simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: April 2007
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Monday, 30 April 2007


This shop may be small in size but not in stature - one of those special little NYC "secrets" that everyone wants to find and frequent. Remarkably, Raffetto's at 144 West Houston Street has been in business since 1906 - 101 years at the same location. The business is a 3rd generation family owned and run operation. It was started by Marcello Raffetto and continued by his son Gino (born in the same building as the shop in 1922) and now brothers Andrew and Richard with their mother Romano. The focus here is on the products, not glitz - they are low profile. Some long time residents of the neighborhood I have spoken to were not even aware of its existence. This place is old school - they do not have a website, take no credit cards and are closed Sunday and Monday. Pasta is their raison d'etre along with prepared foods and a few other essentials such as homemade sauces, oils, spices and condiments. They make their pasta right on the premises with 20 types of ravioli and tortellini plus 15 varieties of plain egg pasta. The bulk of their business is wholesale - they sell to about 300 of the finest restaurants, hotels and gourmet shops in the city such as Gotham Bar and Grill, Il Mulino, Fairway, Zabar's, Dean and DeLuca. The shop's atmosphere is cozy, social and friendly - in my short visit there for this post, I met the owner and two professional photographers. Everything is excellent and highly recommended. My favorite is the goat cheese ravioli with pesto ...

Sunday, 29 April 2007


Yesterday was the NYC GROWS Garden Festival which was held in Union Square. This event was NYC's celebration of National Garden Month. Our lady in the photo was created by Target, who sponsored the event. She was a big hit, with visitors taking photos of each other with her as backdrop. I thought she was beautifully done with all manner of plants/flowers so cleverly used and her bevy of topiary dogs. Click here for more photos. I am not a gardener but I can understand the benefits of being connected to something as important as plant life and seeing living things grow. In a time where everything is about speed and immediate gratification, gardening is a useful antidote by teaching patience - involvement in a process that can't be rushed, where one MUST wait for results. A useful metaphor - for many of the things of value in life take time to come to fruition. I asked a Target rep if she had a name and sadly, she did not. After considering many options this morning, I thought Flora might be an appropriate choice ...

Saturday, 28 April 2007


Sex shops, tattoo parlors, body piercing - these are not the things that first come to mind regarding NYC in 2007, when gentrification and reduced crime have become the hallmarks of the city. But in the Village there has been a proliferation of these types of shops in the last few years, making the strip along 6th Avenue in the Village (shown in the photo) feel more like the old Times Square, to the displeasure of many residents. Many feel that the extremely permissive, "anything goes" spirit of the neighborhood has largely been responsible, particularly with some tourists who see the Village as a place to party - e.g. weekends have seen motorcycle gangs from out of town descend on the neighborhood or gay youths at Christopher Street Pier. There have been many efforts to close these shops and reduce their numbers. In 1998, a "60/40 law" was passed during the Giuliani administration. The law required a minimum of 60 percent non-X-rated merchandise for a store to operate outside adult entertainment zones. Of course stores find loopholes, displaying racks of non-X-rated videos and other products along side their porn. Aggressive efforts are made by the city to find health code and fire violations, but store owners are resourceful and tenacious, always finding ways to comply and stay open. Neighborhood residents are tolerant - those that object to these shops due so not so much because of the content but more due to the number of them clustered together, their garish lights and explicit window displays. Older shops like the Pleasure Chest (with a much more discreet window) and even the Pink Pussycat Boutique have done well to coexist with residents ...

Friday, 27 April 2007

The Brooklyn Museum

For most visitors and many residents, New York City is Manhattan. And with all there is in Manhattan, Brooklyn can be easily overlooked. But this borough, the largest of the 5 that make up the city, is a world unto itself with many treasures both large and small. The Brooklyn Museum is one of the largest and most comprehensive art museums in the country. With permanent collections of more than a million objects, its holdings include objects ranging from ancient Egyptian masterpieces to contemporary art and represent almost every culture. The Museum is housed in a 560,000-square-foot landmark Beaux-Arts building designed by McKim, Mead & White. It is located in central Brooklyn, a half-hour from midtown Manhattan, with its own subway stop. The Brooklyn Museum is set on Eastern Parkway, one block from Grand Army Plaza, in a complex of parks and gardens, conceived in the 19th century, that is also home to Prospect Park, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden (with which the Museum shares a parking lot), the Prospect Park Zoo, and the central branch of the Brooklyn Public Library. In 2004, a $63 million dollar renovation was completed. The museum also has very diverse exhibits atypical for an art museum - I believe this makes it more accessible to a broader audience. Even if you are not an art museum goer, I highly recommend a visit ...

