It is not simply, I don't think, that it is a beautiful place, though it is. In the Berkshires, on a lake, with a community beach. It is that my beloved relatives lived there: my Aunt Fritzi, my grandparents Emma and Leo. They represented Vienna to me. They lived the life I felt happiest in: very cultured, as people from that time and place tended to be. They loved music and art. My grandmother often sent me cards that she wrote while in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.
My own life in suburbia on Long Island was--even when I was a child--a place that I did not find beautiful. (It wasn't--and isn't.) My parents did not listen to music. When I was old enough to take the train to New York City, I got a student membership to the Museum of Modern Art and spent many hours wandering through the collections. I wanted to be an artist then.
It strikes me that the cottage--as a place of the mind--is connected to my love of reading. I was--as a girl--always lost in a book. My best friend for many years (till her family moved and I received a returned letter stamped "Address Unknown") loved reading too: we would read together and swap books. I am the only reader in my family. It is not that my parents weren't intelligent: both were college educated. My father had a PhD in the days when that degree was rare. But they did not read. So I always felt somewhat alien in my family and in the town where I grew up.
Perhaps I read to draw a world closed around me.
A pastoral world. An enclosed world of art and imagination.
Is it any wonder that when I was in college I wrote my thesis on pastoral poetry?
Or that when I went to graduate school, I ended up doing my thesis on The Faerie Queene and some plays by Shakespeare-- that represented, explored, or WERE enclosed spaces of art and imagination?
So I am somewhat comforted by the thought that--even when the cottage is no longer accessible to me or to my children as a real place that we can visit--I can recreate it by thinking about it, and perhaps by writing about it.
My Proust-loving husband reminds me of a famous quotation by his favorite author.
The only true paradise is a paradise we have lost.