Dreams of river swimming

Beacon is still in the clutches of a week-long heat wave while I’m there. I stop at the farmers’ market by the train station and take a moment to gaze at the Hudson River, so wide, cool, and inviting. I nearly cry when I see a sign directing visitors to the “River Pool” and grab my bathing suit and a towel from the hot car and make my way through the park, envisioning along the way, a refreshing soak in a cold, cold river. I picture an Olympic size pool and recall a saltwater pool filled by ocean water I saw on TV once.

And then I see it.

The River Pool in Beacon in all its cute but disappointing glory.

The River Pool in Beacon in all its cute but disappointing glory.

A child is frolicking in the water with her father while I stand by feeling dejected and pathetic. And also hot. Still very hot.

“Is there a place for adults to swim?” I ask the lifeguard. “You can swim off the rocks, if you’re adventurous,” he says. I take one look at the thick carpet of lily pads and decide that I’m not adventurous.

Thankfully, Beacon has other things to offer: a tiny vintage shop with amazing finds, an eh flea market that is at least an interesting diversion, and a bagel shop where a dog knows just how close to the door it can sit before it is rewarded with a doggie bagel with peanut butter.

Beacon Vintage shop

Dog at bagel shop

I head over to Saugerties, another artsy town along the Hudson and linger in its sweet shops and cafes. Lucky Chocolates delivers what I need–a chocolate Buddha filled with caramel and Himalayan sea salt. What other chocolaterie crafts edible French bulldogs? The real question though, is how could you eat something so precious?

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Miss Lucy's

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I love (Tivoli) NY

Movie scouts, listen up. You should film something in Tivoli. It’s quite possibly the sweetest little town in New York. I walk past the book shop, the vegetarian cafe, the colorful Mexican restaurant, the corner laundromat and half-wonder if real people live here. Its small, four-way intersection has stop signs, no lights, and is the hub of the town–the type of place where your waiter yells out to the guy walking by, “You got a haircut!” then continues taking your order.

The library, located in a renovated fire station, is open on Friday nights for neighborhood kids to gather and make stuff. Couples bike through town on old-fashioned bikes and precocious kids order their steak quesadillas medium-rare. I realize later that Bard is down the street. The waiter at Santa Fe tells me that yes, real people live here, some families, some professors, some students who attend Bard and some who never leave. The restaurant has the requisite twinkly lights. The porches are reminiscent of New Orleans or Savannah. The street signs are funky. Gardens are in bloom. When I visit the restaurant later in the week, the waiter comes over to say hello, like we’re old friends. I really like it here.

Santa Fe restaurant

Tivoli library

Children's room at Tivoli library

Tivoli library entrance

The Lost Sock

Painting of Tivoli four corners

Murray's

Horseshoe and plaque on Black Swan bar

The desecration of a library

I’m all about the ports lately. Last week was Westport, CT for the birthday. This week was Freeport, ME to see Martin Sexton at LL Bean’s Discovery Park, a free outdoor concert series that would make me like the Bean, if I were on Facebook. Anyway, the “sex” in Martin’s name is no mistake; he’s one sexy folk singer. Just look at that swoop of hair and the way he sings, eyes closed in ecstasy. Lullaby, please.

Other than sexy Sexton and the campus that is LL Bean, complete with boot mobile, there’s not a lot to Freeport. A handful of outlets would disappointment me, if I were a tourist. But strolling down Main Street, my friend Kim and I, not tourists, just naive New Englanders, encountered this sweet brick library. She snapped a picture while I pointed out its quaintness—red and solid and stout amid the trees. A classic.

The chiseled bare-chested man peering at us from just inside the door did seem an incongruous entry to the little library, but who am I to judge Down Easters? Perhaps the image helps uh, circulation.

An art exhibit, I thought, puzzled. Until my friend pointed out the sign, in alarm, confirming the desecration of a most sacred space. Freeport, if it takes me 20 years, I will strike out your entry in all guide books from Fodor’s to Frommer’s.

An anglophile’s nostalgia

Today on the train, I am transported to the swampy fens of England and the dry, windswept moors of Yorkshire—away from the grim wetlands of Revere, the working Chelsea River, the city, and people. Spartan places a world away that geography has trouble mapping. Something in the rain, the sky silvering at the edge of the horizon, says more England than New England.

The air is heavy and British, full with the promise of fog.

A van crossing the bridge to Saugus becomes a lorry carrying cream from Devon. A white heron that alights in the marsh calls in a British accent. The tracks that run to the rail yard in Boston become tracks that extend to the outermost tip of Cornwall where they head straight off the cliff into the ocean.

