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TBR Staff

TBR Staff
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TBR News Media covers everything happening on the North Shore of Suffolk County from Cold Spring Harbor to Wading River.

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Stony Brook resident John Kominicki and his wife Marie on board a ferry in France. Photo from Marie Kominicki

By Warren Strugatch

In 2008, John L. Kominicki took the stage at a Melville event center and accepted the top honor a Long Island journalist can receive: the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Press Club of Long Island. Ten years earlier, Kominicki — many of us called him just that — had arrived as the new publisher and editor of the venerable Long Island Business News. Just one decade later he’d be gone, felled by cancer.

That night was prime Kominicki — adlibbing uproariously, tossing hair back from eyes, jousting with power brokers and musing about the future of journalism. Gently chiding his audience not to confuse technological advances with journalistic achievement, he evoked the spirit of Edward R. Murrow.

The latest computers, devices and means of electronic transmission — even the emergence of the internet — did not, he said, necessarily improve journalism.

“Readers, viewers and listeners expect — demand, actually — stuff that’s fast, stuff that’s splashy and stuff that’s free,” Kominicki said. “It will never end. The future is about change, however it plays out.”

“Our craft doesn’t change,” he asserted. “It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain. It’s always been about that.”

He paused, then: “Ultimately the change is no change at all.”

Flashing the slightest of smiles, he added, “Good luck with the change.”

The performance was vintage Kominicki — insightful and irreverent, articulate yet casual, a blend of media studies and rock ’n’ roll attitude.

“It is assuredly about excellence in reporting and writing and storytelling. It’s about how we inform and amaze and entertain.”

— John Kominicki

Now revered as a local journalistic icon, Kominicki had a background that was anything but conventional. Growing up in Keane, New Hampshire, he registered at Boston College as a theater major, and then dropped out and joined the U.S. Army. He served active duty not in a battlefield but as an editor of military community publications — a distinction he noted with his usual irony-laced good humor. He married a military newsroom co-worker, Marie. Next came a Hemingway-like stint as a foreign correspondent for Stars and Stripes military newspaper, where he covered among other events the fall of the Berlin Wall. In 1992 he, Marie and their young daughter Anya repatriated.

Kominicki was hired as editor of a Fort Worth, Texas weekly. In 1995 Dolan Media Company hired him to helm their Oklahoma City business daily. Three years later he was transferred to Long Island. He bought a home in Stony Brook and became a Long Islander.

My introduction to Kominicki came in the spring of 1998 when he asked me to write a weekly front-page column for LIBN, as the paper is known.

“I’m going to turn this newspaper around,” he said. “Can you help me?”

It wasn’t an easy task. LIBN had fended off change for decades, deferring to advertisers and long-term subscribers and letting coverage languish. Kominicki immediately ended the favoritism to advertisers. He insisted reporters cover events and do interviews where possible in person. He demanded smart, lively writing. He edited out bias but encouraged writers to develop their own points of view.

Kominicki stayed on at LIBN until September 2013. He became a media entrepreneur, founding a website and business platform dedicated to fostering economic development. He did some occasional writing and fixed up the French farmhouse he and Marie had bought during his Stars and Stripes days as their retirement home. He was inducted into the Press Club of Long Island Journalism Hall of Fame in 2014.

We stayed in touch, sharing occasional early-morning cups of coffee at Starbucks. My wife Cindy and I cherish the memory of hosting them last summer over our backyard grill.

In April the Queens Courier newspaper chain bought the Long Island Press online publication. The publisher had heard about Kominicki and hired him to restore the Press as a monthly — almost exactly 20 years after his LIBN turnaround began. I was delighted and proud when Kominicki recruited me again to write a pair of columns. From his farmhouse in France, he edited my first four pieces then fell ill.

Kominicki showed a generation of Long Island journalists what it takes to practice genuine journalism. He demonstrated how to ask tough but fair questions, how to deflect editorial intrusions and how to deter editorial bias. Perhaps most importantly, he preserved the role of humor and decency in local journalism.

Our prayers go to Marie and Anya. John, you will long be remembered and are already sorely missed. If heaven has a newspaper, you’re editing it. May you rest in peace.

Kominicki died Dec. 5 at the age of 62.  A memorial is being planned for after the holidays.

