A Yankee Notebook, Columns

It’s a Persuasive Incentive

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by Willem Lange

EAST MONTPELIER – A few months ago my companion Bea (a very charming widow of whom you have heard me speak previously) was chatting with a divorced friend and happened to mention that she was keeping company with an elderly widower.

“Does he live near you?” the friend asked.

“No, he lives up in Vermont, about three and a half hours away.”

Without missing a beat, the friend exclaimed, “That’s perfect!”

In an important way, she’s right. The distance separating us allows us to prosecute our lives – we both still work (though she much harder than I) – and often transforms our weekends into little vacations – if you can possibly conceive of a pleasant run through the weekend-clogged arteries of Interstates 93 and 95 as a vacation. Plus (as she often points out) “research indicates that anticipation of an event enhances the enjoyment of the event itself. It’s science!”

Thus are we perpetually sketching out our near futures. Her ideas are more often than mine tied in with the plans of friends and associates – apple-picking, visits to summer cottages, and holiday celebrations – while mine run more to cruises on coastal windjammers, ferryboat and roadster rides, and stays at fancy hotels. We’ll be at her friends’ home in Massachusetts for Thanksgiving, for example, and my kids’ place in Arkansas for Christmas. That’s if the weather gods smile this year, as last year they didn’t (think Christmas dinner at Ghi’s Asian Cuisine in Swampscott).

There’s another factor working here. At our age (mine, especially), paying for airplane tickets or hotel deposits in advance is a little risky. It takes a bit of faith to commit to engagements in the future when, as we read almost daily on the Internet, tomorrow isn’t promised. On the other hand, I find it a persuasive incentive.

This past weekend was one of my concoctions: two nights at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods. Vast, imposing, and elegant, its full-length back porch gazes up at the peak rearing high above it, with the open track of the famous Cog Railway running straight up the west face into – this past weekend – the clouds.

It’s pretty pricey, which reminds me of Maine humorist Tim Sample’s inability to sleep in a $300 motel room. “I have to jump up and down on the bed, run the hot shower and TV all night, and keep peeking into the refrigerator.” But the colorful brochure advertises all sorts of delights, from hiking the trails down behind the hotel, to golf, fly fishing, ice skating, skiing, swimming (of which more in a moment), and sleigh rides, to cite a few. It’s located between our towns, but she had an hour more’s travel to get there than I. Through the magic of GPS and dashboard phones, we contrived to arrive at just about the same time, stash our cars, and meet the first of the dozens of friendly faces we encountered throughout our stay.

The main dining room is clearly descended from the days when the resort was popular with the wealthy. Jackets for the men, dresses for the women, and no sneakers (though I noticed nobody checked out my feet at the hostess’s desk). First we each had a drink in the Observatory Lounge and then dined in elegance – just as, I assume, did the delegates from 44 allied countries who met here in 1944 to establish international banking rules for the postwar era and the International Monetary Fund. Bea was Marlene Dietrich elegant in black, with dangly earrings and necklace. I was Old Ivy in chinos, blazer, and turtleneck. We must have passed muster.

The indoor pool and spa were closed for servicing, but the brochure promised a heated outdoor pool and hot tub. After lunch and a nap, we donned white hotel robes and hiked a myriad of halls and staircases to emerge into 28-degree weather. Heated pool, here we come! We doffed our robes and joined a few other hardy souls in the water.

I’ll give it this: It was warmer than the air. But it didn’t take too long to decide that, long hike or not, it was better to be back in our room, reading peacefully as the light faded slowly from the afternoon sky. After that, a rum and tonic with lime for her, a Scotch with two ice cubes for me, and a prompt appearance in the Grand Salon for dinner, where everybody has a cheerful hello, Bea gets to practice her Spanish, and I get to finish the evening with creme brulée topped with wild blueberry sauce.

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