Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Last Weekend

This past weekend was go, go, go from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. From time at the pool in Soho to a movie in Union Square on Sunday night, we barely stopped to rest. And we went to a Staten Island Yankees game last night! I'm ready for school to begin so we can return to a more predictable schedule with easier hours. But I know it's just going to get more hectic as the boys get older. (The first photo shows an old "Interborough Subway" sign outside the New York Life building near my office. I took the other images in Soho.)

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How Not to Dress

What makes a man (of any age) dress like this? Didn't he get the memo about dress socks and shoes with shorts? He's lucky the hand rail protected his identity. My wife has orders to smother me while I sleep if I'm ever guilty of this fashion mistake.

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Monday, July 28, 2008


Found this sweet little calico cat in a convenience store on Hudson St. over the weekend.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Throwing My Hat in the Ring - Crowson '08

I've finally had enough of both McCain and Obama, so I'm throwing my hat in the ring for the presidency. I figure I can't do any worse than Bush, since the only place to go is UP from here. You can see the first news coverage of my stealth campaign here. Vote early and often!

Dog Days of Summer

I saw this soulful guy (see below) near Union Square yesterday. Guarding the truck of a sidewalk vendor peddling clothing and handbags, this dog no doubt looked intimidating to the average passerby. However, I could tell he was a sweetheart because he started wagging his tail as soon as I got close. He even gave me some appreciative licks in the face after I pet on him for a few minutes. I especially like the spot around his left eye. He almost looks like a larger version of "Petey" from the old "Our Gang" shorts of the 1930s. (I saw this sweet German Shepherd waiting for his owner this morning outside K-Mart at Astor Place. Very friendly.)

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Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Vanity of vanities, all is vanity."

Does it get any more vain or vacuous than this - a story in the New York Times about a new trend in the already over-the-top wedding business? In "It’s Botox for You, Dear Bridesmaids" the Times reveals that the hot accessory for brides and their bridesmaids is botox treatments. And it doesn't end there. Plastic surgeons report that many brides-to-be (as well as mothers of the bride and groom) invest in everything from chemical peels and laser treatments to liposuction and botox injections before marching down the aisle. Even more astonishing is the report that these "bridezillas" often request that their bridesmaids do the same. Sure, many of these women pick up the tab for the treatments as a "gift" to their wedding party. As one bride explained, botox or a face-lift represents a more tangible and permanent token of appreciation than an engraved pill box or piece of jewelry. Nevertheless, not all bridesmaids are amused or amenable to such requests. One potential bridesmaid, for example, refused to follow a bride's request for all of her bridesmaids to have breast augmentation surgery performed by a California doctor who offered to operate on four women for the price of two!

Although a day at a spa or salon seems pretty standard pre-wedding fare these days, cosmetic surgery and botox are symptomatic of the wedding industry having lost its way in the desire to increase profits. Are we really that shallow? Have we elevated the wedding ceremony itself to the level of a Broadway musical or Hollywood movie requiring a director, producer, lighting crew, and set director? And couldn't that money be better spent - perhaps on a down payment for a home? Moreover, in a period of economic crisis, this kind of spending on wedding frippery just seems irresponsible, like a Gilded Age soiree. What's next - tummy tucks and botox for the grooms and groomsmen?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Max Beckmann at the Neue Galerie

Walking by a news stand yesterday I noticed the cover of The New York Sun with German painter Max Beckmann staring out from his 1938 work, "Self-Portrait with Horn." Beckmann, one of the most important Weimar artists - along with Otto Dix and other contemporaries among German Expressionist painters - will be featured in a new show at the Neue Galerie. As I read the article about the show and Beckmann's career,I realized that there were some apparent parallels between the experiences of these German painters and the anti-intellectualism described in Susan Jacoby's The Age of American Unreason.

First, understand that Beckmann, like most avant-garde artists in Weimar Germany, faced persecution after the rise of the Nazis in the 1930s. In fact, by 1937 Hitler had declared all modern art as "degenerate." The Nazis even created a special Munich show of what they called "Degenerate Art" (Entartete Kunst) in 1937 - an exhibit that included six Max Beckmann paintings. In terms of the cultural expressions of German nationalism, Hitler and the Nazis hated all aspects of modernity and abstraction, preferring a romanticized heroic realism that often resembled the Socialist Realism of the Soviet Union during the same period. Artists were jailed, their works seized and destroyed, or they fled the country like Beckmann, who went to Holland in 1937 and moved to the U.S. after the war.

