Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Get Lost

The site of the stage is to Nancy's right, the hillside amphitheater to her left

The bucket list is shortening
Lovin' the Lazy Pond B&B
The Hog Farm Bus in the museum
Happy visitors to Grossinger's in 1950
The "Hawk Nest" overlooking the Delaware River
The traffic, light as it is, slows to a crawl as we approach Jeffersonville, Sullivan County, in the green countryside of  the southern Catskills in New York State.  We find that we've landed in the middle of the tractor parade, part of the Second Annual JeffFest -- more shiny red antique Farmall tractors than we can count, and a big beautiful Oliver (my favorite).  We exchange a look which says, "Of course.  We're the people who got caught up in the Gay Pride parade in Cleveland a few years ago, waving to the tighty-whitey clad fellows wearing cowboy hats on the float ahead.  Quirky must just be our thing."
Thanks to (1) murky Internet directions and (2) a completely missing County Route 114, we've gotten off track returning home from our trip to visit the Woodstock festival site and museum (on the bucket list for so long now), but we're not minding it since it's a beautiful near-autumn day and Jeffersonville (originally named Winkelried!), which we get a chance to see at a slow pace, is an astonishingly charming small town (under 400 peaceful souls).  Patty Hearst was kept captive here in 1974, believe it or not.
The Catskills have been an accessible vacation destination since the 1920s when autos got people out of the cities, and thus this small town has at least seven restaurants and cafes, several small inns and the inevitable antiques shops.  A busy creek runs through it, and it sports its own 23 acre lake -- the attraction of this area has been, in large part, its hundreds of ponds and lakes.
Getting lost got better as we entered the Minisink area along the upper Delaware River.  The road rises then tightly winds, hugging the steep cliff, providing lovely views of the river dotted with canoeists, kayakers, and rafters (we passed at least a half-dozen river outfitter places, where everyone seemed to be having a fine time).  It reminded us immediately of Virginia's Blue Ridge Parkway.
We had spent Friday afternoon at the Woodstock festival site and its new Bethel Woods Center for the Arts (Woodstock itself is about 50 miles away and has its own museum, which I'm sure causes confusion).  The grounds are immaculate, and due to the end of the busy season after Labor Day, we pretty much had the lush outdoors and the museum to ourselves.  The ticket taker told me he was a local, who had wandered over to the festival site on the night of its first day (a Friday), not having even heard it was coming -- his father's gas station had seen more customers than in years combined and ran out of gas in mid-afternoon.  He grinned and said, yes, it was disorienting but quite an experience.  We had time to view the films and read all the signage; it is not filled with memorabilia but with quotes and memories.  The Hog Farm bus just made you smile and feel good. 
After reading about it in books and seeing it in films ("Dirty Dancing") I've always wanted to get a feel for the "borscht belt," as they affectionately called it, that wildly popular summer vacation destination for millions of New York City residents, mostly Jewish, from about 1920 to the 1970s.  The great hotels -- the Concord, Grossinger's, the Tamarack Lodge, the Laurels -- are closed or burned down now, and the summer camps with Hebrew names strung out almost every mile along country roads are forlorn, decaying and look disturbingly like old concentration camps.  Bungalow colonies were as popular as the camps; we saw two that looked new but were weedy and empty -- I guess the 2008 bust stopped any comeback that was beginning.  The auto, and a two-hour drive, brought millions of urban immigrant families to a little piece of the American dream where they felt they belonged, for many decades; the airplane and rising prosperity with a proliferation of choices spelled the end of the unique Catskills experience.  Every entertainer of note, and every single Jewish one, performed here:  Jack Benny, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, George Burns, Woody Allen -- even Larry Storch! 
And then, as unexpected as anything could be, Woodstock in 1969.
Quite a place, Sullivan County.

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