simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: 2007
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Monday, 31 December 2007

Times Square Ball Drop

Dropping the ball in Times Square is the world's most well known New Year's Eve celebration. Nearly one million people attend in person with millions around the world watching the televised event. The millennium celebration saw two million people - I was one of them. The photo was taken on Sunday afternoon and preparations were already underway - television crews were setting up. (Note: click on the photo to enlarge it - if you look carefully, you can see the 2008 sign and pole for the ball above it.)
The ball drop has been an annual event since 1907, making this year the 100th anniversary. The ball itself has gone through numerous incarnations over the last one hundred years. It's earliest construction was of iron and wood with 25 watt bulbs - weighing 700 lbs. In 1920 it was replaced with a ball entirely of iron (400 lbs) and then in 1955 with an aluminum ball weighing only 150 lbs. It remained unchanged until the 1980s, when red light bulbs and a green stem converted the Ball into an apple for the "I Love New York" marketing campaign (from 1981 to 1988). In 1989, the traditional Ball with white light bulbs reappears. In 1995, the Ball gets an aluminum skin, rhinestones, strobe lights, and computerized controls. The aluminum ball was lowered for the last time in 1998, when it is replaced by a all new geodesic design from Waterford Crystal with the latest lighting technology for the millennium celebration - 504 crystal triangles, 696 lights including 96 strobes, 90 rotating pyramids. Read more about this remarkable, dazzling creation and the event here. This ball has been retired and is the property of the owners the One Times Square building. An entirely new ball has been crafted for this year's 100th anniversary by Waterford Crystal with 672 double cut crystal triangles. An all new lighting design was created by Focus Lighting utilizing Philips LED technology (replacing the halogen bulbs of the previous design). With 9,576 Philips Luxeon LEDs, it is more than twice as bright with enhanced color capabilities - 16.7 million to be exact. The ball was unveiled in October and on display at Macy's until December 10th - sorry I missed it. Had it not been for researching this article, I would have been completely unaware of the anniversary and new ball - I look forward to watching the televised drop and hope you do the same. Happy New Year!

Note: Time Balls actually date back to 1829, when the first one was erected in England by its inventor Robert Wauchope, a Captain in the Royal Navy. These were used for sailors to check their chronometers. They became obsolete with the advent of radio time signals. Over sixty still remain worldwide.

Friday, 28 December 2007

Lockout

I joke around about my fascination with prison documentaries, typically entitled something like Lockdown which are presented with great drama. The drama here in the Village is at least as great with a war that has gone on for some time between community activists and the Parks Department and their plan to completely redo Washington Square Park, with activists preferring a rehab versus wholesale reconstruction. All agree the park is in serious need of repair - the last renovation was done in 1967. The details of this battle (which is a replay of previous ones in this activist community) and its raison d'etre has been told blow by blow from the local papers all the way to the New York Times. My previous posting from May gives an overview of the various issues at hand with links and more photos - click here. Lawsuits have been brought against the City of New York (the last of which the city won) and on the week of December 10th, workers moved in, fenced off over half of the park and began construction (which will be done in two phases in an estimated 2-3 years). Phase 1 is larger and includes the fountain area and plaza around it, where most gatherings and activities take place. In the warmer weather it will be interesting to see how the regulars and visitors adapt to the very limited space.
I am a regular user of the park, long-time community resident and have been involved as a close observer of this process. I understand the viewpoints of both sides in this debate and I think it is important to remember that although opponents see the new design as radical, it will still remain a public park with a very similar layout. A radical proposition would have been the construction of high-rise condominiums in the Park's place.
The battle between opposing sides has appeared large but I do not think most residents have really studied or weighed in on this situation at all, leaving the decisions to the powers that be. The number of voices on both sides are actually quite small when viewed in the context of a community with an estimated population of 150-200,00 people. There are aspects of the new design which some feel will substantially change the character of the park, such as a 4-foot high perimeter fence (to secure it at night). It will be interesting to see if the character or mood of the park, its activities and users changes significantly once the project is completed. Architecture alone does not define a place and New Yorkers are adaptable, resilient and strong willed. My prediction in the outcome of this card game is that the character of the neighborhood and will of the users easily trumps the design ...

Thursday, 27 December 2007

Slow and Steady

There are neighborhood restaurants that seem to have been around forever, yet rarely mentioned and infrequently reviewed. They exist quietly like the Tiro A Segno New York Rifle Club that fascinated me for decades (click here for story). Or the missionary union in Manhattan that has not had one article written about yet - when I catch a friar on camera entering or leaving - you'll be the first to see it. Rocco Ristorante at 181 Thompson Street is a vintage home-style Italian restaurant founded by Rocco Stanziano in 1922 - 85 years must mean something. I have not eaten there yet, but the reviews are quite favorable, even from newer online sites such as yelp.com. It's just not glamorous, trendy or chic. Old, historic business establishments go down different roads. Some maintain quality, but raise prices substantially as they become real legacy businesses. Others just sell out and become money machines without any regard for quality (frequently cutting costs by outsourcing) - sometimes entire towns become tourist traps with businesses like this, such as Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Some catch a trend and reinvent themselves like Astor Place Haircutters - click here. And then there are those places that are sleepy backwaters, just doing things the same way, patronized by customers who like it exactly the way it is. Slow and steady wins the race ...

Wednesday, 26 December 2007

Über Peek

Honesty can be a good policy and honestly, after a stressful holiday weekend with all the preparations and travel, I did not have the energy this morning to do a posting. So I perused my photos with disappointment and tried to figure out how to spin straw into gold, or at least silver. The photos of the window display of Disrespectacles Eyewear at 82 Christopher Street was always interesting to me but had been previously nixed as not worthy. But in doing an online search for this store, interesting things popped up. Like using the singular Disrespectacle returned only 5 items from Google, while the plural returned 2450 - quite unusual. Typically, the singular brings back more than the plural (?). I also found a website on lovewords that defined Disrespectacle as: "To be publicly disrespected." Finally, I arrived at the store's website - you can link to it here. I found descriptions of their product line like funky, trend-setting, hip, über-sleek, industrial-sleek, high fashion, hard-to-find, and ultra high-end boutique, with features and reviews from all the top fashion publications.
Retailing is very competitive - merchants must be increasingly creative to stay alive in a crowded marketplace. And they are protective of their efforts. I am more and more frequently told I can not take photographs in stores - in some cases (like restaurants) this is to protect the privacy of patrons, but often it is due to paranoia - i.e. that others will steal their ideas for displays and decor. All the newer, trendy establishments which are hyper-designed are like this. Pinkberry (a new frozen dessert place) is a good example - they have a no photography icon on their windows. In shooting from the street through the windows at the French restaurant Balthazar in SoHo, I had a waiter inside waving his arms at me to signal that no photos are to be taken. So, from time to time, when I can manage to take a photo surreptitiously, I will offer you über-peeks of the verboten...

