Monday, September 25, 2017

Hurricane Relief

Here are locations where you can donate supplies to help Puerto Rico.  The text for the Red Hook Library information is indistinct here; the items requested for drop-off are toiletries, canned food, batteries, flashlights, women's hygiene products, water filters, baby formula, diapers, water, underwear & socks.  For more details, call the library at 718-935-0203

I Walk Therefore

Earlier this month, the walking pace picked up speed.  The season had changed (it seemed) ; it was nice to swing back into the brisk, everyday stride of fall, winter, spring motion.  Life was quick with purpose. And then a day or two of heat set me back again: once more the lazy saunter and the fat slap, slap, slap of sandal hitting sidewalk.  Purpose?  Who was I kidding?

I like it when the body sets the pace, and you just fall in line.

The body likes to strike poses. Nothing dramatic here, just its own childish refusal to stand up straight. An arm taut, a palm flat against a lamp-post while it waits to cross a street, the angle a back measures as it leans against a subway station wall.  A leg crossed, a foot resting on its toes.  The fool  - does it really think it's still a teenager?  While walking, too, it rolls up sleeves and pushes hands in pockets.  It's not laziness or sullen disregard here - it's simply disappointed by pedestrian gait.  I humor it always.

North of the Hamilton Bridge

Gowanus Canal north of Hamilton Ave. bridge. At the right are cement mills with bargeloads of crushed limestone from quarries up the Hudson River.  Ewing Galloway. About 1930.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Beauty Everywhere

Avenue S artists Samuel Rothbort, and his son Lawrence, exhibit their work on Madison Avenue.

Mr Rothbort, who was born in Polesia, the woodlands of White Russia, in 1882, and came to this country in 1904, says he still "drags his feet" around the sidewalks of New York, for, he maintains, it is the artist's duty to look for beauty everywhere.

He sees great beauty in the Gowanus Canal, especially where the tar lays a film over the water, and adds to the "gorgeous color." He has a painting of "this most exciting place" in the show at Barzansky's, alongside one entitled, "UN over New York."

                                                                            Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 24, 1954

At the M Star (Division)

Fall started hot, and I stepped inside the M Star for a watermelon ice.  Mid-afternoon, things were quiet in the cafe, and a couple of waitresses were sitting at a table, looking at their phones and chatting. This place gets good reviews for budget Hong Kong comfort food, with breakfast the big deal.  "Come back again, in the morning!" one of the waitresses said, smiling, and I will.

Friday, September 22, 2017

The Ball Game

The Canal to Nowhere

     "Up where the gas house was, mothers would take their kids down on a cold winter's morning and have the kids inhale the fumes - supposed to be wonderful for whooping cough," the skipper said. "That was the old-fashioned parent's remedy. The kids' faces was red as apples."
     "It was good for these people had asthma, too," he appended.
     He and the mate remembered brickyards, grain depots, cement yards, a brewery, a paint factory, a jute factory, and other installations that crowded both sides of the canal. "The International Salt Company used to be here too, " the captain said.
    "We picked up a lot of dead bodies in the canal," Pete said."You gotta tie a rope around them - that's the law - and pull 'em to the dock and call the harbor police.  You're not supposed to touch 'em with a pipe pole. The police take 'em on their boat."
McCandlish Phillips, "The Canal to Nowhere." City Notebook: A Reporter's Portrait of a Vanishing New York (Liveright Publishing, 1974).

Thursday, September 21, 2017


The new gym finally arrives! There's still a partial SWO in effect at 555 Fifth, but we expect that's just a minor technicality. After all, there are bodies to be exercised!!

Film & Discussion on the BQX at UPROSE

Gentrification Express: Breaking Down the BQX 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017
6:30pm 8:30pm UPROSE
166A 22nd Street Brooklyn

"Please join us for the premiere of a documentary film on the Brooklyn Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar. The film will be followed by a community discussion with the filmmaker. Popcorn will be served!"

Despite questions surrounding the BQX's economic and logistical feasibility, the Mayor and a group of mega-developers are determined to bring streetcars to the waterfront of Brooklyn and Queens. Critics of the streetcar project question its funding basis (predicated on raising property taxes in the neighborhoods the cars would traverse), its expense for local riders (developers still hedge on whether the streetcar fare system would offer MTA transfers), its location (in a flood-zone), and its convenience (many residents want improved local bus services, not streetcars). They also see it as a barely disguised tool of gentrification.  While BQX public relations suggest local approval for the project, both City & developers ignore the voices of many individual residents, business owners and community groups, all the way down from Astoria to Sunset Park, who are fiercely opposed to it.

