simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: May 2007
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Thursday, 31 May 2007


Depending on your source, either yesterday or today is Manhattanhenge, a biannual occurrence where the setting sun aligns with the east-west streets of Manhattan's main street grid (14th Street and north). Manhattan has two such days, generally cited as May 28th and July 12th, with some small yearly variation (there are also two days when the effect can be seen at sunrise - December 5 and January 8). The term Manhattanhenge was coined in 2002 by Neil deGrasse Tyson, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History, and is based on an analogous occurrence at Stonehenge, where on the summer solstice, the Sun rises in perfect alignment with several of the stones. On the Manhattanhenge days, the Sun fully illuminates every cross street on the grid during the last fifteen minutes of daylight. The sun's center sets exactly on the street’s centerline, with the sun 50% above/below the horizon. The effect can be seen from river to river (and from Queens). The effect is good for a day or so on either side. Many people question the idea that this effect takes place simultaneously at every crosstown street in the grid, regardless of location. This may be counter intuitive but it is true - the sun's distance from earth at 93 million miles, in comparison to the length of the city's grid of only a few miles, means that the sun's rays are essentially parallel once reaching the earth - the deviation from parallel is too small to make a perceptible difference. Also note that Manhattan is rotated 29 degrees from geographic north - if the island's grid was perfectly aligned with geographic north, Manhattanhenge would occur on the Spring and Autumn equinoxes.
Viewing recommendations and photo notes: You still have time to see this effect in the next day or so. Recommended viewing is as far east as possible. However, keep in mind that many streets do not go clear through, have obstructions on the west side, the slight hilliness of the city may limit the view from First Avenue and the actual horizon cannot be seen due to various buildings on the skyline in New Jersey. Queens or Roosevelt Island would also be good viewing areas. The photos were taken at 34th Street and Park Avenue - there was a fairly good crowd for the event. We dodged traffic, standing in the center of the street between changing lights.

Wednesday, 30 May 2007


This is the second time recently I have witnessed explosions and fire from manholes. I am learning this is not an uncommon occurrence. The incident in the photo appeared to be an electrical fire - there were intermittent sparks shooting up, large and small explosions with billowing black smoke. The fire department was on the scene promptly and took care of the situation handily and professionally without any drama or fanfare. There are a variety of reasons these things happen. On January 31, 2000, sparks, explosions, smoke or fire occurred in more than 200 manholes across NYC - corrosion from salt used in the winter to melt snow and ice on the streets was the cause. Corrosion of wires has also caused manhole covers to become "live" - in 2004, while walking her dogs in the East Village, Jodie Lane was electrocuted stepping on a manhole cover which had short circuited from contact with wiring. Click here for story. The same year, a skateboarder fell on a manhole cover which was so hot (she heard sizzling), she was branded with permanent scars! Click here for photo and story. In 1999, a carriage horse was electrocuted. Although the East Village death was an isolated incident, hundreds of pet owners or their pets have been jolted by stray voltage in metal covers. The city has 260,000 manhole covers - be careful - it's a minefield out there ...

Tuesday, 29 May 2007

Narcissism Gone Wild

If there appears to be a fashion or commercial shoot going on here, there is not, either by me or anyone else. This woman definitely gets the day's prize for color and style meets attitude. I've noticed when photographing human subjects that many of the most flamboyant are the least perturbed by photographers (click here). Whereas taking candid shots typically requires some finessing, with subjects like this I have discovered that most will try to act unaware yet virtually pose when they know that they are being photographed. Upon reflection, this may seem like what one might expect - that anyone dressed and posturing like this has to be somewhat exhibitionistic and would enjoy being the object of attention and the subject of photography. However, with people I have learned to make no assumptions. As I have said in a previous post, some individuals get upset or even hostile and threatening, particularly the homeless. I would prefer getting permission from a subject but this would generally ruin the composition of most street photography involving subjects - either losing the moment or encouraging a less natural posed shot. And then there is the issue that taking photographs in public is a right, with certain exceptions and caveats ...

Monday, 28 May 2007

Federal Hall

Overshadowed by the New York Stock Exchange across the street and with all there is to do and see in NYC, Federal Hall at 26 Wall Street is easily overlooked. This beautiful, Doric-columned Greek revival structure with a simplified Parthenon facade is carved from marble; inside is a rotunda. Click here for more photos. National monuments are more the agenda of Washington D.C. visitors than NYC ones, but this is definitely worth a visit - it actually is one of the most important buildings in U.S. history and just completed a renovation in November 2006 (it had been closed since 2004). The site has played a part in American government for over 300 years. 26 Wall Street was the location of New York's City Hall, built in 1700. After the American Revolution, the Continental Congress met at City Hall. When the Constitution was ratified in 1788, New York remained the national capital. Pierre L'Enfant was commissioned to remodel City Hall for the new federal government, when it was renamed as Federal Hall.. The First Congress met in the new Federal Hall and wrote the Bill of Rights; George Washington was inaugurated here as President on April 30, 1789. When the capital moved to Philadelphia in 1790, the building again housed city government until 1812, at which time Federal Hall was demolished. The building that stands here now, was built in 1842 as the country's first Customs House. It was designed by Alexander Jackson Davis, one of the most important architects of his generation who worked in the classical style. His was the winning entry in an 1833 competition. In 1862, Customs moved to 55 Wall Street and the building became the U. S. Sub-Treasury. Millions of dollars of gold and silver were kept in the basement vaults until the Federal Reserve Bank replaced the Sub-Treasury system in 1920. The building is now run by the National Park Service and serves as a museum and memorial to the first President and the beginnings of the United States of America ...