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Little Lady Liberty

While at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden for Hanami (cherry blossom viewing), I noticed the most bizarre sight - a huge replica of the Statue of Liberty in their parking lot. I took a photo, not really intending to use it, but investigation led to the most fascinating story. The statue was built and installed in 1902 by William H. Flattau, a Russian born auctioneer who, proud of his newly adopted country, wanted a replica of the 151-foot original (created by the French sculptor Frédéric-Auguste Bartholdi) to grace the roof of his eight-story Liberty Warehouse. The warehouse, located at 43 W. 64th Street, was built by Flattau in 1891. The statue, galvanized steel over an iron framework, was made in Akron, Ohio, cut in half (to ship through the railroad tunnels) and rewelded. Until 1912, visitors could climb a circular staircase to an opening at the top of the statue's head (much like the original on Bedloe Island), affording views of the area. The statue sat on top of the building for over 100 years when in 2001, the Athena group announced plans to develop the building into coop apartments, adding 4 floors and removing the 30 foot statue. In 2002 it was donated to the Brooklyn Museum of Art in honor of the police officers, firefighters and other emergency workers killed on September 11, 2001. Conservation work has been completed. And that's how it got where it is ...

Wednesday, 25 April 2007


One of the most beautiful phenomena in nature is the flowering of cherry trees in the spring. I remember one of my first family trips to Washington, DC to see the Cherry Blossom Festival and the display around the tidal basin. However, one does not have to travel that far - the Brooklyn Botanic Garden has their own display and festival (considered one of the world's finest displays outside Japan). Trees can be found at the Cherry Walk and Esplanade and in the Japanese Hill and Pond Garden. There are two cherry tree events going on: Hanami and Sakura Matsuri. Hanami (April 7 – May 6) is "the Japanese cultural tradition of viewing and cherishing each moment of the cherry blossom season—from the first buds to the brilliant blossoms to the petals falling like pink snow." Sakura Matsuri is the Cherry Blossom Festival, which will be held this coming weekend (Saturday, April 28, and Sunday, April 29, 10 a.m.–6 p.m). There are over 200 trees in bloom with over 60 Japanese cultural events and performances over the entire weekend - pop concerts (happyfunsmile, ZAN & hip-hop artist Akim Funk Buddha), a taiko drum concert, history of geisha, traditional music and dance, ice sculpture, ikebana, origami, kirigami, samari sword, bonsai, Go, tea ceremonies, craft demonstrations, and workshops. I highly recommend it - I think I may go again for the Festival ...

Tuesday, 24 April 2007


Welcome to one of Hoop's many Hoopmobiles and the world of art cars. Hoop refers to this incarnation as Techno Trash - an assemblage he says represents ''all the transitions we've gone through over the years, from a needle on a record to a laser beam on a record.'' Steven Hooper, or Hoop (the self proclaimed King of Art) as he prefers to be called, started doing art cars in the East Village about 20 years ago when he did hundreds of club performances and parties. His work has been featured in over 40 museums and gallery shows (Fusion Arts, Chelsea Art Museum, MOMA etc.), television and the news media. Click here for his story and photos of his vehicles. His motivation is to bring art to the average person on the street, who he feels can't name one living artist - "Warhol and Dali were the last of the household name artists." Currently living in Clifton, New Jersey, where he grew up and now cares for his mother, Hoop makes frequent trips to SOHO (one of his old stomping grounds - he once had studios in Union Square and Prince Street) where he parks and lets passers by ogle his street art. The art car movement goes back some time and has seen many incarnations - hippie themed VW buses (such as Furthur), Janis Joplin's psychedelic Porsche, Lennon's paisley Rolls Royce, the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. There is even a BMW series done by well known artists like Warhol and Lichtenstein. The Burning Man festival has had a strong representation. Harrod Blank has made several art cars, written books and made documentary films on the subject. There are now numerous art car fests nationwide - click here. It's a virtual industry ...

