Superstars support the Walkway over the Hudson

by Sonja Stark on September 27, 2014

Fireworks during Starry, Starry Night

The Walkway’s impact on the community has grown immensely since opening in 2009. Last night, the popular tourist destination hosted their annual fundraiser to help build a visitors center for 2015.

In attendance from Ulster and Dutchess counties were 450 long-standing and relatively new supporters of the longest pedestrian bridge in the world.

Martha Stewart and Sonja StarkAppropriately dubbed ‘Starry Starry Night,’ the fundraiser was especially grateful for a surprise visit from one of t.v.’s biggest stars, Martha Stewart. The celebrity author lives in nearby Bedford and attended the event with Dr. Lucy Rockefeller Waletzky, chair of the New York State Council of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

My guest didn’t stir the crowd like Martha but birthday girl, Nola Royce, had an equally engaging time.

Crowds gathered at the silent auction tent to bid on popular items while a trio of musicians played jazz favorites. A responsive cuisine staff refilled plates with fresh hors d’oeuvres and topped off vino glasses. Just in time for the High Holidays, savory cuts of brisket were passed out on small plates.

Following presentations honoring Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and Ulster County Executive Michael Hein, the event culminated with a fireworks display from the walkway. The cloudless sky provided a group of local astronomy hobbyists the opportunity to describe constellations to curious guests. Nola and I peeked through a high-powered telescope to admire Perseus.

Plates of miniature banana and chocolate cupcakes awaited us leaving the bridge. We slipped a handful into empty coffee cups for the ride home, half tempted to instead spend the entire night gazing up into the celestial heavens of September.

Starry, Starry Night Event

Starry, Starry Night Event

Starry, Starry Night Event

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Cinching up summer in NYC

by Sonja Stark on September 23, 2014

German-American Steuben Parade 2014

NYC

German-American Steuben Parade, NYC

German-American Steuben Parade, NYC

There’s no denying Autumn is here when you see girls dressed in sexy checkered dirndls and men in leather lederhosen marching up 5th avenue.

This past Saturday marked the 57th year of the German-American Steuben parade celebrating with waves of traditional folk costumes, colorful floats, bands, beer and sauerkraut.

A group of alphorn players stopped briefly in front of the Metropolitan museum to blow their signature Swiss instrument. Precocious students from the Niskayuna High School German Program broke from the traditional teutonic procession jumping for joy all the way from 68th to 86th street.

It was the last day of summer in the city as evidenced seeing the parade, catching Jeter play one of his last home games at Yankee stadium and coming across a wedding in progress amidst the changing colors of Central Park.

NYC

German-American Steuben Parade, NYC

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Hosting Russians is an enlightening opportunity

by Sonja Stark on September 22, 2014

KseniyaFor the last few weeks, I’ve hosted a young, diminutive, digital media journalist from Tula, Russia by the name of Kseniya or ‘Susha’ for short. She just left on Sunday and already I miss her.

Her visit was part of an annual government-sponsored program called Open World that fosters greater understanding between societies by focusing on mutual interests that are non-political in nature.

Locally, our sister-city organization, the Albany-Tula Alliance, has spent nearly 25 years doing the same by encouraging peer-to-peer exchanges with students, educators, business leaders, scientists and civil society organizations.

Susha is the leading editor of Tula’s most popular news website called MYSLO. She was most interested in visiting Capital Region media outlets so a number of outlets: the Times Union, WRGB, Albany Business Review and Overit Media; along with dozens of Tech Valley businesses, took time to entertain the curious editor with facility tours and one-on-one instruction.

Open World at Albany Country Club

Open World Trip 2014

Kseniya Visits WRGB and Saratoga

It’s a legitimate question to ask Susha how others feel about events happening in Russia. Americans, naturally, want to discuss the Ukraine crisis or the annexing of Crimea or President Putin. The ATA wisely steers clear of political affairs but, social, economic and environmental issues are equally important, so, I ask.

Susha, not unlike the professionalism expressed by many educated Russians, knows how to calculate a diplomatic response; no doubt in an effort to prevent trouble with the status quo. Unlike the broad solidarity of most Tulans – 95% support where the country is heading, she admits that she’s not as optimistic.

First of all, a long tradition of state censorship on self-expression (getting more emphatic every day) often leads to reporters being fired and/or misinformation being spread. Second, Russia’s recent embargo on imported Western food is inflating the cost of basic necessities. And, third, growing hate crimes against the LGBT is extremely troubling.

So, why the high percentage of Russian nationalism? It’s complicated but the desire for stability over change seems to appeal to the philosophical core of most. Susha also reminds me of what happened to those who demonstrated in 2012 following allegations that the presidential election was rigged. Thousands were arrested and journalists blackmailed or threatened.

Which brings me to why I host repeatedly every year. Perceptions shape opinions and it’s important to know why others feel the way they do. It’s incredibly interesting to learn about ethical and moral situations that plague other countries. Mindful of the polls, I tread lightly and try to stay as open-minded but still, as someone who values freedom of speech more than life itself, it’s hard not to become a little defensive.

But, beyond the big issues, Susha and I bonded over a love for the Big Bang Theory, Mother Nature (Thatcher Park and Central Park were both highlights) and creative web design. Give her another week here in New York State and I might have had her even enjoying a pint of pumpkin craft beer!

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Visiting the Wemp Barn of Feura Bush, NY

by Sonja Stark on September 17, 2014

1715 Dutch Barn and Oriskatach

Admittedly, based on my last post, I did not have the greatest taste in television as a child. However, to be fair, if you were raised in the country, required to stack countless cords of wood, feed livestock and pull garden weeds, entertainment (of any kind) would have been preferable. In the 70′s, having dirty hands at age eight from baling hay or strawberry picking was commonplace. Today, it’s nice having a familiarity with local harvesting and an appreciation for well-built barns.