Saturday, 26 May 2007

Municipal Building

This almost looks a little like Italy bathed in this afternoon light, doesn't it? Not a total fantasy - architecturally, the Municipal Building's design uses Imperial Roman, Italian Renaissance and Classical styles. By 1884, New York City had surpassed the limited physical space in City Hall; many of its agencies were scattered throughout the city in various rented offices. Plans were made for a large civic building to accommodate the various city agencies with four design competitions between 1888 and 1907. Twelve architectural firms submitted plans for the new building in the final competition and the winning submission was from the firm of McKim, Mead and White, internationally renowned and the largest architectural firm in the world at the time. Building started in 1909 (when NYC already included five boroughs and a population of 4.5 million) and was finished in 1914-15. It stands at 40 stories, 580 feet (177m). This building is of major architectural significance in NYC and was highly influential - Moscow University's main building and other buildings in the Soviet Union were styled after it. The statue over the central tower is the heroic figure "Civic Fame" by Adolph Weinman in copper, 20 feet high, poised on a large copper ball (it's the second largest statue in the city after the Statue of Liberty). A crown with five crenellations represents the five boroughs of the City, as do the five cupolas of the building. Read more about the building here. The Manhattan Municipal Building houses thirteen agencies - more than 28,000 New Yorkers get married here each year. It's also where you can file for divorce - so convenient :)

Pearl River Mart

In 1971, a 20-year-old trade embargo against China was lifted as a result of President Richard Nixon's normalization of relations with China. One vendor had already imported goods into Manhattan via Hong Kong in anticipation of this. The day after the lifting of the embargo, Ming-Yi Chen, who was born in China, grew up in Taiwan and came to the United States in 1965,had started selling an entire line of mainland Chinese goods at his shop (then called Chinese Native Products, Ltd.), at 22 Catherine Street. At the time, the sign was only in Chinese, brandishing the characters Shih-Sin, meaning "four virtues." In 1977 they moved to Elizabeth Street. But its move in 1987 to a 15,000-square-foot loft space on the second and third floors on Canal Street and Broadway (at 277 Broadway) is where Pearl River Mart became known as THE Chinese department store (in a dismal location). Now, Pearl River has a new home - a full floor at 4 Broadway in the trendier SOHO, just north of its previous Chinatown location. Pearl has thousands of items, nearly everything imaginable: clothes, satin slippers, birdcages, paper parasols, lamps, cookware, food items, sushi sets, bamboo rice steamers, teapots, kimono-style robes, herbal remedies, live bamboo plants, windowshades, toys, furniture, Buddha statues and more. This is one of those lesser known NYC icons - single location, family owned, unique product line; a true mecca for all things Asian. Pearl is also known for their pricing and although the hardcore Chinatown aficionados will tell you they are not the cheapest anymore (it's a badge of honor in the city to be in the know), I think you should check it out ...

Friday, 25 May 2007

Gourmet Garage

This is Gourmet Garage at 453 Broome Street, certainly no secret with city residents. When they opened in 1992 at 47 Wooster, the concept was quite radical - gourmet foods in a no frills SOHO garage environment. In 1981, Andy Arons and his former college roommate, Walter Martin, started Flying Foods, a specialty-foods importing business. It was sold to Kraft foods in 1987 for $8 million. Arons got back into the business in 1992, starting Gourmet Garage with partners John Gottfried and Edwin Visser. Gottfried owned Metropolitan Agribusiness since 1978, which was a supplier to fine restaurants in the city; Visser had also been in the food business. The concept was to continue the wholesale business to restaurants in the morning and then sell to the general public at the same prices. Goumet Garage positioned themselves perfectly - at a time when SOHO was really starting to get pricey. Gourmet food emporium Dean and DeLucca was well established but felt more like a museum than a real place to food shop. This sentiment was articulated by Gottfried: "The previous approach was to sell this stuff like jewelry. We sell it like produce." And: "The lesson of the 90's is that people don't want to change their life style. They just want to pay less for it." It was exciting when it first opened - getting gourmet goods in a garage setting with wholesale pricing. Today, of course, the place is decidedly less garage-like (with 5 locations including Park Avenue), but still a very enjoyable place to shop with a wonderful down-to-earth atmosphere, great food and good prices ...

Thursday, 24 May 2007

Pearl Paint

Does this look chaotic and rather unappealing? Perhaps less than an ideal photo subject or setting? It is - this is Pearl Paint on Canal Street. For those of you not familiar with Canal Street, let's just say it's not for those looking for the bucolic setting of 121 Charles Street, 39 & 41 Commerce Street or the Boat Pond in Central Park, but home to some of NYC's shopping emporiums, both present and past (mostly past; sadly, fixtures like Canal Hardware and Industrial Plastics have closed). Pearl Paint is NYC's largest art store - the mecca for art supplies in the city. Their website claims to be the first and largest discount art supply house. Plausible, since they started as a regular paint store on Chambers Street and have been in business since 1933. As SOHO/Tribeca became a haven for artists, Pearl responded by getting into art supplies. They have 5 floors across two adjoining buildings and 3 additional store fronts: The Craft Center, Frame Shop and Home Decorating Center on Lispenard Street (which can be accessed through the rear exit of the main store). Pearl now has over 20 stores in 10 states. Their flagship store at 308 Canal Street is the ultimate in classic New York Style - a little disheveled, a little rough around the edges. Most take the dreary, creaky stairs up and down the five floors - the elevator in the rear is probably unknown to most and painfully slow anyway. No glitz here - just the real deal. These guys have everything ...

