Hot Date With Myself, No 7. “Friends of Clermont”

Last summer was a bit of a bust. Having had my heart smeared across the pavement like a downturned ice cream cone, I was in need of some restoration…and a new proverbial ice cream cone! That’s when I decided that it would be best to date myself for a while.  I would not let a faithless boyfriend put a blight on my summer! Well, that was in theory. I was having a good old time getting glammed-up, and taking myself to gorgeous places, but my heart was still a bit mushy. In ice cream terms, it resembled the awful freezer-burned film on the top of the ice cream carton which not only tasted awful, but resided in the container as goo. Not wanting to subject my dear friends any longer to the taste of a spoiled attitude, I spent quite a lot of time on my own.

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Katherine Livingston, Courtesy of Clermont State Historic Site

Despite my better instincts to live as a hermit for a while, friendships found me around every turn. I was a sticky mess that clung to the fingertips of friends old and new. While a steady trickle of camaraderie sustained me for a while, it was at the end of June that I experienced something which solidified my notion of people as thoughtful, unselfish beings. A small gesture of kindness which was the cherry on top of my friendship sundae. The moment occurred as I began my internship as a Curatorial Assistant at Clermont State Historic Site. I was tasked with accessioning a fantastic collection of clothing, jewelry, letters, photographs and ephemera from the Katherine Livingston Timpson Collection, and while rifling through fusty old documents, I was hardly prepared to find new kindred spirits.

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Tortoise shell locket with hair, Courtesy of Clermont State Historic Site

One of the first people that I met when I began work at Clermont was an employee named Jen. She whisked me past her office desk, which was crowded by classical composer comics (she was a classically trained pianist. among other things), and took me upstairs to the space where I would be cataloging and conserving museum assets. One of the first objects which I had the pleasure of working with was a kimono, which Katherine Livingston purchased on a trip to Japan in 1890. The kimono was of a beautiful blue silk, with tiny pink abstracted designs.

“They look like a thousand tiny penises.” Jen remarked. This sparked an hour long conversation on fertility festivals, penis sizes and….my love of Franz Liszt. Well, my love of a famous portrait of Franz Liszt, painted by Henri Lehmann. Because my father was super strict, and would not let me date, or even think about boys until I was ready to join AARP, I had to find heartthrobs to ogle over where I could. I discovered the delicious old Franzy in my mom’s ten pound Compendium of Classic Art. As I thumbed through the pages of the book, my heart skipped a beat when I set eyes on Mr. Liszt. I was in love! Which proves rather definitely that two dimensional boyfriends are often better than the three dimensional variety. I made clear this point when I gave a detailed account of my break-up to Jen. She sympathized, and agreed.

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After a long day of accessioning, I bid my new co-workers adieu, but before I left the park, I strolled around the gorgeous grounds and gardens of Clermont, and soaked in the classic Georgian architecture of the manor. The original Clermont had been burned to the ground by British troops in 1777. However, the scrappy Margaret Beekman (the mistress of the house) had Clermont rebuilt between 1779 and 1782. She wrote letter after letter to the Governor of New York, appealing to him to send militia exemptions her way to rebuild her home. Her persistence paid off, and Governor George Clinton complied to her request. Within a few years, the Georgian style house that I know and love today was completed.

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The front entrance to the house is guarded by a pair of lion statues. Finding them to be of good company, I sat myself down between the two and looked out towards the Hudson River, set amongst the rolling Catskill Mountains. Views like this allow a person to muse and reflect. Did I need a partner to feel fulfilled? Can I truly date myself and not feel like a weird loser? Were the abstracted shapes on the nineteenth century kimono intentionally made to look like penises? As I reflected upon all of this, I was surprised to see my new friend Jen come around the corner of the house.

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“Oh, good! You’re still here!” Jen beamed. She waved a piece of paper in her hand, and presented it to me. Expecting to see a print-out of some paperwork I had to complete, I was tickled to find a love note from Franz Liszt, instead. It was a simple message: “For Laura. Love, Franz Liszt.” But it is the simple message which leaves so much more room to read in between the lines. Either Liszt’s lyrical spirit had been transported over time and space to meet me in this moment, or I had just met a truly great friend in the present. Whether I had been affected by a spectral love maker, or a kindred spirit, that is yet to be determined. However, I am certain that I am loved, and that a lifetime of dates with myself will always be augmented by visits from dead composers, thoughtful friends and ice cream metaphors. I would have my ice cream and the cherry on top, thank you!