Monday, 24 December 2007

Being There

Can you have too much Macy's? - perhaps. But regular readers of this website know that I do bemoan the disappearance of so many NYC places and things that have given New York the character it is known for. As I also have written in my recent post Constant, many of the feelings that the best things and times have past are nostaligic and a complaint of every generation. Championing a merchant may appear to be unnecessary - they do get paid already as a business. And I have complained about excess consumption in this country with an over emphasis on materialism. However, we do need merchants and Macy's is not an ordinary merchant. To lose them would be sad. Their sponsorship and historic relationship with the Thanksgiving Day Parade (over 80 years) and the July 4th fireworks set them apart. They are part of the physical and psychic fabric of the city. I have written about them in more detail - click here for last year's posting. There is a security in knowing they are there, particularly as the world becomes more temporal, fragile and mutable. We need anchors. It reminds me of a Woody Allen comment about why he needs to live in NYC - that there's a restaurant in Chinatown where he can get a certain favorite dish at four o'clock in the morning. Not that he every has or will go there at that time. It's just knowing it's there. Macy's is one of those places - that whether you go patronize them or not, for a New Yorker, it's important to know they are there, especially at Christmas ...

Posting Note: This posting will remain for two days (Monday and Tuesday) - I will be away with my family in New England. New postings will resume Wednesday. Happy Holidays.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Bleecker Street

The problem with Bleecker Street is nothing new - a place being a victim of its own success. Over time, the South Village has gone through several incarnations. In the early 19th century, the area around Minetta Street became known as Little Africa. A large portion of the city's black population was living within a few blocks of Minetta Street - these were freed African-Americans (New York State abolished slavery in 1827). The area saw the nation's first black church, the first black theater (African Grove) and the first black newspaper (Freedom Journal). By the 1850s, the area just slightly east, where the Washington Square Village apartment complex now stands, became settled with an immigrant French community - in fact the area was known as Frenchtown. By the 1870s, most of the French had moved uptown, tourists invaded and the area became commercialized. Known as the Latin Quarter, it was populated with brothels and taverns. Later of course, from the early 20th century through the 1950s and 60s, the area became a renowned bohemian enter and still has that reputation to this day. Where does that leave us? Well, it leaves me with very mixed feelings about a street that has had quite a run and been virtually synonymous with Greenwich Village. The few blocks just between 6th Avenue and Laguardia Place has had many landmark establishments - The Village Gate, Bleecker Street Cinema, The Back Fence, Kenny's Castaways, Terra Blues, The Little Red Schoolhouse, Le Figaro Cafe, The Bitter End, Peculier Pub, Cafe Au Go Go and the Actor's Studio Drama School. In fairness, I must say that there are still many quality business establishments on the street, like Terra Blues e.g. When a place has been beaten hard with an onslaught of tourists for over a century, you do the best you can. And on a quiet weeknight with a little drizzle in the air and the soft neon glow of the Back Fence's neon signs, things don't look all that bad ...

A note about the street name: Bleecker Street is named for Anthony Bleecker (1770–1827), a poet and friend of Washington Irving and William Cullen Bryant. The street ran through his farm and in 1807, Bleecker and his wife deeded the land to the city.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

Nativity

It is amazing how inured we can become of things with constant exposure - like a beautiful vista seen daily. If someone had asked the existence or whereabouts of a nativity scene in NYC, I'm not sure if I would remembered this one, yet it is essentially a city block long on one of the busiest streets in Manhattan - Houston Street, a veritable crosstown highway, the dividing line between the Village and SoHo. It is not a street typically used by pedestrians for strolling - although there are retailers (like Rafetto's), the street does not have the ambiance of the surrounding smaller streets.Not to mention I cross this street daily and have done eight postings on subjects found on it. The photo shows the life size nativity which is erected annually by St. Anthony's church - officially the Church of St. Anthony of Padua at 154 Sullivan Street. The Roman Catholic Shrine church was built in 1866. It is staffed by the Franciscan Friars and is the oldest existing parish founded for ministry to Italian immigrants in the United States. In the 1930s, Houston Street was widened for the construction of the subway. Tenement buildings on abutting the north side of the church were demolished, leaving a narrow space between the church's north wall and Houston Street, where the Nativity scene is installed.

Interesting note: Convicted Mafia mobster, Vincent "The Chin" Gigante, was a habitue of Greenwich Village. He died December 19, 2005 - his funeral was held at St. Anthony's church.

Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Stay Lean Stay Hungry

These photos were taken in October when I was actively touring the East Village community gardens. I ran a number of garden postings, so this modest one was left to the archives. The Earth People Garden is one of those places that slips under the radar - it certainly is not in any guides or must see lists. Yet its charms were such that I thought it merited a posting. It is located on 8th Street between Avenues B and C in the heart of Losaida territory; the community members were primarily Hispanic. We were greeted cordially and invited to enjoy. We were also encouraged to come back for Halloween (which I did not do), when apparently they did a major redecoration for the holiday. I found the place extremely inspiring - their efforts and use of simple toys were a testament to resourcefulness and provided a breath of fresh air in an over-the-top world of excess. I feel that whatever creative talents I have are the product of a relatively spartan upbringing - generally I made my own toys and fun. There was a popular phrase I heard a lot at one time: "stay lean, stay hungry" - a warning not to get too fat and lazy. This was not to be taken literally (sports and exercise fans sometimes now use it that way) - the message was that doing with less will do more to drive an individual. Although I am not an advocate of eschewing all modernity and good tools, there is some merit to the concept of seeing what can be done by leveraging one's mind and personal skills, rather than relying on outside resources. These are the thoughts that ran through my mind as I wandered about the garden with its quaint displays and proud people ...

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Constant

In today's assignment, I will briefly answer the question "What does Washington Square Arch mean to me?" In the 60s - 70s, Greenwich Village had everything a young person wanted - freedom, excitement, diversity, the counterculture, permissiveness, liberalism, protest and rebellion. Along with Berkeley/San Francisco, it was one of the preeminent areas in the country for the counterculture of the times. The stories read like a fantasy novel - music venues like the Electric Circus and the Fillmore East, Bob Dylan, seeing John Lennon and Yoko at a local bike store, a friend calling Woody Allen from the dorm, Jimi Hendrix rehearsing down the block at Electric Lady Studios. Imagine coming to visit a place like this - never having been away from home or to the big city. One of my first memories of NYC (on a preliminary visit to NYU where I had been accepted) was approaching this arch with musicians beneath it playing bongos and radicals distributing literature like the Berkeley Barb. And yes, there was sex, drugs and rock and roll. But there were severe casualties for those who overindulged - see my posting Summer of Drugs, a 40th anniversary reunion of the 1967 San Francisco Be-In. So this arch has a lot of meanings for me. I have lived in this neighborhood for nearly 4 decades and the arch has been a constant in a world of change, symbolizing different things for different people and times. Recently, the arch was completely refurbished with beautiful lighting installed. So now when I arrive at night, I know it's home because I see the light has been left on for me ...

