Wednesday, August 22, 2012

In the Garden of Eden

Historic Hudson Valley is a network of six wonderful historic homes in the Hudson Valley. Its mission is to "celebrate the history, architecture, landscape and the material culture of the Hudson Valley", making sure people like me get to see how the other half lived all those years ago.

Last weekend, the Anesthetist decided I was in need of some historical American culture, so he took me to visit Montgomery Place, one of the most important and meticulously preserved historic sites in the US.

Located on the banks of the Hudson river about 1.5 hours north of Manhattan, this property is 380 acres and was the home of the wife General Montgomery who died in some war in the late 1700s. His wife bought the property shortly after his death and it remained in the hands of the same family for almost 200 years. Today, the house is considered an architectural landmark and the totality of the estate a unique American treasure.

The house wasn't open when we went, but the grounds are amazing. There is an orchard, a herb garden, wonderful lush lawns that roll gently down to the Hudson River, ancient oak forests and acres of lovely fields full of the typical oversized trees that are so common on the East coast. It was the perfect place to be on such a hot Sunday.

first glimpse of the house

the herb garden

potting shed

overgrown arbor

one of many fish ponds

a friendly frog

view from the verandah to the Hudson River and beyond

rolling lawns

natural spring

view over the swampy part of the Hudson

image 1: go to hudson

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

On the Waterfront

Manhattan is brilliant at using every bit of space available and making the best of its natural assets. No beach? No sweat. Just turn the whole Hudson River waterfront into an outdoor paradise for urban dwellers.

The West Side Highway runs almost the entire length of the western side of Manhattan, hugging the shore of the mighty Hudson River. On the whole, it's godawful ugly, with 6-8 lanes of traffic and lights and confusing turns. For decades, the piers and waterfront were left to rot. But in 1998, the then Mayor Giuliani, with the help of the New York Governor, decided to create the Hudson River Park, the biggest green undertaking since the creation of Central Park. It consists of 550 acres of waterfront running from 59th street in midtown, down to Battery Park, and incorporates basketball courts, tennis courts, a dedicated bike track, jogging track, green spaces, urban art, cafes, playgrounds and even a real sand volleyball area! All the piers are being renovated, the river is being opened to kayaking and sailing, the views to Jersey are phenomenal and Manhattan-ites are flocking to it.

I went for a lovely walk along the West Village/ Tribeca section last weekend. Here's a snapshot of a summer weekend beside the Hudson.






public art

public art


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Nantucket Part II

Nantucket sure makes it difficult to arrive and leave. Nicknamed 'The Grey Lady',  we experienced first hand why she carries this name so proudly. After 3 flight cancellations between arriving and departing, the perils of weather including fog, thunderstorms and side effects of the Caribbean hurricanes were made clear. No wonder the island is secluded. Once you get there, this fine lady wraps you in her grey cloak every night and early morning so you have no chance of leaving!

It made me think of those poor Nantucket whalers who sailed the seas for months only to try and return to their beloveds and get lost in the mists that roll over the Atlantic and hide forever this tiny isle. The Native Indians must have been so distraught when the first white man actually landed on their blessed shores. They probably thought they were shielded from history forever.

This happened in 1602 to be exact, In fact, apparently it was way back in the 11th century that the Norsemen actually sighted Nantucket - must have been a fair weather day - but it was English Captain Batholomew who put the island on the map so to speak in 1602. The next few decades are reminiscent of so many other parts of the US. The Indians greet the white man warmly, then get done over by being tricked into selling their land for pennies. Then for the next decade they are decimated through white man's diseases, alcohol addiction and debt servitude.

Fast forward to the 1750's through 1850's and Nantucket has become the whaling centre of the world. Long before white man arrived, the Indians actually used to salvage dead whales that drifted ashore - they probably got lost in the dreaded fog as well - and recognized the value of the meat and oil they extracted. The white settlers used to hunt the right whales close to shore, but it was when a boat was blown out to sea in 1812 that the famed sperm whale was discovered. These whales were custodians of the finest oil available, called 'spermaceti' which was stored in their massive head. This oil was prized for use in candles, and lighting in the lighthouses and lamps on the island and around the world.

And so the age of Nantucket's greatest prosperity began, as did the wonderful tales of whalers and their prey. Herman Melville based his seminal book Moby Dick on the true story of the Nantucket ship Essex that was rammed by a sperm whale and only half the crew survived washed up on a deserted island.

But of course, all good things must come to an end. This end resulted in the discovery of petroleum in 1838. Lucky for the whales, unlucky for Nantucket. Then came the Civil War, then a massive fire all leading to a long period of stagnation.

Today, Nantucket boasts a very healthy tourist trade as well as a decent number of avid islanders who live there all year long. And it has so much to offer. From the wonderful whaling captains' houses in town to the rolling salt marshes and moors. There's a bounty of native fruit - beach plums, rose hips and cranberries - and miles of coastline. There's lighthouses for the kids, boats for the men, shopping for the women and historical museums for the whole family. But best of all, there is peace, nature, the strong smell of salt air,  the sound of crashing waves, and bike paths through hundreds of acres of untouched land. At times I felt like I was back in the original of the Wampanoags. Keep that grey mist surrounding this treasured place.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Nantucket Part 1

"Take out your map and look at it"
- Moby Dick

So wrote Melville about Nantucket in his famous book that was set on this incredibly beautiful island. Famous for being fiercely protective against fast food chains, speeding cars and development of any kind, the locals' desire for things to stay "the way they have always been" is to the visitor's advantage. Think charming wood-shingled whaling cottages covered in briar roses, cobblestoned streets in Nantucket town, wonderful old family compounds overlooking Nantucket Sound and perfect blue Atlantic waves rolling onto miles of golden sand.

The island of Nantucket was once inhabited by the Wampanoag Indians and its name means "faraway land" in their native language.  It is the smallest of the two islands off Cape Cod, Martha's Vineyard being the larger and more politically inclined (Bill Clinton holidayed there as does Obama now).  It is famous for being quintessentially New England in both spirit and political leaning. Translated, this means old Boston Republican wealth, lots of pastel colored chinos, "Nantucket Reds" and Ralph Lauren polo shirts.

But for all this conservatism, the island has maintained a relaxed, low key welcoming vibe that is made even more beautiful by the efforts of the locals to preserve much of the island's cranberry bogs, marshlands and oak-covered fields. In fact, 40% of the island is now conserved. That is amazing given the island is only 14 miles long and 3.5 miles wide.

So the anesthetist and I finally arrived at this island paradise over a week ago after a cancelled Saturday flight and a no-show air hostess Sunday morning. We headed straight for the easternmost tip of the island to the charming fishing village of Siasconset, commonly known as 'Sconset. The main street
consists of a food market, post office and cafe only. The streets of town are lined with tiny wood shingled cottages unchanged from the 18th century. Each one is filled with brilliantly colored hydrangeassweet peas and daisies and some have wonderful views across the Atlantic. Many have gates strategically placed so the viewer looks straight at the water or a gorgeous floral scene that is bordered by hedge. And then there are the larger homes that stand like soldiers to attention along the cliff, flags flying like an army waiting for battle. There are so many beautiful places, but but here are some of my faves.