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Showing posts from July, 2008

Making My Own MANHATTA

Paul Strand and the painter and photographer Charles Sheeler collaborated on a short film in 1921 titled Manhatta. The idea for the film came about when Sheeler showed Strand his new DeBrie movie camera, and Strand said he wanted to make a film about New York in motion. Strand, a New York native and noted still photographer, had studied photography with Lewis Hine at the Ethical Culture School and then came to be associated with Alfred Stieglitz's 291 Gallery. As a photographer he was attracted to the aesthetics of the machine as well as to watching his fellow New Yorkers as they moved about the city. Sheeler often carefully painted the geometries of the urban landscape in the style known as Precisionist, and so the two shared a similar vision for the work.


("After Manhatta," Wall Street, 2008," morning, July 30, 2008, with a Nikon E2500 QuickTime feature. Walking Off the Big Apple.)

Manhatta is considered one of the first avant-garde films in the United States. Depic…

Walking New York: St. Luke's Place and Marianne Moore, Sports Fan

Marianne Moore (1887-1972) was a celebrated poet and public figure in the life of New York City. She often wore a back tricorne hat and cap about town, and she was conversant in the sporting life of the city. She followed baseball games with great enthusiasm, and she enjoyed the races at Belmont. She met Muhammad Ali (Cassius Clay at the time) through her friend George Plimpton. On the wintry evening of February 19, 1965, she sat ringside at Madison Square Garden for the Floyd Patterson-George Chuvalo fight with Plimpton, Norman Mailer, and Phillip Roth following a pre-fight dinner in her honor, and afterwards, they all went to Toots Shor's nightclub. A famous A-List celebrity in 1966, she was invited to Truman Capote's famous Black and White Ball at the Plaza Hotel.

Moore was an entertaining woman with a great sense of personal style. She loved witty chat. She penned such wonderful descriptive letters to her friends and family that T.S. Eliot predicated that the published lett…

Vacationing in the New World

Leaving the monumental man-made vertical mayhem that is New York City and arriving at this serenely natural and horizontal setting in St. Mary's County in southern Maryland took a few days of planned detours, but the journey seemed longer. After securing a rental car near University Place and parking outside our building's entrance, we loaded the suitcases, the bag of snacks, the totes for all the recharging devices - for the phones, the cameras, and the laptops, the bag of dog food and treats, and finally the dogs, beyond eager to jump up on the back seats, and headed toward the Holland Tunnel a few blocks away. Surely, we forgot something, I think. Exiting the island city via the orange lights of the Holland Tunnel always seems a liminal moment, that in-between pause between experiencing the city from within it, as we do when we live here, and then looking at it anew and at a distance, as we do when we emerge from the light on the other side.

Anyone traveling in a car on a ro…

Walking New York: Theodore Dreiser on St. Luke's Place

The American journalist and novelist Theodore Dreiser (August 27, 1871-December 28, 1945), known for his hard-hitting realistic fiction, lived in several apartments and houses in New York, most of them in Greenwich Village. He lived on Bleecker Street, W. 10th St, 11th St, W. 15th, and the quaint little alley known as Patchin Place. After living upstate near Big Moose Lake to research the 1906 murder trial of Chester Gillette for the murder of Grace Brown, he moved to St. Luke's Place in 1924 to begin writing his novel, An American Tragedy.

Dreiser knew most everyone and every street in the neighborhood. One writer recalled seeing him at his place on St. Luke's Place in 1924 "working with his heavy head, too heavy even for his big body, held in his hands at the open window, trying to capture a mood or a color, laboring with words, arranging and rearranging them, with seldom a respite from his labors." The same writer recalled dropping in on Dreiser from time to time…

Walking New York: St. Luke's Place, The Mayor's House

James John Walker (1881-1946) or Jimmy Walker, sometimes known as Beau James, became Mayor of New York City in 1926 with the backing up Governor Al Smith and Tammany Hall. An Irish-American, Walker grew up in Greenwich Village and served in the State Assembly, representing Greenwich Village's district, and then in the state Senate before becoming mayor. His early years as mayor in the 1920s were successful as the city grew prosperous during the Jazz Age, and his term coincides with the many speakeasies of the Prohibition era. His residence on St. Luke's, in fact, is in close proximity to Chumley's, a favorite bar (now undergoing extensive reconstruction after an interior wall collapsed last year) with a speakeasy past. Walker's girlfriends tended to be chorus girls and show girls, and when he left office, he also left his wife, a vaudeville performer, for Betty Compton, a showgirl.

Jimmy Walker wrote songs, penning the words for the 1908 hit, "Will You Love Me in D…

Walking New York: St. Luke's Place, An Introduction

St. Luke's Place, the designation for a beautiful block of Leroy Street in the lower West Village west of 7th Avenue, is worth visiting just for its charming vine-covered Greek and Renaissance Revival townhouses, but it also exudes some powerful cultural and historical caché.

Line up the numbers of the houses, and the literary, artistic and political lives unfold

#1, once home of artist Theodore Roszak#4, the house of Audrey Hepburn's blind character in the movie Wait Until Dark#6, Mayor Jimmy Walker's dandy pad#10, the Huxtables (exterior shot for The Cosby Show)#11, publisher Max Eastman and later, Timothy O'Leary#12 once home to novelist Sherwood Anderson#12 1/2 attorney Leonard Boudin and his daughter Kathy (Weather Underground)#14 poet Marianne Moore, #15 painter Paul Cadmus#16, Theodore Dreiser, who starred writing An American Tragedy here. (Information source, thanks to New York Songlines.) I should like to point out that these people did not necessarily live on…

WOTBA 2.0: Walking Off the Big Apple and the IPhone 3G Experience

Well, that took all day.

