Saturday, September 30, 2017


"Liberty relies upon itself, invites no-one, promises nothing, sits in calmness and light, is positive and composed, and knows no discouragement ..."  ( Walt Whitman - Leaves of Grass, 1855)

Friday, September 29, 2017

A Bit of Pazazz

I was walking up 13th when I ran into Ramon, who was standing admiring his freshly painted handiwork.  I'm a sucker for gold, and these newel posts have got a real sparkle now.  He's going to be painting the railings and posts of a neighboring stoop too - the look has evidently caught on. 

At some point in the last year or two, someone gave a worn-looking firebox at Sixth & 44th that golden touch too.

And on 23rd Street, another firebox was recently adopted as a renovation project, with detailing in blue and white.

The smallest details matter!  These rebel jolts of color light up the the space around them. Why not ? 

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Lords of the Schoolyard

Ed Hamilton, author of  Legends of the Chelsea Hotel and The Chintz Age, and longtime Chelsea Hotel resident, will be reading from his debut novel, Lords of the Schoolyard, at LES Bluestockings Books and Cafe  (172 Allen Street) this Friday, at 7:00 p.m.  He'll also be reading at Williamsburg bookstore Quimby's on October 12th  at 7:00 pm (536 Metropolitan Ave, Brooklyn).  Both events are free.

Lords of the Schoolyard is an unflinching depiction of bullying in Suburban America as seen through the eyes of the bullies themselves.

... There are very few books written from the point of view of the bullies themselves.  Why should we care?  Well, Tommy and Johnny, the narrators in Lords of the Schoolyard, are just kids too, after all, and they are capable of becoming decent adults.  What’s more, some of them, perhaps unrepentant, do manage to get into positions of power when they grow up (in fact, we seem to have one in the White House at the moment), so it makes sense to try to understand where they are coming from.   

You can see a trailer for the novel here.

Lost & Found

I got a little lost in the cemetery, and did the rounds of Cypress & Atlantic twice. Back at The Catacombs a blonde in a short black dress & heels appeared.  She could have been there for a funeral, I guess, but there was no air of mourning about her.  She looked like a good-time girl, heading for something exclusive and forbidden in a vault. I asked for directions, but she said she had no idea where she was.  She looked us up on GPS though, and this was enough to send me on my way.

I was in the right direction now, and soon enough I was walking Landscape Avenue, overlooking Sylvan Water.  I did a little detour to get closer.  From above, the mausoleums ringed around the water looked like glorified British beach huts. They summoned up wet bathing suits, goose-pimpled limbs, and towels gritty with sand.  The weather was better here of course, and the views were lovely, but I couldn't imagine even this deluxe location as a final resting space. No, it'll be a scattering for me, and I'm not fussed where, as long as it's not a cemetery. I've joked about locations with the family, but for some reason they're not amused.

A brace of hounds was lazing in the sun, listening to end-of-the-season block-party music drifting from across the lake. I sat between them for a while, then took the Margin Path that skirts Fifth.  The iron railings separate you (just) from life on the other side - a kid on a skateboard, aiming for cool, but stumbling and missing the mark, a father and baby and mylar balloon, and the source of the music, still unseen but getting closer.  How exotic and appealing the ordinary world appeared from here; how sweet a relief to get to the gates at last and slip right back inside it..

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

By Water, by Land

Childish Canal Month is drawing to a close.  Given that it was inspired by visions of earnest canoeists on the Gowanus at sunrise, reciting extracts from The Waves as they paddled the canal's oily waters, I thought I should see if canals actually appear much in the Woolf canon.

I could find very little mention of them, and what I did find was second-hand and incidental. In "Mr Bennett and Mrs Brown", Woolf's famous essay comparing Edwardian novelists to the more creative Georgians, she decries "materialist" Edwardians like Arnold Bennett, who look, but do not perceive. She quotes a passage from Bennett's Hilda Lessways as an example of laborious drudgery without "one line of insight".

