simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: February 2008
2 ... 2 ...

Friday, 29 February 2008

Chiuso and Costruzione

On my first trip to Italy, I learned two very important words as a visitor: chiuso and costruzione and (closed and construction). In fact, it started to become a private joke - everywhere we went, we encountered some variation on the theme of closed and/or under construction. Admittedly, with such a density of ancient architecture and sculpture, the repair and maintenance of places like Florence, Venice, Rome, etc. will, of necessity, be a perpetual enterprise.
In America, as a much newer country, this is a novel concept and repairs taking place repeatedly or over long periods of time are usually viewed as tragic or a sign of incompetence.
With the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, we have our own shrine to chiuso and costruzione. A tour around the 11.5 acre property reveals metal sheds, barbed wire fences and until 2007, scaffolding. See more photos of the interior and exterior here.
In some rather unfortuitous twists and turns, the construction of this cathedral has been proceeding in fits and starts since its inception in 1892 and in fact is still not completed. Bad luck, World War, running out of endowment money, long periods of stagnation. And to add insult to injury, a fire in 2001. An early change in architects resulted in the mixture of architectural styles we see today - Romanesque and Gothic. This is a long and complex tale - read about it here.
But there are other things of a more positive nature - this cathedral is enormous - 601 feet long with and interior height of 124 feet - it is one of the largest cathedrals in the world. The Statue of Liberty could fit inside. There is magnificent pipe organ. The place inspires awe.
Although most churches are involved in community and charitable work, St John has gone much further than most with a wide range of performing and visual arts programs, concerts, workshops, educational work and a plethora of outreach programs.
Memorial services, celebrations and speakers by and for people of all walks and faiths have been seen here - St. John's really stands out in this eclectic, nondenominational way. Philippe Petit has performed there and was an artist in residence. Many notables, such as the Dalai Lama, Desmond TuTu, have spoken at Saint John. There is even a triptych by Keith Haring (The Life of Christ).
A fervent mission is now at hand to finally complete the work - the Eastern portion, where these photos were taken, has been finished. I was told that full completion of the interior will be done by November 2008 (with celebration and fanfare I am sure), so I would pencil this in on your calendar ...

Thursday, 28 February 2008

Make No Mistake

Rather surprising for Manhattan, isn't it? Most residents or visitors never get to Columbia University - it's in its own world, removed from city due both geographically (located far uptown in Morningside Heights) and its rather unique true campus enclave. Other colleges and schools in the city are typically comprised of a number of buildings acquired over time and located in a helter skelter fashion as close to the main buildings as possible - e.g. SVA, the New School, Cooper Union, Hunter College and to a lesser extent NYU. Columbia has a real campus, relatively isolated from the city streets. Rather befitting its status as one of the eight members of the Ivy league.
Columbia is one of the most prestigious Universities in the world with a long list of firsts and superlatives. Founded in 1754 by the Church of England, this school has 87 Nobel Prize winners affiliated with it. Columbia University is an enormous topic - read more here at their official website.
The colonnaded structure in the photo, the Low Memorial Library, is the centerpiece of the campus and one of the most universally applauded structures in New York City. Designed by McKim, Mead and White with elements of the Parthenon and Pantheon, it is considered one of their finest works. This was the first building in 1897 at the new uptown campus (it had previous downtown locations). When built, in an area that was cropfields, this grand structure, sitting atop a hill, afforded vistas of Manhattan to the south.
Unable to get in on Sunday, I was disappointed not only that I would get no interior photos, but I speculated why a University Library would be closed midday. Answer - this building has not functioned as a library since 1934 - it now is its administrative center. The interior of the 106 foot high granite rotunda is spectacular with solid green Connemara marble columns.
Make no mistake, there are plenty of books at Columbia, and Low Library would not be large enough to house them all (over 9 million volumes). The main library is Butler Library located south across the central campus, with sections opened 24/7. I made the same mistake that apparently many newcoming students do. For years there was a small sign stating "THIS IS NOT BUTLER LIBRARY."
The time to visit is on a warm sunny day. Stroll the campus ane enjoy the plazas, the green space of the campus and imagine the privilege of attending this fine university with everything that it is has to offer ...

