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From Pittsfield to Sochi: Terry Holland Heads For the Olympics

By Lisa Green

Terry Holland goes for a run.

“There are a lot of religious conversions at the top of a skeleton run,” says Terry Holland, who’s on his way to the Olympics in Sochi, Russia, where he’ll be coaching New Zealand’s Olympic skeleton team.

No kidding. You’re belly down on barely the rails of a slide, about to burn up the bobsled track with your chin inches away from the ice. Even a diehard atheist might suddenly find belief in a higher power. Competitors steer the steel and fiberglass sled with their body movements, even though their arms are plastered to their sides. At 80 to 90 miles per hour, the G forces are comparable to those endured by jet pilots.

Holland knows about staring down the ice. The Pittsfield entrepreneur (you read about him and his drones in Rural Intelligence a few weeks ago) was captain of the U.S. skeleton team for 21 years and is a multiple-time U.S. and North American champion; he came in fourth place at the 1997 World Championships at Lake Placid. He was instrumental in getting skeleton accepted as an Olympic sport in 2002, but just missed qualifying for the U.S. team by a fraction of a second. So Holland, one of the top American sliders, became one of the coaches and trained the American Olympic team that won men’s gold and women’s silver and gold medals that year in Salt Lake City.

And now he’s going to Sochi to coach the New Zealand team, one man and one woman. Holland had worked with them at Lake Placid, and coached them at a pre-Olympic event in Sochi last November. That’s where he shot the video, below, for New Zealand TV, using an iPad mini. He’s doing the voiceover, too.

The XXIII Olympic Winter Games run February 7 – 23.

Tall, skeleton-sled slim and looking as fit as in his competitive days, Holland lives in Pittsfield with his wife (all three of his daughters have gotten married in the past two years), and it’s where he developed and honed his passion for winter sports. As a teenager, he was a competitive cross-country skier and Nordic ski jumper, which he’d practice in the Pittsfield State Forest.

Why the skeleton?

Holland sans the helmet.

“When you’re really bored in the winter…” he starts out. “It feels like when you jump on a sled,” he tries again. We get it. It’s a rush.

In 2004, the Australian Institute of Sport tapped Holland to develop a women’s skeleton team. It was for a study to determine if talent in one area transfers to another. Out of dozens of athletes, he picked out 10 women, (athletes, yes, but some had never seen ice outside of their drinks), and turned them into world-class skeleton competitors. In two years.

“I’m a big fan of can’t-do-it projects,” he says.

If that’s the case, you’d think he might be a tad more excited to be going to the games in Russia, considering all the doubts about Russia’s ability to pull off its latest megaproject. Having been there last fall as the Russian Olympic committee was preparing for the athletes and crowds, Holland is holding his enthusiasm in reserve. He had good-to-great experiences at the Olympics in Salt Lake City (2002), Torino (2006) and Vancouver (2010), but Sochi may be an entirely different story. (Much of what he observed in Sochi is captured in a New York Times article.)

Holland’s Olympic rings, left to right: 2010 (Vancouver), 2006 (Torino) and 2002 (Salt Lake City).

To say that the Russians are focused on winning is an understatement,” Holland says. He’s concerned about rule bending and perceived infractions, which pains the lifelong competitor who still believes in the Olympic credo, where humans strive for excellence and push the boundaries of what they can do. He’ll be staying in the Olympic Village, and although no one knows what mayhem might arise, he feels there’s safety in the Village’s security bubble. The Internet is spotty and monitored, though, so he won’t be bringing his personal computer. It’s possible he’ll be marching in the opening ceremonies, as he’s done in the past — if it doesn’t conflict with the bobsled and luge training and competitions, which he wants to watch.

And once his New Zealanders finish their runs, Holland will be back on Siberian Airlines to start the 33-hour trek back to Pittsfield, wearing his fourth Olympics ring and ready to do some good old downhill skiing in the Berkshires. If it’s not too tame for him.

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Posted by Lisa Green on 01/25/14 at 02:35 PM • Permalink

Inside Rubi’s: Living The Hipster Barista Fantasy

Last winter, I had a bad case of yearning to be young. I was a middle-aged guy seeking a short cut back to the future. Inspired partly by a book called How Starbucks Changed My Life, I set out to become a barista, a hipster archetype that did not even exist when I was a young man in the 1980s. With stubborn conviction, I imagined that by putting on a pair of skinny jeans, tying a long white bistro apron around my waist and standing behind the counter at the hippest cafe in Great Barrington, I might be able to turn the clock back a couple of decades. Working side by side with inked and pierced twentysomethings, I thought I might become awesome by osmosis.

I applied for a part-time job with Matt Rubiner, the erudite and punctilious cheesemonger who runs Rubi’s café and the adjacent cheese shop. “You’ll have to work your way up to making coffee,” he told me. “First you’ll learn the register. Then you’ll train on sandwiches. If you last that long, we’ll send you to barista boot camp.”

Was he kidding? Of course, I could master sandwich making—I had worked one summer at a high-end deli during college—but I conveniently ignored the part where Matt told me that my duties would include loading the dishwasher and mopping floors. “It’s drudgery,” he warned me. Unwittingly, I was creating my own version of a reality TV series: So You Think You Want to be a Barista?

I rationalized this midlife folly in many ways: I was doing on-the-job research for a concept about opening a food shop of my own; I was exploring Great Barrington as a place to live because, ironically, it seemed it might be a good place to grow old. Working at the café would be an antidote to the solitary writer’s life, and I was tired of spending my days in front of a computer screen. I longed to do something social, tangible and physical. I reasoned that nothing could be more satisfying than feeding people.

I assumed I’d spend my days in conversation with the diverse clientele: organic farmers, screenwriters, chefs, professors, second-home owners from New York and Boston, and assorted creative types from 18 to 80. Alas, no one goes to Rubi’s to flirt with a cashier whose beard is flecked with gray.

Located in the back of a renovated 19th century red brick bank building, Rubi’s paneled dining room was the bank president’s office, and it has a chic serenity when empty; it would probably make a nice Pilates studio, which may be why I mistakenly thought that working there eight hours a day would be invigorating and restorative.

I quickly discovered that being a barista would require more than attitude and skinny jeans. Although I’d learned to steam milk to make café au lait at an East Village tearoom called Danal in the early 1990s when I was between journalism jobs (and before Starbucks came to New York and coffee drinks got so convoluted), I did not have a clue about how to prepare a chai latte or a half-caf soy macciato.

