The Pulse

Roller derby rocks and rolls into the region, Poughkeepsie looks toward the future, and a Q&A with Bard’s Daniel Mendelsohn




The Pulse

 

Here Come  “The Horrors”

Moms, teachers and other Valley gals launch a red-hot roller derby team

 

 

photo Holley Meister

Injuries are not only expected if you’re part of the Hudson Valley Horrors roller derby team — they are almost gleefully anticipated. “There is just something about giving someone you really love a whopping bruise and purposefully trying to knock them

down,” says Hallie Martin, otherwise known as Candi “T-Wreck” Catastrophe.

 

The Horrors, one of the nation’s first non-urban, flat-track women’s roller derby teams, was formed in March 2006. But their first official bout — held in Hyde Park against Pioneer Valley’s Western Mass Destruction — didn’t happen until last June. (Roller derby rules are somewhat complex, but the object is to have one person on the team get cleanly through a pack of five other skaters.) Although they lost the competition, the Horrors, clad in metallic silver hot pants or skirts, skated their hearts out during two 30-minute periods — racing around the rink at top speed, throwing elbows and maneuvering past each other like bolts of lightning. And although they love the adrenaline rush, team members say the sisterhood and female empowerment is what really keeps them lacing up their skates week after week. “The skating is fun, but it’s even more fun going to practice, hitting each other and still staying close,” says Catastrophe, a grad student in her other life.

 

So who are these rough and ready women, with names like Kill Her Skillet, Puffy Bangs, and Crash Corpse, that make up the rest of the team? They are teachers, artists, business owners and mothers, ranging in age from 20 to 40. “You don’t have to have a tattoo to be on a roller derby team,” says Catastrophe. “You just have to be committed.”

 

Catastrophe notes that one of the most interesting things about roller derby is its recent revival. It first became a popular sport in the 1940s, but when it turned into more of a show in the early ’70s, interest died out. After several attempts to revive the sport in recent years, it has now come racing back in a big way.

 

There is at least one team in most major cities across the country, and the Horrors are proof that teams are springing up in suburban areas as well. “Back then, it wasn’t as recreational as it is now. Women’s teams were owned by men who made the game into more of a spectacle. The players were paid and traded back then. Games were fixed,” said Catastrophe. “Now, teams are owned by the players. We play for the game, not money.”

 

People are sometimes curious about how the fun of skating could be worth the cuts and bruises. But Catastrophe says the injuries aren’t that bad; sometimes, she doesn’t even notice how banged up she is until the skating stops. “I love the duality of roller derby,” she says. “How we can be tough and aggressive and athletic — and still wear a skirt.”

    Kaitlin Basilico

 

Pride in Potown

City scores a spot on magazine's Top Ten list

 

 

photo Johanna DeKrey

Poughkeepsie is a city of the future. But don’t take our word for it. That’s what Foreign Direct Investment magazine has dubbed the Dutchess County city, which recently made the magazine’s 2007-2008 “North American Cities of the Future” rankings, scoring 10th among the continent’s micro-cities (those with populations of 100,000 and under).

 

Zapata, Texas earned the number one spot. There are more than 600 micro-cities in North America; nominees were ranked based on factors including economic potential, quality of life, and business friendliness. But that’s not all: Poughkeepsie was also declared number one in the “Micro-Cities: Best Infrastructure” category, which is based mostly on strategic transport links, the percentage of adults who own mobile phones, and Internet connection speeds. Albany, our neighbor to the north, also received recognition, ranking first among small cities in Human Resources and Quality of Life, as well as third in the overall “Small Cities of the Future” category.

