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Showing posts from 2008

The Strolling Year in Review 2008: Favorite Downtown Streets

In addition to my more adventurous walks in far-flung parts of New York, I routinely walk the streets in my own neighborhood of Greenwich Village in order to shop, dine, attend a meeting, run an errand, or walk the dogs. Many New Yorkers are accustomed to this sort of walking. I have favorite streets in the neighborhood, among them the well-known Bleecker Street, Sullivan Street (especially south of Houston), and others listed below. As I like to go out for a walk simply as a pastime, a way to get exercise, or as a means to walk off something, I often wander outside the boundaries of the Village. Still, my most favorite streets for strolling can be found below 14th Street, the boundary that separates the Village and the East Village (once considered part of the Lower East Side) from whatever bourgeois life happens to the north of it. View Larger Map Feel free to enlarge the map and enter into Google's Street View for virtual strolling. Favorite Downtown Streets • Bedford Street (We

The Strolling Year in Review 2008: Favorite Places

While reviewing my walks in 2008, I decided to identify those places in New York I most enjoyed exploring or where I looked forward to returning many times. Now that I've compiled such as list, I now see that the natural world and the built environment hold an equal amount of fascination for me. I'm somewhat surprised by this, thinking that Nature, given its rarity in our urban canyons, may win hands down. Indeed, the top place on this list (although there's no order of importance) is the northern part of Central Park, the wildest part of Olmsted and Vaux's carefully designed landscape. FAVORITE PLACES 2008 • The northern part of Central Park: I've gotten lost in the city before, but it's not quite the same as getting lost in Central Park . After wandering around small waterfalls and trying to follow faint trails in the park above 101st Street, I began to feel like I was hiking in a major national park. I finally emerged in a clearing near the Lasker Rink. Later

The Strolling Year in Review 2008: The Top 12 New York Walks

Looking back on 2008, I realize just how a simple stroll can become a joyous, enriching, and revelatory adventure. The set of steps now etch a treasured place in my life experiences, a trail I can revisit in memory. Fortunately, if memory fails, I have written down the accumulated steps on these pages and mapped most of them for posterity. The year's dominating news stories, the Presidential election season and the financial meltdown, crept into many of these walks, even while purporting to be about something else. While I was walking through Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth , for example, the Wall Street crisis informed how I read the book and vice versa. Indeed, the mayhem played out in the financial news rivaled many of the city's honored fictional tales of wealth, social class, gossip and scandal. One important thing I learned this year - Mediocre New York novels only focus on the wealthy, while the great ones involve the anxiety of status and class. In retrospect, th

Happy Holidays, One and All (and All Y'All)

Happy holidays! And a very special thank you to all the regular readers and subscribers. Walking Off the Big Apple is now on holiday break. I will return December 29 with new posts and a look back at memorable walks from 2008. Cheers! Keep on walking. - Teri

How Not to Shop in the World's Largest Department Store

I decided to finish most all of my shopping for the holidays at Macy's in Herald Square. My logic was that I would probably find all the items on my list in this one enormous department store. Turns out I was right, and after a couple of hours, I happily left the store with my Macy's shopping bags and then headed to the nearby subway station. Once in the train car, I found an available seat amidst many other New Yorkers with their own Macy's bags. Shopping at Macy's the week before Christmas seems insane to some people, because the store is generally crowded with holiday shoppers. This wasn't the case when I visited, but I hesitate to offer this one anecdotal observation as a sign of the recession. It could be the case. Nevertheless, shoppers tended to gravitate toward the sale items, and there were many bargains. As my taste in clothes, housewares, art and cosmetics tends to fall into the category of "too expensive," I try to buy just a few high-quality t

On New York Street Corners and Elsewhere: President-Elect Gifts for the Holidays

I'm enjoying the Obama-related merchandise on the streets this season, and I've had to restrain myself not to buy a whole lot of it. Many of the items for sale that feature the President-elect can be found on street corners by individuals who have also designed them and are enthusiastic fans. I was completely taken with the cool Obama calendar depicted here on the right, because the senator looks so movie-star cool and BAD. Look at him! He's full of action, stepping out of the car. He's on it. He looks like a secret agent man! I bought this calendar, as well as the one illustrating Obama's prophetic rise to power (on the left), from a guy with a table on a corner near Astor Place. He had several more posters for sale, including the incoming First Family in a holiday picture. I really had a hard time deciding. Yesterday, while shopping at Macy's, I found these Obama-themed chocolate bars, and I'll be slipping these into stockings on Christmas Eve. Of course,

