Friday, September 26, 2008


It has been so long since I found a spot in the Sanctuary that I forgot whether I had to be there from 8 to 8:30 or from 8:30 to 9 on Thursday morning. Naturally, it was better to be there at 8, and, also naturally, as I sat in the car and gradually noticed that no one was sitting in any of the other cars, I looked up and saw that the sign said 8:30-9. It’s almost too civilized.

So I took a walk to the drugstore, bought some things I needed (razor blades, shaving cream) and resisted some things I didn’t need (O, The Oprah Magazine; “Live your best life”—it depressed me), picked up the Times (which also depressed me, with its disastrous financial news), and stopped at a flea market that has sprung up in a pedestrian area, a sort of piazza, west of the Sanctuary. A woman was arranging items that she said had been used in catalogue shoots but were otherwise brand-new. For five dollars, I got a straw-colored linen top that I would change into at the first opportunity. Then I went and sat in the car. Again.

A week ago, I woke up in Millheim, Pennsylvania, at the Millheim Hotel. Millheim is about halfway through Pennsylvania, on Route 45, which is parallel to I-80. I had left New York on Wednesday afternoon, having decided to stretch the trip to Ohio over two days, and arrived at the Millheim just at dusk. You walk through the restaurant (which was packed) to the bar at the back and ask the bartender for a room. The Millheim, which is more than two hundred years old, is under new management, and the bartender must be new to innkeeping, because when he explained that the bathrooms were communal (I knew this) he added that I was the only guest. A seasoned innkeeper probably wouldn’t let you know that you were the only guest.

For fifty dollars, he gave me a room with windows onto the fine broad balcony over 45. Unfortunately, the windows didn’t open, but I could sit out on the balcony, even though it was under construction. In one corner of my room was a birdcage with a bird perched in it. I wasn’t sure whether it was a toy or a specimen of taxidermy, but it was certainly not a live bird. It was a Monty Python bird. I decided to put it out of sight, and as I lifted the cage off its stand to set it on the floor, the bird flipped and swung upside down from its perch, clinging by its tiny wired claws.

Before settling in, I took a walk. Parallel to Route 45 is a narrow road along a stream with a thriving population of ducks. A woman and a little boy were out there with a loaf of sliced bread feeding the ducks, trying to make sure the ducklings got their share before the big ducks swooped in.

There is always something going on at the Millheim Hotel. I had missed Lobster Night (every Tuesday), and regrettably would not be in town for the Goose Dinner (the following weekend). “It’s Pizza Night,” the bartender told me. “If you order a pizza, you get a free pitcher of beer.” I was just one person—what was I going to do with an entire pizza? One of the regional specialties, advertised over the bar, was a Cheese and Bologna Plate. One of that night's specials was the Pennsylania Dutch Pizza, which comes with steak and brown gravy.

When I'd had enough pizza (mushroom and pepper), the bartender let me take the pitcher upstairs and quaff beer on the balcony, and it was while sitting out there, with a waning but still substantial moon in the east, thinking about ducks and watching traffic come around the bend on 45—horse-and-buggies (there is a large Amish population in Penns Valley), a semi carrying a load of hay—and pondering the meaning of a sign across the street that said Hamper to Hanger (. . . oh, it was a laundromat), that it came to me: Millheim is not named after some eponymous founder, one Herr Millheim; its name is Pennsylvania Dutch for Home of the Mill.

In the morning, I went looking for a cup of coffee, and this is my only complaint about Millheim: no coffee. There was a cafĂ© down the street, but it is for nightlife. The only store that was open was the butcher; it had a sign in the window advertising Homemade Bologna and a smokehouse in the back. I had a chance to look at the town’s new mural, which I’d noticed on the way in and read about in the local paper, the Bellefonte Gazette: “Millheim Celebrates Intersection of Art, History and Culture.” The mural, designed by Elody Gyekis and realized by her and a group of local volunteers, takes the form of a trompe-l’oeil quilt hanging on a trompe-l’oeil clothesline. It’s full of wonderful details: cows, local produce, elaborate church towers, Victorian porches—“icons of Millheim and Penns Valley.” Along the top border, as if rolling down Route 45, are a horse-and-buggy followed by a car followed by a skateboard. A millstream pours down onto the sidewalk.

I hit the road, and while negotiating a detour I found a country store. I asked a codger sitting out front if there was coffee inside, and he said he thought there was a fresh pot. The grocer greeted me with “Howdy-do.” He had only one size cup—50 cents. “I don't have any heavy coffee drinkers,” he said. “Only sippers.” I thought about taking two, but I wasn't sure I liked his emphasis on the word “heavy.”

That detour was short, but it led to a longer detour, and it was a while before I got back on I-80. And it was shortly after that that I got stopped by the state trooper and ticketed for my evil-eye worry beads.

1 comment:

lucette said...

I loved hearing more abt Milheim.
I'm missing Kelleys Island this weekend: sob.