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  • Stix

    Good things can become metaphors for a dark side when used excessively – sanitization and Disneyfication come to mind. And what object has more of a negative connotation than a puppet? Perhaps it is particularly offensive to Americans, a country founded on freedom and rebellion against unwanted CONTROL. No one likes to see a government or person accused of being a puppet or perhaps one of the Stepford Wives. Worse yet – the official term for an individual who controls a marionette is a manipulator.

    The soullessness of the human idol has lead to depictions of evil in TV and film, such as the murderous Talky Tina (Living Doll episode of the Twilight Zone) or in a number of films made about ventriloquist dummies, such as Magic or Devil Doll. There is something innately spooky about an inanimate doll or human form taking life, particularly when it wrenches itself free of control by humans. Now we have a soulless living doll or dummy, free to do its evil without a conscience. At one time, many believed that ventriloquists were in league with the devil.

    But all is not evil in the world of marionettes or puppets. In the 1980s, I saw an entire opera performed by Marionettes at Lincoln Center. And twice, I missed the highly acclaimed International Festival of Puppet Theater at the Joseph Papp Public Theater.

    Whether Pinocchio, Howdy Doody, or the soft and benign world of the Muppets, these marionettes/puppets are part of American culture with positive images loved by children, as well as evidence that puppeteers can also bring a heart and soul into lifeless objects and create loving and lovable characters that can charm audiences.

    I recently met Ricky Syers performing in Washington Square Park. Perhaps partially owing to its difficulty, seeing skilled marionetteers perform on the streets of New York City is a rarity. I stopped to watch his show. I liked what I saw, as did his audience. Nothing evil, nothing eerie, just Ricky Syers in control of his creation brought to life as Stix :)

    Related Post: Fleas or Teased, Think Big

  • The Cronut

    In 2008, I wrote Where’s the Special, about my feeling that special things were disappearing from New York, the kind of things that made the city unique and why many traveled or settled here. After all, what’s the point of expending time, energy, and expense to visit a place if its merchants and restaurants are nothing but regional chain stores that one can find as easily where one lives? Sure, there is culture here and unique cultural institutions, but one cannot dismiss the importance of restaurants and shops to the visitor and resident. As these merchants become more commonly found outside New York, there is an erosion of the specialness of the city.

    And so, when something unique in New York City catches fire, it becomes a wildfire. The special takes the world by storm, like the international craze for the cronut, the invention of celebrated chef Dominique Ansel. By now, this is old news to many readers here – the cronut has been featured everywhere on TV and in print. It has been copied worldwide. But the real story, apart from the merit of this delectable pastry, are the lines that form daily for this croissant/donut hybrid.
    The pastries are made at the Dominque Ansel Bakery at 189 Spring Street in SoHo, where the cronut debuted on May 10, 2013. The shop opens at 8AM, lines form as early as 5:30AM. Within a short time, the daily production run of 250 cronuts at $5 a piece is spoken for. The croissant/donut hybrid is not made by simply frying croissant dough. From the Dominique Ansel website:

    The Makings of a Cronut™…
    Taking 2 months and more than 10 recipes, Chef Dominique Ansel’s creation is not to be mistaken as simply croissant dough that has been fried. Made with a laminated dough which has been likened to a croissant (but uses a proprietary recipe), the Cronut™ is first proofed and then fried in grapeseed oil at a specific temperature. Once cooked, each Cronut™ is flavored in three ways: 1. rolled in sugar; 2. filled with cream; and 3. topped with glaze. Cronuts™ are made fresh daily, and completely done in house. The entire process takes up to 3 days.

    There is only one flavor of Cronut™ every month. The inaugural flavor in May was Rose Vanilla, and for June it is Lemon Maple. In July, we introduce the Blackberry Cronut™, and in August it’s Coconut.

    Recently, one of my customers arrived at our shop. She was a flight attendant who had flown to New York City specifically to get cronuts. Our shop was abuzz, and I asked to get photos of her prize acquisitions, which were housed in an elegant, metallic gold box. I did not ask for a sample. I was happy just to see them in person – something special from New York City. The Cronut :)

  • Burning Man NYC

    Burning Man may appear to have little to do with New York City. And for most residents, that is true. However, Burning Man has become something that transcends the time and space of the event itself. There are many regional local events worldwide that are similar to Burning Man, some officially affiliated with the Burning Man organization. Not promoted publicly, there are frequent meetings and performances of burners even in the boroughs of New York City, including Manhattan. I have attended a number of them. From BurningMan.org:

    The impact of the Burning Man experience has been so profound that a culture has formed around it. This culture pushes the limits of Burning Man and has led to people banding together nation-wide, and putting on their own events, in attempt to rekindle that magic feeling that only being part of this community can provide.