At Bryant Park, A Lesson in Curling from the Canadians (A Slideshow)

The Canadians have been generous to New Yorkers this holiday, providing the amusement of Celsius, their temporary restaurant and bar in Bryant Park, with special Wednesday night events. Today, they brought us a lesson in curling, a sport that looks to the novice much like a busy housekeeping chore on ice, with its swishing of the broom. The event was called "Curl Up with Canada," a cute enough name not to miss. Seeing the sport in person for the first time, like I did this afternoon, made me appreciate its subtlety and skill. As our friends to the north set up a nice prize package for those willing to try their hand at curling, many people lined up to take their turn. A woman way older than me took a shot at it, and she did pretty well. I didn't stick around to see who won, but I stayed around long enough to learn some of the terminology. It was clear to me that it was harder than it looked to direct the stone rock to the house .

O. Henry's Thoughts on Fourth Avenue

"Fourth Avenue--born and bred in the Bowery--staggers northward full of good resolutions." - O. Henry, "A Bird of Bagdad" O. Henry's sentence above about Fourth Avenue should count among his most clever lines. As the Bowery earned a rowdy reputation during the writer's time, his comparison of the meandering stretch of Fourth Avenue to a staggering drunk man returning home is witty and perhaps semi-autobiographical. After carousing in the Bowery, Fourth Avenue would seem the most obvious way to stagger north toward Irving Place, O. Henry's own bustling street, walking off the night's indulgence, "full of good resolutions." As O. Henry notes in his story "A Bird of Bagdad," Fourth Avenue seems a poor little relative of its lively parallel streets. "The high-born sister boulevard to the west" refers to Broadway, and "its roaring, polyglot, broad-waisted cousin to the east" could refer to Irving Place, but mo

O. Henry's Christmas Stories of New York's Working Poor

T he writer William Sydney Porter, known as O. Henry, wrote several Christmas tales in addition to "The Gift of the Magi." A couple of the stories are set in rural areas of Texas and the American West, as Porter lived and worked on ranches as a young man. Porter was a banker in Austin, Texas until his conviction on embezzlement charges, changing his name to O. Henry only after he was set free from the Ohio penitentiary. Some speculate that he was inspired to choose his new pen name from the place of his incarceration. Like "The Gift of the Magi," his New York Christmas stories often emphasize the bittersweet meaning of the season among the working poor, and his best character portraits are those of the down and out. Reading passages from O. Henry 's Christmas stories, published a hundred years ago, can ring uncomfortably true today: Everywhere the spirit of Christmas was diffusing itself. The banks were refusing loans, the pawn-brokers had doubled their gang

A Walk for a New York Christmas: Part IV. Exploring Irving Place

W hen he lived at 55 Irving Place, O. Henry believed, like so many others, that Washington Irving once resided down the street. Irving was more of a downtown guy, and he probably never lived along in here, but that didn't stop a 19th-century real estate man, the same guy who developed Gramercy Park to the north and gave this area its new Irving name, from making the whole thing up. The rumor was that Irving lived specifically at 49 Irving Place, a corner house occupied during O. Henry's time by Elsie de Wolfe, the first important professional interior designer, and her companion, Elisabeth Marbury. Elsie was known for her salons, and so having people over all the time to talk about ideas is a good place to spread rumors. It's nice, however, that there's this connection between O. Henry and Washington Irving. These two writers, along with Clement Clarke Moore, helped shaped the way Christmas is understood in the popular American imagination. View Larger Map Never mind th

A Walk for a New York Christmas: Part III. O. Henry and "The Gift of the Magi"

