While conversations among guests in a hotel or motel are usually sparse and fleeting, bed and breakfast guests often chat with each other. Perhaps we all want to feel we are in one of those novels from a hundred or more years ago where the characters are in a boarding house, as in Balzac’s Pere Goriot, or in an Italian pensione, as in Forster’s A Room with a View. With the shorter stays in a B and B, the deep character-revealing conversations of the novels are not the norm. Primarily the conversations are started with: “What did you do today?” “What have you planned for tomorrow?” “Where are you from?” “What do (or did) you do?” “Where are you going?”
The first morning I was in the Idlwilde bed and breakfast, I was reading on the porch in the chilly air. Another man appeared, and I learned that he was from a small town in western Wisconsin. I grew up in eastern Wisconsin, and he quickly reminded me of some of my relatives as he told me in exacting detail the route he had driven from his home to Watkins Glen, emphasizing at length how he had successfully skirted Chicago. I don’t remember how he shifted the topic, but soon I heard him telling me that his wife did not really like wine, but she had sampled wine in Door County, Wisconsin, that appealed to her. It was made from cherries, and yesterday the good wife was pleased to find a winery that had sweet wines. The Finger Lakes region has many wineries and has been primarily known for its Rieslings, many of which are far from dry. The Wisconsin woman, however, did not like Rieslings. I was assured that they were not sweet enough, but she was happy when she found, as her husband put it, a wine like soda and was even happier when another place offered her a wine slushie. I made a note not to join that couple for dinner.
On Saturday morning, both a prospective bride and prospective groom were breakfasting. I thought this a tradition-breaker until I learned they were not marrying each other. Two marriage parties were at the bed and breakfast. We exchanged only a few words with the bride-to-be, but the soon-to-be husband came over to talk with us. He had hours to go before his ceremony, and he was already hyper and told us about the family car business he was in, the merits of Toyotas, how he was marrying a childhood sweetheart, how they had drifted apart when they went to separate colleges, how they got back together, and like that. He scrolled on his phone until he could show us a picture of the wedding location. To the delight of the spouse and me, he was going to be married in front of a waterfall.
The spouse and I most enjoyed talking with a couple from England. He was retired from the UK’s Foreign Office. They had been posted to various places in the Mideast and to Calcutta. He was, however, a little vague about what work he did in these locations, making me think, “Hmmmm.” He had gone to school in Washington, D.C., when his father, also in the Foreign Office, had been posted to Washington, but this was her first trip to the United States. The trip had been timed so that they could go to the U.S. Open tennis tournament. She was especially happy to sit in Arthur Ashe Stadium. As a schoolgirl, she had seen Ashe play at Wimbledon and found him “elegant.” He remained a favorite.
They had been four nights in New York and then four more to Boston. From there they went to Stowe, Vermont, an apparent must-see for Brits visiting the states. They had driven from Vermont to Watkins Glen, and as with other Europeans I have met, they were surprised how big the country is. After the Finger Lakes, they were heading to Niagara Falls, and we discussed what we had liked there. After that, they were going to Toronto and then home. They were lively, charming, knowledgeable—you never know from a few brief conversations, but they seemed like people I would like to be friends with. It was only slightly disconcerting that the spouse found him to be among the most handsome men she had ever met, something the spouse remarked upon repeatedly.
While our stay at the Idlwilde was interesting, our point for being in Watkins Glen was to chase waterfalls, in this case the waterfalls of Watkins Glen State Park. A deep gorge ascends over a mile-and-a-half up a thousand feet and it boasts nineteen waterfalls. We did not have to do much chasing to find the waterfalls. It was a gorgeous walk—a spectacular end to our chase.
After hiking the gorge, we headed to Hammondsport, a nearby town where we found the Glen Curtiss Museum. As a young man, Glen Curtiss was a bicycle builder and racer. Soon he became a motorcycle builder and racer. And then he became an airplane builder and flyer. The museum contains artifacts and reproductions from all aspects of his career including his earliest plane and his seven-foot-long motorcycle upon which he set a speed record of 136 miles per hour in 1907, a motorcycle record that stood until 1930.
He is largely unknown now, but he was especially important in the early stages of aviation. The Wright Brothers may have been first, but Curtiss was next, and his many innovations were essential for the early growth of the flying industry.
The Wright Brothers were very aware of Curtiss. The secretive brothers had obtained patents for airplanes, and in the opinion of many, excessively broad patents. One of the patents was for the methods of controlling a plane in flight. The Wrights depended on wing warping, the twisting of the wing, to help steer a craft. Curtiss improved on that by putting ailerons, the forerunner of what now exists, on the wings. Orville and Wilber yelled, “Patent infringement!” This fight went on for a decade and was only resolved when the patriotism and necessities of World War I demanded a resolution of the conflict. Animosity, however, lingered on for years.
A dinner in a popular local restaurant, breakfast the next morning, and our trip of chasing waterfalls concluded. We returned to our own summer community and our own waterfalls. Buck Hill Falls has several beautiful ones, but that is a story for another day.