Starting June with a Do(ugh)nut… Brooklyn, NYC

I don’t indulge in donuts often… Yet, when National Do(ugh)nut Day rolled around, I was interested enough to research its origins. Ok, ok, it was an excuse to be treated with a sweet… but, I was also heartened by what I’d learned. Not only have I changed my associations with this deep fried doughy round, but the Day is a lovely way to pay tribute to history.

Each year, on the first Friday in June, donuts symbolise the honour bestowed upon The Salvation Army ‘Donut Lassies’ who served the treats to soldiers during World War I. The origins of the National Do(ugh)nut Day date back to the Great Depression in the ’30s, when a fundraiser was held to bring awareness to The Salvation Army’s social service programs.

1917: The Salvation Army’s “Donut Lassies” and their soldiers. ~ salvationarmyusa.org

The link between The Salvation Army and donuts

When the US entered WW1 in 1917, The Salvation Army set up huts near American training centres to provide soldiers with basic comforts: home cooked meals, writing supplies, stamps, and clothes mending services.

It was in France, near to the front lines, from a hut housed in an abandoned building, that the idea to make donuts was born. Due to limited resources and the difficulties in providing freshly baked goods, two Salvation Army volunteers, Ensign Margaret Sheldon and Adjutant Helen Purviance, thought to deep fry treats.

In August, 1917, fighting raged near Montiers, France, as soldiers huddled in camp – hungry, weary and drenched by 36 consecutive days of rain. In a tent near the front lines, Salvation Army lassies made donuts by filling a refuge pail with oil, made dough with left over flour and other ingredients on hand, and used a wine bottle as a rolling pin. With a baking powder tin for a cutter end a camphor-ice suck tube for making the holes, donuts were fried – seven at a time – in soldier’s steel helmets on an 18-inch stove. (Later, a seven-pound shell fitted with a one-pound shell was used to cut out the donut holes.)

Rain fell continuously, the water-soaked tent finally collapsed. However, the 100 donuts made that first day were an immediate success. Soon, as many as 500 soldiers stood in muck outside the resurrected tent waiting for the sweet taste of donuts and, before long, 9,000 donuts were being made around the clock. The tent became the first 24-hour donut shop.*source below

Years later, in 1938, Chicago’s Salvation Army held a fundraiser.

Its goal was to help the needy during the Great Depression, and to honor the “Lassies” of WWI, who served doughnuts to soldiers. wikipedia

Since then, National Do(ugh)nut Day has been celebrated annually.

Below, I share a photo of the icing ‘n sprinkle topped fried goodness my sweet husband bought for me this morning. Of all the ‘national days’, this was one of the most heartening stories to learn about; a reason enough to indulge. Enjoy, I say!

NB: Currently trending in the US: Another threat to future Donut Days could be the national drive to eat healthier. Just this week, the mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomerg, declared his version of war against obesity by seeking to rein in the size of surgery drinks. latimes.com

A Dunkin Donuts creation ~ on a corner in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

*http://home.comcast.net/~osoono/history.htm


Cannes, Revisited ~ France

In the 1950s, the Festival became more popular thanks to the attendance of celebrities such as Kirk Douglas, Sophia Loren, Grace Kelly, Brigitte Bardot, Cary Grant, Romy Schneider, Alain Delon, Simone Signoret and Gina Lollobrigida. ~www.festival-cannes.fr

Marilyn Monroe is pictured on the poster celebrating the film festival’s 65th anniversary. Otto L. Bettmann took this photo of Marilyn.

Today, May 16, marks the start of the annual Cannes Film Festival that runs until May 27. In a nod to its 65th anniversary, Marilyn Monroe was chosen as the icon to grace the festival’s official poster; it also pays tribute to the star on the 50th anniversary of her death.

I visited Cannes in May 2011 – my first taste of the French Riviera. This is an international scene stretched along the coast of the Mediterranean complemented by the provincial feel of its charming old city. As I have written about my time in Cannes previously, I thought it would be fun to revisit those sentiments and display them here. Enjoy this reblog!

The Allure of Cannes

originally posted on November 19, 2011

Prior to visiting Cannes, I had associated it with the glitz and glamor of the Côte d’Azur; a town frequented by the paparazzi, and super stylin’ jet setting crowd who would make it their base during the warmer months, seeking respite on their super size yachts anchored in the marina whenever necessary. I knew it to be the town that bestows such honours as the Palme D’Or at its annual Film Festival and the Lion Award at the International Advertising Festival (having worked in the media industry I would regularly speed read through this annual list of awards, which were accompanied by social snaps of ad exec’s dressed to the nines, in the ad trade magazine: Ad Age).