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 6, “Lilac Time, Montgomery Place in the Spring”

Being dumped by someone who said that they would love you forever sucks. The occurrence makes you rethink the slippery word “forever,” and also the people who aren’t old fashioned romantics, who relish the idea of growing decrepit and old together. Hey, monogamy isn’t for everyone, but don’t waste my time if you’re not captivated by the notion of being euthanized together on a bed of roses when you’re 88! As an integral part of this “don’t waste my time mentality,” I decided to date myself. Dress like a babe, go to all of my favorite places, and just romance the heck out of myself.

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After a few successful dates, I decided to enjoy the breathy bough of spring in the lilac perfumed gardens of Montgomery Place, Red Hook, NY (sorry if this date is slightly out of sequence). By late April or early May, the lilacs at Montgomery Place are in full bloom, infusing the balmy air with the sticky-sweet aroma of bursting lilac clusters. As I walked through the lilac bushes, buzzing with bee activity, I was lulled into a hazy state of utter relaxation. It was an olfactory heaven, accompanied by the tune of one hundred honey bees flapping their gossamer wings.

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At this point, you can tell that I was really swooning for myself amongst the lilac branches. Imagine that scene from Disney’s Bambi, where the cute forest creatures are being walloped over the head with love in the spring– a phenomenon termed “twitterpated.” Yes, indeed, I was twitterpated, all right! In my state of amorous delirium, I walked over to a small garden, nearest to the Montgomery Place mansion–  the mansion was built as a Federal-style home in 1804 by Janet Livingston Montgomery, and transformed into a Classical Revival mansion between the 1849s and 1869s by Alexander Jackson Davis.
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The small sunken garden paths were lined with early blooming bulbs, giant snowdrops, and unfurling ferns, leading me down to the belly of the garden where a tiny pond exists. A layer of green duck weed skims the surface of the pool, obscuring the black water beneath, and acts as a cloak for the dozens of frogs living there.  As I neared the pond, I was amused by the sight and sound of many fleshy frogs hurling their fat little bodies into the water. Well, with all of these handsome amphibians about, perhaps I’ll find prince charing here!

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You’ll be happy to know that I did happen upon a completely alluring frog, who was not only an attractive shade of green, but very friendly. What a hunk!

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Because I was wearing blue velvet covered shoes with a five-inch heel, I figured I should forget about navigating the wooded trails on the Montgomery Place property– one leading to the Hudson River, the other leading to a waterfall. While I do consider my heels athletic-wear, they were no match for the twisted-root riddled trails. That being said, I hopped, skipped and jumped with my pointed toes to a neighboring garden with darling brick paths and a central sun-dial.

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With lilac in the air, and amphibians in my heart, I strolled into the sunset on a perfect hot date with myself. God, if only those frogs could see me now! So, dear readers, if you ever happen to visit Montgomery Place– which is now a part of the Bard College Arboretum– be sure to visit all of the meandering pathways which afford incredible views and garden delights. And don’t forget to say hello to my beloved froggy friends!

 

 

 

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 5, “Images of Internment,” Exhibition at the FDR Presidential Library (2017)

If you’re like me, and you have a penchant for attracting liars, cheats, and emotionally hollowed-out husks of men, do yourself a favor and date yourself. Style that hair, strap on your best shoes, and go out into the world, confident that your favorite heels would never let you down. Literally. Personally, after being thrown into an unwanted girlfriend receptacle by my ex, I picked myself up out of the the heap, and looked into a bright future of hot dates with myself!

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For date number 5, I thought that it might be best to pull out all of the stops. Really impress myself. I wanted the museum, the mansion and the garden experience all rolled into one delectable date! Perusing the internet during the summer of 2017, I discovered that the FDR Presidential Library in Hyde Park, NY was having an exhibition titled “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans During WWII,” featuring ephemera, documents, and over 200 WPA photographs of the wasteland habitat carved-out for Japanese Americans by the impetus of Executive Order 9066. If anything else, this date would fashion an entire new appreciation for my mobile freedom.

