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

Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Buried Teasure

Although Canal Street has been in flux, it remains the discount mecca for New York City. Here you can find a myriad of consumer items at tremendous discounts. The streets are lined with shopping stalls packed with merchandise.
Unfortunately for manufacturers of top branded items, this area of Chinatown around Canal Street and Broadway is also the mecca for fakes and knockoffs. Trinkets, baubles, tourist T-Shirts and tacky NYC memorabilia are mixed with fake designer watches and designer bags. This is where Prada, Gucci or Coach bags can be found for a small fraction of their normal retail price. Or Rolex watches for a few dollars. There are stories of back rooms and underground chasms where serious customers are led for counterfeit treasures - read an article about this here. Crackdowns and large scale arrests are made regularly - particularly targeting the importers and larger operations. But, the pirates are tenacious and the cat and mouse game continues.
I can't speak to the quality of these fakes. I have never really partaken in these goods - my purchases have been confined to discounted legitimate products like Casio watches, durians or shopping in a places like Pearl River Mart, Pearl Paint, Space Surplus Metals or Canal Rubber.
Legitimate bargains abound on Canal Street - if that is your interest there are plenty of discounts to be had without supporting pirates ...

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

Small Gestures

Many cite the popular minimalist refrain - less is more. And what better example than the small gesture.
These colorful origami boats in a puddle in yesterday's rain were the small gesture of an unknown hand. They garnered quite a bit of attention, as many of us circumnavigated their small ocean and observed them from many vantage points.
I don't like a rainy day. Until I have surrendered to the rain. Then I find it quite relaxing. When the mind is in the spirit of surrender and no longer rebels against the elements, you can fully embrace the rainy day. The sunny day is a distant memory and you can enjoy the impressions that a rainy day brings. Like a child who does not need to go to school on a snowy day, a rainy day gives permission to play and indulge in the small things we often miss or forget. This opportunity can be for a pause for reflection - a welcome moment of respite for the weary New Yorker.
I photographed in the rain with a friend until we were quite wet - few will make the effort at times like this when the weather is so dreadful. But this is when one can capture some very unique images.
New York city in the rain becomes transformed with everything cast in a different light. New opportunities abound for photos - a second city is created and with the wetness and everything familiar becomes new and unfamiliar in some way. But do not be so blinded by the great and spectacular things in New York that you miss the small gesture ...

Monday, 28 April 2008

That's Quite a Briefcase

In January I did a story on a red car and my impressions of those who embrace red. In the posting I also wrote a brief synopsis of the symbolisms regarding red in different times and places - you can see the posting here. I am intrigued by individuals who make a statement using red attire or possessions - it certainly is not the color of the shy and withdrawn. And personally I like the color - I have a few articles of clothing in bright red, but wear them infrequently and quite judiciously.
There are other colors, like purple, that also send messages. I am reminded of a period of time where I was carrying papers to and from my office in a slim, translucent, plastic PURPLE, briefcase. This is rather unusual for a male business owner, but I have that privilege. And NYC is quite accepting of creative types and the unconventional. However, one day I had a salesman who called on me. He stepped into my office, noticed my purple case and remarked in a sarcastic tone of voice - "that's quite a briefcase." I was actually quite insulted and found his remark very inappropriate, but I let it go. After he left, it occurred to me I could have retorted: "but that's why your on that side of the desk, and I'm on this side." But that would have just been nasty :)

Friday, 25 April 2008

Cuts One Way

The Brooklyn Bridge is one of the most important and recognizable NYC landmarks - an edifice literally in stone and one its finest icons. I have done numerous postings where the bridge is a key element, but none on the bridge itself. See the list of related postings below. There is also a series of photos associated with this article - you can see them here.
The bridge, completed in 1883 and connecting lower Manhattan with Brooklyn, has a walkway which is open to pedestrians and bicycles. I highly recommend this to any visitor (or resident) - it's a must do. It's free and the vistas are great.
There is no room and it makes no sense for me to synopsize here the history of the bridge or supply technical information - tomes have been written. The Wikipedia article is a good start and has a myriad of links - see here.
The Brooklyn Bridge is quite special to me. I find the stonework so much more attractive than the steelwork of the Manhattan and Williamsburg bridges, although I have warmed up to these over the years. Traveling around the city, particularly by car, the Brooklyn Bridge is omnipresent and with its image comes a plethora of feelings and impressions. Especially for a New Yorker. This is the bridge of book, film and fable, known throughout the world.
Visitors are frequently astonished that anyone would go through what we do just get through basic everyday life. And many do leave after trying their hand at living here. Our town is a great one, but the knife that is New York City has two edges and cuts both ways. I, like many New Yorkers, have a love/hate relationship with many aspects of life here - it comes with the territory and every one of us living here knows it. But for the Brooklyn Bridge, the knife cuts only one way - I love that bridge :)

