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