But I refused to believe that I was too old to learn to be a barista: For if that were true, what else was I too old to do?

I thought of Rubi’s swaggering baristas as caffeine cowboys:  Eric, the lanky, buff guy with a large heavy-metal tattoo on his forearm and empathetic eyes who was ogled by men and women alike; Amy, the charismatic manager, who had a nose ring and was brimming with sassy energy.

As they took turns behind the Faema E61 semi-automatic espresso machine, they basked in their coffee-making expertise with nonchalance that bordered on arrogance. The more I studied them, the less they seemed like cowboys and the more they seemed like porn stars (yet another job I was too old for!) because they earned their living being watched while getting people off.

The way they made lattes and cappuccinos was erotic. It began with jerking the handle on the grinder multiple times, caressing the ground coffee with bare hands in the portafilter, and then rhythmically inserting the steamwand into a small pot of milk to get it very, very hot . . . and only stopping after reaching climax: creamy white foam.

The baristas would bend over backwards to be kind to older customers who seemed to be down on their luck. They assumed I fell into that category, for why else would a middle-aged guy [left] be willing to haul crates of milk and buckets of ice up from the cellar? I approached my apprenticeship as if I were working in a Michelin three-star restaurant: I would stoically do all the scut work so I’d earn the privilege of being sent to barista boot camp at Barrington Coffee Roasting Company in nearby Lee, MA.

However, I seriously miscalculated how hard it would be to make Rubi’s artisanal sandwiches.

The compact sandwich station was like a miniature golf course with obstacles at every turn. The squeeze bottles were unmarked so it was easy to mistake mustard and the house-made hot sauce. I couldn’t distinguish between the comte and asiago cheeses, and all the pale pink meats looked the same to my untrained eye so it was easy to confuse prosciutto, porchetta and cotto. A timer had to be set for each hot sandwich, and the cooking times varied so you needed to do some algebra if you wanted a hot dog, a tuna melt and a classic grilled cheese sandwich to all be ready to serve at the same time.

The breakfast sandwich was the most challenging item on the menu and learning how to make one perfectly was as essential as wearing skinny jeans. A dastardly piece of culinary engineering, it’s basically a grilled cheese-and-ham sandwich with a medium-cooked runny egg in the center, and it’s sublime when made right.  (And it’s delicious even when flubbed.)

How do you manage to put a raw egg between two slices of bread and into a panini press without breaking the yolk or having the white slither out?  You take one slice of bread and make a depression in it with a rubber-gloved fist and then use your fingers to massage the cavity to make it as wide as possible without cracking the crust, which contains the raw, local farm-fresh egg like a seawall. One bright, generous co-worker (a pre-med student at Bard College) confided that she made depressions in both slices of bread to create an ample pocket for the egg, ham and cheese. Her method worked like a charm, but by the time I finally made a perfect egg sandwich I’d had enough of being a barista-in-waiting.

Although I was working at what felt like break-neck speed, there was one co-worker who seemed to think I was a slacker. She wasn’t a manager, just a busybody whose role models were apparently the cast of Jersey Shore. She needled me and rolled her eyes at everything I did. Dan! That’s not how to cut a Cuban sandwich! [photo right]. She snapped at me for running the dishwasher only 75 percent full. Dan! You’re wasting water! This was a dishwasher that only ran for 60 seconds! How much water could I be wasting? After she scolded me for the umpteenth time about how I loaded the dishwasher, it was my turn to roll my eyes.

I went next door to the cheese shop and gave Matt my two weeks’ notice. I did not tell on my Mean Girl colleague, because I still had to work with her for the duration so I merely said, “I’m not cut out for this. It’s harder than I thought,” which was true. He laughed and said, “I told you so,” which was also true. (Nine months later, I learned that Matt eventually fired the Mean Girl after she reduced another employee to tears.)

Still, I had learned a valuable lesson during my time at Rubi’s. I went home and devised my own version of the signature egg sandwich in an ordinary skillet. I did not have to wrap it in parchment paper. I did not have to pray that the weight of the industrial-strength panini press would crush the yolk. I did not have to wear rubber gloves or skinny jeans. I made it free-style—with attitude. I hadn’t been able to turn back the clock, but I’d found my inner hipster after all.

Dan Shaw, a co-founder of Rural Intelligence and regular contributor to The New York Times, is writing a book about life in the closet.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 01/14/14 at 10:28 AM • Permalink

In Memoriam: Jane P. Fitzpatrick of the Red Lion Inn

Jane Pratt Fitzpatrick was the undisputed queen of the Berkshires, a regal woman with a common touch. When she passed away at age 89 on November 9, she left behind an unparalleled and indelible legacy. As Brooke Astor was to New York City, Jane Fitzpatrick was to the Berkshires, a grande dame whose philanthropy was personal, heartfelt, and ubiquitous. As the co-founder of Country Curtains with her late husband, Jack (a.k.a. “The Senator”), who resuscitated the Red Lion Inn when they bought it in 1968, Mrs. Fitz probably did more than anyone to make the Berkshires a world-renown tourist destination.

As one of the visionaries who founded the Norman Rockwell Museum more than forty years ago, she understood not only Rockwell’s extraordinary contribution to American culture but also the importance of the small town values he depicted in his paintings, which she perpetuated with her good works. Known for her impeccable taste and keen sense of humor, her support for the arts in the Berkshires is evident on plaques throughout the county—from the Berkshire Theatre Group and MASS MoCA to Hancock Shaker Village and the Norman Rockwell Museum. Her spirit lives on in her dynamic daughters, Nancy Fitzpatrick, who owns the Red Lion, and Ann Brown Fitzpatrick, who owns Blantyre. Rural Intelligence asked friends, relatives, and colleagues to share their memories of this remarkable woman.—Dan Shaw

 height=Laurie Norton Moffatt, director and CEO of the Norman Rockwell Museum
Jane Fitzpatrick passed away one day after the 35th anniverary of Norman Rockwell’s death in 1978. That is when I realized that I had first met Jane nearly 35 years ago when she was a founding trustee of the early Norman Rockwell Museum, The Old Corner House. I was struck that she must have been just the age I am now and I thought what a tremendous amount of work and good can be done in the world over 35 years. Jane was an inspiration and mentor to me. I learned so much from Jane—that details matter, saying “thank you” matters, being generous matters, and being nice matters. She was fond of saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” She also liked to say when you thanked her for a gift to help the Museum, “It is easy to write the check. You are doing the hard work.”