Related posts: One Front Street, Loaded, The River Cafe, Gallery View, Sink or Swim, Dumbo, Bridge Cafe, Belle de Jour, Jet Ski, Twist and Shout, The Watchtower.

Thursday, 24 April 2008


The hookah is a social instrument, so it is not surprising that it would be adopted by students. Hookahs are now common in colleges around the country as are hookah bars (this site gives a national hookah bar directory by state). Smoking bans in the city have made smoking all but impossible indoors. There are certain exemptions for cigar bars - hookah bars have been battling over this for some time. There are a number of hookah bars all over New York City - an area of Astoria (in Queens), known as Little Egypt, has a quite a number of them.
The hookah originated in India and as most know is ubiquitous* all over the Arab world, particularly in Turkey - read more here. In the last few years, the trend has been adopted by students as seen in the photo, taken in Washington Square Park.
There can be a certain naivete, however, when things become trendy - all of a sudden, the reinvention and new adoption with perhaps some minor tweaks, somehow leads participants to believe the old rules don't apply. Hookahs are a good example. A variety of hookah tobaccos are used, called Shisha, including varieties that are flower and fruit flavored. But no matter - the evidence still indicates that although the water filtration makes the tobacco less harsh, the exposure to dangers of nicotine are actually as great or even greater than cigarette smoking. I read that there are non-tobacco herbal alternatives, but websites have maasel on this list including wikipedia - my reading indicates that maasel is a fruit flavored tobacco ...

*A note about ubiquitous. Doesn't this word now seem predominantly used in a gratuitous manner by those trying to impress with their vocabulary? I saw it on a Top Ten Catchwords of the Literati, along with juxtaposition and iconoclasm.
However, I also saw the word described as one used by pseudointellectuals and a number of other articles that found it overused.

Photo note: For those of you who are wondering what it says on the bottom of that girls T-Shirt, see here.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Have a Heart

The university has historically been a place for protest, liberalism and a forum for current events and activism. So, it came as no big surprise as I went by the New York Univesity campus yesterday and saw an Earth Day celebration. What did surprise me though was a 180 foot vegetarian sandwich made by Top of the Square Catering. I'm not sure of the tie-in to the day - the sandwich appeared as more of an indulgence rather that a statement of restraint. But, I suppose everyone has to eat and a vegetarian sandwich is a better choice than foie gras or veal for Earth Day.
NYU has a number activities (graduation ceremonies and other annual events) that are held in the streets around the university buildings, owing to the fact that they do not actually have a private campus - the streets of NYC and Washington Square Park essentially function as their campus. I have blogged a number of these these NYU events - see the links below.
I will end this posting with a popular quote which is apropos, attributed to Winston Churchill. Some say it is falsely attributed to him - I have not been able to substantiate this one way or another. You will also see many slight variations on the quote itself.
''If you're not a liberal at 20, you have no heart, and if you're not a conservative at 40 you have no head.'' I keep this in mind whenever I am witness to student activism, passions and idealism ...

Related Postings of Interest: Grad Alley, Light on Bobst, La Rentrée, Obama, Danger and Caution.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Silent Rave Part 2

This is Part 2 of the Silent Rave I attended on Friday night. This type of event can also be described as a silent disco, silent party or mobile clubbing. The concept of silent discos goes back to the 1990s. Some of these may take place as a flash mob - see my posting on the recent Pillow fight in Union Square for more about flash mobs.
Friday's silent rave was organized by Jonnie Wesson, an 18 year old exchange student from Britain, attending the Packer Collegiate Institute in Brooklyn. Silent raves are popular in London and Europe - large scale silent discos with thousands of participants have taken place in the U.K.
“The basic premise is that a hundred or a thousand or a few thousand people all turn up in a public place, turn on their own headphones and dance" says Wesson. “It’s always fantastic and weird to see thousands of people dancing silently. It’s always in a public space, but it’s not meant to cause disruption, but only because it’s the last place you’d expect that sort of thing."
The rave at Union Square was organized by Wesson through a Facebook site. It was scheduled to start at 6:17 PM. “It’s a random time that fits in with the ethos of the flash mob.”

