Thursday, December 3, 2009

erika in the USA: Northampton

The second-to-last stop on my American adventure was out to my birthplace and the stomping-grounds of my old alma mater, the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts. It is such an exceptionally lovely part of the world, with some of everything good: trees, fields, wooden houses, rivers and streams and lakes, small mountains, small roads, public transportation, an expectation of intelligence and progressive thought, interesting children, quality restaurants, a profusion of live music and indie film, and good friends. I have to wonder how much of my appreciation is based on early imprinting and the later glow of college, how much it really as wonderful as I think it is, and how much my expectations are merely shaped by comparison to it.

One thing is for certain, though: Northampton has changed. It’s posher, more mature, with fewer literally dirty people and culturally appropriated painfully mystic establishments, and instead more actually worldly and sophisticated vibes, all while remaining accessibly inexpensive. It is as if Northampton has grown up alongside me. I wasn’t expecting to still like it as much as I used to, but I do!

Oldies: chocolate covered gummy bears from Sweeties, hot cocoa from that place in Thornes, the sale racks at the clothes boutiques, charming and quirky home d├ęcor and gifts from all the shops on Main St, smoothies from the Haymarket, the bizarre temptations from Acme Surplus, deals and steals from Deals and Steals, and of course people-watching all the hotties and yuppies.

Newbies: a great independent food-coop that can easily rival Whole Foods, a new dinner menu and fancy dining setup in the basement of the Haymarket, less awful fashion, a fancy cooking supply store, Urban Outfitters (I know!), and, delightfully and surprisingly, some people of color! :)

My enjoyment of the valley was of course greatly accentuated by the good company of my friends there. I stayed with college pals Toby and Cmoore and their happy menagerie in their new house outside of town. I immediately wanted to till up their garden bed for the spring, build them stairs down to the creek, help them choose shrubbery, etc., but had to resist as I was only there briefly. I do so love housework, though…

My dervish of a visit also included stopping in to see some of my former professors: a truly delightful afternoon with Lindsay, a friend of Petra’s from high school; we visited the Eric Carle Musuem of picturebook art (yes, the art of illustrated children’s books), and participated in their crafts room, in which I created an undersea masterpiece of watercolour and collage. Also on the schedule was dinner and a star-gazing walk with my high school friend Lauren and her boyfriend Thomas who was visiting from France (yes, he’s dreamy); a great relaxing night at friends-of--friends’ Maggie and Pete’s house, where we baked homemade pizzas in their wood stove, sampled Pete’s homemade hard cider, played with endearing toddlers, and played board games; and taking in a play at Hartford Stage, “Mistakes Were Made”.

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