Sunday, July 31, 2005

Review: "Once Around the Sun"

If you take the idea of musical theater (and opera, for that matter) and drag it by the hand out into the daylight, it's a bit absurd. How often do we unironically break into song and rhapsodize about our feelings and thoughts during a particularly fraught moment of life? And yet we take it all as a matter of course and convention with musicals and judge them instead on how well they work within an admittedly artificial world.

But watching the new musical (with all original music -- no retreads) Once Around the Sun the other night at the Zipper Theatre, I immediately felt this show was not going to allow the viewer to stay so stuck in the blinders of the musical form, because the show portrays different bands and musicians singing songs for the entertainment of imagined audiences. So while the audience is sitting there following the storyline of the musical, we're also listening (and judging) the actual music, which is a big part of the story -- as in well-played? schlocky? a hit? a clunker? etc. A few times, I asked myself, "Should I be laughing at this song or enjoying it as if I were at an unironic concert of new music?" Most of the time, luckily, the show makes it clear when you're supposed to be poking fun at the music and when you're supposed to be appreciating it. But still, because you're actually hearing the songs of so much discussion, you may just think all of it is a bit lame or there's not much difference between the heartfelt tunes and the overproduced hits.

It's like in a novel where the characters talk about how good or bad some off-stage writing may be. If we're not exposed to the writing in question, we take it on faith that some imagined art is one way or the other. But when, say, that American-Idol-parody single is actually performed on stage, nothing is left to the imagination: You're left to appreciate its lameness or actually enjoy it and thus feel at odds with the protagonist.

Granted, it's usually very obvious how you're supposed to feel about a song. But the composers do show a sense of subtlety in the portrayal of a drunken wedding singer character who begins the show as a joke but later reveals a latent talent. His song progression is supposed to reflect that change, and I thought it did. But then there's the possibility that viewers will find even the "good" music in the show to be just as cheesy and predictable as the plot -- and I think the plot pretty much matches that description. But what kept me entertained was that I actually enjoyed listening to the various styles of song -- rock-pop, cabaret, soul, etc. -- and respected the performers' and writers' versatility.

Still in previews -- and I'd imagine hoping to stir up some buzz and ticket sales ahead of the opening -- the production arranged for a five-track CD sampler of the music to be handed out after the show. And listening it to a second and third time, I have to say it's not that bad. Perhaps a little too earnest and cliche at times, but still, worth a listen, even if the songs may never hit the airwaves. Oh, but I have to admit, the closing number, "Just Another Year," seems a blatant attempt to recreate the popularity and theme of "Seasons of Love" from Rent.

The theater itself is supposedly a former zipper factory. It has the feel of a small music venue, which works well with this show, and many of the 199 seats are old minivan benches and car seats torn from their former homes and stamped with letters and numbers. They make for pretty comfortable seating.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Another one of those "i love you" tags -- this time with a "life imitates art" to boot -- spotted within sight of Richard Meier's troubled new West Side tower, 165 Charles Street.

The Pond in Central Park was just swarming with algae (that's what it is, right?) when we walked by Friday afternoon. Still beautiful, though.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

The sis will be in town

I'll be entertaining my sister here in the city this weekend for the first time since I moved here, so blog posts may be less frequent than usual. Our plans so far: The Cloisters (my closest tourist attraction), a new musical, assorted shopping and eating downtown, and the Jersey shore on Sunday.

An unanswerable Plath post

Two days in a row now, I've seen different women reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath on the subway. I see lots of people reading Harry Potter, and that doesn't surprise me. But it's rare to see a classic appear twice in a row like that. I wondered: What if the two readers are in the same class or the same book club? What if they're in separate classes, but have the same assignment? Is a book about a young woman interning in New York during an especially hot summer more likely to be read by young women in the city taking refuge from a heat wave in the air-conditioned subways? How many people are reading the book this week? Just in New York? Around the country? Today? Right now?

Google Maps mashups

I'm a fan of many of Google's contributions to the internet. Case in point: Google Maps. When they introduced this feature, I immediately forsook Yahoo Maps and Mapquest. Why? Because Google Maps was easier to use and more pleasing to look at. Now it even features satellite and hybrid views as well as measuring scale on each page. Apparently, lots of other people felt the same way. How did they show their love? By hacking it. But in good ways -- in ways that made what Google Maps does even better -- by combining various live and static data sets in Gmaps' geographical space. Some great examples:

HousingMaps = Gmaps + Nationwide rent/sell/sublet listings on Craigslist. I haven't used this yet to actually rent an apartment, but I can totally see the usefulness of it in terms of browsing within a certain neighborhood or radius.

Cheap Gas = Gmaps + Low gas prices pinned to particular filling stations.

GmapPedometer. Double-click out the twisty-turny route of your latest walk, jog or bike ride to find out how far you went.

Google Maps NYC-Subway Hack. Find out where exactly the train lines run and stop in relation to the streets above.

