Beacon shines along the Hudson as “Rip” heads north

On the heels of a very enjoyable reading before a very receptive audience Tuesday night at the library in Highland Park, N.J., next stop will be on the shores of the majestic Hudson River at Beacon, N.Y., where the illuminati (and literati) will shine Saturday (tomorrow) at 1 p.m. I’ll be doing a “Rip” talk, reading and book-signing at the Howland Public Library on Main Street, as part of year-long slate of events and activities celebrating the town’s 100th anniversary. Admission is free. Copies of “Rip” will be available for purchase and signing.
“Rip” reading and book-signing aside, Beacon’s truly worth a visit — it’s in a beautiful setting with a quaint and cozy downtown, and it’s home to the great folksinger and social activist Pete Seeger, as well as the amazing Dia Museum.
Be warned: My reading will take place weather and heating system willing! Seems like there’s a chance of a little snow — and the library’s been having problems with its furnace! — so check with the library first to make sure the snow is shoveled and the heat is on (the library phone number is 845-831-1134).

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“Rip”-fest at Tiffany’s!

The refurbished and recently-reopened Tiffany Reading Room in Irvington, N.Y., where I'll be reading excerpts from my novella "Rip" on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m.

The refurbished and recently-reopened Tiffany Reading Room in Irvington, N.Y., where I’ll be reading excerpts from my novella “Rip” on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m.

It won’t be “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but I just might be tempted to play or sing “Moon River,” which was featured in that film’s soundtrack and was one of my young father’s favorite songs back in the early 1960s.

That’s because I’ll be reading from my novella “Rip” and signing copies afterward on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m., in Irvington, N.Y., on the shores of my own life’s river, the beautiful Hudson, which became embedded in my heart and soul when I was a boy growing up a few miles downtstream from Irvington in Yonkers, N.Y.

I’m pleased to be reading in Irvington, for several reasons.

One, it’s the hometown of my friend Phil, whose family owned and operated the village pharmacy.

Second, the village is just south of Tarrytown, setting of “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and is — of course — named after Washington Irving.
So I’ll be reading excerpts from a parody of “Rip Van Winkle” right in the heart of Irving country!

Third, and perhaps best of all, while my appearance in being hosted by Irvington’s public library, I’ll actually be reading in Irvington’s town hall in the beautifully refurbished and recently reopened Tiffany Reading Room.

The great room was in disrepair and was being used for storage until a local fund-raising campaign raised the tens of thousands of dollars needed to restore the room to its former glory — looking very much the way it looked a century ago when it was designed and furnished by Louis Comfort Tiffany with funding from none other than the daughter of Jay Gould!

So try to make it to Irvington-on-Hudson on Saturday, Jan. 12, at 2 p.m. The Irvington Village Hall is located at 85 Main Street, just down the hill from Route 9. Admission is free. Inspiration is by Washington Irving. Parody of “Rip Van Winkle” is by Nicholas DiGiovanni. Set design is by Louis Comfort Tiffany!

Here’s a link to a recent New York Times article about the Tiffany Reading Room’s history and restoration:

“Rip” returns to Hudson River Valley

I’ve been scheduling readings and book-signings for my novel “Rip” — a modern-day parody of Washington Irving’s classic “Rip Van Winkle” — at libraries in New York and New Jersey towns in the vicinity of the Hudson River .

Just confirmed that I will be appearing Saturday, Oct. 20, at 3 p.m., at the public library in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y., in Westchester County, N.Y.

Admission is free. I will talk about my roots in the Hudson River Valley, my affection for Irving’s work, and how I came to write a latter-day “retelling” of the story of lazy old Rip Van Winkle. I’ll read excerpts from the book and answer any audience questions. I’ll then sign copies of the book, which will be available for purchase.  I’ve agreed to donate 10 percent of the proceeds to the Briarcliff Manor library.

