August 2009

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lost_new_york_cover.jpgBryan and I are planning a conference called “Lost New York, 1609-2009,” which will be held at NYU on October 2 and 3. Our speakers will include Joanne van der Woude (Harvard University), Elizabeth L. Bradley (New York Public Library), Lytle Shaw (NYU), Daphne Brooks (Princeton University), Sukhdev Sandhu (NYU), David Freeland (author of Automats, Taxi Dances, and Vaudeville: Excavating Manhattan’s Lost Places of Leisure), and Marshall Berman (CUNY). We’ll also have a panel of bloggers who write about vanishing New York.

The conference will be accompanied by an exhibition at the Fales Library, curated by four of our doctoral students — Jane Greenway Carr, Kristen Doyle Highland, John Easterbrook, and Melillo — each of whom has also written an essay for an accompanying volume. The cover is shown at left. The book was designed by the folks at NYU’s Office of Advertising and Publication, and it looks smashing (if we do say so ourselves). It’s also fascinating reading.

We’ll have more details about the conference in the coming weeks, but for now save the dates: October 2 and 3!

UPDATE: Full schedule here.

Mocha Dick in Felt


Tristin Lowe’s Mocha Dick at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, Philadelphia. [Photo: New York Times]

Tristin Lowe’s life-sized sculpture Mocha Dick, executed in industrial felt covering a specially designed balloon, is tribute to the whale that served as one of the inspirations for Melville’s Moby-Dick. You’ll have to travel south of New York to Philadelphia to see it, though: it’s on view at the Fabric Workshop and Museum, which is devoted to “creating and exhibiting new work in new materials and new media in
collaboration with emerging and established international artists.” 

The whale Mocha Dick terrorized sailors in the waters near Mocha Island off the coast of southern Chile in the early nineteenth century, and he was, according to legend, almost entirely white. You can read first-hand accounts of the whale in a piece by the explorer Jeremiah N. Reynolds
entitled “Mocha Dick: Or The White Whale of the Pacific: A Leaf from a
Manuscript Journa
l” and published in the May 1839 issue of The Knickerbocker magazine. Reynolds notes one unusual feature of this particular sperm whale:

Viewed from a distance,
the practised eye of the sailor only could decide, that the
moving mass, which constituted this enormous animal, was not a
white cloud sailing along the horizon. On the spermaceti whale,
barnacles are rarely discovered; but upon the head of this
lusus naturae, they had clustered, until it became
absolutely rugged with the shells. In short, regard him as you
would, he was a most extraordinary fish; or, in the vernacular of
Nantucket, “a genuine old sog”, of the first water.

The barnacles feature prominently in Lowe’s depiction of the whale. According to The Artblog, “Terraced scars are carved into the felt, and zig-zag in stitches across
the body. Beautiful barnacles are appliqued, flowering across the old
survivor’s skin in colonies.  In Melville and in Lowe, it is man’s
nemesis, man’s alter-ego, and the engine of man’s greatest folly.” [You can read their full account of the sculpture here.]


Mocha Dick, detail. [Photo from The Artsblog]

The entry devoted to Reynold’s account at reminds us of Herman Beaver’s theory of how “Mocha Dick” became “Moby Dick”:

“By July 1846 even the Knickerbocker Magazine had
forgotten its earlier version [of Reynold’s article], reminding
its readers of ‘the sketch of “Mocha Dick, of the
published in the Knickerbocker many years
ago…’. That account may well have led Melville to look up the
earlier issue, in the very month he rediscovered his lost buddy
of the Acushnet and fellow deserter on the Marquesas,
Richard Tobias Greene, and began ‘The Story of Toby’ [the sequel
to Typee]. May not ‘Toby Dick’ then have elided with
‘Mocha Dick’ to form that one euphonious compound, ‘Moby Dick’?”

If you’re interested in venturing down to Philly to see Mocha Dick, take a look at this recent New York Times article, which discusses a variety of exhibitions currently on view in the city.

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So here’s where we are: the Cambridge Companion to the Literatures of New York City has now become the Cambridge Companion to the Literature of New York City; the book is in production; and and we’re nearing the end of the copy-editing stage. In fact, we’re hoping to send the copy-edited manuscript back to Cambridge at the end of the day on Monday. We’ve been working via e-mail with a wonderful freelance copy editor, and happily most of her queries have been relatively minor. Kudos to all of the contributors, who have been really good about answering the queries promptly!

If you check out the volume’s listing on the Cambridge University Press site, you’ll see that it’s scheduled for March 2010, but our production editor is doing everything possible to speed it up so that we have a chance of ordering it for Writing New York next spring.

We’ll keep you posted …


EVHP-LOGO_sm.jpgThe East Village History Project has launched a new blog, Today in NYC History, which is well worth checking out. (Their main blog continues to post new material as well.)