Dear Hotel Manager

Dear Helmsley Hotel manager,

When the fire alarm sounds at midnight, while I am asleep after walking for miles all over Manhattan, and I scramble to find the light and my clothes and shoes and wallet (because the sleepy cynic in me wonders if this is an elaborate ploy to steal my belongings), and I stumble to the door wishing I had read the bloody floor plan that tells me how to crawl to the nearest exit, simultaneously cursing the hole in my pajama bottoms, and the alarm stops and a guy in security says over the loudspeaker, “May I have your attention please. May I have your attention please. Please disregard the alarm you just heard,” 1) there is no need to demand my attention (you have it), and 2) right, I’ll just disregard the bloodcurdling alarm that catapults me from deep slumber into utter nocturnal confusion.

When I grant you the fact that the hotel is under construction and these things happen (which is not to say I wasn’t swearing like the plumber who was apparently fiddling with some valve in the middle of the night), the alarm shatters my sleep again at 6:15 a.m. and I barely reach for my shoes when that voice comes on again, asking if he might have my attention and this time declaring in a thick New York accent, “There is no need to panic. This is a false alarm.”

But then, I suppose it’s only fair to have two false alarms in one night because some guests were out late and missed the first one.

Still, when I write to you complaining, you might at least write back.

Ungratefully,

Sleepless in NYC

Feasting on NYC

I love New York (that should totally be a slogan) and recently attended a conference in Queens (trees!) but spent a remarkable proportion of the trip eating—95%, I’d estimate. Eating is usually the point when I go to the city. The beauty of traveling alone is that you can walk past a dozen couples waiting at Momofuku and get a seat for one at the counter where you can slurp ramen with other solo foodies. The guy next to me picks up his bowl to drink the last drop of broth.

“I’m so glad you did that,” I say “because I’m so going there.”

At Ippudo there’s a half hour wait, but hold on, there’s one seat at the counter. When the waitress comes, I tell her I’ll have the pork buns, of course.

“And you, sir?” she says turning to the guy next to me. He looks confused.

“Oh, we’re not together,” I say. “Unless he’s paying.”

He is not.

I watch the chefs pan-fry slices of unctuous pork and nestle them into cloud buns, then eat with abandon.

Mostly though, I look to the sky.

Where the boys are

Uninspiring billboard

A billboard after my own heart

The High Line

Provocative exhibit made me feel all “Rear Window”

Neon half-marathoners in Central Park

While in Central Park watching runners exhaust themselves, I make do with a Belgian waffle with chocolate from Wafels & Dinges that runs a food truck at Columbus Circle on the edge of the park and one inside the park by the zoo. If you think two identical trucks within a few blocks is excessive, you’d be wrong; by the time you finish one waffle you need another. If you think I’m exaggerating, you’d be wrong again.

Foggy mountain retreat

It’s been years since I’ve hiked the White Mountains, the last time being with a boyfriend who I had just broken up with. Despite the break-up, we decided to go on our planned vacation, hiking hours uphill to the Mizpah Spring Hut. In silence.

Good times.

Suffice it to say my trip this weekend to AMC’s Highland Center in Crawford Notch with a friend for a long weekend yoga and hiking retreat was infinitely better. We bunked together, gossiped like girls, did 42 downward dogs, hiked Mt. Avalon, and chowed like boys after football practice.

Crawford Depot in the fog

Crawford Notch in the fog

We arrived in the dark, unable to see the hulking mountains but aware of them pressing in on us. In the morning, we awoke to a blanket of orange and red leaves cascading down the foggy mountainside. Nothing beats fog in my book. It’s dense and magical and can swallow a whole group of hikers, which it did when we reached the top of Mt. Avalon. Not a thing to see at the summit but the middle of a cloud. Aside from the chill, we might have been in the cloud forests of Costa Rica.

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In mittens, we ate peanut butter sandwiches and slid down the mountain on rocks slick from the mist. Hiking poles, I’ve since learned, are not decorative appendages. They come in handy when you’re navigating slippery terrain or fording a stream that looks unfordable.

A river that looks a lot more daunting in person

A river that looks a lot more daunting in person. Let's just say Mother Nature did not place the rocks strategically.

And, just because I like you, I’ll leave you with a little ground foliage:

Walking on color

Walking on color

The High Line

The High Line was an elevated subway line that ran up the west side of NYC that stopped running in 1980. A passionate group of volunteers championed the idea for a park to be built on the long, narrow strip of land that’s been unused ever since. Almost three decades later, the first leg of the park is open, about 10 blocks, and it is just what a park should be: pretty with plenty of places to plunk down. In addition to benches there are some honest-to-goodness chaise longues that defy you not to sit for a spell with a coffee or book. 

Oh, there are views too. It is, after all, New York City. 

