The last three weeks…where did they go? I’ve flown halfway across the country, written four pieces, seen six plays, read nine books, given a lecture, talked on the radio, and driven all over Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania in a pair of rented cars. On top of all this, I watched my mother recover from a major operation (and nursed her through a series of drug-induced hallucinations that seem to have frightened her far less than they did me). Now I’m back home again, with no deadlines to hit until tomorrow morning and no performances to see until Wednesday night. I slept in today, the first time I’ve managed that feat in well over a month. Later on I plan to tinker with my reviewing schedule, wander over to the gym, dine at Good Enough to Eat, watch a little TV, and straighten the pictures in the Teachout Museum. That sounds like a good day, don’t you think?
You know all about my two weeks in Smalltown, U.S.A. I returned from there Friday before last and resumed my usual post-travel frenzy of literary activity, cramming in two visits to the theater, both of them deeply satisfying (see the first of this week’s Top Fives for words to the wise). Come Wednesday, a little later in the day than I’d planned, I filed my last piece, picked up a Zipcar, and began a much-anticipated three-day holiday by plunging headlong into New Jersey traffic. It was the first time I’d gotten caught on the fringes of a weekday rush hour, an experience I hope never to repeat. The good news is that my car was equipped with a satellite radio, so I spent the unexpectedly long drive sampling the myriad offerings of XM Radio, with which I was much impressed.
In due course I escaped from the interstate and made my way to Bridgeton House, the inn on the Delaware River where I recently spent a contented night sitting in a rocking chair and watching a thunderstorm from a screened balcony. Alas, the elements weren’t as cooperative this time around, but I liked the inn no less well, and I’ve decided to make it one of my regular getaway spots.
On Thursday I drove through the Delaware Water Gap to Barryville, a tiny Catskills village just across the New York-Pennsylvania border. A friend of mine has been spending the past month teaching gymnastics at a summer camp outside of town, and I figured she wouldn’t mind being taken out to dinner after a hard day on the trampoline, so I decided to spend the night somewhere in the general vicinity of her shop. A quick search of the Web having previously led me to Ecce Bed and Breakfast, conveniently located a couple of miles down the road from camp, I made a reservation, showed up at the appointed hour, and was duly escorted to an elegantly appointed bedroom in a house perched on the edge of a bluff three hundred feet above the Delaware River. For once, the Web site understates the case: my room had a huge picture window, and I’ve never seen a more spectacular view. After a sumptuous dinner of fresh trout, I brought my friend back to the inn so that she could see for herself, and we spent what was left of the evening sitting on the balcony, listening to the enveloping sounds of a warm summer night in the Catskills, chatting companionably about nothing in particular as the light died out of the sky, and wondering if there were a more beautiful place anywhere in the world.
By then it was clear to me that Ecce is not your usual bed-and-breakfast. It was started a year ago by a couple of Wall Street businessmen who heard the chimes at midnight and decided to change their lives before it was too late. Perhaps not surprisingly, the tone and décor of their five-room inn are considerably more urbane than those of the comfy, chintzy country retreats where I typically spend my nights on the road. (I certainly can’t think of another B-&-B that has pencil-signed Hirschfeld lithographs of Carol Channing and Lucille Ball hanging proudly in the upstairs hall!) At the same time, Ecce lacks nothing in the way of country comforts—there’s even a hammock—and my baked spinach omelet, served on a deck overlooking the river, was wonderfully tasty. As I reluctantly pulled out of the parking lot after breakfast, I resolved to come back again as soon as possible.
I spent most of Friday driving up scenic byways and down narrow country lanes, eventually arriving at yet another Catskills village, High Falls, where I checked into Captain Schoonmaker’s Bed and Breakfast, a Revolutionary War-era stone house located next to a soul-soothing trout stream and waterfall. I passed a peaceful night in the carriage house, then reported to the dining room at eight for the best breakfast I’ve ever eaten in my life. (Sorry, Mom.) The eggs were newly laid by the inn’s own hens, the sausage was made by a local butcher, the waffles were stuffed with fresh fruit, and for once I couldn’t clean my plate, though I did my best and a little bit more.
By then I was feeling the emollient effects of three work-free days in a row, and the thought of returning to New York was almost too sad to bear. Alas, my car was due back at ten-thirty that morning, so I hit the road after breakfast, tuned in Frank’s Place on the satellite radio, and let Jonathan Schwartz serenade me as I rolled down the parkway, over the upper deck of the George Washington Bridge, and back into my everyday life. That same night Maud and I went to Harlem to see an outdoor performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Riverbank State Park, and I spent most of Sunday driving to and from Massachusetts to catch Tom Stoppard’s On the Razzle at the Williamstown Theatre Festival (read all about it on Friday).
Now I’m sitting at my desk, plugged into the Web and entangled yet again in the busy life of a singleton at large in the big city. My travels seem like last night’s dreams, half-recalled and not quite real. Was it really only four days ago that I sat on a deck far above the Delaware River, listening to the crickets chirp? I wouldn’t live anywhere else but New York City—I couldn’t—but I know very well what I’m missing by doing so, and right at this moment I miss it more than I can say.