Thursday, August 26, 2010

Happy 2nd Birthday!

Happy Birthday, bklynbiblio! Would you believe our little blog is going to be 2 years old this coming Sunday, August 29th? My, how fast we've grown! With this blog entry, we've now reached 233 posts. If you browse the subject tags for the posts (all of which can be seen on the bottom of the blog at, you’ll discover that the top 3 tags have remained the same as last year, but the first and second have changed ranks: "New York" (50); "reviews" (41); and "gay" (34). Once again, this isn't much of a surprise as these things do define bklynbiblio. Interestingly, coming up at #4 is "19th-century art" (28), which makes sense as that is supposed to be my area of specialty. I realize that 2010 has been less blog-productive than last year, but do stay tuned because I've got travel to Montreal and England coming up, plus art exhibitions and other great things to write about in the months ahead. Speaking of travel, I'm posting about the birthday a little early because I'm heading to Florida for about 10 days. First I'll be visiting friends in Miami Beach and Delray Beach (haven't been back there since I left in 2005), then heading to St. Petersburg to visit family. I may put up a post or two while I'm away, so stay tuned.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fire Island Redux

I didn’t think I would be writing about my Fire Island trip, but I couldn't resist. JM, JB, BS, and I met at the Long Island Rail Road ticket area at Penn Station early Friday morning. After 2 trains ($21 round trip), 1 shuttle van ($5 one way), and 1 ferry ride ($14 round trip), we arrived at Cherry Grove about 12:30pm. My initial thought was that it seemed like a lot of traveling in order to get to Fire Island (don’t forget I had a subway trip too), but in fact we were there in 3 hours, which actually isn’t that bad. However, I have to admit, upon arrival I was a little disappointed. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but Cherry Grove was not it. The place is like a tiny fishing village with what seemed like 1 store, 1 restaurant, and 1 bar. Remote doesn’t even been to describe it. The picture you see here (by Andrew Collins on the's Gay & Lesbian Travel site) makes it seem bigger than it is, but in fact what you see is pretty much what you get. The stroll down Bayview Walk toward the guest house was interesting. The entire area is built on raised wood-plank boardwalks, and you pass one private cottage after another, many surrounded by overgrown wheat stalks and other flora, all of which are typically rented out to seasonal visitors at thousands of dollars per week. And then we got to the Belvedere.

You’ll recall that my initial impressions from their website fluctuated between curious excitement and appalling dismay. All I can say is that the website was 100% more inviting than the place itself. How someone ever could vote it “the best gay male resort in the country” (note they are quoting from an anonymous comment posted on Trip Advisor in 2007) clearly shows one has not traveled much. The entire complex defines ostentatious eccentricity. The original owner, John Eberhardt, had been a set painter, so it should come as no surprise that the entire place looks like a theater set stage. As a result nothing has any value. Everywhere there is faux marble, and the sculpture throughout the place is plaster, staff, and plastic resin. Worse yet, all of it is quite literally falling apart. Even the faux Apollo Belvedere by the pool looks like it’s about to lose its arm and testicles. The fresco work throughout is meant to conjure Italy; instead it looks like paint-by-number cardboard. With all due respect to Mr. Eberhardt, this is queer eccentricity to the Nth degree. It is one man’s dreamworld with nothing to show for it but a poor sense of copywork in appreciating the beauty of Venice and Baroque ornamentation. It’s as if Miss Havisham from Great Expectations should have been living here. The analogy isn't far-fetched: there's even a closet-like chapel with an altar, a crucifix, and a wooden box with the cremated ashes of Eberhardt inside.

Each room has its own style too. Four of us were squeezed into a postage stamp-sized room that had as its theme "Southern plantation porch." One wall was made to look like the outside of a house (including a faux window), another wall was covered with a frighteningly blurry forest scene, and the remaining walls were upholstered in ca. 1982 Laura Ashley rose-patterned fabric, with matching pink and green sheets on the beds to match. There was no air conditioning in the room, and the guest house didn’t even offer you a freakin' cup of coffee! Did I mention they charged us $500 a night for this place?

Now, keep in mind that part of the problem is that there are only 3 hotels in Cherry Grove (I told you this place was deserted), and word has it that the other places were worse, although the 4 of us are in agreement we were robbed. In the Belvedere's defense, the pool and hot tub area are nice, the rooms are actually clean, and the staff seems friendly. The place is on the bay, so we spent time just relaxing in lounge chairs on the water. In the evening, the corridors were dimly lit with chandeliers and sea breezes blew white diaphanous drapes into the air, creating a theatrical sense of Gothic Romanticism that I have to admit charmed me. And lest you think this is an experience open to all, I should point out that this was a gay men’s guest house, clothing is optional and...well, l’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

