April 2012 Archives
To quote, or maybe misappropriate, Thoreau: I have travelled extensively within the confines of Saratoga. Since those early days of mine in this town, I have explored almost every nook and alley and carriage-house lane and corner of this city I chose to live in. Yet there are still new sights (and sites) to see around here, and I never get tired of noting the changes, or things I haven't yet noticed. These days my walking (and driving) are real estate-related, as opposed to the random meandering of my early 20's in this town.
Whereas the great but short-lived Transcendentalist found his bailiwick in Concord, Massachusetts-- alongside a still-wild 1845 pond in the rolling lands west of Boston--my recurrent focus is and has been on the upstate valley of the Kayderosseras, as the Mohawks called it. As with some of the best small urban scenes in America, the natural setting has been preserved enough, at least in places,
I was thinking this again last Friday, as my assistant Holly and I re-visited one of my listings on the westside of this now finally-blooming city, albeit on one chilly late April day. The owners had told me when we listed their place back in early February that I was going to be amazed at how the then-stark yard behind the stockade fence was going to blossom and dazzle me once everything flowered and grew out to full foliage. Friday the 27th was that day. We returned to take some photos, but it would've taken all afternoon to absorb all the color that was there, especially the brilliant periwinkle blue of forget-me-nots. There was no mown lawn, only a path through the wildflowers and ornamental trees. Their yard had been stark and stick-like only 2 weeks before-- buds on the trees then but no flowers, no notable brightness or hue yet. Now it was dazzling.
This is not to emphasize or promote any one home I am dealing with in this Saratoga Springs spring market... but to say that you and me and everyone else would not even know this type of "urban courtyard" as I called it, existed --unless it was on the market. The same people have owned this home for more than 36 years, and it hadn't been exposed to public view before. For aficiandoes of such botanical attractions, there is something in Saratoga that my wife and hundreds of locals love called The Secret Garden Tour. (Sponsored by the Soroptimists of Saratoga County, and being held in early July, I believe.) This parcel, behind a stockade barrier on a well-travelled road, would qualify as an example of such a place. You realize there are "mini-environments" behind fences or hidden behind arbor vitae or shielded by barns or garages or whatever that are representative of "native Saratoga" that you don't normally notice by zipping around in a car, and sometimes not even if you walk. But real estate offerings give a glimpse into such worlds now and then, one thing I love about the business. It's a microcosm of aesthetics in a given space. Later we were looking at a summer rental for someone and realized one of the neighbors had another one of those yards that only about ten people in the proximity has ever seen-- all overgrown but a thing of beauty anyway. All I ask of each workday is to see something I didn't know was there before. This city, thankfully, continues to provide surprises, even after a quarter century in business here and 35 yrs of living, and walking here.
As a respite from routine, and in search of new spiritual skills and insights, I took part in a group training session in Wilton that same weekend, and spent a lot of time enjoying a similarly tranquil, bucolic scene out the gorgeous back windows of a house addition that looked onto a wooded area backdrop, with coy pond, waterfall, and birds galore in the foreground. I felt so peaceful there by the time I left my friend's (and teacher's) home. Serenity is wherever you find it, or create it, even in some versions of tract-home suburbia around here.
April 28-29 was Open House week across America and I'm sure some interesting places were available to see locally...but as a non-fan of the open house part of the business, I took the weekend to pursue other avenues...so to speak. Having viewed homes about five and a half days a week for 20+ years, I need to sometimes NOT see homes too, and... usually by either Saturday or Sunday, want to retreat to my own. I tell myself I will be refreshed as May begins in the coming week, though a bit wind-burned from the northern gusts that pounded us-- my son and me working and mowing in the yard, my wife working to prep the seasonal gardens of our own. I wish you well if you were out looking for a home that weekend... I was following Voltaire's admonition to Tend One's Own Garden, by re-experiencing mine, at home.