Entire blogs are written about the topic, too: Google Maps Mania.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Stanley Kunitz, ready to add centenarian to his list of honors

It's exciting and life-affirming to see that the great American poet Stanley Kunitz is still alive and sharing his art and childhood memories with the world. His 100th birthday is this Friday, as I'm reminded by this NYT Op-Art sketch. When I was younger, I got the opportunity to speak with him for a summer assignment after one of his many accolades. I remember sitting on a bed in my family's rented beach house and nervously dialing the phone number to his summer home in Provincetown on one of those older landline models. To my amazement, the man himself picked up after a few rings.
I'd half expected a friend or colleague or assistant or even his wife -- the artist Elise Asher, who was still alive at the time, but died last year -- to pick up instead. Then I realized that the life of the poet -- even a "famous" poet like him -- is rarely one filled with entourages. And that's especially so, it seems, with Kunitz, who told me how he loves to tend his garden and told his latest interviewer how he loved to explore the "old Indian woods" where he grew up. Speaking later to one of his poetry students, I learned of a line that still sticks with me: "'A poem needs to rise at the end,' [Kunitz] told me once, in conference."
For a taste of Kunitz's poetry, I recommend Halley's Comet, which I think of as a still living window to 1910.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

I'd like to official welcome Kristina ...

To the blogging world. A Splash of 21 Humor (see the first post for an explanation) premiered just a few days ago, and I think she's taking to the form like a fish to water. She's always been such a great storyteller -- and weird and wonderful things just seem to happen to her on a regular basis -- so I figured she'd be a great candidate for sharing it all with the world (or at least anyone who surfs on over). Check her out, especially if you're at all familiar with south central Pennsylvania -- or the midstate as some call it.

"Little Flower has a hard time keeping its standing army occupied"

As a former altar boy myself, I read with interest the Washington Post's Style piece today on a Catholic parish in Bethesda that has more altar servers than it knows what to do with. It's a nicely reported article that features some interesting details: Background on the former Navy officer who helped to reshape the training program at the church, the observation that the girls seem better attuned to serving, the recommendation to watch "how the big boys, the big little boys, do it in Rome" during the Pope's funeral. The article, of course, mentions the sex scandal, but it does so without harping on it, by instead putting it in context that moves beyond the slew of reporting that's already been done. Overall, it's written with a nice mixture of reverence, outsider observation and light humor. Kudos to the writer, Tommy Nguyen.

Monday, July 25, 2005

No such thing as a free lunch?

I got a free lunch from Subway today.

Well, sort of -- if you can call $2.15 "free."

A lower Manhattan location of the popular sandwich franchise is one of my favorite weekday lunch spots, and as a result, I started taking advantage of the Sub Club stamps they hand out. Eight six-inch subs will earn you a free sandwich of the same size. So I collect them and then I hand over the finished card. Now I usually buy the meal deal, which comes to $5.50, but you don't get a whole free "meal" with the Sub Club. Just a sub. So if you want a drink and chips or cookies on your ninth visit -- as I did -- it isn't an entirely free lunch.

It got me thinking: How much of a deal is this? If I add up what I would've spent otherwise and divide the free portion by the total, it comes out to be about a 6.7% discount in the long run, except I had to spend nearly $50 on sandwiches before I got there. But even this rather puny discount is slated to disappear, as I remember reading that Subway franchises nationwide are being told to phase out their Sub Club participation by year's end -- in part to stem supposed Sub Club fraud by those who sell their completed cards (authentic or otherwise) on eBay. But I'm not sure if or when that's going to happen at my local shop.

Speaking of loyalty programs, as they're called in the industry, another recent addition to the frequent-shopper gimmicks is Duane Reade's bar-coded club card. Supposedly, I'm going to get a $5 gift certificate after I've attained 100 points, which is basically $100 of spending (excluding certain big-ticket items). So what's the long-run discount there? About 4.7%. It might actually be a little bit better, since I have a feeling -- from looking at my receipts -- that sometimes they round up to a point, although I'm not sure.

Even so, it appears that Subway is the better deal.

I'm waiting in line at Fairway tonight

When a woman sees my blue-and-white "S" -- for (Penn) State -- hat and giddily asks me if I went to Michigan State. I say no, point to the PENN STATE printed in smaller letters on the side, and then ask her what MSU's colors are. She says green and white, then smacks her forehead, as her male companion reaches up and playfully covers her mouth as she tries to explain. I take off the hat again and look at it under the supermarket lights. There was a remote possibility that it could have appeared green in that light, but it was slim.

I replace my hat, shrug, and say, "You were close -- Big Ten and all." To which she and the guy -- both of whom looked at least 10 years older than me -- reply, "No. It's part of the Big Eleven. When they added Penn State, the Big Ten became the Big Eleven." They seemed pretty proud of themselves for this one, despite the fact that it is still -- in fact -- called the Big Ten.

Then the guy tells me I look an awful lot like the person he gave a cigarette to earlier in the day. I could've told him I don't smoke -- or no, you need your eyes checked -- but instead, I told him that being a college graduate, I was old enough to buy cigarettes if I wanted any. At which point I also look in the guy's red-red face and down at the six pack of beer in his hand and realize: Bad sunburn + Very drunk = Inane conversation in the check-out line.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

A visit to City Island

City Island is an old yacht-building town on a little slip of an island that's been officially within the city limits of New York for more than 100 years now. To get there by public transportation, you take the 6 train to the end of the line in the Bronx and then hop on the Bx29 bus into Pelham Bay Park and across the bridge onto the island. The place has a strange hybrid feeling: Mix small suburban homes in a shore town with its main drag and little antique shops and galleries, keep the sight of water never far away, then add a good helping of rural backwater with its ramshackle elements and abandoned storefronts, and throw in the occasional city neighborhood feel.

