Magazine article The American Conservative

The Utica Club

Magazine article The American Conservative

The Utica Club

Article excerpt

Shortly after entering wedded bliss a quarter-century ago, my wife, a Los Angelena, told me that she wanted to see two cities: Utica and Cleveland.

I, as is my wont, made her dreams come true.

This fall I had the good luck to revisit the literary capital of the Mohawk Valley twice in a matter of weeks. First I spoke at Utica College, under the aegis of the school's Ethnic Heritage Studies Center and the Alexander Hamilton Institute, in a celebration of Utica and her faithful literary son, Eugene Paul Nassar. Upstate New York literature maven Frank Bergmann and Hamilton College history professor Bob Paquette arranged the event, which afforded me the great pleasure of meeting Gene Nassar. (As a biographer of the Anti-Federalist Luther Martin, who despised the nationalist Hamilton and defended his murderer Aaron Burr, I got a real kick out of the Alexander Hamilton imprimatur.)

My other Utica venture was to pay homage at the Forest Hill Cemetery to Harold Frederic, novelist and bigamist, whose story "The Copperhead" I adapted for a film to be released this spring. Details--and Oscars, surely--to follow.

Every small American city deserves a Gene Nassar. Mr. Nassar grew up among the Lebanese Christians of East Utica. As an adult, he established himself as a noted scholar of such poets as Wallace Stevens and Ezra Pound while remaining rooted in the old neighborhood as a professor at Utica College and historian of his city, which he loves, sins and blemishes too, with the ardor of a native son.

Utica was once a baseball rival of Batavia's in the New York-Penn League, and I like to think that the minor-league qualities of such cities--their intimate scale, the blending of the homely and the idiosyncratic, their unexpected tolerance of eccentricity--are the true soul of America. And of baseball. The majors are built on home runs and TV timeouts and $20 parking fees. To hell with em. To hell with the empire, too.

The glory and richness of America come not from its weaponry or wars, which debase us as much if not more than the relentlessly vulgar and witless products rolling of the entertainment industry's assembly line. Rather, our numen is found in our regions, our little places, the unseen America beyond the ken of our placeless rulers.

A national culture exists only if fed by a thousand and one local, particularistic streams. …

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