Friday, February 23, 2018


"Personally, we should be willing to read one volume about every street in the city, and should still ask for more."
                             Virginia Woolf, "London Revisited", TLS, November 9th, 1916

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Keeping Your Hand In?

This is one of my favorites.

Several people have suggested, kindly, and with good intentions, that I work on improving my photography skills.  They're absolutely right.  I've been telling myself this for years, and maybe this year I'll buckle down to it.  My problem is that I don't take any of what I do here too seriously.  I can't imagine leaving the house without some kind of camera, but mostly I take pictures just to remind myself of what I've seen.  I never think of myself as a photographer.  New York is teeming with truly fine photographers - I'm lucky enough to know some of them - and I never aspire to have even one ounce of that talent or dedication.  Ditto writing.  Part of this is cultural genetics - growing up in a country where you never embarrassed yourself by looking as if you were trying too hard.  Part of it, sadly is a character flaw - a underdeveloped sense of ambition.  Part of it is knowing, all too well, one's limitations.  But that's not all of it.  The pleasure for me is in the recording, not in how something is set down. Though I've set a mostly daily routine on the blog, I rarely linger long on posts. I'm mostly concerned with things I notice when I'm out walking. In training myself to see, and looking for things that might otherwise go unnoticed and lost.  Much of this is mundane, but I'm all for the rescue of the minor detail.   Look carefully, and even a familiar place changes every second. Each time you walk a street it's rearranged itself.  If I've captured a few of shimmers of movement, I'm happy.

Of all the blogs I've read, my absolute favourite is Spitalfields Life, a beautiful portrait of London's East End, past and present.  It's been around since 2009, and is written daily.  I only discovered it fairly recently. I can't imagine the time and dedication that goes into Spitalfields Life.  The writing is of such fine quality -  tender, modest, discriminating prose.  I urge you all to take a look, whether you have a connection to England or not.  You'll fall under The Gentle Author's spell.

Signs Old & New

Bay River Wines & Liquors changed hands in 2014, and the new owners told me back then they were planning to change the store sign.  Four years on, the new sign is finally in place.

The earliest Bay River references I've found date from 1934, in Brooklyn Eagle  liquor store ads.  The business is listed as both the Bay River Wine Company, and the Bay River Wine & Liquor Store.  But it's not at its current address; it's several stores south, in the building that now houses Crunch.

What a lot of Olds in the ad. above.  Of the two other stores listed there, Lanter's is now Bklyn Clay, and the South Brooklyn Liquor Company is likely today's Prime Time Liquors (a fine name), one door up from 429.  There are also other references in the Eagle to a Bay River Wine Co., presumably the store on Fifth, or a business operating in tandem with it.

Notice is hereby given that the Bay River Wine Co. Inc. of Brooklyn, New York, has registered its trademarks "Old Mallory Club," "Spring Hill," "Spring Farm," and "Bay River" with the Secretary of State of New York, to be used on labels, and on bottles, barrels and receptacles, containing gin, whiskey, brandies, cordials, vodka, cocktails, rum, champagne, distilled wines, distilled liquors and alcoholic beverages of every description.  (1935)

In 1947, a couple more trademark names pop up: "Fior de Casa" and "Kenny," both "for use on receptacles containing alcoholic beverages of all kinds." Wouldn't it be nice to head to the liquor store to pick up a bottle of Kenny?

Though it's uncertain when the Bay River company was founded, its president, Anton Berger, was around on the liquor scene early in the century. In 1909 a salesman of the same name was fined $100 for selling a bottle of whiskey to a Barrier Island resident, without paying the required revenue tax.  Undeterred by this little run-in, Berger clearly had alcohol ambitions. In 1919 he was named as a co-director of the Medicinal Wines & Spirits Corporation of Brooklyn.  In order to get around Prohibition regulations, the company's official plan was to supply drug stores with "medicinal" liquor, only sold to customers arriving with a doctor's prescription.  Around the same time Berger was also involved in the building trade. By the 1930's, Berger, mustached and on the portly side, appears to have become a stalwart establishment figure, chairman of the Men's Club of the Bay Ridge Jewish Center, Congregation Sheiras Israel, and chairman of the Center's board of trustees.

