Vermont = green mountains · 17 August 07
We are back from Vermont and, as Yvette wrote in her blog, had a very good time. I kept a diary in the log book provided by Landmark Trust, and will type it out here in different segments. Today, I concentrate on our activities, the house and environs.
Friday, August 10th: We arrived around 4:30 pm. Amos Brown House is a small plain square dark red two-floor structure; it’s a box on the bottom with a triangle on top.
Me and Yvette in front of the house (I’m clutching a copy of Can You Forgive Her?)
The house seen from one side
The barn additions are larger than the central house, and contain basement hall refectory where monks ate under religious pictures in the mid-20th century, a ping-pong game room, and an indoor 4 hole “outhouse:”
It’s surrounded by lawn and then encircled by a field of middle level and then high grass; to the back is a wood.
After you get off the highway coming from Massachusetts, you get on a roller-coaster like single-lane two-way paved road which cuts through very scenic landscapes, then you take a right and then left to find yourself on a dirt road on both sides of which is a forest in the which are some summer and year-round houses.
Then you come to a clearing and there is the house.
We all three walked outside the house the first afternoon. I drank in the intense quiet. There was not a sound to be heard but the light breeze in the grass. This great stillness is healing. We saw deer and brown-furred animals in the distance at the edge of the forest.
I realized very quickly that once again I had (as I have on many previous holidays abroad or elsewhere than where we’re living at at time) brought the wrong clothes. Mine are very light and intended for our superhot dense humid climate in DC. In southern Vermont and the Berkshires in Massachusetts (where we drove), while the day is hot from 11 to 4 if you are in a town, many areas are shades by trees and forests and cooler during the day, and at night the air is downright chilly and fresh.
Saturday, August 11th. The light streaming into our windows on our first-floor bedroom is warm yellow. Poetic diction would call it golden. By 8 am it’s white-yellow. At 8:30 am or thereabouts we saw a small herd of deer in the field. I made up a stag and 3 does: Jim says that like gorillas, deer live in harems. The stag is much bigger than the adult female does. We watched the females stotting (playing roughly).
11:30 am. I sat in the meadow on a wooden chair and read Anthony Trollope’s Can You Forgive Her?:
Yvette ran through the meadows and disappeared at times in the woods. Over the next few days she explored a number of trails. Once she and Jim walked to Massachusetts. Jim took photos of the outside of the house that day, and I took more of the inside another.
What a relief is the bare tasteful house. (We made the mistake of having lunch in an Applebees at one point: I counted 7 TVs in a small space, not a single piece of wall was empty of some kind of junk, and we were given mouthfuls of grease to eat under the rubric of senseless “melt” combinations. My “sangria” was a pitcher of sugar-drenched light green water.) We worked out how to open the sash-windows. The place is a time-capsule. Everything but the outer walls is rebuilt using new materials fixed to appear like the originals. The flooring is a recreation from modern dark wood planks; the fire place is rebuilt bricks which have been artificially blackened. The house recalls British structures when it is a case of renovating or bringing back working and lower middle class dwellings. I’ve also noticed how most of the visitors to Amos Brown House are either British people who live in the US (new emigrants) or British people here on visits.
7:30 pm. We are back from having seen an excellent play, Beth Henley’s Crimes of the Heart at the Williams College Theatre in Williamstown. Very moving, brilliantly acted. (I’ll write more about this and the other plays we saw in a separate letter. ) Now I just want to say how curvaceous were the roads, a little dizzying. I am also somewhat frightened at the isolated state of the house.
10:00 pm. The advantage of this isolation includes: when we shut all the lights in the house and went outside, you are stunned by the star-studded sky. It’s just like the Planetarium Museum in NYC. We saw Venus, Mars, the Milky Way. Every inch of black sky had stars. The night was moonless. In one corner the sky was the usual dim light and few stars: Jim says that is the effect of Boston. It made me realize what Austen’s Fanny Price was referring to when in Mansfield Park she spoke of her joy in meditating with Edmund Bertram while they went star-gazing on moonless nights.
Sunday, August 12th: I said “what a country-like morning.” Jim replied: “it’s not a simulacrum!” Insect and bird sounds, fresh mist. Again I thought of Austen’s Fanny: how she pined in Portsmouth for the country spring (this would be Austen herself in Bath).
In the afternoon, we drove to Lenox, Massachusetts to see Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing. This was an enjoyable verbally witty self-reflexive take on playwrighting using stock characters.
