Friday, 10 March 2017: Spiral.
A quick pop-in during my vacation to wish myself a happy birthday and to fill you in on my week of festivity. It snowed today, which put paid to my plans of frolicking Tiki-style, but perhaps that’s all for the best.
Much time was spent in Brooklyn this week, particularly the area I lived in back in my twenties. It’s changed dramatically, of course. Shady bodegas have been replaced by corner delis blazing with neon, while tacky new developments – cheaply made but going for market rates – nestle uncomfortably amongst the brownstones as I walked from the train station up the block I once called home. It’s good to visit the old ‘hood once in a while – to kill the nostalgia, the what-ifs, and to remember there’s no going back.
So far there’s been a pint or two at old haunts, some excellent and tasty meals and a fantastic Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. I was initially weirded out by her clothes being on display – was this an invitation to partake in some sort of fetishism? An attempt to rub up against long-gone greatness, perhaps? But considering O’Keeffe hand-sewed many of the clothes on display, and tailored others to suit her own needs/desires, I realized they were an extension of her art and fine examples of how her aesthetic changed over time. The exhibit was a paean to aging fiercely and unashamedly, which is always useful to meditate on when starting another sun-cycle. It also got me thinking about how to tweak & fine-tune my own personal aesthetic, to more directly express who I am & where I’m at.
Infinite Blue, on the 1st floor of the Museum, was also enjoyable. A delightful hodgepodge of items that spanned from ancient China and Iraq to the modern day, it was incredibly soothing and calming (as only blue can be!) yet intricate and obsessive in the attentions paid to minute details over time, geography and culture. As much as I loved the pottery and the cloisonné, my fave piece was Joseph Stella’s Virgin with its strong Mediterranean/Eastern European influences.
I liken my birthday week to wandering within a spiral labyrinth: a new acquaintance met in an old local, a fleeting conversation with passerby from gigs past (sad to hear that Prince Rupert’s Drops are no more), retracing youthful footsteps in the dead of night to the doorstep of a long-dead friend. Through the twists and turns I seek the mysterious center, where synthesis of the past and present create the future.
Sunday, 10 April 2016: Language of the Birds.
Saw the Language of the Birds: Occult and Art exhibit after work on a cold February day. Despite the best efforts of the curator in dedicating each section of the gallery to a certain aspect of the occult experience – The Cosmos, Spirits, Practitioners, Altars and Spells – the space itself was cramped and difficult to navigate in a crowd. There were moments where I seriously feared someone would bang into the Magic Circle installation and smash something. And for fuck’s sake, the idiots who brought their kids to run around & scream “LOOK AT THE PEE-PEE!” during my visit…well, I know I wasn’t the only one silently cursing them!
Despite the gallery’s poor flow, the artworks were generally wonderful. The older, more well-known artists were the standouts: Rosaleen Norton’s Lucifer and the Goat of Mendes, Paul Laffoley’s Astrological Ouroboros, Leonor Fini’s darkly majestic Le Carrefour d’hecate, Kurt Seligmann’s Sabbath Phantoms (Mythomania), and Leonora Carrington’s Le Nigromante.
While newer works like Ken Henson’s Ishtar, Rithika Merchant’s Lilit Births the Djinn and Alison Blickle’s New Keys were also astounding, many of the current artists weren’t quite up to par. However, with time and dedication many of them will gain mastery of both their Art and their Craft.
Not all the oldies were goodies. The Aleister Crowley self-portrait and the Austin Osman Spare pencil drawing no doubt pleased their most diehard fans, but were a disappointment otherwise. That being said, those two names probably brought the majority of viewers to the gallery.
I would have liked the exhibit much more had the space been more accommodating of the energies inherent in the various artworks. Again, one can’t fault the curator, who clearly put a lot of love & mojo into the experience. I wonder how different the exhibit would have felt in a more open space...or in a part of town that wasn’t NYU.