Wednesday, 27 February 2008


I have done business with places like this for decades. They were always just places. Get in, get out. Get your business done. Maybe a friendly chat. Nothing much to admire. Could really use a little sprucing up actually.
Times have changed. Now I realize this really is the end of an era - right here at 159 Bowery. Real, living history. You don't have to read about it or travel to Europe - you can walk in now and meet Brian and his father tinkering in the back. Two generations of a three generation business started in 1910 by Brian's grandfather. More photos here.
Faerman's offers good, knowledgeable service, New York Style. What does that mean? Well, it means we're busy, perhaps a little harried (we're not overstaffed with incompetents) and we need to get to the point quickly. Like a surgeon in ER. Competent, quick. Cut to the chase. No graduates from charm school here. No frills or slick corporate beatitudes like - "How may I serve you today?" which unfortunately is typically code for "I can only recite this line and not really do much to help you."
When you go to a place like Faerman Cash Register you are dealing with the quintessential New York family run business. People who know what the hell they are doing and talking about. The same people answer the phone. No layers between you and tech. A place that's real. And I love the humanity of it all - I miss that.
Of course, you can get all manner of scales and cash registers, both new, used and antique at Faerman. But I imagine you're not reading this for scale and cash register buying recommendations :)
Am I over romanticizing? - not at all. Go see for yourself. Tell Brian I sent you. Don't overstay your visit - they've got work to do. And hurry because I can really feel history slipping right between my fingers and it's a little sad ....

Footnote: In the time I have started this website I have already seen some disappearing acts. CBGB was just down the street from Faerman and is now closed. Space Surplus Metals is out of business.
Related: See my stories on Economy Candy and Eileen's Cheesecake.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

Every Move They Make

Major NYC events just slip right by me. Maybe I should try reading the New York Times thoroughly on a regular basis and I would be better informed of things like the brand new New York Times Building which is now tied with the Chrysler Building as 3rd tallest in the city and 7th in the United States (52 stories, 1046 feet). Designed by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop, it was completed in November, 2007 and is located on Eighth Avenue in the Times Square area, across from Port Authority Bus Terminal. This historically unattractive area of midtown is finally seeing revival.
The building itself is cutting edge and quite remarkable. It is the first building in the US with a ceramic rod curtain wall sunscreen. It is considered a green building, with features like a power co-generation plant, low iron glass, mechanized shades, underfloor air distribution and an interior garden.
This photo was taken through the open passenger window of my car while I was driving (stopped at a light). Not realizing the significance of this building, I felt it was too inconvenient to try and park somewhere and get photos of the entire structure. I intended to use this photo as a segue into the controversy about the article written in the Times recently, concerning Presidential candidate John McCain's alleged inappropriate or romantic involvement with and favors for lobbyist Vicki Iseman (8 years ago). You can read the article, editorial response and over 2400 comments here.
Why is any of this important? Because the New York Times is considered the national newspaper of record - it is relied upon as the authority for news in the United States. Established in 1851, it is the largest paper in the US and has received 95 Pulitzer Prizes. Every move they make is of consequence ...

Monday, 25 February 2008

Free Lunch

We all know very well the aphorisms, There's No Free Lunch or You Get What You Pay For. The real subtext is, of course, that better always costs more and anything of value at least costs something. Which is not always true. I shop at B&H Photo, e.g., where one gets the best pricing, good service, a knowledgeable staff and a great return policy. Of course, there is also the popular adage: The Best Things in Life are Free. Much of this comes down to one's definition of value, better, best, things, payment and even free, but I digress...
Some of the real secrets of a city are the things that are free for two reasons: 1) Since people believe that the best costs more and the worthwhile costs something, the free is often dismissed or overlooked. 2) There's no money in marketing, promoting or brokering the free. So free, quality activities can slip in under the radar.
Like concerts at music conservatories in NYC.
We have some of the best music schools in the world here in Manhattan - Juilliard School, Manhattan School, Mannes School and they all offer free concerts - hundreds of them per year in nice theaters and recital rooms. And although they are performed by those who are "only students", these are TOP students and many will soon be performing at a theater near you for money.
The photo is of the Manhattan School of Music, founded in 1917, at 122nd St and Claremont Avenue, on the very upper westside in Morningside Heights near Columbia University.
If you want a taste of the inner workings of conservatory life, I would suggest you attend a Master Class. These are free and are also scheduled. In a master class, a student works on a piece of music with an instructor (frequently a well known performer) in front of an audience of peers. Often, the public is allowed. Their playing is critiqued, suggestions and demonstrations are made and the piece replayed by the student. I once saw Yo-Yo Ma give a master class in Cello (wonderful) and Josef Gingold give one in violin. Gingold was considered one of the greatest violin teachers in history - it was an honor and amazing to see him work with a student. It was quite a free lunch.