As a regular, but not a frequent customer, I haven't noticed much change in the Bay River/Park Slope store since 2014.  It's still unpretentious, and it still serves a mixed crowd of customers.  I liked the elderly couple that used to run the place - a sometimes sweet and sometimes curt or jokey pair -  but the new owners are friendly too.  I'd often run into the sock seller at Bay River.  He'd been in poor health for a long time, and in recent years had trouble walking.  Over time he became a sadder and sadder figure, and I could hardly bear to see him sitting on Prospect Avenue, waiting hopefully for drive-by customers.

The last time I saw him, a year or two ago, he was in very bad shape, and I gave him some money towards a prescription.  I never saw him again.  I'm assuming the worst, but if anyone has any news about him, I'd like to hear it.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Sacred & Profane

Sunnyside, 2012

I've been going through years of old photographs, and realize how many I have of front yard religious statuary.  Sometimes the figures are enclosed by perspex, or held secure by wire or twine.  Even when protected, they almost always bear the marks of time.  I think it might be time for a little series.

On History

"And history is not the past – it is the method we have evolved of organizing our ignorance of the past. It’s the record of what’s left on the record. It’s the plan of the positions taken, when we to stop the dance to note them down. It’s what’s left in the sieve when the centuries have run through it – a few stones, scraps of writing, scraps of cloth. It is no more “the past” than a birth certificate is a birth, or a script is a performance, or a map is a journey. It is the multiplication of the evidence of fallible and biased witnesses, combined with incomplete accounts of actions not fully understood by the people who performed them. It’s no more than the best we can do, and often it falls short of that."
                                             from Why I Became a Historical Novelist  - Hilary Mantel (Guardian)

Monday, February 19, 2018


Another corner development on Fourth.  An Alt 1 permit been issued for vertical enlargement of the corner building 561 Fourth (at 16th Street).  Plans specify an additional two floors, making a five-story building, though to my uninformed eyes the rendering seems to suggest three more full floors.  Eight residential units are planned. 

With this new expansion, and the large development at Fourth and Prospect Ave. underway, the buildings in the middle of the block will be increasingly jammed in and overshadowed.  The stores in the brick buildings next to 561 have remained empty for some time.  I wonder what's on the cards.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Lit Up

A hallway time capsule: a listing stairway and a fluorescent glare revealing layers of chocolate & linoleum.   Not so much the building as the colors bringing back first days in the city.  Public spaces lit in a way that was harsh, gassy, bilious even.  I still remember how foreign that light was, and how intoxicating. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018


Train traffic ahead

The Efficient City’s war on the Romantic City… (Current Affairs)
The Romantic city is a democratic city: everyone has their little piece of it, nobody can simply reshape the entire place in accordance with their preferences. But the emerging version of New York City is a place where a disproportionate amount of power is held by landlords and developers, who can essentially do as they please.

Valentine's Day/Ash Wednesday: Musings & Photos  (photographer Larry Racioppo at Brooklynology)
Today is the first time since 1945 that Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day fall on the same day. This rare occurrence has made me think about the significance of each day and what they symbolize: Ash Wednesday – death, Valentine’s Day – romantic love.

Tokens of unrequited love? Thames yields 'crooked coins' tossed in by romantics (The Gentle Author at The Guardian)
During the reign of William III, in the second half of the 17th century, it was the fashion for a young man to give a crooked coin to the object of his affections.
The suitor would bend the coin, both to make it an amulet and to prevent it being reused. If the token was kept, it indicated that affection was reciprocated, but if the coin was discarded then it was a rejection.

A survey of Canal Street’s changing landscape (Nathan Kensinger at Curbed)
Canal Street should be one of New York City’s greatest thoroughfares. It’s lined with a pleasant mix of unique buildings; it passes through several thriving neighborhoods and historic districts; and it houses dozens of small mom-and-pop businesses, many of which have been there for more than 50 years.
Instead, Canal Street is currently one of the city’s worst commercial streetscapes, blighted by empty storefronts and an array of increasingly generic new buildings. A walk along its entire 1.4 mile stretch, which runs 26 blocks from West Street to East Broadway, reveals a grand boulevard in crisis, with its street life choked out by real estate speculators, and traffic so bad that transit advocates have taken to calling it “Manhattan’s Boulevard of Death.”