Armed with all this knowledge, I thought I knew enough about Cannes to justify not buying a guidebook. I was simply prepared to expect the expected – and I hoped, at the very least, to be pleasantly surprised with a typical French pastry: a buttery, melt-in-your-mouth croissant that seems oh-so-hard to come by in New York.

Wall Art in Cannes

Well here’s the clincher – I got what I expected… and more. Our trip to Cannes had coincided with the final preparations for the Film Festival, so not only had the town propped itself for our arrival, but Cannes had also charmed us with its French provincial appeal.

The main shopping street, Rue D’Antibes

Cannes doesn’t even need to try to seduce you because you’re drawn in by its effortless beauty as soon as you arrive. The one main street that runs along the waterfront, La Croisette, is fringed with palm trees: lined on one side by la plage, and on the other, by huge hotels overlooking the sea that are interspersed with outdoor cafes for the all-important sport of people watching. Though the Film Festival hadn’t officially started during our visit, the streets were filled with a joie de vivre. There were people from all over, walking around with their ‘media: authorised access’ neck tags, zoom lens cameras and notepads.

Accents were flying left, right and centre; paparazzi were staking the best spots outside the festival’s main venue, Palais des Festivals et des Congrès ; hospitality staff were setting up beachside cabanas for private events; the police were madly trying to control the traffic orchestrated by a bunch of small cars – Citroens, Renaults, and Peugeots.

The hotels were covered in full on film and press regalia: a Daniel Craig cutout adorned the Carlton hotel (that the closest we got to seeing a film star); Variety magazine had dressed up The Grand Hotel, and even rolled out the red carpet; The Weinstein Company seemed to have misplaced the memo and brought the bare minimum – a sign with just their name in bold type, stuck to the penthouse balcony of the hosting hotel. All this jazz could have easily made Cannes look and feel like a European version of New York’s Times Square, though it didn’t. There was a certain je ne sais quoi about it all. The place was buzzing.

One street behind La Croisette is the main shopping area, home of brand name stores for deep pockets such as Valentino, Jimmy Choo, Escada, as well as the more affordable Zara and Mango. Cannes is a pretty small town so with no real use for the token tour bus, we boarded their tour train. If but for no other reason than saving our feet from an uphill climb to the Old Town, La Suquet, it did also provide the obligatory commentary via headphones that covered a very brief history of Cannes (note: more music than words) as it drove around part of the island’s circumference (all beach and apartments) before getting to La Suquet.

The train wound its way through La Suquet‘s cobblestones streets, a mainly residential part of Cannes. You know you’re surrounded by family homes when laundry is hanging out of the windows to dry. Here, the streets become narrower and their scape is a photographer’s dream.

The multi level buildings are painted in yellows, greens, whites; their windows hinged with coloured shutters; their iron balconies and rooftop gardens abloom with potted plants. Bars, boulangeries, and other small stores selling such things as linens and homewares unexpectedly pop up throughout the neighbourhood.

At the top of La Suquet, the view of Cannes is panoramic. The terracotta tiled roofs of the homes, a mosaic of different shades of brown, frame the city to one side; the Mediterranean frames it on the other. It’s up here that you will find the Musee de Castre, housed in a fortified tower and in the Chapel of St Ann, which features a rather eccentric collection of decorative arts and relics.

Decidedly, I was probably better off without a guidebook for this day trip to Cannes as the town is superb in letting your day unfold perfectly, naturally. You may be asking whether I bought myself that delectable croissant. Well, yes I did, from a patisserie. And not only that, but I purchased the most beautiful bunch of my favourite flowers. After we had alighted from the tour train to take a final stroll through the town centre, I had spotted a weathered Frenchman, sporting a classic beret and wearing overalls. He was pulling a wooden cart full of his latest flower offerings. I just had to have the most spectacular bunch of blooming pink peonies that stood out from the other bunches of fleurs. They may have cost 10 Euro but hey, but when in Cannes, you can.

Breathing Travel: A Simple and Savvy Start…

When an article is described as ‘evergreen’, this means that its content is based on tips, resources, or other topics that do not go out of date as quickly as those of current events.