Other Postings on Washington Square Arch: Evening Arch, Singing Bowls, Cello, Arch Rebels.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Peregrine Falcons

On an excursion downtown I ran across this sign proclaiming the reemergence of the peregrine falcon in NYC. Until the middle of the 20th century peregrines ranged from Alaska to Georgia. But in the 1950s and ‘60s, the pesticide DDT found its way up the food chain. The birds that peregrines hunted fed on insects contaminated with DDT. Due to biomagnification, DDT accumulated in the peregrines, causing their eggs to become too weak to even support the weight of the mother incubating her eggs. The eggs shattered before fledglings could hatch. By the time DDT was finally banned in 1972, there was not a single peregrine falcon left east of the Mississippi. The reemergence of the peregrine is considered an environmental success story. I became interested in birds of prey in NYC several years ago when, like many other New Yorkers, I learned of the red-tailed hawk Pale Male (and his family) which had nested on a prime building on Fifth Avenue. I made frequent trips to the Boat Basin area of Central Park to spend afternoons, along with many others, watching the antics of the Pale Male. But problems ensued and the situation became a huge international story for the city - if you missed it click here for links and a posting with a photo of my own sighting at my bedroom window downtown of a red-tailed hawk - a real lucky photo op which itself got quite a response from birders and local residents. I was surprised to find this tiny patch of green (in the photo) at the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and learn that it was a prime spot for sighting falcons. I also was not aware that this is a Greenstreet property - part of a huge $391 million, ten year initiative to plant street trees in all possible locations, creating 800 new greenstreets, and reforesting 2,000 acres of parkland. The initiative is part of PlaNYC: " a blueprint for New York City to attain sustainable growth and improve the quality of life in the face of escalating population projections. The Mayor’s plan—shaped by input from environmental, business, community, and legislative leaders as well as thousands of New Yorkers—details 127 initiatives within five key areas of the city’s environment: land, air, water, energy, and transportation. Components of the plan include increasing access to open space, cleaning up contaminated lands, improving water quality through natural solutions, achieving the cleanest air quality of any big city in America, and reducing global warming emissions by 30%." It sounds great. Let's hope it's not just hot air :) ...

Friday, 14 December 2007

Air Rights

I'm not a neo-Luddite - I do love much of what technology has brought us. Cell phones, the Internet, PCs, DVDs, VCRs and ATMs are all things which have made are lives easier. But I do love natural things. One of the things I hate is the inability to open windows in high-rises or hotel construction. On a beautiful spring day, I want to throw the windows open, hear the birds and smell the air, not watch it through a picture window like a television program. That said, today I bring you two glass towers (two-for-one to carry you through the weekend). The building in the foreground is the 52-story 100 United Nations Plaza, a luxury condominium tower on the northwest corner of 48th Street and First Avenue, completed in 1986 (click here for 2nd photo). You can't miss this one with its signature wedge shaped roof in eight steps, featuring penthouses with multiple balconies. The building is surrounded by a landscaped plaza with gardens and fountains. It was designed by Der Scutt, an architect with quite a pedigree who has done numerous NYC projects including Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, the Grand Hyatt Hotel and the Corinthian luxury condominium. This building was the tallest in the area until it was eclipsed by the 72-story Trump World Tower (seen to its right in the photo) across First Avenue between 47 and 48th Streets. Surprisingly, I have read a number of positive reviews from architecture critics such as Herbert Muschamp. Designed by Polish architect Marta Rudzka and completed in 2001, it was built amid some controversy (of course) concerning its height and impact on views and neighboring buildings, particularly the United Nations. It is the tallest residential tower in the US and was worldwide until the completion of the 21st Century Tower in Dubai (2003) and the Tower Palace Three in Seoul (2004). It's amazing what lawyers and money can do. If the law provides needed loopholes and maneuverable angles, lawyers will find them and unless laws are changed, projects go though which may puzzle many and not be to the liking of residents. One of the most fascinating concepts is the Transfer of Development Rights (or TDR), a scheme introduced to the city in the 1980s for transferring the unused "air rights" of one building (or more) to another proposed structure, thus allowing for a much taller structure to be erected than the building's plot alone would allow. It's intention was to save older historic buildings - rather than have to sell a property to capitalize on the value of its land, TDR allows the building to remain with the owner still profiting by selling air rights for the development of a taller structure on a neighboring plot. So Donald Trump gets to dot his i and cross his T again ...

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Better When

I'm very surprised that I can find nothing written online or offline about this exquisite little building at 176 MacDougal Street in the Village. It sits at the corner of MacDougal Street and MacDougal Alley (click here). It is unusual in that much of it is unattached on four sides - atypical of small buildings like this in Manhattan. Coupled with its white-painted exterior, the building has a very free feeling to it. The detailing and window boxes gives it a European, perhaps Parisian, flavor. The retail space has gone through a number of incarnations over the years - currently it is a laundromat. At one time there was a restaurant called Shakespeare's here. Along 8th Street there were numerous bookstores - the one at the corner of MacDougal is where Bob Dylan was introduced to Allen Ginsberg in 1964. I was told that Robert Joffrey of the Joffrey Ballet lived atop the building in the photo; today I have learned however that it was next door at 180 MacDougal. Across the street was Capezio, a renowned maker of dance shoes. The Joffrey Ballet company was around the corner on 6th Avenue. The neighborhood had the type of places that gave the Village its Bohemian, artsy, iconoclastic character. But all this nostalgia with remembrances, reveries and reminiscing reminds me of a great article in the New York Times which had a profound impact on me. It was written in 2001 by Jill Eisenstadt, a Brooklynite who recounts her parent's telling (ad nauseum) of how everything was better back when - seltzer, candy stores, cafeterias, stickball, stoopball, the trolley, mickeys, egg creams, Ebbets field and the Dodgers. I will leave you with the final few sentences of that article: "Years from now, I'll probably tell my grandchildren about the old neighborhood. How merchants let me run up a tab if I was short on cash, how the pediatrician offered to make a house call in an emergency, how the baker made me promise to bring the babies in for their first cookies, how we all helped each other shovel the one snowfall of 1999. But when they ask what a shovel is, I hope I'll tell them the truth. That a shovel is a heavy tool. The nostalgia is a heavy comfort. That I don't really miss Brooklyn way back when. What I miss is being young. That everything is probably a lot better now."

Related Postings: Left Bank, New York; MacDougal Alley; Re-Creation; Washington Mews

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Marilyn

I can't imagine anyone not familiar with this iconic image of one the most influential figures in popular culture of the 20th century. This is, of course, Marilyn Monroe with her dress being blown up over a NYC subway grate at the SW corner of Lexington Avenue and 52nd Street in the film The Seven Year Itch. As she feels the cool air wafting upwards, she says "Isn't it delicious?" There was much controversy over this scene and the dialogue - some original material was cut. In the original footage, Marilyn's dress was blown up over her waist - this is the image which we are all familiar with and was used in print ads (or in sculptures like the one in the photo). For the film however, the the scene was reshot on a sound stage. The new footage was much tamer with her dress barely above her knees. The original footage (shot on location) was also deemed unusable due to the enormous background noise by the crowd during filming. The scene even precipitated an argument between Marilyn and her husband at the time, Joe DiMaggio (who was on the set during filming) which reportedly led to their separation and divorce. When I grew up, Marilyn Monroe was synonymous with the ultimate in beauty and sexiness. It was also a time where durability was a much larger component of quality and fame. Momentum could build, creating enormous larger than life icons like Elvis, Marilyn or the Beatles. Many feel we will never again see this type of thing again. Today, everything feels so temporal and transient - in fact in many ways this fleeting from here to the next best thing is something looked on positively. Warhol's fifteen minutes of fame is starting to look like a long successful career ...

