A New York Love Story

Written in the Spring of 2012

Cherry Blossoms in Central Park

Looking down upon 79th Street Transverse from Central Park, the ubiquitous yellow cabs passing underway feel as natural as the cherry blossoms that surround me. Juxtaposed against an oasis of calm, Fifth Avenue bustles at the Park’s perimeter with a constant stream of boot-to-pavement. To my left, a scene just as frenetic is playing out in the Met Museum; stoic, its interior is overrun by tourists trying to navigate its expanse.

This is New York – a city of dichotomies. Home to millions of people, and a holiday destination for millions more, it is the most bustling metropolis in the United States. New York City is where I, an expat based in a city charged with an unstoppable energy, found my peace.

Park Avenue, New York

I had been caught in New York’s embrace from the onset. Whisked into its whirlwind, the city subsequently unraveled a series of monumental moments along the way. Meeting him was the most definitive – it sparked a new beginning.

I’d fallen in love with him with the same ease I’d fallen for New York. Just as I’d experienced the spark of the city whilst standing in Times Square as a twenty-something year old thinking, this feels so right; years later I felt a similar sentiment as we dined together at my favourite restaurant on Park Avenue.

Ever since that first date, we’ve been walking the same path.

Now, standing in Central Park, newly married, I realise that my love for New York has taken on a deeper meaning. This is a city that can so easily seduce, enthrall, and enchant. But it’s when you stay a while that you really feel the beat of its strong, passionate, and loving heart.

An Island and a Bridge ~ Roosevelt, Queens, Manhattan, in NY

Once home to former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, and Sex in the City actress, Sarah Jessica Parker; a prison site until 1935 with inmates including Mae West and Billie Holiday, albeit for a short while; the chosen location of a Louis Kahn designed soon-to-be opened Franklin D. Roosevelt Four Freedoms Park… Roosevelt Island has quite the storied history.

Manhattan – left, Roosevelt Island – right

Located in the East River between Manhattan and Queens, and overarched by 59th Street’s Queensborough Bridge, the island is home to about 12,000 people. In centuries past, it went through a bit of an identity crisis. Called Hog Island in 1637, then Manning’s a few years later, it was renamed Blackwell Island in 1686 after it’s new owner – Manning’s son-in-law, Robert Blackwell.

New York City purchased the island in 1828, and erected upon its soil a penitentiary, a lunatic asylum, hospitals, and a chapel. These developments also brought with them a name change: Welfare Island.  Finally declared Roosevelt Island in 1973, after Franklin Delano Roosevelt, today it sports many new condo constructions amongst older rentals and coops, a chronic care facility, chains – Starbucks and Duane Reade, as well as a new riverside restaurant/bar.

Roosevelt Island – left, Queens – right. Welfare Bridge in background.

I was here four years ago to watch rained-out fireworks, and only visited again yesterday; after watching the eerie Dark Water, I’d been hesitating to go back to the movie’s location. But a walk along the Queensborough Bridge on a glorious day called for a spontaneous decision to catch the tram from its Manhattan end, and over to the island. With previous fear unfounded, it’s a great spot not only to appreciate a Midtown vista from ground level, but a good excuse to see NY on par with a bird’s eye.

Long Island City, Queens, in the background

The tram allows for use of the Metrocard, and costs the same as a subway ride. You can also train it underground, there and back.

Enjoy!

Manhattan –  left, Roosevelt Island, right

Manhattan, beyond 59th Street

On the tram…

On Roosevelt Island, looking at Manhattan below 59th Street…

Back to Manhattan by tram…

And back over the Bridge, to Long Island City, Queens.

Around 59th Street, Manhattan

Smiles from Roosevelt Island, below.

Urban Vs Natural ~ New York and California

I read some words today that I’ve been reflecting on ever since. You may read them here: mimokhair, Day 2, Vietnam

Energised by the built; energised by the wild. Constantly revved up by a kaleidoscope of impressions, versus quietly meditating on the infinite. Striving towards a balance.

The thoughts shared by the Native American on mimokhair’s post speak volumes about my love for city life, accompanied by the constant pull of the Pacific Ocean.

