On the path to enlightenment, I might wind up in Woodstock, New York. The town which lent its name to the famous rock music festival, "An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music" in 1969 is home to old hippies, and surprisingly, an increasing number of Buddhists.
I meet Shiv Mirabito a short man with a ready smile, bedecked in handmade beads, face framed in a bushy Indian beard streaked with gray and white and a few remaining strands of ebony sprinkled within. His dreads curled on the top of his head like a beehive.
A fixture at Dharmaware, a “Gallery of Sacred Arts” for over twenty years and thus qualified to confer on the changes at Woodstock. He opines that the place has changed, shifting from a hippies refuge where people had stopped-by on their way to camping, hanging out in the woods and barefoot parties, to of an upscale shopping destination, a mall-like atmosphere with stores catering more to a retail trade than spiritual enlightenment.
Inside his store smells of patchouli. It offers books on Yoga and spirituality, prayer flags, statuettes of various Hindu and Buddhist symbols, soaps, essential oils and incense. Colorful tie-dyed, silk and sheer cotton apparel hang on racks that are so close together as to offer a labyrinthine circuit through the store.
Shopkeepers chuckle as twenty-something descendants of the Woodstock generation come looking for the site of the concert. The concert that their parents or grandparents recall in giddy tales. Politely the proprietors give directions to the wayward to Yasgur’s Farm in Bethel NY about 43 miles north.
Keeping on the hippie side of things is Free Spirit, billing itself as the only “Real Roots Reggae Store”. Banners and memorabilia of times gone by proclaim peace and love. Reggae music, Bob Marley posters and tie-dyed t-shirts round out the fair. A 60’s music melody blares onto the street from some hidden speaker inside.
In the center of town stands a large white Dutch Reformed Church dated 1799 and seemingly out of place and out of touch with the new age and alternative religious offerings. Bulletin boards and telephone poles whisper offerings of Yoga Classes, Intuitive Energy Healing, bliss, musical events, dance, meditation, and retreats.
The flagstone cobbled triangular village “green” splits the main street into two parts, Tinker Street to the West and Mill Hill Rd to the East. This thoroughfare is peppered with storefronts in a Caribbean color palette of turquoise, pink, purple, yellow, teal pasted onto clapboard, brick, vertical planks, Victorian gingerbread and any other manner of fascia.
It is easy to spot the tourists from the residents. The tourists wear khaki shorts, a Ralph Lauren polo, and sandals. The residents are hippies- long unkempt hair and granny glasses, throwbacks to the time when Woodstock once was a Mecca for those seeking peace, love, and rock and roll.
Making my way up the narrow sidewalks, a flowing cotton dress brushes against my leg as a flower child (in her fifties) squeezes past. I visit the jewelry stores, music stores, and toy stores. I browse hippie clothing, candles, art, and wind chimes.
Stores like “Jewel” where crystal mannequin hands display one-of-a-kind, high priced bracelets of silver and gemstone. Spirituality stores sold crystals and incense.
Hungry, I stop in Oriole9, a smart little eatery boasting of its use of locally grown organic produce. The inside glows from the two skylights bouncing soft light off the polished hardwood floors. The menu lives up to its promise. “Offering wholesome ingredients from local farms prepared in a progressive kitchen.”
The tapas platter is a hearty and healthy, if not caloric rich, mix. A roasted dehydrated tomato, whose sugars are so concentrated, affirms the tomato’s botanical claim to fame as a berry. A mild basil pesto and a drizzle of olive oil tops fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Perfect bread spongy with holes and a crust as crisp as a cracker accompanies the balance of sautéed broccoli rabe and mushrooms, and fresh salmon.
Local art that changes on a monthly basis adorns the bright red and orange walls. The tables sport a single gerbera in a cylindrical glass vase.
The only disappointment is the open style kitchen that spills out into the dining space. It feels chaotic, crowded and noisy even though the dining room had been less than half-full.
Next door, the sign in the window of Corner Cupboard, a deli read “Hippies Always Welcome” and judging by its yellowing patina has been in that same window for many years.
The day is hot and sweltering as I make my way down Mill Hill Road, aiming toward a sign offering gelato and sorbetto. Inside the Catskill Mountain Pizza Company I order a lemoncello sorbetto to cool off. But once inside, the smell of pizza is so overwhelming, I had to order a slice just for a taste. The crust is superbly crisp, the cheese melted to perfection, but it has a sharp tang as if they had added some Parmesan to the traditional mozzarella- a sin in my Italian handbook. I sit outside on uncomfortable steel chairs painted a deep green, the tables match. Orange, yellow, and multi-colored striped umbrellas, complete the ensemble, shading me from the sun.
Every store I stop in had a ubiquitous statue of a Buddha. Is it a good luck charm, a spiritual offering, a tourist icon, or an acknowledgement of the Tibetan Buddhist monastery 3 miles up Meads Mountain Road?