The Independent Extols The Catskills, But….

….in its “quest” for “Catskills style,” the U.K. newspaper in my humble opinion omits some very “stylish” places:

Searching for style in the Catskills

I understand it seems to be a narrowly focused piece that showcases certain businesses. Still, it gives an unbalanced impression of the region. There is lots of “style” out there beyond hugging Route 28 towards Roxbury.

Places that Indy article plugs, such as Woodstock and Phoenicia, are definitely worth visiting. Head north as well. Windham and adjoining towns – Hunter, Jewett, Ashland and Prattsville* – should not be missed.

Windham has the prettiest Main Street in the Catskills. It also boasts a large ski resort. (There’s also another in Hunter.) It has the wonderful Bistro Brie & Bordeaux. (One wouldn’t have thought the Independent could’ve possibly overlooked something like, uh, that.) There’s also the well-regarded Windham Vineyards and Winery. And you haven’t eaten in a diner until you’ve tried (cash only) Michael’s. (My English brother-in-law – who visited last summer – still talks about how much he enjoyed it.) I could go on….

Next door Ashland – one of the smallest towns in New York state – even has a replica Partridge Family bus. (It’s on private property.) Does anything get more “stylish” than that?

The area has state forests and fantastic hiking trails. It’s also somewhere you can drive for tens of miles before bumping into a traffic light. (The hamlet of Tannersville – there’s “style” there too – in the town of Hunter, has the STOP light.) The vistas and serenity are second to none for the Catskills.

Rainbow over the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2012.]

Rainbow over the Catskills, looking toward Hunter Mountain. (Notice the deer accidentally in frame.) [Photo by me, 2012.]

Yes, I’m biased. Our house is outside of Windham. However, if you drive up from New York City and confine yourself only to what’s along Route 28 and don’t continue up from Phoenicia to Route 23, you haven’t really seen the Catskills.

Anyway, time to get back to work. Writing, writing, writing. Woodstock isn’t the only place in the Catskills with authors. ;-)

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….
__________

NOTE: *For me, one of the few “lighthearted” moments of Tropical Storm Irene and the lousy late summer of 2011 was hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper repeatedly say “Prattsville” to an audience of global viewers. The town and area have rebounded from the flooding. Prattsville still has a few ruined private dwellings marked for demolition, but most business locations have recovered, rebuilt, and, indeed, often been refurbished.

Soooouper Geeeeenius

We’ve had three mice infestations during the last year. They love the inside of our boiler, which is down in our crawl space. Typical Catskills. Typically rural.

They slip inside it through the outside fresh air intake, which is about 12 inches off the ground and only a few inches above a naked pipe, from which we suspect they can easily reach up to get to the intake. After the first time, I put a window screen mesh over the intake; but they nibbled through that. After the second, I jammed steel mesh into the intake opening; and they wiggled around that.

After the third, the other day, the propane company technician who cleared them out suggested dryly, “Ya need a cat.”

The in-laws' cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

The in-laws’ cat, caught making himself comfortable on the cooker top. London. [Photo by me, 2013.]

Now there’s a high-tech solution for you. Except we can’t have a cat. We are in the U.K. a lot, and my mother detests cats and would never visit us.

“Maybe we should get a cat,” my wife joked.

The mice have done no major damage thus far, but we suspect it’s only a matter of time. So I’ve finally had enough. No mice are going outsmart Wile E. Nello.

I’ve constructed a multilayer defensive system. Please don’t call it my personal Maginot Line. Just don’t:

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

My anti-mice effort. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Its basis is two layers of 1/4 inch gap steel mesh tacked to the house around the entire intake/out vent. (The opening you see is the out vent; the fresh air intake opens on the reverse side.) I jammed layers of gorilla tape into all gaps (no matter how small) between the mesh and the house siding (which is not flat of course). A board below blocks a horizontal pipe that the critters may use as a “step up.” I even placed a blocking piece of metal next to another pipe, to the left, from which they might be able to jump across.

When my wife saw the finished product – which took me a couple of hours to construct – she declared, “You’re wasted writing books!”