I mention Susan Jacoby's recent book because her description of the anti-intellectualism of evangelical conservatives and their rejection of modernity and its cultural expressions - as well as nostalgia for an idealized past - reminds me of the Nazis. Although the religious right has had only limited success with more overt forms of censorship, their considerable influence in the Republican party agenda has contributed to conservatives' efforts to effectively cripple the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities since the 1990s. Of course, their assault on reason and modernity goes beyond art, as demonstrated in their attempts to stifle the teaching of evolution in public schools and their rejection of the science behind concerns about global warming and climate change. But in the arts, from painting to music and film, the religious right mirrors the suspicion and scorn exhibited by the fascists of the 1930s. Artistic modernism, according to the "religious right," is identified as a product of liberalism and moral lassitude, in much the same way it heralded Weimar defeatism and Jewish degeneracy to the Nazis.

Monday, July 21, 2008


Just a few photos from the weekend, with more to follow during the week. Seemed as if we were non-stop from Friday evening until Sunday evening, with a trip to Staten Island on the ferry for a Staten Island Yankees game, an all-day playdate in Soho on Saturday, a softball game on Sunday morning, playground time in the afternoon, and a cookout in the evening. By the time I finished in the gym last night at 11:00, I was soooo ready for bed - and more than happy to come to a quiet office this morning.

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Friday, July 18, 2008

Lower Lexington Ave.

I walked down the lower portion of Lexington Avenue yesterday, from 30th St. to its terminus at Gramercy Park, and encountered some beautiful old buildings (and an incredible selection of Indian restaurants). The frieze in the first picture below wraps around this incredible building with Ionic columns (also shown at left) - and it looks vacant, which seems amazing for such a grand structure. Still, it is a little "off the beaten path" as far as prime commercial space goes. If it were situated one block west, on Park Avenue, I'm guessing it would prove a prime space. The armory for the Sixty-ninth Regiment was imposing, and typical of the several armories scattered around the city. In the third picture, I found this little detail, with bull's skull and snake motif, a bit puzzling. Why these creatures? It almost appears almost Central American in style - but not quite - so I'm not sure what to call it! Finally, there's the view looking through the gate of Gramercy Park. Since 1831 Gramercy Park has been a private park, open only to residents of the buildings facing it. According to a recent New York Times article, access to the park is rigidly controlled with keys available only to authorized visitors; non-authorized persons are quickly escorted to the gate. The statue in the center is of the 19th century actor Edwin Booth, brother of Lincoln's assassin, John Wilkes Booth. Edwin Booth's 1847 mansion at 16 Gramercy Park is home to the Player's Club (founded by Booth) and is a National Historic Landmark.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Battery Park City

I found this interesting stone wall in Battery Park City, dividing areas of park-like space between towering apartment high-rises. It has the feel of the kind of organic element that Frederick Law Olmsted might have included in Central Park, had he thought in the irregular geometrical terms of postmodern design. I always find Battery Park City a little unsettling, with an otherworldly quality that seems less "New York" than some planned community on the edge of suburbia. It has that "sanitized for your protection" feel. And when one stops and thinks of its origins, one realizes that it is rather artificial. This plot of 92 acres, across the West Side Highway from the World Trade Center site and the financial district, was created in the early 1970s in part from sand and earth excavated during construction of the "Twin Towers." It's a popular spot for families, with grassy areas, nice playgrounds, and the promenade looking out on the Hudson. But it feels isolated from the rest of Manhattan, a vestigial tail on the end of the island, with none of the grittiness characteristic of downtown. Maybe that's what its residents want - a place in the city that doesn't feel like the city.

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Monday, July 14, 2008

SoHo and Tribeca Architecture

I was walking through SoHo and Tribeca recently, visiting a friend on White St., near Church St. North of Canal St. one can see evidence of significant redevelopment from recent years, with trendy boutiques and pricey lofts replacing long-vacant storefronts and warehouses. On weekends, the tourists are often elbow-to-elbow on the neighborhood's narrow sidewalks. Below Canal, however, one can still sense some of that mercantile and manufacturing past of New York before the 1950s, when many of the older businesses began their exodus. Today, there are signs that change is coming. The now quiet blocks of White St. are slowly changing as developers turn upper floors into expensive residential units, with many valued at $1,000 to $1,500 per square foot. Not cheap! In the first photo you can see the facade of the Wood's Mercantile Buildings, marking its construction in 1865 - the beginning of a post-Civil War construction surge that made the neighborhood around White and Walker streets a hub of the dry-goods business. (The old FDNY Engine 27 building is now home to a digital music studio and performance space.)