The bailiwick of Turnbull lay behind her; and all the murky district of the Five Towns, of which Turnbull is the northern outpost, lay to the south.  At the foot of Chatterley Wood the canal wound in large curves on its way towards the undefiled plains of Cheshire and the sea.  On the canal-side, exactly opposite to Hilda's window, was a flour-mill, that sometimes made nearly as much smoke as the kilns and the chimneys closing the prospect on either hand.  From the flour-mill a bricked path, which separated a considerable row of new cottages from their appurtenant gardens, led straight into Lessway Street, in front of Mrs. Lessway's House. By this path Mr. Skellhorn should have arrived.

More remotely yet, we turn to Leonard.  In Virginia Woolf: A Portrait, Viviane Forrester examines his only description of the couple's honeymoon.  It makes no mention of Virginia, but is vivid in breakfast details:

At 7:30 in the morning I staggered up on to the deck and found the Third Officer who spoke English... He took me up on to the bridge, and had breakfast sent to me there; the first course was an enormous gherkin, swimming in oil and vinegar.  One of the bravest things I have ever done, I think, was to eat this, followed by two fried eggs and bacon, coffee and rolls, with the boat, the sea, and the coast of France going up and down all around me."

And later:

"Then there are three lines about Venice, but only about the weather, describing the wind 'whistling through its canals, (the wind on the Grand Canal) can sometimes seem the coldest wind in Europe.'"

If I'm wandering Gowanus, or any farther stretch of the city or beyond, it's as a walker that Woolf provides inspiration.  Rebecca Solnit, a contemporary walker and essayist non-pareil, understands Woolf, and the liberty of shutting the front door behind you and heading to the street, with perfection.

Public space, urban space, which serves at other times the purposes of the citizen, the member of society establishing contact with other members, is here the space in which to disappear from the bonds and binds of individual identity. Woolf is celebrating getting lost, not literally lost as in not knowing how to find your way, but lost as in open to the unknown, and the way that physical space can provide psychic space. She writes about daydreaming, or perhaps evening dreaming in this case, the business of imagining yourself in another place, as another person.

The Staple

Lunch at Squires diner, in Lower Manhattan's Southbridge Towers housing complex, is an altogether happy experience.  Squires hasn't got what you'd call period charm by way of looks, but the customers are old New York in spades.  Old literally too. Here in a booth, working on my toasted bagel and my bowl of minestrone, I'm almost young again!  Longtime retirees predominate here, though there's a fair sprinkling of middle-aged-and-under types too.  The service is brisk and friendly, and something about the place gives you a sense of utter relaxation. Here's the city we thought we'd gone and lost.

I guess you wouldn't call Southbridge pretty, but I like its boxy construction and succession of courtyards.  Architecturally, it reminds me of British public buildings of the period, so maybe that's why I find it so appealing.  With a diner and a supermarket right on site, I could get old here too.  But Mitchell-Lama Southbridge Towers went market-rate three years ago; today a three-bedroom will cost you close to two million.  Today's middle-class must look farther afield.  Squires is worth a trip though.  A solid choice in a priced-out city.

That swing set playgroundette looks like the same vintage as the buildings.

Collected by Monk Parakeets

Among Trees and Stones, an exhibition by Matthew Jensen.

Make your way to the Gate House at the (Green-Wood) cemetery’s entrance on Fort Hamilton Parkway where Jensen has assembled a room-sized cabinet of curiosities drawing from specimens and photographs he has amassed in his many walks through the cemetery, as well as from Green-Wood’s rarely seen collection of fine art and historic objects. The installation continues into a peaked attic space never before open to the public.

The exhibition runs through November 26.

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.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gowanus Canal Area

Here's a breakdown of the Brooklyn votes for Council President in the 1951 election. Some of those Assembly District area names/descriptions look a little different.  Sunset Park is not in the picture, nor, of course, the newer Greenwood Heights.  This leaves us with an old (1951 at least ) Park Slope/South Brooklyn/Gowanus Canal area border question.  We'll leave that one well alone today.