Which brings me to the Oriskatach property in Feura Bush, NY.

Wearing my Sunday best, I was invited to listen to a popular singing troupe perform inside one of the oldest barns in America, circa 1715. I wasn’t there to crank a tractor or rotate an egg incubator but rather enjoy the history of Dutch architecture alongside contemporary choral music.

Amidst clinking glasses of fine wine and fancy suits, I had to marvel at how my being inside a barn, specifically this barn, was infinitely better than the last time I was in a barn.

The New World Dutch structure originally stood in Montgomery County until 1990 when the late (and great) local businessman/philanthropist Carl Touhey had it dismantled and rebuilt next to his stone home.

The sturdy configuration is made of massive posts and beams called the H-frame. Wooden pegs fit like puzzle pieces to secure the timbers and joints together. It’s a true testament to pre-industrial engineering and the skills of those that came to the New World.

1715 Dutch Barn and Oriskatach

1715 Dutch Barn and Oriskatach

1715 Dutch Barn and Oriskatach

To learn more about Dutch Barns, visit http://www.dutchbarns.org/

To enjoy more photos of this unique upstate attraction, go to myFLICKR album.

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Television memories of Peekskill, NY

by Sonja Stark on September 15, 2014

FACTSRemember Mrs. Garrett, Tootie and Blair Warner? I’m dating myself here but the town of Peekskill has always been synonymous with the 80′s sitcom The Facts of Life, a show I watched religiously before my parents pulled the plug so that I’d do my homework. At that age, I thought the show, like many others, was filmed on location.

The all-female boarding school was fictionally set in Westchester County, about 40-miles north from NYC, with recurring roles from a then-young George Clooney and Molly Ringwald. Interracial relationships, abortion, cancer, prostitution, marijuana, sex-ed, tax evasion, suicide – the sitcom taught me far more about life than textbooks did, hence the name of the show.

So, here I am now 30 years later, in Peekskill, NY, on assignment to cover the highlights of my imaginary city – longingly looking for the fictional Eastland and Langley College.

Instead of finding my childhood celebrities though, I discover larger-than-life contemporary art popping up all along the waterfront.

Instead of sticks of taffy at Edna’s Edibles, I sip a pint of harvest ale at a nearby brewery.

And, the hypothetical commuter train that whisked the four Musketeers to NYC on certain episodes? Actually, that’s still there. The MTA Metro-North train line runs along the scenic Hudson equipped with nostalgic bells and loud whistles.

Memories of my adolescence entertainment are still alive and well poking around Peekskill. It shouldn’t feel familiar but it does.

DSC_3893Friends are made five minutes upon pulling up to a bright bar for a light lunch at the popular Peekskill Brewery (also known as PB). I have time only for a plate of hand cut fries but it marries well with a hoppy summer saison called Zizania.

The young tattooed-arm to my left insists that I return and try their housemade sausage made of rabbit and terragon. The birthday boy sitting to my right and his girlfriend (originally from Portland) are buying time before boarding a boat for a Hudson cruise. They too have a passion for Peekskill and list their favorite parks, markets, performing art centers and restaurants like the Birdsall House.

With limited sunlight left to explore, I wrap shooting and jump back on my magic carpet called the Taconic parkway. The route wraps around undulating valleys, under low stone bridges and past sweeping views of the Catskill mountains on the west side of the river.

So, the fact is, Peekskill makes for a perfect day trip from the Capital Region.

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A splash of tourism in Tannersville, NY

by Sonja Stark on September 9, 2014

The dramatic colors splashed throughout Tannersville are the result of the "Paint Program."

The dramatic colors splashed throughout Tannersville are the result of the “Paint Program.”

Many years ago, if you’re like me, you’d drive through the shabby town of Tannersville on your way to ski or hike Hunter Mountain without so much as blinking an eye. Did you ever stop? I didn’t dare. But, today, it’s technicolor economic rebirth is reason enough to showcase to my four guests from Russia on their first day in the United States.

The Catskill region was given the colloquial term of “Borscht Belt” because of the many Ukrainian Jews that would vacation here between the 1920s – 1970s. But, tourism since then has been difficult to sustain. That’s where the Catskill Foundation, local volunteers and Consulting Architect, Lewis Jacobsen come in.

DSC_3980Jacobsen is thrilled with the artistic and aesthetic improvements made to several buildings in the hamlet. He met us early Sunday morning for a tour of the Orpheum Theater, the newly opened American Glory BBQ, the Mountain Market and Bakery, the General Store, among many more restored, rainbow-splashed buildings. Turquoise, marigolds and strawberry reds dress up commercial properties once blighted and/or boarded up.

Jacobsen makes sure to credit local artist Elena Patterson for putting brush to balconies, staircases, garbage cans, shutters, gutters… even rocks, painting vigorously for the last 10-years with volunteer help.

My Russian guests, here on a grant from the U.S. Congress called Open World, agreed it’s almost as colorful as St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

Another juicy tidbit of history revealed by Jacobsen: Mark Twain once spent a summer at a rustic camp not far from Tannersville during the Gilded hotel heydays. I wasn’t able to find out anything more than that, but if my readers are familiar with Samuel Clemens, be my guest to comment.

Deer Mountain Inn

Following a fabulous lunch of southern comfort food at American Glory BBQ (just opened on August 27), we were given a tour of Tannerville’s renovated turn-of-century retreat Deer Mountain Inn. The once summer cottage offers 9 charming rooms with antique furnishings, modern bathrooms and luxury linens.

One of the more whimsical rooms is named for the American author and humorist that I just mentioned – Twain.

DSC_4058

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