Bellows Falls looks like the place where Anglo-America went to die, Troy is Albany’s Northampton and not its Holyoke, and “Union Grove” looks a little bit “made by hand” already.
Instead of last year’s Madrid-Toledo-Segovia experience this year afforded my wife and me the opportunity to take just 4 days to do our adult vacationing. We only discovered that a chance to go away for just the two of us would exist some 72 hours in advance so we threw together plans based on only two fixed items: a showing of The Wizard of Oz in a classic opera house/movie theater, and an exhibition of nudes from the Prado museum at The Clark.
In retrospect the primary organizing principle of this vacation was my podcast listening habits.
I only knew of the showing of The Wizard of Oz through KMO’s C-Realm podcast and decided that it, the movie showing, might be a nice opportunity for a little change of pace for us. Movies lie at the heart of my wife’s identity; some members of her family have been in the business of moving pictures since the Great Depression, and sharing her knowledge and love of film with me has been a counterpoint to me sharing my love of cities with her. I was also interested in Bellows Falls because I knew that KMO had decided to move there from New York City, despite some reluctance, because it embodies in some ways the type of resilient community that could be better suited to life in a changing world in the coming century.
While not all of the themes running through the C-Realm podcast are of interest to me, I lack whatever gene makes new agey stuff and “woo” in any way intriguing, I do enjoy his interest in Peak Oil, Climate Change, Limits to Growth, and Apocalypticism. As with many of my favorite thinkers he has decided to hunker down in or near a small town in the Northeast. Bellows Falls sits on rail and water transportation links, and is surrounded by a great deal of small scale agriculture, not to mention acres and acres of land lying fallow, and has the walkable core of a traditional town.
The people at the Opera House for the show reminded me not so much of the America of my youth, but of what would have seemed to me a Brigadoon version of America even in my youth. If you cobblestoned the Main Street and transformed a few key buildings into Tudor or Tuscan style edifices tourists would devour this place whole, but it’s much too authentic for that.
By the time the movie let out the sidewalks were all but rolled up, the nice Italian restaurant was empty, and my wife and I were left to talk with the movie buff who had sponsored that night’s near sell out showing of The Wizard of Oz. My wife already knew most of the details of the making of the film, but I knew only that Buddy Ebsen was originally cast as the Tin Man only to be unable to perform due to some issue with the make up.
I can tell that Bellows Falls is home to exactly the kind of people that don’t give a damn what I think. Good for them! It looks a place where the expectations are as practical as the storefronts. I can see this being a solid community in which to put down roots in uncertain times.
On the way from Bellows Falls to Troy, I set GoogleMaps to take us through Greenwich, New York; home of James Howard Kunstler and the setting for his World Made by Hand novels. We stopped by the public library, my wife in search of a public restroom, and I in search of Kunstler’s fiction. Three of the four volumes were on the shelves. I am about to start the third, A History of the Future, and was curious to see how well this prophet was received in his adoptive hometown. It looks every bit the struggling town he has mentioned time and time again on his podcast, but looks somewhat less forlorn than I pictured it. It became apparent many years ago that the urban-suburban argument no longer interested JHK, and he was choosing “door number three” as it were. I’ve been left like a fan of a musician who insists on recording ever changing eclectic tracks all the while I just want to hear his classic oldies.
More on Kunstler when I finish The Harrows of Spring.
In Troy I was reminded of the importance of what linguists call “register“. My interest in Troy was awakened by James Howard Kunstler’s former co-host on the Kunstlercast Duncan Crary. Duncan would constantly put Kunstler’s commentary into context using his adopted hometown of Troy, New York. The impression I got was of a city playing the same role to Albany as Holyoke does to Springfield: a smaller, struggling, formerly industrial city living in the shadow of a much larger neighbor. A day in Troy was enough to realize that it was no such thing, if anything it was much closer to playing the role of Albany’s Northampton: the smaller, whiter, more affluent city in close enough proximity to its larger neighbor that it made that city’s revitalization all the more difficult as it provided a simpler and safer urbanity right next door that any green shoots in Albany would need to compete with.
Hell, if anything Troy kicks Northampton’s ass. Troy is block after block of renovated, revitalized XIX century urbanity infused with art houses, wine bars, bistros, farmer’s markets, theater groups, and college bookstores. Yes, Troy has black people, Hispanic ones too, poor ones even, but it’s clear to me that ever thinking of it as at all similar to Holyoke, never mind Springfield, was ridiculous.
Getting back to “register”, the only thing that I can imagine is that Duncan’s prep school friends speak poorly of it because its tapas bars don’t compare favorably to the ones on Ibiza.
Troy is amazing. If Springfield ever, in my lifetime, reached the level of vitality, energy, and success that Troy has today, I would die a happy man.