I read Somerset Maugham’s ‘The Lotus Eater’ a good 18 years ago. I was a college student at that time and being an English literature major, I had the privilege of reading quite a few time- honored works by the literary stalwarts. While many of my classmates were fascinated by the grandeur of the likes of Paradise Lost and Ulysses, I was drawn more towards the beauty and power of the short stories. And my favorite short story of all times since then has been ‘The Lotus Eater’.
Before you doze off thinking that this piece might be some sort of a synopsis of what I read more than a decade ago, let me put your mind at ease by saying that I intend to do nothing of that sort!
So, why the reference to ‘The Lotus Eater’?
For the uninitiated, it talks about how an ordinary guy on his visit to Capri was so enchanted by the island, that he gave up every last penny of his savings in order to spend the last 25 years of his life there.
I was young and naive at that time and had not traveled much and so while I was in love with the beauty and boldness of the story, I was also a bit unsure if a place that beautiful existed. I have traveled quite a bit since then and have stood corrected many a times but it was not until a very recent trip to the quaint little town of Manchester, Vermont that I had the feeling that a place could pull at your heart strings strongly enough to make you feel what Maugham’s protagonist might have felt those many years ago.
Living on the East Coast, we get to enjoy the vibrant fall colors when it’s the season and last fall we visited Manchester with that intent. It was a plan put together at the last minute and so we were a few days past peak color time but even that was gorgeous. However, it was not the gorgeous colors that made me fall in love with that place. Tucked in the mountains, Manchester is an idyllic place with rolling hills and meadows and pristine houses. We stayed at the Manchester View which is a charming family owned country inn with all the modern amenities. I was captivated by the lush green gardens that surrounded this tranquil place on all sides and the view of the mountains from the patios was breathtaking. The crisp autumn air with the occasional rustling of the leaves that had piled under the trees, the cottage style accommodations, the gentle slope of the meadows, the burst of bright red and orange leaves and the azure sky made the whole place ethereal. It was late afternoon/early evening when we arrived and quietness was descending on the place. I can’t recollect having felt more at peace with myself ever before.
We were tired from our drive and so we got pizza from a local pizzeria and turned in quickly but not before setting the alarm to catch the sunrise. I woke up early enough to catch streaks of pink and blue mixed with the warmth of the orange and yellow gradually turning the dull sky vibrant and before I could soak in the beauty of that, a soft yellow ball scattered light all around and illuminated the bare branches. As the early rays caught the summits, the mountains revealed themselves again. I was so preoccupied in watching dawn break that I forgot to take out my camera or get my phone from the side table to capture that brilliance. I took a picture only after the most beautiful part was over 😦
After having the most delicious blueberry-orange muffins and some feel good coffee, we were ready for the day. We drove up to the mountains and enjoyed more of the vibrant leaves and breathtaking views. Once back in town, we enjoyed walking around and went past bookstores ( Northshire Bookstore), various antique stores, shops that carried various designer labels and also some good old mom and pop stores. People walking by were some of the friendliest we had come across and we felt peaceful. Local maple stores and woodcraft stores made our visit complete.
It was the most content and peaceful two days that I had spent anywhere and this charming little place tugged at that string which made me feel I could live here forever and be happy. People existed in harmony with Nature here and yet it is not a remote village in the middle of nowhere. Locals and tourists, modern shops and high quality restaurants exist in peace with local stores and eateries, each adding to the warmth of the place. Our three year old had a ball running around and playing in the fields of our lodge. My good man and I soaked in as much of the pristine ambiance and breathed in lungs full of that crisp autumn air.
Though it was a very short trip, it was as relaxing and rejuvenating as possible. It was also a humbling experience for me. Every time I am in the mountains or on the beach, I am reminded of how fortunate we are to be witnessing Nature in all its glory and also the tiny speck that we are in this world. Nature continues to sustain us, keep us full and content and yet we, it seems, are in a mad rush to destroy all that.
Ideal for a quick quintessential getaway, this place touched my heart like no other place yet has, and I could get a faint idea of what the London banker from Maugham’s story might have felt like. Manchester, VT is no Capri (and there a thousand other places that are more beautiful), but to me it was something similar in idea. I look forward to visiting many such places in the future (and maybe Capri too!) that would pull at the heart in a similar manner and our family would be able to make memories that would fill our souls with joy and gratitude. As Gustave Flaubert said-”Travel makes one modest, you see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”.