Looking towards the horizon from Heisler Park in Laguna Beach

View from my apartment building’s rooftop in Brooklyn, looking towards Manhattan. One World Trade Centre in NY’s downtown (background).

A Passion for Travel

Recently I was asked to write down why I am interested in travel photography…

Well, I love the way I feel when I travel.

Malibu Pier, CA

I remember wishing to be a travel agent when I grew-up, and I fulfilled that ‘dream’ at STA Travel, only to realise that I’d rather be the one doing the traveling. I got into the media industry to fund my addiction; ultimately, it propelled me to embark on a working stint overseas.

Park Avenue, NY

What interests me most about travel is anthropology; there’s nothing more inspiring than immersing yourself in another culture and being able to “walk in another person’s shoes,” to quote Anthony Bourdain.

Walking towards the Hollywood Sign; downtown LA in the background. As seen from the Hollywood Hills, CA

To me, documenting travel means that writing and photography go hand-in-hand; placing images alongside words better tells the story. I’m interested in showing the reality of a place or space – using words and images to stimulate a response, a feeling. Whether I choose to shoot street photography or architectural compositions, that depends on the nature of the story.

The Binoculars Building, by Frank Gehry - Venice Beach, LA

To know I may have inspired, educated, or motivated someone through moments captured with my words or through my lens makes me happy.

And that was my answer. What would you have said?

Street Art - Silver Lake, LA

Not Another Valentine’s Day Post ~ Black and White Inspiration III

Every day should be Valentine’s Day. Sounds like a cliché? Maybe, though you might just find some truth in this sentiment. Enjoy ~ with love.

Love is life. And if you miss love, you miss life. ~ Leo Buscaglia

Milano, anni Cinquanta, 1950 ~ Photograph by Mario De Biasi

The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware. ~ Henry Miller

Scott Pommier

I want to know you moved and breathed in the same world with me. ~ F. Scott Fitzgerald

Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in San Angel, 1940

Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life. ~ Pablo Picasso

Picasso and the loaves, 1952 ~ Photograph by Robert Doisneau

To love someone deeply gives you strength. Being loved by someone deeply gives you courage. ~ Lao Tzu

Joanne Woodward showed off her Oscar statue with husband Paul Newman by her side at the Governor’s Ball in 1958

I have found that if you love life, life will love you back. ~ Arthur Rubinstein

Motion, 1930 ~ Photograph by Andreas Feninger

Love is the flower you’ve got to let grow. ~ John Lennon

Andy Warhol ~ Photograph by Dennis Hopper

I’m selfish, impatient and a little insecure. I make mistakes, I am out of control and at times hard to handle. But if you can’t handle me at my worst, then you sure as hell don’t deserve me at my best. ~ Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe in New York City, 1957 ~ Photograh by Sam Shaw

The most important things in life aren’t things. ~ Anthony J. D’Angelo

Seagulls ~ Photograph by chillbrook via space1eleven.wordpress.com

The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. ~ Henry David Thoreau

New York City, February 1954 ~ Photograph by Andreas Feininger

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. ~ Howard Thurman

James Dean in NYC ~ Photograph by Dennis Stock

There is only one happiness in life — to love and to be loved. ~ George Sand

Wedding Day ~ Photograph by Antony Schuster

The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and let it come in ~ Morrie Schwartz

Round Tower, Copenhagen ~ Photograph by Robert Floerke

Love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking together in the same direction. ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Gone for 24 Hours: A Wintry Escape to Atlantic City, NJ

Fringed by an eternal ocean, Atlantic City’s Boardwalk is sublime in wintertime. In the morning, it’s yours to enjoy, shared only with a few other souls and felines. Relaxing in the sun with a pristine Atlantic Ocean view, breathing in the salty sea air, melting away any niggles brought about by daily stresses – this is the way to escape New York City.

