Monthly Archives: August 2019

Picturing Rock and Roll – Herb Ritts at the Fenimore Art Museum

Madonna in all her natural beauty

The final week of summer vacation has arrived and with it comes a mad dash to enjoy activities and events that seemed easily achievable way back in June.
One thing I’ve had on my radar was a photography exhibit at the Fenimore Art Museum, a place I’ve never before visited. Knowing that the opportunity to see this collection of Herb Ritts’ photos was limited (the show closes 9/2) I got in my car yesterday and made the 90 minute drive to Cooperstown and boy, am I glad I did.

To begin, I don’t know much about photography or the folks who have elevated it to a fine art, but I was aware of Herb Ritts’ name and, as I learned yesterday, some of his work. I’m sure you are too. Before his death in 2002 at the age of 52, he photographed some of the most iconic celebrities and personalities of contemporary culture. Ritts also, upon urging from Madonna, became a highly sought after director of music videos eventually working with, among others, Michael and Janet Jackson, Chris Isaaks, Jennifer Lopez and Mariah Carey.

Prince, King of gold

The exhibit ($24 admission) is downstairs in a newer wing of the museum and in addition to photos, includes some cool memorabilia. I fangirled over an impeccable black suit, complete with top hat, worn by Madonna and a dress that belonged to Joan Baez, but I could see guitar players being even more impressed by the beautiful instruments on display.

Courtney Love, Framed Angel

While some of the images were familiar, with many having been originally published as covers for Rolling Stone magazine, the captions and original contact sheets added an entirely new layer of context. An accompanying video in which a number of his subjects, colleagues and his brother appeared, helped to provide details about Ritts’ motivation and process and caused my heart to break a little as I considered how many more photos he might have produced had his life not been cut short, like so many other talented individuals, by AIDS.

Sting, the first crush to inspire lust – at least for me.

After taking in the show and checking out a few other museum galleries, I thoroughly enjoyed a picnic lunch on the terrace overlooking beautiful Otsego Lake. I was unable to resist the call of the tree lined path to the lake and eventually found myself on the shore testing the water temperature and wishing for an opportunity to swim or paddle board. For that, I guess, there’s always next summer.

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America is not the greatest country in the world

I’m first generation American, a position that gives me, I think, an interesting perspective on this country. I was bilingual until kindergarten when I came home from my half day of school and informed my mother that “this is America and we speak English here.” After that, I no longer was willing to speak German, a genuine loss when I visit my family in the Black Forest where most of them still reside.

Speaking a second language was not considered an asset in this country which arrogantly calls itself “America,” despite the fact that that is the name of two entire continents of which we are only one single country. In contrast, my mother spoke 3 languages while living in Europe, learning her fourth, English, upon arriving here in the mid-60s.

Growing up, we were encouraged to work hard in school because my mother saw education as the only means available to create a life better than the one into which we were born. My brother is a doctor and I hold an advanced degree. We own homes, have retirement accounts, travel, and generally have comfortable lives. In spite of childhoods consisting of a single parent home, Medicaid, and the shame of food stamps and free lunch, we made it.

Through hard work and social programs, my brother and I achieved what in many regards is considered the American Dream. So, why aren’t I more of a believer in the claim that America is the greatest country in the world? Well, it seems like there are quite a few reasons.

The income gap in the United States is outrageous. I don’t know about you, but I will never be convinced that a CEO is entitled to receive a salary that is on average 361 times the salary of the average worker. I’m not suggesting that the rest of the world is perfect, but America really excels in compensating executives at a more outrageous level than any where else in the world.

Do you have any idea how much our country spends on the military? How does the number $649 BILLION sound to you? It’s an amount comparable to the spending of the next eight countries – combined. Granted, this amount is less than what is budgeted for K-12 education,  but it remains an incredibly large number.

