I flew the coop last Wednesday morning, having seen too many plays and feeling the urgent need to be somewhere else. By mid-afternoon I was sitting on the terrace of Ecce Bed and Breakfast in Barryville, a microscopic river town not far from the spot where New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania meet. Longtime readers may recall my previous visit to this refuge, located on a wooded bluff some three hundred feet above the Delaware River. It’s one of the most relaxing places I know: the scenery is gorgeous, the hosts considerate, the food delicious, the décor not even slightly chintzy. Rarely is a B&B as satisfying as its Web site so enticingly promises, but every time I go to Ecce, it turns out to be even better than advertised.
What did I do there? Just about nothing. I listened to music, I read Alice Goldfarb Marquis’ Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg and Elijah Wald’s Escaping the Delta: Robert Johnson and the Invention of the Blues, I watched a bald eagle swoop lazily over the river, and I drove to Narrowsburg, another small town fifteen minutes up the road, where I ate a superlative dinner at a brand-new restaurant that I commend to your attention. Peter Schott, the chef and owner of Restaurant 15 Main, used to cook in Manhattan but has now set up shop in the country, where he turns out such sumptuous dishes as green garlic soup with frogs’ legs and the best gnocchi I’ve ever tasted, the latter accompanied by locally grown, lightly sauteed fiddlehead ferns. Yum. (The 15 Main Web site is still under construction, but should you find yourself anywhere near Narrowsburg, call 845-252-6562 to make a reservation. You won’t be sorry.)
I would have been content to spend the rest of the week driving between Barryville and Narrowsburg. Instead I returned to New York on Friday afternoon, unpacked my bags, and headed for Joe’s Pub, where Deidre Rodman and Steve Swallow were celebrating the release of Twin Falls, their new CD, with a gig at which they played so beautifully that I wasn’t sorry to have come back home. When not making pellucidly lyrical music with Swallow or her own quintet, Rodman is the pianist for the Lascivious Biddies, about whom I’ve written from time to time in this space (as well as in my liner notes for their latest CD, Get Lucky). All three of her fellow Biddies showed up to cheer Rodman on, and I was as pleased to see them again as I was to hear her.
The next morning I awoke at nine-thirty and remembered that two museum shows I’d been meaning to see, Goya at the Frick Collection and David Smith at the Guggenheim, were about to close. I threw my clothes on, jumped in a cab, and went straight to the Frick, where I found a line of hopeful art lovers stretching halfway around the block. The word on the street was that I’d have to wait two hours to get in. Not caring to fritter away so pretty a morning in so tiresome a fashion, I walked up Fifth Avenue to the Guggenheim, where I stood in line for fifteen seconds before being admitted.
Needless to say, David Smith isn’t as popular as Goya, nor do I claim to like his welded-metal abstract-expressionist sculptures as much as Goya’s paintings. In fact, I’ve never liked Smith very much at all, but most of my fellow critics think him a master, so I felt obliged to take him on yet again, though I didn’t change my mind this time around. Except for the “Cubis” sculptures, which rarely fail to bowl me over, I continue to find most of Smith’s work a fussy, derivative amalgam of surrealism and ill-digested biomorphism (though I did like Steel Drawing I, one of the smaller pieces in the show, very much). So be it. You can’t like everything that’s good, and you shouldn’t pretend to like anything. In the wise words of Kingsley Amis, “All amateurs must be philistines part of the time. Must be: a greater sin is to be coerced into showing respect when little or none is felt.”
I left the Guggenheim with my bell unrung, crossed Fifth Avenue, and plunged into Central Park, where the Great Lawn was packed with ecstatic children taking advantage of a lovely day. No show tonight! I told myself happily, and took my sweet time strolling home.