Category Archives: Manhattan

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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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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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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Chinatown: Beyond the Thunderdome

One dangerous thing about having no idea where you’re going is you, or rather I, end up covering the same ground multiple times.  So, after snapping a few more photos at the Sun Tak Buddhist Association, I headed back down to street level and tried to go a different way than I’d gone before, whichever way that was in the first place.

Success! And I almost passed a very small, very well curated art gallery at 127 Henry Street (this is not from memory – I got their business card).  Bureau is owned and directed by one Gabrielle Giattino, who is in my opinion, too young and attractive to have her own gallery in Manhattan -it’s just not fair to the rest of us. Additionally, she has good taste. Also annoying.

The piece:

Untitled, Daniel Lefcourt

is 6×8 of oil on linen and a lot more amazing in person. Lefcourt has a talent for drawing immense volume out of his strictly black paint to the point where one feels enveloped by the potential context of a seemingly contextless figure. A rock, for god’s sake. At least, I think it’s a rock.

This piece:

Small Chocolate, Viktor Kopp

also in Bureau’s current show, is far more whimsical, though no less technically proficient (and yes I just gave myself away, all you art critics. I do think craft is important, so sue me, as people used to say.) If  you click to enlarge, you’ll see the bottom right piece is melting.

Unfortunately, my photographs or Barb Choit’s photographs came out awful, surprise, surprise.  Unfortunate especially since she, and they, are amazing. As Giattino explained, the basic idea is this: If you break a teacup, tumbler, plate, ashtray or any other vessel of glass or ceramic, she will ask you for it, archive it, and photograph it. Archeologizing (can that be a word, please?) the near past. (If you didn’t see it before, her name’s linked to her site.)

Not having spoken since I got to Chinatown, I was a little tongue tied with Giattino. Still, she was gracious enough to let me take pictures as well as nod and smile when I tried to sound artsy. She suggested I go by a cottage industry tannery run by two old ladies around the corner. I looked, got lost and ended up meeting Frank, caretaker of the Lower East Side People’s Garden. But more on that tomorrow. For now though, I’ll just say that he too has a unique sense of aesthetic not to be missed.

Disco in the People's Garden

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Chinatown in the year 4708

On a blustery Mother’s Day I got off at the Grand Street stop  in New York City’s Chinatown in this Year of the Tiger, 4708. No really. That’s the year according to the Chinese Calender. Makes 2010 seem a bit paltry, no?

More than any walk I’ve taken so far, I had no idea where I was going or what I was looking for. Having had perhaps one too many the night before, my head was, shall we say, a bit hazy as I ascended from the subway. Luckily, in Chinatown a willingness, if not aptitude for getting lost, will get you everywhere, and I ended up going, uhhh, that way!

Whichever way that was (I could not for a million dollars retrace my steps), turned out to be the market district of Chinatown – and not the one near the Canal street stop either. This was the real deal.

At first I was a little reticent to take pictures. After all, I wanted neither to appear to be a tourist, nor to have an orientalist fetish. But after bypassing a few jaw dropping sights, I pretty much got over whatever fears I had.

Noodles!

More Noodles!

Even More Noodles!

Okay, I realize I got a bit carried away with the noodles there, so forgive me in advance for the proliferation of sea creature photography:

Fish in a Box

Fishy

Crayfish in the City

They're Alive!

Oh man... how'd I get here?

But I just can’t help myself. There’s something so intriguing about walking around Chinatown’s market district. It gives you the sense you’re in a world other than your own. Not that this particular American mutt was treated with anything but the utmost courtesy- everyone let me take photos and I got to taste some dried abalone gratis. It’s just the non-packagedness of it all. Fish are still wrapped in newspaper. You get your lobsters with rubber bands on their claws. The noodles are tied with ribbon! More than the language, this is the difference. The lack of over sanitization, separation, alienation and all kinds of other lefty words ending in ation. In a world of styrofoam meat and genetically engineered produce, it’s nice to see crabs in a basket from time to time. But speaking of produce:

no one could tell me what these were

Daikon

Eggplants

Yams?

After about half an hour of dodging and weaving through the crowds while trying to snap a few photos in between, I needed a little respite and headed off to one of the side streets to see what I could see. What I found was no less interesting.

This piece of public art:

remains mercifully without a explanatory placard. I’ve named it the Great Wall of Chinatown. While it looks wooden (to me, in any case) from a distance, it’s actually made of brick.

Just beyond this, on what I seem to recall being Division Street, I saw a rather placid looking statue towering above the passersby.

With trepidation, I climbed the stairs to the Sun Tak Buddhist Association. Is this trespassing? Am I defiling a religious temple? Thinking about these things, and not really looking where I was going, I almost ran into a worshiper coming down. Apparently used to curious twenty somethings, he jumped out of my way. “Sorry!” he said. I assured him the fault was mine.