She and all her family and community of employees worked hard to raise the resources they gave away so generously throughout the entire community. Jane was strong, determined, and a woman of conviction. I know she influenced my leadership. Jane and Jack were a true partnership. They helped everyone. And without their generosity, Norman Rockwell Museum would not be the beautiful place it is today. I can’t but feel happy that she led such a beautiful, generous life, and has passed her zest for living on to her daughters and grandchildren. I feel blessed that our life paths crossed. These have been special years in Stockbridge. An era draws to a close and I shall miss her greatly. Now it is each of our responsibility to carry forward Jane’s generosity of spirit and joy.

 height=Sarah E. Eustis, director of business development for The Red Lion Inn
I have know Jane F. for 40 years, when, as a child, she welcomed me and my brother into her magical life. As a housekeeper and a waitress at the Red Lion in my teens, I was always aware of her presence and stood up straighter as a result. She was somewhat terrifying as she inspected our uniforms and grooming to be sure we were fit to represent the Inn—I got no special treatment!

As a grandmother she was also slightly intimidating, but so generous, and she always had something festive going on. She felt strongly that things should be done properly and made sure I knew how she felt about table settings, clean sinks, neat hair, hard work, clean fingernails, hospital corners… you get the idea. Even though I was her “step-grandchild,” she treated me like her own, showing up at every lacrosse game, every graduation, every birthday party, every baptism of every child, every wedding event as if it were her first priority. She was fully engaged and was really there for us.

As her health declined in recent years, her powerful exterior softened a bit and a more philosophical and gentle Jane emerged. We talked about life, about love, and all kinds of things when we would see each other; it was often extremely humorous. In the last year of working full time at the Inn and enjoying her radiant presence in the lobby as she chatted with guests, I got to know her even better. I feel proud to be a steward of that amazing place and feel a huge responsibility to keep it up to her standards as Nancy has done for more than two decades.

Annie Selke, founder and CEO of Pine Cone Hill
I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know Mrs. Fitz. I knew and appreciated her in so many different roles. Her personality and presence was simply a part of growing up in Stockbridge and I am truly grateful for it. Jane Fitzpatrick set an awe-inspiring example of what an individual with passion, commitment, and style can accomplish in a lifetime. Her vision changed the face of the Berkshires. Her attention to detail benefited not only everyone who ever worked for her and with her, but every guest that has ever slept or dined at The Red Lion. Her candor, forthright nature, and sometimes stunning frankness was disarmingly refreshing. She has always been and will continue to be an inspiration to me. Her legacy informs my path.

 height=Brian Alberg, executive chef of the Red Lion Inn
Mrs. Fitz was a force of inspiration for me and others who knew her, not only holding high standards and maintaining a gracious hospitable attitude towards our guests, but also instilling the importance of community support and involvement. She built the platform on which we stand as we continue to welcome people through our doors and desire to make the lives of the people around us better through service.

Hilary Somers Deely, founder, Made in the Berkshires Festival
I joined the Berkshire Theatre Festival board in 1990, when Jane Fitzpatrick was in her prime as chairman. I saw Jane as a wise, kind, and generous mentor, whom I really looked up to. I put together winter theatre bus trips for the board to attend regional productions, so I spent quite a bit of time chatting with Jane, as she liked to sit in the front of the bus. She gave me life tips, such as “Never be on more than two boards at a time, because you won’t give your best” and “I won’t last forever, so we need the next generation to keep working hard!” along with many other tips, including a few to the bus driver on good routes to take to see the countryside!

Jane also showed me how to run an organization. Her advice: “It should last no longer than an hour and always have hot coffee and donuts, to make everyone comfortable.” Jane took a real interest in mentoring me, inspiring me, and encouraging me, which has kept me engaged to give my all to an organization that she (and I) really loved. Her point was simple: Treat your volunteers with respect, warmth, and discipline and they will give you their best.

height= Joe Thompson, director of MASS MoCA
Business leaders in Berkshire County have recently begun to fret about our region’s population decline. Jane was way ahead of the curve, but didn’t express herself abstractly through charts and graphs. I’ll never forget a meeting with Jane and Jack – in 1995 or so – during which Jennifer and I were rattling our MASS MoCA tin cup over a pleasant lunch at the Red Lion. After our pitch, we moved on to polite small talk over dessert, until Jane suddenly looked up and fixed me with those unforgettable eyes of hers and said, “Joe, you know, we really need more families here in the Berkshires, so when are you and Jennifer going to have children?” It wasn’t so much question, as decree. Jack gruffed in: “You might as well just get started: family, friends and employees—the idea is you want to make sure you have enough of all of ‘em.” 

Ellen Spear, president of the Heritage Museums & Gardens and former CEO of Hancock Shaker Village
Jane epitomized the warm heart of the Berkshires. She was keenly interested in everything that made the place special. I remember sitting on the porch of the Red Lion with her, hearing her many stories and catching up on what was going on at Hancock Shaker Village. Her interest, enthusiasm, and command of detail as well as the big picture made for lively discussion. She was truly a great lady and a role model.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 11/11/13 at 02:06 PM • Permalink

The Best of Media Matters 2012

Ah, 2012. We remember it....vaguely. Actually, it turned out to be another year in which not only The New York Times continued to be fascinated with what's happening in our territory. Many magazines, national radio networks, webzines, and other newspapers reported on us, too. Here are some of the greatest hits from the "Media Matters" column on our home page from last year, dating from the most recent headlines all the way back to spring, the glorious time of RI's new beginning in May.

Yankee Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Visit to Stockbridge
A well-illustrated tour of the Red Lion Inn and Norman Rockwell Museum.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
Quirky Culture North of NYC
The British are coming . . . to Hudson!

Albany Times-Union
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tiny NPR Affiliate Expands
Now Robin Hood Radio based in Sharon, CT, is also broadcasting to the Hudson Valley from Bard College.

The Guardian
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Six Cool U.S. Cities
Great Barrington is included with Detroit, Tuscon, and Portland.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Karen Allen Returns in Summer Day at Cherry Lane Theater
Our Berkshire neighbor is back Off Broadway.

New York Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The All-Artisanal Weekenders
Favorite new spots such as Hillrock Estate Distillery and Crimson Sparrow are featured as part of a Hudson Valley getaway.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Shopping for Doorknobs
Millbrook architect and author Gil Schafer gives the Times a tutorial.

