The Pulse

A historic hotel returns, commuters take to the water, and a bunch of books for winter reading




The Pulse

 

Eyesore No More

 

 

Newburgh’s vibrant waterfront has been enjoying a successful renewal of late. The city itself is also seeing an influx of artists, developers, and businesses working to reclaim its once-glorious past.

 

Between the two, however, is that ugly train trestle. Or, we should say, formerly ugly.

Anyone passing by the notorious eyesore in recent months will have seen local artist Garin Baker and his team of painters transforming the graffiti-covered trestle into a 220-by-22-foot trompe l’oeil mural — the biggest outdoor mural between New York City and Albany. Titled Archways on the Hudson, Baker calls it, “a postcard to venture from the waterfront into the city and continue the revitalization up the hill.”

 

This postcard features four archways that “open” onto Newburgh’s most picturesque locations: Washington’s Headquarters, the Broadway corridor, the Vaux/Olmsted-designed Downing Park, and the Dutch Reformed Church and Crawford House. Local residents both well-known and anonymous are seen peeking through the arches or enjoying the sites.

 

The $200,000 project is sponsored by a not-for-profit group called Trestle Inc. Baker, who works from his Carriage House Art Studios in New Windsor, is a veteran of several other community-based, socially conscious art projects in Brooklyn, Washington, D.C. and other locations. He says big, outdoor art is needed now more than ever.

 

“Public art is a vital form of a community’s communication to itself and the outside world,” he says. “This country is becoming more and more homogeneous, with malls and bland environments everywhere. Alabama is like Kansas or Florida or Maine. Locally, artists and craftspeople can be brought into the picture so each place has its own special signature.”

 

Newburgh’s special signature will be celebrated at the mural’s gala opening on November 3. For information, call 845-565-2800, ext. 121. — David Levine

 

Reading Room

 

In Wolf Empire: An Intimate Portrait of a Species (Lyons Press, $29.95), award-winning Woodstock photographer Scott Ian Barry takes readers on a one-of-a-kind adventure as he documents the beautiful North American wolf in its natural habitat. And luminaries from all walks of life are howling their approval. “This book provides an excellent chart to understanding this very special animal,” writes actor Robert Redford.

 

And it’s not just the nearly 100 stunning black-and-white photographs that impress us. It’s the expertise of the author. “This book has been 35 years in the making,” says Barry, who has been studying, observing, photographing — and even living with — these often misunderstood creatures for more than three decades. In the 1970s, Barry and a handful of cohorts pioneered the concept of taking live wolves into schools and institutions to teach citizens the truth about these creatures. “I wanted to show people that wolves are not going to eat you up, that ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ is a bunch of nonsense. And wolves are a vital part of our ecosystem.”

 

Barry and company took their show on the road, traveling more than 50,000 miles one year. “We were like a rock band, we’d breeze into town and everybody knew the wolf people were there,” he says.

 

In fact, the greatest night of Barry’s life was a wolf lecture, albeit a unique one. It was September 9, 1978 when Barry and Slick, one of his lecture wolves, howled to a sold-out audience at Carnegie Hall. “The crowd went ballistic,” says Barry. “They couldn’t wait to howl along with him.”

 

But it wasn’t all high-profile events. Barry spent considerable time traveling through the Canadian wilderness — “I’d go three or four times a year,” he says — to study and observe the animals in their natural habitat. And then there was a lot of nurturing with the lecture wolves that ultimately came to live with him on his Woodstock property. “I drove with her on my lap, she nestled in a Huggies disposable diaper so that my jeans would not get wet,” he writes about taking his wolf pup Raven on her first assignment. Later, he built her “an enormous enclosure, it was 1,045 square feet. It was a wolf palace, I wanted her to be able to run and jump and play,” says Barry, who notes that there are no wolves living in the wild in the Hudson Valley. “Six times a month people tell me, ‘Hey, I saw a wolf in Bearsville,’ and I try to gently tell them that maybe it was a wolf-dog hybrid.”