While this temple is above a 99 cent store, no kidding, it’s no less peaceful for it. You can’t see the people on the  street, and they in turn can’t see you. There are any number of store front temples in Chinatown, but with a little room outdoors, the Sun Tak Association is able to create an accessible, yet solemn space.

Offerings to the Triple Gem

Blooming Lily

Guanyin?

Later this week, the best little art gallery this side of the Iron Curtain, The People’s Garden, and what I had for lunch. (Sow’s ear in red sauce for one thing. Delicious!) If you’re still hungry for  more pictures of Chinatown foodstuffs, just scroll down. See you soon.

How much is that lobster in the window?

It's a King Crab

this speaks for itself

Newspaper adds to the flavor....

Pears in white

Restaurant window fish tank

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Hell’s Kitchen: Delicious.

The borders of New York neighborhoods are defined by personal preference, belief, if you will. Late night, over my last drink, I’ve had many a passionate argument over where one begins and another ends. The Census might say Hell’s Kitchen goes from 34th Street to 57th, and that may be good enough for government work. But really, that’s ridiculous. Hell’s Kitchen goes from 42nd and 8th Avenue up to 55th Street and over to the Hudson River. From 42nd to 29th (I’m being generous Chelsea) is Midtown West –boring – and anyone living on 56th will insist they live on the Upper West Side. That’s pretty non-negotiable. So now that we know where we are, let’s begin.

I got off the A Train at 42nd and 8th with the firm intention of going to Mid-Midtown – the financial center of the universe between 5th and 6th Avenues. But, it was a long train ride full of crying babies, delays, and one young man dead set on giving himself tinnitus by piping Sublime’s 40oz to Freedom directly into his ears at full blast, and I needed a cup of coffee. A good cup of coffee. Not the Starbucks and Starbucks-knock-offs fueling Midtown. (Side note –can some economists look into how subpar coffee effects rational behavior? I think I’m on to something here.) I’d visited Hell’s Kitchen only once before, but remembered distinctly a bakery near 50th with a line out the door and New York’s best sticky buns in the pastry case. Miraculously, I found it again beneath a blue awning reading Amy’s Bakery.

get the sticky bun!

It seemed everyone who’d passed me, and everyone I’d passed was heading there. Eventually, we all ended up in line together, with the exception of one elderly gentleman with a brown fedora and an Irish accent, who bypassed the queue with an excuse. Oddly enough, his coffee was waiting for him on the counter, and I thought him perhaps a holdover from the bygone mob days. At last, I got to the front, resisted, then gave into the temptation of a sticky bun, and ordered my coffee black. No sugar please, thank you very much.

On to Midtown! But first I had to find someplace to eat my sticky bun, in peace.

One of the odd things about New York is you forget how much water you’re around. The East River, the Hudson River, the Long Island Sound, the Atlantic, for example. Maybe it’s because the city is so self-contained, so completely encompassing that it seems odd it should end all of a sudden in murky blue. I hardly ever go to look at the water here though it’s something I could spend hours doing and so headed towards 12th Avenue with the idea I would find a nice sandy spot to sit, or at least a bench to watch the Hudson’s currents stream by.

Getting there was of more interest than the destination however, since little did I know, the western most part of Hell’s Kitchen is a Mecca for taxi cabs. The double-digit avenues are chockablock with repair and wheel alignment shops – yes they are different – gas stations and car washes. You would think that river front property would be the most valuable. But, no. Rectangular, gray, cement warehouses are in vogue from Tenth Avenue on. I found this both fascinating and charming, in an industrial sort of way, and asked one repair shop attendant if I could take a picture of their sign reading, “Respect the Neighborhoods.” He told me I’d have to speak to the manager about that, but readily volunteered to have himself photographed. He stuck a pose, I snapped. Handsome young man, don’t you think?

A block more and I saw up ahead both the river and a very tall, very long chain link fence. Then, emerging from the corner, what looked like a stealth bomber.   It was indeed, a stealth bomber, along with a few jets and four out of place commercial airlines, parked on the deck of the Intrepid – New York Harbor’s own aircraft carrier. With no way to get around this monstrosity to sit on my coveted beach (there were no park benches in sight) I found a desk put out by the dumpster next to a Red Bull vending machine and since my sticky bun had been whispering sweet nothings to me since before I bought it, sat and ate it there. Perhaps not the most sanitary of seating arrangements, but life, as they say, is tough and besides, I had a good view of what kind of people would pay twenty dollars to go on an aircraft carrier. All kinds, apparently.

