Archives for posts with tag: Tivoli

image

I fell down the stairs.  My teeth are falling out.  I want a glass of red wine.

Ask me why I’m here in Tivoli.  Everyone asks.  They never asked how I made Malibu my home.  It never occurs to ask why they are here… or there.  People wash up where they wash up.  They stick where they get stuck.  I’ll tell you again, when I drove over the little bridge, I saw the Bard students on their stoops playing guitars and smoking.  When we sat in the sun on the terrace at The Hotel Tivoli that first afternoon eating almond cookies and cappuccino, I thought… I could live here.  It’s a long way from Malibu.

My neighbours invite me into their homes.  I’m not shy, I know all of my neighbours on North Road.  Some of them are difficult, most of them are not.  There’s the cantankerous woman with the Indian husband who said she would never allow me to build my house.  She lives in an elegant, converted church with a pretty campanile and an obelisk dedicated to those who lost their lives during the slave holders rebellion.  Her gang of Mexican gardeners work all year maintaining the blue stone paths, an avenue of oak trees and perfect lawns.  Number 14, to my right, the considerate garden designer and her good husband, they were first… inviting me to crawl into their Japanese tea house for a formal Japanese tea ceremony.  She whisks the hot green tea.  We admire the satsuma ware.

An older gay couple live opposite my ramshackle house.  They collect classic cars.  Last summer one of them told me quietly and sadly about his lover of many years who died in his arms just here on the drive.  We looked silently into the inky black tar as he remembered his dearly beloved.  The neighbours don’t know the gay men who live opposite my house or what tragedy happened there.  They were very discreet… until the Trump/Pence yard sign appeared.

Lydia and the ex-mayor Tom, shortly after I moved to the village, invited me to walk the coppice, to a brook at the end of the property.  Tom must be 80 years old but climbs all over his painted lady like a monkey.  They spend the winter in Florida.  Their dog Charlie escapes every night to ransack my trash.  Tom and Lydia share Charlie with Marion, a friendly Tivolian who lives immediately to my right.  She smokes as much as I want to and calls me Pumpkin, she tends 20 house cats and an elderly relative.

Bob the artist, whose work I’ve never seen, cycles two blocks into the village to buy beer.  His slim wife looks overwhelmed, fragile.  One house North.  Occasionally I hear her delicate laugh drifting over the lawn.  The cook, the thief his wife and their lover, the grumpy deaf man who valiantly scoops his disabled girlfriend in and out of their car.

Then, in the last of the Victorian houses on our side of the street, there’s Phyllis and Lee.  She paints huge canvases of naked men and women.  We went to Rhinecliff library on Saturday night and she told us the story of her life. She’s not scared of desire or her sexuality.  She celebrates love and lust.

The current mayor, Joel wonders what I’m doing in Phyllis’s house eating noodles.  He wonders why I’m here in Tivoli.  I bake Phyllis and Lee a banana loaf.  Joel looks at me suspiciously, we have no reason to be friends.  I see him often at the pub, he hugged me there the night Trump was elected.  He sat with us briefly at the Tivoli summer party and ate the free hot dogs.  He and the Deputy Mayor Emily have a plan for Tivoli that won’t include Bard students or noisy pubs or late night buses.  Even though Joel was a Bard student… once.

There are sober people in the village.  I mean… AA people.  The disgraced doctor, the chef and the celebrity bar man.  There’s the obese sex pest who I see at AA meetings but never admits he drinks every day.  He poked me in the chest outside The Lost Sock laundromat and told me I was the devil.

There are people in Tivoli who should be sober:  the newly married couple with rosy cheeks and big breasts who excel at the pub quiz.  They aren’t dangerous.  The woman who knocked over the fire hydrant is very dangerous, the same woman… the same night, she took the wing off another car before driving into the side of the pub… escaping without charge and boasting about it the following day.

There are a couple of women in the village who might do well to forgo alcohol.   Swollen faces, bruised and bloodied.  Small town drunks.

