Image: March 2005 Archives

untitled (1936 Lincoln Zephyr door handle) 2005

I saw no vehicle which pleased me more at the New York auto show than this seventy-year-old prop for the introduction of one manufacturer's 2006 model.

I spent the entire afternoon at the show on Monday, but I don't know why I bother anymore. The cars being sold to Americans are, almost without exception, pure junk and an appalling assault on the planet. We get to choose between trucks and "sport utility vehicles" (with no real truck, sport or utility capability) and the occasional but equally-ugly sedan or lets-pretend "sports" car.

Virtually every one of these adult toys is intended to do little more than satisfy the fantasies of a 16-year-old with nothing other than his member or the implied violence of speed on his mind. I suppose if your waking life revolves around driving, as it seems to for most Americans, what else is there to guide your transportation decisions? The few exceptions to that infantile appeal of the guy-demographic which manage to squeeze through are condemned as chick cars and either discontinued or pumped with steroids and the carworld equivalent of graceless football padding.

Only if you've ever been outside the country would you be likely to realize that nothing is really small in the American automobile market. We have no sense of proportion, and I mean that here in every sense. Even if it starts out with a modest footprint when introduced, any relatively compact vehicle is inevitably designed and equipped as a cheap substitute for the heroic virtues of the real thing. If it isn't ignored and doesn't quickly disappear it begins its inexorable course on the path toward gigantism with the very next model change. Has anyone seen a Geo Metro or Ford Fiesta lately, or looked at what passes for a Honda Civic these days? Remember when a Civic was smaller than the original Mini? [thanks, David, for the reminder]

Some of us have noticed that this commercial exhibition is being staged in the middle of the most urban civilization in a country engaged in wars over access to the world's finite supply of oil. The NYTimes "Automobiles" section pointed out on Monday, there was not one city car in sight at the Javits Center.

In Europe, the "city car" is a well-understood concept, a vehicle whose dimensions and design are as ideally suited to its duties as the minivan's multiple seats and cup holders are to its role in American suburbs. A city car is one intended primarily for urban use. Its size makes it economical and easy to park and lets it slip between huge trucks clogging the narrow streets. And, yes, a city car is a bit sophisticated in style.

In New York, a city car is not a tiny car. "Every time I come here I'm struck by the scale of vehicles," Ed Welburn, vice president for global design at General Motors, said at the auto show last week. "It is unlike any other city in the world."

Anyone who has travelled to Europe knows that vehicles there, whether "city cars" or not, are for grown-ups who want and get intelligence, beauty and function regardless of their transportation choices. If nothing else will bring us to our senses over here, perhaps the thought of billions of newly-prosperous car fans in Asia shopping for their own SUVs - and the oil to propel them - will be able to do it through self-interest.

I don't believe I'm reading too much into the phenomenon if I say I really believe the design and scale of the cars we drive in the U.S. represents our increasing indifference to, hatred or fear of all the people on the outside ("the other"), however we define that.

Oh yeah, for what it's worth, I don't have a car of my own, and haven't since moving to New York. But while I firmly believe in public transportation I'm fascinated with small, efficient vehicles and the idea of sharing their use whenever they might be needed. All of this seems to make me very un-American.

untitled (piebald Met Life Building and van doppel) 2005

There can only be one explanation for the exuberance of this neighborhood display tonight: The fecundity feast of Eostre [sic]. Excerpts from the Wikipedia entry for Easter:

The English and German names, "Easter" and "Ostern", seem clearly unrelated to Pesach [that is, Passover, to which the name for this Christian feast is related in all other European languages] etymologically and likely derive either from Eostremonat, an old Germanic month name, or Eostre, a Germanic goddess associated with the springtime, who as the 8th century English historian Bede records was honored with a festival during Eostremonat. It has been suggested that many of modern Easter's symbols, such as colored eggs and the Easter Bunny, are cultural remnants of Eostre's springtime festival and that Eostre merged with the Christian Pesach celebrations after the Germanic heathens were Christianized (see Easter as a Germanic Heathen festival below.), even though giving of eggs at spring festivals was not restricted to Germanic peoples and could be found among the Persians, the Romans, and the Jews.

. . . .

According to the Bede, the word "Easter" is derived from the Old Norse Ostara or Eostre, a festival of spring at the vernal equinox, March 21, when nature is in resurrection after winter, hence, the symbolism of rabbits, notable for their fecundity, and the eggs, colored like rays of the returning sun and the aurora borealis. The Easter Bunny is a Western European tradition and has never been adopted by Orthodox Christians, showing as false the claim that the entire holiday is some sort of "Germanic Heathen" festival. Some historians assert that Bede falsely concluded the existence of goddess Eostre from the unquestionably real month name Eostremonat, as any references to such a goddess from other Germanic sources are missing. Children roll easter eggs in England and America but not in all traditionally Christian countries. They hunt the many-colored Easter eggs, brought by the Easter Bunny. Hidden in the play area, it has been argued, the vestiges of a fertility rite, the eggs and the rabbit both symbolizing fertility. (A rabbit, furthermore, was sometimes said to be the escort of the goddess, but there are no pre-19th century sources for this.) However, such claims ignore at least as ancient use of eggs as symbolic gifts among the Persians and Jews.

Anyway, in the spirit of this happy season, Barry and I have decided to share a great feast with friends tomorrow, built around an extremely pagan Agnello al forno.

untitled (Talkie stair sculpture) 2005

Sorry, but I forgot to ask for specifics about the sculpture, since we were virtually closing the restaurant Wednesday night when I snapped this image and there was no one around at the time who might have been helpful.

We were leaving our new neigborhood "nouvelle" Indian restaurant, Bombay Talkie. This had been our third visit, a late supper with a friend following the new David Mamet play at the Atlantic Theater Company. Our little party gave mixed reviews for both the restaurant and the play, but in Chelsea, which sadly does not have a single really decent restaurant (okay, maybe one), the fact that the run of this convenient and at least slightly diverting eatery will be longer than the somewhat baffling "Romance" means that we will probably be back.

This page is an archive of entries in the Image category from March 2005.

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