    Burning Man, begun in 1986, is a week-long event held in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada.  It runs from the last Monday in August to Labor Day. A temporary city, Black Rock City, is created for the event, replete with streets and avenues formed in a semicircular arc. A wooden effigy, The Man, is located at the city’s center, where it is burned on Saturday night. The word city is not used metaphorically – over 50,000 people attend.

    Through my customer base, I know many individuals who have participated in Burning Man over the years. This year, however, is the first time someone working in my company is attending. Natalie was hired one year ago to assist us in product development, retail sales, and social networking in the areas of hooping, flow arts, and fire burning. Apart from online sales, customers come to our retail space daily in SoHo. Those on the juggling side are typically handled by Kyle Petersen, professional juggler and unicyclist, and those in the movement arts are handled by Natalie.

    All the things that I have heard and seen confirm that the bar for creativity is set high at Burning Man and that the event is nothing less than extraordinary.  This could be seen in the thinking, efforts, and advanced preparation by Natalie in my office weeks in advance. She left this morning for the opening of the event on Monday.

    There are villages and theme camps at the event which are substantial creative endeavors. A documentary filmmaker once told me that he has never seen such a display of creative efforts anywhere. Other personal accounts and photography confirm the superlatives.

    For those interested in attending in the future, please know that conditions are harsh. Conditions on the desert playa (a prehistoric lake) are extreme – dust storms, high winds, rain, and temperatures which have exceeded 100 degrees during the day and lows near freezing at night. This explains the perplexing, disparate range of Natalie’s gear – goggles, face masks, water bottles, and a fur coat. There are limited facilities, nothing is sold, and desert camping is the norm. This is a survivalist’s arena, although there are increasing numbers who attend in RVs with the comforts of home.

    Burning Man can be described as an experiment in community, art, radical self-expression, and radical self-reliance. The organization’s Ten Principles are a reflection of the community’s ethos and culture as it had organically developed since the event’s inception: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-Reliance, Radical Self-Expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation and Immediacy.

    We all look forward to Natalie’s return and a firsthand account of the event. Until then, the spirit of Burning Man lives here and there in the hidden corners and reaches of New York City :)

    Photo Note: That’s Bex Burton in the lower left, admiring Natalie’s fur coat. Bex was the subject of a previous story, “The Women.”

  • The Tower

    This September marks 12 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York City. Not surprisingly, the building of the new tower is substantially behind schedule and over budget. I recently made a visit by foot, the first in many years, to catch a glimpse of the work in progress. I cannot speak to the need of such a project – everything about the tower complex is and has been highly controversial. However, I did like the clean, sleek, faceted design.

    One World Trade Center (also 1 World Trade Center or 1 WTC, formerly known as the Freedom Tower) is the primary building of the new World Trade Center complex in New York City’s Lower Manhattan. The 104-story supertall skyscraper stands on the northwest corner of the 16-acre World Trade Center site, occupying the former location of the original 6 World Trade Center. The building is bordered to the west by West Street, to the north by Vesey Street, to the south by Fulton Street, and to the east by Washington Street. Construction on below-ground utility relocations, footings, and foundations for the building began on April 27, 2006.[11] On March 30, 2009, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey confirmed that the building would be known by its legal name, One World Trade Center, rather than the colloquial name, Freedom Tower.

    The tower’s steel structure topped out on August 30, 2012. On May 10, 2013, the final component of the skyscraper’s spire was installed, making One World Trade Center the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere and the third-tallest building in the world by pinnacle height. Its spire reaches a symbolic height of 1,776 feet in reference to the year of the United States Declaration of Independence. It has been the tallest building in New York City since April 30, 2012, when it surpassed the height of the Empire State Building. The new World Trade Center complex will also feature three other high-rise office buildings, located along Greenwich Street, and the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, located just south of One World Trade Center, where the Twin Towers once stood. The construction is part of an effort to memorialize and rebuild following the destruction of the original World Trade Center complex during the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.

