New York City gets treated to a surprising number of beautiful sunsets. Last night’s was remarkable for the gauzy fog that rolled in with the retreating sun, and glowed with the light from below. The speed with which the night sky changed was also astounding.
It went from this…
…in a matter of minutes. Wonderful.
Edmund Burke, on our delight in the pain of others, in A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful:
“To examine this point concerning the effect of tragedy in a proper manner, we must previously consider how we are affected by the feelings of our fellow creatures in circumstances of real distress. I am convinced we have a degree of delight, and that no small one, in the real misfortunes and pains of others; for let the affection be what it will in appearance, if it does not make us shun such objects, if on the contrary it induces us to approach them, if it makes us dwell upon them, in this case I conceive we must have a delight or pleasure of some species or other in contemplating objects of this kind…There is no spectacle we so eagerly pursue, as that of some uncommon and grievous calamity; so that whether the misfortune is before our eyes, or whether they are turned back to it in history, it always touches with delight.”
Some teenage kid at the WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum this evening, encountering a print of Eddie Adams’ photograph, Nguyen Ngoc Loan Executing a Viet Cong Prisoner in Saigon, to his friend:
“Oh my god, this picture is awesome! Check it out–what a great shot. So. Cool.”
For the past several years, I’ve been making semi-regular trips with one of my best friends to the areas in and around Harriman State Park. Harriman sits about thirty miles north of New York City, bordered by West Point to the north and nestled snuggly against Bear Mountain in the east. It’s an amazing place, featuring hundreds of miles of trails, some spectacular views, and a good deal of interesting history.
In the late eighteenth century, in the years just before the Revolutionary War, descendants of the Huguenots settled the region, where they established the hamlet of Doodletown in a stretch of valley between Bear Mountain and Dunderberg Mountain, just to the south. The town’s funny name likely derives from the Dutch words for “dead” and “valley,” “dood” and “ley.” Where the “town” part comes from is anyone’s guess. What is known, however, is that the village lay directly in the path of advancing British troops as they prepared to attack nearby Fort Montgomery on the Hudson River in late 1777.
As William Myles and Daniel Chazin relate in their history of Harriman, “Nine hundred British soldiers…marched through Doodletown” taking the village entirely by surprise, and then proceeded to occupy it. “Twelve hundred more troops arrived and waited in Doodletown,” Myles and Chazin write, “until the first division approached Fort Montgomery. Then the second division marched to attack Fort Clinton,” immediately to the south.
The British won both battles, though the effort it took ultimately cost them the larger prize of Saratoga further north. As for tiny Doodeltown, some trivia: though likely apocryphal, the village is said to have inspired “Yankee Doodle Dandy,” which the royal army supposedly sang to humiliate Doodlers during the period of occupation. Who knows. What’s left today is a ghost town littered with graveyards and old building foundations. Heading there makes for a great hike—I recommend it.
In any event, the years following the Revolutionary War saw some of the land parceled off to the continental army and turned into the United States Military Academy at West Point. If I understand the history correctly, the rest was sold to a private investor, and the holding was passed from one group of rich folks to the next before falling into the hands of Edward and Mary Harriman, who owned tens of thousands of acres of forestland north of New York City.
The mountainous terrain was once rich in iron ore, and prospectors began calling in the mid to late nineteenth century. Even Thomas Edison got in on the act, acquiring land to dynamite open for a peek inside. Local protests against the environmental destruction wrought by the mining ultimately brought it to a close, but evidence of the extensive operations remains. Today, the park is pockmarked with tiny mine shafts and exploratory holes, many of which are closed or collapsed, though some are accessible for those that dare to enter.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the State of New York announced plans to build a prison on Bear Mountain. Mary Harriman, who was staunchly opposed to the idea, offered the state a deal. Having already decided to donate the land for public use, Harriman proposed giving 10,000 acres of land to the state and a $1 million of her own money to begin constructing public facilities on the land in exchange for the Albany’s agreement that no prison would be built on Bear Mountain. The park became official on October 29, 1910.
We were back this past week to explore a patch of the parklands I’ve never hiked before, an area in the north of Harriman sitting at the foot of Long Mountain. Here, the Long Path—which runs from Fort Lee Historic Park all the way up to John Boyd Thatcher State Park in Albany—bisects Route 6 before crawling up to the summit of Long Mountain and being forced due west by the southern perimeter of West Point.