Wednesday, 23 May 2007

121 Charles

I have been virtually obsessed with this place and looking forward to posting photos and the story behind one of the most amazing properties in the entire city. Here we have a 200 year-old farmhouse on its own piece of land, with a yard and driveway; the six-room wood-frame house stuck against a neighboring brick building. Click here for more photos. The first time I encountered this tiny house at 121 Charles Street, I couldn't believe it. An anomaly and a time warp in a bucolic setting. There is little information on this place, so I had to dig. This house was originally on a rear lot at 71st and York Ave. The exact date of its origin is unknown. The house was occupied in the 1940s by Margaret Wyse Brown - author of ''Good Night Moon". In 1960, it was occupied by Swedish-born Mr. and Mrs. Sven Bernhard, who after extensive renovations, won ownership in 1966. However, the land was owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York, who intended to demolish the house for the building of a new Mary Manning Walsh Home for the Aged. Wanting to keep the home, the Bernhards decided to move the entire house intact. With the help of architect William C. Shopsin, they located a vacant 3600-square-foot lot on Charles Street. On March 5, 1967 the entire house was moved five miles (at a cost of $6500) from its Upper East side location down Second Avenue and across 14th Street to its new home in the West Village, with the Bernhards following by car. In 1988, Sue Bieler and her husband Eliot Brodsky began a restoration of the property with architect George Boyle. A room for their 7 year old, Jack Brodsky, was added. You won't find anything like this in Manhattan, trust me. I understand it's not for sale ...

Tuesday, 22 May 2007


I am not a Civil War or military buff, but I have been going by this statue of General Philip Henry Sheridan (1831-1888) and the park it is in for decades, and I should really know more about him. This man who rose from near obscurity to the highest rank in the military (Major General) very quickly, is a controversial figure, especially when viewed from our own time. A Civil War calvary commander, Sheridan graduated from West Point and went on to a myriad of military achievements - Cedar Creek in Shenandoah, Appomattox etc. In my readings for this post this morning, I found it very interesting to compare writings about him with information on the plaque in the park - click here. A quote from General Ulysses S. Grant appears on the pedestal: "He belongs to the first rank of soldiers, not only of our country, but of the world." Grant ranked him with Napoleon and Frederick the Great. The plaque describes him as a "brilliant military tactician." Yet, he has also been described as a brutal, violent and very prejudiced man. After the Civil War, Sheridan became commander of the Army of the West, and led the campaign against the Indians of the Great Plains - seen by some as near-genocidal and thereby tainting Sheridan's reputation. The pejorative " the only good Indian is a dead Indian" is a common variant on a quote attributed to Sheridan during his encounter with Comanche Chief Tosawi during the Indian Wars in 1869. "Me Toch-a-way, me good Indian." Sheridan reportedly smirked and replied, "The only good Indians I ever saw were dead." The bronze statue was created by Italian Sculptor Joseph Pollia in 1936. Note: this statue is actually in Christopher Park, often mistaken for Sheridan Square which is around the corner - previously a traffic island which was converted into a beautiful viewing garden in 1982. It is interesting to note that Sheridan was only 5 feet 5 inches tall. Abraham Lincoln once described him as "A brown, chunky little chap, with a long body, short legs, not enough neck to hang him, and such long arms that if his ankles itch he can scratch them without stooping"

Monday, 21 May 2007

Artiste Extraordinaire

First, I must confess that the subject of this post, Philippe Petit, is a long time acquaintance, so this may not be totally objective. For those who do not know him, Philippe's accomplishments are many: tight-rope walker, unicyclist, magician, juggler, pantomime artist, pickpocket and the earliest modern day street juggler in Paris in 1968. But he is best known for his walk between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974. This walk, done without permission, was planned over a period of six years - he made over 200 visits, posing variously as architect, construction worker and tourist. Many have asked how well he "made" it across - he didn't just make it - he did eight crossings over a period of 45 minutes. He has been working the streets of NYC since the 1970s, particularly Sheridan Square and Washington Square Park, where for years he was a regular on Sunday afternoons. Philippe’s ability to gather and hold a crowd is legendary (click here), as is his tenaciousness - he has been arrested for street performing over 500 times. His show, which is completely silent and frequently punctuated with gags and bits involving the audience (click here), features ball juggling, hat manipulation, unicycling and club juggling on a slack rope, supported between a tree and lamppost. He creates his performance space by outlining a chalk circle - no one is allowed to step inside. The occasional violator is dealt with cleverly and handily - click here. His show completed, Philippe packs his tools ritualistically and rides off on his unicycle. Only to return for meeting, greeting and the obligatory book signing - click here. Philippe has authored six books. To Reach the Clouds is a wonderful work, telling the story of his twin towers walk. I also recommend episode eight of the Ric Burns documentary, New York - The Center of the World (Part 8), where Philippe is interviewed and "is the spiritual heart of the film'' according to Burns. Philippe has done a number of commemorative street performances since 911 in Washington Square. This performance was to call awareness to the proposed (and controversial) renovation of the park. When asked why he does what he does: "When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk."