The Wall Street Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Chefs Put Down Roots
David Bouley's farm in Kent and Zakary Pelaccio's in Old Chatham are part of a farm-to-table national trend.

New York Times Book Review
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Berkshire resident John Kelly's "moving account of the famine."

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
At High Lawn Farm in Lee, Cows Have Produced Rich Milk for 77 years.
In praise of one of the last dairy farms in the Berkshires.

O Magazine
Rural Intelligence
Thanksgiving at the Dream-Away Lodge
Guess who discovered the charms of Daniel Osman's magical hideaway? The one-and-only Oprah.

T Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Show & Tell
A preview of Carey Maloney's Stuff: The M (Group) Interactive Guide to Collecting, Decorating With, and Learning About, Wonderful and Unusual Things.

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Berkshires on a Budget
Affordable, accessible, and beautiful.

T Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Chartered Waters
A Columbia County double play: John Dolan's photograph accompanies Verlyn Klinkenborg's article on Ireland.

US News & World Report
Rural Intelligence Blogs
National Liberal Arts College Rankings
Williams is #1, Vassar is #10, and Bard is #36.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
Hollywood in the Berkshires
How our region became a visual effects capital.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Border Crossing Identity Crisis
Oh, Canada exhibition at Mass MoCA.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Appreciating Edith Wharton's Other Career
A Q&A with Richard Guy Wilson, an architectural historian and author of Edith Wharton at Home: Life at the Mount.

National Public Radio
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Manufacturing Town for Art
How MASS MoCA is (and isn't) transforming North Adams.

Jewish Daily Forward
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tangled up in Jews
Of Bach, Bernstein, Brahmins, and Brachas in the Berkshires.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Custom of the Country
An Annie Leibovitz fashion shoot at Chesterwood and The Mount for the September issue.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Summer Blockbuster, Far From the Multiplex
John Williams' Birthday Concert at Tanglewood.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
City Dozen: Berkshire Mountains
A gourmand guide to eating well locally.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Family, and Mom's in Charge
Ben Brantley reviews The Tempest at Shakespeare & Company.

The Wall Street Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Magic of Tanglewood
75 years of glorious music under the stars.

Food & Wine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Great Country Escapes: The Berkshires
Shout outs to Rubiner's and the Hillsdale General Store.

Hampshire Gazette
Rural Intelligence Blogs
First Lady Schedules Pittsfield Fundraiser
At the Colonial Theatre on August 3 with James Taylor.

Bloomberg Businessweek
Rural Intelligence Blogs
James Taylor, Brad Cooper Lead Summer Berkshires Exodus
Welcome to our cultural vortex.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Audiences Can Now Analyze Dr. Ruth
About the new play by Mark St. Germain at Barrington Stage Company.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
In Defense of the Decorator
Our Falls Village neighbor Bunny Williams is dubbed "the decorating world's grande dame."

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Brewer, Distiller Concoct A Joint Venture
Berkshire Mountain Distillers will make whiskey with Sam Adams Beer.

The New Yorker
Rural Intelligence Blogs
There's No Place Like Jacob's Pillow
We agree.

The New York Times Magazine
Rural Intelligence Blogs
The Devil in Marina Abramovic
The woman who plans to open a museum of performance art in Hudson is annoyed with MoMA.

New York Daily News
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tea House Soothes with Decor
The lofty look of Millerton-based Harney & Sons Tea's SoHo branch is by Poesis Design of Lakeville.

Wall Street Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Beauty Emerging
Alice Aycock's bunker, "A Simple Network of Underground Wells and Tunnels," at the Fields Sculpture Park at Omi.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Running from the City
Young artists are heading to Hudson, NY and other places far afield from Manhattan and Brooklyn.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
A Weekend Visit to History
NYC fashion designers Proenza Schouler have a teepee at their Berkshires home.

The New Yorker
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Edith Wharton's Houses
Of course, the best one is The Mount in Lenox.

NPR Planet Money
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Where Dollars Are Born
At Crane & Co. in the Berkshires, of course.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Imagine That: Peter Dinklage to Star in All-Male 'Imaginary Invalid'
We're pleased that we scooped the Times on this story. Remember reading about this two weeks ago in Hot Tickets?

Hartford Courant
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Tyne Daly Leads Acting Roster At Williamstown
WTF is bringing in the stars this summer.

Poughkeepsie Journal
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Trailer Shows Actor as FDR
Bill Murray (who owns the Hudson Valley Renegades minor league baseball team) stars as local legend FDR opposite Salisbury resident Laura Linney in a new biopic by Rhinebeck's Richard Nelson.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
Rhinebeck Writers Retreat to Develop Musicals
The RI region is a theater incubator.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
American Bread: 45 Loaves We Love
Hooray for our locals: Berkshire Mountain Bakery, Bread Alone, and Wild Hive Farm Bakery.

The New York Post
Rural Intelligence Blogs
9 Ways Not to be a City Slicker When Spending Time in the Hudson Valley
First, be patient.

Rural Intelligence Blogs
The 20 Best Small Towns in America
Great Barrington is at the top of the list.

Boston Globe
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Homemade vs. Store-Bought
Recipes from the new book by Alana Chernila of Great Barrington get the thumb's up.

The New York Times
Rural Intelligence Blogs
Canadian D.J. to Kick Off a Summer of Canadian Art at Mass MoCA
A dance party on Memorial Day weekend coincides with the opening of the "Oh, Canada" exhibition.

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Posted by Scott Baldinger on 03/04/13 at 08:06 AM • Permalink

In Memoriam: Robert Willis, Owner of Lakeville’s Cafe Giulia

Rural Intelligence CommunityRestaurants occupy a very special place in the life of our rural towns because they bring us together, providing a convivial alternative to quiet nights at home. Restaurateur Robert Willis created just such a place (twice) in Lakeville, CT called Cafe Giulia, which happened to serve very delicious and unfussy Italian food. As the chef/owner, Willis made a restaurant in his own image: cosmopolitan yet casual, serious but unpretentious. The bargain $9 carafe of wine he offered was the sign of a guy whose primary motivation was to please people and make them feel they belonged. He had proven himself as a restaurateur in hyper-competetive Brooklyn in the late 1990s with his Vaux Bistro. Ten days ago, he was behind the stove in Cafe Giulia’s open kitchen and doing the rounds in the dining room, schmoozing and making sure everybody was enjoying themselves. You could not tell that he was sick, so it came as a shock last Thursday when we learned that cancer had beat him before he even had a fighting chance. Rural Intelligence asked some of his friends, colleagues and customers for their remembrances.—Dan Shaw