Friday, 22 February 2008

Sleepy Backwaters

It felt a little lonely, perhaps appropriate for a Tibetan store. A cold February weeknight and I was the only one in the tiny shop. Not far away in tres chic SoHo, we have places just busting with customers like the Apple store, which sees thousands of customers per day and where it's hard to get the attention of a sales person for more than a few minutes. The streets are now dotted with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Prada, Armani, Bulgari and the less stratospheric places like Crate and Barrel, Pottery Barn, Victoria's Secret, etc.
But further west along Thompson, Sullivan and MacDougal Streets near Houston Street, there are small, neighborhood stores - restaurants, boutiques, food specialty shops and some virtual institutions. Places like Joe's Dairy, Raffetto's, Rocco, Tiro A Segno New York Rifle Club and Alidoro. Along MacDougal south of Houston there are a handful of French restaurants and cafes - Bastille Day is celebrated here annually with a closing of the block - click here. Along Thompson you have two chess shops on one block - miraculous occurrences allowing for the retail and rental climate of the day. The very small retail spaces, occupying the tenement style buildings of the area, are a factor in preventing major development by the large high-end retailers seen in the cast-iron district of central SoHo.
Vision of Tibet typifies many of the small mom and pop businesses found in this immediate area. Started in 1987, it is the oldest Tibetan shop in the city, selling handicrafts from Tibet, Nepal & India, whenever possible made by Tibetan artisans, and almost always from family-run businesses. Not surprisingly, they carry no items made in China. The owner, Sonam Zoksang (who is also a photographer) was born in Tibet. His sister, Tenzin Chodon, manages the shop.
If you want to experience an unadulterated NYC, take a stroll here. This area is truly a sleepy backwater - for now ...

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Tea Time

I suppose it was naive to think than Ten Ren Tea and Ginseng Co. was my own little discovery. After all, it is on Mott Street in the heart of Chinatown. But I had no idea how large this company was. It has not just one store, but over 100 worldwide with 20 in the USA. And the company is 55 years old, founded in Taiwan in 1953. They are now one of the largest tea importers in the world. A photo on their website shows a former president and other notables having tea in their various stores - so they are far from the undiscovered secret I was hoping to bring you. Ten Ren is the largest Chinese tea emporium in the city - the New York stores are run by Ellen and Mark Lii.
The health benefits of green tea, both validated and not, have been well circulated in the various media, with much attributed to their antioxidant properties of catechins present. Claims have been made that it reduces blood pressure, decreases the risk for heart attacks, stroke, and cancer, reduces cholesterol, enhances digestion and the immune system, increases fat oxidation and reduces cavities and gingivitis (green tea contains fluroide) and that it aids rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and multiple sclerosis.
However, none of this means that you should not put Ten Ren on your must visit list. The calming, pleasant atmosphere is a nice antidote to the melee that is Chinatown. The walls are lined with an array of urns holding over 100 varieties of loose tea from a few dollars to over $100 per pound. Tea is also available in bags and gift boxes. Free tea samples are offered ...

Wednesday, 20 February 2008


No, I'm not lying - the smell of durian has been described as that of turpentine and onions, gym socks, civet, sewage, stale vomit, skunk spray, used surgical swabs, garbage, moldy cheese, rotting fish and dead cats. Even where the fruit is popular in Southeast Asia, it is actually banned from some establishments such as hotels, subways and airports. The scent is so strong it can be picked up by animals half a mile away. The husk is incredibly spiky and dangerous to handle - mine was wrapped in newspaper before bagging. And I am not particularly enamored with the look of the flesh, which has been described by some as custardy in consistency - that's being generous. Click here for photos of the fruit cut open and its flesh.
The fruit is still relatively unknown in America where it is found primarily in Asian markets - I purchased mine in Chinatown for $7 - it is not inexpensive. Durian is strictly tropical, originating from Indonesia and Malaysia with Thailand now the primary exporter. In Asia, where it is hailed as the King of Fruits, the smell is prized - the smellier the better. Many eat it every day. Durian goes back to prehistoric times and is the subject of legend and myth. There is a virtual world surrounding this fruit - click here for an in depth article.
I've planned on writing about this fruit for sometime - yesterday I finally purchased one and brought it back to the office for all to share. I can still see and taste this thing this morning but I'm really giving it a second and third chance, hoping it grows on me. The first time I tried to eat durian, I was absolutely revolted, so this time I was better prepared - for those not used to it, Durian is truly an acquired taste. I'm going to try some again today. Wish me luck ...