After the sunny optimism of being only about the 200th customer at an ATT store on Broadway near 8th at 8 a.m., and finding camaraderie on line (word of the 1500 or so people at the Apple Soho nearby and how smart we were to stand there), and finding OK cheerleading from the support staff to help, and somewhat relieved I wasn't waiting for the bigger 16 GB (because all I need is WOTBA-on-the-go and not too many songs) as they sold out early, I made my way through the tender check-out process only to find out a little trouble on the home front with ITunes and the alarming global stampede at the gates of the concert.

By one o'clock, I felt like no longer like a chic sophisticated woman but more like an 18-year-old boy who has lived in his parent's basement for a couple of years and neglected to bathe and shave. At some point, I abandoned all the hardware and software for the healthier pursuit of fresh air and a walk with the dogs in the park. A bubble …

The Sun Appears, Villagers and their Spellin', a Problematic Intersection in Soho, the IPhone 3G, and a Lobster Roll

The sun came out today and lifted the steamy cloud that followed me throughout the holiday weekend. Herein are several short items gathered over the past several days, so this post should go down smooth. No required reading, although it occurred to me that I should start posting information about the books mentioned on this site. Accordingly, look for the Good Reads widget on the sidebar on this page, presuming that you're on the site and not reading the feed. Those who read WOTBA in a feed reader are welcome to come HOME from time to time, if only to do the laundry, get a sandwich, and read what's cookin' in the sidebar.

• I learned from reading the online New York Times that some of my fellow Villagers have difficulty with spellin'. (NYT CityRoom)

• A trippy cheap outer space staycation can be had by exploring the Tag Galaxy application for Flickr photos. By the way, Happy Paws, the pet boutique where I take the big dog to get her haircut, features an Outer Space room …

The All-Too-Quiet Greenwich Village 4th of July Weekend: Adios, Señor Swanky's

I'm feeling the old boho neighborhood half empty rather than half full this weekend. The Fourth of July holiday seemed quieter than usual, and I know that the main reason for the empty streets, aside from the tens of thousands that departed the city last Thursday via the Holland Tunnel, was the steamy humidity and persistent overcast skies. It always looked like it was going to rain even when it didn't.

Or, maybe I'm down because I've been reading too much Plath. Or maybe because I just watched seven hours of tennis, plus rain delays.

But, when I got out and about this morning, even before all the televised tennis and the sweat of the Federer-Nadal match, I saw a significant number of shuttered businesses along the neighborhood streets. These restaurants and shops weren't just closed for Sunday or the holiday weekend, but they were closed for good. Seeing them out of business makes me sad that there's no one to liven up the street corner here and there.

I often li…

Places from The Bell Jar: Sylvia Plath's New York, and a Map

After her long night with her friend Doreen and Lenny the DJ, Esther Greenwood, the protagonist of Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, decides to walk back home to her hotel, the Amazon, and pulls a New York street map out of her pocket. Calculating she was "exactly forty-three blocks by five blocks away" from her hotel, she sets out on foot uptown. (p. 15 Bantam Windstone paperback edition, 1981) If the Amazon is based on the Barbizon Hotel at Lexington and 63rd, then her starting point could have been around 20th and 8th Avenue (or, even possibly, uptown on the Upper West Side). I don't think Plath intended this to be precisely autobiographical. A walk from the Village to anywhere around Lexington and 63rd would make a nice hike, probably in the neighborhood of 3.5 miles. In a real life incident from June of 1953, Plath tried to track down poet Dylan Thomas outside his favorite bar, probably the White Horse Tavern on Hudson (marked on the map), and she could have walke…

Walking Off The Bell Jar: The Long Walk

On her last night in New York in June of 1953, Esther Greenwood, aka Sylvia Plath, threw her clothes off the roof of the Amazon (Barbizon) Hotel as an expression of her disappointment in what she had hoped to be a promising experience in the city. Disillusioned and tired, she boarded the train home to Wellesley.

According to biographers and accounts of fellow interns, she did see at least some of New York beyond the offices of Mademoiselle magazine on Madison Avenue. As part of their official rounds with the fashion magazine, the "co-eds" toured the UN, danced at the Forest Hills tennis club, attended several theaters for plays and films, took in a Yankees-Tigers game (the Yankees beat the Brooklyn Dodgers in the World Series that year), and clinked glasses at a Fifth Avenue private reception. One day an editor at the magazine took one of Plath's fellow interns out to meet poet Dylan Thomas, one of Plath's favorite writers. Plath wasn't in the office that day, and…

Walking Off The Bell Jar: The United Nations, a Simultaneous Translator, and the World Beyond the 1950s

Esther Greenwood, the young collegian protagonist of Sylvia Plath's semi-autobiographical novel, The Bell Jar, tells us that when she lived at the Amazon (the thinly-disguised Barbizon Hotel at 63rd and Lexington) in June of 1953 she could see the United Nations from her window.

The modernist symbol of international peace would have been an exciting recent addition to the New York skyline in 1953. Just two years prior, the U.N. relocated from its first headquarters in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens to its new location on the East River. Two months before Plath arrived in New York, the UN General Assembly voted to appoint Swedish diplomat Dag Hammarskjöld as the Secretary-General.

At the tender age of nineteen, Esther is introduced for the first time to the big world outside herself in the person of Constantin, a simultaneous translator at the U.N. When he takes her to a General Session and she watches him work alongside a woman who serves as a Russian translator, Esther starts fo…