Monday, 23 April 2007

Baby And Merlin

These are Baby and Merlin , blue and gold macaws with their owner Gloria Waslyn (more photos here), who describes them as "Peace Parrots, Rainforest Ambassadors and NYC's Spokes Avians for the Mayor's Alliance of Animals promoting rescue and shelter animal adoption. ... BABY, the outgoing male, and MERLIN, his pretty mate are so well behaved that anyone can hold them. They are quiet so they do not upstage anyone, are comfortable with anything and have been on a float in a high profile and crowded Halloween parade in the Greenwich Village of NYC. They have been held by celebrities (Sean Lennon and Yoko Ono), scientists (Nobel DNA prize winner James Watson and co-mapper of the human genome, Frances Collins) and thousands of New Yorkers and people from around the world who visit the city sidewalks of NY." Gloria says the two 9 year olds "never bite, play with earrings or hair and are quite the "hams" without any diva attitude." The trio were part of one of many NYC Earth Day celebrations yesterday - the birds stole the show at this one with their brilliant blue plumage, huge size and friendly antics ...

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Pen And Brush

This is the Pen and Brush Club which has its home in the exquisite townhouse at 16 East 10th Street. In the 1890s, the arts were dominated by men but women were beginning to gain prominence - many women artists had studios around the Washington Square area. In 1892, in response to the exclusionary climate towards women (the Salmagundi Club around the corner on 5th Avenue excluded women until 1973), the Pen and Brush Club was formed by painters Janet and Mary Lewis (sisters) who invited three other artists and eight writers to their studio in Chelsea. Early members included journalist Ida Tarbell, first ladies Eleanor Roosevelt and Ellen Axson Wilson and Pulitzer Prize winner Pearl Buck. In 1923 the club purchased the 1848 Greek Revival Townhouse which it has occupied ever since. As women became more accepted in the art world, the club became more insular. However, the art world is still relatively dominated by men and director Janice Sands sees the club's original mission just as relevant today. She has been on a campaign to expand exhibitions to outside non-member artists and recruit new members, shedding its older image and bringing in younger artists. The photo shows the exhibit space on the parlor floor with its intricate crown moldings, marble fireplaces, parquet floors, 16-foot ceilings and its Steinway grand piano (read about the club and its facilities here). Its main rooms are open to the public and the exhibits are always free of charge ...

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Horsing Around

Many visitors see NYC as a concrete jungle with no respite from a continuous bombardment of stimuli - noise, traffic, crowding - a nice place to visit but how could you live here. But that is primarily because visitors generally do not frequent those places (with some exceptions like Central Park) or engage in those activities that residents look to for relaxation and recreation. There is a large gamut of activities in NYC that residents partake in that may come as a surprise such as kayaking, tennis, birdwatching, biking, swimming, baseball, volleyball, pétanque, sailing, surfing, sledding, ice skating, gardening and horseback riding - the photo shows a lesson being had in a riding ring in Prospect Park Brooklyn. There are riding trails in every borough including Manhattan (Central Park). One of the biggest surprises is Claremont Riding Academy, the only stable in Manhattan (other than the mounted police - click here for a previous post). They occupy an entire building in the center of the upper west side - a multistory barn with riding ring. Over 100 horses are stabled there. Seeing horses in the city is always a welcome surprise - horses are large, magnificent animals and many of us can't resist the urge to indulge the relatively rare encounter - watching and if we're lucky enough, making contact ...

Friday, 20 April 2007

Virginia Tech

This is the candlelight vigil which took place last night in Washington Square Park to honor the victims, families and friends of those affected by the Virginia Tech massacre last Friday. The vigil was organized by the Greater New York City Chapter of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association (Manhattan Hokies). All were welcomed to attend. I will not recount the details of the event as there are better sources than this site for those interested. My condolences to all those affected by the tragedy ...

