One of the reasons I wanted to go to Princeton was to see the amazing photographic exhibit on display at one of the many museums to be found there, Morven House. Six of the most prolific Springsteen photographers, his sister Pam Springsteen included, in a combined exhibition showing some of their finest portraits of The Boss.
This exhibit runs until May 21st and I highly recommend it. There are quite a few shots that I personally have never seen before and there’s the added draw of seeing some familiar classics printed large and in high quality. The setting is somewhat incongruous, a colonial house full of Revolutionary war relics and fine art paintings and sculptures but the available space is used well and I geeked out for a happy forty minutes or so.
Speaking of art, it was a bad day to be a monument in Princeton. A band of jolly japers were going about putting googly eyes on statues and monuments, sometimes to devastatingly humorous effect.
Not all of the monuments suffered this ignoble fate, however.
We next visited the Princeton Chapel. This is a very deceptive name for a place that looks like a medium sized Cathedral. Inside, it is quite beautiful and we sat for quite some time listening to some invisible organist play eerie music fit for a Vincent Price Horror movie.
For the rest of the afternoon, we simply wandered around the grounds enjoying the sights and imagining what it would be like to attend such an institution. Though, I did make a little side quest to the Princeton Record Exchange, which I found to be excellent indeed, lots of treasures to be had for a very reasonable price.
Once Jersy girl had finished with work, we were all ready to head for home. I was impressed by how willing the kids had been to spend eight hours on their feet just sightseeing but now they were definitely done and happy to pile back into the car. I felt tired too but my batteries had certainly received a full charge from the sights and, more specifically, the ambience of this impressive town.
This Saturday past, we went into Princeton and spent the entire day wandering around the University and surrounds. It was to be just the kids and me as Jersey girl had to work.
Our first stop was a locale I’ve been hankering to visit for some time, the former home of the eminent physicist Albert Einstein.
This modest home, just a short walk from the centre of town, belies the stature of the man who dwelt here from 1935 until his death in 1955. During those years Einstein could often be seen walking the streets of Princeton and a great many important people (including Presidents and Prime ministers) visited him at this very house.
I was surprisingly affected by the encounter despite the fact that the house is not open to the public (it’s a private residence). It might have been fancy on my part but the house, little more than a cottage really, seemed still to resonate with the personality of the great man who once inhabited it.
From there we made our way through the grounds of the University. Middle child was introduced to the concept of the cloister and was immediately besotted.
The architecture of this Ivy League University is, like most such institutions, a mixture of barely compatible styles ranging from High Victorian Gothic through Richardsonian Romanesque to modern.
The oldest building on the grounds is Nassau Hall. This was the original building finished in 1756, it was heavily damaged during the Battle of Princeton in 1777 when Washington turned his cannons upon it to drive out Brittish troops who had occupied it.
For a time after war’s end, during which Princeton was the capital of the entire country, Nassau Hall Library played host to the newly formed American government. According to Princeton University, “Here Congress congratulated George Washington on his successful termination of the war, received the news of the signing of the definitive treaty of peace with Great Britain, and welcomed the first foreign minister—from the Netherlands—accredited to the United States.”
Next door to ‘Old Nassau’ is The President’s House, also known as the John Maclean House. This fine old example of Colonial Georgian architecture was built in the same year as the Hall.
A much younger set of buildings known collectively as John D. Rockefeller 3rd College, or “Rocky” are located at the northwestern corner of the Princeton campus. These are quite beautiful (despite their evil namesake) and are mostly in the Collegiate Gothic style. Five hundred freshmen and sophomores call this college home.
I’m not entirely sure what delineates English Gothic from Collegiate Gothic but if I were to guess which this Hampton Court imitation comes under, I’d say English.
Time was running out. Our four weeks were drawing to a close and my weekend flight was looming. That’s basically three ways to say exactly the same thing, but none convey the sense of pit of the stomach dread we were both feeling.
Combining the three visits, we’d now shared a home for close to three months and knew beyond a shadow of a doubt this was how we wanted the rest of our lives to be. All of which made the impending separation that much more traumatic.
We decided to have one more day out, doing something a bit special with the kids. We hadn’t been in to Philly with them since that first summer, so we decided it would be fun to take them down to South Street.
We set off, but for Jersey girl and I, the drive was a little bit too close to the bone, we were thinking about how the very next day we’d be doing it again for the last time.
We tried to put those thoughts out of our heads and just enjoy the day, but it wasn’t easy. Still, the kids were being their usual selves and so the constant fart and poop songs soon had us all laughing.
By the time we got to South Street and found a park, we were in pretty good spirits. Jersey girl was the only one among us who’d been there before, so the kids and I were all pretty curious and excited. I’d heard a lot about the place and figured it was the Philly equivalent of Melbourne’s Brunswick Street. That proved to be fairly accurate; artsy, bohemian and full of restaurants would be a fair description.
We’d parked a little further outside the popular part than we’d intended and so walked through some of the poorer bits along the way. It wasn’t really a problem, though. The kids didn’t even seem to notice and I was glad to get this extra perspective.
