20 May 2016

Goodbye Burlington . . . for now

The thing about airports is that there no place to sit in solitary silence. Airports are places characterized by incessant motion and there is no place to be without distraction. In the airport people are in constant motion. There exists in them no area of stillness—the people movers constantly move people who sometimes stand almost still but on which they often double the movement by walking on the people mover nevertheless. People move ceaselessly about in the wide lanes heading somewhere else; trams and carts speed by; the televisions flash with ever changing images and constant news. The loudspeakers blare endless messages: of changing time zones; of lost laptops and portable phones; of warnings to watch your luggage and watch your neighbors. From the shops blast music and flashy items for sale—the airport has become a shopping mall where all I should want is for sale as long as I’m just waiting. And in their seats people sit staring at computer screens, iPads and Kindles busy being somewhere else and all wearing headphones to approximate solitude amidst the crowd. I often wonder what Thoreau might have said about airports and airplanes.
     Of course, in my generalizations I speak inaccurately.  There is as well a stationary quality to the airport. People sit in their chairs sometimes for hours at a time waiting to board, and parents rock their younger children to sleep; and couples and friends sit in discussion always holding in their hands their cell phones to which they glance obsessively. I wonder for what they are looking . . . or for what they wait? But there exists for me no sense of calm in the airport and when I exit the buildings and out into the air I enjoy a decompression, and feel like a balloon that slowly loses its air. I don’t like airports—I feel out of control in those absolutely controlled spaces and though I write this piece 30,000 feet in the air, I am hardly alone or at quiet peace. I’ve been listening to Joni Mitchell’s album “Songs to a Seagull:” I find this one of the saddest albums and Marci” one of the saddest knows I have ever heard.
     Guy Clark died this week. I came to him late, but sometimes he produced the perfect metaphor: “I Think I Can Paint Over That!”
     I am saying goodbye to Burlington, Vermont. I have had a lovely run here and this is a most lovely city. For three summers and years ago I taught a course at St. Michael’s College and we walked every evening up the hill from Winooski to Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream. I ate a lot of ice cream, but then I was a runner and every morning I would run off last night’s indulgence. This time I am more cautious so that I can still fit into my yoga pants. Then we enjoyed the activity on the Mall and watched with delight the often eccentric street performers: many are still here and still performing. I spent a glorious week of my sabbatical in a cabin along Lake Champaign writing Symphony #1 during her first year here. And drank single malt scotch at the Whiskey Bar where I could have had Balvenie 30-year at $200.00 a pour if only the Symphony had sold a few more copies. And now she is graduating from the University of Vermont and beginning graduate school in another city. Endings are always poignant but they always end in another beginning.
     And the next time we visit in her city won’t have to fly.


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