Warren Strugatch is a journalist and consultant. He writes for The New York Times and Long Island Press, and is a partner with Inflection Point Associates in Stony Brook.

Centeraeach ougars come close to defeating a powerhouse

By Bill Landon

Centereach epéeist Abir Das worried Ward Melville’s boys fencing squad. The junior had taken to the strip twice Dec. 12, outscoring his previous opponents 5-2 and 5-3. With Ward Melville ahead 13-11, and a must-win match on the line,  the fencer stepped up to face eighth-grader Will Lehr, who was 1-1 on the day. As he retied the match 4-4 and his visiting team’s crowd kept chanting, Das just kept counting.

“I tried to stay calm out on the strip,” he said. “I have a habit of counting numbers in my head to stay calm, get in the zone and set up my game. When [it’s loud] and everyone’s watching you, you need to learn to move out and up on your opponent. It’s like a chess game, so I tried to out-strategize him.”

Das rose to the challenge, edging his adversary 5-4 with his parry hit, but the Patriots dropped the hammer and swept the last two bouts to secure a 15-12 win to stay perfect on the season.

Ward Melville senior Jared Dorf fell in his first two bouts in epée, but came through when it mattered most — winning his final match 5-2 for the all-important 14th victory.

“Jared is our captain — he’s been on the team for a while — and I wasn’t sure if he could execute our plan to disengage [his opponent’s] parry and to be aggressive enough to hit the target,” Ward Melville head coach Jeff Salmon said. “We were screaming to find that moment and attack, [but at the same time] avoiding that parry, but the kids were having trouble just landing their points.”

Perfect on the night for the Patriots was sophomore sabreist Leo Takemaru, who swept his three matches 5-0, 5-2, 5-0. Junior epéeist Ben Rogak won both of his bouts, 5-1 and 5-2. His second win was the final bout of the evening, against Centereach senior James Moore.

“I was very nervous — we’ve had a very strong team in the past, but a lot of the other teams have up-and-coming fencers that we have to be careful of,” Rogak said. “I have confidence that we will be the strongest team throughout the season, but we have to grind it out, buckle down, and we need more
support from the bench.”

Moore finished 2-for-3, winning his first two matches 5-2 before falling to Rogak.

“I was energized, motivated,” Moore said. “I was recovering quickly and recovering forward, and I felt good. I came in here and I knew we were going to have a respectable meet.”

Foilist Frank DiCanio III swept all three of his bouts for Centereach, besting his opponents 5-0, 5-4 and 5-0.

First-year head coach Christina Piraino said she couldn’t be happier with her team’s performance against the powerhouse Patriots.

“The highlight was in foil — DiCanio won all three and Jarod Chang, he’s been working really hard in practice, and their hard work paid off today,” said Piraino, a Centereach alumna who graduated 10 years ago. “We were never able to do this well against Ward Melville, so I’m just so proud of them. This should give them more drive to work harder, and I told them that the next time we face them, we’re going to beat Ward Melville.”

Even still, Salmon said he’s most worried about Middle Country’s other fencing team: Newfield.

“I think they’re the second best team in the county, and it’s no secret they trained in the off-season,” the coach said of Newfield.“They have key players that have trained all year long, and they’re ready.”

Dorf said the boisterous Centereach crowd had an impact on his team’s performance, and they’ll learn from it for the meets ahead.

“It’s not an exciting moment when you lose any bout, but any good fencer is an amazing person to watch and we could feel their pride in that moment,” he said, pointing to Das’ win. “But when you face a good opponent, it shows us that we’re not the best all-around, and that we have room for improvement.”

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William and Rosamund Vanderbilt with Robert and Edie Huntington at the airport in Mendoza, Argentina with the Sikorsky seaplane in background. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

William Kissam Vanderbilt II was an explorer and adventurer who traveled the world in his yachts. An avid race car driver, he set a world speed record in 1904, and brought auto racing to the United States. Vanderbilt also looked to the skies for diversion and adventure.

Arriving at airport in Arica, Chile, for flight to Lima, Peru. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

In early 1937, William and Rosamund Vanderbilt and their friends, Edie and Robert Huntington, flew around the Caribbean, Central America and the perimeter of South America in his 12-passenger Sikorsky S-43 amphibious airplane, from Jan. 18 to Feb. 11.

