Dara writes:

Yesterday James dragged me, sorry, brought me along on a trip to the Montclair Art Museum for an afternoon lecture on the 19th-century American landscape painter George Inness. I was sort of excited to visit Montclair, where I had never been, because I know that many NY writer-types live there and commute to the city. From our apartment near Union Square in Manhattan, the drive took about forty minutes. Not bad, yet I kind of always hold my breath through the Lincoln Tunnel, and has there ever been a more prosaic road than the NJTP? Highway 101 out of San Francisco over the Golden Gate Bridge it is not.

I very much enjoyed the Inness paintings. James appreciates the painter for his varied techniques: he painted both exact landscapes and almost abstract, emotional nature scenes. In one image, Sunset, in the museum's collection, brilliant orange sun beams peak out between two leaning trees. From a distance, there seems to be extraordinary depth behind the trees. Up close, the painter has daubed bright orange between the trees and in fact what seemed like depth now appears to be surface. I'm not an art historian, so I'm not sure of the significance of that observation, but I was intrigued by the work. Interestingly, an Inness collector and benefactor of the wing in the museum was on hand to give us a personal tour of the collection, which was delightful.

It was about 6:30pm, and James and I needed sustenance. The museum's director pointed us to Raymond's, down Bloomfield Avenue not far from the institution. Now, the museum is perched on a hill, and driving down Bloomfield toward the restaurant entailed a breathtaking view, on this clear night, of Manhattan.

Raymond's, which opened in 1989, is retrofitted to look like an old malt shop. Imagine an Odeon--albeit one estranged from the scene in downtown Manhattan in the 1980s--in Mayberry. We had to wait about ten minutes, and in that time I noticed a nice-looking--and chopped--cobb salad, and that most people were ordering burgers. While deliciously ripe avocado slices perched atop the lettuce, tomatoes, blue cheese, bacon, and chicken in the salad, and while the chicken was very moist, the salad lacked crispness and taste. The chef mistakenly thought heavily mixing the salad, so the blue cheese kind of spread its wealth, could compensate for a lack of dressing. No. A cobb salad should not just be creamy, but should taste of something. I ate more of the french fries that came with James's burger than I should have to get some salt and snap.

Could I see myself in Montclair? The main street was very well tended. The museum was estimable. But part of me feels if I will leave New York I will really leave it, not to a town on a hill where I will always feel like an outsider peeking in the window at the action.