Today’s post on TNYCH has to do with the 1970 Women’s Equality Strike, which happened to take place the day I was born. I wrote about that event here and on Edge of the American West last year. Next August we should make a big deal about the 40th anniversary, which will be one way to distract me from the fact that I’ll be turning 40. Ouch.


My younger son, Caleb, was born exactly five years ago. He’s lived his entire life in Union Square and, like a good New Yorker, has adopted the Dark Knight as his superhero of choice.

For his birthday, Caleb requested that his mom bake him a “Batman cake.” She obliged.

Like many a tyke with a late summer birthday, Caleb will be having a party with his friends after Labor Day. “A Batman party, Daddy.”

As Robin once said in the days of my youth, “Holy Guadalcanal, Batman!”

For you aficionados, that’s season 2, episode 28, “The Bird’s Last Jest,” first broadcast on December 8, 1966. You can check it out below. Robin’s remark comes at about the 3:02 mark.

For some reason the last post made me think of this:

Rodgers and Hart, 1939. The antithesis of this one, really, isn’t it?

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Not sure exactly how this sign ended up at the Morgan Ave. stop on the L, but according to New York Shitty it’s connected to the MCNY exhibit Cyrus wrote about here some time back. Exhibit has a nice coffee-table book associated with it, too. I’ve got a birthday coming up this week. I’m just putting that out there.

Photo warms my heart for some reason. (h/t Jeremiah)



photo from Harlem Hybrid, via Animal

Damn, what a week. Is everyone else as pooped as I am? (I’m tempted to speak for Cyrus and say “as we are,” since I didn’t see his sorry ass posting here the last two days either. Then again, I think he’s on single-parent duty this week.)

What’s happening beyond the narrow blinders of our downtown lives?

Officials fear Fort Greene Park won’t be big enough to house Spike Lee’s planned birthday bash for MJ a week from Saturday. [The Local]

Who walks in Brooklyn? Burn Some Dust does on Saturday, 8/22: “20
miles: Gravesend, Sheepshead Bay, Plum Beach, Floyd Bennett Field, Fort
Tilden, swimming at Breezy Point. Meet at southeast corner of Kings Hwy
and McDonald Ave in Brooklyn at 10 AM. Bring a swimsuit! There will
also be a bit of wandering through the woods, so you may want to
wear/bring long pants or high socks.” [Burn Some Dust (Click on Walk #40 on the calendar for details)]

More walking? Try Grymes Hill, Staten Island [FNY]

The Yoga Room is
offering a FREE Yoga class (accompanied by live drumming) on Pier 1 of
Gantry Plaza State Park, 9am-10:15am, Sunday 8/23. Please come early to set yourself
up; a mat, comfortable clothing, and a desire to have fun are all
that’s necessary to participate. 50th Ave & the East River, LIC [liQcity]

Bronx Bohemian is apparently on vacation. Come back BB! We miss your posts from up north!

One more from Harlem Hybrid to close up shop:


leavesOG.jpgWe’ve just heard about what promises to be an eye-opening stage adaptation of Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. It’s playing at the cell, a theater space located at 338 West 23rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues.

You can find out more at, which describes the show as “chamber theater meets dance theater meets congregation meets celebration — without irony or clothing.” Yep, that’s right: the chorus performs in the nude. According to the director, Jeremy Bloom, the production “celebrates
the bare human form as an intersection of nature and industry.”

Leaves of Grass continues through August 29, with performances Thursday through Monday at 8:00 p.m. and additional performances at 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. Running time is about an hour. 

The video below will give you a sense of what the show is like.

The concept behind the extraordinarily rewarding The New York Nobody Sings, which I mentioned here a little while back, must be contagious: half the things I think about posting here lately seem to come in the TNYNS form of a YouTube clip with a little commentary.

Last week’s Bowery Boys podcast on the Hotel Chelsea, for instance, made me think of one of my favorite of Leonard Cohen’s New York songs, from the 1974 LP New Skin for the Old Ceremony. This clip comes from a 24-minute short film, I Am a Hotel (1983), co-written by Cohen and directed by Allan F. Nichols. It aired originally on a Toronto TV station, I believe, though this version seems to have subtitles in Dutch or some Scandinavian language I don’t recognize:

In addition to the best oral sex reference in any pop song I know of, “Chelsea Hotel No 2” boasts those endlessly quotable self-deprecating music snob lines:

And clenching your fist for the ones like us
who are oppressed by the figures of beauty,
you fixed yourself, you said, “Well never mind,
we are ugly but we have the music.”

I could link to other great LC NYC songs — the awesomely epistolary “Famous Blue Raincoat,” or the synth driver “First We Take Manhattan” — but for now I’ll just offer video of Conspiracy of Beards, the San Francisco-based all-male Leonard Cohen cover chorus, singing “Chelsea Hotel” on the PATH train from NJ to NY. I was lucky enough to catch them at Bowery Poetry Club a couple years ago. If you ever have the chance, don’t miss it:

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