Photo Note: The photo was taken outside SoHo Treasures at 123 Mercer Street.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Foolish Crash

There are different types of crashes - the type which I photographed and posted on this site on May 4, 2007 (click here for Yellow Fever), and the type you see in the photo - a computer hard drive crash. And why was there a crash? Because there are different types of fools - the type seen in the middle ages which were extremely clever and entertaining, often employed in the royal court and featured in many Shakespearean plays, and the type that, even though computer savvy, when tired and things aren't working properly, start reconfiguring cables of their computer system with reckless abandon. And of course there are different consequences to such behavior, some rather benign and others quite dire, like a hard drive crash (made worse by not having made proper backups of ALL their work, losing some things forever). Lastly, there are different types of people and they react variously to such occurrences - some who take things in stride and others that it would be advised not to be around when such things happen. And this is why today, you get not a wonderful, insightful photo and story on some fascinating, perhaps obscure part of our wonderful city, but rather a photo of the inside of my G4 Mac when I was replacing its main drive ...

Photo note: For those of you who find today's photo uninteresting, trust that you would much prefer this photo to one of your author and the state he was in when this occurred and it became clear that the damage was irreparable :) ...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Surly Santas

While walking in the Village with a friend and arriving at the intersection of MacDougal and Bleecker Streets, we were unexpectedly besieged by a gang of Santas - I would say group, however their demeanor and ensuing conversation with a panhandler gave them more of a rude, frat boys feel than the benevolent, generous spirit we associate with Santa. The conversation between one of the Santas and the panhandler went something like this:
Panhandler : "Oh good - Santas, Christmas Spirit. Can you spare a quarter?"
Santa: "Get it together brother."
Panhandler: "You get it together!"
We assumed these guys were in costume and not individuals who actually work as Santas somewhere - that would be a little disheartening - I think one would expect the dialog to be more courteous even coming from someone who is not Santa. Was this Christmas spirit, New York Style, or was this Santa perhaps more progressive in his thinking? That he felt that giving in this type of circumstance was, in the parlance of the modern psychotherapeutic community, being an enabler. Like the old saying: "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for life."
In researching this saying I came across some variations:
Teach a man to fish and he learns to covet your boat.
Give a man a fish and he'll eat for a day. Give a man a fishing rod and he'll break it in two for firewood - or exchange it for a fish.
Give a man a fish, and he'll wonder what you want from him.
Build a man a fire, and he's warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he's warm for the rest of his life.
Give a man a crab and it will pinch his fingers. Teach a man to crab and he'll complain about being pinched.
Give a man a boil and he'll just get sore. Teach a man to boil and he'll be able to make his own tea.
Give a man a slide and he'll want a microscope. Teach a man to slide and he'll want a playground.
Teach a man to fish, and you introduce another competitor into the overcrowded fishing
industry. Give a man a fish, and you stimulate demand for your product.
Give a man a fly and he'll think you're an idiot. Teach a man to fly and he'll end by looking down on you.
Give a man a fish and he'll have dinner. Teach a man to fish and he'll be late for dinner.
Teach him to fish and he'll sit in a boat drinking beer all day.

Credit for these quotes and more humor can be found at the site Halfbakery.com

Friday, 7 December 2007

Soup Kiosk

What's better than soup on a cold winter's day? Not much, as you can see by the line at the Soup Kiosk which adjoins and is associated with the historic Fanelli Cafe at 94 Prince Street in SoHo. As we tire of the same choices for lunch, street food becomes a good choice - fast, inexpensive (relatively), and often fresh, home cooked and delicious. My first thoughts when I became acquainted with this place were of the classic Seinfeld skit "The Soup Nazi." This notion was quickly quelled after sampling the food and pleasant manner of Eunique who works the kiosk - for a closer look at our server plying her trade, click here. The kiosk offers a range of several soups, chili (including vegetarian) and beverages. Having soup as a meal brings back memories of the Campbell Soup Company slogans: "Never Underestimate the Power of Soup" and "Mmmm mmm good." The power of soup was apparent when even Andy Warhol could not limit the fame of his art piece, Campbell's Soup Cans, to 15 minutes. When Campbell's was inducted into the Marketing Hall of Fame in 1994, the judges said, "Campbell's has transcended the soup category to become a symbol of American hearth, home and values." I think these associations are a credit to soup itself as much as it is to Campbell, although they are to be applauded for promoting a healthy meal concept. Apparently in the early years of the company's history, soup was not popular here in the USA as it was in Europe. I know it's heretical to drag in Campbell's canned, condensed soups in a piece about the merits of fresh homemade soup. But just thinking about soup conjures up a whole world of memories - comfort food nonpareil, a wholesome and for many, a simpler life ...

See these related postings: Speedy Gonzalez, NY Dosas

Thursday, 6 December 2007

The Woolworth Building

The Woolworth Building, at 233 Broadway, is a personal favorite of mine - my business was located down the block on Park Place for 10 years, so I saw this building daily. The Gothic structure with spires, arches, flying buttresses and gargoyles, was designed by Cass Gilbert and built in 1913 for $13 million in cash by Frank Woolworth as his corporate headquarters (until their bankruptcy in 1997) for his chain of five and dime stores. At 792 feet, it was the tallest building in the world and remained so until 1930. One of the stellar attractions is the spectacular lobby. I have visited numerous times - however, as I have written several times before, here we have another case of heavily restricted access to a landmark building subsequent to 911. Prior to that event, guards were accustomed to visitors and welcomed them. At night, when it was quiet and the guards were not busy, showing interest in the lobby resulted in what amounted to a free personal tour with a history of the construction of the building and explanation of the architectural and sculptural elements. They were always eager to point out the all the features of the magnificent vaulted lobby with blue and gold glass mosaics, murals, marble and the sculptured caricatures including Woolworth counting his nickels and dimes, Cass Gilbert holding a model of the building and the structural engineer Gunvald Aus. Its exterior is also outstanding with limestone, granite, terra-cotta and its signature pyramidal copper spire, now with a green patina. Whenf first built, it was referred to as a Cathedral of Commerce, an appropriate description for this National Historic Landmark. Today, it is impossible to access the interior unless you have specific business in the building. So for now, I only have photos of the exterior to share with you ...

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

Chelsea Piers

The Chelsea Piers have a long history with many twists and turns, much of it paralleling the other NYC waterfront piers which saw their heyday, a sordid decline and then an unexpected and greatly welcomed renaissance. In the early 20th century, the Chelsea Piers saw all of the trans-Atlantic luxury cruise liners, including the Titanic and Lusitania. In 1935, the luxury liner piers moved north; the Chelsea piers became a cargo terminal. In the 1980s there were plans for a new West Side Highway (Westway) which called for demolition of the piers. The Westway project never went through and the piers survived. The new piers, designed by Warren and Wetmore (which also designed Grand Central Terminal), began construction in 1994. The huge, 28-acre complex of 4 piers between 17th and 23rd Streets in Manhattan are a sports oriented facility with several venues: The Field House - soccer, basketball, gymnastics, baseball, dance and rock climbing; Golf Club - a four-tiered, year-round outdoor driving range); Sky Rink - twin indoor ice-skating rinks with hockey, general & figure skating, school; Sports Center Health Club; The Spa; a Bowling center and the BlueStreak Sports Training facility. Click here for the Chelsea Piers website. There is onsite parking and restaurants. A nice plus is that the center is located along the Hudson River Greenway ...

