Bryan: December 2008 Archives

Happy New Year!

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And it should be a happy one indeed, considering the change of administration headed our way. (In the picture above, folks are celebrating the arrival of 1938.)

I don't have much to offer by way of Year in Review. I'll send you here and here and here for good ones instead.

I will note, though, that we've finished the year stronger than we started here at AHNY. Our first post of 2008 announced the table of contents for our Cambridge Companion to the Literatures of New York City. We're happy to report a year later that the manuscript is on schedule to be delivered late next month, which puts it about a year away from actual publication.

For most of the spring, we posted only in relation to our Writing New York course -- blurbs on our weekly films, etc. But around July we began posting almost daily on a wider variety of topics, and I'm glad to say we've been able to keep the habit. Stay tuned as we attempt to do the same while actually teaching the course in the coming semester.

As for favorites, my favorite thing Cyrus posted last year had to do with Corlears Hook; runners up included his series of posts on Moby-Dick adaptations. My favorite from among my own posts had to do with the angel at the Bethesda Fountain, followed by the post on the 1970 Women's Strike for Equality. We'd be happy to hear from you if there were things here you particularly enjoyed -- and hope to provide more of the same (and some things new) in the coming year!

Nostalgia Train

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Lost City had better luck than I when it came to dragging progeny to the MTA's recent (and annual) moving museum -- a 1930s subway train that ran, each of the past several Sundays, on the V line between 2nd Ave in Manhattan and Queensboro Plaza.


If you, too, missed the ride, you can still catch -- in addition to LC's account and a more humorous one by East Village Idiot -- a bonus video of the working ceiling fan, spinning just inches above straphangers' heads. Reminds me of the spinning shadows in the subway scenes from Pickup on South Street (1953). When I first saw that film I thought the subway ceiling fans were somehow a production goof introduced via a fake subway car set!

Photo from

Lots of folks have ably blogged the death of the old South Ferry station, which will close sometime in late January. (My favorites were from Forgotten NY and Second Avenue Sagas.) It's on my list of things to do with the kids over the break to go see the old station before it's gone.

Among the best things people can say about the new terminal are that a) it's clean -- though some say "sterile," like an Apple store; b) it will shave approximately six minutes off the full 7th Avenue commute (for those Staten Islanders who work at 242nd Street); and c) it's ADA-compliant. The last is certainly something to appreciate.

Among the old treasures that will be lost to the public, though, are the fifteen ornate Heins and LaFarge ceramic plaques depicting a sloop in the harbor:


The old station will apparently be used to store extra trains to dispatch during rush hour. I imagine it will become a destination for those who scheme for peeks at the forbidden NYC underground -- the way the old City Hall station is now.

What's been less discussed in the hubbub over the new terminal are the things uncovered during excavation. The MTA's own site has a useful overview, and the rhetoric, at least, is friendly to archaeology and history, unusual for NYC construction projects.

The most major find during the dig, back in the fall of 2005, was a major chunk of the old Battery Wall, a colonial era bulwark that ringed the lower tip of the Island. From the MTA site:

[T]he battery would have had cannon mounted along it to fire at enemy ships. Four different sections of the battery wall have been found, spanning a distance of almost 600 feet. It ranges from about 8 to 10 feet wide. The largest section is about 75 feet long and up to four feet high, although it would have been much higher when it was built.
The version of the Battery Wall unearthed during construction probably dates to the middle of the eighteenth century and would have been built before the Revolutionary War and was partially demolished and buried when the area was filled in the early nineteenth century to create Battery Park.


The Battery was, at least during the post-Revolutionary years, a popular promenade. After the war, barracks that had housed British troops during the occupation were pulled down, elm trees were planted, and the walk from the Bowling Green to the Battery was transformed into "one of the most delightful walks, perhaps in the world," according to one city newspaper.

