Sunday, December 30, 2007
For the 4th straight year, Gov't Mule is playing a run of sold out shows for New Year's at the famed upper west side music center. Unfortunately, I have to bartend on Monday night for the big bash, so I could only attend last night's show. Since this is not a music blog, i will spare you the music critic rundown, but the highlights were the 1st set ending covers of Lou Reed's Waiting For My Man, and The Who's My Generation that Mule jammed through with Josh Clark and Trevor Garrod of the nights opening act, Tea Leaf Green. The second set finished with legendary bassist George Porter coming out to celebrate his birthday with a joyous Spanish Moon/Hey Pocky Way.
Back to the Beacon. Anyone who has ever been there knows just how beautiful it is. Built in full Grecian regalia, once you pass under the Marquee on Broadway, you enter into one internal design vista after the next; marble vestibule, giant golden proscenium, Terra Cotta moldings, full-wall murals, etc. Of course, the point of a theatre like this is not what it looks like but how it sounds. As anyone who knows the basic concepts of acoustics knows the more stuff sound waves have to bounce off of the better the sound. The sound in most of the three levels is as rich as anywhere I have ever been. The only dead spot is in the orchestra, underneath the mezzanine overhang. These seats are actually very bad for sound.
As far as the history of the Beacon goes, there are enough historically land-marked features in the theatre to ensure that it is not soon destroyed. In fact, in 1986 there was a court ruling that stopped a group from turning it into a nightclub. It was built in 1928. It was a project put together by famous NYC theatre impresario Sam Rothfeld (AKA Roxy), and acted as the uptown smaller partner to Rothfeld's other baby, Radio City Music Hall. Throughout it's history, the Beacon has been home to vaudeville acts, political debates, HBO comedy specials and at once was home to its own orchestra.
It was on the downside as a rock venue in the eighties, but has since gained an upswing, much like its most famous clients, The Allman Brother's Band. Last year it was bought by Cablevision, who signed a 20 year lease. They promise to keep the spirit of the Beacon in tact, but that scares the shit out of any music lover who has ever set foot inside of a Cablevision property to watch a show (MSG, and the fore mentioned Radio City). Last night, there was no indication that major changes were on the way, although some did notice an increase of security and seat policing.
Back to the show. I had high hopes for last night. I had some free tickets that included on-stage laminates with backstage access...the tickets came through but the venue pulled all non band stage access last minute. boooo. Then there was a great after party at the newly renovated Blender theatre at Gramercy (old movie theatre). This was hosted by legendary New Orleans blues men Porter-Batiste-Stolz (all members of The Meters). And once again we were temporarily shut out by the notorious "list". We eventually got in because 4 people that were with the bands and PR company knew us and knew that we were supposed to be on the list. At this point, we missed almost the whole first set. Gotta love the music world. Sometimes this business is really like the movie "Almost Famous"... only sometimes.
When all was said and done, we had about 8 hours of music in two venues and it ended at 5 a.m with me helping the guitarist from Soulive catch a cab on Lexington ave.
NY, NY..its a wonderful town.
Thursday, December 27, 2007
Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante. Sante is a Belgian immigrant, long denizen of the lower east side, writer, professor, photographer and the greatest social historian of the people of NY this side of Jacob Riis. He has gained recent acknowledgment for this last part since writing Low Life in 1991. His name reached international exposure after he was used by Martin Scorsese on the set of Gangs Of New York to add historically accurate details to the movie (if like many, you don't like this movie...it's not his fault, the historic details were dead on).
I read this book for the 1st time ten years ago and just recently completed my 5th reading of it. The first time I read it, I read it like a story and it read amazingly well. Sante claims that it is not an academic book. Well, i dare anyone to find an academic book of the same topic that holds as many well researched details and dead-on historic anecdotes. What this book does better than any non-fiction book I have ever read is treat the topic with a genuine love and respect. It is not a cold telling of history but a verbal painting of a time that has been an enigma in the History of America's Urban past.
The book covers Manhattan exclusively from 1840-1920. Sante outlines the neighborhoods and ethnicity of New Yorkers and how they evolved, devolved and morphed over that time. He spends a great amount of time telling the notorious stories of the Bowery, 5 Points and all the "Low Life" hot spots of the NY degenerate underground. He touches on all the personalities we know like Boss Tweed and P.T. Barnum but also on a host of unsavory characters that seem too cartoonish to be real.
Like other great books that have outlined the political landscape of NY (Power Broker, Gotham, etc.) Low Life doesn't pull punches on the abject corruption and free dealing that the policy makers used to build their empires. However, what this book does that all the others barely touch on is that the true power of NY always came from the masses and their habits. One of my long time favorite political slogans has always been "If the people lead, the leaders will follow". Well in NY for most of its history, the masses even while being pushed into the lowest slums this world has ever seen, had more effect on what the corrupt politician did than in almost any other city.
If you have ever lived in loved or visited Manhattan, Read this book. You will find Sante's stories relevant still and find his view of our history around every community garden, dive bar, and historic graveyard that you walk past every day.
Thursday, December 20, 2007
First of all, I'm sorry for the brief hiatus from this blog. The flu hit me pretty hard last week, and I was completely out of commission. But I'm back on the trail and to celebrate, I took the advice of a good friend of mine and took a trip to the Gowanus Canal. Yummy!
I have many times passed by, crossed over and at times purposely avoided NYC's most infamous waterway, especially during my intense 5 month look at New York's underbelly. But yesterday, I took a trip to explore it in its entirety. From dirty start in Carrol Gardens through Industrial Redhook and out to the Gowanus, and New York Bays.
The neighborhood around the canal has one of the oldest recorded histories in Brooklyn. The residents of New Netherlands bought the land from the Dutch Government in 1639 and could be the first official real estate deal in the New World. Because of its access to water and its rich soil, it was to be used as a tobacco farm (if they could see it now). Throughout this period, the land was farmed and the waterfront used for the areas first boom business, oyster exporting.
