Bye-Bye Buffalito

When an AAA tow truck driver named Geno came here last spring to charge a car battery, I asked him if he thought we could transport the Buffalito on a flatbed tow truck. (Our cabinet builder friend built the Buffalito in 2008, and I wrote about how it came to be here). Geno kicked the tires, looked underneath at the truck chassis, and said yes.

So, on a Saturday evening in early September, Geno came with a regular tow truck and pulled the Buffalito out the driveway to the main road. Early the next morning we walked down to watch him carefully position the Buffalito by the huge flatbed, slowly winch it up, and attach it securely with chains.

It was a sweet sight – early on a quiet Sunday morning – that small yellow caravan up high on the no-nonsense tow truck, heading down the road to a new home.

I had such bittersweet feelings – I loved the process of creating the Buffalito with our cabinet builder and have enjoyed the sight of it every day by a garden along our driveway. But times change, and it’s gone to a really happy home – a sunny spot at our young friend and her parents’ house on Bainbridge. They welcomed it by washing and ironing the curtains and giving it a thorough vacuuming.

Positioned just near the deck off their living room – someone reading or sleeping on the Buffalito’s bed or working at its little table could easily nip into the house. My young friend’s mom said it cheered her to see it from inside, adding “it will be used,” and that Lady Baby, Sweet Baby, and Baby Brother have anytime visiting privileges.

It’s an ongoing miracle to me that my young friend and her family live now on Bainbridge. She’s in Scotland studying languages at St. Andrews University, but will be back for the holidays.

And in the winter darkness, maybe a lamp will glow through the Buffalito’s windows to welcome her home.

Gertrude Bell

Lately I’ve been longing for another Ferrante or Knausgaard experience, that long abandonment of present to the narrative world. A hefty and engrossing biography, Georgina Howell’s “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations,” satisfied.

Born in 1868 into a wealthy family from the north of England and one of the first women educated at Oxford, Bell – mountain climber, explorer, historian, archaeologist, writer, linguist – became one of those redoubtable English women of the 19th Century who broke with convention. The Victorian era began to crumble in her lifetime, spurred in part by women who, in spite of still wearing long, tiny-waisted dresses and big hats, began to agitate for education and freedom from male supervision.

Bell’s greatest renown comes from her journeys in Arabia, adventurous by any measure as she crossed empty deserts, explored ancient historical sites, and got to know chieftains of nomadic tribes. Her travels ring with names now sadly familiar in a modern context.

Because of her deep knowledge of the Middle East, Bell took part in the historic negotiations after World War I and the end of the Ottoman Empire, which imposed borders on ancient peoples and lands (a contribution not without controversy). Part of the fascination of the book is to read now about a time before these nation states.

To people back in England Bell probably seemed just a spinster, but Howell uses Bell’s rich letters to weave into her story the two, ultimately sad, but passionate romances of Bell’s life.

We travel so lightly nowadays with our easy outfits, roller bags, and airplanes – the two-page listing of what Bell took on one of her expeditions boggles the mind. Howell writes of a 1913 expedition: “She would take plenty of luggage this time and be ready for anything. First, there were her two English-made tents, one for bathing and sleeping in, one for eating and writing, both with a loose flap that could be tied back, laced shut, or used as a shady canopy. She ordered more of the skirts that she had designed with her tailor for riding horses in the Middle East: neither side-saddle habit nor breeches, but an ankle-length divided skirt with an apron panel. In the saddle, she would sweep this backward and gather the surplus material behind her and to one side, where it looked in profile like a bustle. When she dismounted, the panel fell around her like an apron and concealed the division. She bought lace and tucked-lawn evening gowns for dinners with consuls and sheikhs, for sitting at a dining-table at an embassy or cross-legged on a carpet in a tent.”

There’s more, lots more on her list, from a caseful of shoes and boots, candlesticks and linen sheets to a crate of revolvers.

What a life she lived – and what a great pleasure to read Howell’s book about it.

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