Washington Square’s Latest “Ghost”

5 11 2009

All this talk of ghost stories and history seems to be (pardon the pun) haunting me. After thinking, just two days ago, upon the literal layers of a historic house in New Hope, this morning I read in New York Magazine about the headstone unearthed last week in Washington Square Park. It’s no secret that the lively park has had many incarnations in its long history, one of which as a “potter’s field.” Last year, the first phase of a renovation project led to the discovery of intact skeletons.

The second phase is now under way, and last week a neighborhood resident reported seeing a crew dusting off a headstone. The stone dates back to 1799 and marked the grave of James Jackson, a grocer who died at the age of 28. Now the quest is on to figure out who James Jackson was. Given that the park was a Potter’s Field, there would not have been headstones in it, but there was also a church cemetery in the park at one time, or, as this blog suggests, some rare yellow fever victims did have tombstones.

Whatever the case, I will be following it, not only because it’s a fascinating sliver of New York history, but because, yet again, it underlines my vision of the city as palimpsest (which, it turns out, is not a vision unique to me), where life and stories are layered upon one another, like the paint covering John Pickett’s landscapes in New Hope or the park covering a former resting place for the city’s poor.

 

 





Sweden in New York

21 06 2009

We’ve already established that the Swedes are great at their design. They also, incidentally, know how to throw a great party. Friday, June 19, was my birthday. It was also the day of the Swedish Consulate’s annual Swedish Midsummer Festival, when New York’s Swedish community convenes on Battery Park to eat herring and decorate the May Pole. Despite the storms that have stolen our New York summer, Friday we had a lovely reprieve, rendering the evening, with its huge ivy-covered cross, floral crowns and the setting sun glinting off the lady in the harbor, rather magical. I’m not Swedish, nor have I been, but yet again, I’m a fan.





Hola Mate

18 06 2009

One of my favorite things about Argentina was the mate ritual. In South America, yerba mate has been known as the “drink of the gods” for centuries. The bitter tea takes a little getting used to, but it is packed with vitamins and insanely healthy. It is also a tradition in itself.

Mate is the national drink of Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Southern Brazil. And drinking mate is not just healthy, it’s ritual. Mate gourds, usually metal or wood or a combination, are gorgeous, artful creations.  The gourd is shared between a group, filled with hot water each time and passed from person to person, each of whom drinks the entire gourdful of tea through the bombilla (straw filter) before pouring more water and passing the gourd. It’s a sharing of friendship and an honor to share another’s mate.

All this is a long way of explaining that mate is yet another thing I wish I could have brought back from Argentina in unlimited supply. But now I’ve discovered the next bet thing: Guayakí is a company that not only sells gourds and mate but that does so with a larger purpose in mind. The company partners with small farmers and indigenous communities, aiding in conservation and community development in the sub-tropic cultures of South America. Named for the Aché Guayakí people native to the mate forest, the company practices a business model called Market Driven Restoration, allowing consumer purchases of yerba mate in North America to support indigenous communities and sustainable agriculture and reforestation projects in Argentina, Paraguay and Brazil.

Namely, not only can I feel good about enjoying my mate again, I feel good about helping save the South American landscape I’ve come to love so much.





Waiting for Is Worth It

9 06 2009

Much as I sometimes complain about my experience at NYU, I’ll say it was a good experience. I found a few great professors and met some great people, but more than that, it did two things.

It brought me to New York, city of vibrant people, where summer brings an array of free arts and culture, from the Atlantic Avenue Art Walk this weekend, where vairous stores and galleries along Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue opened themselves up to display cool artwork (the best, I’d say, was the screenprinting) to the Museum Mile Festival this evening, where, despite the promise of thunder showers, countless throngs are likely to show up for street food and games and, oh yes, free admission to some of the cities favorite cultural hot spots along the famed Museum Mile.

It also gave me an opportunity to acquire inexpensive tickets to Broadway shows, which is how I got to see, on Friday night, Waiting for Godot. Now, I’ve studied Godot, and seen it twice before, but never with Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin (and John Goodman and John Glover), who make the absurd premise of Beckett’s masterpiece more lighthearted than bleak, in a way that has audiences laughing with joy even as the cringe at the poignant pathetic situation in which the tramps, Estragon and Vladimir find themselves. It was, well, worth waiting for.





