Dream City Home

Welcome to day 31 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society.  Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They are all listed here.

To be an outlaw you must first have a base in law to reject and get out of, I never had such a base. I never had a place I could call home that meant any more than a key to a house, apartment or hotel room. … Am I alien? Alien from what exactly? Perhaps my home is my dream city, more real than my waking life precisely because it has no relation to waking life…  — William S. Burroughs

Dream city as home. This idea works for me. My dreamspace, which feels like a place where I live even more vividly, more sensually, than usual, is often architectural in form and setting, with past houses (which obviously do have a relationship to waking life) — especially this one …

Maine house, Feb. 2001
partial kitchen, Maine house, 1994
Thanksgiving in Maine house, 1995
fireplace and living space, Maine house, 1994
stairs and warming oven, Maine house, 1994
Christmas 1996 (with Cactus) in Maine house

… and apartments, hotels, restaurants, frequently other people’s houses, auditoriums, hospitals, bridges, schools, bathrooms, meeting rooms, buildings and built spaces that I don’t think I have ever been in except in dreams (and there they are typically recurring settings) — all common in my dreams. Of course, dreams have to be set somewhere, like plays, but what interests me is the transformation of knowledge and memory of the building, and the exploration of it in the dream, and how often dreams are set in places I don’t recognise except perhaps from previous dreams. (This dream, e.g., about my dad a year or so after he died, takes place in several buildings I’ve never been in in waking life.)

My “dream city” feels like a multiplicity of places — some real, some not real as far as I know (or at least not remembered by me in real life) — that are significant for various reasons: because of my emotional and aesthetic memories of a real place; because of the feeling evoked by its architecture or layout; because of some association with it through other people’s stories (what my imagination conjures — from novels, from what friends have described, from song lyrics or lines of poetry, from what I’ve heard on the radio — or what my eyes have actually glimpsed, momentarily, in paintings, on TV or in movies, riding past, etc.); or who knows what reason.

Yemassee SC Dec. 2013
Rocky Mount MC Dec. 2013
somewhere in Rhode Island, Feb. 2008
somewhere in Connecticut, Feb. 2008

Why do buildings and other places resonate and spark imagination? Why do they “make us” feel a certain way, evoke moods and sensations (e.g., “haunted houses”)? Is it because they contain us, hold us, bring us together or split us apart, both exclude and include us? Do they somehow form an external correspondence to our interior spaces?


More to Burroughs’ point, my sense of homelessness, placelessness, alienates me from real life sometimes. My family moved often — due to my dad’s corporate life promotions and transfers — so when asked, e.g. as a security question on a financial site, “what is your hometown?,” I have no idea. I have no hometown, and my home is pretty much where I am at the moment, so in one sense I feel “at home” almost anywhere. But coming home after being away feels jarring — home is familiar, a place I know well and am comfortable, but re-entry to normal life after being away feels oppressive, constrictive; I feel restless, like I’ve lost something. I think it’s partly that on the road (hotels, motels, trains), there is much less stuff and therefore less emotional tiredness brought on by the emotional and physical demands of stuff.  But I think it’s more than that, perhaps something to do with the way, as I’ve mentioned previously, that travel disrupts, questions, and subverts conventional thought and behaviour. Coming home, I feel the demands (that word again) reinstated, the sense of what I am expected to be and do limited by the circumference of “home.”


Unlike Burroughs’ experience (“I never had such a base. I never had a place I could call home that meant any more than a key to a house, apartment or hotel room”), I have in my life almost always had a base, a room, apartment, or house to come home to day after day — and yet these places have always felt transitional to me. (I’ve written about this before, 5 years ago, in Oct. 2012). I can’t help but notice that all our lives and all our places are transitional, ephemeral, not made to last. In the short run, someone will dig up my garden or terrace it, a storm or fire may take out trees and destroy homes and towns, objects and materials constantly wear out, living things die (some exceedingly quickly, others at a slower rate) and everyone I know, including me, including friends’ children and their children, including all the animals now alive on earth, will die soon. In the long run, all bodies, all buildings and things, all governments, all human constructions will disappear and wild nature will take over, as it is wont to do now when given half a chance.

seaweed growing on rock, Kennebunk ME, Dec. 2014
fern growing out of rock, brick, in Colonial Park Cemetery, Savannah, GA, Dec. 2015
trees growing out of rock ledge, Northern Rail Trail, NH, April 2015
watermelon plant growing on beach, Jekyll Island, GA, Sept. 2013

And in the longer run, land, sea, and all mortal beings, all species of flora and fauna, will disappear.

