermont (and Quebec) things to do, provided yet another.  Every year Paul goes up to Glover, Vermont in the area we call the Northeast Kingdom, for the annual Bread and Puppet show that runs on Sunday afternoons in August.  This year Chris and I, as well as our friend Sue, rode up with him (in his shiny new white Jeep).

It's a little hard to explain what Bread and Puppet actually is: it describes itself as "cheap art and political theater in Vermont", and it was founded by Peter Schuman -- who still directs it --  in the 1960s.  Our friend Sue told us that the name comes from the practice they used to do of serving homemade bread and garlic spread at  the free performances.  The centerpiece of Bread and Puppet is the paper mache puppets, many of them huge, that they use in their political skits and parades.  The whole thing has moved several times in its history but now its permanent home is a farm in Glover, and the large barn has been converted to a museum featuring many of the puppets and sets of previous performances.

Given how visual the whole experience is, pictures are probably the best way to describe it, so I'll let some of the ones I took speak for themselves.  Here they are.  Take a look and then head up to Glover sometime to see it for yourself!

A central premise of Bread and Puppet is that art is for everyone.  The Cheap Art Bus is one way of realizing the reality.  Here Paul and Chris browse through the options.

The Museum, located inside a converted barn is literally crammed floor to ceiling with puppets, paintings and paper mache sculpture. I don't know why these particular figures "spoke to me" but they definitely did.

Paul and Sue in front of one of the many exhibits.

Chris pointed out this Gandhian quote to me, which sounds a lot like the liberation theology's "option for the poor". It's incorporated into a larger exhibit from a previous performance.

The visual variety in the museum was endless but the irony was pretty consistent.  Here a devil prepares to destroy a village protected by banners proclaiming that "everything is fine".

The ceiling was fantastic as well. 

Some of the exhibit's themes were not immediately self-evident -- here Chris puzzles one out.

A shot from this year's outdoor performance, "Man = Carrot" featuring, among many others, dozens of Glover area children on stilts, giant carrots, two fifteen foot puppets doing a lesbian wedding, a paper mache puppet of God and his secret service agents (wielding lightning bolts) and Vermont Yankee.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

One More New Thing in New England: A Weekend in New Bedford

Back in December 2009 when I was putting together the 2010 list of New Things, fellow list maker Leah urged me to include a weekend in her hometown of New Bedford.  I never did get around to it in 2010, and in 2011 she once again reminded me that I really needed to check it out.  With roughly a month to go before I ship out for my 10 month adventure in Jordan I realized that the opportunity was dwindling and I'd better seize.  So, now I'm back from four fabulous days in New Bedford, made all the more great by the fact that the time was at different points spent not only with Leah, but also Chris, Siham, Drisk and Leah's friend-since-childhood and fellow New Bedford local, Yun.

Chris and I drove down on Thursday and Leah introduced us to her hometown with a huge dinner at a local Portuguese hometown favorite, Antonio's which we made extra-gluttonous by visiting the Gulf Hill Dairy, which is shaped like a giant milk bucket and is ideally suited for watching a sunset over the water..  Later that night Leah tried the new cookies I had made in her honor, Leah Laches. As all my friends know, one of my favorite things to do is bake cookies, and I particularly love inventing new cookies and naming them after the people near and dear to me.  Leah had let it be known that she was definitely next on the naming list, and so Leah Laches have joined Chris Crinkles, Almond Bennetts, Lemon Driskies, Siham Surprises and Maple Hoxies in the roster of my namesake cookies.  Leah Laches are a peanut-butter-and-jelly-twist on the classic rugelach, and luckily, Leah pronounced them worthy of their namesake.
Here's Leah and her terrific mom, who outdid herself in hospitality at the cookout she hosted for us and other guests on Saturday.

Leah, preparing to find out whether it's possible to cram a huge cone of ice cream on top of an Antonio's dinner and not get sick.  (Turns out that the answer is yes, but you might still really regret it.)
Chris, Leah and Pumpkin hanging out in Leah's apartment while she passes judgement on the cookies named in her honor.
On Friday Leah had to work, but Chris and I found plenty to amuse ourselves as tourists immersing ourselves in New Bedford history.  I never read Moby Dick till I was an adult, and I have to confess I was freakishly fascinated by the long, drawn out descriptions of whales and whaling.  So for me, touring the whaling museum and nearby Bethel (site of the famous sermon from the pulpit that Ismael hears before he sets off on his voyage under Captain Ahab's command) was hugely interesting.

Among the many really remarkable things to see at the Whaling Museum are four real whale skeletons hanging from the ceiling.  If you look carefully you can see the one further away is actually two -- the larger is the mother and the little one is her baby, which was still a fetus when she died.

The famous Seamen's Bethel that features prominently, like the entire town of New Bedford,  in the beginning of Herman Melville's Moby Dick.

Late Friday afternoon Chris took his leave of New Bedford to go pick up his brother from Logan Airport and head to Southern Vermont, but luckily the relief team, composed of Siham, Drisk and Yun, were on hand to take over.  Together, we ate and sunned our way through New Bedford, crashing a fabulous family cookout hosted by Leah's parents, trying Cape Verdean food at Izzy's restaurant, and hitting the shore for swimming, sunning and beach-combing twice in two days.
Drisk and Siham try a breakfast with a Portuguese twist at Izzy's.  Drisk was having a dish called cachupa. He said it was excellent.

Although the others didn't get the memo, Siham and I knew that the beach color of the weekend needed to be red. 
Drisk, Siham, Leah and Yun worship the sun and rejoice in the second straight day of perfect beach weather.
The verdict of the visitors was that Leah and Yun are right.  New Bedford is a lot of fun. It has a great blend of history and current happenings (did you know that New Bedford actually has one of the biggest still-running fishing industries in the country?), people (and therefore food) from around the world -- from Cape Verde to Portugal to the Pacific Islands to Scandinavia -- and ports with tall ships a few miles down the road from gorgeous beaches. Who knew?