Monday, 21 April 2008

Silent Rave

At dinner on Friday night, two friends informed me that there was to be a silent rave in Union Square Park. So, with camera in tow, we walked to Union Square, where activities were already in progress. Hundreds of people were gyrating, each to their music provided by their own portable music players, primarily iPods. Some were sharing sounds. I was immediately recruited by someone who introduced himself as Fong and said they were in desparate need of a photographer to cover the event for something he was putting together - what exactly, I don't know. Conversation was harried, facts were murky, - I never really got the specifics.
But we followed each other around, targeting good photo ops - Fong getting dancers to sign waivers while I shot undulating bodies in very low light, the ultimate photographic challenge, at least in the city. Fun was had by all - Fong and I appeared to be the only ones stressed - trying to capture the photos and names of moving targets.
The event could be seen loosely as a flash mob, something I wrote about in my article on the recent Pillow Fight. And calling it a rave was even a looser description - without the presence of sex, drugs (Ecstacy) and a club environment. But who's looking at definitions and grammar - this was about music and dancing :)

Note: For gallery of photos on the Silent Rave - go here to my Flickr site.

Friday, 18 April 2008


Many may not be familiar with the concept of the food co-op. The 1960s and early 1970s saw a boom of popularity in the idea. The 4th Street Food Co-op at 58 E.4th Street in the East Village, is the last surviving in Manhattan and one of only two in NYC (the other is well known in Brooklyn).
The original concept is one of a cooperatively owned food store. I was surprised to learn that food co-ops go back to 19th century England and the cooperative principles set by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in Rochdale, England, in 1844.
The 4th Street Food Co-op is structured to allow for working and non-working members to get products at a discount - typically non-members can shop at a higher price. The motive is to be essentially a not-for-profit corporation.
I see two problems with the food co-op for this generation.
First, the food co-op is run by members and members are ideally to work there - most individuals these days have too many interests and other priorities to invest time in this manner for a small discount on food. People want convenience not more work and obligation. Non-working memberships are a way of dealing with this.
Secondly, I hate to be cynical, but i think that people's willingness to be politically correct and embrace causes does not include giving up most of the comforts we have become accustomed to. Scaling them back somewhat, but that's it. In regards to the food co-op, people want a much broader selection of goods in a boutique environment - see the rage that is Whole Foods Market, a wildfire spreading across the land. Higher prices, but they are not daunted - the checkout lines are huge. Everyone wants their Ipod and toys. All these manufactured goods have an environmental impact. We may give up the SUV, but not the car ...

Thursday, 17 April 2008

Free Advice

Many years ago I had an idea to sell advice on the streets on New York City for $1. I proposed this to two friends, and they really liked the idea. Both had experience in therapy. We all had diverse backgrounds, strengths - most importantly we felt we also shared a lot of life experience. And it would be fun.
I thought it was a novel idea - I was a little disappointed when I found out that three women had done it years before and had written a book about it. Amy Alkon, Marlowe Minnic, and Caroline Johnson were three ad agency people who started giving free advice on the streets of SOHO in 1988 and published a book - Free Advice in 1996.
We plied our trade a few times. It was a lot of fun - we wanted to do more but never did.
So when a friend and I were strolling through the park and came across this fellow, I was quite startled to see him doing the same thing. For free.
Now when I did this with my two friends, we had long discussions about charging money or doing it for free. Our feelings were that people take things more seriously when they have to pay for it - it's about commitment. And the seller takes it more seriously too - we did. The dollar transaction made a difference. We only did it a few times and planned to again but never did.
We were surprised to see how young this guy was and wondered how qualified he would be to advise on issues like relationships. I was going to try him out but didn't get the chance. Let's hope that in this case you don't get what you pay for, but that the best things in life are free :)