Thursday, 19 April 2007


The typical impression of Middle Eastern food is falafel and hummus. And for the average New Yorker the knowledge extends to perhaps baba gannouj, tabouleh, kebabs or shawarma on a spit. But there is much more - the true cognoscenti know of things like zatter bread, ouzi, ful mudammas, labne, moussaka, Merguez sandwiches, lahambajin pitza, rahib, loomi and more. And they know of places like Moustache. There are two locations: 90 Bedford Street and 265 E. 10th Street, both owned by Iraqi chef/restaurateur Salam al-Rawi from Baghdad. Salam also owns Mamlouk at 211 E. 4th Street - a unique very upscale Middle Eastern with a fixed menu. I have only been to the Bedford Street Moustache. This is a little gem of a place, hidden on quiet Bedford Street, with copper-topped tables, an open kitchen with brick oven and a very cozy atmosphere. But be forewarned - this place has frequent lines, long waits, slow and spotty service. But their food is excellent and in fairness, many of the dishes are made to from scratch (like ouzi and their pitzas) and take time - their tag line (proclaimed on T-shirts the wait staff wears) is "slow food establishment." My favorite is ouzi - chicken, carrots, sweet peas, onions, raisins, almonds, basmati rice and spices enclosed in filo pastry dough and served with a yogurt sauce (it can be had vegetarian). They are best known for their Pitzas - brick oven baked pizzas made on their own pita breads. No credit cards, no website, no email address ...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The Subway

New Yorkers love to complain about the subway, but actually, the system is quite remarkable, especially allowing for the fact that it services a city that is not known for efficiency. We are all familiar with the negatives - rats, filth and litter, oppressively hot stations in the summer, no bathrooms, crowding, delays and rerouting etc. After all, the system has to service 1.5 billion riders a year (5 million a day) with the world's largest fleet of subway cars (6400). But look at some of the positives - it is one of the most extensive systems in the world with 660 miles of track and 468 stations in four boroughs. In conjunction with buses, one can get reasonably close to any two locations - and that's an achievement given the area involved. One can travel as far as 31 miles on the A train without a change of trains (207th Street Manhattan to Far Rockaway in Queens). Service is 24/7 - one of the few in the world and a tremendous convenience we take for granted - I remember a trip to Paris and being surprised that their system closed at 1 AM and having to find a taxi. Fares are good for trips of any length with free transfers - many other transit systems charge on the basis of distance traveled. Some stations have amenities such as magazine stands and food. Musical entertainment can be found at some of the larger stations. If you are interested in more details, click here for the transit's official site. I know - I should have written this after being stuck on a train during rush hour or being rerouted on the F :)

Tuesday, 17 April 2007


Standpipes are everywhere in New York City, yet very little attention is paid to them. And what do we really know about them? A standpipe is a rigid pipe which supplies water under pressure to a water supply and/or sprinkler system in the event of a fire. And why do we need them? Because it is not feasible to run hoses from the street up stairwells to upper floors of a tall building in a fire (there are over 1000 high rise buildings in NYC). With a standpipe system, water is fed from the street through the vertical piping - hoses are attached from outlets at each floor. There are dry and wet types - wet systems contain water at all times; dry systems contain no water - they may have their own source of water or be supplied by a firetruck in tandem with a fire hydrant. water can be supplied via water tanks, city main an/or hydrants and fire pumps. Siamese connections (shown in the photo) allow two hoses to be attached for increased capacity and provide backup if one is jammed or malfunctioning. There are a variety of styles of course. Conversation about these between a photographer friend and I eventually inspired him to go on a photo quest - click here for his collection. A Siamese connection provides ideal seating - but beware of standpipes with sawtooth type projections on top, which I assume acts as a deterrent. BTW, standpipes are needed not just for tall buildings but anywhere there is no access to firetrucks or where their is excessive distance to stretch hose lines: shopping malls, theaters, stadiums, arenas, parking garages, bridges, tunnels, highways, piers ...

Monday, 16 April 2007


Until recently, we have had a very sunny early spring, albeit colder than usual. However this is the northeast and in it's typically unpredictable way, spring has now brought us rain in the form of a nor'easter, with brisk winds, flooding, transportation delays, power outages, leaking roofs, snapping trees and other havoc. Some areas in upstate NY and northern New England with colder climates are experiencing snow storms. The photo was taken of Washington Square Park - click here for night shot. A nor'easter (contraction for northeaster) gets its name from its strong north east winds blowing in from the ocean, causing high seas and coastal damage. The coast of Massachusetts along with Cape Cod and Nantucket have historically been particularly brutalized by nor'easters - tragically, today is the Boston Marathon and apparently they are still running ...