Footnote: In an interesting twist, a no-stink variant was developed in 2007 in Thailand by scientist Dr. Songpol Somsri. After working for decades and crossing 90 varieties of durian, he has created Chantaburi No. 1. It reputedly has an odor as mild as a banana.

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Sin of Omission

I'm always looking for nooks and crannies, but like Italian hill towns, finding hidden gems in a densely populated and/or heavily visited place is extremely difficult. Most often, the hidden or undiscovered in NYC is remote, literally at the ends and edges of the boroughs, far from where any resident or visitor would typically go.
This is the case with the Ward's Island Bridge which spans the Harlem River between East 103rd Street in Manhattan and Ward's Island, giving access to Ward's Island Park with wonderful views, biking paths and athletic facilities (the island is also home to a psychiatric center, homeless shelter and a wastewater treatment plant). Read more about the island here.
The bridge is unique - it is the only bridge in NYC, spanning a major river, which is open to pedestrians only (bicycles are also permitted). Only 12 feet wide, it is a lift bridge - the center section (100m) lifts to accommodate tall ships. A wooden drawbridge spanning the river was built in 1807 by Bartholomew Ward to aid his cotton business on the island. It was destroyed by a storm in 1821. Ward's Island Bridge was built in 1951 and designed by Othmar Hermann Ammann. The bridge is closed during the winter months (November through March) when it is left in the raised (closed) position.
I love the colors of this small bridge - a pleasant improvement on the typical gray. In 1976, it was painted brighter colors - blue-violet towers, vermillion trim and yellow walkways. It was later repainted to its current, more subdued scheme, with a blue span and blue and green towers.
I admit to a sin of omission - I've never been to Ward's Island or taken the Ward's Island Footbridge. I plan to redeem myself soon and go there one it opens in the spring ...

Monday, 18 February 2008

Bohemian Flavor of the Day

You could almost create a website just around St. Mark's Place. A few short blocks of this street has one of the most dynamic histories in the city. As I wrote in my posting, Physical Graffiti, June 14, 2007: " The street has been home to hippies, yippies, punks, political activists and protest marches, renowned bookstores, music stores and clubs (e.g. Electric Circus), graffiti artists, cafes, clothing shops, restaurants, bars, theaters, gangsters, and St. Mark's Church - physical graffiti well describes the street itself." St. Marks Place reflects the Bohemian flavor of the day.
When I first moved to New York, the East Village was one of the most exciting places on the planet - admittedly there were other locales where the violent transformation of the time was evident, but who cared? There was so much here, we could barely keep up.
The sociopolitical upheaval of the late 1960s and 70s was, like any other, driven by ideologies. And print media, i.e. books, newspapers and magazines, was the method to record and disseminate the ideas. In a pre-internet world, bookstores (and libraries) were the centers of information and had a very special, important role and their presence said a lot about a neighborhood or community. At one time, on 8th Street in the Village, one could find several bookstores on one block, including the famous Wilentz’s Eighth Street Bookstore. Bookstores were also typically independently owned, so each had a distinct character, and in many cases, a specialty.
St. Mark's Bookshop is very unique and one of the last remaining bookstores from that time. It was established in 1977 at 13 St. Mark's; from 1987 to 1993, they moved across the street to 12 St. Mark’s. Their current location is around the corner at 31 Third Avenue and Stuyvesant Street. They have more than 40,000 volumes specializing in poetry, literature, art, film cultural/political theory, philosophy and small presses - they carry many things that can not be found elsewhere. They are open every day until midnight. The owners, Terry McCoy and Bob Constant, have been with the bookstore since it opened in 1977 ...

