Sunday, July 6, 2008



July 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
Wall-E for President

SO much for a July Fourth week spent in idyllic celebration of our country’s birthday. This year’s festivities were marked instead by a debate — childish, not constitutional — over who is and isn’t patriotic. The fireworks were sparked by a verbally maladroit retired general, fueled by two increasingly fatuous presidential campaigns, and heated to a boil by a 24/7 news culture that inflates any passing tit for tat into a war of the worlds.

Let oil soar above $140 a barrel. Let layoffs and foreclosures proliferate like California’s fires. Let someone else worry about the stock market’s steepest June drop since the Great Depression. In our political culture, only one question mattered: What was Wesley Clark saying about John McCain and how loudly would every politician and bloviator in the land react?
Unable to take another minute of this din, I did what any sensible person might do and fled to the movies. More specifically, to an animated movie in the middle of a weekday afternoon. What escape could be more complete?

Among its other attributes, this particular G-rated film, “Wall-E,” is a rare economic bright spot. Its enormous box-office gross last weekend swelled a total Hollywood take that was up 20 percent from a year ago. (You know America’s economy is cooked when everyone flocks to the movies.) The “Wall-E” crowds were primed by the track record of its creator, Pixar Animation Studios, and the ecstatic reviews. But if anything, this movie may exceed its audience’s expectations. It did mine.

As it happened, “Wall-E” opened the same summer weekend as the hot-button movie of the 2004 campaign year, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11.” Ah, the good old days. Oil was $38 a barrel, our fatalities in Iraq had not hit 900, and only 57 percent of Americans thought their country was on the wrong track. (Now more than 80 percent do.) “Wall-E,” a fictional film playing to a far larger audience, may touch a more universal chord in this far gloomier time.
Indeed, sitting among rapt children mostly under 12, I felt as if I’d stepped through a looking glass. This movie seemed more realistically in touch with what troubles America this year than either the substance or the players of the political food fight beyond the multiplex’s walls.
While the real-life grown-ups on TV were again rebooting Vietnam, the kids at “Wall-E” were in deep contemplation of a world in peril — and of the future that is theirs to make what they will of it. Compare any 10 minutes of the movie with 10 minutes of any cable-news channel, and you’ll soon be asking: Exactly who are the adults in our country and who are the cartoon characters?
Almost any description of this beautiful film makes it sound juvenile or didactic, and it is neither. So I’ll keep to the minimum. “Wall-E” is a robot-meets-robot love story, as simple (and often as silent) as a Keaton or Chaplin fable, set largely in a smoldering and abandoned Earth, circa 2700, where the only remaining signs of life are a cockroach and a single green sprout.

The robot of the title is a battered mobile trash compactor whose sole knowledge of human civilization and intimacy comes from the avalanche of detritus the former inhabitants left behind — a Rubik’s Cube, an engagement ring and, most strangely, a single stuttering VCR tape of “Hello, Dolly!,” a candied Hollywood musical from 1969. Wall-E keeps rewinding to the song that finds the young lovers pledging their devotion until “time runs out.”

Pixar is not Stanley Kubrick. Though “Wall-E” is laced with visual and musical allusions to “2001: A Space Odyssey,” its vision of apocalypse now is not as dark as Kubrick’s then. The new film speaks to the anxieties of 2008 as specifically as “2001” did to the more explosive tumult of its (election) year, 1968. That’s more than upsetting enough.

Humanity is not dead in “Wall-E,” but it is in peril. The world’s population cruises the heavens ceaselessly on a mammoth luxury spaceship that it boarded in the early 22nd century after the planet became uninhabitable. For government, there is a global corporation called Buy N Large, which keeps the public wired to umpteenth-generation iPods and addicted to a diet of supersized liquefied fast food and instantly obsolete products. The people are too bloated to walk — they float around on motorized Barcaloungers — but they are happy shoppers. A billboard on the moon heralds a Buy N Large outlet mall “coming soon,” not far from that spot where back in the day of “Hello, Dolly!” idealistic Americans once placed a flag.