We took the trail to the summit of Long Mountain where magnificent views of Turkey Hill Lake, which sits directly below, unfolded, and the brilliant colors of late-autumn leaves stretched to the horizon. There is a lookout point here, and a memorial dedicated to one of the park’s earliest enthusiasts, though when we arrived, it was hazy. It didn’t matter. Visibility was limited, but the fall colors saturating everything around us were simply astounding. We had a snack, took some photos, and kept on along our way, which soon headed down the mountainside.
About midway through the descent, where the trail begins to snake northeast before taking a sharp turn west, we decided to leave the Long Path altogether and scout our way down to the lake. The slopes here are for the most part gentle and, with some light bushwhacking, fairly easy to navigate. What was most remarkable, though, were the astoundingly yellow leaves matched only by the gigantic sun-yellow mushrooms billowing out high on the tree trunks like psychedelic wall sconces.
Shortly after we reached lakeside, where the ground became boggy and unsure, the crisp blue skies turned gray and threatening. And a remarkable thing happened: as if reacting to the suddenly low light, the oranges, reds and browns of the turning leaves took on a new intensity, buzzing with bruised persimmon. Someone had been camping here and had abandoned the site not long before. A makeshift fire pit still gave off some heat. Defying the threatening skies and biting cold, we decided to drop our gear here ourselves, break out the thermos of coffee and enjoy the view.
Turkey Hill Lake itself is serene, unremarkable. Nestled between Long Mountain to the west and Summer Hill directly to the south, the Lake gives way to a stream that empties into Queensboro Lake to the southeast. Not much happens here, save for the occasional ripple disturbing the mirror images reflecting from the water’s surface. Hugging tightly to the water’s eastern perimeter runs the old Summer Hill trail which we accessed by looping around the lake’s northern lip and continuing on after re-caffeinating. The gray clouds broke here, and blue skies returned.
We had been led to believe that the trail was overgrown and difficult to follow. Not true. The path was distinct along its entire length, canopied here and there by drooping branches scarlet with leaves, and intersecting with the trail-blazed Red Path before terminating a few hundred meters further south at the 1779 trail.
We jumped off on red, and followed the path as it rose above the water’s edge at Summer Hill’s northern base. From there, it’s a little bit of a slog up the hill side and the views become momentarily less interesting (not to mention more depressing—the amount of litter scattered around was upsetting…we even passed an abandoned shopping cart brought into the woods for god-knows-what-reason). Red meets the Anthony Wayne Trail soon enough, though, and ultimately circles north where it joins the Long Path. Thirty minutes later, we were back at the car.
Here’s a map of our route. If anyone has suggestions for other Harriman hikes—especially those off the beaten paths–I’d love to hear about them.
Pankaj Mishra reviews Perry Anderson’s The Indian Ideology in the latest Foreign Affairs. Mishra finds much to admire in the book. But when it comes to Anderson’s preoccupation with the intersections between religion and politics in India to the exclusion of everything else, well, Mishra isn’t having it. In a nutshell:
The relentless harshness of The Indian Ideology suggests that, as far as Anderson is concerned, “populations as steeped in the supernatural as those of South Asia” may find it impossible to enter Weber’s “iron cage”—or “the Golden Straightjacket,” in [Thomas] Friedman’s phrase—of modernity. It may actually be harder for observers of South Asia to liberate themselves from the iron cage of Western interpretative categories.
Religious beliefs and the fear of losing traditional livelihoods shape the political resistance of many Indians in rural areas to aggressive government projects and profit-driven corporate initiatives. But neither the scientific materialist nor the admirer of enlightened bureaucratic states in Anderson is likely to have much time for the tribal peoples in eastern India who recently refused to open up a mountain they consider sacred to a bauxite-mining corporation. Anderson doesn’t seem well placed, either, to grasp that for these irrational folks, who fail to prostrate themselves before the modern gods of economic growth, no entity in their cosmology seems more occult, minatory, and unappeasable than the instrumentally rational states and interconnected markets that threaten their traditions and local economies. Indeed, Anderson’s avowal of the left’s historical defeat slides too easily into resentment of such people, who have failed to shake off their Eastern superstitions and appreciate the Western virtues of reason and enlightenment. It is as though the Marxist worldview, denuded of its original liberationist energy, can only betray its origins in the commercial society of western Europe and the reflexive credence both Marx and expansionist burghers gave to the all-conquering logic of Homo economicus.
