Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Duke of Bridgewater

I recently finished reading Mark Twain's classic tale The Adventure's of Huckleberry Finn. It was the first time in my 48 years that I had read it. I, therefore, had no idea that Huckleberry and Jim met up with two con men, one a snake-oil salesman, and the other a faith-healer who claimed to be the Duke of Bridgewater; and Dauphin (Louis the XVII, son of Louis XVI and Marie Antoinenette) respectively who had both fallen on some hard times. Jim and Huck fall for the two and "set to majestying" Dauphin to make him feel better, which "kind of soured" the Duke. Huck figures out in short order, however, that the two are not who they said, explaining that "If I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt tht the best way to get along with his kind of people  is to let them have their own way."

The Duke of "Bilgewater" shakes hands "Looy the Seventeen"

Read the entire book online here.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Bridgewater, Connecticut August 23, 2012

(Jointly written by Pam & James)
On our way to pick up our daughter from the airport on Toronto, we stopped to visit a good friend in Highland, New York. On the way to that visit, we stopped to visit Bridgewater, Connecticut, a bucolic spot remarkable for its remoteness, so close to I-84 in the northwest corner of the Nutmeg State.
We saw several signs that indicated we were in Bridgewater, but this one was the most geographic.

The Village Store sold Bridgewater merch, and also had a deli counter where we ordered soup and sandwiches for lunch. The food was delicious and was served by the super-friendly folks at the store. Also on sale were Bridgewater Chocolate bars. In the interest of "the project" we had to try one, and really could not resist the one made with "coffee crisp" - a sweet, creamy and crunchy treat it was!

We try a lot of coffee/chocolate combination bars, and can assure readers that this is among the tastiest.

Interior shot of the Village Store with Pam's cute purse in the foreground

"Bridgewater 06752"
We used the post office to send back our Netflix.
We noticed something unusual about this plaque -- honoring a large number of people from this small town who served in World War I. Two townspeople were killed in action, with a couple more serving and returning. What is interesting is that the plaque lists three who served in the Red Cross. We will certainly be checking future monuments to see whether honoring these healers alongside the warriors is common practice.

This is a very small town, so its closure on the day of our visit was a routine part of the schedule. It had been closed more dramatically (by the FBI) one day in July, but we heard no rumblings about that fracas.

Librarian Pam doesn't mind taking a "busman's holiday" now and then and stopping in to see a library. The Burnham Library has such an intriguing story about funding, involving the lost will of an eccentric hermit that we made sure to stop in. As a bonus for us, it turned out the library was hosting an Art Exhibit by local artist Karen Cashman which includes oil paintings of Bridgewater scenes.
We spent a few more minutes exploring the village center, featuring a lot of lovely architecture.
Most of our friends know that we met in Baltimore, which has brought many benefits to our life together. Among these is expertise in the area of exterior decor. Specifically, because Charm City is the setting of Pink Flamigos, we bring special skills to the discussion of whether decorative materials constitute "garden art" or "lawn crap." Pam was a Baltimore lifer (until our marriage) and James spent two brief but intense years working on lawns from Dundalk to Owings Mills. With all this experience, we found this tableau to be very close to the line. Pam eventually broke the deadlock, citing the red-white-and-blue lights on the central pole.

View Larger Map
The village center includes lovely plantings around the local businesses and public buildings and an elongated town green that is remarkably similar to the Bridgewater Common in our own Bridgewater. Unlike its Massachusetts counterpart, however, this one does not seem to conform to the biblical dimensions of Noah's  Ark.
Alas, we will not in town for the upcoming Tractor Parade. 
The protection of open space is important to both Bridgewaters, and is signified by this preserve just to the south of the town center. The value of several private properties is greatly enhanced by commanding views of this expansive public space, which also protects water quality and wildlife habitat.

From Bridgewater, it was a short jaunt down I-84 for a lovely evening on the Hudson River.


