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Showing posts from August, 2008

Walking Off the Big Apple with the Situationist International

I've recently been reading fascinating, stimulating, and exasperating literature by members of the Situationist International, an avant - garde assembly of street-aware groups active in Europe in the late 1950s and the 1960s. Paris, with its ancient central core, a multitude of meandering streets, and engineered wide and straight boulevards, served as their main laboratory. This tight-knit but contentious group, whose central figure was an impassioned, brilliant and sometimes ill-tempered intellectual by the name of Guy Debord , took upon themselves an intense investigation of what they called psychogeography , an inquiry into the ways our environment affects emotions and behavior. Their advocacy for a radical rethinking of how we relate to our own physical environment and the ways we interact with the street in our everyday life should appeal to anyone fantasizing an escape from their normal route (and routine). Reading their essays in Situationist International: Anthology, e

Radio and the Experience of Everyday Life in New York City

In reading the casual comments people make online in reaction to a local New York news story (on the NYT website, if I can remember correctly), I've noticed that on a few occasions someone will write something like the following: "I just want everything to get back to normal so I can enjoy my coffee and bagel and listen to the .....fill-in-the-blank WNYC radio program." I understand this. The radio program could be the Brian Lehrer Show or the Leonard Lopate Show, Soundcheck, or Studio 360, but the point is that voices of the radio provide a reassuring reinforcement of one's personally meaningful daily rituals. In my case, for example, I need to hear the voice of WNYC's Soterios Johnson, the host of Morning Edition, shortly upon waking in order to properly start my day. I've also filled my iPod with songs I have heard on Jonathan Schwartz's weekend programs (WNYC 12 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays on 93.3 FM). Listening to the American songbook gives me a sen

Harvey Wiley Corbett and the E. 8th Street Apartments

When the scaffolding in front of the apartment buildings along E. 8th and University Place (4-26 East 8th Street) was removed recently, the restoration revealed a structure very different from the styles of other buildings around it. Standing out from its neighbors largely due to the light stucco of its facade, the brick details, the faux balconies with ironwork, and various decorative details, the apartments feature a style I would call borderline village kitsch . While pretty in its restoration, the building pushes the theatrical. The exterior reminds me of the interior design of some old movie palaces from the 1920s - the Spanish, Mediterranean, Classical, Tudor, Federal, or Whatever, that's meant to transport us into the romantic places of our imagination. We can thank one Harvey Wiley Corbett (1873-1954) for this bit of theatricality. The original buildings date from 1834-1836, but Corbett remodeled them in 1916. Corbett was going for that Village look, a style that he thoug

Village Gothic: The Allure of Downtown at Night (A Slideshow)

For reasons unclear to me, I was compelled to take a stroll through the West Village at dusk yesterday evening. Inspired by the atmospheric colors of the setting of the sun, I wandered west on W. 4th, turned south on the Avenue of the Americas, and then walked west on Barrow. The streets were crowded with people enjoying one of summer's last weekend evenings, a free pass before any upcoming responsibilities associated with the arrival of Labor Day. Crossing Greenwich St., I was drawn still further to the west to watch the silver and blue waters of the Hudson River, the quickly moving white clouds in the luminous sky and the final orange burst of the setting of the sun. For Victorian Gothic writers, the streets held great mysteries, especially at night. All sorts of potential transgressions are afoot. In the darkness, shapes are murkier, open to the imagination, and any clarity afforded by the daytime light is undermined. "He" could be a "she," and that wou

Twenty Pairings of a Fine Bookstore or Library with a Nearby Café

(Updated September 2009) While I've grown dependent on a laptop and iPhone, I'm sick of looking at laptops and phones on tables in cafés, even mine. I'd rather look at a cup of coffee, a spoon, a plate with pastry, and a book. I'm nostalgic for the company of people reading books in cafés. In the olden days, many of us liked to shop for books and then go to a favorite café to read or write. We never worried about the availability of electrical outlets or a wireless cloud. We sat down, ordered a cup of coffee, and then opened a book to read it. On occasion we would write down our own thoughts in a journal or notebook with a pencil or a favorite pen. Like understanding the matching of a good cheese with a nice wine, I've devoted some time this week to contemplating the pairings of twenty bookstores or libraries with nearby cafés, most all of them within walking distance of my place in Greenwich Village. While I know a few of these bookstores include their own cafés