During the next century, because of the increase in settlers (or gentrifying usurpers if you will) there was a big need for docks and shipping ports, and the area now known as Redhook and its tidal creek were the perfect place to start. Not to jump ahead, but over the next 200 years the Brooklyn waterfront was turned into the world's largest shipping hub and the Gowanus neighborhood was at its epicenter. So much for the lush farmland!
Now, the canal is among the countries dirtiest creeks and the rundown industrial land surrounding the canal remains as a skeleton of what it once was. Its a filthy reminder of what a society built on commercial backbone looks like. As an urban explorer I love the endless fields of large rusty broken down structures, crumbling walls of graffiti and old buildings being slowly reclaimed by the stubborn plant life growing up from cracks in the cobblestones. As a person seriously concerned about the state of the environment and the lasting effects that our shipping and shopping industries have piled upon our landscape, I am saddened to see what we have been left to clean up.
As I traveled through the neighborhood, I tried to cross over all the small bridges and overhangs, like the ones on 3rd street and 9th street (reminding of an old nearby warehouse that was used for a meeting space for a protest in days past). I also went to the edge of the canal at the tips of all the dead-end streets that ran into the canal.
There is no end to the things that I found interesting to see along the way: Rusted cranes leaning into the water, garbage barges filled to capacity and illegally allowing the overflow to fall into the canal, a small group of kayakers paddling their way through a guided tour of the area (possibly from the Gowanus Dredger's Canoe Club), and countless flocks of bloated seagulls and pigeons feasting on the tons of trash washed up along its banks.
On my bike I found less access to the water, as the canal got closer to the bay, but I found a great old structure near the Redhook Recreation Area (its really called that). What probably was an old train terminal, i found a hole in a rusty fence and climbed in. There was a maze of cement walls and large stone blocks completely covered with street art and great graffiti work. Check out one picture I took here. It was endless, and after about an hour inside, it was getting too dark for me to continue, but I will be back.
As for the Canal, i have just read some research put out by the Department of Environmental Protection and even though the area is in gross violation of the Clean Water Act, they continue to OK the use of the canal for awful practices like sewage dumping without sufficient flushing pipes and reckless garbage transfer. As the efforts to turn the neighborhood into another Williamsburg continue, the calls for cleanup get louder. NOT LOUD ENOUGH.
For anyone who continues to mutter hollow liberal mantras like "Its slowly getting better", keep this in mind: this past April, a Minke Whale after seemingly suffering from serious breathing problems due to water pollution was found dead after beaching itself on an oil slicked embankment along the canal.
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
As I wrote here a week a few weeks ago, i found some of these little suckers in City Island where they have made their largest home in New York. I did some online reading about them and then went out this weekend to snap some photos...if I could.
Before I tell you of my bird watching, here is what i know about these immigrants. It seems that some unknown time ago a crate of green monk parrakeets was accidentally left open and all the birds escaped. Also known as Quaker parrots, they came from Argentina and were to be sold in NYC pet shops. The pet shop connection continues to be ironic in that from time to time it is thought that the NYC tropical bird population has been heightened due to illegal release of unsold "products" from these little stores.
In a tale of great bird courage, the flocks have managed to survive and actually thrive in unnatural conditions. They have made home in waterfront wetlands preserves in All boroughs except Manhattan. They also nest in City Island, Brooklyn College, Greenwood cemetery and at least a half dozen other locales. In harsh winter conditions, they huddle next to warm power stations and have been a source of neighborhood pride and a company pest for Con Edison. There are bird watching clubs and photo communities based solely around these little creatures.
So, I wanted to document their existence all on my own. My buddy who started me on this adventure could have told me where exactly he took the picture and I could have gone out and duplicated his find...but what fun would that be? So I went out on a cold Saturday with my bike and my camera and went to search the 2 most well known sites in Brooklyn. Brooklyn College was not very fruitful so i moved quickly to Greenwood Cemetery where flocks have be known to dive bomb the groundskeepers at regular intervals.
I have never been on a bird watch before, and i can tell you now that it doesn't look like bird watching is anywhere in my future. I can wait on very long lines at a bank, sit in gridlock traffic, deal with an inept waiter without much trouble...but it takes a special kind of patience to look for a specific type of bird in a place like Brooklyn when there is absolutely no real starting point with which to look. I circled around the large cemetery for about an hour and a half, looking up at every tree and turning my head quickly at every chirp I heard.
After all this I have exactly ZERO pictures of the green parrots I came to see. I am not ashamed to say that I gave up the search after a total of 2 hours. Not very long in terms of bird watching time, but 2 hours is very valuable to me on my attempt to see everything i can in NYC in 5 months.
I have a feeling that seeing the birds would have been anti-climactic anyway. After all, Its the story that excited me, and that's more valuable than a picture, ain't it.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
I know it comes as a giant shock that I would be attending a protest...haha...but this is a very important issue. Trying to legislate against ones opponent's political views is nothing new I suppose, but never before has their been such a landslide of laws and proposed laws targeting political dissent. The Patriot Act is in full force and thousands of victims can already testify to its evil teeth. Many people know about that one as well as the onslaught of illegal or immoral phone tapping and government spying programs. But there is a new bread of attack that has been making its way through congress with remarkable ease.
Specifically, the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) that allows for prosecution against anyone who causes, in the name of an "extreme" agenda, monetary losses to a corporation of more than $10,000. This may sound somewhat reasonable to some (not to anyone I know..but). But imagine if their was a successful boycott against a company doing animal testing, and that group was listed as a radical organization, or even a bad publicity camapign by a "fringe" group that did nothing but buy advertising space in a newspaper.
