Tag Archive | Northampton

Trip to Northampton

At the beginning of the month, I visited Northampton, MA for the second time in my life to attend the wedding of my college friend Leland. It was a quick trip at the tail end of my spring break: I flew into Boston early Friday evening and flew out again early Sunday afternoon. When I arrived in Boston, I met up with another college classmate, Ben, and his fiancée. Ben and I both played cello in the college orchestra (at least until I dropped orchestra for folk dance), and he and Leland played in a Swarthmore-famous string quartet. Ben and his fiancée kindly gave me a ride to Northampton.

On Saturday morning, I walked from my hotel up the road to Tart, a bakery in downtown Northampton, and bought a spinach and feta pastry for breakfast. Actually, outside the wedding festivities, nearly all the food I consumed during my trip came from Tart. I’d been there once on my last trip to the area, and I guess it’s now my modus operandi to glom onto a bakery for all my sustenance needs when I travel for a wedding.

Later in the morning, I walked back up the hill for the wedding ceremony. There was a protest going on outside a bank downtown, and a woman handed me a leaflet, telling me it explained why they were protesting, to wit, to draw attention to banks’ contribution to the climate crisis. The leaflet encouraged me to move my money out of banks and into credit unions and tell my bank why I was doing so. By this time, the woman had moved on, so I couldn’t tell her all my money was already in credit unions and she could give my leaflet to someone else.

First Churches of Northampton, the day after the wedding

The wedding was at First Churches of Northampton. It was a sunny day, if a bit brisk still at the time of the ceremony, and there were a few guests milling about in the yard in front of the church. I recognized some people. I went inside and signed the guestbook. I ran into Leland and gave them a hug. I ventured into the sanctuary, which was high-ceilinged and wide, with two aisles. As I was admiring the space and contemplating where and with whom to sit, I noticed someone I knew standing near me: it was Kristine, a fellow phonologist. As with a number of the other guests, I hadn’t anticipated seeing her, but as soon as I did, it made sense that she was there. We went and found seats in a pew together and listened to the prelude. The organ was at the front of the sanctuary, and the big pipes were painted in dusky Scandinavian colors (that description might only make sense to me).

The processional began, and various family members advanced in sets down the two aisles. While we were looking around, Kristine and I noticed Ivy, another linguist, sitting in the left section of pews, and we all waved. Then it was time to rise for Leland and Bryn’s entrance; the person sitting in front of me shot up and clasped his fist over his heart. Leland and Bryn also processed in parallel down the two aisles.

I heard someone joke afterwards that the ceremony was essentially a concert with some wedding rituals thrown in; there was indeed a lot of music, which was fitting for the couple. First, a crowd of Sacred Harp singers, many of whom I knew or recognized, sang Harmony from The Shenandoah Harmony; Ivy led. The officiant spoke some words about Leland and Bryn and the things they had in common, including the fact that they both really like ringing bells. This provoked laughter from the assembly.

A trio of friends sang the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei (split across two occasions in the service) from Byrd’s Mass for Three Voices. The second occasion was communion. Later, an octet including Leland’s mother and sister and a couple other people I knew sang a hymn, and toward the end of the service the congregation got to sing Love Divine, All Loves Excelling (the Hyfrydol setting). And the recessional was the Hornpipe from Handel’s Water Music. The bulletin invited us to listen for English change ringing on our way out of the church, and indeed, there were four ringers on handbells outside. I heard more than one person confirm that they were ringing a whole quarter peal (no promises about the accuracy of my change ringing terminology).

I had sort of skipped over the receiving line on my way out of the sanctuary, so later on I went back to greet the newlyweds and their close family. I also said hi to other people I knew, like Ivy (and I met her partner in person for the first time, as opposed to on Zoom). Among the guests were other Swarthmore alumni, folkies, people I met on my first trip to Northampton, and various combinations thereof. There was also Gretchen McCulloch, internet linguist!