A Meandering Walk Uptown to Bryant Park

On Monday I didn't have any particular walk in mind, but on a whim I decided to start walking north. From my usual starting point in Washington Square Park, I meandered around a bit until I found myself in Bryant Park and then the steps of the New York Public Library. As it was lunchtime, I joined the office workers in grabbing a to-go lunch (in this case, the British chain Pret A Manger) and sitting at a table in the park. After lunch, I took in an excellent photo exhibit, Eminent Domain: Contemporary Photography and the City, at the main branch of the New York Library. Afterwards, I wandered over to check out the Library Hotel at 41st and Madison (about which I'll say more later), and from there it was just a block or two to Grand Central Terminal and the 6 train back home. I recommend this walk to visitors. It's only 2.5 miles, and it takes in some famous sites - Union Square, Madison Square, the Flatiron Building, Bryant Park, the NYPL, Grand Central Terminal, but the

The Light in August, but in New York

As I've wandered through the streets this past week, I've taken note of the softer light that bathes the city. For photographers, light is central to the art, and so these waning days of the summer inspire a study of the declination of the sun. At the end of a long walk yesterday, one that served little purpose other than getting me out of my apartment, I found myself on the front steps of the New York Public Library, the big one on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street with the lions out front. Just off to the right of the main entrance, I spotted these two empty chairs. The light seemed to animate them as if they were engaged in conversation. The title of William Faulkner's novel, Light in August (1932), like all good titles, means several things. The Faulkners were sitting on the porch one afternoon, the story goes, when Mrs. Faukner made a comment about the special qualities of the light in August in the south. Hearing this, Mr. Faulkner decided to change the title of the nove

Walking the Union Square Greenmarket

One of the contradictions that seem to be inherent in the life of New York is the fact that while the city is in the midst of a building boom, it's also becoming greener. While construction cranes loom menacingly over the many residential towers now in progress, many more items from the natural world seem to spring to life below. The Mayor's Million Trees program, for example, is bringing shade to areas that haven't seen a tree in over a century, like the Lower East Side where pushcarts once hugged the streets. The Parks department does its share in greening the city. These days, the northwest corner of Washington Square Park, behind a fence while undergoing extensive renovation, is beginning to look downright botanical. For Saturdays in August, even Park Avenue has been shut down to motorists and taken over by thousands of cyclists in the Summer Streets program. I had no idea there were that many bicycle owners in New York. The greening of New York is most in evidence at

Random Notes from the Big Apple: The Regency Hotel, the Salmagundi Art Club, and Understanding Brett Favre

Observation: My generation is over-medicated, while the younger ones are over-mediated. For those following the John Edwards affair, I plan to visit the Regency Hotel (540 Park), the place where it all began, and report back. Hotel Chatter is on top of the hotel angle . Most speculate that the action took place in The Library. A few days ago I walked up the lower part of Fifth Avenue and decided to stop into the Salmagundi Art Club at 47 Fifth Avenue. An historic art club founded in the 19th century by people who loved to sketch, the place, from all appearances, is still going strong. I saw their current exhibitions and was delighted to see people still making art for the sheer thrill of it. Everywhere I've lived I've seen similar art clubs , and I'm reminded that while fashions in contemporary art come and go, many still prefer traditional landscapes and still-lifes, the smell of oil paint, and the pleasures of exhibiting one's work in the company of friends. Not al

Dalí and The Surrealist Mysteries of New York

Of all the wonders at the exhibition, Dalí: Painting and Film at MoMA, I was especially intrigued by his painting, The Surrealist Mystery of New York (1935), the artist's response to his eagerly anticipated visit to New York in 1934. The occasion of the trip was a solo exhibit at Julien Levy Gallery, and Salvador Dalí and his wife Gala arrived in the city on the ocean liner Champlain on November 14, 1934. Like so many others, Dalí's expectations of the city were shaped by the cinema, and in his case he was particularly enamored of the serial The Mysteries of New York (1914) that portrayed the city as awash in gangster violence. Writing a friend about his visit, he described New York as being "full of monumental tombs, cypresses, dogs, and fossilized humidities." (from MoMA's publication, Dal í and Film , 1997, p. 132). At the time of his trip to New York, Dalí had in mind to make his own film about the city, Les Mystères surrealistes de New York , one tha