I started at Gansevoort St., happy that there was no pronunciation test. I found a charming little enclave of bistros and boutiques and almost didn’t make it to the park for all the distractions. But spotting the sign, I trotted up a few steps to a new, quieter perspective. As all good things in New York, the park is no secret, but I found plenty of solitude and places to rest amid the morning hustle of moms pushing strollers and tourists recalling the city’s yesteryear.

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About halfway down the park, you can run down to street level and grab something to eat at Chelsea Market and do what the locals do: lounge away.

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Railroad tracks, an homage to the subway of days past, were incorporated into the design, and great care was taken with the plantings, though I did find myself looking around as I settled into one spot. The prairie milkweed emits a scent that is, well, not for everyone.  

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You light my fire, Providence

This is gonna sound weird if you’ve never heard of it, but Providence does this really cool thing where it lights braziers on fire! Not brassieres, silly, but braziers, as in large metal containers holding coal or wood. On weekends throughout the summer, the revitalized downtown hosts WaterFire, one cool public art display that involves setting the water ablaze. A man with a long braid and flowy pants with orange flames creeping up the side is delivered by boat to each wood pile where he performs some fire theatrics before igniting each section with a torch. Throughout the night, boats full of people clad in black glide through the water, stopping at each brazier to stoke the flames.

Providence illuminated

Providence illuminated

The riverside is dark and still, while the crowd awaits fire, and atmospheric music is piped throughout the area, lending the event an eerie, magical feel. A section of illuminated blue lanterns creates a little wonderland of light.

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So, to sum up: go to Providence and check this out. It’s fun and free and fiery! Plus, it’s really dark, so you can make out in public with your lover or find someone in the crowd and have your way with him. It’s dark. No one will ever know.

Chase’s Daily: a vegetarian feast in Belfast, Maine

While vacationing recently near Belfast, Maine, a shop owner told me about the place to eat, a restaurant right next door to his photography gallery. Chase’s Daily is a high-ceilinged casual vegetarian space with large wooden tables that serves dinner just once a week. And people in town know that that night is Friday. Chase’s grows its own produce, sells it to the public during the day, and uses the bounty to construct its lunches, dinner, and weekend brunch. 

When I heard at lunch that the restaurant was full up for reservations until 8:30, I took the server’s advice and arrived for dinner early, at 5:30, to snag a seat at the counter. A friendly gentleman seated me and chatted a bit (Mr. Chase?) and we laughed when a couple sat down next to me, looked at the menu, and left. “Our menu scares some people off,” he said. I told him I didn’t know what was on the menu, but I’d been looking forward to it all day—and I’m the furthest thing from a vegetarian. 

My meal started with a simple linguini appetizer with three or four red and green varieties of tomatoes, chopped, their juices making a nice broth. I followed that up with a super-thin crust pizza with a nice mix of cheeses, homegrown tomatoes and spinach. Delicious, but I couldn’t finish it all, so I had it boxed up, then promptly forgot to bring home the leftovers. Sadness.


Vacation goals: none

  


SD Backyard Hammock

Originally uploaded by bowena

I know the cool thing to do this year is to take a staycation, but too late. I’ve booked a good, old-fashioned vacation-vacation. Plus, that word—staycation—destined to become the word of the year (last year’s was locavore: someone who eats locally grown food), is annoying.

So, I’m packing up and heading north today to a cottage in midcoast Maine to enjoy the opposite of a jam-packed week. No phone. No computer. First on the agenda, unload the stack of books I’ve been saving for vacation. This is no time to read classics, but I don’t go in for beach reads either. Cost by Roxana Robinson is first up, then Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, and Undiscovered Country by Lin Enger. Three books should do it, but if it rains every day and I finish them, well, that’s a perfect excuse to visit my favorite bookstore Down East: Rock City Books and Cafe in Rockland, Maine.

Next, I have to hit the farmers’ market in Belfast and stock up on good food to cook. At some point, I’ll take a drive along the coast, stopping for seafood or at an interesting coffeehouse. But I don’t want to tax myself. So, mostly I have to make sure the Adirondack chair or hammock is optimally placed for a view of the lake. Then I have to kick back with the stack of books within easy reach and not move for hours.

Smile, you’re in the NYC subway

Opportunities for Kodak moments abound in New York City. Times Square, Central Park, the skyline…you could close your eyes and shoot and capture something good. But subterranean photography is where it’s at. On a recent jaunt to the city, my mom and I found cool photo ops jumping on the subway at 23rd St. and off at 28th. I’m sure the novelty has worn off for commuters, but if you’re an infrequent visitor to the city, even the subway art is something to behold. We took advantage of every ridiculous shot resulting in us wearing tiled hats and being eaten by birds of prey—even if people on the train looked at us strangely and kids were pointing. Whatever. It’s New York City. You’ll never see these people again.