Fore! Mini-Golf as Art

Friends, countrymen, Walkers! Lend me your shoes! It’s been a long time since we strolled the sidewalks together. For this, I beg your forgiveness and come to you with a peace offering: News of  avant-garde mini-golf on Governors Island.

Before I begin, let me issue a warning: If you want to go someplace in New York City that other people like to go, rest assured, they will all be there.

In this fashion, I lined up for the water taxi to the not-so-distant  isle laying off the coast of Manhattan on a humid, overcast, Saturday morning with about a hundred other humans, many of which were of the toddler variety. And here I thought to myself, maybe I should go somewhere else. But by the courage of my convictions and my well known pluck, I remained long enough to board the ship. (I also made my husband hold our place in line while I went in search of a nearby coffee stand. No luck.) After a jaunty voyage of about a minute and a half, we stepped back onto dry land and made a b-line for the mini-golf run course by the arts organization, Figment.  As a person who has played mini-golf in no less than 10 states and 4different countries, I can tell you, Figment’s course is unique, to say the least. Exhibit A:

Hole in 23,574 that we know of

What’s on the other side of this devilish mushroom cloud?

This hole was about as frustrating as its topic

That’s right, a miniature golf  hole that comments on the danger of missile defense shields when one considers they spur further nuclear proliferation. Take that classic windmill hole.

Not all the holes were as politically charged. This one:

Follow the Yellow Brick Road

for example, was inspired by Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz, as one might have guessed by the title. However, when one considers that Baum was also the progenitor of the modern department store window display – true story -surely we can read this piece as a meditation on all of our tattered consumerist dreams filled with nothing more than hot air. Or not. I thought it was a reference to balloon boy. And that ladies and gentlemen, is why you should read artist statements.

But! you protest, nuclear proliferation and consumerist culture don’t compare to the havoc we’re wreaking on Mother Earth! Have no fear, my fellow tree-hugger, Figment does not disappoint.

Non-Smokey the Bear

Designed by Build it Green, this hole questions our often cartoonish and anthropromorphised vision of nature that lends itself to screwing it up completely. Side B:

Yogi says: pick up your trash a$$hole!

But, by far my favorite was Number 9, entitled, Hotel Atlantis at Bikini Bottom. Working overtime with the pop-culture references, this hole encompasses the man-made disaster that is GM as well as Spongebob Squarepants, that most loved and loathed cartoon character. You see, in 1964 GM had a pavilion at the World’s Fair called Futurama.

Step One

In this pavilion, GM PR agents decided it would be a good idea to espouse the idea that in the future, people might be visiting underwater luxury hotels with names like Hotel Atlantis. These figures are inside the flying saucer-esque hotel.

Welcome to Hotel....Atlantis

But then something, well a lot of things happened, and the American car industry went,

Down the Tube.

And thus we end with Spongebob’s pineapple house in his home town, Bikini Bottom, that like GM, lies at the bottom of the ocean. Ouch!

Nice house, Bob

Who knew mini-golf could be so provocative?

Next time: Public Art is not for the fainthearted.

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Petanque in the Park

Pa – wha? Is usually the response I get. So it’s okay if that was yours too. Just say pay then tank with a snooty French accent. That’s it!

Okay, now what is it? Let’s start from the beginning.

When man climbed out of the primordial soup, or pretty near there to, it’s been well documented that he liked to throw things at other things.  Invented in France around the time of Arch Duke Ferdinand’s assassination, petanque is just a sophisticated version of that eternal pass time: throwing stuff.

Points

So, instead of throwing a rock at, say, a mastodon, you try to get your boule (or ball, see above) as close to the cochonnet (literally means little piglet) as you can. How do you do that? Good question.

Pointer

Like this, mainly. Note the under hand throw, very important.

Let’s say you get a really good point. Hurray for you! Meet The Shooter.

Ze "Shooter"

Basically, he throws the ball, the ball hits your ball, you go bye-bye.  Superior. For every boule your team has closer at the end of a round, you get 1 point. First to 13 wins. Ready, set, go!

How did I come upon this odd and incredibly addictive game? About 3 years ago I was procrastinating on some research I had to do at the New York Public Library. Bryant Park, directly behind the library, is an oh-so-nice place to procrastinate and while getting my coffee from the Witchcraft stand (better than you think it would be) I saw a group of people throwing stuff. About ten thousand games later, I’m still hooked.

