simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: 2008
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Tuesday, 18 November 2008

American Express

I have met grown men - secure, strong, worldly men who are absolutely terrified of cities, particularly New York City. To city lovers like myself, these fears seem completely irrational. I understand the fear perhaps of an older person or single woman walking in a dangerous neighborhood at night - this is courting trouble. But a grown person in a vehicle in broad daylight with an entire family in tow? What can really happen? If you get lost, you will eventually get unlost. In my experience, the worst that will happen is that you will be very inconvenienced for some time.
The worst scenario to me is breaking down in an automobile in the city. Fixing a flat or getting a battery boost, simple acts elsewhere, can be a real headache here. Services are not readily available and waiting for roadside service on a busy highway in a traffic congested city is certainly not pleasant. And if one would have to overnight in a hotel, that would be mighty expensive or very inconvenient.
There is no plethora of basic services like tire repair - places like that in the photo are generally found in poorer neighborhoods and in out of the way locations. Unless you know a neighborhood well, these places are destinations - the likelihood of finding them when you need them is rather remote. And escalating rents have conspired to make these places all but non-existent. The scarcity has made this type of subject a popular photo.
Certainly being lost in a city or having trouble here, like getting a flat tire, is more troublesome than the same problem in the suburbs and there is perhaps some risk of exploitation by opportunists (although our suburban or country brethren are not immune from this). In most cases, however, a little cash or credit card will be all that is necessary to extricate oneself from virtually any situation. I remember a conversation with a client of mine when I was younger and very inexperienced in travel. She was much older, nearing retirement and planned to settle somewhere on the coast of Italy. At the time, this seemed such a fantasy and unfathomable to me for a number of reasons, language being one of them. When I asked whether she was concerned about not being able to speak Italian, she replied, she was not at all worried, because "they all speak American Express" :)

Monday, 17 November 2008

Undiscovered Beach

This is a beach Manhattan. It is not the palm-fringed beaches of Phuket, the reef-protected lagoons of Bora Bora or the rocky coast of Maine, but it is a beach and if I may say so, a rather attractive one. I was really stunned to run across this by accident on an excursion to the George Washington Bridge.
Admittedly this beach is in Washington Heights, quite a jaunt from from any place that generally comes to mind when discussing Manhattan. And many would argue that this area is further from midtown Manhattan than many areas of Brooklyn or Queens and to champion it as Manhattan is only to be technically correct. That's fair.
So let me rephrase. This small beach is within the five boroughs and accessible by subway, only a short ride from midtown Manhattan.
But there is no need to promote it, for if you find it a little too far, too inconvenient or out of the way, I am sure its habitués will be quite happy to enjoy this little secluded spot of sand with its rocky outcroppings alone and leave it undiscovered ...

Note about the beach: The beach is part of Fort Washington Park, located on the West Side of Manhattan along the Hudson River. This cove is roughly opposite 171st Street.

Friday, 14 November 2008

Swimming Against the Tide

On New Year's Eve in 2007, I wrote of the ball drop in Times Square - see here. At the time I was disappointed to learn that prior to the drop, the ball was displayed at Macy's, and I did not get a chance to see it closeup. On a recent visit, I was pleasantly surprised to see that the ball was already installed on the main floor - and that I now I had completely forgotten about this recent tradition.
It feels like Christmas promotions and retail store decorations come earlier every year as the push to maximize holiday business accelerates. At one time, Black Friday (see posting here) was the demarcation point for the start of the Christmas countdown - even at that time it seemed rather early to begin preparations over one month in advance. But any retailer has little choice in order to keep up with the competition. It is difficult to swim against the tide - barring some supreme effort, most will be swept by the current. This very posting is driven by the same pre-holiday frenzy - the ball is on display early. To write about it later, would look like I missed the boat. Even though I do not see this blog as competing per se with conventional journalism, I still feel an obligation to "do" certain stories in a timely manner.
Additionally, everything moves so much more quickly - in the electronic world, almost immediately. We no longer have the luxury of doing things at our pace - the speed of everything around us often dictates when we must do things. Of course there are many ways and situations where one can buck the trend - to appreciate things on one's own terms is a laudable goal and can provide respite from the pressures of living in a technological world.
But for me, at Christmas time, readers here do not want a rebel, an iconoclast, or a man who swims against the tide. They want to see all the trappings of the holiday season - the windows at Saks 0r Tiffany's, the tree at Rockefeller Center, Santa at Macy's. And perhaps I do too, for sometimes I tire swimming against the tide ...

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Waldorf Salad

I have a relatively restrictive diet these days, so it is hard for me to justify spending $95 on a brunch. But if I did feel I could take advantage of the offerings, I would certainly try the Sunday brunch at the Waldorf Astoria hotel. I have written of this hotel a number of times before - if you have not been there, I highly recommend a visit. Seeing the public lobby space is a voyage to a time gone by.
Staying at this grand dame is not as rarefied an experience as one might expect. It has become the hotel of choice for my family's occasional visits to New York. With Internet discount websites, very good deals can be had on rooms at the Waldorf.
In the course of my visits there, I have watched the magnificent spectacle that is the Sunday brunch. This minor weekly event is served in the Main Lobby of the hotel, so the nonparticipant can easily see the offerings in what has to be one of NYC's finest brunches. Diners are seated in the Peacock Alley restaurant (opened in 1931) and private dining salons.
The sumptuous brunch is put together by French chef, Cedric Tovar, who earned his reputation at legendary, Michelin-starred Parisian restaurants like La Tour D’Argent and Plaza Athénée Hotel Paris. I'm impressed that such quality can be maintained in a large, buffet style meal - buffets can very frequently become feeding at the trough - selecting food can feel like picking over someone else's leftovers and quite unappetizing. At a first class offering like this however, you can put any of these concerns aside.
The food choices themselves are, of course, spectacular, both in quality and range. Everything imaginable is available. Not to mention that technically, this is a no holds barred, all you can eat affair with no restrictions. I doubt, however, that this brunch attracts the typical all you can eat urban or suburban forager.
And yes, unlike Fawlty Towers*, they do serve Waldorf salad ...

* For those unfamiliar, Fawlty Towers was a brilliant British sitcom from the 1970s starring John Cleese. Only twelve episodes were made but a lasting legacy remains. In one episode "Waldorf Salad," an American guest is frustrated in his inability to order a Waldorf Salad. Proprieter Basil Fawlty, unfamiliar with the salad or ingredients, feigns knowledge - the skit quickly escalates, with Basil going into an outrageous charade. Highly recommended, as are all the episodes.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Phoenix Rising

