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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The City Island Conspiracy Continues

Uncovering the City Island Freemason Conspiracy (three picture deal currently in negotiation) really gave me an appetite. So, I headed back onto the main drag, known for its mediocre yet proliferous seafood joints. However, on the way to the south end of the island, where you can’t throw a cat without hitting a restaurant, I found myself waylaid by a rather uncommon sign.

Maybe the word, “Nautical,” which is such a great and underused word, drew me in. Or perhaps the excellently painted sail boat was to blame. Either way,  around the corner  I found a single room store chalk-a-block with all things maritime.

Antique Barometer

Model Santa Maria

Is he suposed to be Italian?

The purveyor of this most curious store? Trader Joe. (John really, but everyone seemed to call him by his nickname.) He lived up to his nomenclature,  in my opinion, when one customer walked in with an anchor, and Trader Joe said, “You’ve got good taste in anchors.”  Indeed.

While full of verve, Joe looked like this was not his first trip off the dock and I asked him if the island had changed much over his lifetime (almost all of which was spent here). Definitely, he replied. Once a thriving seaport, City Island now relies on the tourist industry for economic sustenance. It’s a “restaurant island” were Trader Joe’s words.  I for one would have preferred an isle full of swarthy seagoers, like the ones that must have once supplied our dear Trader with his wares. Life isn’t always fair, as they say, but you can still get popcorn shrimp. Right?

Walking south, my stomach growled, expectant of the  aforepromised battered decapods. However, my wallet demurred. Sammy’s Shrimp Box wanted $15.97 for a basket with fries. What are they trying to pull?  I wondered and stepped back outside to sample one of the many other eateries. But then I noticed something disturbing. Something perhaps even more chilling than the Freemasons. Just look!

Sammy, whoever he is, has not 1, not 2, but 3 restaurants AND a parking lot for each location. So who is behind this fishy monopoly? (Sorry about the pun. I can’t help myself sometimes.) I asked one of the waitresses in le shrimp box, who referred me to the manager, who shall remain nameless because of the following statement. Mr. Manager was having a meeting at the main branch with a man I imagined to be the assistant manager. He said, and I quoth, “You have to get your own crayons and balloons! You’re own your own now.” He then stormed out, leaving his clipboard behind, leaving me to think he would be returning soon. Not so. In the meantime, I became distracted by an acne medication info-commercial they had playing on the bar TV.

“Are you watching this?” asked the bartender.

“Not really.”

“I miss the good old days,” he said, switching it off. “Before they had TVs. People used to talk to one another.”

Now this barkeep philosopher was not some weathered old man just come in from the sea, as it were. Rather fresh faced (I’ll end my description there in case Mr. Manager should ever read this) he went on to describe how technology was tearing our social fabric apart. I concurred and neglected to mention this blog.

After this exchange, I didn’t really care who Sammy was anymore. A Grand Master Freemason no doubt. Better to leave these sorts of things alone. I just wanted my fried shrimp! And I found it at the very end of the island at Johnny’s, a cafeteria-like establishment where my order took all of two seconds.

A little rubbery, but totally passable, I took my lunch  outside to enjoy the view.

Not bad for New York City’s littlest island.

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Thanks Everyone!

A quick thanks to everyone who’s checked out my blog this month. 300 views in 30 days, not bad for my first time out. Thanks again and stay tuned!

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City Island: The Bronx Riviera

Recently, people have been asking if I do any research before visiting these various and varied neighborhoods. The short answer: No.  I find it far  more interesting to enter a place without any foreknowledge. And so, ignorant with open eyes, I disembarked the bus, you know, wherever on City Island.

In the time that it took to solve the algebraic equation of public transportation necessary to get to this little isle off the Bronx coast (F to the L to the  4 to the  BX-29 = 2.5 hours), I could have flown to Florida. That being said, City Island somewhat resembles the sunshine state and I headed down to the beach, a mere 2 blocks away. In fact , where I got off, the island was a whole 3 blocks wide, which makes one wonder if the inhabitants are at all worried about rising sea levels. But we’ll save that conversation for another day and just enjoy the view for now.

Just look at those condos...

To be honest, I don’t really like the beach. Besides the sand factor, there’s a lot of pressure to “enjoy” oneself and to “relax.” Trying to relax stresses me out, so I spent only enough time there to really start yearning for pavement, all of about 3 minutes.

Walking the streets of City Island a single word came to mind : Cute. Everything is cute and/or cute-cute, sometimes even, regrettably, cutesy. Take for instance, this house:

Cute, no? But with this next house, we’re moving in to cute-cuteville, as in, doesn’t this house look just like a house in Nantucket?

Finally we have cutesy:

hmm… lawn ornament deer reclining beneath a flowery tree. But wait, what’s that behind it? Pink Flamingos. Right. However, we should at least be a little thankful to City Island. After all, how many times do you get the opportunity to say, “Aw, isn’t that cute?” in New York City? NEVER. Except for on City Island, and sometimes, even cutesy is kind of nice.

Still, a little bit goes a long way, so thankfully, I happened upon a graveyard before my eyes glazed over with honey.

eternity with a view

Now, while all these people may be dead, there’s nothing like seeing the span of a lifetime in two numbers and a dash to remind you of how long life can be. This couple for example

lived through both World Wars, the majority of the Cold War, Vaudeville, Elvis, the 60s, and Depeche Mode. That is a lot of life, to say the least.

