Skip to main content


Showing posts from January, 2009

Reservoir Dog: New York's Demon-Cur of the Winter of 1893

The recent icy conditions of the city's sidewalks, roads, puddles and lakes reminded me of a late-19th century New York story I stumbled across in the archives of the NYT : On January 30, 1893, a large crowd of predominately women and children gathered on the shores of the iced-over Reservoir in Central Park. Of interest was the phenomenon of a seemingly distraught dog circling the icy waters. The dog seemed to run the same circles and zig-zag patterns over a great swath of the reservoir, not stopping during the day nor the night for four days. Debate as to how to rescue the poor fellow grew vigorous, as the ice was thin and too treacherous for a human rescue. Some wanted to shoot the dog to put it out of its misery or to stop it from fouling of the waters, as the lake was the source of usable water for many city residents. Members of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals were on the scene to safeguard the animal. Efforts to whistle and cajole it back to shore or b

Forward Thinking: Walking Off the Recession One Step at a Time

I'm already bored with the recession, the one billed constantly as "the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression," so I'm developing strategies to deal with it. As we've been conditioned, things are much more fun when the economy is hopping, when the advertising industry's creation of false consumer desires actually works. When what is still known as Madison Avenue works well, I want to try that new hot restaurant in the East Village or that amazing skin cream for sale at Bloomingdale's. I'll want to get out and see the hot shows and all the general trendiness. But when it's not working, like now, I sometimes find myself in a store on the verge of making a purchase but then return the item to the shelf and then sulk home. This consumer paralysis is completely boring, but it's teaching me to distinguish once again between want and need. It's tiresome to read words like "shuttered" and "empty" to signify building

Lessons from the Days of the "Empty State Building"

(updated May 2016) In May 2016, the Empire State Building is celebrating its 85th birthday. Back in the days of the booming 1920s, the phenomenon of skyscrapers excited the popular imagination. The main proponents of the soaring buildings - the builders, architects, civic boosters, and financiers, argued that they were the symbols of business power, American pride, and the natural way to live in the age of the machine. In his book, Skyscrapers and the Men Who Build Them (1928), the powerful construction giant William A. Starrett promoted the skyscraper as "the most distinctly American thing in the world." In the 1934 book, Building to the Skies: The Romance of the Skyscraper , writer Alfred Bossom argued their necessity: "It seems to me a great thing for the spirit of people that they should be able to gaze upon very high buildings, erected by their own contemporaries. The habit of looking upward is a strengthening habit." But as the late 1920s gave way to

Walking Into the Year of the Ox

Happy New Year, again! The year of the Ox is now upon us, and so with the first new moon of the year, a new administration and new beginnings, I took a walk to Mott and Canal Street in Chinatown this afternoon to enjoy the opening festivities for the Asian lunar new year. The chasing away of evil spirits was both fun and cathartic, although in retrospect I could have worn more red. I was hypnotized by the constant beating of the drums, and I enjoyed seeing the streets filling up with confetti. Images by Walking Off the Big Apple, January 26, 2009.

The Curious Lines of Animals and Leaves (A Review)

Man may be the measure of all things, but what of dachshunds, blind owls and antelopes? While the drawings from the Thaw Collection currently on display at the Morgan Library & Museum feature many images of human beings - Gauguin's Breton girls, a masterly Standing Young Man from Adolph Menzel, a couple of monks walking through cloisters, and more, I was struck by the many images of animals by these master draftsmen of art. As you can guess, the delicate graphite pencil drawing of the antelope horns belongs to Georgia O'Keeffe, yet her work on Manilla paper (shades of elementary school!) is joined by Jackson Pollock's Untitled ( Abstract Ram) , a couple of black ink washes of birds by Robert Motherwell, Jim Dine's Blind Owl , David Hockney's sleepy dachshunds, a brown bear by a 16th-17th century Netherlandish artist, and a dog or two romping in other old master drawings. I suppose I could add Jamie Wyeth's profile drawing of Andy Warhol to this list, as Wy

On Walking Through the Long Shadows of New York's Urban Canyons in Winter

From January 2009 While walking uptown to the Morgan Library & Museum yesterday afternoon, winding my way north through University Place to Union Square and then north on Broadway to Madison Square Park and beyond, it was hard not to notice the shadows. The sun, so low in the sky in January, casts long shadows even in the afternoon. Individuals walking along the street in winter daylight project silhouettes on the pavement that seem much bigger than themselves, with the effect suggesting the mythical dimensions of soul and identity. Here, the selves are split into two - the one bundled up in jeans and leather jacket and the mysterious spectral other, elongated and flatly gray upon the sidewalk. If you want to see the dark side of the New Yorker psyche, then cast your eyes low on a winter afternoon. Though yesterday proved to be one of the warmer days of late, I was still chasing the warmth of the sun, switching to walking the side of the street with the most light. This was especia