And yet these rabid consumers, like us, are haunted by what paradise might have been lost. How can they reclaim what matters? How can Earth be recolonized? These questions are rarely spoken in “Wall-E,” but are omnipresent, like half-forgotten dreams. In this movie, a fleeting green memory of the extinct miracle of photosynthesis is as dazzling and elusive as the emerald city of Oz.

One of the great things about art, including popular art, is that it can hit audiences at a profound level beyond words. That includes children. The kids at “Wall-E” were never restless, despite the movie’s often melancholy mood and few belly laughs. They seemed to instinctually understand what “Wall-E” was saying; they didn’t pepper their chaperones with questions along the way. At the end they clapped their small hands. What they applauded was not some banal cartoonish triumph of good over evil but a gentle, if unmistakable, summons to remake the world before time runs out.

You have to wonder what these same kids make of the political show their parents watch on TV at home. The fierce urgency of now that drives “Wall-E” and its yearning for change is absent in both the Barack Obama and McCain campaigns these days.

For me, Mr. Obama showed signs of jumping the shark two weeks back, when he appeared at a podium affixed with his own pompous faux-presidential seal. It could have been a Pixar sight gag. In fact, it is a gag in “Wall-E,” where, in a flashback, we see that the original do-nothing chief executive of Buy N Large (prone to pronouncements like “stay the course”) boasted his own ersatz presidential podium.

For all the hyperventilation on the left about Mr. Obama’s rush to the center — some warranted, some not — what’s more alarming is how small-bore and defensive his campaign has become. Whether he’s reaffirming his long-held belief in faith-based programs or fudging his core convictions about government snooping, he is drifting away from the leadership he promised and into the focus-group-tested calculation patented by Mark Penn in his disastrous campaign for Hillary Clinton. Mr. Obama’s Wednesday address calling for renewed public service is unassailable in principle but inadequate to the daunting size of the serious American crisis at hand. The speech could have been — and has been — delivered by any candidate of either party in any election year since 1960.

What Mr. Obama has going for him during this tailspin is that his opponent seems mortifyingly out-to-lunch. Mr. McCain is a man who aspires to lead the largest economy in the world and yet recently admitted that he doesn’t know how to use a computer, the one modern tool shared by everyone from the post-industrial American work force to Middle Eastern terrorists to Pixar animators. Getting shot down over Vietnam may not be a qualification for president in 2008, but surely a rudimentary facility with a laptop is. What Mr. McCain has going for him is a press corps that often ignores or covers up such embarrassments.

The Republican’s digital ignorance is not a function of his age but of his intellectual inflexibility and his isolation from his country’s reality. To prove the point last week, he took a superfluous, if picturesque, tour of Colombia and Mexico, with occasional timeouts for him and his surrogates to respond like crybabies to General Clark’s supposed slur on his patriotism.

For connoisseurs of McCainian cluelessness, the high point was his Wednesday morning appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” The anchor, Robin Roberts, asked the only important question: Why in heaven’s name was Mr. McCain in Latin America when “the U.S. economy is really at the forefront of voters’ minds”?

“I know Americans are hurting very badly right now,” he explained, channeling the first George Bush’s “Message: I care.” As he spoke, those hurting Americans could feast on the gorgeous flora and fauna of the Cartagena, Colombia, tourist vista serving as his backdrop. “It’s really lovely here,” Mr. McCain said. Since he can’t drop us an e-mail, a video postcard will have to do.
Mr. McCain should be required to see “Wall-E” to learn just how far adrift he is from an America whose economic fears cannot be remedied by his flip-flop embrace of the Bush tax cuts (for the wealthy) and his sham gas-tax holiday (for everyone else). Mr. Obama should see it to be reminded of just how bold his vision of change had been before he settled into a front-runner’s complacency. Americans should see it to appreciate just how much things are out of joint on an Independence Day when a cartoon robot evokes America’s patriotic ideals with more conviction than either of the men who would be president.