Or better yet, imagine if a group of people put information on a website about an action against a company, lets call it Huntington Life Sciences, and then they got arrested and put in jail for as long as six years...for doing nothing more than running a website. Actually, this one already happened, and that was BEFORE AETA passed.
The second piece of legislation is called the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act. This one has already passed the House with only 6 dissenting votes! This piece of shit legislation allows for extended prosecutorial weapons against activists with "extreme belief systems" who wish to enact "political or social change." Under this bill it is not a stretch to see that people like Martin Luther King, Emma Goldman, Rosa Parks or any other social activists that you might know would indeed been considered by law, a terrorist (even if they were already considered this by the governments at the time).
Like I said in my opening paragraph, in most cases, its not what the legislation says now, its what it can be used for later...in this case, its both. Fot those of us who have had friends or family put in prison for their political beliefs, this is not a "what if" type of discussion. This is not the first step and it won't be the last. Take action now!
Here is a small article about today's action : http://nyc.indymedia.org/en/2007/12/93378.html
Saturday, December 8, 2007
Its been a few weeks since I saw some live music so I thought I'd check out a show.
I went to the old Roseland Ballroom on 52nd street to see one of my favorite acts Martin Sexton. I have reviewed him before on an old blog of mine here.
The Roseland has always been one of those great music venues...and isn't hasn't changed much since the Dave Letterman Show moved in next door. But it wasn't built for just music. It used to be a dance hall. It has also been used for ice skating (the rink is still beneath the floor boards) large dinners and political events.
I have a feeling that the venue is on its way out soon with all these new corporate venues spending like crazy to get the big acts, but as long as musicians still want to play the old spots, it will be there.
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
The building is privately owned and used as a art enclave. Once used as the Phun Factory, the project is now called the 5-Pointz, The Institute Of Higher Burning. It is a project run by a writer called Meres. Over the years, the building has been bombed by some of the worlds most famous graffiti artists and street taggers, with permission of the project and with the landlords full blessing.
The pointz is a must see for all urbanites and a place to enjoy an amazing form of art forever ensconced in controversy. A nice bit of NYC paradox is the proximity of this building to the large Citibank building looming 2 blocks away.
Monday, December 3, 2007
I had a big plan for Saturday. I was going to start at the Throgs-Neck Bridge and see the waterfront from there all the way out to Nassau County. I also wanted to check out the Alley Pond Environmental Center and watch the sunset over the bridges from Douglaston. But boy, it was cold!
I mean really f*@#ing cold.
I took the 7-train all the way out to flushing, then took a bus to its last stop. I walked to the end of Powell's Cove Road, but there was no opening to the water. After a half hour of walking around and finding no public water views, i made my own and found myself right under the bridge overpass. It was a very clear day and made for some good photography, but it was COLD.
My compass/thermometer on my bag said 19-degrees...but the wind was blowing at over 25 miles an hour, making it nearly unbearable. I walked along the rocks on the water with my camera and wrapped around Cryder's Point in Little Bay. I found some nice urban decay and a broken pier, but after 5 minutes i couldn't take the temperature. I had taken my gloves off to snap some photos and my fingers were numb and could no longer act like fingers. My face was purple and the tears coming from the corners of my eyes were starting to freeze.
Needless to say, my day ended a bit premature. If i can find a warmer day, i will go back to see all the other things on my list.
Here is a little about the Throgs Neck. It was another Robert Moses project built in 1961. It was built by Othmar Ammann, the same guy that planned the GW, Whitstone and Triborough bridges. It is the only major East River crossing that is not connected to the beltway system of highways.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
For this one, he imported 1.2 million cubic yards of sand that he dredged from Sandy Hook in New Jersey and Rockaway in Queens. He dumped it in the water around Rodman's Neck (now used as a police firing range). In doing this he connected mainland bronx with Hunter's Island and Twin Island and in effect tripled the size of Pelham Bay Park. Quite a feat.
This was in 1935. 70 years later, it all looks like a natural landscape that is among the most Serene places in NYC. Serene at least in November as the temperatures start to dip close to freezing. On my walk through the northern part of the park, there is nobody else around. there is something a bit satisfying about walking around in NYC and not hearing cars and hoards of people bustling about.
As you can see in my previous post about City Island, there are dozens of varieties of birds in this area and the lands around the open picnic areas are very wild and used as wildlife sanctuaries. Outside of all the bids and a great number of black and grey squirrels, I saw one of the reported 5 white tailed deer in the park. I must of startled him as he was hiding in the brush near the trail I was on. He leaped out and ran away. He was absolutely magnificent. The other bit of fun nature i witnesses was watching a seagull scoop down, grab a clam or an oyster, fly up about 20 feet up and drop it on the rocks. It cracked open as planned and the giant well-fed bird had some breakfast.
The beach itself was very quiet. There is a boardwalk around the 1.2 mile long half circle beach. A few others were out there enjoying a brisk walk under the blue skies. During the summer, this beach is packed and the pavilions and food stands are all operating. So is the environmental center on the east end that was unfortunately closed yesterday. I bet it would be fun to take a boat out and circle around the beach and up to the Westchester side of the park. Maybe next time...in warmer weather.
As a sidenote, i am noticing with much excitement that this is the perfect time of year to explore all these waterfront parks. The air is colder but the colors are fantastic and you get much of the time by yourself.
Saturday, December 1, 2007
If you have never been to City Island, be prepared for a very UN-NYC experience. Although a part of the Bronx, the island located in the Long Island Sound is a thing unto itself. It is aptly described in the bible of NYC urban explorers, Forgotten New York like this:
City Island looks like a transplanted fishing village seemingly dropped into the New York Metropolitan area. Its street grid is arranged much like a fish skeleton with City Island Avenue as the spine and the twenty four streets intersecting it as the bones, making foot exploration easy.