The Flâneur's Sketchbook and Camera

I've been spending the morning contemplating what to do with this nice day, but after reading about the openings of the two big drawing exhibitions at the Met and the Morgan, I've decided that drawing shall be the theme of the weekend. I plan to visit these public showings and report back, including notes of whatever transpires on the walks to and from the museums. As the weather brightens, I'm thinking like a flâneur again, as opposed to the couch potato who has spent the last five days watching HDTV. Drawing as an expressive art form appeals to me as a stroller of the streets. As I've come to discover, many artists, especially in the flâneur's heyday of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, were fond of walking the streets and countryside. I'm particularly thinking about Seurat , Kirchner and Van Gogh , all of whom I've written about. What better way to observe the world than to walk through the environment and sketch what one sees? Drawing

Walking Off the (Current) New York State of Mind

In " When the Action Moves On ," an essay published in the January 18 Sunday New York Times , author Alex Williams reports on a sentiment sometimes expressed these days that New York seems somehow over. Washington, this week for sure, is where the action is. As evidence of Gotham's demise as a world power, he cites the anecdote of a guy who walked over to a usually-busy midtown intersection and found it not crowded. But then the author presents us with several pronouncements made over the decades about the decline of New York. So, apparently, every so often, influential writers declare the end of the city, much like the perennial announcements about the theater. At the end of the essay, everything seems to be totally okay with New York. The reason? The writer Joan Didion, though she said New York was over a few decades ago and then abandoned the city for sunny California, can be found living on the Upper East Side. I am tempted to say New York is over, too, because I can

A Stroll Down Pennsylvania Avenue

From January 2009 He really had to get out and walk, you know. After weighing all the security nightmares, you have to show that it's okay to be who you are and to not be afraid. After the turmoil of the last few years and the economic times at hand - the potential loss of jobs, the insecurity of professions, the devaluation of material things you once held dear, you have to show you're not afraid. Riding in an expensive car driven by a hired hand is for a privileged person in a private world, but walking down the street is the ways and means of the common citizen of the public space. There's an inherent risk and vulnerability in every act of getting out in the world and walking down the street. For some, the risk is greater. But the only way to make progress, however, is to connect with others who may be walking there and to help one another move forward. Image: Televised image of the inaugural parade of President Barack Obama, January 20, 2009, Washington, D.C. b

William Eggleston and Alexander Calder at the Whitney

A body of sustained and consistent work over a lifetime separates real artists from poseurs . Real artists make art because they can't help it. It's a fever, an obsession, often the only way they know to express themselves. Sometimes, artists make work that is less thrilling and successful than their other work, but usually it's because they're trying to get through a phase, often with sloppy results. Real artists move on, even when they know that their fans and critics want them to cling to their successes. This is all in contrast to me, because I have a ton of art supplies piled up on a shelf in a corner, and they sit there until I am sometimes moved to make a couple of sketches every other month. William Eggleston, pointing a camera on colorful subjects in the South, and Alexander Calder, who bent metal into fanciful kinetic sculptures in Paris and elsewhere, are both real artists that meet the criteria listed above. As such, anyone pretending to be a photographer or

Madison Square Park: When the Cold Weather Offers Advantages

From January 2009 I took this picture at 11:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Shake Shack in Madison Square Park, and yes, while the day was nicer, weather-wise, than other days this week, you will notice the lack of a line at the popular hamburger stand. Cold weather provides opportunities for those wily coyotes like myself who would normally make fun of people standing in long lines at Shake Shack. No line? I reached into my backpack, found all of $4, and that's all I needed for a normal hamburger. The temporary installation of tree huts by artist Tadashi Kawamata is particularly effective, especially for this time of year. Obviously, without foliage in the trees, the huts stand out and are noticeable. When I first saw them, and I could see many stretched out at once over the whole park, I was thrilled with the sight and in awe. They're not especially fine art objects as individual huts, but as a collection they're quite provocative. I thought many things looking at them. I thought a