Eventually, we migrated around the corner to the Hotel Northampton and into the brick-walled, low-ceilinged Wiggins Tavern for a cocktail reception. I talked to Sophia, the string quartet’s first violinist, and Becky, Lorelei, and Daria, who were Leland’s roommates at the time of my last visit (Becky also went to Swarthmore). A bell ringer and I mutually recognized each other in a hazy sort of way and ultimately concluded we must have met the day I hung out with the band in Boston. While we were talking, Myles, another Swarthmore alum/linguist/singer/bell ringer, etc., came over. Apparently I have this thing where I introduce myself as a linguist and academic to strangers at weddings, and then someone who knows me brings up my novels. Myles and I alluded to my still fledgling attempts to become the next Donna Jo Napoli. He also mentioned that he and I had once met up in Istanbul (we literally found each other in the Hagia Sophia, in fact, though that was after we each knew the other was in the city). A little later, I brought some fruit back to the table where my acquaintances were sitting, and Lorelei laid out the Hamp/Noho divide for us.

Next, we transitioned to the bright and festive ballroom, where Leland and Bryn’s friend Maia served as master of ceremonies. I was seated at a table with Becky and Lorelei, among others. There was also Nicole, yet another Swarthmore alum/singer, etc., who I had run into by accident the last time I was in Northampton and who, on that occasion, had given me a mushroom in a paper bag to deliver to Leland. Then there was Mel, another folkie I’ve known since my Swarthmore days. Plus additional guests with Swarthmore, singing, linguistics, and other connections (sometimes all three). I sometimes (creepily? I hope not) knew more about them than they probably knew about me.

There were multiple brunch buffets with things like eggs Benedict and waffles with strawberries and cream. There was also a very nice playlist on in the background, and every now and then someone at our table would say, Hey, I have this album (that was me), or make a remark about Crowfoot’s flutist, or complain about a singer’s ungrammatical distortion of a line from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.” Mel also told me from across the table that they’d read one of my books after finding it in a little free library, and I felt like I’d unlocked an achievement! It was somewhat unclear which book they’d read, but I think we concluded it was Sparkers?

After people had mostly eaten, Maia orchestrated the succession of toasts. We had flutes of champagne to raise in honor of the couple. The parents and grandparents told some amusing stories from Leland and Bryn’s distant and not-so-distant pasts. I think it was also one of them who asked guests to raise their hands if they were Sacred Harp singers, bell ringers, etc. There was a considerable contingent of change ringers in the back of the ballroom, and someone (Maia?) warned everyone else not to approach them unless we wanted a lecture about ringing. The whole string quartet came up to give a toast. At our table, we speculated about whether there would be dancing or not–there was, after all, a small dance floor–but there was none that I witnessed.

I wandered a bit to talk more with Ivy, her partner Gabe, and Kristine, and then after arranging to ride with Nicole to the evening event, I headed back to my hotel. I stopped by Tart to buy a lox and goat cheese sandwich to eat for dinner later (it was excellent).

Early that night, Nicole picked me up, and we drove to the Artifact Cider taproom in nearby Florence for the Shenandoah Harmony singing. Yes, I brought my wicker book all the way from Grinnell for the wedding. It was my first shape note singing since the Before Times. At the cidery, Leland and Bryn were still in their wedding finery while a lot of other people, including me, had dressed down. I drifted over to a table where Ivy, Gabe, Gretchen, and a few others were drinking ciders and eating a sheet pan of nachos.

