simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: September 2008
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Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Main Street

I don't go to cafes often. In over two and a half years of writing for this blog, I have never done a real cafe. The reason? Because there are virtually no "real cafes." And it is not so much that all the good ones have gone out of business - there were really very few good ones in the many years I have lived in New York City. The Figaro Cafe, for example, (recently closed) was never all that great - it certainly was not intimate, charming or romantic. I would imagine it was an interesting haunt when it opened over 50 years ago. Most places have been quickly over run by a stampede of tourists. So a person always had to know of places or hunt and forage.
For me, ambiance is a necessary condition for a cafe and La Lanterna is one of the most atmospheric cafes I have been in. Two floors each with a fireplace, dark woods, low lighting and a beautiful year round garden. Reviews characterize it as frequented by students from neighboring NYU. I can not attest to this, however Lanterna is not a real inexpensive place and the cafe is extremely well maintained - La Lanterna does not attract a boisterous crowd and any student traffic is well behaved. Contrast to a place like Think Coffee for example, which is essentially under assault by students.
La Lanterna di Vittorio at 129 MacDougal Street was opened in 1976. It offers an excellent selection of pastries, gelato, the requisite coffees and a wine list. The menu also has a pretty extensive selection of food, enough for a light meal - pizzas, bruschetta, salads, soups, panini, crostini, calzone, carpacci, fish and cheese. See their website and menu here.
My only disappointment is that I can not tell you it dates to the 1800s with a history like Les Deux Magots in Paris or that it is on a wonderful romantic sidestreet like Commerce Street (don't be put off by the name) or Grove Street. It is certainly not in a secret, off the beaten path location. Ironically, it is located on MacDougal street, a block north of MacDougal's primary commercial block between West 3rd and Bleecker Streets (if you venture on that block, be prepared for to enter one of the most conspicuously unattractive and touristy streets in the Village.) Perhaps this is one reason it is often overlooked.
It's fine to look in the nooks and crannies, corners and crevices of New York City for the undiscovered gems - I love that. Just don't miss Main Street ...

Monday, 29 September 2008

Spring Studio

Thousands walk by this nondescript red doorway everyday with barely a glance. The small bulletin board on the right side is certainly not enough to stop anyone at 64 Spring Street, a central thoroughfare in SoHo (technically 1/2 block east of the historic district), surrounded by places like Kate's Paperie, the MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) shop and Balthazar.
But then, Minerva Durham, director of Spring Studio, is not looking for street traffic and to have a location like this in 2008 is quite a coup. I think it is fair to call SoHo a former art district. There are vestiges - a few galleries and artists remain. Places like Spring Studio are virtually nonexistent here. Essentially SoHo is an upscale neighborhood and shopping district.
Spring Studio was started in 1992 by Minerva and offers life drawing and classes 7 days per week. Minerva was cordial and granted me permission to take a photo downstairs, but only when I assured her I would shoot down the corridor to the classroom area from behind a chain and small sign reading "PLEASE WAIT HERE" - see my photo here. Around the corner is a live model, nude or clothed. Students are attentive and focused on their work. Many artists consider this studio to be a great city resource and the best figure drawing studio in New York City - see their website here.
This is exactly the type New Yorkers love to find when looking for those "secret" places. No frills or window dressing - a business driven only by the merit and quality of what it does or offers. A place where the proprietors have reduced the establishment to its essentials and stripped everything else away.
That is not to say that places of merit must be this way or that places that have created a lavish environment are not places of merit (see Kate's Paperie). It is partially an issue of economics - how much can an art studio afford to spend on decor (and why should they?) - and it's also an issue of style - New Yorkers can be very practical and often champion the practical and the reduction to bare essentials as evidence of authenticity. I wrote of this in my article on Anthora - the famous Greek paper coffee cup - read it here; also a posting called Very Practical - see here. Having a New York egg cream while standing in a crowded newsstand (Gem's Spa) just seems more authentic. And painting in a basement after going through an unmarked door and descending an unassuming staircase feels just like the kind of place where an artist should be drawing ...