As far as my explorations are concerned, this is the furthest away from my home in Clinton Hill that you can get and still be in NYC. I planned on an early morning jaunt, so i left work at 5 a.m. and took the 6 train from 1st stop to the last stop. From there, in the early morning chill of late November I waited for two separate buses that never came. After waiting at two clearly marked bus stops for an hour, (the BX-12 and Bx-29 city island) i was tired of having the buses pass me by and went into the subway station and asked what was up. They told me that those stops don't get used this time of year. thanks for telling me MTA!!! (cover up the bus stops polls or put a new sign up).
One good byproduct of waiting so long on the Pelham Bay Park side of the Bruckner was that i got to watch the sunrise over the park with giant flocks of birds covering the sky(check out this photo)
Finally, i got on the bus and off i went through the park. On the bridge over the Eastchester Bay, i saw an incredible sunrise that makes me want to go back a few more times and shoot some film or bring other people to show. I had the bus drop me off at the southern end of the island so i could walk back and see it all. At the end are a few seafood restaurants that weren't open at 7 in the morning, but if they were i could have gone out to there viewing decks and look out at the Throggs Neck Bridge and Execution Rock Lighthouse (named for ruthless torture and killings by British soldiers during the revolutionary war).
I did get to see some of that from the end gate on City Island Avenue and still got the tail end of that sunrise. For the next hour and a half i walked up the island and out to the water on all the side streets. Most of them had locked gates for community use only (still controversy over the legality of that). I found a very oddly calm air while walking the streets. It really is a small village. Most of the buildings are houses close to the street with small yards and I felt almost like i was intruding on people privacy walking around with a camera. That doesn't happen in most, if any, place in NYC.
I found a few nice openings along the water and felt good about being on the beach in the early morning. Here are a few facts about this island:
- At last count (2000) there were less than 5,000 people living on the island.
- City Island was privately owned, most notably by Thomas Pell and later Benjamin Palmer.
- Palmer renamed the Island, originally called Minifer's Island, in hope that is could compete with Manhattan's shipping businesses.
- The history of the island was chronicled by Alice Payne in Tales Of The Clamdiggers.
- There are a series of smaller islands, or some better described as uninhabitable rocks in the area. The largest and most well known is Hart Island which since 1869 has held the graves of New York's unknown dead...this is the famous Potter's Field.
- There is a tremendous bird population stemming from the vast wetlands and land preserves of the nearby Pelham Bay Park. If you are so inclined, you can find Yellow-rumped warblers (in fall), Song Sparrow, Peragrine Falcons, Blue-capped Chicadees, Barn Swallow, willow flycatchers, Night Heron, Ring-necked pheasants and turkeys.
- You can also see a healthy but oddly placed population of Monk Parakeets. It is thought that they once escaped from a crate at JFK and has since made homes in a few bird friendly neighborhoods in New York and has adapted beautifully.
My trip to City Island was relaxing if a bit too cold. The only negative i have to report is the ongoing noise of guns that can be heard at all hours of the day. The NYPD firing range is on a piece of land just west of City Island and is a bit of a nuisance and more than a bit eerie to hear exactly how many bullets are flying through the air.
One final thought...for years, i visited City Island once a summer with NYPIRG for our annual mini-golf tournament. I won twice!!!
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
It is still a working a working firehouse and known as Ladder 8. They are fully aware of their distinction among site-seers and have a large Ghostbusters sign hanging inside...they also have a wall-of-fame for melted telephones but that has nothing to do with the movie.
The old #8 has existed since 1865 but didn't move to this location until 1912. It's not a very heavily travelled tourist spot, but walking past it always makes me smile. I haven't seen the movie in about 10 years, but it was never really about the movie, it was about seeing your city on the big screen.
It wasn't a very long outing, but i had to go and snap a photo of it before I leave.
Before the name was given to this area by the Lispenard Block Association it was either called the Lower West Side or Washington Market after the fruit market in the hood. You can find some evidence of the name in the same-named park next to BMCC or in a sign for the Eureka Fruit Packing sign of the Hope Fruit Co. on Harrison (I think it is harrsion). picture
No other area of Manhattan has changed more over the last 15 years and probably no other is such a paradox.
- Old "boring" looking plain red brick warehouses now hold multi million dollar luxury lofts.
- Dirty dive bars next to champagne lounges.
- Pot hole filled streets being land-marked because of the cobblestones.
- One of the richest public high schools in the country (Stuyvesant) connected by footbridge to a community college (BMCC).
- 1$ dirty water hot dog stand outside of a 5 star restaurant.
It makes sense to me, although sad and worried about the future of the human race, that TriBeCa is become so expensive to live (12th richest zip code in the U.S.). It is walking distance to the financial district. It is also, for those of you who care about such things, one of the whitest neighborhoods in NYC (82.34%).
During my walk yesterday, where i walked every street in the hood, i was interested mostly in the architecture. Little intricacies are everywhere: Old building freezes, address cornerstones (like above) industrial stars, an old bridge connecting 2 buildings in a former hospital over Staple street alley, a compass in the sidewalk, a subway map in the sidewalk. There are all glass building like the ones overlooking the Hudson and there are eerie skyscrapers with no windows at all (the telephone building). There are sidewalks like those on Worth that actually glitter and there are rooftop gardens that cost more than a Mansion on a New England Beach.
Taking a walk through TriBeCa is like walking through old New York, especially at night with the old lampposts lighting the street yellow. If you are in the right mood and the air is a bit foggy, you feel like you are in an old movie...and you might be if you accidentally walk through a movie set shooting with one of the local celebrities as its star.
Take a look soon, before long all the roughness of the neighborhood will be swept clean, the graffiti washed off the wall and gates put up to protect its citizens from people like me.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
I wrote yesterday about my trip to Staten Island and mentioned briefly about the giant Fresh Kills Landfill. As I normally do these days, i was reading some of the history today of the great dump and I came across this stat:
In 2001, the last year of operation, the Fresh Kills Landfill was taller than the Statue Of Liberty!!!