We soon hit the precinct we’d been shooting for and I have to say, I was really impressed. You hear a lot about what a ‘tough’ town Philadelphia is – and don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty rough in some parts – but you don’t hear quite as much about the artsier side of things.
What strikes you first about South Street is the colour, it’s everywhere. We arrived on a somewhat dull and overcast morning, but South Street has its own way of brightening your day. Almost everywhere you look there are murals. The buildings are absolutely festooned with images. And many of the places that don’t bear these storied or decorative graphics are nevertheless painted in such vibrant and vivid colours that they seem no less flashy than their tattooed neighbours.
I could feel myself falling for the place pretty much at first sight. I’m a bit of a fossicker, give me an interesting enough little corner to rummage around in and I’m gone for hours. South Street was full of such potential. I think I could have spent days there. Sadly, that was not an option and so I contented myself with taking pictures and enjoying the unique atmosphere of the street.
In-between all the restaurants there are a bewildering variety of shops covering music, fashion, books, art, comics, the esoteric, and pretty much anything else one might need or desire. It’s a really distracting place to spend some time. And distraction was certainly what we were looking for; anything to help us forget, if only for a moment, about the next day’s parting.
We rounded off our explorations with a traditional Italian pizza at a very friendly old school restaurant; perfect. The kids really seemed to enjoy it and on the way back to the car we stopped in at the comic store and I bought them some parting gifts (It’s amazing what they sell in those places these days).
I couldn’t help feeling a little blue as we climbed back in the car. The sense that there’s just never enough time was weighing on me. Soon I would be thousands of kilometers away from all this and just jumping in the car to head down to South Street, or Clinton, or New Hope would cease to be an option; at least for the foreseeable future.
Much more importantly, Jersey girl would soon be beyond the circle of my arms. There were now only hours left where I would be able to reach out and cup the curve of her cheek with my hand. That thought alone threatened to tear my heart. I know this was just as true for her.
The kids were tired on the drive home and we’re soon either asleep or lost in their electronic devices.
We two were quiet also, but for completely different reasons.
There’s gotta be a song left to sing ‘Cause everybody can’t have thought of everything One little song that ain’t been sung One little rag that ain’t been wrung out completely yet Just got a little left
On that third trip, I finally got to Asbury Park. I’m not sure why it took so long. I guess there had just been so much catching up to do we never quite managed to get to it before this. In the end, it happened almost as an afterthought.
Jersey girl’s aunt has a house down by the beach at Lavallette and we were heading there for a weekend away. Our friend K was also down at the shore that weekend and so we arranged to meet her on the Friday night for dinner in Asbury.
The restaurant we chose was a Cuban place called Cubacan right on the boardwalk in Ocean Avenue. It was a bad night for business as a squall was blasting in off the Atlantic and the wind and rain were relentless.
This had kept people away and we found we had the whole place pretty much to ourselves. I suppose a crowd would have lent a little electricity to the evening, but I can’t say we minded the peace and extra attention from the wait staff.
From my seat, I could see the legendary Stone Pony across the street. So many greats have played the stage of that (frankly pretty ugly) venue over the decades that it exudes a strange almost mystical energy that belies its squat and underwhelming exterior.
We never did actually go inside (and amazingly, I still haven’t*) so I can’t really speak to the atmosphere on the other side of the doors. I’m sure the knowledge that Springsteen used to work the bar there (just for kicks and no pay) will be enough to seduce my sensibilities when I finally go (this year for sure).
I’ve read a few reviews that dissed the food at Cubacan, but I have to say, at least two of us are dedicated foodies and we were all pretty happy with our meals. I had the chicken, which seemed like a pretty typical Cuban kind of dish and I really enjoyed it.
I can’t remember what the ladies had, but we all agreed it had been worth braving the squall for.
Here’s part of the menu.
The weather made walking around an unappealing prospect so I didn’t really get to see the sites that night, but the next day, we drove through again, and I got more of a feel for the place. The plan was to come back that evening and maybe take in a band, but the second part of the storm blew in later that day and cancelled that.
And that’s all I got of Asbury that visit. This is probably a bit of a boring post for you the reader, but it was my first experience of a place that is pivotal in the story of American East Coast music.
As an aside, Melbourne too has its own version of Asbury Park. St Kilda, by the bay, served the same summer resort town role in Victorian times as did Asbury. It too has been the centre of a thriving musical scene and features wonderful architecture of a bygone age.
As it happens, I was there just last night to see the superlative Gillian Welch with her insanely talented guitarist partner David Rawlings. The show was an absolute revelation (time’s the revelator) and the Palais Theatre where I saw them is of exactly the same cloth from which the Paramount in Asbury is cut.
If you’ve never seen Gillian and David live, I strongly urge you to do so.