Friday, 26 September 2008

Shrine to Paper

In recent years, as New York City rents have skyrocketed, independently owned retail stores have found it increasingly more difficult to survive, leaving the large national chains to encroach the city and begin to dominate the urban landscape. Places too large to conceivably find adequate space and afford operations have done just that - Home Depot on 23rd Street is a good example, along with Filene's Basement and Kmart at Astor Place.
On the side streets where the foot traffic is light and the shop spaces are too small to develop, small operations continue to exist - places like Joe's Dairy, Alidoro and Vision of Tibet. Some that had the foresight to buy their space now have the luxury of remaining as long as they like or selling their property for a windfall profit.
There are some independents, however, that have grown and/or expanded just on the merit of their product lines and by reinventing themselves and keeping pace with the times - e.g. B&H Photo and Astor Hair. There are a few where astute business management and other factors have given them the ability to dodge the slings and arrows of outrageous misfortune - Pearl Paint, J&R Music World, Canal Rubber, Dean & Delucca.
Kate's Paperie is one of these. The product line is such that virtually any shopper can find something of use or interest. And the nature of many of their products to be gift oriented makes this place a perennial favorite. Kate's Paperie was founded in 1988 by Joe Barriero and Leonard Flax - the shop was named after Flax's wife. Leonard Flax is also the founder of Sam Flax Inc., a leading art supply retail chain. Kate's first location was at 8 West 13th Street near Parsons School of Design. They now have 4 Manhattan locations and one in Greenwich, Connecticut. Kate's carries thousands of papers from 40 countries and offers a vast collection of more than 1,500 couture-quality ribbons from around the world - see their website here. They are one of those places that you not find elsewhere - a true New York City landmark, known to any seasoned city dweller.
The whole unique feel of the place is what really sets it apart. They are known for their beautiful, creative store displays like the woman made from paper in today's photo taken at their 72 Spring Street store. See another interior photo with their current store display here. If you have not been to the shop, I recommend a visit to Kate's. It's a shrine to paper ...

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Heart Warming

I remember one occasion where former Mayor Rudy Giuliani was chastising the press for asking questions he considered inappropriate at the time and focusing on the negative. Now although Giuliani was not seen as the poster child for warmth and tenderness, his point was well taken. The media and consumers of media are fueled more by the negative than the positive. Violence, infidelity, crime, tragedy, war and crisis all certainly draw more attention than tales of goodness. Unless they are supreme acts of philanthropy in the league of Mother Teresa, some element of drama or sensationalism is needed to pique the interest of readers and viewers - otherwise the story will be lost in the slush pile. People want to hear tales like that of former Governor Eliot Spitzer caught with a prostitute, not about a man who helps a disabled person across the street. Competition for people's attention is fierce and even extreme occurrences can become tiresome for many.
Children do not immediately come to mind when thinking about New York City, particularly for the visitor or resident without children. But they are part of the fabric of the city along with their parents, all doing what parents, children and families do, reconfigured for city life. Although soccer is big with kids in America, I was still surprised to see a group in training one morning in Washington Square Park. This group was part of a program called Super Soccerstars, "founded in the year 2000 by Gustavo Szulansky, a New York City father of three and native of Argentina. With fύtbol in his blood and having spent countless dollars searching for quality programs for his own children, he founded the program determined to build the best children’s program anywhere." You can read more about them here at their website.
The humanity of seeing children at play is a heartwarming experience - even more so in New York when it is so often unexpected - schools and playgrounds pop up in the most inhospitable places, surrounded by the maelstrom of a frenetic city - see here for my story Mary Celeste.
But children will do what children do, city or not, having adapted to the environment. And one thing they will do, if you stop and let them, is warm your heart and soul ...

Related Posting: Little Burnt Out, Mary Celeste

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Safety in Numbers

There are 21,000 safe deposit boxes in this bank. Why so many? It's in the heart of Chinatown and the Chinese are savers - savers of cash. This bank, like others in the neighborhood (Commerce Bank, Bowery Savings, e.g.) all have had to accommodate Chinese community's tradition and customs where boxes are used for storage of cash and other valuables. There is a large cash economy in Chinatown.
Safe deposit boxes are an accommodation that require space and building considerations. When the Chinatown branch of Commerce Bank was built (it opened in 2005), an entire floor was added for safe deposit boxes - 7,500 as opposed to 500 which would be typical in a Commerce Bank elsewhere. And the HSBC Bank at 11 East Broadway has 12,000 boxes.
This landmark neo-Byzantine building at 58 Bowery was built in 1924 and designed by architect Clarence W. Brazer. Graced with an enormous bronze dome, this building is still very easily missed amid the hubbub that is Chinatown. And architecture does not particularly shine in this neighborhood and is typically the last thing an individual looks for when here. The best viewing is from some distance - see it from a vantage point across the Bowery towards the Manhattan Bridge.
Many Chinese who bank in Chinatown no longer live there but continue to bank and use safe deposit boxes in the neighborhood. Familiarity, frequent visits for shopping, visiting relatives. Amid a banking crisis, old traditions of cash in mattresses and boxes are starting to look like a smart idea. Maybe there is safety in numbers ...