Wow - Frank Rich is either bored out of his mind or this is one hell of a movie. Gonna go see it tonight.

25 Northeast Getaways!

July 4, 2008
25 Northeast Getaways

THE congested Northeast packs 60 million people into one corner of the country, most of them scurrying around every workday somewhere within the long string of coastal metropolitan areas. But even from this domain of suburbs and skyscrapers, where the Interstates can seem to lead mostly from one clutch of 7-Elevens and parking garages to another, a great summer getaway is never far away. And for the urbanites who long for a quick escape — and their country neighbors, too — it’s not necessary to buy a plane ticket or mortgage the house for gasoline in order to kick back and sample something slower paced and new.
These 25 Northeast getaways will help remind you why so many people moved to this part of the world in the first place.

Barely more than an hour’s drive from Boston, the Maine coast just north of New Hampshire has something for everybody’s list of favorites. At Cape Neddick, a quintessential New England lighthouse. At Ogunquit, one of the most beautiful beaches on the Atlantic. A glimpse of the old seacoast life at York Village and York Harbor. Lobster rolls and summer theater, pounding surf and quiet coves, laid-back, family-friendly and gay-friendly — it’s all here. The discovery has been made, and you won’t lack for company. But sit for a while on a bench along the cliff walk called the Marginal Way, snag a waterfront cafe table, or stake out a patch of the wide, white sand, and the sea works all its old, relaxing charm.

Newburyport and Plum Island, at the mouth of the Merrimack River, combine shops, boutiques and maritime heritage with breathtaking views and beaches. The sea captains of 200 years ago are gone, but in town, the charm of their stately homes and commercial buildings remains. Plum Island is an 11-mile-long barrier beach connected to the mainland by a narrow road that passes over gorgeous marshes. The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge, established in 1942 to protect bird habitats, takes up three-quarters of the island (; 978-465-5753; $5 per car). The wide, sandy oceanside beach is open to the public, although some areas are restricted during nesting season. Trails, towers and platforms for observation are plentiful. Rangers restrict access to limit the crowds, so on busy summer days, arrive early.

The role of New England mill towns in the industrial revolution — an absorbing and sometimes heartbreaking story — is explained at the Lowell National Historical Park (; 978-970-5000). Travel through a large, now-picturesque brick mill complex from the 1830s, either by boat on the canals that once supplied power to the mills or by hopping on and off trolleys that run year round. Tours can be self-guided or, if arranged in advance, led by park rangers. A summer performance series at an outdoor pavilion features artists this year including the Indigo Girls, Taj Mahal and Arlo Guthrie.

You could join the spectators who flock to southeastern Massachusetts every summer for the Buzzards Bay Regatta (Aug. 1 to 3 this year;, with 450 boats and 1,200 sailors competing. Or you could kayak on the bay, a designated Estuary of National Significance, and experience its beauty firsthand. Osprey Sea Kayak Adventures (508-636-0300;, based in Westport, Mass., offers a variety of guided tours (from $49), including the Westport River, Sunset and Moonlight tours — even a six-hour excursion combining kayaking with wine-tasting and dinner. You can also visit New Bedford (, the famous whaling port where Herman Melville set the early scenes of “Moby-Dick.” Worth a visit: the New Bedford Whaling Museum ($10), the Greek Revival Rotch-Jones-Duff House and Garden Museum ($5), and the 13-block New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park on the waterfront (

A seafarers’ town from the 1600s to the era of nuclear submarines, New London weathered 20th-century decline and is now a stop for cruise ships. It’s also the childhood home of America’s only Nobel prize-winning playwright, Eugene O’Neill. Admire the waterfront statue of O’Neill as a 7-year-old, sketching a ship, or toast his memory at the Dutch Tavern on Green Street, largely unchanged from when it was one of his favorite watering holes. Then tour O’Neill’s boyhood home, the Monte Cristo Cottage (325 Pequot Avenue;; $7), which became the setting for both ““Ah, Wilderness!” and “Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” When the tour is done, sample one of the ethnic restaurants in the walkable downtown and shop for artwork at galleries like the Yah-Ta-Hey (279 State Street, 860-443-3204), which sells American Indian art, and By Design, a fine-arts store and gallery (66 Bank Street; 860-447-9170).