Anyone who's read Royall Tyler's 1787 play The Contrast, celebrated as the first play by an American playwright to be staged by professional actors, will recall that it opens with one of the leads, the coquettish Charlotte, recounting for a friend the previous night's walk on the Battery:

It would have delighted you to have seen me
the last evening, my charming girl! I was dangling
o'er the battery with Billy Dimple; a knot of young
fellows were upon the platform; as I passed them I
faultered with one of the most bewitching false steps
you ever saw, and then recovered myself with such a
pretty confusion, flirting my hoop to discover a jet
black shoe and brilliant buckle. Gad! how my little
heart thrilled to hear the confused raptures of--
"Demme, Jack, what a delicate foot!"  "Ha! Gen-
eral, what a well-turned--"
Her friend stops her, scandalized: "Fie, fie, Charlotte! I protest you are quite a libertine!"

01Battery_Wall.jpgPortions of the newly-discovered Battery have been preserved in the mezzanine wall of the new station.

Thumbnail image for medallion1.jpgWhat else has turned up at the old Battery? Pottery shards, bones, over-sized oyster shells, and yellow bricks used in Dutch construction. One fun find is a "counter," or non-negotiable coin, commemorating the 1758 British capture of the French Fortress of Louisbourg in Nova Scotia.

But it's hard not to think about what will be lost, especially when you compare the old signage with the new:

new terminal.jpg

Could they at least photograph the old station lettering, the way they're apparently doing at some stops in Brooklyn?

Photos from MTA, Forgotten NY, and NY1

City Ham

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I'm setting about making a white bean and ham soup, with leftovers from yesterday's Christmas dinner.

This year's ham came, I'm afraid to confess, from Whole Foods on the Bowery, a store with which I have an increasingly conflicted relationship (meaning I use it more than I should). The little pig was was tasty enough -- I glazed it with brown sugar, dijon mustard, and fig preserves -- and I'm sure the remains will make for a lovely soup. But I did feel a little guilty about the Whole Foods thing. While I was throwing about online for ideas about preparing what I'd bought, I made the realization (via this piece from the Times a couple years back) that I should have made my purchase at the East Village Meat Market or another local butcher. Oh, well. Next year. Or maybe I'll actually go for the traditional goose.

Thumbnail image for evmeatmarket.jpg

For more on how ham became a favored American food, see this recent piece by the cultural historian and literary critic David Shields.

And what was on your holiday table?

Broadcast in December 1948, and starring the same actors as the film from the previous year, a Lux Radio Theatre radio play of Miracle on 34th Street, in seven parts. Part the first:

Old Timers

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One of my favorite moments in Ric Burns's New York: A Documentary Film comes near the end of the episode on the fight over Robert Moses's proposed Lower Manhattan Expressway, which would have cut a huge swath through the old Cast Iron District (now known as SoHo) in order to build an elevated, supposedly high-speed freeway that would have connected the bridges on the East side to the tunnels on the West.


The plan was opposed vigorously during a six-hour knock-down-drag-out fight at City Hall in early December 1962, during which Assemblyman Louis DeSalvio famously called Robert Moses a "cantankerous, stubborn old man" and said the time had come for him to release his grip on the city's development. (The plan was on-again-off-again for almost another decade.) Burns follows the announcement of the proposal's defeat with some news footage in which an older downtown resident, looking a bit of the gentleman bum with hat in hand, New York accent thick as lower Manhattan fog, says something like: "This'll be the best Christmas present the people on Broome Street ever had!"

I think of that old fellow quite often when I walk through my neighborhood -- most of which used to be part of a more sprawling Little Italy. The building I live in on Broome Street, along with the rest of the buildings on the north side of the street for several blocks, would have been razed to complete Moses's moronic shrine to the automobile. I wonder if that old man lived to the end of the decade, when the completion of Southbridge Towers down by the seaport -- built on 16 acres of demolished waterfront warehouses and tenements -- led to a mass exodus from Little Italy. Or did he hang out up here? Are his kids still in the neighborhood, or did they move to larger spaces way out in Brooklyn?