West Eighth Street is an anomaly is this city. As one New York Times writer said, this one block seems to be defying the laws of gentrification. The center Village is one of the most expensive and desirable neighborhoods in New York City with multimillion dollar apartments as the norm, yet West Eighth Street's merchants are a motley crew of businesses that cater primarily to tourists. Once known as the "shoe block" the street sported dozens of shoe stores. Only a handful remain.
The most telltale sign of trouble are the closed stores. Depending on the day, it is possible to see as many as 20 plus stores vacant on one city block.
But lately there have been signs of hope that West Eighth Street may rise again with the opening of two cafes, a winebar, and Elettaria at 33 West Eighth Street.
We residents hope for this, not because we embrace gentrification and rising rents, but because we would like to see quality businesses, at least some of which provide useful services to the neighborhood.
Elettaria does not exactly fit this description, but it could be one of the first signs of a break from the type of retailers this street has seen for as long as one can remember. The restaurant has had a lot of buzz and media coverage. It is extraordinarily upscale and chic for the street, albeit even a little intimidating - until recently it didn't even post a menu in the window. The food reviews are generally quite good with articles appearing this year in both the New Yorker magazine and the New York Times. The menu is unique - an Indian/Filipino/American fusion. Chef Akhtar Nawab and partner Noel Cruz have pedigrees that include the Grammercy Tavern, French Culinary Institute, and Craftbar. Negative reviews appear to be primarily leveled at the service.
There was a time where Eighth Street and its environs actually had the types of places emblematic of its artistic heritage - the original Whitney museum was here, as was the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture (still operating). In the early 1900s, the area was already an established art district - see my posting on Macdougal Alley. From 1900-1950 there was a community of some 200 artists who lived and worked in the two blocks north of Washington Square - see my posting: Left Bank New York. Elettaria's space was formerly a club, the 8th Wonder, where Hendrix and others played in the 1960s. Hendrix's Electric Lady Studios is still in business on the block.
One neighborhood activist I know predicts that Eighth Street will rise again. I hope so ...

Note About the Restaurant: The name Elettaria is a species of cardamom, one of the world's most expensive spices. You can visit the restaurant's website and menu here.

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Hell or High Water

I'm running out of superlatives. Or perhaps, more precisely, I am running out of synonyms for words like amazed, stunned, astonished or shocked. Please go here and look at this series of 8 photos. See what I mean? Exploring this city is like going to Paris - you start to bore yourself with superlatives - like crying wolf, they start to lose their impact when used so often.
Of course, I could just let the photos speak for themselves. After all, this is supposed to be a photoblog which is typically driven by the images, with minimal or nonexistent text. But this website has metamorphised over time and the writing has become as important as the photos. I believe most regular visitors here enjoy reading, much as I enjoy learning and writing. So now there is an expectation.
These photos of the New York Yacht Club were taken whimsically. I did not even know this place existed, however it was spectacular architecturally. I did enter the premises and was immediately told that no photography was allowed. I had no idea what the interior looked like or whether visitors were permitted to tour the place. Had I known, I would
The New York Yacht Club clubhouse is located at 37 W. 44th Street. It was designed by Warren and Wetmore, the firm also responsible for the exterior of Grand Central Station.

From Christopher Gray of the New York Times:

Founded in 1844, the club had several modest headquarters for its first half century. But the activity of yachting became so luxurious that by the 1890's -- with giant steam yachts of 200 feet or more -- a new clubhouse seemed in order.
A competition attracted entries ranging from the boring -- R.H. Robertson's plain design could have been a small-town businessman's lunch club -- to the opulent -- Howard, Cauldwell & Morgan's giant, modern French design with three windows shaped like the prows of oared galleys.
The winning design was the first major work of the new partnership of Whitney Warren and Charles Wetmore. They produced a rich, five-story limestone front with three windows patterned after the sterns of early Dutch ships and a large terrace at the fourth floor topped by flagstaffs and a giant wooden pergola and trellis.
It is the model room, though, that will astound the uninitiated visitor. Behind the facade's three great windows, the model room stretches back almost 100 feet under a giant floral stained glass ceiling. Ringed by a balcony with a galleon railing, the room contains hundreds of full- and half-hull ship models, including one of every defender of the America's Cup.


After looking at photos of the interior, I'm going to see those rooms in person, come hell or high water. And if high water comes, what better place to be than the New York Yacht Club? :)

Note: Membership to the New York Yacht Club is by invitation only. To tour the building, you must be accompanied by a member.

Related Postings: Transportation, Grand Central, Passing Time, The Oyster Bar, Just Passing Through.

Monday, 10 November 2008

The New Yorker

When you find at a place with a name and location like this, you assume it has a rich history and many a story to tell. However, as typical with many things in New York City, a little investigation will reveal much more than you ever imagined.
The New Yorker Hotel, 481 Eighth Avenue at 34th Street, clearly outdid my expectations. The exterior signage in the photograph looked much too new to be original to the structure - some reading confirmed my suspicions and led to some fascinating reading. Designed by Sugarman & Berger, the New Yorker opened in 1930. The building's art deco architectural style with tower set backs resembles the Empire State Building (which lies 3 blocks east and was completed in 1931).
Names, dates and figures, the bane of many a history student, are often necessary to give a true feeling for a place. Many specifics are easily forgotten, but hopefully the impression remains that this was quite a place - the facts about this place are truly amazing. Of course it's central location in midtown is a big plus - walking distance from Port Authority Bus Terminal, Macy's, the Javitts Center with Penn Station across the street.
The New Yorker hotel, a marvel of its day, was the largest hotel in New York with 2,500 rooms. In addition to the ballrooms there were ten private dining "salons" and five restaurants employing 35 master cooks. The barber shop was one of the largest in the world with 42 chairs and twenty manicurists.
There were 92 telephone operators with 3200 phones and 150 laundry staff washing as many as 350,000 pieces daily. This was all supported by America's largest private power plant, which the New Yorker had installed down in the sub-basements. There was a ten-room hospital, a theater ticket office, a transportation department. Some of the rooms had private sky terraces or roof gardens.
With the arrival of the Big Bands, the stage was set for the "heyday" of the New Yorker Hotel. The famous bands of the day played at the New Yorker, including Benny Goodman, both of the Dorsey's and Woody Herman. This atmosphere not only drew in business travelers and tourists, but also attracted the elite of society as well as political figures and business leaders. The Brooklyn Dodgers, with Manager Leo Durocher, headquartered here for the 1941 World Series, and Joe DiMaggio lived here when the Yankees were in town. The 1950's - 60's did not turn out to be as prosperous as previous years, and The New Yorker closed its doors in 1972.
A less savory piece of history is its decline and closing in 1972 and purchase by Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church in 1975. The building was used by the church until 1994 when it reopened as a hotel (since 2000 it has been part of the Ramada franchise) and has gone through extensive renovations. It will maintain the classic Art Deco style but will see many upgrades to bring the hotel up to contemporary standards with amenities like flat panel, HD televisions and free Wi-Fi.
It's roster of residents included one of my personal favorites - the eccentric electrical genius Nikola Tesla, who spent his last 10 years in near-seclusion in Suite 3327, largely devoting his time to feeding pigeons and meeting dignitaries on occasion. He died there in January, 1943 ...

*If you are not familiar with Tesla's life and work, I would highly recommend reading about this cult figure. Tomes have been written both off and online. Here is a good starting point.