That's one big heap of garbage. If it was to be opened for its expected lifespan, it would have become the tallest spot on the EAST COAST, larger in mass than the Great Wall Of China and the final sign of the apocalypse. Its amazing to me that it took so long for it to be shut down.
In the hey-day of dumping in Fresh Kills, almost 13,000 tons of garbage was dumped there a day. New York is still throwing away garbage at an alarming rate...almost half of it is paper product. Maybe its about time we all start recycling, huh? If over 75% of our daily garbage can be easily recycled, how come there aren't more recycling bins on the streets than garbage cans. It saves money, good for business and is absolutely integral for us to save this planet.
Change is slow and politicians are lazy...but that's one man's opinion.
sidenote: the landfill is set to be turned into a park 3 times the size of central park. There will be nature trails, kayaking, ball fields a 9/11 memorial and room for 7 wind turbines expecting to produce enough energy to power 5,000 housholds.
Saturday, November 24, 2007
The northwest neighborhoods along the shore of Staten Island are nothing like anywhere else in the 5 boroughs. I went out to see what I can of a rumored boat graveyard in the Rossville Area, and ended up walking about 5 miles along the Arthur Kill Road narrowly avoiding getting hit by one trucker after another. (They really ought to put in a roadside pathway).
I took the bus all the way out to Rossville Road and immediately saw a glimpse of a rusted out tanker in the sludge out in the creek. There wasn't that great of a view and there were a few houses that warned of massive bodily injury if you were caught trespassing. I assume that was in reaction to many urban explorers like myself trying to get out to the boats. I thought about crawling down the small cliff side and head through the weeds, but it looked like the marsh was rather deep. Normally that wouldn't deter me very long, but this particular marsh was literally in the shadow of the largest garbage dump in the world.
The Fresh Kills Landfill has been closed down for a few years (Thanks in no small part to NYPIRG) but remains a monument to human excess and is one of the absolutely worst things we could have done to the future health of the borough. I wouldn't be confident about looking for any clean ground water on the island for some time. So there was absolutely no way I was going to wade into a marsh that has been in the dumps runoff for the last half century.
While i was snapping photos from the ledge and trying to find a creative way to get a better angle I hear behind me:
"Hey...what are you doing?"
"Just snapping some photos."
"Cool, you want to see a better spot?"
This guy was a local crab fisherman (yes he catches and sells shell fish from the Arthur Kill...yummy). He also is a local nautical history buff and gave me some good spots to go and see some of the boats. Great timing, I was about to call it quits and bus away with a few good shots of just a 3 or 4 wrecks. Instead i got 3 more hours of things to see.
You never know exactly how big something is until you have to walk it. I have been using my handy hagstroms map for 3 months now. You think i would understand the basic concepts of scale by now...you would think. Its not that walking 3 miles is hard to do...even in 35 degree windy weather, but walking 3 miles on an industrial highway without a sidewalk or anything resembling a shoulder is just outright unpleasant.
On one side of me was a great protected parkland called "Clay Pit Ponds State Park Preserve." On the other was a series of interesting points of interest. Along Arthur kill road which is a 300 year old roadway from Richmond Town to Tottenville I passed by The Arthur Kill Prison, a giant paint ball field, a 200 year old cemetery holding the remains of the Sleight family an enormous Mobile Oil Plant and several auto body shops (this is important for what i find later).
I tried to walk down a road to the shore (my new friend told me it was open to the public) but a big asshole of a man stopped me by skidding his truck in front of the gate to ward me off. Not being susceptible to reasonable conversation or even any conversation for that matter since he didn't open his window or stop spinning his big wheels churning up dust, i flipped him off and walked away.
After walking some more down to the Charleston area i found a better entrance at the end of a small dead end road. There was a old run down auto body shop with a broken down pickup that had "Shut Down" painted on it. I climbed the fence and found a small opening in a field of reeds. I don't know if anyone out there has even walked through reeds before but its downright eerie. The reeds were about 12 feet high and too thick to see 3 feet away. So for about 10 minutes I tried to follow other footprints through the marshy field hoping that there was an opening soon and that i didn't accidental run into some big fellas dumping a body in the muck.
Finally i came to a small "beach" and i use that term very loosely. There it was, a huge field of rusted burnt out ships and nautical wrecks. Forget for a second how dirty this whole thing is and how shameful it is for industry to ruin what once was a stunning landscape. Just for a second. The dirty, curious kid in me loves this stuff. It was amazing to see it all.
The first bout yard i saw up on Rossville road is from the Witte Marine Equipment Company and has many old NYC fire boats and abandoned tugs. Some of them were used in trying unsuccessfully to help the General Slocum Tragedy that took 1,000 lives in a fire. This second group of boats are mostly old ferries. The one above says New York and Astoria on the hull.
I walked through the reeds a little more to get closer and came across a car...that's right a car stuck right there in the middle of nowhere with no possible way to get it there by road. Then another, and another and then an opening with dozens of old rusty stripped cars. Some of them half buried in the muck that are probably covered by water most of the year, and others that are up on the rocks that still have visible char marks from fires. My first thought was...uh-oh this is where they hide the cars after burying the bodies. I guess i have seen one too many mob movies...and if you have seen the most recent "We Own The Night" there is a crazy chase in the reeds out in Floyd Bennet Field that look a lot like this. But in a guess more based in reality the cars are probably from illegal dumping from the auto body shops in the neighborhood.
I spent about an hour walking around the wrecks trying to get as close as I could. At times my foot sank to an uncomfortable level and I almost lost my shoes a few times. The colors for photographs were perfect but the weather was absolutely freezing. I wish i had a little row boat so i could get closer to some of the ships further out. The big metal ships were fun but i wanted to see the old wood ones that were left as nothing more than old skeletons.