A few old timers still inhabit our neighborhood. You see them around some of the restaurants and bars, which, truth be told, we pretty much avoid. You see some older ladies in the grocery store or on occasion hanging out a fourth-floor window watching the supermodels walking dogs and shoppers consult guidebooks on the streets below. I see one older resident on occasion when I bike my daughter to school. She scowls at us and clutches her little dog close if I pop the bike on the sidewalk to avoid traffic, exactly the sort of thing old ladies in neighborhoods should do in response to obnoxious newcomers.

esb_little_italy_3jan04.jpgAs annoying as festival season can be in Little Italy, what with all the sloughed off oil and puke in the gutters come morning, I love the street decorations and the Christmas music rising from loudspeakers on the corner or, better yet, from an occasional strolling brass ensemble. This is one moment in the season, too, when you can tell where the old timers actually live: they tend to decorate their fire escapes early in December, lights and fake pine garlands wrapping cast iron bars and ringing windows, giant cardboard candy canes wired firmly in place.

The intrepid writermama, who's much better than I am about carrying a camera to catch candid shots of Lower East Side life -- evidence of magic that still remains in crevices and corners -- took this shot of a tenement on Mott Street, below Houston, my favorite set of holiday decorations this season. (At least I'm pretty sure that's the building she's caught here! If not, there's one a lot like it.) I'd like to think these lights have gone up like this as long as anyone can remember.


What do the old timers do in your neighborhood this season?

Photo of Empire State Building from Little Italy via Wired New York. 

TriBeCa 1980

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artbook_2029_38437712.jpgWatching Wild Combination last week, I had my curiosity piqued by references to a club called Tier 3. I'd heard the name before, but never really paid too much attention -- it seemed third tier to more famous (and more fully chronicled) places like Mudd Club, CBGB, etc. More references turned up last week, though, in a book I bought as a Christmas gift for a friend: Soul Jazz Publishing's New York Noise: Art and Music from the New York Underground, 1978-88.  (Review here. Fun fact: I once played in a band with someone featured in the volume.)

I'm sad to admit I didn't even know where Tier 3 was located. So I poked around. God bless the internets.

Turns out it was an early TriBeCa club, West Broadway and White, that catered to post-punk/new wave acts, a lot of them British acts that provided the soundtrack to my teenage years in faraway rural Arizona. Post-punk photo chronicler Eugene Merinov has a set of Bauhaus photos online from a 1981 gig.

Must be something in the air right now about Tier 3 nostalgia; the current issue of the online music magazine Perfect Sound Forever has a profile on the club by Andy Schwartz, based primarily on an interview with founding booker Hilary Jaeger. The piece is part of an ongoing series about defunct NYC venues. Hilary recalls the club's origins:

I was waitressing at the L&M Coffee Shop, at Second Avenue and 10th Street, and I had a friend named June Giarratano. Her mother, Kathleen Giarratano, and Kathleen's friend Maureen Cooper somehow got the lease and the liquor license for Tier 3. June told me they needed a waitress, and I started working there in March or April 1979... TriBeCa at that point was just a no-man's-land. There was hardly anybody there.

You walked up a few steps to enter the place, and the bar was on the right-hand side of a sort of narrow room. We built a DJ booth to the left, and behind that a couple of booths with bench seating. The whole space was divided by a half-wall, so you could see over and into the rectangular space where the bands played, to the left and a few steps down. Because of how low the ceilings were, the stage was only about ten inches off the floor and maybe fifteen feet wide.

I don't who named it Tier 3, but in fact it did have three levels. The second floor was a more brightly lit room with tables and chairs. People didn't really go to the third floor--there were bathrooms up there, and a disco ball, and in the very beginning there was a DJ booth there. At some point we showed films there, like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. God knows what else went on up there!

There were really very few places to play in Manhattan at that moment--basically C.B.G.B., Max's, and Hurrah. The Mudd Club was open, but I don't think they were doing a lot of live bookings at the time. My sister [singer Angela Jaeger] was in bands and my friends were in bands and I was completely involved in music. Tier 3 was obviously an auspicious space in which to do something.

New York acts featured regularly: dB's, DNA, The Stimulators, The Bush Tetras, 8 Eyed Spy with Lydia Lunch, The Raybeats; UK bands included the Raincoats, the Slits, the Pop Group, Delta 5, Young Marble Giants, A Certain Ratio, Bauhaus, and Madness.

