Monday, November 26, 2007

The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on

Land Rover Expedition Time: Early May 1998
Photo: Inconspicuous rental car

We were back to being ordinary Mr and Mrs TH. Travelling in a "plain clothes" standard rental car meant we were completely incognito. No one noticed us, we could stop off where we liked without being mobbed by people, and we could "slob about" how we liked. While we always happy to be our sponsors’ ambassadors while in the Land Rover, it was terrific having the pressure off us.

This was going to be a real holiday. How wonderful it was to sleep in and have the day open up without responsibilities or commitments, combined with a fast car to chew up the miles.

We drove on through Connecticut and stopped in Bridgeport at the Barnum Museum.
The museum, which is a very attractive and unusual looking building, features the enormous collection of Phineas Taylor (PT) Barnum. The museum is also committed to the preservation and interpretation of Bridgeport's industrial and social history.

Photo Credit: Barnum Museum

PT Barnum didn’t actually say, "There’s a sucker born every minute". He did admit that his hoaxes or "humbugs" were "advertisements to draw the Museum. I don't believe in duping the public, but I believe in first attracting and then pleasing them."

Looking at the exhibits and reading his philosophies I can believe it. He believed that every sales transaction should be a win/win for both customer and salesperson. He is often misquoted or misunderstood by erroneous assumptions that he traded in hokum at any price. He always maintained that you could only get away with deceit if the public accepted it was false and they had the opportunity to be entertained or educated in the process. I don’t think I could 100% subscribe to that sort of blarney in a sales career, but I understood what he was saying, especially when applied to his entertainment businesses. Every salesperson and entertainer should visit this place or at least read his autobiography. ("The Life of P. T. Barnum" written by himself, or his book "The Art of Money Getting" by P.T Barnum)

Barnum didn’t get into circus life until he was in his 60’s. He launched the fabulously titled: "P. T. Barnum's Grand Travelling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome" in the 1870’s. He was a consumate self-promoter, marketer and showman. I wondered if I should re-title our expedition and launch it immediately for some lucrative American funding.

Later again, Barnum successfully arranged and promoted the American tour of Jenny Lind, a Swedish opera soprano, proving again that he was a marketing "supremo".

Much as I had to learn from PT Barnum, there was another institution I wanted to visit while in Connecticut. As a recent Masters graduate from university, I wanted to tour one of the great American East Coast university campuses and Yale was nearby.

We called in at the Yale University visitor centre on arrival at New Haven and booked ourselves onto their walking tour in the morning. We found a lovely motel nearby and I lay on the bed in the late afternoon sunshine, reading a magazine. I couldn’t remember the last time I had done this - never in the last two months. Maybe not even in the last few months I had spent at home preparing for the expedition. I stretched out like a happy baby, gurgling in the sunshine.

The pleasure continued into the night when thunder awoke me. I remember thinking, "who cares, we don’t have to pack up a wet tent in the morning" and then rolling over back to sleep with a huge contented sigh.

The American equivalent of a continental breakfast at this motel was coffee and doughnuts. While this was provided free at the motel office and I enjoyed the rare chance to have a hot drink in the morning, I missed my cups of tea. So few motels in USA had tea or even coffee making facilities that I wished we had brought along our tiny, one ring burner, so we could regularly indulge in "brew ups". A few days later, I got into the ghastly habit of drinking cola in the mornings. I was bored with water and the cola ensured I took on enough liquid.

Yale was a very attractive looking university. It was built from mainly honey coloured stone, in a neo-gothic style. Some of the older buildings were constructed in the early 1700’s in more traditional red brick.

Photo Credit: Yale University

When the neo-gothic buildings were erected in the 1920’s the architect, in some sort of bizarre cultural cringe, had acid poured down the walls to artificially age them. The masonry was deliberately chipped and cracks were purposely made in the lead lights and then "fixed". All this was to emulate the truly aged buildings, such as those in Oxford or Cambridge in England. It resulted in rapid deterioration of the buildings, which had then cost millions of dollars in repairs in the 1960’s. Speaking of things that are expensive, I fell into chat with the student guide on his fees to study at Yale. He told me that he paid $US30, 000 per year for a three year bachelor degree. When I told him how much cheaper the same degree cost in New Zealand he was incredulous and very envious.

At Yale’s war memorial, I could see a similarity between its design and that of the Vietnam Memorial Monument in Washington DC. Refer to earlier blog entry:

In fact, it had been a Yale student who had won the design competition for the Vietnam Memorial. She had initially drawn up her designs for a university assignment, but had only received a B grading from her professor. Undaunted, she had entered it into the national competition for the memorial at Washington DC. This sort of thing is always subjective.

We left Yale and hit the road for Cape Cod. I saw one amusing sign, which was for recycled children’s clothes on our way – "re-run for wee ones". We whizzed through one of America’s smallest States, Rhode Island, and then drove across two amazing, soaring bridges into Massachusetts. The second one was three miles long and we disappeared into sea fog part way along it.