Wednesday, 16 April 2008


I was really stunned at the colors on this man's patchwork clothing. I spoke with him and learned he was from Senegal - there are many Senegalese street vendors in the city.
There is a group of Mouride warriors known as the Baye Fall who roam the hot and dusty interior of Senegal "singing, proselytizing and begging." They dress in patchwork clothing and wear dreads. I don't know if this man had some connection to this group or whether the dress is derivative in some way. A little investigation I'm sure would answer that question ...
New York city is large enough and diverse enough to allow all manner of the unusual. Ethnic groups with traditional dress or body art can be comfortable here - their appearance will not draw much attention in a city of sensory overload - a continuous impact of colors, sights and sounds. If you have read this blog, you know I frequently have stated that many things get overlooked - like the dessert truck in my neighborhood (see here) and then there are the eccentrics, the extreme, the fringe and the flamboyant. This is one of the few places where they could survive and be happy. I have done a number of postings on a spectrum of colorful characters - many of these are personal favorites of mine and readers of this site. See the links below for more of the flamboyant ...

Realated Postings: Spike, Fashion Forward, Out There, Narcissism Gone Wild.

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Bon Appetit

THIS is New York at its best. I have often felt that NYC is a place where the extraordinary is common and the ordinary uncommon. And of course the extraordinary is what makes it great to live here and why visitors love it. Sometimes it feels like there's something extraordinary to be discovered around every corner. Like a Dessert Truck on the street selling gourmet pastries - for $5 each. No need to go into an expensive restaurant and sit down. What could be better? I was completely unaware of this until a few days ago, when two friends introduced me to it. Amazingly, it is only a few blocks from my home, yet I never really noticed it. They are located at 8th street and University Place and are open 6 nights per week.
The desserts are awesome - they are made by Jerome Chang, a former pastry chef at Le Cirque and grad of the French Culinary Institute. He is partnered with Chris Chen, a Columbia business school grad. "One night, we randomly made the caramelized banana sandwich with sea salt — no recipe," Mr. Chen said. "It turned out to be amazing, and both of us thought that this was something we could sell on the street." You can find things like molten chocolate cake with liquid ganache center and sea salt, roasted pistachios, and "a hint of olive oil"; apples and cinnamon with cranberries in a crisp, puff pastry with streusel and whipped cream, chocolate bread pudding; crème brûlée made with madagascan vanilla beans and freshly burned sugar.
You can read all about them here at their website - there are photos of the desserts, press articles, menu, hours etc. Bon appetit ...

Relate Posting: Street Cuisine

Monday, 14 April 2008


Do you want to travel to a 19th century Parisian boudoir? Then make a trip to Aedes de Venustas at 9 Christoper Street in the West Village. This parfumerie is the brain child of Karl Bradl and Robert Gerstner, two Germans previously in the international freight business. Perfume was just a hobby for them - the business was an outgrowth of that - you can read the story here.
I will not mince words - this is one of the most beautifully appointed shops I have been to in New York - violet walls, gilded furniture, huge arrangements of fresh flowers, velvet chairs and birds fabricated from feathers. Everything works together. To step inside is to be transported in time and space and leave the city behind. The atmosphere is incredibly calming.
But let us not forget that first and foremost this is a specialty fragrance boutique. The owners have introduced various lines and have some of the finest perfumes in the city. The world of fragrance covers of wide spectrum, from the large commercial lines and household names to the smaller - there are a large number of independent perfume makers now and many of the finer ones are represented at this shop. There are blogs that specialize in the field - see here.
I had been to Aedes a couple times before, but Sunday I went with a friend to Sniffapalooza, a NYC event with perfume passionatas from around the world. The event spans several days at a number of locations with manufacturers as well as others in the industry attending. Although I have no real connections with the fragrance world and was a privileged guest, it was just nice to be in an environment where quality and doing things well defined everything ...

Friday, 11 April 2008


There is a saying - let the music speak for itself. This makes sense, except you need to hear it which you can't do here. And of course there are different languages and the music may not speak to you. But for me, these guys are some of the best jazz musicians I have heard on the street. It's such a treat to run across talent like this on the streets of New York City. Many street musicians are superb. Music is very competitive and they work the streets for a number of reasons - sole source of income, part time source, exposure or just fun. The variety of musicians you find on the street can be just remarkable. I have run across Manhattan or Juilliard School grads and students, professionals playing cello, a traveling one man band, punk rock concerts, rock festivals, swing musicians, blues slide guitar players, a Chicago brass band, bluegrass reunion, - it's a menagerie out there. A number of us spend evenings in Washington Square Park listening to singing circles - on a good night, hundreds of spectators may congregate and participate in the choruses.
The trumpet player, Rasheed Richard Howard is superb. And he plays two trumpets at one time - see here. He is part of NuQ-Leus - website here.
This photo was taken when they were doing Georgia - a favorite with such a great melody (if you haven't heard Ray Charles do Georgia, you must).
Rasheed really delivers, which is good since New Yorkers are spoiled and quite used to delivery :)