A good day of urban exploring ended with a hour and a half bus ride, a 20 minute ferry ride, and a two subway trains home. If I wanted to document the New York City Transit system, this would have been a good start.
check out the pictures here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/82369865@N00/
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
And speaking of turkeys representing thanksgiving here why I am writing this blog entry. For the last 4 days, there has been a line hundreds of people long in a local avant-garde soul-food place in my hood called Jive Turkey. Normally, the JT has at most 2 people in it at rush hour. From what I hear its good food but seeing as I don't eat turkey, i never went in. Today there are no less than 3 hundred people waiting to buy their gourmet thanksgiving turkey meals.
I have never been a very preachy type of vegetarian, but listen: Just because some version of history says that the traditional thanksgiving meal is turkey doesn't mean that you HAVE to eat turkey. It also doesn't mean you have to buy the biggest turkey in the store...or that just because you bought something called "free-range" that somehow you are acting better than other consumers duped into buying more food than you need.
Its just another day. If having dinner with family and friends make you happy, great...that is indeed an occasion to celebrate and enjoy. It shouldn't however mean finding all sorts of useless gifts to buy and food to over-purchase or use more gallons of gas to hurry to dinner.
True that environmental destruction and community upheaval may very well be the true legacy of thanksgiving, but that doesn't mean that we have to oblige.
Castle Clinton, later renamed Castle Garden is that old round building down near the battery that is now unfortunately used now only as a big ticket window for the Ellis island ferry. It was built in preparation of the war of 1812 as a NY city lower Hudson guard. At that time the Castle was surrounded by water and the area resembled nothing of the modern day park. Over the years, the southern tip of Manhattan was enlarged by landfill and eventually engulfed the building.
It was used starting in the 1820 as a cultural and performance center, opera house, promenade, used by PT Barnum and even as a beer garden. During this period the structure had added floors and was roofed over. It was used mostly in this hodgepodge manner until it was transformed into an immigrant process center. Over 8.5 million immigrants went through the castle before the center on Ellis island was created soon after the civil war.
Its most famous use was that of the Aquarium starting in 1896. As is the unfortunate fate of many of New York's landmarks, the aquarium was shut down and the structure almost entirely destroyed by a behemoth bridge plan proposed by Robert Moses. The aquarium was moved to Coney Island and the original castle saved and landmarked. Its not very exciting to see now, since its used as a f#@king ticket booth...but i do find its history fun and worthy of note.
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
On Sunday, I spent the night in a very fun interconnected stoty between Brooklyn's Premier music center, BAM and one of my all time favorite bars, Mooney's Pub.
I went to go see the movies with one of my great movie buddy's and we saw "Before the Devil Knows Your Dead". It was one of the most depressing movies I have seen. Beautifully acted and directed and actually had one of the most real moments of any movie i have ever seen. However, it was one of those movies where all the characters are on the brink of absolute collapse and nervous breakdown. I don't like movies where i wish everyone would just go ahead and kill themselves...but that's just me.
Anyway, back to the fun. In the movie, their local hangout was a bar named Mooney's. We looked at each other and kind of acknowledged the coincidence that we were about to go to a bar name Mooney's. After the movie and a very cold bike ride up flatbush avenue, we got to the bar and had this interchange with my buddy Scot who was bartending:
"We just saw the most depressing movie ever"
"Was it 'Before the Devil Knows Your Dead'?"
"Was there a bar in it called Mooney's"
"Yeah...how'd you guess?"
Apparently the writer of the movie drank at this Mooney's for years and wrote the bar into his story. At the last minute, they changed the location to a bar in LA but kept the name. Scot then showed me a letter they just got from the writer thanking them for the use of the name and a framed prop Mooney's drink coaster that they used in the movie.
Then to make the coincidence even tighter, Scot showed me the Sunday Times article that came out that day that featured Mooney's. (The bar is being shut down later this year to raise the rent...more on that when it happens). Both Scot and the movie are mentioned in the article.
Funny. Who knew that the movie and the bar we had planned on going to Sunday night was going to be so closely connected. Gotta love it.
Well while talking to a buddy about my large cat encounter, he said:
"I bet it was a cougar, at least once a year a cougar gets hit by a car in the bronx."
I just checked some reports out online and there it was, first hand stories about cougars in the bronx. I don't know if there is actual proof...not everything you find on the internet is true. But take that with my first initial reaction and the picture above and I think I almost stepped on a COUGAR!
There are conflicting ideas about what the cars have hit. Some say they were cougars, some say they are only in the cougar family. Whatever it was, what I saw was big and it was a cat. The tail, as you can see, is striped like some cougars and as wide as the barrel of a baseball bat. Its body was bigger than your average Labrador dog. I wish i has seen its face but I wasn't about to wake it up to find out.
Anyone know anymore about large cats in the bronx?
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Since the park is so large, I intend to go back a few times. Yesterday I walked through the south meadow section, checking out most of the waterfront. 600 acres of the park fluctuates between walkable trails and underwater marshland. This time of year it is low water so i was able to see some fun stuff along the way.
After getting off the last stop of the 6-train, i entered the park and immediately noticed that I was one of maybe 10 people in the whole park. There were just acres of trees and trails scattered with random picnic tables and barbecue pits and nobody enjoying the scene. Maybe I'm the only one that likes to walk around New York in 35-degree November weather. I wasn't really in the mood to sift through the picnic area so I delved into the wilderness section of the park ASAP(as you can see above, its "Forever Wild"...except for the fence and orange netting, occasional street lamps, the few paved paths and of course the sign itself).