"Brooklyn Photographs" at BRIC Arts 
Brooklyn Photographs brings together the work of 11 photographers who have turned their lens on the Brooklyn experience from the late 1960s to the present.  Each of these photographers will present a body of work on a specific theme – childhood in Williamsburg in the 1960s, Halloween in the 1970s, or Bushwick street life in the 1980s, to name a few.  More recent work from the last decade will explore such subjects as the rapidly gentrifying post-industrial landscape, Brooklyn artists, and the microcosm of street life visible near BRIC’s facility at the intersection of Fulton and Flatbush...
Photographers include: Yolanda Andrade, Stefanie Apple, Nelson Bakerman, Leigh Davis, Max Kozloff, George Malave, Meryl Meisler, Patrick D. Pagnano, Sergio Purtell, Larry Racioppo, and Russell Frederick .

See Inside ‘Proof,’ the Brooklyn Museum’s Latest Fall Exhibition (Brooklyn Museum)
In almost entirely black-and-white, comprising works by Francisco Goya, Sergei Eisenstein, and Robert Longo, The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition “Proof” connects four centuries worth of historical tumult.

Interference Archive is moving, building, and growing--and we really need your support to make our new, long-term home a reality. (crowdrise)

Apple of My Eye: The Urban Vision of Elaine Norman (City Lore)
“Simply strolling down any New York street can be a visual adventure and an endless opportunity for discovery,” she writes. “The City has an extraordinary capacity to blend past and present, high-brow and low, traditional and modern.” This vibrant, eclectic and constantly evolving architectural and cultural kaleidoscope has always been Elaine Norman’s passion and source of inspiration.”These days, I love using my iPhone because it gives me the freedom to capture the city in a new way. And my ‘darkroom’ is now an app on that phone, where I occasionally ‘develop’ pictures while riding the bus.”
The work on exhibit here – photography, photo-collage and more – spans over thirty-five years. Elaine has collaborated with City Lore since our first year – 1986.

Joe Brainard in 1961-63 by Ron Padgett (
By late December, thanks to Ted, he began sharing an apartment on East 9th Street with the poet Tony Towle. There, with more space, Joe quickly created a startling number of assemblages,
haunting, hallucinatory, and beautiful. One of them was built on a toy piano—it had only eight keys—painted baby blue, from which rose a gloved wrist holding an ice cream cone a snake was ascending, along with toy figurines of two Vikings, one of them climbing the wrist, which he gave (or sold for very little) to Frank O’Hara. 

The Oscar Wilde Temple Opens Within The Church of the Village in Greenwich Village (Untapped Cities)
This month, The Russell Chapel within The Church of the Village has been transformed into a space honoring one of the earliest forebears in the struggle for gay liberation. The installation, entitled The Oscar Wilde Temple, is the creation of noted artists David McDermott and Peter McGough, and includes painting, sculpture, and site specific elements, recalling a time of “provocative sensuousness of the Aesthetic Movement Wilde championed.”

Frederick Wiseman’s “Ex Libris” - The latest work from the great documentary filmmaker examines the New York Public Library as it reconfigures itself for the digital age. (New Yorker)

These photos of goalposts from around the UK are beautiful (BBC)
Michael Kirkham, 39, a former roofer and photographer, has spent the last couple of years travelling around the UK, taking photos of goalposts.
All of the goalposts he photographed are different, but they evoke a strong feeling from childhood. They also tell a story about the change of Britain's urban areas.

Developers are closing in on Dalston’s local communities - Save Gillett Square (Huck)
“It’s like Coronation Street here,” says Moses. He’s been playing dominos on the site since it was a car park. “The only difference is, it’s unscripted.” Discussing the possibility of development, he tells me, “When they see something good, they just want to drop a stink bomb in it.”
Moses and many others were playing dominoes here long before the car park was transformed into what it is today. In those days, the only company they had was a police station that kept an eye on them from the other side of the lot. When the square was built around them, they stayed, and have been there ever since.

