Karen longs to go out because she fancies herself a hunter. She kind of is pretty good at it but it scares us to let her out now that we live in the country. There are many more predators plus we live on a main road. She sits in the window and looks out at the birdies at the feeder makes this hissy crackly sound. She puts on what Tami calls her hunter face, mouth slightly open. Right now, though, she is asleep on the bed, her tail twitching, prey in sight in her cat dreams.
I could hear Nancy’s voice amidst the din of the party at Neil’s last weekend.
It’s been a couple of months since she passed in January. I guess, for the most part, we’re ok with it. We were expecting it for years. She had stage four ovarian cancer and the prognosis wasn’t good. This came on top of the MS she had been battling for years.
Neil seems no worse for wear and is getting on with his life, traveling and fixing up the place. He finally gets to do his pond, an endeavor of which Nancy was not particularly fond.
It was the first time that Neil, Tony, Tami and I had all gotten together since she died. This little coterie has been our core for twenty years now. There have been so many dinner parties, Nancy cooking up a storm, the rest of us sitting around or helping in one way or another. We had a ritual on Friday nights: get out of work, ride the T home, get the stuff for the weekend together (usually masterfully handled by Tami) and drive the Mass Pike for 3 or 4 hours with Jiffy Pop and come in the door at Knapp House to be greeted by Nancy in mid story and Neil mixing cocktails. Tony would call from the Lee rest stop to let us know where he was. It was Friday Night in Copake and it was the best.
Now that Tami and I live out here, it’s not the same. There is no drive and no euphoria any more. It’s not our getaway any more; it’s where we live. We have lives here and are woven into the community. This is great; I wouldn’t have it any other way. But things change.
A big part of the reason we moved here was to be with N&N while Nancy died. It took longer than expected, a blessing and a curse. We got more time with her but she really was in a lot of pain for much of the last year. Patrick and Cynthia also moved up from Brooklyn and they have been wonderful.
Cynthia and I were there on the last day when Neil came out of her room and said he didn’t think she was breathing anymore. We went in and couldn’t find a pulse and that was that. She had been hopped up on pain killers for the past few weeks. There was a drug she was taking for her trigeminal neuralgia which was really helping with the excruciating pain in her jaw but it was causing anemia, which in the end may have been what she died from, not the cancer.
Nancy held court like the New Yorker she was. Strident, declarative, and awfully sure of herself. She learned from her father how to tell a good story and never forgot his advice that a story was more than just the truth. She loved her cats, her cooking, and her audience.
And she loved her Neil. I have never known two people so attached at the wrists and ankles. When they were apart, they would call each other a few times a day. It never seemed like they were saying anything important, they just needed to connect. Now, I love Tami but we never feel compelled to call each other when we travel separately. But they got together at a young age and grew up as a couple. Old habits were formed in their twenties and stayed. They were never very demonstrative but their abiding love for each other was clear.
So last weekend when we sat around their rusted smoker, The African Queen, chatting in the afternoon, I could hear Nancy’s voice echoing through the years and it was nice.
It’s the end of September and the rich palette of our neighborhood is coming into full bloom before it all dies. This is a beautiful time in our part of the world. The rich reds and browns are accented with bursts of gold and yellow. The texture of the burrs and desiccating pods are brittle and sharp and all the dry life rattles in the wind.
I got to see live music outside the other night. Peter Mulvey at The Barn in Egremont. After October this won’t happen so we savored it. Peter is a Milwaukee kid who cut his musical teeth in the subways of Boston, usually Davis Square in Somerville so I never got to see him, never having a reason to be there and living in East Somerville, from where there is no good way to get to West Somerville.
Regardless, I saw him from time to time at open mics and Tiffany and I opened for him down in Plymouth once. He is an excellent guitarist and has the gift of gab, able to relate well to his audience, a must for a busker.
I was busking at the same time, usually in Harvard Square or Park St. It was hard for me; was not comfortable joshing with the crowd. I didn’t have any self confidence and was usually very nervous. I’m the same way now but I hide it better.
