Monthly Archives: June 2009

November 22, 1963

The passing of two high-profile figures on the same day (Farrah Fawcett and Michael Jackson) reminds me of another such day: November 22, 1963. Everyone can tell you immediately who the most famous person was who died on that day, but while many people know who C.S. Lewis was, few people realize he also passed away that day. Poor guy… probably got the smallest and most delayed obituaries that any famous author ever received. Same goes for Aldous Huxley (author of Brave New World), who also checked out on that date.

Stranger still: Someone had the bright idea to write a theological novel about them all meeting at the Pearly Gates.

Above the mist

I have sometimes considered where in New York (or the Northeast) I might like to live if I weren’t living in Syracuse. It might seem crazy, but in addition to the usual factors (jobs, politics, weather etc), I find myself considering the history of a place. To me, it’s like the character of the landscape, or the atmospheric conditions. Just like you probably wouldn’t consider moving somewhere sight unseen, I wouldn’t feel like I’d done my homework if I didn’t have a sense of what was what, then – as well as what is what, now – since it’s all connected. (This is probably why, if you forced me to choose between Rome and Ithaca, it would be quite a dilemma: Rome isn’t the most congenial spot for me in terms of the physical landscape or the political zeitgeist, but I know the historical landscape fairly well. Ithaca’s history, I don’t have a feel for at all, and I would feel somewhat disoriented.)

And then there are the Finger Lakes, which are so very beautiful and appealing. But for me, it is hard not to breathe in the heavy historical smog there. This was, after all, the scene of a massively destructive military campaign. Some today would call it a national security mission, others would call it ethnic cleansing. The atmospheric conditions there today are neither overtly “bad” nor “good” from a moral standpoint, but those clouds of history are still thick. And nowhere do they seem thicker than along the big lakes, Seneca and Cayuga, and particularly between them, in Seneca and Schuyler counties. This is where I was this past week.

One of the curious things about this unnamed land between the lakes is how laden with U.S. government presence it was and still is. Outside of New York City and Fort Drum, this has been the most federalized plot of land in the Empire State. One can’t trace a clear path from the Sullivan-Clinton days to the 20th century in this regard, but it still seems like somewhat more than a coincidence that a Naval base (later an Air Force base), a heavily guarded munitions depot, and (improbably) a National Forest took form here. Indeed, the two long lakes make ideal strategic barriers… but, these being the first lands that the newly minted U.S. government took from the native inhabitants by force, one must wonder if on some deep echoing level, “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown.”

On a human level — today — I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to make that point. Nowhere in New York is organized anti-tribal sentiment more vehement than in Cayuga country. The prospect of the landless Cayugas putting 125 acres into trust has thrown the local chapters of UCE into high alert. “No Reservation, No Sovereign Nation” signs are still up everywhere. It’s a distinctly different vibe than even in the Utica-Rome area. There are any number of socioeconomic factors driving the rancor. Down on the shorelines are the sumptuous wineries with their newly surfaced parking lots, and up in the hills are the prim white farmhouses with their shaggy coats of peeling paint. But I think history’s miasma hangs heavily too. The land is beautiful, but it was acquired expressly by sword and fire. And that stone fact cannot balance lightly on any psychic sense of safety and permanence.

However, up in the hills between the two lakes is a strange, peaceful little oasis called the Finger Lakes National Forest. I went camping and hiking there this past weekend. This is New York’s only national forest, and the second smallest national forest in the country. It’s also probably the only one that has pastures (with cows!), neatly labeled with brown-and-white U.S. Forest Service signs. Originally a land reclamation experiment, it’s a patchwork of forest and farm lands that seems like a depopulated, idealized vision of the New York countryside — what it would look like if the state were a large outdoor museum. Because the land has hardly been touched by development since the 1930s, the plant diversity is pretty amazing. I counted at least 20 different species (not including shrubs and trees) bordering my campsite alone.

Needless to say, the views from the top of the forest are incredible. You can see Seneca Lake, and almost see Cayuga Lake as well… and you can almost feel that you’re above the mists of the past and present, too.

A moment of Zen

This is Jacks Reef. I almost grew up right here (just outside the frame) – on the banks of the Erie Canal.

During this time of turmoil, let’s close our eyes and imagine New York as it once was, and could someday be again… a murky, stagnant breeding ground for mosquitoes, that no longer leads anywhere in particular.

I’m on vacation for a week. Don’t start the sacking of Albany without me!

Errol Morris blogs on photography and history

This is apropos of nothing, but I have been meaning to link to these for some time and want to do it before I forget again… Filmmaker Errol Morris has been writing at the NY Times in a fascinating occasional series where he takes a single photograph or image and spends a few consecutive days delving into the depths of history (and mystery) behind it. He has done three of these so far:

Which Came First, the Chicken or the Egg (about a famous Crimean War photograph)

Whose Father Was He? (about a family photo found on a Civil War battlefield)

Bamboozling Ourselves (about Nazi-era Vermeer forgeries)

I love his approach, which is both rambling and minutiae-obsessed at the same time.

The Carousel of DestiNY brings in its revenges…

…or is it just the whirligig of Time?

Citigroup: Destiny spent $18 million on consultants, ‘gimmicks’

Bob Congel gets spanked by Daddy Citi.

“That amount has largely gone to pay expenses for Destiny personnel, Web site creation, high-priced marketing consultants and marketing gimmicks such as painting the existing Carousel mall green, with only approximately $5.4 million spent on actual (construction) trade costs that the borrower claims are associated with store build-out, and none on tenant allowances,” the bank said.

About a year ago, Destiny repainted almost the entire interior of Carousel Center — most of it in shades of green — to emphasize the green technologies it says will be incorporated into the expansion. Citigroup also said that despite years of effort and the claimed expenditure of millions of dollars, Destiny has been unable to produce even a single executed lease for the mall expansion…

“Borrower has admitted to Citigroup that traditional approaches to leasing mall space have been a failure, and as an alternative, borrower has pursued a series of novel and previously untested leasing concepts to fill the mall,” the bank said. Those concepts include an approach the developer has named “Arendi,” in which the mall provides market research to tenants by using technology to track consumer behavior in the stores, in return for below-market rents and an increased share of profits being paid to the developer, Citigroup said.

Not sure Bob wanted that Big Brother strategy to get out just yet. Oh well.

But he promised world-class shoppertainment… and he has delivered. Pass the popcorn — I am feeling mighty shoppertained right now!

Updated: Here’s more.