I actually first read about it in a recent issue of Conde Nast Traveler, where it was listed as one of 101 islands to visit (Manhattan was another one), and since I visited Governors Island a few weeks ago, I've been on a lesser islands kick. As the writer of this Morning News article reminds us, NYC is an archipelago, like the Philippines or Hawaii, but on a smaller scale and closer to a continent.

Stopping off at the Nautical Museum, which is open 1 to 5 on Sundays, we were asked by the two old men in charge -- if you want to call it that -- whether we were from "the island" and we had to clarify: An island, yes, but no, not this one. The museum is free, but they have a donations jar -- to which we were asked to contribute if we saw anything we liked among the displays that chart the long history of boat building on the island as well as the social history of the place. The museum is housed in the island's former turn-of-the-century public school building, which also accommodates condos.

As one can imagine, there are lots of seafood restaurants up and down City Island Avenue, and they range from the full-service kind to very basic cafeteria style. At the southern end of the island, you can find two of the latter variety: Tony's Pier and Johnny's Reef. You get your deep fried fish at the counter and your cheap beer ($2 Buds at one) and you eat on one of the picnic tables outside, staring out at the Long Island Sound or the mass of seagulls hovering nearby or otherwise the mass of humanity around you. (So many people!) Sort of reminded me of what New York's old oyster bars might've been like back in the day, except open-air and nicer views.

If you're more in the mood for tea and scones, there's an outpost of Alice's Tea Cup, that Upper West Side tea room with the Wonderland theme. The wares at Alice's City Island, 296 City Island Ave., are just as good, but the place was practically empty this afternoon.

One of the more spooky features of the island is this dock, which has lots of signs warning you to keep away. It's where the ferry to Hart Island leaves from. Only prisoners from Rikers Island, Correction Dept. personnel and other city workers are regularly allowed to take the ferry: Hart is the site of a potter's field, where the prisoners bury unclaimed and anonymous dead bodies from NYC's morgues.

Professor Edwardo Alvarado and his miniature band. One of the more amusing "official" subway platform performers at Times Square. Those little dolls dance around to his keyboard playing.

"You shut your mouth when you're talking to me."

After doing some comparison shopping in SoHo, I finally settled on a new shoulder bag from Eddie Bauer. It's slightly bigger than my previous one, but at least now, there'll be more than enough room for most of what I carry around on a regular basis.

Saw Wedding Crashers last night at the less frequented (but not too forgotten) Loews Cineplex on 34th Street -- which charges a whole $1.25 less than the rest of the chain's locations in the city even if you don't have prepaid discount passes -- because Batman Begins was for some reason bumped from the roster at the last minute. It was definitely worth seeing for the chemistry between Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, but the mood also swings wildly and abruptly between laugh-out loud hilarity and attempts at seriousness and drama, and also includes an appearance by Will Ferrell that really just falls flat. Still, it's worth seeing, especially if you're a fan of Wilson's unique delivery and general "Hey, it's all gonna work out in the end, so let's enjoy it, buddy" attitude. Oh, and the cameos by Sen. John McCain and James Carville are too brief -- I was hoping for an actual line.

On tap today: A visit to City Island, which is an inhabited part of the city that's officially part of the Bronx and is served by an MTA bus, but isn't even on the MTA's main subway map -- notice there's no island off the coast of Orchard Beach (at the top, in the middle).

The title of the post is a one-liner from the movie.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

It's a bag, bag, bag world

So the NYPD apparently started searching transit riders' bags yesterday. I was not searched and didn't see anyone else being searched, although I did notice cops on the subway platforms, which isn't necessarily all that strange.

The thing about big cities where many get around without cars is there are lots more people who carry bags. Yes, there are your typical students and workers and businesspeople, but also those just going around on their free time. It's my contention that guys here carry bags to a much greater degree than you're likely to see in suburban or rural places. It's the equivalent of the glove compartment in a car. You want a map, book, magazine, medicine, notepad, pens, business cards ... gloves even? Put it in your bag. Women, too, beyond their purses, are likely to have one or two extra bags on hand. All of which makes for many more of us potential searchees.

And on that note, I think it's time I did some shopping to replace my own worn-out, ink-stained bag.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Three worth reading, one worth hearing

1. A great Times profile of Costco and why it's the "anti-Wal-Mart," including a thumbnail history of wholesale clubs (yes, Price Club was stared by a Mr. Price) and mention of a pioneer discount store from the '50s called "Fed-Mart" -- which sounds funny, like it was government-run or something.

2. Roger Ebert's modest proposal to finance the creation of some internet content (like news sites) by charging users a penny a page via some sort of EzPass-like credit-card system.

3. Another great Appreciation piece (in WaPo's Style) by Hank Stuever, this time about the actor who played "Scotty" on the original Star Trek: James Doohan.

In honor of Scotty's passing, I thought I'd harken back to a great song from my childhood, which I heard way too often on "Kids Corner," a radio show on WXPN-FM: "Star Trekkin'" by The Firm.

Thursday, July 21, 2005


If you can eat a meal that you just cooked for yourself and listen to someone reading to you on the radio and look outside at whatever patch of sky is visible from your apartment window and see a plane flying by and imagine where it is headed and see also clouds and the hint of evening sun and imagine yourself anywhere from your past and feel the flickering of the way it was for you to be then and there.

