A Magical Weekend in Rhinebeck

Fans of the Hudson Valley are evangelical in their praise of it, still, I didn't really have a good sense of the place. Was it burnt out bankers? Commuting Brooklyn hipsters?
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I recently attended a wedding in Rhinebeck NY and to my surprise, I ended up sleeping with a celebrity. Let me tell you how it all went down. Over the last few years I have heard a lot of chatter about Rhinebeck and about how great it is. Fans of the Hudson Valley are evangelical in their praise (always making sure to also mention that they "discovered" it), still, I didn't really have a good sense of the place. Was it burnt out bankers? Commuting Brooklyn hipsters? Now I finally had a chance to see it for myself and I was curious to see what all the fuss was about. My host for the weekend was Charlie Wessler, a talented film producer, who is a long time collaborator of the Farrelly brothers. Charlie is what you would call an animal lover. His farm in the Hudson Valley is a menagerie of the wild kingdom ... sort of like Noah's Arc docked on his pond and released all the animals. Alpacas, Ostriches, miniature donkeys, goats, chickens and so on.

Charlie's farm is so animal friendly that two wild turkey's passing through decided to move in permanently. As it happens, the two are both males. This means that despite their constant posturing to attract the opposite sex, they don't seem to realize they are courting a non-existent female because while the farm has an abundance of food and protection from predators it also is decidedly lacking in female turkeys....

While we on the subject of birds -- a word about ostriches. First off, they are huge. I mean like 6'7" and have to be the most bizarre looking animals I have ever seen -- like some sort of alien hybrid experiment. They are part bird, have strange three-toed dinosaur claws for feet, a neck that is articulated and moves like a snake and a gait like ... well an ... ostrich. They make an array of noises ... none of them pleasant.... from guttural clicks to Cobra-like hisses, and declaratory brays. Then, just in case you think they are friendly, their pen is adorned with signs that warn you to stay back because "Ostriches kick." Some wander around the yard like they are on some really groovy meds while the females spend most of the day sitting on their eggs. The alpha male is mean as hell. He likes to perform a war dance that brings to mind the self flagellation performed by the albino monk in the Da Vinci Code -- he crouches down, growls and then proceeds to beat his body like a warrior thudding his chest, except instead of his fist (yeah...I know they don't have them) he uses his head ... clearly this is not a species of great thinkers....

But the most esteemed guest was the star of one of Charlie's films, a Border Terrier named Gort that was one of the dogs that played Puffy in There's Something About Mary....as you can see here.

Gort has a pretty nice set-up being the only animal allowed inside the house. He has a doggy door that lets him come and go as he pleases and likes to patrol the wide-open spaces of the farm, although I notice he doesn't get too close the Ostrich pen. Gort is getting up there in years and he is now a stately 14 year-old sporting a beard flecked with gray. Although he doesn't run like he used to, he is still an avid licker. Despite the brawler he played on the Big Screen he has a remarkably sweet disposition that makes me think he isn't much of a guard dog (but I get the feeling the Ostriches handle security). Gort and I hit it off right away and he is one of the few celebrities that is thankfully unaffected by his fame. In fact, we got on so well that the very first night on the farm he ending up sleeping at the end of my bed ... Yep ... it was pretty cool.

Aside from the animals, Charlie built his own man-made pond. When it came time to take a dip, Charlie led a group of us down to the water while he and I made small talk. He assured me the water was clean enough to drink despite its murky appearance, to which I jokingly remarked it looked like a great home for snakes. "Oh yes" he answered, "but they don't bother you." Apparently blood drained from my face because he asked me if I was OK.

What can I say? I guess just like Indiana Jones, I don't like snakes. I watched a procession of people -- women, children, heck, even a Labrador launch themselves into the water after Charlie dove in. At that point I figured I had to go for it. I reassured myself with the thought that there were plenty of tempting targets besides me for the snakes to pursue ... after all ... to survive a bear attack, you don't need to be faster then a bear, just faster than the slowest person in your group....

Unseen snakes and all it was a pretty special weekend. And just like a character in a children's book who visits a magical kingdom, I can't wait to go back and visit all my furry and human friends ... well .. .except maybe that mean Ostrich.

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