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Showing posts from 2009

The Strolling Year in Review 2009

As I retrace my steps from 2009, I feel like the city also shifted into reverse, revealing intriguing
glances of forgotten places under the layer of our estranged modern landscape. Where is that lost subway station? What grows under those tracks? Who grows these apples? Over the last year, the proliferation of artisanal DIY goods sold in medieval-like outdoor markets or peddled on trucks by young urban craftspeople conspired with recession economics to force us to at least think about the means of production.

In addition, the reconfiguration of Times Square into a pedestrian center, the paving of 200 miles of bike lanes, the expansion of the waterfront, the opening of Governor's Island and the High Line literally and figuratively opened up new and greener points of view. The arrival of 2009 and the celebration of the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's encounter with the New World encouraged such geographical retrospection, allowing us to imagine the island of Mannahatta in i…

The Road Home from the Holiday Rush

Though the streets of New York may still be crowded with holiday shoppers, some residents and visitors are now finding their way home. With two days left to Christmas Eve, it's time to sort gifts, find the wrapping paper, bake the cookies, and warm the tired feet.



Santa himself should be a little tired by now, dreaming of a vacation in warm weather.

An Advanced Self-Guided Walk into the New York Holiday Vortex

Why should the tourists have all the fun? Some city residents may prefer to steer clear of the crush of shoppers in midtown Manhattan, especially that stretch of Fifth Avenue south of Grand Army Plaza, namely to avoid all the visitors, but sometimes that's the best place to catch the holiday spirit. The clamor and bustle of the avenue can get loud, yes, but the occasional clang of the Salvation Army worker's bell intones the collective cultural memory of the holiday. Walking down the avenue, the mingled smells of roasting chestnuts, the exhaust from taxis along Fifth Avenue, the whiff of coffee in paper cups, and the collective fragrance of department store perfume counters conspire to bless even the weariest soul with a holiday spirit. As the sun sets, the dazzling street and window lights come on just in time to make you forget just how cold it is outside. So go for it! A walk from the intersection of 59th Street and Fifth Avenue south to Macy's on 34th Street encompasse…

Holiday Shopping in New York's Best Museum Shops: A List

Shops attached to museums have advanced way beyond Claude Monet totes, a Rembrandt calendar, Degas notecards and a Van Gogh refrigerator magnet. Those were the Dark Ages of museum merchandising. The great museum shops of contemporary New York feature hundreds of well-designed gifts and collectibles, each reaching out to the arts-minded citizen of the world. And their kids, too. Babar-themed gifts at the Morgan, cuddly yak animals at the Rubin Museum, a book on rock & roll photography at the Brooklyn Museum, a cake server in the shape of a shoe from the Whitney, or a tile of the Bleecker Street subway station at the New York Historical Society are just a few of the beyond-the-ordinary finds in the city's museum shops.

The following list features just a sample of gift items from only a selection of New York museums. Let Walking Off the Big Apple be your personal museum shop shopper:

Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum has opened a holiday satellite shop in collaboration wit…

Acting New York: Thelma Ritter, An Appreciation

Based on an uncanny ability to communicate the wisdom of the streets, Brooklyn-born character actor Thelma Ritter (1902 or 1905?-1969) found her way into some of the best supporting roles in motion pictures of her generation. After performing in school plays at Public School 77 and then studying at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, she acted in a few radio and stage parts before putting her show business career on hold to raise a family with her husband, an actor turned ad executive.

She was in her forties when a friend of hers, the director George Seaton, invited her to play a small role of a Macy's shopper in his new film, Miracle on 34th Street (1947). With many scenes filmed on location at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and inside the store, Ritter's bit of New Yorkese added a sense of authenticity to the fantasy holiday tale. According to biographies, Darryl F. Zanuck was so impressed with her performance that he had her small role expanded.