Rural Intelligence Community

“Robert Willis was a lover of coffee, cars, good food, art, architecture, photography and a supremely social being. He has had many professional lives— architect, chef, race car driver—and he loved his current incarnation as a restaurateur and we loved him for making Cafe Giulia the cozy and delicious restaurant it was.
    He loved to be at the center of the table at the coffee shop—he could talk about everything, and he rarely spoke ill of anyone. He had a wide circle of friends, which I found my self included in, He was always interested in his friends. He adored his children McCullough and Jack, and he loved his life. He was a man who tumbled, rolled and came up fighting in tough times.  Robert called my house last Saturday evening to tell me the news about his diagnosis, I was not home so he told my husband all of the plans he had to fight the cancer. I was traveling that week, I sent him a note on Sunday saying that I would do whatever I could and would see him the end of the week. Shockingly that did not happen, he is simply gone, spirited away into the heat of the unknown. It is unfathomable. Goodbye Robert we will all miss you.”
Anne Day, photographer, Lakeville, CT

Rural Intelligence Community“I knew Robert intimately on both professional and personal levels, and in either case, I knew I had a friend. We would often meet for coffee in early morning hours to talk about our joys and frustrations of having a restaurant in the Tri-State area. I know he was proud of Cafe Giulia’s reincarnation, as he should have been because of the focused effort he put in giving it a new life at its current location. It’s hard to believe I will no longer see him at Back in the Kitchen, dipping his scone in his cappuccino with his big blue eyes intently focused on the conversation at hand. He was a wonderful, caring man, and I shall miss him.”
Serge Madikians, chef/owner Serevan, Amenia, NY

“GK Chesterton said, The aim of life is appreciation. Robert showed his enthusiasm for living by becoming accomplished in a series of passions: architecture, design, photography, food, tennis, billiards, boats, race cars. He didn’t need to be the best in the world at these things but he did want to be exceedingly competent. He was an aesthete whose love of design made him appreciate the antique car in which he drove noisily all the way to Cornwall to share with me the first iphone, hailing it “the coolest gadget ever made.” Robert was a connoisseur of low culture, knew the art of a latte, the French fry, and which James Bond movies were the coolest. Of his many passions two were lifelong devotions: his children, McCullough and Jack.
His love of the art of conversation made him the honorary mayor of the coffee shop. His appreciation of people made him compassionate and discrete as a listener. He loved to laugh. He digested and accepted extreme personal upheaval faster than anyone I’ve known, and spoke about being vulnerable with the right ingredients of humor, grace and optimism. Few extroverts have the capacity for such gentle thoughtfulness and intimacy.
Out of love and necessity he made a great little restaurant in Lakeville. Café Giulia had the unmistakable imprint of Robert’s personality, his design, the simple creative menu, his favorite car parked subtly on the lawn. He created a convivial place where people came to enjoy good food and company. It was significant to him to show his children that they could thrive by working hard at something they loved. He was a good man and will be sorely missed.”
Brendan O’Connell, artist, Cornwall, CT

Rural Intelligence Community“Cafe Giulia had a soul because it was Robert’s home, his creative work space, and stylish setting where we had the honor to share in his delicious talent with food. There was a seamlessness between the kitchen and dining room that he maintained by being with you in both places with a warm and yet cool sophistication that will long be remembered. Robert did not have very long to enjoy his dream creation. But create it he did. And for that we are joyful.
We remember asking for grappa after a meal in the new bistro, the waiter said no, their permit did not allow it to be sold. A minute later Robert appeared with a small glass of it saying he could not sell it, but hoped we would enjoy it as a friendly offering. It was good, and will be long remembered.”
Robin and Allen Cockerline, Whippoorwill Farm, Salisbury, CT

“Robert and I were morning coffee, catch-up-and-discuss-everything-on-earth-friends, and had a lot of great belly laughs together. He was such a fixture in the village, and there are only a handful of such people, when you think to yourself: “Hey there’s Robert . . . right on schedule,everything is well in the world”. He had fine-tuned Cafe Giulia to a fare-thee-well and it was at the top of the list of “go to” restaurants for our guests here. Robert coming out of the kitchen and checking on his patrons well being…chatting, and then moving on is something that I will always remember . . . and miss.”
Pete Hathaway, Ragamont, Salisbury, CT

“Robert and I shared a capacity for hard work and a love of good food.  We bonded over the growing and prepping of Puntarelle, a bizarre green served in Rome that I tried growing last season - not very successfully.  When we last saw each other, just days before he passed, he spoke not a word of his illness; instead he discussed the herb garden he had just put into his restaurant and how it felt to finally have a very successful restaurant.  I think of this as I hoe around this year’s crop of Punterelle; the hard irony of life, and the heart of a man whose passion was feeding people and nurturing plants for as long as he could.  Rest in peace, Robert.”
Maria Nation, screenwriter, Sheffield, MA

Rural Intelligence Community“I met Rob a few years ago when he popped into my newly opened book shop to admire my new hanging lamp—he had just hung several like it in his newly decorated Cafe Giulia (Mark I) and thought we must have something in common!  From our first meeting he was curious about my business—and how it was doing—while sharing his own thoughts about his new ‘baby.’  While chatting away he discovered that I had a new found interest in motor racing and immediately pulled out his cell phone to show me a photo of a beloved Lola (since sold) as though it were a newborn—I totally understood and he didn’t miss a beat in describing it.
    My wife Lucinda and I were keen to try the new restaurant and when we did were very impressed—we sent friends whenever we could and made a habit of going there for a late quiet meal after holding an event in my shop.  Over the last couple of years I would see him at Lime Rock, in Cafe Giulia, waving from the stop sign in front of my shop, or just around.  When Cafe Giulia (Mark II) opened, we were right back in.  The first time, we brought friends from Sharon who hadn’t been before and again had a lovely time—no surprise!  He had the very good habit of walking through the dining room during your meal, checking in with friends and introducing himself to newcomers—it was good business but seemed effortless—he truly cared.  He always gave the impression that he loved his restaurant, loved pleasing people and was just a happy guy—you always remember people like that.
      Many years ago, at a memorial service for a friend, cards were given out with John Donne’s famous poem ‘No Man Is An Island’—something I had read countless times—and was struck by the lines: ‘Each man’s death diminishes me/For I am involved in mankind.’  Rob was a big part of our little corner of Heaven and now he’s gone—we’ve lost a friend and a neighbor who was unique in this world.”
Darren Winston, bookseller, Sharon, CT