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Sunshine Makes You Happy

Here is where New York really shines - the arts, particularly ones that need brick and mortar establishments like live music, opera, theater, art and indie or art films. Art house films on the big screen are things you can't squeeze down the internet pike. And you need a big audience to support a place like Sunshine Cinema. Located in the now fashionable Lower East Side at 145 East Houston Street, Sunshine is one of a handful of premiere houses featuring art films - Angelika (see here), Quad Cinema, Film Forum, IFC, Village East and Lincoln Plaza.

Rather than rewrite history, here it is from Landmark Theatre's website:

"Built in 1898, the Sunshine Cinema building was formerly the Houston Hippodrome motion picture theatre and a Yiddish vaudeville house but for over 50 years it had been shuttered serving as a hardware warehouse. Landmark has restored the theatre back to its artistic roots and now offers the art-house film lover five brand new state-of-the-art screens dedicated to first-run independent and foreign film as well as non-traditional studio programming. The Sunshine Cinema has exceptional presentation and amenities including stadium seating, Dolby Digital Surround EX sound and gourmet concessions. The theatre also offers attractions such as a Japanese rock garden and a viewing bridge that offers breathtaking city views from the third story spectacular glass annex. The restoration was a team effort—floor plans by TK Architects and interior design by architects Tony Pleskow and Tom Rael of Pleskow + Rael."

I have been to Sunshine and can heartily recommend it. It is also in an interesting neighborhood with plenty of things to do. You can't miss it - with it's beautiful facade especially when lit at night, it's like a beacon letting you know that if you like film, Sunshine will make you happy ...

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Weather Means Whether

What is as refreshing as a spring day? The attitude of a visitor excited by the city. And what surpasses that? The unbridled enthusiasm of youth. So what do you have when you mix the two? Girls resting on the ground, preparing for their next outburst.
These girls were from Montreal - I asked because it appeared obvious that they were from out of town (or new university students). How can you tell an out of towner? New Yorkers, even young ones, don't usually lie on asphalt. We know the types of things that go on down there and are not going to frolic in the residue. Sitting on the ground under duress is one thing, lying on the pavement is another
But these women know as well as I that clothes and people can be washed - I am just too rigid to take their lead. Their abandon is refreshing too.
In my memory, I feel there is a day in the spring where you feel that the tide has finally turned and spring has sprung - it may be a little cool, but there is something about that day that speaks to you and whispers - this is the day. I thought that day had arrived several times this year, my hopes only to be dashed by a subsequently cold day. My heat is blasting as I write this.
I once had a close friend, since passed away, who grew up on the east coast and moved to the west coast. He was an adventurer and extremely well traveled to all corners of the earth. We were speaking of this very thing and how the weather and seasons here was so much more unpredictable in NYC compared to California. I scoffed at the term "temperate" zone. His comment was "the east coast has weather, the west coast has climate." So, whether this year has been more unpredictable or my ruminations are wishful thinking with my memory clouded by impatience for warm weather, I do not know. But I do know that in New York, weather means whether ...

Tuesday, 8 April 2008


This is New York too. While strolling in the Lower East Side on Orchard Street on Saturday night, I happened upon this doorway. It had the edge department well covered: graffiti, garbage, poorly lit, a bare fluorescent bulb, heavy duty roll gates with padlocks and a sign warning of rodents and rodenticides fastened with duct tape. See closeup here.
Does this affect desirability of the neighborhood? Not at all. Of course, real estate prices will not be quite as high as, say, an apartment on the Gold Coast - 5th Avenue in the 70s with Central Park views. There is a large demographic that would prefer the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side, SoHo, Tribeca or the Upper West Side, for a time.
There's certainly no debating the fact the the Lower East Side and the East Village are two of the most exciting neighborhoods in the city with the widest range of restaurants, bars, theaters, and music clubs. And I am sure most residents are content to live out their entire lives there. Unless big money is at hand or added to the equation. Then, for many, the residence becomes a passing fancy, fad, a toy to be discarded or a place one has outgrown, followed by a move uptown or out of town. The charms of duct tape and rodenticide give way to those of the Dakota, Beresford or San Remo. And edge is only a taxi or limo ride away.
Take the Silk Building, e.g., above the former Tower Records at 4th Street and Broadway. The penthouse apartment has been a revolving door for the affluent - it has seen Keith Richards, Cher, Britney Spears. There are a handful of extraordinary buildings downtown like the Police Building and many of the well-heeled do remain downtown, but they are few. Once a image statement has been made, most leave. After all, this really is a neighborhood that caters more to the young and restless than the established and rested.
Money is like an unguent and when applied liberally, it usually is absorbed readily with predictable effects. It doesn't appear that one has to rub the salve that hard or long to take off most edges :)