In honor of Ernest Hemingway, born this day in 1899.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Condos. Streelight. Stella. Car. Cobblestones. Coffee cup. Oven. On West 14th Street, but not necessarily in that order.

Once, we walked by gated Gramercy Park and an old lady who lived on the square let us in with her prized key. No such luck tonight as we passed Grove Court off Grove Street. To think: These used to be working-class people's homes in the 19th century. Now they're probably worth a fortune.

No. 38. Somewhere in the West Village.

A white horse in Chelsea.

From a few hundred feet out on a pier along Hudson River Park, the skyline of Midtown shrinks so that only the ESB and the tip of the Chrysler are visible.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Review: A Very Long Engagement

In general, the only kind of war movie I end up loving is one that isn't really about war. Yes, even the movies that are 90% shoot-'em-ups attempt to draw larger conclusions about things beyond war, but most of them are just a different kind of action adventure movie.

It's taken me a while to see the latest from the director of Amelie -- Jean-Pierre Jeunet -- but I'm glad I finally bit the bullet, so to speak, and saw A Very Long Engagement. (Some reviews had warned of a violence that at times bridges on the grotesque.) Whatever blood is spilled and human damage portrayed feels worth it in the service of such a wonderful transporting tale about love and a deep intuition that a quest is not over, even when all signs point otherwise.

Audrey Tautou, who is fast becoming one of the most recognizable French actresses on our shores, does a fantastic job, evoking some of the charm she brought to Amelie, but also drawing up her face to show a mix of young wisdom and unjaded determination on a level deeper than that previous Jeunet role. Jodie Foster makes an appearance in the movie, too, speaking like a native, as she's been fluent in French since 14. To call her role a cameo is to give her short shrift, but she is one of the more captivating people that Tautou's character meets on the protracted journey to find her fiance.

What I liked best, besides the stunning cinematography and captivating settings, was how Jeunet manages to portray the violence of war and its aftermath with a keen eye for detail and a knowledge of just how much is necessary to reveal the horror without overdoing it. Beyond the trenches, there are many other scenes of beauty, and perhaps they are even more attractive for their contrast to the war flashbacks.

The ending is duly satisfying, but also one of those that is exquisitely restrained. If the film has worked its magic, you are left imagining what happens next.

Which I always find to be a powerful way to feel at the end of a narrative -- one that can be at its heart a gift to the viewer or reader. Because, in actuality, those fellow humans who conceived the work might never have gotten that far. (They didn't have to.) So you are left with your imagination. You are left to take what was theirs and make it your own, if only for a few minutes as the credits roll.


Score one for great New York architecture. The new design for the Moynihan Station -- while different from the original -- evokes a sense of history (the former Penn Station) with a daring contemporary feel. The undulating glass roof is a great idea, and I think it will once again be an exciting entry point for travelers arriving or returning to New York, instead of the underground hole that is our present-day station. Best of all, it'll be spending money to build a real public asset -- something everyone can appreciate -- and provide a new boon to mass transit. Next on the list of languishing plans in need of a kick-start: The Second Avenue Subway.

Monday, July 18, 2005

A quick spin through new PSU architecture

Since I'm somewhat obsessed with architecture, part of any return trip to Penn State for me is marked by checking out how the campus has changed. And at a university with a building plan as aggressive as PSU's, there's usually some interesting things to see. For a complete rundown on what's new and what's coming, you can check out OPP's site. But here's some of what I noticed:

McAllister Building has been gutted and renovated, kicking out the Penn State post office in the process. The trees in the Peace Garden (Class of 1997 Senior Gift) across from McAllister are coming in nicely, and no longer reveal how recently they were planted (2000).

One of the nicest new additions to campus is the School of Architecture and Landscape Architecture building, located between the Palmer Museum of Art and North Halls. It's nearly complete, and the doors were open this weekend, so I got a quick peek inside. The four-story building has a very open floor plan, with asymmetrical connections up and down among the floors. On the outside, one long facade is dominated by brick, while the other curves a bit and features green weathered copper. That side alludes to the gentle "S" curve of the IST Building, too. I like how it plays off the foliage in the area as well as the brick throughout campus.

In Britain, they refer to many of the universities just a tier below Oxbridge (like Manchester and Bristol) as Red Brick universities. And while the kind of brick that name alludes to is not the brick of Penn State, the name still comes to mind as I see what sort of style they're trying to evoke with the latter-day campus buildings. It's not always beautiful, but at certain points around campus, it really works to bring things together.

Another newly formed spot of architecture and landscape that I really loved is the Shortlidge Mall. The overhead skywalk between the Chemistry and Life Sciences buildings paired with pedestrian pathways that replace the former road there make for a real gem. They create a second grand mall that runs parallel to the mall leading up to Pattee Library. So while that older one is focused around liberal arts buildings, here the sciences have an attractive quad. If you think of the lawns in front of Old Main and the HUB-Robeson Center as akin to malls, the four-fold symmetry works even better.

On the housing front, Eastview Terrace feels like another great success. My sister loves living there, and the classic but modern look of the complex from the outside -- with the view of Mount Nittany in the distance -- is very impressive.

All in all, it kind of makes me wish I were back there.