Both Jill Goodman and I are saddened by the passing of Robert Willis More than a great Chef, Robert was a great person! He very quickly became a close friend to us. Compassionate, kind, and involved in life, from racing to cars to food. He lit up the lives of those around him,and like a streaking shooting star that lights up the night, he is gone to quick. But like that star, he will remain with us the rest of our lives.
Marshall Miles, Robin Hood Radio WHDD

“Our hearts are full of sadness at the loss of our beloved Robert. We are so glad it was a peaceful, painless and loving departure. Robert’s fervent wish was to be home with those he loved—and that was more than granted. While he spoke often of getting back to Maine, home as they say, is where the heart is, and that was Lakeville where he was front and center.
Robert lived to proudly witness his son Jack graduate, to revel in the success of Café Giulia, to savor his daughter McCullough’s companionship at the restaurant, to enjoy the Sweet William “salon” on weekend mornings with a patchwork quilt of friends and regulars, and to drive full throttle in his yellow race car. He accepted the gritty truth of impending death with equanimity and courage, such an enormous burden lightened by so many friends’ constant support. He lived to know that he was loved by a boatload of people. Like Seinfeld, Robert left us at the top—at the height of professional success, personal fulfillment and pride in his wonderful children. He was a man in full. We will miss him terribly.
Licia Hahn, Lakeville

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 07/01/12 at 12:30 PM • Permalink

Rural Intelligence Returns! Publication Resumes on May 3

Rural Intelligence BlogsRural Intelligence, the four-year-old online culture-and-lifestyle magazine for Berkshire, Columbia, Dutchess and Litchfield counties that has been on hiatus for the past six months, will resume publication at the beginning of May.

Mark Williams, who lives in the Tyringham Valley of Massachusetts, has purchased Rural Intelligence from its founders, Marilyn Bethany and Dan Shaw. Bethany and Shaw will remain as consultants and contributors. Williams has named longtime Rural Intelligence contributor Bess Hochstein as the editor.

“Since its inception, Rural Intelligence has become important to the social and cultural life of our region,” says Williams, who serves on the board of Jacob’s Pillow. “Everyone I know used to look forward to the weekly Rural Intelligence email, informing them of exciting news and great things to do over the coming week. Everywhere I went, people would talk about how much they missed Rural Intelligence. I felt its absence as a tremendous loss, and I saw that bringing it back would be a service to the regional community.”

Williams says he plans to maintain the site’s exacting journalistic standards and distinct editorial point of view while expanding its audience and advertising base. “Everybody who knows Rural Intelligence loves it and lives by it,” he says. “But there are still many people in our region who are unaware of it. Our goal is to expand the readership of Rural Intelligence by continuing to provide the insider’s insight to all the best this region has to offer.”

Rural Intelligence founders Bethany and Shaw, both of whom have decades of experience in journalism for such widely respected publications as The New York Times, Martha Stewart Living, New York magazine, Elle Décor, Architectural Digest, and Los Angeles Magazine, are gratified that the online magazine they created from scratch will be revived and resurrected.

Rural Intelligence Community“This fall and winter I’ve seen so many stories that I know our Rural Intelligence audience would have loved to read,” says Shaw. “Now I’m happy that we’ll once again be able to share these stories.” Says Bethany, “The postcard-pretty villages and scenic farmland in this region are so lulling it’s easy to miss what’s exciting – topnotch restaurants, entertainment, art, shopping. Rural Intelligence offers a map to the hidden treasure, but, more important, through insightful and entertaining writing, it energizes readers so they can’t wait to join the fun.” 

Rural Intelligence’s new editor, Bess Hochstein, says, “Dan and Marilyn have set extremely high standards for Rural Intelligence, and my goal is to maintain the site’s quality and to continue to introduce our readers to new and wonderful things to do, places to go, and experiences to try. There’s no lack of exciting news to share in this region; we’re lucky to have limitless material to inspire and motivate our readers to get out and enjoy the Rural Intelligence region.”

Rural Intelligence has been in stasis since August 2011. Over the next few weeks fresh content will be uploaded onto the site, and on Thursday, May 3, email subscribers will receive the familiar note with links to exciting new stories in the free, online magazine.

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Posted by Bess Hochstein on 04/11/12 at 09:53 AM • Permalink

Passages: A Farewell from Marilyn & Dan

Rural Intelligence CommunityFrom the start, Rural Intelligence was an experiment. Our goal to create an online culture-and-lifestyle magazine that would unite four counties in three states was and remains, as far as we know, unique.  We are proud of the work we’ve done and that we’ve succeeded in fostering a sense of community across state and county lines among full- and part-time residents, as well as visitors. We’ve immensely enjoyed chronicling the extraordinary people and places that make our neck of the woods so special.

Now, at the end of our fourth summer, despite a record number of advertisers and a still-growing readership, we remain a tenuous business.  So, the time has come for us to step back and get some perspective on the world beyond the Hudson Valley, the Berkshires, and the Litchfield Hills and on Rural Intelligence—what it is and, just possibly, what it could be again someday. We honestly do not know if RI has a future.  What we do know, and apologize for, is that we leave behind disappointed contributors, readers, and advertisers (who, if they’ve paid in advance, will receive refunds).  For Labor Day weekend, we will refresh the home page one last time with golden oldies.  Thereafter, Rural Intelligence will remain online as is,  so that anyone can continue to access the hundreds of stories and thousands of photographs in our archive.

Rural Intelligence CommunityIt has been our great honor and pleasure to be part of your lives.  We’ve given this our all for the past three-and-a-half years. Thank you for making us feel that it’s been worthwhile.

We’ll miss you.

—Marilyn Bethany and Dan Shaw for Rural Intelligence

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Posted by Marilyn Bethany on 08/21/11 at 01:59 AM • Permalink

20 Questions for ‘Money and Power’ Author William D. Cohan

Rural Intelligence Arts When RI last chatted with William D. Cohan, he had just published House of Cards, his New York Times best seller about the fall of Bear Stearns. Now he’s written another insider account of Wall Street greed called Money and Power: How Goldman Sachs Came to Rule the World (Doubleday; $30.50). Excerpted in the May issue of Vanity Fair, the book has been called “the frankest, most detailed, most human assessment of the bank to date” by BusinessWeek, which says “Money and Power suggests the bank does possess a few special powers, starting with its remarkable ability to convince some of the world’s smartest young people that touting stocks, sniffing out arbitrage opportunities, and shaking down corporate clients amount to a noble calling.”