I had arrived to Atlantic City (AC) with preconceived notions, cliches. Previous word associations with the place included gamblers, casinos, rowdy tourists, a beach, Jersey Shore. Having just returned from a trip there, I can tell you that AC proved me utterly wrong. I’ve thrown all sterortypes to the wind. Now I think of it as a never-ending stretch of beautiful beach fronted by a glorious Atlantic Ocean with hedonistic hotel & casino experiences, a historic Boardwalk lined with nostalgic architecture, shops selling salt water taffy, and a setting befitting Boardwalk Empire (I have since started watching the show).

In a similar vein to Anthony Bourdain’s The Layover and the New York Times’ “36 hours in…”, here’s an unraveling of how to spend a night & day in Atlantic City, from my point of view.

NIGHT

6pm: Arrive in Atlantic City. Stay at The Trump Taj Mahal’s Chairman Tower. Located at the northern end of the Boardwalk, it promises space. Breathe a sigh of relief. The path from the main lobby to the Tower rooms traverses a sea of escalators, chandeliers, mosaic tiles, shops and restaurants. It’s dazzling, in a good way. Pause and take in the view from your hotel room –  it’s impossible not to, given the wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows usher in a cascade of flickering city lights below.

Lights and reflections: from 93rd floor of Chairman Tower

8pm: Dinner at Trattoria Il Mulino. Carpaccio, Risotto al Frutti di Mare, Salmone Livornese, Arugula & Prosciutto Pizza – delicious Italian food. For kicks, add oysters, prosecco, tiramisu, limoncello – so good! A frosted windowed wall separates the kitchen from its diners; the staff’s hustle and bustle is always on show. Located on the lobby level of the hotel, the restaurant doesn’t feel as if it is within steps of the casino floor.

Trattoria Il Mulino

11pm: Casino Territory. Slot machines, Blackjack tables, Baccarat. Not a huge gambler? Just enjoy the table activity, and admire the Indian-inspired interior design – concave ceilings mirrored surrounds, ornate gilded fringes, and elaborate crystal chandeliers. Have a nightcap – you’re here for one night, after all.

DAY

7.30am: The amazingly stunningly gloriously delightfully breathtaking morning view.

Yes, this befuddled sentence makes complete sense when you wake up to blur of the Atlantic Ocean meeting a never-ending sky streaked with pinks and blues. Because it gets so dark in winter, this morning view comes at a surprise. You might feel the sudden urge to grab your coat and head outside. First things first, though: coffee!

“You and your pink sky…” from Sex in the City, Season 5, Episode 3

Order room service. Order freshly brewed coffee and pastries as you wait for the sun rise. If you simply can’t wait, grab a Starbucks coffee and croissant from downstairs. Leave your things with the 24-hour bell desk, head through the casino, and exit onto the brightly lit Boardwalk. Breathing in that fresh sea air!

A Boardwalk perspective

9.30am: Relax. Put your feet up and recline on a bench along the Boardwalk. At this time of year, the beach draws a few wandering souls, puffy seagulls and lazy alley cats, which sleep  under-the-boardwalk in the cooler months. Originally built in 1870 as a temporary structure to protect hotel interiors from sand, the Boardwalk underwent about five restorations before it was finally complete. At 4-miles long and 24 feet wide, the loveliest features about it are its Parisian-inspired lamp posts and the herringbone floorboards.

This part of the Boardwalk is defined by Steel Pier. Opened in 1898, the pier was the first one to be built on iron pilings and steel girders. At one time, a visit to the pier required full evening dress and an admission ticket, which allowed  for 16 hours of continuous entertainment! Today, the Steel Pier exists as an amusement park, but because it goes on a winter hiatus, I cannot speak to its admission prices. What I can tell you is that the park makes for a beautiful view from the Boardwalk, especially with its Ferris Wheel. set against an ocean-blue sky.

Steel Pier, reflected

Steel Pier – a southern vantage point

10.30am: The Beach. Pathways from the boardwalk lead to the beach, which is quite deserted in winter. It’s the ideal spot to meditate on the gently lapping waves, breathe in the salty sea air, and take in the day’s still beauty, as you crunch across seashells. If you like the ocean, this is a great season to enjoy it.

View – under and through the Steel Pier

Wandering soul

11am: Strolling. The boardwalk is  built up further south. Admire the decades-old architecture, colourful ice cream and apple dumpling kiosks, and undulating sand dunes.

