Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Aqua Mustang 71 - JUST LIKE NEW HAMPSHIRE?

Wherever they were, everything was seen in terms of New Hampshire. Peter forever would say of any girl he saw me with anywhere that she reminded him of Kitty, my girlfriend in adolescence in the White Mountains. Dad would not put a leash on his Cocker Spaniel and go for a walk in Connecticut without pointing out that if this were New Hampshire he would not need a leash. Pointing it out as an overriding fact of life. They talked that way whether, like Peter, they kept going back or, like Mother and dad, they took care to ration their time in New Hampshire.

I went to Switzerland in one of the last phases of a book I pulled together in nine intense months in which I was always on the move – New York, to London, to the Canary Islands, to Malta to Switzerland to London to even New Hampshire, to a raw hotel across from Grand Central. In the Switzerland part I had gone to Zermatt looking for a place where I would be left alone, though unable to forget how the New Hampshire summer people always said how much like being in Switzerland it was to be in the White Mountains. Which I knew to be ridiculous, for the landscapes in Switzerland might be wind swept but were never new Hampshire raw.

But it was true that I had thought of the White Mountains even when in such unlikely places as the Taurus Mountains in Turkey, or in the scraggly, untamed Slavonic version of the alps in Slovenia, even when climbing high Kinabalu in the tight little northern Borneo timber fiefdom of Sabah. I had observed myself picking up on the New Hampshire connection even when it seemed silly to me – as even though a doll-like girl from Singapore, or a rounded New York girl who wore tank tops well, were no more like Kitty than was my depressed mother.

But the thing was that looking out at the mountains every day in Zermatt, both up high in cable cars and funicular or cog railways to the point where everything was open space, then walking down and into woods, I was never for a moment reminded of raw New Hampshire vistas by the Swiss landscape, which was either clean year-round glacier or a man-made landscape of trimmed fields and forests, not unlike skylines in Italy where everything was made beautifully orderly, no matter how it had started out. And then the connection crept up on me unexpectedly. One reason I was in Zermatt was that I had sensed before going there that it was a place where I would be left alone – unlike the chaotic cities of the Near and Far East where I was spending so much of my life. And the food in Zermatt was plentiful and Germanic – much like the food in White Pines which had stood in contrast to the less than plentiful food in most of the Waspdom I knew, including in my childhood home in Connecticut, where meager pieces of greasy mackerel or leathery liver vied with overcooked Brussels sprouts or rope-like string beans.

And I was indeed left alone in Zermatt, whether writing or not. I was especially alone when there were people around – except some nights when I would get drunk in the town. I was alone as I ate my separate-table hotel meals and traveled by cable car or funicular railway, and then walked down through woods full of hearty summer hikers who looked prosperous in understated hiking clothes. I would pass through these people unnoticed as if I were a ghost.

It was that much like old New Hampshire!

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