Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Greenwich Village, July 2006

I've been saving this photo for months in order to use it on Halloween! The skull talking on a cell phone is the signature image of street artist SpazMat. This poster was on Houston Street, on a big hulk of metal from a construction project. (Love that rusty texture!)

More SpazMat here.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Hell's Kitchen, July/Sept. 2006

This tag is a common sight all over Hell's Kitchen, and indeed all over lower Manhattan. The spiraling eye sockets, the skull's leer - I can't decide whether the face is drunk or dead or what. It's often accompanied by the initials SG.

One of SG's favorite canvases is the rolling steel security gate. These gates seem to attract graffiti. Someone told me that graffiti artists, if caught, get fined commensurate with the damage they've caused. I've often wondered if they graffiti these doors because repainting them is cheaper than, say, repairing a brick wall.

Or maybe all that blank space is just too tempting. In any event, graffiti artists, including SG, like these doors.

This one is by far my favorite - the only example I've found of a color tag from SG. And it comes complete with its own mini-me!

Sunday, October 29, 2006

East Village, June 2006

Here's the tower of the Most Holy Redeemer Catholic Church reflected in a puddle of rainwater on E. Third Street. I took this photo several months ago, but this is also the kind of weekend we're having now. In fact, as I walked to the gym yesterday morning, the wind blew my umbrella inside out, breaking all the ribs!

Bach and Zen

Yesterday, I attended a Zen workshop at which we were asked to hear the moment, the messages of the world, and to write them down. It was an exercise meant to teach us to listen to what’s around us, and to ourselves. The teacher put on a Bach CD to accompany the writing. Here’s the result, written in about 10 minutes. The line about Nirvana is from the Heart Sutra, one of the foundational writings of Buddhism.


How funny! I was feeling pain until the music started, before it swept in like a butterfly. I’d been trying to hear the messages, the hum, of the world. I heard Darfur. Iraq. I guess it makes sense for me to focus on world events, since I spend all my days as a journalist simmering in them, and indeed feeling somewhat overcooked at the end of the day. So much pain!

And yet, that music! The bow of the cello or violin - I don’t know which - sweeping up and down like wings on air. Again, a butterfly. And rain on the window, the wind, the engines and brakes of trucks on Crosby Street. All just happening.

My mind imposes on the world this idea of pain. Not that it isn’t there, but that I qualify it that way, and allow its abstractions to obscure the moment - the thousands and thousands of cellos that play around me every day in the street, the cliched music of the car horns, the rhythm of the rain. “Far beyond deluded thoughts, this is Nirvana.”

There is some sadness in the music, the melancholy low tones, as in the world, as in everything. Isn’t everything sad, just as everything is happy? This duality is yet another fiction. Surely, even in Darfur, even in Iraq, someone laughs. Really, it’s just music. It’s just a butterfly. It’s just the rain. It just is.

Perhaps this is too neat. Perhaps the victim of a crime, the relative of someone who worked at the World Trade Center, the mother of a sick infant in Somalia, won’t see this fundamental balance.

But what does the world say?

The world says only, “I am here. Be sure you notice.”

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Hell's Kitchen, June 2006

These doors on W. 53rd Street near 10th Avenue are part of a huge mural. There are a lot of television and music production studios in that part of town, and I believe this building is one of them.

I like the diagonal lines against the horizontals and verticals - a lot like yesterday's photo in that respect. In fact, I suppose that's a common theme for me!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Chelsea, August 2006

When I saw this pipe beneath some outdoor stairs on W. 22nd Street, I knew I had a photo!

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sept. 2006

As long as we're talking about Buddhism, here's some excellent meditation advice.

A friend of mine collects what she calls "Found Dharma Talks," which are essentially bits of signs, advertising, or other wording that seem to carry a deeper message. You'd be surprised how numerous they are. This is a little too obvious to be a good example, but it does remind us to keep it simple, follow the breath, quiet our minds, and be.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Central Park, July 2006

One of my favorite spots in Central Park is Bethesda Terrace, which overlooks The Lake and includes the Bethesda Fountain (of "Angels in America" fame). The limestone decorations along the steps leading down to the fountain have to be seen to be believed. The deep, ornate carvings include entire birds and flowers and date from the 1870s.

My AIA Guide to New York City says the stonework at Bethesda Terrace was the work of Jacob Wrey Mould, though Calvert Vaux came up with the concepts.

I was happy to find a lotus blossom among the carvings! The lotus often appears in Buddhist writings and texts as a symbol of purity amid the world's delusions. I attend a weekly Zen service where one of the lines reads, "May we exist in muddy water with purity like the lotus."