Sunday, 15 April 2007

Gay Liberation Monument

"This sculpture by George Segal (1924-2000) honors the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) rights movement and commemorates the events at the Stonewall Inn opposite this park that gave rise to the movement." Thus reads the plaque at the Gay Liberation Monument in Christopher Park in the West Village. George Segal (1924-2000) is a well known sculptor and this work was inaugurated in 1992 after 12-year battle of controversy and opposition (a cast of the sculpture installed on Stanford University's campus in 1984 , faced a decade of vandalism and beatings). The Stonewall Inn is just out of view to the right in the photo. If you are unfamiliar with the Stonewall Riots in July of 1969, you can read about them here. Many consider the events of that summer pivotal in the Gay rights movement. It's hard to imagine that 38 years ago, men were being arrested, harassed and beaten by police, simply for being gay - many of the arrests were made with charges for indecency. And yet arguments for legalization of homosexuality go back hundreds of years. English scholar Jeremy Bentham wrote an essay as early as 1785, at which time homosexuality was punishable by hanging. Much progress was made from 1860 - 1933 in Europe and Germany with activists like Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Magnus Hirschfeld, Ann Rüling and Helene Stöcke, but most of the gains were lost with the rise of Nazism. Progress in human rights, unlike those in technology, can be very S L O W ...

Saturday, 14 April 2007


AIPAD is the Association of International Photography Art Dealers, currently hosting the Photography Show 07. In its 27th year, the show includes more than 90 of the top dealers from around the world who specialize in fine art photography, featuring the earliest to the most contemporary images. Photos from many of the biggest names in photography can be found for sale: Steichen, Weston, Ansel Adams, Minor White, Margaret Bourke-White, André Kertesz, Brassai, Cartier-Bresson, Berenice Abbott, Salgado and hundreds of others. I was accompanied by an artist and photographer - we were impressed and inspired by the quality presented. The show is a rare opportunity to see such a breadth of work all at one time under one roof. The show is held in the 7th Regiment Armory on Park Avenue and 67th Street, a great historic fortress (occupying a full city block) and a great space for this type of event. The exhibit runs from April 12 through the 15th - there is still time to catch it. The $20 admission (which includes a 360 page color catalog) is well worth it ...

Friday, 13 April 2007

Bleecker Bob's

Bleecker Bob's Golden Oldies at 118 West 3rd Street in the Village is a destination for buyers and sellers of vinyl LPs. Click here for more photos. It has had several different shop locations in the immediate neighborhood. Bob Plotnik (still the current owner) opened the original store on Bleecker Street in 1967. I have no real opinion of this shop regarding pricing, inventory or service - I am not a current buyer or seller of vinyl LPs and my visits there are few. But it is a landmark with its distinctive, homey, funky New York style decor and ambiance. With vinyl experiencing a niche renaissance and the decline of physical CDs due to digital downloads, I believe their chances of survival are much better than stores selling CDs, many of which have closed. While CDs are in decline and catering more and more to a graying market, the market for new vinyl is actually growing. DJs in electronic dance or hip hop music prefer LPs for the direct manipulation of the disc (slip-cueing, beatmatching and scratching). In the used market, many covet vinyl LPs for their cover art. And there are still some audiophiles who prefer vinyl and claim a sonic superiority over the CD - this is a debate that has raged since the beginning of CD production. There are also nostalgia and cult factors at work here. In the case of Bleecker Bob's, I'm sure all of these factors drive customers to them and I would imagine many of their customers are looking for music which is not available on CD and perhaps never will be ...