On Feb. 2, they few over the Andes from Mendoza, Argentina, to Santiago, Chile, which, Vanderbilt wrote, “can be very treacherous … as meteorological conditions in this area change rapidly.” He arranged with the Panagra airline to have one of its pilots show his pilot through the high mountain passes. Altitudes were so high that the travelers occasionally had to use supplemental oxygen tanks.

This year, the Vanderbilt Museum observes the 80th anniversary of that adventure.

Hayden Hamilton, managing editor for the American Aviation Historical Society in Huntington Beach, California, said, “This form of tourist travel was extremely rare in this period, generally restricted to the uber-wealthy or well-heeled entrepreneurs.”

Vanderbilt kept a detailed log and journal of the 25-day trip. They traveled 14,217 miles in 101 hours, 40 minutes, and used 8,360 gallons of gasoline and 828 gallons of oil. Later that year, Vanderbilt privately published 1,000 copies of his book, “Flying Lanes — Being the Journal of a Flight Around South America and Over the Andes.” The volume was illustrated with aerial photos from Pan American Airways (PAA) and others taken by Robert Huntington.

Sikorsky built 53 S-43 airplanes. Most were acquired by PAA and only two were sold to private individuals, according to Hamilton of the AAHS: William Vanderbilt and Howard Hughes. Just as Vanderbilt donated his 264-foot yacht Alva to the U.S. Navy for service during World War II, he sold his Sikorsky plane for $175,000 to the U.S. government for similar duty in 1941. The Alva, converted to a patrol gunboat and renamed the USS Plymouth, was torpedoed in 1943 by a German submarine and sank off the coast of North Carolina. According to an unconfirmed report, Vanderbilt’s amphibious plane crashed on a flight to Trinidad.

From “Flying Lanes”: After leaving Fisher Island and Miami on January 18, 1937, the Vanderbilts and Huntingtons flew toward Cuba, where they made their first fuel stop. As they flew, Vanderbilt wrote notes about the flight and thought about the man he had hired to fly them, Earl F. White, whom he described as “one of the most reliable and resourceful aviators in the game.”

The interior of the Sikorsky S-43 amphibious airplane, with luxurious seating and custom-painted wrap-around cloud mural. Photo from Vanderbilt Museum

White, 49, had been a World War I pilot in the U.S. Air Service, the forerunner of the Army Air Corps and later the Air Force, from 1915 to 1919. His extraordinary credentials included making the first nonstop flight from Chicago to New York in 1919, during which he set the official world distance record of 727 miles. White inaugurated the world’s first scheduled night air-mail service, which operated 1914-1925. He flew for Pan American Airways on the Miami-Havana-Puerto Rico route, from 1928 to 1931, and began working for Vanderbilt in 1935.

Robert Huntington, also a licensed pilot (as was his wife), occasionally took the controls of the seaplane to give White a break, so that he could send and receive Morse code messages. Huntington flew the plane for 40 hours of the trip.

“I flew the ship eleven hours during the trip and have altogether 104 hours at the controls to my credit,” Vanderbilt wrote. “But I have no pilot’s license and my guess is — I won’t get one. A little too old to start at this game, but it is nice to feel one knows a little about the ship, and it gives one reassurance that he is not apt to have if he has never actually been at the controls. However, I did do the navigating during the voyage whenever we left the coast and was rather pleased with the results …”

February 10, 1937 — Antiqua, Guatemala. “What a grand day. Motored with the Foreign Minister, Mr. Sanches de Latour, to Antigua, the old capital, and were met there by the Governor and shown about that most interesting and picturesque city, at one time the capital of Guatemala but now abandoned as such because of earthquakes and fear of volcanic eruptions from ever restless volcanoes close by.

“We dined with the American Minister and had a most enjoyable evening and, as 4:00 a.m. was our time for getting up, we were glad to drop into our beds at midnight.”

February 11 — To Havana and Miami: The Vanderbilts and Huntingtons arrived at the airport at 5:30 a.m. “A cup of coffee was all Rose and I could muster, but then we would be home tonight. Think of it! Home! My, how good that sounded.”

