“The Smalbanac” is a delightful, informative and reasonably priced guide to history, culture, cuisine and shopping in Albany, Schenectady and Troy.
With great writing, strong research and light wit, Christine Garretson-Persans points readers to “things in the Capital District that make our small city something special.”
“I tried to put together something that would help anyone just passing through the region or for anyone who lives here and has really never looked that closely at what we have,” she said in a recent conversation.
Garretson-Persans is a writer and artist who lives in Watervliet, and much of this book originally appeared in a series of pamphlets she sold at local outlets and online.
While her focus is the the three cities, she includes important landmarks in the suburbs and the rural edge of the region. For example, in addition to information on downtown Schenectady, she also includes Maple Ski Ridge, the Glen Sanders Mansion, Jumpin’ Jacks, the Mabee Farm and four apple orchards in Rexford and Clifton Park.
‘The Smalbanac: An Opinionated Guide to New York’s Capital District’
AUTHOR: Christine Garretson-Persans
PUBLISHED BY: Excelsior Editions/State University of New York Press, 208 pages
HOW MUCH: $9.25
Until this book appeared, I had not read her writings. After finishing “The Smalbanac,” I concluded that she was destined to write it.
She traveled extensively through the region and did not include a place unless she visited it. And when I read her assessments of places that I have been, I agreed with most of them. That gave me confidence that she accurately reported on places I have not been.
Along with an overview and historical information, the book includes a 45-page “Big Shopping List,” a 25-page destination list called “Get Off the Couch,” and nearly 25 pages of restaurant recommendations.
It has lots of history and biographies of local residents, and is well-organized, with a complete index and a list of useful Web sites.
While the book is Albany-oriented, it also hits Schenectady high points: Proctors, Jay Street in general, Perreca’s, the Open Door, Pizza King and Villa Italia. The author mentions the Schenectady Greenmarket and Friday Arts Night.
I hope she will return and visit the Bowtie and Scotia cinemas, the new Halal butcher, Pinhead Susan’s and Katie O’Byrnes.
Garretson-Persans has a gift for taking the basics of travel guide writing and enlarging them. She knows when to choose a long or short format to describe a subject or destination — and then knows when to change the pace.
And, she knows how much of her personality to add to the narrative. For example, she includes sections on ice-cream, chocolate and astronomy.
So, if you are driving down a road at night and see a woman in a group with a telescope, eating a chocolate sundae, it is probably Garretson-Persans.
These personal interests provide humor along the way. Near the end, she provides a timeline listing significant events in the Capital Region. One entry reads, “July 12, 1794: Flames consume James Caldwell’s chocolate m++ill — lucky flames.”
Pride in region
“The Smalbanac” communicates a pride in the region without mindless boosterism. In writing about the history, Garretson-Persans captures the drama and achievements.
Where there are shortcomings, she treats them with gentle humor rather than invective. For example, she tells how Philip Schuyler and Catherine Van Rensselaer got married five months before the birth of their first daughter. “Human gestation was apparently much shorter in Colonial times,” she muses.
Among the short write-ups are longer essays; the one about Albany, “Of Billiards and Beer,” is particularly fun and informative.
Whether you like to travel, dine out or learn local history, this is an exceptional book, worth reading and keeping on hand for when someone laments, “I’m so bored.”