In a way, I suppose that's what Jacob Wrey Mould and Calvert Vaux were trying to tell us, by leaving us with such exquisite carvings.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Upper East Side, October 2006

When I first photographed this pocket park at E. 80th Street and First Avenue, it was brightly colored but bedraggled. (See here.) Now they've stripped out the seating and painted the panels with what I think is some kind of primer, so it looks like the park is getting new life.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Lower East Side, Sept. 2006

A graffiti artist who often signs his work "Love Billy" paints the heads of growling dogs as his trademark. Sometimes those dogs are so abstract you can't even really tell they're dogs. These panels were near Hester and Ludlow streets.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Upper West Side, Sept. 2006

This is the gate to a public space called the Harmony Atrium, off Broadway between Columbus Circle and Lincoln Center. Despite the harmonious name, the Harmony Atrium is a dark, cave-like space with probably the most unappealing cafe in the entire city. It does have a rock-climbing wall, though, which seems to generate most of its traffic. And it's got a groovy gate.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Eighth Avenue, July 2006

The new headquarters for The New York Times is rising on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st streets. Designed by architect Renzo Piano, the building is scheduled for occupancy next spring. The 52-story structure is a big change from the Times' current home, a 15-story building on 43rd Street dating from early this century. (The Times will occupy only the lower half of the new building; the rest will be rental office space.)

Thousands of ceramic rods make up the exterior sunscreen. When the sun hits them just right, it creates an interesting arc of light.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Upper East Side, October 2006

I'm not much of a "car person." I often don't notice them at all, and I'm hopeless at identifying them. (Unlike my brother, who even as a child could identify a car in the dark by its oncoming headlights alone.)

But as I was walking on Second Avenue this weekend, this particular parked car caught my eye. That minty green was such an unusual color, and the light on its surface was interesting.

As I stopped to take some photos, a doorman came out of the building behind me. "Nice car, huh?" he said. I agreed it was.

"You know whose it is?"

No, I said, feeling like I was about to get in trouble for something.

"Geraldo Rivera's. He's in that restaurant right over there."

The doorman identified the car as a '55 Jaguar before going back inside.

I didn't wait around for Geraldo to materialize.

Every once in a while I see an actor or TV personality in New York - I saw Woody Allen and his wife Soon Yi in Central Park a couple of years ago, I saw Natasha Lyonne in a deli, and just last night I saw Kieran Culkin in Starbucks. But this was probably the first time I noticed a "celebrity car."

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Grand Concourse, Bronx, July 2006

Here's another photo from the Art Deco wonderland of the Grand Concourse. This is a very well-maintained building, which makes it stand out from some of its neighbors. For more Grand Concourse, click here.

I saw a darkly funny sticker in the Times Square subway station yesterday: "Osama bin Forgotten."

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Upper East Side, October 2006

Reflected light is so different from direct sunlight - it's whiter, more ghostly. This reflection came from sun on the window across the street, in the east 80s near First Avenue.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Atlantic Avenue, Brooklyn, June 2006

Because I featured a dog yesterday, I think it's only fair that I offer a cat today. This is from a mural painted by school children on the barriers around a construction site. The scaffolding seems to be caging this dangerous lion!

Monday, October 16, 2006

NoLIta, July 2006

The New York Times on Sunday had an article about this building, a vacant hulk at the corner of Spring and Elizabeth streets. A magnet for street artists, it's been plastered with all manner of poster art and graffiti, and is apparently the subject of much speculation in the neighborhood. (Steven Kurutz, who wrote the article, called it "the New York equivalent of the spooky suburban home with the chipped paint and the weedy lawn.")

Turns out the building went up in 1888 as a carriage house and horse stable, and as a result had interior ramps instead of stairs. A theatrical set designer bought the building in the 1970s and kept lighted candles in the upper windows - just to freak people out, I suppose. In 2003, the building was sold to Lachlan Murdoch, son of Rupert, who planned to live there, but then returned to Australia instead.

It's been sold again, and will be turned into - of course - condos. The new owners say they are "sensitive to the street art issue," but who knows what that means.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Hell's Kitchen, October 2006

I was walking through the Hell's Kitchen Flea Market, off Ninth Avenue at 39th Street, when I saw a vendor selling these metal stars. I loved the colors and the way they'd been arranged. But I didn't want to just walk right up and start snapping pictures of her stuff, so I browsed around and bought a couple of old postcards for $2. Then, having ingratiated myself, I asked if I could take a photo. She said, "Sure!"

I probably could have taken it for free, but hey, I got some great postcards and a cool photo, and she got some dough. So everyone's happy!

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Broadway, February 2006

Someone's specialty is painting huge keys. This building, near Eighth Street, shows some particularly good examples, and they're several floors up. (I don't remember how many, but I know I was at maximum zoom. Click the photo if you want to make it bigger.) I guess the painter crawled around on that ledge, probably in the middle of the night. Yikes!

Jake Dobkin from Streetsy has taken several photos of such keys in other locations.

Wonder what the key means? What does it open?

UPDATE: I revisited this building, and it's actually at the corner of Broadway and Great Jones Street, several blocks south of Eighth. The keys are above the fourth floor.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Upper West Side, October 2006

Think about the uniqueness of shadows. They are ever-changing. Leaves fall, the sun's angle shifts, and tomorrow's shadows are different from today's. In fact, they're different from moment to moment.

