Friday, October 30, 2015

Travelblog Episode 1

Away now for a week and a day.  Usual cattle car airline flight and argument with officious stupid agents at car rental counter.  Followed by fatigued bickering as we maneuver out of Newark during rush hour.  We finally arrive in the kitsch filled little place we rent in Redhook.  Everything is the same as when I stayed in the summer except now the leaves are gold and red and the air is crisp.  We attend mini-courses on the Bard Campus as part of family weekend.  I attend one on “The Science of Forgetting.”  The professor is about thirteen. I have been out of school for so long I have never seen anyone use a laser pointer for anything but tormenting a cat.  A chart for, an otherwise serious, presentation lists the different forms of forgetting, running the gamut from something being on the tip of your tongue to full blown dementia.  One form of forgetting is conflating a real experience with a fantasy or dream.  There is a photo of Brian Williams next to a fighter jet to illustrate this one.  It takes me several minutes to summon the name “Brian Williams.”  I keep coming up with Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings.  Finally, I have to google “Girls TV” to get the name of the daughter, Allison Williams and voila!  You can see why the session about forgetting is of interest to me.  Aside from the Brian Williams belly laugh and a couple of show off parents, what I most remember is that apparently the best measure to ward off memory loss is physical exercise.  While I am pretty regular about this, I inquire, just in case, if there are any drugs in development that might provide an additional prophylactic and I am pleased that the answer is affirmative.

We take the second course together and end up there because neither of us reads carefully.  The class is titled “The 60’s.”   What we neglect to notice is the the instructor is in the theater department and the topic is mainly “The Living Theater” and its founder, Julian Beck.  Neither, except for Himself’s soft spot for Samuel Beckett, has much appreciation for the avante-garde and we roll our eyes at each other when we realize our fatal error.  The class is too small to slip out of.  It turns out that the presentation is quite interesting and illustrates how experimental theater laid a groundwork for mainstream productions like Hair and Jesus Christ Superstar.

After a morning of intellectual rigor we head over the bridge from lovely Annandale to a two mile stretch of chain stores in Kingston.  I hate Walmart although I did enjoy Crystal Bridges, the admission free art museum they created several miles from corporate headquarters in Bentonville Arkansas.  I am also an enormous cheapskate but if there were a Walmart a few blocks from my home I like to think that I wouldn’t shop there.  It is completely irrational, I know, that it is ok with me to drive over the bridge to Walmart to buy stuff for Spuds.  Himself has never been to a Walmart and shushes me when I begin to comment on a display of pink rifles.  We fill a basket with staples for Spuds and throw in an electric blanket, having noticed that the cavernous old house he lives in is cold and drafty.  Walmart yields a remarkable amount of stuff for remarkably little money and a strong imperative to do something now to clean up my karma.

My cheapness extends also to restaurant dining.  The Hudson Valley is chock a block with places where entrees start at thirty bucks and the menu lists the provenance of every ingredient. Not a good choice for starving college students.   Spuds is a very good sport about having pizza two nights in a row. After all, he has enough in Walmart provisions to get him through to the end of the year.  We do spot Gaby Hoffman picking up take-out from a Hudson joint.

We take Spuds and his girlfriend Anne to Olana, the residence of Hudson Valley painter Frederic Church.  The site is chosen by the artist to provide a spectacular view of the scenery from every window.  The home is like no other of the period, Church having traveled extensively in the middle east and incorporating many oriental elements into the design. The home has been faithfully restored and a number of Church’s Hudson Valley landscapes hang there.  The light on the Hudson River vista, autumn leaves in full color on a late afternoon, is breathtaking. How comforting too that while having so little time with Spuds these days that we do so spectacularly well in the quality department.

We arrive in Hudson for a Halloween parade down the main street.  It is a ragtag affair, led by a police car and followed by a fire engine.  The town’s major employer is a nearby prison but there has been a great deal of gentrification.  The main street boasts twee stores and pricey restaurants and artist Marina Abramovic has plans for a museum there.  Still, there is a pleasant small town feel as we stroll at dusk with Spuds and Anne.

On Monday morning we deliver two loads of freshly mom washed laundry and some additional groceries to Spuds and take him to breakfast at a badly managed coffee shop quartered in a lovely old church near his house in Tivoli.  Our second celebrity sighting is of Daniel Mendelson, a Bard professor and writer that we both very much admire.  We stop to tell him how much we enjoy his work before we bid farewell to Spuds.  