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I began my date by taking a tour of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s home, Springwood. It was the place that he was born, rode pretty ponies as a boy, retreated during his Presidency, and, after he died, came to rest in the rose garden– along with his wife and my girl, Eleanor Roosevelt, and faithful dog, Fala. But, we’ll visit the gang in the rose garden a bit later on my date.

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The romance of my date with myself began at the Henry A. Wallace Visitor Center, where  I, along with a jolly band of tour goers, gathered around a pictorial mosaic floor map of FDR’s childhood neighborhood. This set-up allows for moments of intense geographical study, wistful daydreaming, and casual people watching while a knowledgeable U.S. Park Ranger tour guide fills you in on local history.

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After gaining a better grasp on local topography, it was time to walk over to the Springwood home, which was purchased by FDR’s father, James Roosevelt, in 1866. In 1882, Franklin D. Roosevelt made his grand entrance into the world within the walls of Springwood, and would later come to live there with his mum, Sara Roosevelt, and his fantastically wonderful– though genetically too close for my modern comfort– cousin and bride, Eleanor Roosevelt. In 1915, FDR and his mummy dearest, Sara, decided that the home was too small for a growing family, and hired the Hoppin and Koen architectural firm of NYC to add two additional wings to the original house, resulting in a charming Colonial Revival-style structure, with field stone facade, and columned portico. Some rather handsome ivy has taken residence on the outer walls, and spends its time on the portico with 100 year-old potted palms. What fun!

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View from Springwood Home of the Hudson Valley

Stepping across the threshold of Springwood is like entering a time capsule, which was permanently suspended in the year of 1945– the year of FDR’s death. As per his request, the Springwood estate and property was donated to the public, and given to the U.S. Department of the Interior, where it has since then been maintained as a National Historic Site. The home boasts some interesting ship and sailboat paintings (FDR was a great collector of them– among other things), a fun game of Parcheesi from the 1940s (I’m dying to know who won the game!), and all of Sara Roosevelt’s encroaching floral curtains. After FDR’s death, Eleanor Roosevelt remained in her personal home on the estate, Val-Kill, which you can visit.

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After exiting the house, I wandered to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library by way of the garden, and said hello to the bones of FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, and little dog, Fala. (They were enjoying the pleasant sunny weather!). After paying my respects, I finally made my way to the library and museum, where I could enjoy the “Images of Internment: The Incarceration of the Japanese Americans During WWII” exhibition, which was tinged with bitter sweet irony, since it was FDR himself who signed into order the awful Executive Order 9066.

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After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, fear and rumors stirred together on the west coast of the U.S. to create an ugly cocktail of racist sentiment and xenophobia. In response to the spread of fear, hatred and political pressure, FDR signed Executive order 9066, authorizing the Secretary of War to designate certain areas as military zones, which allowed for the incarceration of over 120,000 people of Japanese descent: 70,000 of which were American born citizens, and none of which were found guilty of espionage or sabotage.

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Entire families were taken from their homes, losing businesses and belongings, and placed behind barbed wire in some of the most desolate and lonely landscapes of the American West. Some of the photos displayed at the exhibition were taken in camps such as Heart Mountain, and Manzanar, where windy, wet winters, and dusty, dry summers chafed at the people who lived in flimsy plywood homes.

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photo: Dorothea Lange (1943)

However, the incarcerated prisoners made the best of the situation, setting up schools, ballet studios, newspapers, and even screen printing shops. As a super tangential side-note, some members of the Internment Camps joined the 442nd Regimental Combat Unit in 1943, becoming the most highly decorated unit for its size and length of service in U.S. History. Coming from the wastelands of the American West, their motto was appropriately “Go For Broke.”

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Photo: Hikaru Iwasaki (1943)

All of the photos exhibited an interplay of darkness and light: hopeful smiles from children set in a barren dustbowl; unflagging athletes competing in games with a barbed wire backdrop; proud graduates donning a cap and gown, trapped in place of confinement. Of course (because I cry like three times a day for fun), these exquisite photos brought tears to my eyes. I was reminded that even in the depths of sadness and strife, there is hope of happiness if one is strong enough and willing enough to alter their perspective. And just like the little girl, flying through the air on a swing in Hikaru Iwasaki’s photo (1943), I, too, have seen a beautiful place for myself on the horizon.