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Dance Parade

The 2007 Dance Parade caught me (and many others) off guard - I had no idea this event was being held when I ran into it. I would deem it a tremendous success, given that it was a first annual, with cold weather and rain, which did not deter dancers or observers. The parade worked its way from 32nd Street down Broadway and Fifth Avenue to end in Washington Square Park. The floats turned off towards Sixth Avenue - dancers remained in the park where a stage was set up. Several hours of dancing ensued both on and off stage - a DJ provided music. The raison d'etre for the parade you may ask? From Dance Parade's vision statement: "To celebrate diversity as 'One Parade with Many Cultures' 49 genres are represented." Click here for a list and more info on their website. Although the parade was not a protest, there was also a political agenda for some - change or repeal of the city's cabaret law dating back to 1926 (enacted to restrict public lewdness and interracial mingling): any venue where 3 or more people where dancing and food or drink is served requires a cabaret license. The law has been more aggressively enforced since the 1990s where it has used to combat quality-of-life complaints and troublesome clubs. Difficult to obtain, only 69 establishments have cabaret licenses in Manhattan. Attendance along the parade route was light, but turnout in the park was huge, where participants along with gawkers filled the park plaza. Judging by this year's revelry, I think this parade will become very successful in the years to come...

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Desert Pavilion

This is the second of the three pavilions in the Steinhardt Conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. Click here for more photos; click here for the posting on the Tropical Pavilion. A desert environment is one of the most surprising to the uninitiated - someone I once knew who was a naturalist traveler made an interesting remark about the desert - many see it as a lifeless, barren void, when in actuality, the desert is teeming with life, both flora and fauna. He also made a comment (with which others have concurred) that one of the most beautiful sites is the desert at springtime when everything is in bloom. The Desert Pavilion has a selection of plants from around the world. From the Botanic Garden site: "The Desert Pavilion houses plants from arid regions in both the Old and New World. The New World cacti, located on the left side of the room, are from the American Southwest, Mexico, Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. The Old World succulents on the right side of the pavilion are from South Africa, Namibia, Madagascar, the Canary Islands, and North Africa. Shrubs, trees, and wildflowers from these regions are included in the display to illustrate the diversity of desert plant life. Special exhibits include a glassed-in display of lithops (or "living stones") and information on succulent survival strategies, convergent evolution, and the Sonoran and African deserts." So, until you have the opportunity to travel to deserts far and wide, take a journey through the garden's pavilion right in the heart of the city ...

Friday, 18 May 2007

Just Passing Through

I have done 3 previous posts on Grand Central specifically: the main concourse, the exterior rooftop sculpture and the famous clock, along with a post on the Oyster Bar. This posting shows other areas of the station. On the left is one of the passageways - magnificent and Grand - isn't it? - befitting of its name. The upper right shows the main concourse facing the timetables. And on the lower right is a photo in the subterranean depths leading to the train tracks themselves. At the east end of the terminal, there is also a wonderful food market, which I only recently discovered - The Grand Central Market, a gourmet European-style food hall. Several of the city's premier food shops are vendors here (such as Murray's Cheese) - click here for photo. All told, Grand Central is a world unto itself with restaurants, shops and a myriad of environments. I love this place, an edifice in stone, iconic NYC - a constant in a world of change. In a way this station is a metaphor for life itself - we're just passing through...

Thursday, 17 May 2007

West Side Community Garden

This is the West Side Community Garden, which spans between 89th and 90th Streets between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and is one of the largest public gardens in the city. Click here for more photos. These blocks are home to a array of institutions: Ballet Hispanico, Stephen Gaynor School, Claremont Riding Stables (recently closed), and St. Gregory the Great School. During the 1970s, half the block facing Columbus Avenue was razed for new buildings. Inadequate funds led to an abandoned plot. By the time real estate developers were ready to build, the space had been transformed into a garden by local residents (many community gardens in the city have started this way). The community was aided in saving this space by Community board 7, The Trust for Public Land, private fundraising and developer Jerome Kretchmer, who included the garden in his development plan. “How could a green open space not be a good amenity?” Kretchmer asks. “I get my money’s worth a hundred times a year.” The garden officially opened to the public in 1988. There is a vegetable garden area with over 100 individual, private plots where vegetables can be grown and harvested. As would be expected for such a privilege in the city, there is a waiting list for vacant plots. Of course the primary focus is flowers - each spring, the garden is home to over 300 varieties of tulips, daffodils, hyacinths, and roses. Students of St. Gregory the Great school are responsible for the planting and maintaining of two plots. Gardens and parks are not only beautiful in their own rights, but also in juxtaposition to urban structures, providing necessary respite and sanctuary ...