    Ian Crovisier

 

On The Town

 

1. Congressman Maurice Hinchey describes his recent trip to Cuba at the DePuy Canal House

 

2. L-R: Jennifer Simpson, 2006-07 Orange County Dairy Princess; Ashley Calyer, the newly crowned 2007-08 Orange County Dairy Princess; and Hannah McDermott, 2007-08 New York State Dairy Princess sit surrounded by this year’s Dairy Ambassadors

 

3. Westchester Community College dean Jianping Wang and her dancing partner Ying Zhang celebrate at the college’s 60th anniversary dinner dance

 

4. Local dignitaries attend the Poughkeepsie Area Chamber of Commerce’s annual ribbon cutting ceremony, signaling the opening of the city’s farmer’s market

 

5. Hudson-Athens Lighthouse Preservation Society President Louise Bliss watches as gallerist John Davis checks out the organization’s new Web site and becomes the first member to register on-line

 

6. Blueberry Pond Theatre Ensemble Coordinator
Jennifer Siciliano (left),
sponsor Joe Siciliano, and cofounder Steve Summa pose with the ensemble’s Young
Playwrights’ Short Play Competition winners Juliana Leghorn and Sophie Hirsh

 

At the Poughkeepsie Area Chamber of Commerce’s Breakfast of Champions
on June 20:

 

1. 92.1 Lite FM morning host Joe Daily (right) yuks it up with Howard Lynne of the Jewish Community Center

 

2. Chamber of Commerce President Charles North and artist Tarryl Gable strike a pose

 

3. All smiles: Executive Chef Ram Asanag (right) of Il Continori Restaurant prepares treats with the help of his staff

 

4. This jolly fellow asked us to identify him as A Real Santa (or Santa Ron to friends)

 

5. Dutchess County Executive William Steinhaus answers questions from the press

 

6. Emmett Woods and Armando Valente from Mahoney’s Irish Pub grin for the camera

 

7. Heavy turnout: The Mid-Hudson Civic Center, which hosted the event, was jam-packed all morning

 

8. Old friends: Authors Ted Spiegel (left) and Reed Sparling sign copies of their new book, Hudson Valley Voyage (see page 49)

 

Shop Talk

 

Birdhouse Brokerage

High-flying designs

 

Ten years ago, Craig Andrews, an amateur woodworker, built a birdhouse for his sister to celebrate the purchase of her first house. Her new place had a red door and red shutters — so the birdhouse, made of pine wood and carefully painted by Craig’s wife Christa, also had a red door and red shutters. The gift was an instant hit. “My sister put it out on her front steps and a lot of people noticed it,” says Andrews. Eventually, at the persistent urging of a fellow churchgoer, Craig and Christa decided to try peddling their birdhouses at a local crafts show. To their surprise, the first customer’s purchase alone covered their entire booth fee. "People really seemed to appreciate them," he says.

 

Andrews crafts the birdhouses in the basement of his Ulster County home. A full-time FedEx employee for 22 years, he is often inspired by the various buildings he sees as he makes deliveries in his truck. A plethora of architectural influences show up in Andrews’ work; no structure is off-limits.

 

It takes three days to create a batch of houses, and he makes no fewer than 40 a week. “Old wood, cut and nailed,” Andrews states, “that’s all the birdhouses are.” Inspired by an old dry sink built out of barn wood by his father-in-law, Andrews began using vintage barn wood for the birdhouses shortly after the business took off. Painting the exteriors slowed early production, and Andrews found that the salvaged barn wood not only adds tremendous character to each birdhouse, but the lack of paint and glue makes them safer, more attractive homes for the birds.

 

The wood comes from the Hudson Valley, and is offered by landowners who’d rather see it recycled than burned. Three years ago, someone approached Andrews with nine miles of white horse fencing. He’s still building houses with it today.

 

Christa, a stay-at-home mom, manages the business’ finances, marketing, and the craft-show schedule. Her father and her brother, Danny Waltkie, occasionally help with production, and Waltkie attends one-third of the shows. Most craft shows require the artist to be present, although being dubbed “an artist” is something Andrews is only now becoming comfortable with. “It’s a hobby,” he insists (even though the net income from the business has now surpassed his annual FedEx salary).

 

The birdhouses range in price from $20 to $220, although commissioned ones have sold for as much as $700. Prices are based on size, number of compartments, and the amount of detail on the outside. This coming January, to commemorate their 20th wedding anniversary, the Andrews will unveil their “Birdhouse Beautiful by Birdhouse Brokerage” series; these larger, more ornate birdhouses start at $195.

