In Saratoga Springs, a town of immense loveliness that is the doorway to the massif of the Adirondacks, we met its many affable locals. The jockey I had met the previous night at the bourban bar turned up at another bar where we sat for dinner on Saturday evening after a day of driving around the Adirondacks. We hugged like long-lost friends and Adi was stumped. ‘Who was that?’ he asked, as we sat down to pop-rock numbers played by a live band and watched a large group of women take over the dance floor. It looked like a baby shower where the men had been relegated to another table. Looking at those men who were as hulking as lumberjacks, tattooed arms and baseball caps, you would not believe that they would do namby pamby shit like dancing. Oh boy, but they did and how they did.
Later after we had snacked in Esperanto, a hole-in-the-wall affair, on a local speciality called the doughboy, a kind of stuffed puff pastry-cum-calzone, we passed by the bourbon bar where the bouncer stepped out and asked if we were going to return the evening after for BM’s birthday drinks. He had promised BM a pitcher of free drink you see. ‘No, there is the thing about the drive back home,’ we said.
On Sunday morning we had a glimpse of Saratoga Springs during the day, with its leafy promenades, grand hotels, stylish hat shops where the array of hats and fascinators make your heart plop with pleasure and then the sight of blonde hippies who have probably made their millions, so they lounge about town wearing khakis and spiritual amulets and relax with dog-eared books at coffee shops that declare that you shall experience death by coffee, my friend. Now I shall take a breath after that woefully lengthy chatter and point out that there is that independent bookstore too — Northshire Books, which I had come across in the town of Mancester in Vermont previously and lost my heart to. Adi gave into bambi eyes and bought me a beautifully bound tome of Virginia Woolf which shall always now remind me of the beauty of the day. Pristine blue skies, yellow leaves rolling across the pavement and gathering in bunches along their furrows, the scent of coffee in the air, golden retrievers with fine hair and ample bodies extracting bagels from their masters …
Saratoga Springs has an European air about it — in the way of living that it exudes. When Dutch and British colonists took over the area from the original Mahican tribe who lived there, it was developed into a spa town of great fame because public bath houses were anyway being promoted in the country by a doctor in the 19th century. Old brick buildings and stone churches, people sitting outdoors and chilling with wine in the dappled shade of tall trees, horses in stone everywhere because it is now a town known for its race meets every summer when the glitterati descend upon the town in droves and drive the prices of hotel rooms up to $400 a night – a piece of information rendered by my jockey friend. In a vintage store selling home decor and boutique-ish clothes, I met a beautiful Native American woman with chiselled jaws. There was a fair bit of admiring each other so that the woman standing behind her arranging wraps and shawls turned around and chipped in, in that American way, ‘Oh my god you guys! You should exchange numbers already. I sense a friendship here.’ It succeeded in cutting though the conversation like a scythe as we got down to brass tacks. Pay and exit. Much to Adi’s amusement because he had wanted us to get done already and get going with the morning.
Now there is a special aspect of this town that it would be amiss of me not to mention. In Saratoga Springs is a retreat for artists and writers called Yaddo. It offers residencies to the creative community. So if you show up with a valid proof of the fact that you are indeed busy writing/creating something, you shall receive half a year of stay with every kind of expense taken care of by Yaddo. The name is a curious one, you might wonder. One of the children of Katrina Trask, who started the community, indulged in neologism, rhyming the word with Shadow and hence Yaddo. The story of Katrina Trask is heart-aching. She had married a Wall Street banker, Spencer Trask, in the late 1800s. Their four children died early and then her husband died in a freak accident on a train. A life of trials and tribulations that is reflected in one of her poems:
‘Beyond the bourn of mortal death and birth,
Two lovers—parted sorrowing on earth—
Met in the land of dim and ghostly space.
Wondering, he gazed on her illumined face:
“Alone you bear the burden now,” he said,
“Of bondage; mine is ended,—I am dead.”
With rapturous note of victory, she cried,
“The Lord of Life be praised! I, too, have died.” ‘
Yet how her legacy lives on in the 400-acre estate in the spirit of the matter that your days there will be all about the heart and soul poured into the affair of making art.