For a slideshow of some photos, including a few of the completed Class of 2003 Senior Gift murals inside the HUB, check Flickr.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Graham Spanier, local celeb and night owl

Penn Staters will likely recognize that washboard player (instrument hidden) on the left-hand side playing along Saturday night into Sunday morning with local favorites The Phyrst Phamly. It's not every university president who will play all night and pose like a celebrity for photos between sets, but that's G-Span for you.

Arts Fest '05

Woke up this morning in the wilds outside State College, but tonight, I'm back in the sweltering city. I had a wonderful time at Penn State -- a place that always manages to feel like home. I snapped photos like I was on vacation. I ate cheesesteaks and barbecue sandwiches, drank good beer in a new place, and had two delicious cones of cookies-and-cream Creamery ice cream. And best of all, I spent time with several great friends as well as my sis. I also got a chance to see the way the campus has been developing and changing. More to come.

Friday, July 15, 2005

Ah, summer

I went to a Celebrate Brooklyn concert tonight featuring Ozomatli in beautiful Prospect Park. The music was fun, and I enjoyed it, but it was more about chatting with friends on a blanket on the lawn on a pleasant summer evening -- and in my case -- drinking some Red Hook. On the aforementioned blanket were Daryl, Cheryl, Antonio, and Cheryl's friend from growing up outside Philly, Charli, who is a recently minted New Yorker.

This weekend, it's off to two of my favorite places in Pennsylvania. Probably won't have a chance to blog, though. So look for me Monday.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Blocked train lines, fallen buildings and yuppie condos

I'm never quite sure what to expect these days when I hear "building collapse," but those are the words I heard this morning on the 1 train as the conductor recommended we transfer to the downtown A train at 168th St. For part of this morning, 1 trains weren't traveling underneath the area of a construction-site collapse, which -- while it injured a few people, at least one pretty severely -- was not terrorism and was not as bad as it could have been. Since it occurred at 100th and Broadway, I sort of figured it was a construction site and nothing more, but you can't be too sure these days, a mere week after London's 7/7.
Still, amid the chaos, the Times still finds a moment to add some class-war color from the scene: "On a piece of scaffolding that remained standing was a painted sign with the words 'Yuppie Condos' crossed out. " As Curbed likes to point out, it all comes back to real estate here.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Free coin counting + free branded merchandise = great advertising ploy

Did you know Commerce Bank has free coin counting? Branches of this bank have been popping up like mad around New York recently, and I'd never been inside one before until tonight. But after a friend mentioned this free service, I had to check it out. We only ended up cashing in $2.01, but it was fun playing with the "Penny Arcade" and since we "guessed" within $1.99 how much our coins would total up to be, we got a free prize: a choice of either a big red "C"-shaped plastic piggy bank or a keychain. I always thought it was pretty dumb that Coinstar -- seen at many supermarkets -- charged you like seven cents on the dollar for the service. Now, you can do it for free, if you're near one of these banks. Yet another reason to go digging for all that loose change that's hiding around your home.

Back to Penn State

I'm headed to State College this weekend, partly because it's Arts Fest, and partly because I haven't been back in a long time. I was kind of amused to see an old name on the lineup of bands for the university's AfterFest -- a "booze-free" concert created a few years ago to try and give rowdy people something to do besides drink (or a reason to drink a little less) and not cause a ruckus downtown. So the headlining band is none other than The Verve Pipe. Remember them? They had a hit with "The Freshmen" back in '96. Apparently, they're still around, although from their website, it appears they haven't had a new full-length album since 2001. Anyway, they're going on at 1:30am. Playing before them will be Johnny Action Figure and The Julianna Theory.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Broadway and Broome

I've noticed that several older buildings around the city reveal -- in their upper stories -- an amount of ornate decoration that you just don't see at street level. Here's one such example at the corner of Broadway and Broome Street. Not sure of the name or architect, but I'd like to find out.


Gothamist and its swarm of -ist clones have been multiplying like crazy recently. One of the latest? That's right: Phillyist. While I'm proud that my former home has a snazzy new group blog, the whole naming scheme doesn't quite roll off the tongue the way Gothamist does. And why is it that all the other cities have to go by their real names (or common abbreviated names) instead of their nicknames. Granted, not all have a quick and easy nickname like Gotham, but still ... I think the new Parisist has the least roll-of-your-tongue goodness. It seems like they sort of limited their options with that brand, whereas Gawker Media just comes up with wacky-sounding sites and then references them back to the original.

Monday, July 11, 2005

Fort Tryon Park in the warm evening

This summer, I've taken to walking some clear nights, after dinner and before sunset, in a lazy loop of Fort Tryon Park. In nice weather, there is almost always an ice cream vendor by the entrance to the park, near the playground and the basketball courts. I buy an ice cream, eat it on my way through the Heather Garden, and then attempt to walk some of it off the rest of my way around. The mix of sights and people in the park is usually something -- the wholesome and illicit, the new and the old-fashioned.

Tonight, a few dozen people were sitting, stretching, bending, and twisting their way through a free sunset yoga class on the first slope overlooking the Hudson. Within sight of them, some guys of indeterminate age were sipping from open 40s by the overlook wall. Women by themselves and a few older couples paced and jogged along the paths, some huffing and puffing more than others, while one man paused to pull out a pack of cigarettes. There were young couples with their toddlers and newborns or otherwise their pint-sized dogs. A young man in black pants and a white shirt sat on a bench in the shade and talked with a young woman in a dress; later, I saw them strolling, a few feet apart. Another man -- tanned, shirtless and slightly disheveled -- draped his arms across the top of a bench and took in the sun. Some people were playing soccer, and others badminton.