Enough reminiscence, allow me to get back to the present tense. I hear Ray LaMontagne on WEXT this morning, singing Beg, Steal, or Borrow, and it triggers recall of his tasty set at SPAC last summer, early in the season, which ended up being the only concert my wife and I attended last year. We were among those who had tickets in advance for the Kings of Leon concert that was cancelled, and I'd been looking forward to seeing Band of Horses as the warm-up act, but the whole thing was wiped out due to one important dude's drinking problem. Bad timing. Some people think the Kings have sold out by becoming famous with a few huge hits, but I liked Radioactive and thought that to be one of more dynamic rock anthems since, well-- their other big hit about Something on Fire. I hate to hanker for the pop hits like everyone else, but when they're good, they're good. There was a little bit of a grandson of ZZ Top sound to it all with those Tennessee ex-gospel boys, and it wasn't all bad. Since we knew that our perennial pilgrimage to see The Dave Matthews Band was not going to happen in 2011, I was hoping for fireworks of a different sort. No other great bands emerged at SPAC to replace the Kings and the Horses, and the one concert I regret missing last season was Branford Marsalis soloing with The Philadelphia Orchestra, completely different. (This year, BTW, Dave & his spectacular Band is back for 2 nights, Phish for 3, and SPAC seems re-packed with interesting acts.)
But to go back to Ray LaMontagne, with whom a more subdued and subtle form of music ensued to start off the summer in 2011, and though I was wishing for some stinging Stevie Ray Vaughn-like licks in between the twangy ballads to liven things up, my wife was quite enchanted by the more soothing nature of Ray's crooning, more in the mood for that than a rowdy concert, on that night at least.
Having said this, the point I meant to start with is that, in the Saratoga sector of airwave space, there are only two radio stations which would be likely to play all of the above musicians I've mentioned, other than the Orchestra. Most of the locals know this, but for those coming in from somewhere else, WEXT (97.7 FM) is a non-commercial, listener-supported station broadcast from Troy, with a tower out of Amsterdam, NY, just west of here.
It is an NPR station, so very eclectic, but not classically-based. It plays everything from the
old blues of the '30's to the freshest catch on the cutting edge. They are notable as the first radio station of any kind to play the now-ubiquitous Adele. The dj's are all a sincere bunch of musical devotees who seem to care intensely about the best of all rock/blues/R & B/folk/world genres, and, as they remind us daily-- The Local 5-1-8! Regional bands from all over the listening area have broken through on this station by getting some exposure-- with Saratoga's Phantogram, and Albany's (or is it Delmar's?) native son Sean Rowe (now signed to Tom Waits' label)-- as the prime examples of success. There have been days when I just stop what I'm doing to catch the name of a band or singer I never heard before, most
recently people like Gotye (w/ equally beguiling Kimbra), or Gillian Welch. The station throws a strong signal but also streams live at www.exit977.com. Especially amazing are three syndicated national broadcasts that I am hooked on--
1) David Dye with World Cafe, broadcast out of Philadelphia by masterful musical archivist and live interviewer of new talent-- this show is on 10 a.m-Noon, Mon-Sat. For night owls or nocutrnalists, his show runs from 2am-6am in two-hour segements, as well.
2) Echoes, with John Diliberto, which I resisted as too spacey at first, but now listen to it almost nightly before crashing-- his show is also broadcast 6 times a week, 10pm to 2am,
in repeated two-hour stints.
3) Specialty shows like Putamaya music hour (Tuesday at 9pm), or Latin Alternative, with Josh Norek (Sat nites at 8pm-- should be given more than an hour).
Your other Saratoga-area choice for a cool, locally-owned (if Vermont is local), albeit commercial station in range is WEQX (102.7FM) out of Rutland, Vt. and with a tower near Mt. Equinox that kicks out a signal as far west as Canajoharie! If I am in my car, especially on a Saturday morning, when Jam & Toast is playing, there is nothing like it-- even EXT does not indulge in 20 minute meandering jams like you can hear for two hours of sonic bliss to start the weekend. They also break some groups you might not hear elsewhere in this area-- I recall driving Miles to Syracuse to start off his college career and out near Amsterdam we first heard a long percussion & bass conglamoration with a wicked beat and a growling young dude channelling Tom Waits (sorry to drop yr name twice, T.), in a long dance funk I correctly noted to sound just like Step Right Up! Miles looked up some magic info service on his phone as we were driving west, and comes up with the fact the the group was called The Constellations, from Atlanta, I believe. Haven't heard them before or since on any other station, as who can play 9:33 minute dance cuts? The station from up near Killington can.