After a stop in Havana, the travelers were airborne again, bound for Florida. “American Shoals light appeared at 4:50 p.m.,” he wrote. “There was the good U.S.A. once more. What a thrill went through us!” After landing in Miami, Vanderbilt wrote, “I clasp Mr. White by the hand. ‘Congratulations from all of us, a wonderful flight!’…

“Our total mileage added up to a very considerable total of 14,217 statute miles and the flying time amounted to 101 hours and 40 minutes. We had enjoyed the thrill and adventure of the journey to the utmost, but now that we were home once more we were glad to rest where we were beyond the reach of an alarm clock.”

Visit the Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport through the holidays to view more photos of William K. Vanderbilt’s adventures including a photo of him as a child with his parents and grandparents on a ship on the Nile, of him at various ages with his cars and large marine specimens in the Ship Model Room of the Memorial Wing in the mansion. For more information, call 631-854-5579 or go to www.vanderbiltmuseum.org.

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Iris Sovocchi goes for a layup. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Northport’s girls basketball team was unable to keep up its streak of close games against former League II foe Half Hollow Hills East, as the Tigers fell 59-45 to the now League III Thunderbirds on the road Dec. 11.

Even so, Northport sophomore guard Danielle Pavinelli did what she could to counter Hills East’s leading point scorer Alexa Wallace, matching her with a game-high 21 points.

Danielle Pavinelli reaches over blockers to make her shot. Photo by Bill Landon

Northport head coach Rich Castellano said the result was not indicative of how the Tigers typically play, noting junior Hannah Stockman’s early foul trouble.

“Hannah [Stockman] … she’s our biggest scorer and our top 3-point shooter, and Shelby [Maldavir], our senior captain, I don’t think she hit one 3-pointer today,” Castellano said. “I think Kerry [Dennin] and Danielle [Pavinelli] — those two carried us for several long stretches.”

Pavinelli, who is following her sister Allie, a 2014 graduate, by committing to play lacrosse at the University of Florida next year, nailed two free throws to give Northport its first lead of the game, 6-5. But it was short lived, as the foul trouble led to a collection of free points for the Thunderbirds, which led 26-11 at the end of the first quarter.

Junior guard Iris Sovocchi attempted shift momentum Northport’s way, nailing back-t-back 3-pointers to close the deficit to 12 points both times, and Pavinelli added a three of her own, but it was Kerry Dennin that was able to break through. The sophomore forward drove the lane and wouldn’t be denied the scoring opportunity, as she added a bucket that brought the Tigers within 10, 32-22, at the break.

Dennin matched a Hills East 3-pointer with one of her own to start the scoring for the third as minutes ticked off the clock, but Northport was not able to chip away at the 10-point margin. The Thunderbirds diligently drove the baseline, drawing fouls as they continued to collect points from the charity stripe.

Kerry Dennin pushes past Half Hollow Hills East defenders to take a shot. Photo by Bill Landon

“This was not a normal games for us — we didn’t shoot well tonight,” said Castellano, who was recently inducted into the New York State Public High School Athletic Association Hall of Fame and begins his 39th year at the helm of the Northport program. “But I give [Half Hollow Hills East] credit; they did a great job on defense against us, they worked hard and they played better. They did what they had to do to win the game.”

Behind Pavinelli was Dennin with eight points and Sovocchi added six.

“We usually have a strong three-point game, but tonight we didn’t,” the head coach said despite the Tigers matching the Thunderbirds with six 3-pointers. “Our offense stalled a little, but Kerry Dennin played a great game for us tonight.”

Northport has two more nonleague contests, against Smithtown West and Massapequa, before opening league play hosting Bay Shore Dec. 19 at 6 p.m.

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Gabrianna Lorefice moves the ball through traffic in Smithtown West's nonleague loss to Walt Whitman. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

Smithtown West looked to shake off the cobwebs early this season, hosting Walt Whitman in a nonleague matchup Dec. 9, but a slow start for the Bulls left them in a deficit they could never recover from, falling 76-38.

Madison Flynn jumps to the rim. Photo by Bill Landon

Walt Whitman found its 3-point game early, hitting two in the opening minutes during a 10-0 run before Smithtown West called timeout. Down 14-0 after the break, Smithtown West junior guard Gabrianna Lorefice split her chances from the free-throw line to take the goose egg off the scoreboard with just over a minute left in the opening quarter.

