Sunday, July 07, 2013

The Catskills, old friendships and Hannah Arendt's Grave

I had a long weekend off for the Fourth of July and Susie closed up shop (literally) for those four days as well.

On the Fourth we headed to Douglas, MA, for a family dinner at Dick and Dorothy's home. Tucked into the woody quiet, we were joined by Uncle Frank and Aunt Cathy (who is looking remarkably well these days). We all sat outside in the shade with cool breezes compliments of Vornado.

Eventually we all moved inside for a delicious dinner of  Dor's potato salad, fresh greens from their garden and grilled chicken.

The next morning Susie and I packed an overnight bag and loaded some sweet treats into a cooler along with chilled white wine and headed west to the Catskills to see the Archers. We hadn't been in their corner of the planet since October of 2009 and felt it was long overdue to sit in the quiet of their woods (notice the theme developing here? That's city folk talkin'). Since they were planning on a full house of kids, grandkids, Susie and I arranged to stay in a nearby bed and breakfast.

We cruised up Route 146 north to I-90 (known euphemistically as the Mass Pike) where we turned left (west) for the mountains of western Massachusetts. Traffic was light as we sped down the highway stopping for gas and Beer Nuts (but no beer). We soon crossed the Berkshires and plunged into the Hudson River Valley, catching I-87 south of Albany. Having travelled this highway many times when we lived in Vermont we felt like we had just met up with an old friend we hadn't seen in years -- and indeed, that would rather describe our meeting with the Archers as well. But more of that later.

The weather was warm but the Mini's A/C held its own and we attempted not to notice the temperature outside reading well into the 90s, especially as we came down out of the mountains.

We weren't on I-87 south long before we turned off onto Route 23 west which would take us deep into the northern edges of the Catskills, and, good news, cooler temperatures! Just west of Windham, NY, we took Route 17 south to Route 23A, where we turned west again and before long passed the sleepy village of Lexington. Just past the village was our B and B, the Mountain Meadow Inn.

Run by the Cuesta family the inn is actually four rooms on the top floor; ours had a wonderful bathroom and an A/C unit in the window! The breakfasts were made using their own fresh eggs, their own maple syrup and even freshly made blueberry jam from the day before.
our bed and breakfast: the Mountain Meadow Inn, Lexington, NY
and the barn in the back
breakfast of fresh eggs, homemade maple syrup and fresh picked cherries

From the b and b it was a quick 10-minute drive to the Archer homestead located deep in the woods of the northern Catskills.
the Archer homestead
out the back door

one of Susie's contributions for dessert: chocolate moelleux

Don Archer
Don, the MOCA version
learning to knit
Sarah and her children
Seth Archer
father and daughter
Seth and his wife Monica
Susie getting stumped
stump the chump (me)

After checking out of our b and b on Saturday morning we spent a little more quality time at the Archers -- conversations spun around and around, ideas cast hither and yon, a typical morning over coffee and Blueberry Buckle at the Archer house.

But the time arrived when we had to say au revoir and pack ourselves back in the Mini and head east to the grit and asphalt of Rubetown.  But we didn't have to rush, of course, and so we stopped in Winhdam for the summer fair. Small town America lives in the Catskills!

From Windham we opted to meander back roads and turned south on Route 296 where we picked up Route 23A in Hunter (a major ski resort), and couldn't help but notice the number of Orthodox Jewish men walking along the road.

Anyway, 23A was nice  but very narrow and only two-lane going down the mountain -- but we did catch a glimpse of the Kaatserkill Falls -- one place we had hoped to stop. But our hopes were dashed by the lack of available parking and believe me parking along the roadway was NOT an option.

So we cruised our way to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge, crossing the Hudson we made our way into Hudson, where we had a delicious sandwich at the Cascades, right on the main drag.

a sidewalk burrito stand 
We were duly impressed with Hudson: trendy shops but they had the good sense and decency to keep all the original (mostly) storefronts so you get a sense of a 19th century New York village walking comfortably into the 21st century. Definitely a place to revisit if we ever come this way again.

From Hudson we retraced our route (partly) down 9G, passing the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. Our goal now was to find Bard College and the gravesite of Hannah Arendt. When I was deep into the throes of political philosophy, Hannah Arendt was one of two or three major influences and since we were nearby we both felt what time to pay our respects.

After driving about 20 minutes we saw an entrance to Bard's athletic fields and zoomed right on by, figuring we would take the next turn. And so we did. No sooner had we pulled into the college than we nearly ran smack into the cemetery.

We found parking along faculty circle (one wonders if that was legal) but we saw no sign for parking let along a sign for the cemetery. In fact we eventually learned that had we entered Bard College grounds at the first opportunity coming south we would probably never have found the cemetery in the first place.

Although there was no sign over this pretty little wooden entrance, clearly this was the "official" way into the cemetery. Not many headstones and some of the older ones, from the 19th century I assume, were in a pretty sorry state of disrepair and neglect.

Susie and I both looked for Hannah but couldn't find her. So I whipped out the trusty iPhone, googled her grave and got a photo posted on wikipedia -- now we knew what to look for.
entrance to the cemetery from faculty circle
Hannah is located just about dead center rear
After leaving the cemetery we drove around Bard. The streets were deserted and we saw virtually no one around. So we found our way back to the highway and Susie plotted a course to take us home via the back roads of northern Connecticut on into Rhode Island.

It had been a very short trip to be sure, but oh so sweet.

Seeing Don and Gloria and their kids again is always an engaging and illuminating experience. And we had the added benefit of visiting Hannah Arendt's grave, crossing the Hudson twice, and seeing so many parts of small town New England we will probably never visit again. Some time back Dick and Dorothy took an extended trip along the byways of the Hudson Valley and raved about the scenery and beauty -- we can now understand why.

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