 

Birdhouse Brokerage products are available on-line (www.birdhousebrokerage.com; 845-895-1316), although sales made at craft shows and through local shops constitute over 80 percent of their business. “What we’ve built over 10 years is a following,” Andrews says proudly. Many loyal customers, including real estate agents, landscapers and interior designers, have bought as many as 20 birdhouses over the years, often as gifts for their clients.

 

Andrews also fields many special orders from return customers who’d like to give a unique gift for a housewarming, wedding, or anniversary. One bride ordered a birdhouse with a hinged roof to use as a card receptacle at her reception. Another wanted several tall birdhouses to stand as table centerpieces at her wedding, which was held in a renovated barn.

 

“I thought business would plateau, but every year demand gets bigger,” Andrews admits with a tone of astonishment. Among his many grandiose commissions, he has built a 36-room house for purple martins, which like to nest communally in six-by-six-inch cubicles. Upon completion, the birdhouse could have easily housed a large dog. In fact, Andrews has been asked to build dog houses, cat houses, and even bat houses, but he remains loyal to his feathered friends. “I just build birdhouses,” he laughs.

    Shannon Gallagher

 

Q&A

Daniel Mendelsohn

 

How one author saved his family’s history

 

By Lindsay Kennedy

 

Some time ago, when I was six or seven or eight years old, it would occasionally happen that I’d walk into a room and certain people would begin to cry.” So begins Daniel Mendelsohn’s extraordinary best-seller, The Lost: A Search For Six of Six Million.

 

Published last September, this 512-page tour-de-force chronicles Mendelsohn’s mission to discover the fate of six family members who disappeared during the Nazi Holocaust. Mendelsohn, a former book critic for New York magazine and a professor of humanities at Bard College, first became interested in his family’s story as a child. His grandfather, a Jewish immigrant from the tiny Polish town of Bolechow, told him about his family history, but did not often mention their missing relatives. This silence inspired Mendelsohn; as an adult, he has crisscrossed the globe, interviewing his relatives’ former friends and neighbors in an effort to shed some light on these ordinary people who were swallowed up in one of history’s most devastating tragedies. Mendelsohn, who in June was nominated for a Quill Award for his stunning work (which is being released in paperback this month), spoke with Hudson Valley.

 

Your book has been described as “part memoir, detective story and scholarly work.” How would you characterize The Lost?

I don’t characterize it at all. In this book, I’m trying to create a new kind of nonfiction writing, my own nonfiction genre that interweaves personal memoir with analysis of great texts.

 

You’ve been tracking the story of your great-uncle Shmiel, his wife Ester and their daughters since you were a teenager. At what point did you know that you wanted to share their story with the world?

It’s funny, because writers write for themselves, not the public. I did think, at a certain moment, “Now I have a book.” That moment was when I learned that there were a number of living survivors from Bolechow who could tell me about my relatives. When I realized that, I knew I could make a book out of going around the world and tracking them down.

 

Once part of Poland, Bolechow is now a Ukrainian city. What was it like to go back there to research your family?

It was both very exciting and rather disconcerting. It was exciting to be back in the town where my family had lived for many years. But it was disconcerting because a large portion of the population that lived there isn’t there anymore. The strangest feeling is knowing that, if things in history had been different, this is where I would have been born, would have been living. Walking in the places you know your ancestors walked is just very intense.

 

What was the most difficult part about writing this book?

The actual writing went very smoothly and swiftly. The hardest part was the legwork. I was traveling, going to sad places and talking about sad things for two solid years, and that was very hard.

 

Did anything about your research take you by surprise?

The most surprising thing was the fact that almost everything important I learned, I learned by accident. Having made my biggest discoveries almost by pure chance, it reminded me that this is how history happens, too.

 

In researching your family’s history, you learned a number of personal characteristics about your lost relatives that you weren’t originally seeking – for example, you learned that Ester was a warm-hearted woman with “pretty legs.” How did this information help bring them to life for you?

The point was to rescue, from the devastation of the Holocaust, details about the personalities of people about whom we only used to have photographs. So anything small, such as “Ester had pretty legs,” is a triumph over what was done to them, because what was done to them was to erase them from history and leave no trace. So any detail about them, no matter how small, was a kind of victory.

 

If there is one thing that you want readers to take away from The Lost, what would that be?

