Thursday, August 12, 2010
summer of 1784
Travel is allot easier when you rely on GPS to find your way around unfamiliar places. Places like Boston where most of the streets have names. Streets that were once paths for cows, now paved, delineate an urban hub for some of the best art schools in the nation. The School Museum of Fine Art SMFA is molding tomorrows artists with a distinct curricula of personal exploration and dream interpretation. To get where you wish to go just follow the highlighted line... and recalculate when veering of the path.
Attending Summer pre-college arts programs is a dream come true for the few fortunate kids with wild dreams and willing parents keen on the value of an arts education that goes way beyond crayons and paper-mache. The seed of self-empowerment is planted there. Like the mighty trees and tender blossoms found in Bostons Arnold Arboretum tomorrows promise and progressives are cultivated with an appreciation for art.
River for a Revolution
The mighty Hudson River cuts wide and clear. It is the principal waterway that defines the American Revolution. It is where George Washington saw the greatness of this land and the promise of tomorrow. It is a place where the swamp meets our history. Like the ebb and flow of tides, it is where our journey begins and ends.
God's House Party
The town of Hudson in upstate New York has a rich history for party and tons of old empty churches. The faithful may be long gone but for a reasonable price a new ministry can be ushered in. This silent and solid old place is now the home of Daniel Arsham's Artists Residency Retreat. It is indicative of the periodic resurgence of rural attractions, of a return to the roots of a revolution for the betterment of artistic expression. Prayerful best to all the dancers, performer, musicians, painter and sculptors that will grace this sacred shelter. Be sure to bring a sleeping bag and bug spray.
Older Than Dirt
Just outside of Hudson is the house that Henry Vanderlyn built in 1784. Constructed on bricks cast on site, it has withstood the 226 years of the development the "soul super-power" in the world. America was a young country when Henry would go to bed promptly at 9 PM with the aid of three glassed of Madeira wine; one for god, one for country and one for George Washington. Lights out. Today you will not find it using GPS as it has managed to remain without an address, thank the Lawd and pass the Madeira.
In Search of Solitude
The Hudson Terrace is home to the Catskill Mountains. Time has carved this magical place into what is affectionately know by many names; the Irish Alps, the Jewish Alps, the Cuban Alps and more. It is home to Rip Van Winkle and West Point. It is also the watershed where countless cottages and near-forgotten towns keep account of our great nation's beginnings. It is where streams and springs swell with the waters of perpetual sustenance and eternal freshness.
A swim in Platte Clove, Blue Hole or other similar waters is the baptismal equivalent of rebooting your hard-drive.
Blue Lips Shrink Swamp's Thing
The magic of the Blue Hole is only outdone by the rigidness of its waters. Mysterious springs feed this aquamarine pool with water so clean, so pure as to warm the spirit to a boil yet zap the tropical family jewels into ice cubes. What matters most is the communion with nature, with summers of solitude and the essence of our make-up. We are after all 95% water. Next stop, Katterskil Falls.
Where the Wild Thing Are
I read in Utne that in the world of wildlife photography there is a disturbing trend. Captive animals are being used as actors to economize and paint a glorified picture of life in the wild. From NatGeo to screen-savers, an image of wild animals in their wild environment is all to often a fake photo. This one of the two young siblings is not, and neither are the deer tick, poison ivy and mosquitoes the size of humming birds. Suit up and enjoy the savagery of summer.
Being a third generation ranchero (first with no heard), a date with the local dairy farm was probably the highlight of my vacation. To visit the ladies of Kingston's pastures, to purchase their unprocessed ambrosia and to feed day old calf twins was maternal to the max. The folk that run this loving place are also third generation ranchers who exude the scent of nurture and embrace the gentleness that are happy cows. But they also express a grave concern for the decline of farmings and the perils faced in raising of livestock in the rural region of upstate NY. From Saugerties to Woodstock the viability of community supported agriculture is threatened by corporate food interests. Look, I chow on processed food as much as the next guy but what newfoods offers in price and convenience falls way short of the nutritious and delicious satisfaction of organic homegrown foods, the stuff that our ancestors ate.
George Washington Copulated Here
Next stop on our sentimental summer tour were several points of interest in Harlem USA. If you are a history nut then the oldest house in NY state is no mystery. But for those not familiar with the Morris Jumel Mansion, here are the cliff notes. Morris the loyalist builds a summer house on high ground where the East River meets the Hudson. The place is forfeited to the new government after Georgy Boy clobbers the British. Washington sets up shop in Kingston and the house in New Amsterdam becomes a tavern as the spoils of war belong to the victors. The place is trashed until a French wine merchant Steven Jumel makes it a home for his sexy bride Elisa the temptress. It is possible that our manuar father GW did indeed sleep with Madame Jumel on a sultry mid-summer night. Conjecture is the stuff of campfires.
Jewel of the Hudson
Madame Jumel may have been a temptress. Her Steven shipped wine from Bourdeux and returned with sugar, tobacco and coffee from his spread in Jamaica. They were palsy walsy with diminutive Napoleon. The whole affair was fabulous until Jumel crashed his carriage leaving dear Madame a widow. Eliza returned to Paris only to be accused of being a Harlot and expelled from France, never to return. Whereupon she married, albeit short-lived ex-VP Burr, perhaps the father of the TEA Party for wanting to secede from the USA when the country was just 30 years old. I guess the nations notables were all restless and indiscriminate.
Our nations first nude was painted by John Vanderlyn. It hangs at the Senate House Museum in Kingston NY. Modified with sheer veils that cover her flesh, she was made respectable in the eyes of the less sophisticated appreciators of fine art in the new world. Vanderlyn was a masterful artist trained in France, he is the creator of several national treasures including a depiction of Columbus arriving in the new world, a portrait of Washington and the fabulous gigantic mural of the gardens of Versailles currently on display at the MET.
Summer of Disconnect
On my visit to the Senate House Museum I sifted through several folders containing letters written by Vanderlyn to officials of the new government. Vanderlyn had a rough time in his effort to get paid for artworks completed. It would appear that back then the USA had about 500 people. Today we are about 50 million strong. Yet with all the radical changes some things never change as 200 years later artists today still have a very hard time collecting money owed for their hard work.
For Sale - This Old House
People are quick to forget that history is with us forever. The Jumel Mansion stands alone; the letters, paintings and relics sit silent in repositories with diminished funding. All passive reminders of our rebellious roots and our uncanny ability to create newish identities, to reinvent ourselves in the likeness of no other. But for millions of Americans the history of their Nation, of our founders is of seeming irrelevance. This old house is really not so old yet it is crumbling from its own weight and the embrace of a weird Darwinian shortsightedness that is counter to our collective wellbeing. The swim holes of the Catskills are still there though, crisp clear and icy blue as the watershed of a great nation now in the winter of its discontent.