As our first day progressed (and I drank more vodka-cranberry cocktails), I have to say that Cherry Grove grew on me. We ate breakfasts and lunches at Floyd’s, which had great, if expensive, fresh-tasting food, and we ate dinner one night at Island Breeze, JM and I indulging in a delectable fig-and-gorgonzola salad followed by chicken rollantini with mashed potatoes and broccoli rabe that was delicious. On a beautiful Saturday morning we walked out to the beach, lay in the sand, and frolicked in the Atlantic. That afternoon we took the water taxi over to The Pines, where my friends DC and DG were having their party. They had rented with friends of theirs a large cottage that had a pool and was no more than 50 steps away from the beach. When we arrived in The Pines, I realized suddenly that THIS was what I expected Fire Island would be like, something akin to Provincetown or Key West, but with less of a city feel. Cherry Grove, in contrast, has more of a lesbian crowd, and it’s more secluded as compared to The Pines, which is dominated by hunky gay men and loud dance music.

After all is said and done, I had a fun weekend with my friends. It’s a bit exhausting getting out there with all the traveling involved, but it is actually worth it if you’re looking for a great place to chill out for a while. The trick to enjoying Fire Island is to rent a cottage with good friends, stay for a week, and have a house party or two. In the process do nothing but relax, get some sun, and swim in the water, but don't forget to socialize a bit where the boys are.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Fire Island 2010

Summers for the gay male population in NYC and the surrounding area usually means vacations to either Provincetown or Fire Island. bklynbiblio readers know about my 2008 and 2009 trips to P-town, located at the tip of Cape Cod in Massachusetts. This year I decided to go with JM and his friends to Fire Island, a barrier island off the coast of Long Island. You can see a map of the area here. Apparently we have to take a train, a shuttle, and a ferry to get there, but supposedly we'll be there in less than 3 hours. My friends DC & DG will be there too celebrating DC's 40th birthday with a big party at their rented cottage on Saturday. I'm a Fire Island virgin, so I'm pretty excited about going (just do a Google Image search and you'll quickly see why). I've been so busy the past few weeks though, I haven't even asked until the other day where we were staying, and only now just looked it up on the Web: the Belvedere Guest House for Men. I don't know if I was more startled by the Venetian-style villa and its Baroque ornamentation, the faux Apollo Belvedere, or the accompanying soundtrack from one of my favorite pieces of music, the opening segment to "Bittersweet Symphony" by The Verve. Now I understand why it seemed so darn expensive! We're only going for 2 nights, so it will be a quick trip, but it should be lots of fun. Don't expect much of a report back, though; assume it's going to be a weekend of hedonistic bliss.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Random Musings 2

A few weeks ago, news broke in Brooklyn that over 400 Canada geese had been captured in Prospect Park and gassed by the federal Wildlife Services agency. They claimed the birds were a threat to airplanes. Needless to say, this was a bit of a shock. Hunting itself is bad enough, but for a government agency to authorize a "goosicide" (as the act has been dubbed) seems nothing short of barbarism. But it gets worse. In New York Magazine's latest issue they note that the federal government has been performing animal control since 1931, first going after predatory animals, but now killing animal species that pose a threat to ranchers, farmers, and apparently now airline pilots. In 2008 Wildlife Services killed, for instance, 14,041 Canada geese. They also killed 898,704 blackbirds because they were crop eaters, 528 river otters because they ate fish that fishermen wanted to capture, and 5,284 squirrels simply because they can be a problem for personal property. Am I wrong in thinking there has to be a better way of controlling animal overpopulation that doesn't require slaughter? Can't we spay and neuter some of these creatures in much the same way we do for stray dogs and cats? OK, so a vegetarian might now argue with me that the slaughtering of cows for me to eat is no different. And I do have to admit that I am glad the government controls, say, the rat population in the NYC subway system. So maybe the issue is the degree to which any of these creatures spread disease or does not serve for human consumption? I'm not sure what the answer is, but there seems like there has to be a better solution to animal control than to gas 400 geese in a park simply because they fly.

In health news, The New York Times had an article by Gina Kolata this morning that relates to advances in the study of Alzheimer's disease. According to a report to be published in the Archives of Neurology, spinal fluid tests are now able to predict with up to 100% accuracy whether patients suffering from memory loss actually have or will develop Alzheimer's. Up until now, the only way to diagnosis a person with the disease is through a post-mortem examination of the brain, so this is good news. However, it also brings up at least one ethical issue: "Should doctors offer, or patients accept, commercially available spinal tap tests to find a disease that is yet untreatable?" Indeed, I have to admit, is there a point to having the test? Presumably one can help contribute to future studies that may lead to a cure, but who wants to endure a spinal tap, a painful procedure in which they extract fluid from the spine, to do this? Testing spinal fluid was actually available years ago, but not to the level of accuracy they now claim. My mother refused to have it done because of the pain and lack of accuracy. It is good news in terms of advances in the study of the disease, but the medical community is going to have a challenging time encouraging patients to consider getting it.

