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Showing posts from June, 2008

Walking Off The Bell Jar: The Wicked City

Esther Greenwood, the protagonist and narrator of Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar (first published in 1963 in England under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas), doesn't care much for the New York of June of 1953. The budding writer has come to the city to work at a woman's fashion magazine, one of a dozen winners of a national essay competition. She, along with her fellow editors, lives in the Amazon, a proper boarding house for women in midtown Manhattan. She doesn't know what she's doing in the city. In the first chapter, she tells us all she can think about is the execution by electric chair of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, New York-born American citizens found guilty of spying for Russia, at the Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York. The New York of The Bell Jar is gray, rainy, and flat, a phantasmagoria, an acute visual metaphor for "the man in the grey flannel suit." The fresh air that arrives at night dissolves by morning, givi

Walking Off the Sultry Summer of 1953: The New York of The Bell Jar

During one bright fall of my Texas high school years, I fantasized about my imminent life as a writer in New York. I had applied to three of the Seven Sisters colleges and imagined a career track that would take me after graduation to the city. I would work for a magazine or a book publisher, write small effective essays to establish my literary voice, and live in the company of other young women in some place like the Barbizon. My mother, too, encouraged this ambition, looking forward to visiting my ivy campus where I'd be in company with nice girls from established East Coast families. I would get married, too, eventually, and I even thought a nice English poet boy would be a good choice. The future looked clear. Then one day a friend of similar literary passions gave me a copy of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar . She said, and I'll never forget it, "You need to read this book. She reminds me of you ." OK, thanks. I'll read it. As was my habit in high school,

This Just In: AP Reports that Everything is Out of Control

This morning, as soon as I got a grip on cleaning the kitchen, I noticed that my personal news ticker machine started spewing out reams of paper from the Associated Press reporting that things are falling apart and the center cannot hold. ( AP wire report here) The wire report argues that the natural and man-made chaos of late - floods, home devaluations, stock market shakiness, food scarcities, etc., threatens to undermine the myths of American individualism and free will. Furthermore, nothing will help get it back, the AP reports, including sublimating the Horatio Alger can-do spirit through sports spectatorship. Baseball players have spun of control, too, obviously victims of their own injected speed. The AP editors decided to release this information to the general public around 4 a.m. this morning ET. Apparently, while America slept, more things spun out of control. I was ready to dismiss the story as bogus until I read about the four separate incidents in NYC this weekend of auto

On the Roof with Jeff Koons' Balloon Dog and Everyone Else

As I was walking to the Met to meet some friends, one of them called and told me to expect something of a wait at the elevators. Evidently many people decided yesterday that the Met's Roof Café was the place to be at dusk. I decided to leave Jeff Koons' cult of celebrity at the door and to appreciate his sculptures as well-crafted objects. The materials of Balloon Dog (Yellow), 1994-2000, Coloring Book, 1997-2005, and Sacred Heart (Red/Gold), 1994-2007 - high chromium stainless steel with transparent coating - encourages literal reflections and an appreciation for the interplay between the heavy materials and the content that's lighter than air. The big red and yellow-bowed Sacred Heart , by the way, is a dead ringer for a local Italian bakery's wrapped hollow chocolate egg. Add some drinks, company and a jaw-dropping setting into the mix, and you're good to go for a colorful summer evening. With the balloon dog as a centerpiece, the gathering felt like a

Washington Square Park: Rewind the Memories (A Nostalgic Slideshow)

Washington Square Park, images from 2006-2007, before the current renovations. The fountain area you see here has since been torn up, and a new fountain, realigned in symmetry with the Arch and Fifth Avenue, is taking its place. Much of Washington Square Park is currently fenced off for the renovations, disappointing many visitors. I've been really missing the old place, so I've assembled some seasonal memories. See also previous post from December 11, 2007 , the day the music died. OK, not really. Some fine jazz musicians still swing in the park, and many amateur musicians continue to break out the C-E-G chords.