Friday, 15 February 2008

Other Worlds

One of the great things about New York is its cultural diversity. I don't mean just seeing an occasional person or persons who hail from another land, I'm talking about enclaves, neighborhoods or business establishments where one is fully immersed in another culture's world. If you want to, you can find places in this city that cater to their own and where there is not even one iota of pandering to outsiders at all. This can happen here because there are many ethnic groups (and neighborhoods) so large in the city that one can have a viable business just servicing his or her own community. I encourage you to to peruse my four postings on Jackson Heights, and absolutely fascinating neighborhood in Queens with one of the most diverse communities in the world. Click for: Indian Gold, Jackson Heights, The Patel Brothers, The Jackson Diner.
Of course there is a spectrum and there are other places which are equally authentic but whose products appeal to a broader clientele. Sunrise, e.g., is a Japanese supermarket in the East Village where one can find serious Japanese shoppers along with others who also enjoy authentic Japanese goods. Myers of Keswick, which I previously wrote about (click here), caters nearly exclusively to people of British ancestry.
When I went by Kiteya in SoHo with a friend, we were immediately drawn in by the window display. The shop appeared to be a doorway to anther world. Once inside, our first impressions were proven correct. Everything was slightly alien - usually a good sign of authenticity. The store, displays and products were all done with a classic Japanese sensibility. The staff also was very authentic as evidenced by their heavy accents. They were brimming with enthusiasm, particularly once I told them I might do a small article on the shop. The manager started reading my business card aloud and was extremely animated.
Kiteya, which means "come visit us" in Japanese, was created by a mother & daughter team, Keiko and Yumi Iida. Their products are created by five Kyoto-based artisans.
I've always admired Japanese artisanship and arts. Everything seems to be done with such attention to detail, whether it's cuisine, clothing, martial arts, writing or the arts. Things like Ikebana, Bonsai, Origami, Shoji, Futon, Tatami, Kimono, Zen, Sushi, Sake, Anime, Haiku etc. So highly evolved and refined over millenia, it's no surprise how much of their culture has found its way into ours ...

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Be My Valentine

When I was in elementary school, we all were asked to spend time making and giving each other Valentine's Day cards in class. I always thought this was the norm everywhere, but speaking to others about it as an adult, I found it apparently it is not a universal practice. Looking back on it, this was a nice tradition - everyone was included. Even though the intention was not a romantic one, this must have been a nice day for those who perhaps were not so popular or outcasts for any number of reasons.
A little later in life, this day became the perfect opportunity to give someone whom you fancied a card with the classic message: "Will You Be My Valentine?" or the more assured "Be My Valentine." If there were any prospects or interest at all, this would certainly seal your fate. Who could resist this offering on the quintessential day of romance?
Happy Valentine's Day :)

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Bad Hair Day

Imagine a bad-hair day when you are not looking so good, but unfortunately you are on display for all to see in this way in perpetuity. This happens routinely to architects and why today, you might reconsider being, or having wanted to be (as I have), an architect. You design something which becomes literally etched in stone and await accolades or public humiliation. The stain is hard to wash off with dirty laundry always out on the clothesline. Want to see what I mean? Here are excerpts from a book written in 1979 by Paul Goldberger (then architecture critic for the New York Times) regarding Lincoln Center:

"These are for the most part, banal buildings, dreary attempts to be classical that took the form that they did not out of any deep belief in the values of classicism, but out of fear on the part of the architects that their clients, the conservative boards of directors of the center's constituent organizations, would not accept anything else."
"The Juilliard School is probably the best Building at Lincoln Center, but one says that reluctantly, because here, too, architecture is being graded on a curve."
"Harrison's Metropolitan Opera House is merely a pompous and simplistic form, made tolerable by a pair of Chagall murals."
"What is wrong with these buildings is not that they are classicizing, it is that they are so bad at it - they are mediocre and slick classicism, with a heavy-handedness of form and vulgarity of detail."

Are you feeling better now? Fortunately the quality of performances is top-notch and the public enjoys the central plaza and its fountain - one of the most notable in the entire city.

For a glimpse into my writing process, here is what I started to write today and abandoned, when any enthusiasm I had was lost after reading architecture critiques. I also planned to feature the fountain as one of the few major ones in NYC, contrasting that to Paris or Rome. The working title was The Sun Also Rises:

Somethings loom so large or are so regular that we forget about them. Like the sun or Lincoln Center. This 16-acre complex of 8 buildings with nearly a dozen theaters is the prototype for cultural centers everywhere and its tenants are like a who's who of the arts: Juilliard School, The Metropolitan Opera, New York City Ballet, New York City Opera, New York Philharmonic, School of American Ballet. The "travertine acropolis of music and theater" was built in the 1960s and is located at one of the most strategic locations in NYC - between 62nd and 66th Streets near Broadway, Columbus Circle and Central Park. You can read about it here or at the Lincoln Center website ...