WEQX has links to the skiing community and appeals to a somewhat younger demographic I'm sure than me, but the hipness of the voices on the air is refreshing at times, and the sardonic morning guy gives me a chuckle now and then. When EXT (rarely) loses my attention and ESPN sports radio annoys me, I turn to WEQX as my next option on the speed dial-- I may not like everything I hear, but I love having the option to hear something differerent than what you'll get on 98% of the rest of the wavelengths that are broadcast.
For music, that's about it...I used be a college DJ for both the Skidmore and RPI stations, but the quality these days is too unpredictable for me to recommend such or try much myself. I also don't subscribe to Sirius or Pandora or any music services that issue from the Cloud or the satellites or the sky, I'm an old-fashioned radio guy. But apparently I'm not alone-- a ton of devoted listeners of each of the above stations declare their loyalty in bumperstickers, and in Friending their websites. If you need an alternative to the Clear Channel panoply of the airwaves, you have two good choices in the air, for free, so give them each a try, and tell them I sent you.
So as I began saying, Entertainment was my primary goal in seeking out Saratoga initially... and I've always believed there is a magnetism here that pulls people in to seek it. You can see it these days by the traffic that comes from south to north along I-87 starting Friday afternoon and through the weekend, even in the off-season. Most of the population of the Capital District is south of Saratoga Springs, and they head our way for the restaurants, the bars, the nightlife and the Broadway shops. They seek basic sustenance, of course, but you can find that many places...in Saratoga they sense (and some know for certain) that they can find some other things that were driving forces to me a few decades ago: Inspiration, and a Quest for Romance, as is acted out in never-ending cycles, year round here. It's a traditional "watering hole" where people meet, and come to see other people... and even though it's at a year-round peak these days, the trend pre-dates anyone presently alive.
Even before the first white man (Sir William Johnson, c. 1767) came to visit the legendary High Rock spring, with the help of Mohawk hosts who soaked him back to health down in the crescent of the old "upper village"-- there was the same kind of magnetism that drew ancient native people here. Mineral waters sprung up in over a hundred different places in this specific vale--Sarachtogue-- considered sacred space by the Iroquois in general, and the Mohawks in particular. They referred to the healing waters as Medicine Springs of The Great Spirit. The site near the High Rock Spring was considered to be the center of their Cosmology. Legend has it that no one was allowed to live or camp in the immediate vicinity of the springs, so that
the powerful waters were available to all.
The Mohawks, as I understand Saratoga County history, defended this area for over a hundred years after Albany and Schenectady were already heavily settled, and it wasn't until after the Revolutionary War that the area was settled by white people at all. Very few homes in the greater Saratoga area predate 1800, and none of those are within city limits-- the exquisite stone building now housing The Olde Bryan Inn was built near or on the former site of the oldest tavern near the High Rock Spring, and is reputedly one of the oldest remaining from the early 1800's.
Many early frame structures have long since burned down, with some of the oldest left being in the Franklin Square area.
I'm rambling a bit here (is that allowed on blogs? I hope so...), but this is a version of the preamble I give visitors or incoming home seekers when they first come to town, in case they don't know much or anything about the history of our fair city, or upstate NY in general. It forms the backdrop for our present tense, and the more you are here, the more dense and intense are the layers of history you will find.
