Surrounded by Reality

From time to time I find myself in the confines of Ithaca, New York, that stalwart college town at the foot of Cayuga Lake. Ithaca, for those of you who have not had the pleasure, is a treasure trove of natural beauty laced with all the Bohemian atmosphere the best of college atmosphere can harbor. While many of the cities in the area have been decimated by the loss of industry, Ithaca remains unaffected, and has perhaps even grown over the years. All of this was encapsulated by a bumper sticker I once saw on a car at the Farmer’s Market in Ithaca one day, which read: “Ten Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality*.”

Cayuga LakeAt the same level as Cayuga’s Waters…

I took the above picture five years ago when Laura and I were driving around and found ourselves in Sherman Park. We had stopped in a cool used book store along the way that was part catacombs, part library, stopped here for a photo op, and ended up at Buttermilk Falls. Beautiful weather for May, sunny and in the sixties. A fantastic day, and one we’ll always remember. But during my last trip to Ithaca, considering I was by myself and it was freezing cold and I didn’t have time to stop and look at used books, I had other matters on my mind: namely, the neon chicken known as Chanticleer.

Chanticleer is a bar in the center of town well known to generations of Cornell and Ithaca College students, and above its metal overhang stands the proud neon rooster. Well, actually, two roosters: one you can see from State Street and another you can see from Cayuga Street.


This was my immediate goal, but i had a secondary one, the State Theater just up the street. The State opened up in 1928 but closed in the 80s. It stayed closed for nearly twenty years, despite community efforts to revive it, and at one point was condemned, but finally, in 2001, the State reopened. I had driven past this section during a trip two years ago, but not having the time to get out with my camera, I didn’t realize that it was possible to swipe a shot of both at the same time. It wasn’t the ideal time of day for this shot, but I stood at the side of the commons on top of a snow bank and fired away:

Chanticleer and State, Ithaca, NYBam!

Despite the cold of that day, I snapped away until my fingers became slightly numb. These two had been on my list for quite some time, and I was going to make the most out of crossing them off…

State Theater, Ithaca, NY

I didn’t really know the State’s full story at the time I took these, but if I had, I probably would have kept on with my K-5 in the cold until my fingers fell off. It’s so good to hear the story of an old classic restored. Bravo to all the people whose efforts saved the State.

*Yes, people of Madison, Wisconsin…I realize that it was your joke previously and that it was “77 Square Miles, Surrounded by Reality,” but it applies to Ithaca just as much as Madison… Let’s agree to share the distinction.

Shed in Slaterville Springs, NY

As a side note, on my way back through the wilds of Tompkins and Tioga counties, I spotted a shed along the side of the road that I found so photogenic that I couldn’t help but share. These boards, desperately trying to hold up something that can’t stand on its own…there’s a metaphor…

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