Bella White in Northampton
Sunday, March 6 2022
Today Gretchen had arranged for me and her to take a day trip to Northampton, Massachusetts to see Bella White, an up-and-coming 21 year old Country/Bluegrass singer-songwriter we learned about while listening to alternative radio while driving to and from the cabin. Her song "Just Like Leaving," has been getting some airplay, and we both like it. So at around 10:00am this morning, Gretchen and I set out in the Chevy Bolt, leaving the dogs with Powerful back at the house. The day was predicted to be warm and rainy, with temperatures up in the 60s. So I optimistically wore just a zip-up hoodie (a recent purchase from J. Crew) instead of my usual jacket.
It's a fairly long drive out to Northampton, which is 40 miles east into Massachusetts, on the Connecticut River about 25 miles south of where it splits Vermont from New Hampshire. But even after climbing over the Berkshires (the highest point of which on I-90 is actually a little lower than our cabin), we still had nearly 60 miles in the Bolt's battery once we got there.
Our first destination was a vegan eatery called the Wild Chestnut Café, which seemed like a cheerful place to take a laptop for some nice undistracted remote work. Unfortunately, the food wasn't all that great. I thought it was better than Gretchen did; the hot sauce definitely saved my TLT, although I agree the coffee tasted burnt, the blueberry muffin was meh, and the french onion soup wasn't much better. I filled my Yeti mug with coffee there, which ended up lasting me for hours.
Northampton is full of places where one can charge an electric car for free. The place we picked featured a massive roof covered with solar panels, which presumably would contribute to the free electrons going into our Bolt's battery. We'd have to leave our car there for five or six hours, so it was important that it be centrally located.
Our next stop was Hungry Ghost Bread, a place where you stand in line until you get to the front and then order some delicious fresh-baked bread. When Gretchen got to the front, she ordered a bunch of loaves to be picked up after the Bella White show.
But before that, we went to Smith College's art museum, which in our minds we'd been confusing with the art museum at William's College (about 40 miles to the northeast). Gretchen was excited about an exhibition of the environmental works of Maya Lin, the woman who, while still in college, designed the Vietnam War Memorial.
The Maya Lin exhibit took up the whole first floor of the museum and mostly featured visualizations of environmental features, such as layered masses depicting several isolated Old World seas (the Black, Red, and Caspian), though all of their depth dimensions had been greatly exaggerated. There were also "maps" of various water features (the Connecticut River watershed and the damage inflicted by Hurricane Sandy) represented by thousands of pins stuck in the wall. The most whimsical works were a series of of old atlases into which Lin had excavated holes, opening up voids in one map that would bore down dozens of pages to bottom out on a map of some entirely different place (or, sometimes, in the black-on-white double-justified text blocks of a page in the index).
After that, we went on a quick tour of the rest of the museum, delighting mostly in ancient works from Egypt and Mexico. As we were leaving, Gretchen managed to blow nearly $100 in the gift shop while I sipped my Yeti mug of coffee I'd been forced to leave at the front desk.
Bella White would be performing at 3:00pm at the Parlor Room, an intimate venue where tickets for tonight had only been $20/each. (Gretchen had accidentally forgotten about already buying the tickets, so today she tried to scalp the two extras she had, eventually selling one of them.) We got seats about four or five rows from the front, but, as Gretchen had read somewhere, there really weren't any bad seats. We were told were going to have to prove our vaccination status at the door, but that was no longer being enforced. All the staff wanted from us today was for us to wear our masks. Interestingly, the Parlor Room is an entertainment-only venue; there was no bar or even a place to buy snacks. The only products one could buy was merch sold by the artist.
Before long, Bella White took the stage. It was just her and a guitar. She was dressed in high-waisted mom jeans with a sweater cut off to reveal of two-inch-tall swath of navel-free abdomen, which was covered most of the set by the guitar (she had it strapped high). She sang her songs with twitchy, almost spastic mouth movements, which seemed to serve the songs well. She played her guitar using complicated picking patterns that also simulated the rhythmic thrumming of a bass. Aside from "Just Like Leaving," I'd only heard songs from her one album on the drive today, and the songs worked great in this stripped-down singer-songwriter format. It helped that the sound system in the venue was top-notch. In among her songs, Bella White would tell stories or make amusing asides, often returning to the refrain, "We can talk more about this later at the merch table." She had one especially complicated story set on Mother's Day, when her mother back in Vancouver, who had to travel, had asked her to come home to cat-sit her own cat (whom her mother had been watching while she was on tour). While cat-sitting the cat, she spied a robin in a rhododendron building a nest, and she felt the sudden weight of responsibility not just for her cat, but also the mother robin and her babies.
White was joined on stage for a couple songs by a weirdly-dressed gentleman with a single dangling earring named Taylor, and he played electric guitar and sang. They performed well together, but his matchy-matchy outfit and earring were a bit of a distraction.
