Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The high cost of speeding

I had to pay a speeding ticket yesterday—the first in my life—$335 to the town of Hoosick, New York. It required a money order, which I bought at the post office. I love small town life in that I could count on commiseration from the clerk and P.O. regulars as I reluctantly counted out my twenties. Mary, the head clerk, a gray-haired dumpling who you’d never take for a speed demon, topped me, though, saying that she’d gotten a $1000 ticket in Cambridge, NY. for 75 in a 55. It was her third ticket in New York State. My friend Robby, knowing that I’d taken that same route back and forth to Bennington at 80 mph for years, suggested I simply look upon it as a retroactive toll, or the price I must pay to join the rest of the human race.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kurt's house

Art Vent House Report #5: Easter, for the second year in a row, was celebrated at Kurt Andernach’s home, which he calls Somersault House, on the Athens/Catskill, NY border, so deep in the woods that it takes a high clearance vehicle, preferably with all-wheel drive, and a certain amount of intestinal fortitude to negotiate the seemingly endless narrow dirt roads that lead to it. Each time I go there (once, scarily, by myself, near midnight on a dark, snowy New Year’s Eve), I wonder if I’m really going to find it, and if not, how I’m going to get out.

Even if you didn’t know Kurt was German, the siting of his cottage in the forest would make you think of Hansel and Gretel, but then you go inside and the fairy tale feeling is complete. Both rustic and elegant, it could be Little Red Riding Hood’s grandmother’s house—provided Grandma had exquisite taste and a penchant for Biedermeier furniture.

But finding such a house in the middle of the Catskill woods isn’t the only incongruity. The other is that Kurt is an architect, a designer of chic store interiors (such as those for Diane von Furstenberg and my favorite department store, Bon Marche in Paris) and blindingly white loft-like spaces. Obviously he has range. How many modernist architects do you know who proudly display a cuckoo clock?

One of the many distinctive aspects of Kurt’s house is that there are no screens—“How European,” a friend said. Yeah, except northern Europe doesn’t have insects (a Swiss friend once told me it was because they wouldn’t allow them) and this is New York State, where mosquitoes rule. Kurt, however, is uniquely oblivious—or impervious—to mosquitoes, and one summer evening I ate in his dining room largely untouched—even though the room was buzzing with them—because his dog, sitting next to me on the bench, was incredibly efficient in snapping the insects out of the air with his mouth.

The massive, elaborate antique furniture is from his family, and when I asked Kurt how he got it into the house he said, “Oh, it was easy. It came from Europe in a container, which was left on the main road, and I rented a U-Haul…” Clearly what’s easy for Kurt would be challenging for a normal person—he's also moved hundreds of rocks from the woods to form patios and walkways around his house. I hope to do a summer update on the extensively gardened exterior which, when everything is in bloom, is as magical as the interior.

Living room:

Upstairs office:
A corner of the kitchen, set for Easter brunch:

A corner of the dining room:

And bunnies!

Kurt now splits his time between his architectural practice and a storefront in on Main Street in Catskill, where he makes indoor/outdoor furniture to be marketed under the name Somersaultwoods. Solidly handcrafted in rustic Bavarian style without glue or screws—all joints are made by hand—his focus is on green technology for the materials and finishes.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

You are what you think

‘tis in ourselves that we are thus
or thus. Our bodies are our gardens, to the which
our wills are gardeners: so that if we will plant
nettles, or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up
thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs, or
distract it with many, either to have it sterile
with idleness, or manured with industry, why, the
power and corrigible authority of this lies in ourwills.

(Shakespeare, Othello, Act 1, Scene 3)

Mind is the wielder of muscles. The force of a hammer blow depends on the energy applied; the power expressed by a man’s bodily instrument depends on his aggressive will and courage. The body is literally manufactured and sustained by the mind. Through pressure of instincts from past lives, strengths or weaknesses percolate gradually into human consciousness. They express as habits, which in turn manifest as a desirable or an undesirable body. Outward frailty has a mental origin; in a vicious cycle, the habit-bound body thwarts the mind. If the master allows himself to be commanded by a servant, the latter becomes autocratic; the mind is similarly enslaved by submitting to bodily dictation.

Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi, 1946.

So reading about the brain and how thoughts and experience can change its physical configuration (neuroplasticity), I wonder why stop with the brain? If the brain can change, why not the rest of the body?

I have not forgotten a long article I read in The New York Times more than ten years ago (now finally available through the miracle of online archiving), which describes how a person diagnosed with multiple personality disorder may have actual physical characteristics that come and go, depending on which personality is dominant:


For more than a century clinicians have occasionally reported isolated cases of dramatic biological changes in people with multiple personalities as they switched from one to another. These include the abrupt appearance and disappearance of rashes, welts, scars and other tissue wounds; switches in handwriting and handedness; epilepsy, allergies and color blindness that strike only when a given personality is in control of the body.


Today, using refined research techniques, scientists are bringing greater rigor to the study of multiple personalities and focusing on a search for the mechanisms that produce the varying physiological differences in each personality.


One of the problems for psychiatrists trying to treat patients with multiple personalities is that, depending which personality is in control, a patient can have drastically different reactions to a given psychiatric medication. For instance, it is almost always the case that one or several of the personalities of a given patient will be that of a child. And the differences in responses to drugs among the sub-personalities often parallel those ordinarily found when the same drug at the same dose is given to a child, rather than an adult.


[Also] …observation of vision differences…made by those treating multiple-personality cases. ''Many patients have told me they have a drawer full of eyeglasses at home, and they never are quite sure which to bring when they go out''….


Now what I need is to develop a personality that doesn't have spring allergies.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Reggie's house

Art Vent House Report #4--Last week I dropped in on Reggie Madison, a longtime friend and painter I admire, who has eked out a home and studios (plural) in a crumbling industrial complex smack on the edge of the Hudson River in the village of Athens, NY. This is one of several industrial spaces he's "Reggified" since I've known him, and patrons of Club Helsinki in Great Barrington, MA, where he designed the interior, will recognize the the style--humorous conglomerations of objects only Reggie would choose, more of which can be found in his shop on Warren Street in Hudson. The building is so close to the water that inside it feels like an ocean liner, especially the living room with its narrow windows:

Reggie can make even knotty pine look exotic:

The entry way:

The music room:

A corner of the bathroom:

The upstairs studio:

The downstairs studio:

And outside, the Hudson, still bleak in early April:

Rainbow over Lenox

Monday was all about lawyers, negotiations and decisions; not the kind of day you'd ever want to repeat. But this was at the end of it:

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Some photos from England

Hever Castle, Kent, childhood home of Anne Boleyn, later owned by the Astors. With two moats, yet.

Where are the contemporary topiary artists? A medium yet to be explored...

And Nya, again, because I'm smitten.

At least we can get a laugh out of it

I'm not a Letterman fan, and thought I was waaay over being amused by GWB's gaffes, but I want to share anything that makes me laugh until I cry, and this, sent to me by Cary Smith is hilarious. That we now have a real president also helps.

Friday, April 3, 2009

As seen in the Tube:

Only in England would anyone think to use Iggy Pop to flog auto insurance. I'm still not sure what the connection is.