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Showing posts from 2012

Walking Off New York in 2012: The Watery Shores and a Search for Higher Ground

I suppose we do have a tendency in New York City to look at things high up - the lights on top of the Empire State Building; the staircase to the High Line; the red-tailed hawks raising families in lofty windowsills; the escalators leading us out of the subways or to a higher floor in department stores; the rising floors of One World Trade Center; a high full moon perched over the city; the great Wonder Wheel on Coney Island; the flybys of airplanes, helicopters, and a space shuttle; the splashy painted sunsets over the Hudson River; the prewar penthouses of our fantasies; the ball at the top of Times Square. We dream from tall buildings of dreamy people across town in the skyline.


Near Fifth Avenue's Holiday Frenzy, a Repertoire of Worthy Escapes

It takes a brave soul to withstand the holiday bustle in Midtown, especially Fifth Avenue near the glamorous glittery stores. Anyone who has tried to walk quickly on the crowded sidewalk under those famous high-flying flags knows exactly what I mean. The pedestrian drama at holiday time becomes intense and stressful.

While venturing inside the 5th Avenue stores can offer a momentary escape from the maddening crowd (but good luck with that), those in want of a quick restoration of sanity should take flight to calmer streets.


Consider these nearby Midtown spots to add to your storehouse of escapes:    

1. Alywn Court Building and Petrossian Restaurant, or their café, 182 W. 58th St. (at 7th Avenue). On the ground floor of the ornate Alwyn Court Apartments (1907-1909), enjoy caviar and French-inspired food in a spectacular room decorated with Lalique glass and Limoges china. For a more minimalist experience and lighter fare, try the Petrossian Cafe, my go-to choice in the neighborhood. …

In Light of the Holidays, a Walk Downtown in Darkness and in Art

I hadn't walked downtown since the hurricane, but I often thought about setting out for Lower Manhattan since the storm blew through the city. I wanted to see what it looked like, having read the reports. Unwilling to play the role of disaster tourist, I suppressed my desire to witness the effects of the storm in this part of the city. After all, people had to do hard work there in the cleanup effort, and I thought that if I didn't volunteer myself, I should stay put.

Yet, I am a journalist, after a fashion, at least in the spirit of the etymological origins of the term in French - the word for "day" is "jour" - and though I don't write or take pictures every day (or, at least publish them), I consider myself a diarist of everyday things. The French call this "la vie quotidienne." I also believe in the power of witnessing - to see, to give an account of events first hand.


Last evening, as I leaned out my balcony and gazed downtown, I saw the t…

Imagining Christmas: Washington Irving's Solitary Walk, and a Stroll from Clement Clarke Moore's Chelsea to O. Henry's Irving Place

Many of the ways we think of Christmas, in its secular and most popular forms - the chubby Santa and his reindeer, the newly fallen snow, the warm hearth donned with Christmas stockings, family and friends celebrating in cheer - can trace its roots to the pens of two New York native sons, Washington Irving (1783-1859) and Clement Clarke Moore (1779-1863), and to another popular storyteller who drifted to New York, William Sydney Porter (1862-1910), better known as O. Henry. What follows are biographical sketches and holiday walks inspired by their stories.


Washington Irving's Solitary Walk Through Christmas
"Stranger and sojourner as I am in the land,--though for me no social hearth may blaze, no hospitable roof throw open its doors, nor the warm grasp of friendship welcome me at the threshold,--yet I feel the influence of the season beaming into my soul from the happy looks of those around me." - Washington Irving
New York native and storyteller Washington Irving made Ch…

Meditations on Light, Freedom, and Architecture: At Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park on a Sunday Afternoon

Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park, located at the south tip of Roosevelt Island, officially opened to the public on October 24, 2012, just a few days before the city was hit by Hurricane Sandy. What follows are pictures and thoughts from a visit to the park on the afternoon of Sunday, December 2, 2012.

The story of the park is long, but in short, architect Louis Kahn designed plans for this monument in the months before his death in 1974.After decades of unrealized plans and lack of financing, momentum to build Kahn's FDR memorial picked up a few years ago. Residents of Roosevelt Island were divided on whether or not this was a good idea. At the time, this site was a rare thing - a small, verdant patch of undeveloped land, a remnant of a primordial Mannahatta. Building on a green space in New York City with uncommon views of the surroundings was a tough decision. Especially if the thing in question was a big deal with many question marks.













