Friday, April 2, 2010

Geneseo-A Town on a Hill

          Carmer wrote "My earliest memory is of a cobblestone inn beside the waters of Conesus, a minor digit of the Finger Lakes about twent-five miles south of the city of Rochester. I was wakened in a second-floor bedroom and carried to a balcony outside a window. Below me, horses switched nervously under blue jacketed riders, and long eared dogs, brown spotted on white, padded about eagerly snuffling the ground. Such images lie far back in an adult's life; clouds surround them, then open only for s split second of sun."
          Carmer continues "I would be a man before I knew that these riders of the Genesee Valley Hunt has eighteenth-century prototypes, that the Wadsworth family, who organized the Hunt in post-Revolutionary times, had chose the blue-and-buff of Continental uniforms for their jackets rather than the conventional "hunting-pink," which former riflemen of of Washington's army might mistake for the garb of a British lobster-back."
          That contrast between fond childhood memory and adult understanding of social structure underlies Carmer's view of Geneseo. Carmer once remarked to a New York Times Book Review interviewer that after World War I, "I went back to teaching in Rochester, married a Rochester girl, and found myself in striped pants and a black coat, the superintendant of a Sunday school. To get anywhere academically, it seemed, I must be a community pillar, and I tried to be. There was nothing natural about it." That is why he took the job in Alabama which led to his best selling Stars Fell on Alabama. Returning to his mother's family near Geneseo, he was invited to ride in the hunt. He "considered the local fences, and rejected the invitation on the ground that I was leaving for New York." I wonder if it was the physical fences, or the social ones created by the Wadsworths and Chanlers, like something out of Gilbert and Sullivan, divorced from reality?
          My visit was anti-climactic: a mediocre beef-on-wick at the local deli, decorated with all manner of hunting boots and crops. What was the Normal School is now SUNY Geneseo, and students are more prevalent than foxes or hounds. And yet, the Genesee Valley still has its wide sweep of open fields bordered with streams and copses. But it was bitterly cold, and I didn't linger.

1 comment:

  1. Carmer is incomparable, isn't he. Lovely to find you, writing about him and his writings. Is there any human that Carmer doesn't see the "soul" of. Oviously, this is because the very best people were born in (true) upstate New York.