All this talk about new wave in TriBeCa reminded me of the great little 10-minute film Soul Jazz included on their ACR compilation Early a few years back. It intersperses footage of the band banging out beats in their TriBeCa loft with a performance at Hurrah's, the famed "punk disco" venue on W. 62nd Street. The YouTube embedding is disabled; link here.

ACR's MySpace page has this recollection of the early 80s downtown scene:

In late 1980, the [band relocated] from post-punk Manchester to the hustle-bustle of the Big Apple, New York City. Romantic Mancunians love to ponder the similarities between the two cities, the skyline over Hulme, the great canals running through the cities (born from their mutual industrial heritage), the fantastic nightlife. Realistic Mancs know the score -- Manchester is fuck-all like New York, but it looks good in print. The band played gigs with local funk-machine ESG, along with a fledgling New Order and a little known support act by the name of Madonna.

For the intellectually and musically curious, our friends at Fales Library and Special Collections have compiled a set of resources for studying the scene.

Thumbnail image for caledonia.jpgJeremiah Moss at Vanishing New York has a justified rant up about the use of books in promoting luxury lifestyles. Such trends seem of a piece with efforts to market downtown luxury living by appealing to "history" and to a neighborhood's "bohemian" past -- only to have the arrival of such luxury behemoths presage the death of a neighborhood's distinctive character. They're also, as JM blogged so entertainingly some time ago, in character with luxury settings that not only displace neighborhood bookstores, but masquerade as them as well. And then there are luxury settings that lead to the closing of libraries.

Apparently the glossy new building The Caledonia, in the meatpacking district -- which does, in fact, advertise itself as offering "a new exciting style of living in a historic downtown location" -- boasts a sort of library (or "culture lounge") as a "literary backdrop" for its residents. Only thing is, it's sponsored by a publisher of extraordinarily expensive, self-congratulatory design books targeting wealthy readers, and they're much more "backdrop" than "literary." Jeremiah laments:

That's because the books here are provided by Assouline, a publisher of objets that are meant to be seen and looked at, not so much read. They sell themselves as "the first luxury brand in the world that has used its publications as medium." They have a boutique in Dubai and another just opened in the new Plaza condo. Some of their books come wrapped in Chanel and Coach leather jackets.

Their subjects cater to the affluent and the aspirational. A few sample titles: Megalomania: Too Much Is Never Enough; High Society: The History of America's Upper Class; and A Privileged Life: Celebrating WASP Style.

A couple of taglines: "New York was vulgar, flashy and vibrant" and "Megalomania: excess, folly, splendor, vulgarity."
He concludes by asking: "Might there not be something vulgar about turning books into shiny objects without substance for the sole purpose of displaying wealth?" And while I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, I'm also struck that such conspicuous literary consumption has long been associated with the hazards of new fortunes in the city. (In Boston, too, for that matter.) Some old New York problems apparently won't go away, though in our day they've clearly been taken from personal to corporate levels.

As an antidote, I'd recommend a new mural housed in the belly of the beast -- the 30'x10' mural At Home with Their Books, by artist Elena Climent [slideshow] -- recently installed on the ground floor of 19 University Place, where our offices are located. The titles represented there, we hope, could actually lead a viewer to a library or bookstore to satisfy his or her curiosity about New York's literary heritage. Let's just hope the exhibit is open to the public from closer range than the sidewalk! (If it's not, I'll complain!)

Update: Promoted from comments, TMK reminds us about Gatsby's library, as well.

Wild Combination

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arthur russell.jpg

I finally had a chance to see Matt Wolf's much-acclaimed documentary on the avant-pop cult hero Arthur Russell, who died of AIDS in 1992 at age 40. He had been a key force downtown since the early 70s, when he was the musical director of The Kitchen, one of old SoHo's key venues for experimental performance/art. For years he lived on E 12th St in a building inhabited by other artists, including Ginsberg and Richard Hell.

The film is beautiful. See it. Give it as a gift. Let it lead you to a lot of amazing music (with more to come, as Audika Records and others sort through the thousands of tapes he left behind). This year's release, Love Is Overtaking Me, should be a good starting point for newcomers or a fantastic complement to those who already thought they had this multi-facted composer and performer pegged.

