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Showing posts from May, 2010

The Sun's Fifteen Minutes of Fame: Manhattanhenge

Update: 2018 Dates and Times for Manhattanhenge:

MAY 29, AT 8:13 PM EDT (HALF SUN)
MAY 30, AT 8:12 PM EDT (FULL SUN)

JULY 12, AT 8:20 PM EDT (FULL SUN) JULY 13, AT 8:21 PM EDT (HALF SUN)



Many people left the city for the Memorial Day weekend, but several of us who belong to a particular tribe of neo-Druid photographers made sure we were back in town just to watch the sunset. Sounds peculiar, I know, but the weekend happened to correspond with "Manhattanhenge," a word coined by Hayden Planetarium Director Neil deGrasse Tyson to describe the phenomenon when the east-west crosstown streets of midtown Manhattan move into alignment with the setting sun.

On an evening when no clouds interrupt the view and the temperature hovers in a netherworld between not-warm and not-cool, the luminous experience is glorious and transcendental. The payoff comes in the last fifteen minutes of blow-out glory, when the Sun, saying its goodbyes, throws out a splash of gold and crimson along the manmade…

Cool Plans for a Hot New York Day - A Walk, a Matinee, a Dinner

This past Wednesday we saw the hottest day so far this year in the city, 94℉ in the shade, and the kind of heat that feels like standing next to an open oven door. Perhaps the arrival of a hot weather day promises that the upcoming summer, unlike last year's tepid affair, will live up to the season's potential. At any rate, we had plans that day to take a long walk in the morning, see a Broadway matinee in the afternoon, and go to a nice place for dinner at night, the sort of things appropriate for a birthday. As it turned out, the well-paced day of outdoor and indoor amusements proved a great way to beat the heat. In addition, I thought that a walk, a play, and a dinner, as general categories, would provide a winning combination for spending any sort of day in New York and wanted to pass the idea, though hardly novel, along to readers. The success of the day, however, would be highly dependent on the choice of walks, the play, and the restaurant.


A Walk
Walking along the water…

Three Guide Books to New York City: Online, but a Little Dusty

For fans of time travel, literary researchers investigating the mindset of a previous era, and for city residents who grow bored with the present metropolis, I have three books to recommend. The following guide books to New York City, originally published in the years 1857, 1901, and 1920, respectively, and now in the public domain, are available for online browsing. All three guides provide insight into the values and attitudes of their respective times, revealed in their choices of worthy points of interest, in words of caution to visitors, and in their often stereotypical attitudes about ethnicity and class. For present-day visitors, for example, visits to charitable institutions may not be a priority, but in the 19th century, a trip to New York City would not be complete without a visit to the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. As for the attitudes, the Rand McNally guide from 1920, for example, directs visitors toward the crowded streets of "Judea," a word often used interchan…

Scenes from a Walk Through Hell's Kitchen

On two consecutive nights in March of 1905, poet Vachel Lindsay tried to peddle his poems on the streets of New York City. A young and poor art student at the time, he possessed vaulted ideas about taking Beauty to the masses. On the first night, he began his door-to-door poetry crusade at 10th Avenue and 50th Street and then walked down the west side of 10th, stopping in stores, laundries, delis, and drugstores to talk the proprietors into buying his poems. He didn't do all that well, but he seemed to enjoy his efforts. In his diary, quoted at length by Edgar Lee Masters in his biography of Lindsay, the aspiring poet detailed his interactions with many of the shopkeepers he encountered, offering commentary about their various ethnic backgrounds - Greek, Chinese, African-American, and German. While his comments often take on offensive stereotyping, he does paint a fascinating, if naive, portrait of the multi-ethnic neighborhood known as Hell's Kitchen.

In the mid 19th century, …

A Jazz Weekend

With guests staying in town and tickets to the Village Vanguard to hear Bill Frisell's 858 Quartet on Sunday night, the weekend took on a jazz theme. In addition to also hearing snippets of free live jazz in Washington Square Park, we took a group excursion to the NYPL’s Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center to see the exhibit, The Jazz Loft Project. On Sunday afternoon, I ventured a solo trip to revisit photographer W. Eugene Smith's loft on Sixth Avenue, the subject of the exhibit, to see what remained of this jazz-infused block near W. 28th Street. Within forty-eight hours, a few trips on the A train and the walks around Lincoln Plaza, the parks, the streets, and the avenues assumed varying syncopated tempos on their own. Like Vachel Lindsay picking up the tempo of the elevated trains for his poetry, the walking excursions to places in jazz history tapped into the alternating syncopations and meters of the language of jazz. Listening to the street, the visits seemed to …

Vachel Lindsay, Artist and Poet, Walking in New York

Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931), the peripatetic poet from Springfield, Illinois, came to New York City in 1905 to study art with William Merritt Chase and Robert Henri, but his famed teachers, especially Henri, quickly assessed the young man of twenty-five more talented in poetry than in drawing. Lindsay found himself so torn between his poetry writing and art that he often had trouble focusing. That opinion, at any rate, belongs to biographer Edgar Lee Masters who also observed that his fellow Illinois poet "had no faculty for the practical things." Lindsay spent much of his time after school walking through the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art as well as through "the quaint and curious neighborhoods of the city, which had not yielded at that time to the innovation of the modern apartment building and the skyscraper." (Vachel Lindsay: A Poet in America by Edgar Lee Masters. Charles Scribner's Sons. New York, 1935) As it turns out, walking serves a purp…

A Walk in the Ramble

For those who enjoy a long walk in nature but who also like their creature comforts not far away, a visit to The Ramble in Central Park should fit the bill. This 38-acre site of wild woods, outcroppings of rock, man-made rustic features, and confusing trails, all set to the tune of birds and sometimes screaming children, sits roughly between 78th St. on the north and 73rd St. on the south. The Lake is to the south.

A walk through this intentionally contrived wild northern shore affords great views of the water, its seasonal recreational boaters, and beyond, the formalities of Bethesda Terrace. New York Central Park's landscape designers, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, designed the Ramble this way as a counterpoint to the nearby formal elements of the park.


From the days of its construction in the late 1850s, when scores of workers moved the earth, constructed masonry, built artificial hills and streams, carved out paths, and planted a diversity of trees and plants, the Ra…