Editor’s letter: On John Hodgman, chalk messages and more

Friday, November 10, 2017

Hi, friends:


I’ve been listening to 93.9 The River since moving to the Pioneer Valley a little over six years ago. Back in New York, I used to wake up and listen to this WNYC host named Soterios Johnson. His name and voice became a part of my morning routine. Now, there’s another FM voice that I look forward to hearing after my first cup of coffee, and it belongs to Monte Belmonte. I enjoy listening to several of our local radio hosts — each one is distinctive — but Monte is the guy you feel like you know even if you don’t.

One thing I knew for certain about Monte is that he has been branching out into several different areas: taking on more writing assignments, for instance. He recently started writing a wine column for The Valley Advocate, which shares a building with the Gazette, and I’d been trying to think of how to snag him for Hampshire Life.

Then I heard about John Hodgman’s new memoir, “Vacationland.” Even though the book is named for Maine, Hodgman’s connection to the Valley runs deep, and it turns out that he, too, is a fan of Monte Belmonte. Hodgman, who helped pioneer fake news long before “alternative facts” became a thing, asked Monte to share the stage with him in Portland to discuss “Vacationland,” and they’ll reunite tonight at The Shea Theater in Turners Falls. I asked Monte to interview Hodgman for us, and he came back with a funny and revealing Q&A, “John Hodgman gets real,” starting on page 12. Editing Monte was easy, but he found writing the piece to be a challenge.

“It’s a lot easier to get away with a conversation and make it sound natural and even slightly intelligent on the air than it is to try to write it in a way that’s conversational and intelligent,” Monte told me. “I never thought of myself as a writer until I convinced the Advocate to give me a wine column mostly for tax purposes to write off all the wine that I purchase. It’s been fun to develop this skill that I’d never tried to develop before.” 

This conversation happened, by the way, as Monte was driving to The Food Bank of Western Massachusetts, in preparation for his upcoming Monte’s March happening on Nov. 20 and 21. Over the course of those two days, Monte will be leading his annual march against hunger through the Pioneer Valley — pushing a shopping cart 43 miles from Springfield to Greenfield to raise awareness and money for food insecurity in our area. He’ll be joined, along the way, by Congressman Jim McGovern and a number of supporters, and all proceeds will benefit The Food Bank. Last year, the event raised more than $200,000. “If you happen to have an extra $100,000 lying around,” Monte added, “that would go a long way.” Learn how to get involved at foodbankwma.org.

As Thanksgiving nears, I’m curious: What are some things you’re thankful for in our Valley? Email me at bhauser@gazettenet.com, and I’ll include a few replies in next week’s issue. In the meantime, here’s my contribution: a photo I took while on the Northampton Bike Path. I spotted these chalk messages last Sunday while taking an early morning walk. A friend later told me that the messages were written by coaches and volunteers for the Girls on the Run 5K practice. I think that’s great, though I also loved stumbling upon this kind of encouragement without any context or explanation: “A STRONG GIRL YOU ARE.” It spoke to me, too (in Yoda-like syntax). By now, it’s probably washed away, but maybe someone will rewrite it.

I hope you have a great weekend, filled with art: The Easthampton Art Walk is this Saturday, 5-8 p.m. Check out easthamptoncityarts.com/artwalk. In Florence, there’s also the Arts & Industry 25th annual Open Studio and Holiday Sale happening Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., at 221 Pine Street. I try to go every year, and I’m always amazed by the talent of the many artists and craftspeople who work there. Visit artsindustryopenstudios.blogspot.com for more information. 

Brooke Hauser