Tuesday, May 27, 2008

The Aqua Mustang 19 - THE SLAVE TRADE

I was not thinking much about Gillian, the blonde girl I had been dating and found so appealing, even when she talked too much about Buddhism. As I drove, I was thinking more about my new red-headed friend Tina, who had a butterfly tattoo over her shoulder blade and passed on the art magazines that came to her sister’s uptown gallery. I was thinking further back to Susi and Judy and Vannie and Kitty – time appearing now as if all time took place in the same time. I could see Tina in the passenger seat keeping track of the tapes. Maybe I was lonely.

At moments I felt forward movement from the inside – as if now at last I had gotten rid of such nonsense as the Humphrey Bogart ideal, and the need for death-defying adventuring and being lionized for what I would write.

The first time I had talked before an ACOA group – it was a big meeting in the Village – I went in scared even though I was a practiced public speaker. When it was over it felt not just that I had declared what I needed to declare and that their applause was heartfelt. My main sensation was that I had secretly crossed over the line from the free world into family territory, stolen the most dangerous of my family’s secrets, then fled back across the border to give give the secrets to the people I had chosen.

And now I was in an aftermath in which I might need neither bravery, nor bravado, nor extra adrenaline, nor stealth. In this place I was in I was accompanied by original art in my head, and recorded song on the tape deck, and trees billowing out in mountain air, and memories, always memories. This place I traversed now, Vermont, with its lakes and green mountains and its carefully tended fields of grass and clover.

I remembered finding that the Alps as I had known them in Slovenia seemed so different from the alps in Switzerland because in Switzerland they had been turned into a manmade landscape. In Vermont, like in Switzerland, you could look up into the mountains and see carefully tended fields in different shade of green, arranged in perfect squares or rectangles, right up there in high places. The old family people in the summer crowd in New Hampshire always said the White Mountains region was just like Switzerland – which was one of the those absurd things I used to hear as a child, and often thought I was at fault for finding absurd. Sometimes the White Mountains actually seemed mainly black and gray granite, never tended except by natural disaster – lightning and avalanches - or by an occasion ski-trail gash. Sometimes a little soft and blurry, but never carefully tended. And where our families lived in summer, clouds would descend and you would not see the White Maintains for days, even weeks, which was like Slovenia too. I spent nearly a month in Ljubljana before I realized I was surrounded by high peaks.

Now maybe some people went to Switzerland merely to risk death on the Matterhorn but most, I think, went for the softer beauty, the reason often given for exhalting Vermont. Maybe it was too much softness, land that had been tended so carefully it did not look like what it really was. Maybe Vermont was too soft for me. It had no outlet to the North Atlantic, though New Hampshire had Portsmouth, from which clipper chips and whalers had sailed. When I was 14, the slowest student in school, I began what I hoped would be a novel I would write about a cabin boy sailing from Portsmouth – a character I stole form one of my grandfather’s novels. Much later, because I had once been commissioned to write about such things for a notoriously slick publishing company, I knew that ships that sailed from New England might be filled with men following the whales, but were almost surely on the New England angle of the triangular slave trade.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Fred,
These Vermont/New Hampshire pieces are potent in an immediate revelatory way even as the narrator puts down the words. Such is the magic of art. Wonderful!

"And Maybe - if everything had been calm and I had not sought a certain sort of adventure - I would have been looking not so much for sweet longing as for love."

"... I knew that ships that sailed from New England might be filled with men following the whales, but were almost surely on the New England angle of the triangular slave trade."
I am extremely sorry to be missing Saturday's celebration. I'll be there in spirit. Physically, I'll be off to the Cape. I'm looking forward to June 3 and our new writing series.

To Marta and Fred - Best and Love, DeAnn