Related Postings: Vegan Chic, Bluestockings, Unkindest Cut, Rats R Us, Rats Gone Wild, The Dark Ages, Wildlife Control.

Monday, 7 April 2008


Union Square can always be depended on as a locus for political activism. Saturday afternoon was the Be the Change walk - the initiation of a month long tribute to Mohandas K. Gandhi. The walk started in four different locations and ended in Union Square near the Gandhi statue, where a number of speakers were present for the commemoration including composer Philip Glass, the author Mark Kurlansky and author/activist Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou. There was also a traditional flower petal ceremony. The Iraq war was, of course, foremost in the minds of the participants, many of whom carried large signs with quotes from Gandhi: Outer Peace is useless without inner peace and An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.
Gandhi is generally seen as a pioneer in the use of civil disobedience on a wide political scale - both in South Africa and India. Along with King, many others have credited Gandhi as being a major influence: Albert Einstein who exchanged letters with him, anti-apartheid political activist and former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, and former U.S. Vice-President and environmentalist, Al Gore.
This walk also coincided with the assassination of Martin Luther King (April 4th, 1968). In 1999, Time Magazine named King as one of the Children of Gandhi and spiritual heirs to non-violence.
Influences trickle down and are transformed, adapted and built upon for time, place and use. Even those who are extraordinarily creative or provided seminal roles have had influences - one of Gandhi's was the classic essay, Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, first published in 1849. But that's another story ...

Related Postings: Union Square, Vintage Mural, Reverend Billy, Picture New York, Flora, Gentleman Peeler, Luna Park Cafe, Metronome, Union Square Greenmarket, One-Man Band

Friday, 4 April 2008

Key Privileges

Unless you stay at the Gramercy Park Hotel or are extremely well connected, this is as close as you will get to enjoying Gramercy Park, from this side of the fence. Well known to city residents, Gramercy Park is the only private park in the city. To gain access, one must have a key - these are available only to residents in the buildings surrounding the square, who own the park in common. Although NYC has its share of money and exclusivity, private outdoor space is an anomaly in the city and the park's privacy comes as a surprise to many.
Originally, this park was swampland. The name Gramercy is from the Dutch ''krom moerasje,''for ''little crooked knife.'' In 1831, Samuel Bulkley Ruggles bought and drained the land and divided into 108 lots - the park occupied 42 of the lots, and homes on the remaining 66 (these are the buildings which have keys to the park.) This area was located unfashionably north at the time, so Ruggles built a private park to attract residents and buy properties.
The square is surrounded with magnificent row houses and prewar buildings. The immediate area is rather quiet with only a few business establishments like O'Henrys. The neighborhood, known as Gramercy, is surrounded by tree lined streets. Not far away, however, is the bustling Union Square and the Village to the south.
But I do not pine for access and neither should you. There are many extraordinary parks in the city - Central Park, Prospect Park, Washington Square Park (under construction), Union Square, The Conservatory Garden, Brooklyn and N.Y. Botanic Gardens, Van Cortlandt, Riverside, Carl Schurz, City Hall, et. al. These urban oases dot the city and the privilege of entry requires no key ...