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all." Sometime in 1905, in Pete's Tavern on the corner of Irving Place and E. 18th, short story writer O. Henry sat in his favorite booth, allegedly the second from the front, and quickly wrote "The Gift of the Magi, " a story we can assume, in contrast to Clement Clarke Moore's "A Visit from St. Nicholas," to be his own intellectual property. The holiday tale wasn't his first Christmas story - "Whistling Dick's Christmas Stocking" in the December 1899 issue of McClure's Magazine may claim that honor, nor was it a great work of literature, but the story, published originally in The New York World, gained a sentimental following. In contrast to the warm and affluent coziness depicted in Clement Clarke Moore's poem of the 1820s, with its traditional nuclear family, a nice house, carefully-hung stockings, and a lawn with new fallen snow, etc., "The Gift of the Magi,&quo

A Walk for a New York Christmas: Part II. Exploring 16th Street, From Chelsea to Irving Place

The Christmas-themed walk that began in Clement Clarke Moore's Chelsea continues now to Irving Place. Once there, we'll celebrate the short story writer O. Henry and his holiday stories, especially "The Gift of the Magi." While it's an easy walk from west to east (and almost any street from 14th to 20th Streets would do), 16th Street, with its variety of architectural facades and some little-known wonders, affords a very nice way to connect the west and east sides in this part of Manhattan. I was clued into the virtues of 16th Street while thumbing through the AIA Guide to New York City (Fourth Editon) by White and Willensky. All self-respecting New York walkers and flâneurs need this entertaining reference book, and if they don't own a copy, they certainly need to get with the program. Well, anyway, the guide notes several places along W. 16th worthy of our attention, especially between Seventh and Fifth Avenues, including apartment buildings from the 187

A Walk for a New York Christmas: Part I. Clement Clarke Moore's Chelsea

In 1822, wealthy New York scholar and poet Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), a resident of the Chelsea neighborhood, wrote the famous Christmas poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," known widely as "Twas the Night Before Christmas." The poem first appeared in a Troy, New York newspaper in 1823 with "anonymous" listed as the author, and Moore acknowledged authorship in 1844 after the poem became a standard. Some scholars suggest he appropriated a poem authored by Major Henry Livingston, Jr. (1748-1828) and turned it into the most famous Christmas poem of all time. Clement Clarke Moore Park, located at 10th Avenue and 22nd Street, was once the Clarke family estate. The house, located at what is now Eighth Avenue and West 23rd, was called "Chelsea," named for a old soldier's hospital in London. "Chelsea," as we know, became the name for the surrounding neighborhood. At the time he wrote "A Visit From St. Nicholas," Clement Mo

A Walk for a New York Christmas: From Clement Clarke Moore's Chelsea to O. Henry's Irving Place (Introduction)

Many of the ways we think of Christmas, in most of its secular and popular forms - the chubby Santa and his reindeer, the new fallen snow, the warm hearth donned with Christmas stockings, family and friends celebrating in cheer, can trace its roots to the pens of two New York native sons, Washington Irving (1783-1859) and Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863). As I wrote in a post from the holiday past , "Irving made Christmas an important holiday in the United States, reworking Dutch folk tales of Saint Nicholas to invent the jolly, though obese, Santa Claus and publishing popular "sketches" of the time he spent Christmas in rural England with an aristocratic family." His contemporary, Clement C. Moore, is credited with writing the poem, "A Visit From St. Nicholas," known widely as "Twas the Night Before Christmas," a classic that still serves as the template for how young children, especially in the United States, understand what's taking place

Inside 590 Madison Avenue Last Week: A Curious Convergence of Pop Art, Stock Cars, and Cheese

From Walking Off the Big Apple While out strolling along the Fifth Avenue store windows last week , I wandered into the Trump Tower atrium for a bit to look around, and then I walked into the adjacent atrium of 590 Madison Avenue (formerly known as the IBM building). And what to my wondering eyes should appear, but an odd convergence of Jean Dubuffet, Mozzarelle di Bufala, and NASCAR all here? "Twas a strange sight, the NASCAR cars parked inside the lobby of this early '80s bamboo-ed, glassy atrium. The occasion for the cars was NASCAR's annual New York Victory Week. But more kooky 'twas this pop mix-tape of the cars with Dubuffet's Welcome Parade and the newish mozzarella bar, Obikà. The latter features Mozzarella di Bufala Campana DOP, a premium cheese made from the milk of water buffalo cows, and all the trimmings. Just like NASCAR fans like it. Jean Dubuffet's sculptures were originally designed for I.M. Pei's East Wing of the National Gallery, but th