Every family has a story. And unless some member of the younger generation is interested in the older generation, those stories will die out unheard. Everything I did in my book I did because I listened to my grandfather, and if I had never talked to him, I wouldn’t have been able to do the kind of search that I did. I would hope that people would be inspired to go back and learn something about their own family past before it disappears forever.

 

Were you excited to be nominated for a Quill Award?

I’d never heard of the Quill Award until my editor e-mailed me to tell me I’d been nominated; but of course, how nice to be nominated for anything! And how hilarious to be in the same category for any award with Al Gore!

 

You grew up on Long Island. How long have you lived in the Hudson Valley, and what is your favorite thing about living here?

I just moved up last summer because of the Bard appointment, and I totally love it. I think I’m on the verge of finally giving up my apartment in New York and living here full-time. I love the way it looks, I love the people. I love going around on weekends to Saugerties and antiquing. I am a huge gardener, always have been, so I’ve been going nuts this year planting hydrangeas everywhere, doing a potted garden on my porch, where I love to sit for hours every day, reading or writing or just relaxing. Apart from those things, I just love driving around, and the local roads are fun to get lost in.

 

Any advice for aspiring writers?

There’s only two things you should do: just keep reading, just keep writing. Don’t take classes, don’t take courses, don’t go to publishing parties, don’t think connections are going to help you. There’s no way you can teach writing, I fervently believe that. The only way you can learn about writing is by reading. And read everything, not just the last three years of popular fiction. If people want to know about the novel, they should be reading Dickens and Proust, not the latest hot writer on the New York Times best-seller list.

 

Magnificient Murals

 

Although Poughkeepsie may never match Philadelphia for sheer numbers, if Franc Palaia has anything to do with it, this city’s exquisite murals will soon be quite the drawing card. The artist, photographer, painter and television host is optimistic that his tours of Poughkeepsie’s wall paintings will excite and educate the casual art lover and make it clear to people why they should stop and study these large, often historically meaningful paintings.

 

“Poughkeepsie has about 30 murals,” says Palaia, a town resident. “For a small city, that’s a good number. Six or seven of them are particularly important, so I’m on a crusade to inform the public about them.” On the last Saturday of each month (until late fall), Palaia will take adults ($20, two hours) and children (free, one hour) on a tour to see 17 of the town’s indoor and outdoor murals.

 

Among the stops on the tour are the Poughkeepsie Post Office, a National Historic Landmark that is home to five murals painted between 1938-1940 (some carefully overseen by President Roosevelt); the spot where Kipsy the Hudson River serpent (painted by Dick and Margaret Crenson in 1995) is stretched out over several old buildings; and the Poughkeepsie Journal building, where an expansive mural extends 30 feet high.

 

Does Palaia have favorites? “It can be hard to choose, but there are two I feel strongly about,” he says. “Of the older group, the one in our post office painted by Gerald Foster in the 1930s is very striking. It depicts the ratification of the Constitution, with people like Alexander Hamilton and (then) state Governor George Clinton looking on. New York was the last state to ratify the Constitution, so this mural is very moving. In this picture,” continues Palaia, “if you look closely, there’s a mouse hole in the wall and a little mouse peeking out. This was done so kids seeing the mural would relate to something in this painting and get a kick out of it. Also, there’s one that I painted that shows a sort of ‘greatest hits’ of downtown locales in the glory days, back in the ’30s. It features the Smith Brothers (of cough-drop fame) Restaurant, a bakery, a piano store and other images from that time.”

 

The painting, which took Palaia two months to complete, is located near the corner of Market and Main Street. He says he prepared for it by researching the time period, going on mural tours himself, and “simply by years and years of painting.”

 

When not taking people around on tours, photographing and painting, Palaia also hosts a weekly cable television program, Arts Focus (Thursdays at 5:30 p.m on Channel 23). But murals remain his principal passion.

 

“The money for my work came from Washington, D.C.,” says the artist. “It covered my fee, some part-time workers, scaffolding and the paint. The program was called The Weeds and Seeds Program. To qualify, my painting had to meet three criteria: It had to beautify the city, create jobs, and reduce crime. So far,” he adds, like a proud parent, “it has done all three.”

— Peter Gerstenzang 

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