Which is why perhaps a heterotopia appeals to me so deeply … the placeless place, neither here nor there: a ship between shores on which an ad hoc society exists only as long as a cruise or passage; a tourist town, which shutters up and closes down after a few months; a public garden, where antiquity meets modernity (and as Louis Marin says, “the unsurpassable contradiction, where art and nature, artifice and truth, imagination and the real, representation and being, mimesis and the origin, play hide-and seek”); a museum (hard on the back and wearying though they are), where the past is reinterpreted by the present (“Foucault’s museum is not a funereal storehouse of objects from different times, but an experience of the gap between things and the conceptual and cultural orders in which they are interpreted”- from Beth Lord); a cemetery, where past and present collide and almost all of us have a relationship with it. A place, in other words, where here-there-everywhere and now-then come together in some ambiguous, disturbing, provocative way. A place that deviates from conventional norms, a constant reminder that ‘normal’ is always and everywhere just a temporary construct. These heterotopic places are where I feel I belong, if one can be said to belong to such a place, because they match my sense of what’s real.

my mom, Evergreen Cemetery, Roanoke, VA, 13 Dec. 2014
Dad’s ashes, scattered in Mt. Rogers National Recreational Area, Virginia, June 2013


We each exist in a place now, places that seem real, solid, geographically tangible. At the same time, or in another time that runs alongside the chronology we obey, we are placeless, standing at a threshold, that liminal space, waiting, one foot here and one foot there, waiting, inhabiting multiple realities, multiple places and times in one moment, in one space. That’s how it feels to me, and I guess it’s why hotels, motels, lodging, and the movement of travelling resonate for me, reminders of the non-linear world beyond and inside and overlapping this other world we are inexplicably placed in. They remind me that we’re here for the moment, we’re in this spot in each moment as we move toward another spot in each moment, places we’ve never been, or have visited in dreams and in memory.

We live out of suitcases, uncertain in the middle of the night how to find the bathroom and the lights; we wake up disoriented, aware of strangers coughing, flushing, moving about next door; we check ourselves in the mirror before opening the door and stepping through.



Thanks for traveling with me on this part of my journey.


Somebody else, some stranger, haunted

Welcome to day 25 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society.  Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.


I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn’t know who I was – I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I’d never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the creak of the old wood of the hotel, and footsteps upstairs, and all the sad sounds, and I looked at the cracked high ceiling and really didn’t know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I wasn’t scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost. — Jack Kerouac, On the Road


Now, the Berkshires seemed dreamlike

Welcome to day 19 of 31 Days of Heterotopias: Motels and Hotels, a month of posts about how motels, hotels, and inns function as heterotopias and liminal spaces in society.  Each post will look at these ideas from its own vantage point, which may not obviously connect with the others, and which may mention motels and hotels only peripherally or may focus on them without referencing heterotopia or liminality. I won’t attempt to tie the posts together. They’ll all be listed here, as they are posted.

I have stayed in at least one B&B that worked for me, because we — spouse, dog, self — were in one of several separate cottages surrounding the Birchwood Inn, in Lenox, Massachusetts — in the Berkshires — and the innkeeper (Ellen, who has since retired; unfortunately, the new owners don’t seem to rent the cottages anymore) had two dogs of her own: a sweet golden retriever, Quinn, who was trained to help the deaf, which the innkeeper partly was, and this lovely little black dog, Piper, a beagle-lab (bagel) who looks demonic in my photo for some reason.



This was May 2010; spouse and I hadn’t had time away together except for a family birthday party in two years, and after our difficult fall and winter — full of sad goodbyes and uprooting, spouse’s medical diagnosis and ongoing treatments, the dog’s medical diagnosis and ongoing lab tests, my father’s death and my mother’s Alzheimers, as well as the weight of friends’ sorrows in tough times — it was a much needed pampering. Sometimes B&Bs are good for pampering, as long as they leave you alone, and they did.

We interacted with Ellen and other folks only at breakfast and afternoon tea (yes, tea! so civilised; talk about pampering), if we felt like it  — though with Piper more often, as she had the run of the place — and the breakfasts, at our own table, were incredibly delicious, including: cheese blintzes with a Maine blueberry sauce on top, a spring omelette with peas and asparagus, lemony stuffed French toast, fondue Florentine soufflé, fabulous ginger pear pancakes, a berry fruitini, a watermelon and kiwi stacked on a crumble with a lemon curd topping, poached pears with a lovely sauce, and sausage, bacon, or ham if desired.