About the Photo: The New York State Theater is on the left, The Metropolitan Opera house in the center and Avery Fisher Hall on the right.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

At Arm's Length

We like our fish served on a plate, beautifully filleted with decorative garnishes - a presentation where there is no hint of the necessary reality behind the process of getting an animal to the dinner table. No matter how humane the process is, most people would find a visit to the best of slaughterhouses, poultry farms and perhaps some of the markets in Chinatown to be unsettling.
One of my first postings on this website was a live poultry house on the lower east side - cages of birds stacked floor to ceiling with slaughtering done on site. I was just fascinated that such a place existed. No big deal for some people, but to a city dweller like me, this was a real eye opener.
With overcrowding of residents, a concentration of immigrants, restaurants and limited space, Chinatown is teeming with sights, smells and customs alien to most outsiders - like the sale of live frogs, birds, turtles and fish. Walking down Mott Street with a friend, we watched a fish flop its final throws as a worker was tossing live fish onto ice. No mollycoddling innocent eyes here.
There is a problem with all the the garbage from all these fish markets, which includes the various remains from the myriad the fish sold. This is not the place to spend a steamy August day. Community efforts are being made to improve the situation, but it is a tough situation.
In a bizarre and surprising twist, one person has found a way to reuse animal parts. A recent story in the New York Times tells of artist Nate Hill who conducts "Chinatown garbage taxidermy tours." He and a group forage through garbage in Chinatown for fish parts. His A.D.A.M. Project (A Dead Animal Man) is a sculpture of a human built entirely from animal parts - thirteen species are included in the finished human being: chicken, conch, cow, crab, deer, dog, duck, eel, fish, frog, lobster, rabbit, and shark. If you see the exhibit, let me know about it. I'll be keeping it at arm's length ...

Monday, 11 February 2008

Year of the Rat

Chinese New Year is a two-week long celebration and 2008 is the Year of the Rat. In most areas of the country, Chinese New Year goes by without notice, but in NYC most natives are aware of the holiday, even if they do not participate. We have a very large Chinese American population and 5 Chinatowns, with the one in Manhattan being best known (and largest in the Western Hemisphere).
A friend and I decided to make a short pilgrimage to Chinatown and ran across a celebration in front of Pearl River Mart (click here for a previous posting on this large Chinese department store). We arrived just in time to see the traditional dragon and lion dance, accompanied by a snow shower.
Our final destination was Mott street - this is Chinatown's central artery. Major festivities had just finished - the street was still closed with street cleaners sweeping confetti.
After my reading today, I am rethinking my views towards rats. The rat is the first sign of the Chinese zodiac and the list of attributes includes many traits not to be ashamed of: leadership, pioneering, conquerors, passionate, charismatic, practical, hardworking, organized, meticulous, intelligent, cunning, ambitious, strong-willed, energetic and versatile. So perhaps when some business owners and landlords are characterized as rats, the inference is not as negative as what I had originally thought :)

Friday, 8 February 2008

Orange You Glad

Orange is usually associated with the warm and positive, but this bright orange bike was part of an enormously controversial campaign. Timed with fashion week, DKNY chained up dozens of these orange bikes (the logo on this one in the photo is only partly readable) around town. According to the DKNY website, this guerrilla marketing campaign was part of an "Explore Your City" program in support of NYC initiatives to help cyclists. You can see a leggy model riding on the handlebars of a bike on their website. The store was offering free maps in their stores and various bicycling links on their site.
Where's the controversy? Well, many found it too similar to the national Ghost Bike campaign and considered the whole thing a cheap, tacky, publicity stunt (click here for my previous posting on a Ghost Bike in SoHo commemorating Derek Lake). I've skimmed hundreds of comments on numerous blogs and many in the biking community are infuriated - click here for a sample. Many of the bikes were illegally chained and confiscated by the police department. The Gothamist ran a number of articles with photos - click here. In one of them they said: "In our opinion, DKNY has crossed the line from "edgy" to "despicable," by co-opting grassroot memorials to dead people as a gimmick to peddle clothes."
Others, however feel the campaign was not intentional on DKNY's part, just poorly thought out. A DKNY rep wrote “we are very sorry if our well-intentioned ‘Explore Your City’ program offended anyone.”
Orange you glad not to be DKNY? ...