NOTE ABOUT THE PHOTO AND SIGN: The iconic, bright red “New Yorker” sign on the top of the hotel is part of the New York City skyline. Even though the New Yorker Hotel is currently undergoing a $65 million renovation, the red sign will remain a fixture of the New York City skyline, preserving the impressive view, far into the future. The sign was installed in 1941 and went dark in 1967. The new bright red sign is a six-story, LED banner and the largest of its kind in North America. It is also the highest off the ground for any LED sign as it is affixed to the top four floors of the New Yorker Hotel facing the West Side of New York. It can easily be seen from as far away as New Jersey as it stands out in midtown New York.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Crime Scene

I have a very special relationship with this place, Electric Lady Studios at 52 West Eighth Street. A regret of what could have been and what should have been. And if you were here with me in person, I would hold my forefinger and thumb as close together as humanly possible without actually touching, leaving the tiniest sliver of light to pass through. And I would tell you "That is how close I came to meeting Jimi Hendrix." Not just meeting him, but spending a night with him and one other jamming on guitar.
Now these were college days in a time of recklessness and excess. Everything from that period was chaotic and disjointed. Some of the details are foggy in my mind, so the story goes something like this:
It was 1969. A winter's night at approximately 4 AM with a snowstorm blowing outside. A fellow NYU dormitory resident whose name I do not remember (perhaps not even a resident; it could have been an interloper - common at that time) said he was headed over to Electric Lady Studios to jam with Jimi, did I want to go? A stunned yes was the proper response and with an electric guitar slung over his neck, we walked from the dorm down Eighth Street in the snowstorm. He buzzed when we arrived, announced his identity via intercom and asked if Jimi was in. The response was that he was not. He typically was. So, disheartened, we made the short trek back.
The following day I asked someone who knew this man well and asked if my friend really knew Hendrix, played with him before and whether we would have actually been admitted to jam with Hendrix had he been at the studio. The answer was yes, yes and yes. I was assured that my friend did know him and had Jimi been there, we would have been admitted.
Now this may not seem like much, but consider this was an opportunity missed to have spent some hours with a living legend, James Marshall Hendrix. Not to see him in a concert or perhaps see a fleeting visage on the street, but to spend time with him in a private setting. These were days when legends and gods were approachable, a time when things and people did not become so overexposed, hyped and marketed as to make them completely inaccessible. I missed other opportunities to see Jimi in concerts at The Fillmore East and his jams at a small club called Ungano's.
I have wanted to do a piece on Electric Lady Studios since the start of this blog, however the exterior is rather plain and uninteresting. But last night an opportunity made itself available. I saw someone leaving the studio and for the first time realized that the door to the entrance vestibule is not kept locked. Opening this door afforded a shot of the brass plaque in the photo. However, upon stepping into the vestibule, I was immediately warned that photography was not allowed.
I also never realized that the studios were in the basement, accessed by a stairway which can be seen from the street, if you peek through the crack in the curtains just right. I was able to see a marble plaque and a framed poster of Jimi in the stairwell. I was surprised to be able to get a couple of decent photos by squeezing my camera and head against a wall and shooting through a glass window at night into a dimly lit stairwell. If you go here, you can see an enlargement of the plaque and poster - the text of the plaque is actually legible.

The history of this studio is just amazing and rather than retell it here, I suggest you read it here at the Electric Lady Studios website. The studio was established in 1970, designed by John Storyk. It is still considered one of the finest recording studios in the world and the roster of clients who have recorded there has to be one of the most astounding who's who in music - see here.

Now I really want a tour of this place. And I had better do it soon, lest it becomes the second of life's major regrets around the same place - like two crimes at the same scene ...

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Livid

Here is an infuriating New York City scenario. You are driving a car or in a taxi on an avenue and need to change direction by turning onto a crosstown street. Now in most situations, you have many choices as to which crosstown street - most of Manhattan is a grid. There are 20 crosstown blocks to a mile, so for most trips you there are dozens of streets you could take. If you are really knowledgeable about traffic patterns, you can narrow your choices, but nearly always, you will still have many equally good options. Your final decision will have an element of whim.
So you make a turn down a street and by pure chance you happen to select the block where a sanitation truck is picking up trash. The street is not wide enough to pass and sanitation workers will never try to accommodate you in any way. And you know you will be there for quite some time, crawling behind that truck, watching as they go about their business one can at a time with no sense of urgency, because this is their job, a job that must be done. And what can you say or do? This is the New York City Department of Sanitation and you want the city kept clean, right?
Now if you are a Zen master or one who can take life in stride, perhaps laugh at times like this, then you are fortunate. But if you are in a bit of a hurry or prefer not to spend your life waiting for traffic lights or behind trucks, because you have already spent too much of your life here waiting, then you may find yourself stewing a bit. There are better things to do. As time passes behind that truck, time that passes slowly (it will be a long time to go down that whole street stopping at every building) you can easily imagine having chosen another street. Any other street. You can play out all the scenarios and reflect on the odds that of all the streets in New York, you chose this one. No backing up either, because in this city, it is rare that cars are not immediately behind you.
You will have time to exhaust all the things you could have done or should have done, because sanitation workers are in no hurry. They are absolutely immune to any belligerent actions - they have experience on a daily basis with all manner of threats and attention getting tactics. You can pretend you are relaxed, enjoying music or reading. But if you are a type A personality or high strung, you can work yourself into a livid, absolutely furious state. Occasionally, in a city of extremes, livid will be the emotion du jour. :)

Photo note: This photo was taken going south on Washington Square West in the morning - not the classic avenue/crosstown street scenario. There were few trash pickups to be made, little traffic and some opportunities to pass around the truck. So this was only reminiscent of the real deal, not an authentic ulcer maker.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Voice of Change

I really didn't want to put my clothes back on and go out again at 11PM. But the yelling and screaming was so compelling - I just had to see what was going on, lest I miss a photo opportunity I might later regret. I live in the heart of New York University, so a moments reflection was all that was needed to assess that the hoopla had to be over an announcement that Barrack Obama would be the 44th President of the United States and that there was an end to the 8-year Republican hegemony.
So out into the night with camera in hand - it was quite amazing on the streets. I don't recall ever witnessing this kind of fanfare over a presidential election. There was all manner of revelry including the occasional firecrackers. I was fortunate to overhear a directive from one of the students - "let's head to Union Square." A brilliant idea, since Union Square would most likely be a downtown nexus for celebration.
One block from Union Square on University Place I overheard someone say "they have no idea what they're in for when they turn that corner." And right he was - an enormous crowd had already gathered and an impromptu tent had been created with a huge American flag. The general feeling in Union Square and the streets was quite exuberant. I overheard one young person conclude a conversation on his cell phone: "I'm so happy Mom. I love you."
Leaving blame aside, there has been a malaise over this nation and desire for change. The unpopular mideast policies and the recent banking debacle and resultant market crash are adequate reasons to galvanize the public. This was a vote for change. From today's New York Times:

The election of Mr. Obama amounted to a national catharsis — a repudiation of a historically unpopular Republican president and his economic and foreign policies, and an embrace of Mr. Obama’s call for a change in the direction and the tone of the country.

Optimism and hope for a renewed America and improved policies and international relations was echoed in the media around the world. I do hope that the change will be good for this country and that President Obama proves to be an able captain.
For a time, the voice of change should buoy the spirits of our ailing country. And time will tell if Mr. Obama can deliver on the promises of hope ...

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Halloween Parade 2008 Part 2

Here is Part 2 of the annual Village Halloween Parade - make sure to click the photo to enlarge the image. See here for Part 1. As promised, here is the gallery of over 40 photos on my Flickr site.

