On Location: Long Island And The Catskills

It’s finally back here in Britain. Last night, we watched the second episode of Revenge for 2014-2015. (We saw the opener last week.) I’ve written about that escapist show before, although not in this context.

The program does accurately reflect aspects of the incredible wealth (often “weekend wealth”) seen on Suffolk County’s “South Fork” – in east end towns such as Southampton and East Hampton. But when I write of “Long Island” in the novels, it’s about the “middle class” island. In one exchange in Passports between Uncle Bill and Joanne (James’s mother), I decided to slip in this reference to the dramatic difference in lifestyles:

As her brother gave her a long look, Joanne added caustically, “You know, we were always imagining Lake Ronkonkoma as the sublime setting.”

“Really? What? Not East Hampton?” he joked.

“Oh, yeh, us Brookhaven billionaires,” she smirked.

Brookhaven is a large town (that would probably be better described as a “township” – encompassing many hamlets and villages) in central Suffolk that runs the width of the island from north shore to south shore.

* * *

In novels that spend so much time in Europe, I use “Long Island” as “home” in the U.S. As you may know, I was born in New York City and grew up and went to university in Nassau and Suffolk. I borrow liberally from all of that personal knowledge and “baggage.”

Map from Wikipedia. Places names by me.
Map from Wikipedia. Places names by me.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, I grew up rooting for the NHL’s New York Islanders:

“Virginie’s great, and you put up with my friends,” James remarked to Isabelle as they walked into Natalie and Stéphane’s apartment building the next evening. “We dragged you to a hockey game!”

Isabelle smiled. “And I heard the great team did not do so well after?”

Uh, that was in “1995.” I’ve read the Isles are doing fairly well currently. I’ve been to many of their games over the years and will still be a fan…. even when they move into “the city” – meaning to the Brooklyn, New York City arena they’ll be sharing with the Nets starting later this year. Technically, Brooklyn is geographically Long Island of course, but to most people in New York City and Nassau/Suffolk, the New York City border between Queens and Nassau marks the “true” boundary of “Long Island.” 😉

* * *

There is occasionally emnity between “middle class,” North Shore communities (which may be relatively affluent), and South Shore ones (which may be somewhat less so). I got some of that in too if I felt it fit. An example is seen in this flippant comment made by a mother “looking out” for her son as an ex-girlfriend appears out of the blue:

“It’s the Patchogue airhead,” Joanne waved the just delivered card indignantly as her mother walked in through Joanne’s East Setauket front door. “We need this? It’s Lisa. It’s gotta be. That’s her goddamn handwriting for sure.” Joanne pointed to the scribbled address on the front of the envelope. “And no return address. Figures,” she scoffed. “Probably because she knew where she was sending it. I hate letter writers. What the flyin’ does she want?”

East Setauket is a North Shore hamlet. Patchogue is on the South Shore. Joanne clearly doesn’t think much of that girl from “Patchogue.”

* * *

Moving to the mainland, some of the story takes place in the Catskills. A “rivalry” between “downstate” and New York State’s “upstate” area – which, to New York City residents, and to Long Islanders, is essentially anywhere north of New York City’s mainland borough of the Bronx – also makes an appearance.

Now THIS is upstate New York. Flags fluttering from the rebuilt Fort William Henry, on Lake George. Note which they are: France'ss pre-revolutionary Fleur-de -lis, Great Britain's Union Jack, and today's U.S. Stars and Stripes. Two empires - France and Britain - fought over this spot in the 1750s. Britain won. Twenty years later, Americans then threw the British out.... with help from the French. [Photo by me, 2013.]
Now THIS is upstate New York. Flags fluttering from the rebuilt Fort William Henry, on Lake George. Note which they are: France’s pre-revolutionary Fleur-de-lis, Great Britain’s Union Jack, and today’s U.S. Stars and Stripes. Two empires – France and Britain – fought over this spot in the 1750s. Britain won. Twenty years later, Americans then threw the British out… with help from the French. [Photo by me, 2013.]
In that sense, I couldn’t leave out Prattsville – which, a few miles from our house, suffered greatly due to massive flooding during 2011’s Tropical Storm Irene. I will never forget the surreal feeling hearing CNN’s Anderson Cooper saying “Prattsville” several times to a global audience. In Frontiers, I made sure James’s cousin Lori mentioned it:

“It’s named after a guy named ‘Pratt,’” Lori explained. “Seriously,” she giggled, “his name was Zadock Pratt. He was a local important guy in the nineteenth century. He cut down all the trees around here, and had all his workers living in shacks along the Schoharie. He was a congressman too. So they named the town after him. Or something like that.”

“This must be upstate,” James laughed.

I didn’t stop there:

“Let’s see,” she rattled off rapidly, “uh, Cairo is pronounced ‘Kay-row,’ not like Cairo as in Egypt. Delhi isn’t like the place in India. They say it ‘Del-high.’ Ashland is named after Henry Clay’s house in Kentucky. He was somebody with Abraham Lincoln. You’d know. You’re the historian.”

The joy of fiction. It’s good fun to drop in small “salutes” sometimes to places you know well, and often love. Windham, one of the Catskills’ major ski towns and tourist attractions (and probably the “prettiest” town in the region), gets a major mention as well.

* * *

Oh, and speaking of Windham. In real news:


Windham, and nearby towns, are the sorts of places where “everyone knows everyone else.” I’ve met her, and been in the Windham town offices several times – although that was long before she was supervisor. “Town supervisor” is roughly the equivalent of mayor.

As the cliché goes, real life may be stranger than fiction.

Hmm. Maybe? Nah, I can’t see yet how I can work something like that into the third novel. 😉

Have a good Wednesday, wherever you are in the world. 🙂

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Author: “Conventions: The Garden At Paris,” “Passports,” “Frontiers,” and “Distances.” British Airways frequent flier. Lover of the Catskill Mountains...and the 1700s. New novel of 1797-1805, "Tomorrow The Grace," due out in 2019.