Rural Intelligence CommunityAs a journalist-turned-investment-banker-turned-journalist again, Cohan enjoys engaging with his readers, and he will be reading from his book, answering questions and signing copies as a benefit for the Berkhsire Taconic Community Foundation at 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 21, at the Stissing House in Pine Plains. The event is being sponsored by Hammertown Barn, which is selling copies of the book in advance and at the door if they don’t sell out.  Here, Cohan shares with RI how he works and relaxes on weekends at his home in Ancramdale.

1. Why did you choose to buy a house in the Hudson Valley?
It’s a beautiful area 100 miles from New York City.

2. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive from the city?
Walk around the property, see what has changed from the week before and inhale the smell of manure on the fields.
Rural Intelligence Food 3. What’s your favorite way to spend a Friday night?
Dnner at Mercato in Red Hook or No. 9 in Millerton (or any restaurant associated with Mario Batali.)

4. What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday morning?
Having a cup of tea, hanging out with my family.

5. Where’s you favorite spot for bargain hunting?
I don’t think it’s there anymore but Spag’s, in Shrewsbury, Massachsuetts, outside of Worcester.

6.  Where do you go for a self indulgent splurge?
Paris . . .

Rural Intelligence Community7. What’s your favorite one-hour drive from your house?
Great Barrington, Rhinebeck, Hudson, Bash Bish Falls.

8. What do you like most about country life?
Sitting around the fire with friends, having a beer or a glass of wine, and catching up.

9. What’s your favorite bookstore or bookstores?
Oblong in Millerton and Rhinebeck; Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, VT

10. What’s your favorite hardware store and/or garden center?
Duel’s in Pine Plains—it has a great smell; the Millerton Agway.

11. Who do you trust to recommend wines?
I am a craft beer drinker—I like Ommegang Brewery, Cooperstown; Sacketts Harbor Brewery; Dogfish Ale.

12. Who are your local heroes?
Art Bassin, who’s the head of the board of supervisors in Ancram, NY.

13. What newspapers or blogs do you read every day?
The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal,, The Financial Times.

14. Where and when do you write?
In my New York City apartment, in the kitchen of our home in Accramdale . . . anywhere there is a WiFi connection. I approach writing like a job: Get up, have some tea and write . . .

15. Where’s your favorite place for live performance?
Radio City Music Hall,  Town Hall,  Beacon Theatre,  SPAC, the Mahaiwe.

16. What’s are your favorite not-for-profit organizations?
American Farmland Trust, Berkshire Taconic Community FoundationColumbia Land Conservancy, New Yorkers for Parks.

Rural Intelligence Style 17. Do you think Hudson Valley real estate is a safe investment?
I do but more important it is a beautiful place to live, learn and share with your children and family.

18. What are you most looking forward to doing this summer?
Relaxing at the farm.

19. What three things do you always do with house guests?
Go to Hammertown Barn, go out to dinner, go to a maple syrup farm.

20. Is there a difference between investment bankers who have weekend houses in the Hudson Valley and those with houses in the Hamptons?
Yes there are differences. There is no “scene” upstate where bankers or other professionals feel the need to preen and show off like they do during the week. I’m not sure the same can be said for bankers in the Hamptons.

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 05/17/11 at 05:24 PM • Permalink

RIP Jack Stern: The Retired Rabbi Who Wasn’t Retiring

Rural Intelligence CommunityYou did not need to know that Jack Stern had been a great rabbi to know that he was a holy man.  When he moved to Great Barrington full time in 1991 (after retiring as the senior rabbi at Westchester Reform Temple in Scarsdale, NY), he became involved with Construct Inc., the organization that provides comprehensive housing, support and educational services to anyone in the Southern Berkshire reigon who has lost his or her home or who lacks financial resources to maintain safe, decent and affordable housing. Every year, Construct prevents 600 households from becoming homeless, serves about 11,000 meals and shelters an average of 45 people. Rabbi Stern had been eagerly looking forward to this year’s annual Mayfest fundrasier for Construct because the board had decided that it wanted to build an addition to one of its shelters and name it Priscilla’s Room after his late wife, Priscilla Rudin Stern. Alas, Jack Stern died suddenly on April 14 at the age of 84, and now the Mayfest will also be a memorial to him, and so will every dollar donated for Priscilla’s Room.

“I never thought of him as a rabbi—I thought of him as just Jack,” says Construct board member Barbara Schulman, who is one of the organizers of the massive benefit at Eisner Camp that features food from 30 local restaurants and music by The Leisure Class.  “He didn’t play up the rabbi thing.” But, in fact, he was a macher, who served as president from 1986 to 1988 of the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which is considered to be the organized rabbinate of Reform Judaism in the United States.

Rural Intelligence CommunityHis passionate involvement with a secular organization like Construct was typical of reform rabbis of his generation, according to Rabbi Deborah Zecher, who worked with him as a junior rabbi in Scarsdale and then became his rabbi at Hevreh in Great Barrington, where he could be found in the pews on Friday nights when he was not traveling.  “The reform movement was founded on this passionate call for social justice and repairing the world, and he was all about that,” she says, noting that he went down to Mississippi in 1963 to march for civil rights and was one of the early champions of women joining the rabbinate.

He was also a social butterfly who enjoyed his martinis and who seemed to remember the names of everyone he’d ever met. “And once you met Jack, you did not forget him. His looks were distinct,” says Zecher. (When he bar-mitzvahed me in 1973, he was already completely white-haired and he seemed like a mystical figure conjured up by Marc Chagall.)  “And he was all over the place,” says Zecher. “He was always around.” At his funeral in Scarsdale, his friend and neighbor Albert Vorspan described how they could not go to a Berkshire restaurant without Stern’s being mobbed by well-wishers. Said Vorspan: “He was a rock star.”

“I called him the Pearl Mesta of the Berkshires” says Marcia Soltes, who lives in Stockbridge and was the wife of two rabbis. “Wherever I went, he was the center of attention. He was very ecumenical. He was curious about everyone. He was fully engaged. And perhaps his own struggles [a childhood illness confined him to a wheelchair for a year when he was five and left him with one leg shorter than the other and permanent limp] made him more sensitive to the challenges other faced. He had a natural empathy.”