The way the park is raised above the rest of the island, it seems the sun setting over the Palisades is more of a presence, as it drifts down from being an invisible but everywhere light source to become a feature of the landscape. So many of us are more aware of the sun and its getting ready to leave for the day, or at least it feels that way. Down on the water, people in boats have piloted their craft to a spot on the river where the last sunlight was falling. It was warm, and I was breaking in a new pair of flip-flops -- more them breaking in me than vice versa. Occasionally, a car filled with people zoomed around the loop drive in the park, past the ancient-looking Cloisters, but mostly it was quiet and people were on foot or stroller or bike or skates. Soon, it was time to come home and get my laundry.

One good reason to ban drinks on the subway

The woman who opens her seltzer and squirts it all over you, your pants and your newspaper.

Worth noting from the July 8 "On the Media"

1. A modest proposal to have journalists start reading their own version of Miranda rights to confidential or anonymous sources, so that people like Judy Miller don't have to end up going to jail to stick up for someone who might've broken the law. The show's hosts propose saying something like, "If you're a liar, scoundrel or thief -- even though this reporter might not be aware of it just yet -- then my assurance to keep your name out of my paper when it comes to this dirt is off, pal."

2. Remarks on the new popularity of creating Wikipedia pages for major news events within hours of their unfolding. Case in point: the entry for "7 July 2005 London bombings." As I awoke that day, this page had already been created and updated dozens of times. As more and more information became known, the page got better. They say journalism is the rough draft of history, but Wikis are taking that idea one step further and creating a rough draft that becomes less rough as time goes on. Another recent event mentioned for having a Wikipedia page created very soon after the news broke was the big Southeast Asian tsunami / "2004 Indian Ocean earthquake." During the interview, Clay Shirky pointed out that on average, glaringly bad information or "vandalism" stays up on especially controversial Wikipedia pages about two minutes before attentive members of the community (many of whom get e-mail updates when certain pages are edited) leap to action.

Oh, and OTM has become quite the popular podcast. When I last checked, it was No. 18 on the top 100 most subscribed podcasts on iTunes.

Part tribute, part art, part ad

Came across this portable piece of sculpture Sunday night in SoHo. It's a life-size rendering of the famous photograph of construction workers breaking for lunch atop one of the buildings at Rockefeller Center, back in the day as it was being built. The artist is Sergio Furnari, who appears -- from his website -- to do most of his art in people's backyards with custom pools and outdoor furniture.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Another booze post

Yes, more drinks were had as the weekend went on. (But not to excess.)

Prohibition is a nice-sized bar on the Upper West Side -- 503 Columbus Ave. -- with a good vibe, nice ('30s-theme) decor, and live music most nights. Playing last night was the cover band Tremors, whose song list includes stuff from the '60s through to right now. They'll next be playing Prohibition on Tuesday the 12th. The place was packed Saturday night around 10:30, but not so much that they couldn't seat a party of four right by the band.

Then tonight, in search of an open liquor store, we struck out with Warehouse Wines and Astor Wines -- both good stand-bys -- but found the SoHo location of Vintage New York to be open and popular. That one's open until 9 daily, and the U.W.S. location is open til 10. Vintage specializes in wines and other beverages from New York state, and they also do a five-tastes-for-$5 wine sampler, which I have to try sometime. Tonight, I got a raspberry-flavored hard apple cider called Doc's Framboise made by the Warwick Valley Winery and Distillery. It's lighter and not as sweet as the other Framboise I usually have -- the Belgian Lindemans -- but just as nice.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

July is ...

National Ice Cream Month and Sunday, July 17, is National Ice Cream Day (Sundae Sunday). No, I'm not a shill for the dairy industry. I just want to make sure you're celebrating. But remember to celebrate responsibly.

East Side Company Bar: Sasha's speakeasy without reservations

I don't know the name of many bar proprietors, the way a lot of foodies do, but I do know one: Sasha (Petraske). He's the guy behind Milk & Honey, the reservations-only L.E.S. bar with the secret entrance. Earlier this year, he branched out and created another place with the same attention to quality drinks, nice service and a "grown-up" intimate atmosphere, but without the need for referrals and reservations. It's called the East Side Company Bar.

Located at 49 Essex Street, near Grand Street, the entranceway is windowless and covered in wood panels that evoke a Japanese sushi house. A small plaque next to the door lets you know you're at the right place. Inside there is a small stand-up bar, two semi-booths up front, and booth seating for about 25 people in the back. It's low-ceilinged and lit by candles. It has the feel of an ultra-exclusive club car on an overnight train. When the waiter brings over your drinks and snacks, his tray is also lit by a candle. They pride themselves on using fresh ingredients (juices, garnishes, etc.) when possible and have a nice selection of cocktails listed on the menu along with some beer and wine.

I had a delicious mojito and a "House Special Iced Tea" (featuring real tea) mixed with white rum and fresh fruit. It's open 7:30pm to 4am Monday through Saturday. We got there shortly after it opened last night, and got a seat right away, although I'd imagine it might fill up by 10 or 11.