Bites of the Apple: My Flâneuring Mojo, Water Taxis, Bucky Fuller, and Much Ado About Le Poisson Rouge

Returning home from my weekly indulgence at L'Arte del Gelato on 7th, I walked past the intersection of Bleecker and MacDougal, once a hopping bastion of outdoor café dining with four cafes on each corner. Now only half of them are in business. Cafe Figaro on the SE has recently thrown in the dish towel, joining the long departed garcons at the NW corner. That leaves Cafe del Mare holding up the SW corner and Ciao! Vineria con Cucina on the NE. I like my cafe corners to be at full occupancy, so I see the proverbial wine glass half empty here. I'm starting to make lists of all the shops, cafés, and saloons opening and closing in my neighborhood, because so many quick shutterings and reopenings are messing with my flâneuring mojo. I'm not married to permanence, but I like to walk some familiar streets without feeling like each walk is an introduction to Greenwich Village. As soon as I start liking a place, I go back and it's gone. I feel like I'm losing my memory or e

A Walk Through the South Village below West Houston Street, and Stopping to Eat (and a Map)

(Note: A shocking number of these places have closed since this post was published in June of 2008.) An area of tenement buildings with well-preserved late 19th and early 20th century architecture, the South Village below Houston Street features small specialty shops, restaurants, and cafes in a friendly, well-balanced and human-scaled neighborhood. While the streets of Thompson, Sullivan, and MacDougal north of Houston are well-known and well-trod by the beatnik-loving poets and beer-loving collegians among us, the blocks south offer more restrained entertainments. Once a bastion of the Italian-American community, the area still features a few Italian cafes and shops, and St. Anthony of Padua Church serves as a gateway into the neighborhood. The many restaurants, bars and cafes of the South Village fit comfortably into the common categories of "casually elegant" and "elegantly casual," and none are too pretentious to visit. In fact, this area of the South Villa

West 10th Street, From Fifth Avenue to Waverly Place

With the steamy, stormy, and unpredictable weather of late in New York, though not as devastating as the floods in the Midwest, for sure, I've been sidetracked from my usual longer walks in favor of shorter outings. Yesterday afternoon, I walked up from Washington Square Park north on Fifth Avenue and then west on W. 10th Street. I didn't have anything special in mind, other than enjoying the elegant architecture that lines the street just off Fifth. Writer Christopher Gray, in the July 6, 1997 issue of the NYT, began an essay about the street with the line, "For some people, West 10th Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues is the most beautiful block in New York City." I am one of those people. At the northwest corner of 10th and Fifth, the Church of the Ascension was just letting out the 11 a.m. service. A beautiful 19th century church with a diverse Episcopal congregation, the interior is worth visiting for the stained glass by painter John La Farge and altar by A

June 16, Bloomsday in New York

Note: This is an annual event. For more information, see this page on the Symphony Space website . Today is Bloomsday, a high holy day for literary-minded flâneurs. Come to think of it, no self-respecting flâneur should be walking around today without such knowledge. Today is the today we celebrate Leopold Bloom' s stroll through the streets of Dublin on June 16, 1904 by pretending we have understood vast swaths of James Joyce's Ulysses and by making up for it by drinking Irish whiskey on the rocks and reading his prose out loud to inebriated friends. We'll also tune into various world-wide marathon broadcasts of famous actors with Irish names reading long passages from the scandalous modern novel, or we'll show up in person to Irish pubs that feature lengthy open mic readings. This evening in New York, a city with an historically large Irish-American population, we can attend a star-studded reading of at least part of Ulysses at Symphony Space or catch the web br

Call for Entries for My Friend's Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest in Massachusetts

My good friend Tinky "Dakota" Weisblat runs the Pudding Hollow Pudding Contest every year in rural northwestern Massachusetts. Tinky was the most popular girl in my graduate school in Texas, and I liked hanging out with her because she was funny and liked to entertain. One day a whole bunch of us were sitting around her place and decided to adopt state names as our middle names. She took the best one, Dakota, and it kind of stuck. I highly recommend her book, The Pudding Hollow Cookbook, for its excellent New England recipes and for her idyllic portrait of her hill town home. I thought I'd pass on Tinky's Pudding Contest Call for Entries to readers in the hope that the creative New York chefs among us would come up with something original and fabulous. Do read the fine print of the contest rules on the website, however, because it says there, among other things, that contestants will need to travel to Charlemont, Massachusetts for the final round on October 18. Th

Bites of the Apple: A Selection of Events in New York This Weekend, June 13-15, 2008

Greetings. I've been out walking the streets, as is my habit, enjoying watching the couples of various types at seemingly every New York intersection pouring over their various maps of New York. This sight of the two heads leaning together and looking over their pocket maps of the city is so common that I surmise a variety of scenarios: 1. It takes two to read a map. 2. It takes two to argue about where to go next. 3. The two are totally lost, and one of them has persuaded the other that they need a map. Maps are nice, and I can't wait for everyone to load up all the Walking Off the Big Apple maps (cute sleeping dog alert) on the forthcoming IPhone. Though I have problems with people walking and talking on the phone at the same time, I want one. With the GPS feature, I even look forward to stalking my own self. On the other hand, it's also fun to wander around the boroughs without such guidance, Manhattan especially, and to discover things independently of cartography'