A quick snippet from the official site's synopsis and a trailer to lead you in:

Arthur began working with Philip Glass and other composers in the avant-garde music world, specifically at The Kitchen, where he became musical director in 1974. He composed melodic orchestral music and absorbed the vanguard ideas of the new music scene. Simultaneously Arthur discovered the liberating social and aesthetic possibilities of underground discos. Under the guise of various monikers--Dinosaur L, Loose Joints, Indian Ocean--Arthur produced playful and eccentric disco records that became hits of the pre-Studio 54 era.

The rules and codes of established genre didn't apply to Arthur. The serialized patterns of minimalist symphonies resonated with the repetitive rhythms in dance music. Likewise, the utopian social settings of the early discos were like the Buddhist commune Arthur had once known. With childlike innocence and fun, Arthur ambitiously explored all of these possibilities.

He fell in love with his boyfriend Tom Lee, and the two moved in together in the East Village, next door to Allen in a building populated by poets, musicians, and artists.

But despite Arthur's musical talent and ambition, he was often tempered by self-defeating career choices and alienating perfectionism. It seemed that Arthur was creating a kind of utopia, where the absorbing process of making music was his life. Finishing his work was a secondary concern. Collaborators moved on to new projects, career opportunities passed, and Arthur began working alone in his apartment. What resulted was perhaps his most fully realized body of work, "World of Echo." These transcendent solo cello-and-voice songs were like intimate diaries that fit somewhere between lullabies and art songs.

I only wish there had been a little more in Wild Combination on the wider scenes he helped to shape, but it's a small complaint about what's ultimately one of the best films of the year.

For more on Russell:

A New Yorker profile by Sacha Frere-Jones from a few years back.
A Slate profile by Andy Battaglia from around the same time.
A Gothamist interview from just last week with Tom Lee, Arthur's boyfriend. 

santacon.jpgWell, the 2008 Santacon is already two hours underway, but you may be able to catch up with the crowd. They shouldn't be hard to spot. This year's red-and-white inebriated spectacle began at 10 am on 33rd St. between 6th and 7th and will rove around that part of town most of the afternoon. You must be fully costumed to participate.

I first witnessed Santacon several years ago by accident. We had a nice view of the Brooklyn Bridge from our old apartment down by the seaport and one morning I woke up to see hundreds of Santas -- every size, shape, color, gender, and national origin -- parading across the bridge. A sight I won't soon forget.

If you're not quite up to that level of revelry, try a quieter drinking experience and buy some locally handmade gifts and treats while you're at it. The 4th annual DBA neighborhood craft fair takes place at the cozy East Village bar DBA, First Avenue between 2nd and 3rd streets, Saturday afternoons in December from 3 pm to 7 pm. (Next week is the last chance!)
DBA Craft Fair Postcard.jpg
The DBA Urban Folk Arts & Crafts Fair has been central to our family's holiday experience since the fair's inception. Its key organizer and sometime DBA bartender -- Sacha, aka Stiggly's Holistics -- is one of our oldest friends in the city. She sells her handmade balms, pottery, and holiday puddings. My daughters, each year, have come up with some money-making enterprise or another: their famous sock monkeys (featured in the ad above) tend to sell quickly. Molly makes killer chocolate chip cookies and brownies from scratch and next week will sell a fall's worth of her own pottery. Anna, who once won our family a four-night, four-star trip to Monaco using only colored pencils, will take orders for custom portraits on greeting cards or for framing. She's raising money this year for an exchange trip to Paris in the spring.

So if you're inclined to kick back, drink a pint, listen to good music (I control the iPod dock!), and support local artisans, drop by and say hello!      

Via today's Gothamist, video of a ride along the contemporary 4/5/6 line from 14th Street to 42nd. If the ride seems too slow for your 21st-century tastes, jump to the 5 minute mark and watch it to the end. You won't be sorry you took the time.

In other old subway news, I recently learned that the train that runs under the building I live in (on Broome Street, near Centre) is not the 4/5/6, as I'd always imagined, but the J/M/Z, which makes a 90 degree turn at Kenmare and then runs over to the Bowery/Delancey stop. The 4/5/6, by contrast, continues to run down Lafayette toward the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop, missing our location by a good block. The real estate grad student (also a resident of our building) who told me about this provided this map, which tipped him off:


We're high enough in the building and far enough on its east side that we only really hear the rumble of the train late at night, when no one's talking and no music's on. I find it kind of comforting.