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A Colorful Life

Many people's adult bios can be easily summarized mathematically. Got up, got ready for work, went to work, came home, ate, puttered around the house, went to sleep - times 365 days, times x years. Others pack their lives with so much adventure that a condensed version of their 10 year bio can read 10 pages long. That's the math as applied to Kat O'Sullivan, self proclaimed gypsy and itinerant global nomad.
I have passed by both this art bus and the street vendor with her table of recycled clothing numerous times. I never knew there was a connection between them. So for the first time, I made the acquaintance of Kat O'Sullivan, who graciously greeted me when seeing my interest in photographing her vehicle. She invited me to go inside her bus - you can see photos here. You can also see her recycled clothing , details of her life, art projects and media articles at her website, here.
Here are some of the highlights of her nomadic life: born 1976, finished high school in two years, attended over 200 Grateful Dead concerts, lived with a hill tribe in Thailand, worked for Mother Teresa, lived in a bus she painted psychedelic colors, graduated Phi Bet Kappa from UC Santa Cruz (anthropology), had a pet monkey, worked in the Hamptons as a yachty, attended Burning Man (no surprise there), worked as a translator in the Chilean jungle, crossed the Sahara desert, sold Christmas trees in Harlem, worked with street children in the Philippines and at an orphanage in the Guatemalan jungle, hitchhiked from Ecuador to New York. She also avers "I have never used any drugs, never got arrested, never borrowed money or went into debt, never even got a stupid tattoo (or any tattoo, for that matter.) I was a straight-A student all through High School and College. Every step of the way I had the blessings and support of a gorgeous, loving family."
A colorful life, wouldn't you say?

Monday, 22 September 2008

Being Trumps Doing

One of the best things about this city is the plethora of extraordinary and unusual people and things. I have spoken to a homeless person who graduated from Columbia University. Street musicians who go to Jiulliard. Physics professors. The editor of the Paris review. And many who are not renowned in any way but who are absolutely brilliant in either a mainstream interest or some obscure niche.
Those of you who read this blog regularly know I am in the throws of a renovation in my NYC apartment. It is frustrating to spend beautiful days indoors hammering and painting, particularly on a Sunday with blue skies and warm air in late September. In sampling the air with my head out my window before leaving my home, I noticed two guitarists playing on the stoop of my building, not a typical occurrence at all. When I exited my home, already late afternoon, my intention was to go do my doings. However, after a polite interchange of hellos, it occurred to me that I had no real doings to do apart from going out to enjoy the day - perhaps I should spend a moment and see what these two guitarists had to offer. As it turned out, they played some of the best original music I have heard. They were quite accommodating, with Eric improvising a tune for a 2 1/2 year old girl. I learned that they both play publicly. We exchanged emails and I learned that Ian Gittler and Eric Silverman will be playing back to back on October 4th at the Ace of Clubs on Great Jones Street.
In the act of going to do, one can easily overlook things much more interesting at hand. I frequently observe people in this city rushing by a major happening with great fervor and intention, perhaps part of an agenda.
It behooves anyone in this city, resident or not, to really slow down and observe, as difficult as that may be in a fast moving world and a faster city. Never make assumptions based on appearances or be afraid to engage in conversations. I have so frequently missed remarkable people and things, right under my nose, only to be told later by a friend. Don't miss the extraordinary, rushing to the ordinary, or let doing trump being ...

Friday, 19 September 2008

Stamp of Approval

When I moved to New York City, there were certain icons that absolutely defined the city for me and one of those was Bloomingdale's. This has always been the sine qua non of Manhattan for me and always will be. NYC symbolized many things but the primary reason for moving here was for a University education and to get ahead. And part of getting ahead was having money. To shop at Bloomingdale's meant you had money and that you had made it.
There were other stores of course that had the ring of money - Saks, Bergdorf, Tiffany, Cartier, Altman, Gucci and I saw them all. But Bloomingdale's was also big - like Macy's it occupied an entire city block. And for a young man looking for American symbols of success, BIG was better. I had my own visualization of Manhattan - like Saul Steinberg's View of the World from 9th Avenue, my vision of view New York City had its own iconography with Macy's and Bloomingdale's as Westside and Eastside anchors.
How obsessed was I with this place? Well, for one, when establishing my business in the 1970s, I wanted my company logo to be in the very same typeface that Bloomingdale's used. My best friend who was a graphic artist did some close examination and determined the font Horatio Light appeared to be an identical match. Go here to see their logo. Now go here to see mine. See the resemblance? I remember when my logo was completed - I had a business in New York City and a French name in the same typeface as Bloomingdale's - I certainly must have made it and my announcement was plain for all to see.
I recall persuading my sister on one of her first visits here to get underwear with "bloomies" printed across the back. Now my sister also had the stamp of approval ...