Since art and nature are so inextricably intertwined in the Berkshires, why not start at the highest point? Mount Greylock (; 413-499-4262) rises 3,491 feet, offering expansive river, valley and mountain views encompassing five states. The 70-mile network of trails throughout the 12,500-acre Mount Greylock reservation is ideal for hiking and biking. It’s an easy switch from mountain trek to art trail. Start at the nearby Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown (; $12.50 in summer), which recently unveiled the landscape-sensitive Stone Hill Center (home of the Williamstown Art Conservation Center), designed by Tadao Ando. More in the mood for something new or edgy? Then, take a quick drive to North Adams and the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, better known as Mass MoCA ( and Kolok Gallery (, which shows the work of emerging and international artists.

Pay homage to Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, the pride of Vermont, with a trip to Fort Ticonderoga (; $15), at the once-strategic tip of Lake Champlain in upstate New York. These days, the uniforms are on re-enactors, a fife and drum corps dating back to 1927 and guides who can explain the British chagrin in 1775, when Allen and the ragtag militia of Vermonters snatched the fort. They also acquired 59 cannons that were later hauled across icy hills to Boston and helped persuade the British there to load up their ships and retreat to New York. From the fort, follow Allen back into Vermont and north to the lively city of Burlington, where you can visit his homestead (; $5), have dinner on the Spirit of Ethan Allen cruise boat on Lake Champlain ( and eat Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream (36 Church Street) in its original hometown.

New York’s capital city is worth a visit even — or especially — when the governor and the legislators go on vacation, opening space in the restaurants and leaving the government halls to outsize political characters of the past. Touring the ornate Capitol ( and the Executive Mansion (138 Eagle Street; call 518-473-7521 two weeks in advance), expect stories of former governors including Theodore and Franklin Roosevelt, Al Smith and perhaps even Eliot Spitzer (who, with his wife, Silda, gave the mansion a green makeover). But it was Nelson Rockefeller who really shaped Albany, leading construction in the 1960s of the Empire State Plaza, with its egg-shaped performance hall and world-class modern art collection. Don’t miss the state museum ( at the plaza’s south end, with its exhibits on birds, fire engines, Harlem and the World Trade Center and its functioning antique carousel made, of course, in New York State.

The Gilded Age parties are over, but you’re welcome as a weekend guest (albeit a paying one) at many of the grand estates and gardens of Millionaire’s Row on the east side of the Hudson River. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Springwood (; $14) is a mere bungalow in comparison to some of the others open for tours. The flamboyant Vanderbilt Mansion, built by Frederick Vanderbilt in 1898, reflects nouveau-riche decadence (; $8). The 79-room Mills Mansion (; $5) is said to have been appropriated by Edith Wharton as the setting for “The House of Mirth.” At Montgomery Place(; $5), the 434-acre Livingston estate, the garden is the star, with formal beds and a “wild” section with a waterfall and pond. Other Hudson Valley gardens stand alone, including the 150-acre Chinese-inspired Innisfree Garden (; $4 weekdays, $5 weekend) and scenic Gifford Garden at the Institute of Ecosystem Studies (, both in Millbrook.

The Village of Saranac Lake, home of shops, bookstores, restaurants and the charming, historic Hotel Saranac (, gets its greatest fame as the premier jumping-off point for the woods and waters of the Adirondacks. The High Peaks Wilderness Area, with extensive hiking opportunities, begins just outside of town. The lakes are a canoeist’s dream: Upper Saranac, the farthest west from town, is nine miles long; Middle Saranac has island camping and sandy beaches; Lower Saranac attracts families. The annual Adirondack Canoe Classic, a 90-mile race over three days in September, ends in Saranac Lake at pretty Lake Flower, which was created by damming a section of the Saranac River. Rent a canoe yourself, from Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters (518-891-7450) or another outfitter, and paddle away.