Ready

Shoot!

I’m pretty sure I hit that one. Maybe.

Until next time. I’m thinking the Yankees. The Staten Island Yankees that is.

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Knish me on the Cyclone


After reliving a few childhood memories on the monkey bars of Grady Playground, and looking rather ridiculous in the process, I thought, Hey. Let’s go home. Yes, I sometimes, in my head, refer to myself as the collective we. What’s good enough for the Queen of England is good enough for us, after all.

But, as so often happens on my walks, I got hungry and so headed down to Brighton Beach Boulevard for a knish and seltzer.  When in Rome, you know.  Paper bag in hand, I found a spot on the beach to picnic. Well not really on the beach, but on a bench on a cement platform that overlooked the beach. What a view!

Lovely

As I was enjoying my delicious pocket of potato and pillowy dough, a city employee asked me how my day was going while sweeping up cigarette butts from the sand. “Pretty good,” I said, and feeling in a sharing mood, “but I wanted to go to that amusement park,” and pointed  yonder towards the rides.  “Oh Lunatic Park?” he asked. Now, it’s actually called Luna Park, but obviously, his being the far superior name for it, I didn’t interject. “Yeah,” opens tomorrow,” he continued, “but the Cyclone’s going.”

“Wha?!” I stuffed the rest of the knish in my mouth and wished him good-bye.

Proof of intelligent life on Earth

Hastily walking down the board walk, I soon heard the rumble of climbing roller coaster cars, then, the scream. That could have been me already!   Expecting a long line of preteens with cotton candy ahead, I almost broke into a jog. Yet, to my surprise, there was no one. I waltzed right in.

It’d been years since I’d been on a roller coaster, and perched above the drop I thought, “oh yeah, this is why,” then I screamed for awhile. The whole time really.

Ahhhhhhhhhhh!

I look good in that one. Right?

Next time: Petanque:  the game even Napoleon outlawed.

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And Now for a New York Minute

On my way to the W. 4th Street station in Greenwich Village, I thought I heard the faint mumblings of a crowd  in Washington Square Park. Intrigued I went to investigate.

In short, this happened:

Yes, that’s right. The guy in the yellow pants jumped over 6 people. Amazing.

Thanks, New York.

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Grady Playground Proves Modernism is Fun!

Playgrounds these days are way too focused on safety and learning. What’s with those number blocks? Who wants a twisty heat-resistant plastic slide you can’t get any real speed on? In my day it was cement and steel. And might I say, it prepared me for the real world, people. I remember in kindergarten we had a ten foot tall slide you could fry an egg on come summer time. Skinned knees are a right of passage, not a reason to put down rubber mats! So, it was much to my relief when I came upon Grady Playground, an homage, if you will, to the way things used to be. Only cooler.

Why so amazing? you might be asking. Whoever designed this little wonderland had a rather urban sensibility. Uber-urban really. The whole place looks like a miniature city.

Visions of Gotham

Doesn't this look like DUMBO?

Calluses Abound

As I was getting trigger happy with my camera, the person in charge of keeping Grady Playground litter free (he does a good job), questioned my motives. “It’s for a blog,” I said and he nodded to indicate approval. We chatted a little, though he didn’t stop working while doing so, a man committed to his task.

Larry, who works much harder than me.

As it turns out, not only does Larry keep the park clean, but he keeps the kids out of trouble, and off the top of the monkey bars – he told several girls to get down while I was there. He also informed me that later this month the architectural wonder that is Grady Playground, will be razed. “They’re re-doing the whole thing,” he said.  “But it’s so cool!”  I cried out in protest.

Why NYC Planning Commission? Why?

The metal slide, an endangered species.

Unbeatable

Sadly, the powers that be weren’t around to hear my well articulated case for keeping Grady Playground the way it is. Even if the were, the soft allure of plastic swings and rainbow shaped fountains would probably cloud their judgment. Alas! Again the old must make way for the new, and I slinked off with only my photos as conciliation. Melodramatic! Who’s being melodramatic?

But, as if the gods were listening to my sorrow:

That’s right. The Cyclone, that 80 year-old wooden roller coaster of possible death and definite back ache open for business, baby. Just what I needed. Next time.