While I was there, Jersey girl’s old clunker finally gave up the ghost. Yes that’s right, third visit, third breakdown. Three’s the charm, I guess. Anyway, her uncle knew a guy (I was doing air quotes then, but you couldn’t see) and a pretty sweet deal was struck, so she bit the bullet and got herself an actual car. I have to admit, it was a huge relief, I’d been worried about her and the kids driving around in that thinly disguised death trap.
Once we had the keys in hand, we decided to take her out for a day’s drive to break her in, as you do.
I‘d so loved that drive down along the Delaware to Washington’s crossing the previous winter, that the thought of seeing it again, all wrapped in its fall regalia was too much to resist. There was no need to repeat the entire drive, however, so we decided to just go as far as New Hope. I had it in mind that I’d like to get shots of some of the same scenes I’d captured in the winter, this time in their autumnal aspect.
We decided to have a coffee and a wee bite in Frenchtown before crossing over into PA. First choice in Frenchtown is always The Bridge café. Good coffee and no waiting. Afterwards, on a whim, we decided to go for a little wander around the residential parts of town, I love looking at the old houses you find in these places and Frenchtown has plenty of fine examples.
It also happened to be the week before Halloween and many of the houses had gone all out with the crazy.
We wandered by a few little places and imagined what it would be like to live in them with just each other for company (I’m pretty sure we were both imagining the kids grown and out the door and the two of us left alone to get disgracefully old together – is that wrong?).
Then we climbed back in the new (used) car and drove over the bridge.
The change of seasons had done nothing to lessen the visual impact of the area, in fact, it had enhanced it blindingly. The little villages along the way were now infused with warmth and colour, adding considerably to their charm factor. As usual, I was in photographer heaven.
The car handled like a dream all the way and we were soon pulling into New Hope.
Gay culture is a big feature of this town. The Gay crowd have pretty much colonized the place. What does that mean for the visitor? Restaurants my friend, good food and fun bars are everywhere you look. We weren’t there to party, but we were definitely hungry and looking for something a little bit different.
We found it in Marsha Brown. Google was to later inform us that this restaurant was the second to open under the name. The original restaurant is down South in New Orleans (somewhere I’d dearly love to visit someday). This iteration was housed inside an old defunct church which had been transformed into an opulent den of culinary debauchery which I feel just might have made the building’s former occupants a tad uncomfortable.
We settled right down in a booth and strapped ourselves in for the ride (by which I mean we laid our napkins in our laps and distractedly fingered the cutlery until the starters arrived). The food, as could have been predicted, was fabulous. We were only there for lunch, so we went with the burgers, but it was all a goodly cut above the average and the atmosphere alone made it worth the visit; highly recommended.
I know I bang on about my girl a lot, but I just have to say she is the most amazing companion. It doesn’t matter what we are doing, it always feels ten times more exciting with her by my side. When you find someone with whom you are completely simpatico, life begins to make sense for the first time ever, at least that has been my experience.
Perhaps Aristophanes had it right. Maybe we really weren’t meant to be lonely two-legged creatures, perhaps our cosmic other halves really are out there to be found. If so, I’m pretty sure I can stop looking for mine.
All images used in this post are my own (excepting the Marsha Brown Menu, obviously).
Oh, the days dwindle down to a precious few
And these few precious days I’ll spend with you
These precious days I’ll spend with you
Frank Sinatra, September Song
That fall was really something special. The numerous small towns of Hunterdon County are quite quaint enough when left to their own devices but, come the dramatic costume change of my favourite season; they are transformed into stunning postcards from Charmingville USA (not a real place).
I have one particular favourite; Clinton Township and have made a habit of visiting that little town as many times as possible each trip. Tucked into a curve of the South Branch of the Raritan River, Clinton has all the elements I require when transplanted from my natural habitat (the city).
There are several good restaurants (the clean plate, right on the river is a particular favourite of ours). A very good coffee place (also by the river) appropriately named the Riverside café, a rather fine art gallery, a small independent bookstore and at least three quality diners.
To me, this is classic small town Americana. Lovingly tended lawns, tree-lined streets and Victorian Era houses abound.
In the winter, the river often freezes over allowing good skating if you’re that way inclined, but Clinton is really at her most beautiful in the fall. When the colour hits the trees, she becomes majestic.
The town is also home to the extremely photogenic Red Mill which is said to be among the ten most photographed buildings in America (and the most photographed building in New Jersey). I have no idea how one collects the figures to back up such a statement, but there you have it.
Regardless (or irregardless if you’re from NJ) I dragged Jersey girl there several times that autumn. To her, Clinton is mostly just another local town, but she indulges my ebullience with patience and no small amusement. She also finds my obsession with the perfect cup of coffee equally amusing.
My insistence upon correctly brewed beans is a natural consequence of my having lived most of my adult life in Melbourne, but to Jersey sensibilities, I’ll concede, it’s probably just plain oddball. That said, I won’t be compromising on that score anytime soon.
Fortunately, the good folk at the Riverside café have mastered the Barista’s art well enough to suit my snobbish tastes; another reason I insist on regular outings to Clinton.