Thursday, February 22, 2018

Beacon Beckons

As much as I love New York, one of the great pleasures of living here is also leaving it, even if it’s just for a day. When AR told me that Beacon, New York was just a hop, skip, and a jump from Grand Central (read: an hour and 45 minutes by train) and you don’t even need to rent a car to get around, the premise intrigued me. What if, one fine winter weekend, we went? And so with Mag this past Sunday we did.

We met bright and early at Grand Central and I went up to the golden booths where the ticket salespeople were to ask for mine just like Ginger Rogers in The Major and the Minor. “One round trip ticket to Beacon, please.” I don’t think I knew how much I wanted to do this until I got there when the premise of the machines presented themselves to me and I decided to be a 1930s movie star instead.

We hopped the correct train after first mistaking another one, and soon we watched New York City pass us by with stops in Harlem and the Bronx and all the little nonsense suburb-y places on the way until it became a little more country, a little more picturesque, a little less corporate America. The train ride didn’t feel long, either, since we laughed and talked and ogled the Olympic bobsled team the whole time. Cliffs and mountains that looked like dirt cake covered in powdered sugar sped past the window and ice floated in the chilly river as I took pictures.

Beacon is a small city in Dutchess County, New York, a former mill town that became a sort of funky, arty enclave New Yorkers now venture to to encounter things like fresh air and reasonably priced coffee. Arriving at around 11:15, we staked out a spot for brunch/lunch and ended up after a picturesque walk down Main Street (yes, Main Street), past all of its updated buildings that house galleries (like one for beach glass that’s in a converted firehouse), brunch spots, smoke shops, newfangled donut joints, and grocery stores. We ended up at the Yankee Clipper, a teeny diner inside what looks like a chrome train car. We drank coffee and ate a variety of breakfast and non-breakfast delights. Then Mag led way back through town, down a hill, to Dia: Beacon, the town’s contemporary art museum (there’s another one in Chelsea here in the city). She is an arty lady and has been before so she knows the way. I significantly lag behind because I keep stopping to take pictures. “Everything about you is a New Yorker except how quickly you walk,” AR says. He’s not wrong.

Dia: is a high-falutin’ sort of place, with deep philosophical installations that are nice to look at and interesting and make me think but also make me miss photography museums that I understand. Much of it is impressive but not necessarily art that you’d think fondly of when you leave home during a long vacation. None of it will make your house a home. Unless, that is, you have a rather large, austere house you want to fill with either white canvases painted white or intense sculptures made from ripped-apart machines (I actually really liked these pieces by John Chamberlain and perhaps would put them in my house--you know, my country house on acres and acres of land just a train ride from the city that I don’t have) or a giant wedge of wood or a pile of broken glass. In which case, this is definitely the place for you. AR, Mag, and I take a family portrait outside of its dead but still sculptural tree installation outside and we part ways, she heading back to the city and us to find some sort of pastry to eat and records to buy.

We complete our tasks at All You Knead Artisan Bakers with a peach cheesecake turnover and Hudson Valley Vinyl, where I find the Richard Hell and the Voidoids album Blank Generation, which I never expected to see in person, much less in Beacon, New York. We drink tea and coffee at Bank Street Cafe, then walk to the train, a gaggle of does hobnobbing amongst the trees (suddenly I feel like Marisa Tomei in My Cousin Vinny) and a fabulous sunset of technicolor pastels sending us off into the night.

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