This is the objective of the first post on my Breathing Travel | Documenting the journey blog, where posts are dedicated to my coursework at MatadorU.

Inspired by my sister’s upcoming trip as a first-timer to Europe, I decided to collate a series of tips for her. Take a look and I’d love to know whether you’d add any more tips.

SOLO TRAVEL: Keeping it Simple and Savvy

Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind. ~ Seneca

Barcelona's bustling La Boqueria

My sister is embarking on her first European trip in a couple of weeks and I couldn’t be more excited for her. Living ‘Down Under’, in 200+ year old Australia, the rest of the world can, at times, seem so out of reach; a trip to Europe is definitely high on most Aussie to-do lists. My sister’s own feelings of excitement will undoubtedly give way to wonder, amazement, and awe when she steps foot into London – her first stop after a 20+ hour plane trip. Jet lag? Shelve that for the trip back home to Sydney!

That said, I cannot help but take on the role of protective sister; about 2 weeks out of my little sister’s 4 week vacation will be traveled solo as she makes her way through Mediterranean exotica. As liberating as this part of the trip will be, I wanted to share some big sister advice on pre-planning; to try and avoid any unnecessary solo-traveler anxiety. (Mum, I am doing this for you too).

Sister, and interested others – this list is yours to print out and keep by your side.

Quaint Cannes

Packing:

  1. Don’t buy a black suitcase. Buy a well-made reputable brand – preferably one that is on sale because of a low-selling design pattern, or not-so-popular colour. Why? No-one will really want to steal it, and it will be easily recognizable on the carousel.
  2. Pack clothes to look like a local. Classic basics are ideal to mix n match on a daily basis; go easy on the shoe selection. Please – no ‘I Heart Roma’ T-shirts paired with stark-white sneakers… you know why. Leave the jewels at home.
  3. Keep the toiletries to a minimum. Save room in the suitcase and head to Boots pharmacy in the UK to stock up. Buy a small sunscreen to keep in the purse – the exposed top decks of the hop on/hop off bus tours double up as rooftops for sunbaking.
  4. Be sensitive with electronics. Keep chargers and the e-book safe in your hand luggage AND buy a plug converter.
  5. Care for the Camera. Keep the compact in its case; perhaps buy a second battery and memory card that are ready-to-go in case the others run dry half way through the day. Plenty of pictures will be taken – I know it!
  6. Load up the e-book and ipod with your favourite shows, files, and songs, to make the most out of those plane or train delays. Wandering around with earphones is a no-go, especially in cities like London where crowds and traffic reign. It’s easy to get distracted.
  7. Pack miscellanea. Gather together some wet-wipes, tissues, lollies/sweets, band-aids, notebook with pen, and Panadol/Advil – stash them in your purse. They will come in handy at some point, promise.
  8. Curb homesickness. Take a few of your favourite family-and-friend photos as well as something to remind you of home. Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Artful Florence

Money and Documents:

  1. Photocopy documents 3 times: passport, itinerary (see * below), airline tickets, insurance papers, and credit cards. Leave one at home with always-contactable parents/friends; put another copy in your hand luggage, and the other, in the suitcase – just in case the purse gets lost. *Create a detailed itinerary with hotel, tour, train, information, airline details; as well as printing it, email to yourself and parents/friends.
  2. Convert some money at the bank before you leave, say AUD300 into pounds and Euros. Ask for low denominations (5,10,20 notes) so you don’t have to struggle with getting change back. I don’t recommend currency exchange booths – their exchange rates aren’t the best. Use a credit card when possible, and if you need to use the ATM, find one in a well lit public place.
  3. Look up destination specific blogs. When planning your itinerary, blogs are a really good resource to seek out as they can give detailed information on the who, what, where, how, why. Honest, first-hand accounts written by everyday travelers get really specific on the most intricate details, especially the watch-outs. e.g. how much to expect to pay for a taxi from the airport; the best train to catch between cities; Metro timetable limitations, surcharges, hidden fees.
A Fiat in Roma