Flanierendes und Kokotten: Kirchner and the Berlin Street at MoMA

Not since last season's Georges Seurat: The Drawings has there been such a singular display of flânerie's golden heyday as the vivid images of Ernst Ludwig Kirchner's street walkers now gracing the walls of the Museum of Modern Art. This time around, flash forward from Seurat's Paris of the 1880s to pre-war Berlin of the 1910s, and our new go-to guy with the art supplies is a homesick German Expressionist. Out on the streets, he's watching the ladies of the evening as they prowl the night. Kirchner paints his kokotten in wide elongated criss-crossed brush strokes to exaggerate their brightly patterned geometries, their orange-red lipstick, mascara eyes, high heels, and feathery plumaged neckline and hats. They're theatrical and domineering, commanding Berlin as their center stage. Herr Kirchner is smitten mit dem Kätzchen. Kirchner's move from Dresden to Berlin in 1911 proved to be a hard transition. A story told a thousand times, the artist hoped to meet

Pedestrian Anxiety on NYC's Summer Streets

This past Saturday's postcard-perfect weather provided just the right conditions for a leisurely stroll up Park Avenue, and the ability to wander up lanes usually designated for cars but closed for a few morning hours as part of NYC's Summer Streets event gave me a thrill. As I walked from 4th St. to 51st St, via Lafayette and then 4th Avenue, past Union Square and up Park Avenue South, up through Park Avenue proper, and circumambulating ( thanks, Herman Melville, for knowledge of that word ) Grand Central Terminal, I reveled in discovering unknown stores to me and Manhattan architecture from a whole new point of view. If only I didn't think I was going to end up face down on the street as a result of an accident with a cyclist. In an event that promoted itself with the possibilities to "Play. Run. Walk. Bike. Breathe," the majority chose to "Bike," and so I found myself for an hour or so feeling like I had wandered into the final Paris stretches of the

Wining and Dining in NYC: Some Personal Favorites, Mostly Village Italian

Let me introduce some of my favorite dining establishments. When guests are involved or a formal celebration is afoot, I will try to get my act together long enough to secure a reservation at a place I know to be popular. Frequently, I'll log onto Open Table and find the restaurant that meets the needed criteria. For example, we might all agree on SoHo and Seafood. And, voila!, there's a date for 7:30 p.m. at Lure Fishbar . Good choice! Grazie! Molto bene! Prego! Many places I frequent feature Italian food of some regional variety. And, indeed, as I live in the Village, the Italian-American heritage of the neighborhood lives on in the cuisine. In the Village, Po , Lupa, and Bar Pitti readily come to mind. I've had good times at all of them. I once went to Bar Pitti by myself during Fashion Week, the one in early February, and it was like 4 degrees outside, but I needed to get out of the apartment. Several fashion types were there and not eating too much, but I enjo

10 Fascinating Buildings in Manhattan

Manhattan features many famous buildings, many of which can be readily identified by individuals who have never set foot in New York, such as the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, Radio City Music Hall, the Guggenheim Museum and Rockefeller Center, for example. The list goes on. So many notable, but less iconic buildings, however, bear a closer look. I've come to not only appreciate but to love certain buildings in the city, and I had a hard time winnowing down a list of favorites to just ten. Of the following structures, some are old, some are new, some are tall, and some are narrow. One is large and pink. • 40 Bond. 40 Bond St. Completed over a year ago, this stylish and innovative condo in NoHo by Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron updates the classic loft with handmade Barcelona glass and a fence "skirt" that's in part Gaudi, part graffiti. Herzog and de Meuron are in the news as the designers of the National Olympic Stadium in Beijing. • The Anso

10 Favorite Places in New York for Walking Off the Big Apple

Over the past year I've enjoyed many occasions to visit both well-known New York attractions and several places off the beaten path. While I still have many miles to walk and many new places to discover in the course of my urban walking life, I have built up a repertory of places that I like to revisit over and over again. Sometimes, when I'm out on a walk, the kind with no predetermined ending or set path, I'll sometimes find myself drawn back to places that have resonated with me before. It's a little like comfort food, warm pumpkin cupcakes , for example, or the longing, at the end of a long vacation, to curl up on one's own bed. I like to wander out of my comfort zone much of the time, but when I feel like I need to reconnect with the city, the following places are where I feel like I can come home. This blog is titled "Walking Off the Big Apple" for several reasons. One meaning has to do with burning calories (walking off the BIG apple, walking off