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Over the last several years we've spent countless hours at the Bleecker Playground. That time, however, seems to be coming to an end. While the boys were once among the little ones toddling around and climbing tentatively on the equipment, they're now among the oldest, zipping around much smaller children and nervous parents. Still, on a hot day, it's a great place to cool off in the sprinklers, running through the water and pelting each other with water balloons. My favorite time at the playground is late afternoon/early evening, when the low sun shines across the Hudson and gives everything a warm glow. Even the wet detritus of play takes on a luminous quality as the sun begins to disappear behind the buildings of Hudson Street. We'll often picnic in the playground on pleasant summer evenings, grabbing take-out from the chinese restaurant next door, mixing bites of dumplings and fried rice with dashes through the water or a turn at kickball. I'll miss the playground when the boys finally abandon it as a favorite place.

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

Last of the Painted Signs

Like the water towers, I'm sure my regular readers are getting tired of the parade of old painted signs. As I've noted before, they're a fast-disappearing element in the Manhattan landscape. And in these older neighborhoods now undergoing a significant metamorphsis with new construction and gentrification, these signs provide visual evidence of the vanishing manufacturing and commercial heritage of the city.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

July 4th

On July 4th many families barbecue, attend parades, doze by the pool, and eventually "oohh" and "aahh" over fireworks at the end of the day. But do we really celebrate our "independence" or the events that precipitated that struggle and its result? I'm guessing that for many apathetic Americans the occasion seems little different from Memorial Day or Labor Day: it's a day off from work. And this year the holiday offered the additional reward of a long weekend and the opportunity to take a mini-vacation - if one could afford the gas!

Based on recent surveys of Americans' knowledge of their own history, I suspect that most of the barbecuers and beach goers possess a minuscule understanding of what actually happened in Philadelphia over two centuries ago. In fact, thanks to poorly taught history and the persistence of popular historical myths, people are more likely to believe in an apocryphal vision of George Washington, the Declaration of Independence, and the Revolution, borne of a Parson Weems tale. (The fact of Americans' ignorance about history doesn't surprise me. According to a National Science Foundation survey, one out of five Americans still believes that the sun revolves around the earth. So much for Copernicus!) The apotheosis of Washington and the "Founding Fathers" was a popular exercise for 19th century authors looking for validation of the country's republican experiment - at a time when survival of that republic was hardly assured.

Unfortunately a similar canonization of that revolutionary generation has occurred in the last decade, as the "religious right" has tried to equate patriotism with religious faith, while hailing Washington and his peers as paragons of Christian service. And like anxious Whigs and Jacksonians who feared the divisive effects of sectionalism, evangelical conservatives now believe the nation is under assault from terrorists and liberals. On July 4th I saw a man sporting a t-shirt with red, white, and blue letters proclaiming "JesUSAves," as if Jesus and the iconic figure of Uncle Sam had lain in the same manger in Bethlehem! Sure, one can observe an obvious religious undercurrent in the founding - and peopling - of the United States. However, a dubious Puritan legacy notwithstanding, the "founding fathers" seemed less concerned with their faith than with commercial matters and the distribution of power between the states and the new federal government. Their generalized encomiums to god more precisely reflected a pluralistic vision sired by Enlightenment rationalism and its deistic notions. Conservative misappropriation of our history's lessons, and its revision for divisive purposes, conversely reflects the base anti-intellectualism and fear-mongering that under girds the false patriotism so immodestly on display in the post-9/11 world.

And what did our family do on July 4th?? Like so many Americans we ate and played, scarcely acknowledging the national birthday. We gathered en masse at a cousin's home on Virginia's Eastern Shore and enjoyed a seafood feast at the little Methodist church in which my father was raised. It was their 120th year of serving a dinner on Independence Day. And when it came to the crab cakes and clam fritters I definitely indulged in the sin of gluttony. It was sooooooooo good. No doubt my arteries were asking for absolution at the end of the day. The photos are just a few from the day's events. I'll post more tomorrow.