Friday, July 08, 2005

"Set and Drift" opens soon

While plans for a more permanent use for Governors Island are ironed out, the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council has come up with a site-specific art display to draw more visitors to the island this summer. Dubbed "Set and Drift," the exhibit premieres July 16 and runs through the middle of August. Each of the half dozen or so works plays off of the site or its previous military uses in some way. I just visited the place for the first time recently, but I'd kind of like to go back and check out some of this art. The title of the exhibit actually refers to a nautical term for any external forces that would make a ship move off its intended course. Above is a shot of toy horses once used by the island's resident children, mostly "military brats."

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Terrorist blasts in London

What a horrible turn of events in London! One day the city is the center of the world's attention for winning the 2012 Olympics, and the next day, they're the target of coordinated terrorist attacks. Still waking up to the details. My heart and prayers go out to them ...


1. From "If Cruise and Katie Holmes wed, each of his wives will have been eleven years younger than the last (Mimi Rogers, b. 1956; Nicole Kidman, b. 1967; Katie Holmes, b. 1978)."

2. Three books I've recently seen people reading on the subway: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby, and Middlemarch by George Eliot.

3. G.W.B. has fallen off his bike at least twice now since becoming president, and once, he fell off a Segway. That makes at least three highly publicized moving spills.

A classic by ABT

Saw American Ballet Theatre's production of Swan Lake tonight with Margaret, who's a dancer herself as well as a dance fan. It was a fantastic performance, and well-worth seeing, especially since I'd never before seen it from start to finish. The company really gets to stretch out with big sets and exquisite costumes for this one, performing for part of this month in the Metropolitan Opera House.

My favorite parts were the Act II dance featuring the Prince and Odette surrounded by the corps of Swans, the scene immediately following with four Swans linked in arms, and the international dances (Mazurka, Neapolitan, Spanish ...) in Act III. And it all closes with a stunning moment where the sun rises on the backdrop, the Tchaikovsky swells, and the Swan dancers bend their legs and fold their "wings" as white mist covers the stage, just after the cursed and tricked lovers have literally leapt toward a final reunion.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Speaking of Sarah Vowell

She didn't even mention last night that she had a NY Times op-ed piece today, which discusses -- among other things -- the G-8, dreams about Pat Robertson and condoms. She did, however, say that she just finished recording the voice of Violet Parr for an upcoming Disney On Ice show that will feature The Incredibles.

New York loses bid; dozens shrug

Whew. That's over. As time went on, it was blatantly obvious to almost everyone except the bid committee that New York was not going to get the 2012 Olympics. Whatever chance the city might have had was blown by the West Side Stadium fiasco; that was made clear once again by New York getting knocked out just after Moscow and before Madrid.

There was of course a bit of a surprise in London's winning. Paris had expected to win by a nose, and so there was some drama in their losing. After the decision was made, Donald Trump chalked it up to another old white man's egotistical remarks [from the NYT]: "'How stupid can you be?' Mr. Trump said, referring to Mr. Chirac's joke in which he told President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder of Germany that the only British contribution to European agriculture had been mad cow disease." The French meanwhile were very bitter, and they probably have some reason to be so, since they were such the clear favorites.

On NPR this morning, one of the correspondents on the scene gave some credit to former middle-distance runner Sebastian Coe, who gave the British campaign some final momentum going into the vote. And immediately, the theme from Chariots of Fire started playing in my head, because I've always associated it with Seb Coe for some reason even though it's not really about him, and it's really just a movie about Brits in the Olympics.

On the positive side, monolingual American Olympics fans can safely travel to London seven years hence and have a minimum of language difficulties while getting around.

Sedaris and friends at Cooper Union

I almost forgot to go to the 826NYC benefit reading last night hosted by David Sedaris and Sarah Vowell in honor of the fundraiser anthology Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. I'd ordered the tickets weeks ago, and expected them to arrive in the mail. Instead, the lion's share of the audience had to wait in line an hour and a half before the show to get the tickets at an impromptu will-call table. Grrr. But the writing and tutoring center that is 826NYC relies heavily on volunteers, so I guess they aren't paying these people big bucks to be sensational house managers.

Among the readers were two writers whose names are pretty well known -- Lorrie Moore and Joyce Carol Oates -- and two lesser-knowns whose story excerpts were great: Akhil Sharma and Charles Baxter. Sharma's story "Cosmopolitan" has a wonderful line that can acted like a little surprise for the audience as we moved from the head of the character back to the scene of the action: "Gopal wanted to put his hands on her waist and pull her toward him. And then he realized that he had."

Seeing JCO at last was a little shocking and sort of disappointing for me, too, despite seeing her face on countless book jackets. She isn't an excellent reader, and she looks like she's going to wither away, she's so thin and gawky like a spindly Al Hirschfeld caricature of herself. I kind of expected her to have acquired a new accent along the way, but her pronunciation in spots still evokes her origins in western New York State. I used to love her writing as a teenager, and I really hoped to get to share with her how she once replied to a young gushing writing sample of mine with a handwritten postcard of hers.

But by the time she was finished reading her contribution to the anthology, I remembered again why I fell out of love with her stories. So many of them are about the same thing: men being rough with women to varying degrees and women either being helpless about it or strangely attracted to it. And so many of the stories seem to reveal themselves from their very opening, and not provide the reader with any surprise or suspense along the way. So that when I saw her walking out after the reading without signing any books, I wasn't as disappointed to miss out on her signature and a moment of face time.

