Monday, October 11, 2010

Getting Stoned--Proterozoically

When I woke up the morning of Thursday, September 30th at the ungodly hour of 5:30AM, I discovered it was not just raining, but a torrential downpour. I was not going to let that stop me from seeing the Danby Quarry in Vermont, however, the largest underground quarry in the world. I dragged myself out of bed.

All photos ©2010, Ryan Witte.
The trip was organized by the lovely folks at Artistic Tile. When I found out how many people the bus would hold (about sixty-five), discovered how many of Artistic Tile's own people were along, and that the remaining seats were divided up amongst a select group of architects, interior designers, and other journalists, I felt extremely flattered to have been invited. Second to witnessing the move of the Lieb House, this was probably one of the most extraordinary things I've ever seen.

As I made my way to the train in the dim dawn light, earlier than I'd ever done so at least in my current neighborhood, I speculated about the other people beginning their commute. I decided they must be elementary school teachers or people for whom it was time to make the donuts. The streets were fairly barren although, surprisingly, the train was not all that empty.

When I got to their showroom on West Twenty-First Street, I signed in and was informed they had coffee. I was grateful since I'd only had time for a single cup before leaving the house, not nearly enough fuel for that early hour. This was only the beginning of what was to be a virtual cornucopia of amenities they provided on the trip. While pouring my second cup, I got to meet John DeSoto, who I later learned is an architect as well as a painter. I looked around at some of their gorgeous bathroom displays and within another ten minutes we were loaded up onto the bus on our way to New Jersey.

Our first stop was the Artistic Tile showroom in Paramus. We had more people to pick up there, including the president of the company, Josh Levinson, and his daughters, who had gotten off of school to come on the trip. If any of their teachers are reading this, they couldn't have been more helpful or polite, and they seemed to be taking in all the educational aspects of the trip as far as I could tell. I overheard someone behind me saying they will be forced at gunpoint to write papers about the trip. I do that for fun.

I spent the first half of the trip getting through a good portion of Ada Louise Huxtable's recently published On Architecture: Collected Reflections on a Century of Change. I'm a slow reader, so I welcomed the opportunity. Then an hour or so later, Levinson began a continuing education presentation about quarries. It was for AIA and IDCEC credit which doesn't apply to me, but I found it quite helpful and informative. The piece of information that I liked most was that all of us have very likely tasted White Georgia marble. White Georgia marble dust is used on chewing gum to keep it from sticking to the foil wrapper.

About halfway through it, we passed right by Albany, and got a beautiful--if fleeting--view of Harrison & Abramovitz' Empire State Plaza rising gloriously up into the fog. It almost made me wish we had stopped there briefly. I've been dying to see it in person. You can look forward to that story in a later post when I finally do get up there.

Once we got into Vermont, things outside the window started getting really interesting. All of a sudden we passed by this big old hotel that looked like it had to be haunted, but was so beautiful. Later I mentioned it to someone, saying "the haunted one," and she knew exactly which building I meant. She said it's always been there and she couldn't remember it looking any other way. Coming around the other side of it, it very much appeared, by chairs on the veranda, that people live there. But it was so mysterious and wonderful. A lot of the houses had that intriguing quality. If it weren't so far from the city, it might be the kind of place I'd dream of buying some run-down old house and fixing it up.

I felt kind of badly because Levinson was going through the different quarries around the world that provide us with the gorgeous stones we have to choose from, which I wanted to know. But I had to glance at his presentation and keep my eyes on the scenery, then back again. Back and forth. I was surprised to notice so much beautiful Federal and vaguely Georgian architecture in this part of the country.

Our first stop was merely for toilet services, and boy did our bus ever take advantage of them. At the Apple Barn.

We also bought a lot of stuff. I don't think anyone who used the restroom there escaped without a bag of apples or some maple syrup or some apple butter (which I got, it's yummy, and also a cute miniature pumpkin which is now outside my apartment door). The proprietress reminded me that there are very few public restrooms on the road in these parts because of the propensity of septic tanks. That didn't even occur to me, a city dweller. But they had a couple open the public.

When we got back on the bus, there was a nice lunch waiting on our seats. It's actually astonishing to me that this is the first trip of this kind that Artistic Tile has ever organized. The planning they clearly did and the professionalism they displayed was like nothing I'd ever seen before. Do you remember the way airline travel used to be, back in the day? When the flight attendants were coming down the aisle over and over again to make sure you had everything you needed instead of throwing a tiny bag of peanuts at you and disappearing for the rest of the flight? Yeah. This was how the Artistic Tile team worked it. It was amazing. We never wanted for anything. I can only assume that they'd treat a potential client this way, trying to create the perfect bathroom. Too obvious a plug? Maybe. But they knew what they were doing. The proof was really when they came down the aisle offering gum. Someone on the bus exclaimed, "you thought of everything!" It was really true.

Finally we got our bus up to Dorset Mountain. The first spectacular thing we saw was a wide open field of enormous blocks of marble. As much as I dislike trying to take photos through windows, especially wet ones, we never did exit the bus near enough to them to get pictures close up.

Levinson told us we needed to get inside because they were planning to knock down a huge wall of marble and they were waiting for us so we could see it happen. We were told we'd all have to wear hard hats. Since it was presumed that other people had worn the hats, they had brought shower caps for us. We were warned that photos of us wearing shower caps may circulate the internet. Strangely, no one was ever asked to wear either a hard hat or a shower cap. We continued on to the uppermost entrance to the quarry and got off the bus.

Although there was some grumbling about the rain, I had pretty much just resigned myself to the fact that I was going to be wet all day. But it was here that I realized--and I said this to a couple of people standing near me--that while I could do without the rain, I was really loving all the fog. It made the whole experience kind of mysterious and almost otherworldly.

Down in the ravine over that ridge it appeared they're excavating some marble from the exterior of the mountain. The roadway down looked like it would be a one-way trip for the bus considering how muddy it was. We didn't go down there, but we had some fun with the bus later, which I'll get to below.

It was here that we were introduced to our guides for the day, Todd Robertson, one of the quarrymen--officially Director of Market Development--and marble expert Luca Mannolini, who is actually from Carrara. We trudged our way through the slop to the entrance to the quarry.

Part 2.

All text and images ©2010, Ryan Witte


Anonymous said...

Ryan, hi! I'm the Showroom Manager at Artistic Tile, Manhasset; I was on the trip with you, and I love your reportage! And, as well, the PepsiCo - Purchase entry as well. What great stuff!

Ryan Witte said...

Hey, Roy. Thanks for your kind words. Glad you enjoy it. I'll try to have the next installment up in a few days.


Kaufmann Masonry LLC said...

Very nice presentation. I'm organizing a tour this Sept for The Stone Foundation. We're really looking forward to it and some of your info is going to help. I'm used to mucking around in cutting slurry, but you reminded me that I have to make sure the other folks on the tour are aware of it.

Ryan Witte said...

Kaufmann, glad you found it helpful, but really thanks are due the folks at Artistic Tile. They were fantastic, and I don't compromise my journalistic integrity to say things like that unless I mean it. I'm excited for your guests. As I said, it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had, even if it was a bit messy.