Thursday, 12 April 2007


I'm really quite awed by the design, engineering, material selection and attention to detail that went into this Apple Store at 103 Prince Street in SOHO. The beautiful two-story neoclassical building was built in the 1920s and occupied by the Post Office until 1999 when Restoration Hardware briefly occupied it until 2001. Apple opened there July, 2002. The importance of design aesthetic to Apple is evident in this store, which received an architectural award in 2003 (as have the design firms involved - Bohlin Cywinski Jackson and Ronnette Riley.) The most striking feature of this store (and other Apple Stores) is the use of glass, particularly the 15-foot high glass staircase, with its acid-etched diamond-plate treads. The staircase, which actually received a design patent with Apple CEO Steve Jobs listed (copy of the patent here), was designed by structural engineer James O'Callaghan, now a partner with Brian Eckersley at Eckersley O’Callaghan Structural Design. An enormous amount went into the design with considerations for weight loads, wear, seismic protection and joinery with titanium hardware. Depp Glass (NY) manufactured the staircase components, the titanium hardware was manufactured by Tripyramid Structures Inc. (Mass.) and the fabrication, installation and safety tests were performed by Seele GmbH & Co. of Gerthofen, Germany. Click here for a thorough detailed article. Glass is also used for the stair sidewalls, a bridge (connecting the two sides of the upper floor) and the 70-foot skylight. Lead architect Peter Bohlin explains that glass elements are used not only for structural ingenuity, but also because they capture the design of Apple's products: "From the point of view of the attitude and spirit of the store, it is the pure expression of a quality associated with a company that makes these very beautiful, rather pure products." Glass elements and white Corian fixtures are juxtaposed with wood for warmth - maple is used for benches, tables, counters, shelving and the backs to the seating in their theater, used for presentations, classes and events. The unique Pietra Serna stone floor in dark gray is also striking. If you love glass as I do, visit this store along with their Fifth Avenue location, the subject of two previous postings (click here and here) ...

Wednesday, 11 April 2007


On Monday evening, Chris Simcox spoke at NYU, an event sponsored by the NYU College Republicans. This was a follow up to their February 22 event, "Find the Illegal Immigrant" a mock hunt for a student posing as an illegal immigrant - the event drew more than 300 protesters and 12 participants. Chris Simcox, himself mired in controversy, is the cofounder of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, an organization of individuals who patrol the Mexico-US border for illegal crossings. The organization states that they do not confront anyone directly but only report incidents to law enforcement. Critics say they are a racist vigilante hate group and claim they have been charged with various crimes. The protest, shown in the photo taken in front of NYU's Kimmel Center, was sponsored by various groups (College Democrats, the ACLU, etc.). As reported in an article in NYU's paper, one person who came to protest was put off by what she called "the extreme right versus the extreme left." Others found too many protesters who were not students championing their own causes, such as older socialists. And inside, Simcox's attempt to speak was also was also a scene ...

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The Question Mark

If you enter the lobby of the French Building at Rockefeller Center from the side entrance (off the central channel gardens) you will find a showcase with a reproduction of a plane in sterling silver made by Cartier. There is a plaque with an inscription which reads:


The plane was a variant of the Breguet 19, a Super Bidon single-engine biplane, which was built specifically for transatlantic flight. On September 1-2, 1930, Capt. Dieudonne Costes and Lt. Maurice Bellonte flew from Paris to New York City (3,852 miles) in 37 hours and 18 minutes, the first non-stop westbound fixed wing aircraft flight between Europe and America. The conclusion of a message to American president Herbert Hoover from French President Gaston Doumergue said: "... in forming one more tie between France and the United States, will contribute greatly to the development of their friendship of centuries." I guess those were better times as far as American/French relations...

Monday, 9 April 2007

Easter Parade 2007

I know this doesn't look like the typical Easter parade, but this is New York City, where anything goes. In fact, I recognized one person who marches in the Village Halloween parade in the same outfit. The Easter parade in NYC is more of an assemblage, with casual meandering along Fifth Avenue in the 50s, which was closed to traffic. I took over 100 photos, so this collage is just a sample. Click here for more photos . The weather was chilly, but many were not daunted. The dress ranged from the subtle and sophisticated to the outrageous; the appropriate and inappropriate - families, the scantily clad, drag queens, elegant furs, beautiful hats (both small and large) and the heavily themed - tupperware bonnets, Coney Island Cyclone, bunny rabbits, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis and fantasy characters. The heaviest concentration of people was near St. Patrick's Cathedral where masses were being given all day - the Cardinal himself made an appearance, blessing the group. This is my second year. Along with the Mermaid Parade, I believe this to be one of the underrated secrets of NYC. It is very civilized with no barricades or unmanageable crowding. I wouldn't miss it and highly recommend it ...