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Brighton Beach, on Accident

Anyone who pays attention knew that Luna Park, the amusement park at Coney Island, didn’t open until May 29th. Generally excluded from the category of “attention payers,” I  arrived  ready to ride the rides and itching for a little artificial adrenaline, and was sorely disappointed to find on May 28th, there would be no teacups for me. Nevertheless,  I tried to ferret my way into the private party they were having for local dignitaries and their children (I’m from Walking New York, I said. Press pass? asked the security guard) without success. An F train of my despair rattled above.

But wait! This is New York City after all. There had to be something interesting within ten blocks or less.  So I headed onwards and north up the boardwalk towards Brighton Beach.

A quick note about this sleepy little beach community, first of all, it’s not sleepy, second of all it’s known for its Russian population, and third, they have a weird way of naming their streets. Just look at this conundrum:

Ahhh, where am I again?

Brighton Lane 2 and Brighton Path 2? And not only that. There’s also Brighton Walk 2 and Brighton Street 2 and AND Brighton Court 2! How am I supposed to find my way around this place? Not that there was much hope of that in the first place. When in Rome, I decided and walked down one of the Walks.

A Walk to somewhere

The thing about Brighton’s Walks is that all in all, they’re really just alleyways and alleyways are something the rest of New York generally lacks. There’s not enough room between buildings most of the time to allow for these little pedestrian only ways, which is a shame since you can get into a lot of good and bad trouble on these little paths. I mean, who hasn’t stolen a kiss from a forbidden love in an alley? Okay, me. But I saw it in a movie. So there.

The other wonderful, if overly-voyeuristic, aspect of Brighton’s byways is they allow for a closer glimpse into the lives of those who live along them.

Hello! I like your house.

thanks for the heads up....

Nice Porch

No problem

While surreptitiously snapping photos of other people’s backyards, I notice a special affinity among the residents of Brighton Beach for rose bushes and chain link fences. At least half the houses have one or the other and about a third have both.

Muy romantico

Si. Gusto.

Rose bush in cement, chain link sold seperately

As the sun rose higher and the busy bees of summer starting swarming to these lovely blooms, I thought it’d be a good time to head back to  Brighton Beach Boulevard where the only hum is that of the cars and elevated train, just the way I like it.  Of course, I meandered a little ways getting there and ran into the coolest playground ever at Brighton 3 Street and 4 Road in Brighton Beach,. Stay tuned for pictures and the shakedown in a few days.

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Live from the People’s Garden

Frank, sitting pretty

Which people, you might ask. According to Frank, caretaker of the Lower Ease Side People’s Garden,  all people. Not bad.

For those of you just tuning in, I’m in Chinatown and while looking for a cottage-industry tannery somewhere near the Bureau Gallery, I stumbled across this gem of outdoor space in New York City.

If you’re one of those bridge and tunnel people like myself, vacant lots turned into mini tomato, zucchini, and potato patches are both totally awesome and  pretty common.

However, in addition to fruits, Frank’s garden also has:

Bon journo!

It’s really the tinfoil roll in back that makes it art. And that’s not all.

Ahhh! A skeleton....candle holder!

Herbs and a wooden boat

A lot of community gardens are just for the members, which is all well and good. But what about the rest of us who have neither the time nor the money to go digging in the dirt and want to enjoy the urban outdoors?  Sure there’s Central Park.  But who wants to take the Lexington Line? Or circumnavigate the perambulating  Met-goers in a trance from all the Greco-Roman art?

It’s also the size of the People’s Garden, or rather, lack there of, that makes it appealing. At less than a quarter acre, it gives a sense of intimacy that you can’t get in the larger, more crowded public spaces of NYC. In fact, it’s a bit like Gramercy without the locked gate and old money waving you off their lawn with canes.

But, the greatest thing about the LESPG (Lower East Side People’s Garden – I have a thing for acronyms) is the kitsch, the perfect campyness of it. And not in a bad way. There’s about a thousand and one aspiring artists in Williamsburg who would give their right eye, leg, and arm to be able to curate a space this cool.  It’s authentic, welcoming, and utterly Lower East Side.

What's he looking at?

Tomatoes!

But of course, I forgot to write down where this is, so your only choice is to wander aimlessly until you find it. Having done it myself, I can tell you it’s not a bad way to spend the day. In fact, you couldn’t do much better.

Later this week, the roller coasters of Coney Island. You must be at least this tall to ride.

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