Briarcliff Manor’s well within driving distance from New York City, Westchester County, western Connecticut, northern New Jersey, and Putnam, Rockland and Dutchess counties. So mark your calendars and try to make it to my reading there if the date and time are convenient. Otherwise, I’ll be posting announcements of other readings/book-signings as they’re scheduled in other towns in New Jersey and New York state. If you would like to buy the book before one of the readings, it’s available at http://www.amazon.com/Rip-Nicholas-DiGiovanni/dp/0918842689

Moon river…

I’ve thought of this song from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” while marveling at the shimmering sight of a yellow full moon reflected in the Hudson River where it widens at the Tappan Zee. I’ve thought of it while driving along a New Jersey highway with a half moon hanging low in the west like a beacon. I’ve thought of it while sitting alongside a New England pond when the moonbeam on the water looked like the great white way to heaven. Tonight there’s the thin crescent of moon and I’m just thinking about it…and feeling it…and wondering…where exactly is the Moon River?

A party for Pete

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Yes, I’m talkin’ Pete Seeger. No, I’m not talkin’ about the Communist Party or the Wobblies or any of those sorts of parties and movements. I’m talking about how there will be a movement of about 19,000 people into Madison Square Garden on Sunday, May 3, when dozens of great musicians will gather to celebrate the amazing Mr. Seeger’s 90th birthday!

Some of the performers who will be on hand to honor Pete:
Bruce Springsteen, Dave Matthews, Eddie Vedder, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco, Bela Fleck, Ben Harper, Billy Bragg, Bruce Cockburn, Emmylou Harris, Joan Baez, Kris Kristofferson, Ramblin’ Jack, Richie Havens, Steve Earle, Taj Mahal, Dar Williams, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Tom Paxton, Toshi Reagon, Pete’s grandson Tao Rodriguez-Seeger…and, of course, Arlo Guthrie.

Limited ticket sales began today (March 23) and general ticket sales begin next Monday, March 30. Tickets are pricey — the good seats are hundreds of dollars and even the cheap seats are $90 each (for Pete’s 90th birthday). But proceeds from the show will benefit a great cause — the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater, which set sail more than three decades ago — stewarded by Pete Seeger — to protect and restore Pete’s beloved Hudson River and other waterways.

Here’s a video of Arlo singing Pete’s great song “Golden River:”

The Clearwater movement’s close to my heart since I grew up on the New York side of the Hudson River. As for Pete, one of the highlights of my life was meeting Pete years ago and having the honor of hosting him as he performed two benefit shows — about 10 years ago, when he was a young buck of about 80 years old — to raise money for a charity I’d started called the Delaware Valley Holiday Fund. Pete, grandson Tao and Pete’s beautiful wife Toshi drove all the down from Beacon, N.Y., to western New Jersey, put on a show in a packed high-school auditorium, then drove right back home to Beacon, and the only compensation they received was a basket full of sandwiches and fruit and cakes to sustain them for that long drive back to their home up on the Hudson. A year later, Pete and Toshi were back, doing another benefit show for our charity, this time outdoors, once again free-of-charge, at a park in Pennsylvania along the Delaware River.

This is what Pete Seeger’s been doing for 90 years. Helping people, fighting for justice, singing songs of peace, dispelling hate and spreading love. Happy birthday, Pete!

Be it ever so humble…

Home, sweet home. This photo by Rob Yasinac (who's got a great Web site at www.hudsonvalleyruins.org, shows one of the apartment buildings at Mulford Gardens in Yonkers, New York. I lived at Mulford Gardens when I was a boy. Now the public-housing complex is being razed.
Home, sweet home. This photo by Rob Yasinac (who's got a great Web site at http://www.hudsonvalleyruins.org, shows one of the apartment buildings at Mulford Gardens in Yonkers, New York. I lived at Mulford Gardens when I was a boy. Now the public-housing complex is being razed.

Why does it make me just a bit melancholy to read that the old Mulford Gardens public-housing projects in Yonkers, N.Y, is finally being demolished? Because I grew up in Yonkers. And because I lived in the Mulford Gardens complex with my parents and my sister — we moved there when I was four years old and left when I was eight, apparently because my young father’s income had passed some maximum threshhold that made him no longer eligible to live in public housing.