We cross the Rip Van Winkle Bridge to visit the Thomas Cole House.  He is the true founder of the Hudson Valley school and was a mentor to Frederic Church.  His homestead is far more modest than Olana but shares with it a spectacular view of the Hudson.  Our tour guide is of the vapid chipper sort who filters every detail through her own personal experience. Still, there are a number of Cole paintings and it is delightful to take them in from the point of inspiration.

Perhaps the only cheaper person than me on the planet is Himself.  We have prepaid for a full tank of gas and when we leave Redhook there is enough fuel for 120 miles which happens to be the exact distance to the airport.  We don’t however account for bumper to bumper traffic or the additional distance to the rental car return.  The gas light comes on about 30 miles before the airport and by the time we hit the off-ramp for JFK the indicator says we have only enough to drive a mile and I am in a panic.  When we actually reach the return lot it’s down to zero and I’m relieved to see a downhill ramp.  

An AerLingus redeye takes us to Dublin.  The flight attendants sport old school beehive hairdos, like the B52s, taupe pantyhose and their uniforms resemble housecoats.  They are curt, like most airline employees are these days, except for one who is mortified that our order for Himself’s vegetarian meal hadn’t been recorded.  She heaps our trays with rolls and salads and extra desserts and even offers to bake a potato.  I feel guilty when Himself eats the chicken curry anyway.

Our first stop on the Emerald Isle is Drogheda, a medium sized town about an hour from Dublin. We stay at a sweet guest house and the owner brings us freshly baked bread when we arrive.  Himself has an uncanny way of knowing who’s Catholic and who’s Protestant and informs me that our host if definitely the former.  Dear old friends, writers Carrie and Anthony move here from Belfast about eight years ago.  We see Carrie every couple of years as she hails from Orange County and returns to the States regularly to visit family but it’s been close to a decade since I’ve seen Anthony.  His Northern accent confounds me and embarrassingly, I have to often rely on Carrie for translation.  I will add, in my own defense, when Anthony is interviewed by Henry Rollins for American television, he is subtitled.   Both of their kids attend Irish speaking schools and take great pleasure in making fun of Himself’s self taught Irish.  We walk along the Boyne and visit St. Peter’s Church to see the embalmed head of Saint Oliver Plunkett and a supposed relic from the True Cross.  

Drogheda is a pleasant town with a burgeoning food scene but other than the saint’s shrunken head there isn’t much in the way of tourist attractions.  This gives us time for leisurely meals and excellent conversation.  Our conduit to the world is primarily digital these days, it is tonic and refreshing to just hang out with old friends.  Before lunch on the day we are to leave, Anthony washes two loads of clothes for us (which apparently wrecks their washer) and carefully mends a seam in Himself’s jacket.  He is a large man who sports a very full beard and many tattoos and I am charmed to observe his natural domesticity.

Between the visit to Drogheda and meeting some friends in a rural cabin we select a well reviewed guest house in County Monaghan.  The location is listed as Ballybay but the address we are given yields no results on the GPS.  We arrive in the town and stop at a mechanic’s shop to ask directions.  He does his best to explain but finally sighs that it is dark and that he doubts we’ll find it.  By some miracle we do and are warmly greeted by a grandmotherly sort who Himself proclaims is Protestant.  He later verifies this when snooping around he finds the book “Presbyterians of Ireland.”  We are in the attic, in a room that must have been a daughter’s as we find an envelope full of birthday cards under the bed.  The place is warm and comfortable but crammed with knick knacks, doilies, artificial flowers and popular fiction.  Breakfast is farm fresh eggs and fresh brown bread, and miraculously, brewed coffee.  Many Irish are partial to instant.

There has been a smattering of rain but fortunately only when we’ve been indoors.  I dream of borrowing Casper, the resident weimaraner and going off for a walk.  But our hostess advises us that the trails will be muddy and suggests alternatively we visit the farmers market and museum in nearby Monaghan.   The market is tiny but if I had a kitchen I would have scored some gorgeous fat carrots and a giant celery root.  I do stock up on a few hostess gifts from the local baker.

As usual, we have the town museum to ourselves and get from the paleolithic era to The Troubles in about twenty minutes.  The town was known for linen and lace. Monaghan, close to the Northern Irish border was quite a hotbed and there were a number of Loyalist car bombs in the 1970s.  The IRA’s most conservative voice, the fascistic  Eoin O’Duffy, hailed from Monaghan.  Now the town is quite left leaning and we notice signage in a number of different languages, reflecting an influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe.  Still, shopkeepers are curious about my accent and always eager to chat about the weather.  We’re hoping to continue missing the rain as we continue traversing country roads to visit friends and be immersed in green.

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