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 4, Nick Cave’s “Until,” at MASS MoCA

If you’re wondering why I’m having all of these hot dates with myself, I should start at the beginning of my tale, when in June of 2017 I was abruptly dumped by a major dumb-dumd with a wandering eye. While being relegated to the status of chopped liver by my boyfriend initiated my experiment with dating myself, I should emphasize the fact that I have since discovered that it’s much more exciting to take myself on dates than it is to drag an unenthusiastic man-slug about. In fact, I never ever want to stop dating myself. I’m committed to this monogamous love of myself! Swoon!

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Well, in June I didn’t feel so hot. Most of that month was spent getting my bloated, out-of-shape heart back into prime fitness. What I needed was a Richard Simmons-style introduction to love. Encouraging, embracing, sweaty. I began taking myself out to romantic gardens and hikes, easing myself into the idea that there was life after love. But, to truly lose myself in this lifestyle of romantic calisthenics,  I needed a wholly cathartic and cleansing experience, putting my seemingly devastating problems of a trodden-heart into perspective.

To accomplish this, I decided to visit Nick Cave’s immersive, massive and stunningly gorgeous exhibition, titled Until, on display at MASS MoCA during the summer of 2017. Cave created the exhibition to visually confront the problems of racism permeating American society, hinging the controversy of gun violence and race stereotypes from the hanging preposition Until– “Innocent Until proven guilty,” or, in this case, Guilty Until proven innocent.” Cave elaborates in his interview with the New York Times: “I had been thinking about racism and gun violence colliding, and then I wondered: Is there racism in heaven?” This question reverberates throughout the body of Until. 

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Upon entering the football field-sized building No.5 at MASS MoCA, I had in mind the familiar image of Cave’s remarkable Sound Suits, but I was not prepared for the overwhelming density of beauty, intersecting with violence, racism and politics. I mean, I was simply blown away.

 

 

 

At the entrance to the exhibition, I was met with 16,000 wind-spinners, and a meandering path to follow through the whirling, glinting curtains of ornaments. The beauty of the shiny and distracting objects betrayed images of guns and targets. A reminder of proverbial glistering. Emerging from this forest of spinners, I paused in amazement. At the heart of Cave’s installation existed a marvelous floating world, dripping with over ten miles of crystal, and 24 chandeliers, and backed by miles of net made out of shoelaces and millions of pony beads.

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Here, Cave’s idea is posed: “Is there racism in heaven?” To arrive at this question, one must climb-up one of four ladders which support the hovering heaven on earth, and peer into a bric-a-brac utopia made of thousands of ceramic and metal birds, fruits and flowers. Hidden within this Eden-like world are 17 cast-iron Jocko lawn jockeys, their black-face style countenances smiling back at you from behind a spray of faux flowers.

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It’s an uncomfortable feeling to be tickled and amused by fantastical flora and fauna in one moment, and then to suddenly be reminded by Jim Crow-era-style stooping ornaments that racism cannot be ignored or covered up by ornament and material mass. Cave’s Until forced me to consider a deeper wound; a collective mar on the face of society’s psyche. And while my romantic heart did ache, as I balanced on the top of a ladder, staring into a fabricated heaven made of ceramic robins, golden pigs and glass grapes, I knew that my heart-ache was singular, temporary, and would ease with time. Before me lay a bigger heartache– the drawn-out, festering heartache of America: racism. And, as I embrace my quest to love myself, and take myself on 100 hot dates, I am reminded along the way by beautiful places, thoughtful people and provoking art installations of the larger scheme of love, and all of its capacity.

 

 

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My Own Muse: Hot Date With Myself, No. 3, Mohonk Mountain Preserve

After being cast-aside by my boyfriend like some crumpled candy wrapper, I endured the beginning of my summer of 2017 in a state of heightened melancholy. I mean, I went all-out weeping, moaning, gnashing my teeth– the full gamut. But, by July I was truly bored with myself as a driveling lump, mourning the loss of a moron who was too shallow to enjoy my company in the first place. I mentally retired my mourning blacks, and metaphorically transitioned into mourning purples. I was ready to move on. It was time to take myself on 100 hot dates!