Photo Note: the photo shows the vista looking towards midtown. Click here for a second photo with a view of Gehry's IAC building (click here for posting about the Gehry building).

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Brutal

Even the plain becomes interesting when it is extremely plain and nothing beats the AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas Street for a bleak, monolithic structure. 550 feet with no windows. I have been fascinated by this building for over 20 years but never made a serious effort to learn anything about it until writing this article - I decided to get to the bottom of it all. What's going on in there? Plenty, just no people. The structure was designed by John Carl Warnecke and completed in 1974 as a telephone switching hub for AT&T, now used primarily by AT&T and Verizon. The floors are 18 feet tall - nearly double the height of a standard commercial building, so technically the building is only 29 stories. The exterior walls are made from concrete panels clad with pink-colored Swedish granite. The vertical protrusions are shafts which house the elevators, stairs and ductwork. There are large, rectangular ventilation holes at the 10th and 29th floors. It is considered one of the most secure buildings in the US, and was designed to resist a nuclear blast and be self-sufficient for up to two weeks. My understanding is that the building is essentially humanless, barring the occasional technician. On September 17, 1991, human error and power equipment failure resulted in the disabling of the central office switch - over 5 million calls were blocked, and FAA phone lines were also interrupted, disrupting air traffic control to 398 airports serving most of the northeastern US. In researching for this posting, I saw the architectural style of this building categorized as both International Style II and Brutalism (French béton brut, or "raw concrete"). Don't try to get any consensus as to its appearance - even critics are divided. Architecture critics for the NY Times, Paul Goldberger and Herbert Muschamp both seem to like it. Goldberger says it "This is the only one of the several windowless equipment buildings the phone company has built that makes any sense architecturally - it is sheathed in a warm and handsome granite, and though it looks more like a mammoth piece of equipment than a conventional building, it, in fact, blends into its surroundings more gracefully than does any other skyscraper in this area." Muschamp says: "The pink granite tower is forbidding, and it obstructs the river view I would enjoy if the building were demolished. But who cares? Obstructed views are part of what makes New York democratic. And Warnecke's building starkly frames my view of midtown as if it were a sheer Grand Canyon wall: a neat special effect." On the other hand, in one survey of architects and critics for the Ugliest Buildings in New York City, the building received the distinction of coming in 6th place ...

Monday, 3 December 2007

Anomalies

Global Warming Controversy has its own article in Wikipedia - with separate articles on Global Warming, Attribution of recent climate change, Politics of global warming, Climate change denial, Scientific opinion on climate change, Adaptation to global warming, Effects of global warming, Mitigation of global warming, Kyoto Protocol, Economics of global warming, Low-carbon economy, Global climate model, Ocean acidification, Global dimming and Ozone depletion. The current article on the controversy is dozens of pages long and has 216 references. The subject is overwhelming - I did not have time to make a career of the subject or distill even a reasonable overview of global warming. I have gleaned that at this point although there still may be debate on causes and effects, most scientists do agree there is a warming, surprisingly of only 1.33 degrees F over the last 100 years (of course it is known that even a small sustained change will cause problems.) I recall winters here in the city with cold snaps in the single digits lasting for days but my sense that there has been a very substantial increase in temperatures must be do to selective memory - I'm assured that one must account for natural variations with anomalies and aberrations. This first snow on Sunday seemed peculiar - everywhere I went I saw a slurry of green leaves and snow mixed together on the sidewalks. And I thought this vista of a tree with bright yellow leaves in December with snow falling was also unusual, but maybe it's usually this way or just an anomaly ...

Friday, 30 November 2007

Signature

Apart from this photoblog, I also do a moderate amount of photography for my business, shooting all the various products we manufacture and sell. We were very pleased with the dramatic variety of effects we got recently with a shoot, so I thought I would share five of the photos (out of 35). I revealed the unique nature of my business in a previous post - click here and note the 4th comment. This is also how I have the privilege of knowing high-wire artist and juggler Philippe Petit who has been featured twice (see other related postings below).
LEDs have become cheaper and brighter over the years, which has resulted in the proliferation of all types of illuminated items in a myriad of product categories including toys, shoes, clothing, ornaments etc. Juggling is no different and the performance aspect is really driving the interest in illuminated products - companies like mine are endeavoring to offer everything possible in an illuminated version. People just love illuminated props and the simplest routines elicit oohs and aahs from an audience - jugglers get a lot of mileage from their skill set when using illuminated juggling equipment. The photos are of me juggling three clubs in the dark with our color changing model. In this LED variant, the hue slowly cycles through the color spectrum. So in a figurative and literal sense, this really is my signature ...

Related Postings: Artiste Extraordinaire, Spinning, Fire and Drums, Spiegelworld, Titans

Thursday, 29 November 2007

Our Lady of Pompei

This was looking like an average story of a nice looking church. Until I read that this church was named after the Basilica of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary of Pompeii in Italy which was founded by a former Satanist - Bartolo Longo (1841-1926). Read his story here. He was later beatified on October 26, 1980 by Pope John Paul II, who referred to him as the "Apostle of the Rosary." The church in the photo (built in 1928), Our Lady of Pompeii, is located on the corner of Carmine and Bleecker Streets in the Village. It has very high visibility from nearby 6th Avenue and is a landmark in the area. I have shown it as viewed from behind (to the west) along Bleecker Street. Its construction was organized by Father Antonio Demo (born 1870 in Lazzaretto di Bassano, Italy - died in 1936 in New York City) to replace a former church where he was pastor. In an interesting side note, the former church is where St. Frances Xavier Cambrini worshipped and taught - she was the first American citizen to be canonised. The church was built in 1928 in Italian-Renaissance style with an interior graced by marble columns, frescoes and murals. This area of the South Village still shows signs and remnants of its Italian heritage - the shops along Bleecker Street between 6th and 7th Avenues are a good example. Between 1880 and 1920, more than 50,000 Italian immigrants settled here. Father Demo's legacy continued with the naming of the triangular plot across the street from the church - Father Demo Square - click here ...

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Danger and Caution

The rules to Capture the Flag are incredibly simple (in theory) - the goal is to capture the opponent's flag, located at their team's base, and bring it back to your team's base. Yet to watch this game played in the city is to witness something bordering an anarchistic mêlée. Some players are running everywhere (nearly crashing into onlookers) and others are standing for no reason I can fathom; some are chatting with the enemy, sometimes in jail; boundaries seem ill defined or not at all, and the score is not announced. The members of the two teams - Danger and Caution - wear identifying plastic strips around their wrists. The flags are knotted rags as seen in the photo. Thinking this was a new geek creation unique to the city, I was surprised to learn that this is an old game - I actually found reference to it in a Boy Scout manual from 1947 and that Robert Kennedy Jr. has been known to have 100 person games at his property in Mt. Kisco, NY. There are versions which incorporate areas of neighborhoods in Brooklyn. The photos show the game as played by NYU students in the evenings in Washington Square Park. Capture the flag is part of a trend in urban gaming with others like Pacmanhattan and manhunt. I've discussed the game with a professor at NYU (with a PhD in physics) who frequents the park and has observed the game and also is confused while watching. He agrees that it is only fully understandable by the young and wild spirited :) ...

