The Great American Road Trip
Book: South of the Northest Kingdom by David Mamet (a National Geographic Series called Directions)
The stereotypical dialogue of Vermont, “Aye-up” and “Nope” may have influenced the spare, quirky dialogue of David Mamet’s plays and movies. Movies like Glengarry Glen Ross, State and Main (a good Vermont movie), and my favorite, House of Games, have such a recognizable speech pattern that Mamet is easy to satirize. However, it is a mistake to take him lightly. His look at America is brilliant. I first made his acquaintance through his plays when I studied them in a university theater class.
This slim book of essays about his life in Vermont, South of the Northeast Kingdom, converses in a different style. From time to time he uses a word that will have you running to the dictionary, but for the most part, you feel like you’re sitting on his front porch, just listening to him talk.
Despite having lived part time in Vermont for most of his adult life, through two marriages and the growth of his children to adulthood, Mamet continues to feel like an outsider. He ponders the destructive affect of outsiders on the traditional Vermont they came for in the first place.
Sometimes his essays meander away from Vermont to talk about politics. The book was written in 2002, and he talks about contemporary events like September 11, and the George W. Bush administration–which he doesn’t like a bit. (Here’s a Village Voice 2008 essay about his politics). But for the most part, Mamet is talking about the importance of place and he provides a good little guidebook, which gives us a streetview of some towns. He tours the downtown of Hardwick, for instance, and recommends the Village Restaurant at the junction of Rtes. 14 an 15. He introduces us to craftsmen and women–weavers, woodworkers, furniture makers. And he talks about hunting and guns.
Here is Mamet at his best, talking about geography:
How can one be uninfluenced by geography? One cannot. We all are affected at the least by the weather, which is specific to geography. And this is a beautiful country, so perhaps geography can inculcate civic pride, and thus perhaps civic virtue.
I loved to stand on 57th Street in New York, around sunset, around Seventh Avenue. At that height one could look to the east, look to the west, and see the two rivers in that thrilling late-afternoon light.
It felt like love to me. As it did in Chicago, near the lake, even in that cold which freezes the inside of the nose, and gives you that copper, blood smell, which seems to live in the back of the head; or in Los Angeles, at night, which is the only time the city comes alive. And so on.
It is difficult for me to stop quoting Mamet, because I love almost all his words. But I will stop here, and let you find this little book yourself. Several times he mentions the heritage of the Scotch, and so Kerry Dexter’s Great American Music Tour will provide us with the appropriate Celtic-tinged background music for our road trip to Vermont.
On my only trip to Vermont, I was a teenager. My family visited old friends in a cabin by a lake that outlawed motor boats. The families were the well-off summer people that Mamet decries. But we took little trips into the countryside and saw the Grandma Moses scenery, the white spired churches on village greens and small museums and odd stores. It was all to lovely for words. Mamet has the words.
Here’s an interview about the book that Mamet recorded with NPR in 2003.
Are you familiar with David Mamet? Tell me about your experiences in Vermont. Are they similar to Mamet’s?
Thursday we take the day off, and Friday we’re celebrating Black History Month right here. And before you go away, please remember to share this post by clicking one of those buttons below.