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A Journey to New Haven III: New Haven

July 16, 2009

As I last posted, I had just gotten off the Vermonter at the train station in New Haven.

New Haven is an…interesting town. As I noted in my twitter earlier, I failed to fall in love with it (the way I fell in love with Fayetteville), perhaps because of expectations, or I don’t know.

It’s an impressive town, for sure. Not in the sense of having enormous skyscrapers, or in the sense of being large, but in the sense that – with the architecture of Yale – you sort of just feel the weight of Yale’s presence wherever you are in the town. It’s hard, not to say impossible, to ignore. And sometime, at least to the newly arrived visitor that I was, it gets a little too much. It’s also very beautiful, but again, perhaps a little too beautiful. It feels like large parts of the city belongs in museums, instead of being places to be lived in.

I make my way slowly (I sprained – or worse – my ankle a few weeks back, and even a fast stroll is still a little hard. And I’m certainly in no condition to run) to my hotel, the New Haven Hotel on Georges street (one of the original streets of the original nine blocs of New Haven. I’m right in the old part of town, a bloc away from the Green, and two from the old campus of Yale). The hotel is in a fairly old-style building, and ornately decorated: it has a grand piano in the lobby, with gilded, antique-style armchairs, and hanging electric chandeliers. There are painting and tapestries – actual tapestries! – hanging from the wall.

Ornate, much?

Ornate, much?

My hotel room is only marginally less ornate (but lack such amenities as a fridge, a microwave, or any sort of place at all where I could arrange anything to eat. I believe I’m supposed to eat at a restaurant). The view is pretty nice, though: I can even see the sea right from my window.

Well, I don’t intend to spend much time in the room anyway, it’s basically there for me to sleep in. I freshen up a bit – eight-hours train journeys are rough on the appearance, then steel myself to call Aba (Steel myself because I never liked phones, and it will be my first meaningful conversation in English of any length since…well, mostly since Fayetteville). After some hesitations (strangely, I remembered her voice from the one time she had called me as being a little deeper), we decide she’s going to meet me at my hotel once she’s done with her own freshening up (as she’s been packing).

Follows an intense bit of somewhat nervous waiting (she estimated she would be leaving her place at 6:25 for a 15 minutes walk to my hotel; she arrived at 7:05 or so), in which I look from afar at each and every figure walking up or down the street, before regretfully dismissing them (“Too male”, “Too white”, “Too blond”, “Too tall”, “Too biker gang-styled”, “Too not the right face”…), until I finally spotted and immediately recognized her (I think it was the smile, mostly: she has one of those bright, broad smiles you’d recognize anywhere. That, and of course she recognized me, too, which sorts of helped.)

We figure first-meeting discussion in front of a good dinner would be nice. After some hesitation, we end up setting on a bookstore cafe right in front of the old campus at Yale, the Atticus. The food there is great (hearty recommendation if you’re ever in New Haven ; I ate there three more times during my stay, and would have made it four  if my train had left half an hour later), and my portobello panini is delicious. We talk about everything and nothing while we’re eating, from Istanbul (where she got the shirt she’s wearing), to old memories, to the fact that we can expect to have moments where we don’t know what to say, because the two of us tend to be generally the more naturally introverted members of our little coterie (as opposed to Ashley, who is not only more extroverted herself, but pretty good at dragging out our own extroverted sides).

Afterward, we decide a walk would be a good way to digest all the food. She winds up dragging me around campus, sharing anecdotes of her years there (including some amusing information on Indiana Jones IV and magical teleportation, in front of the Sterling Memorial Library (it looks more like an over-sized medieval castle or prison), telling me about where her boyfriend studied, where she herself studied. We talk about friends we have met, mutual friends who have met one another, and such. There are many things to see in New Haven, and we barely see a tenth of them; she offers to show me the infamous tomb of the Skulls and Bones, but somehow, that just doesn’t catch my imagination. (Plus, it’s a secret society that had Bush for a member. Their standards can’t be that good ;-)).

Not to be confused with a medieval fortress.

Despite appearances, this is a library.

It’s getting pretty late, and it’s summer, so unfortunately large parts of the campus are closed, particularly those she and Ahmet studied at. We still get to see quite a few of them, and the enormous towers overlooking the whole thing (Harkness tower for one, and the tower of the Hall of Graduate Studies for another). Now, the University of Montreal has a big tower (largely known for the somewhat crude comparisons it has inspired…) too, but that’s the thing : we have one of them. (And it’s a clean, Art Deco look). Yale has four, or five, or ten, and they’re all very ornate, from a hodge-podge assemblage of architectural styles. Half of them looks they were taken straight off Notre-Dame-de-Paris and moved to the other side of the Atlantic.

Quasimodo?

One of many towers. Quasimodo?