Thursday, 7 February 2008

The Honest Boy

I really wanted to get a photo of this place with the full original sign, THE HONEST BOY, before a canopy went up and blocked BOY (unfortunately, this blog was started after that). The sign, which originally wrapped around two sides, has the most unusual block lettering - virtually unreadable. Most people I have pointed it out to don't even realize it is a series of letters. You can still read some of it (TH_ HONES) - click here for a closeup.
Most people look for stability in a world of change and the older they get, the more they dislike change. We want things we can count on - relationships, jobs, product quality, landmarks. A lot of nostalgia is driven by this. In New York City, you have tremendous dynamics at hand - rapid change along with the classic, iconic and durable. Many will fight to preserve and save any vestiges of the past; others welcome the bulldozers and see renewal as progress. And of course all of this leads to controversy, battles and conflicted feelings.
All those elements are here in this little fruit and vegetable stand at Broadway and Houston Street which has been a fixture for decades. It occupies a triangular wedge of land (of about 1000 square feet) abutting a subway station entrance. It is owned by the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority). In 1980 it was taken over by Louis and Carmen Arenas. In 1992, the MTA had plans to erect an electrical substation but abandoned them due to community protests.
Since 1990 I have been a frequent customer of The Honest Boy. Until recently, they had tremendous buys - bags of good quality fruits and vegetables for $1. The Arenas ran it until 2005 when Louis Arena (due to poor health) transferred it to Pan Gi Lee. Since then the goods have become pricier. No more bags of peppers, tomatoes, lemons, potatoes ...
I have read several articles today and a long thread of comments regarding new plans by the MTA to build a two-story glass, steel, and aluminum building would incorporate one of the entrances to the Broadway and Lafayette subway station. It's interesting that on one website all were in favor of the demolition and considered it a pathetic shack or shanty. They complained of rats, the homeless, the stench of urine and an impossibly crowded corner to shop. Perhaps I have been in New York too long - what was the problem again? :)

Photo Note: A good vantage point with poor conditions. This photo was taken across the intersection from the second floor of Crate and Barrel at an angle through a glass window.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Galvanic Response

Yesterday we had a triad of Super events in the city - Super Tuesday with voting in the Democratic primary, a ticker tape parade for the winning of the Superbowl by the New York Giants and "Fat Tuesday" (the day before Lent).
I think regardless of party affiliation, one has to admit that there is a pall hanging over the current Bush administration. The Iraq war has been highly contentious with members of the Republican Party itself coming out against it.
But this is not a political forum and I am not a pundit by any means. My point is that there is much dissatisfaction, the country has become isolated globally and people are looking for a breath of fresh air. There is a stable of good candidates. I like what appears to be a lesser focus on partisanship and more on issues - this lack of partisanship has actually alienated McCain from some of his party.
Many see the populace as highly galvanized in this election year. We have the first serious woman and African American candidates and a Republican who looks more like an independent.
I was curious about the term galvanized used in this way - I have always associated the term with galvanized metal - the process of electrodeposition which is the coating of steel with zinc to provide a protective barrier. But this is the more modern meaning.
The term galvanize originally comes from the Italian Luigi Galvani and his discovery in 1783 that a frog's leg could be made to move by applying an electric current - hence the term galvanism. This theme was picked up by Mary Shelley in Frankenstein with the monster being animated using electricity.
I'm glad we didn't have to rely on Luigi Galvani, Volta, Tesla or Mary Shelly to galvanize the public this year - I'm not sure we have the technology (yet) to resurrect them :)

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Ray of Light

I just tore my camera out on this one - it was like a religious experience. A friend who lives in Park Slope says she has been up and down that stairwell hundreds of times over many years and has never seen anything like it. If you have ever really watched the sun or moon closely, you know how quickly conditions like this change. I think there was a tiny window of opportunity at this stairwell and I was there.
But the larger point here is that the opportunity to find beauty and joy is ever present. If you have ever spent time around an eternal optimist, then you have witnessed this first hand. Many individuals indulge in the dark side and equate this with being real. They see people who are very positive as fluffy. But I think they do secretly wish they had the ability to live an easier and happier life. There is a great scene in Woody Allen's Annie Hall where Alvy (played by Woody) runs across a beautiful, happy looking couple on the street:

Alvy Singer: Here, you look like a very happy couple, um, are you?
Female street stranger: Yeah.
Alvy Singer: Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?
Female street stranger: Uh, I'm very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.
Male street stranger: And I'm exactly the same way.
Alvy Singer: I see. Wow. That's very interesting. So you've managed to work out something?