Serious rock climbers and novices alike can find great climbing in the Shawangunk Mountains — and for those who aren’t ready for the ropes and pitons, this can also be a spectator sport. You’ll first notice the climbers, crawling antlike up the cliffs, as you head west to the ridge from New Paltz, N.Y., on Route 44/55. For a less vertiginous Gunks experience, hike at Minnewaska State Park, where some trails lead to jewel-like lakes, or on the property of the landmark Mohonk Mountain House (

The year when we almost had a female presidential nominee is a good time to discover how the women’s suffrage movement was conceived at the seven-acre interactive Women’s Rights National Historical Park (315-568-2991; in Seneca Falls, N.Y. It was here, at Wesleyan Chapel, that Elizabeth Cady Stanton, a Seneca Falls housewife (who most likely baked cookies) and a mother of three sons, held the first Women’s Rights Convention, in 1848. At the park, you can tour several sites (call ahead to confirm tour schedules): the Wesleyan Chapel, the Declaration of Sentiments Waterwall and the historic homes of the convention’s three organizers — Elizabeth Stanton, Mary Ann M’Clintock and Jane Hunt (outside viewing only of the Hunt home). On July 19, the park commemorates the 160th anniversary of the first women’s rights convention, featuring a daylong program of special events. Coline Jenkins, the great-great-granddaughter of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, will be there.

Feeling nostalgic for the Hamptons, pre-Hollywood East? Then skip the South Fork and head to the other side of the Peconic Bays, where a lineup of mellow country towns awaits. Sample old-fashioned Main Streets, farm stands, history museums, waterfront restaurants, bucolic beaches and nature preserves, and a stunning 3,000 acres of vineyards — not to mention more than 30 wineries where you can taste and purchase a slew of local cabernets, chardonnays and merlots. To cover it all, make your base at one of the many elegant inns, like the North Fork Table & Inn (631-765-0177;; 57225 Main Road, Southold), where a former Amuse chef and a Gramercy Tavern pastry chef feed you in an elegant onsite dining room; or the sleek and modern Greenporter (631-477-0066;; 326 Front Street), in the historic, walkable whaling town of Greenport.

In the 40-mile swath that the St. Lawrence River cuts between upstate New York and Canada from Lake Ontario downstream to Cape Vincent, N.Y., there really are 1,000 islands, of all shapes and many sizes. The area is a favorite spot for fishing and boating; rentals and outfitters are available if you lack your own gear. Classic and antique wooden boats, a signature of the river life, shine at the Antique Boat Museum in Clayton, N.Y. (750 Mary Street; 315-686-4104;; $15), which holds its annual boat show Aug. 1 to 3. Can’t make it that weekend? Anytime this summer, head to the museum docks to board the 107-foot Gilded Age houseboat La Duchesse, row an elegant rented St. Lawrence skiff or feel the spray during a 45-minute ride on a triple-cockpit runabout speedboat.

On the beachy, breezy seven-mile stretch of Sandy Hook’s Gateway National Recreation Area (732-872-5970;, you can bike, bird, fish, hike, climb a historic lighthouse, swim and sunbathe — clothed or not — against an uncluttered backdrop of sea and sky. It’s an easy trip for Manhattanites, who can just hop the Seastreak ferry (800-262-8743;; round-trip $43) with a backpack and a bike. Whether you come by sea or by car, you’ll want two wheels to traverse the smooth tar path of this barrier island, which is punctuated by the eerie remains of Fort Hancock. For less athletic entertainments, head next door to the Highlands, where an impressive clutch of restaurants includes Bay Ave. Trattoria (732-872-9800; 122 Bay Avenue) and the Inlet Cafe (732-872-9764; 3 Cornwall Street), which sets tables at the edge of Sandy Hook Bay. Highlands is also an alternate spot to catch a ferry back to New York.