Just a few months after our visit to this Bridgewater, hell came to Newtown, an equally idyllic community just ten miles to its south. We were reminded of this on the recent anniversary of the December 14, 2012 massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary, as we watched the film Newtown. It was filmed over a period of several years to document how the crime affected the families, and how little Congress has done in response. The politics are important, but the lived experience of these parents, siblings, children, and first responders is even more so.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Bridgewater of Red Earth

Given her riparian name, it is perhaps surprising that Dee Dee Bridgewater identifies most strongly with soils. The title of her 2007 documentary is given as either Red Earth or Motherland, the former being much more fully descriptive of the journey she describes.

On one level, Red Earth (for which there is no listing on her IMDb page) is a film about the making of her 2010 album of the same name. On deeper level, though, it is indeed the story of her West Africa homecoming -- a journey that brings her as close as she can get to her motherland. The cruel vagaries of the Middle Passage and the arbitrary dissection of the African continent mean that Mali is not exactly her home "country," but rather a country in the land of her foremothers and forefathers.

Mali is a former French colony in West Africa that is landlocked and is currently on the verge of dividing into two landlocked countries, as occurred last year in Sudan. Bridgewater spent most of her time in Bamako, in the area still held by the government. In early 2012 the entire northeast -- including Tombouctou -- has become an increasingly unstable insurgent state.

Click map to enlarge
Read more at Political Geography Now
The term "red earth" refers to the heavily oxidized, clay-rich soils that Bridgewater (who acquired the surname from her first husband) found in both Mali and her home in Memphis. More deeply even than the musical similarities she found, this coincidence convinced her that she had found her root community, and is celebrated throughout the movie. Red soils -- perhaps ultisols in both cases -- are those that have been depleted by eons of leaching; they convey vast depths of time and profound struggle, as does her preferred music, the blues. Bridgewater's musical journey is a metaphor for her personal journey and of the melding of her own experience with that of the place where she has found home. She works alongside her long-time jazz colleagues and new-found Malian musicians to create a new kind of blues, played on traditional instruments of Mali and telling the stories of both lands.

One of the most important stories is that of force marriage in Mali. It is still common -- giving Mali the third-highest rate of juvenile marriage in the world -- but is now illegal and starting to wane, based on the efforts of some of the musicians who came to Bridgewater's project. Because of their preliminary successes, she was convinced of the need to sing their story, though she had been reluctant at first. It is good that she is joining the effort, since the problem of forced marriage continues to plague the region.

It was interesting to find so much to appreciate in a Bridgewater story that initially has only the coincidence of a name to recommend it. As it turns out, the story resonates with much of what we find in our own community, through our growing connections in Africa and especially through the education and outreach of Khakatay, our West African drumming ensemble.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Bridgewater Film Fest-Little Erin Merryweather

James mentioned in his recent post about A Small Circle of Friends that imdb.com lists several feature length movies that have Bridgewater (Massachusetts) as their location. One of these is Little Erin Merryweather, which was filmed almost entirely on location in Bridgewater. Most of the scenes take place at the fictitious Willow Ridge State College and were actually filmed at Bridgewater State University. There are also scenes at the local hangout  My Sister and I restaurant, as well as scenes filmed in Raynham and Middleboro.

The film is surprisingly well made compared to other independent films we have seen in this genre. Pam discusses the film itself on her "Library" Books blog. In addition to a lot of landmarks very close to home, the film actually makes humorous reference to one of our retired colleagues, who is apparently a family friend of the filmmakers. The film appears to have been made during spring break, judging from the relatively uncrowded campus, the greenness of the grass, and the occasional presence of the snow. Careful observers will notice that the snow is heavier in wooded areas than on campus, where it seems to ebb and flow!

We are now Bridgewater completists in terms of feature-length films, but the growing participation of our students in film festivals has resulted in a growing number of shorts that we should seek out, including Little Red Riding Hood, available on YouTube. We watched it in the midst of writing this post, because of the obvious parallels to Little Erin Merryweather, but it is not nearly as well executed, nor does the short make any kind reference to the location in which it was filmed. We could not find any Bridgewater landmarks in the latter film, nor could we understand why it was made, other than to give actors a chance to scream a lot and the director a chance to use the same prop to represent the severed limb of two different characters.