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

The Cage

This may not look like much, but this ramshackle affair is one of the world's most well-known streetball courts, with some of the finest play in the country. Officially the West 4th Street Courts, commonly The Cage. It is sandwiched between the entrance to the W. 4th street subway station (one of the city's largest), Avenue of the Americas a.k.a. 6th Ave. (one of the city's busiest streets), West 3rd and 4th Streets, playgrounds and handball courts. There is no seating for spectators - onlookers press up against the fence, dodging pedestrian traffic and jockeying for good viewing. The court is smaller than regulation size, so the the action is faster with lots of tough, physical play ("banging"), sometimes resembling urban wrestling more than basketball. The entire court is surrounded by a 20-foot-high chain-link fence - hence the term cage (cage configurations are not unusual in many large cities). Many professional players have cut their teeth here; scouts are frequently on site prospecting for talent. The West 4th Street League that plays there was founded in 1977 by Kenny Graham, a limousine driver. There is a summer tournament, drawing 100,000 visitors from around the world. Prior to 1935, the area was vacant land; from 1935 to 1953 it was a small city park with swings, slides and a bocce court. In 1953 it was taken over by the parks department and in the 1950s it was paved and basketball hoops were added. I am not a sports or basketball fan, but the fast games with constant action are quintessential NYC. And the banter between players is some of the best sarcasm and comedy I have heard. The Cage has been featured in films and TV commercials. A book was written: Inside the Cage: A Season at West 4th Street's Legendary Tournament. Do you want a slice of real, classic NYC - gritty, harsh, fast, in-your-face? Visit the the Cage, watch a game and listen ...

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Tale of Two Colors

Yesterday evening a friend pointed out a young woman (Anna) who was remarkably immersed in shades of blue/turquoise/aqua - aqua shirt, turquoise sweatshirt, blue sneakers, light blue/aqua beverage container and blue-green on her cigarette pack. Her friend also had her own blue-green accents and beverage. While deciding whether or not this was a blog worthy event (I am a big fan of turquoise & aqua so objectivity was a problem), to our amazement along came a yellow-themed woman (Rachael) - golden blond hair, yellow shirt, yellow accented sneakers which also had blue accents matching Anna's (not to mention a hot pink phone and matching trim on her sneaker tongues). This color event was too unique to pass up - I asked if they would mind posing together and they obliged. Anna and Rachael are both NYU students. Hoping to get the shade descriptions right, I spent a little time this morning reviewing the differences between turquoise, aqua, aquamarine, teal, peacock, cyan, cerulean, azure ...

Monday, 14 May 2007

Marijuana March

This photo is from the New York City Worldwide Marijuana March, an annual event held on the first Saturday of May - click here for more photos. It is NYC's celebration of a worldwide event called the Global Marijuana March or Million Marijuana March, now with 232 cities involved. Each city has its own spin which involves marches, festivals, rallies, concerts, speakers and information tables. The event, which has been going on for 40 years in NYC, is a celebration of marijuana culture with an aim to legalize cannabis for all uses - recreation, medicine, fuel, etc. Various groups are involved in the organization of the march such as NORML, Cannabis Culture and Cures-Not-Wars, one of the most interesting groups. Cures-Not-Wars is making efforts to legalize the use of ibogaine, a hallucinogen of African origin which is reputedly very effective in treating opiate addiction. Ibogaine is administered in many countries as an experimental drug. In other countries, such as the United States, it is a controlled substance along with other psychedelics. Cures-Not-Wars is headed by Dana Beal, former Yippie, out of 9 Bleecker Street, the former home of the Yipster Times and now a museum (click here for previous post).. The figure at the center of the photo is, appropriately, David Peel, a musician and activist who is perhaps best known for his first album Have a Marijuana, produced in 1968 with his group The Lower East Side. The parade has the feel of a sixties rally with a benign tone. The police appeared quite easy going and tolerant of the event. After all, how much of a serious danger can marijuana activists really be :)

Sunday, 13 May 2007


What is seen in the NYC as an encroachment by mass merchandisers and corporate chains, is often seen out of the city as an asset; frequently the small independent store is not an option, so consumers are more appreciative just to have access to the merchandise. Many of the largest chains (including some of the "big box" operations) are now moving into the city, even in Manhattan, where space is at a premium e.g. Whole Foods, Best Buy, Home Depot, Starbucks and The Guitar Center (shown in the photo). Many of these large merchandisers were started as small independents by individuals passionate about their field and not with intentions of rolling out nationally. Although they have paid their dues, this does not justify the type of overly aggressive tactics alleged to be used by places like Walmart and Starbucks, who are seen by some as purveyors of evil. The internet has had a substantial impact on most businesses selling a product, but many products are still best seen in person - musical instruments are a prime example - unless they know exactly what they want, musicians need to do a hands-on evaluation. In the case of Barnes and Noble or the Guitar Center, I personally do not see these particular chains with such foreboding as others because 1) reading a book or playing a musical instrument are activities requiring time, patience and active participation. There are no shortcuts - these merchants can only pander so much to instant gratification. 2) I would much prefer to see a Barnes and Noble or Guitar Center over a fast food chain. The biggest loss is with the knowledge of the staffing, which generally just can't compete with a long time employee or owner of a small mom-and-pop operation. Many consumers feel conflicted about these large chains - although we dislike the concept (with "crass commercialism" and the "dumbing down of society" being popular refrains), in reality they often provide broader selection, lower pricing and longer hours (not to mention more space for reading or playing instruments) that most consumers now want. After all, if you need to replace an A string on a Sunday night, where else are you going to go?