This wall reminds me of a Dalmatian! Also, notice that the window bars are tipped with little metal flowers. Kind of funny.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Midtown East, Sept. 2006

Here's the grande dame of New York's skyscrapers, the Chrysler Building, reflected in the glass of its much less distinguished neighbor across 42nd Street. You can't see the distinctive spire because of the angle of the photo, but you can barely make out the eagle gargoyles that project from the building just below the spire.

The Chrysler Building, by William van Alen, was built in 1930 and was briefly the tallest building in New York, until the Empire State Building was finished in 1931. It's still the most elegant New York building, in my opinion. The Empire State Building is Johnny Weissmuller, all big muscle; the Chrysler Building is Jean Harlow.

I can see its shiny finial both from my office on West 43rd Street and the block where I live, at Lexington Avenue and 29th Street. It always adds to my day to look up and notice it: bright steel in the sun, a crown of lights at night.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Upper East Side, Sept. 2006

These cherubs adorn one of the expensive apartment buildings just south of the Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue. Interesting, but a little creepy, in my opinion.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Sept. 2006

The artist who uses the name "Obey" posts big black-and-white images like this one, usually with a fierce-looking face as a trademark. (The face is inside the logo at the lower left of this image, which I think depicts Angela Davis.)

At least one passer-by doesn't think much of Obey's technique. ("Photoshop plus Kinko's does not equal Art.")

Monday, October 9, 2006

Lincoln Center, Sept. 2006

Henry Moore's "Reclining Figure," from 1964, casts amoebic shadows. The sculpture stands (reclines?) in the center of a large reflecting pool, north of the Metropolitan Opera and west of Avery Fisher Hall.

You can see the entire sculpture here.

Sunday, October 8, 2006

East Village, Sept. 2006

Haculla is a graffiti artist whose mustachioed faces appear on walls in SoHo. Here, a few blocks north on Lafayette Street, he/she added some extra spice to an Apple advertisement.

Saturday, October 7, 2006

W. 39th Street, Sept. 2006

This ghostly figure, on a storefront near Ninth Avenue, is named Alex. You probably can't tell from this photo, but the person who named him also penciled in some glasses and haphazard clothing, including Jockey underwear.

I made a musical discovery this week. I haven't been a huge fan of Edie Brickell and New Bohemians, that late-80s band that had a hit or two back in the day. (Remember "What I Am"?) But in 1994, Edie came out with a solo album, "Picture Perfect Morning," produced by Roy Halee and her husband, Paul Simon. (It has great cover art.) I got it used on Amazon the other day for $1.89, and I'm happy to report that it's excellent. By '94, Edie had grown up a bit - as a more mature musician, she was no longer singing about smiles on dogs.

Friday, October 6, 2006

Chelsea, July 2006

The Starrett-Lehigh Building is an immense, full-block structure built in 1930-31 at 11th Avenue and 26th Street. Architects Russell G. and Walter M. Cory gave the building curved corners and about nine miles of strip windows. It contains vast, loft-like spaces for offices. I think Martha Stewart Living used to be housed here; not sure if it still is.

Thursday, October 5, 2006

E. 30th St., July 2006

This is from a particularly scenic part of E. 30th Street, from Lexington to Third Avenue, which happens to be right around the corner from my apartment. Other images from the same block are here, here and here.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

East Village, Sept. 2006

She may look like a mermaid, but according to the painter's caption, she has been urbanized into a "merbitch."

This trash bin was at a construction site on Bowery near Bond Street. (Click the photo to see it larger.)

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Eighth Avenue, July 2006

What caught my eye on this old building was the stencilled word "Twilight." I wondered what it was - a brand name? The name of a long-defunct store, or bar? It's a pleasant word for this particularly seedy stretch of Eighth Avenue, near 39th Street.

Monday, October 2, 2006

Sunday, October 1, 2006

United Nations, June 2006

I have a real soft spot for the United Nations. In High School I was a participant in our Model UN club, in which students act as foreign delegates and debate international issues. (It's a very nerdy thing to do in high school.) As an adult I've always had a secret desire to work there. I see the UN much like the Eleanor Roosevelt types who created it - as our best forum for international dialogue.

Idealistic? Sure. It's actually a big, sprawling bureaucracy, hampered by the inefficiencies of government and the diverse expectations of its players. But it's also all we have, and it deserves our support. I'm disgusted by the United States' reluctance to pay our dues and participate with reason rather than aggression.

This photo shows the Midtown skyline reflected in the glass of the tall Secretariat building at UN headquarters on the East River. The buildings that house the UN were created in the late '40s and early '50s, a collaboration by an international committee of architects led by Wallace Harrison and including Le Corbusier, Oscar Niemeyer and Sven Markelius. They have a mid-century gracefulness, though they've become a bit worn. There's a move afoot now to expand the UN complex to the south and modernize the facilities, while preserving the historic architecture.