Sometimes it’s hard to tell if a good day is just an aberration, or an indication that the world isn’t quite so hanging-by-a-thread, baseline, to-the-core rotten as I usually assume.
Such was the case with my recent good day.
Like so many good days, this one began with really good vinegar. Really, really good vinegar. Specifically, the promise of more of this really, really good vinegar. I first tasted Rolling Hills Farm garlic vinegar at the justifiably famous Hudson Valley Garlic Festival a few years ago, and I’ve been a convert ever since. Every time I give a friend a bottle (as I often do – what makes a better gift than really good vinegar?) I hope that they will open it, sniff it and excitedly swig a little out of the bottle. Usually they just look at me like giving vinegar on someone’s birthday is a bad metaphor or something, but hope springs eternal because my friend Selma did just that when I gave her a bottle. She loved it, and often drinks a thimbleful when feeling a little under the weather, as do I.
Nothing perks up salad dressing, creamy sauces, anything with garlic that should have more garlic, than a splash of garlic vinegar. So when I realized that I was running low and the Garlic Festival was far, far away, I emailed the farm to see if they could ship me a case or two.
Farmer Frank promptly wrote back and said that no, he couldn’t ship me a case, but he had a few left and I was welcome to come pick them up. Being used to and tolerant of the weird ways of farmers, I didn’t even ask why he couldn’t ship them. The farm is in Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, about 2 hours from me, so my sweetheart and I decided to make a day of it and visit a friend in Philly on the way home. I emailed Frank to say that we would be coming, and he wrote back with a subject line of “We’re going to make you famous!,” telling me to bring my chef’s whites and knives and we would film a cooking demonstration to put on YouTube.
Wary of anything involving ironing my straitjacket-like chef’s jacket, I was happy to hear, a few emails later, that he had “failed to secure a videographer” and so the demonstration would have to be scrapped.
I was of course dying to meet this YouTubin’ vinegar-makin’ farmer, and Frank did not dissapoint. Frank has been farming for the past 20 or so years, but the farm has been in his family since the 50s, complete with the 1800s farmhouse that looks like 1955 inside.
By the time we left we had:
- Made fast friends with Frank’s achingly cute dogs,
- Repeatedly been offered “coffee or wine,”
- Learned all about the movies that inspired the name Chez Panisse as well as several other great old movies that Frank suggested to us with a quick “Do you do Netflix”? When the answer was yes, he rolled over to his sleek iBook, pulled up his Netflix queue, and hyped up movies he thought we would like with the excitement of the true aesthete.
- Been asked about our lives in a truly interested, not merely conversational way,
- Received a tour of the vinegar shed that smelled so powerfully of yummy garlic vinegar that I took so many deep breaths I felt dizzy.
Oh how I adore farmers.
On the way to Philly we remembered that a friend of ours owns a vegan bakery in Bethlehem, so we made a stop there. Vegan bakeries in the heart of weird churchy PA towns! It’s enough to melt the heart of this jaded old vegan, that’s for sure. (That and a few doughnuts stashed in the back seat for the long drive home.)
And Philly, and Mary. Mary!
I can’t even say her name without an exclamation point, and even though talking about friends instead of revolution breaks my cardinal blog rule, I’ll make an exception. Because the personal is political, or something like that. Mary is the revolution, actually.
You know when you meet someone and you think that they are so much cooler than you that there is very little chance that you will become long-term friends (this has only recently stopped happening to me)? Then one day, eight years later in my case, you remember that moment and wonder if the fact that you are long-term friends means that you are cooler than you thought? This sums up my friendship with Mary. Just by knowing her, my coolness factor has multiplied by a factor of ten.
Mary – besides and maybe partly because of being insanely, effortlessly fashionable, tall and blonde – has that kind of genuine enthusiasm and zestiness that makes life exciting when she’s around. She’s only lived in Philly for three years, but she’s pulled a group of people around her who are endlessly fascinating, have adorable haircuts, and are not stuck up.
Is all of Philly filled with people like this? Every time I’ve visited I have been cupped in the hands of Mary, swept along from good music venues to great restaurants and fun bars filled with these interesting, spectacularly coiffed, down-to-earth people.
The truth is that I not-so-secretly want Mary to move to New Paltz – not only because it would be great to live so close, but because she would swoop into town and scare up all the arty-but-not-insane, sweet-but-not-cloying people I know exist in this town but always have trouble finding.
I’m not good at making friends.
I’m good at talking way too much at parties about things that endear me to very few people, misunderstanding social cues, and instantly forgetting everyone’s name. Mary, with her southern hospitality and wide smile, knows how to make friends so well that little sideline friendships spring up in her footsteps wherever she goes. In Philly the other day, I had more than two deep, truly interesting conversations with friends of hers that would never have happened without her effortless introductions. Mary’s friends do things like give personalized walking tours of Philly, oversee elections in Pakistan, play in amazing bands, run amazing small businesses, make amazing indie movies, and win story telling contests (watch that video, it’s so great!).
After five weeks happily holed up on a tiny island halfway to Japan, how wonderful to go to a big glittering city and sip (local, delicious) wine and wrap ourselves in the humming energy of a creative group of people throwing their hearts into life.
Handmade vinegar, family farms, kittens, independent vegan bakeries, and thoughtful, thinking friends old and new. Sure, things like this are still happening every day, but with a few more Philly days, I might just have some genuine hope for the future.