Here’s a remarkable exchange I came across this morning while reading Claudia Roth Pierpont’s new book on Philip Roth, Roth Unbound: A Writer and His Books. Richard Nixon and his chief of staff, Bob Haldeman discuss Our Gang–Roth’s Vietnam-inspired turn to political satire–shortly after it was published. Dwight Macdonald thought the book a masterpiece. Nixon’s attention was elsewhere:
NIXON: What if anything do you know about the Roth book…
HALDEMAN: Oh, a fair amount.
NIXON: Who is responsible? The Roth thing I notice it’s reviewed in Newsweek, which might indicate that they might be very much behind that.
HALDEMAN: Yeah, because they gave it a review way out of proportion to the book. We got advances of it and our people were very disturbed about it. It’s a judgment call. I read it, or skimmed through it. It’s a ridiculous book. And it’s sickening, and it’s–
NIXON:What’s it about?
HALDEMAN: It’s about the president of the United States.
NIXON: I know that! What’s the theme?
HALDEMAN: Trick E. Dixon. And the theme is that, uh, he’s tied to the abortion thing…It’s sick, you know, perverted kind of thing…It ends up with you being assassinated–or with Trick E. Dixon being assassinated, and then he goes to hell and in hell he starts politically organizing down there.
NIXON: Did the New York Times review it favorably, too?
HALDEMAN: I didn’t see the Times review, so I don’t know that.
NIXON: How big is circulation?
HALDEMAN: The book? It isn’t showing up on the sales lists yet. There’s no indication of it. But Philip Roth is a very big author, so he’s got–
NIXON: What is he? What is he?
NIXON: Roth is of course a Jew.
HALDEMAN: Oh yes…He’s brilliant in a sick way.
NIXON: Oh, I know–
HALDEMAN: Everything he’s written has been sick…
NIXON: A lot of this can be turned to our advantage…I think the anti-Semite thing can be , I hate to say it, but it can be very helpful to us. I mean you hear a singer even as brilliant as Richard Tucker and he’s a Jew.
HALDEMAN: Is he?
NIXON: …He’s pushy…
HALDEMAN: There are a lot more anti-Semites than there are Jews, and the anti-Semites are with us generally and the Jews sure aren’t.
Enrique Krauze has an editorial in yesterday’s New York Times analyzing the resistance to all-but-a-done-deal oil reforms in Mexico, which will probably be voted through by the country’s parliament later this month. It’s a strange little piece. While he covers a lot of ground, illustrating in broad strokes the fight over Mexico’s energy—and economic—future, the essay is most notable for what Krauze leaves out in his implicit defense of the energy privatization.
Krauze identifies three factors animating resistance to Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto’s proposal to opening the country’s oil sector to foreign investment: the average citizen’s appalling experiences with previous privatization schemes, nationalism, and fears of increased corruption should the country find itself in another oil boom, as happened in the 1970s.
A year ago today, Hurricane Sandy made landfall along the eastern coast of the United States, and slammed into New York City with full force. The rest is all-too-familiar history. Most everyone thinking clearly about the future understands that cycles of extreme weather will be a regular feature of New York’s urban landscape. What remains unclear is how the city will respond. What measures have been taken to prepare for the next big hurricane? What still needs to be done? What political obstacles to optimal disaster preparedness remain?
On November 18, I’ll be hosting a conversation at The City College of New York with Joseph F. Bruno, Commissioner of New York City’s Office of Emergency Management, where these questions and others will be debated and discussed. We will talk about the politics of disaster preparedness, and the ways in which the city is planning for future episodes of devastatingly extreme weather. The event will take place at CCNY in Shepard Hall, Room 558 from 5:30-7:00pm. The discussion with Commissioner Bruno is free and open to the public. Interested guests are asked to RSVP here. Space is limited, so don’t delay.
I hope to see some of you there.