New York Holiday Windows on Fifth Avenue: A Slideshow, and An Appreciation

Strolling the blocks along Fifth Avenue from 49th St. up to 59th Street provides almost everything anyone could want out of the holiday season. Here we find the creative talent of the department store windows - and this year, the smash hits are those of Bergdorf-Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue; the Rockefeller Center Tree and ice rink, and the holiday music and wonders of St. Patrick's Cathedral across the way; the grand hotels such as the St. Regis, and more. In this slideshow (in order): Saks Fifth Avenue, Cartier, Rockefeller Center, St. Regis Hotel, Disney Store, Trump Tower, Tiffany & Co., Bergdorf-Goodman, James Bond Omega ad, Prada, and Henri Bendel. Images by Walking Off the Big Apple, December 5, 2008. I arrived on the scene yesterday in a downbeat mood, all thanks to taking too much of the economic gloom to heart, but after listening to a high school choir sing Christmas songs in Saint Patrick's Cathedral and seeing the wonders of ice-skating and the winter sc

All Shopped Out, Maybe It's Something I Read

While visions of Roubini danced in my head... Shopping for holiday gifts is peculiar this year, thanks to the grim economic news. The beautiful objects in the store windows seem far away, unreachable, as if there's some sort of veil separating object and possession. It's not like that I'm a poor child pressing her nose on the window of a candy store and wanting the treats inside; rather, I have somehow lost my desire for them. The once-certain passion for material things, driven by psychologies of success and attainment and fueled by the advertising industry and deep-rooted cultural traditions, was the real bubble that burst this autumn. That's a big problem when consumers drive two-thirds of the American economy. I like to read all the articles and columns about the doom-and-gloom, especially the words of Dr. Doom himself, Nouriel Roubini. He is so gloomy. He's the NYU Stern School of Business Professor of Economics and International Business who has correctly

A List of Recommended Books of the Year: Drawing Babar, William Eggleston, Ada Louise Huxtable, Oscar Hammerstein II , and More

Regular readers of these pages are likely to share my fondness for literature and the arts. Each holiday I compile a wish list of recently published books along with a couple of previously published titles that I'd like to add to my library. It's always hard to winnow down the list. I must confess that I've already bought and read several of the books below, because I just couldn't wait till the holidays. I take great pleasure in compiling my annual list, because I make my selections by walking to and then browsing the independent booksellers in my neighborhood. There, I can find books that would never occur to me. Somewhere nearby, I can alight to a nearby café and read . I've stated the list price here, though it's easy to find most of these books at a discount. The first set of books are catalogues that accompanied some of the this year's most critically-accaimed art exhibitions in New York. Anyone who visits a worthy exhibition would like to learn more a

Beating the True Path to Greenwich Village (from Fifth Avenue)

Where there's a will there's a way. When extensive renovations to the fountain area and the northwest quadrant of Washington Square Park commenced last year, people who regularly walked between lower Fifth Avenue and the Village south of the park found themselves in a predicament. Normally, the fountain area itself is the means by which to efficiently move between these two neighborhoods of Greenwich Village (different worlds really), but with a fence constructed around the fountain, walkers were forced to use a path near the eastern perimeter of the park to make the journey. It was out of the way and a hassle. It seemed unnatural and unfair to interrupt this small, familiar routine. As the days turned into weeks and months, enterprising sojourners with an eye for a straight line began to beat a more efficient path between Fifth Avenue and the area south of the park. The path took shape between the Washington Square Arch and the playground, just next to the temporary fence. A l

Rainy Day New York: Subway Stops Near Major NYC Attractions

See updated recommendations here . A rainy day in New York City can pose a few challenges for seeing the city, but many attractions are indoors. The subway, depending upon one's proximity to a station, may be the best and most convenient means of maneuvering New York City in disappointing weather. Locate a subway stop near a favorite shopping destination, landmark, or a museum, and you are good to go. Here is a list of recommended subway stops in or near a major NYC attraction: • Eastern Parkway-Brooklyn Museum 2, 3: Just outside the  Brooklyn Museum . • Bowling Green Station, 4, 5: Near the main steps of the  National Museum of the American Indian   (the former Custom House). • W. 4th St., A, B, C, D, E, F, V: There's always a movie. The  IFC Center  on 6th Avenue shows the best of independent film.  • W. 14th St. A, C, E. Make a mad dash west to  Chelsea Market  on 9th Avenue between W. 15th and W. 16th and go on a food spree. • 34th Street-H