About Bloomingdale's: Ironically, with all this fascination with Bloomingdale's, I never read their history until this morning. The business was established in 1860 by brothers Joseph and Lyman G. Bloomingdale selling hoop skirts. The move to the current location at 59th Street and Lexington Avenue came in 1886. Marketing acumen catapulted the store to international fame with visitors like Queen Elizabeth. Cutting-edge fashion of designers like Ralph Lauren, Perry Ellis and Norma Kamali got their first truly big opportunities at Bloomingdale's. Read the history here at their website or here.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Trucks and Things

We would prefer to believe that the stuff in our lives is magically transported to store shelves. Or perhaps a more romantic vision would be delivery via a Santa-like character direct to our homes. But the reality is that every consumer good whether it be food, clothing or lumber makes all or some of its journey to us by truck. Yet this fact seems to be ignored or at best seen as a necessary evil. The vital role trucking provides still has done nothing to enamor them. They are seen as a blight, cursed on highways and city streets as noisy, dirty, the cause of congestion and an impediment to our travel. Drivers are seen as an integral part of these evil boxes on wheels so the image of the truck driver is no better.
How to repair the image of the truck? Convert them into a dessert or ice cream delivery vehicle. We now have the Dessert Truck, the Treat Truck, Waffles and Dinges and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream running around town.
I love the convenience of street food vendors. The problem is that there are few quality operations out there - I keep a sharp eye out for them but the good ones are scarce as hen's teeth and are no secret. Discovery is rapid and long lines become the rule. I wrote of NY Dosas in 2007. Lines at his food cart can be enormous. The same applies to Calexico in SoHo. And Speedy Gonzalez has disappeared.
Now we have trucks bringing us confections. I recently wrote of the Dessert Truck run by a gourmet chef whose vision was to bring desserts to the streets which are of the quality found in the finest French restaurants. And he has succeeded - see the story here.
Brothers Pete and Ben Van Leeuwen now bring Van Leeuwen Artisan Ice Cream to the streets of the Village, SoHo and the Upper West Side in redesigned ice cream trucks. They meticulously craft their ice cream, sourcing ingredients from around the planet to produce their 10 flavors. Pistachio nuts from Mt. Etna, Michel Cluizel chocolate from France and vanilla beans from Tahitian vanilla orchids grown in Papua New Guinea. Everything about this business shows attention to details - business cards, colors, graphics and product. They also share an environmental commitment and use disposable goods from renewable sources.
Now, what was it I didn't like about trucks? :)

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Tired of Life?

"Why, Sir, you find no man, at all intellectual, who is willing to leave London. No, Sir, when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford." — Samuel Johnson

Now that's a strong assertion, but I think many New Yorkers feel the same way. Certainly there are things that one would not find here, but for most city dwellers those things are either of no interest or are compromises they are willing to make. And there are ways to satisfy many exurban or country experiences here. Want a walk through rustling leaves in the autumn? Take a stroll through Central Park's Ramble. Yearning for the beach? There is always Brighton or Rockaway. Aquatic nature? Try the Jamaica Bay wildlife refuge. Of course, Central Park is not Vermont and Rockaway is not Cape Cod. And for those requiring extreme sports and dramatic natural landscapes, perhaps they are best living out west. For we have no real mountains to scale, only buildings.
But for those of us who want to be immersed in culture and a soup of human diversity and intellectual stimulation, living out of the city is untenable.
I was reminded of the Johnson quote while enjoying the vista in the photo and realizing I had seen this same panorama so many times but did not tire of it. For if I tire of this grouping of Manhattan icons, so beautifully lit at dusk on a late summer's eve, perhaps I have tired of life itself ...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Joe's Dairy

When I was a child, blue laws did not permit most retailers to open on Sunday. But business has changed dramatically and is so competitive, that for most retailers, being closed on Sunday would be suicide. Some find the laws antiquated and draconian. Others find these old blue laws to be a blessing to laborers, insuring at least a day off.
When you run across a business that does any retail that is closed on Sunday, you know that they have a very niche business, an off-the-beaten-path location or they are very old school. The latter is the case with Joe's Dairy at 156 Sullivan Street in an Italian area of SoHo/South Village, nearby Rafetto's - another wonderful Italian food store which I have previously written about - see here.
I have been waiting to do a story on Joe's for some time. The right opportunity presented itself recently and I strolled in to find a congenial and accommodating staff. I was extremely pleased to learn that the owner, Anthony Campanelli was on premises making his renowned mozzarella.
A few paces into the tiny back room and I found Anthony surrounded by huge cauldrons of boiling water, working his magic for customers citywide. He stopped to speak to me, taking the brief meeting quite seriously. With no objections, he allowed himself and the kitchen to be photographed. See photo here.
He buys his curds in bundles from a supplier in Buffalo, New York, receiving deliveries three times a week. Each bundle weighs 45 pounds and Anthony runs through 25-40 bundles a day - nearly a ton of cheese. Most consider this to be the finest mozzarella in New York City and it comes in a number of flavors. The shop also sells a variety of Italian food products - imported cheeses and other goods.

