Out on the streets

The hamlet has its own little “pocket universe” feel to it — hemmed in by mountains, it seems like a Twin Peaks or a Shangri-La. It’s a part of the wider world, yet seems to carry its own culture and tastes and has just enough so someone could hide out there for a good long while and not miss the rest of creation too much. It’s most definitely a destination; one has to make a conscious decision to go to Phoenicia as it’s not really on the way to much at all. But it’s a decision worth making, as there’s certainly enough in an area to keep one busy for a day. (Or maybe longer; there’s a campground right outside the hamlet if one feels like pitching a tent, though it seems like the kind of place where you could camp out anywhere for a while and not get hassled.) There’s a deli, a pizza place, two bank branches, a bar with a nice outdoor porch, what are reputed to be fantastic pancakes at Sweet Sue’s and a few stores, as well as a funeral home.

There’s a distinct cozy, welcoming mood about the place — something unspoiled and authentically nice. While I’ve been to all the other places in this article enough times to form my own opinions about them, it was my first time in Phoenicia when I went up there for this story on a warm early April Saturday. I was drawn, perhaps by something in it that emanated “ex-hotel” to a stranger, to Homer & Langley’s Mystery Spot on Main Street. Going inside the former Gormley Hotel was like falling into a wormhole plugged  right into the past — rooms arranged according to themes containing such wonders as TV Guide and National Enquirer issues from the 1960s, old books, carefully selected (i.e., not crappy) vinyl records, vintage clothes (including brilliant old ties, 3 for $10), 1905 Congdon music rolls. A painting of a girl with a slightly maniacal look on her face to which someone — presumably a bratty brother — had added redder horns sticking out of her red hair, has been dubbed “Desdemona, the Devil Girl of Phoenicia.” And that’s just scratching the surface. Perusing the wide variety of precious and fascinating old stuff there could easily take a whole day and the Spot’s wonderfully evocatively musty smell of “old” is almost worth the trip in and of itself.

Since it was my first time in Phoenicia, I asked the Mystery Spot proprietress, artist and photographer Laura Levine, what it was like there. “It’s a really friendly little town and it attracts a lot of interesting people,” she told me. “And you never know what you might see coming down the street.”

Levine’s assistant, Grace Grant, grew up in Phoenicia and wanted to get out as a teen, but ended up coming back to stay. “I couldn’t leave even if I wanted to. I love it here.”

We live in a region defined in many ways by roads and spend a lot of our time cooped up in cars, driving from our homes to our jobs and back, maybe stopping at the store. While someday we might de-suburbanize here in the HudsonValley and return to the walkable, non-auto-oriented days of our ancestors, for now pedestrianism is an act of volition — a choice we have to consciously make. There are a wealth of streets and sidewalks and storefronts, just waiting for us to unbuckle our seat belts and use our feet for something other than the brakes and the gas. Life can be beautiful, if taken at a walking pace.

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