Follow the trail of George Washington’s army in New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania. Washington crossed the Delaware River in 1776 to attack Trenton at a place now called — ta da! — Washington Crossing, and both states have pretty parks there with pocket museums. (Pick up picnic supplies on the Pennsylvania side at Colonial Farms Gourmet Foods, 1108 Taylorsville Road; 215-493-1548.) The next battle was at Princeton, N.J.; check out the battlefield ( and then sidetrack to Palmer Square downtown for store-made ice cream at the Bent Spoon (609-924-2368). About 55 miles to the southwest is Valley Forge, Pa. (, where the troops spent a grim winter and you can spend a far more comfortable day. Take a cellphone tour, dialing at each stop to hear what happened there. From there, it’s back to New Jersey for another battle, at Monmouth (, and another hard winter, in Morristown (
A.C. gets its share of high rollers, but if you’re not one of them, no problem. Hit the beach tonight at 6 for a free concert by the Beach Boys in front of the Hilton Casino Resort (Boston Avenue and the Boardwalk; 609-347-7111; On Aug. 20, the Air Force Thunderbirds will roar overhead beginning at 10:30 a.m.; no tickets required — just tilt your head back. Atlantic City’s own boys of summer, the Atlantic City Surf ( of the Canadian-American League, play all season at Bernie Robbins Stadium on North Albany Avenue, drawing an enthusiastic crowd — it doesn’t hurt that tickets start at $8. If Buddakan and Bobby Flay Steak aren’t in your dining budget, make a pilgrimage to the White House Sub Shop (2301 Arctic Avenue; 609-345-1564) for sublime subs and cheese steaks for $13 to $16. When night falls, head to the Pier Shops at Caesars (609-345-3100; a luxury shopping emporium where there’s a six-minute free water, light and sound show every hour on the hour.

In Bucks County, Pa., where Philadelphians like to play, stroll the quaint downtowns and then venture off the beaten path. Right off busy Route 32 in New Hope, Pa., lies Bowman’s Hill Wildflower Preserve (1635 River Road; 215-862-2924;; $5 admission), 134 acres of native plants in a fenced naturalistic setting. Guides usher novices over placid paths and through the ecosystems. Things are less peaceful at Rice’s Market (6326 Greenhill Road, New Hope; 215-297-5993;, 30 acres of farmers’ stalls and flea market fare with 700 vendors, open Tuesdays and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. In Doylestown, the Moravian Pottery and Tile Works (130 Swamp Road; 215-345-6722;; $3.50), brainchild of the eccentric and visionary Henry Mercer, produces dazzling hand-crafted decorative tiles using Mercer’s century-old molds. Within a mile or so are the haunted mansion-style museum (, housing Mercer’s eclectic collections of 19th-century objects from whale boats to a gallows, and his bizarre 44-room home, Fonthill (admission to both $12), also built entirely of concrete, right down to the bookshelves and window seats.

The offspring of Éleuthère Irénée du Pont, the gunpowder manufacturer whose company became the chemicals giant, liked spending their money on beautiful things that they — and, later, the public — could enjoy. Winterthur (; $20, or $15 for galleries and gardens only), the estate off Route 52 in northern Delaware that has been in the hands of the du Pont family for generations, is where Henry Francis du Pont amassed large collections of American antiques and developed rural landscapes into lush gardens in the early 1900s before turning over the estate to a nonprofit educational institution in 1951. Ten miles away, at about the same time, his second cousin, Pierre Samuel du Pont, created Longwood Gardens (; $16) off U.S. Route 1 in Kennett Square, Pa., with an opulent conservatory, stunning fountains and changing displays.

It’s time to get back to Gettysburg, where the tired old visitors center at the national military park has been replaced with a new $130 million model, open since April and featuring a new orientation film ($8) and galleries of artifacts. (After the official grand opening bash Sept. 26 to 28, a restored circular walk-in painting, the Cyclorama, $12, will also be open.) Designed to look like a barn and placed south of town on a site where historians say there was no fighting on those three fateful days in July 1863 (1195 Baltimore Pike; and, the center is definitely worth some sidetracking before you attack the hallowed battlefield.