The singing soon began, and I shared my book with Gabe. Becky gave a very quick lesson on how to deal with the shapes for the non-Sacred Harp singers in attendance (they were definitely in the minority). Despite having owned the book for years, I haven’t sung much out of The Shenandoah Harmony (it’s the newest shape note book), so most of the tunes are unfamiliar to me. A lot of the ones we sang were good! And there were some incredible texts. Like these words from Isaac Watts, in Converse: “I’m tired of visits, modes, and forms / And flatt’ries paid to fellow worms. / Their conversation cloys, / Their vain amours and empty stuff” and “Fly from my thoughts, all human things / And sporting swains, and fighting kings, / And tales of wanton love; / My soul disdains that little snare, / The tangles of Amira’s hair”–I mean, who’s Amira?! Or how about this text by Charles Wesley: “Ah! lovely appearance of death! / What sight upon earth is so fair? / Not all the gay pageants that breathe / Can with a dead body compare. / With solemn delight I survey / The corpse when the spirit is fled, / In love with the beautiful clay, / And longing to lie in its stead.” That’s not one the mainline Protestant hymnals have kept around.

Leland and Bryn circulated a bit during the singing, and when there was a break, I managed to hand-deliver my wedding card to Leland, since I’d failed to find the appropriate place to leave it at the reception. I also talked to Ivy and Gabe about my research and the job market and learned that Gabe went to the same tiny college as the president of Grinnell.

I made plans with Ben & Co. for our journey back to Boston, and then Nicole dropped me back off at my hotel. The next morning, I went back to Tart (third visit!) for breakfast and provisions: I bought a pain au chocolat and a savory biscuit. According to its website, my hotel was not currenty serving breakfast, but I’d discovered on Saturday morning that this was false; there was quite a comprehensive buffet. So I decided to keep my pastries for later and brought some breakfast back to my room. But then, Leland invited me to an originally family-only brunch at their and Bryn’s house. The quartet was going too, so I could just leave for Boston from there. And unexpectedly, I’d have the chance to see Leland one more time.

The former St. John Cantius Church, near Leland and Bryn’s house

I checked out and walked over to Leland and Bryn’s new house. They had, in Leland’s words, a million quiches and a million leftover desserts from the wedding reception, plus oatmeal and fruit. Later, a giant order of amazing-looking pastries arrived. I was kind of sad I’d already eaten breakfast because everything looked really good, but I wasn’t hungry. I sat in the living room with the quartet and partners, as well as Leland and Bryn when they weren’t greeting various relatives. Their extremely cute cats, Lentil and Miso, both brown (or gray?) tabbies, made several appearances.

Soon, it was time to leave for Boston. We did a sort of Minnesota goodbye (you know, first you get up saying it’s time to leave, then you spend at least ten minutes talking in the hall, then you have hugs in the entryway, then you have hugs in the driveway…), and then Ben, his fiancée, Amy (the second violinist), and I hit the road. I had the earliest flight, so they dropped me off at the airport before embarking on their sightseeing and cannoli-acquiring adventure. I ate my pain au chocolat on the sidewalk before heading inside for the airport rigmarole.

So, it was a swift trip, but it was a lovely wedding, and I hope I’ll get to visit again someday, hopefully in even better times.

Change Ringing in Boston and Northampton

This blog is 6 years old today, which means it’s my birthday! Anyway, on to the bells.

My fall break in Massachusetts was not entirely devoted to visiting bookstores. I flew into Boston on Saturday evening and spent the night with a close high school friend and her husband. On Sunday morning, I joined Leland and the Boston band for my first close encounter with change ringing. Here’s my non-ringer’s explanation for non-ringers: change ringing is ringing church tower bells with ropes, one ringer to a bell. Change ringing is not melodic, so the ringers aren’t playing a tune. Rather, the bells are rung in different orders/permutations. There are named patterns that consist of a specific set of permutations. Ringers learn these patterns, called methods, so when the conductor calls out a particular method, they know what their bell is supposed to do. It’s physical, mathematical, and very English. I thought I had some esoteric hobbies, but change ringing (like lined-out hymnody!) makes shape note singing look mainstream.