AECOM & the Chamber of commerce want to tell us how to live, an essay by George Fiala (Red Hook Star Revue)
What disgusted me was the glib smugness at which these chamber of commerce types toasted themselves for recognizing the hidden billions to be made simply by transforming a longshoreman’s operation into a stand of gleaming skyscrapers full of luxury condo apartments.
The speeches began with Chris Ward stating what he has told me in person that the AECOM plan that includes 45,000 new apartments in buildings scattered along our shoreline was simply a conversation starter.

How One Subway Closure in Queens Wrecked a Community - And what it could mean for the upcoming L train shutdown. (Vice)
... if you stare down 30th Avenue from its eastern or western ends, you’ll notice that residential and commercial energy flows from a power center: the 30th Avenue N/W subway that runs through its center. Where businesses are located roughly follows the paths where residents walk to, and from, the subway. The morning and evening rush hours there remind me of this scene from the ethereal film Baraka of Shibuya crossing in Tokyo , where it looks as if the station itself is a beating heart, pumping people in and out.
Actually, let’s keep going with that heart metaphor just for a second. Because since the 30th Avenue station shut down in late October for eight months, the businesses here have gone into nothing short of cardiac arrest.

How Did We Get Hooked on Plastic? (BBC)
The story of how the search for a material to replace ivory changed our lives forever. In the 19th century a billiard ball company placed an advert in a newspaper offering $10,000 to anyone who could come up with a substitute for ivory. There was growing concern that companies were hunting elephants into extinction so they could use their ivory for billiard balls, buttons and umbrella handles. The story that follows takes us from explosive factories that often went up in smoke to the modern world we find ourselves in today. How did plastics go from being a saviour of the environment to a cause for concern? How did we get hooked on plastic?

Every Bottle Counts – A Photo Essay on Brooklyn’s Chinese Grandmas Who Collect Returnable Containers (Feet in 2 Worlds)
“It’s a tough job, my hands have bruises, and it’s smelly. My kids don’t want me to do it. They are ashamed. But they are working so hard, their lives are hard. I want to do whatever I can do to help,” said Grandma Cheng. She relies on her children for support. She started collecting cans 3 or 4 years ago. She writes down the number of cans she has collected to remember and make sure that the recycling center does not miscalculate the numbers.

Enroll your building to receive a refashionNYC collection bin. (DSNY)
Tax receipts are available on the bin. Our partnership with Housing Works provides this convenient collection while fighting the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS. We’ll visit your building to discuss how many bins you’d like, what sizes are best and where they should be placed. Buildings simply call or email for a free pick up when the bin is full.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Wayfaring Stranger

Not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you
You must travel it for yourself.
                                                            Walt Whitman

A while back I got to thinking about the difference between the Romantic, solitary wayfarer, and the timid wayfinder, incapable of navigating even the simplest of routes without the intervention of urban planners.  We know which camp Johnny Cash falls into, in life and in art.  There are many fine interpretations of Wayfaring Stranger, the song of the last journey, but this one sends shivers down the spine.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Gowanus on the Move

I'd been meaning to get down to Hamilton Plaza for a while, but was distracted by other stuff. So life goes. Finally I found a little time.  Of the older commercial businesses in the Plaza, only Big J's liquor store is still open.  They'll be around until the end of the month, and then they're off to Red Hook, right off Hamilton Avenue on Clinton.  They hope to be open in the new location by the end of March.

I cut through Lowe's parking lot and headed back up 9th.  A community-oriented yoga studio, Abyaha Yoga, opened up last fall, but the next-door, high-end, antique furniture store Find appears to have closed.  Price wise, Find wasn't much of one for me.  Up a block, the grocery turned Alcoholics Anonymous center is now a hand-crafted furniture store, Creation Therrien.