Speaking of education, when I was in Greece last month, I spoke with a couple from Scotland and asked them how college “worked” in their country. How much does it cost? Who pays for it? Their response – tuition is free and students are only responsible for related expenses such as room, board and books. The cost of those items can be met with loans, which essentially have an interest rate close to zero with repayment of the loans not beginning until the borrower reaches a certain level of income. Doesn’t that sound a lot more fair and reasonable than our government, which is the largest lender to students, earning interest off citizens trying to improve their lives?

During my travels I’ve been struck by the price of groceries (low) and the quality of public transportation (high) in the European countries which I’ve visited. Access to health care, while not perfect, does not seem to bankrupt families in the way I’ve observed it occurring in this country.

Solar and wind energy seem much more common in Europe and vehicles are more compact and fuel efficient than those found in America. Homes are smaller, not requiring the same resources to maintain, heat and cool. Vacation time is more generous, as are family leave policies when it comes to child rearing, with tax incentives available to soften the blow of losing an income while a parent stays home to raise a child.

America has been good to my family, but it is not the greatest country in the world and we need to recognize that. While it once may have been a true beacon of freedom and opportunity for all, that time has passed. A country which separates families seeking asylum, fails to provide preventative healthcare to the poor and the underemployed and has different justice and education systems for people depending upon the color of their skin really doesn’t sound all that great to me.

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(Not) Letting go

As of mid morning on Monday my hair still smelled like woodsmoke from Saturday night’s bonfire on Herring Cove beach. I washed it later in the day, but delaying the shampooing allowed the odor to linger in a lame attempt to cling to the week I had just spent at the Cape. It ended too soon.

After my adventures in Greece earlier this summer, I came to the realization that 2 weeks in Greece was essentially the same cost as the house I rent in Wellfleet. Hmmm. That was striking. Maybe it was time to let go of of this twenty year tradition for the sake of experiencing new destinations…

But, the magic of the Cape seems to get me every time, even when getting there is a clusterf*ck of traffic. Morning walks to the ocean, swimming with my dog in a pond that feels like our own and enjoying friends and low key entertaining…I just don’t know how to let it go.

Difficulty letting go has been a theme for me, it seems. This annual vacation, my Volvo wagon, lovers, specific articles of clothing…I hang on to things that have personal meaning that is sometimes irrational and beyond physical properties. I suspect it comes from unresolved childhood issues and a general lack of stability growing up. I mean, by the time I was in 6th grade I had attended three different school districts (and 5 separate buildings) and moved at least 8 times, which certainly didn’t lend much in terms of consistency to my life.

Perhaps all of that upheaval created a need for some constants in my life, beyond my brother and oldest of friends, and the annual trip to the Cape has simply grown into an event that is beyond a mere beach vacation. It’s a touchstone of my summer.

As I drove east and then south to Wellfleet, I did so with the mindset that this was it, end of an era, and I felt okay about it. Seven days later I knew that somehow I would find a way to continue this tradition, even with an anticipated return to Greece and a trip with my youngest son to Spain. At least for the next year. It’s just too important to my emotional and mental health, and my dog, to abandon.

What do you struggle to let go of?

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The perfect Cape house

When I awoke from my afternoon nap to the sound of the wind in the trees, for a moment, I did not know where I was. I smiled that my response to that temporary state of being was excitement and not fear. Good. I prefer the unknown to be interesting instead of scary. I took a breath and, before opening my eyes, recalled where I was…the Cape, in the most perfect house I’ve ever stayed in the two decades since I began visiting this lovely area.

I’ve lost count of the number of other houses there have been over the years. The first few trips to Cape Cod were short getaways of just a couple of nights. My older boys were little guys and we were in the depths of daycare expenses hell which didn’t leave much of a vacation budget. We stayed in an adorable bed and breakfast/inn in Harwich Port and I fell in love with the adorable town and watching my babies enjoy the waves and sand. I was hooked.

We moved on to renting a tiny cottage for an entire week – a big leap forward. The lack of a dishwasher was a drag, but what really propelled us into getting a different house the following year was the need for a washing machine. Beaches + boys = laundry, and lots of it.