Sunday, 8 April 2007

Spring Madness

As I have pointed out in previous posts, this city certainly tolerates and embraces eccentric behavior. This guy in the photo was definitely garnering a lot of attention - onlookers looked puzzled trying to understand a grown man with pink bunny ears in the dog run in Washington Square Park, especially when his playful game went on a little too long. And it was not clear that the dog in the photo (or any other) was his - we became more concerned when he started to leave the enclosure with the ears still on and no dog in tow. The weather has been extremely cold for this time of year, so spring fever this is not. Plus, I have already done a Spring Fever posting when we had a nice run of warm days in mid March. In naming this post Spring Madness, it occurred to me that apart from the man in bunny ears, the only madness I have encountered lately is the frustration people are having with the weather and how long it is taking for springtime to arrive. We have had 31 degree nights and mid 40s by day with a chance of snow flurries today! Happy Easter ...

Saturday, 7 April 2007

The Copper Cowboy

The copper cowboy is one of the many living statue performers that can be seen around NYC. Actually, living statues are now a worldwide phenomenon with annual competitions in Arnhem (Netherlands), Laguna Beach, CA and Portugal. I have generally seen this as an exercise in stamina and masochism (with all that body paint and hot summer days) but not particularly creative or interesting - most performers get attention primarily from the novelty factor to the uninitiated. However, after looking at various sites online, there are some ambitious attempts. Like many of the living statues, the copper cowboy concept has been done by more than one individual - online searches for copper cowboy leads most often to Jon Mitchell of Hawaii. I imagine the concept was inspired by the copper/cowboy connection of the old west. There was a lot of memorabilia created using copper - cowboy hats, boots etc. Most of the living statue performers remain motionless for hours at a time with a container placed in front for donations. Some become animated from time to time, with mime routines. The copper cowboy in the photo made occasional sounds using a concealed mouth whistle accompanied by various short body movements ...

Friday, 6 April 2007


This is the typical NYC street fair. To the uninitiated, it looks like fun. However, after doing a few of them, they are very boring. The problem is that you see the same vendors at virtually every fair and most of them of little interest - socks, gyros, small tools, bedding, Peruvian sweaters, imported crafts,CDs, smoothies, T-Shirts, etc. The residents I know mostly ignore them - perhaps getting an occasional snack. A recent research group put it perfectly: "the fairs had lost all sense of novelty, catered too heavily to out-of-town vendors and failed to showcase the work of entrepreneurs and artists based in the five boroughs. ... The worst part is that they are uniformly bland.'' There were 367 permits issued in 2006. Over half the fairs are organized by a few companies with many of the vendors from out of town. 20 vendors held 46% of the food permits. So, unfortunately the fairs do not draw vendors from the enormous pool of creative, interesting and varied local businesses and talent - a real shame, because these fairs could be awesome. I must say however, that street fairs like this with their bazaar like atmosphere are relatively uncommon in this country, so in principal I think the concept is welcome. Street life is one of the most fascinating aspects of New York and what distinguishes it from other places. If you are willing to ply, wade and dig, some useful items can be found. Efforts are being made to changes rules which would encourage more local participation ...

Thursday, 5 April 2007

Caravan of Dreams

From time to time in the city, we witness the homeless with caravans of STUFF - sometimes taking on mammoth proportions. On one occasion I witnessed someone with at least 8 enormous hamper carts filled with things. He was systematically jockeying them to go on some unknown journey. They were parked for an entire night on Washington Square North, taking up a sizable portion of an entire city block. In many cases they are bottles accumulated for redemption. I imagine when you are homeless, one can achieve a certain sense of security and identity by accumulating things. Taking photos of these occurrences can be dangerous - a friend and I have been threatened several times - just walking by with a camera hanging at our sides or photographing something else in a completely different direction. I suspect there's a feeling of exploitation by many of them with subsequent outbreaks of rage. In the photo you can see what a couple friends and I witnessed - a very unusual move on Bleecker Street in the middle of traffic. It's still not clear to me what we saw - a homeless person, someone looking to furnish his place from things scavenged from the street, a budget mover or moving on a budget? ...