We made it out to the end of the set without White ever performing "Just Like Leaving," which had Gretchen shouting for to play it by the end there. (I imagined this to be as annoying as being Led Zeppelin and having the audience screaming "Stairway to Heaven!") And of course that was exactly what White came out to play for her final song, though she first told a story about it. It seems "the Carolina" was the name of an apartment complex where she was living, and there really was a man "who I did not know" who tried to come through one of her windows while she was living there, an incident that led to her moving to Boston.
After the show, it was about 5:00pm and still a gorgeous spring day. We went to pick up the bread she'd ordered, and Gretchen immediate took out a loaf and started taking bites out of it, which sort of horrified me from a hygiene and risk-of-dropping-the-loaf perspective. While she was doing this, she actually did drop her water bottle unnoticed, but I and a couple passersby noticed it.
At this point in the afternoon, Gretchen would've spent a lot of time walking into various shops, but fortunately Northamptom mostly shuts down at 5:00pm, at least on Sundays. There was a church that seemed to be having an outdoor service out in front. They were mentioning praying for the victims of the invasion of Ukraine as we passed. Later, when we passed again, they seemed to be serving food to people in a queue, many of whom were clearly demonstrating signs of mental illness.
At some point Gretchen gave up on a finding an open store selling things she might want to buy and focused instead on something she'd added to our itinerary to make me happy: a visit to a brewery. There was a brewery with a girlie beer she thought she'd like, but it turned out to be closed. The only brewery that was open this evening was the Northampton Brewery, which was nearby. So we went in there and ended up sitting at the bar, as the back room was too brightly lit, had too many people, and included at least one baby. Fortunately the brewery had an imperial stout (Dr Claw), which I ordered. Gretchen sampled a sour and didn't like it, so she wound up having a bloody mary instead. (She ordered it weak, but the waitress heard the name of a top-shelf vodka instead of "weak," so it wasn't weak at all.) What with its lesbian-rich college and many little Portland-style shops keeping things weird, Northampton is not a particularly mainstream city, but the Northampton Brewery appeared to be the place where all the normies gather. Part of the reason was that it had sports playing on large screens over the bar. Watching a game of women's college basketball reminded me of the news that Brittney Griner (one of the WNBA's best players) picked the worst possible time to bring hashhish-besmirched paraphernalia into Russia, where she is presently detained.
For dinner tonight, we walked to the nearby Bombay Royale Indian restaurant, which had good reviews and lots of vegan options. But we got sat at a table around a corner and were ignored as other people who came in later placed their orders. Also, the papadam they brought to our table was stale, an ominous sign. After that, Gretchen found the mulligatawny mostly inedible, as was the potato filling in her dosa. I ordered the aloo mushroom, which seemed fun (I'd never seen such a dish before). But it desperately needed salt. I made the mistake of ordering a sixteen ounce IPA, which didn't interdigitate well with the food. The service was so terrible that we left a tip of about 15%, which we almost never do. We took most of the food to go, though Gretchen's plan was to give most of hers to Eva, who is going through a lot of trauma right now. Her mother and brother recently moved into a nearby apartment in Woodstock to recover from long covid, and the war in the Ukraine is bringing up a lot of bad family memories. I think her Polish father or grandfather spent time in a death camp either run by the Nazis, the Soviets, or somehow both.
Gretchen drove us back to Hurley. On the way, we initially listened mostly to pop songs played on the radio. But after hearing the cultural-reference-rich "Californication," the masterpiece by the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Gretchen wanted to hear David Bowie's album Station to Station (mentioned in "Californication" in the context of Kurt Cobain in the afterlife). (Interestingly, both Gretchen and I successfully guessed the release date of Station to Station as 1976 based only on how it sounds.) It was hard to go back to autotuned music once that was over, so Gretchen had me find the music of a woman named Jade Bird on Spotify (her song "Uh Huh" was a real shot in the arm). Gretchen is excited about a music festival in September where Jade Bird and other favorites, including Trampled By Turtles, will be performing. She's wondering if we should get VIP tickets.
Back at the house, I took ambien for the first time in a long time. Well after it had kicked in, [REDACTED]. Afterwards, we stayed up talking, and I admitted that perhaps I don't want to have high-income jobs forever and maybe Gretchen should look into making more money if we want to live in the lifestyle to which we've become accustomed (having a second house, hiring a maid service, housing a perpetually-unemployed gentleman in our basement. Gretchen said that we actually have enough income even without my job to live fairly comfortably. But I wasn't so sure. It seemed our life had been subject to considerable lifestyle inflation of late.
Gretchen in the queue in front of Hungry Ghost Bread.
Maya Lin's atlas-based art at the Smith College Art Museum. Notice Russia at the bottom of an excavation in Rhode Island.
Click to enlarge.
Two Chinese figurines (left) and a pre-Columbian Mexican figurine at the Smith College Art Museum.
Some medieval Jesus art at the Smith College Art Museum.
A figurine with a penis at the Smith College Art Museum.
African stools at the Smith College Art Museum.
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