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Different Bummer

Some march to the beat of a different drummer. Some don't like marching or they don't have anything worth marching for - they prefer sitting. Perhaps they can't afford a drum or don't like drumming. So they sit on a park bench with white plastic glasses with slits and smile.
This was the posting's start BEFORE I tried to find some small morsel of info about these glasses to round out this tale. I did know that sunglasses like this were used by the Eskimo and arctic explorers (where glass was either unavailable or impractical). Living in the arctic, the Inuit soon discovered that they could develop snow blindness (Niphablepsia) a type of keratitis and over longer periods, cataracts. And these glasses did have a period of popularity in the 1960s.
Surprise. Apparently these glasses were all the rage in 2007, popularized by rap star Kanye West in his Stronger music video. Kanye markets them as Stronger Shades. Generically they are known as shutter shades - you can find sites online like:,,, etc.
So my whole story - how this person was striking out in his own small, humble way (hence - a different bummer) by donning a forgotten cheap piece of kitsch from the 1960s (perhaps because this is all he could find) - was turned upside down. The real story is quite the contrary, as he sports the latest, (nearly) hottest trend, inspired by a major Rap artist. Then again, perhaps the virulent adaptation by so many of whatever is currently fashionable is, in its own way, a different bummer ...

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

Lone Voice

I was surprised to learn that this structure is actually quite new - construction dates back only 30 years to 1978. This is St. George's Ukrainian Catholic Church at 20 East 7th Street at the corner of Taras Shevchenko Place. The Byzantine church with its large dome, designed by Apollinaire Osadca, is a landmark in this area of the East Village, which has a large Ukrainian community. The church stands out particularly in contrast to the surrounding lowrise, tenement buildings. It replaces an earlier church - read the history here.
A neighboring project cross the street has been quite controversial - the short two-story Hewitt Memorial Building, belonging to Cooper Union, has been torn down and is being replaced with a 9 story building (equal in height to a 16 story residential building), to be completed in 2009, in time for their 150th anniverary. The new building is the NYC debut of architect, Thom Mayne, a Pritzker Prize laureate and a principal of the Los Angeles firm Morphosis. There has been some community acceptance owing to the new building's transparent features, permitting light and views - read about it here. Cooper Union (and others) have recently been involved in a number of building projects in the area- this is not the first recent neighborhood controversy.
People resist change and opposition to new construction is the norm unless the thing being torn down is absolutely egregious and the replacement very much in keeping with surrounding architecture. Otherwise, in NYC, get ready for a community battle. I'm not saying that all new construction is good - to the contrary, I am a devout preservationist and love historic architecture. However, new construction is a reality anywhere. It's the design process and site considerations that make it such a thorny, contentious matter.
I recall a recent community meeting where there was heated debate over a large scale project. An older, calm and reasonable gentleman stood up and stated that he was a 50 year resident of the neighborhood and of course had seen this type of opposition repeatedly with a consistent outcome - people eventually warm up to the new construction and make it their own. He thought the newly proposed project had been well designed and should be embraced. But he was a lone voice ...

Street Note: Taras Shevchenko Place is only one block long, between 6th and 7th Streets. Originally it was named Hall Street, then Hall Place. Ukrainian residents got the street renamed in 1978. Taras Shevchenko (1814-1861) was a Ukrainian poet, artist and nationalist.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The Grey Dog

When you step inside The Grey Dog, your first reaction may be to step out. This place will most likely be teeming with people, have a line for for placing orders, few if any tables available and loud. Why should you stay and why would I recommend it? Because the food is very good. And once you've settled in, the mayhem recedes as you focus on your meal. You start thinking - this place is not that bad once you staked out your territory. What was annoying starts feeling like exuberant festiveness. Everyone seems happy and life is good.
Finding casual places to eat with no table service and good food is not easy anywhere. The Grey Dog is technically a coffeehouse and they are known for their coffee. However, the food menu is quite extensive - ideal for breakfast, brunch or lunch but I have had dinner here as well. The prices may appear a tad high for the type of place, but the portions are large, typically with sides and made with high quality ingredients. The atmosphere is cozy, woodsy, New England with nautical accents - oars above the windows and a row of buoys outdoors below the front window. More photos here. When the weather is warm, the front windows are open and a table there is quite pleasant. A wooden bench outdoors provides a place for customers as well as passersby to rest or eat, a good spot for dog spotting.
Don't be daunted by the lines - they move more quickly than expected. Place your order at the counter, grab a table and when your order is ready someone will come out, call your name and deliver your food. And through some miracle, you always seem to get a seat ...

NOTE: The Grey Dog was created in 1996. It was named after Moose and Goose, the owners' two labrador retrievers, one white the other black. The location in the photo is the original at 33 Carmine Street in the Village. A second location recently opened at 90 University Place.