We are getting a strong sense of what the local towns look like, and the culture of the people who live here all year round (often poor rural) and the beauty of the region (mountainous, many lakes). There are still farms, but the main industry seems tourism, providing lumber for homes, and people in the local economy serve one another. The towns are older and supported by summer people and universities.
By this time I’ve read a couple of books too: Jo Manning’s biography of Grace Dalrymple Elliot is one I’d recommend.
Monday, August 13th: this was our longest driving day. We drove to Glimmerglass, New York (3 hours each way) to see Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. We brought a picnic:
There was a lecture beforehand about Offenbach and the music, the latter of which Yvette much enjoyed. Alas, the play itself had hardly any story. It was done with the most theatrical grotesque sexualized costumes and was intended to feel like a party. Alas, the story of Orpheus seemed the least thing Offenbach was interested by. Still, the theatre seemed as beautiful this year as last—a grey wooden structure which reminded me of Joe Papp’s Shakespeare’s theatre in Central Park.
I read a small masterpiece on the way there and back: Simon Raven’s Fielding Gray, on which much more anon.
Tuesday, August 14th: we rested from our drive yesterday, shopped locally, and at 3 drove off once again, this time to Stockbridge, an old town (emerged in the 18th century). We arrived at 5, ate a beautifully well-cooked meal in a lovely Italian restaurant (background music recordings of Tony Bennett, Pavarotti), and then saw a good production of Shaw’s Mrs Warren’s Profession. This was the most daring and intelligent play we saw, not just a debate on issues, but candid exploration of a mother-daughter, family and friendship relationships.
The trip to Stockbridge was our most daring drive. The play began at 8 pm and we had to return at around midnight. The black country roads were illuminated by reflectors and we got back safely and then star-gazed.
Wednesday, August 15th: This was our day to explore our own area. The highpoint was our drive to Ward’s Cove. This was turned out to be a road which led to a lovely picnic and swimming area. It was like being in an Albert Bierstadt painting, the landscape was so very pretty:
We found ourselves parking behind two high hills overlooking a lake which itself was surrounded by blue and green mountains all criss-crossing one another. The sky was blue-grey. Yvette said the water “was not icy” and swam and then went for a walk.
Jim got in too. Not me but I did wander about and take photos. We had a picnic, and watched people in boats. There is a nude beach nearby where people sit on a ledges by the water. At night we had a roast chicken at home with wine and mushrooms.
Thursday, August 16th: On this day we returned to Williamstown and in the morning went to the Clark Museum, ate lunch out, and then in the afternoon saw Lillian Hellman’s The Autumn Garden, a psychologically-complex slow-developing play. We had dinner at home: pork chops, mushrooms, potatoes, and wine. The Clark has a superb permanent collection of impressionists; Jim was very impressed by the magnificence of a painting which could have been drawn from one of Trollope’s novels: Winslow Homer’s Bridle Path, White Mountains, whose central focus is a meditative and not-too-happy gentlewoman on a horse, one of a party of people clambering over said mountains. We also saw the much-praised Monet exhibit, which I thought over-curated (it was organized and the pictures chosen to illustrate a too narrow pointed thesis); Jim loved two Constables from a much-less noticed exhibit of Constable, Turner, and Gainsborough paintings.
The library at the house is not bad. As with other Landmarks, it has been chosen to exemplify ideas about and the experience of the house and surroundings. Jim read about the Indians who lived in this area (in bands), Yvette a book of verse, and I read David P. Handlin’s The American Home, Architecture and Society, 1815-1915. Handlin’s book explicates the typical kinds of rooms and disposition of space you still find in US homes, part of which is an insistence on socialability rather than individual privacy.
Friday, August 17th: To conclude: it’s been lovely, quiet and cool and restful here. I’m not the vacation type and miss my daily routines (my “routs” I call them), my work, and pine for home (I grow as restless as Plantagenet Palliser abroad in Can You Forgive Her?), but this is a good place to come to. We had some marvelous happy moments of conversation, exploring, and leisure eating, reading, walking, driving together. The house is tasteful, historically interesting, and well-appointed. It’s located in a spot which you can use to drive to good summer theatre in the area. I wrote to you as it was Jim who drove us about and (also reminding me of Plantagenet Palliser in his trip abroad with Lady Glencora and Alice Vavasour) like an Admiral commandeered our trip. Our jaguar may be likened to a barouche-landau as well as comfortable boat.