Monday, 3 November 2008

Halloween Parade 2008

I have attended the annual Village Halloween Parade for many years, battling the crowds. Unless one arrives very early and jockeys for a good viewing position, it is virtually futile to attend. Nearly all the side streets on both sides of 6th Avenue for the entire parade route (of nearly 1.5 miles) overflow with people and are cordoned off early by the police. Like myself, most city residents I know have essentially given up on attending. I now typically just peruse the streets after the parade ends - costumed participants continue to mill around until the wee hours of the morning.
However, since the inception of this blog, I have obtained a press pass, allowing me to roam freely among the paraders. This privilege is extraordinary as the parade has become virtually unmanageable with the enormous number attending - estimated at 2 million. The history of this parade is an artistic one, so the costuming is particularly creative - many plan for this in advance with enormous amounts of preparation. There are floats and very elaborate displays. The standards are high and the number of participants is huge - it is difficult to see more than a small fraction of the outstanding costumes. Tomorrow I will post another collage as Part 2 and a gallery of photos on my Flickr site ...

NOTE: A history of the parade, with links and photos from the past two years can be found on my previous postings: Halloween Parade Preview 2006, Halloween Parade 2006, Village Parade 2007 Preview, Village Halloween Parade 2007, Village Halloween Parade 2007 Part 2.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Barometers

There are barometers and signposts. Things that tell you about a place. If you can find constants you are familiar with, they can tell you much. Like independent bookstores or natural food stores. I used to visit as many as I could when traveling - the differences would tell me a lot about the people and the community.
And then there are things which are uniquely about a place, like San Francisco's cable cars. The New York City subway system is one of those places that lets you know without question where you are. Something virtually unique in the USA, certainly so extensive and heavily used and depended on by millions daily. Here, everything that is good and bad about the city is concentrated - literally and metaphorically. More of everything, whether rats, garbage, graffiti, people, hustlers and opportunists.
Looking over that list and reflecting on it makes me want to amend my former statement. In fairness, it really isn't too accurate to say that all the good of New York is concentrated here. There are not an inordinate number of smiles or acts of kindness down below. This is really about the business of getting where you want to go and like visiting a dentist, most patients just want to expedite the process.
So when a good thing happens, it really warms my heart. Melts the ice that separates us and brings a moment of humanity to an underground world of steel, concrete and noise. What better thing than music to fit the occasion? Many see the wandering minstrels of the subway as an intrusion - a violation of space which is already a toxic overload of sensory stimuli. But for me, a little good music is a welcome break on a short ride. Perhaps if I was encamped (i.e. comfortably seated) with a good book on a long ride, as many commuters are, I would find the sudden appearance of musicians nearby to be an unwanted and unwarranted irritant, like second hand cigarette smoke. And of course if you are a musical snob, there is the issue of quality - you will not find concert level musicianship here, so your standards do have to be appropriately scaled.
On this ride, I found the two Latin guitarists with their singing to be just the antidote for the crowded conditions. And my $1 contribution to the arts was well received ...

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Fisherman's Widow

Yes, this is New York City and yes, we have fishing too. On my recent excursion to Coney Island, we made the requisite trip to the pier from the Coney Island boardwalk (I have seen it referred to as Steeplechase Pier).
There are actually many spots around the city, even Manhattan, where fishing is permitted and with the waterways becoming progressively cleaner, much of the fish is now edible. This catch of Porgies was being sold for $10.
I see that it is a relaxing way to spend a beautiful day amidst the natural elements - sun, sand, sky, water and fresh sea air.
Although the sight of dying fish is not the most pleasant one, this is perhaps more shocking to the city dweller who is very divorced from the entire process of bringing fish and meat to the dinner table. After all, fish don't just appear filleted on a dinner plate - they need to be caught, cut and cleaned. Many urbanites have probably never even witnessed anything other than fish being cooked and served. Baiting is part of the process too and the pier was dotted with fishermen cutting fish for bait or putting their catches into plastic pails - see photo here.
I am not a fisherman but my father was and over time I have learned to understand the passion for this activity - for some it becomes an obsession, occupying virtually all of a fisherman's mind. I recall traveling with my family and seeing some beautiful vista which had a body of water and my father's first thought and immediate comment was that there was probably good fishing to be had there. At one extreme there are men so addicted to fishing that many of their estranged wives have become known as "fisherman's widows" ...

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Bygones be Bygones

Horse drawn carriages in Manhattan have been the center of controversy as of late - the COALITION TO BAN HORSE-DRAWN CARRIAGES has spearheaded a campaign to put an end to what they and many others consider an outdated concept that no longer is appropriate. From the Coalition's website:

Carriage horses are out of place in midtown’s congested streets and belong to another century when there were far fewer vehicles and pedestrians. When hansom cabs are mixed with cars, taxis, buses, pedestrians, bikes and emergency vehicles – fire trucks, ambulances and police cars – they are a recipe for disaster.

Business is involved here and where there's money at stake there's bound to be bitter conflict. The carriage industry and owners paint a different picture, stating that the the animals are well cared for, have a long life and are happy. Investigations have shown conflicting reports. An audit by the City Comptroller in 2007, however, did show some horses being maintained in substandard conditions. The fate of the 68 licensed carriages in the city is still in limbo. Mayor Bloomberg defends the industry and the continuation of the carriages. Some have proposed a stabling area inside the park - this seems like it would be a good compromise.
The romance of the past is a powerful force and of course visitors love the idea of a horse drawn carriage ride through Central Park - this is one of those New York City signature activities that many feel compelled to do at least once in their life. But unfortunately, history and romance, no matter how compelling, do not alone justify the continuation of a practice. The circumstances and standards of a society change and I think we all like to believe that our consideration of other humans and animals improves over time - in the final analysis, we me have to let bygones be bygones ...

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

In My Book

I remember hearing someone once say that there is an illusion that everything in the past was better, with the quality of antiques cited as evidence and that this perception is because we only save the best and discard the rest. There was plenty of junk made. Occasionally we even champion the junk, to be sold and seen as charming kitsch and somehow better than today's kitsch. I have heard the same type of thing said about books from those that have a good historical knowledge of the world of publishing - that plenty of crap has been written and published, but only the classics remain.
Certainly, looking at the landscape that is New York City, I would be hard pressed to romanticize the 1970s. I am not a fan of over gentrification or the encroachment of chain and big box stores but I also have no fond memories of graffiti covered trains, Bowery squeegee men insistent on washing car windshields, "no radio" signs in cars adorned with broken glass or running for your life in the East Village. I had a friend that was actually mugged three times in one week in the vestibule of his East Village flat.
There were good things too, of course - especially the affordability which allowed virtually anyone with desire and intestinal fortitude to get a foothold in this city and stake out their claim. Apartments could be had cheaply (in relative dollars). You could work yourself through a private university and support your yourself in your own place.
This environment really allowed all manner of things to survive and flourish - one of those things were the booksellers along 4th avenue, a row of 30 used book dealers in the space of 6 blocks from Astor Place to Union Square known as "the book row of America." I love books and perusing the wares of those dealers on a Sunday afternoon was one of my pleasures and pastimes. The Strand, still operating today on Broadway, had its roots there. The other survivor is Pageant Book Shop, founded in 1946 by Sidney B. Solomon and Henry "Chip" Chafetz as a used and rare book shop in New York City. Sidney's daughters Shirley and Rececca Solomon now run the shop. Pageant had its home in several locations along Fourth Avenue for 35 years before moving around the corner to East 9th Street. In the 1990s it moved to West Houston Street; recently it moved to its current location at 69 East 4th Street.
The current shop is much smaller than previous incarnations and unlike its predecessors, sells primarily antiques prints and maps with a smaller selections of books. I can't say this place exudes that rustic charm with musty smells of the early 4th Avenue booksellers. But no matter, because it is a book store and in my book, that is always welcome ...