From Cape Henlopen south, a string of decidedly mellow beach towns hug the Atlantic coastline in what the locals like to call “slower lower Delaware.” Rehoboth Beach (, and its hipper neighbor, Dewey Beach, are probably the most famous. But the so-called “quiet resort” towns south on Route 1 — Bethany Beach, South Bethany and Fenwick Island ( — have fans who flock back every summer for a week or a weekend. The boardwalk at Ocean City, Md., is within driving distance, but many prefer to stay in Delaware to ride a bike, play 18 holes at a miniature golf course, or do both while polishing off a big box of Fisher’s warm and gooey caramel corn. They can go surf fishing, crabbing or wind surfing, too.

Here’s how to walk around the harbor in St. Michaels, the old Chesapeake Bay town where Beltway insiders and romance-seeking couples mingle on weekends. Start at the south end with bloody marys (made with clam juice) on the screened porch at the St. Michaels Harbour Inn, Marina & Spa (410-745-9001). Then walk through narrow shady streets, admiring the clapboard houses and poking in at the Talbot Street shops, to Foxy’s (410-745-4340), an outdoor bar, for lunch. Next stop is the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum (, a sprawling campus filled with old boats that will keep you busy until cocktail time at the Inn at Perry Cabin (410-745-2200), where you can lounge on Adirondack chairs.

George Washington bathed there, so the story goes, and you can, too. This town, which calls itself America’s first spa, makes the most of its natural springs and their 74-degree water. There are baths at Berkeley Springs State Park and at a variety of up-to-date full-service spas, and the town has taken on a New Age air as massage therapists, acupuncturists and the like have set up shop. Therapy of the retail variety is available at shops, galleries and the Berkeley Springs Antique Mall (304-258-5676), where 30 dealers sell antiques and collectibles. Outside town, hikers and bikers can enjoy the C&O Canal towpath along the Potomac and kayakers can paddle the Cacapon River. Book a B&B or stay at the landmark Country Inn (304-258-2210;

Harpers Ferry has calmed down a little in the 149 years since the fiery abolitionist John Brown stormed the federal armory in town, then a part of Virginia, in a failed effort to liberate slaves. Harpers Ferry, which sits in a triangle formed by the merging Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and is framed by the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains, was of such strategic importance to the Union and Confederate armies that it changed hands eight times during the Civil War. Now the strife is commemorated at the Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (, which can be conquered in sneakers or hiking boots. The park includes part of a small downtown that seems to be frozen in time and is also a portion of the Appalachian Trail.

Charlottesville draws most of its visitors because of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello. But another president, James Monroe, owned a plantation adjacent to Monticello called Highland, which later became known as Ash Lawn. It has a museum and also hosts the Ash Lawn Opera ( in July and August, of operas, musical theater and programs called Music at Twilight and Summer Saturdays, for families. “Carmen” and “My Fair Lady” are on the bill for this summer, with the highest-priced tickets at $28, and so are “DinoRock,” “The Gypsy & the Toreador” and “Rumplestiltskin,” at $5.
Reporting for this article was done by Steve Bailey, Dave Caldwell, Maura J. Casey, Beth Greenfield, Kathryn Matthews, John Motyka and Louise Tutelian.

finally some cool places to go to in the Northeast! Thank you NY Times!

Methinks Maureen's single and bored.


July 6, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist
An Ideal Husband

This weekend, we celebrate our great American pastime: messy celebrity divorces.
There’s the Christie Brinkley/Peter Cook fireworks on Long Island and the Madonna/Guy Ritchie/A-Rod Roman candle in New York.

So how do you avoid a relationship where you end up saying, “The man who I was living with, I just didn’t know who he was” — as Brinkley did in court when talking about her husband’s $3,000-a-month Internet porn and swinger site habit? (Not to mention the 18-year-old mistress/assistant.)