I’ve devoted 20 years of my life to AA.  I am writing about the quasi-religious cult I’ve devoted my life to, again.  The people I’ve met there are, on the whole, totally insane.  I’m very attracted in an Almodovar kind of way to the crazy house wives, the heroin addicted aristocrats, the failed pop stars and grateful accountants who kneel every morning and thank God for another day.   I love their stories, listening to the moment when they were born again.

Tonight as I sit nursing my damaged ankle I thought I might write about how much I would like a large glass of red wine.  Montepulciano.  I wonder what it would do to me or who I would become.  I wonder if I could forget sobriety for just one goddamned moment, take a day off.   Will everything I learned in AA just vanish the moment I drink?  Will God forsake me?  Of course not.  Why do I have to be an expert in abstinence?  What’s that all about?  Why is my success, my only real success measured in days sober?

A woman I know just drowned herself in a bottle of wine.  She’d been lying to everyone about not drinking and I thought to myself… so what.  Have a drink.  Have a fucking drink.  And then I listened to Sade and she was singing ‘Sweetest Taboo’ and I remember laying on Whitstable beach with Matt and we were in love and drinking white wine.  I felt nostalgic for something I had given up and replaced in equal measure with a bunch of crazy… sad people and their sad and crazy stories all because I thought I was going to die.

I have things to tell you, but those stories can wait.  Tales of obsession and ordinary madness.  Tales of greed and random cruelty.  I could tell you about the interior decorator who visited last weekend and his dull, rich white friend I endured lunch with.  I could tell you more about the woman who fell in love with me and couldn’t and wouldn’t take no for an answer.  I could tell you about rotting jaws, falling down the stairs and handcuffs.

I’ll tell you next time.

img_0485

1.

The New York State Sheep and Wool Festival held at the Dutchess County Fair Ground,  Rhinebeck NY is one of the last remaining countryside traditions in New York State.  Unlike the bawdy Duchess County Fair (started in 1842) the Sheep and Wool Festival (started in 1980) is very genteel.  Affluent white people, mostly women (with compliant bearded husbands) and gay 30 something men pet Vicuna and jostle for home spun, naturally dyed, two ply.

In England we regularly honor the land and our relationship with it.  Many of our country festivals have pagan origins.  The Harvest Moon, St Michael’s Mass, Lammas Day, country fairs and garden festivals.  When we celebrate May Day in my home town of Whitstable at the very edge of ‘The Garden of England’ on the North East Kent coast bordering the shallow, oyster clogged Swale, we revive a 16th century English tradition. Local people garland spring flowers and weave twigs of new leaves.  Pussy willow, catkins and briar. With these we entirely cover a grown man.  With his head dressed in topiary he often stands over nine feet tall.  This walking bush became known as Jack ‘o the Green.  The Jack is central to the Whitstable May Day celebration and leads a parade of Morris Dancers and mythical characters to the town square.

We celebrate our medieval past without too much shame.  The colonial atrocities we care to admit, were committed elsewhere.  We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land… and thank God for reminding us how lucky we are not to have seen the Boer War or Partition with our own eyes.  In the USA, however, the recent past is not so easily side-stepped.  The terrible ghosts white folk see:  the ghosts of slaughtered First Nation people whose land they stole and the million or more slaves who made this land what it is today.  In the North East embarrassed white people do not necessarily want to be reminded of their slave-owning ancestors or those who killed the thriving Algonquian people of the Hudson Valley.

7-14 million people lived in North America before the white man arrived.  Today, little evidence survives of the people who lived here.  Anyway, who visits North America (unlike Greece or Mexico) and thinks to see the First Nation pyramids of Louisiana or the ancient Pueblo cliff dwellings in Colorado?  The Greek government loves to invest in the Parthenon and Greeks love to visit it.  But First Nation sites are more likely to remind Americans of the Trail of Tears and treaty violations than appeal to their nationalism. 

Dr. Adrienne Keene, a First Nation scholar and activist. “We are taught nothing was here, so Native people deserved to have their land taken away: that’s how white supremacy and colonialism work.”

