I Heart I Rub New York

14 11 2010

Thursday evening I attended a screening of the film my dear and lovely friend Lauren DeFilippo directed. I Rub New York is a documentary about the eponymous public art project spearheaded by urban artist Carol Caputo. The art is just what it sounds like: Carol goes out into the city and passes out paper and crayons, encouraging passersby to literally rub New York City.

Rub what?? Well, step out onto a New York street or into a New York park. A quick look around will prove that this city has myriad “rubbable” surfaces. Anything with texture goes. That means pavement, brick walls, signs, railings, and all those beautiful buildings with their incredible cornices and columns and adornments.

Why rub?? The answer to this, it seems, is manifold. First, some pretty incredible artwork comes out of New York’s surfaces. Then there’s the fact that crayons are a very happy thing (when was the last time you were angry while coloring? Think about it). More to the point, it’s something everyone can do. Artistic or not, anyone can take a crayon and rub a textured surface. This is what makes the project so liberating: There’s a certain thrill that comes from making something beautiful from those crazy cellar covers (yes, I’m using the technical term) that make so much noise when one walks on them on the street. The simple task of taking pad to paper and literally taking to the streets is liberating, and at the same time it brings people together in a communal project, a communal love of this city.

In short, this project really encapsulates much of what makes New York great. Here we are, millions of people on this crowded, yet lovely, island, living together and working together, playing together and, now, making art together. United in our love for this city. I Rub NY helps to solidify that bond, both with New Yorkers and with New York itself. Caputo notes that there is so much about New York that we miss. We hurry along the streets, all too often ignoring the sights and sounds and smells — and feels — that make this city, and its individual neighborhoods, so unique. This project, brings us back to the nitty gritty (often literally) of New York, allowing us to touch the streets on which we walk daily. It makes art out of the daily objects we’d ordinarily pass right on by, and asks us to notice things we’d otherwise ignore.

What really got me, though, was when after the film Ms. Caputo talked about the layers upon layers of New York that exist, different in each neighborhood based on that ‘hood’s history. I have an obsession with that idea of layering here, of the urban palimpsest. Whether it’s layers of wallpaper in an old, much inhabited apartment of those faded advertisements and signs one sees on the facades of buildings, evidence of this city’s long and storied history are ubiquitous. And what I love about this project is that it invites “ordinary” people to leave one more layer (made from the other layers) upon this incredible, multi-faceted city.

Follow Ms. Caputo’s blog here.

Oh, and here is my rubbing from the School of Visual Arts, lots if brick and railings and even some of the grating. I warn you: Do one rubbing and you’ll find you want to rub all surfaces in the city — in a strictly artistic way, of course.





The Insane Thing I Did (for Sanity)

2 11 2010

Some 200,000 folks descended on the National Mall this past Saturday, and I was among them. Yes, I departed my house at 5 a.m. Saturday morning, and then stood (for what seemed like hours) in the freezing cold in front of Citi Field, waiting with throngs of strangers for my turn to board one of the buses so graciously provided by Arianna Huffington and her eponymous Post. I was certainly not alone. Reports that the Huffington Post had corralled some 200 buses to take New Yorkers to D.C. and back (in one day!) did not exaggerate. In fact, I’m guessing it was more than that, since it seemed like there were nearly 10,000 people standing outside the field that morning. Crazy, huh? Or just crazy enough?

Now here’s the thing: I hate crowds. I avoid Times Square like the plague, and grumble the whole time I’m forced to walk through it. I once had a mini-panic attack on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. But this was different. Whether it was because it was 5:30 in the morning, or because it was so freezing, or, more likely, because these were “sane” people on the way to a Rally to Restore Sanity, this crowd was polite, friendly, fun even. There was no pushing to get out of the cold and onto a bus. There was no pushing period. Pleasant conversations, funny signs, friendly people. It was rather uplifting, exciting to be part of something so huge. (Read this guy’s great account for more.)

The bus ride was uneventful. A little sleeping (or trying to sleep). A break at a rest stop in Delaware. A conversation with the girl next to me about how winter is terrible but how California (she was from LA) does not have these gorgeous leaves at which we were looking. And then some traffic. Turns out, though, that I was on the lucky end. We arrived in D.C. around noon, while many others on the buses made it even later, missing much of the rally.

Once there, I pushed my way into the subway (er, Metro), still feeling rather spirited despite the now somewhat pushier crowd. Making my way out of the Metro took a good 20 minutes, as the crowd twisted serpentine and wound its way to the massive escalators. (I tried to get a photo of the throngs moving up the escalators, which looked like something out of a sci-fi thriller, but it didn’t come out.)