All jokes aside, it was exceptionally nice wilderness land and is a great place to check out some great mostly untouched land. I had a near run-in with some wildlife myself. I was walking toward a trail opening when i suddenly realized that i was 5 feet from stepping on a rather large animal. It was sleeping so I backed away before taking a few pictures. I first thought is was a bobcat. Weird I guess seeing as i was in the Bronx...but feasible. They are in westchester and could have stayed here without being bothered. But I looked at the pictures later and it had a tail like a raccoon. My roommate says that raccoons can get as big as 50-60 pounds. I don't know, this animal was bigger than a dog...and had the body of a large cat like a bobcat. I never saw its face to see, but if it was a raccoon...damn that was one big raccoon.
Anyway back to my trip. I spent the next hour walking along the waterfront just south of the now capped but still dangerous Pelham Bay Landfill. This area along the Long Island Sound is not really meant for public walks, but you all know how much I love my urban exploring. There was a nice low-tide trail along the water lined with oyster shells, tide-smoothed stones and some random washed up garbage. The highlights were the ruins of an old building that I can't find anywhere on the web as to what it was, a 12 foot high rock jetti that was fun to climb out on, great views of the Throgs-Neck Bridge and City Island and an overall incredible waterfront scene filled with all the fall colors.
If you go to Pelham Bay Park, go now while the colors are great and the crowds are gone. Also along the way, when the 6-train gets above ground, keep your eyes open for the great rooftop graffiti that hasn't yet been driven out by newer buildings.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
H.D. Thoreau, Walden
I was back up in the Bronx yesterday yo visit the final bit of Hudson River waterfront that I have yet to see up close. I took a nice long walk in 2 connected but separate parks. First the Wallenburg Forest and then Riverdale Park.
Raoul Wallenberg was a Swedish Diplomat that was thought to have been killed by the KGB in 1947 at the young age of 35. He was an important figure in helping save the lives of European Jews bound for concentration camps during WWII. He was famous for printing counterfeit Swedish passports for Hungarian Jews and purchasing houses that were adorned with the Blue and Yellow Swedish flag to house condemned Jews. These houses were considered neutral diplomatic property and beyond the reach of the Nazis. Wallenberg has been credited with saving tens of thousands of lives.
The forest is just across the street from Riverdale Park. Most of my trip was spent walking through this park (RP). I entered the park at its southern most point at 232nd street and walked north. I'm not sure whether its city conditioning or my recent adventures, but i spent the first 20 minutes wondering when i was going to get "somewhere". It was then that i realized i was just taking a walk in the woods. This wasn't a park like those in most of NYC, it was just a long stretch of undeveloped forest set between the Hudson River and the rest of civilized Bronx. If you wanted to, as I did, you could cut left and scoot down the woodsy hill toward the river and take a look. Its cut off by a fence that blocks you from the train tracks, but you can get a great view of the raw beauty of the open cliffs of the the Palisades. Outside of just one opening in the forest, you can walk all the up to Westchester without interruption.
The trees are great and you'll get a lot of company from the birds and squirrels that are scurrying everywhere. Enjoy your walk.
Friday, November 16, 2007
I'll get to the music in a second, but first the church. St. Thomas is an amazing building. Built in 1913, it is an Anglican church designed in High Gothic Architecture adorned with a hell of a lot of French Flamboyant details (and I thought I'd never use any of the information I learned in my music and architecture iconography class in college).
The most breathtaking feature is the 80 foot reredos behind the altar with 60 fully realized figures carved from sandstone. There is a giant choir loft, a large stained glass rose windows, a magnificent arcade with open triforium and just to show off about my limited but focused knowledge of architecture, the entire nave is supported by quadripartite ribbed groin vaulting (Mrs. Karch would be so proud).
Being a musician however, I was taken in by the 4 large organs that have helped make the church a must visit for keyboardists everywhere. The Great Organ has been refurbished and rebuilt many times but as it stands now has 4 manuals and 156 ranks. This organ fits well with the architecture and can be viewed on most days during the church services...or as my friend pointed out, during lunch hour when you may be lucky enough to catch the organist at practice.
The second featured organ, the Trompette-en-Chamade, was built in 1996 and is found directly beneath the rose window. It stands out due to its newer 25 stops and 32 ranks but also because of the white oak and 24 karat gold trim that matches absolutely nothing in the building. It is however an exquisite instrument.
We were there to see a performance by the St. Thomas Choir of Men and Boys. The ensemble is the finest in the United States and boast of a choir taught in one of the last fully operational choir schools in the country. The choir has had acclaim all over the world, has sung for the pope, and has recorded much of its repertoire. In the church choral tradition, the group is well known. Outside of the music world they made headlines as the group that sang the world premiere of Andrew Lloyd Webber's Requiem.
Although sung often in music halls, opera houses and other venues, the music of Bach and his contemporaries is best heard in a church setting, since that is how if was written. The period instruments (played well by the Concert Royal) and the close harmonies of the choral writing is best brought to life by the openness and high acoustics of a church like St. Thomas.
I have to say the performance was good, but I was most excited to see the church itself.
Tuesday, November 13, 2007
But above all that, we have some of the most gorgeous beaches this side of Maui. This weekend i travelled to possibly my favorite place on earth (i reserve the right to change my mine on this). I went to Montauk.
Past New York City, past Jones Beach, past the north shore towns on the Long Island Sound, past all the farm lands, past the vineyards and even past the Hamptons is Montauk...The End. Montauk has more protected land than developed land, its a fishing village with million dollar homes. Its an East Coast surfer's haven with farms that grow the best tasting sweet corn i have ever had. Its a summer tourist spot with a year round community. It has been the rumored home of government headquarters for black-ops, alien cover-ups and hiking trails with unexploded land mines. It has a famous lighthouse that is surrounded by amazing waterfront cliffs.
I have been going out to Montauk since I was a kid. Seeing it in the cold air of November is always fun. There are less people, better sunsets, great food, sharks, sea turtles and if you time it right you can catch a seal or two sunning itself on the rocks. (not this trip, sorry to say).