Photo Note: The photos are from from August 30, 2007. I intended to coordinate with the group of players and do a more extensive shooting with a flash system, but it never happened.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Housing Stock

This magnificent building at 451 Broome Street in the SoHo Historic District caught the eyes of couple of photographer friends and myself on a recent walk. I could find no details on this building specifically - amazing, since in another locale something of this quality would be worthy of group tours. But SoHo is packed with quality structures, so a building really has to really stand out in an extraordinary way architecturally or historically to make itself known. SoHo is bounded by Houston Street on the north, Lafayette Street on the east, Canal Street on the south, and Varick Street on the west. Like much of the city in the 1960s-70s, this industrial neighborhood was in decline and was discovered and populated by artists who found upper story floors (which became known as lofts) with their enormous spaces, large windows and cheap rents very desirable. Most of the use of these spaces for living was technically illegal, however the state of the neighborhood caused these violations to be overlooked. SoHo has also been known as the Cast Iron District - the ornate facades of many of these 19th century buildings are done in cast iron. Like Tribeca and DUMBO, the quality of housing stock ultimately determines the degree of gentrification a place will attain. We see this all over the world with places like the Marais in Paris or Providence, Rhode Island, which is seeing a renaissance, driven by its old factory buildings. Contrast this with neighborhoods like Williamsburg, Brooklyn or the East Village - they certainly have been gentrified but I do not believe you will ever see these neighborhoods approach the level of SoHo, with Madison and Fifth Avenue retailers like Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Coach. Here we had a centrally located neighborhood with beautiful architecture and cobbled streets. It was just a matter of time ...

Related postings - click any of the following links: Bleecker Tower, Scholastic Building, Bayard Condict, The Wall, Jersey Girls, Stephanie, Hoopmobile, Gourmet Garage, Alidoro.

Monday, 26 November 2007

First Oasis Restaurant

On February 19, 2007, I posted on one of my favorite dishes - Ful Mudammas (click here) - made by First Oasis Restaurant at 9218 Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, where I travel to get it. The owner/chef, Said Albahari from Syria, previously owned Magic Carpet Restaurant on Carmine Street in Manhattan for over 20 years, where I was a regular customer from its early days. At the time, I was a strict vegetarian. Middle Eastern and Indian cuisine quickly became favorites - both have some extremely good vegetable dishes. I have generally found vegetarian fare from an ethnic restaurant to be much tastier than meals from vegetarian restaurants, where the food is driven more by the dietary restrictions. Ethnic restaurants, on the other hand, have a real culinary tradition behind them with a creative use of spices, condiments and unique preparations. However, even in NYC, authentic Middle Eastern food is not that common. The cuisine is perhaps a little too exotic for the average American palate. A perusal of Middle Eastern restaurant listings shows mostly falafel/shawarma type places. Many of the better places are found in the outer boroughs where there are neighborhoods with concentrations of various ethnic groups and their attendant restaurants. One of my favorite meals is Ouzi - shown in the photo upper left. This is absolutely delicious with raisins, nuts, vegetables and rice in a phylo pastry dough, served with a yogurt sauce (meat and vegetarian versions are available). Moustache (previous posting click here) in Manhattan, also serves ouzi. First Oasis is very authentic with an extensive menu of Middle Eastern specialties like kebabs, mussaka, kebbeh, labneh, hummus, baba ghanuj, stuffed grape leaves, tabuleh, seafood. traditional desserts (halavah, baloza, baklawa, ladyfinger) and beverages (tamarind). The owner takes his cooking seriously - dishes are made from scratch. The food is excellent and inexpensive. Highly recommended ...

Interesting Note: I discussed the dearth of Ouzi and Ful with the chef from Olive Tree Cafe (previously posted - click here). His feeling was that customers were too unfamiliar with these dishes and would not order them. In the case of Ful, the cooks made in regularly for themselves in the kitchen.

Interesting Anecdote: During one of my last meals I had in Magic Carpet in the Village before it closed, I was accompanied by Sara Jessica Parker (of Sex in the City fame) at a nearby table. According to the staff, she was a regular, getting deliveries frequently (she lived around the corner). One of her last comments during the meal was enthusiastic: "This food is delicious."

Photo Note: At the top from left to right: Vegetable Ouzi, Spinach Pie, Ful Mudammas.

Thursday, 22 November 2007

Black Friday

Today is Black Friday - everyone knows the day after Thanksgiving is considered the commencement of the Christmas shopping season and is one of the busiest shopping days of the year. The most common explanation for the origin of the term Black Friday is that it is the start of profitability of many businesses - putting them in the black (an accounting term hearkening back to when accountants used red ink for loss and black for profits). In actuality, many businesses do rely on holiday sales to show a profit for the entire year. An older origin of the term is an implied comparison to stress and chaos of other black days such as Black Tuesday, the day of the 1929 stock market crash.
It's remarkable that holiday shopping has taken on such epic proportions - frenetic shoppers fueled by desperate retailers. I once remember hearing a remark that shopping is what Americans do best. So shop 'till you drop :) ...

Photo Note: I have assembled a collage of photos of the major retailers I have featured on this site since its inception (March 2006). The photos are listed clockwise starting at the upper left. (click on any to go to that posting and it photos): Saks, Macys, Tiffany, Takashimaya, Apple and Sherry, Cartier.

Horn of Plenty

Apart from the traveling, I find Thanksgiving to be a comforting time of year - very comfy as far as eating is concerned. It is a time of year where family, friends and food come to the foreground and other responsibilities can be pushed aside. Thanksgiving Day is still rather non-commercial, with the emphasis on thanks and giving. This is a nice respite from the over-the-top commercialization that has affected virtually everything. It also is the day where overeating is not only allowed but encouraged and expected. An old Saturday Night Live skit comes to mind where wives were virtually force feeding their husbands (who could eat no more) in their plush upholstered chairs on Thanksgiving day. And then there is the famous scene in Monty Python's the Meaning of Life where the enormous Mr. Creosote is persuaded to eat one last wafer-thin after-dinner mint, whereupon he literally explodes.
The photo shows the scene at Dean and Delucca, the gourmet emporium in SOHO, the evening before Thanksgiving. There was a time when places like this inspired awe and wonder with residents and visitors. This food mecca has been a destination for many. But we are all a little jaded now, given places like the ubiquitous national chain Whole Foods and exposure to a myriad of goods and services via various media and the Internet. The kind of things these iconic NYC gourmet shops were renowned for have become much more available outside the city. For most, America has become the horn of plenty ...

Note about the Horn of Plenty or Cornucopia: There are many variations on the telling of this Greek myth. In one telling, Zeus was raised by Amalthea on the milk of a goat. In return, Zeus presented her with the horn of the goat which had the magical power to be filled with whatever the holder desired. The modern cornucopia is now a wicker basket with the shape of a goat's horn.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Luxury

I have not done a posting on the Waldorf Astoria Hotel per se (I will do a more in depth piece in the future), but did feature their famed clock earlier this year - click here. The Waldorf epitomizes classic, iconic New York. If you want to see a place that just exudes old world charm and luxury, New York style, this is the it. The Palace of New York and art deco masterpiece. Of course the Plaza (no longer a hotel) and the Pierre give it a run for the money, but if I had to pick one hotel that says "New York" this would be it. There are so many historical associations including ringing in the New Year with dance band leader Guy Lombardo. Presidents, Queens, dignitaries, celebrities of all types - the roster, past and present, reads like a who's who. The hotel has the largest elegant ballroom in the city - four stories high. This is home to the annual International Debutante Ball. The U.S. government maintains a large suite on the 42nd floor as a residence for its United Nations ambassador. The presidential suite has been home to every President of the US when visiting New York since 1931. If, BTW, you have never been (whether resident or visitor), I highly recommend you visit and wander about. The main lobby is a must see. Have no concern about visiting as a non-guest - there is too much traffic for anyone to police. Act like you belong and you will ...