I had a song I’d written called OJ In White Car about the infamous slow speed Bronco chase we all watched on TV in ‘94. I had written it before the trial had even happened. It wasn’t anti-OJ, in fact at the time I felt a little bad for him, not knowing what was even happening yet.
I was playing it in Harvard Square on morning and a Black kid walked by and got pretty pissed off. “Lay off the Juice” he yelled. I told him to listen to the song, it wasn’t critical but he wasn’t having it. I was just some white guy assuming the black guy was guilty.
A year and a half later when the verdict came in and he was acquitted, I was working in a hospital in the South End. I remember it was lunch and all the Black staff had gathered around a TV in the lobby and they cheered when they heard the news. From the shouts I could tell that for many, this was a rare vindication of their racial and cultural identity. It is interesting that to this day, I have yet to meet a white person who doesn’t think he was guilty.
I had had lunch with my college house mate Regina on February 11 and I don’t think we were really even talking about it yet. There was no social distancing in the little Bistro in Lenox and we probably hugged hello and goodbye after not having seen each other in over 30 years. It wasn’t a thing yet.
On March 5 I had to get my Honda Element worked on at Northeast Muffler down in Millerton and that is my first memory of having to wear a mask out in public. I had been to the pulmonologist the week before and I had gotten a mask there. That is what I was wearing at the muffler place. There were one or 2 other people in the waiting room wearing masks but it was really a new thing. We were still talking about how this was affecting Corona beer sales. I felt self conscious about wearing the mask but I kept telling myself that I should because I was at risk since I have emphysema.
The pandemic has inconvenienced me less than it has others. My wife, Tami, an occupational therapist, has had work virtually stop for her except for one virtual client whom she sees over Zoom. I was already working from home as was most of my team. While we are based in Boston, my boss lives in Atlanta and we are all very used to being virtual. Music with others has been the biggest casualty but on the plus side we started having virtual cocktails every Friday with my band, Noyes and The Boyes, so I have been seeing them and hanging out more than we ever have. It has been a lot of fun reconnecting with childhood friends and I feel very lucky to have them. We would also have drinks with our friends Steve and Ann in Florida. I am a big supporter of this new remote contact. The life depicted in “2001: A Space Odyssey” more than fifty years ago has finally arrived 20 years late.
It’s great to be able to connect with everyone so easily especially since we live way out here in the boondocks. The sad part is that I’ve seen less of all the new friends I’ve made out here. I am not doing the open mic at the Grange and we are not having Grange meetings so while I see people from time to time it’s not really that much. But we are meeting a whole new group of people: folks who live in NYC but escaped upstate for the quarantine. A whole bunch of new people would be walking by our farm every day, marveling at the goats and chickens. One family down the road had a daughter who hadn’t brought her guitar up from Brooklyn so I lent her one of mine. As it has gotten warmer Lenny and Richard and I have gotten together to play music outside at a distance so that’s been fun.
But the best thing I did on my coronavacation was to do a live streamed performance every day at 4:00 on Facebook Live. I would do 3 songs, randomly picked by a spreadsheet, one of which had to be an original. 4:00 is when Tony got off work so he could watch it. I never got more than 6 or 7 people watching live, but that was enough for me. The performance would stay posted on Facebook so more people would watch it after the fact. I would then post them on Instagram and YouTube. I kept this up for more than 2 months. That is a long time for me. As you can see from the consistency of this blog, I can maintain a practice for about 3 weeks and that’s it. So two months was a big deal. I have sort of run out of songs. I am learning a new batch and then I hope to continue, but I got through around 150.
Most days I would put up a charity to which people could donate through Facebook. It started out with organizations that helped out of work musicians during the pandemic. Then I would pick others or get my sis in law, Alyson, the charity whisperer to make recommendations. On Juneteenth, my friend Steve Arrington who runs a fund called Stand For Good, said if I put up Equal Justice Initiative for donations, his organization would match what we got and make a donation of their own. We pulled in more than $1800. I feel connected.
