It was a cloudy afternoon. I was driving west on Interstate 70 and after passing Hagerstown, my wife, the perfect copilot, pulled out her cell phone and directed me to Hancock, and from there onto Interstate 68. Our destination that evening was a B&B in Addison, PA, the Hartzell House. The next day was to be a Frank Lloyd Wright immersion — Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob — that my wife had been dreaming about for a long time. Traffic was light and the landscape breathtaking. As we drove through the hills of Green Ridge State Forest, the sea of trees under the clouds was emerald and lush.
We reviewed the list of local restaurants our B&B host had emailed us. We nixed the 5-diamondLautrec at Nemacolin (formal attire required!), and settled on Cornucopia Café in Grantsville, near the historic stone bridge over the Casselman River.
Addison is a borough of 214 people according to the 2000 census, and Main Street, where Hartzell House stands, was quaint and deserted. We parked in their shady parking lot under an old oak tree and rang the doorbell. Our host, David welcomed us and gave us a tour of the place. There was a 19thcentury part of the house, and a 21stcentury addition. They agreed with each other. Most furniture was antique, beautiful and yet functional. The flat screen TV in one of the sitting areas downstairs was discreetly hidden inside a walnut cabinet. Our room had a Queen size poster bed and a private bathroom. It was the tallest bed I had ever slept in my entire life. We discovered new and enchanting elements at every turn, testament to our host’s attention to detail, obvious interest in art and architecture and eclectic taste.
We asked David about life in such a small community. ‘It’s great,’ he said. ‘People are friendly and hospitable, and everybody knows who you are.’
Once settled in, we went out to dinner. It started to rain again — it had been raining for days on end this May, but it was still light outside and we took a walk to the old stone bridge close to the restaurant. I was wearing my hooded rain jacket (I had bought it at REI several years ago for a trip to Iceland), while my wife was in a summer dress under her red umbrella. I thought we looked slightly suspect walking in a downpour on that deserted bridge, but there was nobody to see us. When we entered the restaurant I left my rain jacket and my wife’s umbrella on the coat hanger by the door. We opted for a table on the covered porch, with a peaceful view of the hills, the river and a family of geese walking merrily in the grass. The rain didn’t seem to bother them at all. The meal was good, and we had two glasses of wine each, and an Affogato that I ordered, and weshared for dessert. We talked about our children and grandchildren. By the time we finished, the rain had stopped and we walked out of the restaurant relaxed and ready to end the day at Hartzell House with Rachel Maddow’s TV show and then climb into our royal bed. In the kitchen David was busy preparing breakfast and offered us a complimentary glass of wine that further eased us into a sleepy mood.
The next day, we visited Fallingwater and Kentuck Knob. The houses, the waterfall, the woods, the guides’ explanations, the modern sculptures, and even the lunch at a local café — everything was outstanding. I was impressed by the perfect balance of Wright’s design, the way he positioned the house in the surrounding woods and on top of the waterfall and brought the sights, sound and chilled air of the waterfall inside the house and how he made the light, the trees, the plants, the size of the rooms, the shape and location of windows, the furniture and the artwork complement each other in an understated and functional way where the total exceeded the sum of the parts. My wife liked the paintings, an unadvertised surprise. As I walked silently with our tour group, I tried to compare his creative work to mine. I wanted to learn.
Both the architect and the novelist start from nothing with an abstract idea, a glimpse at the future, a thought. From there on, for an architect each step is concrete. For a writer, it’s not. The architect looks at an empty field, a vacant lot, the trees or a waterfall, things you can touch, whereas the novelist stares at a page that is blank. The architect fills his space with bricks and mortar, wood and glass, aluminum, steel, canvas, silk and paper — materials. The novelist’s materials are his words. They float and run away from him. The architect has a team working for him. The novelist is always alone. The architect’s design follows requirements and physical laws — gravity, specifications, and labor and safety rules. The novelist has none: what works, works. Any great architect will make sure that his creation is integrated with the environment. It will blend in (think Gehry’s Ginger and Fred “dancing” house in Prague). What universe should the novelist walk into? What is there to integrate? As his words come together to become the story, the novelist relies on the subjective and unreliable power of his imagination — the readers’ preferences and state of mind. The critics, the marketers, the publicists will tell him the novel is now a product. A thing. Package it, the way you would do with anything you would want to sell. I despise this advice, while I see the logic of it.
I think a playwright would have an easier time. Once finished, he would work with directors, actors, stage and costume designers, lighting and props. A poet would not.
That evening, on our drive home, in the comfort of our car, I felt at peace and in harmony with the beautiful woods surrounding Interstate 68. Was that the architect’s spirit riding with us? Later, while unpacking, I realized we had left my rain jacket and my wife’s umbrella at Cornucopia in Grantsville. My wife called the restaurant and they were kind enough to promise to ship the forgotten items to us. They remembered us, and they wanted to help. I poured us two glasses of wine. Here is to the friendliness of little places!
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