Monday, June 10, 2013

A Most Recent Odyssey

Recently Mark had been tossed a tentative photography job up in Long Island by our dear friend and Master Chief, Joe diMaggio, Jr, a culinary genius, an artist, (and yes, kin to the name sake, his uncle, and looks just like him),  an absolute riot to be around, a wild and crazy man with a huge heart that we had come to know when he opened a restaurant next to our gallery a few years ago. Mark had done the food shoot for that place and I had been given the default job of chief assistant and stylist, despite the fact that my knowledge of food styling at that time was fairly nil and I could barely fold a tripod leg up. My shortcomings were masked by Mark’s incredible photography skills, and we did a great job for Joe, on that shoot and others that followed. Joe was now opening a new restaurant up in New York, and needed the skills of a good photographer to shoot images of the food they would be serving for web and publicity things, etc., knew Mark’s work, and gave him a call. It would mean a long drive, three days shooting, and another long drive home, so we gave it thought.

After the incident with Gracie and Heidi written about from my last post, it did seem to be a good time to leave town and let things rest. Gracie could stay with our daughter, husband and granddaughter, and their dog Stella to let her wounds heal and have some time around a smaller, friendlier dog and the energy of a toddler. If she could stay out of the talons of the neighborhood owls I thought it might be a good plan for her, to get a change of pace and forget the Heidi thing. I also, just needed to leave the farm with all of the recent sadnesses and get away, so driving eighteen hours to Long Island, and then back, surprisingly sounded fine. We said yes, quickly packed and headed north.

We traveled as we usually do, interstate for sheer mileage until we can stand it no more then off onto a country lane to
enjoy the slower pace and scenery. I think we were in northern Virginia when we got off the fast lane in. The scenes out of our window were now of smooth rolling hills dotted by pristine simple houses with tall narrow windows in shadowed yards. The houses were flanked by large organic expanses of barns and silos that were tucked into the swells and fallings of the hills. Surrounding fields of wheat, hay, and young corn were tidy and lush and the eye was easily led down their perfect rows. The light was low and golden and its beams bathed the houses and their barns in an etherial moment of beauty in its pure simplicity, until finally the sun dropped and darkness took its place, and onward we bound.

Near Lexington, VA, the place where both of my brothers went to college, we ventured off the path again sort of in search of Natural Bridge, a stone arch that I had heard my brothers speak of from their time up there decades ago. Finding it to have become a sad tourist trap, we chose to move on down the road. Over the top of a hill and down, there on the left was a hand painted sign as we rolled past it,  that said it all. ”Foamhenge”? After a quick u turn we bumped our way down a short driveway to the bottom of a hill. There on top, ahead of us it loomed, Stonehenge, in all its glory and mystery. The celtic symbol of whatever they were doing back then with all that pagan stuff, the circle of stones that nobody can explain, was magically here before us in rural north Virginia, improbably made of styrofoam and spray painted to look like weathered old stone. It was absolutely convincing, and looked totally real, in an amusing  and befuddling as to why, sort of way.

After a leisurely eighteen hour drive up we found our destination in Sea Cliff on Long Island, at the house that we were to stay at for the next three days for the shoot. A long time friend, one we had known from many previous incarnations, Julie, or Jules, was to be our host. Julie, who had also known Joe from previous restaurant work for him, was there to get the mechanics of this restaurant going. Julie just handles it, all, and smiles. Her charming house became our home base and was a lovely retreat in this little village on the north edge of the Gold Coast, where families walked past our porch view in the morning taking their kids to school, and later strolled with their dogs saying hellos to those they passed. It was a cloistered neighborhood of beautifully painted Victorian homes mixed with charming cottages and picket fences that were footsteps away from incredible dining and the view of the Atlantic. It was a place hard to not enjoy.

At the new restaurant we spent the next three days in total absorption photographing and setting up shots and scenes with the dishes, all masterfully crafted and produced by both Joe and a tall, quiet fellow who we were told was the designated Head Chef for this new restaurant, John Milito. We later learned that this John guy, whose incredibly lovely dishes we had been admiring, styling, photographing, and tasting, had been the former Chef at Tavern On the Green in Central Park until its recent closing. Who knew? Here I was pushing around the food of two renown culinary artists, with my limited credentials, and was damned honored to be doing so. 

Joe and John continually produced amazing dishes which we set up, photographed, tasted, and kept the flow going for the entire three days solid. It was very hard and intense work, but delicious, and very gratifying work made
easier with Joe’s direction and his ability to convey exactly what he wants, or not. We arranged small pizzas with little stuffed toys for the kids, and Mark shot incredibly elegant pieces of salmon, shrimp, and a tomahawk ribeye steak that would feed a family of five for a week for the appetites of the the grown up customers to be. Starting a day shooting a luscious piece of Tiramisu and letting that be your breakfast with coffee is not bad work, if you can get it. Job finally completed, we packed, said adieus after three wonderful days of work and play, and began our trek south by southwest.

The return home was quickly marred by our guidance system thinking it was hilarious to route us through south Manhattan island to put us off in the arm pit of
New Jersey where we spent the next two hours going stop sign to stop sign in an endless sea of small neighborhood after neighborhood trying to find an interstate. It was an absolute navigational hell and there was no way out once there. We were both cussing our plight and searching for alternatives on cell phones, and finding none, grew angrier by the moment. The northern version of the seventeen year cicada had hatched and the whirling drone of their music lent a further surreal atmosphere to our personal twilight zone.  At long last we made it to a larger road and faster pace again, and then suddenly, stopped once again at perhaps our thousandth stop, I turned to our right and there looming before me was the epitome of  the equestrian supply mecca, Dover Saddlery. Sanctuary had been found and praise was made.
We spent some quality chilling out time there and I found some things that I hoped would help with the saddle fit issues that I have been having with my mare. It is never a bad thing to savor the smell of well tanned leather and the retail therapy was good. Once our humor was mostly restored, we ventured the remaining sixteen hours uneventfully back to town,via interstate this time to make up for our lost time exploring NJ. Gracie had had fun with Margaret and Stella and had returned to her brighter self, and, armed with our new experiences and memories, we all made our way back home to the farm.


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