Serendipity. Friday night Harry bought a nice book on the sights of Milan. While having coffee outside and people watching on Saturday morning I find an entry in the book about a cool luthier shop, so we add it to our increasingly long list of possibilities. We head out on our walk, through the Brera art school district, La Scala opera house, the fancy stores in the Galleria, and the cathedral, all close to each other and all stuff we had planned for the day before the Zappa concert on Sunday. It starts to rain to so we give up on going up to the roof of the cathedral, and find a place for lunch (and shelter). The lunch is so good, and leisurely, that by the time we’re done, I realize the luthier shop (“liuteria”) is now closed. We decide to head out anyway and at least look through the windows. It also gives us a chance to hop a tram, which Harry was hoping to do, and the place is near the canal district (Navigli) of Milan which is supposed to be pretty cool, in a bohemian sort of way.
Indeed, it is. The liuteria is amazing, even just through the windows. We walk along one side of the main canal and check out a loooong flea market on the other side. Around 5:00 we sit outside at a wine bar for aperitivi (and to rest—we’re old). More people watching and at long last a break in the clouds and a great sunset over the canal. It turns out our waiter is Italo-Argentine. Harry’s dad in Anglo-Argentine, so Harry and the waiter chat a little about Buenos Aires.
Harry goes online and finds a tiny jazz club nearby. I know just enough Italian that I see that this place suggests making a reservation online, but not enough Italian to figure out how the reservation system works. We have about 4 hours until showtime so we decide to stroll over and see if we can make one. We find the place, set in a residential neighborhood off the beaten path, but it is closed up. We go looking for a restaurant but end up sitting at the bar of one because, again, no reservation. The bartender is Italian but he lived in Australia so we can speak in English. Harry asks him to make his (the bartender‘s) favorite drink, and this guy blows us away. I now “get” the whole cocktail culture thing.
We try again at the jazz club. It’s not quite open yet, but Harry walks in and sweet talks the barmaid to reserve us a couple of seats. We can’t see the band (a gypsy jazz trio—bass, rhythm guitar, lead guitar) but they sound great and we order a platter of mixed meats and cheeses and breads and soak it all in.
Finally, a tram ride and a short walk and we’re back at our hotel, once again hanging out on the sidewalk and people watching (but now at midnight)—just like the dozens of Milanesi around us.
That was such a good day. I felt lucky to be able to sit by the canal with Tony, watching people, sunsets and dachshunds. When we started our day, we were sitting at the coffee shop downstairs, drinking cappucini and smoking. I bought a little 5 pack of small cigars at the tabacchi. A tabacchi is more than just a tobacco store. It’s like a general store where you can get everything from bus tickets to Kleenex. Ours even had a counter where you could get coffee or a nosh. Very convenient, as were the 5 small cigars. I could smoke 1/2 of one while Tony smoked one cigarette. The Milanese are much more civilized about smoking than we are in the States. While you still don’t smoke inside (which is fine), many more people smoke and you can sit in sidewalk cafes and so forth and nobody gets bent out of shape.
As we started on our journey, I saw an interesting passage off to the right and veered off that way. Tony noted how comfortable I was in going off the beaten path. But, really, it’s a city. You’re not going to get that lost. This got us over toward La Scala, the opera house and the statue of Leonardo in front of it. I had Tony take a picture of me with Leonardo standing on my shoulder. Nyuk, Nyuk… Nancy Doyle has some connection with La Scala through the Marlboro Music Festival so we were hoping to go to its museum but never did.
While I would have liked the museum, I’m sure, when you’re in a city for 2 days, you can’t do everything. I find that I really like spending time wandering around a city, just drinking it in without any particular cultural touchpoints in mind. You see how the city moves and breathes, what its colors are and I’m sure if I could smell, what its smells are.
Between La Scala and Il Duomo there is a Galeria mall from 1877 with all kind of fancy shops like Prada and Rizzoli. There was a little tiny art book store, Libreria Bocca, which had this great floor made of these tiles which were glass boxes with little dioramas or objects d’art in them. There was a very nice Mark Rothko book there which was on sale. I wanted to get it for my brother Desmond but felt it was too big for my carry on plus I was too cheap. Are we noticing a pattern here?