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For hot date number three, I was determined to release any pent-up anguish and emotion with a brisk hike at the Mohonk Preserve, NY.  The foremost emotion which I needed to expel from my body was an innate urge to find my ex-boyfriend in Florida, and punch him square across the jaw; But, not wanting to bruise my knuckles, or exert so much time and effort pursuing this line of violence and mal-intent, I forgot about the cheating bonehead, and strapped on my little red hiking boots!

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The Mohonk Mountain Preserve originated with two brothers, Alfred and Albert Smiley, who purchased Lake Mohonk, along with 280 surrounding acres, in 1869. The property contained a ten-room inn, called Stokes Tavern, which was expanded upon by the Smiley family to accommodate 40 guests, in 1870. Over the next few decades, the Smiley family continued to build, tear-down, and re-build additions onto the original Mountain House, until it reached the grandiose state that it exists in today. A rather haphazard, yet lovely structure, the Mountain House boasts a lot of character.

 

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In 1963, the Smiley Family and passionate supporters formed the Mohonk Trust to protect the area’s jaw-droopingly gorgeous natural landscape for future generations to enjoy, and the area became a Preserve in 1978. Fast forward to 2017, I am so thankful for this sequence of events. After a month of feeling like a loveless slug, I needed the Shawangunk Mountain range and the beauty of the Mohonk Preserve to absolve me of my slimy soul.

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On the morning in July which I determined to visit the Mohonk Mountain Preserve, I noted a nebulous mass of black clouds overwhelming the horizon. Driving towards the ominous mass on Rt. 44/55, I felt a kindred connection to the hulking cumulonimbus clouds. We were both brooding, both moody, both in the humor for a storm. This gigantic cloud and I were of the same ilk! As soon as I parked, and stepped out of my car, the storm cloud greeted me with silvery, cool rain drops, which broke over my warm skin like a friendly hello. Nice to meet you, storm! Let’s go for a hike!

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As the rain persisted, I set out on a trail which led to the Albert K. Smiley fire tower. The steam and mist which enveloped the trail was very sexy, and I cannot lie when I say that I was seduced by the sight of this. Being only one of two people brave enough to walk through sheets of warm, wet summer precipitation, I enjoyed my romantic walk up the hill to the tower in solitude.

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Here is where the hike gets good. When I reached the fire tower, and climbed up to the observation deck, the storm clouds broke, and a gigantic crepuscular ray sliced through the grey mists, illuminating the Shawanunk mountain range in a chiaroscuro manner.  As if the storm and I were on the very same page, we both allowed the sunlight to break-through our gloomy temperament at the very same moment. As the storm cloud and I were alone at the top of this mountain, we shared a moment of glimmering happiness together. Perhaps the cute little cumulonimbus cloud was going through a bad break-up, too! Undoubtedly, some wispy cirrostratus just didn’t understand the depths of the cumulonimbus spirit.

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I watched the sun stroke its luminous hand across the mountain range, commanding mist to rise from the green forest floor. Like a veil of love, the vapors danced towards my new friend, the cumulonimbus cloud. Oh, god, we were both enraptured by this sight. What a steamy hot date with myself, indeed!

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My Own Muse: Hot Date with Myself, No. 2, Blithewood Garden, Red Hook, NY.

After climbing out of the metaphorical blackened crevasse of an ugly break-up in June, I decided that it was high time that I surfaced for some sunshine. Don’t get me wrong, living as a troglodyte for one month had its benefits. I finished reading my collection of Regency-era romance novels, and binge-watched Korean dramas for four weeks straight, increasing my boob-tube stamina and romantic acuity. However, by the time July rolled around, I knew what I had to do. I would take myself on 100 hot dates.

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For date number 2, I rounded-up a selection of the finest cheeses (from my comprehensive personal refrigerator collection), and stopped at a local farm-stand for some fruit. My life brimming with cheese, and heart overflowing with cholesterol, I strolled over to the Blithewood Mansion and Garden, on the Bard campus, Red Hook, NY.