I recall seeing an earlier art exhibit shown in the same area, The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984 – basically NYU showing off their war chest after destroying the very community they claimed to celebrate. This exhibit wasn’t anywhere near the same level of psychic grotesquerie, but the attempt to create a sacred space was definitely nullified by the location itself.
Saturday, 2 January 2016: Analog Blues.
Over the past two and a half years, I’ve had a slight crisis of confidence in my photography skills; a close friend of mine says this often happens to creative folks, and not to let it stop me from moving forward.
Concurrent with this feeling, however, has been the closure of so many good film labs in NYC. L&I on 22nd & 5th, my old standby, turned into one of those damn juice joints that’s spread over Manhattan like a rash. I used to rent darkrooms at Print Space back in the ‘90s; once they moved from Chelsea to the Flatiron District, they ceased handling analog film completely and most of their darkroom/lab equipment ended up in Brooklyn. Even Baboo Labs stopped developing film last summer. Every time I went to a lab to drop off some rolls this past year, the response was “Oh, we don’t do THAT anymore.” Clearly, it was the end of an era.
I finally dropped my film off at Luster on St. Marks. Overpriced, in my opinion, but as there’s no real competition I can’t bitch about it. The results are what count – and there were some nice shots! I’m getting my groove back, and feeling the urge to take more photos as my mobility improves.
Clearly the solution to this problem is to re-learn how to develop and print my own negatives. I’ve never been good at getting the film out of the canister, onto the spool and into the developing tank – hence my dependence on labs all these years. But now Necessity’s played Her hand…and I’ve got to buckle down and figure out how to do it right.
I’ve learned of two communal darkrooms in Brooklyn that provide courses: One in Bushwick and another in Gowanus. Once my ankle gets stronger I’ll seriously look into taking classes, then booking darkroom time on a regular basis. I owe it to myself and my craft to keep moving forward.
Monday, 15 June 2015: Four Corners.
Getting to the street from the 125th and Lexington Avenue subway station seems to take forever. There’s always people standing around, at every turn; with nothing to do and nowhere to be. Each weekday morning I make my way past a thick psychic ooze – yet once I cross over to 126th, the very air lightens and it’s easier to reach my destination. It’s like the four corners of 125th and Lexington are under a wicked. torpid spell.
Most non-locals know this intersection as the place Lou Reed copped $26 worth of smack in I’m Waiting For The Man. A noticeable opiate pall still lingers over the immediate area; spells are words, and words have the power to influence how people and places are perceived. On a more positive note, there are several clinics, halfway houses and charitable organizations nearby dedicated to helping those affected by drug addiction.
Although it often feels like nothing’s happening at 125th and Lexington, it’s actually a massive transportation hub – always on the move (sometimes dangerously so). Not only is it the northernmost subway stop on Manhattan’s East Side, there are also buses that stop there on their way to/from Washington Heights/Inwood, LaGuardia Airport, and (to the chagrin of certain types of shop owners) Randall’s and Ward’s Islands.
From the east vehicular traffic pours in from the Triboro and Willis Avenue Bridges, as well as the FDR/Harlem River Drive; one block over on Park Avenue the Metro-North cooly shuttles people back and forth from a northern suburbia. Further west on 125th is the Harlem most people know about – the Apollo Theater, The Studio Museum, Hotel Theresa, The National Black Theater, and President Bill Clinton’s personal office. Further south is El Barrio, still thriving and culturally vibrant despite being ensconced in rows and rows of NYCHA tower blocks.
Also to the south is Marcus Garvey Park, which is incredibly lovely on a warm sunny afternoon. Supposedly it was created by city planners who were at a loss when faced with the massive Manhattan Schist outcroppings that dominate the park, and decided to just build around them.
There may or may not be a fault line that runs across 125th Street; naysayers insist that while it definitely affects the west side of 125th – which is why the 1 train runs over a viaduct in that part of town – the fault line veers southeast, reaching the East River at 96th Street.
