July 30, 2010
I walked Willow down to the pond yesterday morning. I left the house around 8:30 hoping to beat the heat and humidity. Willow, a frisky, intelligent German Short-Haired Pointer, knew better—it was already hot and humid—and balked when I tried to leash her. A Paul Newman peanut butter treat persuaded her, more or less. My daughter had mentioned that she needed exercise—two days languishing in the house because of the weather—and all of us too busy working to take her for a long walk or a swim in the river. So off we went.
We don’t always walk to the pond—about two miles away and up and down some challenging hills—but I was curious to see if the movie shoot was underway and whether or not Winn’s garden was completely destroyed or only partially destroyed. She and her partner, Chuck, have owned their farmhouse for more than two decades, and they are weekenders, city people. So they can stay home or travel during the two months or so of disruption. And they are being paid a facility fee. I had asked Winn if she thought it would be worth it and she had said, “yes,” but I didn’t mention what I knew about film crews descending, literally. My husband and I had agreed to a James Bond shoot in our flat in London years ago, so I knew. A crew is meticulous, caring, concerned, attentive. But they do not want you around to see the havoc they wreak and then, when they are done, how they try to fix it as best they can. Winn said, “It will become part of the history of the house.” Well, that’s something, I thought. At least memory and history are sustainable.
I carried water and promised Willow we’d stop at the stream where she could dip her mattress-ticked ankles into the water. I would pour water over my head, as needed.
As soon as we rounded the bend leading to the meadow I saw cars, trucks, and movement. The barn door opposite Chuck and Winn’s farmhouse was open. This had become the prop room. There were about five crew prepping for the day, a movie called “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding,” with Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener. The stars had not yet arrived. I said good morning to the crew—who barely noticed my presence—and turned back up the road. I noticed that Winn’s furniture was on the porch, that her native garden had been replaced with another, more flowery, garden, and that the newly painted frontage was already scratched and chipped.
On the hot trek home I got to thinking about the presence of this movie crew in what has become a much more sustainable neighborhood. Several young couples, including my daughter and son-in-law, have become environmental activists. They don’t grow anything that can’t be eaten, they share vegetables from their gardens, and they replenish the soil with compost. They are devoted to understanding the degradation of the earth by the industrial food chain, and to repairing it. I contribute in small ways when I am here. On walks, I clean up beer cans and other debris. I’ve learned how to compost and to eat modestly. I’ve learned how to let the chickens out of their coop though I usually let my husband do that. “Buy Local,” is one of the mottos on signage in the area so I buy local. The screenwriter is a local boy, as is the scout, so that seems like a good thing. Chuck and Winn are being paid and that’s good, too. But what else is the film company doing to “give back” to this neighborhood? To sustain it? Even before the recession, there was a lot of poverty in upstate New York, families in trailers, unemployed, or enlisted in the army. There are more yellow ribbons on the houses and trees around here than I have seen anywhere else recently.
Two mornings ago, a scout working for the local scout came by the house and offered $500 to place two dumpsters at the end of the driveway.”We have too many vehicles so we have no space down at the farmhouse,” he explained. The request--softened by the offer of money—felt audacious, intrusive, and unsustainable. When the crew has come and gone, and the movie stars have been escorted home in their vans and limos, what will be left behind?
July 28, 2010
Last night, I watched “The Most Dangerous Man in America; Daniel Ellsberg & The Pentagon Papers,” based on Dr. Ellsberg’s memoir, “Secrets; A Memoir of Vietnam and The Pentagon Papers.” http://www.amazon.com/Secrets-Memoir-Vietnam-Pentagon-Papers/dp/0670030309. The documentary is up for an Oscar this year.
Both the film and the book are formidable. They are important historical documents and riveting stories, filled with fascinating characters and dramatic tension. After watching the documentary with my daughter and son-in-law, I was so wound up I could not sleep. I cleaned up the kitchen, checked my email, began writing this blog entry, checked the New York Times. The Wikileaks leak is in the papers. Secrets revealed. What will become of this war? When will it end? What will become of the Afghan people? How voluntary is a volunteer army in a time of economic recession? How many more body bags will be shipped home? What does the President know that we don’t know?
My husband served in the Seventh Fleet during the Vietnam War, many friends were war resisters, and our home in London was a salon and sometime dormitory for AWOL soldiers and expatriates. The Vietnam War was a very personal war for me. And Daniel Ellsberg's story, a very important story. And I have another connection to him. His son, Robert, was my editor on “Another Day in Paradise; International Humanitarian Workers Tell Their Stories.” He’s the editor-in-chief at Orbis Books, owned by the Maryknolls who are dedicated to humanitarian work all over the world.
I never discussed the Pentagon Papers with Robert when I was working with him on the book. And I never knew his part in the story. He was thirteen-years-old when his father invited him to help photocopy the Pentagon Papers. These documents were leaked to seventeen newspapers in the United States and were in large part responsible for ending the war and Nixon’s presidency.
July 8, 2010
I’m working on a historical novella that, like my murder mystery, “Say Nothing,” is set in upstate New York. I’ve started making the rounds of the libraries on the west side of the river in Ulster County to 1./donate a copy of my book 2./meet the local librarians and 3./ do some research. I’ve been to two libraries since I began commuting in June—Ellenville and Rosendale—and have been impressed by the helpfulness of the librarians, their friendliness and generosity. I find these qualities to be true of most librarians I have met over the years. As internet access became a resource, I missed libraries and librarians.
When I arrived at the Rosendale library last week I was greeted warmly by Ann Sarrantino and when I told her what I was doing, she steered me to a collection of history books about Ulster county curated by another librarian, Linda Tantillo. All libraries are blissfully quiet, cool and wi-fi’d these days so I sat myself at a table and began to forage through this outstanding collection of books. I then gave Ann copies of two of my books and when I showed her “Sitting for Klimt,” and she said that her husband was a painter, she went to get a copy of Barbara Kingslover’s new book, “Lacuna," which just won the Orange Prize. Our conversation about books and writers continued.
Not having a local address, I could not join the library, but I am free to use it. The freedom of the library systems throughout our country are a great freedom indeed. I told Ann I would download Kingslover’s book onto my Kindle. Happy to say, she did not seem the least bit alarmed knowing, as I do, that librarians will never be obsolete.
Linda Tantillo returned from her lunch break and we chatted for a while, also. Like all good librarians, she listened patiently and attentively to a description of my project before making a suggestion. She told me that the Kingston Freeman, a local newspaper, had recently been scanned and gave me a website address that I had not, as yet, come across. I’m back in the city this week reading newspapers online from 1905, thanks to Linda. The combination of online research and F2F interaction with insightful and informed librarians has deepened the treasure trove of information available to writers.