At the end of the day, being a cynical, skeptical, overly serious individual can be wearing. There are a lot of whiners in the world and New York City has plenty of them. Life here is very hard and stressful and it is a very easy place to get into the trap being negative and thinking that things would be better somewhere else or with different means or circumstances. Most of us have all the preconditions for happiness here and now.
A sense of humor helps. At the risk of being preachy or newagey, I would suggest looking for that ray of light. Happiness is more a choice than a condition ...

Monday, 4 February 2008

Unkindest Etch of All

This morning I have been reading websites like bombingscience and wetcanvas. My head is swimming with grafiiti terminology and threads on the various ways and means of working with Armor Etch, Etchall, bath etc. Creams are too thick and dips too thin. Mixing with shoe polish or paint. How to apply it. Getting the stuff in markers. And the sites are laden heavily with expletives directed at anyone not in the know and asking "stupid" questions.
Technology and ingenuity cut two ways and in the case of graffiti, purveyors have upped the ante with acid. If you have seen work like that on the subway car window in the photo, this is not the result of scratchiti (scribing), giraffiti or conventional graffiti, but the handiwork of individuals who use acid etching solutions to permanently write on glass. The problem has become epidemic in subways, on retail store windows and anywhere there is a public pane of glass. There are now laws regarding the purchase of acid etching materials as well as buying spray paint. Of course there is controversy regarding legislation and the sale of art materials.
I wrote about the graffiti phenomenon in March, 2007 in an article on the retail shop, Scrapyard - click here.
I think most people find the whole acid etch graffiti thing quite disturbing, once they realize that the damage is permanent and the entire glass window must be replaced at great cost. Many retailers afflicted with the condition tend to just leave it in place - saving money and not running the risk at having vandals do a repeat performance. For new subway cars, the transit system has availed itself of a 3M product - Scotchgard Anti-Graffiti Window Film - a Mylar protective film not affected by etching acids.
Oh, I didn't tell the whole truth. Conventional wisdom and most articles you will find about acid etch will state that the damage is permanent. Not quite true. It can be removed in a laborious process of grinding and polishing - I once spoke with a worker removing etchings from a retail store on Broadway. There is a company Unscratch the Surface in California that does this - you can watch a video of the process on their site. A new industry is born to deal with the unkindest etch of all ...

Photo Note: This photo was taken on the F Train in Brooklyn. For a second shot with the city skyline, click here.

Friday, 1 February 2008

More or Less

I've always loved tall buildings and big cities. My first experience was Washington, DC on a family trip, where I immediately became obsessed with the Washington Monument, memorizing its important facts (like its height, of course). You can easily guess my first stops in Paris (Arc d'Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower). NYC was overwhelming - I knew I had found my home.
It's not that I don't appreciate nuance or subtlety. Or realize that bigger isn't necessarily better and that less can be more. But these monuments are architectural assertions of what we can do. As I wrote in Beacon of Hope, a tall building, for me, is an inspiration and a metaphor for our aspirations, dreams and hopes, frozen in time and space.
In this photo, looking west along 53rd Street, we have the Lipstick building in the foreground and the Citicorp building behind. The Lipstick Building (1986) at 885 3rd Ave. was designed by John Burgee Architects with Philip Johnson. The building acquired its epithet Lipstick owing to the elliptical shape and telescoping tiers. The Citicorp Building has a fascinating story - click here for my previous article with an aerial view.
Of course not everyone is enamored with tall buildings, Here is a caustic condemnation I ran across online written by a Londoner: "My impression, based on experience of living in New York and Chicago among other things, is that tall buildings generate extra street traffic, create shading problems and downdraughts, increase the nocturnal light levels, create problems of social sustainability, tend to fall foul of planning guidance, are constructed without proper regard for the needs of existing residents, compromise the built heritage and historic fabric of the city (in London's case, sites like St Paul's, the Houses of Parliament and Tower Bridge), and are obvious targets for terrorism.
Moreover, they are often built for reasons of status rather than with much regard for architectural quality and development efficiency. The aesthetic of many tall buildings is corporate and brutalist; today's aesthetic preference may be tomorrow's aesthetic nightmare. Expensive tall buildings also have a marked impact on the demographic of an area."
Ouch ...