We were invited to sit on the inn porch, for tea and otherwise, and I think we did …. it’s been 7-1/2 years and I can’t quite recall anymore, though I remember that we got bread, cheese, a fruit tart, olives, beer, etc., at the local farmer’s market and gourmet shops and had lunch on our own cottage porch one day.

Birchwood Inn seats and table on the porch
Birchwood Inn porch from the front lawn
our cottage and porch
our cottage’s porch
farmers market lunch

We bought marcona almonds and cheese at Rubiner’s Cheesemongers in Great Barrington, too. (I guess the woman behind the counter wasn’t pleased about my photo.)


Somehow I neglected to take any photos inside the cottage room, except of our dog, Gretchen:


She seems relaxed.


This was our cottage from the outside, in the evening —


there was a rabbit running around  —


— and our entrance (the back entrance) into the Inn proper —


— and another shot of the Inn’s porch:



It was quite a nice place to be, walkable to Lenox, and the restaurants in the Berkshires were amazing, especially Viva Tapas Bar in Stockbridge — their fried artichokes live in my memory as one of the best things I have ever eaten — which sadly apparently closed in 2012,


and especially especially Rouge in West Stockbridge, from whom I still get emails and to which I would return in a heartbeat if it were closer. (I guess I took these weird photos with my phone at the time. Sorry!)


Bistro Zinc in Lenox was good, too, where, sitting next to a tall window that opened onto the sidewalk, I had trout meuniere and spouse had soft shell crab. Mmmm.


There are so many interesting things to do and places to visit in the Berkshires. We had only a week or so and went to Edith Wharton’s house, The Mount — what I remember from it is climbing hydrangeas; the mind-boggling Asia Barong in Great Barrington (still get eccentric emails from them, too); Naumkeag House & Gardens in Stockbridge (44-room Gilded Age house, designed as a summer home by the architectural firm of McKim, Mead, & White, the former country estate of New York City lawyer Joseph Hodges Choate); Kennedy Park trails in Lenox; the Ashuwillticook Rail Trail, which runs about 11 miles from Pittsfield to Adams, MA — we walked from the Farnam’s Rd entrance in Cheshire to the town of Cheshire proper, and back, about 4 miles; Tanglewood, in Lenox, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays in the summer; and a play (preview performance of Julius Caesar) at Shakespeare & Co. in Lenox.

The Mount

long view of The Mount
view of The Mount from below
The Mount from the French gardens
Italian garden with fountain
table setting (note dog treats)
people in the living room
fireplace and columns
another interior shot
faded tulips


Asia Barong …. a unique place: “In the unlikely event we do not have what you are looking for, we can search in Asia for it. Or by using the link to the order form below, we can carve to your specifications any sculpture in any quantity or material.”

outside Asia Barong … I can see this in my garden
buddha, elephant, etc.
a Jeep, with shovel, axe, etc.
a huge phallus, upstairs
more inside


Naumkeag (not quite open for the season, and no indoor photos allowed):

back of house
front of house
Asian garden
tree peonies
white tree peonies
pink tree peony, close
tree peonies in bloom


Kennedy Park in Lenox:



Ashuwillticook Rail Trail


lily pads galore
cottage with lupines
pink honeysuckle
female mallard duck



Koussevitsky Shed
Koussevitsky Shed (inside)
Ozawa Hall


tangled tree trunks


Shakespeare & Co. – some dilapidated buildings on the property



Also, the 15-acre Berkshire Botanical Garden, in Stockbridge:


wall with sedums
striped yellow iris
weepy conifer
Rodgersias … a favourite of mine
pink peonies
pond and lawn
another frog
walkway with allium
dianthus swath
yellow shed
yellow shed
purple shed
inside purple shed


Plus this quirky cemetery in Stockbridge! (cemeteries are another heterotopia, uniting all other places and people in a community in a past-present sacred-forbidden place of crisis, often on the margins of town — this one is on the edge of a golf course):


He liked horse racing, she’s a Red Sox fan
Someone liked golf



If you want more travelogue, I blogged about this in May 2010 in several posts: intro; Thurs-Sat; Sunday; and Mon-Wed.)  I note, on re-reading them, that the innkeeper saved us scones one day when we didn’t make it back for afternoon tea on time. That’s one perk of a good B&B: you are offered comfort and reliability in a difficult, unreliable time.


* Thanks to James Taylor for the title …. “With 10 miles behind me, and 10,000 more to go.”