There's still time to get involved.  Contact your local politicians, community boards, and local community groups, and let them know where you stand.

"Lube it or lose it" (life is a joke)

Across from the Vegas Diner (closed) -"Best in Brooklyn by the Daily News". East of Romantique Limousines, Food Dynasty, & the long-vacant Mona Lisa. West of the Candy & Jimmy Nail & Hair Salon.

Canal Street Blues

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Canal over Canal

Google 2007 is as deliciously smeary as the 1980s tax photos, managing to make the year look positively retro.  And the short ride above Hamilton that year takes you through a variety of weather conditions. As you continue north from here the clouds descend and a few feet later you're in dense fog.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Wonderful under the Gowanus


This one's fun. Brandon Liu and Jeremy Lechtzin have created a map-based view of 1980's New York, using Department of Finance tax photographs.  If, like me, you've spent lots of time exploring these photographs at the Municipal Archives website - a somewhat cumbersome process - you'll enjoy this new, quicker means of exploring streets block-by-block.  Some buildings are missing from the archives, so you may not find everything you're looking for, but you get a general sense of a particular block by the images represented next to each other in sequence.

The 80's tax photographs are notorious for their low-resolution. They offer the viewer a blurry sense of the decade, both muddy & garish in its sullen browns and yellows.  It's often hard to make out the lettering on store signs, and the faces of the people are impossible to read.   This can be frustrating, but I kind of like it too.  The views we get are like our own memories of the past - incomplete, with some of the details just beyond our reach.  We can never get back to the real thing, but the mood lingers sweetly.

Here's a familiar stretch of Fifth.  Scroll right & you'll see more storefronts.  What's still there, what do you remember, and what's a foreign world entirely?

I'll still check back in at the Municipal Archives if I want to look at addresses individually, and (slightly) enlarge particular images.  But 80s.NYC is a real winner, a wonderful way to walk the old city.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Barge Canal

The New York State Barge Canal was built as an improvement to the Erie, Champlain, Ontario, Cayuga and Seneca canals. Authorized in 1903, it was completed in 1918.  By the 1980s commercial shipping on the canal had declined, the result of the increased use of pipeline, rail, and bulk truck-carrying facilities. Today the group of canals is known as the New York State Canal System, and is used mostly for recreational boating.  It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2017.

There's a local connection here. The Gowanus Bay Terminal, of which the giant Grain Elevator Terminal, still standing today, was a part, was built to serve the needs of the State Barge Canal system by reviving grain & other freight traffic lost to the railroad system.  It was completed in 1922, and almost immediately proved to be a costly failure.

Library of Congress - date & photographer unknown

Pioneering photographer and sociologist Lewis Hine recorded the living conditions of immigrant laborers working on the Barge Canal.  The photographs below (NYPL Digital Collections) were taken in 1910 and 1912.

Hard Hat

Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Ship Canal

Quite possibly an acquired taste for many U.S. viewers, but I love this sort of thing. This is a 1985 Granada TV documentary on the Manchester Ship Canal. By the time the film was made, the canal was long past its working heyday of the 1950s and '60s, when Manchester was one of the biggest ports in the nation. Any notions of decline and layoffs seemed a "mythical threat" when business boomed, but just like in the States, the rise of containers meant layoffs for workers, and in Manchester, bigger ships meant less and less traffic on the canal's upper reaches. And industry decamped overseas.  By the 80's, many of the mills and other factories in the area were closing, and small craft like working barges had almost disappeared.  The Port of Manchester closed in 1982, but more recently the newer, neighboring Port Salford, also on the canal, has developed expansion plans, and hopes to re-invigorate canal traffic.

The film is rich in the recollections of workers, many of whom represent the last generation of boatmen and dockers working the canal.  A couple of men describe the traffic of waste - "it might be shit to you, but it's bread-and-butter to me" - and despite the nature of the cargo, talk of Chocolate Boats kept remarkably clean.  Over pints in the social, retirees assert Mancunian pride, comparing their own hard work to the "come-easy, go-easy" ways of the Liverpudlians. They also recall a time when workers were known not by their given names but by their nicknames: Jukebox Joe, Hell's Bells, Overcoat Billy & Barm Cake Arthur. One inseparable pair, never one seen without the other, was Love & Marriage.