The Old Fashioned that the bartender made me was exquisite for a number of reasons. My first reaction was, really? An Old Fashioned? I’m giving you carte blanche here and you’re going with that old war horse? But what a horse it was. First he put a sugar cube on a black napkin draped on top of the glass. He then used an eye dropper to infuse the cube with two different kinds of bitters. I never asked what they were. I wanted to keep some mystery to his creation. He then dropped the cube in the glass and muddled it with a teaspoon of water. Then he filled it up with Michter’s rye and Bob’s your uncle. No muddled orange and no muddled cherry. But an exquisite Old Fashioned.
But then he asks me which hand I drink with. I’m flummoxed for a moment, partly because I have no idea why it matters but also because I always have trouble telling my right from my left. I look at my hands, make a drinking motion and tell him, “The right”.
He says, “OK, put out your hand.”
I do. He says “Turn it over.”
I face the palm down. He produces a little spritzer bottle and sprays something onto the back of my hand. It is an Alloro cocktail finish. You just smell a hint of laurel when you lift the glass up to your mouth. It is a sublime experience.
This guy was so much fun. It was great to sit at the bar and watch him and his team get ready for the night. I feel like we were shepherded through this trip by various kind and wise waiters and waitresses. Tipping isn’t a thing in Milan, so I guess they get paid well enough to live. I kept leaving tips anyway.
I’m generally a pretty nervous guy, so I don’t really know how I manage to travel alone in a foreign country. But I did it. I’m usually flummoxed by the language. But now that we have Google translate, that should be easier. The last time I was in Italy it was for Tony’s wedding in 2001 and I was with Tami and a bunch of other people. That was a lot of fun and I could rely on other people to talk for me. This time I’m counting on Tony talking for me.
I have to get from the airport, Linate, to the Hotel Ritter. Google makes it look pretty easy. But the bus from the airport drops me at the Stazione Milano Centrale, and I have trouble finding the subway and buying a ticket. Eventually once I find the subway (not to be confused with Trenitalia which goes all over the country) a guy helps me figure out the ticketing and I pay him €5. He’s an entrepreneurial street guy. He hangs out in the metro station, sees tourists struggling with the bigliette machine and goes over and helps them, shows them where they have to go. He explicitly asks to get paid. He doesn’t say how much but just says, “Prego, I helped you, could you help me out with a little something?” Relying on the kindness of strangers does not a business model make. He speaks English and is clean, fairly well dressed and professional. Saved my ass, frankly. He points me in the right direction and I get to the hotel.
Tony is coming in a couple hours after me. He has already spent about a week at Cinque Terre, a coastal region where he goes every few years. So he is taking a train in from there. I figure while he’s not there, I’ll sample some of the local Japanese food. Because, in Columbia County, we have only one Japanese restaurant. Hell, in Melrose, we had 2. There is a Japanese restaurant in the building with the hotel, so I go and order a Chirashi and an Asahi.
I check in to my room and go to sleep for a couple of hours to stave off the jet lag.
The hotel is simple but adorned with semi historical prints on the walls and a comfortable lobby. It is priced well (or else you wouldn’t find Tony and me there.). The room is small, about ten by ten, with a similarly sized bathroom with a bidet! There are balconies in all the rooms. It has 7 floors with 6 rooms on each floor. There aren’t a lot of frills in the place, but it’s not a Days Inn, either. They have a very good breakfast in the morning with scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and various little pastries and fruit and these coffee machines which can make like 20 different kinds of coffee. Very clever.
When I wake up, I meet Tony and we go out and see where we are. We walk down Corso Garibaldi, the semi-closed-to-traffic street that the hotel is on, checking out the shops and cafes. We stop in at RED (Read, Eat, Dream), a bistrot Libreria. It is a bookstore with food and drink. I want to try the different Amari available in Italy. An amaro is a sort of bitter liqueur or aperitif made with various herbs that comes from various little towns in Italy. I use them at home to make Manhattans. I have a few at home but there are others here that I’ve never seen in the States. Our waiter recommends Amaro Da Capo, which is made in his hometown in Calabria which is down by the toe of the boot which is Italy. He’s a great guy who has some English and we all muddle through and wind up understanding each other and having a great time.
