Sunday, June 17 2007
Gretchen and I spent most of the day at the Clearwater Festival down in Croton-on-Hudson, about fifty miles to the south in Westchester County. The CRF is part of Pete Seeger's ongoing effort to raise awareness of and restore natural health to the long-suffering Hudson estuary. It's become a huge event, the kind where you park in a distant parking lot and ride the shuttle bus to the actual festival. It took place at a park at Croton Point on a landscape that obviously had once been a landfill. (Why would anyone site a landfill on the shore of the Hudson? Before Pete Seeger and the Clearwater Festival, such questions never occurred to anyone.)
Gretchen actually got into the festival for free because she would be doing some tabling for Catskill Animal Sanctuary in the "activist area." My ticket was supposed to have cost $45.
In many respects the Clearwater Festival was like the Garlic Festival up in Saugerties, though it appealed to a decidedly hippier demographic. The parking lot where we'd caught the shuttlebus had been rich in Priuses (or, I suppose, Prii), and many of the attendees were outfitted in loose hippie garb.
As for Gretchen, she'd thought the weather would be cool and had worn jeans, but now the sun was out and it was hot and she was regretting her outfit. I suggested we could just duck into one of the many clothing concessions and buy her a pair of shorts or a skirt. Surely she'd be able to find what she needed woven out of hemp if nothing else. It was during this search that something reoccurred to me about these sort of events: while I like the politics and the projects (and, occasionally, even some of the music) of the activist left, I can't say that either Gretchen or I resonate with their sense of style. When we're around hippies, we constantly experience stylistic dissonance. My personal style, for example, could maybe be characterized as European urban, perhaps with a dash of Cold War Soviet thrown in. I dress like someone who would gladly trade a kidney for a pair of blue jeans. Gretchen owns several pairs of blue jeans and is thus more American in her taste, but I'd say New York City far outweighs vegetarian co-operative when it comes to the influences recorded in her closet. And the thing is, we're not the only people at these events who are politically liberal but not stylistic flower children. So why then isn't there just one merchant selling a pair of trousers in sensible earth tones? Why does everything have to be a psychedelic riot of petroleum-based dyes? Gretchen did manage to find a flaming orange Guatemalan skirt that was almost acceptable because it wasn't also shot through with bands of blue and green. But it clashed with her checkered green shirt and she thought its hemline was a little too low for her taste (hippies never wear miniskirts, while Gretchen pretty much only wears miniskirts when she wears skirts at all).
In the end we managed to find a small beach where we could wade into the Hudson, soaking our clothes and remaining cool for hours afterwards. The water here some thirty miles north of New York City tasted distinctly saline.
Next we went to "the food court," a shady place among tall Cottonwoods and children's play equipment. Gretchen was horrified to discover vendors selling meat products, which didn't seem to be in keeping with the festival's environmental theme (she is fond of pointing out that diet outweighs mode of transportation when it comes to greenhouse gases). I think most people there would have gladly traded the availability of meat for the availability of beer. (The only legal psychoactive substance being sold was coffee.)
While Gretchen was tabling for the sanctuary, I returned to the Hudson a second time to wash the tahini from my crotch (where it always seems to end up whenever I eat falafel). After that I wandered around the festival, not finding much of interest. In one large tent a bunch of vendors were exhibiting various green living technologies: everything from worm composting systems to photovoltaics to rain water collection.
Originally Gretchen had planned for us to see Pete Seeger and the Cowboy Junkies (the latter of whom I'd been warned about; supposedly a recent performance in Woodstock had been a terrible disappointment), but in the end the only performance we ended up sitting around watching was that of Buffy Sainte-Marie as she sang "Up Where We Belong" (which she wrote) and whooped up some sort of Native-American-influenced tune. Once again, I agreed with her politics, but I can't say I found anything compelling in her art.
We'd driven down to the festival on the west side of the Hudson on the NY Thruway, crossing the Hudson on the Bear Mountain Bridge. In the middle of that bridge is one of the most spectacular views of the Hudson Valley, with a wide variety of forested mountains scattered near and far on either side of the broad blue fjord of the Hudson. Heading back we drove up the east side of the Hudson on US 9. Aside from the staggering number of mansard roofs in the commercial strip areas, this drive wasn't as ugly as I had expected.
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