“Oh, yeh,” I replied, “and at some point an anvil will probably come down on my head.” 😏

Upstate New York’s Guillotine

July 14 is “Bastille Day.” Saturday, the Rockland County village of Piermont commemorated it. A photo gallery from LoHud newspaper captures some of the event, including its display of the French Revolution’s most enduring and infamous symbol:

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In stumbling on that photo while clicking through, I found it jarring and somewhat off-putting to see even a fake guillotine on a street amidst a party atmosphere. I suppose sticking your head into one is now considered a lot like allowing yourself to be locked into “the stocks” or “the pillory.” The real guillotine, though, was assuredly a heckuva lot more final than those.

The article led me to recall this I’d written back in March:

….when it comes to the Revolution, non-French are best advised to be cautious before shooting off their non-French mouth about it among French new acquaintances. Probe a little first, and make sure of where everyone stands, before you take to proclaiming how the Revolution was “fantastic” and that Robespierre is sadly misunderstood.

Years ago, a French inspiration for one of my characters told me, point blank, that she was never pleased when Bastille Day rolled around. To be clearer: she despised it. And why did she feel that way?

“They cut off my ancestors’ heads,” she seethed.

In 1789, the Revolution had begun seeming to be much like the American Revolution, causing Americans there at that time, such as Thomas Jefferson, to applaud it. However, he departed for home within a year, and other Americans in France looked on in horror as the Revolution descended into a chaotic, bloodthirsty mess. It did not produce many “heroes.”

Indeed, another French character inspiration pulled me up squarely on this suggestion of one perhaps vaguely arguable “hero”:

“Napoleon was a butcher, like Hitler,” she decreed.

Okay, I’ll be quiet now. And there were absolutely no George Washingtons. So while it has become France’s “national day,” underneath it all a disquiet remains: “Bastille Day” is not quite the “unifying” holiday in France that the “4th of July” is in the U.S.

After U.S. independence was recognized by Britain in 1783, those Americans who had opposed it often emigrated to Canada or other British territories, or even to Britain itself. (For example, one of Wellington’s officers killed at Waterloo in 1815 was a New York-born DeLancey, whose prominent family had opposed U.S. independence.) Or they simply stayed in the new U.S. and reconciled themselves to it – and they were allowed to do so. There were not thousands of executions of American “counterrevolutionary” loyalists who had supported remaining part of the British Empire.

The guillotine strikes me as similar to the electric chair. Or maybe I’m just too sensitive? I suppose 220 years since the Terror is deemed enough time to have passed for the guillotine to be confined safely to the realm of Renaissance fair-style history.

My Day

Friday was a relatively ordinary day. I started early, at the PC after 6am re-reading Thursday’s writing output. I then had a read of what’s going on in the world, messed around on Twitter a bit, and put up a post here. Actually getting dressed and eating breakfast followed. I then tackled a few things around the house as well.

Around 9am, the new writing began. Here, I use a large-screen, desktop PC that sits on a glass-topped desk positioned on our loft office space. I have a comfortable office chair (which has wheels). If I sit back for a think, I can see Windham Mountain through a window.

The desk is large, and I’ve got reference materials scattered all over it and stuffed in hanging files sitting off to the side. For a background history refresher, on the desk right now is also a book I’m re-reading on the Algerian conflict (1954-1962). Reference material like that usually ends up supporting only a paragraph or two, or a few sentences in a conversation; but I firmly believe that, for this tale, reality has to support the fiction believably. (Think, in a similar sense, of the likes of, say, The Winds of War, but on a much more intimate scale…. and with no character becoming close to a U.S. president or a Soviet dictator.)

I had sat down with a detailed part of a chapter already firmly in mind. (I have the sequel outlined, but “the guts” are what need filling in.) I also had had a brainstorm about an unplanned, new chapter for the second half of the book, and which I felt I had to sketch out at least. I don’t really want to add to “part 2” just now; but when an idea hits, I have to write it down so I don’t forget it.