    One World Trade Center’s top floor will be designated as 105. The building will have 86 usable above-ground floors, of which 78 will be assigned as office space (approximately 2,600,000 square feet. The base will occupy floors 1–19, including a 65-ft-high public lobby. The office stories will begin at floor 20, and run through floor 63. There will be a sky lobby on floor 64, and then office floors will resume between floors 65–90. Meanwhile, floors 91–99 and 103–105 will be designated as mechanical space. The design also includes a three-story observation deck located on floors 100–102, as well as broadcast and antenna facilities, all supported by both above- and below-ground mechanical infrastructure for the building and its adjacent public spaces. Below-ground tenant parking and storage, shopping, and access to the PATH and subway trains and the World Financial Center are also provided. There will be approximately 55,000 square feet of below-ground retail space. A plan to build a restaurant near the top of the tower, similar to the original World Trade Center’s Windows on the World, was abandoned as logistically impractical. The window-washing tracks are located on a 16-square-foot area which will be denoted as floor 110, in a symbolic reference to the 110 stories of the original Twin Towers.

    The design was originally awarded to Daniel Liebskind in 2002. Most of Libeskind’s ideas were discarded and David Childs, one of the center’s developer Silverstein’s favorite architects, revised the original plans and became the project architect.

    From the 20th floor upwards, the square edges of the tower’s cubic base are chamfered back, transforming the building’s shape into eight tall isosceles triangles, or an elongated square antiprism. Near its middle, the tower forms a perfect octagon in-plan, and then culminates in a glass parapet whose shape is a square oriented 45 degrees from the base. A 408-foot sculpted mast containing the broadcasting antenna is secured by a system of cables, and rises from a circular support ring which will contain additional broadcasting and maintenance equipment. At night, an intense beam of light will be projected above the spire, being visible over 1,000 feet into the air above The Tower.

    Related Posts: Dead Man Gawking, Hope Springs Eternal, Vows of Remembrance, It Behooves One, Post-9/11 World, Ground Zero, 911

  • Butt Ugly

    Police Riot Concert 2013

    I still make an effort to attend the annual Police Riot Concert, even if just briefly. My photographer friend Bill Shatto and I do it for the photo ops. The crowd of attendees as well as the performers afford some of the best photo subjects in New York City. If you’re looking for a rainbow coalition literally, then come to this event. Here, people are truly many hued – whether hair, clothing, or skin art.

    There are weekend warriors whose idea of punk rock is primarily costume and theater. But there are aging punk rock people, too. There are crusties galore with their signature tag-along dogs. Piercings and body art are de rigueur. Many were drunk and/or drugged and not in full control of their motor functions. The bar was set low for fun – standing or walking was an achievement for some. There was a little bit of slam dancing and stage diving.

    At one point, I spotted one shirtless participant who was sporting an enormous beer belly, covered with tattoos, as was the rest of his body. Another, more modest attendee who was shirted, caught the former’s eye, and, with a bit of body language along with hand and eye gestures, they gave each other nods of approval. They approached each other. They compared bellies. There were high fives and even a warm embrace. It was now a beer belly festival.

    Seeing he had an audience of onlookers, the shirtless one decided to bend over and moon the audience. I did not savor seeing that pimply display, and I believe he knew quite well that neither his rear end nor his tattooed belly were objects of desire. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, however, in this case, the only phrase that came to mind was Butt Ugly :)

    Related Posts: The Real Peel, Misfits, False Assumptions

  • Castle Made of Sand

    Some years ago, I was busy chasing sand castle competitions. My planning was always an afterthought, and I managed to miss every one. Throughout the country, at various times and places, there are sand castle competitions. Some of these are extraordinary events with participants that take their work quite seriously. Even the AIA sponsors a yearly event in Galveston, Texas, where teams of architects, designers, and engineers craft castles from sand.

    Every child has taken his or her hand to the ubiquitous and ultimate sculpting material – ordinary sand, whether on the beach or in the playground. Sand castles are a good instructor for children in many ways, acquainting them with the transitory of most things and Mother Nature’s power to provide and just as easily destroy – a bit of ocean and an afternoon’s work is washed out to sea. We are drawn to and enjoy these childhood activities as adults, whether vicariously through children or those adults who take the work and play of children seriously, taking it to the next level, like the building of sandcastles.

