Maine to Pittsburgh, Beauty

Went to Maine for a lightning fast trip. It was great.   Part of it was re entering the northern New England Survival Gestalt. I got in at midnight at Manchester NH. It had been 87 (unseasonable thank God) in Pittsburgh the day before. In NH, it was 40 degrees,  very dark and pouring rain at the airport.

Wearing only a light jacket I trudged over in the rain also sans umbrella (I’ve become a very light packer) to the rental car company.  But, I thought, this is good. Good to be challenged when you’re older. Otherwise you fall into decrepitude.

I have always been quite courageous; I grew up in a very tough environment and I was forced to rely on myself. There are bad parts to this but also a lot of good.  In addition, in New England there is a suffering and redemption philosophy to the weather and life in general. So I was proud to endure an exhausting trip and push myself to pick  up the car as I had to in order to accomplish my work.

At the Thrifty counter I  had a nice chat with the lady who was about to close up. She was an immigrant and told me I was courageous.

The next day I drove 3+ hours to western  Maine to a meeting. It was beautiful. Clear and sunny, the rivers overflowing.  The hills looked like fall—all the colors. I would venture that Maine’s bloom is 2 weeks behind Pittsburgh. The lilacs, which I always associate with New England, are just out. (In PGH they and the azaleas—it’s all very lush—are long gone).

It was coldish in the north country, which was great.  Above the hills a fine mist floated.

I listened to classical music on the fine radio. It was entrancing and my pleasure evidenced a basic life truth: when you do not have something and then you have it you appreciate it more. This has been a truism my entire life, but especially since I left my nightmarish family at 18.  I have always appreciated my life although there has been a lot of suffering and in my younger years drama.

My car radio has not worked in some years so the SUV stereo—yowzah!–was a delight. I loved hearing classic rock and wonderful Chopin, Haydn, etc. All of which I have an enhanced interest in since leaving Maine nine months ago and beginning to go to concerts at Heinz Hall and the Benedum Center.

Heinz Hall , home of the Pittsburgh Symphony (one of the best in the country), is just a treasure.  Wonderful acoustics. I dress up and sit in nosebleed seats. Below are galleries and lounges and exquisite halls and grand staircases. It’s just lovely.  They are great musicians. The sense of civilization is entrancing—that all these people are there, intent on beauty, something seemingly worthless in this age of the utilitarian, but  priceless and true.

Again that sense of coming into an oasis in the desert. I know nothing really about music. I had no childhood lessons, my family had no interest in music or the arts except literature. That was only my mother, who read, but was too depressed to be active in the world. She was not much of a mother.

I’ve always liked classical music but to hear it in a lovely old hall…it’s magnificent. How I wish my mother could be with me. In this life she would not be deaf as she grew in older age, and she would be happy.  We would be happy sitting together and she would be a girl again, alight.

The opera, which I also attend, brings tears to my eyes, tears of joy.  Mostly I attend the Met broadcasts in movie theaters, but I went to the Pittsburgh opera once, for “Turandot”.  It was just lovely. Opera is so sumptuous.  More, it is elemental with its great storylines, deep emotion, eternal truths which we seem to be losing.  But maybe I’m just an old bag saying this, as older people say this in every generation.

Anyway, what a gift. I have such a sense of that about my whole life these days and it is because I was so brave in making this transition. In my old life in Maine–which has many gifts– I did not have much access to the greater world, the new, and I now realize its lack was difficult.

It is not that I now dislike nature, because I am much at tune with the natural world. I still notice a lot. At night I listen to the birds’ night chorus and look at the new leaves on the trees in amazement. Behind the seemingly omnipresent police helicopters I see the stars.

I do miss the sea, wildness. That New England landscape is absolutely my native country, I now know. In some ways I even miss spending much of my life on surviving, as I did in Maine—on maintenance, preparation against the elements, gathering wood, carting things back and forth.  Even the culture—when I heard those harsh New England voices barking on radio commercials–my heart sung.

However, to be in city that is so vibrant, diverse, full of energy and the new…God it’s wonderful. A city which is much kinder than many New England cities, like Providence, where I grew up, and Boston, where I lived in young adulthood.

Pittsburgh is not boring at all. While I frequently visit Maine, I’m also very happy here. Grateful for coming in courage 10 months ago. I came back to my apartment and opened Pittsburgh magazine. I bought tickets for a number of things, was in touch with friends. I’m delirious at 62, almost 63.

Tuesday–before early winter

Reading Anne Sexton and Erich Fromm on fairy tales. I am writing an essay for submission, and when it comes to my family of origin, fairy tales and mythology are useful.

Also, Mavis Gallant, her volumes “Paris Stories” and “Varieties of Exile”; the latter is very instructive about Canada and the French. I had no idea that Gallant writes so extensively about this subject. Her work echoes the hidden glimpses of the French side in my family.  My great uncle Jean Charlemagne was a noted historian of French Canada.  Something to investigate.   Dignity, parochialism, “Parisian French”, winters, style, fine sewing.

The sick crabbed pursuit of what I would not want is gone. The awful old life, closed depthless small town people–gone.  A fine airiness and joy in my heart.  I will walk this morning through the park—bones of the land evident now–Forbes to Shady Avenue, 2 miles each way, then back.

I love the slight sense of urban decay, old monuments, broad boulevards here. Rattling oaks, silver birch.  Admittedly It is strange not to have the sharp air of New England. That clarity, and the unpopulated sense of risk. It was true what I told dear B, who was here this past weekend—in northern New England one gets used to limitation of movement from December-March.  You do not dare a drive.

Not so here, although people complain about overhanging grey skies.  “Will you be able to endure it?” Please. Thinking of my old nightmare commutes, 180 degree spins on ice, driving down 295 without being able to see, 20-30 cars off the road– I laughed.

From the Preface to “Paris Stories” of Mavis Gallant – Michael Ondaatje

“I had a great, great fear that I was bent on doing something for which I have no ability, and that took years and years to get rid of…that I was dedicating my life to something I was not fir for,” Gallant once told an interviewer…” I am uncertain about every line I write and I am uncertain until I get readers.”  With the arrival of that reader, the uncertainty about and unsafe life becomes a shared witnessing.   This, for a very few writers, becomes the purpose and meaning of a writer’s life.  “Like every other form of art,” Mavis Gallant has written, “literature is no and nothing less than a matter of life and death.”