Our criteria for a rental now included the following: dishwasher, laundry facilities, dog friendly and an outdoor shower. We found a house a bit further out on the Cape that met each of these demands and rented the same place for the next few years, happily. I learned to immediately remove all the little throw rugs for the duration of our stay, thus avoiding the game of slide-around-the-oversized-kitchen, and somehow managed to sidestep any medical emergencies other than swimmer’s ear and the chicken pox.

During some exploratory drives beyond Chatham, I fell hard for Wellfleet and directed my attention to finding a rental there for the following summer. Fifteen or so years later, this remains my favorite spot on the Cape. The houses we’ve had have mostly been winners, but there were a couple of exceptions.

At this point a week on the Cape had become two weeks, sometimes divided between the Cape and Martha’s Vineyard. For a number of years there was an awesome “upside-down” house that featured a second story kitchen, dining and living room which gave the place a tree house feel. The deck wrapped around two sides of the place and there were turkeys in the back yard and a hammock the boys would swing in until someone reliably got unceremoniously dumped.

We switched things up the next year for a house with newer furniture and a better yard for the kids to play in, but these perks came with unexpected consequences – ants and mice. After a week of storing all of our food in Rubbermaid containers, we knew it was a one and done kind of situation. There was no looking back.

Honing in on our happiness took us closer to the water, near Lieutenant’s Island. The first year was a fail in a house that failed to indicate that going from the upstairs to the downstairs required walking outdoors and down an external staircase, not great with still smallish children. The stone fireplace on the deck wasn’t enough to get us back the next year.

We made the leap over the bridge, (which is inaccessible during high tides), to a decent house within a 10 minute walk to a calm bay beach. During our stay that first year, the kids made friends with a boy in a nearby house and I took the chance to take a peek inside. It looked perfect for us and was in fact an ideal set up with bedrooms and baths scattered over three stories with awesome decks, including one outside of my bedroom that attracted hummingbirds from early morning through dusk. Despite the tight galley kitchen, I really loved that place and we returned to it for the next 3 or 4 years.

As the kids got older, though, the bay didn’t appeal to wave seekers and we shifted our eyes to the other side of Route 6 where we found what is now my ideal house. Hidden in the woods with a semi-private pond directly across the rutted dirt road, the place I’ve visited the past three years is as close to perfect as I can imagine. A 15 minute walk gets us to the ocean and Wellfleet Center is a drive just slightly longer.

The house itself is ideal with a small footprint, but three stories tall. The kitchen and dining area are spacious and open directly onto a large screened porch with a view of the gardens and “our” pond. The separate cabin was perfect as a “crib” for the boys and avoided a whole lot of arguing about wet towels and swim suits on the floor, because I just didn’t have to see it.

The “boys” are older now, though, and no longer interested, or able, to spend a week away from friends or jobs. Last year, for the first time ever I spent a week away from my children at the Cape and filled the house instead with friends. The small cabin became an oasis for a couple and the bedrooms on the second and third floors were occupied with a fluid array of grown ups.

We never ran out of milk. I didn’t drive for five days. We ate when we were hungry and drank when we were thirsty. There was a rager of a party, which we celebrated by taking a swim in the dark in the pond. It was dreamy.

This second year without my sons feels even more indulgent. I’m as infatuated with this house as ever, but I’m looking forward and thinking I’d like to explore some new beaches, maybe in Greece again. The price of the beautiful home I rent is about equal to the cost, I believe, of what I can instead spend putting together two weeks in Greece. It’s time to make a new tradition.

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Hearing voices

Driving in my car the other day, I caught WAMC’s Joe Donahue conducting an interview with a woman whose name I didn’t catch, having tuned in mid broadcast. As I listened to the conversation I realized the woman’s voice was familiar…it was my friend, Sally, who works for the University. How cool! I turned up the volume and enjoyed listening to the smart and compassionate conversation about important things impacting college students today, like food insecurity, stress and mental health.

From what Sally said, there are many resources available to assist the population with which she works. The Campus Center seems to be the hub for where students can physically access this support and I hope the various programs in place are able to work to their capacity. They’re doing good work.

