Monday, August 10, 2009

First Impressions

I awoke this morning to pounding rain and thunderclaps. Torrents upon torrents of rain, beating down on my deck, on the pavement, on the roof. I was reminded of the essay by Tom Robbins that he wrote as a response to the question "Why do you Live Where you Live?" posed by some journalist or another. Robbins has a home in La Conner, Washington, deep in the Skagit Valley, and has lived in the Seattle area since 1962. The piece about living in the Northwest is beautiful, and if I can find "Wild Ducks Flying Backwards," his short works anthology, somewhere in the SIX boxes of books I have yet to unpack, I'll include an excerpt. The last page or two of the essay deals with, of course, the rain. Robbins is "here for the rain". Or there for the rain, I suppose, as I am no longer 'here' but 'there'. The downpour this morning, fierce and fast, reminded me of home. As much as those grey days can get monotonous, it doesn't feel right without them--the rain in Perpignan this past year was a welcome respite from sunny day after beautiful sunny day. But the rain here is different. After a ferocious thirty minute downpour the rain stopped, the thunder rolled off into the distance, the clouds parted. And less than three hours later the sun is trying to come out from behind the clouds, and it's 76 degrees out. Yesterday was 90 and the humidity level was at 65%, if I'm not mistaken. But the sun was out. I told Ian that I needed a linen pantsuit. And that we should go to a clambake. I can't wrap my head around these weather patterns.

Most of my complaints about this state surround food. There is no Tillamook dairy, which means no Tillamook cheddar, no Tillamook yoghurt, no Tillamook ice cream. I didn't realize how much money I gave to the Tillamook dairy. My options for yoghurt include Yoplait or store brand. My option for cheese? Far worse--I can buy store brand (not terrible, although with very little flavor) or Kraft. Kraft cheese. Our neighbor is Vermont (the Great State of Vermont will not apologize for its cheese!!!) and you give me Kraft? You have got to be kidding me. Where are the local dairies? Where's the quality? Where oh where is the beloved cheese counter at the beloved community food co-op? 'Good' coffee in this area is much, much worse than the Starbucks people at home insist upon loving. Good coffee here is a cuppa joe from DUNKIN' DONUTS. Holy hell. I'm doomed. Good thing I've got an espresso machine of my own. And it doesn't end there. They. Don't. Have. Adam's. Peanut butter. This is the worst--an insult to my taste buds, to my sensibilities. Back home, you all better be working on a rotating care package schedule, just for peanut butter. The situation is almost as dire as that in France. Eep!

Aside from my food-related woes, New England is alright. I'm certainly not in Kansas anymore. My foreign disconnect from this area of the country hasn't diminished much--I still feel like I am very much in New England and not in America. The houses, the architecture, the public's demeanor, all seem incredibly Old World (as much as England, I suppose, can be considered Old World. But you get the idea). Ian keeps repeating that these people take themselves so seriously, and although I don't think that quite captures the entirety of this place, it is a start. New Englanders don't have that earnestness that I think characterizes the rest of America; they display a reservation that I have really only seen in the English friends I made this past year abroad (don't worry girls, I still love you!). But for all the separation I find between 'New England' and 'America', everywhere I look are signs that scream "THIS IS AMERICA". Almost every house and apartment we pass has an American flag out front, and many also have red-white-and-blue patterned bunting. Front doors are adorned with patriotic stars and iron eagles, and banners everywhere proclaim connections to America's foundation (See Dover, NH as Abraham Lincoln saw it in the 1860s!!!). After all, this is where America began, this is where America was established. It feels strange to me, then, that America seems so much more 'established' the further west you travel.

The past few days since arriving in Dover (founded in 1623!) have been spent in a haze of unpacking, of searching for furniture, and of familiarizing ourselves with this strange land. Thank god for google maps. We went to Massachusetts for a couch, Maine for a television, and have seen a fair amount of south-eastern New Hampshire in the process. We've visited the campus of UNH, found the English department and the financial aid office, as well as some cafes and food markets. We passed by Greek row, and saw two frat boys in fedoras drinking beers on the front steps at noon. Future students? Perhaps. My UNH i.d. shows a very confused looking girl with a side ponytail. I live in Dover, New Hampshire, I am getting my masters in English and I will start teaching college courses in three weeks.

As a last thought, since I am so homesick, I managed to dig up "Wild Ducks Flying Backwards." Alright, alright, I'll be honest, it was sitting RIGHT on top of one of the book boxes. Here is what Tom Robbins says about the rain in the Pacific Northwest:
The rains will steal down from the Sasquatch slopes. They will rise with the geese from the marshes and sloughs. Rain will fall in sweeps, it will fall in drones, it will fall in cascades of cheap Zen jewelry.

And it will rain a fever. And it will rain a sacrifice. And it will rain sorceries and saturnine eyes of the totem.

Rain will primitivize the cities, slowing every wheel, animating every gutter, diffusing commercial neon into smeary blooms of esoteric calligraphy. Rain will dramatize the countryside, sewing pearls into every web, winding silk around every stump, redrawing the horizon line with a badly frayed brush dipped in tea and quicksilver.

And it will rain an omen. And it will rain a trance. And it will rain a seizure. And it will rain dangers and pale eggs of the beast.

Rain will pour for days unceasing. Flooding will occur. Wells will fill with drowned ants, basements with fossils. Mossy-haired lunatics will roam the dripping peninsulas. Moisture will gleam on the beak of the Raven. Ancient shamans, rained from their rest in dead tree trunks, will clack their clamshell teeth in the submerged doorways of video parlors. Rivers will swell, sloughs will ferment. Vapors will billow from the troll-infested ditches, challenging windshield wipers, disguising intentions and golden arches. Water will stream off eaves and umbrellas. It will take on the colors of the beer signs and headlamps. It will glisten on the claws of nighttime animals.

And it will rain a screaming. And it will rain a rawness. And it will rain a disorder, and hair-raising hisses from the oldest snake in the world.

Rain will hiss on the freeways. It will hiss around the prows of fishing boats. It will hiss in electrical substations, on the tips of lit cigarettes, and in the trash fires of the dispossessed. Legends will wash from the desecrated burial grounds, graffiti will run down alley walls. Rain will eat the old warpaths, spill the huckleberries, cause toadstools to rise like loaves. It will make poets drunk and winos sober, and polish the horns of the slugs.

And it will rain a miracle. And it will rain a comfort. And it will rain a sense of salvation from the philistinic graspings of the world.

Yes, I'm here for the weather. And when I'm lowered at last into a pit of marvelous mud, a pillow of fern and skunk cabbage beneath my skull, I want my epitaph to read, IT RAINED ON HIS PARADE. AND HE WAS GLAD!


Chelsea said...

It's been raining here too the last few days, and I LOVE IT. Good thing I'm moving to a place that rains even more, right? I'll be here for the rain AND there for the rain!

Lovely post...and I dearly hope the food situation improves. I remember getting good cheese at Hannaford, but I suppose that might be a chain only in Maine?

Ian D said...

God I miss NW rain. Much better than this weird piss. Chelsea, we've got Hannafords too, and the one near us has a pretty good cheese selection. Still not great, and still no Adam's.

Heather said...

*sigh* and the poem satisfies something in my never-ending sun-drenched days.

Joanne said...

Ah, you're missing the lovely Northwest mist, which would never qualify as actual rain in most places. We've actually had a couple days of it recently and it's so nice to have it back after the incredible heat wave in July.

I hope you soon find a place that carries the foods you're missing.