Sunday, January 13 2013
location: Gideon Putnam Resort and Spa, Saratoga Spa State Park, Saratoga County, New York
This morning we leisurely packed our stuff, checked out of the Gideon Putnam, and then drove to Four Seasons Natural Foods in downtown Saratoga Springs to buy some Kale Krunch for the road. For lunch, we thought we'd try the buffet at Karavalli, but it didn't have much in the way of vegan food, so we ordered off the menu instead. We started out with bhelpuri, which came out as a room-temperature cylindrical block of puffed rice with a disgusting sweet sauce holding it together. It was completely inedible. As for the main dishes, I picked a vegetable curry with three peppers next to it on the natural assumption that it would be hot. Even so, our waiter made a special trip out to our table during its preparation to ask how hot I wanted it. I told him I wanted it hot. But when it finally came out, it had the flavor that Indian food prepared for a PTA might have. On Gretchen's insistence, I sent it back, and ten minutes later there it was again. But it still wasn't at the level of heat that a one or two pepper Indian dish normally at. So I sent it back a second time. After all of that, it was just warn enough to bring a slight sweat to my brow and a little runniness to my nose. But it was nowhere near as hot as some Thai food I ate in the East Village back in 1994 (or, for that matter, the curry you get at the Kingston Indian Restaurant if you say you want it "hot like they do it back in Bangladesh"). After all this fucking around, my curry was pretty good, though Gretchen was fairly disappointed with what she was eating. One of the dishes she'd ordered off the vegan menu was a Manchurian fried tofu dish that would have made more sense at a Chinese restaurant, which is logical given that Manchuria is the province of China furthest from India.
In between course of mediocre Indian food, I sipped a coffee (it was bad) and stared out the window. Catty-corner across the street, the most multicultural church in the world had just let out, and a gentleman looking like a member of the New Black Panther Party was socializing with people as they emerged. (If you watched Fox News on election day, you saw repeated clips of a mild-mannered African American dude wearing a beret at a jaunty angle, that's the look I mean.) At some point an class ended at a place up the street called Sip and Paint. We'd walked by Sip & Paint a few times and even ventured inside after a class. The idea is that an artist leads a classful of people (mostly youngish women) through the painting of a picture. Additionally, the members of the class are free (nay, encouraged) to buy wine or beer and sip while they work. The paintings are dreadful by and large, but it's a fun idea. This morning's class had evidently been a strictly soda-pop-and-fruit-juice affair, as the artists mostly looked to be ten year old boys and the paintings to be of Buzz Lightyear (who evidently is still of interest to children in 2013).
Our next destination was Lake Placid, over a hundred miles to the north. The Thruway through the Adirondacks was serene and mostly empty, though there were a few cars on Route 73, which took us on a northeast diagonal. The terrain near Lake Placid was surprisingly rugged, with steep granite cliffs and ravines too rocky to grow much in the way of timber. One part of the Ausable Gorge resembled a section of the blast zone near Mt. St. Helens.
Very close to Lake Placid, one sees a towering pair of concrete ski jumps, a reminder of all the money spent on this tiny village to prepare it for the 1980 Winter Olympics. There's also a large convention center awkwardly shoehorned into the village fabric near its center — it is constrained to the east by Mirror Lake and to the west by a steep (though fully-developed) ridge.
Our home for the next two days would be the Golden Arrow Resort, a somewhat-cheesy motor inn on the shore of Mirror Lake. Our 4th-floor room came with a balcony having a beautiful view of its now-frozen surface. Aside from a cloying funk-cum-chemicals odor, our room was great. It came with a much better (and more fun to operate) system for making coffee than the coffee-maxi-pad machine we'd had at the Gideon Putnam. This one behaved like well-oiled deer rifle. You pushed a button, up popped a place to drop in the coffee cartridge. You closed that over the coffee and up popped a place to add water. You closed that and then a button flashed blue, and when you pressed the button, your coffee was brewed up fresh. It ended up being a about half as strong as what I make at home, which is good by the standards of hotel room coffee.
Meanwhile our house sitter had sent an email saying that something was amiss with our woodstove. This is not the kind of thing one wants to hear on one's vacation, but shit happens here just like it does in Darfur. After another email exchange, it turned out that our house sitter had accidentally broken the ceramic glass on the front of the stove while trying to close the door. Evidently she'd thought the door might be a useful lever for compressing a stick of wood within the fire box. She was understandably embarrassed about the whole thing and had been hoping to get replacement glass without our ever knowing, but it was a Sunday and nobody was responding to her phone calls. I didn't take any of this news well; ideally, the house functions as a well-oiled deer rifle while I'm away from it. It wasn't just my anger at our house sitter's stupidity (I mean, really, did you thing window glass could be used to compress a stick of wood?), I was also mad at myself for neglecting to include a paragraph about not forcing the door shut in the woodstove operations document I'd prepared for house sitters. But there's no way I could have thought of every possible way a human being can fuck up.
Soon after arriving we found our way to the Golden Arrow's indoor pool and hot tub area. There was another couple there using the sauna, but we mostly had the place to ourselves. When we finally got a chance to use the sauna, we used a beer bottle to add water to the hot rocks (in defiance of a sign telling us not to) whereupon the upper bench of the sauna became way too hot for Gretchen (who was up there at the time).
Later we went to the Golden Arrow's bar, where I tried a Lake Placid Brewery IPA (it wasn't very good) and then moved on to a Jack on the Rocks. Our bartender turned out to be something of a marathon enthusiast, so Gretchen naturally told him about my grandfather. I would have thought that all the people who knew anything about Clarence DeMar had died off, but evidently he lives on in legend, at least among people who care about marathons. The bartender not only knew all about Clarence DeMar, he'd even been to the race named after him in Keene, New Hampshire. The main problem with the Golden Arrow's bar is that it stinks of halides wafting in from the nearby pool (they use bromine, not chlorine). It's possible that the only problem with that Lake Placid IPA I'd tried was the atmosphere I was drinking it in.
We would have gone out to a restaurant tonight for dinner, but all the places we were interested in going to were closed, as was the rest of the village. At around 8:00pm, I walked up and down the strip looking for a place to buy a six pack and found it dead except for a few taverns. As Gretchen had reported earlier, the stores all appeared to be united in their æsthetic sense: a festively-cloying 1980s tackiness that invited the tasteful window shopper to hurry along. So for dinner we had leftover Indian food, such as it was.
Late in the evening, we walked down to Lake Placid's old-school multiplex (no digital projectors there) to watch a movie called Gangster Squad. It was a great piece of escapist Hollywood filmcraft, perfect for watching while on vacation. Set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s, it came complete with an archvillain and an anachronistically-multicultural team of good guys (assembled Ocean's Eleven stylee). Unlike Ocean's Eleven, however, there was no strategy or special technique brought to bear in the achievement of our heroes' ends. They relied instead on Hollywood good luck, the kind of luck that makes a single shot from a good guy kill three bad guys while making a whole drum's worth of machine gun fire from a bad guy achieve nothing more than some spectacularly-shattered windows. Still, it was a good spectacle for getting my mind not to obsess about the shattered window of the woodstove some 160 miles to the south.
I should mention that today was an unusually balmy day for Lake Placid. Given that it is over 44 degrees north and 1800 feet above sea level, the winters here are usually harsh. On this January day, though, temperatures were in the 50s and I was comfortable wearing only a teeshirt on the hotel deck overlooking Mirror Lake. Conditions stayed pleasant well into the evening and didn't bother wearing a coat for our walk to the movie theatre and back (though I did wear a sweater).
Me on our balcony at the Golden Arrow resort, with Mirror Lake behind me.
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