    There have even been a number of sand castle competitions in New York City. I’ve missed them all, including this year’s second annual Creative Time’s sand castle competition on Rockaway Beach. However, recently, I did get to see Matt Long’s extravaganza in lower Manhattan. From the New York Daily News:

    Sand sculptor Matt Long unveiled a stunning 17-foot-high castle this week, bringing a bit of the beach to a stretch of lower Manhattan flooded out last year by Hurricane Sandy. The Staten Islander used 55 tons of sand to create the highly detailed high-rise, with towers, walls, arches, stairs – and even its own waterfall. It took three weeks for Long, 58, to convert his grainy vision into reality outside One New York Plaza. It’s his largest solo work ever.

    The installation is perfectly located in Lower Manhattan at One New York Plaza – edifices of glass, steel, and stone, juxtaposed against a Castle Made of Sand…

  • Angelic Protection

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    In 2008, the New York Times announced that New York City had officially joined the recession that plagued the nation. They also reported that: “The real estate market, especially in Manhattan, has softened substantially in the last several weeks…”

    Sure. If so, it must have been the world’s shortest recession, perhaps coming and going at night when most of us were asleep. A recent assessment by the online publication Curbed jives more with reality. “What Recession? Here Are NYC’s 10 Most Expensive Listings,” with listings of apartments for sale from $50 million to $100 million. Articles in 2004 from NPR and The New York Daily News on dog walking report that some dog walkers are making between $50,000 and $100,000 per year.

    But perhaps, you say, these are the isolated facts taken from the top of the market, and the haves always have at the top anywhere you go. Point well taken. So, perhaps like the statistician, you ask to see a larger sample size, something more statistically significant.

    Take a property in the Village like One Fifth Avenue, a prestigious prewar Art Deco landmark co-op, built in 1927 by Harvey Wiley Corbett. It has 184 units. Yet, currently, there are only 3 apartments available for sale in the entire building: one at $11 million, one at $4.6 million, and one at $2.35 million. A modest one-bedroom apartment in the building, when available, sells for one and a half million dollars. On the rental side, Manhattan has a vacancy rate of about 1.6 percent, with a median rent of $3200, up 3.5% in the last year.

    Today’s photo, caught during the magic hour, gives perhaps the answer to the durability and stability of the Manhattan real estate market – Angelic Protection :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Opposites

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    On the 26th of July, I often reflect back to 2009. It was utterly remarkable – I don’t recall another day in my life where so many little things went wrong. Incredibly, to add insult to injury, the 26th is also my birthday. I often retell the story to others – and I repost it here. I enjoy reading it again myself and hope you do too.

    Things start well enough on Sunday – my mother calls to wish me Happy Birthday, and from my window, I see a partly sunny day. I suggest to my girlfriend that we go to the Bronx Zoo, something which I had not done in years.

    We opt for public transportation – the subway has a zoo stop. A few moments on the street, however, and it is clear that this is going to be a hot and very humid day. But I remain optimistic – trains are air-conditioned, and the zoo is shaded and also has indoor exhibits.

    This trip requires two trains, a local to the express. When we get to Astor Place, however, the local train is not running at all. Out to the street for a six-block walk to Union Square for the express train. Signs indicate that the number 5 train is also not running for the weekend. We jump in the first express train which arrives quickly – things are starting to look up.

    But once we arrive in the Bronx, I notice the subway stops don’t look quite right. That’s because only the number 5 runs to the zoo, not the 4 which we had taken. A brief conversation with a passenger confirms my mistake and that I will have to take a bus across Fordham Road. We exit the train, armed with our Metro Cards, expecting a free transfer.

    However, the bus driver indicates that we need to go back to the machine on the street and purchase reduced price tickets at $1.10 each for this BX12 bus. Off the bus. Buy tickets. Back on the bus. The ride across Fordham Road is quite depressing.

    Our stop is Southern Boulevard, and the driver tells me I have a choice of two entrances. I forget the East Fordham Road entrance is the main one, which is quite beautiful. Instead, we traipse nearly twice as far down Southern Boulevard for what feels like an interminable distance in the heat to finally arrive at the side entrance. We see “The Complete Experience” listed for $27 per person, with no posting of general admission prices. This already smells of a zoo sadly doing badly. Being late in the day, we opt for general admission at $15 each.