More people seem to agree that 125th and Lexington has been a hotspot for grifters and con artists throughout New York City’s history. One example would be the Occult School of Science that once separated Gilded Age ladies from their husbands’ money.
There’s been several attempts at hypergentrifying this part of town a lá the Lower East Side, but they never seem to fully succeed; the funds run out, the interest fades. This has resulted in a rash of chain stores – Pathmark, Duane Reade, McDonalds, Popeye’s, Payless, IHOP – all vying for what few dollars the community has at its disposal. The alternatives are seedy bodegas that sell stale candy, skunked beer and…other stuff. (Sure, there are places to find good food if you’re in the know; as someone still in the early stages of learning, I’m loath to give those secrets up so quickly!) Meanwhile, despite excessive ticketing and police harassment, generations of vendors are holding on to the street, providing needed goods and a community lifeline.
What will become of the four corners of 125th and Lexington? In turbulent economical times like these, it’s very difficult to say. So far Big Development hasn’t quite been able to crack that permeating veneer of learned helplessness consisting of decades-long poverty, racism, addiction and hate. But how long will that last? Can grassroots endeavors like SaveNYC make a difference? Only time will tell.
Meanwhile, in East Harlem as anywhere else, cats will get into mischief.
Saturday, 8 November 2014:
Jeremiah Moss dropped some heavy news this past Thursday when he mentioned that the Cafe Edison was getting the bum’s rush. Also known as the Polish Tea Room, Cafe Edison is one of the rare dining spots in Times Square for actual New Yorkers — theatre people, working-class folks and those who appreciate a phenomenal matzoh ball soup — mainly due to their reasonable prices, generous portions and ridiculously charming plasterwork.
The response has been swift and heartening: there’s a petition that’s nearing 5000 signatures, a goodly amount of media attention, cries of horror from Broadway’s brightest stars, and today there was a lunchtime Cash Mob.
I got there around 12:30 PM, and there was already a line out the door. But I stuck it out and lucked into a small table at the back, where I could indulge in a bit of people-watching along with my barley-mushroom soup and cheese blintzes.
According to the New York Times, the Edison Hotel is preparing for “multimillion-dollar investment to upgrade and restore the space”, including “a white-tablecloth restaurant with 'a name chef’”. In other words, MORE of the gentrification/blandification that’s killing my city. Fuck that.
I plan to give Cafe Edison more of my business while it’s still around, and if you’re in the area I hope you do too.
Sunday, 21 September 2014:
Lovecraft Bar NYC
On a recent Friday afternoon I found myself at Lovecraft Bar on Avenue B (no relation to the one in Portland). I read about the place when it opened in August and have been meaning to check it out, but honestly I haven’t spent much time in the old ‘hood lately.
Against my usual good instincts I ordered a London Fog (only two ingredients, why so pricey?); to be fair, it came in a huge martini glass and was suitably strong. The bartender had freshly-dyed Black No. 1 hair and a belligerently “cheeky” demeanor – after asking if I liked the cocktail, he quipped “Actually, we only take comments on Tuesdays!” I smiled weakly, not in the mood to banter with him, and he went back to checking his phone.
I was surprised to find the place empty, even on a warm sunny day. Other joints further up Avenue B already had quite a crowd. Some Evanescence-type band droned on in the background as I surveyed the much-hyped interiors. Clearly the designer was going for a Steampunk aesthetic, but something seems lost in the execution. In the light of day everything looked a bit plastic and flimsy, as if the slightest touch would cause damage. Pretty but transient, like the clientele this bar hopes to cater to. I’ll bet it’s a different story at night after a few drinks, though…
It’s unfair to judge Lovecraft Bar by a single afternoon visit; I hope to go back some evening when the place is in full swing (and I’m feeling flush enough to afford double-digit drink prices!) to get a better sense of the vibe. They have live shows on Thursdays, so checking that out might be a decent next step.