What of the thousands of slaves brought to the Hudson Valley?  Walk into the country side, look at the derelict shack, the rickety chicken coop.  People once lived in those… shivering as the bitter wind and snow tore over the fields, daring not to faint as the scorching summer sun beat down on thousands of enslaved men, women and their children who cleared and farmed these lands.  Driving from Red Hook to Tivoli the bucolic landscape of The Hudson Valley looks less benign.

Josiah Henson wrote, “Wooden floors were an unknown luxury. In a single room we huddled, like cattle, ten or a dozen persons, men, women, and children. We had neither bedsteads, nor furniture of any description. Our beds were collections of straw and old rags, thrown down in the corners and boxed in with boards; a single blanket the only covering.”

2.

On North Road, Tivoli NY opposite my Victorian home stands an elegant, marble obelisk erected in 1866 commemorating lives lost fighting the ‘Slave Holders Rebellion’.  When I first read the crumbling text I was taken aback.  What was the Slave Holders Rebellion? What did this inscription mean?  Was it some local event?  Nobody seemed to know.  White people didn’t know. Black people didn’t know.

The Slave Holders Rebellion is how the Civil War was contemporaneously described.   The meaning of the Civil War, the point of it…

Slavery is New York’s dirty little secret.  Many people are shocked to learn that slavery existed in the North East. Yet, as on the cotton fields of the southern states, people as property were considered essential to further settlements and do profitable business. By reducing labor costs to the care and maintenance of their human chattel, settlers turned a huge profit on a relatively small investment.

In New York State, owning 10 slaves at the turn of the 18th century was considered a large holding.  Michael Groth, in his article, “The African-American Struggle against Slavery in the Mid-Hudson Valley 1785-1827,” estimated that one in 10 households included slaves. All persons of consequence were expected to be in possession of slaves, but not every slave owner was wealthy.  People of modest means owned slaves. The purchase of a slave was a worthwhile investment for a farmer with moderate income.

“Those that could afford it kept slaves, and each owner put a mark upon his black servants, and registered the same with the town clerk, in order that runaways might be more easily traced. For instance the mark of Mathew Wygant was ‘a square notch of ha’penny on the upper sie of the left ear’.”

For 200 years, from 1624 to 1824, the first Dutch territories were sparsely settled with white people. Enslaved Africans were a major portion of those first wave of immigrants, estimated in some areas at between one-fifth and one-third.  In Ulster County, in 1746, slaves numbered 1,100 with the white population at about 4,100.  It is unknown how many First Nation people they lived along side.  The Dutch West Indies Company brought the first slaves to New York territories in 1626 to work on farms, roads and forts.  The Dutch were frustrated at their inability to profit from lumber, fur and agriculture.

In 1644 the Dutch West Indies Company brought in 6,900 men, women and children from the African coast.

It was company-owned slave labor that laid the foundations of modern New York, built its fortifications and made agriculture flourish in the colony so that later white immigrants had an incentive to turn from fur trapping to farming.

Between 1600 and 1860, the transatlantic slave trade brought 9 to 11 million enslaved Africans to the USA.  In 1820, about 10 percent of the population of the Town of Kingston NY consisted of black slaves.  By the end of the 18th century, New York held the dubious distinction of being the state with the largest slave population in the North.  Ironically, the streets of Kingston and Rhinebeck NY were more diverse than they are today.

Slaves were sold in Kingston and New Paltz at public auction.  Terms were made easy so people of modest means could afford them. A commodity bought and sold, used to settle debts and bequeathed to heirs.  Slave sale notices were common in daily newspapers, next to advertisements for land and farm equipment. They described these men, women and children as “healthy” and “stout”,  the same language used to sell livestock. It is clear from the advertisements that infants or children could be sold at the “purchaser’s option,” separating a mother and child with the stroke of a pen.

The cost of a slave today would be around $30,000.

Not everyone acquiesced.  Reported slave rebellions and insurrections took place all over North America. More than 250 uprisings or attempted uprisings involving ten or more slaves.  I’m sure many more went unreported.  Tiny acts of attrition.