Not much better as a film but definitely making better connections to its Bridgewater setting is Scrabble: The Motion Picture, also available on YouTube. As with Little Red Riding Hood, it substitutes loud swearing for actual writing and acting, and it relies too heavily on Cold War tropes. It does, however, feature a lot of Bridgewater landmarks, a number of maps, and one of my favorite games.
We have a number of other festival films to view and/or endure while waiting for the DVD release of yet another feature-length Bridgewater movie. In this case, the name of our town actually appears in the title, but as a surname rather than as a location. And as with all other Bridgewater films, this seems to accentuate the dark side: The Bridgewater Murders is a thriller that was filmed this year in New Orleans.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Riot in Bridgewater (but not really)

Recently -- thank goodness -- film festivals have added some diversity to the cinematic output of our adoptive hometown. The Bridgewater, Massachusetts location link on IMDb currently lists 11 films, most of them recent and under 20 minutes. Of the four feature-length films, all involve mayhem of some kind. One of these, of course, is the notorious 1967 documentary Titicut Follies, which had to be filmed here because it was of actual atrocities taking place on the southern margins of our fair town.

But in the other three full-length entries, it seems directors have chosen Bridgewater only when faced with the need for a venue in which to do some serious damage. When we first learned that the 1980 film A Small Circle of Friends -- which focuses on a love triangle set at Harvard during the late Vietnam era -- was filmed in Bridgewater, we assumed it was because the real Harvard was too busy for filming there. So when we watched it a few years ago, we scrutinized every scene for familiar landmarks on our own campus.

We searched in vain for the first hour, when finally we saw Boyden Hall -- our icon and main administration building -- in a chaotic, late-night scene involving police assault on a student. Clearly this was something the production team could not get Harvard to allow.

That evident refusal by Harvard ca. 1980 illustrates a major theme of the film, which is the intrusion of war on the gentility of Harvard ca. 1969, when the character Haddox -- a radicalized student from small-town Texas whose name sounds like a cross among a fish, a bovine, and some kind of weapon -- advises that it is "time to say good-bye to middle class."

It is interesting, in fact, that so much of the film was shot at Harvard, given the critical positions it occasionally takes. The film insinuates, for example, that admissions policies were slanted against Jewish students in an effort to weaken radical movements. Perhaps unintentionally, the film highlights my pet Harvard peeve -- its elimination of geography in the 1950s. A major character admits not knowing where the DMZ was -- and in fact not knowing that it was irrelevant in Vietnam -- and then later suggests that Egypt is in Europe.

The film as historical fiction worth watching, as it captures an era just a few years before our own coming of age. It portrays a political left that has not yet consolidated around war, race, and sexism, so that one of the characters who is most radically opposed to the war is tone-deaf on race and an absolutely misogynist boyfriend to the supposed love of his life. His ignorance in the bedroom(s), in fact, caused me to ask, "When was Our Bodies, Ourselves published, anyway?" It turns out it was not published until 1971, and probably did not reach male audiences for some time after that. The film clearly shows feminism as a nascent and very separate part of campus radicalism in the years leading up to that publication.

As a librarian, Pam is always interested to see how libraries are portrayed in popular culture. This film had three library scenes, but no librarians, even while one of the library scenes involved some actual "shushing". Other scenes included theft of library property (with the thief insisting that the "ends justify the means"); and a  
small library inside the bunker where the a group of radical student terrorists live. Haddox says he never read
as much as a student as he does as a terrorist. Some say reading is a dangerous thing.

Bunker Library
Non-spoiler alert: We will not describe the two major plot twists in the final 15 minutes or so, but they are worth waiting for. Oddly enough, we both thought that the sound track in the final act sounds very much like an orchestral version of Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" -- Turn around, bright eyes! 

We will give this much away -- the very last frame is foreshadowed in a discussion earlier in the film.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Bridgewater Town Line Marker

center tree markerAccording to The Buzz Around Bridgewater this marker at East/West Bridgewater town line on Rt. 106 is at the geographical center of Olde Bridgewater (where Center Tree used to stand) before Bridgewater was divided into four towns now Bridgewater, East Bridgewater, West Bridgewater, and Brockton.