Tomorrow I’ll tell more of the plays, opera, and reading. For now I’ll end on a list of Landmark Trust houses we’ve stayed at:
Both Cloth Fair apartments in London (built later 17th century);
the Gardener’s House, Hampton Court Palace (Reformation to 19th century);
Elton House, Bath (18th century boarding house);
the Gatehouse, Devonshire (from which we went to Lyme, a 15th century structure, the ceiling is Jacobean carved);
Fox Hall (a ducal hunting lodge), Sussex, near Chichester;
the Old Hall (15th century), Somerset;
Peter’s Tower (a clock tower), Lymestone Village, Essex;
and now Amos Brown House (early 19th century), Vermont.
That makes 9.
From the Old Hall, Somerset:
Posted by: Ellen
* * *
- The house looks wonderful and I’m glad you had some time to relax. Vermont is somewhere I’ve always dreamed of visiting.
I had to laugh at the four-hole outhouse – the old cottage where I spent much of my childhood in Suffolk had two battered old disused sheds with multiple toilets just like these. I suppose it used to be safer to wander outside en masse after dark.;)
— Judy Aug 18, 5:35pm #
- From Barbara Howard:
Thanks so much for the link to the first report from Amos Brown House. Silly really but it is almost as exciting as if I had been there myself! I’m looking forward to reading the rest. So glad Jim felt well enough to drive and that the whole trip was succesful in every way. I notice that by the end of the report/holiday you call the car ‘our’Jaguar – bet you loved travelling in it!
Now I’ve also seen the pictures which really make Landmarks come alive, e.g. Jim unpacking the groceries in the kitchen etc. In the handbook the house looks like 3 dwellings so I can’t make out if you stay in the middle or the far end one. Is it very similar to UK landmarks, e.g. special design curtains, lamps made from large old stone jars (couldn’t see any in the photos)? I presume you had modern conveniences beside the 4-seater outhouse ;-). I love the shade of green in the dining room … do you think you’ll go back?? I looked at the link to the Landmark USA and the pictures of ABH in winter make it look heavenly … do you think people cross country ski round there?
Your cultural calendar sounded good too. I have tickets for Stoppard’s rough Crossing at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in Novemeber.
On Thursday I’m off to Devon for the long Bank Holiday weekend. I intend to visit Shute Barton and Lyme – I’ve never been before. I’m staying right at the sea at Branscombe. The weather is not too good right now so it would be nice if it picks up a bit. I do think it’ll be a tad warmer down there than it is in Yorkshire.
I didn’t know about the Carr life so I had better investigate. Right now I’m totally immersed in Tomalin’s life of Thomas Hardy.
Thanks again for the report, your e-mail and look forward to reading more … so where/which next?? (Landmarkwise, that is)
— Elinor Aug 19, 5:35pm #
- Dear Barbara,
Thank you for writing. Your response teaches me where I was vague or could be misunderstood. Amos Brown House is a one group dwelling (or one family). The central square unit Yvette and I stood in front of is a house to live in. Upstairs are two bedrooms and a modern bathroom (with a shower, without a bathtub); downstairs is a front or sitting room, a dining room, a large kitchen, and a bedroom and full modern bathroom (bathtub and shower). The beds accommodate 4 upstairs (2 twin beds in each bedroom) and 2 downstairs (one double bed in the one bedroom). The other two units which are actually bigger than the house were originally the barns, one perhaps for animals. In the 20th century the house was taken over by a monastery and part of the barn contains a long wooden table in a room whose walls are decorated by old-fashioned carved religious pictures. The part of the barn or two units farthest from the house contains the outhouse holes. They are indoors: we must remember it gets cold in Vermont winters. The house nowadays has a small basement too; you can get there from a stairway; it has a modern clothes washing machine and clothes dryer.
The “original” mission of Landmark was to preserve and restore insofar as this was possible, and also to turn the dwellings into units which vacationers could comfortably live in. So they would each time make a modern kitchen and bathroom in accordance with the norms of the year of the restoration and within tasteful limits so the kitchen & bathrooms would not seem out of whack with the rest of the building. The Amos Brown kitchen has a dishwasher as in the year 2003 that was seen as a norm.
In most cases US dwellings which are comparable to the same class in Britain or Europe are much simpler than what we find in Britain or Europe. US people had to begin from scratch and didn’t have the artisan or wealth base. Down south most plantations disappeared after the Civil War. Amos Brown house reflects the realities of early 19th century American farm houses; although it’s rebuilt from modern materials, it really is made to look like what was (insofar as we can—the bricks are straighter, flooring straighter and so on).