Wednesday, 4 April 2007


This is a vista of Zeckendorf Towers and the Con Ed tower, seen from Union Square. Although this area is historically significant as a gathering space for labor and political events (once known as New York's Speakers' Corner), by the 1970s it had seriously deteriorated and was home to drug dealers and considered extremely unsafe (click here for history). In 1983-86, the park underwent an extensive renovation. New retailers moved in such as Barnes and Noble, Virgin Records and Circuit City. In 1987, the Zeckendorf Towers at 1 Irving Place, an enormous project encompassing a city block with 670 condominium apartments, was completed. To make way for this project, a small group of 19th century buildings were leveled, including the Union Square Hotel and S. Klein's on the Square, the renowned (and tacky) original discount department store. Many credit the Zeckendorf development as being one of the primary forces in the revitalization of the this area. There are four towers (only three can be seen in the photo), each with its signature floating pyramidal top. Along with the Con Ed tower, this is one of the most distinctive and identifiable illuminated group of buildings in the nighttime NYC skyline. Like Times Square, this area has had tremendous inertial resistance to improvement. In addition to Klein's, it has been home to a parade of discount stores both small and large (e.g. Mays and then Bradlees), particularly on 14th Street - the most resistant to improvement. With the recent opening of Whole Foods Market and a new residential condo at 14th and University Place, the transformation finally looks complete ...

Tuesday, 3 April 2007


This is the Bust of Sylvette, an enlarged version of an original sculpture, Portrait of Sylvette, done by Picasso in 1934. The new piece, 60 tons and 36 feet tall, was reinterpreted/executed by Norwegian sculptor Carl Nesjär in 1968. The sculpture sits in the courtyard of Silver Towers development (originally University Village), a complex of three 32-storey apartment buildings - two used as NYU faculty housing (Silver Towers) and one a middle-income coop. One of these towers is seen in the photo. The sculpture was commissioned by architect I. M. Pei who designed the buildings in 1966 for New York University. I find this small plaza and its surrounding buildings somewhat bleak, however architectural reviews generally seem quite favorable, citing many unique features of the design and construction of the towers. The sculpture's concrete was made with a Norwegian black stone aggregate, sandblasted to recreate the etched black lines of the original. Picasso was involved in the scaled translation, material and its placement in the plaza. In 1972, Christo (the environmental installation artist who did the Gates of Central Park numerous other works) did a wrapping of the sculpture - Wrapped Sylvette...

Monday, 2 April 2007

Peanut Butter & Co.

When you have population density, you can support the unusual. At 240 Sullivan Street in the Village, you will find the Peanut Butter & Co. Sandwich Shop - an entire restaurant concept built around the peanut butter sandwich. When this shop opened, I was sure of its imminent demise. After all, how could business like this survive, even in NYC? How could you get enough customers to sit down in a restaurant and order peanut butter sandwiches (at $5 - $7 each)? But succeed they have - the restaurant is in its 10th year. The business was started in 1998 by Lee Zalben, Vassar College grad and former advertising exec - read the story here. Since then, they have expanded to Brooklyn where the Company now manufactures its signature line of handmade gourmet peanut butter (they also have an online store). The shop offers much more than the basic peanut butter sandwich - there are 10 classic sandwiches (Fluffernutter, Ants on a Log, etc.) and 6 gourmet ones (like the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl, White Chocolate Wonderful or Dark Chocolate Dreams). The emphasis here is retro, comfort food, so the menu also includes Homestyle Fare (such as tuna melts, grilled cheese or baloney and cheese). Of course there's a dessert menu including peanut butter cookies, chocolate peanut butter pie and a range of ice cream sundaes. Wash it down with milk, sodas, milkshakes, smoothies, hot chocolate, coffee or a New York Egg Cream ...

Sunday, 1 April 2007

Gothic Night

I find monuments so exquisite when illuminated at night - this is one of the great things about cities like Paris. New York City has its small share of night time beauties and Grace Church at night is one of them (I have previously written about the church - click here). This night was the perfect gothic experience with a near full moon over the starkly lit contrast of the church spire. The illuminated world of New York at night gives residents and visitors a whole other window of opportunity for activities normally relegated to the daytime - sightseeing, strolling, biking, even socializing and sitting in parks. A city that never sleeps must keep its lights on ...