Friday, June 27, 2008

All Saints

This is All Saints Ukrainian Orthodox Church, located in the East Village. I've always wondered about the significance of the extra bars in the eastern orthodox cross. The top line is said to represent the headboard, and the bottom, slanted line represents the footrest. It is raised to the left side, because that was the side of the righteous criminal who said to Jesus: "remember me when you come into your kingdom." Notice the sign to the right of the church door. It's for an undertaker's business, which runs out of the basement!

The church is in an area around 3rd Avenue and 10th St. that's known for its Russian and Ukrainian businesses. In many places it's not uncommon to find signs with Cyrillic characters. We often end up over here at several favorite restaurants. I love the stuffed cabbage, pierogis, and kielbasa - but loathe the borscht, which happens to be one of my wife's favorites. Blech!

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Our Lady of Vilnius

In recent years New Yorkers have become significantly more conscious of historic preservation issues. No doubt the tragic demolition of the old Penn Station in 1964, forever a black mark against city planners, proved a catalyst to that heightened awareness. Still, our city faces an architectural barrage of post-modern monstrosities of reflective glass and asymmetrical forms. Thus I'm always excited to see old structures renovated for new uses. Chelsea and Soho, for example, are full of former warehouses and manufacturing spaces converted to housing and galleries. An article in this week's New York Times ("From Pickles to Paintings") observes that even the Lower East Side is experiencing the same kind of transformation as Chelsea. Although detractors often bemoan the "gentrification" process in areas like the East Village, Soho, and especially Harlem, one has to agree that renovation is preferable to demolition in many cases. The last thing New York City wants is block after block of vacant lots or derelict buildings similar to blighted Detroit.

Of all of this city's architectural gems, the diverse houses of worship seem to catch my eyes - and camera lenses - first. From synagogues and small parish churches to the city's grand cathedrals, New York has a religious diversity - reflected in the architecture of its churches - that seems staggering to catalog. One of my favorites in the category of "small parish churches" is Our Lady of Vilnius, founded in 1905 to minister to the city's Lithuanian population. Like so many small churches throughout the five boroughs, this parish serves as a focal point for the neighborhood, even long after much of the local Lithuanian population has moved elsewhere. Located on Dominick Street in Soho, it sits just opposite the entrance to the Holland Tunnel, and for years I've noticed it with curiosity as we've left the city for destinations far afield.

Earlier this week I had to run downtown to City Hall and decided to walk home, taking Hudson St. from Chambers all the way up to the West Village. And there it sat, Our Lady of Vilnius, just half a block away from my path as I trudged uptown. Mind you, it wasn't easy to reach, tucked between the various lanes that feed traffic into the tunnel. I had heard a couple of years ago that the parish might be closed by the Archdiocese of New York as part of Cardinal Egan's controversial effort to shutter and consolidate smaller congregations. Naturally I wanted to get over there before something happened to the building, but unfortunately I was too late. The exterior is in a sad state and I've learned that the roof of the sanctuary, constructed in 1905, is structurally unsafe, upheld by scaffolding. The whole place was padlocked, neglected, and dark.

With a little digging I found out that the church was closed in February 2007. Indeed, the manner of its closure underscores charges that Cardinal Egan has behaved in a heavy-handed and decidedly non-pastoral fashion. At the very hour he had scheduled a meeting with Father Eugene Sawicki of Our Lady of Vilnius, Cardinal Egan's goons were changing the locks on the doors and turning tearful parishioners away. Needless to say, the priest and his congregation were shocked and dismayed. Since then the archdiocese has stripped out the historic stained glass, altars, and other art works, while painting over a fresco on the ceiling behind the altar (shown at left).

It's just amazing how badly this congregation has been treated by Cardinal Egan. Efforts to compromise have fallen on deaf ears. Even the Lithuanian government has joined the effort, appealing to both the archdiocese and the pope. Reports suggest that the church will be demolished and the property sold to developers. If that is the case, once again, profit will have trumped propriety in New York's cutthroat real estate market. To be sure, New York City has a much improved track record in the field of historic preservation. But each year more structures of significance are leveled in the name of progress. The situation is especially troubling when an institution like the Archdiocese of New York engages in the kind of behavior we usually associate with the robber barons of the city's real estate market.