The unannounced special guest of the evening was Brooklyn native and ex-FDNY firefighter Steve Buscemi reading one of Tobias Wolff's best stories, "Bullet in the Brain." The first half of the story is written one way, and the second half is written another, and they pivot on a moment evoked by the title, but it's such a gem for the way it can shift tone so effortlessly from sarcasm to quiet sensitive objectivity.

The reading took place in the Great Hall at Cooper Union. Vowell, whose recent book is called Assassination Vacation, was quick to remind us that Abe Lincoln made his famous 1860 campaign speech in that very room at the very podium she was leaning on.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Insta-Article on the Insta-Skyline

Bruce Ratner, whom the NYT faithfully discloses is the newspaper company's development partner at its new building in Greater Port Authority, has leaked the look of his huge new Frank Gehry-designed Insta-Skyline around Brooklyn's budding Nets Central neighborhood. (I wonder how they got that scoop!)

After recent battles over changing the low-profile neighborhoods of South Slope and Williamsburg/Greenpoint, will Brooklynites get peeved about their downtown suddenly looking like Houston on the Harbor? I've heard a few proud outerborough denizens touting the massive population of Brooklyn as compared with Manhattan, so why not a few just-add-water Gehry pieces to make it feel like a real city? Of course, it would also be nice if all those thousands of housing units came in at a decent starting price. (What is decent anymore?) There should be like a discount for living on top of a basketball arena if you're not a basketball fan.

Those dastardly newspaper men

During my tour of Bennett Park yesterday, one of the other two dozen or so group members asked why the city would name a park (and avenue) after James Gordon Bennett Sr. and Jr., a father and son who shared between them the epithets of racist, anti-Semite, drunkard and social pariah. Our tour guide said money talks and added that we were after all standing on their former estate, which had previously been occupied by the colonial Fort Washington.

It's sort of cute that we would want place names to memorialize only virtuous people today, but that unfortunately is not the case a lot of the time. And we don't always get around to changing them to a more palatable title, either.

Still, learning about the Bennetts was interesting. Their name does not ring as common a bell as, say, Pulitzer, Hearst and Greeley do in the world of New York newspapers, but they still have a legacy. Besides the uptown sites, there is Herald Square itself, named after the New York Herald, the penny paper that Bennett Sr. founded with just $500 capital. The publication thrived on scandals of the day, and heavy (but not always accurate) war reporting, but also supposedly gave the commerce capital of the U.S. its first Wall Street articles. (The Wall Street Journal didn't appear until the 1880s.)

The Herald name also lives on overseas, in the International Herald Tribune, the globally distributed Paris-based English-language paper that traces its lineage back to Bennett Jr.'s founding of a French edition of the Herald. The name reveals the paper's later merger with Horace Greeley's Tribune. But it's now owned by the New York Times Co., after it recently bought out the Washington Post's share in the venture.

Why was Bennett Jr. in Paris? In a stunt that made him a bit of an outcast in American society, he drunkenly urinated into either the fireplace or grand piano at his then-fiance's New Year's party. She ceased to be his fiance, and he escaped to France where he had previously been educated, and where he continued to run the New York operations by cable.

Monday, July 04, 2005

"And the rockets' red glare ..."

At the fireworks in front of the South Street Seaport tonight.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Tour of Bennett Park

If you're free tomorrow at noon and near Bennett Park in Washington Heights, you can meet Jim Renner, official historian of Community District 12, at the flagpole for a tour and discussion,. The park features the highest natural point in Manhattan -- 265 feet above sea level, or about one-fifth of the way up the Empire State Building.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Deep (and early) Impact

If you happen to be awake and near a computer at 1:52am July 4 on the East Coast, you can supposedly watch NASA's Deep Impact spacecraft smash a hole in comet Tempel 1 to see what's inside. Or if you're near a computer right now, you can watch the Live 8 concerts over at AOL Music. Take your pick: Rock now or rock later, all from the comfort of your wherever.

Friday, July 01, 2005

Live 8

PHILADELPHIA -- Living in the N.Y.C. media market, you'd be forgiven for forgetting that the Live 8 massive worldwide event/series of concerts is tomorrow. In Philadelphia? Not so much. This city is molto excited: For one day, it gets to be the hot spot in the nation that has what nobody else has. Live 8 is everywhere -- on the front of all the newspapers and at the top of all the local news. They're expecting a million people at the free afternoon concert on the Ben Franklin Parkway tomorrow. I don't plan to be among them; I'd rather catch some clips on TV. As it is, there are the Macy's Fourth of July fireworks to plan for on Monday, which -- for those of us without plum rooftop locations -- means being outside for an extended period of time with lots of people. But for those who are going to be there tomorrow, I hope it's safe and fun.

Governors Island Airport?

With the Port Authority's talk of building a fourth major airport in the NY metro area, it might be interesting to note that Governors Island was once considered a prime site for a municipal airport, back during Mayor LaGuardia's days, prior to the construction of the Queens airport that would bear his name.
While the island is currently up for redevelopment, I doubt they'd consider flying big jets so close to Lower Manhattan these days, but imagine the convenience! Also, the footprint of the island would have to be expanded greatly with land-filling if it were to accommodate the runways and terminals, etc. Compare the size via Google Maps of LaGuardia and Governors at roughly the same scale.