An update to this morning's post.

google trends logo.gifJim Dwyer, the Times reporter whose story I mentioned this morning, responded to my email late in the day by forwarding some of the material Google sent him to pitch their Zeitgeist story.

And so, aside from Walter Gropius and the Large Hadron Collider, what were New Yorkers Googling most this year? The list was compiled using tools like Google Trends and Google Insights, outlined at this nifty Google Press Center page for the Zeitgeist release.

The top 10 fastest rising* seaches for 2008 from NYC computers:

1. Palin
2. iPhone 3G
3. McCain
4. Beijing 2008
5. NBC Olympics
6. Walter Gropius
7. Large Hadron Collider
8. Bernie Mac
9. Michael Phelps
10. John McCain

[*By "fastest rising" they mean the most popular searches from January to November ranked by their popularity increase when compared to 2007, which explains how Palin outstrips Obama in some of these lists. You can browse last year's results to see how Obama fared then.]

As for 2008, Lord help us, the city was curious about -- or terrified by -- the prospect of the world collapsing into a black hole. And that's just #s 1, 3, and 10!

Here's the 2008 list taking the whole U.S. into account:

  1. obama
  2. facebook
  3. att
  4. iphone
  5. youtube
  6. fox news
  7. palin
  8. beijing 2008
  9. david cook
  10. surf the channel
And here's the list for fastest rising searches worldwide:

  1. sarah palin
  2. beijing 2008
  3. facebook login
  4. tuenti
  5. heath ledger
  6. obama
  7. nasza klasa
  8. wer kennt wen
  9. euro 2008
  10. jonas brothers
What else can Google tell us about New Yorkers? The press email links to a Google Insights table showing the relative popularity of the five boroughs in search queries. Spoiler: Brooklyn wins.

And apparently we search for pizza a lot more than we search for sushi.

How's that for answering this morning's questions in a timely manner? Hats off to Dwyer for sharing his source.

google_zeitgeist_2008.pngYesterday Google released its "Zeitgeist 2008" report, a supposed picture of global Internet interests -- at least via one monolithic search engine. The news isn't all that surprising: Sarah Palin was more searched for worldwide than Obama; and lots of tweens use the Web, as the high profile given the Jonas Brothers would attest.

In an "About New York" column in yesterday's paper, Jim Dwyer reported that Google had released a more specific top 10 list for New York City searches:

It turns out that New Yorkers are looking for something a bit different. On a list of the 10 subjects that posted the greatest increases this year, the country as a whole was looking for Fox News and information about David Cook, the "American Idol" champion.

Neither made the New York list. Then again, the national list did not have 2 of the city's top 10: Walter Gropius, the founder of the Bauhaus architecture school, and the Large Hadron Collider, a 17-mile circular underground tunnel in Switzerland that was built to smash protons into each other at 99.999999 percent of the speed of light.

No doubt someone out in cyberspace can explain the surge of interest this year in Gropius, who has been dead since 1969 and has only one structure of any note in the city, the former Pan Am building.

The collider is easier to understand. There were worries that the crash of protons would instantly create a black hole, but in good news that was widely overlooked at the time, no hole appeared -- or is it disappeared? -- on Sept. 10, the day the machine was turned on. Search-engine interest in the collider promptly dropped off, as people pointed their anxieties and inquiries toward "Wall Street." (The collider is currently on the fritz, as is Wall Street.)
What someone out in cyberspace hasn't provided, though, are the other eight items on the NYC top ten list. Such results aren't to be found on the official site. Nor do they pop up when I try any other number of Google searches to find them. All we know is that they aren't Fox or Idol. (And I have a hunch that the Hadron Collider's popularity on NY Web searches has to do with the fact that the scare went viral among city public school science classes: both my kids came home talking about it in worried tones. Good thing the Jonas Brothers were there to allay their fears.)

The Times's City Room blog also reported on the NYCentric results, but only by incestuously citing the Dwyer article. Nothing new fit to print on line, apparently.