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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Irish Hunger Memorial

One of the gems of Battery Park City is the Irish Hunger Memorial, located at the corner Vesey St. and North End Ave. The creation of artist Brian Tolle, the Memorial was designed to increase awareness of the Irish potato famine that began in 1845, while also calling attention to the current issue of famine in our society. (The famine ultimately contributed to the deaths of approximately one million people in Ireland, while an additional million emigrated, most to the U.S.) The Memorial includes stones from each of Ireland's 32 counties, as well as native vegetation from western Ireland. (The wildflowers, foxglove and little white roses were incredible, giving one the impression of walking through an Irish landscape - right in the heart of downtown Manhattan.) In the middle of the Memorial stands the ruins of a stone cottage, brought from Ireland and reconstructed on the site. From the overlook that faces the Hudson River one can look out to the Statue of Liberty as well as Ellis Island, where so many victims of the famine arrived. I had completely forgotten about the Memorial, but finally remembered reading about its 2002 dedication. It's a bit "off the beaten path," even for the tourists who swarm over the nearby "Ground Zero" site of the World Trade Center towers. In fact, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon there were only a handful of people visiting the Memorial. I'll definitely return, camera in hand, to see how the place changes with the seasons.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2008

More Tom Otterness

Walking along the waterfront in lower Manhattan's Battery Park City, Sam and I stumbled upon another installation of whimsical Tom Otterness figures. If you're a regular visitor to this site you might recall my May 23rd entry on his works that populate the 8th Ave./14th St. L Train subway station. As in the subway pieces, money, in the form of piles of change, seems to be a common theme in many of his works. Also, compared to the small scale of the subway sculptures, these pieces were usually larger, and in some instances had small foot outlines included, perhaps to encourage climbing children. (My favorite is the bound and gagged cat being carried away.)

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Monday, June 23, 2008

Weekend Flowers

It was a busy weekend, with lots of opportunities for photography. I'll start with the best of the flowers I encountered. My favorites are the rugosa rose (no. 3) and the hollyhock (no. 4).

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Friday, June 20, 2008

More Building Ads

Here are a few more of the old painted building ads that I found on my walks through Chelsea and the Flatiron.




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Bush League

Two articles in the New York Times this week continue the process of revealing the corruption and ignorance that have guided the Bush administration's disastrous policy in Iraq. First, testimony from the former Pentagon official who oversaw the government's contract with KBR (Kellogg, Brown, and Root), suggests he was removed from his post because he acted as a whistleblower by questioning $1 billion in charges. It should be noted that Houston-based KBR, which provides food and housing to U.S. military personnel in Iraq, was a subsidiary of Halliburton, for which Dick Cheney had once served as CEO. Henry Waxman, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, notes that this situation “is startling, and it confirms the committee’s worst fears. KBR has repeatedly gouged the taxpayer, and the Bush administration has looked the other way every time.” It also provides ammunition for critics who have charged that KBR has benefited significantly (upwards of $20 billion thus far) from its close relationship with Bush. The article ( "Army Overseer Tells of Ouster Over KBR Stir") provides startling details on how KBR executives had easy access to key Defense Department and White House figures to effectively circumvent the oversight process. Corruption between contractors and the government during wartime is hardly a new problem. However, this administration has made cronyism a spectator sport when it comes to handing out lucrative government contracts.