A Fiat in Roma

Research

  1. Learn some key phrases. Write a few key words in the languages you’ll be encountering, and put these cue cards in your wallet, e.g. good morning, thank you, I’m not interested, HELP! Interest in the local language can go a long way – it can be fun trying to converse (with hand gestures too).
  2. Etiquette. Being culturally respectful and sensitive is always a good thing, especially as a first-time traveler. Even moreso if visiting sacred sites and churches. Here are a couple of good links for Italy: http://www.fodors.com/news/story_3872.html and http://www.cntraveler.com/travel-tips/travel-etiquette/2008/06/Etiquette-101-The-Mediterranean
  3. Museum Passes and Metro cards. Sometimes buying these from home, prior to travel, can give you certain privileges like jumping the queue at those line-riddled Parisian museums.Plus, you’ve just pre-paid so that saves you even more time.  e.g. The Museum Pass in Paris – Goodbye crazy long line; Hello Musee D’Orsay!
  4. Mobile/Cell Phone. You don’t want to be hit with a huge bill for roaming charges when you get home, so give the phone company a call prior to travel and find out your international options.
  5. Pre-book as many hotel nights, train passes, and tours as possible. It’s good to have a framework to travel within – it keeps you on track as time is of the essence.

Pretty Monaco

Solo Travel Tips

  1. Indulge in the café-culture. Coffee is necessary traveler fuel! Sit in an outdoor terrace of a Parisian bistro, or stand in an espresso bar in Rome; people-watch; get a feel of a neighbourhood; and, write a postcard (to me!).
  2. Always take business cards. From the hotel, café, restaurant, store – just in case you get yourself lost in Europe’s maze of streets, or need to show the address to a taxi-driver who doesn’t speak English.
  3. Make friends if you have a good gut instinct about them but don’t give out too much personal information. You can never be too sure…
  4. Going out. Hopefully with some fellow travelers, and try and keep it close by to the hotel – double check whether the lobby is serviced 24/7. Watch your drink with an eagle eye.
  5. Hotel Tips. Ask for a room that isn’t on the ground level, use the safe to stash your valuables, befriend the concierge – they are an invaluable source for maps, tour recommendations, and getting you in to a restaurant.
  6. If you can sense trouble. If you feel that someone may be following you – enter a store or café to surround yourself with people that could potentially help you out.
  7. Keep in touch regularly. Buy a phone card from each country; find out where the Internet cafes are (preferably, there is Internet access in your hotel). Call your mother, she worries! Email you sister, she worries too!

NB: Security lines at the airport – remember to wear hole-less socks and easy to remove shoes; the less metal on you, the better; buy that bottle of water after you’ve cleared the line.

Most importantly, relax and have a great trip. Bon Voyage!

A Roman Espresso

Medieval Marvels: The Cloisters, Manhattan (Part Two)

The Cloisters is “the crowning achievement of American museology.” ~ Germain Bazin, former director of the Musée du Louvre in Paris.

Considerable effort goes into piecing a puzzle together. Yet the challenge for architect Charles Collens was far greater, especially since some of his pieces were missing. Not only that, but his task called for combining five incomplete sets and assembling them into one. The result of this feat was realized in 1938 upon completion of the structure; one that wouldn’t look out of place in the Middle Ages.

Collens was the visionary behind The Cloisters – a museum and gardens designed around the architectural elements of five French monasteries dating back to the twelfth through fifteenth century. Loosely based on prototypes presented by medieval monasteries, this is the nation’s largest museum dedicated to medieval art.

Prior to being commissioned by John D. Rockefeller for its conception, Collens noted:

… whoever does that building would have to work out all the individual exhibits in such a way as to place them to the greatest advantage and given them one setting which would minimize the fact that it was an exhibit, but a part of a composition and naturally fitted into that particular spot best adapted to the conditions under which it existed in its original state.[1]

Clearly, he was the right man for the job. The Cloisters, a culmination of Romanesque and Gothic style elements from southern France, displays authenticism if not purely for its artistic detail and design, but also for the integration of the horticultural elements of the time. Think: a seamless flow from Cloister, to Garden, to Chapel, to another Cloister.

From the Museum’s inception, the curators envisioned the artwork and gardens as a whole, where the plants were not merely aesthetic elements, but also of great educational value. ~ Christina Alphonso, The Cloisters

Located in Fort Tryon Park, this extension of the Met Museum sits atop a hill, in keeping with the medieval precedent. Remember those unobstructed views of the New Jersey Palisades from Fort Tryon Park provided by Rockefeller? The can also be enjoyed higher up, from the museum’s terraces.