Literary Mayhem

12 05 2009

So it turns out working a “real job” means much less time for things like blogging (not that I’m complaining). However, most of my free time lately has been devoted to yet another labor of love. The second Lit Crawl NYC is taking place this weekend and it’s going to be leaner, meaner and a whole lot of fun. We have real programs this time around (I just sent them off to be printed) and real sponsors  and Jack and Jane, the brilliant masterminds behind Litquake, will both be participating.

Plus, people are talking. Just yesterday, we were in The New Yorker. Go us!

I’d go on gushing, but, alas, I don’t quite have the time. Check out more at litquake.org/ny and if you’re anywhere near Manhattan on Saturday, May 16, you’d be missing out if you didn’t make your way down to the East Village to crawl a bit.





Return From Paradise

9 04 2009

There is always a certain amount of letdown involved with the return from any trip: return travel itself can be exhausting, and that’s only compounded by a sense of wistfulness at leaving a place one loves or returning to the pressures of every day life. I’ve experienced this many times over, but today I’m a bit out of sorts for a whole different set of reasons.

I’ve spent the past five days in paradise. From the time I arrived on Friday evening to the time I left yesterday morning, I never stopped hearing the crash of waves, was never cold and never had a worry beyond what I wanted to wear (pat on the back for a job well done in the packing department: all three bathing suits were worn and all but two dresses and a pair of shoes got a little love) and how to capture the beauty of the pristine turquoise water in words and photos (the latter remains under close scrutiny).

Now I’m back in Brooklyn and not entirely sure what to do with myself. Not only was I in total relaxation mode for nearly a week, but I was completely unplugged as well. That means no cell phone and no computer. Both got stamps in their passports, but the laptop wasn’t opened once and the phone (on roaming) was used only as a timepiece. There are no phones in the cottages, and no internet either. This, at first, caused a little anxiety, but by Saturday morning I found it utterly liberating. So liberating, in fact, that being online now is a strange experience. I’ve done nothing today but unpack and sift through 200+ emails that piled up in my absence, and I must admit that neither have I done very well (papers remain piled on the table and there are emails that are going to take more time to respond to just waiting until I’m fully adjusted).

For now, I’m just watching paradise for a little bit longer:





I Want to Go There: Crosby Beach, Liverpool

17 03 2009
theage.com

theage.com

This isn’t by any means breaking news, but I randomly came upon this blog post the other day and it inspired a new obsession: Antony Gormley. The British artist is known for his work with the human form, often studying and casting his own body. His “radical investigation of the body as a place of memory and transformation” is (not surprisingly, given my obsession with memory) a fascinating concept to me, and many of his works appear to have a quality that is at once eerily haunting and serenely calming, which makes them all the more appealing.

Take, for example, “Another Place,” a July 2005 exhibition on Crosby Beach, Liverpool that has become a permanent installation there. Here, flanked on one side by industrial Liverpool with its electricity windmills and on the other by a long expanse of empty beach, 100 cast-iron figures stand looking out to sea. The figures, molded from the artist’s own body, are rather ghostly in aspect, and their rusty, corroded facade gives the sense that they may just as easily be some ancient monument as a modern, incredible work of art.

They are spread out along the beach at random intervals, many up to waist deep in water when the tide comes in, and have the odd effect of looking realistcally human or inhumanly alien, depending on the angle and distance of viewing. There is something wistful in the way that they all look out in the same direction at the sea. (All this, of course, only from the photos I’ve seen.)

In an article written back at the installation’s inception, Gormley describes the work as “a whispering communication with forgotten levels of history” as well as “a kind of acupuncture of the landscape, but also acupuncture of people’s dreamworld.” But the even more fascinating aspect of the exhibition (and presumably the reason it’s staying) is that it creates a sort of dialogue between artist and audience: Gormley says, “Each person is making it again… for some it might be about human evolution, for others it will be about death and where we go…I think that’s what’s amazing about in a way the work of now – contemporary art, it’s no longer representing the ideology of a dominant class it’s actually an open space that people can make their own.” Death of the Author indeed.

See the work for yourself with this video about the fight to keep the statues.





The Next Best Thing

5 02 2009

I keep harping on this Argentina thing, I know. But yesterday, as I braved 19 (feels like 2) degree weather, and bent forward to protect myself from crazy winds that slanted the heavily pouring snow, I couldn’t help but pretend it was last year and I was sweating away in sunny Buenos Aires. To make myself feel better, I read about the new up-and-coming Tango scene in Miami. Tango, it seems, is the new salsa in balmy Miami, where milongas are cropping up and folks are trading the swinging hips of salsa for the regimented, sensual steps of tango (lessons required: this is one dance where improvisation just doesn’t quite work).