You would think that was a good thing, and I suppose it was. We moved to an apartment in Nodine Hill section of the city, in the shadow of the city’s landmark water tower, to a neighborhood that was then largely Ukrainian, Russian, Czech and Polish with a considerable number of Italians who had spilled over from the adjacent Park Hill neighborhood.

We lived on Nodine Hill until I was about thirteen years old, when my parents bought their own house in solidly middle-class/working class neighborhood called Bryn Mawr about midway between the Saw Mill River Parkway — which serves as Yonkers’ “tracks” to live on the other side of, which became a focus of much sorrow and strife about ten years later, when the city was torn apart by battles over housing and school desegregation).

So what is it about the demolition of Mulford Gardens that makes me melancholy? It’s nostalgia, I suppose. The place as actually kind of nice when we lived there.  The units were three-story brick buildings (with a ground-floor basement) with four, five or six units to a building — for instance, the block we lived in began with 10 Mulford Gardens and ended with 13 Mulford Gardens; we lived on the third floor of unit 12; there were seven apartments per unit (two on each floor, and one on the basement level). Mind you, it wasn’t luxurious. The walls — the interior walls — were painted cinderblock. The stairways in the halls were made of steel. Our apartment was small — four small rooms (kitchen, living room, two bedrooms, bathroom). But outside each unit people had flower gardens. There was a park, Grant Park, nearby. It was a 10-minute walk away from Getty Square, the old downtown commercial district.

And, best of all, and I can remember this so clearly even though I was so young — the apartment building we lived in was high atop Seminary Hill, at the very highest section of Mulford Gardens, which had hundreds of apartments spread over the hillside, and from our kitchen window I could see the vast sweep of the crowded city of Yonkers spread out before me. I could see the cupola of St. Joseph’s Seminary to the east. I could see straight ahead the water tower at the peak of Nodine Hill, I could see church spires all over the city, and apartment buildings and small houses crowded together on the hills and in the ravines of the city. To my right, looking west, I could see the distant Palisades cliffs along the Hudson, and (as my mother remembered last night when we spoke about the old days at Mulford Gardens), I was a precocious, observant little boy, and I would sit at the window, looking out at the lights all over the city, and I’d point out that in the distance, to the south, there was the Empire State Building, and there, those flickering, glittering lights strung out in a row, that was the George Washington Bridge!

Mulford Gardens became a different place in the years after we left. It was about 25 years old when we lived there and it’s now more than 60 years since the place was built, replacing a poor neighborhood that I believe was mainly occupied by poor blacks and Irish immigrants who had jobs at the nearby Alexander Smith carpet mills.

The buildings at Mulford Gardens deteriorated and crumbled. The place became fertile ground for crime, drugs, gangs, poverty, you name it, and probably the only good things that came out of the Yonkers projects in the last twenty years were a couple of folks named Mary J. Blige and DMX.

You know, even when we lived there, people were relatively poor — you had to be kind of poor to live there, after all. And I do remember things — like constantly burning my leg accidentally on the exposed radiators in those spartan apartments.

But I also remember one winter day, and there was huge snowstorm, must have been a blizzard because my father stayed home from work, and we had no food in the house, and my young mother and father left me with an elderly neighbor who came upstairs to our apartment to babysit me while they were gone, and my young parents bundled up and trudged out into the storm, and I watched as they made their way down the hill toward the Ashburton Market about four blocks away, and I watched and I watched and stared into the swirling snow and finally, finally, I spotted my father and mother, both carrying bags of groceries, leaning into the wind and slowly returning up the hill, and I remember clearly that I moved forward a little and, sure enough, burned my leg on that damned steam radiator, but that was alright because it was warm in that little apartment at Mulford Gardens and that made the windows steam up, but I wiped the window pane with my hand and there were my young parents looking up at the window, and they were waving to me, and they were just in the mid-twenties and still so much in love, but that was long ago, and my father died six years ago, and so now it’s time to wave goodbye to Mulford Gardens and the steam radiators and the steel stairways and the cinderblock walls and the cold and impersonal brick buildings.

But my parents will always be walking up that hill through the storm, and the Empire State will always loom on the horizon, and the lights of the George Washington Bridge will twinkle and sparkle forever, off there in the distance, glowing forever in my mind.