When I first moved here, I was in my early 20's, fairly rudderless, devoid of any real vocational skills, and fairly destitute. I knew I wanted to write, but had little clue where to start. What I did have in those days was TIME, and I spent lots of it at The Saratoga Room of the old Library (now The Saratoga Arts Center at the corner of Spring Street and Broadway, on the edge of Congress Park). Thank Yo! for free libraries. I scoured every text I could find about old Saratoga history, and there was a lot more of it to be found than when I had done the same in my hometown of Ravena, NY, where it seemed not much had happened.
And for both free Entertainment and ultimately Inspiration in the literary sense, I would walk for hours as I ventured out from my rented room ($25/wk, with a shared kitchen and communal bathrooms) and explored the neighborhoods of the eastside, first, and later the westside as well. Before I knew what I was looking at, I was in naive awe of the architectural styles I was seeing-- on Union Avenue, Spring Street,
Regent Street, Ludlow Street, Clark Street, Lincoln Ave. I would walk from one end of Phila Street from Broadway until it turned to Madison Avenue at Nelson, and just marvelled at the 20 or 30 different stunning styles of commercial structures, homes and apartment buildings that lined it. Same with Caroline Street, then Lake Ave., Circular Street, and Whitney Place. I was fascinated but intimidated too-- coming from a town where 99% of the architecture was boring and functional rather than rich and decorative, it was an eye-opener. If anything, I wished I'd grown up in such a place, and could start all over. It was made apparent to me on more than one occasion, by the provincial "blue bloods" of the day, that I was NOT and would NEVER be a "native Saratogian" as I had not been born here. But most of that mentality has now faded away, and very few people these days distinguish the natives from the transplants. And now that my 3 children were all born here, they instead are part of the new generation of "natives"... and they don't know how lucky they are in that regard. There are lots of worse places to grow up, no doubt... but not many places where I'd rather raise a family.
On that note, I'm going to get back to mine on a rainy Sunday evening in late April,
and will regale you with more Saratoga lore, old and new, next time, soon.
Wayne Perras, 4/22/12
Note: There are two primary texts I keep nearby when I need historical verification, or historic inspiration, both of which you could probably find at Lyrical Ballad Bookstore on Phila Street if you were so inclined-- a priceless archival treasure of a store in its own right.
The first: SARATOGA: Saga of An Impious Era, by George Waller, published locally by Friar Tuck Bookstore of Gansevoort, 1966. Despite the semi-pompous title, it is a phenomenal tale of the glory days of Saratoga from Gideon Putnam building Congress Hall in about 1802 to the grand opening of SPAC in the mid-1960's, just before the book was being released. (The theme that forms the thread of Waller's approach is the effect of Saratoga's penchant for, shall we say, Dionysian partying and prolific imbibing, counterbalanced by the Temperance movement, Prohibition, Governor Dewey banning gambling, and peaceful citizens preferring serenity to rowdiness...an age-old battle in other words! That very battle is still being fought in this town to this day, as opposing factions weigh in on what time the bars downtown should close...? So far as I know, last call is still 4 a.m. But check with your local proprietor to be sure, as I don't stay out that late anymore.) Back to the Waller book--
the prints and architectural photos alone are worth an hour or so of browsing.
The second: SARATOGA: Queen of Spas, by Grace Maquire Swanner, M. D., published by North Country Books, Inc., Utica NY, 1988. I had the pleasure of meeting with Dr. Swanner before she passed away and she was one of the classic personages of this town in the past century. She championed the use of the Spa State Park's facilities for healing purposes at a time when such treatments had fallen out of favor with the general public, and this book is her extremely detailed scientific study of why Saratoga's spring water resources should be taken more seriously. The history laced throughout, the factual and scientific analysis of the spring waters, and crisp black-and-white archival photos of this book are also a thing of beauty for students of Saratoga's importance-- geologically speaking as well as historically.
First off, I came here to Saratoga Springs initially for Entertainment, then for Inspiration, followed by a Quest for Romance, and eventually, for Employment. Some of you reading this may be going in reverse order from what I did, but in any case it's now well-known as a cool place to live, year-round, or vacation, anytime. When I first thought of moving here, mid-late '70's, it was not so robust a place as you see these days. Saratoga at that point was very much a summer-- or weekend-only-- kind of resort town. The locals would laugh at you for looking for a job in September back then-- "The season's over... better go back where you came from..." I was once told, but I didn't take that advice, I liked it too much here. It only took me about 10 years to figure out way to make a living here, but in the meantime there was...Entertainment, Inspiration, and Romance to be sought out.