The East River & Roosevelt Island Walk: Guide and Map

View Larger Map The walk south along Manhattan's East River from Carl Schurz Park and Gracie Mansion in the E. 80s to near the Queensboro Bridge near 59th affords great views of the river and Roosevelt Island to the east, but the traffic fumes from the FDR Highway are enough to jettison this section of the walk altogether. Skip to the chase, and find your way to Roosevelt Island. I say "find your way to Roosevelt Island," because access to the island - by tram, which as of this writing is off line for repairs; by bus, Q102, which involves Queens; and the F train, which involves anxiety - is so limited that the residents could over time develop a unique culture, fashion and language. Watch for the beginnings of this process when the tram shuts down for months in 2009. Even without the prospect that New York's very own Ile de la Cité could take a different path on the F train to evolution, Roosevelt Island already exudes la difference . I've never seen anyt

The South Tip of Roosevelt Island: Ruminations on a Planned Memorial

Ed. note- UPDATES. Plans to build the memorial have advanced since I first wrote this post. See NYT City Room item by Sewell Chan, "Plans for Long-Stalled FDR Memorial Move Forward," September 25, 2008 . On June 25, 2009, according to an article in Architectural Record , "the Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation (RIOC) voted 7 to 1 in favor of the proposal, with one member not present." Work is scheduled to begin in mid-August 2009. 2011 Update - See official site for Four Freedoms Park . _____________ Beyond the Renwick Ruins on the south end of Roosevelt Island, the island tapers to a point. Standing still on this rare unfinished land invites a sense of quiet wonder. Such a blessing, I thought, to discover a place still so natural in the midst of the dense metropolis, especially in the context of the city's building boom. Earlier in the day I had walked through many loud and busy construction sites in the Upper East Side, and I was grateful to find

A Comparison of New York's Roosevelt Island and Paris' Île de la Cité: Pourquoi Pas?

View Larger Map View Larger Map Why not invite a comparative discussion of Roosevelt Island in New York and the Île de la Cité in Paris? The islands both occupy important geographical sites within rivers of major world cities, one in the East River and the other in the Seine. The islands both served as locations for historic prisons - Blackwell's Island Penitentiary in New York and The Conciergerie in Paris, and both incarcerated famous women - Mae West, Emma Goldman, and Billie Holiday in NYC and Marie Antoinette, Charlotte Corday, and Madame du Barry in Paris. Large hospital complexes dominate the past and present of both islands, the legacy of the ancient practice of shifting patients with contagious diseases to areas of isolation and quarantine. The Hotel Dieu, founded in 651, is the oldest hospital in France. Both Roosevelt Island and the Île de la Cité feature Gothic architecture - the Renwick Ruin, formerly the Smallpox Hospital, designed in Gothic Revival style by ar

The East River and Roosevelt Island Walk, Part Three: The Renwick Ruins, or, The Smallpox Hospital

Tour Guide Narration: Known as the Renwick Ruins, in honor of architect James Renwick, the architect of St. Patrick's Cathedral and Grace Church, the crumbling edifice of the 1854 Smallpox Hospital at the southern end of Roosevelt Island looks much like the picturesque Gothic ruins of England. The Gothic Revival structure, granted the status of Landmark Site by the Landmarks Preservation Committee in 1975 on the basis of its picturesque ruination, is now undergoing a $4 million stabilization process in order to stem the tide of accelerating decay. There are no plans to restore the building and admit new smallpox patients. When I came upon the sight of the ruins on my walk, I was indeed transported into a nineteenth-century state of the picturesque. I look forward to returning to the ruins with a drawing set and some watercolors. As I was leaving, I spotted many squirrels, birds, and a wild black cat frolicking amidst the decay. The Renwick Ruins fall within the future site of S

The East River and Roosevelt Island Walk: Part Two, The Ride Over to the Island (Vertigo Slideshow)

Tour Guide Narration: Historically home to correctional facilities and hospitals, the island, previously called Minnahononc (by native Americans), Blackwell's Island (by the family that once owned it), and Welfare Island (named for the penitentiary that once operated there), Roosevelt Island (renamed in 1973 in anticipation of a Louis Kahn memorial that was never built) is now poised to burst at its seams. A population of 10,000 is projected to grow to an estimated 18,000 two years from now. You've seen this tram in movies, and you may remember the incident in April 2006 when people got stuck on two trams over the East River for seven hours. There is a thrill factor here. Because the transportation authorities would like less of a thrill, the tram is scheduled to be down for maintenance from June 10 through 18, and in 2009 the system will be shut down for at least six months in a $25 million overhaul. Be advised to work around these dates. Because of the expansion of the

The East River and Roosevelt Island Walk: Part One, The East River, Manhattan, From 86th to 59th St.