After that, we walk farther down Corso Garibaldi and wind up in a plaza in front of an old church. We eat outside at Al Carmine under an awning. We can smoke there. It is so much more civilized here.
After dinner, we head back, going up some back streets and come to a place that has live music. Down in the basement, a man and woman are on a little stage. He is playing keyboard and has a laptop and she has a laptop and is singing. They are doing covers. They did Stand By Me and everyone started singing. They did a few Italian pop hits as well, which I didn’t know but was glad to hear. Everybody would sing and sway to them, too. After a little bit, we took off and headed back to the Hotel Ritter. It was a fun night. The music was a little cheesy, but it was honestly and enthusiastically performed so that counts for a lot.
I am going to Milan with Tony to see a performance of the Yellow Shark by Frank Zappa on the 25th anniversary of his death. Tony and I have travelled before, having gone to England and Scotland in 1995. We generally work well together and have similar interests and preferences. Neither of us wants to spend a lot of money and we want to have a good time close to the roots.
The accident came about the night before I was supposed to leave. Tami and I had planned to get up early at 5 am in order to drive into Boston so I could go to work and then fly out from there. I’m lying in bed having that typical anxiety one gets when one knows one has to go to sleep so one can get up early but can’t get to sleep because they are worried about getting enough sleep to get up early. My hip started hurting me (old injury from running for a bus) so I figure I’ll get up and take some ibuprofen. At the same time, Luna starts barking bloody murder at some unseen intruder in the back yard. She has been doing this lately. I take the aspririn and take a drink in my cupped hands, it goes down wrong, she keeps barking, I start coughing, she keeps barking, I cough harder, then I’m sitting on the floor of the bathroom. I must have blacked out from the coughing. I have this dizzy feeling faint thing for which they have run a ton of tests but have found nothing. Anyway, I climb back up to standing. I look in the mirror and there’s a scrape on my head and my ribs hurt. I must have hit them going down. I go back to bed and tell Tami what happened. I don’t think she really knows how to react. It’s probably scary for her. Luna doesn’t care.
The pain in my ribs is bad and I feel like I’ll want to go to Copake Rapid Care in the morning. I start thinking about cancelling some meetings. I can’t get to sleep so I abandon the idea of waking up at 5. I finally get to sleep around 4. We get up around 7:30. I hurt less now so decide not to go to Rapid Care. We leave around 8 for an uneventful drive. At work, I have lunch with Jeff who is always a joy to see. Since I work remotely now, I rarely see him.
The heat broke and I’m walking up the hill on Sky Farm Road with our terrier cattle dog, Luna, holding her leash as she jumps for butterflies and digs for who-knows-what. She has an innate need to herd the rare car that comes by. She lies in wait, carefully eyeing it, getting ready to pounce when it passes. I hold the leash tight and tell her ,”Stay, stay, it’s OK” and most of the time now, she does. She’s about 9 months old now and, despite her rambunctiousness, is fairly well-behaved and responds to cues well.
After a year out in the country, we have 5 chickens (down from 8), 3 goats, 1 dog and 1 cat. Karen, our cat, is the matriarch but isn’t allowed to go outside, so that cramps her style. The wildlife is brutal out here. While I know she could rule the neighborhood in Melrose, here she has to deal with foxes, coyote, hawks and we’ve even seen a black bear to whom she would lose. She and Luna spar a lot but I have faith that they will work it out. We see steady progress, both of them on the bed and stuff. Luna just wants to play, I think, and she’s a puppy, so she has a lot of energy.
We take her out for walks at the park, a huge expanse of hills and fields and trails which is stunningly beautiful. Everything out here (Columbia County, NY) is stunningly beautiful. I just can’t get over it. In the park, at the top of the hill, there is a bench we sit on and look out at the fields, the little church in the town just to the north, hills in the distance. Wildflowers are everywhere, scattered like paint drops on the green fields. It’s as if Jackson Pollack and Norman Rockwell worked on a painting together.