In art news, I was rather pleased to get an email recently that Sotheby's and the current Duke of Devonshire's family were working together to auction off an incredible array of material stored in the attic of Chatsworth. bklynbiblio readers know of my fascination with the Devonshires (e.g. Georgiana and her son William). This particular auction is bringing together approximately 20,000 objects in a 3-day sale starting October 5, with estimated prices ranging from £20 to £200,000. While it's fascinating to think there will be salvaged architectural pieces from Devonshire House (their London estate, torn down in 1925), Chatsworth, and their other estates, there are also long-forgotten personal items owned by the Devonshires, from tea sets to a Russian sleigh. The official press release from Sotheby's has full-color images and more information. Sadly, I won't be in England until after the sale is over, but maybe I'll bid online for Georgiana's snuff box.

And, finally, good news for the sci-fi geek in us: Torchwood is coming back! Yes, Capt. Jack and Gwen Cooper will apparently be back for a new version that (if I'm understanding the premise correctly) shifts focus to the US and not the UK (hence the reworked title Torchwood: The New World). Presumably there will be everything we've come to expect from the show: alien encounters, fast-paced action, and a heavy dose of sexual tension along with a shag or two. But why is it going to be on the Starz network? I don't even know what that channel is. They will definitely need to come up with a work-around for subscribing to a new cable network if they want to get their fans back. Still, it's tempting. The show is going to premiere in 2011. I'll close here with hottie couple Ianto and Jack from Day 4 of Torchwood: Children of Earth, although if you've seen the miniseries, you know how sad this photo actually turns out to be.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Way We Live Now

A couple of weeks ago, I started reading the novel The Way We Live Now (1875), which had been recommended to me by a few friends, most notably LC, who wrote his dissertation on Anthony Trollope, the author of this and numerous other books. This particular novel is considered to be one of his best. Trollope (1815-1882) was truly one of the most popular and prolific novelists of the Victorian era. He practically invented the "series" in which characters would return from one novel to the next. Unlike his contemporaries Charles Dickens and George Eliot, whose long novels are noted for, respectively, their melodrama or morality, Trollope specialized in social commentary. In that sense he may have shared more with his contemporary William Makepeace Thackeray, whose Vanity Fair (1848) is another witty and devious Victorian novel.

Victorian novels put people off because they're frequently so long. I'm about 200 pages into the book, and I have another 600 to go, so it is going to take me a while to read it. But I'm actually glad. I love this book! The plot (so far) runs something like this: characters from the upper classes and fringes of nobility become enamored of the despicable Augustus Melmotte and his family. Their questionable background and poor sense of social niceties repulses everyone, but their enormous fortune also thrills them, and while everyone despises the Melmottes and talks about them behind their backs, everyone is also willing to entertain them--even marry them--in order to have a taste of their fortune. What makes the book so palatable is that even though it takes place in 1870s England, the actions of the characters are very 2010. The pyramid-like investment scheme that Melmotte oversees reeks of Bernie Madoff and the investment disasters we've witnessed over the past few years.

But it's the wit of the book that makes it most enjoyable. Everywhere there is double-talk, double entendre, and plot twists that you can sense are coming but are still completely startling in the way they create ironic twists in the storyline. With characters' names like Dolly Longestaffe and Lord Damask Monogram, how could you not help but grin? And with passages like the following involving the manipulative-but-maternally devoted Lady Matilda Carbury, I find myself laughing out loud at the brilliance of the writing.
Lady Carbury at dinner was all smiles and pleasantness. ... She sat between the bishop and her cousin, and was skilful enough to talk to each without neglecting the other. She had known the bishop before, and had on one occasion spoken to him of her soul. The first tone of the good man's reply had convinced her of her error, and she never repeated it. To Mr. Alf she commonly talked of her mind; to Mr. Broune of her heart; to Mr. Booker of her body--and its wants. She was quite ready to talk of her soul on a proper occasion, but she was much too wise to thrust the subject even on a bishop. (p.135)

Perhaps reading this passage out of context and not understanding Lady Carbury's personality it may be less funny. But you have to admit to the wit: of all the people one should be able to speak about their soul, it should be a bishop, no? And a Victorian lady thinking about her body's desires while she's talking to the bishop over dinner? It's scandalous, and delicious. These three named men are editors of newspapers whom she solicits for favorable reviews of her own writing. Can you see the double meaning in the text? Trollope is a novelist who has endured positive and negative reviews, who's writing about a woman who manipulates men in order to gain favorable opinion in their reviews of her books. It's clever, to say the least. I'm sure when I'm done with the book I'll write a review (for which no one tried to flatter me). I am convinced there is at least one character who is a "confirmed bachelor" (i.e. homosexual), and there is apparently a great BBC adaptation of the novel to watch too. Stay tuned for more.