Would it be the sort of bar I’d have gone to in my 20s? I’m not so sure. Back then if I was feeling spooky there was Batcave or The Bank, and if I was in the mood to natter on about the Necronomicon there was always Magickal Childe. Lovecraft Bar isn’t like any of those places (all sadly gone now), and I doubt it wants to be. While it’d be nice if it DID end up attracting Goths, Rivetheads and moldy old occultists, it would have to seriously lower the drink prices; with East Village real estate prices being what they are...that’s not gonna happen.
Ah well, I’ve always been on Team Poe anyway.
Monday, 2 June 2014:
Flagship Brewing Co.
It’s about time Staten Island had its own brewery. I mean, it's not like Staten Islanders don’t drink their share of beer, or more importantly that they can’t appreciate the finer points of craft brewing. I recall visiting friends of friends back in the 1990s; there was a vociferous homebrewing culture fully in place (the Mandrake Ale was...interesting...) that continues to the present day. It makes perfect sense that the local know-how would at some point blossom into an actual moneymaking concern, in this case Flagship Brewing Company.
The thing is, there’s been an explosion of small-scale craft breweries opening throughout the five boroughs, and frankly...not all of them are good. Brooklyn Brewery is still king, with Sixpoint providing fierce competition; Bronx Brewery and KelSo are upstarts to watch. Most of the rest are over-hopped, one-note Johhny-come-latelies. While Flagship has a crowded regional marketplace to wade through, it won’t take too much for them to rise above the majority of newbies.
I made a point to check ‘em out last month on opening day and try the the Dark Mild (as I’m a sucker for the dark stuff). The brewery’s a short walk from the SI Ferry terminal; taking the SIR one stop will get you there even quicker. They’ve taken a few leaves from the Brooklyn Brewery handbook, with wooden beer tokens and casual picnic benches; this was a hit with the crowd, as people could easily circulate and chat with each other. The Dark Mild shows a lot of promise, but there's a sharpness to the flavor profile that I wasn't expecting. There were definite coffee/bitter chocolate notes—quite popular these days—but I think I'd like the edges to be rounded off a bit.
A week later I returned to give the American Pale Ale, a major crowd favorite, a shot. I'm personally a bit burned out on local IPAs & APAs, so I don't feel it's fair to pass judgement until I've had it a couple more times. I will say that I had a VERY TRENDY local Brooklyn ale a few days ago (none of the aforementioned breweries!), and Flagship's APA kicked its ass!
I also had a pint of the Witbier, which was really well-rounded and tasty. Admittedly it's my favorite out of the three Flagship beers, which is funny since I don't usually go for Wits.
Flagship Brewery is open to the public Thursdays and Fridays 5-11 PM, 2-11 on Saturdays and 1-8PM on Sundays. Sometimes there's live bands, which is a major plus!
Thursday, 17 April 2014:
Signs, Auguries & Omens
How was your Total Eclipse this past Tuesday? I heard the West Coast got some terrific views; sadly some cloud cover and a dip in temperature did their best to spoil the fun for us New Yorkers. Despite the challenges, I managed to have a brilliant all-night extravaganza—with live music, street art, photography and some prophetic signage to boot. All on only 5 beers!
My first stop was Saint Vitus Bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. To get there I caught the 7 train to Vernon-Jackson and walked over the Pulaski Bridge, which is especially lovely at night (in that old-school industrial sort of way).
An exciting double bill of stoner rock courtesy of Kadavar and Sons of Huns followed. I knew what to expect from Kadavar (who didn’t disappoint!) but Sons of Huns were a revelation. Imagine a cross between Fu Manchu and mid-period Suicidal Tendencies, with some serious occult/sci-fi overtones. Blindingly good!
After the gig I decided to wander about a bit; the peak of the eclipse was to happen between 3 and 5AM, so there was no need to go home. On my way back to the bridge however, I came across a disturbing omen:
I was still fairly sober after a couple of beers at the gig, and made a point to keep my wits about me at all times during my derivé. At the station I ended up on a Queens-bound train—all trains were running on the Manhattan track—but as Queens Plaza is a major hub and only two stops away, that wasn’t a problem.