While I do love salsa, I can understand why the folks in Miami have a new craze. Tango is intense, riveting, and out and out dificil, but oh so amazing to watch. Observe, for example, this intricate footwork from a milonga in BA.

However, Miami, though closer than BA, is currently  still tough to get to, so I figured I’d see if  there were places closer to home to heat up the cold winter nights with a little dancing. Sure enough, there are…

Those serious about learning the dance can check out Triangulo, where a month of classes is $70 ($55 for university and high school students). Those just looking for one hot night, check out Richard Lipkin’s Guide to Argentine Tango in New York, which has a calendar jam-packed with tango happenings all over the city and beyond, and more places for classes as well. Dance Tango lists milongas and classes as well as shows, for those who love the dance but may not be ready to strut their own stuff quite yet.





Sweet, Sweet Victory

5 11 2008

I was a nervous wreck all day yesterday, and even well into 200 electoral votes, but not anymore! (My mother, also, is very excited, that I’m not moving to Bolivia.) I know this isn’t a political blog, but I just had to note my euphoria on just a grand, historic, and unbelievable day. I’m so excited I’m not even sure what to do with myself, and I’m so thrilled to have been a part of creating this new page of our US history books.

I am also, it turns out, again proud to be living in New York, where, until 3 am people were celebrating in the streets, literally.

Cab Celebration

The driver may not look too happy, but underneath that surly exterior, he is.

I didn’t stay out that long, but did manage to catch this party on First Ave, just two blocks from home, where the streets were so packed it took a bus two lights to get through. Ah, New York City. I am enamoured of you once again…

Yes, those are all heads.

Yes, those are all heads.





Haunted Haunts

31 10 2008

Halloween is here again. Every year it seems to sneak up on me, and every year it finds me with neither the costume nor the will to come up with one. Perhaps it stems from growing up, when my mother, who also never had the drive or passion for creating costumes, always “nudged” me toward costumes that were easy for her to create: the PG&E linesman (my father could get the hard hat from work), the cheerleader (my sister wasn’t wearing that uniform any more), and even Jane Fonda (yes. Jane Fonda). Somehow, save for the year I wreaked havoc on the house by insisting on being a pumpkin, I was amenable to her suggestions, however odd or non-age-appropriate (what other six year old was Jane Fonda?).

Anyhow, to this day my Halloween costumes typically involve minimal creativity and minimal effort, and I’m just fine with that. However, I do enjoy the holiday. Who wouldn’t love a holiday that’s based around candy? And here in New York, I love it even more for the ghostly aspect of it. Being obsessed with history as I am, I am fond of ghost stories and their ability to transmit our past and keep it alive in the future. And so, without further ado, a list of some of my favorite New York “haunts,” in no particular order:

  • Bridge Cafe. (279 Water St) The building itself dates back to 1794 and is said to have been home to Irish prostitutes. It’s been a bar since 1847, making it New York’s oldest continually running bar, haunted, they say, by pirates who frequented the place before the Brooklyn Bridge (in whose shadow it lies) was even a thought.
  • The Chelsea Hotel. (222 W. 23rd St.) Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols was living at the hotel when accused of his girlfriend’s murder and overdosed before his trial ended. He can still sometimes be seen near the elevator doors.
  • Ear Inn. (326 Spring St.) This place has a long history, starting as the home of James Brown, aide to Washington in the Revolution. Since then it’s had various incarnations, from brewery to speakeasy, to boarding house and brothel. It is haunted by Mickey, a sailor who died out front.
  • White Horse Tavern. (567 Hudson St.) This place dates from the 19th Century but it’s more famous for being the place where bohemian writer Dylan Thomas drank himself to death (read: 18 beers) in 1953 and is still said to return from time to time.
  • Algonquin Hotel. (59 West 44th St.) This elegant hotel was the regular lunch spot where Dorothy Parker held court for the Round Table, her 1920s group of literati, who joined her for lunch and literature. Parker seems to come back for a visit from time to time…
  • St. Mark’s Church. (131 E 10th St.) The historic church was erected in 1799, and before that it was the private “Bouwerie Chapel” of early New York leader, Peter Stuyvesant. Though the church itself was built after Stuyvesant’s death, it is considered one of the most haunted places in the city, mainly by Peg-leg Peter, Stuyvesant’s ghost, whose distinct wooden leg footsteps can sometimes be heard wandering the grounds.