Thursday, June 28, 2012

A summer evening in Amherst

I'm at the Juniper Institute, a weeklong writers conference in Amherst. (Should one use an apostrophe in 'writers' conference'? I've never exactly figured that out; is that a possessive or a noun being used as an adjective?) This is my favorite summer conference: serious enough, good-spirited, esthetically diverse, characterized by openness and curiosity. Big storms come billowing up almost every afternoon. I've been coming for years, and each year I have a bedroom up on the second floor of Dara Wier's genuinely beautiful farmhouse a few miles north of Amherst. Every summer Dara's house makes me think about the nature of "genuine beauty," because her space is both so personal and so welcoming, and demonstrates her commitment to an individual and idiosyncratic sense of what is lovely, engaging, and pleasurable. "Idiosyncratic" is a compliment and a premise: is there any other kind of real beauty? Last night Dara hosted a dinner, for perhaps forty guests. In the afternoon there was a crate of eggplant in the kitchen,
and great bowls of cucumbers sliced quite thin, and enough little tomatoes (in at least five colors) to feed a military band. I took a nap upstairs, and when I woke there was a rising and falling current of voices below. Soon people were spilling outside onto the terrace, gathered in all the rooms downstairs, and going outside to visit the special guests who appear in the photos here. That's Heather Christle stepping away from two quadrupeds, after feeding them peanuts.

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