The Party’s Starting


Coffee traders

When I lived in New York City, one of the reasons I wanted to move upstate was the extreme contrast in the summertime between me, the city dweller, and them, the country dwellers.

I would arrive upstate blinking uncomfortably, unused to the sunlight, pasty, work-obsessed, sober, and unhappy. My new country friends, on the other hand, were tanned, social, gorgeous, chatty, and always slightly drunk.

Summer in upstate New York was clearly a bacchanal–as it should be. Man, if you've survived that five-month winter with your sanity intact, you deserve to celebrate.

Now, I don't just live in upstate New York, I live in THE great resort town in upstate New York. We not only have a thoroughbred track that doubles our population from mid-July to Labor Day, we also have the New York City Ballet for a few weeks, which draws the higher-minded in droves. Though there are annoyances attached to this influx of poor non-Saratogians hoping to catch the spirit–you simply CANNOT park downtown in the summer–they generally add to our fun, not spoil it.

They occasion an explosion of civic pride that, because this is a resort based on gambling, is a little more naughty than it otherwise might be. Even the humblest homeowner surrounds his lawn jockey with a profusion of impatiens. Even the humblest merchant, like coffee shop above, pays a great deal of attention to the flower baskets.

Saratoga is all about the tacky annuals, which, because they so suit the Victorian character of the town, are not so tacky here. Though I prefer perennials that grow to the size of buses, I too, am a purposefully tacky gardener, filling my front yard with the kind of giant showy flowers in obnoxious tomato red and magenta that any real perennial lover would sniff at.

But summer is a party, and I never, ever want to forget that again.


  1. Living just 45 minutes south of Saratoga I can attest to the greatness of the Spa City. I get up there a couple times a year and really enjoy it in October when the blooms are recovered from the drunks falling off the horse statues and landing in said flowers! Best part of Saratoga is its’ unintended two facedness. By day, genteel and historic, by night a pub crawlers dream. In fact most of the grat bars are DOWNHILL (out of sight out of mind?) from Broadway.


  2. Summer is a party — words to live by. I grew up in a CT beach town where the population increased by a third in the summer due to an influx of New Yorkers arriving for the summer. I wonder if we all seemed tanned, social, gorgeous, chatty, and always slightly drunk to them? Loved this post, Michele!

  3. Greg, I so agree that Saratoga is a little two-faced! Lots of bourgeois correctness, combined with more bars per capita than anywhere on earth…most of them right down the hill from me.

    Fortunately, that bourgeois correctness is more than counteracted by the leading lights of this town, which include such professional mischief-makers as writer Jim Kunstler. If you don’t know him, he is well worth a read:

  4. Nice post, great writing as always. What, precisely, makes those annuals so tacky? I guess the question I’m asking is what IS tacky? Why do we (humans) even need the term “tacky”? You guys have, unfortunately, made me think tacky when I see impatiens and petunias and marigolds–you know, all those things sold outside the grocery store. Is it simply that anything that’s too common becomes tacky? Or is it tacky first and then becomes common?

  5. Pam J., I think it’s about the acid colors of those flowers more than anything else. And the generally thoughtless way they are used. So it’s guilt by association as much as anything else. Those flowers show up in tacky yards, so they must be tacky!

    Personally, I’m a Jersey girl. I prefer bad taste to the kind of no taste that passes for good taste.

    And I’m convinced that anything done with conviction, even marigolds planted like soldiers in an island bed, is beautiful.

  6. Oh, you make me miss Saratoga! I grew up nearby, but haven’t been back (aside from one visit 9 years ago) in 15 years. Maybe it is time to plan a northward journey.

  7. I didn’t mean two faced in a neagtive sense…………”two faces” would have been a better term. But I think it is great how the two faces co-exist.


  8. Loved this post 🙂 As one who also lives in a tourist area, I appreciate your description (especially the part about parking downtown, a trip to be planned with care in the Summer). You also make me realize that I shouldn’t take it for granted! As for annuals, I love them for the instant color they provide, especially in the Spring when we need it most (and when they survive Winter, I feel like I won a prize).

  9. This post just made me laugh out loud in my cubicle cage! I work (and used to live) in a yuppie, work-obsessed downstate NY city, and moved a year ago up the line a bit into the countyside, where I discovered my true loves: gardening, upstate NY summers and perpetual slight drunkenness. Thanks for reminding me what a wonderful place the countryside is as I wait for work to be over so I can get back to my garden…and I’ll definitely be back for more Garden Rant!

  10. When I lived in Calistoga, California I learned that one of the founders, an easterner, decided it was “the Saratoga of California,” hence the name. Situated in the far end of the Napa Valley at the foot of Mount St. Helena (an extinct volcano), there are spas all around the town offering mud baths and soaks in hot spring mineral-rich water. Oh, then there’s the wine, and the pubs, the restaurants, and more wine. Once there, you don’t have to drive, thank goodness. Just walk up and down the main drag getting mudded, wrapped, massaged, fed, and snockered. You then go back to your room at whatever inn, windows open, and lie there listening to the coyotes yap in the palisades.
    There are no horse races, but if you come during the warm months you can join the grinning crowd with track dust on their teeth at the fairgrounds/speeway sprint car races.
    There are lots of drought-tolerant gardens (hey, it’s the arid west), but also thirsty potted annuals adjacent to the storefronts. It’s culturally expected.
    Thank you for your positive rant about your beloved town. It took me back to my joyful time living in Calistoga.

  11. Carolyn, I once spent three days in Calistoga with my husband. We rented bicycles and rode from vineyard to vineyard, sampling the wares. Then we wobbled back to town and had a great meal every night. Fantastic place.

  12. Oh, there were parties in the winter. You brought back fond memories of my college days in nearby Troy – parties every season BUT summer. We students only saw Saratoga Springs at night (fall, winter and spring) along a road trip to Skidmore or The Rafters. I never experienced the summer garden tackiness.

  13. I live in Albany and wish I lived in Saratoga! But we recently moved to a great neighborhood and I have a huge cottage garden to work on…I hope to get to Saratoga more often, though; there are some great shops and restaurants.

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