|Land Of Plenty
By Tina Traster
September 20, 2007 -- I had spent my entire life on New York's pedestrian-jammed streets lined with restaurants, cinemas, kooky boutiques, ethnic groceries and independent bookstores. I had no penchant for vanilla, no desire to commit cultural suicide. But I had a family, and it was time to move upstate.
I wanted a "small town" that played down my general notion of suburbia, and I found it in Nyack, 30 minutes from Manhattan. It's a Victorian-era river town with charming boutiques, excellent eateries, two theaters, galleries, a health-food store, a library, three independent bookstores and a YMCA with a pool.
Soon after the move, I went to the nearby mall, Palisades Center. I was overwhelmed by the cloyingly sweet smell of cinnamon buns, the dizzying pinball pace of shoppers moving from chain store to chain store, the constant vibration of the place itself, as if it were some weird amusement ride. One night, we went to the movies at the mall. A woman next to us painted her nails until the lights went down. Cell-phones lit up like giant fireflies. Patrons yammered all through the film.
Thankfully, there's little reason for me to visit the mall ever again. The Jacob Burns Film Center in Pleasantville, a town in Westchester with an urban edge, is 20 minutes from Nyack. This art house plays indie films and has a rich cultural-film program. Famous directors like Jonathan Demme give talks. Think Lincoln Square Cinema without the race to queue up for tickets.
Broadway is irreplaceable, but Nyack's Riverspace attracts good events, like a recent gig with Eve Ensler, author of "The Vagina Monologues," and a Christmas concert with local folk hero Tom Chapin. The theater also plays independent films and puts on original shows. For jazz, folk and rock 'n' roll, I go to Turning Point in Piermont, the Irvington Town Hall Theater, Tarrytown's Music Hall Theater and the Performing Arts Center at Purchase College.
Nothing compares to "The Nutcracker" at Lincoln Center - if you don't mind shelling out $400 for three tickets plus parking. We opt instead to see an annual performance at The Bardavon in Poughkeepsie, where the New Paltz Ballet Company puts on a home-spun, heartfelt show. It costs us $75 total for the three of us.
I am a foodie, and so I worried about suburbia mostly offering cavernous, pass-out-the-crayons, all-you-can-eat restaurants; and yes, they're all here. But so are a number of restaurants that offer inventive meals with fresh Hudson Valley ingredients. Chefs trained at the Culinary Institute of America and escapees from Manhattan's best kitchens whip up good grub at Relish in Sparkill, Wasabi in Nyack and the pricey, save-it-for-an-occasion Xavier's in Piermont.
Xavier's and the next-door Freelance Cafe are owned by Iron Chef winner Peter X. Kelly, who has a third restaurant in Rockland County, and has opened X2O, the new waterside sensation in Yonkers.
Also, finding organic produce, fresh fish, handmade mozzarella and the most buttery croissants (from Nyack's patisserie Didier Dumasm) is a breeze. I don't miss Zabar's.
OK, I bought an SUV. But I still don't feel like a suburbanite. My daughter is only 5, and I've not been sucked into the soccer-mom trap.
I have, however, witnessed a suburban birthday party for preschoolers. These events are held in party spaces at strip malls where children are ushered through a robotic routine of jumping and running, followed by pizza and cake.
For my daughter's birthday last summer, I hired Fairy Una, who creates celebrations in her "enchanted forest" on a preschool campus in Chestnut Ridge. The children were taken on a scavenger hunt through a wooded path. They read a story about fairies. They decorated wooden fairy houses and had a tea party with tiny little cups and saucers. Fairy dust was sprinkled. Suburbia, it turns out, is magical after all.
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