The first entertainment I found here was not at the Racetrack, but SPAC. For those of you who made their first pilgrimage to Saratoga Performing Arts Center for a rock concert in their teen years, I share your history. SPAC is a good way to start. If you grew up in a small, fairly boring town with no compelling reason for tourists to visit, SPAC seemed like a mecca, a musical shrine where certain Performers returned year after year to the sacred amphitheatre with a gushing waterfall in the background and starry July or August skies overhead, to spill their sounds out to a hillside full of listeners and party people. I had heard about legendary concerts there for a few years in advance of ever being able to go, growing up 45 miles away. I never saw The Doors there, or The Who, when more than 35,000 fans were crammed into the place. I never went to any Dead shows there, early or latter day.
No, my first show was Emerson, Lake & Palmer...a likely long-forgotten British band that featured Greg Lake (formerly of King Crimson) singing lead vocals-- the most notable lyrics being appropriate years later... playing the part of the pitch-man at The Circus:
"Welcome Back My Friends, to the Show That Never Ends...!!!"
As a naive 16 year old, hunched under a blanket with my girlfriend, it was a dazzling display, better than any circus. Swirling keyboards form Keith Emerson, strobe lights shooting outward through rising clouds of CO2 fog, thundering drums
and soaring guitars from amps cranked to the max in the middle of a forested park with no neighbors likely to complain about the noise-- this was legal?? There were couples writhing in the grass doing apparently whatever they wanted with each other. The spirit of Woodstock seemed...for a few hours at least...to be available to those of us just a bit too young to have enjoyed it the first time around. Bacchanalia
was in the air, and the car ride back to Ravena, NY was full of wonderment at what we had just witnessed. Was it like that ALL THE TIME in Saratoga?? What an amazing place...
The next year, the only concert I could get a ride to happened to be another little-known band (at the time) who went by the strange (at the time) name of
PINK FLOYD. This would have been the year just before Dark Side of the Moon
was released... when the sax-line of MONEY was on every radio in America. This band was a different experience altogether; instead of bombast and roller-rink organ, Pink Floyd gave you a mystical hallucinogenic groove that seemed to meander for hours on each tune-- I dimly recall the lyrics... "Set the controls...for the Heart of the Sun, the Heart of the Sun... the heart of the Sun..." They were playing, for the most part, spacey music from an album I would later realize was called Saucer Full of Secrets. But when they broke into the unreleased MONEY, with its searing, piercing sax riffs, and a bassline that was recognizable ever after, you knew this would be a SONG you would remember above all others of the evening-- we did NOT know however, that their next album, with that tune on it, would become a fixture on Billboards Top 100 for the next TWENTY YEARS. Forty years later, the poster from that album cover can still be found in dorm rooms and dusty bohemian apartments across America.
Later I would see Santana a few times, Crosby/Stills/& Nash, Bob Dylan's various incarnations, Fleetwood Mac, Talking Heads, Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Mahavishnu John MacLaughlin, and Miles Davis on that same stage... and about 80-90 other concerts plus countless Jazz Festivals over the years... more on those "some other time." The point is, whatever else happened later on, my first impression of Saratoga Springs itself were those concerts at SPAC, and it colored my experience with the thrill of live music, viewed in a stellar, and, I repeat, sacred environment.
During one of those rides back home, while I was on a break from college and first starting to think of such things, I pondered... "Saratoga is such a cool place to visit; wouldn't it be great to LIVE there??!"
That's what this blog is going to be about, my friends-- it's now been 35 years, more or less, that I've made this my permanent address, and chose to raise my family here,
and this is... what it's like to love a place like this.
Thanks for reading, more soon...
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