Barry no longer works or lives with the wolves. “I miss being with them,” he says. But he’s happy with the work he’s done. “When I started doing this in the ’70s, the figure was that there were only approximately 1,300 wolves in the lower 48 states. Now, there may be close to 6,000. It’s still nothing, but it’s a lot more nothing than there was. They’re coming back beautifully.”

 

A Model Summer, by part-time Millbrook resident Paulina Porizkova (Hyperion, $23.95), is the Czech-born former supermodel’s debut as a novelist. The juicy tale of Jirina — a timid, awkward Swedish 15-year-old who is whisked away to Paris for a summer to determine if she has the right stuff to survive in the high-stakes world of modeling — is penned with razor-sharp clarity and keen detail that only an industry insider like Porizkova could render. The powerful coming-of-age tale reveals both the dark side of the beauty biz (including booze, drugs, backstabbing rivals, and yes, the casting couch) as well as its counterpart: the near-magical moments when a model is suddenly transformed in front of the camera.

 

Dog Days: Dispatches from Bedlam Farm (Villard, $23.95), Jon Katz’s latest book about dogs and rural life in upstate New York, is another refreshing tale of life on a farm and the human-animal bond. With Katz, readers journey through brutally cold winters and muggy summers, the hardships of sick animals, and the backbreaking work of keeping up a 110-acre farm. Dog Days stars two Border collies: Rose, the problem-solver; and working dog Izzy, Rose’s unlikely apprentice, who has suffered years of mistreatment. Katz also gives us a glimpse of other animals on the farm, like the baby donkey named Jesus, who quickly becomes the farm mascot, and Mother, the arrogant barn cat. A former executive producer of CBS Morning News, Katz now writes columns about dogs and rural life for Slate, an on-line magazine, and cohosts the award-winning public radio show Dog Talk. Katz’s stories are amusing and thoughtful; when you’re in the midst of them, you may never want to read about humans again.

 

 

The third novel by Woodstock resident and journalist Alison Gaylin is set in the anything-goes world of celebrity tabloid gossip. Simone, the clever, witty, journalist heroine of Trashed (New American Library, $21.95) lands a gig working at a Hollywood tabloid. When a soap-opera star suddenly turns up dead in a mysterious “suicide shocker” that might have been murder, she finds herself embroiled in the dangerous challenge of piecing together the untold story. Snappy and suspenseful, this contemporary thriller keeps you guessing right up to the end.

 

America’s first native school of art is explored in The American Wilderness: The Story of the Hudson River School of Painting (Black Dome Press, $25.95). Author Barbara Babcock Millhouse relies largely on the words of the artists themselves (Thomas Cole, Asher Durand, Albert Bierstadt and others), along with those of their contemporaries, to relay the vigor of the 50-year period when 19th-century American landscape painting came into full bloom. The author hiked to the painters’ favorite Catskills haunts for a firsthand experience of the inspiring natural light that’s unique to the region, and even traveled to Ecuador to see locations that inspired Frederic Church. This revised edition of the original out-of-print 1978 volume integrates the historical and social impact of the Hudson River School in an engaging tale which is full of anecdotes that will appeal to art novices and scholars alike. The volume is sprinkled with nearly 50 gorgeous full-color illustrations of the artists’ inspiring works which continue to delight generations of art lovers.

 

In August 2001, Akiko Busch, who has loved to swim since childhood, fulfilled a longtime dream — she swam across the Hudson River at New Hamburg accompanied by four other intrepid souls and an escort boat. Her half-mile adventure marked the start of an annual personal ritual of swimming the Hudson, and served as the inspiration to venture across eight of the nation’s other great waterways: the Delaware, Connecticut, Susquehanna, Hudson, Monongahela, Cheat, Mississippi, and Current rivers. After she climbed ashore, Hudson Valley resident Busch wrote Nine Ways to Cross A River (Bloomsbury, $19.95). Part introspective essay on the personal renewal — physical and spiritual — that she experienced during each swim, it also seamlessly weaves in a fascinating exploration into the history, science, and environmental importance of our nation’s waterways.