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Garbage a la Mode

I'm only disappointed that I didn't get a photo that better represents the level at which the trash situation gets in NYC. In this photo, one can see that efforts have at least been made to place trash in a proper (but over filled) receptacle by perching it around the rim a la mode. Frequently trash is also piled around the base, loose and in bags. This is a typical scenario in most heavily trafficked areas, particularly where there is no private group providing additional services. What? you ask. Yes, that is correct - in spite of our heavy tax load and cost of living in New York, private organizations have been formed to properly manage and provide better services for many things which are the responsibility of local government and for which we pay taxes. Like picking up the garbage, which is not done frequently enough in many areas. Groups like the SOHO Alliance, the Fund for Park Avenue or The Central Park Conservancy provide a level of services resulting in a standard of living more acceptable to residents. A similar scenario is seen in the apartment rental market where repairs are often better done by the tenant at his/her own expense rather than by the landlord. Waiting for those responsible to do their job is frequently a formula for frustration - taking things into ones own hands is sometimes the only sensible recourse. No NYC trash statistics or tutorial today - perhaps another time ...

Friday, 11 May 2007

Tropical Pavilion

Yes, this is NYC too. The photos for this posting (click here for more) were all taken in the Tropical Pavilion in the Steinhardt Conservatory at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, which was founded in 1910. Brooklyn Botanic is a world unto itself, one of NYC's (and the country's) premier urban oases - 52 acres with over 10,000 different kinds of plants in a variety of outdoor and indoor environments - gardens, walks, esplanades and conservatories. The Steindhardt Conservatory (built in 1988 to replace buildings from 1917) is a complex of greenhouses in realistic environments that simulate a range of global habitats - Desert, Warm Temperate and Tropical pavilions, along with a Bonsai Museum (the largest collection in the US - a must see), the Trail of Evolution exhibit and an Aquatic House. The Tropical Pavilion, the largest of the conservatories, soars to a height of 65 feet to accommodate the tallest trees. It recreates a tropical forest, including waterfalls and streams, representing the primary tropical regions of the world: the Amazon basin, African rainforest, and tropical eastern Asia. Plantings are arranged to represent the categories of fragrance, food, medicine, and industry, along with ornamental plants. Here you can find mango, banana, breadfruit, coffee, cola, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate, papaya, star fruit, latex, mahogany - it's amazing to see tropical fruits actually growing in the middle of New York City! I would recommend a visit any time of year, although a steamy August day would perhaps not be the best choice for the Tropical Pavilion - try a dreary winter day and be transported to another world ...

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Grad Alley

Welcome to Grad Alley, the commencement eve celebration (Wednesday evening) of New York University - the world's largest private university with 40,000 students. A carnival type atmosphere is created along West 4th Street, La Guardia Place and the NYU plazas. There is free food, entertainment, a live D.J. and their own fireworks display. As I write this on Thursday morning the commencement ceremonies are taking place in Washington Square Park - the "campus" for NYU. Grad Alley was absolutely packed - NYU is for the student who wants to attend a large school, be in an urban environment and take advantage of everything a city like New York has to offer. This is a factor in the strong standing of many of their departments/schools which can draw from its NYC environment - e.g. law, film & business. NYU is the polar opposite of the small school in the country where a bucolic setting, small student body and intimate contacts are the hallmarks. At times NYU can feel like a bit overwhelming and impersonal. Personally, I like it, but it's not for the faint of heart - there is no hand holding here ...

Wednesday, 9 May 2007


I wanted to call this the End of an Era, but I don't want to overuse the phrase. Everywhere you go, look or read there's the last of something or a NYC icon closing - CBGB, Grand Machinery Exchange, etc. Claremont Riding Academy, located at 175 W. 89th Street and less than two blocks from Central Park and its bridle path, was a real riding school and working horse stable, the oldest in NYC and the country. It was amazing to walk down this quiet residential block on the Upper West Side and see an urban barn with hay, horses, a wooden ramp and a riding ring. Click here for more photos, including a peek inside. The five-story Romanesque revival building (on the National Historic Register) was designed by Frank Rooke and built by Edward Bedell in 1892. Bedell had built a number of stables in the neighborhood - Cedarhurst Stable at 147 W. 83rd and three on this block at 167-171 W. 89th. Ownership passed to Charles Havemeyer, Emil Wellner (who in 1928 changed the name from Claremont Stables to Claremont Riding Academy), Irwin Novagrad in 1943 and finally to his son Paul who closed the operation on April 30, 2007. Paul Novograd cited a number of reasons for the closing - financial difficulties and declining ridership in part due to increased crowding of the Central Park Bridle path with joggers, cyclists, dogwalkers, etc. Encountering the occasional horses with their riders going to and from Central Park and the stables down city streets was truly an experience - the fate of Claremont is mourned by many and sadly, horseback riding will no longer be available in Manhattan ...

