The Pulse

Kids get physical in Rockland, James Gurney revisits Dinotopia, and local leaf peepers shift into high gear

The Pulse


Let’s Get Physical


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Imagine a world in which parents actually encourage their children to play video games.

Jonathan Jarashow thinks plenty of Rockland County parents will do just that at his newly opened kids’ arcade in Spring Valley. Because while Exergame Zone is crammed full of video games, they’re all attached to a variety of workout machines. “A lot of us go to the gym and watch TV to distract ourselves from exercise,” says Jarashow, the publisher of Diabetes Digest. “Here, kids play video games as a distraction.”


The 1,200-square-foot space houses more than two dozen “workout stations,” including Gamebike, a stationary bike where your own movements control an on-screen bike race; Dance Dance Revolution, the popular grooving game where choreographed moves become a fast-paced workout (there is one in the Palisades Mall in West Nyack); and even a virtual snowboarding game.

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And while the arcade is one of the first of its kind in the region, exergaming (as it is known) is attracting national attention as a viable way to curb the growing childhood obesity epidemic. Since the late 1970s, the rate of obesity has more than doubled for kids aged 12 to 19 years, and more than tripled for those ages six to 11. And since a 2005 Rockland County Department of Health study found that nearly 25 percent of the county’s teens played computer or video games for more than three hours per day, exergaming seems to make good sense. Several national studies have examined exergaming’s long-term prospects, including one by the well-respected Mayo Clinic that found exergaming might be a good option for obesity prevention. “The only way to bring down these numbers is to get kids active and eating right,” says Jarashow. “Right now I’m addressing the activity issue.”


Admission at Exergame Zone is free for the first hour of the first visit. After that, admission is $5 for two hours. All children under age 18 must be accompanied by an adult. “My goal is to get kids to exercise,” says Jarashow, whose publishing company is currently the sole sponsor of the arcade. “So I’m basically putting my money where my mouth is.” uExergame Zone. 53 N. Main St., Spring Valley. 845-426-7612 or

— Elizabeth Stein

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Gurney’s Journeys


Rhinebeck’s James Gurney talks about his latest visit to Dinotopia, his love of Hudson Valley sunsets, and turning his childhood passions into best-selling books


By David Levine


You were born and raised in California. What brought you to this area?

My wife, Jeanette, and I moved here in 1984. I wanted to move east mostly because book publishers are in New York. But also, I always wanted to settle in the Hudson Valley. Ever since I was a kid I had loved the Hudson River School painters, especially Church, Cole and Durand. I wanted to be close to their home.


As an artist, what do you think makes the
Valley special?

There’s something different about the light and atmosphere here. The Catskills affect the clouds coming from the northwest. It tends to create more dramatic sunsets, much more dramatic than anywhere in the world that I’ve ever seen. The Hudson River School painters presented vistas of faraway places. They were straight out of fantasy and mythology, influenced by Wordsworth and romantic philosophy, which is at the core of Dinotopia, this mix of fantasy and landscape.


Were you always an artist-in-the-making?

When I was about eight years old, I was interested in painting, in a vague sort of way. What I loved the most was archeology and dinosaurs. Pictures of dinosaurs struck me as magical. My family also had stacks of National Geographic magazines lying around, and I fantasized about discovering lost worlds. When I played, I’d pretend to go on archaeological digs in our neighborhood. These digs got so big and messy, other kids in the neighborhood weren’t allowed to play with me anymore.


You majored in anthropology at the University of California at Berkeley. How did you come back to art?

My parents advised me to study what I love, and not worry about a job. I was always interested in the meeting of science and art. As an anthropology major — the department included archaeology — I got to go into museums and do renderings for the scientists. I had to do very exact drawings. It was better training than I would have gotten in the art department. To this day, I want to be sure Dinotopia is populated by creatures taken from the fossil record. Nothing is made up. It matters a lot to me to get it right. If I don’t, not only will the scientists notice, but the seven-year-olds will, too. After Berkeley I went to art school for a short time, until I got a job painting background scenes for movies.


In that capacity you worked for Ralph Bakshi, best known for his X-rated animated movie
Fritz the Cat.

This movie was Fire and Ice, a sword-and-sorcery fantasy he made with Frank Frazetta, the creator of Conan the Barbarian. I got a lot of mileage painting for them. I had to do 600 paintings in a year and a half — jungles, volcanoes, glaciers. It was so exciting to finish a week’s worth of paintings, then see the scenes they would shoot over them. It felt like you were living inside your paintings. That was a core belief of Howard Pyle, an early illustrator who taught N.C. Wyeth and other turn-of-the-century artists. “Jump into the picture frame” is the way he put it.


That’s one reason matte painters in Hollywood all love the Hudson River School. Travel, paint from life, and use what you come home with. I use waterfalls and forests, enlarge them and put dinosaurs in them.