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

Fuerzas Irresistibles

Today I became acquainted with José de Diego (April 16, 1866 – July 16, 1918) - statesman, lawyer, journalist and poet. Born in Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Diego spent time between Spain and Puerto Rico and was an advocate and leader of the movement for Puerto Rico's independence from Spain. An important figure in Puerto Rico's history, many things have been named in his honor - roadways, schools and his birth date as an official holiday. He was also known as father of the modern Puerto Rican poetry movement. The last six lines of his poem, Fuerzas Irrestibiles, are on the wall of the public community garden:

La idea es el vapor: vapor divino,
que invisible y potente, como el viento,
marcha seguro a su inmortal destino.

¿Quién osa detener su movimiento?
Si se alza una montaña en su camino,
abre un túnel y pasa el pensamiento!

The poem and bas relief speak to community solidarity in this neighborhood, which has a large Hispanic community and Puerto Rican heritage. The community garden, Bello Amanecer Borincano, was started in 1984 by Carmen Pabon (it was later partially bulldozed). Click here for photo. The location is at 119 Avenue C (in Alphabet City) which has the official alternate name - Loisaida Avenue - Loisaida is Spanglish for Lower East Side. The term was originally coined by poet and activist, Bittman "Bimbo" Rivas (1939-1992) in his 1974 poem "Loisaida." the renaming of Avenue C was a token of appreciation for his contributions to the Lower East Side, his home, and for his people ...

Photo note: I only noticed on close examination that the illustration's background is a replica of a Certificate of Naturalization of the United States of America. Click here for close-up.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Titans

Yesterday afternoon I was privileged to attend a public program at the Tribute World Trade Center with Guy Tozzoli and Philippe Petit entitled A Conversation About Bold Imagination. The program was held in a small cozy room with 75 or so attending - it had the feeling of an intimate family gathering. I had the sense that everyone there knew more about one or both of these men than would be typical ... The audience was mesmerized - I know I was. I have written before of Philippe - click here for the article and photo of a street show. Since writing this blog in the last one and a half years, I have become much more attentive to the words of others. Philippe is extraordinary - I have not seen anyone who speaks so poetically in an extemporaneous fashion. He told of his notorious walk between the Twin Towers on August 7, 1974 and how he planned this in secret over the course of 6 years. Philippe is a man of many talents - tight-rope walker, unicyclist, magician, juggler, pantomime artist, pickpocket, street juggler, writer, illustrator and speaker. At the time of Philippe's walk, Guy Tozzoli was the Director in charge of overseeing the creation and building of the two towers. His stories and anecdotes of the process of becoming director, meeting Philippe and dealing with his arrest were wonderful. He always comes across as a warm, positive human being. At the time prior to Philippe's walk, the towers were really seen in as monsters without soul - Philippe's act made them human. Guy is President of the World Trade Centers Association, an organization of nearly 300 world trade centers in almost 100 countries.
Philippe described his walk as an artistic crime - one that did not take from anyone, but was a gift. Many thoughts and feelings came to mind as I listened to these inspiring individuals and thought of the towers - but one word really jumped out and made titling this article so easy - Titans ...

Friday, 16 November 2007

Advertising Gone Wild

New York City has always been a place where commerce and advertising have been prominent in the landscape - Times Square is a good example. However, the combination of digital technology (with the ability to print enormous signs on vinyl) and the lure of advertising revenue has taken it to new heights with building walls in the city being blanketed by ad murals, not to mention advertising in a myriad of other variations - newsboxes, ads projected on streets etc. What the smug New Yorker always saw as a blighted feature of the suburbs, and believing that the sophisticated culture of NYC provided immunity from the same, has now become a prominent feature of the city. Commercial interests are relentless and tenacious, however, and keeping them in check requires, if I may borrow from the ACLU motto, eternal vigilance. Commerce usually wins - even in France, Apple Computer managed to hang Think Different banners, featuring Gustave Eiffel and Pablo Picasso, on the facade of the Louvre. The Gap ad in this photo hangs on Houston Street, a few blocks from The Wall, which I wrote about previously. Houston Street is ideal for this type of ad - the street is heavily trafficked and has many large building facades. What surprises me most is that in many cases these murals are placed over apartment windows, obstructing views and light (in some cases you see cutouts for the windows). But alas, the issue of billboards is not new. I ran across this article in the New York Times which I thought was recent: BILLBOARD COMMISSION ADVISES DRASTIC REFORMS; Fire Hazard Is Increased, Real Estate Values Depreciated, and the Beauty of the City Marred, It Reports, by Many of the Big Signs and Their Structures.
Date of article: 1914 ...

Related Postings: Big and Beautiful?, Manhattan Mural, The Wall

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Boyd Thai

Boyd is a tiny Thai restaurant at 210 Thompson Street in the center Village. After my meal there last night with a friend, I spoke to the owner, who was most cordial, and gave him my NYDP card. Owner/chef Boyd has had previous restaurant experience - he owned a restaurant in Thailand prior to coming to the US and has worked in Thai restaurants in NYC including the well-known, stylish Planet Thailand in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. In the last year I have been eating there, I have found the food consistently excellent and the staff to be attentive and friendly. Reviews in publications like MenuPages, Timeout New York, Yelp and New York Magazine are overwhelmingly positive. One thing that stands out about this place is the creative flair they bring to the menu offerings, going beyond the standard Thai fare with dishes like Chile Crusted Tuna with Grape Asparagus Curry, Tuna and Mango Salad or Roasted Duck with Avocado Orange Salad. I love the exotic spices and use of tropical fruits like papaya, mango, tamarind, lime, coconut, avocado, orange, pineapple and lychee. The cuisine is seafood oriented but there are plenty of Thai standards (like Pad Thai), curries and vegetarian entrees. There are also many nice small touches (like the dinnerware) all to uncommon in places in this price range - most inexpensive restaurants tend to treat dining in a very utilitarian manner. There are Early Bird specials before 7 PM - a full dinner with appetizers for only $9.95/$10.95. A real find ...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