After Being Tossed About, the City Dresses Up Again

A week or so ago, in the early evening of a fine day, I was in a cab heading north on 6th Avenue. The traffic came to a standstill. Still reeling from the effects of the storm that engulfed the city - for the hurricane seemed to hit many people like myself on a psychic level - I assumed the traffic jam was due to a tunnel closure or another storm-compromised infrastructure. So I inquired about the delay, and the driver said, "It's always like this at this time." Seeking clarification, I asked, "What 'time' do you mean?" He turned around to look at me, as if in the manner of someone looking at a lost soul or perhaps at a crazy person. "It's the holidays, madam."



Really. You have got to be kidding. The holidays in New York.

I had seemed to have forgotten this. 


The storm's arrival, almost a month ago, had delivered the first blow to my prolonged state of semi-unconsciousness, living with the lights out and all that, but the recovery took mo…

The View from the Terrace: New York City When the Lights Went Out

I turned on my computer this morning, the first time I could successfully switch on anything since Monday night. That was the time, of course, when the storm came and the lights went out over Lower Manhattan. Late on Wednesday, after my flashlight failed, I realized I could repower my flashlight with the batteries from the computer mouse and keyboard. They weren't doing me any good anyway.

Every night this week I walked out on the terrace to look at this scene. I marveled at the darkness and the distant light of One World Trade Center down to the south. The nights were uncommonly still and serene, though I could hear sirens. Sometimes I could see stars, and the full moon was so bright at one point that it illuminated the buildings across the street and taller buildings in the distance. I liked it when my neighbors above me directed their flashlights on the buildings. The lights reminded me of Batman signals.

I suppose this picture provides a sort of Rorschach test of how people see…

The Proverbial Calm: New York Awaits a Storm Named Sandy

With a large and rather unfathomable storm spinning off the coastline and headed our way, New York seemed to operate in parallel universes today. While visitors lined up to see the city attractions, many New Yorkers spent the day at crowded grocery and liquor stores to stock up on emergency supplies.

The early afternoon seemed like almost any Sunday afternoon in the city, although many who were out and about were aware of the official announcements. People chatted about the parks closing at 5 p.m. and the subways and buses curtailing service beginning at 7 p.m. By mid-afternoon, the city started looking a little lonely, as New Yorkers headed for their lofts, townhouses, temporary shelters, studios, brownstones, highrise apartments, or wherever else they considered home. And they would be there for awhile.




Prospect Park: Walking Into Autumn

Prospect Park, the resplendent landscaped oasis in the heart of Brooklyn, makes a fine destination for a long walk, especially during the fall season. Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux designed the park on top of a deep glacier, echoing similar features of their Central Park. Here we have The Long Meadow to the north and west, the southern Lake, and the thickly-wooded Ravine, the latter as deliberately confusing as Central Park's Ramble. Prospect Park provides plentiful opportunities to disconnect from civilization, at least for a little bit, and become blissfully lost.



Prospect Park opened officially to the public on October 19, 1867. The park is home to 30,000 trees, many of them over two hundred years old. Contemporary visitors to the park would see the same trees as those who initially wandered through here during the days of its autumn opening, just two years after the end of the Civil War.



A good place to begin and end a walk would be the Audubon Center at the Boathouse

The Panoramic City: Sweeping Views of New York with the iPhone 5

The panorama plays a special role in the history of photography, as the practice of capturing exceptionally wide-angle images of the city dates to the earliest days of the medium.


In the mid-19th century, marvelous images of cityscapes and natural landscapes were made by placing daguerreotypes side by side, and they were a wonder to behold. Subsequent photo processes involved taking sequential exposures of the scenes and then printing them from wet-plate glass negatives. Panoramas become so popular that in the late 19th century manufacturers began producing special cameras specifically for the effect. In the early 20th century, Kodak mass-produced panoramic cameras for the consumer.* Their popularity continues with digital photography.



New York City, with its sweeping broad views of harbor, rivers, and skyline, lends itself well to panoramas. The NYPL Digital Gallery and the Library of Congress (see the LOC's Panoramic Photograph Collection), among others, include several examples…