18th century slave owners bragged how well treated and content their slaves were, but life for the enslaved African living in the North was cruel and un-rewarding.  New York State’s slave laws were harsh and even small transgressions punished by public flogging.  The hope of freedom inspired hundreds to risk absconding.  If caught, a fugitive slave could expect punishments including amputation of limbs or death.

Runaway slave notices published in newspapers recount in detail the outer wear worn by slaves. The clothing described in these notices reflect the deprived existences they led. Style, color and material, hairstyle and type of headwear are recounted in great detail by slave masters. Most fugitive slaves ran away with only one set of clothes.  “Young mulatto girl, wearing red calico, with blue petticoat.”  Scars, missing ears, skills, behavior – insolent, plausible, bright… were all listed.

Most slaves ran away to be with their families. Some just fled, others planned carefully.  A young man from Rochester NY took off with two sheep and a beehive.  Many fugitive slaves found refuge in the woods of upstate New York. The woods not only provided cover and protection but a chance to seek Native Americans inhabiting the region. Many found shelter and safety with Native Americans and were welcomed into their tribes. Large rewards and treaty offerings for the return of runaways did not dissuade Native nations from harboring slaves.

3.

In July 1799 the NY State Legislature enacted a partial emancipation. The law freed all children born to slave women after July 4, 1799, but only after at least two decades of forced indenture. Boys became free at age 28 and females at age 25. Until then, they were tied to the service of the mother’s master.  Children remained enslaved because slave owners were confident that parents would remain with their children. Unrestricted freedom did not come to New York’s slaves until a new emancipation law took effect 28 years later, on July 4, 1827.

The freeing, in 1827, of adult slaves led to economic havoc in the North East. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 compounded the issue and destroyed the economy of the Hudson Valley.  Meanwhile, freed slaves were left to fend for themselves.  Those with good skills were undercut by white, cheap immigrant labor beginning to flood the Hudson Valley from New York City.  The white immigrants were paid for their time and did not need to be fed, clothed and sheltered.   Some freed slaves remained as tenant farmers. Up and down the Hudson River you’ll still find names like Africa Street where freed slaves formed their own small communities.

New York City was a reluctant supporter of the Slave Holders Rebellion.  Its trading economy was heavily invested in the slave-based production of cotton.  After the Slave Holders Rebellion, New York and New Jersey were alone among northern states in not abolishing slavery.  Governor Morris and John Jay attempted to insert a clause into the founding state constitution suggesting the eventual elimination of slavery, but were rebuffed.  As New York moved to abolish slavery, amongst the counties most vociferous in their opposition and who voted, “nay” were Dutchess County.

There is white marble obelisk in Tivoli, Dutchess County at the edge of North Road. It commemorates the lives lost of local people fighting the Slave Holders Rebellion.  There is something heroic and magnificent about the title: Slave Holders Rebellion.  It perfectly articulates the ambition of that war.  And how it latterly became… the Civil War is testament to how black and brown people have had their history reframed by generations of white revisionists.  Like the First Nation people before them the domestic history of enslaved men, women, children and their brutal slave owners has been wiped away by white folk, cruel, embarrassed and afraid in equal measure.

No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Star Spangled Banner by Slave Owner Francis Scott Key

Slavery remains the dirty little secret of New York State.  Shared by almost every other northern state.  In the south, for good or ill, white people upholding their racism and white supremacy, proud of their slave-owning past have inadvertently kept black history alive.  The ancestors of northern slave owners do not celebrate the traditions of the land… for few white people ever worked it.  Whilst english people were ploughing and scattering black slaves were violently forced to do the same.  The history of this bucolic place, this upstate paradise, white folk keep silent… vanishing into the corn.

 

Tivoli HotelDevon Gilroy

There are many wonderful things to recommend a visit to The Hotel Tivoli or The Corner Restaurant in Tivoli, Duchess County.   The exquisite decor, the art, the many celebrities who visit this tasteful oasis created by the sensationally successful artist Brice Marden and his imposingly chic wife Helen.  Adding The Hotel Tivoli to a burgeoning chain… they also own The Golden Rock Inn on the Caribbean island of Nevis.