Even more troubling is news of a security agreement that the White House is pressuring Iraq to sign by July 31st. According to an op-ed piece in the Times, "the 'strategic alliance' that President Bush is proposing eerily resembles, in spirit and in letter, a failed 1930 treaty between Britain and Iraq that prompted a nationalist eruption in Baghdad, a pro-Nazi military coup and a pogrom that foreshadowed the elimination of Baghdad’s ancient Jewish community." Is this administration so ignorant of history or so unrealistically idealistic that it thinks this "alliance" will produce positive results in a situation already disastrous? The White House obviously doesn't want Congress to debate - or vote - on the agreement's merits because they've crafted it in such a way to avoid the usual channels of Senate treaty ratification. Technically, it isn't a treaty. The Times concludes that "rarely has the proverb about repeating history been more vividly signaled." If the Iraqis approve this alliance, the U.S. should be prepared to deal with the potentially horrific results in the coming years. While the British found that they could not control the situation during the 1930s, Iraq is certainly a more volatile environment now than it was then. Sure, we may not witness a pro-Nazi military coup or anti-Jewish pogrom similar to the 1930s. Nevertheless, we can be certain that no good will come of it, nor will the Iraqi people accept treatment as a quasi-colonial state.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


Walking to work this morning I passed by one of those items on my "must see" list of things to do in New York City - the Theordore Roosevelt Birthplace on East 20th St. To be honest, I have no great desire to visit the top of the Empire State Building (and I work just around the corner) or see the Statue of Liberty. The TR birthplace, however, is up there with Ellis Island, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, and the off-limits, original City Hall subway station. Teddy Roosevelt has always been one of my favorite characters in U.S. history, considered by most historians to be our first "modern" chief executive. He certainly represented a paradigmatic shift from the relatively weak presidents of the Gilded Age. And although a Republican by affiliation, he was a Progressive at heart, rankling the pro-business "Stalwarts" of his party. Sure, he's sometimes criticized for an overly bellicose manner, but he understood the art of diplomacy as demonstrated through his role in securing an end to the Russo-Japanese War. (The current president, "getting tough" on terrorism and "spreading freedom" to the rest of the world, may wish to pretend that he represents a throwback to the forceful leadership style of a TR. However, Bush is dwarfed by Roosevelt's intellectual powers and understanding of moral leadership.) Having read David McCullough's Mornings on Horseback, I look forward to visiting the scene of Roosevelt's childhood. And the admission is only $3!

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Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Rubin Museum of Art

Father's Day on Sunday started with the usual 8:00 a.m. baseball game for my younger son. Then I had a couple of hours to lie around and do nothing in complete silence. Presented with this rare opportunity, I could have spent many more hours as a layabout, drifting between the Mets game and sleep. But I always feel guilty after wasting that much time, and wanted to use the afternoon to visit one of Manhattan's newest museums - the Rubin Museum of Art, dedicated to art from the Himalayan region. I walk by the museum, located on 17th St. in Chelsea, several times a week but had never visited. Making a spur-of-the-moment visit to any museum, especially an art museum, can be a chore when one has kids. But on Sunday I grabbed Sam, my 7-year old, and walked up to 17th St., determined to spend at least an hour.

It's a fantastic museum, with the collection spread out over six very manageable floors. Although there were objects from as early as the 2nd and 3rd centuries, I think the bulk of the collection falls into the 1400 to 1700 time period. With predominantly Buddhist and Hindu influences, the collection was visually spectacular, from gold figures to complex paintings on fabric in which red, the color of power, was dominant. At $10 for adults and children under 12 free, it's certainly worth a visit. Even my son enjoyed it, primarily because many of the paintings of the myriad Buddhist and Hindu deities resembled the fierce creatures he's apt to paint and draw these days. He carried around a little sketch book making drawings and taking notes. Thankfully the RMA is small, relative to MOMA or the Met, and is thus easy to do with children. (But I can't wait to go back alone so I can take more time and study the objects more closely!)

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Tuesday, June 17, 2008


This is one of our canine friends in the neighborhood - Buddah. Isn't that an adorable face? New York City is full of dogs, from mutts to AKC show dogs. Our neighborhood seems to have a large population of English bulldogs, most of whom have fun, bulldog-appropriate names: Otis, Oscar, Piglet, Bubba, Willard, Winston, Ernest, Diesel, and Moose. And these are just the ones I see regularly and can remember. They look fierce, but all of the ones I've encountered are just big babies.

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