Rural Intelligence CommunityAnd though Construct is a non-sectarian organization, its connection to the reform Jews of the Berkshires is very strong. “Did you know that Construct has its office and its transitional home in the building that was once Hevreh’s home?” says Rabbi Zecher (with Stern, left) who’s as gregarious as her mentor and moonlights as a cabaret singer who’ll be performing her show “Confessions of A Mondern Mom” in Pittsfield on May 7 & 8.) “It was a three family house that we gutted and made our sanctuary, classroom and offices. Construct bought the building from us in 1999 when we moved.  It was a sacred place for us, and it is still a sacred place.”

Construct Mayfest Honoring Jack Stern
Monday, May 9 @ 5:30 p.m.
Eisner Camp
53 Brookside Road, Great Barrington, MA
Tickets $75

Related Posts:
“Charity Begins at Home for Construct Inc” (May 11, 2010)
“Charity Calls on Cooks’ Night Off: Restaurants Rally for Construct Inc” (May 12, 2009)

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 04/28/11 at 03:37 AM • Permalink

Broadway is Bittersweet for Litchfield’s Larry Kramer

Rural Intelligence: Community: Passages Image

Larry Kramer on the terrace of his New York apartment on April 8, 2011.

If you think Larry Kramer’s seminal 1985 AIDS play, The Normal Heart (which will open on Broadway on April 27), is strictly a period piece, think again. Yes, it is set 30 years ago, when a mysterious disease is killing gay men, and the panic tearing through the homosexual community is of little concern to politicians, the medical establishment or the mainstream media. Yes, a style reporter at The New York Times is adamantly and paradoxically in the closet even though he has fallen in love with a loud-mouth gay activist (Kramer’s theatrical alter-ego). Yes, the banker who is elected to lead an organization devoted to taking care of people with the disease is unabashedly homophobic (“My boss doesn’t know and he hates gays. He keeps telling me fag jokes and I keep laughing at them,” the banker says.) Yes, there was so little information about the disease that it was feared it could be transmitted by a simple kiss. (It can’t.)

Yes, the times have changed.  But the HIV/AIDS epidemic remains tragically with us. While 12,000 had died of AIDS by the summer of 1985, the total number of deaths in the United States from AIDS is more than 576,000 (as of 2007), according to the Centers for Disease Control. Today in this country, more than 18,000 people still die of AIDS annually, and more than 56,000 people get newly infected every year.

“The play is not really a world ago,” says Kramer, a part-time Litchfield County resident, whose impassioned drama is timeless because it’s essentially about love and friendship during a time of crisis. “There are so many things still wrong. You don’t read about it anymore, but it is still a plague. I plan to hand out a fact sheet at every performance.” Kramer laments that homosexuals are second class citizens in the United States. “We still don’t have real marriages,” he says bitterly, referring to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

Rural Intelligence CommunityKramer, who is 75, has longed believed in monogamy. He was castigated for his 1978 novel, Faggots, a satire that warned of the emotional hazards of promiscuity in the carefree, pre-AIDS era.  “I was a pariah and then I was a seer,” he says. When you witness Kramer and his longtime partner, David Webster, graciously welcoming a diverse crowd of some 200 to their annual Fourth of July cookout overlooking Lake Waramaug in Litchfield County, it’s hard to imagine that he was once the most controversial figure in the gay community. Educated at Yale and so unapologetically bourgeois that his “high tech” Greenwich Village apartment was featured in The New York Times Magazine in 1974 (the Litchfield house has been in Architectural Digest), Kramer was arguably the angriest man in America in the 1980s. He was a founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis and ACT-UP, the organization that staged noisy protests, sit-ins and die-ins, demanding that the government make preventing and finding a cure for HIV/AIDS a priority. “We showed how a small group of activists could make a huge difference,” he says. “All of the drugs now available were possible because of the efforts of ACT- UP.”

Rural Intelligence CommunityNow he is a lion in winter, working away on a massive book about the history of homosexuality in America. “So many of our presidents have been gay,” he says, relishing his role as provocateur. “Not only Lincoln, but Washington and Hamilton, too.” The living room of his apartment has become his office with two enormous Apple computers surrounded by stacks and walls of books. “I wish I could go up to our house in Connecticut to work on it, but I don’t like to be alone and David travels too much,” he says. “But we are hoping to spend the whole summer there.” He bought the Litchfield house in 1995, after spending summers in both the Hamptons and Fire Island. “Connecticut is much prettier, and we don’t have the social competitiveness,” he says. “It took a lot of courage to go to Fire Island. People don’t remember that. You had to go on show and be prepared to be looked at by a lot of people. And that took a sort of courage. That’s why everyone took so many drugs. It made it easier.”

In New York, he lives in the same rent-stabilzied apartment featured in the Times with a terrace overlooking Washington Square Park. He is kept busy getting ready for opening night of The Normal Heart, which begins previews on April 19. “All my doctors are coming and I want them to have good seats!” he says. (The original production ran Off Broadway for 294 performances at the Public Theatre.) The show had a one-night-only Broadway debut last fall at a star-studded benefit reading. “The producer Darryl Roth decided that it deserved a real run, but we had trouble finding an available theater,” he says. The two most crucial parts in the play—Kramer’s alter ego, Ned Weeks, and his lover, Felix Turner—are being played by the same actors from the fall reading: Joe Mantello and John Benjamin Hickey (who happens to have a weekend house near Kramer’s in Salisbury, CT.) Kramer is extremely pleased that Ellen Barkin will be playing the heroic wheelchair-bound Dr. Emma Brookner. “She’s one of the great under-appreciated actresses,” he says.

Rural Intelligence CommunityStill, the Broadway run (and the anxiety of a possible Tony nomination) is bittersweet, and he hopes that it will be an opportunity to introduce a younger generation to their patrimony. “They don’t seem to want to know that there is a gay history or about the generation that died,” he says sadly.  “The thing about the play is that it brings back so many memories. As wrong as it sounds, it was great fun. It wrapped us in a wonderful blanket of togetherness. I made many good friends because of GMHC and ACT-UP. Of course, many of them are dead.” Amazingly, he worries about being reviewed.  “Facing the critics all over again is hard on the insides,” he says.  “It’s funny to have to go through all of this again at this age.”

The Normal Heart
The Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street, New York, NY
April 19 - July 3

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Posted by Dan Shaw on 04/14/11 at 02:39 AM • Permalink