Thursday, April 16, 2015

Da' Bronx

Interesting article from NY Mag online about the only NYC borough grafted to the American mainland: the Bronx. Titled "What is the Bronx Anyway?", it's a meditation about the borough, by a native, about what makes the Bronx both fascinating and yet, at the same time, so elusive to New Yorkers who live outside it.

The author raises some interesting points, and the article is worth a read, but I think there's more to what makes the Bronx such a difficult place to describe and understandd. Three main points I'd include:

1. Other than Staten Island, the Bronx is very isolated from the rest of NYC. In fact, it's even more isolated: you can ferry it from Staten Island to lower Manhattan very easily or drive across the Verrazano bridge into Brooklyn. The Bronx, on the other hand, is only attached to the city by a few bridges and subway lines to upper Manhattan. So, for the rest of the city, the Bronx might as well be Westchester. Out of easy reach, out of mind.

2. The Bronx is not, shockingly enough, geographically homogeneous. Yes, the South Bronx is popularly thought of as a Bonfire of the Vanities-like urban hell hole, and other parts of it are very citified too. But remember, the Bronx is also home to the super-suburban area of Riverdale. Also, huge swaths of it are covered by park land: Van Cortland Park, Pelham Bay Park, Ferry Point Park, not to mention all of the space that the Bronx Zoo takes up (it's huge!). So the Bronx is hard to define since it's a patchwork of urban landscapes, suburbs, parks, and islands (like City Island).

3. The Bronx has a very sad history. In the 1950s, wonderful middle class, largely Jewish, neighborhoods like Tremont were destroyed and blighted by the Cross Bronx Expressway. When Robert Moses rammed this enormous highway straight across the borough, the wonderful Marty-like ccommunities housed in the Bronx were wrecked and scattered. No one wanted to live next to a big noisy highway and neighborhoods were literallyy gashed apart. Abandoned buildings turned into drug dens. Filth and grime took root. People who could afford to live elsewhere did. Read the chapter "One Mile" from Robert Caro's The Power Broker to learn about how an entire borough of this great town was basically ruined by this evil highway. The Bronx has never fully recovered.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Pizza and Times Square - How did we get here?

If there's one constant in New York life, one reliable anchor in the tumult of existence here, it's pizza. Ever since the influx of Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, this concoction of flat bread with tomato sauce and cheese has become one of the staple items for all New Yorkers, providing sustenance and comfort to the world's greatest city for over 100 years. How this did happen? How did it conquer NYC? How come NYC is pizza's city and we just eat in it? This segment from WNYC radio explores why.

And talking about the anchors of NYC, no place anchors our town more than Times Square. The crossroads of the world in the center of the world, Times Square has been remade in the last few years with the introduction of pedestrian plazas -- large swaths of the public square where New Yorkers and tourists can roam free and "chill" sans the threat of cars. This other segment from WNYC is about the transformation of -- and caused by -- the new Times Square.

This past weekend, the wife and I found ourselves in the Times Square area. We got some ice cream and plunked ourselves at the public tables smack dab in the center of the crossroads of the world to enjoy our treats. There we were ... eating ice cream ... sitting on chairs, at a table ... in the middle of friggin' Times Square!  Reeled the mind at how this isn't our parents Times Square. It's almost a cliche to say it now, but the hookers, pimps, drug dealers, vagabonds, ruffians, porn theaters, and dilapidated structures that used to populate the area are truly gone, gone, gone. Now Times Square is a buzzing hive of tourists and merchants, ablaze with LED screens advertising ... everything ... a family friendly gathering place. 

The transformation of Times Square prove the old maxims: the old becomes new, the sleazy becomes respectable, the rebel becomes the establishment. Like the old man said in Chinatown, if something lasts long enough, it doesn't matter how outrageous it's past: it becomes respectable.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Night City

A few years ago I blogged about my love for the romantic world of late night NYC. Since this is the one of the most exciting and romantic of cities, the allure of nighttime NYC takes on an especially sexy sheen. Nighttime NYC is a place of bright lights and dark streets, of people working to keep the city going while others are out there partying, of friends and lovers coming together, of crime, of craziness, of ... endless possibilities. All of us who were young (or old) in NYC have our special memories of this city at night.