The rally itself was more of the same. Crowds. A bit more pushing now. Some irrational yelling to turn the sound louder (irrational, because the yelling itself drowned out what little sound you could hear). I heard about half of what was happening onstage. I saw none of it. I did not manage to meet up with my friend from California who was somewhere in the crowd. I was bumped by backpacks and elbows and maybe a silly sign or two.

And though a couple times I wanted to shove annoying backpack man who refused to stand still, for the most part, I was happy, even in the madness. Stephen Colbert was funny. Jon Stewart was, though some say tame, also uplifting. Tony Bennett sang “America the Beautiful.”

Then I, (by this point, I’ll admit, somewhat worse for the wear from the crowds) made my way back to the Metro, back to more lines, and back to the bus. I spent the next four hours gazing out the window, listening to my Buena Vista Social Club, and wondering if I’d just wasted a day. But the leaves were rather incandescent, and when they finally opened onto a vast river, lighting up either side with burnt oranges and fiery reds, I had my answer.

Yes, it was somewhat crazy to rise at 5:30 a.m. and to spend eight hours on a bus for a measly three hours being pushed around in a crowd on the Washington Mall, unable to see and barely able to hear. Yes, it might have been “saner” at stay at home and watch the live stream. But the fact was that i was part of something huge. And that’s what Saturday was about. It was about doing something insane to support something saner, and it was about being a part of something amazing. So the crowds, while first exhilarating and then exasperating, were a crucial component to what was ultimately a strange, but incredible, day.





Biblioburro!

1 03 2010

It’s surprising, really, how happy this makes me. It was passed along the Litquake chain, and it makes me want to visit Colombia. I’m amazed at the creativity and determination people can have, and the little ways they can make a difference. Because it’s already so beautifully stated, I will just quote the story. It comes from Ayoka, which, incidentally, is a pretty incredible organization in itself, a non-profit that’s tasked itself with giving voice to grassroots initiatives like the one that follows:

For the past ten years, Luis Soriano, a teacher in the small town of La Gloria, Colombia, has been following the same ritual. Every week-end, he gathers his donkey in front of his house, straps on the “Biblioburro” pouches to its back, and loads them with a selection of books from the eclectic collection he has acquired over the years. Off on his mobile library, he travels into the hills and through the fields to the villages beyond where children await his visits impatiently. He firmly believes that bringing books to people who don’t have access to them can improve the country and open up possibilities for the future generation of Colombia.

The video is a must see, and the full story tells that this has happened in other places worldwide. It makes me feel lucky, and incredibly inspired.






The Adventures of Flat Olivia

26 01 2010

There is a children’s book called Flat Stanley, which, though more than 40 years old, has become something of a phenomena of late. In recent years, Flat Stanley, the little boy who was flattened by a dresser, has traveled the world as the star of many books, and as such, he’s become a teaching tool to help elementary age children learn geography.

My brother Gregg’s youngest daughter, Olivia, is one of the world’s most charming children. At eight years old, she’s inquisitive, sweet and has a spirit so endearing it’s impossible not to adore her. And, for some inexplicable yet very happy reason, I happen to be her favorite person. When the family is together, Olivia can generally be found by my side, and she relishes in referring to herself as my appendage (yes, she understands what that word means).

Me and My Shadow

When we’re together, Olivia is fond of tea parties and hours of reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and when we have to part there are always tears and promises of letter writing. Wherever I go (with or without the stilettos) Olivia receives a postcard, and when, Olivia’s first grade class created “Flat Me’s” to send to relatives, Flat Olivia arrived in my mailbox. She was dressed in pink, with the hair of a real doll and stickers for earrings.

Per Real Olivia’s request, I was to take Flat Olivia to “the Statue of Liberty and the American Girl Store.” Anyone who’s passed American Girl Place knows it’s relatively hellish, especially if you don’t have someone under the age of 12 along with you, but not wanting to lose my status as favorite person, I went, and Flat Olivia received much fanfare, and even some real clips for her real hair at the Doll Hair Salon (yes, Virgina, there is a hair salon for dolls.

The Flat Olivia returned to Real Olivia, with a pile of postcards portraying Flat Olivia’s adventures in New York (plus a couple of American Girl hats for Real Olivia and her mini-me doll). And now little Olivia (the real one) has a better idea of New York, the big, strange place where her Titi (that’s me) lives.

I’m a little fascinated by this whole Flat Stanley thing. It’s become a major to-do and a pretty amazing one at that. It’s linked students and teachers around he country in a new exciting way. Check out the Flat Stanley Project.





