Princeton, New Jersey, was like a town from a storybook. The campus with its stone buildings, literally ivy-covered. The fountain in front of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The libraries and laboratories, the famous architects, the English-style garden and the art museum with its eclectic collection and its one spectacular Van Gogh. The chapel--more like a cathedral, really--with brilliant stained glass, vast vaulted ceilings, a sense of reverence and stillness yet full of life. The Richard Serra sculpture, "The Hedgehog and the Fox," two tremendous panels between which you could hide, no one would see you while you walked through it, you could take someone in there and kiss them and no one would notice.
The shops and restaurants on Nassau Street--Labyrinth Books, Small World Coffee, the old hoagie shop and pizza place, the newer Thai and sushi and Mexican restaurants, the Blue Water Grill with its comfortable booths, casual elegance, and four stools at a counter in the back. You bring your own wine because licenses are few and far-between, the two of you just have to drink the whole bottle. The movie theater a real old-fashioned cinema with no commercials or trailers, just popcorn and soda and swingy padded seats, and the film that had a scene where one of the main characters attends a boozy, cigar-filled Princeton alumni dinner, bellowing with his classmates:
In praise of Old Nassau we sing,
Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!
Our hearts will give while we shall live,
Three cheers for Old Nassau.
The residential streets quiet in the soft dark, stars showing through carefully pruned trees, spacious houses presiding over tidy but comfortable lawns. The cars in their driveways, a green Beetle proclaiming Free Tibet and Obama '08.
The funny little train that goes back and forth to the Princeton Junction station, just two passenger cars, like a toy train, called "the Dinky" by the locals. The schedule and the time for departure, the return to the city, the lingering goodbye and yes, the tears, the embarrassing tears, the whistle and the steady turn of the wheels, the distance, the hopes, the blurred landscape turning from green and brown to gray, the beginning of autumn, the end of a beginning.