Afternote: In writing about Buffalo, NY, the word "buffalo" spurred me to make a follow-up phone call to Anthony and enquire whether he made buffalo milk mozzarella. He does not, assuring me that buffalo milk curd is not available in the United States (all his mozzarella is from cow's milk). Mozzarella di Bufala Campana is imported from Italy. Many consider it to be finest tasting - it is featured on many restaurant menus.

Monday, 15 September 2008


Some try to find beauty in all things or aspire to love everyone. Now although these are admirable goals, if you live in New York City, dead rats are not endearing. Personally I do not like rats and try as I may, I do not find beauty in them yet. So for thisreason, I did not want to feature the dead rat (with a tiny blue triangular icon near it) which appeared that it might have been (?) part of the Conflux festival and have this image haunting me and disgusting you in perpetuity. So if you want to see the dead rat which was located on LaGuardia place, you can see it here.
On the other hand, if you want an easy task of finding beauty, I recommend you fix your sight on the work of Joe Mangrum whose work in the photo graced the pavement in Washington Square Park for the last few days. It was a show stopper and appeared to please every passerby. See a second photo here. These sand paintings were created in brilliant colors - unprotected like sandcastles, their slow dissolution a necessary feature of this type of installation. See more of his work at his website.
Unfortunately, this was a 4-day event which I only became aware of in its last few minutes. A jog over to the AIA headquarters on LaGuardia Place found me looking at a locked door at 5:04 PM - their exhibit had closed 4 minutes earlier. 
There were indoor, outdoor and offsite events. From the Conflux website: 

Starting September 11th, over one hundred local and international artists will transform New York City streets into a laboratory for exploring the urban environment at the Conflux Festival. Located in Greenwich Village at the Center for Architecture (a.k.a. Conflux HQ), the four-day event includes art installations, street art interventions, interactive performance, walking tours, bicycle and public-transit expeditions, DIY media workshops, lectures, films and music.

Read more here and find complete listings with all the participants and photos of their work.
I did catch just a couple of other art works - one was the extremely ambitious project, Compli-mum (complete woman), by computer artist Hyojin Ju. Her motorized skeletal structure, appearing as feminine armor, changes through the use of microcontrollers and features two video displays. See a photo of Hyojin displaying her work here. Many of the projects seemed quite imaginative. You can see them all at the Conflux website ...

Friday, 12 September 2008

Sense of Humor

I had a small inkling that Judson Memorial Church was atypical and involved in community works. But I had no idea of the extent of this involvement nor the radical nature of the social programs it has supported. In fact, I am puzzles as to how some of the causes they have supported are even congruent with the tenets of the Protestant Church. Christian churches do have a history of outreach and social programs but Judson really takes it much further in unexpected directions.
Founded in 1890 by Baptist preacher Edward Judson, the church was established form the beginning to serve the growing immigrant community in lower Manhattan (the Church is located on Washington Square South immersed in the NYU "campus").
They ran a free medical/dental clinic and a settlement house, at 179 Sullivan Street. At times they allowed homeless men to sleep on their pews. Beginning in the mid-1960s, Moody and associate minister and composer Al Carmines (1962-81) brought Judson first a city-wide and then a national reputation, opening the church to experimental, avant-garde artists from many genres: dance, painting, theatre. They have organized politically around issues of civil rights, free expression, abortion rights, and the decriminalization of prostitution (in the 1970s they established a Professional Women's Clinic for women engaged in prostitution). Judson Church trains future clergy in public ministry and has taken a leading role in the New Sanctuary Movement for immigrant rights. They are "gay-friendly."
Regarding the quote currently displayed outside the church. Voltaire was a major figure in the French Enlightenment and his works are a huge subject matter - he was a prolific writer, having penned over 20,000 letters and over 2,000 books and pamphlets. He took many controversial positions and was exiled from France a number of times. Voltaire distrusted democracy, which he saw as propagating the idiocy of the masses.
Voltaire is often mistaken as an atheist - some attribute this view to a quote from one of his poems that translates: "If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him." Actually Voltaire was a leading Deist - his criticisms were more of organized religions than of religion itself.
I'm not being evasive but space on this blog does not allow for a proper distillation of the various thoughts about Voltaire's quote "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." Suffice it to say that many feel it has been misinterpreted and taken too literally. Any theologians or philosophers who want to posit an interpretation of God's sense of humor?