Film buffs: The shop and its books have appeared in numerous movies filmed in New York City including Neil Simon’s "Chapter Two" with James Caan and Marsha Mason and Woody Allen's "Hannah and Her Sisters" where Michael Caine and Barbara Hershey went browsing for a copy of e.e. cumming's poems.

Related Posts: Better When, No Radio

Monday, 27 October 2008

The Day's Work

As I wrote in Being Trumps Doing, when I leave my home on a beautiful day for a stroll in the city, I frequently have some small agenda. For the workaholic, this helps justify recreation, turning fun into something of a small task, in keeping with the Protestant work ethic of my New England background. After all, play is for children, not adults.
The problem with this approach to life is that a small agenda item, if planned for a later part of the day, can become a nagging irritant. And so it was on Sunday, when, after a few errands, I intended to take a walk to Tompkins Square Park and see what activities may be at hand and to procure some fruit from the small farmer's market there.
However, while walking down Broadway, I come across a block party - the barricaded street had Park Rangers, children's activities including rides on a shetland pony, re-enactments, cavalry horses, bales of hay, a Gatling gun and Hotchkiss gun - I had unknowingly stumbled upon the 150th birthday celebration of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States. Unbeknownst to me, Roosevelt was born in a NYC brownstone at 28 East 20th Street in Manhattan. The home is now open to the public as a museum. It is a National Historic site and is administered by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior.
The home, typically not open on Sundays, was having a free open house as part of the celebration. This was a great opportunity for my first visit - visitors were allowed to roam the property at will. Typically, period rooms can only be seen via guided tour. The staff is quite accommodating. From their website we learn:

Not all Presidents were born in log cabins. One was actually born in a New York City brownstone! Visit the birthplace and boyhood home of Teddy Roosevelt and see what it was like to grow up in the "gilded age."

Forty percent of the furnishings are original. One that caught my eye was a beautiful original gas-illuminated lamp with panels known as a lithophanes. A lithophane is a translucent porcelain, etched or molded, with varying degrees of thickness. The result is a three-dimensional image which changes depending on the light source. It disappears and reappears when backlit or not. Typically credited to Baron Paul de Bourging in France, 1827, although evidence indicates that similar work was done in China one thousand years before in the Tang Dynasty.
A swing through Union Square provided other distractions - what appeared to be a Christian rock group and an assault by some variant on the Zombie Con which I witnessed last week - see here. It soon became clear that it had become too late for Tompkins Square Park. A shame in a way, because although it had been a great afternoon punctuated by a surprise landmark event, somehow I felt that the day's work had not really been done :)

Friday, 24 October 2008

Moveable Feast

There are healthy measures (and medicines) one should take. But most are not enjoyable - they all involve some degree and elements of deprivation, denial, restriction, discipline and holding one's nose. One of the great joys of living in this city is that many of the things one should do or see are very enjoyable. It's like waking up one day to the New York Times and reading that the American Medical Association has just found that the healthiest thing you can do is eat Häagen-Dazs chocolate ice cream every day.
Here is why we do it - the answer to what is so perplexing to many visitors - why would we endure such hardship to live here, where ordinary tasks can become such large endeavors. The answer is that living here can be like being a boy or girl in a candy store with its plethora of culture, activities and all so convenient, typically a walk or short subway ride away. And like any good shop, there are new products and the old standbys.
Visiting Palm Court at the Plaza Hotel is to sample one of those delectable confections New York has to offer. As many an old standby (the Plaza dates to 1907), traditions remain and one is the afternoon tea which has been recently been brought back to the Palm Court - a magnificent room with a European flair.
Welcome to a world with harp and classical guitar, tables with the finest linen, crystal, Bernaudaud-Limoges china, Christoffle silver, outstanding floral arrangements, high backed blue velvet upholstered chairs and memories of fictional character Eloise (who lived in the hotel). Ellen Easton serves as tea consultant and pastries are made by Executive Pastry Chef, Nicole Kaplan - named as one of the top ten pastry chefs in the USA.
Dine under the Palm court's recently recreated stained-glass laylight while surrounded by palm trees. The Palm Court tea menu will set you back $60 - If you don't have a desire to finance a meal here, at least drop in and feast your eyes ...

Related Posts: The Plaza, Stairway to Heaven.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

It Behooves One

When we passed this statue of Jesus holding the Twin Towers, we were quite surprised - we brought our car to a halt, reversed and parked briefly to get a real good look, less our eyes had deceived us the first time around. But they had not - Jesus was holding the Twin Towers in front of St. Ephrem's Church at 929 Bay Ridge Parkway in Brooklyn. On a plaque below the statue there was a passage from Isaiah in the bible:

"I will never forget you.
See, upon the palms of My hands
I have written your name;
Your walls are ever before me."
Isaiah 49:15-16

I am not adequately schooled in the bible to explain the meaning of this passage and its relationship to Jesus holding the Twin Towers. Also, the word order of this biblical passage appears differently everywhere else I have read it.
There was a realization that this sculpture was not a casual or whimsical thing - it was obviously planned, commissioned in some way, designed, created and installed. And it is not hidden from view at all but prominently placed in front of the church on a major thoroughfare.
It certainly has created controversial remarks by those who have seen the statue live or in photos. A photo featured in the Gothamist, which was posted on Flickr, shows a broad range of sentiments in the comments.
The Twin Towers disaster of 9/11 is a very delicate subject. I believe it behooves the prudent person to leave the subject alone if at all possible - I had reservations in doing this posting at all. On this one, I am just the messenger ...

Personal Confession: I love the word behooves, find it underused and am always looking for an opportunity to use it.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Enigma

The butt of many comedic jokes is the cliched man who is afraid to ask for directions or information. I am not that type of man - perhaps lax at times to ask if it is inconvenient to find someone. I certainly value the process of discovery and doing things for oneself, but how far does one want to go to learn things already known? How many wheels do you really want to reinvent.
The building in the enter of the photo with the distinctive top has been an enigma for some time - I have an older photo which I wanted to use previously on this website, however I tired of trying to identify it using online searches and printed references in my library. I resigned myself to a future trip where I would just visit the building itself rather than ferret out its name via GPS or triangulation.
So I forgot about it until my recent jaunt to the Plaza Hotel when I saw it haunting me in the distance once more while chatting with the doorman who had worked there for two decades. This type of person can be a great source of information in the city - seasoned doormen and older taxi drivers have the luxury of meeting thousands of individuals from all walks of life over years of time. They also become acquainted with the details of places and things with nuggets of info and insider gossip. So as I walked away it occurred to me that a quick jog back to the doorman and a quick query might easily settle the identity of this building. And it did.
The Four Seasons Hotel at 51 E. 57th Street was completed in 1993 and designed by world renowned architect I.M. Pei and Frank Williams. Pei's resume includes projects like the glass pyramid at the Louvre museum in Paris. This 54-story building is the city's tallest hotel. It is clad in French sandstone and capped with the spectacular Ty Warner penthouse, a nine-room suite with 25-foot ceilings and cantilevered glass balconies, occupies the entire top floor with wraparound 360-degree views of the city. Amenities include a butler, fabrics woven from platinum and gold, a personal trainer and a private chauffeur with a Rolls Royce Phantom.
The lobby has marble floors and a soaring, back lit translucent onyx ceiling. If you are in the neighborhood, drop in for a peak ...