Medieval monks often built themselves walled compounds on mountaintops, the better to keep their vows of retreat from the world.[2]

The Cloisters museum’s beginnings stem from an acquisition made in 1925: Rockefeller purchased a collection of architectural elements and sculptures from dealer and American sculptor George G. Bernard. Having spent time in France, Bernard sold sculptural fragments he found in the countryside or bought cheap from local dealers, then architectural elements, including complete portals and cloisters. In 1913 the French government passed a law restricting the export of “cultural heritage.” Two days before the law took effect, Barnard sent containers of his collection to New York. [3]

According to the Centre County Historical Society, “These unique pieces of Medieval and Renaissance art from France sparked an interest in Americans, and as a result, study and collecting of this period increased significantly.”[4]

Rockefeller subsequently donated his acquisition to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, though the problem of space necessitated the construction of a building to house the artifacts. Enter architect Charles Collens. In harmony with Collens’ design, curators Joseph Breck (Assistant Director at the Met), and James Rorimer (Curator of Medieval Art) created in the galleries a clear and logical flow from the Romanesque (ca. 1000-ca. 1150) through the Gothic period (ca. 1150-1520).[5]

Today, these artifacts form the core of the collection displayed in The Cloisters. They are accompanied by gifted artworks from Rockefeller, whose endowment in 1952 made further acquisitions possible, such as the Unicorn tapestries and Pontaut monastic Chapter House.

So named The Cloisters for the five French monasteries, each forms part of the museum’s framework and occupies a unique position in the building.

CLOISTER, Defined: The cloister is the heart of the monastery. It consists of a covered walkway surrounding a large square or rectangular open-air courtyard, with access to all other monastic buildings. Usually attached to the church, a cloister was at the same time passageway and processional walkway, a place for meditation and for reading aloud. A garden with a water source was usually located within the cloister. At once serene and bustling, the cloister was also the site where monks washed their clothes and themselves.[6]

Note: The Cloisters is a designated ‘Quiet Zone’ and there are no monks bathing in the courtyards.

Enjoy the tour!

Arrival

The museum is recognised by its four-story tower that greets you upon arrival. Modeled after the Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa in the Pyrenees, you may have noticed this square turret from many vantage points in Fort Tryon Park.

Cloister One: Benedictine priory of Froville

NB: This walkway features the characteristic Cloister arcade though no courtyard.

You’ll enter through a set of wooden arched doors with cast iron detailing, and into the Froville arcade. Look out through one of its nine pointed arches, sans window panes – these were originally part of the 15th C priory. Notice the giant holly tree directly outside.

Holly, native to most parts of south and central Europe, was credited by the Roman natural historian Pliny with the power to protect and defend against witchcraft, lightning, and poison.[7]

Cloister Two: Benedictine monastery of Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa

NB: The elements are from the mid-12th Century and whilst the cloister is proportionately the same, it is roughly a quarter of the size of the original, located in the Pyrenees. Yes, a part of the Cloister survives at the monastery and is home to a community of monks.

This is the heart of the museum; you basically have it to yourself. The cloister consists of an open-air courtyard, encircled with a covered walkway supported by original columns of native pink marble, carved with plant and animal motifs. In these cooler months, their open arcades are glazed with glass; the terracotta potted bitter orange, rosemary, and bay laurel plants are brought in from the outside. Jasmine, fig, and even lavender are hardier and stay put in the ornamental garden, along with planted and pruned crab apple trees.

 There is evidence that tender plants were grown in pots and brought into shelter in northern Europe, and Albertus Magnus, the great thirteenth-century philosopher and natural scientist, is said to have astonished visitors to his cloister in Cologne, where flowers and fruits flourished in January.[8]

Enjoy the last of the seasonal adaptation: notice the citrus trees adorned with oranges and tiny lavender bushes lining the interior pathways; take in the scent of thyme and rosemary.

In the mid afternoon sun, the shadows of pillars and archways decorate the passageways. There are benches available should you like to take a seat and admire the first of the blooming daffodils.

The common daffodil, Narcissus pseudo-narcissus, often appears in medieval art; the form is readily recognizable, even when stylized. It is the only trumpet-flowered narcissus species known to the Middle Ages, and both the cup and the petals that form the corolla are yellow.[9]

Cloister Three: Benedictine abbey of Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert

NB: this abbey became an important site on one of the pilgrimage roads that ran through France to the holy shrine of Santiago de Compostela in Spain.

You’ll enter a smaller courtyard – its walkway windows look out onto the Hudson River; a skylight provides natural illumination and potted palms provide a dash of green.