Looking Back on Thanksgiving Week: Jones Street, Papabubble, New Museum, Star Trek Art, and More

Thanksgiving Week began for me on Monday when the sun came out after several days of rainy weather. Recovering from a cold and a sore knee, the result of wearing the wrong pair of glasses, misunderstanding the distance from the street to the sidewalk, and then falling down, I wandered, well, hobbled, northwest on Bleecker Street and, later, the same direction on 4th Street. After the rainy weather, and given my state of mind, I thought the streets looked like they were recovering from a trauma. I stopped to gaze down Jones Street , wanting to see the street again after mentioning it in an earlier post about Johnny Mercer . He lived along in here in the early 1930s when he was a young, struggling songwriter /actor/Wall Street errand boy. It's an unhurried block of a street, nestled between the far busier Bleecker and W. 4th Streets, and it looks like it can weather good and bad times. I was on one of these walks that have no purpose and no destination, plus I was walking slow, so I

The Surrealistic Spectacle of the Inflatable Shrek, and Other Creatures: Thanksgiving Eve on the Upper West Side (A Slideshow)

Shrek rests. The inflation of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons on the evening before the parade appeals to the surrealist in everyone, and judging by the size of the crowds on hand last night, there's nothing quite like it. Seeing favorite cartoon characters wrapped in their netting while trucks pump tens of thousands of cubic feet of helium into their bodies seems mighty weird. It looked like a fantasy triage unit. I arrived early in the event, at dusk, and I made my way from the corner of Central Park West and 81st Street west on 81st to Columbus Ave, past the inflating Shrek, Beethoven the dog, Kermit the Frog, Pikachu, and Horton the Elephant, not necessarily in that order. Eventually, I bailed out of the crowd, choosing to see the balloons on 79th St. from a distance. But what fun! (Those of you receiving WOTBA by email may need to visit the main site to see the slideshow.) Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Images by Walking Off the Big Apple. Wednesday, No

Selected List of Events for NYC Thanksgiving Week and Beyond: Balloon Inflation, Sondheim, Cindy Sherman, Zabar's, and more

Here's my To-Do list (and one Not-To-Do, I'll let you guess) for the upcoming holiday week in the big city. While I eagerly await the feast with friends and family on Thursday, I'm compiling here a list of city entertainments in and around the festive day that others, too, may enjoy. Balloon Inflation (see pix, posted Thursday morning): Wednesday, November 26, 2008, approximately 4:00 PM – 8:00 PM. Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade Balloon Inflation. Central Park West and Columbus Avenue on 77th and 81st Streets. On the evening before Thanksgiving, many New Yorkers like to go up to the Upper West Side and watch the inflation of the balloons on the streets around the American Museum of Natural History, but then on Thanksgiving morning, these same New Yorkers will try to avoid midtown by any means necessary. Holiday Market @ Union Square: Union Square Market Hours: Monday - Friday 11 am to 8 pm; Saturdays 10 am to 8 pm; Sundays 11 am to 7 pm; Christmas Eve: Open 10 am – 4 p

Escape from Savannah, 1928: Young John Mercer Moves to New York

During my stroll last week through the historic sections of Savannah, Georgia, a visit that included Flannery O'Connor's childhood home and many moss-covered trees, I meandered over to the Mercer-Williams House. Most know this landmark from The Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil as the house built by General Hugh W. Mercer, the great grandfather of songwriter Johnny Mercer. Neither the General nor Johnny Mercer ever lived there. Jim Williams bought the place in 1969 with the intent to restore it to its former glory, and the house is where the murder depicted in Berendt's book took place. The architect of the original house, a New York native named John S. Norris, was proficient in the styles of the era and designed some of the most important buildings in pre-Civil War Savannah, including this house, the Andrew Low House, and the Unitarian Church. The construction began in 1860 and was completed after the war. Norris returned to NYC at the outbreak of the war. As d