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Universal Impact

I lived in New York City during the 9/11 disaster - in fact my apartment had unobstructed direct views of the Twin Towers. I viewed the impact of the first Tower minutes after the first plane struck a tower. I live and work in lower Manhattan in close proximity to Ground Zero and like other downtown residents, elements of the aftermath lingered for months. Smoke, fumes, restricted areas, emergency vehicles, vigils and memorials were part of every day life.
I have a series of photos taken during that period, none of which I have posted before. There has so much coverage, imaging and activity surrounding the disaster that I have limited my participation. Any contributions sometime feel virtually gratuitous.
Today I have opted to post one of my original photographs of a memorial site against a fenced-in area surrounding Washington Square Arch in the Village, taken in 2001 - see second photo here. This site was one of many spontaneous occurrences throughout the city. One remarkable thing about all of these sites was the universal regard they were shown for the long periods of time that they remained. Like the ghost bikes around town, these displays of candles, flowers and personal notes were left unprotected but remained unaltered.
There were a small number of sales of inappropriate 9/11 "memorabilia" immediately after the event, but most of this was squashed quickly and mercilessly by mayor Giuliani. There was zero sympathy for anyone trying to capitalize in such a heartless manner.
No graffiti or vandalism and little exploitation - extremely rare in this city to have an event of such monumental impact that it is paid such universal respect ...

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Camperdown Elm

In New York City we have a surprising variety of flora and fauna. A myriad of trees introduced from other countries can be found in the major parks such as Central Park and Prospect Park - varieties are often identified with plaques (look for these identification plaques on the trees themselves). In Prospect Park Brooklyn, one can find the notable 136 year-old Camperdown Elm tree. This cultivar can not reproduce from seed. From the Prospect Park website we have a description of the species, propagation and history:

The Camperdown Elm, planted near the Boathouse in 1872, has developed into a stunning specimen. No more than 12 feet high, it resembles an over sized bonsai. It is the most famous specimen tree in Prospect Park. The weeping shape of this elm is extremely attractive and a peek under the canopy reveals an amazing branching structure. The many cavities in the branches and the size of the trunk show that this is an older tree.
Between 1835 and 1840, the Earl of Camperdown’s head forester, David Taylor, discovered a mutant contorted branch growing along the ground in the forest at Camperdown House, in Dundee, Scotland. The Earl’s gardener produced the first Camperdown Elm by grafting it to the trunk of a Wych Elm (Ulmus glabra) - the only elm species that the Camperdown will accept as a root stock. Every Camperdown Elm in the world is the product of a cutting taken from that original mutant cutting and is grafted onto a Wych Elm trunk, usually 4-6 feet above ground.
Suffering from severe decay a century after its donation to the Park, the elm’s fifteen minutes of fame arrived in 1967 when Marianne Moore’s poem about it helped raise funds to pay for its treatment. 

There are park maps and other information available in Belvedere Castle in Central Park and the Boat House in Prospect Park. Both parks are highly recommended any time of year - there are a plethora of environments and activities ...

Tuesday, 9 September 2008


When viewed in the grand scheme of things and in light of life's serious problems, fashion, trends, style can seem very unimportant, fluffy, superficial, so temporal, perhaps even boring. I watch runway models on television and I am incredulous that people take fashion so seriously and that there is an enormous industry built around what a few have decided will be next, drape it on walking sticks and then parade the result for admiring hordes who hang on every crease.
But then we are not always looking at the grand scheme and it's not healthy to only live indulging in life's serious problems. And a world without style would be a more boring one. We don't want our lives to be guided strictly by utility and designed by bookkeepers. We need style just like we need flowers and parades - see here for my articles: Gratuitous in Nature and Let's Have a Parade.
I have only been into Trash and Vaudeville once, many years ago. I considered it a must-do since I have walked by it literally hundreds of times and it is a landmark retailer, located on the major thoroughfare in the East Village - St. Mark's Place. It occupies two floors (Trash upstairs and Vaudeville in the basement) at number 4 St. Mark's, an 1831 Federalist Style building. I only vaguely recall the visit and did not spend much time. The store's origins goes back to 1971 and has been a destination for punk and goth clothing and shoes, with a history of selling to celebs such as the Ramones. Perusing various online review sites, I see the place is still looked on quite favorably by many, so I imagine this place would be fun for those disposed to the punk/goth genre.
I remember being with a friend one night who was on an absolutely hysterical rant over Marshmallow Fluff. His central point was that when it comes to fluff, only America could invent and successfully market such a product, one that he saw as emblematic of much that he hated about America. But I must confess - as a child, I just loved Marshmallow Fluff ...