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Curriculum Vitae

Intellectually I understand the consumption and love of hot chili peppers. I have read that the ingredient responsible for a pepper's heat, capsaicin, will release endorphins, explaining the euphoria that many pepperheads have attributed to the consumption of chills. And I imagine like any drug, one can develop a tolerance and desire for a stronger drug.
But at a gut level, I can not understand how people actually enjoy peppers so hot that they can entirely numb one's mouth and lips or require special handling. There are cases where unchewed chilis have been known to perforate the bowel.
There is a Scoville scale that rates the hotness of peppers by the level of capsacicin (based on parts per million) from 0 to 15,000,000 units (pure capsaicin). Habanero peppers are extremely hot and have a Scoville rating of 100,000 to 580,000 units (Red Savina Habanero).
In 2006 the Ghost Pepper (Naga Jolokia or Bhut Jolokia) was discovered in India. Testing revealed a Scoville rating of over 1,000,000 units making it the hottest chili pepper in the world.
This is fascinating but does any one need a chili pepper three times as strong as the average Habanero? In a country that loves to quantify and where bigger is better, I suppose it would be a badge of honor to have this chili in your curriculum vitae ...

Photo Note: This photo was taken at the Union Square Greenmarket at the Eckerton Hill Farm produce stand - they always have a tremendous array of chili peppers. See more Union Square Greenmarket links in my posting on Heirloom tomatoes.

Monday, 20 October 2008

Zombiecon

This was the fourth annual Zombiecon, a celebration by the living dead. There is very little information about the event on the official website. The dearth of info, either pre or post the event, is reminiscent of a Flash Mob. One observer called Zombiecon a "weird hybrid of flash mob, pub crawl, and “Thriller” video." However, it is not truly a Flash mob because of their spontaneous, unplanned nature, but the loose structure of this event does give it the feel of one. I wrote about Flash Mobs and Smart Mobs in my articles on the International Pillow Fight and the Silent Rave Part 1 and Part 2. To be notified and involved in these events, you will need to be in the loop or connected and the same appears to be true with Zombiecon.
The New York Times said "this loosely organized spectacle will roam the streets of Manhattan, dressed in their best grave-defying fashions and gaping wounds, spending the afternoon scaring children and shopkeepers and hunting for brains (and beer)"
It appeared that Zombiecon 2008, which is a loosely structured "parade" around Manhattan, terminated in Union Square, where I happened upon it by accident. The group was hard to miss. As typifies many NYC events of this nature, there were many creative, clever and inventive costume concepts. I used one of the more benign participants for my photo choice - most were much more ghoulish and bloody and the thought of a photo starting the week on a Monday morning (not to mention being on this site in perpetuity) was not an appealing prospect. For more photos of the macabre, you can see hundreds of galleries on Flickr.  For me, I prefer a milder image before lunch ...

Friday, 17 October 2008

Rhinelander's Dream

This is easily the most exquisite and elegant retail interior space in New York City. It's a must see for any visitor with a little extra time. Located at 867 Madison Avenue on the south east corner of 72nd Street, it has been occupied by Ralph Lauren/Polo since 1986.
I was shocked to learn that this huge neo-French Renaissance limestone palace was actually unoccupied in the first 23 years of its existence. It was designed by Kimball & Thompson and built in 1898 for Gertrude Rhinelander Waldo, a wealthy socialite who dreamed of a French Loire Valley chateau. Rumored that she ran out of money before completion, the property was first occupied in 1921. Since that time it has had various tenants - the auction house Christie's of London, Zabar's, the Olivetti Brothers, and photographers Edgar de Evia and his partner Robert Denning. De Evia's mother, pianist Miirrha Alhambra also resided there. 
By the mid 1950s de Evia and Denning had formed Denvia Realty which held the net lease on the entire building. The top three floors were used as their studios and residence; offices were rented to the interior decorators Tate and Hall and on the street level shops were rented to various merchants including a corner pharmacy and Rhinelander Florists. 
It was purchased in the 1960s by a nearby church. In 1983, Ralph Lauren acquired the net lease. The building's ownership has changed hands numerous times also. TMW bought the building for $36 million in 1997 and in 2005, it was sold to an Irish investment group (Sloan Capital) for $80 million.
The gothic tile-covered mansard roof is spectacular with oriels, dormers and chimneys.
I know it is fashionable to bemoan the hegemony of large retailers on the American landscape, but one needs to give credit where it is due, and Ralph Lauren has done the Rhinelander mansion justice with a $14 million dollar renovation - absolutely everything in the interior is just perfectly appointed. Even members of the sales staff are impeccably dressed and groomed - I actually mistook one for a haute couture mannequin.
The interior is an architectural masterpiece complemented with superb interior design. Crackling fireplace, sculpted vaulted ceilings, a magnificent stairway graced with paintings, antiques, furniture upholstered in cashmere, Lalique paneling, Persian carpets and Baccarat chandeliers. To enter this place is to really leave the city behind and enter another time and place and one woman's dream ...

Thursday, 16 October 2008

Stairway to Heaven

Carrying a professional looking camera can be an asset or a liability depending on time and place. It is an asset when in a situation where being a photographer is either a rite of passage or perhaps when it offers credibility that you are a pro and belong there - important if you are looking for stairways to heaven. However, there are many situations, especially post 9/11, where having a large camera is a real problem - a virtual branding where you will be observed, supervised and forewarned that there is "no photography."
So I was extremely surprised in my last visit to the Plaza Hotel to get free access to a stairwell and various adjoining rooms. See here for photos of stairwell. It appeared that a rehearsal was taking place - camera and video crews were scattered about - see photo here. Perhaps I was seen as one of the crew. When properly outfitted and with an attitude that you belong, even security will frequently let down their guard.
I have been to the Plaza numerous times - this was the first since it was newly renovated - see my posting on the hotel here. The public rooms on the ground floor have been beautifully done. Around the perimeter of the central Palm Court, there are many small boutiques. In touring this area, I was startled when I came across this huge ornate mirror in a stairway. The reflection actually afforded one of the best views and ways to capture the stairway photographically. So if you act like you belong and with a little luck, you may find a stairway to heaven ...

