Translation from English

Saturday, May 30, 2009

NOT Russia; My Many Complaints

Authentic looking Russian Church is in Manhattan--
St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Cathedral is at 15 East 97th Street..

Tsar Nicholas II gave money to help build it about 1900. It follows classic seven domed configuration of Russian churches.. is open to public now, no admission fee (see their website--google it up).

During cold war, particularly during McCarthy era, everyone connected with cathedral was suspected of being a Russian spy.. some probably were! Relations with community are much more cordial these days...

My Many Complaints:  fractured right wrist continues to heal very slowly. Have new fiberglass cast for another five weeks.. everyday living is a real travail...had terrible time getting one week of prescription painkillers. (saw big TV show about the evils of vicotin the other night..leads to heroin they say, etc. Almost as bad as smoking)-- by the way, am now smoke free for three months and have no desire to smoke whatsoever.

Annoyances of not really being able to use right hand too numerous to mention, so I won't even try.

Will put up some more postings on irregular basis as healing continues.

Friday, May 22, 2009

blog hiatus- last post for awhile-- "SOFIA"

This was posting I was working on before accident..covering area once dubbed "SOFIA" (South of Flatiron Area),

Here, old commercial buildings have once again been gentrified... commercial establishments as I remember were hodgepodge of businesses, including import-export and some garment factories.. and who knows what else.

People who live here now seem young and well-heeled and enjoy a lot of nice shops and the occasional outdoor cafe restaurant.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Madison Square's Main Attraction

If Herald Square is a center of shopping, and Union Square is the home of the Greenmarket, then Madison Square's main attraction is the "Shake Shack."

Approaching  along 23rd Street towards the square, I was struck by the large number of people standing about there. What was it? A rally?
Street theatre? 

No, it was mostly a huge crowd of people waiting patiently to be served at the "Shake Shack," a fast food establishment focused on liquid refreshment...

Of course, some people were there near the fountain simply enjoying the greenery...and a lot of people just seemed to be passing through with the kind of grim determination that marks a lot of New Yorkers going about their business.

Noticed some changes around the Square...there is a very tall new building that has risen up that seems to equal the old Met Life building in height. Myself, I prefer the campanile tower of the older tower to the simple rectangular lines of the new one. The old building, completed early in the 20th century, is a landmark--- the new one is just some kind of commercial ( and maybe residential) development. 

New York has enough skyscrapers that could be in Houston or Melbourne or some other metropolis -- the architectural character of the city is very diverse, but can't we have more towers that are somewhat more distinguished?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Murray Hill Tunnel, Park Avenue South

Murray Hill Tunnel starts at 33rd Street and runs to 40th Street...this is shot on lower Park Avenue looking north towards Grand Central Terminal and the Met Life Building -- which some people still refer to sometimes as the Pan Am Building!(its original name).

Park Avenue and Park Avenue South have a complicated make it simple: thoroughfare was originally called Fourth Avenue--which now only exists below 14th Street.

Because of plantings in median strip, upper area of Fourth Avenue became to be known as Park Avenue...which sounds a lot better to most people.

Park Avenue starts at 33rd Street..stretch below that down to 17th Street was originally Fourth Avenue but was changed to Park Avenue South in 1959 by the City Council, apparently after petitioning  by property owners who wanted a "better address."

For a long time, Park Avenue South ( below) was home to big photographic studios, Printing establishments, and other businesses-- then in the 1980's began to be gentrified...with some commercial buildings being turned into apartments. In fact, there used to be a "Photo District" which included Park Avenue South further down, and there still exists a journal called "The Photo District News". At one time half of all the professional photographers in the United States worked in New York...(don't know what the figure is now, but the City is still a photography capital).

Lower Fifth Avenue ( from 33rd to 42nd Street) has always been a mix of office buildings, apartments and hotels. Rents have risen dramatically over the years and there has been some new construction....people have always lived here because of proximity to so many places in Midtown ( which is true of Murray Hill neighborhood generally). 

More years ago than I care to remember, I visited the apartment of family friends who lived at 17 Park Avenue--it was much more affordable then. 

Monday, May 11, 2009

Estonia House, East 34th Street

I don't know how big the Estonian community is in New York, or if there are any neighborhoods with high numbers of Estonians.... have only met one Estonian- American in New York ( who lived in Queens).

Beaux Arts building on 34th Street was built as the Civic Club ( a reform organization) in 1899 and became an Estonian Cultural Center in the late 1940's.

Activities include an Estonian language school.

As I remember, the Estonian language is something like Finnish...and Estonians tend to look like Finns, with many of them having very fair hair. 

As one of the "Baltic States" ( along with Lithuania and Latvia), Estonia was coveted by the Russians and occupied by them for a long time. By most accounts, the Russians were rather ruthless colonizers there...but present day Estonia is inevitably linked closely to Russia economically, although it is part of the European Economic Community and home to some very high tech enterprises.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Appreciating Abstract Art

As I thought I might, I've been warming to this piece of abstract sculpture over time.

