Monday, October 11, 2010

A Nest in Hudson Valley

Just returned from a visit to GH's friends who have lived for ten years in Woodstock, in upstate New York. We took the Trailways bus from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to Kingston. T and D picked us up, and drove to lunch at a small restaurant in Phoenicia. After not finishing the short (!) stack of pancakes--buttermilk, blueberry, pumpkin--we looked into the small local library and a few curiosity shops, before driving to the Kaasterskill Falls, painted famously by Thomas Cole. GH and I left T at what we thought was the Falls and hiked along the river. Not realizing that the Falls was ahead of us, we turned round after a while, and came back to the waiting car.

Photo by GH

T and D's house was a treasure trove set in a landscape of riches. Every inch of wall and floor and countertop held or was covered with painting, photograph, carpet or sculpture. There were kitschy worker dolls from Mao's era. A home-made chandelier of branches draped with Christmas lights presided over the dining table.  On a living room table, a stuffed coyote threw its head back and howled. A huge bust of the Buddha meditated by one side of the room. High on one wall was displayed an impressive collection of crucifixes. One the other side of the same wall hanged tree trunks in the shape of human groin, buttock and legs. This was the house of inveterate collectors and art lovers.

After dinner at a Chinese restaurant, we watched D's videos at home. She had a piece on her colonoscopy, and another piece called Dread on the death of her younger son. Almost without a pause, T played the movie Howl, about the obscenity trial of Allen Ginsberg's poem. Written and directed by Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, the film depicted the Beats as countercultural heroes persecuted by society. It was too hagiographical for my taste. James Franco portrayed Allen Ginsberg with appealing innocence, so wholesome that he would make every mother's list of fucks for her gay son. The animation that accompanied the first reading of the poem attempted to convey its radicalism, but looked more trendy than experimental. The high-tech did not match the low-scenery. I was surprised that Franco read the poem with some humor. I thought from reading Paul Goodman's description of a reading that the poem was read in a crescendo of agony.

The next day, after a brunch of fruit, baked treats and quiche, we drove to see Olana, the home of Frederic Edwin Church. Named after a fortress-treasure house in ancient Greater Persia (according to Wikipedia), the estate was crowned by a heavily stenciled villa built in a mixture of Victorian, Moorish and Persian styles. The building looked kind of odd to me, sitting so exotically above the Hudson Valley, and the odd impression was strengthened by a group of period musicians singing "Yankee Doodle" and strumming banjos and guitars.

Photo by GH

We left Olana and drove to the town of Hudson, where we wandered in and out of antique and furniture shops. At the Carrie Haddad Gallery, we saw the landscapes painted by Leigh Palmer using beeswax (encaustic) paint. They had the look of enamel, but were scraped and sculpted as if they were made of clay. The work was, to my mind, a successful engagement with the domineering influence of the Hudson River School. From Hudson we drove to see Bard College's performing arts center, designed by Frank Gehry. Its undulating steel exterior was astonishing; the material was not supposed to behave like this, but it did with such musical grace.

We went home for a rest before dinner. I finished reading Daniel Mendelsohn's translation of The Unfinished Poems by Cavafy. Of the thirty poems, I liked most "The Item in the Paper" and "Crime," both of which were limned by wishful regret. GH read the first page of all the Michael Cunningham novels T owned. Dinner was at the Bird's Nest, a small restaurant decorated with changing designs by its gay owner. My pork loin was good, as was GH's plate of quesadillas. Back in the house, we were going to watch another movie, but after finishing "The Amazing Race" (the Asian dad and son are still in!) we were too tired to view anything else. So much information, so many impressions, one can be forgiven for thinking that the country is more exciting than the city.

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