So in short, this Landmark was very like British ones; the difference is the US culture it was built and is maintained in. The place has a phone. Apparently Americans cannot accept living without a landline phone.
J. L. Carr was a Hardy reader. In his Month in the Country he has a debate between the characters about Tess of the D’Urbervilles and I applaud that the author endorses a view which castigates Angel Clare as a truly cruel and inhumane person.
Yvette and I most enjoyed Crimes of the Heart. Rough Crossing was fun, but also at times (to me) irritating. I didn’t find these stereotypes as funny as Stoppard does. The admiral most enjoyed Mrs Warren’s Profession.
On the jaguar, yes I used the “our.” It is partly mine as is all Jim buys. I didn’t drive it; I don’t drive such big cars. It is comfortable inside, but, were it not for Jim's leg, was not the best car to take. It has backwheel drive and after we drove once over the the dirt road leading to Massachusetts, Jim never went in that direction again. Its tires are nothing special. We’d have been better off with a jeep. I gather people admire this car: a couple of our neighbors who live in jumbo mansions, renovated big houses (I think of ours as “rare unspoilt” one in our area, but suspect others would not use the same term) and so on have told us they approve. It has beauty in shape, but I suspect it’s admired because it’s thought expensive. If so, our jagaur is a used one; we traded in an Alero so the jag ran us $4000. Jags are not expensive on the used car market; in the US what’s wanted in the used car market is small cars (not SUVs). $4000 considerably less than many used cars, and much less than SUVs in the US. It is not as bad on gas as these and not inclined to turn over, but if the admiration is based on some idea that this is a rich man’s car, it’s not. Nor is it good on hills, on bad roads, and it’s awkward and of course doesn’t fit into small spaces when it comes to parallel parking in cities. I'm embarrassed to own such a car; unless you know it was actually a cheap option for Jim to get an English car, it marks me as a fool or a knave, a trophy wife riding alongside.
For the next Landmark I’d like to try Cornwall next. We are not thinking of what we’ll do next year and we may decide we can’t afford to go to England.
Thank you for your reply,
— Elinor Aug 19, 7:48pm #
By sheer happenstance, or because a New Yorker editor thought perhaps some of its readers had gone on vacation and been in places where they looked up at the sky, there was an article in this week’s New Yorker (August 20, 1007) by David Owen, “Dark Side,” where he demonstrated how rare it is nowadays to see the sky truly darkened though it was once so common.”
Here is the abstract:
"Writer describes Galileo Galilei’s 1610 astronomical observations. Today, by contrast, most Americans are unable to see the Milky Way in the sky above the place where they live. The stars have not, of course, become dimmer; rather, the earth has become vastly brighter, so that celestial objects are harder to detect. Air pollution has made the atmosphere less transparent and more reflective, and high levels of terrestrial illumination have washed out the stars overhead—a phenomenon called “sky glow."
I particularly liked how he showed "Much so-called security lighting is designed with little thought for how eyes of criminals operate."
The huge lights people put up on their back lawns or by their
doors make it easier for thieves to break in. Only if a light acts to prevent the thief, shows him at work to others, is it a deterent. In our neighborhood we have backyards to houses so lit you'd think you were at an airport and the building about to take off. Jim and I had to put an extra curtain on one of our bedroom windows to keep out the light from our ex-next door neighbors' security light system.
— Elinor Aug 21, 1:44pm
- From Barbara Howard:
Thanks so much for the ‘fuller’ description of Amos Brown House. Also today I read the summer theatre reviews (interesting that you put ‘Theatre’ and not ‘Theater’ ;-))
Anyway, back to your recent trip. You know in the pictures that house looks like a wooden cabin and I was very surprised to see that it’s made from brick! Do you get the same handbok which we get over here? Many of the larger properties here are now being equipped with dishwashers etc which I think is a good idea – a holiday shouldn’t be harder work for the women (usually) than it is at home. We are a
nation obsessed with mobile ‘phones so a landline or lack of one is no big deal to us. I came rather late to this phenomenon but I knew that, as with computers, once I did get one I would use it totally! I succumbed after the London bombing (7/7) when I couldn’t get in touch with my son who worked that summer near Liverpool St station. When I
eventually got to speak with him it turned out that the explosion was on the train after his and he heard it as he was mounting the escalator into the mainline station concourse …
I’ve read A Month in the Country several times but of course I never noticed particularly the Hardy references because I’m sadly very unfamiliar with his work. Must make amends there!
