Monday, September 9, 2013

Destination Beverwijck

Beverwijck is what its Dutch founders called Albany, the site of this year’s Bouchercon—the biggest annual gathering of mystery writers and their fans.  It’s coming up in ten days.  Since many of the writers on this blog are headed there next week, I thought an introduction to the city would be in order.

New York City has been called the capital of the world, and not just by me.  The capital of the State of New York, on the other hand, is Albany.  These days its sole claim to fame is as a political company town.  It makes the national news only in reports about corruption and the sexual peccadilloes powerful pols (weaknesses in no way unique to New York).
The New York State Capital Building

As the resident historian in this blogspace, I will begin by taking you back to the city’s beginnings.  On a spot roughly 135 miles north of New York City, the first Europeans to settle the area founded their town on the west bank of the Hudson at its northernmost navigable extreme.  Begun in 1614, it is one of the oldest surviving settlements of the thirteen original colonies and the longest continually chartered city in the United States.  It was the fur trade that brought the Dutch to this place, hence the name Beverwijck, which the English changed to Albany in honor of the Duke of Albany.  He later became King James II of England and James VII of Scotland (Caro, take note).  Through the 19th and early 20th centuries, Albany was a town on the cutting edge:  it had some the first public water mains, sewer lines, natural gas lines and commercial airports in country.  During those boom times, Albany’s main exports were lumber, ironworks, beer, and published works—the last two of which are sure to endear it to the mystery writers who will be pouring into the town starting on September 18th. 

I had hoped to introduce you all—both those who will meet there and those traveling with us vicariously—to my state’s capital city by sharing one of my favorite spots: the Miss Albany Diner.  Alas, I have found that it has closed since I visited there a few years ago.   So this part of my blog today will be an obituary for a great place.

My affection for the Miss Albany diner is based on its marvelous Art Deco design:

I also identify with it because, like me, it was “born” in Paterson, New Jersey in 1941.  Unlike me, when I last saw it, it was pretty much in its original condition, with shining  cherry wood, porcelain enamel, and steel interior décor. Even its geometrically tiled floor was largely intact.  The Pulitzer Prize winning novelist William Kennedy used the diner as a locale for his novel Roscoe.  It also made a cameo appearance in the movie based on his masterpiece Ironweed—more about which below.

The Miss Albany is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.  While I am in town for Bouchercon, I hope to take a look at what kind of shape it is in now.  If it is deteriorating, I will take no joy in the fact that it is no better preserved than I am.

My other plan for this blog was that I would be able to refer my blogmates and our dear readers to films made in Albany to give you all a sense of the place visually.  That idea also fizzled.  Three movies have actually been filmed in Albany.  In most of them, it stands in for other places.  I tried to watch all three.  The only one I could stick with to the end was Salt, a 2010 thriller starring Angelina Jolie as a CIA agent accused of being a Russian spy.  It’s a pretty good flick, but the only part of Albany it shows is the I-787, in other words the interstate highway, which looks exactly like any other interstate highway.

I started to watch the other two films, but I just could not get through them.  Albany is actually shown so if you have more patience than I you may want to take a gander.  They are:

Ghost Story, which has a stellar cast but a ridiculous script.  Fifteen minutes of it was all I could bear.

The other is the film version of William Kennedy’s magnum opus Ironweed.  Speaking of stellar casts, this one has two of my all time favorites.  But I could not watch it either.  In this case it was the story itself that put me off.  It is about the evils of alcohol.  Certain as I am that people like those portrayed deserve my sympathy, I cannot tolerate stories of pitiful people.   I do not find them tragic; I find them boring.  Not even Streep and Nicholson could make them interesting to me and THAT is saying a LOT.  I gave up after half an hour or so.  But you should try it; you may like it.

So there you have my report on our destination.  I am sure over the next two weeks you will hear more about the festivities and perhaps how close to being pitiful drunks the denizens of this blog have become.  For me, it will be my first public presentation in this august company.  I cannot wait.

Annamaria - Monday


  1. It's not august, Annamaria, it's September. Frankly, on that comparison to Miss Albany, you're for sure just as shining and steely interiored as the day you came off that Princeton assembly line. See you soon!

    1. Thanks, Jeff for focusing on my interior. I try to do that too. It was not Princeton where Miss Albany and I were born,but in Paterson which is nothing like Princeton. More like Newark, but without Newark's advantages. Had I been born in Princeton, by now I would be in Antibe, dining on bouillabaisse and sipping Chasagne Montrachet, not sitting here feeding you straight lines.

    2. I thought Annamaria was born in Princeton and you-know-who in Paterson…what do I know, we Pittsburgh guys get our Ps confused….and don't even have Qs.

  2. So good to read you on Monday...
    I learned a lot again, Annamaria!

    1. Thank you, Christiane. This spot and your friendship are two of the wonderful things left to me by our dear Leighton

  3. Quick footnote to your interesting article: "Beverwijck" (modern spelling "Beverwijk"; the "ij" is a diphthong and could be transcribed as a "y", although the sound is closer to a long "a") means "Beaver District". This may or may not be the reason for the name -- fur was trapped there by the Dutch, I believe; however, the settlement might also have been called after a town by that name in the Netherlands.--Mario R.

    1. Mario, thank you for the pronunciation. Now I will sound truly informed if I have to say Beverwijck aloud in Albany. I think it must have been at least partly the fur trappers who were responsible for the name. A LOT of Dutch people got VERY rich off skins to be made into bever hats.

  4. Thanks for the column Annamaria!

    Albany has been my home for 38 years now (well, okay, Albany, OREGON, on the other side of the Great Divide...) It's amazing how many times I've been called by customers who assume that I'm in New York, on Eastern Time, rather than Oregon on Pacific Time. The classic "map of the U.S. from a New Yorker's point of view" seems to be all-too-accurate for a sizable number of people. :-) Of course, the same could be applied to pretty much any location on earth. Humans are all too human.

    Aside from that, I'd like to apologize to you, for myself and on Jeff's behalf, for boring you with our abject pitifulness. My only excuse is that I come by it naturally. I have no idea what excuse Jeff uses...

  5. Everett, you misread me. A major problem I have with pitiful and self-pittying people is that they lack humor. With all the laughs I have gotten out of your exchanges with Jeff, I could call you a lot of things, but I would not call you pitiful. And not late for dinner.

  6. I was raised in New York City, and you brought back all the memories of learning New York history. Thank you for that. I hope you have a wonderful Bouchercon, and remember at least a part of it.

    1. Lil, my husband, my daughter, and all my grandchildren are what you are and I always wanted to be--a native New Yorker. My civics lessons were about other people and places. I had to look all this up. I will try to remember enough to report accurately on the proceedings in Albany.

  7. When it was announced that Bouchercon was going to be held in Albany, I deluded myself into believing I could attend. No such luck.

    I hope the fans have a wonderful experience.


  8. Thank you for the New York history lesson. Although I was born in Brooklyn, the state's history was not in my study list.

    I would miss that diner, too. Wonderful Art Deco and atmosphere.

    And as far as the movie recommendations to, I will ad Salt to the list, probably not Ghost Story, and definitely not Ironweed -- which, I tried to watch as you did, and was overcome by the bleakness and slowness of it all and turned it off. I must say, though, that the movie poster is fantastic.

    Have fun at Bouchercon. Hope there are some reportbacks on the blog for those of us who wish we could be there.