    The day’s humidity is almost unbearable, even in the shaded areas of the zoo. We quickly learn that many of the best exhibits are part of The Complete Experience and can be purchased ala carte. $6 more gets us into the Congo Gorilla Forest – can’t miss that. We watch a movie, and the screen lifts to a panorama of live gorillas behind glass.

    Outside, I overhear a disappointed father of a family asking his wife who is reading a map – “No elephants?” (there are only two left which can only be seen from the Bengali Express monorail). We decide to purchase a drink after building up a thirst – $2.75 buys a small bottle of water.

    A zoo employee tells me that the zoo closes at 5:30 PM, so I pace myself for that. However, an announcement at 5PM tells us the zoo is now closed, so we barely get to the gardens and exhibits at the main entrance, which I was saving until last.

    We exit and make our way back to the Fordham Road bus stop. We purchase those silly tickets for the crosstown BX12 and wait at the bus stop, confident that we have the system mastered. The bus arrives quickly, but it stops inexplicably some distance before the stop and we miss it. Not to be fooled, we move, and the next bus stops behind us. A quick jog in the heat with camera equipment in tow, and we just make the bus.

    The train ride itself is uneventful. However, at our stop at Astor Place, I notice a man with a VERY wet umbrella. In the station, there are SHEETS of water, the likes of which I have never seen before.  Outside, there is a torrential downpour. This provides a most amazing photo opportunity, at the expense of course, a wet journey home. The streets are littered with downed tree branches.

    We decide to go Indian for a birthday dinner. The place I frequent is typically nearly empty, but tonight the place is packed, and there are a couple of huge parties. We are seated at one of the few remaining tables. We wait for some time, but I have a bad feeling that this will be a painfully slow process, so we leave as gracefully as possible.

    My spirits pick up as we opt for Trattoria Spaghetto just a few short blocks away. They are also unusually crowded, and the only remaining table is sandwiched between the kitchen and the service exit to the street used by the waiters. Not daunted by eating on a super highway, we sit and get our menus. I do not need to even open mine, because I am ready to order my favorite dish here: Fusilli Puttanesca. However, our waiter informs me that he is sorry, because tonight there is No Fusilli :(

    For those who believe in such things, it is the ultimate tale of Opposites :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Mona Lisa

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I recognized this woman from a previous encounter which I photographed and wrote about on March 25, 2011 in Front Window. Her entire wardrobe and suitcase had been painted. I had misjudged the situation, not realizing she was a painter. In one comment on that original story, a reader, Matt, said:

    I work in Penn Station and this lady lives in the station, she carries around a little can of white paint and a stick everywhere she goes.

    Recently, I ran into her again. She had staked out a small cove on 6th Avenue in the Village which she had converted to her own temporary art studio. I liked the feel of this small shrine to her brand of impressionism/pointilism. I complemented her efforts, however, she said she was in meditation. She was not very forthcoming about who she was or the nature of her art. She only gave a name of Mona Lisa. She asked for money – I gave her a couple of dollars, but she asked for more. Another brief encounter with one of New York City’s many enigmatic characters, this time Mona Lisa

    Other artists and characters: Fudge Time, Walter Mitty, King of Accordion, Mike Fontana (Part 1 and Part 2), Supercute!, Creative Expert, Criminal Suspect, Walid Soroor, Reverend Billy, Hoopmobile

    Abandon All Preconceived Notions: Mark Birnbaum (Part 1 and Part 2), Gaby Lampkey, Jenn Kabacinski (Part 1 and Part 2), Driss Aqil

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Di Hut Doig

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    Oscar Meyer Wienermobile


    Despite growing up on them, I hated homemade baked beans. My family loved them; relatives and friends did, too. My mother was a good cook, and it took hours on Saturday for her to make this occasional special meal. However, no amount of time nor secret ingredients nor expertise was to change my palate. In time, seeing that I would not be persuaded, she would make a separate meal for me – hot dogs. Because she knew I LOVED hot dogs. Later in life, when we could afford it, my mother would spring for Hebrew National hot dogs, a big step up from the regular hot dog and an exciting moment for me.