That's why New York magazine now has a whole special section called After Midnight where various notable New Yorkers write about their memories and impressions of New York at night. This electronic "scrapbook" is interspersed with stories about NYC at night back in the 19th and early 20th centuries, when things just as shocking (if not more so) when down in the nighttime environs of NYC.

I had many late nights in NYC back in my pre-child years. This included outings with various friends and significant others, most recently my wife. Back in 1994, I remember leaving a party at 4 AM in the Village and we walked up towards midtown, watching the city wake up (this was the same day, as it turned out, that OJ Simpson would go for "the ride of his life" out in LA). I remember all those nights in the early 2000s when, hopelessly single, my friends and I would go out to bars and, eventually, to places like Veselka and Caffe Dante for dessert. And, naturally, the many late nights with the special lady who would become my wife.

One night, back in 2008 (after this blog was created!) stands out. My wife/then girlfriend and I had gone to the They Might Be Giants concert at the Beacon Theater on the Upper West Side. I had mentioned this in passing to my brother who indicated that he and his girlfriend were also planning to go to the same concert. Afterwards, the four of us repaired to Big Nicks Pizza Joint for late night snack and there, for the first time, the now-wife and I got to the know the person who would become my sister-in-law (and mother to my niece and nephew). It was a lovely night and, in retrospect, a transitional moment in all of our lives.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

If you love NYC as well as the comedy stylings of the great Tina Fey, you MUST watch the brilliant new Netflix series Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. It's funny, sweet, thoughtful, and a great new NYC show! And no, I'm not being paid to plug this (although I wouldn't mind if I was ...).

Best of NYC

New York magazine has published its annual Best of New York list that's always worth a look.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Crime Drought!

At 12:01 AM today New York City achieved a new milestone -- ten days without a single murder. Ten days ... and no one was intentionally killed. That's amazing. Historic.

Congratulations to the people of NYC for not killing each other. And congratulations to Mayor De Blasio for keeping our city safe.

Of course, I'm sure that Republicans, the NYC tabloid press, and other assorted haters are seriously depressed. After all, when De Blasio was elected they were shouting that NYC would soon spiral into a cauldron of murder and mayhem, a pit of hell of death. Instead ... crime has never been lower. And now this.

Sorry GOP and De Blasio haters  --  your worst fears are being realized. De Blasio is a good, competent mayor and the city is safer than never. You lose. And everyone else wins.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The Gates @ 10

Ten years ago one of the most fascinating art exhibits in NYC history debuted in Central Park. It was called simply the Gates. Created by the eccentric artists Christo and Jean-Claud, at over  twenty-five years in the making, the Gates unfurled for the public on February 12th, 2005.

The Gates was a massive sprawl of Japanese inspired "torrii gates", made out of saffron-colored nylon fabric, which covered the entire expanse of Central Park from 59th to 110th Streets. (Torrii gates appear at Japanese Shinto shrines and are symbolic portals between the physical and spirit worlds). For the last two weeks of February 2005, this public art exhibit transformed Central Park, pulled in over 4 million visitors, and generated over $250 million in revenue for NYC. It made the Central Park of our loving collective conscience into something different, something exquisite -- like looking at your child dressed up in a beautiful custom.

It was an amazing sight to behold.

Walking through the Gates, as I did one chilly Sunday afternoon with my mother, was a wonderful experience. Having walked through Central Park many times in my life (and many times with my mom), strolling through the Gates with her felt like we were walking in the park again for the first time. And, of course, we were not alone -- many other people were also milling around us, amazed by the splendor of the exhibit. And that's what was so incredible about the Gates -- it made you look at something you had seen before many times but differently, it created a unique experience, and it brought you closer to the people you were sharing the experience with. It was very special. 

And then ... it was gone ...

Obviously, the Gates was meant to be temporary. By the end of February 2005, they had vanished, never to return. And that was part of the experience of the Gates: its very nature was ephemeral. It wasn't meant to last. The Gates was meant to be an experience, a mom
ent in time to remembered and cherished. And now, ten years later, it still is.