William Morris In The East End (Spitalfields Life)
Ultimately disappointed that the production of his own designs had catered only to the rich, Morris dedicated himself increasingly to politics and in 1884 he became editor of The Commonweal, newspaper of the Socialist League, using the coach house at Kelsmcott House in Hammersmith as its headquarters.
As an activist, Morris spoke at the funeral of Alfred Linnell, who was killed by police during a free speech rally in Trafalgar Sq in 1887, on behalf of the Match Girls’ Strike in 1888 and in the Dock Strike of 1889. His final appearance in the East End was on Mile End Waste on 1st November 1890, on which occasion he spoke at a protest against the brutal treatment of Jewish people in Russia.
When William Morris died of tuberculosis in 1896, his doctor said, ‘he died a victim to his enthusiasm for spreading the principles of Socialism.’ 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Miss Gowanus

Checking on the records of that immortal day in June when the "Lavender Lake" was first purged of its noisome waters, I learned that an impressive ceremony took place.  

White carnations were strewn on the waters of the canal by a little girl named Jennie Haviland. 

She was crowned "Miss Gowanus." 
                                                                               Brooklyn Eagle, 25th September, 1950

At Green-Wood

Monday, September 11, 2017

Fishing for Firearms

Another favorite, and this one, like a couple of earlier Canal Month posts, shows a canal scene right by today's Amazon Whole Foods.

From the Brooklyn Eagle, January, 1946:

Nine men at bridge railing looking down on debris on frozen water of Gowanus Canal; bare trees, telephone wires, and truck in background; retaining walls and patch of weedy vegetation in foreground. Inscription: "Bridge over Gowanus Canal at 3rd Ave., btwn 3rd & 4th Sts. from which two youths today caught sight of four guns (two revolvers and two automatics) and 200 rounds of ammunition on the canal ice."

Mustang on Third

Sunday, September 10, 2017

December 2013

We've been busy, and a bit distracted, so here's a quick Canal Month entry - a pic from 2013.  File under Lost Views. I wasn't a huge fan of the Harvest Dome, but really, this is a pretty cool landscape


Saturday, September 9, 2017

Burt, Once More

Of course, we must include B movie Shamus in Canal Month.  A renactment of the chase scene on the banks of the canal would be more fun by far than reciting Virginia Woolf's The Waves. Whole Foods, of course, would make the logical (and geographically accurate) replacement for Riveredge Exports. Panic in the aisles!! Here's Burtfest!, from 2015.

Late last year, in late night TV junk land (Grit!), I ran into the 70s Burt Reynolds movie, Shamus, I'm no Burt fan, but this one had a local setting, with Burt as a private eye whose base of operations was a pool hall on Fifth.  I didn't get to see the whole thing, and looking for it later, could only find the film available on dubious looking online sites.  Weighing the prospect of more Burt on Fifth against the likelihood of computer viruses, sanity prevailed.  But I wanted to see the whole thing, and finally found it for sale on Amazon in a four movie package: two Burts, a Sean Connery and a Charles Bronson.  Six bucks!  I watched it today, and yes, it was something of a clunker, but there we were, albeit briefly, on '73 Fifth, and Third, and Second, and even a dud of a movie set in New York forty years back quickens the heart.
Here are a few screenshots.

Fifth looking south from 11th.  Timboo's!

Walking to the billiard hall at Fifth and 11th (there really was a billiard hall there!) above O'Neil's card and gift shop (now a bank) Burt is lost in thought.

Heading inside.

Later in the movie Burt sets off to investigate the shady Riveredge Exports company. Its warehouse sits on the banks of the Gowanus Canal.  Whole Foods here?  Who'd go for that one in 1973?

Burt hops the fence.  Ah, the Kentile sign ...

Trouble in the warehouse. Exit Burt.

Watched fondly by love interest Dyan Cannon, our hero steals a car from a hapless driver, and heads east up 9th Street, from 2nd Avenue.

I know that this is 9th Street - with the large apartment building in sight up the hill it can't be anywhere else - but the block has certainly changed a lot since the 70's.  Many of the houses on the southern side are gone, replaced by small-scale warehouses, or left as empty lots.

There are a couple of locations in the film that I just can't place.  They look familiar, but don't quite seem to fit the landscape.  I'll put them up here later in the week and maybe someone else can solve the puzzle.