Any guesses what the other items would be? And any idea how we can get the rest of that list? Dwyer didn't respond to email I sent him yesterday.

While You Were Sleeping

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... or studying for finals, or raising kids, or whatever it is you do, gentle reader, you may have missed a couple Deitch Projects installations that are slated to close within a couple weeks.
First, the breathtaking Kehinde Wiley show, "Down," at Deitch's 18 Wooster St. location (around the corner to the south of the old main space on Grand). I was walking back to SoHo from a doctor's appointment in TriBeCa* with one of my kids when we stopped in for a gander. I have a hard time thinking of something I've seen this arresting (or cool) all year. [The piece above, "Sleep," measures 25 feet in length!] Through December 20.


Second, and also sponsored by Deitch, the recreation of Keith Haring's day-glo mural at Bowery and Houston -- installed to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the artist's birth -- is slated to "close" on the 21st. Not sure exactly how that will happen, although there was some indication when it "opened" last spring that the piece would eventually be replaced by another Haring recreation.

Catch them while you can. I, for one, have enjoyed the mural's place in the neighborhood for most of the last year.

*Do we have a style guide for this blog? I find typing the internal capitals in "SoHo" and "TriBeCa" to be a little annoying. But aren't those standard usage?

John Lennon Killed

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EOTAW and others noted this one a little earlier today (it's still the 8th for another 20 minutes!) but it's certainly worth covering ourselves. I reported on the murder a few days later in my 6th grade class newspaper, which I edited and reproduced on brand spanking new Xerox technology. Here's the 11:00 NBC news from this day in 1980.

I'm sure there were crowds at Strawberry Fields today. The closest I've come to being at one of the annual Lennon memorial singalongs came when George Harrison died, and crowds spontaneously gathered to the same spot. I'm glad I had my kids with me that day -- seeing what a group of musicians could end up meaning to the world is something I'd hoped would stick with them, and I think it has.

A painter friend pointed me in the direction of last night's 60 Minutes profile on Julian Schnabel (described, by said friend, as a fifth-rate painter, a second-rate conceptual artist, and a first-rate film director, which I think is apt).

It's an interesting overview of his career, which skyrocketed in the early 80s, and it culminates in a bit of spleen-venting over how badly Robert Hughes trashed him back in the day (now almost three decades ago).

Watch CBS Videos Online

When his third film, the exquisite The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, came out in 2007, the New York Review of Books ran what I thought was a terrific overview of his career by Sanford Schwartz. His first film, the biopic Basquiat, offers a shrewd glance backward the downtown painting scene in the 80s (and certainly is more watchable than the terrible, terrible 1980 Merchant Ivory film Jane Austen in Manhattan, whose only redeeming feature is that it captures the grit of a few street scenes and unfinished loft spaces that now are valued in the millions). Schnabel's second film, Before Night Falls, also has New York content -- though mostly at the end, when the Cuban exile novelist Reinaldo Arena, played by Javier Bardem, kills himself in the city in 1990. It's the only one of Schnabel's films I've only seen once, which means I probably need to give it another viewing.

If Schnabel's films are virtually flawless, his painting might be described as merely interesting. But as the critic Sianne Ngai has argued, even conceptual art that is merely interesting is probably going to be more interesting than aesthetic judgments (like Hughes's) that claim a sort of finality on the subject. "[A]esthetic judgments are not in
themselves interesting," she concludes, though "their time-consuming and ongoing justifications are." As my painter friend pointed out, Schnabel has clearly won the old Schnabel-Hughes feud of the 1980s. Probably because his work -- and his ongoing ego-driven autobiography -- turned out to be more interesting than anyone else's claims to the contrary.

