Homage to Herman Melville

Because it is almost time for a two-day class I am teaching called “Reading Moby Dick by the Sea” and because I live most of the year in Hollywood, I took a trip to New Bedford to soak up authenticity. And, because the trip was inspiring, I want to share the effects with you. First, forgive me for exhibiting two of my own paintings. This first is a “dream home” I would like to live in all the time, but alas, it belongs to someone else. I love the red houses of New England. If you live in one, you are very lucky!

This second painting is very large. I painted it long before the Hedge House at 126 Water Street in Plymouth, Massachusetts was the home of the Antiquarian Society. When I was lucky enough to visit the house, I fell under the enchantment of the upstairs nursery. This painting is of the  doll house  interior exactly as I saw it. Now we can all share it as it was, and even if we cannot recapture the original view except in my picture.  If you do visit Plymouth, be sure to tour the magnificent example of how the “one percent” lived. The Hedge family made their fortune from the shipping industry at the start of the 18th Century, and this sea-captain lived very well as evidenced by the splendid home with a three-story ell in the back of the original two-story house and a perfectly intact carriage house as well. The toys in my painting are the ones the Hedge children played with. Some things never change.

Now for the trip. I stayed at a charming, comfortable, and peaceful Herman Melville Inn Bed and Breakfast on Madison Street. The innkeeper was gentle and gracious, the breakfast a delicious omelette made with fresh broccoli from the garden outside. This was the home of Melville’s sister and I stayed in the room where he most likely slept when visiting. The price was moderate, the room authentic 19th Century elegance replete with a decanter of Harvey’s Cream Sherry on a tray behind the red velvet settee, and a four-poster, white marble fireplace and modern bath with more than enough plush towels. As old as the house is, the owners have made it “green” and the thoughtfulness behind the enterprise is clearly evident. There are only three rooms, so reserve one early if you plan to imitate me. They have a website for your perusal. (This is not a solicited advertisement for the place, but an endorsement of course!)

One night I stayed at the Moby Dick Motel in Dartmouth. The sign outside said from $49.50. My little haven was clean, bright and comfortable. Renee, the owner told me her husband bought it more than thirty years earlier, and when she heard about my Moby studies, gave me a brass whale paperweight! Why is it that the love for Melville’s work elicits such generosity and kindness?

Then it was off to the New Bedford Whaling Museum where five hours sped by like minutes. If you go, park in the town structure and walk two blocks over. It cost me $7.50 to park for the day. Well worth it! Check out their website for an idea of why it takes hours to absorb the information, all of it fascinating.

New Bedford is a perfect place to get the feel of New Englanders. There was a Buzzards Bay Regatta about to start at the Fort Taber Military museum when I visited. Essential New England, local factories employing local residents, a proud history, a working-seriously seaport, fresh seafood, friendly people, a lovely owner of a Burger King gave me so much information about things to see, it was clear the natives are proud of their town.

This is from the exhibit, “Life Aboard a New Bedford Whaling Vessel”  at the Whaling Museum. www.whalingmuseum.org

Ah Herman Melville! How much he gave to us of himself, his wisdom, talent and experience! I will never forget visiting his house in Lenox, Massachusetts, “Arrowhead” which so impressed me I named my little theatre company Arrowhead Readers Theatre. Is there anyone out there who remembers those Monday nights at City Lights theatre and the original plays we put on for local authors?  Let me know if you do.

There are always people interested in Melville and his work, and the admiration for our Great American Novel grows every day. If you have been putting it off, start now! 

The Great American Novel is about obsession, religion, philosophy, diversity in America, abolition, adventure, cetology, courage, the oil business, Quakers, revenge, great characters, Nantucketers, Landlubbers, and more…A full feast!