When I get going, I “zone out.” I put in earphones and play music (often older stuff from the 1990s as inspiration). My wife jokes that she knows not to talk to me when I’m writing. (“Your brain is elsewhere, thinking I don’t know what, about I don’t want to know who, and I can see that.”) As I tap, tap, tap, she leaves me alone, and goes off to do whatever she has to do.

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Hours disappear. If you want to see your life vanish, write a novel. Nine o’clock yesterday morning was suddenly 1pm. Four hours gone in a flash. After a bite to eat, and a quick shower, it was back to “the grind.” Four o’clock rolled around faster than I could yell “Patchogue!” – hint: that’s an obscure reference to the first book:

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

Uh, to be clear, I’m not asserting there that “Patchogue” is obscure. I don’t want to get into trouble! Rather I’m noting only that the reference to it in the book might be. ;-)

Aside from a sandwich and the shower, in all those hours I had barely gotten far from the desk. The result was worth it. I had pages and pages of (what seems decent) material.

At some point, I checked Twitter. I could see tweeting pals either exulting or bemoaning Spain’s being kicked all the way to Amsterdam in the World Cup. I was back in “the real world” again. :-)

Happy Saturday!

The Algonquin

I like football/soccer, but I’m not particularly grabbed by Brazil v. Croatia (which is on now). Done writing for the day too. So how about a quick post unrelated to the World Cup?

In case you somehow haven’t noticed, I’m a massive Mad Men fan. :-) If you watch it too, you may have noticed during the first half of this season 7 that Mad Men briefly used the Algonquin Hotel as a backdrop. Gothamist tells us:

Don’s got a meeting at The Algonquin, but the iconic hotel is never really used in the show. What we see is the Hilton Checkers Hotel on Grand Avenue in Los Angeles….

Years ago – long before Mad Men – I’d been to the real one several times, uh, hmm, drinking socializing. However, I’d never actually stayed overnight as a guest. So, last summer, for our anniversary, we decided, why not?

Just one of those little things in life I always wanted to do. Oh, it was fantastic…. and, urr, pricey, to say the least. (That was mitigated somewhat by us staying on a Sunday evening, so there were room discounts going.) And I did get a pen, some hotel stationery, postcards, and a cup cover!:

My Algonquin memorabilia. [Photo by me, 2014.]

My Algonquin memorabilia. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Ahem. Shameless plug: In both books, I slip in references to, and have scenes in, a Manhattan hotel that sounds vaguely similar. I decided I had to do that. How could I not? ;-)

Foul Mouths

Do Americans use foul language more than other English-speaking nationalities? I’m merely asking. Someone, someplace must have done a study? (Somebody always does a study.)

I have found that while bad language – the “F” word especially – is heard in Britain of course, it does seem less common than in the U.S. However, “America” is probably too wide a description. My personal experience is, naturally, rooted in what I’ve heard where I was born and raised: downstate New Yorkers, including Long Islanders, and New Jerseyans, seem to have an infamous reputation – deserved or not – as “foul mouths.”

Perhaps that’s due to impressions conveyed through books, TV, and movies – especially those involving organized crime and cop stuff? Yet are they encouraging its use, or merely conveying it is routinely used? Which comes first?

Whatever the reasons, it is common to hear, for instance, the “F” word used not just as a swear word. It is also routinely dropped into ordinary conversation – as in, say, “That’s f-cking great!” Really? Uh, is it?

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Or maybe I’ve just become more aware of it? My (English) wife abhors bad language. As a result, I almost never use it. Indeed, if I do – even in momentary anger in a situation one might consider “justifies” it, such as a death – she pulls me up on it.

As a result, I suppose I’ve backed off from foul language in my writing too. It’s probably safer to err on the side of not using it. It likely offends some readers, while avoiding it seems unlikely to offend anyone.

“I Love New York”

I tweeted a Catskills post and photo the other day. I Love New York’s official Twitter account found it, “favorited” it, and tweeted @ me:

I Love New York on Twitter.

I Love New York on Twitter.

Hilarious. Always remember, you never 100% know who’s going to stumble on what you have uploaded to the web. ;-)

Morning Mist

Happy Saturday! How about an “uplifting” photo?:

Morning mist below Windham Mountain (left) and Hunter Mountain (distant, right), in the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2014.]