Ice cream kiosk – empty

“Isn’t this amazing? It’s like a postcard from the twenties…” Carrie Bradshaw

Your stroll along the boardwalk will likely be interrupted by a rolling-chair pusher, who will ask if you’d like a ride. These rolling chairs, imported from the Philadelphia Centennial of 1876, debuted on the boardwalk in 1887, and provide the weary walker with an excuse not to walk. This would make sense on a really cold, rainy day, but it would severely limit your photo opportunities.

A rolling-chair pusher

Taffy Time. Stop for some Salt Water Taffy at Fralinger’s, and save some of the sticky treats  for later. After a storm swamped a candy store in AC in 1883, it dampened the taffy supply, which created the salt-water taffy everyone loves today.  My personal favourites are watermelon, peach and sour apple.

Fralinger’s, on the Boardwalk

Set installation on the Boardwalk

Reflect. Pause at the Korean War Veteran Memorial, located near the arch in Brighton Park. Here. Under an eternal flame, 822 names of soldiers from New Jersey are engraved, and stand for those either killed or still missing in action.

Behind the memorial you’ll notice one of the most architecturally beautiful buildings in AC: The Claridge. Opened in the 1930s and known as “The Skyscraper by the Sea”, it hosted Marilyn Monroe when she was grand marshal to a Miss America pageant. Once one of the last pre-casino hotels, it is now owned by Bally’s Atlantic City.

The Claridge (right)

The Claridge – up close

Game Trivia. The hotel stands by Park Place, an area made famous by Charles Darrow, inventor of Monopoly (1929).

A little further on, and you’ll come to ‘The Pier Shops at Caesars’. Walk right through its shop-edged pathway and onto the outdoor deck, where you’ll experience a 360 view of the Atlantic and the Boardwalk. Everything from here looks miniature. You’re livin’ on the edge.

Down the line and on the edge

Voluminous cloud cover

Boardwalk, further south. Boardwalk Hall (right)

12.30pm: Lunch. The mobile kiosks are closed in winter, meaning you’ll have to make do with a casino buffet or a restaurant chain. For a diner experience, head to Johnny Rocket’s and order a burger and fries.

1.30pm: Boardwalk Hall is a beautiful example of Roman Revival and Art Deco architecture. Built in 1929, it was once the largest freestanding building in the world, initially used as a convention centre until WWI turned it into an army training facility.

The hall has hosted Miss America Pageants as well as Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential nomination during the Democratic National Convention. This convention took place one year after Kennedy’s assassination, and a statue of President John F. Kennedy stands in the directly in front of hall. Today, it is a concert/event venue.

Boardwalk Hall

Kennedy Plaza’s seats:  This space contains an amphitheater for outdoor concerts and is also used as a speaking point by politicians.

2pm: Photo Opps. Head back in the direction of Trump Taj Mahal. Treat this as the perfect opportunity to take photos of what you missed along the way.

Civil Rights. At Central Pier (an amusement arcade), turn onto Martin Luther King Blvd until you get to the Civil Rights Garden, a public space designed by Larry Kirkland, with 11 granite columns inscribed with quotes by American civil rights activists. A sculpture of a hand and bell over a reflective pool anchors the space.

Entrance to the Civil Rights Garden

2.30pm: Back Streets.  You’ll walk through a poor neighbourhood; past a lot of churches, abandoned buildings, motels from another time, and storefronts that wouldn’t look out of place on Route 66. The dazzling casinos aren’t far away.

3.30pm: Victorian Houses and Lucy the Elephant. Drive south along Atlantic Avenue towards Margate. Gawk at the beautiful mansions along the way. Large balconies, turrets and spires – there’s some striking architecture here.

Mansions and summer houses, lining the beach

At #9200, you’ll come see Lucy – The World’s Largest Elephant, built to in 1881 as a gimmick to attract potential buyers to South Atlantic City (now Margate). Lucy has been completely restored – at a cost of nearly $2 million — and was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1976. Described as “the oldest surviving example of a unique form of zoomorphic architecture, and the oldest roadside attraction in America, Lucy is open to the public during the warmer months. In winter, gaze upon her from the street or the beach. 4pm: Shopping. Head back down Atlantic Avenue, towards the Atlantic Expressway, and you’ll pass the Outlet shops at the centre of town. Avoid their dedicated Lot; the paid street parking is much closer and a spot isn’t hard to find.