Look, don’t touch… Impressive are the double columns, decorated by use of drilling techniques and deep undercutting. Note the Romanesque palm, figurine, blossom, and acanthus leaf motifs all around – spiny and decorative foliage – as well as pillars of undulating forms. In the centre of the cloister stands a fountain; immaculately carved, it dates back to the 11th Century and comes from Auvergne or Buyenne region of France.

A plant of ancient cultivation, grown for some five thousand years and with an equally long presence in art and architecture, the date palm was and is both economically and symbolically important. Date palms have provided an important food, intoxicating liquor, a sweetener, and a building material.[10]

Damaged during the French Revolution, there are no details as to the abbey’s original size and look. The columns and shafts are original, and a portion of the cloister remains at its former site in Montpellier.

Cloister Four: Cistercian abbey of Bonnefort-en-Comminges

NB: Long thought to be part of the Bonnefort abbey, the elements instead come from other monasteries in the region including Tarbes.

You’ll immediately notice the benches that line the northern wall of this cloister; a welcome respite and an opportunity to catch some of those warm afternoon rays. This is the only cloister visible from building’s exterior; the views from here look onto the Hudson River and Fort Tryon Park. The twenty-one twin columns that support the arched walkway are comparable to the cloisters located in the Toulouse area.

The beloved and beautiful quartet of quince (Cydonia oblonga) trees at the center of Bonnefont garden is an iconic image of The Cloisters worldwide. ~ Fran Reid, consulting arborist to The Cloisters

Admire the pillars, decorated with foliage motifs; they complement the courtyard’s medieval garden – the main teaching garden, home to the greater part of the medieval plant collection.

The layout of the Bonnefort Cloister garden approximates that of a medieval herb garden, with raised beds bordered by bricks and wattles fences. Grouped and labeled according to their medieval usage – magic, household, medicinal, culinary, textile dyeing, manuscript painting  – all of the plants grown in the garden are species (over 250 of them) documented in medieval sources.[11]

Plants and herbs used to ward off spirits and other superstitions!

“Wine and wine grapes were of great economic and symbolic importance in the Middle Ages. Vineyards were associated both with royal and noble estates and with monasteries. There was once a trellised Concord grapevine on the west wall of the garden, but the younger of two espaliered pears now grows in that spot.

The espaliered pear is one of the most beloved trees at The Cloisters, and has graced Bonnefont garden for more than sixty years. This method of training fruit trees against a wall is a Renaissance development, rather than a medieval technique. The heat and light that radiate from the wall help to ripen the fruit.”[12]

Cloister Five: Carmelite convent at Trie-en-Baise

NB: During the warmer months, this area would be ideal to sit in whilst sipping on a coffee. Unfortunately, March still qualifies as the off-season; the café is closed.

From Bonnefort, walk through to this adjoining cloister. Terracotta tiles, peaked arches, and columns were salvaged from the Carmelite convent; the cloister, as it appears here, wouldn’t look out of place in Tuscany or rural Spain. You’ll notice religious scenes and coats of arms – attributed to families in the area of the convent – carved into its stone walls and pillars.

The medieval garden, planted as a single field of herbs and flowers, evokes the background art of the Unicorn tapestries.

… the cloister formed a continuous and solid architectural barrier… “that effectively separates the world of the monks from that of the serfs and workmen, whose lives and works went on outside and around the cloister.[13]

Join me on the final leg of this tour, when I uncover the other parts of The Cloisters – those Unicorn tapestries, the Treasury, the Chapels, and some stained glass windows – in Part 3.

Musings at The Conservatory Garden, Central Park, NYC ~ with thanks

The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know. ~ Michel Legrand

On a micro level, Michel Legrand’s quote is a good summation of how I feel about Central Park. The more I see the less I know, I thought as I left through The Conservatory Garden’s beautiful cast iron gates yesterday and into the (com)motion of Fifth Avenue’s rush hour. A combination of genius design, thanks to Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, and upkeep maintained by the Central Park Conservancy; Central Park will have you returning many times over – to explore a part of it that you may not have known about before, or to simply enjoy its changing landscape with the unfolding of the seasons.

The silhouetted skyline of Manhattan from the northern end of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. Photographing around here never gets tiring.

Renowned chef, Marcus Samuelsson, in an interview with a travel magazine that rounded up his favourite spots to visit near his neighbourhood of Harlem, had the following to say: “To relax, I enjoy walking in the Conservatory Garden in Central Park just off East 105th Street.” I’d read this article a while back, and had filed away the Garden-mention in the back of my mind; yet another place to visit and experience in the grandeur of Central Park. 