Photo Note: I originally took this photo because I thought the pile of trash in front of Trash was so appropriately ironic. But my posting took its typical twists and turns in the course of writing.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Balsamic Vinaigrette

This scene was so evocative of childhood summers - bathing suits and sprinklers. This woman was, of course, not running through these sprinklers, but sunbathing at 10 AM on a weekday with lawn sprinklers in the background was both unusual and suggestive - the scene begged for a photo. Soon, sunbathing will be a distant summer memory. Although technically still summer, the collective mindset changes greatly after Labor Day and the start of the school year. The reality of summer's end is further reinforced by cool clear days, a presage to autumn.
I am surprised at how universal the practice off cooling off by running through a sprinkler is - I always assumed that only the desperately poor resorted to this summer heat cooling solution. But in speaking to many people over the years from different social strata and countries, running through sprinklers appears to be a play activity that transends class and nationality. Children will generally eschew concerns regarding image or status. The size of a pool or the particular location of a summer house is not of much concern to a child on summer break. Of course there are exceptions - children who have been raised at an early age to appreciate the "finer things" which frequently translates as snobbery. I find this can be quite disturbing. Children should be taught about quality and not be brought up as classless boors, but one must be careful to not end up with children intolerant of the ordinary - the world is comprised predominantly of ordinary people and ordinary things. Arrogance, snobbery, elitism and one-upmanship are not endearing qualities in children and all should remember that the world is populated with haves and the have-nots, primarily have-nots.
I am reminded of a frightening occurence in a restaurant. A young child was essentially having a temper tantrum. The reason? His preferred salad dressing was not available - balsamic vinaigrette ...

Friday, 5 September 2008

Property Owner

On April 5th, 2007, I posted Caravan of Dreams, showing a man wheeling a mattress and couch down a busy Village street. But I should have saved that title for today's posting, because this is what I was really searching for when I used the word caravan. I have seen these processions of trash before, but they are not an everyday occurrence and my last attempt to photograph one with a small point and shoot camera was met with an angry, hostile outburst by the homeless owner - essentially accusing me of exploitation. So I refrained at that time. The indignant attitude of those on the fringes of NYC may come as a surprise to some, but this is typical New York Style - pride can been seen at every strata of local society. Although homelessness is not a crime per se, many of the activities of the homeless are, frequently necessitated by the lifestyle. The rights of the homeless and the legality of their activities is the subject of endless debate.
Last night I witnessed the caravan in the photo on Washington Square North (the owner can be seen sleeping on the left near the milk crate). See closeup photo here. Early this morning he was on the move again.
There is an apparent element of lunacy here - acquiring and moving mountains of what appears to be trash. Plus, tending to this cache is a full time job. Belongings are affixed typically to shopping or hamper carts. These wagon trains of carts ala trash are then moved incrementally and sequentially - a tedious job. But then, work can be therapeutic. And much of the booty are bottles to be recycled for cash. Perhaps this monumental nomadic enterprise is exactly what keeps their owners sane - giving their life meaning and making them feel like members of New York society with real property ownership (frequently overnighting in the best of neighborhoods). On the other hand, I'm still just a renter ...

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Big Buddha

If you are looking for surprises, head to Manhattan's Chinatown, generally considered the largest or one of the largest (depending on whose counting and how) outside China. The main attractions here are primarily restaurants, indoor and outdoor food vendors and shops carrying Chinese tourist items and heavily discounted consumer goods including copies of brand name merchandise.
So I was quite startled while walking by the ticket office to the Fung Wah bus company to find the Mahayana Buddhist Temple, an enormous place with a faux pagoda front and lions, prominently located at 133 Canal Street and the Bowery - in no way an out of the way location. Yet I have been by the intersection hundreds of times and never noticed this place. 
Whimsically, I entered the place with no expectations. I was even more surprised to find a huge room with this 16 foot tall Buddha, the largest in the city.
Until 1995, this building was occupied by the Rosemary Theater. In 1996 it was converted to the Mahayana Buddhist Temple by Annie Ying, who established the first storefront temples on the East Coast and a temple/retreat on a 114 acre site in South Cairo, New York. Her husband, James Ying, operated a chain of gift shops in Chinatown and the neighboring suburbs.
But the most interesting twist is that their son, Dr. Nelson Ying who runs the temple, has a PhD in nuclear physics and is adjunct professor at the University of Central Florida. He was the first Buddhist preacher to perform Buddhist weddings in New York State. He is not a priest, however, as he does not meet the requirements of being vegetarian or unmarried. He and his parents hail from Shanghai, which they left in 1955 to come to this country. Only in New York ...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