More on Chester Arthur's Curry-Loving Neighborhood, and A Map

Following up on yesterday's post about President Chester A. Arthur , I wanted to spell out some of the attractions of the neighborhood in the form of a walk. There's not a specific itinerary, just a map. I recommend knocking around this part of south Midtown/Murray Hill/Madison Square Park to check out the many restaurants and interesting buildings. View Larger Map As I suggested, please stop into Kalustyan's to shop for exotic spices or to grab a bite to eat. Bring a shopping list, because when I visited I wish I had already prepared a grocery list for some spice-heavy dishes. Several of the nearby restaurants have garnered many loyal fans, and I can imagine that students, faculty, and staff at nearby Baruch College must feel lucky to have so many choices of Hyderabad biryani, masala, tandoori and curry. I like the looks of the Afghan restaurant, Bamiyan, at the corner of 26th and 3rd Avenue (pictured, above, exterior painted in orange and purple), and I hear that the fo

Chester A. Arthur's Neighborhood, and A Hint of Vindaloo Masala

While walking through the northern section of Madison Square Park, you may have encountered the striking statue of Chester A. Arthur (1830-1886), the 21st President. The VP in James Garfield's administration, Arthur assumed office upon the tragic death of the incumbent. An attorney named Charles Julius Guiteau (displaying a nutty flamboyance while later on trial) assassinated Garfield on July 2, 1881 at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station by shooting the President in the back. Because of sorry medical care at the time, Garfield suffered for several months before dying. At that point, Arthur took the oath of office. He did so over at his house at 123 Lexington, an area in Midtown south. The park sculpture of Arthur is by George Edwin Bissell (1839-1920), but the tree hut depicted above, the one in the tree to the left of Arthur, is the work of contemporary artist Tadashi Kawamata. Arthur did some good things. A native of Vermont, he moved to New York in 1853 and opened up a

JFK: The Presidential Candidate from the Bronx, and Other NYC Sites Associated with the Kennedy Family

"Ladies and gentlemen: I said up the street that I was a former resident of the Bronx. Nobody believes that but it is true. I went to school in the Bronx. Now, Riverdale is part of the Bronx, and I lived there for 5 or 6 years. [Laughter and applause.] No other candidate for the Presidency can make that statement. [Laughter.] In fact, I do not know the last time that a candidate from the Bronx ran for the Presidency, but I am here to ask your help. I don't think we are going to run all right in Riverdale , but we will be here." - Remarks of Senator John F. Kennedy, Concourse Plaza Hotel, Bronx, NY November 5, 1960 from the website, The American Presidency Project In September of 1927, powerful Boston patriarch Joseph Patrick "Joe" Kennedy, Sr. moved his growing family from Boston, Massachusetts to Riverdale , an affluent neighborhood in the Bronx. Two years later the family moved to Bronxville five miles to the north. The houses in each place (the first in

Museums in New York Open on Tuesdays

American Folk Art Museum , 45 W. 53rd St. Asia Society and Museum , 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street) Guggenheim Museum , 1071 Fifth Avenue (at 89th St.) Pictured left International Center of Photography , 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street The Metropolitan Museum of Art , 1000 Fifth Avenue NEW: Beginning May 1, 2013 MoMA will be open seven days a week. 11 W. 53rd St. The Morgan Library & Museum , 225 Madison Avenue at 36th Street Museum of the City of New York , 1220 Fifth Avenue New York University, Grey Art Gallery , 100 Washington Square East Mondays and Tuesdays are the hardest days to remember which museums are open. See the list for NY museums open on Mondays here .

Walking Broadway with Abraham Lincoln: The Visit to New York for the Cooper Union Speech

Anyone who has ever traveled to a large unfamiliar city for the purpose of an important job interview and who might be a little anxious about the big job talk itself and what to wear and meeting new people should be able to imagine themselves in Abraham Lincoln's shoes as he strolled up Broadway on the afternoon of February 27, 1860. Imagine, too, if you look a little different than most people, tall and gangly in this case, a tad nervous about your appearance and somewhat concerned that you'll come off as a little too country in a crowded city of sophisticates. And add to this, a forecast of rain and snow in a city of already filthy and slushy streets. I actually experienced this very thing myself a few years ago, but I wasn't trying to impress people that I might make a good candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America. Lincoln, who was relatively unknown to New Yorkers at this time and not yet the official nominee of the young Republican Party, worked

"Froze Right to the Bone:" A Musical Interlude with Bob Dylan

A little interlude while I prepare the next walk in the pre-Inauguration series. The references to the freezing cold in Greenwich Village seem particularly relevant right now. The song is "Talkin' New York," the second on Dylan's first album. A nice homage here to the time and place by a fellow on You Tube. Walking the Village and listening to Dylan - a series coming to Walking Off the Big Apple in February.