In time Ritter w…

Shot in the Naked City: Cinematic Mysteries and Film Noir Before 1960

Movies and television programs that film on location in New York are fairly ubiquitous these days. Walking through the city it's easy to stumble upon movie crews and their rows of equipment and catering trucks and rolls of cable necessary for shooting a scene. Contemporary audiences come to expect that a story set in New York should include recognizable streets and landmarks such as Grand Central Terminal, the Metropolitan Museum, the United Nations, Times Square and so forth. Yet, filming on location has not always been a requirement for a movie set in a particular place. The Thin Man, for example, as previously discussed, was shot in Hollywood, relying on references in the dialogue to situate the story along Fifth Avenue and the east side.


The earliest days of cinema before the move to Hollywood did feature real New York locations from time to time, as the city was the center of filmmaking from 1895 to 1910. For a glimpse of New York in 1901, just have a look at "What hap…

The Thin Man Walk: A New York Holiday Adventure with Nick and Nora Charles

(Revised)

Line up the cocktails. As Nick says, "You see the important thing is the rhythm. Always have rhythm in your shaking. A Manhattan you shake to foxtrot, a Bronx to two-step time. A dry martini you always shake to waltz time."

If ever a couple possessed complementary drinking rhythms, it would have to be Nick and Nora Charles, the much-envied glamorous cocktail-swilling quick-thinking duo of Dashiell Hammett's The Thin Man. Inspired by the writer's blossoming affair with playwright Lillian Hellman, the novel, published in January of 1934, motivated MGM to rush a cinematic adaptation into production.

The movie, released in late May of 1934, proved popular enough to spawn sequels, foremost because of the stellar chemistry and witty performances of William Powell as Nick and Myrna Loy as Nora. Decades later, many people still search for their own Nick or Nora. Beyond the playful banter, the partying Charleses exude a confident security and ease in their relations…

A Bleecker Street Holiday Shopping Guide: From Abingdon Square to the Bowery

Fifth Avenue and SoHo may be popular destinations for holiday shopping in New York, but for those who enjoy browsing in small stores away from the crowded sidewalks, Bleecker Street in Greenwhich Village could be the answer. Approximately 1.14 miles in length from Abingdon Square in the West Village down to the Bowery, Bleecker Street changes its mood block by block. Because of the diversity of the street, it's possible to find gifts for the bohemian and the bourgeois alike.

On the north end, stores such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, and Mulberry have turned the street into a designer row. Some Villagers aren't crazy about the embourgeoisement of the historic Greenwich Village street, largely because these stores can me found in any other affluent neighborhood. The stores near the nightspots and bars between 6th Avenue and LaGuardia Place, on the other hand, are far less tailored. The stretch between 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue is a heaven for foodies, with Murray's Cheese, …

Alicia Keys and Empire State of Mind, Part II

Thanks largely to the popularity of Jay-Z's now ubiquitous New York-loving anthem "Empire State of Mind," the top song on Billboard's Hot 100 chart this week and on which she sings the chorus and gets credit as a co-writer, Alicia Keys is on a roll these days. Now, with the release on December 15 of her fourth album, The Element of Freedom, and the cut "Empire State of Mind, Part II," the singer-songwriter and actress brings her own voice to the "concrete jungle where dreams are made of. " While both versions of the song narrate their respective roads to success, Keys' take, in addition to adhering to conventions of melody throughout, pays homage to the struggle of hard-working women, something of a flipside to Jay-Z's riffs on girls going bad in the big city.
Both songs, judging by the responses to the video variations on YouTube, have touched many people deeply (excluding New York Yankees haters). Some often-jaded New Yorkers grow misty…

An Unofficial Guide to Macy's New Thanksgiving Day Parade Route

Click here for a new post with updated parade information for 2011.


