The Art of the Clusterfuck in Ithaca, New York, USA
In the winter, when there are no leaves on the trees, my wife and I can look out our bedroom window and see the Johnson Museum of Art on the Cornell campus, designed by I.M. Pei. Just beyond the Johnson Museum is the shiny new Rem Koolhaas addition to Milstein Hall. Our more immediate and visible architectural reality, however, is represented in this photograph. We bought a house in Ithaca’s Northside neighborhood back in 2003. This neighborhood is what’s known as a “mixed real estate” neighborhood, which basically means some of the houses, like ours, are “charming” (they need work), and some are downright irreparable. Our neighbor Mike’s house falls into the latter category. As much as I love looking at the I.M. Pei building on the hill, it hasn’t given me nearly as much joy and entertainment as Mike’s house. I hardly qualify as a handyman, and I’ve suffered my own share of embarrassing carpentry missteps, but Mike takes construction incompetence to a new, almost artful level. (If Mike were a Dutch architect, his name might be Rem Shithaas.) The work he performs on his house is done in fits and starts, and watching it unfold is like witnessing a demented child trying to fabricate a submarine out of twigs and mud. Each inane project is doomed, from concept through execution. If there were an inverse of feng shui (the art of the clusterfuck, perhaps?), Mike would be its guru. There is a style and mastery to his failures that clearly outshines the local world-class architecture.
Place you live: Ithaca, NY
Place your photo was taken: My next-door neighbor’s back yard.
Can you sum up your spot? Ithaca is a small college town in upstate New York. It’s home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, and sits on the south end of Cayuga Lake. It’s about a four-hour drive to New York City, which is just far enough to make you think twice about making the trip spontaneously. Like many college towns, there are two distinct populations in Ithaca – the academic population, which ebbs and flows with the academic calendar, and the working-class population that, to a large degree, services the academic population. The class disparity is less striking than somewhere like New Haven, CT, but it’s noteworthy, nonetheless.
Occupation: Photographer/college professor.
Preoccupation: Fantasies of living in the desert.
A perfect day in Ithaca? Any day the sun makes an appearance is a good day.
For the visitor? Go for a long run followed by a swim at the base of Ithaca Falls. Top the day off with cocktails at Kuma’s.
A perfect meal? Anything on the menu at Hazelnut Kitchen in Trumansburg. For a less expensive meal, a breakfast burrito from “the burrito guy” is also a sure bet.
What is the best thing about Ithaca? A lot of smart, talented people in a small town.
What is the worst? The high-seriousness and self-importance of it all.
A little known fact about where you live? During the early 20th century, Ithaca was an important center in the silent film industry.
Where is your favorite place in the world? Los Angeles, CA (my birthplace).
Be sure to check out Ron’s beautiful brand new photo book, Lick Creek Line, available here by Mack Books.