Yes, the road.

Yes, the road.
Eagle Nest, New Mexico. “People like to drive because driving is actually and symbolically an almost perfect mechanism for escape…there is probably no human being who does not have troubles, real or imagined, from which he at times feels the need to flee.” George R. Stewart.


My photo
Brooklin, Maine, United States
We own a 1975 GMC Sierra Grande 15 in Maine and a 1986 Chevrolet Custom Deluxe 10 in West Texas. Also a pair of 1997 Volvo 850 wagons. Average age in the fleet is 28 years--we're recycling. I've published 3 novels: THE LAW OF DREAMS (2006), THE O'BRIENS (2012), and CARRY ME (2016). Also 2 short story collections: NIGHT DRIVING(1987) and TRAVELLING LIGHT (2013). More of my literary life is at I was a Fellow at the Netherlands Institute for Advanced Study for 2012-13. I'm an adjunct professor at Colorado College and in the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. In 2015-16 I was a Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study. The Autoliterate office is in Car Talk Plaza in Harvard Square, 2 floors above Dewey Cheatem & Howe. SUBSCRIBE TO THE AUTOLITERATE DAILY EMAIL by hitting the button to the right.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Textile Town: Biddeford Part 2 (Houses) And a David Rivard poem.

Part 1 of this series focused on the textile mills that were Biddeford, Maine's reason to be. Housing in the central part of town is mostly from the late 19th and early 20th century, when immigrants--mostly French Canadian, but also Irish--were packing into Biddeford to work in the mills. Much--not all--of the housing in the central part of town is multi-family. Probably some of these no doubt were boarding houses, renting out rooms to workers. The three-decker is the classic New England factory town house: three apartments stacked on one top of the other in a wood-frame, and wood-clad, building. Across the river, in the town of Saco, Maine the housing stock is quite different. But Saco was where the management and professional class tended to live. Houses over there, some from the early 19th century, are large and impressive in a variety of more familiar "New England" styles. There will be an Autoliterate post coming up on Saco.
I've know Biddeford all my life and I have to say as a kid the town scared the heck out of me. The mills looked like jails, which is how they probably felt to most of the people who worked in them. The houses are close together, and streets tend to be narrow. If they are not narrow they are hectic with traffic that's mostly just passing through. While there is not a lot going on in central Biddeford, the regional road network focuses there--US 1 goes right throughout the town. So there is the constant thunder of traffic. 
The scale and shape of Biddeford give it an integrity as a built town but that closeness and 'urbanity' is pulverized by the horde of vehicle traffic streaming through. It's a problem in almost all Maine towns of any size, which tend to be road junctions: in the 21st century that means constant highway noise, danger, dirty air, and that lonesome left-by-the-highway feeling, even when you're standing in the middle of a market town or small city.  
If we're going to figure out how to make North American towns humane again--i.e., reasonably pleasant places in which to be a human being, not merely a consumer--step one would be reorganizing the highway network. In Western Europe highways and busy commuter roads are often kept out of town centers, so those towns keep their integrity as living (and breathing) towns. So it's not impossible. It's not magic, and it's not rocket science--it's just planning. But "planning", as in "urban-" or "regional planning", is a hot button word for the real estate industry, which is in charge, in the most basic sense, of the geography of daily life. Somehow we've handed over to them all responsibility for figuring out (or not) way we live now.  So landscape is machinery for generating profit. The problem with effective reform is ultimately the Constitution: once more our reported  "freedoms" will get in the way of people trying to address  in a sane and sustainable way problems everyone deals with on a daily basis. Like commuting times, traffic, the deaths of neighborhoods...
More and more I see the U.S. Constitution as a large dead bird we're all wearing around our necks. 
Speaking of factory towns, at the very end of this post, there's a treat: a early poem from David Rivard, "Fall River". It appeared in his first collection, Torque which was Published in the Pitt Poetry Series, and won the 1987 Agnes Lynch Starrett Poetry Prize.

Fall River

When I wake now it’s below ocherous, saw-ridged
pine beams. Haze streaks all three windows. I look up
at the dog-eared, glossy magazine photo
I’ve taken with me for years. It gets tacked
like a claim to some new wall in the next place—
Bill Russell & Wilt Chamberlain, one on one
the final game of the 1969 NBA championship,
two hard men snapped elbowing & snatching at a basketball
as if it were a moment one of them might stay inside
forever. I was with
my father the night that game played
on a fuzzy color television, in a jammed Fall River bar.
Seagram & beer chasers for hoarse ex-jocks,
smoke rifting the air. A drunk called him “Tiger”
and asked about the year he’d made all-state guard—
point man, ball-hawk, pacer. Something he rarely spoke
of, & almost always with a gruff mix of impatience
and shyness. Each year,
days painting suburban tract houses & fighting
with contractors followed by
night shifts at the fire station
followed by his kids swarming at breakfast
and my mother trying to stay out of his way,
each of the many stone-hard moments between 1941 & 1969—
they made up a city of granite mills
by a slate & blue river. That town was my father’s
life, & still is. If he felt cheated by it,
by its fate for him,
to bear that disappointment, he kept it secret.
night, when he stared deep into a drunk’s memory,
he frowned. He said nothing. He twisted on the stool,
and ordered this guy a beer.
Whatever my father & I have in common
is mostly silence. And anger that keeps twisting
back on itself, though not before it ruins,
often, even something simple
as a walk in the dunes at a warm beach.
But what we share too is a love so awkward
that it explains, with unreasoning perfection,
why we still can’t speak
easily to each other, about the past or anything else,
and why I wake this far from the place where I grew up,
while the wall above me claims now
nothing has changed & all is different.
                                                                   from Torque (1987) and used by permission

1 comment:

  1. So great. The pics remind me of an old home that is near to me but too far away to enjoy now. Sad.