It's on Second Avenue not all that far from where I live...part of the fun of viewing sculpture is to see  how it changes as you move around it, and so a simple photo like this can't give you that kind of experience.

One aspect I've noticed with this piece is how it reflects light differently at different times of the day ( when hit sideways by early evening light, it looks the best). It and fountains are lit up at night.

Modern Art as we have come to know it through Picasso and others seems preoccupied with the element of design. Formal elements are more important than representation of something familiar we can relate to. Often I think this is something of a disaster, such as in the works of Alexander Calder and Jackson Pollock ( his paint dribblings were not random, he was looking for a certain effect). 

As I get older, I am more appreciative of abstract art in general ....but I still prefer older works that combine craftsmanship and a more easily understood sense of what they're about, such as the Schott sculpture in Central Park ( below), which seems more complete to me as a work of art.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Demise of Low End Discount Stores in Manhattan

Discount and low-end retail merchandising has been savaged by rising rents in Manhattan...

Oh, if only Woolworth's were still around! ( They only closed in Britain recently).

Manhattan used to have all sorts of great discount retail stores-- like Odd Job Traders and National Wholesale Liquidators--that are no more.

Also disappearing are the 99 cent stores...though they remain in Spanish Harlem and in the boroughs to some extent.

The desirability of these places comes to mind when you just want to get something simple like pretty decorated plastic place mats... 

The big Jack's 99 cents store near Herald Square is still going strong, it seems--it's packed to the rafters with customers at midday. Seems to me the selection of merchandise isn't as good as it used to be, but nothing is ever like it used to be...particularly when landmarks of a kind have been driven out of business  by the forces of gentrification and rising rents.

Will also never forget the bargain vacuum cleaner I got once at Odd Job Traders... that's when I had a rug. I don't have one now in my apartment for all sorts of reasons ( and they aren't required in this building as they are in some). 

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Herald Square Madness

People take refuge from busy Herald Square in landscaped traffic islands as the incredible hustle and bustle goes on about them at midday....

Wouldn't stay in Herald Square too long-- there were studies showing that air pollution there was so bad that people who worked at street level --particularly outdoors-- were breathing in the pollutants equivalent to two packs of cigarettes a day.

Try to keep people from Herald Square,'s where subway lines cross and always busy. Midday, is of course the worst, with tourists and shoppers flocking to stores like Macy's.

Have to say, I have never liked Macy's that much. And years ago I met an investigator for the City who was really down on the place...said they inflated their prices right before sales, so the  "40% off" wasn't what it seemed to be.

Until their economy turned sour, Macy's was a magnet for tourists from the United Kingdom who for a while found shopping there a real bargain...

Saw a sign that said J.C. Penney is coming soon.  Suppose economic downturn has taken its toll on Herald Square shops, but you'd never know it on a typical day.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Exit street canyon, "found" still life

People are always comparing narrow streets in Manhattan to canyons, and this exit street from the Midtown tunnel certainly has that feeling...( I have a calendar on my wall with the May picture being a panoramic shot of the Grand Canyon, as it happens).

Dreary, drizzly chilly days in New York...

Recently took a virtual tour of Nevada City, California...easy to do if you know how to use Google street views. Nice, prosperous hilly town with huge pine trees.

Wish I had a polarizing filter or something to improve picture of store window on Second Avenue which is partly cleared out during a move, leaving an unexpected sort of "found" still life behind. 

Lots of stores are moving these days (some closing) due to the economy....guess really damage is not so much what you can see as what people are going through around you that you can't see--worrying about their jobs or having been laid off. 

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Notes on the United Nations and Architecture

No one is ever happy with the United Nations, and probably never will be.

This institution seems to exist in a symbiotic relationship with Manhattan-- some years ago, the City got tired of limos with diplomatic license plates ( and immunity) illegally parked all over Midtown and announced it was cracking down.

The U.N. threatened to move to Geneva over this, but didn't. People from foreign missions like being in New York too much.

Can't remember exactly how this great international crisis was resolved...know the City now  is ticket-happy,
and makes $600 million from it each year. A lot of the tickets are unfair but usually go reason being it's hard to contest a ticket and some people don't want to be bothered. 

Across the East River from the U.N. is Long Island City, ( top photo) once just a manufacturing area but now home to office buildings and apartments. Remember in mid 1980's City made a concerted effort to get a lot of businesses to move out of Manhattan and into the boroughs....this was before a lot of those businesses decided to leave New York altogether.

Note the modern architecture of Long Island City, which, while not quite as severe as the International-Style U.N. ( whose design I have never liked very much)...

Near to the U.N. is Tudor City ( bottom photo), which is a 1920's mock Tudor (just what kind of Tudor?) fantasyland--that has a lot more appeal as far as I'm concerned.  Tudor City has had its problems too, at one time it was rent controlled and de-control brought about bitter just think it's another great landmark and a nice contrast to all the self-consciously modern architecture.