Together with landscape architect Raymond Jungles, Brice and Helen have turned Golden Rock into something extraordinary: a jungly hideaway, with the artfully overgrown botanical gardens of a fantastical world. It’s impossible to tell where the gardens end and rainforest begins. Curious plants grow on a grand scale: giant palms, like fans of the gods; elephant’s ears so vast you can use them as parasols. On this island-in-the-sun you can almost hear them growing.

Without doubt the Mardens’ have exquisite taste and an eye for sensitive restoration.

The Hotel Tivoli, once the Hotel Madeleine is an imposing Victorian building on the corner of North Street and Broadway in the heart of charming Tivoli.  Apparently, when they bought it, it had seen better days.  The Mardens’ transformed the building from dull… to glamorous.  The startling restoration of this fine building has attracted many new faces to what was becoming a Bard dormitory town.  Indeed, the younger staff at the Hotel are all Bard attendees.

These optimistic, wealthy students who flush through the town every year, year after year lend the place a Southern Californian hippy vibe.  Youngsters hang out on stoops, out of windows, laughing and singing.

Tivoli HotelTivoli Hotel

The whole operation would be perfect were it not for the chef at The Corner, Billy Gilroy’s errant son Devon Gilroy.  Covered in Tattoos, clipped hair… I met him through one of his many, many ex girlfriends who he dumped unceremoniously… but continued fucking.

This good looking, bearish, slightly over weight young man is single handedly the fly in the luxurious ointment at The Corner Restaurant.  Despised by his wait staff and many of the women in the hotel, he bullies anyone and everyone in his kitchen.  Perhaps he thinks he needs to behave like Gordon Ramsey to be a great chef?  In fact, this screaming, shouting and abusive behavior has more to do with his insecurity than some mad, uncontrollable genius.

Only today one of his ex staff bemoaned how he treated her disrespectfully, reducing her to tears…  then, after a couple of days, Devon makes a simpering passive/aggressive faux amends.

Devon Gilroy is a very lucky boy.  Helen and Brice Marden sent him to Morocco to learn the ways of North African cuisine.  He came back with a lame Tagine and a recipe for ‘Moroccan street bread’… what ever that is.

During the Spring, after the harshest upstate winter,  I made a great effort and spent a lot of money supporting The Corner Restaurant, well before the summer rush.

There were occasion when my friends were the only party in the restaurant.

I introduced fancy architects, I took my celebrity dot com friends. I took artists and art collectors and gallery owners.  As the restaurant grew busier the food shrank in portion, the plating messier and the quality dwindled.  I took my very best English friends and a clumsy waitress spilled a bottle of beer on his head and over his white shirt.  No apology.  Nothing removed from the bill.

My early Yelp review raved about the place.  I wished it every success.  I have stayed in the Hotel twice.  The rooms are wonderful (I really wanted to write wonderful in Caps) and The Hotel remains without any serious competition for 100 miles.  I urge you to break the bank and stay in the Hotel Tivoli, eat the amazing breakfast (divine almond cakes and home made jam) but please don’t bother with dinner at The Corner, unless… you’re drinking at the spectacular marble bar.

(Hungry?  Drive six miles to Gaskin’s in Germantown for dinner.  A class act.)

Oddly, my later… less complimentary Yelp review was removed at the The Corner’s demand.

Pity they forgot my blog.  I didn’t.

Brice and Helen Marden run a money no object operation at the Hotel Tivoli.  It is a beautiful gift to the people of Tivoli.  Stuffed with iconic, contemporary furniture and millions of dollars of art.  A true gem.  There is a huge portrait of Helen at the top of the stairs by Francesco Clemente.  It is without doubt one of the finest hotels in the state of old New York.

I’m sure that with well trained servers and a new, less tyrannical chef, (working along side Nancy the excellent GM and Jeannette the elegant maitre d’)  this star restaurant will rightfully sparkle in the local firmament.

Brunch Hotel TivoliHelen Marden by Clemente