Vermont is stoicism with its interior warmth intact. Just last week, the New York Times Dining section ran an article praising the haute cuisine of the state’s renovated barns, its reborn ski-lodges lit, in the paper’s image, with what seemed to be scented candles. The smell of a roasting hen must be mixing up there with the aromas of pine needles and sage, the diners wiping their hands on cloth napkins, their feet warm in their insulated boots, their palates crystal clear and kept acute by the pristine chill of the winter air. In New Hampshire, that chill makes people hard, laboring all day, hammering out license plates in some prison—or so said same childhood aphorism that circulated among us flat-landers in Massachusetts and that made us believe, all the more, in that northern state’s capacity for a deep, isolated, and painful rebirth.
Maine is too large and far away to be relevant and Rhode Island too close and too small, the former conceivable only as a summer vacationland of myriad lakes and stubborn blueberry bushes growing like weeds in June, the latter only as a small, famous, and unremarkable restaurant frequented by mob members smoking cigars. Each, I suppose, is a form of stoicism, although the former a fruit-bearing variety, and the latter spray-painted with a flimsy veneer of hedonism and quick money.
But Massachusetts must be addressed, being as it is the childhood birthplace, haunted by the likes of car-selling and ditch-digging grandfathers, liberal, god-fearing fathers, educated, nightgown-clad mothers, and bare rhododendron in winter. Its stoicism is populated, poorly constructed, and mute. Nonetheless, it’s a state redeemed by its economy, its east-coast version of Silicon Valley, and by the fact that its laws not only get passed but also nationally publicized.
The issue at stake is a New Year’s resolution, made by me just this morning as I turned off I-95, onto I-91, and from there quietly onto Trumbull Street, which runs across New Haven’s grid like a tightening belt. My goal, I’d decided, for the winter, if not the year, was to cultivate some affection for New Haven. Rather, to try and not dislike New Haven, to not feel weighted down each time I drove in, to think that at the end of I-95 was not something long-since dead, but a livable town. Something more than a purified New England, a stoicism drained of all blue-chip companies, mobsters, blueberry bushes, and promises of interior warmth, an interiority kaleidoscopic and alternating between a limestone intelligence and a boarded-up unemployment. I was trying to feel some tenderness towards fortitude.
It was only seven in the morning and still dark outside but I knew I had to get right to work, that my job security depended on my ability to remain faithful to this resolve. I visualized, therefore, some man, at that very moment, in a lazy fit of vocal, Mid-Atlantic, fruitless passion, nuzzling the lingerie-clad woman with whom he had just cheated on his understanding, child-bearing, adulterine wife.