Time flies, I thought, as my partner and I wandered the main drag on a recent, all-too-brief trip to Woodstock. The media heralds the 40th anniversary of the event that besieged Yasgur’s farm and a generation’s doobie-fueled conscience, but little of its genuine spirit (what I imagine that to be) lives in the new land of weekend homes and vacation rentals in that upstate mecca. Geographically, it’s still pretty peaceful, re the area’s lushness, its haven of trees, creeks and the uncommon coolness that descends at night. The eccentrics are everywhere—skinny old men with Rumpelstiskin beards scoot by on motorcycles or dilapidated Schwinns, ladies of a certain age swan in restaurants or on the stoops of their shops wearing amulets, flowing gowns and attitudes honed through witchy seasons spent imbibing pot and shaggy bonhomie.
But the aura ofTourist Central hangs in the air. The stores, with some exceptions, are full of those glass baubles and tchotckas one can find at any shop from here to Mexico (it was on a vacation there that I observed items I’d seen in Rome only the year before—surely there’s a factory that makes this stuff and ships it all over, in hopes that travel lag encourages amnesia). Even the junk-jammed nooks that sell a notion of 60’s era Woodstock were a bit studied, though the fun of vintage band posters and wall-to-wall tie die is undeniable, and there are galleries, flea markets and our favorite, a doozy of a book sale at the Woodstock Library that represented the bulk of our purchased treasures.
Now I’m back in Manhattan, mourning the time away already. Our nod to the summer of love means acknowledging that it’s also been a season of sadness as I peruse a bunch of stockpiled obits. On the heels of Farrah and Michael, Karl Malden, that matchless character actor passed, as did the writer E. Lynn Harris, who parlayed explorations of interracial bisexuality into best-sellerdom. Robert S. McNamara, the secretary of defense who on the one hand, made sure troops in the South enforced newly emergent civil rights in the South, and on the other, ushered us into Vietnam, to the tune of 58,000 dead American soldiers. The glorious dance artist Pina Bausch left us much too soon. The arts impresario George Weissman died, and so did Reverend Ike, a constant voice on the AM radio in my Cincinnati childhood. Another icon of youth: Naomi Sims, to my mind, the first black supermodel and a notable black entrepreneur who dragged the “Black is Beautiful” esthete into the present with her historic appearance on the cover of Ladies Home Journal.
The architect Charles Gwathmey and the writer Bud Schulberg (“On the Waterfront”), gone in the same week, along with Frank McCourt (“Angela’s Ashes”) and Walter Cronkite, a newscaster for all seasons. He’ll be missed: so will Merce Cunningham, the elder statesman of modern dance, and John Hughes, whose films illuminated the angst of a post-Woodstock generation circa the 1980’s. And lastly, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, a shining advocate in her own right, but as a member of the clan that epitomized the hope and promise the 60’s symbolized, a time that feels as if it’s circling back. Whether that’s a good thing, well, perhaps we’ll know in another 40 years.
Top, the cabin. Below, hubby in the dark.