Father Pat Connor, a 79-year-old Catholic priest born in Australia and based in Bordentown, N.J., has spent his celibate life — including nine years as a missionary in India — mulling connubial bliss. His decades of marriage counseling led him to distill some “mostly common sense” advice about how to dodge mates who would maul your happiness.
“Hollywood says you can be deeply in love with someone and then your marriage will work,” the twinkly eyed, white-haired priest says. “But you can be deeply in love with someone to whom you cannot be successfully married.”

For 40 years, he has been giving a lecture — “Whom Not to Marry” — to high school seniors, mostly girls because they’re more interested. “It’s important to do it before they fall seriously in love, because then it will be too late,” he explains. “Infatuation trumps judgment.”

I asked him to summarize his talk:

“Never marry a man who has no friends,” he starts. “This usually means that he will be incapable of the intimacy that marriage demands. I am always amazed at the number of men I have counseled who have no friends. Since, as the Hebrew Scriptures say, ‘Iron shapes iron and friend shapes friend,’ what are his friends like? What do your friends and family members think of him? Sometimes, your friends can’t render an impartial judgment because they are envious that you are beating them in the race to the altar. Envy beclouds judgment.

“Does he use money responsibly? Is he stingy? Most marriages that founder do so because of money — she’s thrifty, he’s on his 10th credit card.

“Steer clear of someone whose life you can run, who never makes demands counter to yours. It’s good to have a doormat in the home, but not if it’s your husband.

“Is he overly attached to his mother and her mythical apron strings? When he wants to make a decision, say, about where you should go on your honeymoon, he doesn’t consult you, he consults his mother. (I’ve known cases where the mother accompanies the couple on their honeymoon!)

“Does he have a sense of humor? That covers a multitude of sins. My mother was once asked how she managed to live harmoniously with three men — my father, brother and me. Her answer, delivered with awesome arrogance, was: ‘You simply operate on the assumption that no man matures after the age of 11.’ My father fell about laughing.

“A therapist friend insists that ‘more marriages are killed by silence than by violence.’ The strong, silent type can be charming but ultimately destructive. That world-class misogynist, Paul of Tarsus, got it right when he said, ‘In all your dealings with one another, speak the truth to one another in love that you may grow up.’

“Don’t marry a problem character thinking you will change him. He’s a heavy drinker, or some other kind of addict, but if he marries a good woman, he’ll settle down. People are the same after marriage as before, only more so.

“Take a good, unsentimental look at his family — you’ll learn a lot about him and his attitude towards women. Kay made a monstrous mistake marrying Michael Corleone! Is there a history of divorce in the family? An atmosphere of racism, sexism or prejudice in his home? Are his goals and deepest beliefs worthy and similar to yours? I remember counseling a pious Catholic woman that it might not be prudent to marry a pious Muslim, whose attitude about women was very different. Love trumped prudence; the annulment process was instigated by her six months later.

“Imagine a religious fundamentalist married to an agnostic. One would have to pray that the fundamentalist doesn’t open the Bible and hit the page in which Abraham is willing to obey God and slit his son’s throat.

“Finally: Does he possess those character traits that add up to a good human being — the willingness to forgive, praise, be courteous? Or is he inclined to be a fibber, to fits of rage, to be a control freak, to be envious of you, to be secretive?

“After I regale a group with this talk, the despairing cry goes up: ‘But you’ve eliminated everyone!’ Life is unfair.”

Coming back from an interesting Jul 4th in DC - fireworks were fantastic with a booming spectacular finale! Hey Maureen, are you going to publish "An Ideal Wife" next? Isn't the institution of marraige itself worth questioning? (that might be the more appropriate NY TIMES article). Marraige was a necessity when men, women and children worked isolated farms and depended on each other to an extent that modern society cannot fathom. Is it a necessity now? I know a happy couple together for the last 15 years who are not married. Just askin!