A friend from Kingsborough Community College's English department sends the following:

brooklyn_all.gifThe Dreamland Pavilion: Brooklyn and Development
October 2-3, 2009, Kingsborough Community College, CUNY


How has Brooklyn become what it is--a place of nostalgia, imagination, or fantasy as much as a territorial space, an "outer borough" of New York City? Isn't it time to assess critically the rapid changes in the borough over the last decade? With tremendous growth comes certain costs, but how do we evaluate the present moment, poised between Brooklyn
past and Brooklyn future? How is "development" defined differently by different groups in different contexts? Finally, how do Brooklyn's diverse localities and populations reflect or even shape the future of New York, a global metropolis? This conference aims to be a space within which these and other questions will be addressed, discussed, even answered. The two-day gathering will combine moderated panels (in both traditional academic and roundtable formats), guided visits to local sites, artistic performances and discussion.

We welcome proposals from all relevant academic disciplines, including history, literary studies, political science, geography, and sociology. We are equally interested in proposals from those outside academia, including architects, artists, journalists, activists, urban planners and others concerned with Brooklyn in particular and urban space in general.

The primary areas we will focus on in the conference are:

  • The Arts and Cultural Practices: the borough's relationship to film, literature, and the performing arts.
  • Development Projects: the conflicts and controversies surrounding Brooklyn's most important contemporary development projects.
  • Demographics and Diversity: the broader forces that have reshaped Brooklynites' lives in past and present, including migration, education, housing and urban politics.

Possible topics for panelists to address within these areas could

  • Renters and homeowners
  • Decision-making processes
  • Relationship of arts and culture to neighborhood geography
  • Case studies of particular neighborhoods
  • The Atlantic Yards project or Coney Island redevelopment
  • Dynamics of race and/or ethnicity
  • Environmental impact of development
  • Access to local institutions
  • Privatization and public space

Proposals should be submitted by February 1, 2009 and should include:

  • A one-page description of your topic
  • Contact information: Name, position and affiliation, telephone numbers (home and cellphone), mail address and e-mail.

Please email completed proposals to Dr. Rick Armstrong, Department of
English, Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York,

For more information, contact:

Dr. Eben Wood, Department of English
Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York
2001 Oriental Blvd.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 368-5229


Dr. Libby Garland, Department of History, Philosophy, and Political
Kingsborough Community College, City University of New York
2001 Oriental Blvd.
Brooklyn, NY 11235
(718) 368-5624

Please also visit the conference website.

The Guardian's Travel section published a piece last week admonishing readers to throw out their NYC guidebooks and turn to the city's literary heritage instead. Advice we can stand behind -- though we still have favorite guidebooks we'd recommend!

The list included one item per decade from the 1930s forward. If you're too lazy to click through the link above, I'll give the spoiler version here:

1930s: Call It Sleep by Henry Roth
1940s: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1950s: New York 19 by Tony Schwartz [audio recording]
1960s: Lunch Poems by Frank O'Hara
1970s: The Power Broker by Robert Caro
1980s: Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney
1990s: My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum
2000s: Lush Life by Richard Price

A couple things I find interesting about this list: One, we don't teach any of these in Writing New York. Granted, the reason we can't teach half of them is strictly due to length: in a 14-week course attempting to cover more than two centuries of writing, we simply can't devote the time required to teach Ellison's masterpiece, as much as we would want to. We used to teach selections from O'Hara but he somehow fell off the syllabus a few years back.  Caro sneaks into our course via the Ric Burns documentary, where he and Marshall Berman are our favorite Robert Moses bashers. And I have to admit: I'd never heard of New York 19! Amazon only has it available for mp3 download, but I'll keep my eye out for the real thing. The Guardian's description makes it sound quite appealing:

newyork19.jpgTony Schwartz, who recently died, is a man perhaps best known for creating Lyndon Johnson's 1964 hawkish Daisy ad but he was also one of New York City's most dedicated sonic scribes. OK, so this is not a book, it's an album, but I've snuck it on to the list for the remarkable fact that Schwartz was a lifelong agoraphobic who rarely moved beyond the confines of his block, and yet managed to capture the cacophony of Manhattan's streets. New York 19 never ventures beyond the environs of Schwartz's postal code (10019), yet it resurrects the long-gone street preachers, children's skipping ropes, tire squeals, honking horns, and theatre barkers.

As for the selection from the 1990s? Are we really supposed to pick a whiny Upper West Side striver memoir over Tony Kushner's Angels in America or Chang-Rae Lee's Native Speaker?

What would your decade-by-decade list look like?

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