Morning mist below Windham Mountain (left) and Hunter Mountain (distant, right), in the Catskills. [Photo by me, 2014.]

I grabbed that about 45 minutes ago. I’m a “morning person,” as you may know. Even on the weekends!

There’s still plenty of snow visible on the ski runs on both Windham (left) and Hunter, but brown patches are increasingly obvious. Spring has arrived. Skiing is finished until November.

Have a good weekend, wherever you are. :-)

Quick Take 5: “James” (Where It All Starts)

We are dropped into their lives initially in a University of Long Island (ULI) classroom on a warm September Thursday in 1994. Any of us may find ourselves luckily in the right place at the right time. James believes that, for him, this is one of those times….

__________

Just turned 29, and having decided the year before that he needed to finish college, James is back for another semester. He grabs a seat for this first meeting of his Western Civilization class. This is his second, and final, class of the day.

Moments later, he notices a tallish, attractive woman, strolling into the classroom. Briefly she makes friendly eye contact with him, and then sits at the desk directly in front of his…. and he’s really pleased she has. She strikes him as a bit older than the usual undergraduate and effortlessly chic compared to most of them.

After settling in, she turns to him, huffs that she can’t stand her dorm-mate, and introduces herself: her name is Isabelle. He sees also that her fingers are ring-less, and is incredulous as to how that can be possible. He introduces himself in return:

“I’m James. James, uh, no, not James ‘You Know Who,’” he responded awkwardly.

She turned her head slightly, fixed her gaze on him, and smiled. “Well, hello, Mr. ‘Not You Know Who.’ You are not English, so you cannot be.”

“No, I’m definitely not English,” James made clear. Trying to play it cool, he looked down again at his notebook for a moment, unsure what to say next. Finally, he voiced what seemed obvious. “And you aren’t from Patchogue?”

They chat as other students wander into the thirty desk classroom. Her accent is familiar to him, but he can’t immediately pin it down. She clears up that question for him when she explains she had arrived only a few days earlier from France; she had previously wanted to be an au pair alongside her friend, but her father wouldn’t allow that, so she is here now to study for a year instead.

As they talk, James admits that he has never been to Europe.

Born half-Irish-American, half-Italian-American in Queens, and raised mostly in suburban Suffolk County, James seems a typical young Long Islander of the 1980s and 1990s. Growing up, he had not traveled much, and what he had seen outside of New York had been almost entirely within the U.S. His biggest adventure had been just after he’d completed a two-year degree, when, at age twenty, he had ventured to a college in Alaska for an additional semester. Since then, he had worked in his family’s construction business.

Suddenly, the professor appears:

“That is all for the moment,” Isabelle smiled and remarked in a playful, subversive tone. “We must be good scholars.” She turned in her seat and faced forward.

That she catches his eye is no real surprise. After class, they head to the student center café and continue their chat. All the while, he’s dying to ask her out, but struggles to summon up the courage to do so.

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At last he hits on what he’s sure is a “can’t miss.” It doesn’t have to seem like “a date” either. He asks timidly if, since she’s new to New York, she’d be interested in joining him, and his friends Brian and Colleen, maybe for a day out in Manhattan on Saturday…. including a visit to the top of the World Trade Center? He adds that he has to check if they can make it, of course.

She replies that she’d love to….
______________

See related:
Russians
Quick Take 4: “Béatrice”
Quick Take 3: “Uncle Bill”
Quick Take 2: “Valérie”
Quick Take: “Virginie”

Catskills Moonset

How about a photo to start the day? The Moon was up all night and brightly, into early daylight:

The Moon finally going down only a little while ago. [Photo by me, 2014.]

The Moon going down only a little while ago. [Photo by me, 2014.]

In the foreground, I happened to catch the top of our water well cap. It had been totally buried.

Lots of the “here and there” snow has melted, but the skiing is still good. Ski Windham says it will be open through March 30. We’re hearing vaguely of another snow “event” early next week.

Happy Tuesday!