Finally, after an hour or more walking that takes us all the way to the Peabody museum (where my childhood love of dinosaurs reassert itself at the sight of a pretty-close-to-life-sized triceratops statue) and then back, we end up back at my bloc. Specificaly, and mysteriously, in front of the movie theater that is part of the bloc, and which Aba has hinted she would like to go see a movie at. Fortunately for her, I am in a fairly good move, and don’t need much convincing (which proves to be a good thing: I had almost forgotten how enjoyable going to the movies with friends is). After looking at the available movies (it may have been easier if HP6 had come out a week earlier), we settle on the most promising movie we can find: Bruno. It winds up being a hilarious movie, and despite its absolute lack of regard for taste, and its relying on crude humor, doesn’t feel half as demeaning to watch as the average Holywood comedy. After Bruno, we finally realize one of the movies we had casually dismissed as uninteresting (Public Enemies) stares Johnny Depp, and decides that looks pretty promising too, and what do you know, we have another evening together coming up.

Unfortunately, Aba has packing to do, and finds that she’d rather not have help (despite my offering, several times), because of stress and not wanting other people to play with her things and all that jazz. So, while she packs, I wind up wandering town again (and probably worsening the condition of my ankle). There is one thign I would love to do, but knows I won’t: walk to East Rock. It’s an escarpment that overlooks the entire town, but unfortunately, one thing I found out last night (on science hill) is that I don’t trust my ankle on uneven ground, so climbing that – at least without Aba and her cellphone with me – is out of the question. Still, I walks through the tree-covered streets of New Haven all the way to the park, and enjoy the scenery at the foot of the cliffs for a time: there’s a very quiet river running through a forested park there, and it lends itself well to good pictures.

Curse you, sprained ankle!

Curse you, sprained ankle!

I meet up with Aba finally in time to head to the movies (though we take the time to stop at the New Haven Green and try to grab a picture of us two by ourselves. My favorite of the lot – not the best, but the one that feel most alive and real – can be found on the Fantasy Trio page).  We grab a quick snack and no more: I’m planning to take her out to dinner after the movie, which proves fairly good, but unfortunately a little longer than anticipated (arguably too long, it’s main flaw; the acting and story were pretty good). By the time we get out, the restaurant we’d have liked to go to is closed, so we end up at, well, nowehre near our first choice. The food is still good, and we have more time to talk (about where she’s going, where I’m going, and about the passion that brought the trio together (fantasy writing).

Then, unfortunately it’s pretty much time to say goodbye already. We’re both starting to be a little tired, and she’s working tomorrow, so with one last hug (or three) we part in front of my hotel. I then prove as unable as usual to handle partings with friends (it was the same with Ashley last year!), but thankfully, the hotel computer is available, and I’m able to catch Aba right before she goes to sleep: she’s able to tell me about a 24H shop where I may find somethign to read. I do (a copy of the latest Military History) and that proves enough to keep my mind off more melancholic thoughts. (Talking with Aba online reassures me that I’ll still get to do that, too, of course).

The next morning is, again, largely a photo operation. I take the time to visit the library. I couldn’t possibly imagine focusing on books here: it looks like Notre-Dame-de-New-Haven more than a library. This is, accordign to Wikipedia, quite deliberate. To my lasting amusement, the library is hosting an exposition set up by the students about Franco-Belgian comic books. Lasting amusement, of course, because that means Astérix, Tintin, the Smurfs, Spirou and Gaston: I grew up on those comic books.I’ve read three-quarters of the books they have here under lock and key in glass cases, and half of them are on a bookshelf or another back home. I try to visit the rare books library, but unfortunately, it is being renovated: I can only see the first floors, and a handful of book spines under lock and key. What appears at first to be very rare books being displayed (still under lock and key) for people to view turns out to be fac-similie.

Still a library.

Still a library.

On the other hand, the local used bookstore is open, and, as I did back in Fayetteville, I stop there for books. My haul isn’t very large (because I couldn’t carry much back home), but I still manage to pick up another book about Pearl Harbor, a cheap novel in case I want to read on the way home (Crichton’s Eaters of the Dead), and most interestingly what appears at a glance to be a first edition hardcover (though without the dust jacket) of Mattingly’s Pullitzer-winning The Armada, which is plenty enough of a prize for me. Even if it’s not first edition, that’s a book I’ve been meaning to find for years anyhow.

Finally, I end up wandering back on the green, where I spot the Amistad monument, and follow the trail from there to the port and the bay, because I really want to smell some salt water before leaving again. It’s been a long time since I’ve last been near the sea. I make my way there (And cannot help but think of a specific friend as I pass a six-floors-high Ikea training center along the way), but unfortunately, most of that trail is through the port and industrial areas: not places for tourists. Once at the seaside, I laze around a bit (which robs me of the chance to have one last lunch at Atticus), and see the second interesting bit of wildlife on the entire journey: great swans landing in the bay. Good God, those birds are huge.

Never mind Tchaikovsky, these have nothing in common with delicate and graceful ballerinas.

Never mind Tchaikovsky, these have nothing to do with delicate ballerinas.

And with that, my time in New Haven is up. I rush back to the train station, arriving with what I think is half an hour to spare (but later find out is more like five minutes to spare: the “All aboard” signs lit up well before the train departs!). There is, unfortunately, no time for a detour to the Atticus, so I resolve to instead grab a sub of some sort at the Subway inside the train station. By the time I have it, the All Aboard signs are lit: I rush to my platform, and find a free seat on the Vermonter to eat my lunch as prepare to depart.

There is little to be said about the return journey that has not be said already, but I can probably still manage a few things, which will be in my final post of the Journey to New Haven series.

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