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Now, if you’re as much of a romantic as I am, you’ll know that cheese does not inspire sentiments of love and enchantment unless it’s consumed in the proper setting. To achieve this illusion of fromage amour, I traveled with a cheese laden bag to the breathtaking Italian sunken gardens of Blithewood Mansion. The garden was constructed circa 1903 as an extension of the Georgian-style Blithewood mansion, constructed circa 1900 for Captain Andrew C. Zabriskie and his wife Francis. Both the garden and the mansion were designed by Francis L.V. Hoppin, of the Hoppin and Koen Architectural firm, adhering to the conventions of Romanticism which influenced the Gilded Age home.

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At the time that I visited the garden, the rain had just subsided, and the sun began to glisten over the sopping wet flowers and walled structures of the garden. Sitting on a marble (or limestone) bench in the garden, I looked towards a sliver of the Hudson River, visible through a parting in the trees. With a mouth full of St. Agur cheese, I turned to look over my shoulder, and was rewarded with a vision of a double rainbow arcing over Blithwood mansion.

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Perhaps it was the effect of massive amounts of brie and agur entering my body all at once, but at the sight of this, my heart skipped a beat. Love flooded my veins. These are the moments that are best shared alone, on a date with yourself, smelling of fermented dairy and oxytocin. Between the natural beauty of the garden, and my full stomach, I was content that hot date number 2 with myself had been a complete success. I was falling in love!

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My Own Muse: Hot Date with Myself, No. 1, Vanderbilt Mansion Italian Garden

In June of 2017, I had a summer of fun heating-up on the horizon. My boyfriend would return from Florida, I was on summer break from grad school, and I had a killer new collection of crop-tops to show-off my hot rib-cage with! Yowza! However, the ripe promise of June came with a rotten surprise. My boyfriend returned home, only to inform me that he had found a new life in the sink-holes of Florida (Pun intended. He sure found some holes that he liked). After being mercilessly cast aside for a southern gal, and left broken and alone in my Hudson Valley home, I spent the first month of my summer break from school carrying around a box of Kleenex, weeping like a professional mourner from Mark Meily’s Crying Ladies (2003).  In June, I dressed like Queen Victoria. I mourned in black. My rib-cage hidden from the world.

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Then, in July, I got a hold of myself. I realized that it was unfair to my gracious friends to impose my driveling pool of gelatinous emotions upon them for another month. After recounting the fateful day that my ex-boyfriend unceremoniously kicked me to the singles curb about ninety-seven times, I took mercy upon my lovely friends, and decided to create a new narrative. I had to become that better me that I always read about in self-help blogs. I decided, on July first, I would date myself. I would fall deeply, madly, inextricably in love.

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So, I threw-off my somber black attire, and armed my new and improved romantic body with a sky-blue, off-the-shoulder maxi dress. With bounce in my stride, I took my rapturous blue hide over to the Italian Gardens of the Vanderbilt Mansion, Hyde Park, NY. Strolling along the symmetrical pathways between the precise flower beds, I felt a semblance of control returning to me. The extravagance of Frederick William Vanderbilt and his Gilded Age home (designed by architectural firm McKim, Mead and White, and inhabited by the Vanderbilt family from 1895-1938) and gardens reminded me that I could indulge in a bit of decadence. In an act of pure hedonistic pleasure, I updated my beloved miniature calendar book, while resting in the shade of the pergola. God, do I know romance!

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As I sensually penned dates into my itinerary for July, I was enamored by the sultry, shady ferns that surrounded me. There must be some significance in an entire garden devoted to the plant. After a bit of cursory research, I discovered a phenomenon known as Pteridomania (Aka. fern fever)! Throughout the Victorian period, there was a craze for collecting, hunting and cultivating ferns in both England and America. Much of this craze was fostered by botanists George Loddiges and Edward Newman. Owner of one of the largest hot-houses in London, Loddiges claimed that collecting ferns “showed intelligence, and improved both virility and mental health,” an assertion which his botanist buddy, Edward Newman, backed-up in his mid-century masterpiece, A History of British Ferns (1840). Frederick William Vanderbilt made sure that he was associated with the noble plant, thus ensuring his image of intelligence and manly virility with his handsome fern garden. Ugh. Where are all of these fern-cultivating men in the twenty-first century!?!?

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So, dear reader. As I concluded the first date with myself in the Vanderbilt Garden, I decided that I was one hell of a gal, and that only a fern loving gent could take me away from me! Swoon! Also, you’ll be relieved to hear that it was time to bare my ribcage to the word, once again.

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