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Thisbe Nissen: Tour Diary

Preliminaries - Day 1 - Day 2 - Day 3 - Day 4 - Day 5 - Day 6 -
Day 7 - Day 8 - Day 9 - Day 10 - Day 11 -Day 12 - Day 13 - Day 14 - Day 15 -
Day 16 - Day 17 - Day 18 - Day 19 - Day 20 - Day 21 - Day 22 -
Day 23 - Day 24 - Day 25 - Day 26 - Day 27 - Day 28 - Day 29 - Home Diary - July 25 - July 26

Day 8: New England

When I ask the desk clerk at the Beacon Townhouse Inn how to get to Newton, I say "It's that way, right?" pointing past her. She shakes her head, points in the absolute opposite direction and say, "Nope, that way." I think I told Michelle I had a good sense of direction. Clearly, I lied.

So I drive to Newton to meet a woman from jbooks.com, a website connected to a network of websites of all things Jewish. She feeds me a great breakfast at a 50's diner and I am happy to talk about inter-marriage and why Good People might be a Jewish book, though I'm sure I spend more time cooing over my omelet than anything else. I never thought of Good People as a Jewish book, though I guess it's there. I think that's just what New York is to me. It's a Jewish town, and my rendering of it becomes unintentionally Jewish. It's funny, and I guess this is one of those dumb observations that seem to obvious to be an observation at all, but it seems so clear how much readers bring to books. (Who am I agreeing with here? Derrida? Lacan? Foucault? None of the above? I wish I'd taken better notes in Pat Day's lit theory class...) From the reviewer who seemed to feel the whole book was about divorce (was she getting one? the product of one? thinking about getting one? just recently single?), to the interviewer who wanted to discuss it as a "comic novel," to those who feel I've written a book dealing with issues in contemporary Jewish thought, it seems so much of what's going on is about what a reader is thinking about, not necessarily what I intended to put on the page. Well, we'll call that blatantly obvious revealtion #1 for today.

After breakfast I go to Newtonville Books to sign stock, where everyone is angelic. They all have copies of the U of I edition of Out of the Girls' Room, and that makes me so happy. (Sorry, I don't mean to denigrate the Anchor edition, but the U of I one is the first one, the full one, my real first baby, with Sandy's beautiful photo on the cover, and I can't help but love it best.) Tim has every galley, bound proof and edition of every book and makes me want to weep with gratitude for his enthusiasm and support. It's a tiny little store, all warm colors and packed in with books and I want to curl up on that brown velvet couch and read all day.

But no. There are places to go, people to see, traffic jams to get stuck in. I drive to Cambridge to meet Jane Rosenzweig (whose name I stole for Roz) for lunch, and it turns out it's Harvard graduation weekend and we wind up driving around for hour before we manage to get the damn car into a lot where they will charge me Harvard tuition to keep my car for three hours. I'm so glad to be out of it I don't even care by now. Knopf pays for my hotel rooms and I pay $85,000 to park the car.

Patricia meets me and takes over Thisbe-sitting duty from Jane. We go to the Class of 1959 chapel and lie on the stone embankment. It's tranquil as the Japanese garden at the Met, with gurgling water and swimming goldfish and I think my heart slows down to a normal pace for the first time in weeks. Patricia talks of feeling sometimes like there's a hummingbird inside her, and these last few weeks I think I know what she means. When I finally leave her to battle the traffic out of Boston I almost feel rejuvenated. At least enough to put Liz Phair in the tape deck and roll down the windows and croon at the top of my lungs "The fire you like so much in me is the mark of someone adamantly free..."

I drive 4mph all the way to New Hampshire, only keeping myself entertained in the jam by trying to keep pace with two cute boys in a dark purple car. It's something to do. Ahead of me on the highway is a car belching billows of grey smoke which shrouds the highway like a dense fog you're just about to enter but never quite reach. I have the sensation that this is what would happen if you were in a car accident and died immediately. You wouldn't experience any of it. You'd just keep on driving down the highway, the clouds of white ahead your only indication that the landscape was about to change dramatically.

It's only when I see the first whitewashed sign, RHUBARB hand-painted in red, and an arrow pointing down a dirt road that I really feel good again. The route gets windy, shadowed in tall trees, old farmsteads hovering precariously in roadside fields like they're about to crumble in a strong wind. I love it up here. I will never ever ever live in a city, ever ever ever in my life. I am not human in a city. I am not me in a city. I do not know what anything is or what anything means in a city. This is right. So unquestionably right. And when I pull up to the Birch Wood Inn in Temple New Hampshire and there's an old grey cat with paws like Fernie's sleeping belly to the sun on the porch steps, I feel like the world makes complete sense again. My room is upstairs where the floors slope like a funhouse. The water is pumped from a well and smells just like it did in our old farmhouse in Iowa. I have time drive into Peterbourough to see how long I'll need to get to the bookstore tomorrow, and even time before I fall asleep to look at the book and figure out what to read. There are no phone jacks in the rooms, and not being able to check email is a blessing in a way. My bed slopes backwards, there's a deck of playing cards on the bureau I swear I owned in 1978, and the books on the shelves that guests have left here over the years remind me of every vacation I took with my parents as a child to little out of the way guesthouses you'd never be able to find again if you tried.

The bizarre sex dreams I have I don't think I'll include here.