NYC: March 2005 Archives

I spotted this garden planted just outside the long frontage of the Museum of Modern Art on West 53rd Street today. I was on my way to the American Folk Art Museum located next door.




Each "flower" bore one green leaf attached to its shiny metal stem. The individual pieces had been signed and numbered.


On the reverse of each leaf were the words, "Original - Garbage Flowers - Genuine," arranged in an oval gently suggesting a logo.

Oh yes, when I passed the site again two hours later I was astounded to find that no one had removed a single blossom, and none had wilted, not one wit.

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.

Jor-El, father of Superman

I haven't posted much of a true politcal nature lately. Frankly, I've felt that the game is over as far as this benighted nation is concerned. We've failed as a society and as a republic. Except for my concern about this exceptional international republic called New York, I think I may have given up.

The damage is already too mortal. At this point I have no interest in incremental change. You're not likely to find me at meetings any more. The option of revolt, which would require a count of people and a kind of awareness and courage totally inconceivable in a country which thinks the Democratic Party is The Left, would seem to be out of the question as a viable means for rescuing this state - in spite of Jefferson's suggestion that we needed a revolution every twenty years. For the sensitive individual who mourns his country's death both as an idea and as a reality, I see no real alternative but emigration, even if it is only an internal emigration. For now, I'll be staying in New York City - and traveling abroad as much as possible. Like Tony Kushner's Homebody, I love the world!

I see no argument why a reasonable person should raise a hand, even a computer keyboard finger, to fight for something the rest of America clearly doesn't want. As hard as it has been to accept, I have finally come to the conclusion that most of my fellow citizens actually have the goverment they want right now. I don't know how else to explain George Bush or the complacence of the entire population in the face of the tyranny, and stupidity, of this administration.

I have no doubt that there is going to be hell to pay, and although it will continue to be paid for by others all around the world, in the end we will not escape the damages ourselves. We will disintegrate. We can only hope we will be quaint enough, and sufficiently nonviolent, to attract foreign tourism.

The forces of ignorance, superstition, hatred and greed have certainly prevailed nationally and, because the institutions which might have saved us seem to have been irreversibly corrupted, I don't see the country coming out of this in my lifetime. I hope I'm wrong, as I was when decades ago I assumed that the liberalism of the 60's would just continue to thrive and expand here and everywhere, but I doubt it.

Arthur Miller doesn't seem to have ever had any illusions about the triumph of goodness and light in this much-too-proud republic. A letter [by Barbara Allen Kenney] in the latest issue of The Nation reminds its readers of an article Miller wrote wrote in the NYTimes shortly before the 1972 election. He was addressing the reasons why George McGovern's candidacy had not attracted serious support.

What this tells about our inner attitudes, I think, is that we are far more apprehensive than we are confident of ourselves; and that what we want in a political leader is enough larceny, enough insensitivity to permit him to do our dirty work for us, to fight dirty in a dirty world.
Miller was writing in an era when all four American "estates" were like pillars of the Enlightenment compared to the miserable players we have today. More than thirty years later the goverment of the most powerful nation on earth is fighting very, very dirty.

We're all doomed.

If and when I begin to feel otherwise, it will show up here. Is that a qualification of everything I've written above? Maybe. After living with it all these years, how can I now let a mechanical George Bush doll take away my essentially pollyanna outlook?

[image from theages]

spotted tonight in the 23rd Street 1/9 subway station

My first thought was, this is Chelsea, and some of our neighbors have interesting ways of showing affection, but then it occurred to me that the message could have been meant literally, a la Valerie Solanas. Gulp.

And oh yeah, for those who collect such details, or just for the record, the sign seems to have been re-constructed from one of the MTA's advisories about service disruptions.

intense bar scene from last year's competition

Dunno exactly why, but this sounds like a wonderful thing.

The promoters (yeah, that sounds so big-deal), M.River and T.Whid, have their explanation:

It might be interesting if an art idea conceived in a bar could use a bar as a site and context for said art idea and it's been a long hard winter.
But I like the sense of place and proportion provided by the description of the first prize:
Win a $100 bar tab [at the event's venue, Greenpoint's Bar Matchless]
This year Inka Essenhigh and Steve Mumford will be the judges.

For images from last year's event, go to MTAA.

[image from MTAA]

11th Avenue and 22nd Street, Saturday, March 19th

I'm gratified to see that someone has found an honest use for these dummy buttons which are found all over the city. The Department of Transportation installs them to make pedestrians feel that DOT cares, but I understand (based only partly on personal experience) that they actually aren't connected to anything.

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 NYC category from March 2005.

previous archive: NYC: February 2005

next archiveNYC: April 2005