Our house is a character all on its own. Rambling, red, with two bars (main and tiki), a great front porch, a balcony in the great room which hold one bar, a beautiful living room painted by Tony and a fully functioning modern kitchen, with a dishwasher! The house was built by the previous owners and they put all sorts of love and creativity into it. Each room is its own space and has its own character. It has G-clefs in the stanchions of the porch and eighth notes scattered all over.
I am playing a lot more music and writing a lot more songs. I play at the open mics in the area and have met a lot of cool people. The Hudson Valley music scene is very rich and there is no shortage of things to do. I thought I would be bored out here, missing the rich cultural life of Boston, but was pleasantly surprised to find that there is no shortage of cultural beauty out here. I haven’t missed Boston as much as I thought I would. Having been a city kid for 40 years, I thought I would have to adjust, but I don’t miss the subway and the traffic and the density. I miss the many cultures alive in the city and it is admittedly much more white here, but not completely.
Tami has gone through all the New York State bureaucracy in order to get here Occupational Therapy credentials moved out here. She is working and is also busy with our goats and chickens. The chickens we’ve had for a year. We have lost 3 to predators but the other ones are thriving. They give us lots of eggs!
The goats were a long time coming. We had to build a pen for them which was more work than I thought. Finally I got help and we got it done and got the 3 Nigerian Dwarf goats this weekend. They are very amusing and eat a lot of grass. I have made a see-saw for them and will build other playthings to climb on.
I am learning.
At what point does one’s home become something more than an abode? I am sitting in an empty house. There is practically no furniture. The only things that remind me of me, other than the TV stand I made, are the paintings on the walls, all by artists who are friends: Desmond Hussey, Jeanne Risica, Babe Bakalar, Neil Bakalar, and then some Gaucho prints from the Argentine which have graced my family’s wallls for as long as I can remember. There are Tricia Lowrys, Hiro Watanabes, and Patricia Pedreiras in storage. And probably others I am not remembering right now.
The art connects me to my life, to my home. Stormy roots around on the bed. He will wake me at exactly 4am and want to be fed. We will go to the kitchen and he will eat and then we will both go out and stand at the end of the driveway in the quiet night. We will see the woman running, I think she’s Haitian, and say hi to her. She used to run with her son, who never looked like he wanted to be out running at 4 in the morning. He looked no more than 10 or 12. I guess by now he’s grown old enough to say no, but for a few years there it was a comforting sight.
The odd car goes by. If it gets late enough, a Boston Globe truck or a bakery sedan delivery. I will always notice the moon, what its phase and position is. I will think about the eons of humanity who have looked up at the same moon and thought the same things. This little slice of the galaxy that surrounds us and provides us with some kind of consistency.
This weekend is the Perseid meteor showers. Every year on our anniversary. We always go out to Copake where the wedding took place 16 years ago. We sit out on the grass in our Adirondack chairs, eyes trained on the sky. Someone sees a shooting star in the direction opposite from where you are looking and everyone turns but it is always too late. You see a meteor and you feel like you are the only one that saw it, but in reality there are thousands of people on lawns up and down the east coast looking at the same meteor and thinking the same thing.
My bride has fallen asleep out in the living room on the futon we have folded into a makeshift sofa. This is just like she used to do. Since we got rid of the sofa in the living room, she has been coming and joining me in the bedroom which I love to no end, but realistically, after 50, couples sleep alone. There is just too much mishegas when two old people are in the same bed. There are going to be a lot more bedrooms and living rooms and sofas in the new house. We’ll see…
She is my home, my everything. As difficult as this whole move has been, we have been tackling it together. We don’t necessarily talk much. But we get it done. And we provide a home for each other.
This song came up on my playlist today, a Matt Skeele song we recorded back in 95 or 96, “I Wake Up In The Middle Of The Night”. It is such a beautiful evocation of love and comfort and his singing and playing is so beautiful and it is one of my better atmosphere productions if i do say so myself. Enjoy….