Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween denier

The trouble with having my daughter turn 20 today - quite apart from that making me feel so very old, of course - is that she's now past the home-party stage of guests, games, cake and balloons, so we no longer have that excuse to put up curmudgeonly notices at the gate deterring would-be Trick or Treaters. Except that we are still old-school curmudgeons, anti this American import that has been so enthusiastically promoted by manufacturers of environmentally-insensitive tat and tooth-rotting lollies, and seized upon with incredulous joy by greedy kids; and now we have to escape to an early-evening movie session in order to avoid the hordes of GKs swarming through the village in bright sunshine decked out as creatures of the night - or not, depending on their level of commitment vs degree of greed.

In America, however, it's a delight to see, and in Massachusetts we were charmed by the pumpkins on porches and the front-yard displays of imaginative and amusing ghouls and skeletons. It all fits so well with the autumn foliage, the early dusk, the edge of chill: like Christmas, Halloween is a cold-weather, short-day festival,and it loses much of its charm when transplanted into a southern hemisphere summer.

The pumpkins that are such a feature of Halloween are the link with the equally enthusiastic decorations for Thanksgiving, when they're joined by potted chrysanthemums on the steps and porches of the pretty wooden houses tucked under the trees. Autumn is a lovely time to go to the States - in New England particularly, where the leaves put on such a dazzling display. Once is not enough.
>>> ...When you nearly don’t notice a row of bright red and yellow tractors and harvesters because of the brilliance of the autumn foliage behind them, you realise that nothing you’ve heard about New England in the fall is exaggerated. If you come from Arrowtown, Christchurch or Cambridge, you may think you do a good leaf display at home, but in this case at least, it’s true that things are bigger and better in America.

On a day’s drive along Interstate 90, the Massachusetts Turnpike, from the Atlantic coast up into the Berkshire Hills in the west, it was woodland nearly all the way: chestnut, oak, ash, birch, beech, hickory and maple set off by the deep green of scattered firs. The orange, red and yellow of the deciduous trees became more intense as we climbed higher, like someone turning up the colour saturation on the television: if it hadn’t been real, we would have protested, ‘Too bright!’ Even when we strayed off the main road and into the pretty little towns, the trees were still everywhere, giving a warm cast to the light that fell on the painted clapboard houses tucked underneath them and that seemed concentrated in the cartoon-bright pumpkins that, this being October, decorated every porch.

Mostly, the Halloween decorations were restrained and elegant – a small round pumpkin on each step up to the verandah, a pot of russet chrysanthemums by the door or a bunch of mottled Indian corn cobs hanging from the knob – but some people clearly felt excess suited the spirit better, with ghosts, witches and bats in abundance. The prize for best effort had to go to the house featuring a CSI mock-up with multiple corpses on one side of the garden, a cluster of assorted life-sized ghouls and skeletons performing in an other-worldly band by the front steps, and a tableful of gruesome drinkers waving tankards as a vampire in cloak and Pilgrim hat leaned over a petrified woman...

[Pub. New Idea 31/3/07]

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