Tuesday, 8 May 2007


Manhattan is not known for watersports - until very recently our waterfronts have been relatively unused for recreational activities. Atypical given that water frontage is generally such a huge asset in most locales worldwide; surprising since everything in NYC has been developed and exploited. But the waterways are finally seeing their day. Fishing, boating, sailing, kayaking and even some swimming (under certain conditions) are now all commonplace. The Hudson river, once seen as a garbage dump, has become cleaner than anytime in the last 100 years - fish and other aquatic life have returned. The photo is of members of the New York Kayak Club, which provides a kayak launch, storage, locker rooms, instruction, guided tours and a shop. They are situated at Pier 40 at West Houston Street and the West Side Highway. There are a number of kayaking facilities in the city click here for a list with links. Cautionary Note - NYC is one of about 800 cities in the US which uses a combined sewer system - storm water and sewage are combined. When it rains, the system can become overloaded and the sewage and polluted stormwater are dumped into the waterways - over 27 billion gallons are discharged untreated annually via combined sewer overflow (CSO) outfall pipes (there are about 450 in NYC harbor). The problems of this antiquated system are being addressed - until then, beware of NYC waters after a rainstorm ...

Monday, 7 May 2007


This is Marumi at 546 LaGuardia Place - my favorite Japanese restaurant. It's kind of a cliche - have you ever noticed how everyone in NYC seems to know "a place for great Japanese" or "the best Japanese restaurant"? Apparently it's a necessary credential for being a New Yorker. I won't make any comparative claims here - when I found Marumi, I essentially stopped looking. One thing I really like is that the owner, Takashi Sando, is on site (that's him in the back left of the photo) - he is no nonsense and runs this place very efficiently and like a well-oiled machine. Everything is very consistent and fresh (of paramount importance with raw fish). The service is excellent - in several years of going there I don't recall one mistake. Marumi is reasonably priced (inexpensive for Japanese) and in the heart of New York University country, so students abound. The ambience is very social, pleasant and casual. The place gets crowded; most nights there are lines (which move fairly quickly). Much of the clientele is Japanese and local regulars - a good sign. It has been in business 16 years. On a refreshing note, this place is about the food - alcohol is available, but never pushed; dessert is typically not even offered. Get there before 7:15. Try a Bento box or broiled salmon. Best kept "secret"? - their spicy sashimi salad ...

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Cappuccino & Tattoo

This is Fun City Cappuccino & Tattoo, a unique fusion of two extremely popular things, both with a long and international history. Tattooing is certainly not new or uniquely New York - it can be traced back thousands of years and the term itself is Polynesian. Tattooing was banned in the city from 1961 (when an outbreak of hepatitis B was traced to a tattoo parlor) to March 27, 1997, when it was re-legalized. But ironically, the American style tattoo was born here in Chatham Square (Chinatown) at the turn of the century. Later, in the 1920s with the advent of electronic tattooing, the practice moved to the ports of NYC (Coney Island and the Brooklyn Navy Yard) catering to sailors. The period when tattooing was banned here was the time it became the mainstay of hippies and bikers. Tattooing went underground in the city and was eclipsed by other cities like San Francisco. Since the re-legalization, NYC has been playing catch-up. One of the early practitioners was Jonathan Shaw (who's father was the bandleader Artie Shaw), original owner of Fun City Tattoo, the oldest Tattoo parlor in the city dating back to 1976 (as a private studio) - read the history here at their website (click on the "Press" link). The photo is of the business's public incarnation at 94 St. Marks Place, dating back to 1991. Michelle Myles is the new owner - she also runs Daredevil Tattoo on Ludlow Street. Tattoos have certainly shed much of their criminal, outlaw or bad boy image - it is now popular in the burbs as well as cities. Estimates are that 16% of the population has a tattoo. No person in the United States is reported to have contracted HIV via a commercially-applied tattooing process. Still not interested? Perhaps a beautiful temporary henna (Mehandi) tattoo - click here for photo. Or perhaps just a cappuccino ...

Saturday, 5 May 2007


One of the biggest local disputes is over redesign versus renovation plans for Washington Square Park. Everyone agrees on one thing, that the park is in serious disrepair and this process has delayed much needed work. Organizations have been formed, like OpenWSP and Preserve Washington Square Park. Lawsuits have been mounted (Kupferman, Greenberg, Harris) in opposition to a plan for what is alleged to be a fairly major wholesale redesign (by landscape architect Vellonakis) which calls for a perimeter fence, some tree cutting, a realignment of the fountain and a reduction and leveling of the plaza area. There are those, however, who favor the redesign, seeing the current design as not being of historical significance or necessarily optimal. Of course, the Village has been a magnet and breeding ground for political activism for eons, with battles like Jane Jacobs vs. Robert Moses, so this debacle should come as no surprise. Space does not permit fair coverage here of the issues involved. Here's one thread of postings which will give you a flavor of the debate. The whole affair has become very politicized and started to take on a life of its own. One factor in the equation is the fear of change and the unknown. Many regulars love the park with its planned and unplanned activities, social networking and overall culture - one can find chess, music, scrabble, street performers, petanque, concerts, debates, artists, political demonstrations, festivals, filming, dog runs and relaxing all in 9.75 acres. The photos are from yesterday's "Be-In" organized by Jonathan Greenberg. My biggest fear is the timetable for whatever is decided. Two years have been projected, but the memorial arch in the park saw a chainlink fence around it for 14 years (due to lack of funds) before restoration was completed. A similar fate for the park would leave visitors and locals without use of one of the world's premier playgrounds ...