    I could eat a lot of hot dogs, or so I thought. Certainly not enough to challenge the contestants of the Nathan’s hot dog eating contest, of which I knew nothing. And as I was to learn, I could not even eat enough to compete with one of the Morin girls.
    The Morins lived a few houses away from us in my childhood hometown of Bristol, CT. They were French Canadian, and like my parents spoke Franglais*. They would often Frenchify words and phrases they did not know the proper French for or English words best left in English, such as hot dog. Their interpretation came out sounding something like “di hut doig,” which even to my family was an uproarious bastardization and became a private joke. But, funny as it may be, the achievements of one of the Morin girls regarding di hut doig was no laughing matter.

    One day, my mother announced that one of the Morin girls could eat SEVEN hot dogs. Astonishing, since she was not overweight at all. This clearly trumped anything I could hope for. At a cookout, I could eat three, perhaps even four, but nothing like my neighborhood nemesis.

    After moving to New York City, my hot dog consumption waned considerably. Within just a few years I became a vegetarian, so di hot doig was off the menu. My interest was renewed with the popularizing of the soy hot dog and its numerous brands: Tofu Pups, Not Dogs, and Smart Dogs. For me, hot dogs were much about being a vehicle for condiments and toppings – sautéed onions, peppers, mustard, relish, and occasionally cheese. Once adequately smothered and buried in a good quality, well-prepared bun, a soy hot dog is not bad at all.

    Recently, while crossing Broadway at Spring Street, I had my first sighting of the Oscar Meyer Wienermobile. It was Friday afternoon, and traffic was snarled and slow-moving, as it typically is during rush hour, so I was afforded a few moments time to reach for my camera and record the rare event. Unbeknownst to me at the time, the Wienermobile was making a week-long tour of New York City with special events planned. It was quite a spectacle to see the bright yellow vehicle cruising New York City streets, often surrounded by a sea of yellow taxis. It was stunning to see such a large, immaculate virtual shrine to one of the favorite foods of my youth and the Morin girl – Di Hut Doig :)

    *Franglais means a mangled combination of English and French, produced either by poor knowledge of one or the other language or for humorous effect. Franglais usually consists of either filling in gaps in one’s knowledge of French with English words, using false friends with their incorrect meaning or speaking French in such a manner that (although ostensibly “French”) would be incomprehensible to a French-speaker who does not also have a knowledge of English (for example, by using a literal translation of English idiomatic phrases).

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Relax

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    This is typically neither a city of positive affirmations nor a place where one comes to relax. Although there have always been small communities with a bend towards New Ageism, Veganism, and other countercultural extremisms, in time, the harsh realities of New York City will grind down most optimists and idealists. Many, like Dwanna, will leave, finding the city just too hard and simply not worth it.

    Idealism is usually a transitory condition of youth, lost as the hard knocks of life put things in perspective. Some remain idealistic, often those who have a privileged lifestyle which acts as a buffer between their world and the world most people know. There are those for whom a hard day is a hard day shopping.

    I recall seeing a segment on TV where John Lennon and Yoko Ono were promoting an idea to create love and peace by making a random phone call to a stranger somewhere in the world and telling them “I love you,” asking that person to do the same, essentially creating a chain of goodwill around the world. Watching it today, I do find it embarrassingly naive. I imagine it’s much easier to entertain such ideas when you are living a gilded palatial life in the Dakotas.

    Strolling in SoHo on Crosby Street, I came across a doorway with a hand written message, appearing cryptic at first owing to the concatenation of words. A second look revealed that someone had made an effort (much less ambitious than Lennon’s) to inject a small dose of peace and tranquility to stressed New Yorkers on the move by suggesting: HOLD FIVE TO THIRTY SECONDS BREATHING NORMAL AS YOU BEG N TO RELAX

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Guanabana

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I aspired to be a fruitarian and was obsessed with fruit. I had fantasies of finding my own Shangri-La. And I had at last a vacation booked to visit my first tropical island – Puerto Rico, where I hoped at least to find some taste of tropical paradise.

    My girlfriend at the time was Hispanic, and she had few relatives who hailed from Puerto Rico. Knowing my passion for all things fruit, her cousin asked if I had ever tasted guanabana. When I responded in the negative, his response was, “Ohhhhhh, guanabana.” When I asked others about this mystery fruit, I got the same response. It became a private joke among us and a comedic refrain, much like Comin’ Up Comin’ Up. I could see that my trip to Puerto Rico was to become a mission to find guanabana. I did finally have guanabana, known as soursop in the United States, which can be found in markets here, particularly those catering to West Indians. It has a quite unique flavor and texture, perhaps an acquired taste.