How do you choose your Landmarks, Ellen?
Off to bed now. Hope there will be another report soon,
My very best wishes and thanks,
PS I often wonder whether there’s a group for Landmarkers but this is the nearest I’ve found:
— Elinor Aug 21, 10:52pm
- Dear Barbara,
Thank you for your very kind letter. I do sometimes put people’s replies on my blog. It looks less lonely this way and I don’t know why but I often get comments on my blog offblog.
For me you see the net is a substitute or needed supplement to my meagre social life here in Virginia. My friends nowadays are all people I know from the Net. My publications and participation in academic social life came from my being here on the Net.
I still spell words with English spelling. My book was for an English publisher; my article on Trollope was for an English periodical. Jim spells the British way, and often books I read are printed in England. It does take me time to write my blogs (as I polish them) but then I do have the time (see above) and it cheers me to write. I have a strong tendency to be sad, and writing absorbs and fulfills me. Also it cheers me to get into contact with others.
We get the same handbook you do. Jim nowadays tends to read what is new or going online, but I use the handbook. We used to get a new one every year, but not now. It must cost them to print the books and after all more and more people go online. I certainly agree a holiday should have as little housework as possible. I don’t do a lot at home myself so probably I don’t mind what I end up doing in the Landmarks—in my experience more and more of them have dishwashers. The older renovations don’t. I actually prefer to eat in; I find eating in restaurants can be fun and the food delicious, but they are expensive and the food can be terrible and too heavy. Plus children often don’t like restaurant food so when our children were young to eat in spared tension and fights (which I loathe and especially on what's supposed to be a happy vacation time). Jim and I save money by eating in; that is, if the Landmarks are not cheap, since they have kitchens and dining areas we don’t have to eat out in the way we would in a hotel or motel. I like a fridge and the comfort of my own breakfast in the morning. Since he’s also returning to England by renting landmark places, he likes going to supermarkets and being part of the workaday world of England. We discover towns by shopping in them.
I can imagine how worried you were about your son. On 9/11 Jim called me around 10 in the morning which is unusual. His words were something to the effect “don’t worry. I’m safe.” “Safe?” I had no idea what was happening until he explained he was in the Australian embassy and it was filling up with scary looking heavily armed military men, and then I put on the TV and it still took time for me to realize what had happened. My younger daughter, Isabel (whom I call Yvette on the blog—her French name in high school given by the French teacher was Yvette and she looks like an Yvette to me sometimes) was in a high school nearby and the older one, Laura (whom I call Caroline—Caroline is her middle name), was working in a theatre somewhere in DC. So I knew they were nowhere near the WTO or Pentagon.
I now have a cell phone, but only got it recently. We did use it when Isabel used to go about doing reviews of plays in high schools. She’d call us when she wanted to be picked up. I don’t have a lot of use for it but my car stalled in the middle of a parking lot this summer and I had a hard time walking back and forth in the heat so I finally decided it’s time. Only it’s a very cheap one (very tiny) and I seem to have trouble using it. It’s there for an emergency.
We chose the Landmarks in accordance with where we wanted or needed to be in England. We wanted to stay in London so we rented Cloth Fair. I was to meet a publisher in Sussex so we rented the gardener’s house in Hampton Court Palace. I signed a contract for a book I never finished about Jane Austen in Bath so we rented Elton House and then the gatehouse in Devonshire so we could go to Lyme. Last year I went to a Trollope conference in Exeter so we rented a clock tower two stops away from Exeter by train. He worked for NATO for two summers and so we rented Fox Hall in Sussex. We thought Old Hall, Somerset would be a good place to explore Somerset with our daughters 2 years ago. Amos Brown House is 2/3s the way to Buffalo University and it is centrally located for reaching theatres if you are willing to drive for over an hour in the car, and Vermont is blessedly cool in comparison to Virginia. Jim has done all the finding, choosing and renting. I would like to try Cornwall next or maybe Scotland—these choices would be for peace and beauty—I also think Scotland would be interesting to really see or live in for at least a week.
Thank you for telling me about the Landmark page. I’ve bookmarked it. I can’t figure out how to join so can’t make comments.
— Elinor Aug 21, 11:01pm
commenting closed for this article