Theodore Roosevelt, the Boy, on E. 20th Street

I read with interest Jim Dwyer's article today in the NYT, "Courthouse Mystery as One Rough Rider Replaces Another " about Senator Charles Schumer's quest for more Theodore Roosevelt love. Seems like our senator (we functionally have only one right now) wants more attention to be paid to the only U.S. President to be born in New York, and in this spirit he appeared in downtown Brooklyn last week to announce that a new courthouse there would be named for TR. This caught my attention, because just yesterday I visited TR's boyhood home here in the city, the existence of which was not even mentioned in the article. We have plentiful TR love right here, just north of Union Square and near Gramercy Park. My visit yesterday to 28 East 20th Street, a recreated house that the National Park Service operates to illustrate the boyhood of Theodore Roosevelt, was not the first place I've visited that commemorates the life of the flamboyant U.S. President. My first encount

Documentaries on the Academy's Shortlist: A Program at Tribeca Cinemas This Week

One of the most thrilling experiences for me last year was attending the Tribeca Film Festival in late April and early May, meeting talented filmmakers and seeing their extraordinary films. I write a regular blog titled "Shoe Leather" for the website Reframe , a project of the Tribeca Film Institute, and I've been increasingly drawn to the genre of documentaries. One of the best films I saw at the festival was "Man on Wire," a dramatic recounting of Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the towers of the World Trade Center in August of 1974. ( Official site ) I highly recommend seeing it. This past November the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the 15 films in the Documentary Feature category that will advance in the voting process for the Oscars. According to the Academy's announcement, "a record 94 pictures had originally qualified in the category." Here's the list of the 2008 documentaries that made the cut: “At the

A Walk to Grant's Tomb and Morningside Heights

Sunday afternoon looked clear and beautiful, and though chilly, seemed perfect for a winter's walk. I wanted to start the new year with fresh eyes and with a vow to act on newly-made resolutions, foremost among these the promise to myself (and to readers) to get out of the neighborhood. I could write about MacDougal Street and Washington Square Park all day long (and sometimes have done so). So, Grant's Tomb. When was the last time you visited the final resting place for Civil War General and U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant and his lovely wife, Julia Dent Grant? For me, I had a hard time remembering, and still won't say, the year I last visited, but I think I was about seven years old. I took the 1 train from W. 4th St. to 116th St., a trip that lasted twenty minutes or so, and as I left the station, I walked to Riverside Park and then north to Grant's Tomb. What a pretty day! There was some sort of convocation of unicyclists in front of the monument. As I walked i

The Strolling Year in Review 2008: Favorite Cafes, Restaurants, Bars, and Bakeries

I often think I don't eat out much, but when I look over a list like this, I realize it's completely untrue. What follows is an eclectic set of restaurants, bars, cafes, and bakeries that I frequent. Modest and reliable places dominate this list, though some restaurants are reserved for special occasions. While I still plan to eat out in 2009, with each passing day in the recession, more fine dining (Hoppin' John and sparkling wine, for example) takes place in the home. Enjoy! You can always walk it off (or maybe not - be sure to consult the chart following the list): (CLOSED) Rhong Tiam (541 LaGuardia Place): Good Thai; now take-out choice #1 chez moi Gemma (335 Bowery): warm and inviting trattoria visited multiple times in 2008 Marumi (546 LaGuardia Place): consistently good Sushi Temple Bar (332 Lafayette): the best martini in a dark, mysterious bar (CLOSED) Prime Burger (5 E. 51st St.): (image inset) burgers and fries, and much more, in a nostalgic setting.

The Strolling Year in Review 2008: Favorite Experiences 2008

Happy New Year! It's one of these odd days today, Friday, January 2, a day wedged between a holiday and the weekend. I don't know if it's appropriate to do serious work today, the kind an employer would expect, but I'm guessing it's not. I'm taking the liberty of giving everyone in the listening area the day off. While I look forward to launching new strolls for 2009, I have accumulated many notes from the past year, and today seems like a good day to share them. Here's the first installment. In addition to favorite streets and pictures, I have an assortment of favorite experiences : • Walking through most of Central Park and experiencing the park in each of the seasons is on the top of my list. We must thank the Central Part Conservancy for an extraordinary job restoring, renovating and maintaining this city treasure. • Reading Richard Price's Lush Life (and following its detective trail through the Lower East Side) and Joseph O'Neill's Netherl