27 September 2007

Pond Life

I have come to the conclusion that when I am by myself, I am unable to relax - if relaxation is defined in conventional ways (lying down (or at least, sitting down), chilling, listening to music as a primary activity, being lazy, etc.). After five hectic holiday days in New York and Boston, I decided to take it easy today. It was also 32 degrees and swelteringly sticky in the city so I took the commuter train out to the idyllic countryside town of Concord, Mass.

Of course, in order for me to select Concord (ironically, pronounced "conquered" (with or without rhotic r depending on where you are from)) as a valid destination, I had to make sure that there would be enough for me to do and Concord seemed to combine literary history (although Louisa May Alcott is the only one of the local authors by whom I have read any books) with military history and nice scenery in which one could hang out.

The visitors' centre was a fifteen minute walk from the train station and the woman working there seemed surprised that I didn't have a car. I asked if all the main sites were too far to walk and she replied, "Oh yes. They're all between a mile and a mile and a half." Clearly we had different perceptions of acceptable walking distances. However, each of the three sites I visited - the town museum (which was actually pretty interesting), the North Bridge (where the Patriots fired the first shots of the American War of Independence) and the Walden Pond - were, as the woman said, at least a mile in opposite directions. I also walked halfway around the Pond (which is really more of a large, glacial lake) and wandered around the lovely independent bookshops in the town centre, so I probably walked about 9 miles around Concord on my day of relaxation and swam about 800 metres.

Nonetheless, I did pass an enjoyable afternoon on the shores of the Pond (though the heat drove me to plunge myself into the cool waters for a refreshing swim on two occasions). I was mostly reading Gravity's Rainbow but I was also eavesdropping. The beach was very busy given that it was an exceptionally nice day, although the fact that it was a weekday afternoon in September meant that most of the bathers were a) ageing hippies, b) retired people and c) young families.

It seemed that I was sitting next to two of the big gossips of a pool of regulars from the area - Paula and her male friend whose name I didn't learn. I did, however, learn a great deal about the lives of the many other regular attendees of "Walden" as gleaned by Paula based on their habits at the Pond. A typical conversation would go something along the lines of:

Paula: You remember Carolyn? You know, the one who used to come with her boys and never swim but would always wade in?
Acquaintance: I thought she was a swimmer. I remember that red bathing suit she used to wear.
Paula: Oh! You're quite right. I was getting confused with Caroline. My bad.

They were very friendly and very interested in Gravity's Rainbow (though did initially try to engage me by blatantly talking about me and my tome right in front of me ("That's got to be War and Peace!")) and when it was time for me to trek two miles back to the station, she offered to give me a ride (the idea of anyone walking that far was clearly inconceivable) but was leaving too late for me to catch my train.

Also, Joe was a real legend. He's this old, hippie with a guitar who was just sitting in the shallows in his kayak playing his guitar (he was actually pretty good). According to Paula, he is out there every nice day between June and September and never swims, just strums.

Unsurprisingly, I didn't get much writing done but I did read two hundred pages of GR (only five hundred to go now!) and then headed out to Trident for a cappuccino and some banter with the staff, while furtively reading Discover Your Inner Economist (70 pages to go! Hooray for not paying $25!).

I was more surprised that I actually liked the Concord lifestyle. It really is a perfect small town and yet is only 30 minutes from the delights of Boston by train. God, I almost sounded as though I wanted to be settled then; I guess it must be the effect spending so much time alone is having on me! Anyway, I could almost imagine a fun Saturday with the family in Boston followed by a quiet Sunday, taking the kayak down to the lake and swimming, kayaking, picnicking, swimming and reading. Hmm... I think I have been kidnapped and replaced by my evil twin Bexorcist.

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