Cape Cod is an up-turned comma of land that juts, like an arm flexing its muscles, out into the Atlantic. On the sheltered Cape Cod Bay side is quiet tidal waters. On the other side of the "arm", is the wild Atlantic surf. The mighty surf erodes this side of the Cape by 3ft a year. The sand is deposited back onto the sheltered side.

I love the sea and, at the first tang of salt spray, I suddenly realised how much I had missed it.

I took off my shoes and socks, and shocked all but the wet-suited surfers by paddling in the icy waters. The surf reminded me of Oakura Beach, where my family used to camp every year, not far from my childhood home in New Plymouth.
How I wished I could have got my hands on a surfboard and given those breakers at Cape Cod a really good run.

At Coast Guard Beach near Eastham I was again staring longingly at the waves. If I turned, I could look back over to the quieter estuary. Strong feelings washed over me along with the urge to remain here and to write. Had I forgotten New Mexico already? (Refer earlier blog entry):

At the Visitor Centre I learned about the writer Henry Beston, who wrote the now legendary "The Outermost House." At almost the exact spot where I had been standing at Coast Guard Beach, overwhelmed with the compulsion to write, Henry had spent a whole year doing just that. Between 1926 – 1927 he lived and wrote in a little cottage, which he called "the Fo'castle", and which was perched in the dunes and not far from the high tide mark.

When he arrived at this beach, Henry's intention had been to take a two-week break to write about nature and the sea. The call of the surf lured him to stay on longer. That was something I could really relate to. I thought desperately about staying on here for a year, instead of driving around the world in a Land Rover. It was not the first time I entertained these thoughts, and it wouldn’t be the last.

Beston talks about why he stayed on longer at the beach, in his book: "The world today is sick to its thin blood for lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water welling up from the earth, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot… The longer I stayed, the more eager was I to know this coast and to share its mysterious and elemental life."

I read this passage with great excitement, the book clutched in my hands, and with an intense desire to see Henry’s little writing house. Sadly, it had been claimed by the huge high tide during a furious storm in February 1978. I was twenty years too late. I bought the next best thing - a copy of the book, with a photo of "the Fo'castle" on the cover. I had a job to complete – the expedition. But, I promised myself that I would keeping writing and I would also return to this spot one day.

Since my visit to Cape Cod, two organisations have been formed.
The Henry Beston Society, established in 2002, which celebrates Henry’s nature writing and his life at Coast Guard Beach. They have plans to re-build a replica of The Outermost House.

photo credit: The Henry Beston Society, Inc.

The Friends of Henry Beston, established in 2004, also focus on his writings and philosophy, but particularly on his life after Coast Guard Beach, when he lived and wrote at Chimney Farm in Nobleboro, Maine.

By now, a sea mist had rolled in, but we continued further along the coast. The old Cape Cod Lighthouse had been saved from the clutches of the sea. It had recently been moved from the eroding shoreline at a cost of millions.

Lighthouses are no longer considered necessary in these modern times of radar and sonar equipped vessels. Left alone, it would have since fallen into the ocean. The local historical society campaigned for five years to save it. They raised over $US130,000 themselves and had convinced businesses, local and federal Government to provide the rest of the funding. The Lighthouse is an iconic landmark for Cape Cod. Let’s hope the Henry Beston Society can achieve the same thing.

The Lighthouse’s Visitor Centre sells a number of items to fund their on-going operational costs. I bought some of their dried cranberries to eat while watching the video of the Lighthouse’s story. Cranberries grow best in salt wind. The ones I was eating, which were delicious, had been harvested in nearby Plymouth.

For a thin curl of land, Cape Cod had a lot to see.

Marconi’s first transmission crackled across the airwaves from here and, of course, this is where the American pilgrims on the "Mayflower" actually made their first landing. While Plymouth makes the biggest claim on the official landing site, and it is agreed that the Mayflower was indeed headed there, a storm drove the ship into Provincetown Harbour. Using the Cape Cod "strong arm" simile, this harbour lies in what would be the curve of the palm and fingers.

It was getting late and we also headed towards Plymouth for the night. This town was named after the English one, just like my old home-town of New Plymouth. Plymouth (England) was where some of my forebears originated from in the 1840’s. Maybe I shared some ancestry with the citizens of Plymouth, MA? I wondered if there was a way of finding that out. I looked forward to doing an investigation and also to an early night, curled up with "The Outermost House".

On our way to Plymouth, we drove past a traffic warning sign we had never seen before: "Yield to Rotary Traffic". We wondered what on earth we were going to come across – a platoon of lawn mowers, maybe a fleet of Mazda rotary cars, or even the local chapter of the Rotary service organisation on a mission? But, it was a simple "Give Way" on a roundabout. These round traffic islands are common in New Zealand, but not so in USA. This was the first one we had encountered on the entire trip and we drove around it several times, just for fun.

© Eventful Woman, 2007
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