 

Q & A

 

Pointed Lessons

 

A West Point professor writes about teaching literature to Iraq-bound cadets By Lindsay Kennedy

 

The United States Military Academy at West Point has long been one of the crown jewels of the Valley. Perched high over the Hudson River, the service academy is renowned for the rigorous education and military training it gives to its students — known as cadets — who become army lieutenants upon graduation. Valleyites can now get a sneak peek at the inner workings of this fabled 205-year-old institution thanks to Elizabeth D. Samet’s new book Soldier’s Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $23). In the book, Samet — an English professor at the Academy — discusses her experiences teaching literature to a unique group of students during a serious and conflicted time in American history. She spoke with Hudson Valley.

There have been numerous books written on the history and culture of West Point. How do you think your book differs from those that have been written previously?

My perspective is different in that I write this book as a teacher of literature. Also, I’ve been there long enough so that I’ve seen some changes, particularly the change from peace to war, which is the focus of the book.

 

You’ve been an English professor at the Academy for 10 years. What challenges did you face initially, and what are the biggest challenges in teaching at West Point since September 11?

For me initially, since I came right from graduate school [at Yale], the biggest challenge was becoming a faculty member, cultivating a teaching style, becoming a better listener, which I think all teachers face. As a civilian, I think trying to integrate myself into a military culture — using new acronyms, getting used to the etiquette and protocol — took some time. Just as I’d gotten used to those things, September 11 and the war on terror happened. The biggest challenge since then has been knowing your students would go to war. One can’t prepare oneself for that, it’s very difficult.

 

Over the years your students have read everything from Homer’s The Iliad to the Vietnam novels of Tim O’Brien and the poetry of Randall Jarrell. Do they ever make comparisons between the works they’re reading and the situation in Iraq today?

Sometimes they do. Sometimes the parallels they see surprise me. I think that when it’s appropriate and when there are connections to be made, the cadets draw them far more eloquently than I could.

 

So your classroom discussions changed quite a bit after September 11?

Sometimes when we read a given text today it has a different context. This is most obvious with war literature, but it also happens in other situations, like interactions in the text between soldiers and civilians and questions of national identity. I just finished The Odyssey with seniors this fall; that’s about wandering the world and encountering new people and places, and that certainly has a different sense now. In the next two lessons we’ll be looking at works about Afghanistan, so that can’t help but have a different connection now. Of course, sometimes the cadets view the classroom as a place to separate themselves from world events, at least for an hour here and there, and to focus on the literature they enjoy, and to focus on knowledge.

 

In the book, you write that some people have been stunned to learn that the students at the Academy actually read and study. What would you like people to know about the cadets?

In addition to fulfilling all the requirements that students in undergraduate colleges across the country fulfill, they have this second identity. They’re soldier-scholars, and they have military duties and responsibilities. They have a full day. Also, people don’t necessarily imagine that soldiers would be interested in literature. But even a cursory glance at various texts shows that soliders and literature have been deeply connected for a long time.

 

Many of your former students have written to you from Iraq about how they use reading and writing to while away the long hours in between missions. What are some of their favorite reading choices?

It runs the gamut, really. They read novels, poems. I had one former student who brought a portable DVD player and used to screen films for his troops when there was some downtime. In terms of particular authors, Shakespeare is one. They’re voracious readers. When they’re over there, the intense action is complemented by downtime which they fill with a lot of distractions, books among them.

 

You and your students read the memoir of Simha “Kazik” Rotem, a Jewish resistance fighter operating in Poland during World War II. You write that your students responded not only to Kazik’s courage but to his moments of doubt and struggle. How does this relate to the missions that many of them are undertaking in Iraq today?

