Monticello Road is a community arts project in Charlottesville, Virginia. Through photography and a series of public events and conversations, we explore how an art can be an essential, integral and everyday part of a healthy community.

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Friday, October 9, 2009

Up-State state of mind

Enormous thanks to my friend Daphne for letting us stay in her beautiful home, and for providing the porch from which to watch this moonrise. [Photo Gallery]

Last weekend I took a roadtrip with my friend Rachel up the Hudson Valley. Proximity to this magical region is among the greatest pleasures of living in New York City, and one that I will miss the most. It’s also one that is easily neglected in the frenetic life of the City. That feeling of liberation is exactly what makes such a trip so wonderful yet the rush of the City is like the emotional kind of addiction. It seems impossible to simply step away, even for a weekend.

We wrenched ourselves out of the rat race and scurried up the Through Way to the Rondout Valley, between the Gunks and the Catskills and across the Reservoir from Woodstock. That whole mid-Hudson region is a treasure with formidable natural beauty--strange geology, folded glades, mossy rock formations, abundant clean streams, dark woods, and surrounding mountains.

Nature has reclaimed the Nineteenth Century’s crumbling infrastructure (railways, canals, docklands, quarries, millworks, tanneries, and on and on), which adds a whole lot of romance and moss-covered mythical quality. The Hudson River School predisposed us to that way of seeing the world and a veritable army of well-funded conservationists and preservationists have locked it in for us and many future generations of travelers and pilgrims.

Many places are beautiful but the Hudson Valley also happens to be blessed with an absurd cultural abundance as well. There are countless art centers, drama troupes, and musical venues. With just a short two days to explore, Rachel and I focused on the Art of Living and just two towns: one small (Hudson) and one tiny (High Falls).

We walked from shop to shop, each full of beautiful things and so tastefully curated. Not everything will appeal to every eye (although most of it looked good to me). The quality and coherence of the selections were undeniable. I am no materialist but I could really do some damage in the majority of those shops, armed with the right expense account.

High Falls, with a population of about 37 has half a dozen furnishing stores that I could only call top-shelf in terms of quality, though not necessarily price. Our favorite was a slightly-hidden gem called Spruce. Turns out the proprietor lives in Greenpoint. Only figures, right?

The City of Hudson flows down the east side of the Hudson Valley from Olana to the Rip Van Winkle Bridge. The downtown, which must have at one time been devastated by job flight has become a gauntlet of antique stores in lovingly restored storefronts, bank branches, movie, theaters, soda fountains, and other Rockwellesque settings. Surprisingly enough, it seems really cool. There wasn’t any of kitsch, schlock, sentimentalism or cloying tchotchkism you would expect in such a place. Nor was there a smell of decay or feeling of decrepitude. Whoever is doing their scouting and buying has some serious eyes and it’s very consistent from one place to the next.

Again, an expense account would be nice up there as some of the shops are a tad pricey but not outrageous. The merchants were super-friendly, knowledgeable and eager to deal. It couldn’t feel more different than East Hampton, for example, or Santa Fe. It’s a fun, friendly place, not annoying at all and well worth a trip. Even I did not escape empty-handed: I found a nice mirror in great condition at a very fair price; and of course a bag of apples.

We finished our visit with a two-hour ride down the Taconic, with the perfect autumnal lighting of late afternoon. My friend Daphne calls it “the Magic Time.”

Magic time, magic place.

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