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

The Unexpected

You do the expect the unexpected in New York City, but when I overheard a conversation about waterfalls which were built and installed in the NYC waterways, I was quite astounded.
On my recent excursion to Coney Island, we took the back roads and ran across a pair of these waterfalls unexpectedly. I had completely forgotten about their existence. The lighting conditions were awful - shooting into direct sunlight in the afternoon is generally a photographic taboo, but duty called and I was fortunate that one of these photos actually added to the drama of the situation.
The setting for this waterfall was the Brooklyn waterfront - with the metal framework the entire scene had a very industrial tone. Not a touch of humanity or dramatic nature one would expect from a waterfall. I did not dwell there long - my compatriots were waiting in a car as I jockeyed into the best position for this photo op.
This is one of four waterfalls along the East River ranging from 90 to 120 feet tall - a $15.5 million art installation by artist Olafur Eliasson. New York City Waterfalls was done in collaboration with the Public Art Fund. They are on from 7AM to 10PM and illuminated after sunset. You can read more about them at the official website here - there is video and photos of the falls with an interview with the artist. When visiting or living in this city, the unexpected will happen and it's more fun when you are not expecting it ...

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Hot Dogs and Fries

As a child, I loved hot dogs. In fact, if it were not for dietary concerns, I would still be eating them. And as you descend the slippery slope of fast food and stratospheric calories, you might as well throw in some French fries. On my recent pilgrimage to Coney Island, which I wrote about yesterday, four of us decided to stop by the original Nathan's Famous on Surf and Stillwell Avenues in Brooklyn, started in 1916 by Nathan Handwerker. I wrote of Nathan's in 2006 - you can read it here.
We had decided to snack only and ordered French fries and fried clams. For myself, since I eat fries so infrequently, there are only good fries or very good fries.
What's more American than hot dogs and fries? Eating to excess, so a hot dog eating contest is the perfect American sport. Since 1916, Nathan's has been sponsoring a hot dog eating contest. In 2007, the Japanese hegemony was finally broken by Joey "Jaws" Chestnut, eating 59 dogs in 10 minutes, beating Takeru Kobayashi who had held the record for 6 years straight.
I learned today that competitive eating is actually an official sport with an organization - International Federation of Competitive Eating (IFOCE). They sponsor more than 100 international eating events. Personally I find eating contests rather disturbing - at a time where health consciousness, obesity and food related illnesses are paramount, I do not see embracing a sport like like this to send the right messages to society. But perhaps if it were found that eating large amounts of French fries or ice cream was actually a health benefit ...

Monday, 13 October 2008

Partial Remission

If you want to taste neglect over a period of decades, New York City has a good menu selection. I imagine many beaten down areas have resistance to change and wholesale renovations do not necessarily see the type of lasting transformation that was initially planned. There just is enormous inertia when it comes to areas which have had a long history of decline. However, NYC has not really put quality of life or beautification at a priority - managing this large city and just getting things (like the subway system) to work is an achievement and most residents learn to be satisfied with this. 
We have many areas that have deteriorated for decades. Times Square is a perfect example. Although substantial improvements were made, the immediate surrounding area still has a seedy feel to it. It's just like a cancer with only a chance of partial remission - we irradiate the problem but cancer just creeps back.
Time will tell whether we see the same effect at Coney Island - 2008 saw the final closing of Astroland and other amusements, with big plans for redevelopment.
Coney Island was a world class resort at one time with millions of visitors annually. It was the world's largest amusement area between 1880 and World War II. There were numerous competing amusements parks - the three largest were Luna Park, Dreamland, and Steeplechase Park. I recommend viewing photos and films of these parks in their heyday - they are shockingly beautiful and spectacular. Luna Park burned down in 1944.
In my visits over the last several years, I have found Coney Island rather depressing, excepting for the annual Mermaid Parade. This last Saturday, however, I found it pleasant - absolute perfect weather, spectacular blue skies, good company with three spirited friends including a former NYC Brooklyn resident (see Friday) all conspired in a great day. See the series of photos here. 
A stop at Nathan's required a greasy snack - we shared French fries and fried clams. Chain link fences and vestiges of former rides and games made for good photo ops. The boardwalk was pleasant, particularly with the few isolated merchants. They were actually attractive set against wood, sky and sea. Partial remission?

Friday, 10 October 2008

New York Moment

Sometimes everything just clicks. My best friend from college called me earlier this week to let me know that he would be in NYC at 5:30 AM, today, Friday. I cleared my day for him - he is fun incarnate and is usually up for doing just about anything. This man is one of those people that is immediately likable.
He was my first friend and college roommate in New York City - a Jew from Brooklyn. He taught me the ins and outs of this town and how to bankface my money. I learned what bagels, delis, egg creams and greasy spoons were.
With no specific agenda, we started with breakfast at a diner - Joe Jrs. He said he wanted to visit a OK Cigars at 383 West Broadway in SoHo. Perfect, because he has a rental car, we are both ex taxicab drivers and we love an adventure. I don't smoke, but a cigar store sounds like an interesting visit. The weather is absolutely perfect.
But we arrive 30 minutes before this shop opens. As we ponder what to do, the owner, Len Brunson, arrives early and welcomes us in. Our luck just seems to be getting better. I ask about his policy about photos and he just loves the idea - not the case with every store. We both agree how puzzling it is to have such restrictions and how antithetical it is to a business venture.
There is a loft in this small, wonderful shop. Am I allowed to go up the treacherous ladder to take photos from the small loft area? A resounding yes. I get some great vantage points for shooting from above while my friend makes a purchase of $288. It certainly was worthwhile for the owner to open early.
Ok Cigars, opened in 1997, is a high end cigar retailer. They also have an extensive selection of one of a kind antique smoking accessories. The shop has a tremendous woodsy, antique ambiance and is worth a visit, even if you are not a smoker. You can take a virtual tour of the store at their website. Len Benson is one of the nicest, most congenial and accommodating stores owners I have met.
The whole experience was a New York moment and at 11 AM, the day is just starting. We are going out to Brooklyn and will investigate Coney Island in its current state. Stay tuned for a recap next week of this outing :)

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Jungle Gym

What I love about this city is the adventure and discoveries. New York is like a real jungle and walking though the dense thicket of things and people is like a safari, revealing surprises at every turn. While walking through the East Village and passing by the island that is home to the Astor Place cube, I discovered a jungle gym, with an assortment of unusual steel forms (that appeared to be bike racks) anchored to the ground. My immediate thought was to get a photo and my focus primarily about composition and other photographic concerns. See second photo with cube here.
It never occurred to me to question why these objects were here or why the collection was so disparate. The extreme variety of shapes and sizes should have tipped me off that there was more than meets the eye.
I had essentially forgotten the photos - a quick scan of them on my flash card made me question whether this motley crew of bike racks were blog-worthy. However, the forms were rather attractive and a quick online search revealed a pleasant surprise - these were the nine finalists in the "CityRack" Design Competition for New City Bike-Parking Standard by the New York City Department of Transportation. See the nine designs and information about the competition here.
The competition drew over 200 entrants from 24 states and 26 nations. An international jury of six will decide the first, second and third place winners. The winning design will be announced at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum during National Design Week (October 19-25, 2008). The first place winner will receive $10,000 and transfer design rights to the City of New York which intends to use the winning sidewalk bike rack design as its new prototype for bicycle parking. There are currently more than 5000 racks throughout the city with a design that is over 10 years old.
As I have written about before, the overriding considerations in this city for things in public spaces is their ability to withstand vandalism, abuse and heavy use. For better or for worse, these things supersede all others and utility rules. See my posting Very Practical here.
What I love about these designs is that it is clear that the entrants really understood the harsh NYC environment - all the designs are minimalist and look like they would survive.
I am sure it will be quite an honor and a thrill for the winner to stroll the jungle that is New York City, discovering his or her design on the streets ...