I think that culturally we can readily associate images with physical courage. We know what that looks like. But certainly equally important to the Military Academy’s education and the officers it produces is moral courage. I think what they responded to with Kazik was his sense of responsibility. It’s one thing to be brave on your own and risk your own life, but it’s another thing to be responsible for the lives of their soldiers. That’s a much more difficult charge, [and it’s] something lieutenants have to learn.

 

The title of your book comes from an early term used to describe the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder. Do you think that the literature you teach will help to “arm” your students against the difficulties of military service?

I hope that it does. In the end it comes down to an individual’s ability to integrate into society, and I hope the thoughtfulness of the poetry and the literature they read will increases self-awareness, awareness of others, and of other cultures’ complexities.

 

The views expressed by Elizabeth Samet in this interview are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

 

 

Shop Talk

 

Simplicity Boutique

Monroe

 

Walk in to Simplicity Boutique and you’ll forget you’re in the quiet village of Monroe. The hardwood floors are fresh and glossy, hits pump out loudly from the radio — it’s as though you’ve entered one of the über-trendy shops that dot the narrow streets of New York’s SoHo.

 

That is just the feeling co-owners Romi Donagher and Christine McGowan want you to have. The two fashionistas share the vision that women in Orange County need an outlet to find upscale clothing. “There is no retail store within a 40-mile radius that sells the merchandise we sell,” explains McGowan, who grew up in Windham.

In just five weeks, the women transformed an old-fashioned ice cream parlor — checkered floors and all — into this chic boutique, which opened in August.

 

While most of the merchandise in the store — which includes designs by Free People, Juicy Couture, and Ella Moss — looks like it’s culled from a Neiman Marcus catalog, there is also locally made jewelry, baby gifts, and accessories not likely to be found at the nearby malls. “The merchandise is very diverse,” says Donagher, who was raised in Rockland. “We have a little something for everyone.”

 

Customers, many of whom are regulars now, happily browse through the racks of designer duds knowing that help is only a few steps away. On any given day, either Donagher or McGowan is there to offer personal advice or answer any fashion queries.

“We really cater to our customers,” says McGowan. “We have a passion for what we do,” adds Donagher. — Elizabeth Stein

 

Simplicity Boutique. 31 Lake St., Monroe. Open Mon.-Wed., Sat. 11 a.m.-7 p.m., Thurs.-Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.-5 p.m. 845-783-4225.

 

 

Long- Distance Labor

A local soldier stationed in Iraq watches his son’s birth via webcam

 

Ashley Mutrie is what your grandmother used to call a firecracker. Just one week after having a baby — which her husband, an army corporal stationed in Iraq, watched via webcam — this 22-year-old Poughkeepsie native practically pops while telling the story of this remarkable birth.

 

“I think we’re only the third couple in the entire country to have a baby this way, with the husband watching on webcam,” says Mutrie of the arrival of Jordan Michael Mutrie at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie on September 19. “You know how hardened nurses can be. Well, the ones who attended my son’s birth were all in tears when Jordan came out. They’ve never been part of anything like this.”

 

First, a bit of history: Mutrie and her husband Noah, who is currently a sniper doing reconnaissance missions in Iraq, have been married for about a year. They met while Ashley was also in the service, sharing a co-ed barracks at Fort Lewis, Washington. She was, at the time, a Specialist.

 

“I outranked Noah,” she says, laughing. “The poor guy is still outranked,” she says (although whether she means in terms of military ranking, IQ, or the fact that it’s now Jordan and Ashley versus the new dad, remains unexplained). “Just wait until Noah gets home. He’ll be home on leave in January and then for good in September.”

 

The pregnancy was welcome, but definitely unplanned. Certainly most women would want their husbands around when they give birth. But when Ashley went into labor, “they tried to locate Noah, but nobody could find him. He was on a sniper mission, and couldn’t be found for about a day. For a brief period he was even MIA.”

