Old Westbury Gardens – The Mansion

It could be no less gracious than the magnificent gardens surrounding it, could it? And yet it was designed by an artist with no formal degree in architecture.

One of the glorious Gold Coast Mansions, home of John S. Phipps, his English-born wife, Margarita Grace Phipps and their four children, the mansion we know today as ”Old Westbury Gardens” was designed by George A. Crawley in the style of a Charles II Restoration manor house, and completed in 1906.

Following the deaths of Margarita and John S. Phipps in the late 1950s, their daughter Margaret Phipps Boegner – or Peggie, as he preferred to be called, inherited the Old Westbury estate and opened the gardens to the public to honor the memory of her mother.

Today, one can visit the house and gardens for guided tours, view exhibitions or attend a number of family events, talks or gardening classes. Or just take a leisurely stroll up and down the stairs and out and about in the gardens, taking in the little details and trying to decide which room would be their favourite.

Mine was the bathroom.

Old Westbury Gardens – Long Island, NY

October 28th, 2018

Fire Island Lighthouse

130 steps and a narrow staircase. Fortunately, there are several landings in-between, where we can pretend we stopped to check the view, catch our breaths and continue climbing. We can also learn some fun facts about the lighthouse.

Step 26, first window landing, all’s well.
We read: The lighthouse was constructed from the inside out. The stair treads and centre posts acted as internal scaffolding. As the walls rose in height, additional stair treads and centre posts were added. The construction rate was about 1 foot/day and was completed within one year. The total cost was $40,000 including the lens, about $1.14 million in today’s dollars.

Its iconic tapered shape is most likely based on John Smeaton’s stone lighthouse of 1759 at Eddystone Rocks, just south of Plymouth, England. Smeaton was the first self-proclaimed “civil engineer” and also the first to consider the problem of constructing a lighthouse at sea. He decided to build it entirely in stone and took the shape of an oak tree as his inspiration ”a large heavy base rooted in the soil with a curved tapering pillar above, keeping the centre of gravity low”. The outer surface was to be as smooth as possible to deflect the waves.

Step: 52, second window landing, breathing a bit heavier.
We read: Lighthouses have distinctive ”characteristics” that allow them to be recognized night or day. The lantern provides nighttime recognition and has unique flash ”characteristics”. This lantern flashes every 7.5 seconds. Day-marks allow daytime recognition: this lighthouse uses four alternating black and white bands.

Step: 78, third window landing, legs join lungs in need of a break.
We read: Fire island is 32 miles long. It is comprised of multiple communities and beaches, interspersed with segments of the Fire Island National Seashore, established in 1964 to preserve the only developed barrier beach in the United States. The first community you see is Kismet. ”That’s where we’re heading for lunch later”, I thought.

Step: 104, fourth window landing, need. longer. break.
We read: The flagpole is the approximate height of the original lighthouse. At 90 feet, the first lighthouse at best projected its beam only 14 miles out to sea. Far short of the current tower’s 20 to 24 mile range.

In case you, like me, were wondering how did ”Fire Island” get its name: there are many popular theories for its origin. The first relates to Poison Ivy’s bright red fire like colouring in the fall. Poison Ivy grows in abundance here. The second is based on false fires land pirates were building to lure unsuspecting ships to the coast and loot them. The third derives from the English mistranslation of the word ”five” from an original Dutch map. The Dutch named the area around the light station ”Five Island” because of the four islands visible in the bay, plus the one we now call Fire Island.

Step: 130, fifth window landing, that’s it don’t give up now, look outside… The view is breathtaking!

September 4th, 2017

Ponquogue Beach

  • Late afternoon, that mellow hour when the light is golden before turning to blue. It was getting chilly.
  • A lone surfer paddling. Smooth, regular movements and his wetsuit would keep him warm, hopefully.
  • Thousands of tiny shorebirds on the beach. Western Sandpiper, I think they’re called. They refused to be photographed. These are their footprints – leaving their mark all over the place. 
  • The Ponquogue Bridge, built by man to bring together that which the force of nature took apart.
  • Creatures of a more benevolent nature. Deer feeding in the garden, next to the road, undisturbed and oblivious to traffic and humans with mobile cameras. Soon, it would be dark. I wondered, where do deer go to sleep in the Hamptons?

Ponquogue Beach, Shinnecock Bay
Hampton Bays

September 3rd, 2017

The Watermill Center

A laboratory for the arts and humanities, a unique space for artists to explore, create and present their work, the brainchild of visual artist Robert Wilson and, for the two of us, an uplifting, almost spiritual experience.

It was Sunday, beginning of September and the Watermill Center was resting after a summer of buzzing activity. No one else was around, the grounds were ours to explore. In a strange, calming way we did not feel lonely; for the artists may have been absent but their essence still lingered in the air. And in the many totems scattered in the woods.

The Watermill Center, is a mere 5′ drive from the Parrish Art Museum and a 2-hour drive from Manhattan.

September 3rd, 2017