Church of the Advent

On Sunday morning, I first walked through Back Bay to the Church of the Advent. The sidewalks were paved in red brick, and the front steps of most townhouses were festively decorated for autumn/Halloween, with pumpkins and gourds galore (also, you know, the odd fresh grave in a little front garden). Advent is an Episcopalian/Anglican church, and from what I could glean it’s about as close as you can get to Catholic without recognizing the Pope. Veeery high church. When Leland and his partner, also a ringer, arrived, we ascended the narrow spiral staircase to an anteroom that gave onto the ringing room beyond. There were lots of signs about when to be quiet.

We were there for service ringing, that is, bell ringing as the current service was getting out, so the ringers had to wait for the right moment. Then they went into the ringing room; I was invited to come in too, as long as I did not touch or go near any ropes. The first thing the band had to do was ring the tower bells up (so their mouths were up; this is their rest position when ringers are actively using the bells). After this, I went back to the anteroom while different sets of ringers rang different methods on the bells. I picked up some change ringing jargon over the course of the morning (some of which I may get wrong in this post), but I have to admit that all the methods sounded the same to me. It’s kind of beautiful to watch, though, without even seeing the bells: the ringers’ movements are very fluid, and it all looks like this somewhat hypnotizing human machine.

Simon the church cat

After about twenty minutes of ringing, we went downstairs and around the corner for the fellowship hour. Advent has a resident church cat, Simon, who was very sweet! Possibly because he could butter people into sharing treats from the table with him.

Next we walked to Old North Church, of Paul Revere fame (he rang the same bells that the Boston band still rings!), for more service ringing. The ringing room of Old North felt a bit more rustic (all wood and brick), and I perched on the staircase that led to the upper stories of the tower to watch. When the bells rang, the whole tower thrummed. A few methods in, Leland and I went through the door at the top of my steps, climbed another staircase, and then climbed a sort of stair-ladder hybrid to a platform just overlooking the bells. From here, with ear protection, we watched the bells swing up and down as the ringers below handled the ropes for the next pattern.

The bells of Old North

The band rang at Old North for about an hour, and then we all had lunch at the Boston Public Market. I went back to my friend’s place to pick up my stuff and took the T to Cambridge to meet up with Leland again. At his partner’s apartment, we had tea, and then they brought out a set of handbells to try to teach me to ring some changes. The actual ringing technique is different from the technique I’m accustomed to from ringing in handbell choirs; there are two strokes, the way there are with tower bells. This was a little awkward, but much more difficult was trying to ring permutations. They’d given me the two bells that rang “symmetrically,” which was supposed to make the task easier, but as soon as the changes began, I found myself completely lost. It was like my brain had hit a wall; it was actually kind of impressive. We switched from six bells to five, and with only one bell, I was able to keep up a bit better, thinking to myself something like, This time through I ring in position one, this time through in position two…

Soon after the handbell ringing, Leland and I drove to Northampton, where on Monday evening I would get one more dose of change ringing in the tower of Smith College. The tower is not as pretty on the outside and not as atmospheric on the inside as the towers in Boston, but you do get to climb a ladder to reach the ringing room. The group here silenced the bells and rang using a simulator (that is, they were ringing the muted bells, and a computer played bell sounds synchronized to their strokes, because apparently not everyone around the tower loves listening to bell practice). I watched and listened for a bit (Leland gave me some things to keep my ear out for, which made the methods more intelligible), and then Leland gave me a lesson in handling a bell. Conclusion: it’s hard! And that’s just one part of change ringing because then there are all the methods to learn!

Smith tower ringing room (upwards leads to the bells)

Later, I started poking around the shelves underneath the benches against the brick walls of the ringing room. There were stacks of books about ringing. Leland suggested one with anecdotes from the history of change ringing. There was a whole section on women and change ringing, including a rather hilarious excerpt from a letter or somesuch in which the writer said that the tower was one of the few places where men could experience friendship with each other, and with the presence of a woman it just wasn’t the same, so couldn’t women leave men this one thing?

When Leland first explained change ringing to me, years ago, he said that in his experience, when you first encounter it, “either you get it and it instantly seems like the most enjoyable activity imaginable or you don’t and it just sounds totally weird.” I think I rather regrettably fall into the latter category, but I’m glad at least to have seen and heard actual change ringing and to have stood in a tower watching Paul Revere’s bells sound at my feet.