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

The Plaza

A number of readers have inquired why I have not done a posting on the Plaza Hotel in the two and a half years I have done this site. It may come as a surprise to those who know this city and it should - the Plaza is one of the most important landmarks in the entire city.
So why I have I waited? The primary reason has been the ongoing construction with exterior scaffolding since 2005. This property has changed hands a number of times, briefly owned by Donald Trump (from 1988-1995). It was then purchased by the current owner, El Ad Properties for $675 million. $400 million has been invested in renovations. All the rooms along Central Park are now residential condominiums. It has been designated a National Historic Landmark - the only other hotel with this status is the Waldorf Astoria.
It is difficult to do this hotel justice and communicate the importance of this structure. Its stature is enormous, both physically and symbolically. The Plaza sits at the crossroads of two of the most important thoroughfares in New York City - Fifth Avenue and Central Park South.  Any property located on Central Park immediately gains importance and caché. The same is true for Fifth Avenue, particularly where it flanks Central Park from 59th Street to 110th Street.
The current property is the second to be built on the site - the first in 1900 and the second was rebuilt in 1907, designed by Henry Hardenbergh in the style of a medieval French chateau. The name derives from Grand Army Plaza, the public space adjoining the front entrance of the hotel along Fifth Avenue. The plaza is the site of Pulitzer Fountain, Abundance, by Karl Bitter.
At one time in the 1950s and 60s half of the hotel rooms were occupied by residents living there full time like Frank Llloyd Wright and Marlene Dietrich. many clebrities have grace its rooms - F. Scott Fitzgerald, Alfred Hitchcock, Truman Capote, the Vanderbilts etal. The Beatles performed there on the first USA visit in 1964.
One could name drop all day and certainly there may be "better" hotels or rooms in the city, but for any New Yorker, one name says it all, the Plaza ...

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Morphic Resonance

There is something called the hundredth monkey effect - a phenomenon where supposedly a learned behavior spreads instantaneously from one group of monkeys to another once a critical number has learned it. This idea was popularized by Ken Keyes in his book The Hundredth Monkey. On the Japanese island of Koshima in 1952, macaques were observed to have learned to wash potatoes - this behavior was passed on to others on neighboring islands, supposedly without any direct contact between monkeys. The paranormal effect was reported to be evidence of morphic resonance, a theory of Rupert Sheldrake, a former British biochemist. According to the theory, the repetition of similar acts and/or thoughts creates morphic fields which have effects on others.
The whole concept is extremely fascinating and very compelling - perhaps accounting for its popularity amongst new age thinkers. However, morphic resonance is not supported in the scientific community and the hundredth monkey effect is largely considered to be an urban myth.
I have always been interested in treehouses - at one time several years ago, my interest became so acute I decided to search for existing books on the subject and surprisingly, a new text had just been published. Subsequently there has been a proliferation of other books and articles - a number have appeared in the New York Times.
I was both surprised and excited to see this display of tree houses in Madison Square Park, juxtaposed against the New York cityscape - see another group shot here. This is a public art project called Tree Huts by Japanese artist Tadashi Kawamata. If you don't mind a bit of artspeak, you can read about it here at the Madison Square Park website or here at the Tree Huts blog.
Although I realize that all the recent interest in tree houses is almost certainly due to cross pollination, I just love the idea that it could be morphic resonance :)

Note about the photo: The gold topped building in the background is the New York Life building - you can read my posting and see its spectacular night time illumination here.

Monday, 6 October 2008

Guilty Pleasures

This past weekend was the 6th annual Open House New York. I have been very enthusiastic about this event and have attended the past three years - see the links for my previous articles and photos below. This year I decided to take a journey to the Ukrainian Institute, owing to its description as "ornate, French Renaissance-style mansion, once owned by oil tycoon Harry F. Sinclair, now houses the Ukrainian Institute." After all, who doesn't like to visit a mansion? See photos of the interior here.
The French Gothic house, known as the Fletcher-Sinclair mansion, was built in 1898 by Isaac D. Fletcher and designed by architect C. P. H. Gilbert. Read about it here in an article by Christopher Gray of the New York Times.
At one time there were a myriad of mansions in Manhattan. Those who find displays of opulence disturbing because they may have been built on the backs of others, will perhaps find comfort that most of these were abandoned as private residences. I must confess, that for me, mansions are guilty pleasures. According to the aforementioned article by Christopher Gray: "Death and Taxes'' in Fortune magazine of July 1939 remarked that the Fifth Avenue mansions had become ''symbols not of power but of decay'' -- of the 72 private houses then left on Fifth Avenue, 33 were closed. The article reported that even a moderate-sized house required 10 servants at a yearly payroll of $14,000, with $4,000 alone in food for the staff. The bare minimum for keeping a house open was $30,000 a year."
These mansions have been converted to other uses such as embassies, museums, institutions and high profile retailers. Whether one sees these uses as more socially acceptable is one issue; certainly it is nice that most of these can now be used and enjoyed by the populace.
The Ukrainian Institute of America took over this property in 1955. Their function is to develop, sponsor and promote through activities a greater awareness, understanding, knowledge and appreciation in the United States of the art, literature, music, culture, history and traditions of Ukraine.
Their current usage of the mansion allows me to better enjoy a guilty pleasure :)

Related postings from previous Open House New York weekends: Masonic LodgeSecret Rooftop GardenTerrapin Chelsea Art Gallery, Stairwell, Cold Stone

Friday, 3 October 2008

Love Affair

Why would anyone have a love affair with a sporting goods store? It's simple. Let's say you just moved to NYC to go to college and it's 1969. And let's say you never left home before in your life - everything is new, exciting and scary all at the same time. Winter is coming and you need a warm coat. You have virtually no money but fortunately your mother gave you money to buy one. Where do you go and what do you buy?
Those who know things say go to Tents and Trails or Paragon.
Tents and Trails was on Park Place - virtually no man's land at the time. It was a real destination retailer with a virtual cult status and a quality reputation - I have purchased many things there. But it wasn't that big. I needed a place that felt overwhelming like the city itself. Paragon just felt like the right place. At the time, Northface was the brand of choice. So that is my first memorable NYC shopping experience - Northface at Paragon. That coat lasted years and I saw it and Paragon as responsible for providing protection from harsh
There's a wave of comfort that comes over you when you enter a place like this - a feeling of confidence that you need look no further. After all, this is the leading sporting goods store in NYC - the preeminent city in the country. This is a no-nonsense new york place. All the quality brands with a experienced sales staff that can be brutally honest.
Paragon Sports, 867 Broadway at 18th Street, has been in business since 1908 - many consider it to be the finest worldwide. It has an enormous product line (50,000 products), cutting edge equipment and clothing - many products are unique, carried exclusively at this store. It has only one location, much like a handful of other unique, iconic, legendary NYC stores like B&H Photo and J&R Music World. There's an intensity about these stalwart, single location shops - no dilution of expertise or product. Everyone and everything is under one roof.
Be forewarned - if you visit you may fall in love too :)

Suggestion: If you visit, make sure to see all three floors and all the rooms on the ground floor. While in the area, visit ABC Carpet and Home and nearby Union Square - see here. If you work up a hunger, grab a meal Republic - see my posting here.