But reveling in the strange beauty of life and death as we know them was not the only point of interest in this place of rest. Like any halfway decent graveyard, this one had its mysteries and many of its headstones bore the ominous sign of the Freemasons:

Not just for gravestones, later on I saw this famously infamous sign on the sides of buildings and on the lapel of a jacket I almost bought at a yard sale. (It was a little too big.) I had to uncover this clandestine mystery so close to the shores of the center of American finance and culture. What scandalous plan could they be hatching? Is our very way of life at stake, held in the hands of this uber-secret society? For answers, I went straight to the source –  www.bronxmasons.com, their website and clicked on the “Got Questions?” link. As if to beguile the viewer, their website is pretty poorly designed and hard to read. Also, the writing isn’t that good, I mean, the writing is cryptic! But as far as I can tell, some fishermen and sailors got together in 1918 and started a Lodge to take care of member’s widows, orphans, and business interests. But when I clicked on “Famous Masons part 1” I received the enigmatic message: “404 Not Found, sorry but the content you request could not be found.” I suppose it should have come as no surprise that these cloak-and-dagger cultists should keep their hand close. Well, score one for the City Island Freemason’s – but I’ll be back!

Later this week: the original Trader Joe. Rest assured, he doesn’t sell organic snacks and moderately priced hormone free meats.

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And now for a New York Moment

This morning, as most mornings, I stopped at my usual coffee shop on my way to work. While my favorite surly barista was not in attendance, I persevered. Coffee. Large. And went outside to enjoy a moment of sunshine before heading into the office.

Over the winter, a bakery had opened next store, staffed entirely by women ages 25-45 who all look like they belong in a really good movie about women who started a successful bakery. One of them, in a white apron and green bandanna covering her hair, was eating pancakes off a square red plate on the stoop.

“I’m jealous,” I said. “That looks delicious.”

“Want one?” she asked.

I refused, she insisted and a moment later, I too was enjoying these most amazing pancakes. The secret ingredient? Walnuts. To die for.

Thanks New York.

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Robot Art and Soccer

For those of you just tuning in, I am currently lost in the great industrial hallways of Long Island City. Though, after two hours of meandering, I was starting to get a little tired and  asked directions from one of the few human beings I had seen thus far. 21st Street (where I got off the train), he informed me, was about a mile away, exactly back in the direction I came. But did I follow these directions? Or did I get distracted by, say, the Guatemalan National Anthem emanating from a public park with a Caterpillar backhoe in the center?

When I got there (obviously I didn’t follow direction people, come-on) I found these guys :

About a hundred in all, they waited impatiently for their soccer season to start while the MC went through all the people to thank and all national anthems of the players. Mothers handed off babies to the uniformed husbands for snack runs. Stray soccer balls from the next generation of players veered between the lines. Nevertheless, the MC was adamant in his duties and in about twenty minutes I was getting a little antsy myself. But there was a novelty to consider: the “field” was a disused concrete basketball court. Besides, I had started chatting with the only other English speaker in the crowd – Doug, from Canada (he came up with the nomenclature). Apropos of last post about LIC re: yet more gentrification, Doug  had a home renovation business and had just been with clients looking to upgrade their condo. Despite going through our abbreviated life stories, a few jokes, and wonderment at the soccer players’ dedication to the game given their playing surface, the MC was still going. Wait!  He’s handing the mic off….no. More speeches. Doug and I went our separate ways with promises of FaceBook friendship. One thing I will mention before leaving this scene however – given the skill of the kids practicing while they waited for their fathers to start, in about ten years American soccer won’t be so import dependent. So keep practicing! There’s only 3 World Cups before you have to be ready!

Now, from my last visit a few years ago, I had a vague memory of what P.S. 1 looked like. Yes, yes I know. That structure and all the art that it holdeth should be emblazoned on my brain. However, not so much. But I was pretty sure this was it as I approached a enormous red-brick building in a sea of cement. The diligent security guard informed me, kind of – I had to go around to the front. This last hurdle jumped, I entered the rather prison-like  courtyard,

one of my favorite parts of the museum. No really. It’s a mostly blank space void of visual stimulus before entering the world of over-stimulus. Moreover, you have a choice to walk on the gravel, or the sidewalk. The sidewalk may have been placed their for handicap access – but it still gives you the choice to interact with the gravel – which creates both texture and sound – or walk dolefully on the concrete.  Brilliant.

Less brilliant was the sign in the front lobby informing me I couldn’t take pictures of the artwork. No matter. I decided to take pictures of things that were not art like this:

and this:

hoping to get in trouble so as to have more to write about. No such luck. The one security guard who did catch me, who shall remain nameless, gave me a momentary scolding and told me I’d have to get a press pass if I wanted to take photographs. But then, without my protesting even a little, he said, “Go ahead. Whatever.” But, I had already told him I was doing an “art project” about things in museums that were not art and didn’t want to blow my cover.

Unfortunately, about 75% of the museum was closed due to installation. So, I spent a lot of quality time in the video art room – a medium I wasn’t  particularly keen on – until now – thanks to Rosum’s Universal Robots.

This guy is from a 1930s film adaptation of Czech science fiction writer,  Karel Capek’s play about robots taking over the earth (among other things, like um, socialism). That, I assure you, has nothing on the video at PS 1. First of all, it’s not a play – it’s a ballet. A robot ballet with amazing robot costumes – think robot tutu – and  sets built by the incredible Frederick Kiesler. I was mesmerized throughout. If anyone out there in cyberland knows were to get a copy of this cultural gem – let me know!

To conclude, I will just mention that I passed by the soccer game on my way back. They were just getting started.

Next New York City neighborhood: City Island. Where’s that?

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