 

Bookstores of the Pioneer Valley

Last week was fall break, and I spent most of it visiting my friend Leland in Western Massachusetts. The weather was mostly splendid, the fall color was glorious, and the bookstores were abundant. (In general, Northampton, where I was staying, affords many more delights than Grinnell. It probably helps that it has more than three times the population.) Here’s a little travelogue in bookstores:

On Tuesday, on my afternoon wanderings, I came upon a sandwich board for Raven Used Books. The shop was partway down a curved, sloping street and set partly below street level, so entering it was a bit like climbing down into a book cave. Inside, it was crammed with books, exactly as you’d wish. I first lingered in the Medieval section, where I discovered the Proceedings of the Pseudo Society (sample papers included “The Badman of Bossy-sur-Inept: Memoirs of a Medieval Peasant” and “The Lost Letters of Charlemagne’s First Wife, Autostrada, Also Called Desiderata or Desideria”). Then I went to Science Fiction & Fantasy, thinking there was a good chance I could find the next book for the Grinnell Pioneer Bookshop’s Speculative Fiction Reading Group. (The Drake Community Library’s sole copy was currently checked out.) Indeed, there were three copies of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, of which I bought one. (There was also a sex manual misshelved in SFF; I left it there.)

Raven Used Books

On Wednesday, Leland and I drove to the Montague Book Mill (“books you don’t need in a place you can’t find”), tucked away in a rural, woodsy region and perched over a stream. There’s no longer a mill, but in addition to the bookstore there’s a restaurant, a café, a music store, and an art gallery selling local artists’ work. The ground floor of the bookstore had a sort of cabin feel. Sunlight poured in the windows overlooking the water. I found a shelf full of copies of A. S. Byatt’s Possession, and upstairs in the linguistics section there was Kenstowicz & Kisseberth’s Generative Phonology. There was also a shelf for Books of No Obvious Category. The rooms of the upper level reminded me a little of Shakespeare & Co. in Paris in that there were little tables tucked under windows where people were sitting and working. Later, I found the paths down to the stream and its rapids. There were some old stone walls and a little brick building with green window frames. I dipped my hands in the water; it was cold.

The Book Mill

On Thursday, back in Northampton, I stepped briefly into Tim’s Used Books to look around. This store was just one room, but despite being small it had a nice children’s section. Then I went up the street to Broadside Bookshop, the first new bookstore (as opposed to used bookstore) of my trip. I spent a lot of time in SFF, which was on the right as soon as you entered, and then a little time in Fiction, where I spotted the anthology The Best American Nonrequired Reading. I know someone who has a story in there: Maddy Raskulinecz! Next I ambled over to the children’s and YA section. There are so. many. books. in the world. Also, The Secret Commonwealth, the second volume in Philip Pullman’s new Book of Dust trilogy, is hefty. Despite having read some worrisome things about it, I still want to read it, even if 20-year-old Lyra is going to depress me. (Side note: In that interview with Pullman I mentioned in my last post, I learned that the U.S. edition of The Amber Spyglass cut some material that was deemed overly sensual or somesuch, and I was betrayed. I looked it up too, and it was utterly harmless. I mean, compared to the big thoughts His Dark Materials might make you think…)

The lower level of Amherst Books

Later that day, I was in Amherst, and after visiting the Emily Dickinson museum (more on that another time!), I hung out at Amherst Books until Leland came to join me. Used books were in the basement, and I heeded the many dire warnings to leave bags upstairs. There were some excellent bookshelf ladders downstairs. Back on the main floor, I parked myself in the SFF section, where Leland found me. We exchanged recommendations for a bit. I could point to at least three books shelved face-out that I had heard good things about and wanted to read (I’m so behind on my to-read list). Then we walked down the street to have ramen.