    At the time, I believed that natural sugar was better than refined. I learned that West Indians prepared sugar cane juice. I reasoned that this certainly must be the nectar of the gods, and I lusted for a taste. However, I had never seen sugarcane juice in New York City but I learned that it could be had in Spanish Harlem. I remember the excitement when I saw my first large stalks of sugar cane at a street side vendor. The cane was run through a press and juice came running out below. I purchased a small cup. It was ghastly sweet – virtually undrinkable, even between a number of people. What had I been thinking? It was literally pure sugar and water. Better to stay with fruit.

    Recently, on a trip to Jamaica Bay, a wrong turn in East New York, Brooklyn, brought me to a fruit stand. It was tidy and pristine-looking, and my companion and I had eaten little. Stopping was de rigueur.  The fruit looked phenomenal. Everything appeared to be at optimal ripeness. There was watermelon, papaya, mango, pineapple, cantaloupe, avocado, banana, coconut, and bags of peeled oranges.

    The owner, Ulysses, was so congenial and sensed my love of all things fruit. He welcomed my photography and as I explored his roadside domain, I learned that the entire group socializing behind the stand was his family – father, mother, brother, and uncle. His father, Victor, was busy preparing fresh coconut, something rarely found for some inexplicable reason. A small container for $2 was an extraordinary bargain. Papaya, typically a pricey fruit, was selling for much less than typically found in Manhattan. I purchased a large specimen for $6.00.

    We spoke of guanabana and the world of fruit. As I surveyed his fruit stand, leaning against a truck were stalks of sugarcane, and as chance would have it, they had a press and were making juice. When I told them that my companion had never had sugarcane juice, they offered a sample with abundant ice, which did some to chill and dilute the sugary drink. But to me, fruit is a virtual metaphor for good, with or without Guanabana :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Nature Gone Wild

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    On Sunday, NYC had its annual Gay Pride parade, the culmination of Gay Pride week. The parade route finishes in the Village, where I live, and I have watched this parade for decades and documented a number of them in this website. It is festive and can be fun, however, one must have the stomach for the onslaught, much as the annual Halloween parade – enormous crowds, music blasting from floats with gyrating bodies, late night revelry, the roar of Dykes on Bikes, cavorting in the fountain, etc. Residents must also plan carefully any movement within the neighborhood or travel out, as many streets are closed off for much of the day. The recent Supreme Court DOMA decision only insured that this year would be quite celebratory indeed.

    So, many of us leave the area before the parade begins and return long after most of the chaos has subsided. But, where to go on another lousy, overcast, gray, humid day with chance of rain throughout? I wanted to wander through a peaceful, natural environment. Somewhere restorative but not too far from the city given the chance of thunderstorms.

    It has been so long since I have visited the National Parks of the United States, and I do miss them, particularly those out west, where nature is so GRAND. Places like Yosemite, Bryce, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, and Redwood. Here, in NYC and environs, nature lovers must settle for scraps or be resourceful and explorative to find those special places. Perhaps shocking to most, but New York City has a piece of the National Park System only a subway ride away from Manhattan – Jamaica Bay Wildlife Refuge. I have visited before and featured it here in 2009 in a story called Duffy.

    And so it was there that I decided to spend Sunday afternoon, walking nature trails lined with huckleberries, prickly pear cactus, and rose hips, chatting with Park Rangers, enjoying vistas across marshes, and viewing Osprey. It was a day not of people but one of Nature Gone Wild :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Do I Have Underwear On?

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    I have a childhood friend who has been a biker his entire life. He once told me about the allure of bikers with women and how just owning one was a guaranteed way to meet women. Women have offered him their phone numbers while waiting alongside him in their automobiles.
    Why the appeal? There are many thoughts on this – the bad boy rebel image, freedom, excitement, and danger. Perhaps it is best summarized by a scene in Woody Allen’s film Play It Again, Sam. In the opening of the film, Allan’s wife, Nancy, bluntly tells Allan why she is leaving him:

    Nancy: I don’t want any alimony. I just want out. I can’t stand the marriage. You’re no fun, you suffocate me. There’s no rapport and I don’t dig you physically.

