With his inimitable sense of humor and storytelling talent, New York Times bestselling author Michael Korda brings us this charming, hilarious, self-deprecating memoir of a city couple's new life in the country.
At once entertaining, canny, and moving, Country Matters does for Dutchess County, New York, what Under the Tuscan Sun did for Tuscany. This witty memoir, replete with Korda's own line drawings, reads like a novel, as it chronicles the author's transformation from city slicker to full-time country gentleman, complete with tractors, horses, and a leaking roof.
When he decides to take up residence in an eighteenth-century farmhouse in Dutchess County, ninety miles north of New York City, Korda discovers what country life is really like:
Owning pigs, more than owning horses, even more than owning the actual house, firmly anchored the Kordas as residents in the eyes of their Pleasant Valley neighbors.
You may own your land, but without concertina barbed wire, or the 82nd Airborne on patrol, it's impossible to keep people off it!
It's possible to line up major household repairs over a tuna melt sandwich.
And everyone in the area is fully aware that Michael "don't know shit about septics."
The locals are not particularly quick to accept these outsiders, and the couple's earliest interactions with their new neighbors provide constant entertainment, particularly when the Kordas discover that hunting season is a year-round event -- right on their own land! From their closest neighbors, mostly dairy farmers, to their unforgettable caretaker Harold Roe -- whose motto regarding the local flora is "Whack it all back! " -- the residents of Pleasant Valley eventually come to realize that the Kordas are more than mere weekenders.
Sure to have readers in stitches, this is a book that has universal appeal for all who have ever dreamed of owning that perfect little place to escape to up in the country, or, more boldly, have done it.
This is the latest installment in Korda's series of autobiographical books, which include Charmed Lives, a look at his famous theatrical family's history; Man to Man, his frank book about surviving prostate cancer; and Another Life, his collection of reminiscences about his two decades as editor-in-chief of the publishing house Simon & Schuster. This chatty book describes how Korda and his wife bought a 200-year-old farm in a small town in Dutchess County, N.Y., about 90 miles north of Manhattan. Over the 20-odd years chronicled, the Kordas use a mixture of guile, hard work and perseverance to ingratiate themselves with the locals and truly make the place their own. Many of the episodes, often comedic, document the various renovations of the farmhouse and the mental and physical barriers the Kordas cross in exchanging a glamorous New York lifestyle for one filled with pigs, horses and grubs. Korda, who was born in England, brings a foreigner's eye to his surroundings and on more than one occasion draws distinctions between the genteel rural life of his forebears and those of the lower-middle-class Americans he is surrounded by. Only occasionally does Korda lapse into cliche, drawing attention to pariahs such as Dunkin' Donuts and Americans' propensity to drive large, unwieldy vehicles. But the overall effect is charming and oftentimes witty, and in this sense his newest follows in the tradition of other bestsellers, like Peter Mayle's Provence, about dislocation to a place peopled with foreigners and strange ways. (Apr. 16)Forecast: Korda's celebrity and reputation as a literary gentleman will help propel sales among those in the know along the coasts and in the cities. Handselling from booksellers (especially in upstate New York and Connecticut) and national advertising will provide additional sales.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
-- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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May 01, 2002
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Excerpt from Country Matters by Michael Korda
"He Don't Know Shit About Septics"
Twenty-One Years Ago, when my wife, Margaret, and I first moved up to the country from New York City and bought an eighteenth century farmhouse in Pleasant Valley, New York, not far from Poughkeepsie, we didn't give much thought to our new neighbors, who were mostly hardworking dairy farmers of seventeenth-century Dutch or English stock and, while not exactly unfriendly, were reluctant to enter into conversation with people who didn't raise Holsteins and weren't interested in the price of milk.
Along with the house, we acquired (or were acquired by) a bluff, jovial, pink-cheeked old man in his late sixties named Harold Roe, a local who mowed lawns and was reputedly handy with a backhoe, a bush hog, a York rake, and a dozer blade -- all objects that were soon to loom larger in our lives than we had supposed.
Harold turned up in the driveway the day we took possession of our new home and announced that everything was running to rack and ruin. A bulky, muscular man, despite his age, he waved around him to indicate how widespread our problems were. More than slightly deaf Harold had a voice to wake the dead. Our trees needed pruning, wiring: fertilizing, our lawns needed emergency care, our shrubs wanted "whacking back" -- a favorite phrase of his, as we were soon to discover, and by which he meant a kind of scorched earth policy; he didn't like the look of our cedar-shingled roof or our wooden gutters either, into one of which he contemptuously drove the blade of his folding penknife and announced with great satisfaction: "Dry rot."
Although the previous owners were still within earshot of normal speech, let alone Harold's roar, and were going through a small emotional moment together as they gave up their home of thirty years, he pointed to them as the source of our troubles. "They was do-it-themselves-ers," he shouted. "Did all the work without knowing how." He voiced his contempt: "Too tight with the dollar to hire help."
Harold was part of a numerous local clan of canny countrymen -- there were a good many mailboxes around us that bore the name Roe -- and one of his daughters had married into the Daley clan, which was almost as canny and widespread, and included the local highway superintendent and his brother "Turk" Daley, Harold's son-in-law, who dealt in sand, gravel, and septic system installation.
Harold himself, we soon learned, was one of those vanishing Americans who could set his hand to pretty much anything, from welding to fencing, and who put in an uncomplaining fourteen or fifteen hours a day of hard manual labor, for which he insisted on being paid in cash -- the offer of a check had roughly the same effect on him as that of a cross when presented to a vampire. His only hobby was snowmobiling, a sport that had not hitherto played any part in our lives-in fact, he was the president of the local snowmobilers' club, and we had hardly shaken hands before he asked us to open up our land to them. This, as we soon discovered, was the first thing most of our neighbors wanted to know about us. Would we keep our land open to the Rombout Hunt, for foxhunting? Would we continue to let our neighbor to the south hay our fields? Would we open our land at the appropriate season to pheasant shooters, bird-watchers, cross-country skiers, and deer hunters, not to speak of one neighbor who trapped animals for their fur? Most of these people took rejection badly. Our home might be our castle, but our land appeared to be community property.
Shortly after we had settled in, on a hot summer day, we gave a dinner party to celebrate our new home, and as I was greeting guests in the driveway, I noticed an unfamiliar and unpleasant smell. I traced it to its source, and found the unmistakable signs of sewage rising in the garden, just in front of the dining room windows.