Reasons To Love New York

8 01 2010

Every year, New York Magazine puts out a “Reasons To Love New York” issue. Every year the reasons range from whatever cuisine is en vogue that year (this year it’s pizza) and how New York does it best to the latest and greatest in city street art.

While the stories themselves are fabulous, uplifting and entertaining on their own, their common denominator is perhaps my number one reason for loving this city. That common denominator is the nameless, nebulous quality of living in New York, that something that usually overcomes folks after only a few months in this crazy, exciting and difficult city.

The fact is that many of these reasons to love New York might seem insignificant or even banal to non-New Yorkers. So what if they are still moving forward with the Second Ave. subway? But New Yorkers understand the nuances of these things, the ups and downs surrounding this much-needed subway line in the past, the amazingness of finding a little bit of home in this strange, large potpourri of transplants, and of making new “hometown friends” too.

The number one reason to love New York, then, is just the sense of living in New York, of being a part of something big, something great, something difficult. Half the stories in the piece, especially this year, are about resilience, about making it, about survival. Because in a city where the streets are crazy and the life frenetic and the rents )and everything else) expensive, where rodents and other nastiness are commonplace, we need reminders of why we stay in this rat race, and in how strong we are for surviving it.

Which dovetails into a second common denominator, and second reason to love New York: the people. Many of the reasons to love New York have to do with people, our leaders, our celebrities, our everyday superheroes. New Yorkers, it seems, like to read about themselves. But not because we’re narcissistic.  Because when you live in a city with 9 million other people, there is a bond that can only come from knowing what it’s like to live in a city with 9 million people. We’re strong, adventurous, industrious, and for that, we celebrate each other, and our city.

It’s all of these reasons, and so many more, that (even in this frigid, miserable cold) I love New York





Sound of Music Pilgramage (and Such)

5 01 2010

My last night at home, we happened upon The Sound of Music on television. I know this is not an uncommon affair, especially around the holidays, but nevertheless when those von Trapps are on screen I can’t help but watch (and sing along). In a moment of blissful familiarity my sister, parents and I crowded around to watch, only this time we got to pass the love along to my niece Gianna (until her mean parents made her go to bed).

It took me back. To childhood, when I wanted to be Gretl and made my siblings re-enact the cuckoo clock one sunny afternoon in Tahoe (you know you’re the beloved baby sister when you can command four teen/college age siblings to be photographed popping out from behind their father).

It's a terrible travesty that the turquoise shirt on one brother and the pink plaid shorts on the other are hidden. A little imagination goes a long way though...

It also brought me back to Salzburg, which I visited with my friends during our European adventure, for the sole purpose of taking the Sound of Music Tour. After nearly a month of discussing and reminiscing, of yodeling our way through picturesque European hamlets and trying to remember the names of the of “those two other children” (they are, incidentally, Louisa and Brigitta), we found ourselves on a bus engulfed in the soundtrack and seeing the sights firsthand.

I skipped down the very same lane where Julie Andrews sang “I Have Confidence” (albeit somewhat less gracefully) and we stood in front of the gazebo of  “Sixteen Going on Seventeen” fame. The hysterical disappointment of the day was that we couldn’t enter it because some time before an elderly woman on the same tour broke a hip trying to jump the benches as Liesl did. We did, however, get our music fill for the day, and it was also a great way to see a gorgeous city. Added bonus? I got to relive my trip to the beautiful town in the Alps some years later when writing the EuroCheapo city guide to Salzburg (see it for doing Salzburg on the cheap).





Gold Stilettos Meet Red Stilettos

2 10 2009

Last Thursday’s gala was great not only for the Grease 2 memories it brought back, but it was a big night out for the gold stilettos, their first in quite some time (and now my feet remember why that is). Anyhow, amid the performances and the munchkin appearances, the gold stilettos managed a little sightseeing of their own. There, in one of the Tavern’s many rooms, was a whole display of ruby red shoes, 21st Century style.

These sparkly shoes of all shapes and sizes were part of a fundraiser for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation. Some of the world’s favorite designers, from Jimmy Choo to Betsey Johnson, answered the question, “What would Dorothy wear today?” Their answers were nothing short of inspiring (the gold stilettos were certainly impressed): from the playful to the elegant and all decked out in red crystals. The Ruby Slipper Collection toured the world for the past year, and then each pair was auctioned off, with its corresponding and equally lovely sketch, at the gala. I can’t think of a more gorgeous fundraiser, and neither can the stilettos (they are still drooling). See some of our favorites here