With 4:28 left before the halftime break now trailing 24-9, sophomore forward Jillian Meaney hit a 3-pointer to close the gap, but the Wildcats countered with three triples of their own to take a commanding 40-16 lead into the locker room.

The Bulls held their own under the boards with aggressive rebounding that resulted in several jump balls, but struggled in transition and getting the ball to fall in the net.

“I saw some good things from players that haven’t had much playing time who have come up from junior varsity so that’s good, but defensively and transition-wise we need to do a better job,” Smithtown West head coach Katie Combs said. “I saw a lot of strength underneath the board even though [Walt Whitman] had the [height] advantage there.”

Rebecca Farrell shoots from 3-point range. Photo by Bill Landon

Senior guard Lauren Soriano opened the second half with a 3-pointer, and Meaney hit her second triple of the game but again Walt Whitman countered to keep the edge.

The Bulls found themselves down by 34 points midway through the final quarter, a hole too deep to climb out of. Lorefice led her team in scoring with eight points, sophomore Madison Flynn followed with seven and Meaney tacked on six.

Smithtown West has one more nonleague game, a Dec. 13 home game against Northport at 6 p.m., before beginning league play Dec. 19 in a home opener at 4 p.m.

“What’s helpful is that we’re able to fix our offensive mistakes, but today we felt a tremendous amount of pressure,” Combs said. “For next week we’re looking to get our first win and carry that momentum into our first league game and then build from there.”

Above, Stony Brook Medicine’s Puerto Rico medical relief team. Photo from SBU

By Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

As the holidays arrive, our thoughts turn to giving — and giving back to those who need our help. Stony Brook Medicine’s Puerto Rico medical relief team did just that, spending two weeks on the devastated island to treat patients and give a much-needed break to health care workers there.

We got word, after Category 5 Hurricane Maria swept through, of the conditions in Puerto Rico. Pharmacies were in ruins. Patients with chronic illnesses who needed to see their primary care physicians could not get appointments. Health care professionals couldn’t tend to their own families, nor repair their damaged homes, because their services were needed around the clock.

Relief efforts for those in Puerto Rico took on many forms. In my role as chair of the Greater New York Hospital Association board of directors, I served as part of an organization that teamed up with the Healthcare Association of New York State to establish the New York Healthcare’s Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund to assist hospitals, health care workers and their families in Puerto Rico. The fund is a vehicle for New York’s hospital community to show its support for frontline caregivers and their families who have suffered significant losses.

I’m proud how Stony Brook Medicine also responded to this human health crisis. As part of a 78-member relief team of personnel from hospitals around the region, Stony Brook organized a team of health care professionals that was deployed to Puerto Rico. They signed on to spend two weeks living and working 12-hour days in less-than-ideal conditions, with widespread shortages of food, water and electricity.

Our 23 care providers — three physicians, two nurse practitioners, nine nurses, four paramedics, four nursing assistants and one pharmacist — split up after arriving in Puerto Rico. Most were stationed in the city of Manatí, while the rest went to the city of Fajardo and then to the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. They worked closely with military personnel, federal agencies and the people of Puerto Rico. They saw more than 2,000 patients and helped local health care workers get some rest and get back on their feet.

Our team returned home in November to cheers and hugs from their co-workers and loved ones who met them at Stony Brook University Hospital. Despite the hardships and long hours, they spoke of the deeply fulfilling experiences they had in Puerto Rico. Their trip embodied the reasons why people choose a career in health care in the first place — to be of service and to provide excellent care.

Stony Brook Medicine’s mission is to deliver world-class, compassionate care to patients and families. And sometimes that mission extends well beyond our own four walls. We are making a difference, not only here at home but in communities around the world.

All of us at Stony Brook Medicine are so extremely proud of our Puerto Rico relief team. The work they did was heroic, generous in the extreme and so worthwhile. Our thanks also go to their families and to their Stony Brook colleagues who stepped up to cover extra shifts while the team was away.

Having heard many of their experiences, I cannot say enough about the team members and their devotion. I know they have returned much better for the experience and are now safely back to continue their efforts to improve the health of our patients.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky serves as dean of the School of Medicine and senior vice president of Health Sciences at State University of New York at Stony Brook.