Friday, 4 May 2007

Yellow Fever

In 2005, there were 71,167 automobile accidents in NYC with 328 fatalities: 101 drivers killed, 46 passengers killed, 159 pedestrians killed and 21 bicyclists killed (and 1 "other"). 25-30% of accidents involve one vehicle striking objects, like that seen in the photo. I'm not sure what happened here but I would guess avoidance of a vehicle or pedestrian was likely. It appeared that no one was injured. There are 12,779 taxis in NYC and many are involved in accidents - unfortunately since business is involved, what is best for making money is not best for safety. Taxi fares are based primarily on distance (idle time meter charges are much less profitable than distance). So, the faster you get there, the more money you make. Add long hours, many inexperienced drivers, road rage and the picture is not good. The good news is that after huge increases in taxi and livery accidents in the 1990s, regulations became much stricter and rates have actually come down . Click here for a Taxicab Fact Book. Contrary to public perception, it is actually safer to ride in a taxicab than in other vehicles (crash rates per million passenger miles are less for taxis) - click here for article. It appears that at least for the time being, yellow fever has been contained ...

Thursday, 3 May 2007


This is Taschen's NYC flagship store at 107 Greene Street in SOHO. Taschen is an art book publisher started by Benedikt Taschen in 1980 in Cologne, Germany as Taschen Comics. His esoteric comic book company was saved when Taschen purchased and sold 40,000 remaindered books on Rene Magritte. With the profits, Taschen then ventured into art and photography books - first publishing a book of the photography of Annie Liebowitz. For a fascinating history of the company, click here. Now, Taschen publishes works on art, architecture, design, fashion, film, fetishistic imagery, photography, erotica/sex - what's unique is to see explicit sex sitting alongside mainstream art books. Their books are unique in many other ways - Helmet Newton’s SUMO is the largest book published in the 20th Century. It's so big in fact, that it comes with a special table designed by Philippe Starck. And then there is GOAT - Greatest Of All Time (a book about Mohammad Ali) which sells for $12,500 (collector's edition). Yet they also pride themselves as a publisher which brings forth quality art books at popular prices - many of their books sell for only $10, befitting the the word "pocket" (translation of the German "taschen"). The store, with its concrete floors, was designed by French Philippe Starck; wall murals were done by the Brazilian artist Beatriz Milhazes. There are floating bookshelves with hi-def video monitors along the top. The rear of the store has a staircase to a lower gallery/event space. From their myspace site: "I have a quiet gallery space with furniture by Tenriero, some sleek Eames chairs, and a buttery leather Arne Jacobson Egg chair." A must visit. I look forward to their upcoming book signing with Santiago Calatrava!

Wednesday, 2 May 2007

Twist and Shout

The Manhattan Bridge was the last of the three great suspension bridges built across the East River (the other two are the Brooklyn and Williamsburg). The bridge connects lower Manhattan (Canal Street) with Brooklyn (Flatbush Avenue). The photo is from the Brooklyn side in DUMBO. The bridge, completed in 1909, carries tremendous traffic: two roadways, upper and lower, with 6 lanes of vehicular traffic, subway tracks, a walkway and bikeway. It has, however, been plagued with problems from its inception which were neglected until recently. The bridge designer, Leon Moisseiff, located the subway tracks on the outer sides of the roadway rather than the center. The design flaw was discovered soon after construction - the bridge twisted whenever a train passed. The problem got worse, movement in the roadway (as much as several feet up and down) caused cracking. Crying out for repairs, the bridge was neglected with the NYC fiscal crisis in the 1970s. A major reconstruction finally began in 1982 and will only see completion in 2013 at a cost of $829 million. It is interesting that Moisseiff, known for his work on deflection theory allowing for lighter and more graceful structures, was engineer for the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, consultant for the Golden Gate Bridge, one of the designers for the San Francisco-Oakland Bridge and primary designer for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge which Moisseiff called the "most beautiful bridge in the world." However, the bridge collapsed in a windstorm only four months after opening, leaving a damaged legacy ...

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

The Plastic Infinite

A friend alerted me yesterday to some goings on in Washington Square Park. Activities are not well covered here, so it took some involvement to find out what was going on. What initially appeared to be a trash heap of plastic shopping bags over tetrahedral frames, turned out to be an architectural project conceived by U.K. architect Usman Haque, who has created many interactive installations and mass-participation performances. More photos here. Initially titled Project Unspecified: "The NYU Program Board Performing Arts Committee has invited architect Usman Haque to design and oversee the construction of The Plastic Infinite. Members of the public are invited to come together to design, construct and inhabit a temporary inflatable structure in Washington Square Park, New York City. In the tradition of “barn raising", where members of a community gather to build a structure for a new family, The Plastic Infinite is a collaborative event for the city. The park will be transformed into a playground for creative exchange." In addition, Tali Hinkis and Kyle Lapidus of LoVid added video to the installation. It actually was quite a bit of fun getting inside the structure - people were coming and going all day and night. The space became a place of social interaction. Inside while shooting, I struck up a conversation with someone who, initially unbeknownst to me, was the architect himself. I found him very approachable, congenial and down to earth - we had an interesting conversation about architects and architecture ...