On my way back, I took 47th instead of 46th, hoping to find more interesting garages. Indeed I did – check out this hand written sign with Arabic characters on the side (does anyone know what they mean?).

But even more intriguing was an unexpected little thrift store set up in the center of an otherwise residential block in what looked like to be a former hotdog stand storage space (there was one of these on 47th as well – slightly gross but no surprise there). Grainy Ranchero music screeched from out of date speakers and interior lighting didn’t seem to be a priority. However as anyone who knows anything about thrift stores knows, these are the marks of a goldmine. Two bookshelves housed titles ranging from Homer’s Iliad to Harlequin’s bodice-ripping classics. Across from that were a row of hairdresser’s chairs complete with beehive mechanisms – you know the old space-pod hair dryers that fit around your whole head. Along with an assortment of furniture in the back, I found a quite handsome briefcase of light brown leather, which I very nearly bought. It still had the name tag inside. D. Netzer. NYU 1 Washington Square. I looked him up later. He was a rather distinguished professor of that enigmatic field, Urban Economics and Dean of the Wagner School (NYU’s labor department) from 1969 to 1982. No wonder he had such a nice briefcase, and might also mention, handwriting. But how did all this stuff end up in one place?

The owner and namesake of the store, Dominick– as you can see a nice fellow – explained along with the thrift store he has a moving and “clearing out” business. The latter being for those who don’t pay their bills. Some of his stuff he gets from auction, most he gets when the bank forecloses. The thrift store was his idea, a way to capitalize on cool stuff he would otherwise have to take to the dump. A community service if you ask me. He called it, “a blue collar thrift store,” unlike the wonderful, but truly overpriced empire that is Housing Works. So, should you desire a good book or a new hairdo, Dominick’s is at 453 W. 47th between 9th and 10th.

Onwards, and upwards. By now I’d given up on the whole idea of Mid-Midtown and entered the Hell’s Kitchen Wonderful World of Restaurants. Think I’m kidding? For those of you who don’t live in NYC, or who do and don’t venture that high up in Manhattan, there’s a street called Restaurant Row, which is fully deserving of its title. I didn’t go there. However, I did pass a portly man, to say the least, sitting outside of an Italian restaurant on 8th Avenue. I was a little reticent to approach him with my slightly shaky credentials as a blogger – who isn’t these days. But hey, everyone’s gotta start somewhere, so I hitched up my pants, and said “hey, I’m writing a blog about New York City.” He seemed none to impressed and when I asked for his job title, he said simply, “taster.” “How’d you get that job?” I asked, thinking of my own career prospects, and he explained that eight years ago, he’d come into the restaurant and proven his culinary prowess by tasting their food and – I imagine – liking it.

The bartender inside, Francesco, was slightly more helpful. Sebastian, the taster, was really more of a greeter – the guy who tries to get you to eat there after a matinee of Bye Bye Birdie (don’t see that one) with witticisms like “You’re going to the wrong place!” or “We have everything but sushi.” Apparently Sebastian is somewhat of a New York institution and used to work in the East Village’s finest dining establishments. But he’s been a Hell’s Kitchen resident since he moved from “the hilly part of Italy” (his description) and wanted to work closer to home. He’s also, supposedly, but I don’t see how, discovered a recipe for flourless, eggless, sugarless cookies. I think I call that an apple.

So, what’s the reason for this mass proliferation of restaurants? As I hinted before, Hell’s Kitchen abuts the famous Theater District where you can catch a Disney-movie-stage-adaptation on any day of the year and Tom Stoppard plays in the winter. But it’s not just the tourist that bleed over into Hell’s Kitchen. As I wound my way south down 8th and 9th Avenues, I found a startling number of churches converted into studios and workshops for actors and playwrights. The well-known Actors Studio was once a United Presbyterian Church. (If you’ve never heard of the UPs, it’s probably because they haven’t existed since the 50s…just about the time the Actor’s Studio was founded…hmmm).   I might also mention an anomaly about actual churches in Hell’s Kitchen – almost all have their own theater.

The day was winding down, it’d started to rain, and my sticky-bun sugar high was wearing off at an exponential rate. Besides, I reached the end of Hell’s Kitchen at 42nd Street and a Dunkin’ Donuts with a very tall, very boring high rise as a back drop. And so, in summation, while thinking about that Dunkin’, I will say this for Hell’s Kitchen: it is an oasis of all the things that once made Manhattan great amid the money-driven desert that is Midtown. Despite the realtor’s dream of rebranding this neighborhood as “Clinton” (not such a good name either) Hell’s Kitchen is full of independent shops, small cafes, avant garde theater companies, and gorgeous buildings. So skip Midtown, and go straight to Hell – or it’s kitchen anyway. It’s nicer than you think.

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