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By Rabbi Aaron Benson

 

You’re as likely to hear someone bemoaning the commercialization of the holidays as you are to hear someone wish you happy ones. As we enter this festive season, it can be a challenge to properly “get in the spirit” to think of the blessings and good things we have when at the same time we hear constantly the calls around us that we need more of this or that.

Rabbi Aaron Benson

For Jews, there is one way in which the holiday of Hanukkah is supposed to be “commercialized” — or at least “advertised.” Jewish tradition decrees the Hanukkah menorah, the nine-branched candelabra by which we mark the holiday using its central candle to light an additional new candle each night of the eight-day holiday, should be placed in a prominent place so that others can see it. Therefore, you will often see menorah displays in front of synagogues or in the windows of Jews’ home, and in Israel, one will often see menorahs displayed in small glass boxes outside of people’s homes.

The lights of the menorah are meant to remind us of three things. First, they are to be a light in the darkness of winter. Second, they are to remind us of the lights of the seven-branched menorah that was a decoration in the Holy Temple in ancient times, and third, they remind us of the story of Hanukkah, when in the 2nd century BCE the Jews defeated the Greek occupiers of their country and, as tradition would have it, a single vial of pure oil was discovered and lasted for eight days while additional oil was prepared to be used in the temple.

Incidentally, this is where the name of the holiday originates as the word “Hanukkah” means “rededication.” However, it was not just lighting the menorah that was considered sufficient for celebrating the holiday. Our ancient sages decreed that the miracle of Hanukkah must be “advertised,” it must be put on display and shared with others so that the hard-won blessing of religious freedom and tolerance the holiday commemorates could be experienced by all people. This is a Hanukkah lesson we can all share.

We are all blessed to live in a country in which our religious differences are protected and in fact we believe that these and all our many differences are what make the United States such a wonderful country. Let us be proud then, when we see the many lights of this holiday season, for all of them, whether Hanukkah lights or not, communicate the message of Hanukkah — the message of our religious freedom.

The author is the rabbi at the North Shore Jewish Center in Port Jefferson Station.

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Vanderbilt estate’s restored pool in 2017

When William K. Vanderbilt II created his Eagle’s Nest estate and mansion in the early twentieth century, he included a golf course, tennis courts and a saltwater pool with cabanas, overlooking Northport Bay.

Decades ago, the pool was filled in for visitor safety and today it is planted with grass. Earlier this summer, the Vanderbilt Museum restoration staff repaired and restored the pool and cabanas and, according to the original design, repainted them white. With the completion of the project, the museum has another singular, scenic location for receptions, parties and weddings.

The pool complex is built into the steep hillside, which made possible the imposing semicircular wall and double staircase that splits at a landing below the grand entry steps. The sides of the wall, which is crowned by a balustrade, step down several times. Each step is decorated with an urn of flowers.

The double stairways, with elegant wrought-iron railings, wind down each side of the wall to the walkway that encircles the pool. On the walkway level, in the center of the wall, is a large niche that showcases a statue rising out of a shallow basin. The statue, which is also a fountain, is a neoclassical bearded man with a cherub standing on each shoulder.

The staff also restored the twin cabanas adjacent to the waterfront edge of the pool. Crew members removed the deteriorating cabana roofs and constructed new ones from the remaining inventory of original, curved, Mediterranean-style ceramic tiles purchased by Vanderbilt’s architects. The carved wooden cabana doors, removed and stored for years, were rehung and repainted. Between the cabanas is a small terrace of bricks set in a herringbone pattern.

Several years ago, the Vanderbilt pool had an anonymous moment of fame on the silver screen. That moment had its beginnings in 2013 when, even in its deteriorated state, the pool design appealed to Australian movie director Baz Luhrmann.

Restored cabanas and terrace, overlooking Northport Bay

When Luhrmann was doing research for his film “The Great Gatsby” (2013) starring Leonardo DiCaprio, he and his production designer, Catherine Martin, visited some of the remaining Gold Coast mansions on the North Shore of Long Island. They spent an afternoon exploring and photographing the Vanderbilt estate, mansion and pool. Luhrmann was so impressed with the pool that he created a version of it and its graceful, curving twin staircases, for his movie.

A May 2013 Vanity Fair article detailed Luhrmann’s visit: In the film, Gatsby’s parties are centered around his circular pool, which later serves as the setting of a tragic climactic scene. During an extensive location scout of houses in Long Island, Martin says, she, Luhrmann, and their crew stumbled upon their inspiration at Eagle’s Nest, a Spanish Revival–style mansion that Vanderbilt began building in 1910.