(revised for 2010)

Following last year, the 84th Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, November 25, 2010 will be following a new route through Manhattan. A major reason for the change has to do with the city's recent experiments along Broadway to make the thoroughfare more engaging for pedestrians and bicyclists. The installation of planters and seating fixtures prove to be an impediment for marching bands, entertainers on floats, an army of clowns, inflatable dogs, and ultimately Santa himself, so another route is necessary. As we're getting to know the new path down Seventh Avenue, I thought it would be helpful to take a look at some of the famous buildings and businesses along the way. The first section along Central Park West should be familiar to parade-goers, but new sights will come into view along Seventh and Sixth Avenues - for example, Carnegie Hall and the Carnegie Deli, to name a couple o…

Night Falls on the City: The View from the Brooklyn Bridge

During those liminal moments after the sun sets but before the night has muted the clarity of day, the landscape veers off into abstraction. It's the golden hour, a mystical time favored by visual artists. Familiar sights gradually lose detail, giving way to sheer fundamental shapes, silhouettes, colors, hues, and qualities of luminosity. To describe the sunset you have to think like a painter. For many in New York, this hallowed time is best worshipped under the neo-Gothic arches of the Brooklyn Bridge, the city's-well-known icon that links Brooklyn with Manhattan. Below, silver currents of the East River reflect the day's last light. Above, birds and helicopters streak across an increasingly electric sky. On some evenings, the sunset flames out in a blazing eruption of yellow and plum and crimson glory. The Statue of Liberty makes a dramatic statement silhouetted against the flaming sky. As soon as the colors fade and darkness falls, however, the Manhattan skyline, waiti…

A Cultural Guide to West 57th Street: A Walk and a Map

(revised) It began in 1891 with the opening of Carnegie Hall, the symbol of music world success that Andrew Carnegie paid people to construct on 7th Avenue between West 57th and West 56th Streets. A year later, the Art Students League moved into the new American Fine Arts Building, an elegant French Renaissance building at 215 West 57th Street.

In 1916-17, Cass Gilbert designed the Rodin Studios at 200 W. 57th Street, a building with elaborate apartments. Developing by small increments, by the late 1920s the blocks of West 57th Street between 8th Avenue and 5th Avenue had become a major center for cultural life in the United States.

Steinway Hall was constructed in 1924-1925, a pitch perfect Neo-classical companion to the Renaissance Revival of Carnegie Hall down the street. Art galleries, piano dealers, studios, arts-minded restaurants, hotels, and apartments for writers, artists, and renowned musicians joined them. The building at 130 West 57th, designed as a cooperative for artists,…

An Early Morning Walk in the East Village

Sometimes it's not about where to walk but when. Certain hours of the day carry with them their own qualities, and strange as it may sound, I am fond of the quiet mystery of the early morning. Just before sunrise the day has not yet lost its patina of night, and ever so gradually, the velvety air of the post-midnight hours begins to retreat into shadows. As I walk through the streets in those poignant moments before sunrise, I never see many people, mostly just the silhouettes of lone individuals not yet recognizable by the light of day. Birds rustle in their nests. A few taxis swish by. The coffee cart guys are setting up for the day. We have scientific terms for these moments. Astronomical twilight gives way to nautical twilight before real morning, civil twilight, begins.



As a person with dogs, I am accustomed to venturing out in the city at the first hint of morning light. That's my excuse. Maybe I'm also a little bit in love with the terminology of twilight. I also l…

A Literary Holiday Gift Guide: Best New Books on New York, New York

Not surprisingly, New York as a subject generates a lot of books. Each year the shelves in the New York section of bookstores become overcrowded with new books about the city, each one adding something different to a vast body of city literature. This year the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson's voyage to the New World inspired several new books on New York's Dutch heritage, many of them accompanying exhibitions at area museums. In addition, the Lincoln Bicentennial (1809-2009) brought new attention to the role of New York in creating the circumstances for his Presidency. And as always, New York's position in the creative arts and food culture insures that writers will always find new stories to tell about artists and chefs in the city.

The number of new tourist guide books alone continues to grow, each providing the visitor with a new angle on the city. In selecting the best New York-centered books for this holiday gift guide, I decided to leave off the guide books, altho…