I thought I had planned a pleasant walk yesterday, from Gracie Mansion and Carl Schurtz Park at around 86th Street and then south along the East River to the Queensboro Bridge. I wanted to spend some time in the park, one of the city's oldest, with graceful trees and Calvert Vaux's artful landscaping. I also wanted to see the river from there and the pleasant view of the Triborough Bridge to the north and Roosevelt Island's north point, with its lighthouse, to the east. I enjoyed my time in the park and all the views, but the stroll south along the East River left something to be desired. As I walked southward along the river, the stroll that began as a pleasant outing in the park descended by increments into a mistake. With the East River flowing on one side and the vehicular traffic of FDR drive flowing north in the lane to my right (as in the image at top), and with the sun beating down on a minimalist long stretch of walkway, I started feeling trapped, dizzy,

Coming This Weekend: A Walk Through Dystopia, Followed By a Visit to an Abandoned Smallpox Hospital and Then Bloomingdale's

This weekend I will describe one of my most unusual walks yet - beginning at the subway stop at 86th and Lexington, then east on 86th to Carl Schurz Park and Gracie Mansion, then down to the Queensboro Bridge along the East River, followed by a tram ride to Roosevelt Island and soon after, a visit to the Smallpox Hospital at the south end. Finally, I end up at Bloomingdale's. Image: on the way to Roosevelt Island, via the tram.

Walking News Digest: Brooklyn IKEA to Include Esplanade, Tribeca Section of Hudson River Park to Open in July, and Why the Swiss Are Svelte

• A new Brooklyn IKEA store, 1 Beard Street in Red Hook, will open at 9 a.m. June 18. What caught my eye in the New York Times story about the new IKEA is the store's planned 6.5 acre waterfront esplanade with wonderful views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline. Fashionable strolling awaits. Another lovely feature is a free water taxi to the store from Pier 11 that runs 40 minutes daily from 10 a.m. to 8:20 p.m. More about the planned esplanade itself in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle . • In addition to the opening of the esplanade in Red Hook, I should note that an additional section of the Hudson River Park in Tribeca will open soon. The Hudson River Park Trust has announced this large swath of waterfront land from Pier 40 down to Pier 26 will be open to the public around the Fourth of July. The section will include a boardwalk as well as basketball and tennis courts. See NYT story: A New TriBeCa Addition to Hudson River Park . The Hudson River Park Trust is celebratin

Marisol's American Merchant Mariners' Memorial at the Battery

Among the many sculptures and memorials that line Battery Park and Battery Park City, several invite closer inspection, description and analysis. The American Merchant Mariners' Memorial, just to the south of Pier A in Battery Park, is one such example. Here, sculptor Marisol Escobar, one of the most significant artists of the Pop era and a long-time resident of Lower Manhattan, depicts merchant marines on a sinking lifeboat. Inspired by a photograph that showed the victims of a U boat attack on an American tanker, the 1991 memorial is dedicated to all of the American merchant mariners from the Revolutionary war to the present. The names of 6700 merchant seamen lost at sea in WWI and WWII are inscribed in the boat's interior. At top a mariner kneels and stares forward while another braces his footing on the capsizing boat while crying out for help. Just below, a crewman lies down to get into position in order to rescue their shipmate who has fallen into the water. Half sub

Updates: Forward Building in the News with Tatum O'Neal Drug Bust

A quick celebrity news item, only because of its relevance to recent developments on this website: Actress Tatum O'Neal, 44, was arrested Sunday evening, June 1, for attempting to purchase crack cocaine from a homeless drug dealer. The arrest took place in the Lower East Side on Clinton Street between Grand Street and East Broadway. She should have limited her purchases to her neighborhood's excellent baked goods . News stories, such as this one in the New York Post , reveal that the actress had been living in the Forward Building on East Broadway in the Lower East Side. Readers of Walking Off the Big Apple will be familiar with the building from my description of this former home of the Yiddish-language socialist newspaper in a recent walk . In addition, those who have read Richard Price's new book, Lush Life, a crime story set on the lower East Side, will find in this arrest the familiar themes of cocaine and upscale gentrification evoked in the novel. Housekeeping item