How exactly did you get the idea to “put dinosaurs in them”?

It started as a series of pictures I did while working as an artist for National Geographic. I was on location in Rome, Athens and Jerusalem. Seeing those ancient cities got me thinking about lost cities again. Instead of discovering one, I decided I could paint a city. At the same time, I also painted a dinosaur parade through ancient Rome.


Your three Dinotopia books have sold 2.5 million copies. Are you surprised at that kind of success?

Totally. I didn’t expect that. It’s really a picture book for older readers. It’s five times as long as a typical kids’ book, with 150 paintings. There was no precedent for it. It’s hard to market. Bookstores don’t know where to put it — in the children’s section, adult, science fiction? Librarians tell me they are still vacillating.


How does it feel having realized your childhood dream of discovering lost worlds? 

I get lots of wonderful letters, and here’s a letter I received recently that I love the most. It reads: “Dear Mr. Gurney: My brother and I are having a big disagreement. He says Dinotopia is fake. I say it’s real. Tell us who’s right. And don’t lie.” (Laughs.)

That’s so hard for me to answer. It’s very real for me, even though I haven’t been there. I’ve never been to Thailand either, but I’m pretty sure it’s real. u


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Shop Talk


Maria Luisa



Customers who visit Nyack’s Maria Luisa Boutique are often on a quest to find that one-of-a-kind item. “The type of merchandise that has been very successful in the shop is the stuff that has been the most unusual,” says owner Maria Luisa Whittingham, who has been peddling her unique wares — dresses, shoes, jewelery, baby clothes and gifts — in the now-trendy river village since 1987. “It’s about the individuality.” Euro-chic handbags, shoes from Spain, and a wide variety of colorful clothes (most made from natural fibers) stuff the boutique’s shelves, as do pieces from local artists. In fact, Whittingham even designs some purses herself.


Growing up in Puerto Rico (where her mother owned a bazaar), Whittingham first began sewing at the age of seven. Later, after moving to New York City, she worked in the garment industry as a designer. Now she feels right at home in Rockland County — and works hard to be a part of the community. New residents are encouraged to stop by for a welcome gift, and she sponsors Meet the Artist events, designer trunk shows, and even special men’s nights before Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day. Says Whittingham: “I plan on being around for a while.”


Maria Luisa Boutique. 14 S. Broadway, Nyack. Open Sun.-Wed. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., Thurs.-Fri. 11 a.m.-8 p.m. (closed Mon.). 845-353-4122 or



On The Town


1. Food Network celebrity chef Bobby Flay (left) and Nigel Spence, owner of Mt. Vernon’s Ripe Kitchen and Bar, pose after filming Throwdown with Bobby Flay. (Spence won.)

2. Roseview Dressage’s “Ride to the Rescue” clinic benefited the Dutchess SPCA. Olympic medalist Lisa Wilcox and Roseview’s Judy Sloan present a donation to DCSPCA’s Don Briggs and Eric Ewing.

3. Nyack Hospital receives a donation from the Kennedy Fund. L-R: Nyack’s Michael Rader, M.D. and David Freed; and Kennedy staffers Laurette Klein, Mitchell Klein, Kevin Wolfer, and James Miller.

4. LiteFM’s Joe Daily (right) and the Pok Chamber’s Charles North hang with Estelle the cow to promote the “Think Local First” campaign.


Leaf-Peepers’ Paradise


The Valley is putting on its fall finery — and we’re watching


It’s that time of year again. Warm, rustic hues of red and orange engulf the treetops, and our scenic roads are crammed with slow-moving vehicles.


You know what this means: Leaf-peeping season is in full swing.


But what you may not know is that each fall, 55 to 60 New Yorkers head out into the woods to report on the season’s changing foliage. By Labor Day, dozens of volunteers — like Newburgh’s Carol Nolan — are out and about, observing the shifting colors of the leaves and estimating the percentage of trees that will have changed by the following weekend. Every week, Eric Scheffel, who coordinates the fall foliage reports for the state tourism office, posts the findings on the Web site


“Our predictions help determine whether or not tourists would like to come to New York for the weekend,” says Nolan, a 24-year veteran peeper who checks out the foliage as she drives to her job at Bear Mountain State Park each day. So how do the leaf-peepers make their predictions? “Rain and cold weather really play a part. We look for colder, crisper evenings, which really help to accelerate the leaves’ advancement to the peak stages.” She notes that the third week in October is often the peak weekend in the mid-Valley. “The color progression is about the same every year,” says Nolan. “Every once in a while I notice a strange purplish color. Sometimes it seems like overnight, the colors change. In all the years I’ve done this, it still amazes me.”


Reports are available by dialing 1-800-CALL-NYS or by visiting — E.S.


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