I imagine the two perpetrators of last weekend’s mass shootings were each of the age the resources of Purple Pantry and related services are designed to aid. If they weren’t currently students, there were probably community programs to assist with mental health issues available to both young men. I know, from a meeting I sort of* attended at the Savoy last month, that the city of Albany offers referrals to numerous low cost or free counseling and other support systems for those in need and I would think most communities offer something along these lines, right?

Let’s just argue, though, for the sake of arguing, because that’s what we do when we’re afraid and hesitant to make hard decisions, and say that there was no possibility for either of these cold blooded killers to access any resources which might have improved their lives, and potentially avoided the taking of dozens of innocent lives.

Ok, if that is indeed the case, why in the world were either of these two young men permitted to purchase weapons and ammunition that would allow them murder people at a rate of approximately one every 8 seconds? Why are the laws in place so inadequate that a man who caused his high school to be placed on lock down, because of his threats to classmates via lists of whom he wanted to kill or rape, is permitted a few short years later, to purchase guns capable of wreaking that kind of carnage?

I’m starting hear more and more people coming to the same devastating conclusion – this is who we are. This is America, land of the free, home of the gun. If an arguably not for profit organization, like the NRA, and its demands trump the expectation that our children, siblings, parents, lovers and friends should be able to conduct lives in schools and stores and offices and concert venues and festivals and places of worship and not be gunned down…well, I guess it’s time to either own it or fix it. Because next time it just might be you or yours.

A last anecdote – a friend, who owns a local food business and vends at many markets, shared the following:

You can bet that’s my new Starbucks’ name.

 

*The room was packed and I couldn’t get in to the meeting. Closed circuit tv allowed for viewing from the bar.

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Still swept away by Greece

This summer is flying by, don’t you think? I can’t believe it’s been almost three weeks since I got back from Greece. It some ways it feels like forever ago that we were there, however, I’m still successfully mentally resurrecting the sense of pleasure I felt being there just by closing my eyes. That country definitely is staying with me.

I’ve been to a fair number of European countries over the years, but there’s something about Greece that really rang a bell for me. It was effortlessly beautiful with blue skies, bright perennial flowers and white washed buildings. The hills were arid and reminded me of the mountain in Palm Springs, another favorite place for me. The ocean was everywhere. My eyes simply never grew tired of the sights before them.

The Greek people are wonderful, gracious with their use of English and seemingly always interested in providing hospitality that goes a little beyond the expectation. After nearly every Taverna dinner we were provided with some small treat – a scoop of ice cream, a shot glass of a local liqueur or hunks of watermelon. After a life changing* bowl of chick peas that had been slow cooked in a bath of olive oil, onions and salt, I was given a bowl of watermelon tasting ever so slightly of the garlic cut with the same knife. My satisfaction with the meal could not have been greater.

Returning to a particular island has occupied my thoughts since I got back home – Paros, the last of the three islands we visited. The reasons for the fondness I have for this place are purely emotional. I felt very comfortable there. The island isn’t too big, the towns are picturesque without being fussy and the food and drink both stellar. There were also two things that occurred that gave me a sign from the universe that I was in a good place, the right place even.

The first was when son and I travelled to a different town on the island, Naoussa, which was to the north of Parikia where we were staying. It was late morning when we arrived on the bus and walked through the village on our way to finding a beach. Imagine my surprise to hear someone seated at a sidewalk cafe calling my name. It was a group with whom we had enjoyed the previous evening’s Farm to Table feast down island and now here they were! How random is that?!

The second affirmation came on the bus. I had purchased tickets for my son and I for a particular destination from which we would take a hike. He decided prior to departure that he didn’t care to go, so I went solo. As the bus driver’s helper came down the aisle to collect tickets, it turned out the beauty rich, but euro poor, young woman seated behind me did not have the necessary fare for her ride. I was able to offer her my extra ticket which turned out to be exactly what she needed. The smiles exchanged between she, the bus employee and myself could have lit up a room. It was a simple, happy moment.

I’m going to figure out how to get to Paros again and create some more of those. We all need simple, happy moments, right?

*Only slightly hyperbolic

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