Main entryway into the Conservatory Garden - the gates once stood at Cornelius Vanderbilt's mansion on 58th St and 5th Avenue

February 1st ~ another warmish 59F winter’s day in New York; a day to make an uptown trip to Central Park North. As I hadn’t done any prior research, I had thought that The Conservatory Garden would be encased in a greenhouse. Not so.

The Conservatory Garden began as a large, E-shaped greenhouse, or conservatory in 1898. It featured an indoor winter garden of exotic tropical plants and outdoor decorative Victorian flowerbeds. In 1937, the deteriorating structure was demolished and this… formal garden was designed in its place.*

Six acres of open air sculpted garden beauty defines its expanse; a triad of stylized gardens, influenced by France, England and Italy. A little bit of Europe in NYC – what a wonderful idea. I’ll let you see for yourself. I hope you enjoy The Conservatory Garden through this pictorial. A mental note: You are entering into an “Official Quiet Zone”.

As an aside, I would like to dedicate this post to my few bloggers: Vidal’sNYC for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger award. I hope you may check out Vidal’s photo-glimpses of New York as he sees it. I’m also so appreciative of the support by robertoalborghetti and MiltonJohns Photography for reblogging my posts on Letting Love Rule @ Radio City Music Hall (Lenny Kravitz) and Gated Abandonment on Bowery ~ downtown NYC. I am really humbled by your kind comments and thank you for your inspiration. I hope you may check out the photography and art portfolios of all three bloggers. I’m a keen follower of their work and hope you will be too.

Musings at The Conservatory Garden

Strolling away from the motivated joggers circling Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir on a temperate winter’s day. Approaching the Conservatory Garden from within; along one of Central Park’s meandering pathways. Rules from hereon in ~ observing a quiet zone. Winter’s natural stillness, further enforced.

S’il vous plaît entrez: The French inspired part of the Garden, at its northern end.

Fountains, standing on empty ~ for now. Dancing Maidens sculpture by German artist Walter Schott.

Manicured hedges; swirling patterns of green. Symmetry, order and form. Envisioning scenes from Sophia Coppola’s, Marie Antoinette. The Gardens of Versailles ~ I need to see them.

Winter’s calm beauty, so amplified ~ still trees, late afternoon sun, shadows. Fifth Avenue – steps away, yet unheard and unnoticed, except for its mansions looking over the fence. A solitary bench…

… adorned with a dedication. Love lives on, always.

Hibernating hydrangeas; beds of roses, asleep ~ looking forward to a long awaited yawn and stretch. A blooming prospect: the onset of spring.

Intermission: Lenny Kravitz – I Build This Garden For Us

A stream of late afternoon rays, painting patterns on the pathways, like those of sun-drenched stained glass windows.

Please enter: the English inspired part of the Garden, to the south.

Grassy furry plants; recollections of Mr. Snuffleupagus. Reminiscing about those days of watching Sesame Street as a kid, back in Sydney. Somehow still remembering this shaggy-haired muppet’s name ~ Snuffy, for short.

From this angle, looking like a fuzzy topped bouquet of hay. Inspiration for a lavish centrepiece.

More recollections; this time of those crazy hairstyled muppets on Fraggle Rock. Do you remember? The English part of the Garden may be themed on Frances Hodgson Burnett’s classic, The Secret Garden, though it is so Jim Henson inspired.

Early bloomers ~ jonguils. Perhaps spring really is closer than we hope it to be.

~ Pausa ~

Generosity of the human spirit. Thankfulness; appreciation for the love bestowed by family and friends.

Inserisci il giardino: the Italian inspired garden, in the Conservatory’s centre.

Entangled beauty; Chinese wisteria, in a winter slumber. Wrought iron details of an ornate pergola against a Fifth avenue vista.

A blue period.

A touch of history ~ the names of the original 13 states, engraved into tile.

The grand gesture ~ an engraved proposal. Time, at a stand-still.

A place to create memories for generations to come.

Imagining being on the terrace of an Italian villa: directly ahead – the jet of the fountain’s thriving 12-foot high geyser; a grand lawn flanked by two exquisite allées of pink and white crabapple trees*; a perfectly hedged and manicured perimeter; birds chirping; the faint fragrance of wisteria in the air; views of Fifth Avenue mansions in the distance. Such is the anticipation of seeing the garden’s beauty in full bloom.

