We woke at 4:30 am this morning to drive 185 miles from Cotuit to Derby, Connecticut to watch our daughter row for the University of Virginia against my alma mater, Yale and their arch nemesis Harvard-Radcliffe. Seven and half minutes of rowing, only the last two minutes of which are visible to the spectators standing on the balcony of the boathouse, but the drive was worth any minute, as this was my one and only chance to see her row this year after three years of loyally going to races in eastern Massachusetts.
The bad news is her boat, the novice eight, lost. As did the varsity first and second boats â€“ a blow as Virginia is ranked third nationally after Cal/Berkeley and Yale. Yale Women’s Rowing is arguably the best over time as it was one of the earliest and produced a disproportionate number of Olympians, including Ginny Gilder, whose family donated the magnificent new boathouse that replaced the tired aqua blue bunker I rowed out of in the 1970s. I was kind of happy to see the Bulldogs do well, but had to empathize with my daughter who rowed a very tough race down a choppy course into a brisk and cold headwind. It was also her first race after a frustrating season of back injuries, and I know she climbed into the bow seat in part because she wanted us to see her behind an oar.
The races were run on the Housatonic River, and while the boathouse was unrecognizable (this was my first visit), the view across the river and the finish line to the dam downriver was very familiar and brought on a bad Pavlovian reaction as that stretch of water in front of the boathouse docks is where I spent probably the most miserable 90 seconds of my entire life, sprinting down the last 500 meters of a 2000 meter race in an oxygen debt sort of like smothering in a dry cleaning bag while splitting a cord of wood at the rate of 40 whacks per minute.
Blisters are a rower’s badge of courage
(apologies for video quality, FlipCams are not cut out for filming rowing)
When the races were finished I explored the boathouse bays and marveled at the gleaming new Vespoli shells, the vast docks, the wakeless catamaran launches. Rowing is one of those things where the clothing may improve and the boats may get a little better, but in the end it’s the same hard work it has always been, an impenetrable experience for someone who has never done it, an addiction for those who have.
We took on three laundry bags in anticipation of the end of semester move back to the Cape, handed over a grocery bag of stuff to eat during the ten hour bus ride back to Charlottesville, hugged our goodbyes and headed into New Haven in search of apizza â€“ that’s correct â€“ “apizza,” the uniquely New Haven nomenclature for a pizza pie, but one cooked in a coal oven in a way that most connoisseurs of pizza would agree gives New Haven the proper title of best pizza on the planet.
The usual spots on Wooster Street â€“ Sally’s and Pepe’s â€“ open at 4 pm, so we went to Modern Apizza on State Street, which opens for lunch. I had never tried Modern before, but am glad we did. I wouldn’t rank it above the aforementioned masters, but it’s a very very good pizza, better than anything I have seen outside of New Haven, and right in the ball park with the charred crust and general gestalt.
After lunch I took my wife and son on a walking tour of the Yale campus. It was a gorgeous spring day, the trees were in full flower (I love the Emerson line: “The earth laughs in flowers.”), and we started at my residential college, or dorm, Timothy Dwight. Alas, security has changed and the gates were locked, so we peered through the bars and walked into the center of the campus and my favorite place of all, the Sterling Memorial Library, where I spent most of my time either studying, writing, or working as a printer in the library’s letterpress. Fortunately tourists were allowed in and it was very cool to show off one of the world’s greatest libraries to my family.
The Harkness carillon was pealing as we pulled out of town and so we returned to Cotuit with a spare pizza in the trunk.