Even though the pool had been filled in with grass and dirt after a hurricane, she says, Luhrmann was so taken by the property that he had his music supervisor and an assistant spontaneously act out the pivotal scene right there. “The video that Baz shot that day is almost identical to the scene that ended up in the movie,” she said.

The Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum, 180 Little Neck Road, Centerport is open on Tuesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from noon to 4 p.m. through April 2, 2018. Mansion tours are given at 12:30, 1, 2, 3 and 4 p.m. For more information, call 631-854-5579.

Photos courtesy of Suffolk County Vanderbilt Museum

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By Jeffrey Sanzel

Public radio personality and prolific author David Bouchier has gathered 122 essays in his newest collection, the charming “Out of Thin Air.” Divided into seven loose themes covering such topics as technology, politics and travel, Bouchier covers many of the same ideas but always from a different angle. As they are based on his well-known radio commentaries, each essay is a clever gem, rarely more than two pages, and makes for insightful and entertaining reading.

Author David Bouchier

In the Preface, Bouchier defines an essay as “the writer talking to you, one on one, about something that he or she finds interesting, annoying, bewildering, or funny.” This definitive statement guides the entire work. As we wend our way through his experiences, it is as if he is sitting across from us over a lively coffee. He is articulate and witty and, even when he is at his most hyperbolic, there is a sincerity that comes through.

Bouchier’s first essay, “Waiting for the End” appropriately deals with just that — the end of the world. He clearly gives us a sense of his life’s view and what will come in the ensuing pages: “The future is virgin territory, and any pessimist can claim it.” When writing of a cinematic look at the apocalypse: “The movie was two hours and thirty-eight minutes long. The actual end of the world needs to be snappier than that, or we will lose interest (average adult attention span: twenty minutes).” We now know who Bouchier is and can proceed in the full knowledge that we will laugh and be inspired in turns or, just as often, simultaneously.

Much of the book is taken up with issues of modern technology and the disenfranchisement of people of an earlier generation. What separates Bouchier from the usual curmudgeonly wheezes is that he has — albeit sometimes reluctantly — embraced not just the power of these changes but their necessity. Not that he doesn’t take many pointed and highly amusing shots at our slavish addiction to all things computer centric; he rails against them but still sees their value. “We are never alone unless the battery runs out.” He is not so much technophobic but “techno-wary.” Of cellphones, “I talk, therefore I am” is followed by his taking it a step further that this form of communication brings us closer to each other and yet isolates us from the world.

In his longest essay, “The Ghost in the Machine,” Bouchier makes the valid point that computers have rid us of the need for memory. With instant access, we have disconnected from ourselves and no actually living is done. We have become a society that survives in a virtual existence. While he is going to the extreme to make his point, there is a reality in his argument that demands we look inward.

“From Hardware to Software” is a laugh-out-loud equation of old-fashioned hardware stores with the heroic doctors of television drama with the dramatic of-course-it-can-be-saved. It reflects on a time when problems had solutions and mourns the loss of these kinder bastions of help and support and knowledge. In the same vein, the author writes a paean to the joy of the manual typewriter, gone the same way is these shops.

What helps enrich the pieces is that Bouchier is incredibly well-read and knowledgeable in a wide range of topics — literature (novels in particular), art and science to name a few. He encourages the reader to embrace science — even if you don’t understand it. He praises continuing education but never laments that education is wasted on the young. It gives a vast scope for interpretation and reference that enriches the depth of his exploration.

As stated, many subjects overlap (notably cellphones, computers and other contemporary gadgetry), but he manages to mine a different perspective with each vignette: He finds a singular awareness to highlight.

The topics that are covered are plentiful. The author’s thoughts touch on ideas from “selective forgetting” (a wonderfully accurate concept) to the danger of the smiley face. He pursues the danger of teaching fake history and the repercussions on young (and older) minds. Here, like so many places in his writing, he shifts easily from his acerbic and pithy quips to important concepts such as learning from history, not just ingest it.