    Later, their parting words:
    Nancy. I want a new life. I want to go discothecquing and skiing and to the beach. I want to drive through Europe on a motorcycle. All we ever do is see movies.
    Allan. I write for a film magazine. Besides I happen to like movies.
    Nancy. You like movies because you’re one of life’s great watchers. I’m not like that. I’m a doer. I want to participate. I want to laugh. We never laugh together.
    Allan. How can you say that? I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly laughing – I chuckle, I giggle, I guffaw occasionally. Besides, why didn’t any of this come up when we were dating?
    Nancy. Things were different – you were more aggressive.
    Allan. Everybody is during courtship. It’s only natural. You try and impress the other person. You can’t expect me to keep up that level of charm. I’d have a heart attack.
    Nancy. Goodbye, Allan. My lawyer will call your lawyer.
    Allan. I don’t have a lawyer … have him call my doctor.

    In another part of the film, Allan has a fantasy of his ex-wife riding with a biker through the countryside, stopping, and being thrown to the ground and made love to.
    There you have it – the motorcycle as an icon for freedom and reckless abandon. The fantasy of women looking to escape the doldrums of relationships without fun or excitement. It became a private joke for a friend and myself – we often spoke of a particular woman fantasizing about going off with a man with a motorcycle.

    Recently while walking on 8th Street in the Village, a friend and I encountered a very muscular, imposing man proudly displaying his bike and chatting with admiring onlookers. Although I have never been particularly attracted to the outlaw biker image, I can appreciate a fine machine. The owner, Louis, told us about the customization of his bike, including the signature blue LEDs elegantly strung throughout the bike, all hidden from view.
    I delicately brought up the issue of straight pipes – the bane of New York City residents. He turned his bike on – the sound was deafening. When I asked about the issue of legality, he commented that he carried a badge. I have no idea if he was actually a police officer.

    Some moments later, a very large woman appeared with a friend. There was lots of flirtatious banter between the woman and Louis. She asked if she could mount the bike. It was clear that this woman had no inhibitions whatsoever. It was a reenactment of Woody Allen’s fearful fantasy – a woman gone wild being lured to a man with a motorcycle. As I snapped a photo of her straddling the bike, she asked, feigning worry about what my camera may have caught, Do I have underwear on?

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

  • Tar Beach

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

    The unique populace, ethnic stew, geography, conditions, and the extreme population density of New York City all shape the customs, the habits, and the rituals of its residents. People find relief from the crushing crowdedness in any way imaginable, repurposing spaces and finding urban alternatives to nature enjoyed by country and suburban folk. Swimming in public fountains, stickball on the streets, etc. One of the ways people have sought relief from summer heat or to enjoy the sun is to head to building rooftops, a place that at one time was commonly referred to as tar beach. On July 31, 2012, in Sunners and Shunners, I quoted from the New York Times:

    “Tar beach,” as all roof rats know, is the urban alternative to the Hamptons on a hot summer day; it’s as near as the flight of stairs outside the apartment door. The 1930?s seem likely as a birth date, because it was around then that the suntan became fashionable for the masses. According to “The City in Slang” by Irving Lewis Allen, getting a tan on tar beach was often the preparation for a trip to Coney Island. “By the 1940?s,” he wrote, “city rooftops, those ersatz beaches, were given the fictitious place name tar beach, alluding to the black tarred and graveled rooftops.”

    In my early years in the city, I spent some time myself on Tar Beach, typically with someone who fancied getting some color, something highly desirable at the time. However, for me, the allure was greatly out-shadowed by the brutal heat with no ocean to dip into as respite. On sweltering summer days, particularly with no breeze, I found little to no relief there from the blistering heat. The black surface of many roofs only adds insult to injury.

    Many reasons are cited for the decline in the use of rooftops in NYC, such as increased security post-9/11 with landlords preventing access. I also feel that the vastly increased concern over skin cancer has virtually eliminated the desire for natural suntans. The inevitable damage to the skin of the over-tanned is all too well-known. As Woody Allen said so poignantly in Annie Hall: “Sun is bad for you. Everything our parents said was good is bad. Sun, milk, red meat, college.” To which we should add, Tar Beach :)

    Posted on by Brian Dubé

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