The Italian Renaissance Garden: The Medici, the ruling dynasty of Florence, used gardens to demonstrate their own power and magnificence. “During the first half of the sixteenth century, magnificence came to be perceived as a princely virtue, and all over the Italian peninsula architects, sculptors, painters, poets, historians and humanist scholars were commissioned to concoct a magnificent image for their powerful patrons.” **

Musings, interrupted. Dusk descends, and the grand gate must close.

Entering the real world. Hello again, Manhattan.

* http://www.centralparknyc.org/visit/things-to-see/north-end/conservatory-garden.html

**Wikipedia

5 Pointz – Graffiti Art Gallery in Long Island City, Queens, NY

Having posted a few times on street art in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, a fellow blogger, Victor Ho, drew my attention to a graffiti project in Long Island City (LIC), Queens called 5Pointz Aerosol Art Center, Inc. A hop, skip and a jump away from Williamsburg, I was eager to check it out. And so after a quick drive over the Pulaski Bridge that separates Brooklyn from Queens, I was in the area that is LIC.

LIC is not unlike Williamsburg. They are both undergoing gentrification, enjoy full frontal views of Manhattan across the East River, are easily accessible by subway or ferry, and are situated close to major bridges. In this case, the Queensboro Bridge that connects LIC to Manhattan’s Upper East Side. There’s a young professional vibe here though it’s not as tightly knit a neighbourhood, nor as developed (yet) as that which makes up Williamsburg.

Queensboro Bridge linking LIC to Manhattan

Simply dubbed ‘5Pointz’, this 20,000 square foot, empty 5-story factory building is covered from top to bottom in graffiti. The name represents the five boroughs of New York though the building has become a showcase for global graffiti works. Artists from the US and all over the world including Australia, Spain, Canada, Brazil and France have shared their art here. Located under the rambling elevated 7subway line and just off of a major road, Jackson Avenue, this one block long industrial complex is secluded within the confines of the dead-ended Davis Street. In one way, an oxymoron, for the area is far from dead. Today I spotted a film crew, photographers, iphone snapping fans and trucks aplenty in the enclave.

7 Subway Line

5Pointz Building…

5Pointz Building… continues along Davis Street

5Pointz Building… full frontal

Art continues down the complex on Davis Street

The fate of 5 Pointz is undetermined. Where the website claims that the curator of the outdoor art gallery, Jonathan Cohen, plans to convert the building into a “graffiti museum”, as well as “a school for aspiring aerosol artists, complete with a formalized curriculum that imparts lessons in teamwork, art history, and entrepreneurship in addition to technique”, there has been petitioning against knocking the building down to make room for condos. The building’s owner, John Wolcoff, has expressed interest in building two 30-story high rises to cash in on the migration of renters who cannot afford Manhattan, and has promised a rear wall accessible to graffiti artists in lieu of what may be torn down. Hardly compensation.

An homage to Dali

Marie Flageul, an event planner who is part of the 5Pointz team, recently stated on NYTimes.com, “What the landlord doesn’t understand is that 5Pointz is a brand and an icon, and if he knocks it down it will be missed. 5Pointz is the United Nations of graffiti.”

Ironically, LIC is located directly opposite the United Nations building in Manhattan.

View of the United Nations (left), as seen from LIC’s Water’s Edge dock

If you’re a graffiti artist who may be interested in staking a piece of wall real estate within this “graffiti Mecca”, perhaps the only legal place left in New York for tagging, you’ll need obtain permission from 5Pointz. According to the website:

The most coveted locations are given to accomplished graffiti artists who create high-quality, conceptual work that displays great artistic detail, while the less visible areas are preserved for new and aspiring aerosol artists.

The better the mural, the longer it stays up. Pieces and productions are typically left on display for anywhere from one day to two years, depending on the quality and effort of the work, as well as the pedestrian traffic level of its wall placement. Long-lasting, prominently displayed productions require a rough draft and demonstrate creative vision, a high-level of craft, and originality.

Frogs (mural located opposite 5Pointz building on David Street)

To sign the petition, click here: SHOW UR LOVE TO 5POINTZ

Condos along LIC’s waterfront

Please share your comments below. I’ll be tweeting this page regularly to relevant parties and discussion groups. This will be a way to support 5Pointz in their efforts to save their space.

Grimace…

5Pointz – Close Up