No Radio

I have a very strict policy of only using photos taken of or in the 5 boroughs of New York City. And being away on vacation is no excuse to use photos of another locale. I prepare for this in advance.
However, the mini-event that occurred on Saturday was so outrageous to me from a New Yorker's perspective, that I have to break my rules and tell this tale.
While away this weekend, my two nephews and a friend decided to go for a short canoe ride in a river at my parents gated condo community. They asked if I suggested wearing shorts rather than pants in the event they get wet. My response was that if they were to fall into a river, shorts versus pants would not be a consideration. BUT, I did highly recommend emptying their pockets of valuables, particularly knowing they were affluent boys and the contents of their pockets was probably greater than that of many 3rd world countries. They saw the sense of this and immediately concurred. So out came the iPhones, cellphones, a wallet with credit cards visible and a Gucci wallet. They placed all of these items on the BACK OF THE CAR IN PLAIN VIEW (appropriately on the hood of one boy's Audi). I was incredulous. "You guys are going to leave all this outside in plain view?" I asked. They responded "Whose going to take it? There's only a bunch of old people here." That was not strictly true and I am still absolutely floored by this occurrence.
Now admittedly, this cavalier attitude was largely due to a lifetime of privilege and never knowing need. And it was a gated community. But there was also an element of TRUST that is just nonexistent in New York City. You can not leave anything of value unattended. I have heard stories of thefts that are unfathomable - a UPS driver once told me of a man that ran down the street with a large projection television stolen from his truck! The driver was unable to catch him in the ensuing chase.
In New York City, a vehicle should always be locked and nothing of value should be in plain view. This process is so automatic to me it has become a reflex action - I even lock my car in the driveway of my parents home in the suburbs.
Every seasoned New Yorker remembers a time when auto break ins for radios were common. At one time I recall seeing broken glass somewhere on the streets on nearly a daily basis - a tell tale sign of a recent break in. Soon the ubiquitous "NO RADIO" signs in the windows of cars started to become a common sight - a plea to the would be thief that a particular car was not a worthwhile target.
We live in a time where disposable income seems to be greater with youth; a generation that would never grasp the idea of placing a sign in the window of their car that says "NO RADIO"...

Tuesday, 2 September 2008


I really wanted a full ensemble of crusties but not knowing when or if I may have the opportunity to photograph a group, I present you with a lone crustie girl.
I did actually have opportunity some time ago for group shots, but a photographer friend and I both found them rather menacing and we were unsure as to the reaction we would get if we fired away with professional looking photo equipment. So we abstained. However, since that time I have been yearning to capture crusties for this blog. The woman in this posting was photographed in Tompkins Square Park where groups of crusties can sometimes be found.
What is a crustie? A contemporary nomadic bohemian. Anti-authority with varying politically nihilistic values such as anti-work, anti-government, anti-war, anti-religion, anti-vivisection, anti-civilization. Of course there have been many other subcultures that loosely fit this definition such as hippies, with whom crusties have much in common.
The countercultural incarnation known as crusties have their own brand with signature characteristics - the most apparent being the rejection of bathing, dirty clothing in drab brown, greens and black and dirty dreaded hair - hence the term "crusty." A dog is a common accessory as seen in the photo. Other accoutrement are butt flaps, tattoos, clothing patches, punk rock hair styles, bullet belts and sleeveless jean jackets
Fundamentally homeless, crusties survive using various means such as dumpster diving and begging. They are sometimes associated with crust punk (or crustcore), originally known as Stenchcore, founded by the bands Amebix and Anitisect in Britain in the 1980s. In the USA, crust punk began in NYC with Nausea from the Lower East Side.
I'm fascinated by subcultures so wide and deep, with a long history and about which I was completely uninformed ...

Monday, 1 September 2008


Labor Day is celebrated as a day off for the working class. We live in a country where entrepreneurism is extolled and promoted in media to the extent that to be a member of the working class almost implies failure in the American dream. But society only needs a very small number of chiefs and very few have the unique combination of skills and temperament to be one. So an appreciation and recognition of those soldiers who are the foundation and engine of the economy is welcome.
I come from a working class background and from an extremely austere area in a part of the country synonymous with the work ethic - New England. In my family's case, northern Maine. In my family, work defines a person - personal wealth much less so unless acquired through very hard work.
In such an environment where survival is virtually the only concern, the need for every able body to work imposes an egalitarianism. In a way, women's rights were old news for us - no time or place in this world for sexism - in fact, most families were quite matriarchal with wives controlling the finances and major decisions. My father was taken out of school at age 12 to work full time as a woodcutter in the north woods of Maine - in winters with temperatures as low as -40 ℉. Potato picking was the only other industry - grueling work with 12 hour days. Workers lived in camps onsite for the duration of the the picking season - everyone picked, even children. The school year was adjusted to accommodate this important time - one of the few opportunities to make money.
So I have been indelibly stamped with the importance of work and it has become part of the fabric of my being. As I grow older, the importance of work has become greater. Try as I may, I can not shake my intolerance for lack of ambition and hard work in others.
I am reminded of a family trip to Versailles - one of the most remarkable testaments to lavish, opulent excess in the world. We entered one of the King's bedchambers with woodwork which had been exquisitely and painstaking hand carved. My father's comment should have come as no surprise (although it did at the time) and left a lasting impression of how a man like him sees the world. After scanning the room and reflecting on it he said: "there's a lot of work in here."