Forget the Hamptons...go out to Montauk.
see the pictures
Friday, November 9, 2007
230th street runs through Riverdale and past Van Cortlandt Park all the way out to Hutchinson River. But in Kingsbridge, just west of Broadway where it meets Ewan Park it suddenly turns UP! Its officially called a "Step Road". I thought for a while that calling it a road was not exactly fair. Its not a road...its just a long staircase. But then I saw it. It isn't a road, but it is definitely more than a staircase. It is a vital thoroughfare that intersects 4 other streets and although doesn't have any sort of vehicular traffic...might as well be called a road.
It is thought to be the largest step-road in New York, but outside of the other few in this neighborhood and the one i know in Bay Ridge, i don't know of any other. Perhaps i will find some more to compare.
Need some exercise, and want to see some very great old houses along the way...check it out.
Yesterday I took some time and visited Marble Hill and Spuyten Duyvil. Marble Hill, although entirely on the New York State mainland, is still technically part of Manhattan, or at least New York County. They get a bit touchy if you tell them they are from the Bronx...even if you show them a map. It is a small niche on the cliff side of the Harlem River and not more than a nice walk through a semi-private community.
Spuyten Duyvil is tucked in the corner of the Bronx right where the Harlem River meets the Hudson. Try and ask people to pronounce the little Bronx village and you get many variances. Dutch in entomology, it could mean either "Spite the Devil" or "Devil's Whirlpool" depending on how you say it. It has also been called "The Sit Down Place" after the original Lenape Indian name for the hill.
Once you pass the Henry Hudson Highway, you enter into a very guarded community and have a few "Mapped Private" streets. All of the roads leading to water view access are marked as private. All the houses on Palisade Ave. are built into the hillside. Some are larger apartment buildings and some are fantastic houses with leveled overlooks and outdoor river view patios. There is a public viewing deck called the "Half Moon Overlook." You can't see much through the heavy tree cover, but you can scramble down a steep path that doesn't look like an official walkway. You pass old building foundations and cement pillars covered in graffiti.
Once you get to the bottom, there is an open passage to the train tracks. I'm sure i wasn't allowed down there, but there was no sign, no fence and nobody there to stop me, so i did a little urban exploring and avoided all contact with the occasional Amtrak or Metro North trains that sped by. You get a great view of the river and the Henry Hudson Bridge that looms over the Harlem River toward Inwood Hill.
If you want to go, expect some, or a lot of walking up and down hills. The neighborhood is a very interesting part of the Bronx and worth the trip...especially if you like to see old architecture. Some of the houses were built as far back as 1880.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
New York is not the oldest European settlement in the U.S., but it could be the richest spot for studying the beginnings of American society. With extensive shipping ports, the foothold of high society, the eventual location of the first Presidential residence as well as being the beginning and continual steward of American Capitalism, lower Manhattan is the birthplace of what America has become. But above all that, religion was the driving force behind early US society, and Lower Manhattan holds some of the oldest and culturally relevant churches in the country.
Walking in there today you might think it just another memorial to 9/11 seeing all the photographs of post tragedy church yard and a knocked down sycamore tree, but the church has tremendous historic value. The inner sanctum of the church is a Gothic hodgepodge of architecture with incredible stained glass windows. The cemeteries are among the oldest in New York and hold the remains of Alexander Hamilton, Robert Fulton and James Astor. Some of the tombstones are famous for their mysterious masonic markings and more than one story has ended with treasure hunters finding their holy grail buried deep under the churches foundation.
Tuesday, November 6, 2007
"No adventure, I told him, but I did go see the clock in the sidewalk."
"Yeah, there is a clock in the sidewalk at Broadway and Maiden Lane."
"Really, I live on John Street...i cross there everyday, I've never seen a clock in the sidewalk."
And there is the point of my Farewell Tour. I have seen some of the big things (Ellis Island, Brooklyn Botanical Gardens), and I have seen some of the hidden things (yellow submarine, Atlantic Ave. Tunnel) but there are some things out there that pass us by everyday that we miss. New York is filled with amazing little crevices and quirky architecture or long forgotten monuments to out past.
The Clock (seen above) is embedded in the sidewalk on the northeast corner of Maiden Lane and Broadway. Its the size of a large Frisbee and is protected by a thick piece of glass. It was put there in 1899 by William Barthman Jewelers. It has withstood many attempts by nogoodnicks to break it or dig it up. Its electric motor has kept it running and in good time for well over a century without fail.
I wonder how many people pass it everyday without noticing it. I also wonder how many people use it everyday to see how late they are for work.
Sunday, November 4, 2007
Today I made up for all those years of neglect and woke up early and got a good viewing spot along Lafayette in Brooklyn. This is Mile-8 of the 26.2 mile race route. I watched the beginning of the race on TV and then got to my spot just in time to watch the Female leaders come by. It was still only 1/3rd into the race but the eventual leaders Paula Radcliff and Gete Wami were already far ahead of the pack.
The Male leaders came by about 20 minutes later a little with the lead pack of about 10 runners, including Martin Lel and Abderahin Goumri who later finished 1st and second. I waited another 20 minutes and after a few scattered packs of "elite" runners, the mighty horde of runners came by. Thousands of runners from around the world being cheered on by onlookers from everywhere. Right in front of me was a man from Scotland holding up his flag. As runners from all over Great Britain came by they shouted Yea Scotland and touched the flag.
Before, during, and after these crowds were assisted runners, racers in wheelchairs and all sorts of cancer survival stories came by to massive roars of the Brooklyn crowd.
The NYC Marathon, as I have now finally experienced, is a great NYC day. Nearly 40,000 runners started the race and thousands more enjoyed the brisk sunny day here in the big city. Thankfully, after a long race and millions of hours of preparation, months of grueling training and I can still go watch for an hour and then go home and down a few slices of pizza without feeling guilty. Maybe years from now, when I make a triumphant return to NYC, I'll do it by running in the Marathon...probably not, but maybe!