The Wall

The Wall in SOHO is one of the most well-known pieces of installation art in NYC. Its size, brilliant colors (turquoise aluminum beams on a lavender wall) and location at the intersection of two of the busiest major thoroughfares, Broadway and Houston Street, all give this piece enormous visibility. In reading for this article, I have found egregious errors, heinous omissions, misinterpretations and conflicting facts, typical in online sources. And in the case of long and complex sagas like the story of this wall, the situation worsens as people pick up a fact or two and fill in the blanks, extrapolating as they see fit. To add insult to injury, the misinformation is then copied. All that being said, it appears that The Wall was installed in 1973 by Forrest "Frosty" Myers. According to the New York Times: "The building at 599 Broadway was constructed in 1917. The building next door, No. 603, was razed in 1944 as Houston Street was widened. That building's abutting wall was anchored to 599 Broadway with 42 steel tie rods ending in 42 exposed channel braces. This architectural scar endured until 1972, when Mr. Myers was commissioned to undertake ''The Wall'' by Doris C. Freedman of City Walls, an organization that placed large-scale artworks on the blank facades of buildings. The project was welcomed by Charles J. Tanenbaum, who then owned 599 Broadway. Mr. Myers devised four-foot aluminum extrusions affixed with stainless-steel bolts to the channel braces, forming T-shaped projections from the wall plane. The background was painted blue-gray and the metal elements were green." In 1984, the building was converted to commercial condominiums. The artist has been battling the condominium since 1997. In 2002, the work was taken down for repairs to the building - damage was being done by water penetrating through the artwork. The condo also wanted to generate income via billboard advertising, estimated to be $600,000 per year and was not interested in reinstalling the art. The work sat in storage for 5 years until a compromise agreement was finally reached in 2007. You can read about it here. The newly reinstalled wall will now also be illuminated at night ...

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

No Local Color

What can be said about this obscure little private, one block alley which lies between Duane and Thomas Streets, parallel to Church Street and Broadway in lower Manhattan? Not much at all. Would I recommend visiting it? - no, not unless, like myself, you like to visit alleys. Are there any interesting tidbits or stories? - none that I could find. Trimble Place is very uninteresting, drab, with no outstanding features or businesses, very little history other than it was named in 1874 for George Trimble, a 19th century merchant, director of New York Hospital and an officer of the Public School Society. The most interesting things about the alley are the buildings that surround it like the controversial 52 story residential tower next door and the bizarre 550 foot, monolithic, windowless AT&T Long Lines Building at 33 Thomas Street. There are actually many small alleys like this in lower Manhattan - Mosco Street, Florence Place, Benson Street, Ryders Alley, Mill Lane, Mechanics Alley and Jersey Street - click here. And in the Village there are several which are residential and much more bucolic and historic in nature such as Grove Court, MacDougal Alley and Washington Mews. Unlike most of Manhattan, the mayhem of small streets and alleys in downtown owes to their establishment prior to the Commissioners' Plan of 1811 which established an orthogonal grid north of 14th Street. I find the very TRULY nondescript interesting just for that reason - it's not easy being that featureless. Like the tract housing of Levittown NY or luggage areas at the airport. But there is always hope that Trimble Place may have its day. Look at what happened to Seinfeld, a show reputedly about nothing ...

Monday, 12 November 2007

It Shines For All

Who can resist an antique bronze clock and thermometer with the slogan - The Sun It shines for All, mounted against a historic landmark white marble building, on Broadway with the Woolworth Building as backdrop? Images of old New York and the romance of days past flood my mind with a vista like this one. Click here for photo showing the thermometer. The 7-story building is located at 280 Broadway at Chambers Street near City Hall. The white marble Italian palace was originally erected in 1846 as the A.T. Stewart Dry Goods Store - America's first department store. This grand palace of commerce was quite dazzling at the time. The structure is of major historic architectural significance - it is one of the first Italianate commercial buildings in the United States. In 1917, it was taken over by the New York Sun. The bronze clock and thermometer were added in 1930. The Sun occupied the building until 1950; in 1970 it was taken over by the City of New York. Sadly, the building remained in shabby condition for many, many years and the clock itself stopped functioning in 1967, was repaired, stopped working in 1987 and was repaired again. The building was renovated during the Giuliani administraton. Now the sun, clock, thermometer and building shine for all ...

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Bird Country

Regular readers of this site are aware of the spots of country I have featured, particularly the numerous community gardens. I, like many other New Yorkers, look for pieces and reminders of the country for any number of reasons - evidence of seasonal change is one of them. It is easy to go through seasons in the city with little to mark them except temperature and changing light. But to witness the other changes nature has to offer - leaves turning color, migratory birds, etc. - requires more work and looking in special places like gardens and parks. In seeking out the natural in the city, one frequently discovers surprises like grapes growing on vines in the center of the Village, red-tailed hawks eating their prey, butterflies, waterfalls, spectacular sunsets (click here for Manhattanhenge), a Time Landscape, a microclimate in Garden at Saint Lukes, turtles, squirrels and birds. New York City is actually one of the most important bird areas on the East coast - it lies along the Atlantic Flyway and draws numerous species from places as far away as Patagonia and Greenland each spring and fall, which is why Central Park is a great area for bird watching. This birdhouse was in the LaGuardia Corner Gardens in a tree laden with apples (I have picked many here when it is open). I can see a new city festival - New York Is Bird Country ...

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Front Street

Front Street is part of the Historic Cobble Stone District in South Street Seaport. The area has been renovated, gentrified and developed (by the Rouse company) - I discuss the cloned look with other areas of the country in my posting on South Street - click here. The original architecture, however, has been preserved as you can see by the signage on the buildings in the photo above left. A walk down any of the streets is rewarding and the area's history can still be felt.

I like the quote from Moby Dick which is inscribed on a placard on Front Street. It captures the spirit of New York City at a time and in a place where its true nautical nature must have been preeminent:

"Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. What do you see?- Posted like silent sentinels all around the town, stand thousands upon thousands of mortal men fixed in ocean reveries. Some leaning against the spiles; some seated upon the pier-heads; some looking over the bulwarks of ships from China; some high aloft in the rigging, as if striving to get a still better seaward peep."

I have done several postings on aspects of this neighborhood. Click on any of the following links: South Street Seaport, Belle de Jour, Dead to the World, Fishbridge Garden, Spiegeltent.

Friday, 9 November 2007

Fashion Forward

I thought you might like an update on my close encounters with the other kind. Some of you may recall the posting I did Out There which got quite a response (click here). I have since met the mystery man - André, who always seems to be outrageously dressed - that's him on the left sporting a new outfit. I see him regularly in the neighborhood and we always say hi - he is most cordial. On my first meeting after the posting I did, I introduced myself, gave him my card, told him that he had been featured on this site and that I had entitled it "Out There", saying bluntly but in a complimentary tone: "you have to admit - you are rather out there." Friends cringed when I told them about my remark, but he was pleased to have been featured and his response was quite positive (as I expected): "I like to think of myself as Fashion Forward." I love that. Most recently I saw him in the most outrageous, fanciful outfit - glittering, futuristic style - unfortunately I did not capture it on camera. The other person on the right photo I found very smartly dressed. I met him in Tompkins Square Park. I have posted on a number of individuals who, let's say, are rather unconventional and exhibitionistic, most notably Spike and Narcissism Gone Wild. Of course, some may consider these people rather tame in the world of body alteration: tattooing, piercing, branding, scarification, subdermal implants, and even cornea tattooing. Katzen the Tiger Lady, e.g. has full body tattoos resembling that of a tiger with whiskers attached via piercings on her face (I have met her and have photos of the two of us). She was once married to The Enigma, a sideshow performer who has had extensive body modification, including horn implants and a full-body jigsaw-puzzle tattoo ...

Posts of the Unusual. Click on any of the following 7 links: Out There, Spike, Narcissism Gone Wild, Spring Madness, Superheroes, Snake Charmer and Circus Amok