This opinion piece appeared in the Townsman, July 24, 2008 edition
It is said with only a modicum of falseness that a true New Yorker is someone who has never visited the Statue of Liberty or the Empire State Building. It seems it were a requirement of New York City "cool" to have ignorance or even disdain for these obvious spectacles; the idea, you see, is to show possession of such a vast inventory of worldly and subtle sophistication to render such structures as mere lumps for rubes, such as you and me, to gawk at and experience with dropped jaws when we venture from our nettle patch to the great metropolis. And venture we do along with nettle patch owners the world over. And not only do we gawk and boggle our brains at the lumps, but also at the museums and exhibits housed in world class institutions that New Yorkers must be proud to host but love to ignore (or at least claim to ignore).
How foolish of them, think we. Jewelry is diminished in our eyes if worn as an ostentation, but otherwise why shouldn't it be appreciated? What is wrong with, "Holy Cow, look how big that green lady is!" or "Hey uncle Zeke, I can see the top of your silo from up here?" What possibly could be so un-cool about that?
And yet, fellow Townsman, are we not guilty of the same willful ignorance of our own treasures? Been to the galleries lately? Watched a play on one of our stages? Listened to music in one of our venues? Tsk tsk. On a per capita basis I'll bet Woodstock has more people engaged with entertaining and edifying the public than any community on earth. Unfortunately, perhaps to maintain our vigilance against proscriptions effecting dogs or to save our energy for hating Bush, we diminish this asset by lack of attention, and to borrow from an old poem, these "graces shall be of no more worth than gold in mines where none doth draw it forth."
So here's a suggestion. Make a vow that after you go to the Library Fair this Saturday (you ARE going to the Fair, aren't you?) you will indulge yourself in at least one of the many worthy exhibits or entertainments so amply provided.
Try the new exhibit called "The Vanishing Village" at the Woodstock Historical Society, located on Comeau Drive (look for the sign on your right side while going up the hill). This is a marvelous collection of photos and paintings, some dating to the early 1900s, of the center of Woodstock. Yes, many of those old buildings are gone (alas, The Irvington, a lovely three story wood framed hotel that stood on the corner of Mill Hill Road and Rock City Road where now sits the Longyear Building), but many have survived. You will have a wonderful time teasing out today's still existing structures disguised by their original incarnations. You will see Woodstock's FIRST TRAFFIC LIGHT at the intersection just described. You will discover our town center's long history of hosting and entertaining and providing comestibles to visitors. The exhibit gets its name from a book published under that title in the 1960's. Some of you will be amused (or shocked or not amused one bit) to find out that at least as far back as 1904 people had prognosticated "the end of Woodstock" because of some new development or another. The culprit then was the establishment of the Byrdcliffe Arts and Crafts Colony. It may upset some of you to be shown a time when Woodstock had many more fields and meadows and far less number of trees, but be assured the people then somehow endured the sylvan deprivation. Go, I advise thee; go to this exhibit.
If you've still got some wind after that, walk to the top of Comeau Drive and catch the 5:00 performance of Shakespeare's The Tempest, staged by Woodstock's own Bird-On-A-Cliff theatrical company. For reasons that will be obvious once you look at the program I should be circumspect, but I can truthfully attest that for the last ten years Bird-On-A-Cliff has delighted the public with their free open theater Shakespeare productions, and there is no reason to think this year will be any different. (Caveat: A hat is passed during intermission, but whether you contribute or not is entirely your call.) Ever wonder about the original context of such phrases like "brave new world" or "what's past is prologue?" Here is your chance to find out. Bring a picnic. Bring a lawn chair. It's not only Shakespeare, but it is also a beautiful, happy little world to experience him. Performances are on Friday, Saturday and Sunday until the end of August.
Paul McCartney sang, "Don't you know that it's a fool who plays it cool, making his world a little colder." Don't be too cool, fellow Townsman; enjoy our treasures and sustain those who mine for them.
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With great sadness we note the passing after a trying illness of musician and long time Woodstocker Artie Traum. With and without his brother Happy, Artie filled our dells with songs and music still appreciated the world over. He was also just one of the kindest and most sincere persons one could meet. I remember a night, oh gosh thirty some years ago, when Artie and Happy played a gig at the Joyous Lake where I was tending bar. Sitting at the bar was a woman in possession of years one was not used to finding in that particular venue. The rage in those days was tequila sunrises, which this woman ordered "without the tequila." She was Artie and Happy's mom! You never saw such a proud mom in all your life; man, she sat there and beamed the night through. It's a very happy memory, and one I will keep with the memory of Artie's generous smile. I know I am just one of many, many people offering the deepest sympathy to Artie's beloved Beverly, and to Happy and his family.