 

The normally cool and tough Ms. Mutrie then freaked out a bit. “I was at the hospital. They were ready to start inducing labor. But we couldn’t find Noah to watch this whole thing. I said, ‘Take me home, I’m not doing this until you locate my husband.’ ”

 

Corporal Mutrie was finally found and began the futuristic experience of watching (and talking to) his wife through his webcam as she was being filmed by hers. All courtesy of Freedom Calls, a long-standing family communications paradigm that keeps relatives connected during wartime.

 

“It was so much like him being there,” says Ashley. “At one point, Noah told me to push when I was completely exhausted. I yelled at him, ‘Don’t tell me what to do!’ ” She’s not kidding when she says that her husband was, and is, outranked.

 

How did Noah Mutrie celebrate 7,000 miles away in his corner of the war zone? Ashley says he was well-prepared: He bought cigars in advance of the event and went around handing them out as soon as his son was born.

 

“What’s so lovely, aside from Noah being able to participate,” says the new mom, “is how much this event meant to all the nurses and doctors at Vassar Brothers. They got as much from the experience as my husband and I did. I can’t wait until January, when Noah comes home on leave. Neither can the staff at the hospital. They feel they all know him. And now they all want to meet him.”

    Peter Gerstenzang

 

Riverfront Redo

A 19th-century landmark hotel welcomes guests once again

 

When the Rhinecliff Hotel opens its doors later this month, it will mark the return of one of the last historic restaurant/hotels located directly on the banks of the Hudson River. Constructed in 1850, with a mahogany bar and 90-foot wraparound porch, the Rhinecliff was once the thriving center of the small riverfront hamlet of Dutchess County’s Rhinecliff, which was easily accessible by both railroad and boat. In winter, the hotel became the shelter for the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club as well. But with the construction of the Kingston/Rhinecliff Bridge in 1957, the hotel’s popularity dwindled; it fell into disrepair, ultimately closing in 2003 for fire violations. Even during its decline in the ’80s and early ’90s, the bar was a well-known and popular base for numerous musical groups (with impromptu visits by the likes of Natalie Merchant, Bill Murray, Pete Seeger, and Miles Davis).

 

Now, after a four-year, painstakingly arduous renovation, each of the seven rooms (priced from $220-$280) has a river view, king-sized bed, flat-screen TV, and air massage tub. A glorious River Suite has a 200-square-foot terrace which affords spectacular Hudson and Catskills views. For the restoration, owner James Chapman utilized as much as possible from the original structure. The pine and hemlock floors were refinished and relaid, old floor joists refashioned into headboards and vanity tables, and the original pressed-tin ceilings made into free-form sculptures over the beds. The informal — what Chapman calls a “brasserie type” — restaurant will serve breakfast, lunch, dinner, and light fare throughout the day, which surely will be welcomed by passengers at the nearby Amtrak station, which is just a two-minute walk from the hotel. “I had been coming to the area as a weekender for some time and had stayed at the hotel. I could see the potential in it if it were renovated,” says Chapman. Now we all get to see it too. — Jan Greenberg

 

Vatican City Comes to the Valley

Vassar techie constructs a cyber version of the Sistine Chapel

 

These days, virtual technology is a whole other world. Literally. Last July, Steve Taylor, Vassar College’s director of academic consulting services, debuted his Virtual Sistine Chapel to the Second Life (SL) community, an Internet virtual world that was launched by San Francisco-based Linden Lab in 2003. The cyber-universe, which didn’t gain much international attention until late last year, allows participants to interact with one another through avatars (self-representing identities). Users (known as residents) of SL can socialize; participate in individual and collective activities; create, buy, and sell virtual property and services; own land and businesses; and explore the metaverse. Since it was launched, more than 8.9 million accounts have been registered on SL.

 

Residents who “visit” Vassar’s Sistine Chapel have the ability to fly to the ceiling and sit on windowsills. T

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