5.30pm: Back to NYC. Bid adieu to AC’s wintry wonderfulness and vow to return in summer.

Gated Abandonment on Bowery ~ downtown NYC

A Lower East Side building has haunted me for a while. From under layers of graffiti, a Gilded Age stone design hints at a former glory; its elaborate iron fixtures are rusty and unkempt. Located on the corner of Spring Street, this building, Number 190 Bowery, is surrounded by restaurant supply shops, the New Museum, cafes, and restaurants.

Doorway

Lonely intercom

Let me put it this way: In a city as densely populated as New York City, where space is prized, this is prime real estate. So how can such a gorgeous building stand seemingly empty?

I’m not the only one wondering. When I visited earlier this month to take photos of its street art, the homeless guys sitting nearby were asking me this question. I hadn’t a clue how to respond… and so, after a bit of research, I discovered the story behind it all.

<It would have helped had I paid attention to one (now obvious) sign…>

This Bowery building was constructed in 1898. It used to be the Germania Bank to a neighbourhood made up of the German working class.

By 1966, the bank was abandoned and put up for sale. Along came artist and photographer Jay Maisel. In the market for a studio space, he was shown this building by broker, Jack Klein. In those days, Maisel was paying $125 a month for a 2,500-square-foot studio at 122 Second Avenue, though an unexpected $50 rent hike had thrown him off kilter.

Klein convinced Maisel he could raise the money to buy the abandoned bank. That was the easy part. Then he moved in. The main floor was knee-deep in garbage and coated in soot. “I had to shovel shit against the tide,” says Maisel. He wasn’t getting a lot of support either; the Bowery was where people ended up, not where they aspired to live. “My parents cried,” he says. “Every single thing that can come out of a human body has been left on my doorstep. But it was more disgusting than dangerous. (NY Magazine.)

Maisel’s name is right on the door…

An unused entrance

Today, Maisel, along with his wife and daughter, still live in this six-story space by themselves. Maisel claims the building contains 72 rooms over 35,000 square feet. These values are yet to be confirmed as Maisel allows neither agent walk-throughs nor real estate valuations. Some food for thought: in 1966, Maisel purchased the former bank for $102,000. In 2008, its value was estimated between $30 to $70 million. Maisel has no plans to sell.

I haven’t been inside, but have read that a few levels are dedicated to Maisel’s photo and art galleries, and workshops. One can even take a week long photography workshop with the artist inside his home for $5,000 (includes full board). This would anyone one step ahead of those brokers, who are clamouring for a floor plan.

The fourth floor, which Maisel once rented out to Roy Lichtenstein, is a work-in-progress. But there have been no major changes to the interior. It’s essentially unchanged from the Germania Bank that architect Robert Maynicke designed for the then-bourgeois neighborhood (it cost $200,000 to build). The original safe-deposit vault, still in the basement, is the size of a generous studio apartment; the marks on the main floor where the teller booths once stood are still clearly visible. (NY Mag)

Air conditioning is expensive, so Maisel makes his own shades to keep out the sun

The ground level of this building is available for rent. Interested? Go to: http://190thebowery.com/

Now, about those graffiti-covered walls… I’ve seen a slew of mosaics, paste ups, stickers, graffiti ,and stencils.

“We’re responsible for the sidewalks in front of our building… The city wants the exterior graffiti-free, but it’s impossible: 190 Bowery is a mecca for street artists”… Maisel tried scrubbing the building every week, but “it was like I was providing a fresh canvas for them.” Keith Haring used to cover the exterior in chalk babies, says Maisel, and that he liked, both for the spirit of the images and because they washed off so easily.

Alas – mystery solved! Neither haunted nor abandoned, for now all we can do is admire the building from the outside and wonder what will become of it, and its tenants, in the future.