Bouchier’s take on the opposite of procrastination — “pre-crastination” — is amusing and not a little disturbing; he finds that people who rush into things are not giving the proper thought. This leads to a siting of truly dangerous things that should give people pause: “double bacon cheeseburgers with fries, international wars, and marriage.” Even when taking aim at easy targets, his perceptions are both fresh and refreshing. Ultimately, in “We’ll Do This Later,” somehow he makes a strong case for procrastination. He is also adept at looking at two sides of a situation.

In “The Way We Were,” the author starts out with a pointedly ambivalent view of reunions but then comes to a much more introspective conclusion, finding the worth in the event. It is not just that he finds the two views but he is able to perceive multiple awarenesses.

“Worth Preserving” is a timely solution for maintaining historical sites. What is fascinating is that at first it seems like he is being tongue-in-cheek — and he might possibly be — but the concepts of preservation and accessibility are sound. It is this blend of humor and understanding that fuel his writing.

And yet, Bouchier’s take on nostalgia comes at the discussion from a different standpoint: “Every nation has its own tales of a glorious past that never existed.” He gives Downton Abbey as a prime example that the truth is much darker below stairs. Basically, the good old days that are glorified by film, television and novels never existed.

He laments the bookless bookstores that have become clothing emporiums — most notably university bookstores where books are screens “to goggle or Google at.” Clever word play is powerful and his succinctness is an arrow to the center, his dissections as swift and accurate as a scalpel.

“Losing stuff, like losing weight, is a lost cause.” We have too many things — we are saturated as “willing prisoners” of our acquisitions. Again, he turns his accusations inward and finds the positive in what has become a negative cliché — he finds the value in “stuff” as a connection to who we are related to from where we’ve come.

The author’s thoughts about wedding extravagance are really an exploration of marriage in the short and long term, calling to task the reality that in the modern age being average and fitting in trumps being Mozart. In the age of driverless cars, perhaps it is not the vehicles that should be recalled but the drivers themselves. In a flip on red-light cameras, he makes the case to reward good drivers for correct behavior.

The selfie as “a sudden plague of pathological vanity” is extreme — but not inaccurate, flying in the face of the cliché of a picture being worth a thousand words. The “Look at me, I’m here, I exist” is no more than a “flicker across the consciousness leaving no trace. They’re not worth a thousand words, they replace a thousand words.”

There is a great deal of strong advice in Bouchier’s writings. In “A Good Long Read,” he meditates on the transition from reading long books to embracing a series of books. This is a healthy and helpful suggestion to readers of desire but limited time.

An extended section on politics in the book should be made required reading in every school (and home, for that matter). The author’s view on the American system can be summed up in his observation that we have hundreds of choices for cereal but only two for president. He writes about the true heroes of our times and times past as well as a fascinating connection between clowns, Halloween and Election Day.

A discussion of a universal draft — men, woman, all ages an socioeconomic backgrounds — ultimately hints at broader ideas. He does the same thing with a darkly comic advocation of making everyone in the world an American. In his section on travel, Bouchier opens up with “Escape Attempts,” which hints at deeper themes — going from trips to war to marriage and children. He makes profound statements about the power of inner life, of reading versus travel. He points out that “to” is often less important than “from.” Style of travel from point of view as well as the unnecessary obsession with souvenirs all encourage us to look not just in the mirror but within ourselves.

The essay “The Business of America” is the smartest and most accurate assessment of the lack of values in our constant pursuit of meetings. In the “Right to Arm Bears,” Bouchier proposes leveling the hunting playing field by providing animals with guns. “Philosophy in the Slow Lane” meditates on life in the Long Island Expressway traffic jams, comparing it to the classic audio novels (Twain, Melville) he listens to when caught in the given congestion of our daily lives. All pithy statements; all with great truths beneath.

The best summation of Bouchier’s work would be in his own words: “What makes us different from bees and lemmings is that we can and do break away from the herd, and think our separate thoughts. We are bees with a perspective on the hive, which allows us to evolve and to create. It also gives us a headache.”

Thank you, Mr. Bouchier for the reminder of all the former. And your tag to this thought reminds us never to take ourselves too seriously.

‘Out of Thin Air’ is available online at www.amazon.com. Meet author David Bouchier at the Third Friday event at the Reboli Center for Art and History, 64 Main St., Stony Brook on Friday, Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. Bouchier will discuss his 25 years on public radio. The event is free.

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