Switching to the downtown N, I decided upon SoHo as a fine destination. Yet once I got there...Prince Street and Broadway was completely deserted. There was absolutely NO-ONE on the street; not a single car or truck passed by.
It was like entering a dreamspace—utterly silent, empty and cold. Turning the corner on Spring I came across some of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s flyposts from her fantastic Stop Telling Women to Smile project, which was heartening and eased the creepiness a bit.
Once I crossed Lafayette Street things reverted to normal, with a couple of blokes chatting by a food truck and some cars driving by. But the clouds were already starting to roll in, and the moon was fading from sight. I ducked into the Shark Bar for some restroom relief and a pint of Empire Cream Ale, then hit the streets again.
By this point the eclipse was completely obscured, so I decided to head home. The 4 train had other plans, however; to make a long story short I found myself in the Financial District with an hour to kill before the next boat. So I walked into The Dead Rabbit and came face to face with a free can of Bengali Tiger. I actually expected to be snubbed, although I guess at that hour FiDi bars aren’t so picky as to who they let in!
The Dead Rabbit was pretty cool, with sawdust on the floor, funk & garage tunes blasting over the sound system, a good beer selection and some drunk asshole buying everyone a round to impress his equally drunk girlfriend (sometimes you just gotta give thanks for the assholes of the world). I bought a second can and walked over to the terminal to catch the 4:30AM boat.
There were no taxis at the other end, so I had to wait ANOTHER hour for my bus to start running. Rough Road, indeed! Nevertheless, the entire experience was a blast, and profoundly meaningful in various ways.
Sunday, 23 March 2014
It felt really good to take the Nikon out for my birthday; this winter was incredibly rough, and as the camera's rather old and somewhat fragile I didn't want to expose it to the harsh elements. But that Saturday was warm and mild, and I shot about four rolls. This photo of Manitoba's lower level is from the last roll, after many fine ales and stouts.
Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Shot this photo as I was walking along 6th Street one day, probably on my way to/from ABC Beer Co. or Coalyard. Not much is left of the paint job besides the last three letters of Emilio Parodi's name, signature and seal of quality; there's no way to ascertain precisely what Parodi was selling.
With a bit of digging I found out that Parodi initially had a cigar factory on West Broadway but moved to New Jersey in 1916 and then Scranton in 1930. This particular ad is from a much later date, however; it was painted in the 1970's for The Godfather II. Emilio never existed, it seems—Quirinio V. Parodi started the company with 2 other partners in 1913.
Monday, 23 December 2013
Because, you know, this section is actually meant to contain photos of my dérives, and not discussing how I've been struggling with photography as of late. Although it's all part of the same process...anyway, here's an old bobby pin ad located on Fifth Avenue around 28th Street in NYC. I had to play around with the pic in Photoshop, as the ad is so faded as to be nearly imperceptible.
Sunday, 8 December 2013
Was crushed recently to find out that my favorite film developing lab has gone the way of the Dodo Bird. It was especially bad timing as I recently shot a friend's gig in B&W and she's dying to see how they came out! I really should develop my own film, but I'm so crap at it—the film always gets stuck together in the canister and comes out ruined.
However, I heard about this community darkroom out in Bushwick that develops film for $6 per roll, so this week I'm going to head over there and check them out. Think I'll take my Nikon along for the ride, I haven't been using it lately and I'm feeling the itch.
Saturday, 12 October 2013
Last month I handed my digital camera off to a friend, who's been making far better use of it than I ever did. I'm going back to my Nikon and plan to use up some of the B&W film taking up space in my fridge.
It's an old camera, and I must remember to be gentle with it (a lesson lies therein: remember to be gentle to myself as well). Creativity is the pathway to healing.